Aquaponic Flower Experimentation in MD

By Tom Precht

Our flower farm, Grateful Gardeners, is a 1 acre plot in Boyds, MD, providing fresh, organic cut flowers to the local market.  We are big believers in green practices like aquaponics.
While vegetables are grown readily and with great success, flowers have not been fully attempted and investigated (with a few notable exceptions).  We decided to implement a pilot study of whether or not we could grow a few different forms of flowers; Zinnias (seed), Ranunculus (corm), Dahlia (tuber), and Dahlia (cutting).
We started with a basic DIY Barrelponics system, built from the free online plans out of 3 x 55 gallon food grade plastic barrels.  We had very little money to invest in this and so we decided to use pea gravel as our grow media (a decision we would regret later as all the manuals show out there) because it was less expensive than Hydroton.
We started with Tilapia fingerlings once the system was cycled. Initial results were promising, we saw rapid growth of Ranunculus corms, Dahlia cuttings, and Zinnia seeds in the system.  Tubers did not seem to take off, but the quality of the tubers may have been an issue.  The images of the growth show the speed with which they developed.  The pea gravel started to create some pH issues and because we were not in a fully insulated space, and this was November and December, we couldn’t regulate water temperature adequately.
We eventually lost all the fish and had to shut the system down early.  We are only now restarting the system in a newly built greenhouse which we hope to be able to heat through the winter months to try these same experiments again.

Aquaponic Lettuce at IDEA PCS Salad Bar!

The IDEA Public Charter School Cafeteria recently served lettuce grown by students in aquaponic and hydroponic systems.

Students in Urban Ag Club germinate, transplant, and harvest lettuce. They also feed the fish. Then they see the fruits – nay, vegetables – of their labor in the salad bar!

Students learn the science of growing, and also build skills in urban agriculture, food safety, horticulture, and water management.

Students learn that we must follow Good Agricultural Practices if our food will be served in the school or sold commercially.

The next step is to scale up and see how much we can grow!

Are you interested in bringing aquaponics to your school? Send us an email: brian@anacostiaaquaponics.org

Hosting Chinese Government Delegation

Last month, Anacostia Aquaponics hosted a delegation of 20 researchers from the Chinese Government for two days of lectures on aquaponics. We also arranged a tour of Bella Vita Farm in Brookeville, MD.

The delegation is travelling the U.S. for three weeks to study modern agriculture technology. They are visiting Washington, DC, New York, and Chicago.

Anacostia Aquaponics Director Brian Filipowich stated “I enjoyed spending time with the researchers and discussing different agricultural trends in our two countries. We have a lot to learn from eachother.”

Three More Small-Scale Aquaponics Graduates

Thanks to Sean, Gerald, and Damon for participating in Anacostia Aquaponics’ Small-Scale Aquaponics Training Course. That’s now 20 graduates — 19 from the DC metro area and one from Nigeria 🙂

The Course is designed to provide participants the skills and knowledge necessary to understand and meaningfully participate in the design, construction, and operation of a small-scale aquaponic system (10- to 1,000-gallons).

Stay tuned for another opportunity to learn small-scale aquaponics in Winter 2020!

Less than 0.5% ?

According to our very rough calculations, Washington DC demands 189 million pounds of fresh fruit and veggies per year. And according to the best stats we could find, we are growing less than 1 million.

That means we are growing less than 0.5% of our own fresh produce.

Anacostia Aquaponics has submitted testimony for today’s DC Council hearing on the DC Urban Ag Land Lease Program.

Read the full statement: Nov 18 Anacostia Aquaponics Testimony

In our statement we argue that we need to measure what we’re currently growing and set a goal for how much we want to grow. And, once we crunch the numbers, we’ll find that to make a difference we  will likely need to focus on Controlled Environment Agriculture with modern technologies like hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics, and vertical growing.

Do you have better stats, opinions, questions? Shoot us an email.

 

Commercial Aquaponics in Gaithersburg, Maryland

Bella Vita Farms LLC in Gaithersburg, MD opened a new greenhouse with a state-of-the-art aquaponic system about three months ago.

The farm has had no problem selling their produce at great prices because local chefs recognize the quality. In fact, they cannot keep up with demand and the farm already plans to expand the aquaponic system.

Bella Vita staff noted that not only does aquaponics provide top-notch produce, but it is also much friendlier for the environment because it uses much  less water, and no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers that pollute our waterways.

The Farm started with koi, but just recently transitioned to tilapia, which they also plan to sell to local restaurants.

Urban Ag in the 2019 DC Food Economy Study

The DC Food Policy Council just published the 2019 DC Food Economy Study. It is filled with interesting information about where our food comes from, and insights about where we are headed.

Read the study: https://dcfoodpolicycouncilorg.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/food-economy-study.pdf?mc_cid=b21fb5afb3&mc_eid=5f7b24b706

Regarding urban agriculture, the study states:

“…urban farms in the District should have more access to resources and support. Farms not only supply fresh food to other food businesses; they also create local jobs, activate green spaces, and often provide healthy food to the surrounding communities. Yet currently urban farms in the District struggle to navigate licensing and permitting, identify grants and resources, and access large contracts and buyers. In addition, there is insufficient data on the current offerings and sales of District farms, making it difficult to measure progress. The District will soon provide more assistance to urban farms through the newly created Office of Urban Agriculture in the Department of Energy and the Environment created by the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Support Act.”

National Conference Discussion

Anacostia Aquaponics Director Brian Filipowich appeared on the Growing with Fishes Podcast to discuss the upcoming national Putting Out Fruits Conference and other national activities.

Here’s how to access the podcast.

Podcast host Steve Raisner will be at the Conference, presenting on the newest advances in Insect and Pest Management, and partaking in an Aquaponic-Cannabis Production Panel.

How much are we actually growing?

What percentage of fresh fruits n’ veggies consumed within DC is grown within DC?
a) <1%
b) 1% – 5%
c) 5% – 10%
d) >10%
e) no one knows

Washington, DC is doing some great things for urban agriculture. For more info, check out the DC Sustainability 2.0 Report, or the Food System Assessment. We also recently created an Office for Urban Agriculture.

But a lot more work needs to be done. An old adage: “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. Here’s some questions we should answer:

How much are we actually growing as a percentage of our consumption? what are we growing? and what is our goal?

What percentage of food grown in DC is edible, and what resources are needed to improve our growing skills and grow better fruits n’ veggies?

One issue is that policy-makers nationwide continually underestimate the skills and resources necessary to grow high-quality crops consistently… it’s very hard! Unfortunately this is the problem UDC ran into over the last few years.

Answering these questions will inform the next steps we take to improve urban ag in DC!

Brian Filipowich, Director
Anacostia Aquaponics DC LLC