By Evan Bromfield
Look, I’m not interested in hopping on the vertical farming hype train. I’m interested in farming effectively and cheaply. And I think I’ve found the winning recipe.
I run the proof of concept vertical hydroponics farm Rosemont Horticultural located right outside DC. We provide chefs who want to differentiate their menus with year-round, affordable, exquisite crops grown with no environmental waste.
The entire farm is designed with the idea of closed-loop production, something extremely familiar to regenerative and aquaponics farmers, but a concept that’s oddly missing from most vertical farms. So what we do, unlike most aquaponic and hydroponic systems, is compost literally everything besides the system-infrastructure (no net pots, no rockwool) for future re-use. You read that right. We’re using compost in our hydroponics system.
We start our seeds in fast-draining compost plugs and within a few weeks, transfer them to the full recirculating shallow water culture system. Introducing soil and choosing a shallow water culture (similar to a deep water culture system) over something like NFT means we have a much higher biological buffer. This means that as nutrients, pH, and other variables fluctuate in our system, our plants are better able to continue thriving.
While that’s just one example, the whole system is designed for simplicity, ease of use, minimizing failure points (mechanical timers versus digital, reducing moving parts, etc.), and resilience. This reduces our labor costs, and because we are re-circulating our inputs, production costs are lowered too. This lets us focus on our primary directive: selling food effectively.
Remember, we’re just testing this out. We started with a run-down garage and transformed that into a farm that’s sold out to local restaurants and distributors since we started. It’s been great and I can’t wait to scale.
Evan Bromfield has been involved with vertical farming for 3 years with experiences in the industry ranging from private consulting to publicly funded urban agricultural development. In addition to his own vertical hydroponics farm, he also runs the Urban Vertical Farming Project, one of the few dedicated websites covering vertical farming, to teach others about the industry. Recently, he worked with the global Association for Vertical Farming to examine international biopharmaceutical production to help write and publish the most comprehensive industry white paper to-date, “The State of Vertical Farming.” Sign up for his free email list to learn more.
This document explains how aquaponic systems utilize the Soil Food Web to produce healthy crops – despite the lack of soil.
Our food system is rapidly changing due to the convergence of pressing global issues including climate change; environmental degradation; water depletion; economic insecurity; health problems due to poor diets and pollution; and rapid population growth and urbanization.
As we shape our new food system, one critical consideration is whether we retain access to high quality fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those grown sustainably.
This document shows that aquaponics can deliver fresh fruits and vegetables grown from seed, with the same symbiotic biological processes used by plants since the dawn of time. Check it out!
Working with Neto Construction in Sterling, VA on the next model of our indoor aquaponic system, the Hootie 2.0.
It has a 55-gallon fishtank on wheels for roll-out easy access. (See Hootie 1.0)
Here we see Danny Neto cutting some Ultra-Skrim FGC liner, a great product from Global Plastic Sheeting. It’s handy for aquaponics because it’s:
1) very puncture/tear resistant;
3) food grade; and
4) only 13 microns thick, whoa baby!!!
Here we see Bill installing the “Filtration Skid” @ PR Harris Community College in Southeast Washington, DC.
This pic is from last Fall. Hey, gotta blog sumthin’…
The Filtration Skid is akin to the organs and nervous system of an advanced aquaponic system. On the Filtration Skid are a drum filter, bag filter, bio-filter, UV sterilization lights, oxygenation devices, and various pumps and sensors.
Here’s a graphic about the benefits of aquaponics if you feel like gettin’ nerdy…
Here are Julie, Hala, and Cheryl getting ready to brew some vermicompost tea at our aquaponics meetup last night. Cheryl looks to be digging under a bed of newspaper to find our squiggly friends below.
About 10 or 15 local aquaponics enthusiasts came by to participate last night. We tested the system water for pH, ammonia, and nitrates and discussed the results; we chatted about fish feeding ratios; we brewed vermicompost tea and discussed applications for aquaponic systems; and we added worms to the media bed.
Thanks everybody who came out to visit and share your knowledge. We’ll be posting more practical info about vermicompost tea applications in aquaponics, stay tuned!
Here are some Cultivate the City rascals, with whom we shared a table at the 2017 Rooting DC Conference last Saturday.
Rooting DC is an annual forum for urban ag folks looking to make DC’s food system healthier. Click to see Rooting DC’s great map of the DC Food System… Hey, we gotta put some aquaponic systems on that map!
Anacostia Aquaponics gave a short “intro to aquaponics” presentation. We also ran into a lot of old friends, and made some new ones. It’s likely that Rooting DC pollinated even more urban agriculture collaborations, stay tuned! 🙂
Scott has been running this system in his backyard in NE DC for over two years. Below is the fishtank, a submerged IBC Tote with cover. Scott estimates he has about 10 Bullhead Catfish and over 50 Blue Gill, some of which have been here almost three years! He and his family have eaten about 15 of their own fish grown in their own DC backyard… Gnarly! (He says the Blue Gill are much tastier.)
Up top is the grow bed. Scott estimates that during the warmer months it produces about a salad a day for his family. Wow, great numbers. And he uses rainwater from his roof, very environmentally friendly! (and lower pH)
As pictured, the system is operating under the tarp for winter. It expands out during the rest of the year, and Scott is continually adding growbeds.
Here’s a link to his forum thread in case you are interested in more info: Scott’s aquaponic forum thread.