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Researcher tests new way to grow plants and fish at home

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Got a hankering to go farming in your basement?

Odd as that sounds, it may actually be possible thanks to aquaponics — a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics — and new-generation LED lighting.

The potential has Nick Savidov excited.

“Integrated farming is becoming a reality,” said the senior research scientist with Alberta Agriculture at Edmonton’s Crop Diversification Centre North.

The scientist has been researching aquaponics systems for more than 20 years, but only started working with LED lights three years ago. In aquaponic systems, water and waste from the fish tank is circulated to plants being grown hydroponically. The plant roots absorb the fish waste and the cleansed water is sent back to the fish tank in a partially closed-loop system (you still need to supply fish food).

“There is no need to balance it because the system balances itself,” said Savidov. “When you feed the fish, bacteria help to produce a balanced system.”

Using LED growing lights have a couple of advantages. First, they have a narrow spectrum so finite adjustments are easier to make, and since they do not give off heat, they can be brought closer to the plants. The artificial lighting also means such a system could be set up in a basement, producing both the main course and salad greens to go with it.

“Every house can get a system like this,” said Savidov.

They are also suitable for greenhouses because stacking trays of plants above the fish tank saves space. Plants can produce 20 to 30 per cent more yield in aquaponics, compared to hydroponics.

One of Savidov’s current experiments is testing different ratios between blue and red LED lights for optimal plant growth. He has tested about 60 different crops in the aquaponics system, and has grown micro-greens, bedding plants, vegetables, and transplants. These systems can also be certified organic if fertilizer is not added when the plants are started. Transplants grow faster in aquaponics because mychorrhizae — fungal organisms that promote nutrient uptake by roots — cultivate easily in this type of system.

Fish are fed standard fish feed, using automatic feeders. Fish that can grow in the system include tilapia, trout, and Australian sea bass.

“The idea is to make it as carefree as possible,” said Savidov.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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