Saturday, 10 September 2016

A trip to the Incredible AquaGarden.

It is no secret that this year I have become fascinated by aquaponics and it's possibilities, and have had a large aquaponics unit in my living room in which I have been growing carp and leafy vegetables and herbs. The results of that experiment will be seen soon, but it is fair to say it has made me think long and hard not just about aquaponics but also about it's viabilty as a process to not just really create huge growing opportunities in small spaces in urban environments, but also it's use as an educational tool. As we face, in the horticulture industry, not just a dearth of skills generally but of people even being aware that a career in horticulture is possible, and it isn't just mowing grass or maintenance gardening in the worst possible way, these new technologies must help to inspire young people to join our industry and to be excited around these new technologies and how they fit into the urban sphere.
Chillies at the Incredible Aquagarden

So it was with great excitement that I recently visited the Incredible AquaGarden in Todmorden, home of the original Incredible Edible, in the beautiful Calder Valley. The AquaGarden has an enormous aquaponics section, growing a huge variety of fruit and vegetables using aquaponic and hydroponic principles, and they also grow outside in real soil and in a polytunnel, mixing the conventional with the high tech and constantly experimenting with different methods to see what works best for them. All the data that has been captured is available as open source material and so there for anyone wanting to set up a similar project. This openness for me just proves that they are such an important part of the Incredible Edible family, offering support and training to local schools, colleges but most importantly to urban farmers of the future across the world, helping to create a different, kinder future.
Pam Warhust keeping an eye on the fish!!

What never fails to amaze me about any aquaponics system, is that the produce always looks extremely healthy and lush. Having had a system myself, and having stood back from it and watched when the fish were first introduced as the levels of nitrites and nitrates and the pH settled themselves to their ideal levels, I have first hand experience of panicking as the plants started to look a bit sorry and yellow, and then being very happily surprised when a week later they had returned to lush growth and a healthy green colour as those levels evened out. The produce at the incredible Aquagarden is completely lush and proof that a system that uses fish waste as its nutrient truly works and can produce huge amounts of food in a very small space. There are chillies with more fruit on than imaginable that are growing also with the help of LED lights, as well as melons, tomatoes and aubergines that many a polytunnel grower would be green with envy to see.

The question I have to ask is will there ever be enough investment in this type of farming for it to really gain traction and become something that is seen across the country in urban spaces that previously would never have been even thought of for food production. Recently I went to the opening of Grow Bristol, an aquaponics business that I have had the pleasure of working with here in Bristol. These guys are growing tilapia as their fish of choice, and growing micro greens in a vertical aquaponics system, which are now being sold into local restaurants and to growing groups including a local Food Assembly. Their system is housed in a shipping container in a tiny yard behind Temple Meads station, an area of industrialisation and the most unlikely space for a farm. These guys, as a social enterprise, are also working with organisations such as the Princes Trust to being young people into the business and offer them training and more importantly a look at a way in which they can get involved in something they may never have thought about but which really inspires them. Already they are telling tales of those young people and offering them placements.
Microgreens at Grow Bristol!

I'm looking forwards to seeing how all these organisations scale up and start to reallyfeed into local food supply in our cities.....

Squash and aubergines at the Incredible Aquagarden.


  1. Interesting read. I was wondering how much energy is needed to use the tanks (electricity?). Also, can you also 'harvest' the fish with aquaponics? That would be a neat way of having two income streams, but maybe it's only certain types of fish, that aren't necessarily edible?

  2. Hi!! It is quite energy intensive if you have fish that need heated water, such as tiliapia, but in my unit I have had carp. The aim is that the fish are a crop as are the the veggies, so you are in a constant cycle of cropping both fish and veg, so absolutely 2 income streams. The secret will be for busineesses to get the stocking levels right so that the fish aren't too expensive to grow-I think the answer will end up being fresh water fish such as carp which don't need the water heating as tilapia do.
    In terms of energy, other than water heating for tropical fish, the LEDs cost very little to run-our bill hasn't wobbled at all and we've had lights on all summer, and many of these businesses are looking at solar and wind power which they can hold in batteries if they make too much.
    And lastly, most people think carp isn't edible but it is-I just harvested and cooked mine and they were honestly delicious!!
    Does that answer your queries? Really happy to answer more as I think there are probably lots more!! x

    1. Thanks for the detailed reply, that clarifies things for me. So from a permie perspective it makes sense to go for carp as it's less energy intensive but you get a high yield from two different harvests. Interesting stuff!