Podcast Transcript: An Introduction to Aquaponics with Kyle Harrison

Audio Transcript: An Introduction to Aquaponics with Kyle Harrison

Click here to listen to this episode!

Shaun: All right. I’m sitting down today with Kyle Harrison, who’s a good friend of ours. He is the governance and training specialist in the program integrity department here at GSA.

How’s it going, Kyle?

Kyle: Hi. It’s going well. Happy to be here.

Shaun: Kyle approached me after we were talking about the podcast in the office here, and he was like, “Hey, did you know that my thing is aquaponics?” And I was like, “No, I did not know that.” And so we talked a little bit and we thought it’d be really cool to do kind of a two-part episode with the first part being a look at Aquaponics as kind of a general overview like, what is it. I think a lot of people who listen and who are kind of in our ecosystem have an idea of what aquaponics is, but they might not really be that familiar with it, and it’s not really something that we’ve talked about on the show.

So it’s kind of an adjacent topic to aquaculture and fishery stuff because it involves aquaculture, but it also involves agriculture at the same time. It’s super cool. But before we get into it and talk about the kind of 30,000-foot view of what aquaponics is, we’re gonna learn about Kyle, who by the way, I’m looking at his notebook, and he has the coolest handwriting of anyone I’ve ever met. So good for you for that. Kyle, tell us who you are and kind of give us a little backstory of yourself.

Kyle: Yeah, absolutely. I learned about aquaponics in my high school biology class. And that’s what really got me down the biology road.

Straight out of high school, I decided to go into environmental studies and policy at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. And that gave me the opportunity to really take a deep dive into what I had learned about hydroponics and aquaculture and combine the two into aquaponics.

Which today is a very it’s a relatively new field actually. The majority of the research I was doing in college, these research papers were coming out. Like the year before. I was doing these projects and these are, you know, heavily peer-reviewed papers. So it’s quite a process for these to be published.

And the fact that all of my research was based 2015 or 2016, 2017, nothing pre that. There, there’s a very limited knowledge base prior to 2010. So aquaponics is new in that sense.

Shaun: Interesting. So did you work with Aquaponics before you came here?

Kyle: Yeah, my father actually is a teacher at Concord High School and he worked with his department as a science teacher to create an experiential learning opportunity for his students to go and basically create a greenhouse dome that incorporated aquaponics as the source of fertilizer to grow plants and fish year-round. So I helped him build that system. Grew up with 50 tilapia living in my bedroom for quite a while. So yeah, I was deep into it right from the get-go.

Shaun: That’s amazing. You’re not the first person that’s been on the show that’s talked to us about like having a tank of tilapia or having a tank of fish growing in their house or in their basement or something like that. So, yep. I think a lot of people in aquaculture do start that way. So like I said, this is kind of part one of a two-parter episode that we’re gonna do with that second part getting more into the nitty gritty of aquaponics with an additional guest that will be named later because we have a couple of ideas for who we wanna do, and it’s all going to depend on who’s available. But this one is more a broad overview. So let’s ask the big question. What is aquaponics? And in that same sense, I’m gonna ask you, you mentioned hydroponics versus aquaponics.

Let’s maybe start there. Like what’s the difference between the two and then what is aquaponics in the sense of a practice and the goals and everything?

Kyle: Right. Yeah. So you’re absolutely right. You do need to start with the understanding of hydroponics as a way to grow crops without the use of soil.

It began like, seems counterintuitive, right? Usually people associate, you know, agriculture plants with dirt. You need good dirt and soil organic matter is necessary to supply those nutrients. In hydroponics you skip that step entirely and you just insert the nutrients directly into water.

And that began in the 19 hundreds as a study using what’s called nutrient film technique. And just by directly applying this nutrient-filled water to plant roots people were able to grow crops without needing to deplete any resources from the soil. So, the word aquaponics comes from the marriage of aquaculture and hydroponics, that pons part being made with water.

Shaun: Okay. So I don’t wanna get too far away, but I want to learn more about hydroponics because I actually didn’t know about that. I’ve heard the word but didn’t realize that it’s just, The aquaponic side without fish. So how do you, you say you inject the water basically with these nutrients.

How do you do that? Where do the nutrients come from and when it was developed, why were they concerned with not utilizing the soil?

Kyle: Yeah. So that, or you mean a history lesson too? I like it. Absolutely. Yeah. There’s a lot of background here in what was called the Green Revolution.

Everybody’s heard of the Dust Bowl and that was essentially when the soil really became overused, over tilled. And essentially a lot of the Midwest turned to sand because all that soil organic matter was sucked up by overproduction. And food was plentiful for quite a while, but at some point people overuse the soil, the land can only handle so much.

So that nitrogen and carbon, all those necessary macronutrients were removed from the soil into crops that were doing really well at first, and then just started to die off because the soil couldn’t retain this production cycle anymore. And so it became an issue that people wanted to solve, saying maybe we don’t even need the soil in the first place to grow these crops.

And that was actually, believe it or not, aquaponics was a thing long before hydroponics was a thing. But we lost that technology. That was something that we didn’t realize. That’s why it’s coming back as a new thing. So the first people who we believe sort of discovered this process of using fish and plants in conjunction to grow crops without the use of soil were the Mayans believe it or not, they grew on large rafts on these huge lakes that they realized there was plenty of nutrients to grow crops directly on the lake using Reed rafts essentially. And that was really the inception of aquaponics.

Shaun: So with just the roots kind of going through the rafts and just free-floating in the lakes.

Kyle: That’s right. Yeah. And that’s a different kind of aquaponics. Let me back up a little bit. There are three primary techniques to grow using aquaponics, and that’s, I already named nutrient film Technique, NFT.

And then there’s deep water culture, which is what the Mayans we’re using. And that’s using rafts on giant pools of nutrient-rich water. And then the third primary method is through media beds, which is pretty similar to how bamboo is grown. Bamboo grows primarily in gravelly conditions, but in streams more than anything.

There are some plants that grow primarily in shallow water and stream beds that don’t necessarily need good media that’s full of nutrients, but rather something to hold onto.

Shaun: Something that’s strong enough to keep the roots in place.

Kyle: Exactly, yeah. And if the roots can stay there and the water flows through with enough nutrients, then the plants can grow just fine.

Shaun: Right. So it’s almost like, I’m picturing like, invertebrates in the ocean, right? Like, like a hold fast on something. You basically just need something to latch onto. You’re not necessarily getting the nutrients from it like a traditional plant would. Right. It just needs something structurally that can hold it up.

Kyle: Exactly. So, that would be the media beds way to grow which primarily people use pumice-like material, little clay rocks, something that’s porous. It needs to be porous so the water can flow through. And that also helps nitrogen form physically on the gravel or whatever media.

Shaun: And what was the other one, the film?

Kyle: Yeah. Nutrient film technique. That started as hydroponics. That’s where hydroponics started, and then people realized, well, instead of just injecting artificially produced nutrients into the water for example, using the Haber Bosch process is the first time we discovered we could take nitrogen from the atmosphere, which the nitrogen is fixed, using a lot of heat and pressure right out of the atmosphere, which is made of mostly nitrogen. And that’s how synthetic fertilizer is created. It also as a byproduct produces a ton of greenhouse gases.

And it’s how the majority of agriculture in most countries actually fertilize their crops. Whenever synthetic fertilizers are used, it’s primarily produced from the Haber Bosch process.

Shaun: Interesting. And basically it extracts nitrogen directly from the atmosphere and concentrates it. And then you have it in, in what, a liquid form basically?

Kyle: It’s solid actually. It’s so they can fix it into a solid form. That’s cleaner. People consider it cleaner because there’s no carbon in there. Like in the case of manure, you know, animal waste has a lot more than just nitrogen in it, but it is nitrogen-rich. Which is why it was the original fertilizer and still is. Which, also using manure as a fertilizer has its own drawbacks. There are a ton of greenhouse gases produced from livestock.

Shaun: So in this day and age, we know now we kind of did a little history. So aquaponics is a way to grow crops and fish, and it’s kind of like a symbiotic relationship between the two in a way that we have manufactured. So walk us through the process.

Kyle: All right. So it’s actually something I noticed when I first came here and I was totally expecting there to be some sort of aquaponics incorporated standard through BAP. It turns out there is a standard in development called the RAS standard, Recirculating Aquaculture System, and that’s a vanguard that is in production right now and actually should be coming out fairly soon.

But it’s a little bit removed from what BAP focuses on with best aquaculture practices. Adding in the whole hydroponic side of things and growing plants is beyond the scope of what we normally certify.

Shaun: I remember that when I was a certification specialist, I was in charge of bringing in new facilities and I had a facility contact me that had an aquaponic system on the second floor of a warehouse in, you know, New York City or something like that. And I was like, well, this is super cool, so let’s make this happen. And then it just, there was a lot of complications once we got into it. It is complicated. And they were not certified when I left that position.

I don’t know if they continued to pursue it or not, or what’s going on, but Yeah, I remember there are a lot of complications with that.

Kyle: Right, it is complicated, which is why it’s considered a Vanguard standard. It’s above and beyond leading-edge technology. It’s not an established industry practice.

So how that actually would help with Farm Standard is managing effluent actually. So the fish waste that’s produced by every fish farm is currently just being managed through traditional channels by Stumping that water into a sludge pond or a wastewater management system which is not typically that intense on the local environment if done properly, which is why we have pretty strict guidelines in our effluent management farm standards and SPS standards. All of those effluent needs to be managed. It can’t just be thrown back into the environment. Aquaponics solves that by taking that effluent and using the nutrients in fish waste to grow crops.

And there’s a few steps that need to happen between that. So fish waste, namely ammonia, is not something that plants can just absorb as nutrients. It needs to first be processed by two different bacteria.

Shaun: Yes. I love this. This is my nerdy past coming back from my days in college and just post-college.

Kyle: Yeah. The fact that we’re just kind of rediscovering this after the Mayans figured it out is kind of hilarious, but yeah, no first the ammonia needs to be processed by nitrosomonas, and that’s a bacteria that consumes the ammonia and converts it to nitrites, and then that nitrite can be consumed by nitrobacter, another kind of bacteria that consumes it and produces nightrates.

Those can then be consumed by plants.

Shaun: I think a lot of our listeners are gonna be very familiar, especially if they’re aquaculturists, with the nitrogen cycle. I know even if you’re not doing aquaponics, it’s a big deal because ammonia and nitrites are toxic to the fish. And at manageable levels, nitrates are not toxic to the fish.

I mean, at extreme levels, anything can be toxic. But I know that this is something that fish farms, especially recirculating aquaculture systems, they really need to stay on top of and make sure that they’re kind of nurturing both of those colonies of bacteria to make sure that their nitrogen system is working efficiently. That was a really big deal with us when I was working at the Zebra Fish facility. I actually remember applying to a job right after I finished college. I won’t say where it is. But if they’re listeners then you might remember this. I had an interview and they didn’t really ask me that many questions, but they were like quizzing me and they were like, here’s a piece of paper, like draw out the nitrogen cycle for me.

And I was like, okay. Yeah. So I thought it was kind of weird, but that’s how important it is, right? So this is coming into play, but in an aquaponic system, it takes it a step further, right?

Kyle: Right. So once the nitrates have been produced by the bacteria culture that passes through one of the three types of aquaculture systems, either the nutrient film technique the deep water culture, which is the raft style, and then the media beds. And in media beds, that nitrogen can actually, since it flows through a porous media, can actually solidify on the surface of that media, which plants can uptake and then grow through their roots, which nitrogen being one of many macronutrients, it’s the primary focus in aquaculture because it’s the primary waste product after ammonia. And it’s the primary macro macronutrient in plant production that it’s, again, the Haber Bosch process focuses on producing nitrogen as fertilizer. Behind of course, oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen, which are all things the plant absorbs from the atmosphere already.

What it primarily needs from fish waste are those other kind of down the line macronutrients, primarily nitrogen. You mentioned that the nitrogen cycle is super important to understand in order for agriculture to be sustainable we know how to produce synthetic nitrates. Which are then kind of thrown into fields and become water-soluble and uptake through plant roots.

However, the majority of that nitrogen thrown into a field for traditional agriculture purposes, actually, becomes runoff, and that runoff flows into aquifers, lakes, rivers, streams, bodies of water that do that cannot handle that load of extra excess nitrogen.

Shaun: Do you think, is that just because the plant life and all that can’t really absorb it fast enough in time before it gets washed away by weather events and stuff like that?

Kyle: Right. It’s like when you try to water a plant at home and there’s holes in the bottom of that pot. The water flows through the pot. The roots get the water they need, but they can only absorb so much before the soil is supersaturated. Water flows out from the bottom of the pot. And then it either evaporates or you have to clean it up.

It, it can’t all be taken up at once. And actually the majority is not taken up. It’s runoff. And that runoff is what produces cyanobacteria, algae blooms which is extremely toxic for aquaculture environments.

Shaun: And so this, by being in more of a closed system, this is eliminating that issue.

Kyle: That’s right. Yeah. That’s where the RAS Vanguard is super leading edge technology a RAS system is considered better industry practice because it is not just dumping water and nutrients back into the environment, it’s recirculating that water. So it doesn’t use nearly as much as traditional agriculture.

It takes that water that might flow through your plant after watering it, and it puts it back through the top so that it gives the roots a chance to absorb it over and over and over again by recirculating. And that recirculation makes it a much more efficient process. So not only are you saving the environment by not throwing a ton of excess nutrients into aquifers and water bodies, but you’re also saving water.

There is a ton of water waste in traditional agriculture, whereas in a recirculating aquaculture system, either through hydroponics or aquaponics, both recirculate that water instead of just throwing it away when it’s done.

Shaun: Right. And I know, to play devil’s advocate a little bit, the offset to that is you’re using a lot more energy, right?

Kyle: It’s actually still less energy than a traditional farm.

Shaun: Well, I gotta tell you, agriculture farms is not my wheelhouse. I don’t know too much of those processes. So I just know that like when you’re comparing like an earthen pond fish farm versus a RAS, like an indoor RAS system, your costs are gonna be much more impacted by the energy usage than it would on right on the pond farm.

Kyle: Definitely. Which is different. It uses more electricity and resources than a traditional aquaculture system. It uses still less than a traditional agriculture system.

So and that’s why like it’s really exciting to see these kinds of farms pop up in warehouses, like you mentioned earlier. There is space in industrial warehouses that’s not being used. And the beauty of aquaponics is that it can be placed anywhere. In fact, it thrives most in indoor facilities.

And there are plenty of indoor facilities in major cities that can take advantage of the fact that you can create a vertical farming system. So you use a fraction of the land necessary for a traditional agriculture farm. You also shorten food travel miles by producing crops in the middle of a major city as opposed to shipping in tons of crops from farmland to these major cities.

Shaun: Burning fossil fuels to get there. That’s cool because you think from a traditional agriculture standpoint, you’re basically going from a two-dimensional plane that you have available to you to a three-dimensional plane that you can expand upward.

Right. Which is just super-efficient. So that brings me to the question, what types of plants can you actually efficiently grow? And on the other side, what species of fish, because I, I’m picturing, I feel like you can think about this in a couple different ways, right? Like one you can think about, okay, we’re raising fish, but we’re also able to raise lettuce along with our tilapia or something, right?

So is the goal to raise fish that have a good growth rate and are efficient enough to grow fast enough to harvest and eat and like you’re raising fish for eating food and then. In addition, you can also grow lettuce, or is it like this is a more efficient way to grow all of these crops? So we’re just using the fish to basically like fertilize the water or is it both in, in a perfect world, to me it’s both, right?

Kyle: Yeah. I’d say economically speaking, both is the goal for sure. There are some species that have much shorter grow-out periods like tilapia. A drawback to using tilapia is that they tend to be a very messy fish. So there are significantly more sludge management technologies you need to implement.

Which again, this is the cost side of aquaponics, is that you do need a much higher tech system than traditional aquaculture. In traditional aquaculture, you can have flow-through systems where you don’t have to worry about a lot of the factors that could potentially go wrong. And again, it’s a new science, so it’s not an established industry.

Aquaponics is extremely experimental, which is also why it’s kind of exciting because you can experiment with different species of fish to see what produces better nutrient balance for certain plants. The majority of plants are gonna be using relatively the same amount of nutrients, the same types of nutrients with minor differences depending.

Like kale, I’m sure probably takes up more iron than most plants. And I did read through a couple studies that looked specifically at what kind of maybe nutrient deficiencies would appear in plants using these systems and their results were there. There are no significant deficiencies. However, that is just one study.

Shaun: And there’s much more research to be done in this field, right? When there’s only one study, it’s like, How non-biased can this be? You know? So unless you get multiple studies that corroborate a lot of the same ideas then there’s always potential for bias in those.

So I know of all the aquaponic systems that I’ve seen it seems to be primarily leafy greens and vining fruit plants like squashes, tomatoes, things like that. But is there a limit to what types of plants you can actually grow in an aquaponic system?

Like you’re not gonna be growing like an indoor vertical cornfield. You know.

Kyle: Right. I mean, that’s the exciting part. Is it, it is perfectly possible. The challenge there comes from the infrastructure, right? So nutrient-dense plants are a big focus for aquaponics and plants that don’t necessarily need a lot of root structure to grow like lettuce.

The, the roots of these plants grown in these systems don’t grow nearly as much as traditional agriculture plants because they don’t need to reach down into the soil to find water.

Shaun: No. Something like carrots or potatoes like that are, that where you’re actually eating the root.

Kyle: Right. Root plants.

You’d struggle to grow those. Yeah. In an aquaponic system especially considering it’s almost constantly saturated. However, there are systems that allow kind of an inflow-outflow where it’s, it’s acts similar to a tide where the water raises and then lowers periodically.

Shaun: This is so cool.

I’m having so much fun. Okay. So what has been your experience, what have you grown crops-wise and fish-wise, and what are some of the challenges that you noticed when you were doing it? Because I’m sure that there are listeners out there who maybe have a small little system that they would love to implement some plants and stuff.

But what’s, what’s been your experience with it?

Kyle: So personally I have really been focusing on herbs more than anything. A lot of people really enjoy having a window sill herb garden, for example. Because it’s not terribly difficult to maintain. And you can grow a pretty sizable herb garden with just a single 30-gallon fish tank.

And I personally don’t grow out fish in my home Aquaponic systems, it’s not terribly difficult to make. All you need is some PVC, some red solo cups, and there you go, you have the building blocks, and some water pumps. There are tons of online DIY explanations and in-depth looks of how well different species do in different systems.

So my next adventure actually, as I’m looking at starting a mini rainbow trout farm to then grow out primarily lettuce, leafy greens, kale, and char. And so these kinds of plants, those are pretty easy to grow in a system. However, once I have a more established larger infrastructure, I will be experimenting with things like corn and plants that are harder to grow in the system to experiment.

The biggest system I’ve built so far isn’t a fish grow-out facility, but rather an ornamental fish type is actually at Champlain College.

I applied for a grant to build a very robust experiential learning opportunity that I could then place in the commuter lounge at Champlain College. I won this grant and got all the materials I needed, and I built it up late nights in the commuter lounge with this 60-gallon tank with a 30-gallon sump system and another 20-gallon extra water reservoir.

And I, I actually bought a very fancy hydroponic tower that was not at all meant for aquaponics. I made some minor modifications. So I just added some hoses to exchange the water from the fish tank to this tower, and it just flows through. It pumps it right up to the top, top and flows through like a racetrack through each layer.

I left that there as a bit of a, it’s my capstone project and a legacy that students can interact with. And I’ve meant for it to be an extension of the already existing community garden, which at Champlain College, unfortunately, is limited to summer months. You, there is no opportunity for students to grow anything other than in the summer months with the community garden.

So this was a chance for students to buy like a five or $10 plot and grow whatever plants they wanted in the tower itself and take care of the fish and be involved and learn about the nitrogen process. There’s a whole infographic standing up behind this tank that explains why this is here, how to use it, what the nitrogen cycle is, and I just really, my hope is that students are able to get excited about, wow, this is a new technology. I have not seen this before. Why aren’t we doing this more?

Shaun: Well, what a cool place to put it too. In a place where people are gonna be anyway. And it’s, you’re using ornamental fish? It’s not koi, I’m guessing, but like with just like small freshwater fish?

Kyle: Yeah. Just common goldfish. Very simple. And that’s, it’s not hard to start.

Shaun: What a good idea. Where is that?

Kyle: It’s right in Burlington, Vermont. Like the front door of Champlain College, the commuter lounge is right there. And it’s right across from the mail center.

Shaun: I’ll have to look and see if there are pictures of that online. Maybe we can put it in the show notes or something. So Cool. All right. I am, when I get excited about something, my mind goes all over the place, so I’m kind of bouncing around different topics, but I had, okay, so my perception, my simplified perception of aquaponics has always been, and I think a lot of people would think this way, that, that don’t have the experience of like diving into systems design and system maintenance and all that stuff, which I do.

But for some reason, this is still where my mind went. So to me, it was always the fish poop, water gets dirty. Dirty water goes through plant roots. Plant roots, clean the water by taking out those nutrients, water goes back into the fish tank and that’s the cycle. That’s how I was always like, it was like, oh, the, the water is cleaned by the plants.

That’s how I always kind of thought of it, even though I have literally designed and built RAS systems. So in an aquaponic system, do you need a biofilter with bio media, like bio balls or something in there to propagate those nitrifying bacteria? Do you need a drum filter or like a physical filter to take out some of the solid, like do you need basically a full RAS system that also incorporates plants?

At what point do those things kind of meet?

Kyle: Yeah. So. For the system I built at Champlain, it’s the best example for ornamental fish. It’s certainly not built to harvest fish because that has a whole bunch of food safety implications.

Shaun: Right. So, well let’s get into that. Maybe, we’ll save that for like, Part two, right? Like the more detailed, if you like, if you want to incorporate aquaponics into your existing RAS system, or if you want, if you’re thinking of building one of these systems from the ground up for fish harvesting and crop harvesting and by crops I mean plant, plant harvesting.

We’ll get into the nitty gritty of that in the next episode. Because we’re already at 36 minutes, so, you know, we’re doing good on time. So go ahead and continue. Let’s focus on kind of the work that you did as an example. Of a more simplified system,

Kyle: So it is simplified, however, given the grant I had, I wanted to create the most robust system that was built to last.

Shaun: Yeah, let me clarify. Simplified does not mean simple.

Kyle: Right, exactly. So, I actually use this there’s a bio media reactor in the sump system underneath there. And that media reactor normally would have let’s say like bio pellets that help absorb the ammonia and nitrogen.

Carbon filters also absorb those sort of toxins that otherwise have no means of leaving the system. In the case of aquaponics, you still need to house the bacteria, and that’s what the biomedia reactor is for. It takes media, which really is just these little plastic wheelhouse-looking things.

Shaun: Yeah, they’re like cogs and wheels, they just have a lot of surface area. Right, because they got all little indents and, and stripes and stuff.

Kyle: Exactly. It’s any media with a significant amount of surface area that can you start your bacteria system with, it’s quite literally like inserting. Probiotics like that you would take.

Shaun: Yeah. It’s a little bottle and it’s like, here’s your nitrobacter or a little packet. Pour this packet of liquid into your tank. But then you gotta feed it, right? Then you gotta start putting stuff in there for it to eat.

Kyle: So before I even added fish to the system, I had all the, all this like sciencey kit stuff that was just full of artificial nitrogen and well, ammonia actually, and then, The Nitro, I was measuring the nitrates and nitrites to monitor how those little colonies of bacteria were doing.

And every other day or so, I’d go in and insert another 60 milliliters of this bacteria and add a pinch of ammonia and they would slowly start to accumulate also in the gravel of the system through throughout but primarily in the bio media reactor. So that it is constantly circulating.

It’s just a pump that pushes, the media around. And that serves a purpose by ensuring the strongest colonies of bacteria can form there. Nothing old or dead take takes up space. So only good strong bacteria can grow on those media and they consume, this ammonia I’m putting into the tank artificially so that they can be prepared for when actual organisms enter the tank, they are able to handle that load and detoxify the tank.

Which you mentioned earlier, ammonia is extremely toxic to fish. Nitrites also pretty toxic. However, there’s more of a tolerance. Nitrates, toxic, but at extreme levels, you need to be like two or 300 parts per million for nitrate to be a serious issue to, to the health of your ecosystem, which if you’re filtering your water,

Shaun: Right.

Kyle: Yeah. And doing regular water changes and you know exactly which yeah, that my, my fish tank at home right now, that’s not the one that isn’t hooked up to an aquaponic system. I do a water change once, a once a month, once every two months. And the water stays crystal clear because of the bacteria,

Shaun: Right, and you do have physical filters, like filter socks or something to collect the, the solids, right?

Kyle: Yep. Solids do need to be filtered out and then because there’s gonna be uneaten food, there’s gonna be solid waste product from the fish.

Shaun: It is almost just like an addition onto an RAS system right? As opposed to a replacement of some of those components?

Kyle: Yeah. And the only thing that you wouldn’t include is carbon. Like a traditional, some system has some sort of carbon filter. The charcoal filter or something. Activated carbon via charcoal, that sort of that detoxifies the water, but if you were to put that in an aquaponic system, you would lose the nutrients that the plants need. So yeah. And that’s also a part of the filter that needs to be replaced fairly frequently in order for it to, because it, it can only absorb so much of that, those toxins.

Shaun: Breathing in that black powder. Oh my god, I’m sure some of our listeners have experience with that too. I remember those days. What about like, UV? I know that a lot of RAS systems treat their water with UV systems. So the water goes through basically a pipe that is lined with UV bulbs that help eliminate viruses.

Kyle: I didn’t include any UV sterilization in this tank. It’s more of a concern for larger systems Where you really want to control exactly where the microorganisms are living. Yeah. So. Containing them specifically in the bio media reactor and not allowing them to grow anywhere else gives you more control over the system.

That’s not necessarily something that was needed for a tank of this size.

Shaun: But if someone is looking to implement this into a larger facility, it’s definitely something to look into for sure. And like I said, we’ll talk about that more in the next episode, but I think this is super cool.

Obviously you see me getting excited about it. I love this stuff and it’s cool because it is something that can be implemented on such a small scale so people can do this in like their basements or in a greenhouse in their backyard for fairly afford affordable costs. Like, you’re not gonna have to drop a hundred thousand dollars just to build one of these systems for yourself.

You could, you certainly could. You very well could, you could come up with a pretty cool system. But yeah, that’s really interesting and I think. The thing that our listeners are gonna be most interested in is the fish harvesting side of things, too. It’s almost like this is an added benefit. It’s almost like diversifying your fish farm, right? So then, does this at all take away from the success of an established fish-rearing system in your opinion? I know that you haven’t actually done the research on this, but I’m sure you have enough experience that you can form an opinion, right?

Kyle: I’d say it does limit your configuration because if you’re used to something like a flow-through system, you do need to configure it to a recirculating system. So you are shoehorned into having a recirculating aquaculture system as opposed to the much, probably much easier method of flow-through or pond land-based ponds.

There’s a lot less you need to do with certain kinds of systems like that. But even a land-based pond my, my father has a land-based pond in his backyard that has a whole ecosystem, frogs, turtles, in addition to fish. And he simply pumps out that water and flows it through raised beds in his garden that can absorb those nutrients there.

So it’s a lot more flexible. Honestly, it can conform to almost any system, however, RAS being the most productive when it comes to aquaculture and hydroponics working together.

Shaun: Right. And we’ve talked a lot about the benefits of RAS system and just having that much control over the environment that what you’re growing is in has a lot of benefits. So cool. Kyle, you are gonna come back, we’re gonna have you back on the show, like I said, within the next month or so with a guest. And we’re gonna dive a little bit deeper into the nitty gritty and the science of aquaponics. Some of our listeners may not want to get into the nuts and bolts, but some of them are gonna get really excited about getting down into you know, the molecular level of what we’re talking about here.

But is there anything else for this episode that you think is important that we talk about before we wrap up?

Kyle: I think I’ve already addressed the fact that it’s, you know, built to whatever your purposes are. It’s a flexible system and it’s exciting to build new systems.

There are so many more innovations that need to happen for this to become an industry practice. And where the exciting part is the experimenting. So the fact that people go out and try new things that might not work is what’s important. So that’s all I have to say about that.

Shaun: Well, I won’t have you give advice for people who are doing it quite yet because I wanna wait until I have you and our next guest on for the part two to really kind of give advice to anyone that wants to start doing this. But you’re gonna have to wait for the next one. So, sorry about that. What’s the best way for people to get in contact with you if they have questions or if they just are just super excited about what you’re talking about?

Kyle: Yeah, absolutely. I can always be reached through my work email, which is kyle.harrison@globalseafood.org and I’m always happy to answer questions or get into anything having to do with aquaculture, hydroponics, or aquaponics.

Shaun: Well, I’m really glad that you came and found me to tell me this because I had no idea that this is what you did.

You know, I know you from the capacity that we’ve worked together, which has been a lot of technological, basically building out courses online and stuff which is very different from this. So I didn’t know that you were into it, so I’m really glad that you came to me. I’m really excited to have you on here.

I’m sorry that Justin and Maddie couldn’t be here. They’re both out today, but you know, stay tuned everyone for part two of our aquaponics discussion. And thank you so much for coming on, man.

Kyle: Absolutely. Thanks for having me!