Home Grown

Hydroponics and aquaculture join forces in a new method of growing plants.

Jonathan Luckhurst. Photography Aaron Pedersen.

Aquaponics is a form of food production which combines both hydroponics and aquaculture. In an aquaponics system, fish produce waste; this waste is converted into macro and micronutrients that plants use for growth and reproduction.

This method of farming allows you to grow and raise fish and plants at the same time. An aquaponics system is best suited for growing leafy greens, herbs and fruit-bearing plants like tomatoes.

Jonathan Luckhurst, founder of Sea to Sky Botanics (formerly Sea to Sky Aquaponics) was introduced to the field randomly through a side job in construction. “Eating healthy has always been important to me and learning about food production through aquaponics was very intriguing,” he says.

Luckhurst was heavily involved in building the 2,250 sq ft NutraPonics facility in Sherwood Park, which houses aquaponics farming. They’ve made this a viable produce business by partnering with local restaurants like Noorish and food delivery service, The Organic Box. “One of the main reasons I founded Sea to Sky was to educate children about sustainable food-production methods,” says Luckhurst.  “My aim was to do this by designing and building educational aquaponics systems for schools. I am still actively doing this, but have also expanded into designing and building microgreen systems, self-watering soil gardens (wicking beds), green walls, aquariums and living furniture.”

There are many claims of benefits to using an aquaponics system. First and foremost, it’s an extremely effective way to conserve water on a commercial or individual scale.

The growing stages are pure and clean with aquaponics. There’s no weeding and produce is organic (pesticides kill fish and, therefore, if you add pesticides to an aquaponics system the fish die and the system fails; also, you can’t use antibiotics on the fish as this will kill the very important nitrifying and heterotrophic bacteria in the system). And you can grow indoors year round. Growing in an inter-dependent ecosystem like this can dramatically lower one’s environmental footprint.

Aquaponics can also be applied to different business practices. For Tanner Stewart, it’s been a shift from vertically growing produce (with NutraPonics) in an aquaponics system, to growing organic cannabis. Stewart Farms, a family endeavour, will be headquartered out of Edmonton with the production facility in the East Coast.

“Compared to organic soil farming in microbial rich soil, we farm in living water. A plant won’t have to work as hard at uploading nutrients in water. This can allow plants growing in an aquaponics system to reach their full potential,” says Stewart.

“I want people to understand and realize the benefits of the marriage of fish farming and plant production. The integration of these two systems can use waste streams to an advantage in a natural way. Aquaponics is how nature does it.”

Stewart says he will be growing his cannabis plants 40 feet and up in an automatic vertical racking system.

On an individual scale, aquaponics isn’t for everyone. Luckhurst says it’s a steep learning curve with a lot of biology and chemistry behind it. However, once you’ve learned the ins and outs the maintenance is fairly low.

Like anything, it’s important to do your research. “There’s so much potential in growing using an aquaponics system. This form of sustainable agriculture has so many benefits.”

Luckhurst plans to continue working with schools, educating students and spreading the word on the benefits of sustainable food production like in aquaponics and other indoor gardening techniques.

This article appears in the January 2019 issue of Avenue Edmonton.

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