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Frequently Asked Questions about our Aquaponics Garden

About the Aquaponics Garden project

Thank you for all your great questions since our 'fish garden' launched in May 2017. It has been exciting to watch this garden flourish—and we appreciate the ongoing curiosity of our library visitors. Your questions are always welcome! Here are the answers to the questions we hear most often.

Q: Why does the library have an indoor aquaponics garden?

A: Libraries can be a link between people and food the way we are a link between people and information. Sharing is what libraries do best; it is a natural progression to include food into what we offer.

Q: Where did you get this gardening system?

A: We chose to work with Lumago, a new aquaponic company that has provided amazing support as we learn how to manage a living system. Lumago Inc. is based out of McMaster Innovation Park, in Hamilton, Ontario. Our unit was Lumago’s first aquaponics gardening system developed for use in a public location. They created the StudyPonics display as a result of our collaboration.

Q: Who takes care of it?

A: We have two staff in charge of maintaining the system. This includes nursing the seedlings, harvesting/trimming crops, managing fish health and happiness, system cleaning, and troubleshooting. Other staff members and community volunteers also help with maintenance, harvesting, and cleaning. If you'd like to help as a volunteer, please contact Jodi at 905.639.3611 ext 1154.

Q: What do you do when the library is closed?

A: Whenever the library is closed for more than one day, we have an automatic fish feeder that is installed over the tank to make sure the fish are fed. We also coordinate with our facilities staff so that we can get into the building in case of an emergency.

Q: What are you growing?

A: At the moment (Jan/Feb) we are growing mint, basil, kale, spinach, swish chard, and lettuce.

Q: What kind of fish are they?

A: We currently use tilapia in our system. Tilapia are the fish of choice in aquaponics because they are able to thrive in confined spaces. They are rugged, and resistant to disease and parasites.

Q: What is the water temperature in the fish tank?

A: Tilapia thrive in water temperatures between 60-80 degrees F but they are usually kept in temperatures between 72-74 degrees F to better serve the plants.

Q: What happens to the fish?

A: It’s our priority for our fish to have a long, healthy life while they provide nutrients for the system. If the fish grow too large, we ask Lumago to come exchange some of fish for us. These fish simply go into Lumago’s system. Unlike a traditional closed loop food system, we don’t harvest the fish as food. Ours is a modified closed loop system that allows the fish to live their natural life span.

Q: Why does the water look dirty?

A: Since there is no soil involved in an aquaponics system, we need to supplement the water with iron and calcium once a month to keep the plants healthy. These supplements do not affect the health of the fish, but they do give the water a yellowish color for a few days while the plants are absorbing them.

Q: Why is the fish garden sometimes smelly?

A: You might be surprised to know that the whiff of manure you might smell from time to time doesn't come from the fish.

When a plant grows lots of roots, the roots can make it hard for nutrient-rich water to circulate effectively, causing the water to lose oxygen. Water with a low level of oxygen is the perfect environment for fungus to grow causing root rot. And that's what stinks. To keep fungus from thriving, every week (and every time we harvest) we trim away the excess roots so that the can water flow, which boosts the oxygen level and kills the fungus.

Q: Who gets the produce when it's ready?

A: We coordinate with staff and volunteers to harvest the plants every 2 weeks or so, usually on Thursday. The greens and herbs are available first-come-first-serve to our visitors and can be picked up at the customer service desk at Central. Follow us on Twitter for harvest news

Q: Does anyone actually eat the food?

A: Yes! Both customers and library staff have taken home some of the food grown in our system. We advise washing it thoroughly, just as you would any produce you buy.

Q: Are other libraries doing this?

A: When we launched the aquaponics garden in May 2017, we were the first library in Canada to host a year-round indoor aquaponics garden. So far, we are the only library (that we know of)!

Q: What are the system specifications?

A: Our StudyPonic display unit specs are:

System Size 64”L x25D”x79”H
Aquarium Volume 75 gallons
Number of Plants 72
Electrical One standard GFCI outlet

Q: Where can I get one for my house?

A: If you are looking for a larger size aquaponics system similar to ours, we encourage you to talk to our friends at Lumago.

If you want something smaller, we recommend searching the Internet for "countertop aquaponics" to see the wide selection of indoor growing systems designed for the home.

Also consider speaking to a local gardening centre or nursery, or attending an exhibition such as the National Home Show and Canada Blooms in early March.

Of course, adventurous gardeners and DIYers can always build your own aquaponics garden! Here are our top picks to help get you started:

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Aquaponic Gardening by Meg Stout

Aquaponic Design Plans: Everything You Need to Know from Backyard to Profitable Business by David Dudley

All-Natural Aquaponic Lawns, Gardens & Vertical Gardens by Caleb Warncok & Logan Lyons

The Aquaponic Farmer: A Complete Guide to Building and Operating a Commercial Aquaponic System by Adrian Southern & Whelm King

Questions?

If you want to talk to us about our aquaponics garden project, please contact:

Susan Thompson, 905.639.3611 ext 1206

Patrick Cychner, 905.639.3611 ext 1109