Aquaponics is a closed loop system of growing food that is a combination of standard aquaculture (farming of fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water) into a symbiotic system. Fish waste is converted to nitrogen rich fertilizer, which is then used to water and fertilize the plants. The plants pull the waste from the water, and the cleaned water is then recycled back into the fish tank. BPL has a modified closed loop system, which allows the fish to live their natural life span.
The aquaponic garden project moves BPL into new territory in library service: growing and sharing food in a simple, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly way. If you want to talk to us about our aquaponics garden project, please contact Susan Thompson, 905.639.3611 ext 1206 or Patrick Cychner, 905.639.3611 ext 1216.
Q: Why does the library have an indoor aquaponic garden?
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?
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 aquaponic 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?
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?
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?
At the moment (Jan/Feb) we are growing mint, basil, kale, spinach, swish chard, and lettuce.
Q: What kind of fish are they?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
Q: Does anyone actually eat the food?
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?
When we launched the aquaponics garden in May 2017, we were the first library in Canada to host a year-round indoor aquaponic garden. So far, we are the only library (that we know of)!
Q: What are the system specifications?
Our StudyPonic display unit specs:
- 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?
If you want something small, 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!