Aquaponics – How to End World Hunger Through Fish-Powered Gardens

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Aquaponics How to End World Hunger Through Fish-Powered Gardens
Chad HudspethChad Hudspeth has a simple mission.  End world hunger.  He has a simple plan.  Teach a few hundred people to teach a few thousand people how to build fish-powered gardens.  Incredible.

Chad is a 3rd-generation farmer, living on the cutting edge of technology today when it comes to sustainable methods of feeding people.  He leads missions to Central America to teach aquaponics in rural communities.  Buckle up and prepare your mind … this interview covers some BIG ideas!

In This Episode You Will Discover:

  • how to enjoy 50 pounds of fish and 500 pounds of vegetables from a tiny backyard garden every year
  • strategies to fight the drought in the southwest United States
  • resources to help you to start your own aquaponics garden
  • why fish-powered gardens will change the world
  • useful reviews and resources

Sponsora

 

Resources

Murray Hallam — http://PracticalAquaponics.com

Aquaponics Nation – http://aquaponicsnation.com

This is the book Chad mentioned on the show!

Interview Links

Follow Chad on Twitter: @endlessfoodsyst

Chad’s Hudspeth Aquaponics – Endless Food Systems

Free Report Reveals … The 5 (Dirt Cheap) Tools I Use To Grow 22 Types Of Heirloom Tomatoes (Including My Secret Soil Booster) 
Free Cheatsheet

Watch the Podcast Interview Here:

 

Interview Transcript:

Welcome to Back to My Garden.  Discover your passion for gardening.  Here’s Dave Ledoux.

Dave:  Well good morning, good afternoon or good evening, depending on where you are in the world when you listen to this.  I’m Dave Ledoux.  Welcome to another edition of Back To My Garden, the Aquaponic episode.  Totally unique.  We’re going into brand new territory today.  I’m so excited to have literally one of the leading-edge, leading minds, and thought leaders in the aquaponics movement.  He’s a third-generation farmer with a passion for researching and testing the absolute cutting-edge of innovation.  He’s the driving force behind Endless Food Systems.  His company’s been seen on National Geographic on Fox Business.  He’s literally just returned from leading mission trips to South America to teach communities about aquaponics.  His big message today … If enough people learn about this technique, it will end world hunger.  I’d like to welcome to the show, from Phoenix Arizona, Mr. Chad Hudspeth.  Chad, welcome.

Chad:  Thanks you so much Dave for having me on the show.

Dave:  I know it’s bright and early over there, and you might even have a bit of jetlag.  Can you just take a minute and share with our listeners a little about yourself?

Chad:  Well, yes sir.  I grew up on a dairy farm, so honestly, I guess gardening was just part of life.  We grew a lot of our own foods and lived a long ways from any stores, so we really had to grow a lot of food.  You know, growing up, I didn’t really consider gardening a passion or anything like that.  It was after I was out of college and realized, and kind of looked around at the way things were going in America, and the quality of the foods that we get in the stores was just not what it is if you grow it yourself.  So I guess I had a re-spark of interest in gardening and growing our own food and came across aquaponics and just completely revolutionized my thinking.  I was very very excited about it, couldn’t wait to jump in, so that’s what I’ve really been focused on for about the past 4 or 5 years.  

Dave:  It’s like the same length of time as going to university or college, right?

Chad:  I guess you could say that.  And it is, it’s an education.  You know, you try something and it didn’t work, then you try something else and that didn’t work … it’s a lot of trial and error.

Dave:  Now help me because I’m definitely a rookie when it comes to aquaponics.  I’ve been bragging about you all week, I say I’m interviewing about aquaponics, and they say “what’s that?”  I said think of it as a fish-powered garden.  How do you describe aquaponics?

Chad:  That’s exactly perfect, because so many people get aquaponics confused with hydroponics and, although it’s similar, it’s very different.  In hydroponics you’re growing vegetables without soil, but the problem with hydroponics is that I guess on about a weekly basis you need to change your water and you have to add a lot of things to it to feed the plants.  I feel like that aquaponics is just where we use the fish to feed the plants, and is a lot more sustainable because we’re not having to add really any chemicals into the system.  We don’t have to exchange the water, it’s truly a natural ecosystem where the fish are providing the waste for the plants.  There’s actually bacteria in the system that grow and convert that fish waste over into a plant food, so the actual process takes about 6 weeks.  And what we wind up with is a situation where the fish provide the food for the bacteria, the bacteria provide the food for the plants, the plants use that up and purify the water again for the fish.  So we never have to exchange the water, it will run perpetually.

Dave:  Now for those of you who are driving in your cars, or jogging listening to your iPod, when you get near a computer, I want you head over to Chad’s main web hub, his blog with all the photos.  It’s at http://www.endlessfoodsystems.com/   and I have to say it’s one of most brilliant website URL’s, the name describes it all, Endlessfoodsystems.com  If you’re a DIY do-it-yourselfer, I’d refer you to Chad’s site where he has a digital handbook on how you can get started on aquaponics.  For those of you who are not DIY types, Chad can you talk to us about how you got into this?  This isn’t just something you woke up one morning and said “I think I’m going to grow a fish-powered garden”.

Chad:  No, it wasn’t.  In fact, it was at Christmastime, 4, 5 or maybe 6 years ago now.  I was at my Dad’s house in Texas and he was telling me about a guy he had heard of, a missionary, that had figured out a way to grow perpetual food for people over in Africa and different places.  He happened to have a kind of a home-base in Dallas and we got really excited about it.  What is this thing?  I’d like to go see it.  So we wound up driving down to Dallas, we called this guy and we went over and saw his system and it just totally blew me away.  I couldn’t believe that you could do all of this in such a compact, little area.  We spent the whole afternoon with him, and I’ve since developed a relationship with him.  In fact, he’s one of our main dealers in the Dallas area now that resells our modular kits.  John Musser is his name with Aqaponicsandearth.org  He spent a lot of time and years going to the mission fields in places like Africa and helping those villages come up with ways of growing their own food.  I wouldn’t say that he pioneered aquaponics, it’s actually been around probably for thousands of years, but he is definitely the main forefront guy that figured out how to do it in a backyard-type of setting, to where we control those fish and we control that waste and send it into a grow bed, and figuring out the right gravel to use, and things like that to make the whole system work.  So I would say, he probably played a big part in me getting excited and interested in this.  I came back out to Phoenix and started building systems.  I built a bunch of different types of systems and toyed with them and tweaked them.  I really didn’t have in mind at all to become a manufacturer or do anything like that.  I just wanted to figure it out and grow it for my own family.  But then I guess through the process I learned about other people.  There’s a guy in Australia named Murray Hallam and he has got some fantastic information on his website, and has been building systems in Australia for a number of years.  I learned a whole lot from Murray.  I got a chance to actually meet him.  We went down to the Aquaponics Association meeting, they have an annual meeting every year.  The very first meeting they had, was I guess 3 or 4 years ago, back in Florida.  We went over there and got to meet Murray and some of the other movers and shakers, and spent some time learning all about what he was doing.   I brought that knowledge back and applied some things I had learned and it just kind of developed into what we have today which is kind of a hybrid system.  We take our water from the fish tank, and we pump it through a gravel filtration bed, that’s where the bacteria are converting the fish waste over into plant food.  We take it a step further, we actually take that water that’s been filtered and we send it through a raft bed, and that’s just a styrofoam raft that floats on the water and we send that nutrient-rich water through that raft bed and then we return it back to a low point where the water pump’s at and we start the process over again.  That’s kind of how our system operates and it gets going.

village garden

Dave:  We take so much for granted in North America.  Food just comes from that magic place where we drive to and park and it has everything frozen and fresh, and we cash out and pay our money.  But you’ve just come back from Ecuador.  Can you share with our listeners, what’s been the reaction or reception to aquaponics in Central America?

Chad:  Well, it has different applications for different parts of the world.  I would say that in America or in wealthier countries, the cost of food is not that big of an issue for most people.  The percentage of their income that they spend on food is not very much, less than 10% probably.  But in countries like Ecuador, or even poorer countries like Uganda, a large portion of their income goes just to food, just to survive.  So with this type of technology, being able to go in, really what I was about on this trip was being focused on teaching the people there how to build these things.  In fact, I got them all together, about 20 different pastors from different churches and it was mostly local people from there, there was a small group of us that flew down there.  But the whole point, and why I gathered them together, was to teach them how to reproduce these things.  I told them, if I’m the only guy going down here and building these things, then it’s not going to spread very fast or very far.  We need to all work together, we need to build our knowledge together, we need to share it with everybody we can and that way in a couple of years, maybe there’ll be hundreds of systems across Ecuador and we can feed lots and lots and lots of people.

Dave:  Wow.  This is fantastic.  You started wanting to be an aquaponics gardener, then your entrepreneurial streaked kicked in and now you have communities and you’re connecting with the movers and the shakers.  And now you have visions for countries.  You’re a unique individual, aren’t you?

Chad:  It’s fun.  I’ve never sat down and decided that this was what I was going to do, it just kind of happened.  And doors continue to open.  One of the guys that came up in Ecuador, we were in Quito, just actually outside of Quito, Ecuador, and we had a pastor drive up from Peru, which is a pretty long distance.  He brought his whole family just to learn about aquaponics, he was so excited about it.  And after we built a pretty big-size system, we got together at the end on the last day and he came to me, and said “I’m going back to Peru, and I really want to involve as many high officials as possible, and in fact if I could get the ear of the President, I would love to do that”.  So actually, I think we’re going to plan another trip, probably in February to go to Peru and help this guy refine what he’s got or grow it a little bit bigger, so it would be fantastic if Peru could come in there too and have systems spread all over the country.  

Dave:  You know Chad, a lot of our listeners, they know people that would love to get into this but fear, doubt and trepidation make them hesitate.  Can you share a story maybe from 5 years ago when you got started.  I call it the catastrophic failure.  Do you have anything humourous where things didn’t go quite perfect?

Chad:  Oh yeah.  (laughs)  I had a raft bed, and I was still experimenting, I still am today, but back then I had a couple of cantaloupe plants, and they were doing so good.  They were just lush and green, and they were covering the entire bed, and I had these little small cantaloupes that were probably 5 inches in diameter, and they were getting close.  They were just a few weeks away from being able to eat.  I went out one morning and I noticed there was a few little aphids on one of the leaves and I was in a hurry that day, and I didn’t stop to take care of it.  About 3 days later when I finally decided to do something about it, I realized as I started picking at the leaves and looking on the underside, that it’s just covered up with aphids.  So then I put on some organic controls and everything I knew to do at the time, and it was too late.  It was so heartbreaking to have probably 12 or 15 of these cantaloupes that were just so close and they all died before they went to maturity and it was so sad.  

Dave:  Being a rookie gardener, I’m in my third season, I still fight the emotional attachment to my crop.

Chad:  I’ll tell you what, when you see those bugs you’ve got to react.  You’ve got to do something right away or they’ll get ya.

aphids on plant

Dave:  Can you talk to me a little bit about the eating side of the equation?  In my head I picture all the fish, the garden.  What are we talking about when it comes to actually putting food on the table with one of these typical setups?  Talk a little bit about sizes as well.

Chad:  With aquaponics we have a lot of difference with that versus soil gardening.  Why would you want to do aquaponics over a soil garden?  Well there’s times when it’s very advantageous and there’s other times when maybe it’s not advantageous at all.  If a person has rich soil, water is not an issue and they have lots of land, a soil garden is great.  But for a situation where maybe soil is not good … in northern Peru it’s just this sand, very fine sand and there’s just hardly any nutrition in it, it’s hard to grow in it.  Other places, even like in the inner cities where it’s all concrete, there is no soil.  So there’s advantages to aquaponics and the fact that it doesn’t use soil at all, what we use is actually gravel as our medium.  And then water is a big deal again.  If a person lives in a place where they get lots of rain and water is not an issue, then it may not be an advantage.  But places like where we were at in Ecuador, those people there they draw water out of a 35 foot deep well with a bucket, so water is very labour-intensive.  To get enough water to grow a crop would be a whole lot of work.  This was a pretty large system we built down there, we had two 600 gallon fish tanks, so the total water in the whole system was about 3000 gallons.  So we actually paid for a water truck to come and fill it up initially and then to keep it topped off, it’s going to take about 5 to 8 five-gallon buckets a day.  Well that’s a lot more doable than trying to irrigate an entire garden.  Because in aquaponics we have a lot less water loss.  We continue to recirculate the water in the system so the only water we lose is to evaporation.  With that, we can calculate that an aquaponic system uses about 90-95% less water than a traditional garden, because in a soil garden your water goes right past the roots and back down to the water table via gravity.  So in a closed-loop system like an aquaponics loop, we’re very water conversative and we don’t really care about the soil conditions because we’re not growing in the soil.  As far as food production goes, if your system’s well-managed and your pH is decent, and there’s a lot of factors involved, but it’s really not that hard though.  If your system is running where it should be, you can generally plan for at least 5 times, and I’ve seen as high as ten times as high production per square foot of what a dirt garden will do.  I think part of the reason for that is because the plants are continuously watered, they drink when they want to, it’s always there.  The water’s carrying the nutrition, so they’re constantly being nourished, the plants just grow a lot faster in this type of setup.  Anybody that’s done hydroponic growing can attest to that plants generally grow a lot faster than in the soil.  So you get a lot more production per square foot, it’s water conservative, it doesn’t care about soil conditions.  I guess the negative factors would be that it does use a small amount amount of electricity, we have to run a water pump, and in some situations we also need to run an air pump.  But it is a small amount of power and it can be run off of solar panels if a person wanted to run it that way.  But as far as food production goes, it’s pretty good.  An area 12 ft by 20 ft is enough space to provide enough vegetables for usually a family of about 3.  It’d be tough to say that that space would provide all the food for 2-3 people, but it would certainly take the place of most all the vegetables.  And on that topic, you know a lot of people look at aquaponics and they look at the fish and they’re thinking they’re going to grow a lot of fish.  Actually the fish are the engine that just are producing the waste matter for the plants, and so what we actually wind up with is about 10-12 times the vegetable production that we get versus the fish production.  So, for example, for every one pound of fish that I grow, I’m going to get 10-12 pounds of vegetables.  

Dave:  One pound of fish is 10 pounds of vegetables.  16 ounces, less a little cleaning, but that’s enough protein for the average human for the day.

Chad:  Right.  And then in our systems, a 300 gallon tank is kind of the average-size tank that a lot of people go with.  In a 300 gallon tank you can grow out between 40-70 fish per year that will grow from a baby to one pound.  So a 300 gallon tank is going to produce 40-75 pounds of fish.  That’s not meat on your table, that’s the whole fish.  So if you take a one pound fish, you’re going to get maybe 1/3 pound of fillets off of that.

fried talapia

Dave:  It’s extraordinary, the water you’re saving, and there’s a water crisis in big parts of America, isn’t there?

Chad:  There is, there absolutely is.  In fact, we’ve gotten a lot of inquiries lately from people in California because I think they’ve really cracked down and they’ve got restrictions on a lot of people in places in California.  So we’ve gotten a lot of phone calls from folks out there that are wanting to start growing this way because it just takes so much less water.

Dave:  So would you say right now, the conversation is increasing around aquaponics?  It’s a growth business?

Chad:  It’s unbelievable, it absolutely is.  Here in the Phoenix area I would say in the last 2 years that we probably get 10 times the number of phone calls that we did 2 years ago.  So it’s definitely booming with interest.

Dave:  You’re super busy, you’re an entrepreneur, and you’re now travelling and doing missions in Central America and time is super valuable to you.  Can you describe for our listeners what your own personal garden looks like this season?

Chad:  Right now it’s coming into August, so we are coming into that real hot time of the year.  Right now things look really good.  My cucumbers are just massive and growing like crazy.  I’ve always got basil, 4 or 5 kinds of it, always got that around.  Chives the same way.  I left some onions there, I pulled all my onions out 2 or 3 weeks ago, I had tons of those and kind of left them in there too long, but I wasn’t ready to eat them yet.  Right now it’s mostly beans, I’ve got a lot of different kinds of beans growing in there.  Squash, watermelon, cucumbers, cantaloupe.  I like melons, and this is the season when it’s hot, it’s the time to grow all types of melons.  Butternut squash, I really like that one.  It’s one I hadn’t really tried until last year.  I grew some butternut squash and it turned out really really good.  The kind we grew, you bake it in the oven just like a sweet potato and it tastes like a sweet potato, it’s really good.  

fresh vegetables

Dave:  Excellent.  Now when you say really hot, we have a global audience … what’s hot?

Chad:  110-117 degrees fahrenheit would be our daytime highs.

Dave:  For metric system, that would be 38-40 degrees Celcius.  That’s rough on the plants, isn’t it?

Chad:  It is.  And you can’t grow in Phoenix without some shade, so I put on a 70% shade cloth from about the end of March or mid-April, I’ll put on a 70% shade cloth and I’ll leave that until about October.  We get so much sun here, there’s very rarely a cloudy day.  We get plenty of sun, but it prevents the sun from scorching the plants.  We get good growth normally up until August and then the month of August things will slow down and stop growing.  Generally September when the nighttime temperatures begin to dip back down into the 90’s again then we’ll get good growth again.  

Dave:  Is there anything that you aren’t growing now that you’ve considered or toyed with experimenting with next year?

Chad:  Anybody that researches aquaponics is going to find out that potatoes don’t grow very well.  I tried them again this past year.  They always come out the same, and I’m not sure why.  I have success with other root crops, but what I’m doing now, we’ve kind of developed a wicking bed that ties into our system, so if a person wants to grow potatoes, any type of potatoes, they can grow them in their wicking bed.  It basically just feeds off of the system, so the nutrient-rich water is flowing to the wicking bed, but it can’t flow back.  It’s a one-way setup.

Dave:  For those of you who are listening, you have to go to Chad’s website:  EndlessFoodSystems.com  It’s all laid out there graphically, visually explained.  If you’re a DIY guy, that’s the perfect starting point for you.  Kits are orderable.  He’s literally created a one-stop resource, that’s where you want to start if you want to get into aquaponics.   I want to ask you some questions here Chad.  We call it 5 Quick Questions.  This is where you get to drop wisdom for maybe the more novice gardener, someone just dipping their toe into aquaponics.  Are you ready to play?

Chad:  Sure.

Dave:  Question Number One:  What do you think stops most interested people from starting aquaponics?

Chad:  I think it’s definitely a fear of the unknown.  It looks complicated and so a lot of people they step back from it because they feel like it might be too complex for them to do.  Honestly, you can overcomplicate it if you want to, but it’s really not hard.  You feed your fish and you watch your pH level and that’s pretty much the bare bones of it right there.

Dave:  This is not one of the Quick Questions, this is a bonus.  What’s your favorite fish to grow in your own personal setup?

Chad:  Oh, definitely, hands down it’s tilapia.  Tilapia are a very fast-growing fish, they’re going to go from a fingerling to a pound in 9 to 12 months, so they’re a fast grower and they’re very, very tough.  They don’t hardly get any kinds of diseases or any problems.

Dave:  I know what tilapia costs when I go out to the restaurant, that’s one of my favorite eating fish.  Imagine having 40, 50, 60 tilapia in your backyard.  I can see the appeal instantly why people get addicted to aquaponics.

Chad:  It is a little bit addictive because you go out after a long day at work and you go into your greenhouse or where you’ve got your system setup and the water’s flowing, kind of like a fountain going, and it’s all green and lush and you find new stuff in there, and you think wow I didn’t realize that cucumber was ready to pick.  It’s fun, it’s exciting.

Dave:  Question Number Two:  You’ve been around fish-powered gardens now going on 5 or 6 years and you’ve met most of the movers and shakers and you’ve become one.  What is the single best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Chad:  For aquaponics, I would think that really it’s iron.  You’ve got to have the iron in the system.  That’s one of the very few things that you do have to add to the system because over time, it will become deficient in iron.  It’s easy to tell because the plants will turn a pale yellow, so you know visually when there’s an issue with iron.  You’ve got to add iron to the system, and that’s definitely probably one of the best pieces of advice that I came across.

Dave:  Brilliant.  Question Number Three:  We have eager listeners, they say I’m going to do my research on aquaponics.  If you had just 2 websites to share, other than Endlessfoodsystems.com, what would they be?

Chad:  Definitely would be Murray Hallam’s, PracticalAquaponics.com  He’s out of Australia and he’s got a blog as well, tons and tons of great information.  And then another one that is just fabulous is called AquaponicsNation.com  And I believe that’s a blog, and they’ve got tons and tons of great information on AquaponicsNation.

Dave:  Fantastic.  I love how giving you are.  You’re an entrepreneur, you’re in business, you have your association now just for aquaponics farmers.

Chad:  Anybody that’s bought any of our products, they get access to a members area.  We’re working on that and kind of creating that into a community, so I’d love to see that grow and get a little bigger.

Dave:  Nice.  Question Number Four:  I’m just getting into aquaponics, it’s my beginning.  What’s the single most important book that I need to read?

Chad:  There’s a lady called Sylvia Bernstein, she has a book called Aquaponic Gardening and that is a fantastic book.  It covers all of the basics of the different types of systems that you can build.  It was written about 3 or 4 years ago, but it’s a fantastic foundational book for people to get started.

fish tank

Dave:  Brilliant.  Finally Number Five:  Chad, what’s the number one thing that you think every gardener should try to grow next year in their garden?

Chad:  Well, it’s probably just because I like them so much, but the Super Sweet 100 tomatoes are fabulous.  If you’ve not had a super sweet 100, you need to find some of those.  Those are the sweetest little cherry tomatoes ever.  If I’ve got some of those ripe and ready and people come to my greenhouse, I’ll hand them one of those and a lot of times people will say, “I don’t like tomatoes” and I’ll say you need to eat one of these, and you’ll change your mind.  And they do, they are so good and so sweet.

Dave:  They’re indeterminates, right, they grow pretty tall?

Chad:  Yeah, they do and they’ll last a long time.  They’ll last probably a year or better.  Now one of the things in aquaponics you can’t let your plants get too large and long-term because the root system will take over the whole bed, but you can leave them in there for about a year or so.  

Dave:  Absolutely brilliant.  Wow, our half hour has just flown by Chad.  I want everyone listening, please go to Chad’s site at EndlessFoodSystems.com  Please share his contributions on social media.  His twitter is:  @Endlessfoodsyst  He’s got an incredible resource site there, start there.  Encourage and share the message of aquaponics with your friends and other gardeners because as you have heard, it is a movement, and the big message and the takeaway is if enough people learn how to do this technique, it’ll end world hunger.   Chad, you’ve been so generous with your time, I’d like to give you the last word today.  Do you have a note of encouragement, or a pearl of wisdom you can share with our listeners?

Chad:  I would just say that for anybody out there that’s considered this, or maybe it’s brand new to you, I would encourage you to go and find out all that you can and do it.  It’s really not that hard, you can build a system with a couple of tubs.  You can build a little bitty one or a huge one, it doesn’t matter, the mechanics are the same regardless of the size.  I would encourage people to just do it, study up on it, look around before you bust off and spend a whole lot of money, maybe try a small one first and prove to yourself that you can do it.  But that’s the coolest part about it, it is doable, it does work and it’s an awesome way to grow food.

Dave:  I want to say on behalf of all our listeners Chad thanks for being on the call today.

Chad:  Thank you Dave, thanks for having me.

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