The Ponics Solution: Why new growing methods are the fix we didn’t know we needed

Soilless gardens produce bumper crops of organic food in a third of the time.
Soilless gardens produce bumper crops of organic food in a third of the time.

The Great Recession has taken its toll on planet Earth, and the United States has been especially hit hard. It seems that the pond world in particular is a hard-hit victim. Ponds and waterfalls are seen by the majority as a real luxury and expendable item. Many pond companies of five years ago are no longer around.
There are a plethora of new start-ups today, as we see a new, stronger economy gaining steam and momentum. However, today’s consumer is different than those of the past. Gone are the days of “bigger is better” and “money is no object.” Because of the information age, today’s consumer is much more savvy when it comes to knowing the prices of things. It seems that reading an article on the Internet makes some feel like pseudo-experts in their fields of interest.

Because of the Internet, today’s consumer is not just looking for ways to save money. Today’s consumer is looking for energy-efficient pumps and maintenance-saving devices to make life less stressful.

Is there a way post-recession pond builders can capitalize on the needs of new onsumers? Yes, but we need to first take a look at the thinking of today’s consumer, and what we see in the news is a great indicator of what our client base wants. Let’s break it down into three categories: environmental, health, and saving money. Let’s consider these one at a time.

Environmental

The greatest environmental disaster in the United States is occurring as we speak. For the first time ever, more than half the United States (26 States) has declared a drought state of emergency. Southern California alone imports over 1.5 BILLION GALLONS OF WATER a day! Water prices are escalating as never before, making people water conscious as never before.

Health

Last November, as Americans headed to the polls to vote on current issues, one California issue was Proposition 37, which was the GMO Labeling bill. This bill was narrowly defeated by Big Business. Although defeated, the fact that Prop 37 was on the ballot tells us that many are concerned with GMOs and don’t really trust the current food supply. Many are resorting to growing their own food, but with water prices soaring like a rocket, this does not seem practical.

Pond water runs through this pipe filled with edible produce.
Pond water runs through this pipe filled with edible produce.

Saving Money

Have you been to the grocery store lately? Have you seen the prices of food rising each week? And if you attempt to buy organic (safe) food, forget it! It is so expensive and it does not keep nearly as long as the non-organic, pesticide-laden fruits and veggies. People’s number one concern is good health, which is maintained in part by a good diet. But sadly, the idea of eating healthy seems to get further away with each paycheck.

A massive roots system fed by pond water.
A massive roots system fed by pond water.

Is there a way that pond builders can come to the rescue? Many see us as an industry of companies who build big, expensive luxury items that waste electricity and water. However, this perception can change if we, as a group, can come together and learn, promote and build aquaponic, aeroponic and hydroponic systems for our clients. How can this be? As a group, the pond-building community has built thousands of water features and koi ponds. We know that koi pond water is perhaps the perfect plant food. Plant roots need water and nutri- ents, but they do not need soil! NASA figured out how to keep humans in outer space for long periods of time through the use of growing plants in aeroponic systems. Aeroponics is the growing of plants with a mixture of air and nutrient- rich water. Aquaponics is using fish water to grow food, and hydroponics is growing food in water.


Let’s discuss what these systems have to offer the post-recession consumer.

Building  the wood frame for an Aquaponic System.
Building the wood frame for an Aquaponic System.
Finished Aquaponic system to the left. Koi pond is covered with lattice to protect koi from raccoons.
Finished Aquaponic system to the left. Koi pond is covered with lattice to protect koi from raccoons.
Vertical gardens grow faster and save water.
Vertical gardens grow faster and save water.

Environmental Benefits

Did you know that NASA has figured out that growing with aeroponic technology will result in water savings of at least 95 percent Google “aeroponics” and check out the references on Wikipedia. It’s all there!

Health Benefits

One of the greatest health concerns is not being able to trust what you buy at the grocery store. How do you know if the food you are buying is GMO? You don’t. (Remember, the proposition that would have required GMO Labeling got voted down.) The only sure way you can guarantee a non-GMO diet is to grow your own food, and this can be done with an aeroponic/aquaponic system — which, by the way, grows food three times faster han traditional farming! And food you pick and eat the same day doesn’t have time to degrade, allowing you to get the most nutrients from the food you eat.

Money-Saving Benefits

Have you priced a head of organic lettuce lately? While a head of lettuce is often prohibitively expensive, the seed is practically free! If you could figure out a way to grow your own food in your backyard with non-GMO seed and water that recycles, this would seem like a dream come true to most homeowners. But guess what: this is the reality of the pond world! We have the technology to make this happen. I can grow 50 heads of organic lettuce in a three-foot by three-foot space, and I am doing it with a small pond pump and liner. I have exist- ing clients who found out I was doing this type of “urban farming” and they have hired me to add these systems to their existing ponds — another welcome revenue stream for my company! And did I mention that you don’t have to wrestle with weeds and composting, as this type of food growing is soilless?
Much has been written on the topic of growing plants without soil. Many terms have been used to describe this type of growing, and many distinctions are made by experts. For the record, here is a very simplified explanation of the three major types of soil free gardening:

1). Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Plant roots are grown in the nutrient solution. Plant researchers back in the 18th century discovered that plants absorb essential mineral nutrients such as inorganic ions in water. Thus, soil is not essential to lant growth.

2). Aeroponics was discovered by NASA about 50 years ago. Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in a mixture of air and nutrient-filled water. “Aeroponic” comes from two Greek words, meaning “air” and “labor.” Because water is used in aeroponics, it is sometimes considered a form of hydroponics. Aeroponics is becoming very popular due to its origins with NASA and the convenience of setting up this type of system in a matter of minutes. A vertical Garden can be set up in about five minutes.

3). Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that combines aqua-culture (raising fish for food) with hydroponics (growing plants in water). Bringing these two worlds together creates a symbiotic environment, where fish waste provides nutrients for plants and in return, clean water is returned back to the fish pond. When fish are big enough, people can eat the fish as well as the produce the system provides! The Aztecs are credited with discovering aquaponics (in addition to discovering chocolate — we certainly have a lot to thank them for!).

This beautiful pond is the source of vegetable nutrients for the Aquaponic system on the fence, to the right of the pond.
This beautiful pond is the source of vegetable nutrients for the Aquaponic system on the fence, to the right of the pond.

Which system is best for your client? This depends on your level of expertise. It is advisable to look up the three mentioned ways of growing plants without soil and do further research. Read about them on Wikipedia. Learn what you can from YouTube videos. Once you are familiar with these three types of systems and their distinctions, make it a point to build a few systems from scratch. There are a couple of prefabricated, turnkey systems available online.

One concern you will hear from consumers is, “is the plastic food safe?” Do your research. There is such a thing as food-grade plastic, and there is also non- safe food grade, which can be harmful. Instead of using a hydroponic fertilizer, how about grabbing a five-gallon bucket and scooping up some pond water and pouring it into the system basin? You would essentially be using a “liquid manure,” and plants will thrive. This type of growing will result in plants growing two thirds faster, and the water in these type of systems recycle, achieving a 95 percent water saving!

As you can see in our exploration of the psychology of these systems, the world is seeking what we already have created. Let this be the flicker that flames your passion to take our industry above and beyond where it has gone before.

This pyramid-shaped aquaponic system grows 50 heads of lettuce in a three-square-foot space and is only 4 feet tall.
This pyramid-shaped aquaponic system grows 50 heads of lettuce in a three-square-foot space and is only 4 feet tall.

Today’s consumer is more than happy to spend money if he gets something in return. How about building a beautiful koi pond that dazzles the senses and soothes the soul? Make sure that as the public becomes more aware of these types of systems and customers want more information, they can turn to you for answers. Now is the time to brand yourself as the local expert. Remember: the sizzle sells the steak. It is advisable to install several types of systems in your own yard and/or install one at a relative’s home. This will give you the confidence and experience you need to be viewed as somebody in the know. With research, time and patience, you can expand your offerings into the world of soil-free gardening systems and grow your business.

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