Two GreenTown members recently visited Ouroboros Farms in Pescadero to learn about aquaponics, and here’s what they found.
You’ve probably heard of aquaculture – farm raised fish – and hydroponics – crops grown in water. Put the two together and you get aquaponics which is what Ouroboros Farms is all about.
Ken Armstrong, founder and owner of Ouroboros Farms decided to give aquaponics a try last year and now has a successful operation underway in a rented greenhouse just east of Pescadero. The theory behind aquaponics is that fish produce organic, nutritive waste that can be used to fertilize hydroponically grown plants. Plants love it and flourish. The water is used in a closed circuit where plant-growing water is circulated with the fish tank in a cycle that uses 90% less water than conventional farming. The end result is fish to harvest, healthier plants, and less cost to grow the plants.
The execution of this process is not nearly so simple.
First problem: pH. It’s a bit technical, but plants like slightly acidic water, fish like it neutral, and the bacteria that help make the whole system work like it basic, requiring lots of pH adjustments.
Another challenge: bugs. It is farming after all and bugs love to eat plants, in particular, aphids. He uses ladybugs, midges, and wasps to eat the aphids. No chemical pesticides are allowed in an organic operation. In fact, Ken says it is cleaner than traditional organic because the fish are sensitive to even organic pesticides such as neem oil. Hence, this operation is truly “beyond organic.”
Finally, Ken carefully sources the corn and soy-based fish feed he uses, no GMOs are tolerated, and the fish feed doesn’t have any fishmeal in it, as he doesn’t believe in harvesting one type of fish to feed another.
Ken’s operation is still in the pilot phase and he is experimenting with lots of crops: tomatoes, lettuce, kale, basil, and even root crops like carrots. At this time, the best return is from kale and basil. He sells to farmers’ markets but really hopes to get connected to high-end chefs. Then he might finally turn a profit! Right now it’s a niche market, but with climate change, who knows? Aquaponics might be the farm of the future! Ken loves the challenges. He wears many hats – farmer, fisherman, plumber, engineer, chemist, and oh, he also handles marketing. Interested? He gives tours the first Saturday of every month. Sign up at his web site . It’s fascinating, entertaining, and informative – and if that’s not enough, Pescadero has a lot of fun shops, markets, and Duarte’s Tavern – still a great place for lunch.