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Proving Aquaponics Vegetable Gardens Are Viable for Small Businesses and Families

Marfa Public Radio

A team of scientists at Texas A&M is working on an "aquaponics” project to demonstrate a lower-cost method of growing vegetables – and raising fish.

The method is not new – but scientists are hoping to attract home gardeners and entrepreneurs to the field of soilless food production.

Aquaponics vegetable production in Texas has grown to the point that it now dominates requests for assistance from the Agrilife Extension Center at Texas A&M.  Vegetable specialist, Dr. Joseph Masabni is growing leaf and head lettuce in a 2-by-4-foot trough connected to a 30-gallon fish tank.

“It’s a closed system where you feed the fish and the fish waste goes to the troughs where the plants are growing, and the plants act as a filter to clean the water. And then the water comes back clean to the fish and you’re getting two crops at the same time – the fish and the vegetables,” he said.

Masabni says the plant roots are constantly submerged but have plenty of oxygen so they never get rotten. He says a family of four could grow all the vegetables they need plus about 10 pounds of fish each month in about 75 square feet of space. The system uses less water because it recirculates through the fish tank.

Masabni says lettuce, kale, spinach, watercress, herbs and other small plants can be grown in the troughs, without soil, and the cost effectiveness has yet to be determined for commercial producers. But he says an entrepreneur could make a good business supplying restaurants. 

Credit Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service
Diagram for a basic aquaponics system.

“A typical operation is a nice couple of greenhouses. It can supply enough for 25 or 30 restaurants once you get your system running and you know how to do it. Because you’re always producing something,” he said.