My dream home has a fully automated aquaponics system that grows tilapia and vegetables in the backyard. Alas, I live in a tiny apartment in San Francisco, so the closest I can get to experimenting with food self-sufficiency is this Back to the Roots Water Garden.

004

Aquaponic farming is interesting because it’s a closed system that captures the complete nitrogen cycle to produce edible fish and vegetables:

  1. Fish eat food and excrete ammonia.
  2. Bacteria convert the ammonia to nitrites and nitrates.
  3. Plants are fertilized by the nitrates and clean the water for the fish.

I had hoped the Back to the Roots aquarium would be a good way to experiment with aquaponics on a small scale and grow fresh herbs for the kitchen.  It comes with everything you need to get started: a 3 gallon fish tank, gravel for the bottom of the tank, a water bed with pots and growstones for the plants/herbs, a pump to circulate the water from the tank into the water bed, nitrifying bacteria, and fish food.  The tank is too small to support edible fish, so it’s powered by a betta fish (the kit includes a coupon for a $1 betta fish at Petco).  Meet my betta fish, Tony Jaa!

012

It can purportedly grow many different types of herbs.  I tried growing wheatgrass, basil, and cilantro from seed, but I was only able to successfully grow the wheatgrass.  The basil and cilantro sprouted, but the plants never grew.

Based on my experience, I would not recommend it as a way to grow herbs for the kitchen.  However, it was a fun experiment and makes for a nice betta tank.  Tony Jaa happily made his bubble nests in the clean water.