Teach a man to fish…

30 Jun

Greetings, Campers!

As we start work on  our new ISBU home, we’re thinking about ways to tweak it further.

My home – being built from (2) pairs of 20′ High Cube ISBU and conventional in-fill – has a large 2 story solarium (clad in steels and salvaged Lexan sheets) designed as both “entry foyer” and “food producer”. Think “walk-thru greenhouse”.

I admit that when I designed it, I just wanted to grow enough herbs to make the home smell like a deli. I wanted to get up to the smell of fresh basil and head for the sack with the smells of sage and rosemary still thick in my nostrils.

But the more I looked at that solarium, the more I thought about the spaces that it would provide.

I started thinking about how to use the spaces beneath the planting beds for something besides pots, gardening tools and bags of soil.

As we started exploring how that solarium could be used to full advantage, we started thinking about ways to harness all that energy and goodness, to actually allow the farming of “proteins and vittles”… in a twenty foot walk from the kitchen, without having to actually go “outside”.

In hard times, it’s best to manage everything that you can, internally. It reduces your risks and makes you more self-reliant. Anything grown “within arms reach” prevents travels out of your yard to procure.

Many of you know that I always press/pressure/arm-twist families to (at the very least) install a raised bed garden into their home plans, to offset their families food costs.

Hey, where I live, tomatoes cost more than gasoline. Oy.

So… in many of my homes, we’ve included both hydroponics and fish farming.

I’ve even talked about using ISBUs as holding tanks for fish and frolic, much to the chagrin of people who just couldn’t wrap their heads around it.

Using fish to “bump” plant production isn’t new.

It’s a concept called “aquaponics”. You’re basically cultivating fish and then using that nitrogen rich water (from the fish poop) to grow vegetables in. The planter beds clean the water (thru filtration) and then it returns to the fish to start the process over again.

Can you say “Symbiotic”?

I knew you could.

It isn’t going to solve the world’s problems, but it will contribute to solving ours. And I am sure that along the way… my son will take great delight in tormenting all those poor fish, before we filet and fry them. 🙂

We’re going to run fish tanks (we’ve started collecting them from thrift stores and Craigslist) along the bottom of our planter beds and then run a series of recirculation pumps (fueled by our photovoltaic panels) that will feed a “MacGiverish Nitrogen stack”.

No! They won’t be mutant fish raised in the dark. Lighting for the fish? L-E-D.

And then, with just a little effort per day… the fish will grow and that enriched water they create will then feed the planting beds. Pretty hands free. Pretty simple stuff, really.

And, the fish aren’t  bad to look at.  As a kid, I used to dump bags of mixed Central American cichlids into a big tank to watch them define their territories. After a while, some of them got big enough that we had to remove them. Now, I admit that we “freed” them by releasing them into local ponds.  Had my dad been home, he’d have insisted that we eat them. Alas… as a kid…  it’s hard to eat fish that you named…. 😉

But I digress;

The point of this is to provide protein for the clan and nutrients for the plants.

Look, on other blogs I’ve already told readers about using your own urine to grow food… This is just less messy. 😉

If the readers here express an interest, I’ll run that article here on RR. You’ve been warned…  😉

We’re going to use Tilapia and Bass as proteins. Yes – separate tanks. They’ll eat each other if you’re not careful. The beauty is that they are inexpensive, they grow fast, they are hardy and they taste good if prepared properly.  And they get bigger than you might think. Want proof?

Meet David and his dinner. Tilapia for four, now serving!

But, can the average family do this without devoting a lot of money and space to it?

I think so. Lately, we came across this idea:

This is “Malthus”.Malthus is an in-home aquaponics unit designed for the next generation kitchen or living room.

Now, note from the beginning that this is a “one meal a day” solution. You’d have to scale it up to support a family. However, as a concept, it’s pretty darn good. It clearly illustrates the steps you’d need to take to make this work under your own roof.

Malthus – exactly as shown – grows one single meal a day. You’re probably not gonna “get it your way” or “get fries on the side”.

You’re gonna get a portion of fish and a small salad.

The designers will tell you that:

“Malthus is an appliance for the kitchen of the future that grows food right next to where you cook it. Malthus consists of a fish tank that holds 100 gallons which can support more than approximately 4 1/2 pounds of fish like tilapia, salmon, greyfish or carp. The water is pumped through three cultivated grow beds which filter the water for the fish.

[Editors note: Ewww! Tilapia for sure. Bass? Okay. Salmon? Hmmm. Greyfish or carp? Forget it.]

Malthus is designed to optimize space and costs with indoor food production. The weight of the fish tank is comparable to the one of a full bathtub, its width is about the size of two small refrigerators. Its parts are made of elements available in most DIY stores.”

If you really look closely at the drawings and diagrams on their site, you can see just how simple this would be to achieve. It really is turnkey.

Read more about it, here:


Image Credits: Google Images and Conceptualdevices.com


9 Responses to “Teach a man to fish…”

  1. Kim June 30, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Great thinking. In permaculture design this is called stacking functions, in everyday terms this is just great common sense; use everything to its fullest capacity and see how elements in a design can support each other. A brilliant guy named Travis Hughey designed an aquaponics system he calls “barrelponics” because it utilizes barrels/50 gallon plastic drums. There is a wonderful Yahoo group “barrelponics” where members discuss their systems and the file database is filled with outstanding articles from how to set up a system to tilapia recipes. The plans are available as a pdf download for free here: http://www.aces.edu/dept/fisheries/education/documents/barrel-ponics.pdf.
    Here’s a link to a series of youtube videos showing the system. A picture (in this case moving) is worth 1000 words:

    [Editors Note: I’ve inserted the actual Youtube clip for your viewing pleasure]

  2. Andy June 30, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    I’ve seen many variations on this theme. The 3-tiered aquaculture guy in downtown Milwaukee using an old warehouse in a community effort with a store. Knew a guy who grew crappies in plastic pools in a metal garage and recirc’ed the water thru planters got maybe 1000lbs of fish a year. We used to stock ponds with catfish when I was a kid then water the garden from the pond. Of course you needed land and a dozer to make the pond and it’s not a closed system but the garden drains to the pond. Shallow ponds are fine for carp and they are tasty if you know how to smoke’em. You need land for an orchard of apple, hickory and oak trees to do it ,a good recipe and skills to remove the right parts of the fish, an old frig, and a upwind tunnel from the fire to the frig. A guy in Florida is raising “freshwater lobster’s” with success and will send you breeders for a cost if it’s legal in your state. All in all like minded and friendly neighbors who all like to barter, can, preserve, ferment, etc is how you get past the one meal a day with a lot of variety in hard times.

    • Renaissance Ronin July 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

      Hi Andy,

      Like you say… you can raise a surprising amount of protein… um…er … fish, in a small space, if you think it thru.

      I’ll pass on the carp. Too bony. Pain in the butt to clean and process. I’ll take tilapia everytime! 🙂

      And the exhaust water always goes to irrigation be it a garden and/or and orchard , for sure!

      And you’re suggesting that we (gasp!) assemble a like minded body of people who like to barter, can, preserve and ferment? And they’ll all be friendly? Sounds like sedition to me… 🙂

      You’re absolutely right. No man is an island. Now, depending on how much beer he drinks, his waistline might measure like one, but… 😉

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. ThreeWestCreative July 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    Nice article. 🙂 I’ve been running a small balcony AP system I built for a little over a year with plans to build a larger system for myself and neighbors when I’m able to buy land. It’s been so rewarding and so easy to take care of. I currently only use crayfish but I’m in an apartment with a small balcony. I’ll want to do Tilapia and catfish when I build bigger.

    I bought your introduction to container homes book and I like what you mentioned about the use of space. When I bought my home in New York back in 2005, it was a 100 year old two-family home. One thing I noticed with those types of homes were that all of the bedrooms were very small (about 8×10 or less) but all of the common living spaces were huge (living room, dinning room, kitchen). The bathroom was mere hint of a space. 🙂 More space was used on areas that would get the most use and I’m keeping this in mind when I build my container home for sure.

    Even in my apartment now (1200 sq ft) I feel like much of it is a waste of space. My bedroom is huge but I’m only in there to sleep. What a waste! So I’m looking forward to putting together my own home and be able to decide for myself how the space is used.


    • Renaissance Ronin July 3, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

      Hey 3WC,

      Thanks for dropping in!

      I am convinced that running a scaled aquaponics system like this can be a huge benefit.

      Not only does it grow what you need symbiotically, it does it at no real risk or effort to you. And you don’t have t o leave your home (or even the room) to get what you need to consume a great meal. No muss, no fuss.

      Where ISBUs are concerned, I believe it’s essential to build what you need, based on what you DO. Sleeping doesn’t require an Olympic sized swimming pool of a footprint. Save your building money for multipurpose rooms big enough to accomplish your goals. I’m not saying you have to build TINY. Just build SMART.

      You would be surprised at just how much “living” you can accomplish in that “small house” if you just think the design thru.

      Thanks for your comment and good luck with your project!

    • Kim July 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

      I agree, TWC. In my current home there is a small room designed to be an office and then a large master bedroom. I switched their uses as I work from home and spend WAY more time in the office than in the bedroom. I refer to it as my “sleeping chamber” and it is very cozy actually. When I toured the earth bag buildings done at CalEarth in Hesperia, California, I was very taken with the “bed wombs” built into the domes. I’m thinking about adding a “bed womb” to my container now that the mystery of how to join earth bags to containers has been solved.

  4. Steve Spence July 11, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    We are building aquaponics systems in SC. Raising Channel Cats and Brimm (in separate tanks). You can grow a lot of cats in a $400 Walmart Pool. http://www.green-trust.org/wordpress/aquaponics-project/

    • Renaissance Ronin July 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

      Hi Steve,

      Can channel cats just jump out of a kiddie pool? Or are you talking full sized “DIY” pool?

      Folks, if anyone can figure out how to make anything work better than you thought possible, THIS is the guy. Check out his link. Steve is one of the brightest bulbs in the bag… and they run off Photovoltaic panels that he hung himself…

      Highly recommended!

      • Steve Spence July 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

        I’m using a 300 gallon stock tank, but the pool I’m referring to is a 15′ x 36″.

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