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GaryD

What is Microponics?

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Microponics is the name that I've chosen for my Integrated Backyard Food Production concept. It's derived from the words micro-farming, micro-livestock and aquaponics.....and it's much less of a mouthful than integrated backyard food production.

The cornerstone of a microponics unit is a recirculating aquaponics system - simply because the one thing that most organisms have in common with each other is their need for water.....and because an aquaponics system is an eco-system (which is good).

Microponics differs from aquaponics in two respects:

  1. Where aquaponics is the combination of recirculating aquaculture and hydroponics, microponics advocates the use of water from an aquaponics system with virtually any plant growing system.....including square foot gardens, sheet mulch gardens and the raised beds popularised by ABC Gardening's Peter Cundall. In fact, the irrigation of plants of any kind with water from an aquaponics system leverages the efficiency of the gardening system.....particularly if the replacement water comes from a rainwater tank.
  2. Microponics is the integration of fish, plants and micro-livestock. If we accept that aquaponics is a simple eco-system (and it is) and that bio-diversity is a good thing (and it is), then microponics makes for a stronger eco-system......and it puts even greater quantities of clean fresh food on the table.

Microponics is not at odds with aquaponics. Microponics is aquaponics....and more.

You can read more about microponics.....and other things.....on my blog at www.microponics.net.au.

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Hi Gary & all at aquaponics HQ,

i havent chatted with you Gary for years since we were all at the 'backyard' forum but I'm really interested in your post about microponics and I know you have been working with microfarming for a very long time.

I have been working on a system design and would love feedback or direction to other posts where members may have already been discussing similar ideas.

Here goes: Its a mandala garden design based on the work of Linda woodrow

( permaculture author of 'the permaculture home garden"). Members may be familiar with her famous "chook dome" design. She has a small central pond around which six circular vegetable beds, all with a diameter of 12 metres, are planted. She utilises a crop rotation technique with the large circular chook dome (housing about 12 hens) weeding and fertilising each bed for about 2 weeks, then moving on to the next and the previous bed is then ready for planting. Its all very well thought out with lots of thought going into guild planting in terms of both space and time as she considers the role plants can play "nursing" one another with their different growth rates, nutrient needs etc. Its is a truly beautiful system. Being an aquaponics girl, I have never stopped thinking about how I would like to inegrate this fabulous mandala system with an aquaponics system. This would involve each grow bed containing standard scoria etc BUT over that would be some kind of water permeable medium such as carpet (?) which would cover the scoria and on top of this would be a rich layer of soil into which could be planted Linda woodrows vegetable guilds and upon which a chook dome could be rotated. The pond in the middle could be a rather large fish pond (5000 L +?)with the benefit of having not two but 6 'grow/garden beds' to filter the water. Over the pond would be either a quail or guinea pig "dome" with the fish eating their droppings as per traditional asian aquaculture. I would envisage that with all the extra grow bed space, the system could handle the etxra load of nutrient coming from the chickens and quail/ guineas.

This is how I see it. what I'm really questing for is an integrated polyculture utilising aquaponics/ quail and guinea pigs in as small an area as possible without overloading the system with nutrients and I need to learn more about the different bacterial loads and tolerances of the different species as I know you can cause more harm than good if the wrong species are mixed together or exposed to the wrong stuff eg guinea pigs shouldnt be housed with rabbits as they are very sensitive to some organisms the rabbits tolerate very well. I know I havent provided a very technical picture here and I'm hoping there are some menbers who are aquainted with the beauty of a vegetable mandala garden. Its circular design is just screaming out for some kind of aquaponic modification.

I'd love to get into further details if anyone wants to continue the conversation! I have actually started on the design in my own backyard and have my chooks doing their work on the beds - but no water reticulation as yet.

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Hi Aeon, Bidadisndat here. I'm amazed that I've just come off a forum where I was writing about Linda's chook domes and mandalas to find you asking questions about same.

I also have given a lot of thought to an integrated system, however not to the extent of placing soil on top of grow-beds.

My thoughts were along the lines of having having a mandala consisting of several round AP growbeds for all the above ground plants, and several on-soil beds for the root crops, with the on-ground beds being watered via drip irrigation supplied from the AP system's sump tank, (which would then be topped up with fresh water). At present, after trying to work out how they could be operated together as one, I have come to the conclusion that AP and Linda's mandalas tend to be mutually exclusive systems.

In your proposed system I'd also be a bit concerned about having the poultry over the FT as there is a possibility of introducing nasties into the system. In Asia the ponds are usually big enough, but AP tanks are likely to be a bit on the small side to deal with this.

I'd be interested in reading more of what you're planning: May jog the old grey cells into gear and get me thinking of other ways to combine the systems.

......Bid...

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Hi Aeon,

Lovely to hear from you again.

While your post certainly deserves more detail, here's a few ideas to keep you going until time permits.

  • Consider a mandala where a fish tank is at the centre.....with the garden beds surrounding it. The common need in all of the organisms you've nominated is water so aquaculture is central to your proposed system.
  • Aquaponics is often the same as the Bible. Some people seem to interpret it too literally. In microponics, variations on the aquaponics theme are not only possible but highly desirable. So long as you have just one recirculating aquaponics system (so that you can create an aquaponic eco-system), the rest of your growing systems can be open loop.....or you can just use the water from your fish tank to irrigate the conventional garden plots in your mandala design.
  • The growing system in a fully recirculating aquaponics systems doesn't need to be based on flood and drain media-based grow beds. It could just be a duckweed tank......it's still recirculating aquaponics for the purposes of establising an aquaponics eco-system.
  • I'd steer clear of adding animal manure to your fish tanks. In my view, it's contrary to what we're trying to achieve for the fish - water of optimum quality. As Bid has pointed out, the ponds used in the Asian farming systems upon which this idea is based, are usually much larger than you'll be using......and the fish species that live in such ponds, are generally fairly rugged types like carp or similar.

More later!

Gary

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Cool!

thanks guys for your replies. i made a big booboo when I stated that my garden beds had a diameter of 12 m which of course would be so huge they wouldnt fit in many people's backyard! The beds have a CIRCUMFERENCE of 12 m about a diameter of about 3.9 I think from memory. Gary, my idea certainly did have the water tank in the middle with beds surrounding it. I love your term 'aquaponic ecosystem'. When you think about it with that word it really places the emphasis back on balancing the chemistry and I see how droppings in the water are not helping the water quality at all!

If only i could find a way to stack more species on the beds without over loading it. I guess my guineas will remain as current lawnmovers and future lunches ( I'm a Fekonia fan too- she sent me a great cd workshop on how to butcher them). With quail being quite similar to chooks, I hope there is a way I can have Them in the system somewhere. Just got to keep thinking....

ps I have what appears to be a broody Jap hen on a nest of eggs. Even the rooster has been on the eggs when she gets off. have you ever had this behaviour from your quail?

cheers

Aeon

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Aeon, I had that happen once with my quail, and was very surprised as I'd been led to believe quail were poor at hatching - which is why I got a couple of silkies, which are usually excellent for hatching eggs. Actually, a couple of silkies might be good in your situation: They don't need to be kept in a coop and are often quite happy left to their own devices, wandering around the yard entertaining themselves and you - plus giving you eggs.

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Hi,

It's very rare for a quail hen to sit on her eggs - and a cockerel doing it is unheard of in my experience.

Aeon,

thanks guys for your replies. i made a big booboo when I stated that my garden beds had a diameter of 12 m which of course would be so huge they wouldnt fit in many people's backyard! The beds have a CIRCUMFERENCE of 12 m about a diameter of about 3.9 I think from memory.

Just under 4m in diameter sounds much more manageable for a backyard.

If only i could find a way to stack more species on the beds without over loading it.

It might just be a question of thinking about how the various species are introduced into the rotations. For example, you could use guinea pigs to clean up any edible greens from the garden and then follow them with chickens or quail.

While you have described your particular proposed arrangement as circular beds in a circular pattern, this type of integration can be managed in various ways.

For example, you could have a series of square foot (or square metre) garden beds with detachable covers. Once you've finished harvesting your plants, rabbits or guinea pigs could be moved onto the beds to eat up any plant residues and to manure the growing mix......or you may even have planted the bed with fodder plants for your animals in the first instance. Chickens can be used to clean out root residues and to further manure the beds.

If the beds are kept a manageable size and shape, there is scope for a wide variety of integrations which could also embrace fungi, worms, snails, etc.....and all of this could be set up a comfortable working height.

Detachable covers could be made to perform a variety of functions including cold frames, mini-greenhouses, livestock pens, etc.

Gary

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Aeon, check out Gary's post on wicking beds: I think that a couple of these beds would fit very well into a mandala. Fishfood has some and has also posted a bit about them.

My thoughts at the moment are along the lines of: A central pond used as a sump, and which could also be used for for growing duckweed, one station of the outer six being the fish tank, three being used as AP grow beds, and the last two as wicking beds.

Although a mandala is aesthetically pleasing to my eye, the same system could be easily done with regular rectangular beds, and would be easier to cover with a green house, which in my case seems to be coming more important, given the weather here.

I'm especially interested in the wicking beds for growing root crops - beetroot, carrots, daikon, rutabagas, and turnips, but particular parsnips, (which I really like but which are also overly expensive to buy), and I'm giving serious consideration to putting in a couple.

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thanks Bidadisnat,

I am intrigued! What in the world is a wicking bed? I love that there is always a new concept or technique to discover in this urban farming renaissance we are fortunate enough to be a part of. It keeps me feeling young!

I will definitely check out Gary's post.

I am currently absorbed in the process of covering my entire backyard with strong bird netting I bought from Haverfords netting. This will keep the good guys in and the bad guys out (I hope).

regards

Aeon

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Aeon, I thought a bit more about the mandala and figure that the fish tank could be taken out, placed in a small shed close by, and replaced with another wicking or grow-bed. A shed could keep the FT more in the dark and protect the electrical fittings, as well as being a place to store all the AP paraphernalia.

Of course, this system would unfortunately preclude the use of poultry, as digging and fertilising is not necessary with AP, so they'd have to be housed elsewhere.

In your situation, would being as self-sufficient as possible mean less of having to undertake the odious task of making a trip to the mainland? :D

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Yes it would, IF I was still on the island. I havent updated my details but I just

bought a property at Berowra heights. Its a flat quarter acre block which is much more conducive to growing food than beautiful Scotland Island. I loved the island and island life, however it wasnt working for my husband so we are very happy we have found a place to live that we can both enjoy ( he's not the outdoors type bless him).

I was thinking of putting a shed closer to my mandala so I could indeed put some AP stuff in there. I like to have my fish outside though. I have never found the occasional rain to do them any harm.

Still haven't had a chance to look up wicking beds yet!

cheers,

Aeon

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Wicking Beds: You might have seen a variation on the theme: Gardening sections in places like Big W sell 'self watering' plant pots that have a reservoir in the bottom. The potting mix goes onto a platform that has cone-shaped supports, which hold some of the mix, that sits above the reservoir. The water in the reservoir is wicked up through the mix in the supports.

Another system I've seen described in a book has a pot plant above a water container with a wick of braided rope between the two. The rope is teased out at both ends, the bottom being placed in a container of nutrients disolved in water, and top end being led through a hole in the bottom of the planting pot where it is covered with potting mix.

(Had I married a certain Miss Brown, oh so many years ago, her father was going to give us a block of land on the island. Fortunately, reason prevailed and the lovely girl called the whole thing off, probably saving us both from certain misery. :D )

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Wicking beds can be very simple to quite complex. As simple as a plant pot with a deep container rather than shallow saucer under it or some liner material buried in a trench between some trees. Those would both work as wicking beds. Others are complex where you have a deep container that you put gravel in the bottom and distrobution pipes and watering ports and then root barrier on top of the gravel and planting mix on top of that with the drain holes being about the height of the bottom of the planting soil.

I made a couple of wicking beds for my inlaws. They were made of old water tanks cut in half the long way kinda like blue barrels but twice as big. I drilled holes about half way up and the beds are total about 30 cm deep. In the bottom I put free wood chip mulch and then a layer of mushroom compost and a bag of good potting soil. I installed micro irrigation on a timer cause I knew they wouldn't remember to water. Those beds have been growing and producing wonderfully through a very hot summer for them. They are up on blocks and barrel ponics like cradles since I wanted to make them easy to tend. They are in front of the deck so the beans and cucumbers have climbed right up the railings.

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Hi TCL,

My experience of wicking beds is overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I believe that wicking beds are the perfect companion to an aquaponics system......for those plants who prefer a soil-based environment.

Gary

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Hi Terry,

 

I've neglected the Microponics site for far too long……and, it seems, I've managed to disconnect the membership thing, too.  Give me a day or two to catch up with my Tech and I'll get it remedied.

 

Gary

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