Living in the frigid north is at times really limiting for gardeners, but some savvy folks have figured out how to grow food year around outdoors with aquaponics. The secret is surprisingly inexpensive too. It will make you wonder why it never came to mind before.
Repurposing used refrigerators and freezers. Now as freezers go, these are so inconvenient, making them cheap to score on Craigslist. If no longer in working condition, they will be free! None on Craigslist? Check at the local dump. I’ve heard of hunters hauling frozen meat from big game expeditions across the country without refrigeration using these, so the instant I stumbled onto this article a couple days ago, it made perfect sense. A great of an idea!
Of course, you want a cold weather trooper for your grow, and how much growth you get over the long, dark months depends on where you maintain your water temperature. It will also depend on the breed selected. Trout do better in cooler water at growing than something like catfish. And while it is believed that your nitrifying bacteria will go dormant at 50°F, Jeremiah at Frosty Fish up in Wisconsin discovered that he didn’t have this problem. After constant checking for a drop all winter of 2013-2014, he never had to increase water temps to correct the problem.
If you really want exceptional fish growth, you’ll want to maintain water temps of 65°F, which will require some energy use. Jeremiah sank his in the ground, which escalates the insulation factor a great deal. This is likely a lot cheaper to pull off than trying to chill water when the mercury soars in mid-summer, though you have excellent insulation in the walls of these freezers – no matter how old they are.
Yes, you will need a greenhouse or cold frame for your plants and other equipment, but these are also available used. Now in the original article I found on Inhabitat, Jeremiah talks about rips in the polycover of his $100 score and not planning on replacing it but adding a solar pool cover for this winter instead. Sounds like it will definitely help pull more heat into his plant zone during the day, but I certainly hope he’s using barrels of water in the planned upgrade of a thermal wall to hold it for the bitter nights.
I’m not so sure that the pool cover will work out , but he’s a man on a mission and learning as he goes. As he said, if you want to know what your worst case scenario is, last winter was the one to develop experience at what you’re facing. His fish were successful, but the plants gave up because he had holes in the greenhouse covering and no thermal assistance or heat. He also covered his grow beds with row cover cloth to try to hold heat from the irrigation in, but I think this might have been part of his plants being a loss. The winter sun is weaker, and with lots of snow, you’ll have tons of cloud cover weakening it’s effect even more. Grow lights would have used more power, yes, but he would have had plants with more energy to develop and persist.
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This gives you a lot more plant nutrition than gold fish! You’ll never grow tomatoes with a little aquarium aquaponics system – you need a lot more poo power than that.