April 9, 2013
Temple University Ambler has of history of farming dating back to the 1800s and likely even longer. The Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women — the forerunner to Temple Ambler — was a working farm. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see students waking before the morning sunrise to milk the prize cows and tend to the other animals and fields.
In 2013, farming has returned to Ambler in an all together different form.
Students and staff have created a fully developed aquaponics garden, which has taken root in the basement of West Hall.
“Aquaponics is the cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a self-sustaining, symbiotic environment. Essentially the cycle of aquaponics is that the waste from the fish becomes food for the plants; the plants absorb the nutrients and naturally filter the water back into the fish tank,” said Katie Baysa, one of the Aquaponics at Ambler project managers. “The name aquaponics is derived from the combination of its two main counterparts, aquaculture and hydroponics. Aquaponics takes on the benefits of these growing methods while eliminating some of the disadvantageous aspects, such as the waste produced and the amount of water used. It also uses less than 10 percent of the water used in soil-based farming."
The aquaponics structure would make Rube Goldberg proud. Amid the vibrantly growing vegetable plants and tilapia sits a 130 gallon glass fish tank, several feet of PVC piping, submersible pumps, grow lights and plastics bins that act as growing beds filled with expanded clay (any pH-neutral porous stone will do — no soil is used). The grand total for the indoor set-up — $100 to $300 depending on the size of the aquaponic garden.
“This is something that can be catered to any size growing environment, indoor or outdoor. It addresses large scale problems, such as water conservation and overfishing — this is a very healthy way to raise fish and grow plants,” said Michael Bavas, Senior Technical Support Specialist at Temple and co-director of Ambler’s Aquaponics project with fellow Temple staff member Bill Eagan. “Our plan is to make our aquaponics garden fully sustainable by adding solar panels, collecting rainwater and growing our own fish food. The fish eat duckweed, which grows naturally right in the Sustainable Wetland Garden on campus — there are so many resources available to us right here.”
In addition to its resident tilapia, Ambler’s garden is currently growing two types of cucumber, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and basil. The harvest, according to Bavas, will be sold at area farmers markets — keeping the aquaponics project economically self-sustaining — with the intention of donating fresh vegetables to local food banks as the aquaponics garden grows larger.
“Our main goal is to use the aquaponics garden to educate the public. We want student and community involvement to help create an awareness about aquaponics and its uses,” said Baysa. “Its organic farming that can be set up in almost any space and you can grow food year round. The plants grow faster and are healthier and there is no run-off.”
To kick off their educational campaign, Horticulture major Phil Ross will present a special lecture — “Aquaponics: A Complete Cycle,” on Wednesday, April 10, at 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Bright Hall Lounge.
In a case of synchronous serendipity, Ross and fellow Horticulture major Nathan Peretz, Jr. were exploring the possibility of starting an aquaponics garden on campus at the same time Bavas and Eagan were approaching campus administration to get their project off the ground. They combined forces and have since been joined by Baysa, a Marketing major; her brother Kyle Baysa, majoring in entrepreneurship; Landscape Architecture student Tim Lederman, Community and Regional Planning Master’s student Jiting Deng and academic advisor Cheryl Leeser.
“It’s a diverse group that shares a passion for sustainability…and for good healthy food. One of the ideas is to share what we are doing with food cupboards and homeless shelters to help individuals and families become self-sustainable,” Bavas said. “Aquaponics lends itself to urban spaces. We intentionally sought out unused indoor space at Ambler as a model for what could be done with unused spaces in urban and suburban environments.”
According to Baysa, the dedicated group of students and staff are just getting started. The group will present their aquaponics success story as an exhibitor at EarthFest 2013 on Friday, April 26. Plans are also underway to continue to expand their West Hall garden.
“We want to develop a gutter system, which would actually use wall space. The system includes a 20 gallon tank, a submerged pump and a series of slanted piping, which is the medium in which the plants grow,” she said. “As the water filters through from top to bottom, the roots of each plant receive nutrients. It’s a vertical design that could likely subsist on natural light. We want to be able to use the space we have to showcase the different types of aquaponics set-ups that people could explore in their own homes, their own business or schools — really anywhere!”
For more information about Ambler Aquaponics, visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/ambleraquaponics or by searching "Ambler Aquaponics."
CONTACT: James Duffy, 267-468-8108, email@example.com, release available by e-mail