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Grow Your Own Food Right in Your Kitchen With This DIY Aquaponics Kit

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Imagine herbs, flowers and other plants thriving with your pet fish. Aqua Biofilter’s Aquarium Garden is a DIY aquaponics kit that lets you grow food on top of of your tank.

The Aquarium Garden kit is comprised of small growing plugs that fit inside just about any tank. All you have to do is insert seeds or seedlings into the plugs which are filled with Aqua Biofilter's growing material. Drop the pods into the tank and now you own your own mini-aquaponic garden.

"The concept of aquaponics is to nurture fish and plants at the same time," developer Michiel de Koning told EcoWatch. "Fish waste and all the waste water gets up­cycled and fertilizes the plants. The roots of the plants grow deep down into the water and allow bacteria to biologically clean the water and transfer nutrients to the plants which grow healthy from all the nutrients. This is improving the water quality for the fish while the plants keep on growing."

He adds that aquarium owners will love the kit because the garden vastly increases biofiltration capacity thus dramatically reducing the amount of fish tank cleaning.

This 40-second video explains how the product works.

According to de Koning, the idea behind the project came from Australian environmental scientist and urban planner Tom Duncan who was involved in the world's largest floating wetlands project that cleaned up China's lake ­Taihu near Shanghai. The lake was badly impacted by toxic algal blooms, and thanks to Duncan's Aqua Biofilter technology, the bloom was completely eradicated in just three months after installation. Duncan is also behind other floating wetlands projects in Malaysia and Australia.

As for the mini-version, after living in apartments that didn't have a garden, Duncan got the idea of a indoor garden/DIY-floating wetlands system using everyday aquariums. He teamed up with de Koning and his two brothers, Peter and Gerjan, who each have backgrounds in business administration, civil engineering and mechanical engineering. After three years of prototype testing and development, they created the Aquarium Garden.

The plants growing in the fish tank soak up excess nutrients just like a wetland does in nature, so algae doesn’t have much of a chance to grow and the plants are much healthier, de Koning says.

Floating wetlands project, which spanned four acres in China's lake Taihu, cleaned up a toxic algal bloom. Photo credit: Home Ecology

There are other aquaponic aquariums available on the market, but Aqua Biofilter boasts that at an early bird price of $12.50 on Indiegogo, theirs is by far the most affordable one around.

Michiel de Koning took the time to answer some more of EcoWatch's questions.

Q. Why should everyone have an Aquarium Garden kit?

A. We hope to inspire kids and people all around the world to learn about the complexity of nature and develop eco­literacy at an early age. When children build and interact with an ecosystem, they quickly understand its dynamics and can adapt their actions accordingly to the bio­feedback that the aquarium ecosystem provides. It also suits self­-directed learners who prefer to engage with their hands, not just learn from a book. Tom had restored wetlands in Australia and Asia, and wanted to bring the technology out of the field and into the home, school and office. It’s a self-cleaning fish tank that has an inbuilt ecosystem, and we believe everyone with an aquarium should have one.

With this aquarium sized aquaponics garden anyone can learn how to grow a little ecosystem in their home or school. It is a really fun process to create the garden and it’s just so much fun watching the fish goes straight to the garden roots dangling down, you can see the fish really love the roots habitat, it makes them feel safe and secure. It also keeps them healthy because the roots provide oxygen, beneficial enzymes and if you grow basil, mint and cilantro it also provides micro­doses of health essential oils to the fish skin and gills, keeping it free of disease and parasites. It looks great and it creates a very healthy ecosystem for the fish.

The AquaBiofilterTM and plants soak up excess nutrients just like a wetland does in nature, so algae doesn’t have a chance to grow much, and the plants are much healthier. Photo credit: Home Ecology

Q. Can you tell me more about Tom Duncan's aquaponic floating islands? How has it helped reduce algal blooms or helped local ecosystems?

A. Currently the AquaBiofilter floating wetlands are being used in Australia and Asia by Governments, communities and industry to improve water quality in freshwater and marine ecosystems, as well as increase the biodiversity by creating fish spawning habitat and predator free nesting sites in urban water bodies. Environmental performance of the floating wetlands can reduce total ammonia by up to 90 percent when the hydraulic retention time is three days in a wetland and the surface area coverage approaches 45 percent. Aquaculture farms use AquaBiofilter floating wetlands to clean fish waste water.

Colloidally suspended heavy metals from roads, heavy industry, airports and factories can be cleaned significantly because the plant roots can grow up to 7 meters down in some cases depending on species, covered with a sticky bacterial and algal biofilm that traps the tiny heavy metal particles and the biofilm then passes the metals to the inside of the plant roots where they are stored securely in the carbon of the roots.

Lake Taihu water before and after floating wetlands cleaned up the toxic algal bloom. Photo credit: Home Ecology.

This is a much better outcome to trap the pollutants and treat them at their source, instead of allowing them to enter waterways and the marine food chain where other fish and mammals eat the fish, and even ending up in the human food chain as well. Heavy metals impact on fetal development is well documented, hence it is not recommended for pregnant women to eat more than one fish per week or month in some cases. In Melbourne, where floating wetlands are becoming popular, it is recommended that women and children up to 16-years-old eat no eels at all from Port Phillip Bay because of the heavy metals and chemical residues in the eels.

In many other bays and estuaries around the world it is the same story, too many heavy metals and chemicals have leached out of factories and roads into the marine food chain and humans and ecosystems are being contaminated. Floating wetlands helps restore the balance and trap the pollutants at their source. Regular stormwater wetlands cannot catch the colloidally suspended heavy metals due to the tiny size of the particles, so floating wetlands are essential if we want to clean up our marine environment and rivers for people to enjoy and fish to live healthy lives.

The Aquarium Garden also has AquaBiofilter technology inside it that biofilters out nutrients and grows plants quickly. Total phosphorous can be removed by up to 80 percent at the surface area coverage of 45 percent also, and total suspended solids can be reduced by 90 percent and algae also 90 percent.

Q. What are your future plans with the Aquarium Garden or Floating Islands? What are some of your other long-­term plans for the company?

A. With the Aquarium Garden we hope to inspire kids and collaborate with schools to raise awareness for the complexity and circularity of nature. We are planning to sell the affordable Aquarium Garden in pet shops and eco­stores in Australia, the U.S.A. and Europe.

After the crowdfunding campaign is successful we will publish blogs about home ecology with the goal of transferring our knowledge about nature, chemicals, herbs and health to the people for free.

At the moment we are designing a new sustainable aquaculture system with sustainable feed, while generating more value by creating products from what others call "waste," and doing all of this in closed-loop cycles that generate value for local communities all around the world. Some of these plans rely on grants and other projects are funded by communities and Government. We hope to leverage the awareness for health in people's homes into awareness and action for the large scale ecosystem restoration.

Also, we’re involved in a floating house project, so we hope to combine all of this and create scientific tourism instead of just the usual vanilla flavor ecotourism. Thereafter, we are trying to combine products that are a bit simpler, like an unbreakable glass bottle to prevent plastic entering our bodies and the natural ecosystems, that we hope to launch this year.

Q. Who are some of your team's environmental heroes and why? What are some other green projects you are really excited about?

A. Our main inspiration is Prof. Gunter Pauli, founder of the Blue Economy and creator of circular business models that create more value with what is locally available. He is collecting, describing and doing innovative businesses that are healthy for the planet and its inhabitants. His work and the work of the Blue Economy entrepreneurs are by far the most advanced in terms of sustainability since it is based on the core of biology and physics.

Some green projects we are very excited about are Blue Economy clusters across the world that can bring together 3D farming, ecosystem diverse aquaculture, algae­culture for human and fish feed, floating food production and floating houses that all together create climate resilient human settlements using nothing but renewable energy and positively impacting the local and regional environment, completely zero emissions.

Tom Duncan with Michiel and Gerjan de Koning. Photo credit: Home Ecology

On this track we are also very excited about our nearly unbreakable water bottle that is the answer to plastic and glass bottles that have a finite lifespan and much energy and in the case of plastic, harmful emissions in their recycling and pollutants into the local environment and atmosphere. We think it’s time to bring back sturdy design and products, so we are focused on a green product development that cuts through these complex issues and provides a bottle for life.

Key environmental heroes also include Elon Musk for making solar and batteries affordable and bringing electric cars to scale. We follow Musk’s work and always look for inspirations in his visionary approach whether we are looking at disrupting food production or designing positive human habitats resilient to climate change. Permaculture movement gives us inspiration providing methods for abundant food production and self sufficiency, as well as a design science that can scale from the kitchen to entire nations with a set of design tools.

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