Teaching Youth About Aquaponics

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I’ve always been a huge fan of teaching and I’ve taught a wide array of topics ranging from Adobe software like Photoshop and Illustrator, statistics programs like SPSS, and of course my favorites, growing organic food and aquaponics (or any sort of hydroponics really), and also in a wide array of teaching environments: classrooms to student-centered outdoor events.

There’s just something so rewarding about teaching someone a new skill. When their eyes light up because they understand the concept, I feel like I have a place in the world.

Everyone is a teacher. I repeat: everyone. If you’ve ever given direction to anyone about how to get to a destination, what ingredients to add to a recipe, or even given a recommendation of just about anything, you are a teacher.

The younger you are, the easier you are to persuade. The earlier a child learns about something they care about, the quicker it grows into an unrelenting passion in older age. This is why I think teaching hydroponics at a young age is the best.

I didn’t learn about hydroponics until I started attending my university at Cal State L.A. When I did, though, I became obsessed – researching and watching hours of endless YouTube videos. If I had learned about hydroponics when I was in grade school, I would probably be a hydroponic, green goddess right now, with mystical powers like shooting organic plants out of my fingers.

When it comes to teaching children, things can get difficult, but there are things you can do to make it easier for them to understand. Here is what you should understand:

Children have shorter attentions

  • The average American adult has an attention span of 8 seconds. That means they need new stimuli every 8 seconds – can you imagine how short a child’s attention span is?
  • Keep your lesson fresh, engaging and in a way where children feel like they are in control. What is trendy at the moment for children in different age groups?
  • Ask the children if they own pets. Ask them if they garden or know someone who gardens. Ask them what their favorite veggies are and apply them to the lesson. It is all about engagement.
  • Applying to Aquaponics Lessons: Pokemon GO is extremely popular within the younger communities (older communities too, actually). Perhaps you can talk about health benefits of walking around from using the game. Relate health benefits with eating healthy and growing your own food. Eating healthy makes you stronger, like Pokemon. You can also use the information you gathered by asking the questions above and incorporate them into your lesson plan, impromptu style.
    • The point is you need to figure out what it is that children have fun with and try to make your lesson relate to that.

Children are curious

  • Constantly ask them if they have any questions or if they understand what you are talking about. Some students are shier than others and may need to be asked one-on-one. Let them engage with the lesson by finding ways to apply the concepts to their everyday lives.
  • If they have things where they can use all their senses: touch, smell, sight, sound and taste, they are more likely to stay engaged and be interested to learn
  • Applying to Aquaponics Lessons: Have an actual desktop aquaponics system with you while you teach. Bring in some plants grown from hydroponics. Let the children see, touch, smell and taste the plants. Mason Jar Fish Added
    • Educators have used my Mason Jar Aquaponics kits to teach lessons about aquaponics. I have also used these systems to teach students about aquaponics. If you do not have access to any, you can show quick and informational YouTube videos – there are tons of them available. Children may also benefit from infographics which are picture-based informational graphics: they are not text heavy, but instead graphics-heavy. If you have an actual system with you while you teach, let them help you put it together.

Children don’t have the vocabulary of scholars

  • This one’s obvious, but you would be surprised at how many adults use complicated language when speaking to children.
  • Applying to Aquaponics Lessons: perhaps instead of explaining the entire nitrate cycle (ammonia, etc.), you can simplify it by explaining that the “fish poop gives nutrients to the plant, and the plant eats the fish poop and cleans the water for the fish.” It’s a much easier concept to understand and also omits more difficult vocabulary. You’ll also probably get the children to laugh (depending on their ages) by dropping the word “poop” occasionally.

Once you have an engaged audience, the rest will come easily. Feel free to use this graphic I created with simplified aquaponics terms:

aquaponics for kids

Have any questions? Ask in the comments section. Please share post and subscribe to the blog for more helpful articles.

Mel from Green PLUR

 

 

Small-Scale Aquaponics Pruning: More Room for Fish and Constant Supply of Organic Greens

pruning

There aren’t too many choices when it comes to desktop aquaponics systems. The reasons being: the hefty price for hydroponics technology and the lack of public hydroponics knowledge.

Everyone I’ve ever exposed aquaponics to had always shown peculiar interest in his or her newfound knowledge. Aquaponics is cool – there’s no doubt about it; however, it’s not exactly accessible to everyone.

Most hydroponics and aquaponics systems are in commercialized agriculture. You may not be aware, but much of the produce you may buy from the market has been grown hydroponically. Hydroponics perfects the growing environment and maximizes efficiency by saving water and controlling micronutrients. Aquaponics replaces these micronutrient solutions with fish waste.

Mason Jar Fish Added

3 Mason Jar Aquaponics indoor herb garden (organic lettuce and mint)

Luckily, there are desktop aquaponics kits out there. These small-scale systems are not so much to provide you or your family with all the food you eat, but instead to supplement your food supply with organic, home-grown greens. Most of these desktop aquaponics systems utilize betta fish.

When it comes for caring for small-scale aquaponics systems, like Mason Jar Aquaponics, there are some factors that you should keep in mind:

  • Fish need room to swim
  • Plant roots need room to grow
  • Deep Water Culture (DWC) system has fish and plant roots sharing the same environment
  • Small System plant roots may need pruning

In hydro/aquaponics, plants will grow much faster than in traditional soil gardening techniques. This is because plant roots are exposed to more oxygen which enables them to grow more quickly. This can become a problem in a small-scale aquaponics system if the roots take over the entire water environment, leaving little room for the fish. In this case, pruning roots, or trimming, will be required. This also helps you keep a constant flow of greens if you decide to prune the leaves as well.

It doesn’t take much time to prune roots. Utilizing aquaponics will still save you time because you will hardly need to replenish the water in your system.

How to prune plants to give your fish more room to swim:

  1. Remove the net pot from the system to expose the roots
  2. Take a pair of clean scissors and trim the bottom portion of the roots
  3. Dispose of the roots (or compost) and replace the net pot back into the system
  4. Recommended: harvest from your plant
    1. Prune the green portion (leaves, fruit, herb) of your plant to balance the roots:greens ratio.
    2. Add to your next cooked dish

pruned unpruned~2

After I pruned the roots of this loose-leaf lettuce, I pruned some of the outer leaves and made myself an organic salad for lunch 🙂 This way, you can keep your fish happy and also have a constant supply of greens.

Salad

It’s really easy to prune your plants to manage growth – both for your system and your fish environment. Once you start breaking down the steps in order to maintain a hydroponics system, it becomes much simpler to manage.

Have any questions? Ask in the comments below 🙂

Thanks for reading. Follow my blog to subscribe to my posts.

Mel from Green PLUR

 

How I Want Hydroponics to Save the World

Save the World with Hydroponics

Hydroponics is not only going to save the world by literally preserving our natural environment, but also by fighting food insecurity.

A little background on myself: I finally graduated with my B.S. in Public Health at Cal State L.A. roughly 2 weeks ago. I feel amazing now that I have real time to work towards my many goals for Green PLUR. Since graduation, I have been working hard to resume all of my projects. For a while now, I’ve been wanting to create a 3-Mason Jar Fish Garden/Aquaponics system that incorporates an air stone to deliver more air to the plant roots than my current system now.

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The desktop aquaponic kits I have been selling
My new system essentially speeds up the growth process, and the plants will be able to utilize nitrates in the water more quickly, ultimately leaving the water cleaner for the fish. I have also been working on a multi-jar hydroponic system that does not utilize fish waste, but utilizes simple hydroponic solutions instead. I am learning that in regards to hydroponic systems, more air = faster growing plants = more food.
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Still testing my multi-jar hydroponic system. It’s been very successful
I also want to talk about my experiences at Cal State L.A. and how it has shaped me into the person I am today. It involves learning about food security and hydroponics: During my time at my university, I discovered that I love to teaching students about hydroponics. I also discovered that people genuinely love learning about it as well. I want hydroponics to change the way our society perceives food.
I had some experience working directly with students as a student representative, the Environmental Affairs Commissioner (EAC), A.S.I., in student governance for one academic year. It not only equipped me with leadership opportunities, but gave me insight on how serious our food security problem is on our campus.
All of the programs that I created as the EAC revolved around environmental sustainability and food health. Given the opportunity that the EAC had the responsibility of chairing the Environmental Policy Committee, I knew I had the tools to possibly make drastic changes. I learned that a vast population of the students on our campus was food insecure, meaning these students lacked consistent access to affordable, nutritious food. Many of our students went to bed hungry, so one of our committee’s goals, the Environmental Policy Committee, was to create a living food pantry on our campus.

growth in food pantry

The pantry portion of the Living Food Pantry would consist of canned and dried goods that students who were food insecure could pick out from a point system based on needs (for example, perhaps students with children would have more points to spend than students without children). Our committee was dedicated to modeling after CSU Chico’s Food Pantry program with a spin. We wanted to also incorporate a living food pantry in the form of hydroponically-grown fresh produce. Our committee worked with Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), a campus organization, to create a vertical hydroponic garden prototype.
First draft of Vertical Hydroponic Towers – Efficient use of space and water
We planned for vertical systems because there just never seems to be enough space in Los Angeles, especially on our crowded campus, so it would be very space-efficient. Our committee applied for the Greenovation Fund from the California State Student Association (CSSA) and got approved for $2,000 to get this hydroponic garden set up.
Unfortunately, after many obstacles, we were not able to get a Living Food Pantry at Cal State L.A. for several reasons. We could not find a space on our campus to hold the food pantry. Our campus administration did not want to approve the tried and true system from CSU Chico’s Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry program, for various reasons. We had problems coming up with a flawless vertical hydroponic system. Ultimately, the grant funding was untouched and was returned to CSSA. Despite these shortcomings, my desire to combat food insecurity using hydroponics has not diminished.
Why hydroponics? Simply because of space-efficiency, water-efficiency and the speed of growth – all factors extremely important in trying to consistently feed a vast population of people.
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How Hydroponics Will Literally Save the World
Food health is knowledge, knowledge is power, and an empowering society is unstoppable.
Although the Environmental Policy Committee and I were not able to successfully implement a Living Food Pantry program, we did throw several successful events. These events consisted of grow-your-own-organic-food and gardening, food health, and hydroponic education, among other topics. Our biggest event, Earth Day Extravaganza was amazing as each of our committee members chose a different topic to showcase: animal testing, vegan lifestyle, outdoor lifestyle, organic gardening and more. We also successfully launched a Cal State L.A. Farmer’s Market program that previously did not exist. Overall, I am happy that I got the opportunity to work with my campus so closely and all of the experiences that I learned during my time as a student representative.

farmers market

Our first ever farmer’s market promo ad 🙂

Hydroponics and social justice has always been important for me. When I found out that I could incorporate the two, I was ecstatic, and I am still ecstatic.

Although my current kits do not do much to fight food insecurity, I’m using my time to get more experience with hydroponics and also try to sustain myself in the process. I am currently working with a previous EPC committee member, who is also the same engineer that I worked with to create the vertical hydroponic tower prototype, to make a different kind of vertical hydroponic tower. Once this system runs efficiently, I have two plans for utilization: sell to restaurants/ home owners/ average folks to showcase aesthetically-appealing gardens, and to also incorporate a less aesthetically-appealing system (to maximize efficiency and cost) into some sort of non-profit company that helps communities that are food insecure. There are several organizations doing things like these already and it seems like the trend of kindness is growing 🙂 I am juggling a handful of different projects, all tied around hydroponics and growing food, and I have never been more excited.

 

As you may already be aware of, activism and social justice are underutilized and overlooked. It seems like the average person simply has no clue as to what’s going on, or simply doesn’t care – I would like to believe the former.

Being a student is extremely privileging and full of resources. Roughly a quarter of the knowledge that I gained from my degree was achieved from sitting in a classroom – The rest came from my experiences in extracurricular activities and community involvement. I truly wish everyone would take a minute out of their busy lives to help others.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know shall never sit in” -Greek proverb

This quote perfectly sums up how I feel about social justice and environmental sustainability.

Interested in doing something about it?

For students who are attending a California State University (CSU) and would like to implement sustainability-related programs on their campuses, check out CSSA’s Greenovation Fund. Also, check out your campus’s Associated Students’ separate funding request process, as there are funds always available to help out campus organizations with campus-related matters.

For more direction on sustainability activism, check out:

Get Involved, Change the World: The Ultimate How-To Guide for Students

Child Nutrition Grant Opportunities

For those who are not students, doing a simple Google search is a great way to learn how to get involved with your community.

Learn about hydroponics. Learn about food. Learn about nutrition – the possibilities are endless!

Keep fighting on, my fellow sustainabuddies and social justice warriors!

– Mel from Green PLUR

How to Not Forget Your Reusable Bags in the Car

How to Not Forget Your Reusable Bags in the Car.png

It seems to happen all too often: You’re all for cutting down on paper/plastic bag waste so you’ve accumulated a not-so-healthy supply of reusable shopping bags only to leave them in your car – every. single. time.

After you’ve collected all of your shopping materials, you are standing in the check-out line to realize that you’ve forgotten your reusable bags (Mother Earth, please forgive me for the millionth time). I suppose you could run back to your car to grab them, but you don’t. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some way to be reminded to grab your bags before entering the store?

Luckily, we live in a fast-paced, technological age that offers mobile apps for everything. If we are stuck on our phones all day, might as well try to help ourselves by using free, easy-to-use organizational apps.

If you haven’t been using IF by IFTTT (If This, Then That), you need to do yourself the favor by downloading it as soon as NOW. This app offers algorithms called “recipes” that you can set up in order to automate certain processes on your mobile device. The one most useful to you would be to set up a location-based recipe – one that will send you a text when you arrive to your destination parking lot.

How to Set up an IF Recipe to Create Reminders to Grab Your Reusable Bags Before Entering a Store:

1. Download IF if you have not already done so (I did this via their desktop website, you can also do this on a mobile device with a similar process)

2. Click on “Create a Recipe” and then click “this” from ifthisthenthat
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3. Click “Android location” (this may vary on the device you use)
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4. Choose the trigger “You enter an area
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5. In “Locate an area” either input the address or use the map to select the area, then lick “create trigger” (try to make the area in the parking lot only, otherwise everytime you pass by a street included in the area, you will be sent a text message). image

on

6. Now, it’s time to choose the “that” portion of ifthisthenthat
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7. Select “Android SMS,” which refers to a text message (again, this may vary depending on your device).

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8. For Choose an Action, select the only option of “Send an SMS

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9. Add your phone number and desired text message. I wanted my text message to be straightforward so I put, “Don’t forget to take your reusable bags!” Then, click on “Create Action” to complete the recipe.

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10. Once you have created the action, you will be given a Recipe ID to confirm that the process is complete.

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Once the recipe is created, you are now ready to bring those organic veggies home. Maybe you’re already growing some herbs or salad at home with Mason Jar Aquaponics and just need some bulkier items. Whatever the case, you’ll never forget your reusable bags in the car again.

Check out some of their other popular recipes to automate certain tasks so you have more time to enjoy your life and live sustainably.

Already have a list of useful recipes? Share them in the comments section 🙂

  • Mel from Green PLUR

 

Vegan Crockpot Meals that Take 15 Minutes or Less to Prepare

15 minute vegan crockpot.png

For the past few weeks, I have been making changes to consume less meat and dairy because I want to be vegan. It has been a little difficult but I have stopped buying meat and dairy at the grocery store – I am simply finishing what I have left in my freezer.

So I am a university student. I also have a part-time job, an internship, a side business, try to exercise regularly while also having a social life. It always seems as though I never have enough time to complete everything on my task list and I end up becoming easily overwhelmed. I am still passionate about my desires and I do my best – I’m actually sitting in my Health Care Delivery Systems class right now as I write this post. I know, I’m terrible but like I said, I’m doing the best with the time that I have 🙂

I love using slow cookers because you can just throw some ingredients in it the night before, turn it on and in the morning you have a giant pot of delicious food.

Here’s a list of some vegan crockpot recipes that take 15 minutes or less to prepare:

  1. Vegan Slow Cooker Chili (GF) – spice it up by adding more chilies

chili

2. Vegan Bulgogi Jackfruit  (GF) – for all you Korean cuisine lovers

bulgogi jackfruit

3. Vegan Quinoa Lentil Tacos (GF) – Seriously though, who doesn’t love quinoa?

quonoa lentil tacos.jpg

4. Vegan Tofu Curry

tofu curry.jpg

5. Vegan Butternut Squash Macaroni (GF optional)

butternut macaroni.jpg

*GF – Gluten Free

So try these low-maintenance meals and let me know what you think and what changes you would make in the comments below 🙂

  • Your friend, Mel from GreenPLUR

What Type of Hydroponic Grow Media You Should Use

featured imageGrow media serves two main functions in hydroponics: to supply oxygen to plant roots and also to physically support the actual plant. There are so many different grow mediums you can choose to use for your hydroponic or aquaponic gardens. Understanding the benefits of some of the options could help you decide which would be the best fit for your system. It is outlined below four of the many options in regards to its benefits and nuances (pros and cons):

Expanded Clay Pebbles

Clay is one of the most abundant substances on earth. This grow medium is made by heating clay at extremely high temperatures to create a very light and porous material. It is pH-balanced and completely reusable. Make sure to clean the pebbles in hot water and wash them in order to free them of dust and debris. In order to reuse them, you must simply sterilize it and it is ready to go. Expanded clay pebbles do an excellent job in aerating plant roots because of its lightness.

Hydroton.jpg

Pros: Lightweight, Porous, Reusable, pH-balanced, water-retaining

Cons: Expensive

Rockwool

This type of media is composed of granite or limestone rock, which is heated at extreme temperatures and melted. Once melted, it is then spun into a wool-like texture that makes it extremely light. These are usually then shaped into cubes of various sizes. In order to use rockwool, soak it in pH-balanced water for a minute and then squeeze out the excess water. The major benefit of using rockwool is that you can plant a seed directly into the cube and you will not have to worry about it floating away or getting lost in the water supply.

rockwool

Pros: Lightweight, Porous, Inexpensive, pH-balanced

Cons: Non-reusable, water-retaining (chance of root rot if soaked for too long)

Coconut Coir/Fiber/Chips

Who isn’t cuckoo over coconuts? Coconut fiber is from the husk of coconuts – you know, that brown fiber material that covers the delicious fruit. Coconut media comes in different sizes. The fiber is much smaller in size and chips are much larger, which allow for more airflow. Although it is great at aerating the roots, it is possible for it to retain too much water. Proper draining is essential when using this grow media.

coconut coir

Pros: Lightweight, Porous, Inexpensive

Cons: Non-reusable, water-retaining (chance of root rot if soaked for too long), Not pH-balanced

River Rock

Finding river rock is extremely easy as they sell them at any aquarium or home improvement store. One could even use rocks found in his/her backyard as long as they sterilize it first. Because they are not porous, they do not retain moisture for as long as porous materials, but it also provides great airflow. This could be the cheapest option for the beginner hydroponic/aquaponic gardener as most people can find them for free. A big downside could be that it is extremely heavy, so moving systems once it is set up would be very difficult.

river rock

Pros: Inexpensive, Easy to find, Reusable, pH-balanced

Cons: Nonporous, Heavy, Does not retain water

Summary

In my aquaponic and hydroponic kits that I sell, I use both rockwool and expanded clay pebbles for my grow media. My favorite type of grow media to use is expanded clay pebbles. I love its lightness and it is also aesthetically appealing. The rockwool is meant to hold the tiny seed in place during watering and the expanded clay pebbles take up the rest of the room in the net pot. 

Click here to purchase a Mason Jar Aquaponic Kit from my Etsy shop.