Episode 49: Liz Kim | Genesis Clock Farm | California Organic Gardening and Aquaponics
Jason, Liz and Isabelle run Genesis Clock Farm a little startup farm that focuses on sustainable living, education and urban farming with aquaponics!
Aquaponics is a recirculating water system wherein the water you put into your fish tank flows through to your vegetable beds over and over. You end up using 98% less water, grow crops considerably faster, no space issues, no petroleum based pesticides (except maybe beneficial insects or water), no weeding, no bending over, no forgetting to water and that’s just a touch of what you can do.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m an imigrant, grew up in Hawaii. My parents moved us to Washington State in HS, basically graduated from the University of Washington, and then moved to California.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
I was really lucky to grow up in Hawaii when it was still pristine, walking to school, you would walk by like 5 star fruit trees, mango trees, sugar cane just growing in the wild and we just got used to identify them and it was fun to eat . There were certain flowers you could suck the nectar out of . . .
I think we live in a very exciting time. We realize that we are running out of resources.
California’s drought has caused such a big ripple effect. California and Florida are the two states that provide vegetables and fruit and nuts. It’s a trillion dollar industry out of California, if we don’t do well, the US GDP goes down, economically it would be a nightmare. With the drought it is turning into a political nightmare.
It can be a good thing and a bad thing. The good things is they have to get smarter about how we use our limited resources. We can’t go on the assumption that it’s endless anymore. It’s a rude awakening but we needed it.
If the earth is covered in 94-97% salt water, and then only .036% is drinkable, that’s not very much. Now with California in a drought and part of Florida in a drought.
Florida just joined the state of Missouri saying there is no such thing as climate change. If you have com
You don’t mess with people’s money, their children and you don’t mess with people’s food. Food is really really important.
That’s what turned me on to aquaponics.
I was spending a tremendous amount of time in my garden on the weekends, after work, and everybody in California does this. We all grow our tomatoes and we’re all pretty proud of how big our tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplants are. But we’re not very ag friendly We love Miracle Grow. We love Roundup. We love our front yards. We love our lawns. We don’t have that luxury anymore. There are alternatives and they look beautiful.
We have grass, but we don’t water it, but it’s deep rooted and we don’t clip it short. When we clip it we leave the lawn clippings where they drop and they become mulch and keep it moist. You don’t have to give up everything. It saves you or your gardener a lot of time.
In my aquaponic units at a faster rate, using less water, using all natural things that happen in nature. We do the same things that farmers do in soil, but we do it differently. In the sense that farmers, when they farm in soil, the plant actually has to work a lot harder for it’s roots to go in an find food and nutrients. In aquaponics and hydroponics we deliver that food system up so the energy of that plant is more up above the root, then the root itself. That’s the gist of hydroponics and aquaponics.
Now in aquaponics we add aquaculture, we add fish. Fish provide the ammonia which provides the nitrates, which provides the nitrites to feed as fertilizer to the plants and it’s served up to them depending on what type of system you have.
And using hydroponic technology which is fantastic technology. Hydroponics is just as fast, but we’re not having to add chemicals. And hydroponics can become expensive because you have to buy chemicals.
Your plant doesn’t care where your chemicals are coming from. Your plants are going to grow great whether you providing petrochemicals or whatever kind of chemicals from, whatever it is to them they break down to eat it, they eat it as food. The main difference between hydroponics and aquaponics is that we don’t have to go through the added expense of having to buy fertilizers because it’s coming from the fish, that’s what nature does.
Some might have a harder time adjusting the pH without chemicals but we haven’t had that problem, we’ve had a constant 6.8 ph range in our water, we test it 3 times a day. We have had high level nitrate levels, which is what they call an opportunity to add another bed, so we can grow more.
We’ve shown that we can grow outdoor passively really well with high end produce, that we can supply so fast!
Explain what that means that you can do it passively?
What that means is we use no supplemental lighting or heat at all. We built basically out in the open, we encountered pest problems, we dealt with those with water, we used the hose and our fingers and did that. We cleaned the filters on the side of the house. When we moved in the soil here was like concrete, really hard pan, but the good news was there were things growing in it like clover. So it was good, not bad, bad, but it was really dry, and you had to use sort of like a pick ax to get it to come apart. We decided to do instead of sitting there and fighting it, we decided to get some chickens and let them dig it up and poop on it for a while and then whenever we cleaned our filters from our fish tanks we just dumped it out into the soil.
We studied aquaponics and studied the micro-biology of it, and we thought it can’t hurt. It’s fish poop, and chicken poop, and it worked. I was able to continue to grow, now I’m letting everything bolt, to see what happens and what is happening is lettuce is growing in the weirdest places and the radishes growing in the strangest places and flowers that are really quite beautiful. So basically what it’s done, the fist year I said you know what we’re not gonna weed, we’re just gonna watch it grow, so we put some rock dust down, and worm casings down, we have a couple of worm farms, and we let the chickens do their work and eat the worms and bugs and we just kept putting the fish poop into the soil where ever and whenever we could. We have hard water filtration systems, so the fish food and fish waste that doesn’t get broken down all the way we pump out into 5 gallon buckets about every 9-11 days.
I have a lot of plants in pots. I do a lot of container gardening. We use the filters to feed a lot of the pots in the container garden. In the container garden I grow a lot of onion and chives, and then I kind of throw it into the garden where I have a lot of pests, and so it kind of confuses them and discourages them. It’s a natural way of not messing too much in the environment, but me helping it by confusing anything that’s attacking the radishes, I’ll throw some green onions in. I’ll just put the container in front of the radishes, and all of a sudden the bugs will stop eating the radishes. It seems to work and freak out the bugs, I just keep moving the pots around. They don’t like onions, cilantro, a lot of the herb species.
I gently place them in my garden where I see “buggage”, and then when I see some predatory bugs that are beneficial like ladybugs I move them somewhere else. I grow a lot of mint, bugs don’t like mint that much, and in between he mint I grow a lot of radishes, including daikon radishes. You can tell their leaves are bigger, I just harvest what I need. Eating sustainably each night, I just pick a few big leaves instead of picking a whole head each night. Eating out of my aquaponic garden I can choose what I’m gonna eat. It takes about 3-4 weeks to grow just about anything. Tomatoes take about 2 months, but most things I can grow faster. You just need heat and light with aquaponics.
We’ve been playing with our two units. We plant in a deep raft system, in a media bed, in soil and in hydraton in a cup and then we test the results. And we do a daily testing of our nitrates our ammonia and our ph and we see what grows the fastest. So far our dwc (deep water culture) seems to do the fastest on lettuces.
We test our stuff and we notice a head of lettuce whether it be butter crunch or red leaf or spinach, or basil, or malibar, or tomatoes, or peas, beans, our deep water system seems to produce the most the fastest. Our other media bed grows, in about 2 weeks, I can throw seed down it’s completely green.
2 large IBC tanks full of fish and water.
Goldfish and Tilapia indoors and trout outdoors. I have an ebb and flow passive unit that just uses sunlight outdoors. And then I have an indoor unit with supplemental lighting, heating totally a controlled environment greenhouse. I have 3 beds indoors 2 of which are dec and 4 media beds outdoors.
Basically they’re 6 feet long and 14 inches tall and about 3 feet wide. In a commercial system you would see them come in rows and there would be rafts and on the rafts would be the produce. You get that clean white root along at the grocery system. Where the roots are in the water. That’s what you’re buying when you buy a head of lettuce with roots from an aquaponic or hydroponic system. If you’re buying that lettuce from a soil farmer, the roots would be huge.
Our new adventure. We want to go commercial aquaponics. It’s the next challenge. And we want to face the challenges commercial growers have. And find a market and do everything a startup company has to do in order to get going, and we know it’s going to be a lot of hard work, but we’re looking forward to it.
I love to wake up in the middle of the night and be like “oh I know why that’s happening!” and then I go solve the problem. It’s about knowing your plant, and knowing your fish. We’re doing basically the same thing farmers do, we’re throwing that ammonia out there, and we’re feeding our plants the nitrates as much as they want constantly and they get to grow up.
I don’t like the idea of people building units and just putting it out there and then leaving it. To me it’s been a very genuine community of people who care about the environment. They’re the kindest and environmentally friendly. They might not always agree but they are so helpful and are so environmentally feeding. They’re commercial or backyard farmers but they’re all environmentally conscious.
If you just give a little bit back, for example are you familiar with lasagna composting? If you take a section of soil and you lay down a layer of cardboard and then some compost and then some more cardboard and then more compost, and then after about 2 months it would be good for about 20 years. You wouldn’t have to do anything about it but water it. And there’s straw bale gardening.
We compost red wigglers, we compost our scraps of meat, and
We have a recycle bin, and a compost bin, and a garbage bin. What amazes me is how little compost and recycables we have. That’s another thing, I realize as I travel recycling is not as big in other places as it is here in California. Then it ends up in our landfills and oceans etc. Lots of places provide bins for us. In San Francisco and the bay area they provide containers. And it makes them money, it provides the cities with money to subsidize our electricity etc. So when my composting is full, it goes to the city and then they sell it back to the public.
California produces a lot of food, so it’s making a lot of waves. Whatever happens to California creates a wave and affects all of the US and globally. WE need to go back to grass roots again to be more food secure. It’s better to have my food grown near by then worry about what’s going on across the world.
Our trout, we found out are like greyhounds. They like to swim and they like to swim very fast. Because our water is constantly recirculating and it’s always being pumped so it doesn’t ever freeze. We also keep coy and goldfish which can survive freezing. The only fish who don’t survive cold very well ar the Tilapia which are warm water fish. Anytime I teach a class, is what are the native fish that are edible that you can raise that are freshwater? What’s sustainable in your area? Rainbow trout, they like temps about 55 degrees. Because they are river fish want to race. They live in long troughs and they race. So we had to create a current, so they think they are swimming really fast but they’re really staying in one place. So we had to put a jet stream in. Because they are river fish we learned about trout, they can live about 50 years and can grow about 200 lbs. They are in a circular trough, we’ve been eating them, they are delicious. They’re probably about 3 feet long and about 4 lbs.
Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the earth either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
I think our leaders need to think about population and what resources we’re gonna need. Kind of get everyone together and agree this is how many people we have right now, and this is how much food they are going to need to eat, and this is how many trees we need to build them a home, and need to think about these things in more critical serious spaces. We can’t keep thinking we’re gonna go on forever like this, cause we can’t it’s not gonna happen we’re gonna crash so weather we crash hard or we crash small depends on how we prepare for it.
I know that counties and cities and governments are trying, but I want to see more of it. I want to see more recycling everywhere.
We;re getting there, it’s just gonna take some time. We have a great ability to pull together when things get tough. I would like to see more recycling. I would like to see the government say We’re all going to recycle. We no longer get free plastic bags at the grocery store.
There are going to be low times, but that means there are going to be good times ahead. Good times and bad times, you kind of have to take your licks and get up and keep on going.
How do we connect with you?
Visit us at http://www.genesisclockfarm.com Give us a call for anything anytime.
Thanks for visiting Mike’s Green Garden. Enter the 2015 Gardening Challenge Today!
If you like what you heard on the Organic Gardener Podcast we’d love it if you’d give us a 5 star rating on iTunes so other gardeners can find us and listen to. Just click on the link here:
If you have any comments, questions, guests you’d like to see, or topics you’d like us to cover please send us any feedback positive or negative. We’re here to serve our audience and we can only improve with your help!!! Thanks for visiting Mike’s Green Garden changing the world one garden at a time.