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Urban aquaponic farm inspired by nature

Working with nature, and not against it, is a way of living for Louis and Nadine Kuys, owners of an urban aquaponics farm in Vredenburg.

They first started their dream of living off-grid and practising self-sufficient, sustainable living near Hopefield, but found the 42-ha farm too big too maintain and not ideal for what they had in mind.

In February 2016, they moved to a 1-ha farm near Aquarius Street, Vredenburg, where Forest Friends Urban Farm was born.

What is aquaponics?

Louis explains that aquaponics is a combination of both new and old technologies. “It is a system that combines the well-developed technologies of aquaculture and hydroponics, to produce an end product of fish and vegetables.”

In other words, aquaponics is the integration of hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil) and aquaculture (rearing of aquatic animals for food), all living together in a symbiotic relationship. The fish provide food for the plants, which in return clean the water for the fish.

In their system, Tilapia fish are raised in four 6 000-F fish tanks. Water from these fish tanks is moved to a filtration system. Here bacteria converts nitrite and ammonia to nitrate. The plants absorb the nitrate, nutrient-rich water and, in turn, cleans it.

The cleaned filtered water is then returned to the fish tanks.

According to the Kuys couple, their aquaponically grown vegetables have intense flavour, the tomatoes are juicy and flavourful, the peppadews pop and the herbs have a much stronger aroma and taste.

“Aquaponics is able to produce food close to the people literally in town,” Louis said. “This method cuts down food mileage, gives a longer shelf life, and contributes to the local economy and enables us to grow nutritiously healthy food.”

Aquaponics has a very small footprint and is a closed loop system, meaning it produces no waste and uses 90% less water than conventional farming methods, for growing the same amount of crops.

It also does not use any pesticides or herbicides.

When sections of plants were at first infected with pests, the couple pulled the plants heavily affected by aphids out by hand and left the ones that weren’t. To their surprise ladybirds moved in. “Ladybirds’ larvae and adults are voracious aphid predators and literally eat hundreds of plants a day.”

Louis says there are also tiny wasps that look like small black midges laying eggs in the aphid, and as the larvae grow in the aphid they consume them.

“Only a white corpse is left,” he said. “Nature has its own time, and we should learn patience and not try to control everything.”

Forest Friends produces, on average, 112 kg to 120 kg of vegetables per month.

“We have definitely been seeing an increase in demand for our product, mostly different colours and flavours of fancy lettuce, and on-demand Asian greens, such as pak choi, and Chinese cabbage”.

Ju-Wahn Anthony is employed as farm manager and currently does all the planting, packaging and processing as well as maintaining the system.

Forest Friends Urban Farm already has a group of regular supporters, who receive a WhatsApp message when harvesting takes place, usually two to three times a week. “We harvest the morning and by lunch you can have the freshest salad,” Louis says.

Forest Friends also supplies the Weskus Fruit and Veg Market in Velddrif Road, Vredenburg and the Zimzi Farm Produce online shop.

To finance the venture, Louis works offshore and Nadine works full-time at Eskom.

Email Forest Friends at info@urbanfarmaquaponics.co.za, visit their website: urbanfarmaquaponics.co.za, or phone 072 215 276 or 079 501 4247.

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