Aquaponics, a Gardening System Using Fish and Circulating Water -
A system in Colorado uses wastewater from tilapia to nourish tomatoes. The tilapia are also food.
Published: February 17, 2010

THERE’S a “Beyond Thunderdome” quality to Rob Torcellini’s greenhouse. The 10-by-12-foot structure is undistinguished on the outside: he built it from a $700 kit, alongside his family’s Victorian-style farmhouse in Eastford, Conn., a former farming town 35 miles east of Hartford. What is going on inside, however, is either a glimpse at the future of food growing or a very strange hobby — possibly both.

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Rob Torcellini with lettuce from his aquaponics system in Connecticut. More Photos »
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Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times
Sylvia Bernstein grows winter herbs and raises fish called pacu in Boudler, Colo. More
Travis W. Hughey’s patio-size aquaponics system in South Carolina grows flowers. He offers free step-by-step building plans. More Photos »
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There are fish here, for one thing, shivering through the winter, and a jerry-built system of tanks, heaters, pumps, pipes and gravel beds. The greenhouse vents run on a $20 pair of recycled windshield wiper motors, and a thermostat system sends Mr. Torcellini e-mail alerts when the temperature drops below 36 degrees. Some 500 gallons of water fill a pair of food-grade polyethylene drums that he scavenged from a light-industry park.

Mr. Torcellini’s greenhouse wouldn’t look out of place on a wayward space station where pioneers have gone to escape the cannibal gangs back on Earth. But then, in a literal sense, Mr. Torcellini, a 41-year-old I.T. director for an industrial manufacturer, has left earth — that is, dirt — behind.

What feeds his winter crop of lettuce is recirculating water from the 150-gallon fish tank and the waste generated by his 20 jumbo goldfish. Wastewater is what fertilizes the 27 strawberry plants from last summer, too. They occupy little cubbies in a seven-foot-tall PVC pipe. When the temperature begins to climb in the spring, he will plant the rest of the gravel containers with beans, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers — all the things many other gardeners grow outside.

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