“In the tropics,” said Bill Mollison, “plough agriculture is totally inappropriate… For a few years we can hold nutrient perhaps but then it will go” . In March 2022, we decided to experiment with banana circles at our #TVPIAS orchard, as a way to recycle some portion of our aquacultured water and provide a garden with banana, colocasia, sweet potato, and beans. We cleared the area, removed the weeds that would regrow in the mounds, marked circles and dug the soil as shown in the video. We planted twelve baby banana tree shoots at each circle on the top of the mound at equal distance. Colocasia was planted on the very inside of the rim circle. Sweet potatoes were planted between the banana plants (at least 2 slips between each), with cowpea and beans outside this. Watering is done twice a week. After a month the circle was looking lush and growing well; we began harvesting cowpeas. One year later we now have lush banana circles and have been harvesting bananas, colocasia, and sweet potato for our Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscribers.
- Bill Mollison, as quoted in ‘Permaculture and the Subtropic Food Forest’. Available on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axfQDEaHm84
Current Research & Development
We are constantly looking for ways to further improve upon what we are doing. A good improvement reduces costs and work, enhances nutrition and yield, increases the resiliency and diversity of the system, creates mutually-beneficial relationships, has positive ecological and health effects, enables new possibilities. Here are some of the current improvements we are engaged with, at various stages of development:
1. Growing Mushrooms
Mushrooms can be added to the system without requiring any additional space, by utilizing the shaded and unused ground areas beneath the vegetables. The moisture, temperature, and nutrient-rich aquaculture water we have seem like very favorable conditions for mushroom growth. We are currently running two trials of this.
2. Growing Berries
Similar to the above, there is a shaded area between the ground and the level of the vegetables. Berries that like shade can be grown in this space.
3. Silk Clothes
Would it be cool if in addition to fruits and veggies we could also grow our clothes? We are looking at possibilities for introducing silkworms into our system. They eat certain kinds of leaves, such as mulberry leaves, and secrete the silk thread out of which silk clothes are made.
4. Extending Produce Lifespan
It often happens that a large quantity of produce is ready for harvesting, but there is not enough need for this much food right away. This leads to the produce deteriorating. It would help if there was a sort of a buffer, so that the produce is steadily available as the need for food arises. One way this could be done is by keeping the produce at a lower temperature. We are looking into natural cooling systems which use the evaporation of water to achieve a cooling effect. Two examples are clay pot coolers and charcoal cooling chambers.
5. Reducing Or Removing External Fish Feed
The biggest ongoing cost in an aquaponics setup like ours is the fish feed which is purchased from outside vendors. It is an external input that often involves harmful health and ecological practices in its making. It also relies on a supply chain with its own transportation and infrastructure. The Nile Tilapia fish which we currently grow requires this commercial feed. We are however running an experiment with Giant Gourami which is happy to eat many different foods that we can readily grow ourselves, such as colocasia leaves and others. Closing the loop in this way would be a fantastic advancement that can make it far more affordable to grow food in a system like this.
If you are interested in any of the above or other possibilities, we invite you to contact our team. Suggestions and feedback are also welcome in the comments below.
Post written by:
Vijayakumar Narayanan (VKN)
VKN runs a private limited company (named startup of the year) in India backed by over 9 years of hands-on experience as an early adopter of Integrated Aquaponics System (IAS) methods. His focus areas include but are not limited to commercial farming, training, consulting and/or franchising IAS technology. For the last couple of years, he has been working with various teams in planning and designing the agricultural belt of an entire social complex of The Venus Project. His work on that included scalable IAS solutions for the execution of various agricultural methods and practices of cultivating the soil, producing crops and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products. Those efforts led to this current #TVPIAS project and VKN is now in charge of its implementation.
Borislav’s background includes neuroscience, teaching and IT engineering. He is interested in both design for radical effectiveness and a wider systems perspective across space and time. His work with The Venus Project over the years has been in diverse roles, often supporting the creation or automation of procedures and workflows in various teams. He has created a couple of web platforms which were inspired from integrating insights from disparate areas. For this project, one main purpose for him will be to support the integration of knowledge from a variety of fields into a single whole, out of which completely new insights can be born, as well as to support the spreading of this knowledge to people around the world.
Frixos is a nutritionist/dietitian specialized in both health and disease. He has done a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in this area, collaborated with several hospitals and universities, and worked professionally and conducted research with patients on nutrition and quality of life. He has also co-created simple nutrition analysis and menu creation tools. For the past decade he has shifted his focus on a more holistic approach towards nutrition, including botany, natural remedies and traditional medicine. He has experience in natural building, hydraulic engineering, composting, soil creation, companion planting, landscaping, water management, heating systems, geopolymer techniques and is interested in anything related to the land, food production and energy conversion.