Advanced Growing Systems
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Sandponics is a system for growing plants using sand as a growing medium instead of soil. The sand is kept moist and fertilized with nutrient-rich water, which is circulated through the system using a pump. The plants are grown in containers filled with suitable sand, in which the roots absorb the water and nutrients they need to grow.
The Sandponics system incorporates raising fish in a tank and using the fish waste as a natural fertilizer for the plants. The waste is converted into nitrates by beneficial bacteria and is then used by the plants as a nutrient source. This creates a sustainable closed-loop system in which the plants provide a natural filter for the fish tank, and the fish provide nutrients for the plants.
The Sandponics system is a highly efficient and sustainable way to grow plants using sand and fish. It can be used in a variety of settings, ranging from home gardens to commercial farms etc, and has many benefits, including reduced water use, improved plant growth and nutrient content, and minimal environmental impact.
Please note: This website exists solely as a 'Sandponics* TM SM education and research resource, and is best viewed on a PC or tablet rather than on a mobile phone due to the high volume of text displayed. More educational videos, explanatory diagrams, and links to other relevant websites will be added over time. The information is provided as an introductory overview only, and links to more in-depth scientifically validated and detailed information are provided, along with links to examples of practical systems developed by various experienced growers.
Click here to view multiple videos of existing established sandponics systems producing substantial volumes of food.
Click here to view videos showing our own preliminary experiments with the system over a period of a couple of months.
The videos and other information displayed on this site may not always represent the methods formally recommended for creating a successful iAVS system. This is because at this site we often conduct research and experiments in order to identify potential new and improved growing techniques.
The information displayed on the sandponics.info site will be edited and updated over time as our knowledge and acquired experience of the different systems increases and evolves. Anyone who has valid and constructive information to add is invited to contact us via the email address displayed close too the bottom of this page, and we will respond to you as soon as possible.
A scientifically based article describing the sandponics system can be accessed by clicking here.
Articles describing the commercial development of sandponics systems by Sumitomo Electric Industries in Japan can be accessed by clicking here.
The meaning of the descriptive term 'Sandponics' as used on this website is similar to the meaning of the term 'iAVS' used on Dr. Mark McMurtry's website. Both terms refer to the growing of fruit and vegetables in an appropriate sand-based medium using fish waste as the fertilising agent, although detailed differences between the two systems may possibly emerge over time based on the outcomes of experiments and different approaches and experiences.
While it is not yet clear exactly how much food sandponics/iAVS/aquaponics/hydroponics growing systems can produce, it is believed that the various technologies have the potential to significantly increase the yield of aquaculture and associated farming operations, although we believe that the techniques used in the iAVS system currently offer the most productive and scientifically proven results.
You can view a drawing of the layout of a proposed demonstration site by clicking here. An installation similar to the one shown in the drawing should be more than capable of producing sufficient food to meet the needs of an average family. More descriptive drawings, videos, explanatory sequences, and technical data will be added over time.
Sandponics is essentially a new growing system that aligns with the already well-established principles of permaculture. Visit the Permaculture.info website to learn more. As this site evolves, more videos, websites, and e-books etc will be linked for the purpose of helping educate visitors about the potential of the various growing systems.
Our philosophy is to apply the KISS principle, in order to keep costs and labour to a minimum, although without sacrificing quality, which is what we intend to do with our own personal sandponics system, and also with this website.
*When output exceeds input the produce is free.
*Plus you can save by growing your own food, and earn by selling your produce, or/and by creating a home-based business installing 'sandponics' systems in your area.
Developing alternative, efficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly food production systems is essential to providing adequate nutrition to growing populations.
In the sandponics system, fish and vegetables are grown intensively, using specific grades of sand as the growing medium, and using limited volumes of water to achieve high yields without the use of synthetic fertilisers.
Plants are grown using bacteria from the fish waste to create natural fertiliser, with sand acting as the growing media and also as the biofilter to clean the water.
What is the Sandponics System and How Does it Work?
Rather than hydroponics or aquaponics, sandponics is a unique, highly effective, and scientifically proven method of growing food using soil-friendly, naturally occurring bacteria to convert fish waste into fertilizer that feeds vegetables and other plants, including fruit trees. There are more bacteria in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth.
(iAVS), is the world's most water-efficient food production system, generating more food than the water it consumes. With only a modestly-sized system, you can feed yourself, your family, and possibly even your neighbours and others in your community.
The hype generated around the current aquaponics systems, masks the fact that two working production systems: 'aquaculture' and 'hydroponics' are needed for the system to function. It then wastes money, time, and energy while attempting to marry those systems together, so that money spent trying to integrate the two systems is lost.
(iAVs) is the only successful, proven example of a “closed-loop” system using waste from edible fish to grow plants. What all conventional aquaponics systems have in common is they are powered by phytonutrients (plant nutrients) obtained from fish waste and surplus fish food.
The system uses sand as a filter to remove waste from the water and uses bacteria to convert that waste into fertiliser to grow fruit and vegetables.
The aquaponics flood and drainage system (sometimes referred to as the Speraneo model) uses rock gravel or clay balls, while another method known as deep water culture (DWC), uses floating styrofoam rafts to support plants growing in water tanks. Each of these systems has inherent problems due to the ongoing accumulation of fish waste within the system, while sandponics seeks to avoid such issues because the fish waste is completely consumed by the bacteria in the sand and is converted into plant available nutrients, without surplus fish waste accumulating in the grow media.
What sets Sandponic systems apart from conventional Aquaponics systems, is the use of sand, which can achieve results that constantly running water or flood and drain gravel beds are unable to achieve. Coarser material such as gravel allows surplus fish waste to accumulate in the large spaces between the gravel particles, while finer material such as very fine sand prevents the air from entering into the sand because the sand particles are too small and close together, thereby creating potentially anaerobic conditions. This is why obtaining the most suitable grade of sand is so important, Not too fine and not too coarse.
Note that when we refer to "sand," we are referring to a specific range of silicon dioxide (quartz) particles, with sizes ranging from 0.25mm diameter up to 2.5mm diameter, with the mix being made up of approximately 20% (one fifth) small particles of not less than 0.25mm in diameter, 40% (two fifths) of mid-sized particles and 40% (two fifths) of particles up to a maximum of about 2.5mm in diameter. Ideally, whenever it is available, this media consists of reasonably priced coarse-washed-river-sand.
There may be other factors relating to the grade of sand. Pure washed river sand may be lacking in certain mineral elements because those minerals have been washed out of the sand over the very long periods of time when the sand lay on the bed of a river. So it may be appropriate to include within the sand mix some measure of essential materials such as rock phosphate, that will over time provide minerals that the river sand and the fish waste lack. Only research and experimentation can prove or disprove this theory.
Note that we are discussing small amounts of Rock phosphate here and not super phosphate, this is because super phosphate would be far too strong to use in the sand as it is highly soluble and so would be quickly washed out of the sand and into the fish pond, while a modest amount of rock phosphate could be more stable and more suitable because it releases its phosphate slowly into the very slightly acidic media over an extended period of time. The small amounts of phosphate would then be taken up by the plants, meaning that if rock phosphate is added to the media, it is important to keep the beds planted at all times to avoid even the small amounts of phosphates being washed into the fish pond, as that could possibly cause issues with algae blooms.
It may also be appropriate to add other minerals to the sand in order for the plants to be able to take up the minerals, and for you to obtain the minerals from the plants when eating the produce. I remember once visiting a goat farm where the owner purposely fed minerals to her goats, and the cheese made from the goats milk was packed with minerals to such an extent that you could actually taste the minerals in the cheese. There was no comparison at all between that cheese and supermarket bought cheese, which was bland, plastic like, tasteless, and contained no minerals.
Sand is a vastly superior mechanical filter medium when compared to gravel. This is due to the individual particle sizes. In fact, out of all filtering substrates available, sand is among the best media in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The use of sand as a filtering medium predates recorded history and is still widely used today. By contrast, using coarse gravel or clay balls to filter fish waste is equivalent to catching mosquitoes with a fishing net.
Sand is a more effective biological filtration medium with a much higher specific surface area than gravel or other commonly used media.
Sand is the only commonly available and naturally available filter medium that can promote soil biology which is the basis of successful organic gardening. This means that Sandponics/iAVS is the only closed system of fish and plants that does not require additional supplements. Almost everything that plants need comes from fish, assuming that you are using a well-formulated and naturally derived feedstock.
However, it is essential to avoid overloading the sand with too much fish waste at any one time, because even though there are billions of microbes living in the sand, overloading them with too much fish waste to process in a given period of time is like a human worker being overloaded with more work that they can possibly complete in a given period of time. It may also be beneficial to dry the fresh fish waste before applying limited amounts of it to the sand, possibly in a powdered or pelleted form. This could help to prevent the fish waste from becoming anaerobic, and may help to remove any potentially harmful pathogens from the material.
The plants and sand together clean and purify the water for the fish, creating a closed-loop system that is both efficient and sustainable. The system can be used to grow a wide variety of plants and fish, and it can be scaled up or down to suit the specific needs and resources of a given location.
This focus on soil biology recognises that the system is essentially a horticultural system in which fish is only a means to an end. This is in contrast to hydroponics, which focuses on the techniques used to achieve nitrification with a greater emphasis on aquaculture, even though the plants are usually a more valuable crop.
The interactions between plants, microbes, and sand in the system are consistent with the interactions observed by organic gardeners in conventional soil.
The system was not originally developed for the benefit of organic gardeners, it was instead developed for use by impoverished villagers in locations such as Namibia, the Sahel, and the Middle East.
Many issues confronting these villagers are now also emerging in countries such as China, India, the USA, and Australia, and in areas of Europe to a point where future food security is brought into question.
Sandponics systems can also be used to assist in the planting and growth of fruit trees. The sand beds required would need to be deeper than those used to grow vegetables. The techniques for growing trees in sandponics beds would differ only in detail, including deeper beds and possibly the inclusion of some composted material at the bottom of the sand beds. Ideally, the liner would be made from a degradable material with a few holes located in the bottom of the bed to prevent the bed from flooding during heavy rainfall. A drip system would deliver clean water that would not block the drippers and would be run off a timer set to an appropriate schedule. Powdered or pelleted fish-based fertilizer, with some minerals added, could be used to provide nutrients to the tree roots. As the tree roots grow they would eventually break through the liner, and the liner would eventually compost in the soil and be consumed, leaving no trace behind.
To summarise, Sandponics/iAVS maintains a naturally balanced symbiotic ecosystem that produces nutritious fresh fruit and vegetables and also produces nutritious fish as a by-product of the system. It is the most productive, resilient, and sustainable food production system ever devised.
Advantages of sandponics
Low start-up costs. Sandponics is not expensive to implement
Easy access to educational resources
High yields in both the short and long term
No smelly compost
Minimal labour requirements
Little equipment or inputs
Sandponics does not require the ownership of land for permanent installations, as it is possible to design appropriately sized, domestically scaled, mobile systems on wheels, that could potentially be loaded onto a suitably sized flat-bed trailer and moved to a new location.
Elain Ingham (2009) states that Bacteria are tiny, one-celled organisms, generally 4/100,000th of an inch wide (1 µm) and somewhat longer in length. What bacteria lack in size, they make up in numbers. A teaspoon of productive soil generally contains between 100 million and one billion bacteria, which is a mass equivalent to two cows in a one-acre field. In some soils, there can be even greater numbers of active bacteria per acre.
Bacteria make up the bulk of soil life, and combined with fungi, sunlight, and atmospheric CO2, are the main driving forces supporting plant growth. The symbiotic relationships formed between bacteria, fungi, and plants are not yet fully understood, although are evidently complex and far-reaching. It is, however evident from observations, that as more bacteria thrive in your soil or in your growing media, the more your plants will also grow and thrive and will be less prone to the impacts of pests, disease, low nutrition, low mineral deficiencies, and stress.
Bacteria are essential for plant growth, as they play a vital role in the nitrogen cycle, which is essential for plant health. Nitrogen is a key nutrient for plants, and bacteria are responsible for converting nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form that plants can use, such as nitrates and ammonia. This process, known as nitrogen fixation, is essential for plant growth, as it provides plants with the nitrogen they need to produce proteins, enzymes, and other important bio molecules.
In addition to their role in the nitrogen cycle, bacteria also play other important roles in plant growth. For example, some bacteria form symbiotic relationships with plants, providing them with essential minerals and nutrients or protecting them from pests and diseases. Other bacteria help to break down organic matter in the soil, providing nutrients that plants require in order to grow.
Overall, bacteria are essential for plant growth, and without them, plants would not be able to access the nutrients and minerals they need to thrive.
Therefore, creating superior environments in which plants can grow, involves creating the most suitable conditions possible for bacteria to survive and thrive. In regular soils, this usually involves increasing the volume of organic material in the soil, and balancing the available minerals to avoid deficiencies. While in a sandponics/iAVS system, it involves providing the appropriate growth medium and organising the system in such a way that it functions as nature intended.
The above has been proven through many years of research, and trial, correction, and peer review by multiple biologists, agronomists, and practising growers. Plus, similar systems have posibly been in use over thousand of years, during which time farmers in cultures around the world applied various techniques long before the days of modern industrial farming. More will be discussed about this subject later.
The benefits of using the sandponics system
The systems are economical to build because the sand bed is the filter, and so separate filters are not needed. Plus, the beds can be built on the ground with no need to elevate them, although they can be elevated if desired.
The systems use little energy, especially if suitably designed and sized pumps are used.
Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, garlic, beets, onions, and many other plants can be grown.
Billions of beneficial bacteria and microbes continually clean the system, with absolutely zero need for the sand bed to be periodically drained and emptied for cleaning. This is subject to the system being appropriately designed and operated.
Economically build your own DIY system.
Create a system that enables you to grow your own food at home.
Build your fishpond - At a basic level, this involves, digging a hole, adding a liner, and adding water, plus adding a small pump and suitable pipes.
Create your sand bed - Build the bed on or into the surface of the ground (or elevated) with strong side supports, add a liner and add the sand.
Add the fish.
Add the plants.
Feed the fish frequently, check the water level, and add the fish-waste derived fertiliser regularly and you are done.
Your choice of pond and bed liners will impact the building costs and the life of your system.
The specific grade and type of sand you choose will also impact the cost and productivity of your system.
For ideas about planning the layout of your sandponics system, visit the Grow Beds page.
The typically recommended liner materials are either 0.8mm HDPM, or 0.5mm PVC pond liners.
Alternatively, if you are located within an area where there are supplies of water-resistant clay it may just be possible to use the clay combined with a thinner PVC liner or similar, to create a viable watertight pond. You could possibly also use clay to help construct and waterproof your sand beds. For example, a suitably thick layer of wet clay located between two layers of low-cost PVC construction plastic or another suitable material could potentially create an effective and long-lasting waterproof liner, even if your local soil type is pure sand.
Also, we recently encountered an agricultural product called DamIt that may have some potential depending on your soil type, although this is to date untested. Please note that the manufacturers of DamIt do not recommend using their product between two layers of plastic, as the product needs to have direct access to the underlying soil, although it could possibly be used below liners to provide additional waterproofing to help insure against leakage, and to ensure the ponds and sand beds remain resistant to water leaking for long periods. However, only thorough testing will prove if this is a viable option or not.
Coarse-washed river sand is the recommended media. Although, this may sometimes be difficult and expensive to obtain based on your location and budget. Plus, there will be differences in the sand obtained from different locations and you will need to judge the suitability of the sand you obtain. Alternatives may be possible, although caution should be applied when selecting these, and it is essential to thoroughly test a sample of the sand prior to committing to obtaining a larger quantity. In some instances when it is impossible to obtain coarse-washed-river-sand, you may even need to create a blend of available coarse and fine sands in order to obtain the best possible media mix for your system. Thoroughly test any blends with small quantities prior to purchasing larger amounts.
I am based in Perth, Western Australia and after some searching obtained a supply of coarse-washed-river-sand from a local supplier at https://downtoearthgarden.com.au/.
Depending on where you live, try searching on the Google search engine by first searching for your location such as 'Rockhampton, Australia'. Then add the product you wish to find to the search, such as 'Rockhampton Australia, Coarse-washed-river-sand'. Quotation marks are not usually needed. Google should then display information about businesses in the selected area that sell the product you want.
You could possibly also conduct your search on Google Maps by first going to a map of your area, and then searching with a term such as 'Phoenix Arizona, coarse-washed-river-sand'. Once you learn how to do this effectively, it works like magic.
Another potential source of suitable sand may be the use of new septic tank sand if that is available in your area. Although you need to check that it is suitable for purpose and has never been used in a septic system.
Conclusion: The increasing popularity of closed-loop growing systems for food production
Sandponics systems can be established almost anywhere, from the rooftop of a tall city skyscraper in New York to the edge of the Dead Sea 400+ meters below sea level, and from the hottest desert in the world (with the system located under partial shade) to the side of a cold mountain (with the system located inside a walipini). Using the sandponics/iAVS system you could possibly even create a food-producing garden that is more resilient than a natural ecosystem, and you could potentially live almost anywhere on earth and be substantially self-sufficient in regards to the provision of fish, fruit, and vegetables.
Versions of the sandponics grow systems could also possibly be developed on an industrial scale, as is described in a document written by two scientists working for the Sumitomo Electric Company in Japan.
Our goal is to identify and apply the most economical, best-engineered, and most productive methods of creating successful sandponics grow systems. The potential productivity and variety of the sandponics systems are only now being seriously investigated, and we are excited to remain informed about any new developments that will undoubtedly evolve in the future, and share that information with visitors to this website.
There are opportunities to teach sandponics in locations around the world. To learn more contact us through the email address displayed near the bottom of this page.
Quote: "Once people learn how to raise fish and grow fruit and vegetables they will feed their communities forever." Anon
You will need some type of pump in order to move water and fish waste from your fishpond or fish tanks and into the sand beds, several options are possible. You may also need to obtain or create some type of timer to control the operation of the pump. We will later provide more information on the subject of pumps and timers.
Other related Permaculture systems linked to for your enlightenment
Mad scientist's homestead is parking size, off-grid system
FedEx tinkerer custom builds no-waste micro farmstead
Sunken greenhouse wraps home & feeds suburban antifragile co-op
Growing Water Convolvulus with fish in an interesting flood and drain system
Farming Fresh Fish and Growing Lettuce in a system that has some similarities to sandponics
Comparison between Hydroponics VS Aquaponics.
Essential Equipment Guide for Aquaponics Systems
Equipment needed for a Cheap & Easy DIY Hydroponics system
Essential Equipment required for a sandponics system ***
Murray Hallam's iAV Sand Aquaponics System
Aquaponics System for raising Crawfish with White Radish and Water Spinach
Scientific and technical articles relating to sandponics
The website linked to here describes the iAVS system.
What each of the systems described and linked to above, including iAVS and Sandponics etc, are in effect doing is terraforming the planet (in specially designed small-scale environments) for plant growth, by using bacteria to convert fish waste into plant food, while at the same time minimising water use.
We could save our soils and ecosystems by growing most of our food in highly efficient, well-designed sandponics grow beds, and also by eating less meat. Then the natural ecosystem would over-time heal the landscapes we have damaged, so that the huge fields of inefficiently grown crops and the fouled feedstock lots would again become natural grasslands, meadows and forests for all to enjoy. Animal and plant life would recover to be as lush as it was before we cut down the forests, ploughed the grasslands, and damaged the environment with inefficient, labour and machine-intensive agriculture.
We encourage everyone to share awareness of this exceptional food growing system with other people they know who may be interested in applying and helping to further develop it and spread knowledge about the benefits it provides. This is especially important as food prices continue to increase and as food insecurity becomes more commonplace. More information will be added to the site as we identify ways to simplify and improve the system and make it even more economical to install and operate.
Click the link here to access the permaculture.info website.
This site will be expanded over time as more experience is gained and as more is learned about the subject of sandponics, iAVS and other related subjects. So bookmark the site and come back again to learn more.
Join us on a magical journey of discovery, in which you will learn how to create and enjoy a lifestyle that is unlike any other you may have ever imagined, and as the old saying goes "the best things in life are free". Plus, appropriate and inexpensive materials can be used to build your system, and we will describe these materials in greater detail as this website evolves.
Key terms relating to the study of Sandponics include the following:
Diversity stability and resilience, permaculture, permanent agriculture, growing food, design principles, sand aquaponics.
Quote: "the world does not beat a path to the door of the man who creates a better mousetrap, although Google does" Anon
More information will be added to this site as our research continues.
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Date first published: © AI WATAG October 24, 2022
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