Sylvia Bernstein

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since Jul 12, 2015
Since 2003 I have dedicated myself to connecting people and plants through indoor, soil-less gardening products.  I am especially passionate about bringing the super-productive gifts of hydroponics, and now aquaponics, to mainstream families and schools across America. As part of that ongoing journey I founded, and am the President of, The Aquaponic Source and am the award-winning author of “Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together” – an Amazon.com Gardening #1 Best Seller. 

In my recent past life I was the VP of Marketing and Product Development for AeroGrow International, the makers of the AeroGarden.  I was one of the company’s original founders and was instrumental in developing the plant growth technology. 

I have a degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of California, Davis and an MBA from the University of Chicago.  I currently live in Boulder, Colorado with my husband, Alan. 
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Recent posts by Sylvia Bernstein

HI Zach. We have many customers in Alaska. IMHO your challenges are the same ones we have here in Colorado - the bottom line is neither of us are going to be growing outdoors, year-round. But the good news aquaponics is great for indoor growing!
4 years ago
Hi Jeff. Having a backup plan is critical, whether that be with a battery or a generator if you have a larger system. We sell a product we call AquaBackup just for this purpose that you can check out here - http://theaquaponicsource.com/product-category/build-your-system/backup-and-safety/. I also recommend always having a second, backup pump available. Those things seem to always go out in the middle of the night or on a weekend!
4 years ago
Hi Christian and Su. Here are my thoughts on your questions

1) I agree 100% about Jade Perch, and hopefully we will see them here soon! I've heard of a few people in the past who have looked into importing them and starting a hatchery, but never seen it actually done. The big problem is that they are extremely difficult to breed. Apparently in the wild they only breed when certain flooding conditions occur, which is mighty tough to replicate in captivity. But given how awesome these fish are someone, someday is going to bring them to the U.S.!
2) The main issue with the pump only running when the sun is available is providing 24/7 oxygenation to the fish. But you could certainly use a solar panel to charge a battery, then run a DC pump off that battery. We are actually teaching a course at our Longmont facility on Nov 7&8 on Off Grid Aquaponics that you may want to consider taking - http://theaquaponicsource.com/event/grid-aquaponics-weekend-workshop/
3) This is a tricky one. Yes, you can absolutely supplement your fish's feed with feed you grow yourself in an aquaponics system. But remember that you are responsible for the optimal health of that animal, and that the feed is what is supplying the nutrients for your plants. So if, for example, you just feed your fish duckweed you will have malnourished fish and malnourished plants. I wrote a blog post about this topic that you might find interesting - http://theaquaponicsource.com/aquaponic-fish-are-not-garbage-disposals/
4) Water from a fish tank is absolutely great for terrestrial plants - no question. But understand that that it technically not "aquaponics" because the water isn't being recirculated back to the fish. But if you don't really care about fitting within that technical definition then go for it!

And thanks for your thanks, Christian. It is much appreciated!
4 years ago

Seva Tokarev wrote:
Still, what about trace elements? Are they supposed to come from fish feed? Does it impose additional requirement on the latter?


Hi Seva.
Thanks for your kind words.
In general the answer is "yes, the trace minerals come from the fish feed", but sometimes deficiencies do occur and if that is the case we recommend a rock dust product called Aquaponic Elements. It works like a tea bag that you place under the water-in spout in your grow beds and it slowly releases trace minerals into your system (without the extra nitrogen and sodium that AP systems don't need).
4 years ago
HI Dan. By "fruit" do you mean fruiting plants like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers? Or sweet fruit like strawberries? Either way, they grow great in media-based aquaponics! The key is growing in media, not a raft system like some do. Those are tremendous for growing salad greens, basil, chard, etc, but not fruit.
4 years ago
HI Paul. I'm laughing because that is exactly the kind of skepticism I had when I first got into aquaponics. I came from a 7 year background in Hydroponics via running the plant grow lab at AeroGrow, international in the development of the AeroGarden. I actually have my name on some patents for hydroponic nutrients, and I was convinced that there was NO way that it could be as simple as aquaponic practitioners said it was. But what I had lost site of was that a media-based aquaponic system is actually closer to a soil garden than a hydroponic garden. Because the "nutrients" are natural animal waste there is no need to "balance" them. And just as you don't worry about supplementing magnesium in your soil garden (or at least I don't...) you generally don't need to worry about that in AP. We grow a wide variety of crops, and never replace the fish water. We just make sure the pH is kept in proper range, and that we bring it up when necessary with natural calcium and potassium carbonate. The only thing we find we need to regularly supplement, aside from adjusting pH, is iron. The maintenance is far less than hydroponics because we don't ever replace the water in the system, which hydro guys need to do every few weeks.

Believe me, and thousands of others who are successfully growing organic fish and veggies across the world - it really works!
4 years ago
HI Dirk. No, unfortunately I don't.
4 years ago

Bryant RedHawk wrote:Welcome Sylvia, it is great to have one with your expertise here. I have been trying to convince my wife that we should start one of these systems. I have unfortunately been unsuccessful to date and any help with answers to her questions would be greatly appreciated.

Can we grow fish such as Crappie or bluegill in one of these systems?

If we can how much space would be required for each fish?

How large a tray system can be taken care of per fish tank?

What is the average cost for a basic system?

Since I am definitely not fully familiar with aquaponics, and my wife tends to want to know as much as possible before starting something neither of us have experience with, it would be wonderful if you can help us out.

I an sure she would listen to someone with your experience and perhaps I would then be able to start gathering the items needed to set up a small, starting out system.

Thank you for giving of your time and knowledge, I know everyone here appreciates it as much as I do.



HI Bryant. Thanks for your warm welcome - much appreciated! Here are my thoughts on your questions.

Can we grow fish such as Crappie or bluegill in one of these systems? - absolutely. Just about anything that is currently being grown in freshwater aquaculture can be grown in aquaponics
If we can how much space would be required for each fish? - Figure you need about 5 - 10 gallons of water for every pound of fish for a media based aquaponic system without external solids removal. You can stock more densely if you remove the solid waste (i.e. it doesn't get filtered by the grow beds) but you then have to maintain that external filter.
How large a tray system can be taken care of per fish tank? - A good rule of thumb is about a 1:1 volume of grow bed volume to fish tank volume for a simple, flood and drain media based system, all the way to a 3:1 volume if you introduce a sump tank. I go into this in detail in my book, Aquaponic Gardening, in my online Udemy course, and in the live classes we teach at our Colorado facility.
What is the average cost for a basic system? This is very hard to answer. It depends on if you are ok with using salvaged materials, and doing most of the work yourself, or if you prefer more of a turnkey system designed and built by professionals. If you contact me at The Aquaponic Source I can help you further with a system that both you and your wife will enjoy.

4 years ago

Rach Hasbu wrote:First off, welcome Sylvia
My question is:
In you short video, you mentioned that ratio is important, is that ratio of fish to water, or fish to plants or a ratio of all three?
Also what is the smallest system that you think is viable? What sort of space do I need available to start? My garden has very limited space.

Thanks


Hi Rach. There are many ratios that are part of a set of Rules of Thumb that help to create a well-balanced aquaponic system. The ratio of fish to water (in media-based aquaponics that is about a pound of fish to every 5 - 10 gallons of water) and the ratio of grow bed volume to fish tank volume (1:1 up to 3:1) are the most important. I go over all this in my book, online course, and our live classes in some detail.
I've seen very viable systems made out of small aquariums, but, of course, you won't be growing edible fish that way. If your goal is to grow fish for your dinner you should have at least 100 gallons of fish tank.
4 years ago

Steve Lansing wrote:Aquaponics with Tilapia seems straight forward. One question I am not sure about is the transition from full grown/harvest of the tilapia and the replacing of the mass of fish for the plants to get nutrients. What I mean is this, say you have 100 fish, adult, ready for harvest. If you take them all out and add fry, the mass of fish is way down and the plants get less nutrients. My question is, can you add fry to adult tanks and do a gradual swap till the fry get larger and you finally take out the last of the adults? For example, since the fry grow so fast, if you take out 20% of the adult fish and add l00 fry, then over the next 6 weeks or so, you take out more and more adult till they are gone. Now the fry are larger and producing enough nutrients for the plants? Bottom line, fry and adults in one tank or have a second grow up tank? Thanks Sylvia.

Richard


Hi Steve. This is a great question, and one that I had myself before I got started. The reality is that the fish don't all grow at the same rate, so hopefully you won't harvest them all at the same time. You'll find that some will be "bullies" and get at the food faster, grow faster, and, as their "reward" they will be the first to reach plate size. Then there will be the "runts" that will be slow to grow because they are just getting what is left over. That said, having another tank for your next batch of fingerlings until they grow big enough to share the big kids tank (you can use the sump tank for this, if you build a design with a sump tank) is a good idea.
4 years ago