Aquaponics and Sustainability in Rural Beijing

Carey Ma

Carey Ma

One of the really great benefits of being active in the an aquaponics forum, such as the Aquaponic Gardening Community, is that I get to meet some of the amazing people who are doing truly incredible work around the world to promote aquaponics and address the needs of our post peak-oil world. One of those people is Carey Ma, an American living in Beijing, China with over twenty years experience in off-grid/ automated living. He has a plan to “establish a facility which will reduce the impact of agriculture on ecosystem functions and services by providing nature inspired, zero emissions, sustainable Agri-technology using integrated bio systems (IBS) in an urban/ peri-urban environment for the production of food & lifestyle enhancement amenities.” His ultimate dream is to build a Hi-Rise Farm, with each Farm feeding 10-30,000 of his neighbors while producing energy and clean water.

Below is an article Carey wrote about his projects in Beijing (re-published with permission).

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Traditional (modern mono-crop farming) gives a Beijing area farmers with five mu (5/6 acre) about five thousand pounds (jin) of corn and another three to five thousand pounds of wheat per year @ about one Yuan per pound +/-), giving farmers about five to eight thousand RMB, (USD $0.80/person/day) income for a family to survive on for the year, after expenses.

With the system I am developing, (Carey’s Smart-Farm), on five mu of land; I can produce an annual yield of thousands of pounds of wholesome foods; vegetables, fish, fruit, honey, meat, eggs, milk and processed foods. Even just a mu and a half of land (1000 sq M) will produce more than enough food to feed the average family of four, leaving much of the food to be sold for profit or bartered (traded) to help provide for other basic needs. It is quite possible for a family to live simply off five/ six mu (an acre), although it does require quite a bit of planning including business planning to determine how to market and sell crops for additional income. With my program I hope to set up a network/ co-op to facilitate distribution of surplus fresh foods.

These new danwei (commune) villages will be comprised of similar mini farms with some, specialized production to meet the community’s needs. The specialized production units cooperate with other farms to manage and recirculated their waste. Once there is positive production, surplus can be traded as locally as possible. Local handcrafts would be able to compete fairly thus provide opportunity for creativity and truly remaster lost pride and craftsmanship. With pride restored, honor instead of robbery would be the new mantra and life will be good as long as there is water and sunlight!

Cultivating a large vegetable garden is the first part of living off one acre of land. Just 12 garden beds (696 sqft) measuring four feet by eight feet each can produce a total of more than 2,000 pounds (one ton) of vegetables per year when planned carefully. The key to harvesting an abundance of vegetables is threefold. First is to grow multiple crops in the same area at different times AKA successive planting, e.g., crops such as spinach, peas, broccoli and beets can be planted and harvested in the spring, leaving the garden beds ready for planting of summer crops such as tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and corn. Once those are harvested, the cool-season crops can be planted again and grow into the fall, all in the same space. The second part is using intensive (permaculture) gardening, which combines companion planting, raised bed techniques, crop rotation with square foot gardening so every square inch and sunlight is put to use. Excess vegetables can be canned and stored in a root cellar to be eaten in the winter or sold to local members for profit. Lastly is using my hi-tech Smart-Beds combining the best of hydroponics and traditional organic practices along with my pre-’printed’, color coordinated, seed mats, make growing practically foolproof for even the youngest or newest gardener.

Diversity is the game nature plays, and to head her, means smaller losses when looking at the bigger picture. Diversity vs. mono cropping means having a bit of everything to fulfill a basic ecosystem (nutrient cycle). Like clean rainwater coming from the salty oceans and finally returning again, nutrients are cycled and recycled. So a bioscaped farm or farmscape should comprised of not only vegetables but also flowers, trees and an array of livestock, each having it’s own purpose and function.

Everything on my farm is grown with a purpose. I Grow fruit trees to add to the harvest of fresh produce and to reduce the heat and evaporation factors. When planting fruit trees, it is important to learn what trees grow best in the area and how much water you plan to use before attempting to grow them. In renting my plot, I inherited about 800 trees, mostly Apricot. Unfortunately due to poor choice or ignorance, my landlord left me with not much other than a big tangled, mess and will take several years to prune back and restore them back into production. So for now, their job is not to provide me with fruit but providing my chickens and other free-range fowl with more bugs and further supplement their diet with seasonal fruit and most importantly provide shade from the sun and shelter from hawks (yes we have two pair of red hawks in our neighborhood along with wild pheasant, amazing isn’t it? Right here in Beijing). [This was written a few years ago. Both hawks and pheasants disappeared the following year].

Grains do not make a very large profit when farmed in small quantities, so it is best to avoid trying to sell them but is good piece of mind for personal use and food security. In the off-season (winter), I use this grain to grow hydroponic grass in the greenhouse for my animals and myself, so we get super nutritious greens all year long. I plant small patches of grains such as oats, rye and wheat to help to supplement ‘the family’s’ and livestock diet. For example, a 50-by-50-foot patch of wheat will yield about 100 pounds. Instead of just feeding this directly to my animals, I use 3/5 of it to grow wheatgrass at a rate of seven pounds of wheatgrass from one pound of raw wheat, so I get seven times the weight with more readily usable nutrients instead of just a bit of carbohydrates.

Often times, my farm looks more like it’s strangled with weeds, but in reality everything has a use. There is no waste on my farm. You can say my most important job isn’t growing vegetables but growing grass, making teas and raising worms. In nature, we often see symbiotic relationships without realizing it. I grow special (US University proven) pasture combinations for balanced meals for my livestock (bunnies, fowl, fish, goats, sheep and two horses). By continuously enhancing soil fertility, I hope to eventually show how it is possible to live sustainable and share more of my production in order to add on the rest of my plan for a true ecolonomic lifestyle instead of just a hobby.

I feed my soil and my soil feeds me. I believe that a lot of organic gardeners/ farmers are a bit too gung-hoe when it comes to composting. Yes it is a big part of the program but not the end all to producing great food. A propper application of foliar spray/ soil drench (above & below ground), and proper amount of minerals and trace minerals, work in combination to produce truly wholesome foods with fantastic taste and highly nutritional.

I believe it is a form of cruelty to make animals eat other than what nature intended. Stuff provided naturally through the test of time, (grasses and their grains, bugs and grubs etc) vs. an unnatural diet of corn & soybean, just to get it fat for slaughter. Just because an animal is meant for food doesn’t mean it has to be a victim. I truly believe in the saying, ‘you are what you eat’. How can we be healthy and happy if our food isn’t happy and healthy? All my plants and animals live the best possible life I can give them and are slaughtered humanely along with a prayer.

‘Thank thee o spirit of this harvest, for sacrificing your life so I may live”.
May The Great Mother and Father bless thee on your journey in the here after.
So mote it be’.

At present I would love to add canning to my garden efforts. You have no idea how much was wasted last year due to lack of transportation and external desire for fresh wholesome foods. Canning excess fruit and other micro industries is a necessity; to preserve it for eating during the rest of the year, and both fresh and canned fruit and other micro co-ops making other value added products like solar drying, fruit-skins, jams/ preserves, spiced oils/ vinegars, butter, ice cream, soaps etc. can be sold for additional, higher margin income.

To sweeten life a bit, I’d like to grow some stivia and keep one hive of bees. That will both pollinate my crop and produce about 100 pounds of honey per year, which is more than enough for ‘the family’ (four people) to use as sweetener. Additional honey can be bottled and sold at our co-op farmers market exchange.

Keeping a dozen hens, will produce about 120 dozen eggs over the course of a year. This is enough for each person in a family of four to eat an egg every day, and with more chickens, additional eggs could be sold for profit. I hope to expand that to a hundred hens and two hundred roosters next year.

Tilapia and Barramundi are wonderful food fish with nice firm sweet, white flesh and not many bones. Their conversion rate is better than most and can tolerate pretty extreme conditions compared to other fish. We feed ours with a mixture of dried worms, dried veggies and starches as a binder. Coupled with a hydroponic system (Aquaponics) allows for even more symbiotic relationships which means more diversity and more production without sacrifice. What can be better?

Raising goats, sheep and cows for milk and later for slaughter is a great idea if one has the land. Traditionally, a cow will require at least a half-acre of pasture, but goats and sheep can be kept in a smaller pasture of a quarter acre per animal or much less by growing hydroponic fodder… so thank goodness I can grow hydroponic fodder.

A single dairy cow will produce about six gallons of milk per day, leaving plenty for making cheese, butter and selling locally. Sheep and goats also produce milk, although the taste will be different from the traditional cow’s milk. Personally, I like Jersey cow’s milk best but am going to try a small herd of sheep first. I can keep them in pens and walk them when the weather permits and maybe build a treadmill for them when it is not so nice outside.

Lastly I might try a few swine. A few pigs can supplement a patron’s family diet with some meat other than fish, chicken, eggs and lamb. Lard will be great for cooking and bones for making soap. What I really want from swine is the Methane that can be produced from their manure as well as a wonderful fertilizer after it has been through my dual process (anaerobic then aerobic) compost, making it safe and practically pathogen free. Pigs require only 150 square feet per animal, making them ideal for a one-acre (six mu) family farm.

In factory farms, young feeder pigs weighing 40 pounds will get to a harvest weight of 240 pounds within just 120 days, eating 10 to 12 bushels of corn and 125 to 150 pounds of medicated protein supplement during that time. My swine will take a lot longer to be edible but as I intend it to take over the job my puney noise makers are doing now (guard duty) and eat leftovers form our dinner to produce methane, instead of being dinner. I’m not worried about the extra time it takes to get to maturity. My only concern is that it would think itself a person and want its place on the sofa.

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