Saturday, October 31, 2020
With a little help from his dad, Henry Jerome successfully built an aquaponics system inside his family’s greenhouse. Herald photo by Nicole Vik.

SHS student uses growing love of gardening to build an aquaponics system

So many people are stuck at home these days, allowing them time to complete some of those overdue projects. Others are using this time to get creative and put some of their ingenuity to work. 

 With the help of his dad, Sparta High School freshman Henry Jerome has built an entire aquaponics system inside his family’s greenhouse located just outside Cataract.

The system began as a hydroponic bed inside an aquarium a few years ago, however, Henry’s general interest in agriculture began from a very young age. 

“I’ve tried to instill a love of gardening in them,” Mom Krissy said, adding that it’s working as both Henry and his younger brother love to be out in the garden. “He just loves anything outdoors and especially anything to do with fish.”

Henry wanted to take his love of gardening and combine it with his love of fishing. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture, which is raising fish, and hydroponics, which is a method of growing plants without soil, that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. 

Aquaponics mirrors a natural ecosystem representing the relationship between water, aquatic life, bacteria, nutrient dynamics and plants, which grow together in waterways all over the world.

Henry’s seven koi fish eat and produce ammonia. Beneficial bacteria living on lava rock inside the pipes then converts the ammonia into nutrients, which is absorbed by the plants as a natural fertilizer. 

The water is continuously recirculated through the system, creating and pumping fresh water back to the fish in a clean, safe form. 

“It’s really efficient on water,” Henry said. “It’s almost a zero waste water loss.”

The system also uses much less floor space than starting plants from seeds. 

Henry did a small amount of research for his project in Ag class, but did the majority of it in his free time. He also created a smaller aquaponics project while he was attending Innovations STEM Academy in Sparta. 

The system requires a particular balance of chemicals in order to remain sustainable. Jerome has to keep track of the ammonia and nitrate levels, the more nitrates there are the nicer the plants look and the healthier the fish will be. 

Henry started the plants from seed in a starting pod surrounded by pea gravel. With his project complete, Henry is now successfully growing lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers in his aquaponics system.

Even though he’s considered careers in agriculture, or welding or outdoor recreation, Henry is still unsure what he wants to do after high school and he knows he still has plenty of time to decide.

“He’s learning how to grow his own food,” Krissy said. “If something bad were to happen to the world, he would be a survivor.”   

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Sparta, WI 54656-0252

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