Fish Tanks Provide Fertilizer for Growing Vegetables


Lizzy Wagner

Mr. Tracy Bartels, a science teacher, stands amidst the aquaponics system in an extra science classroom at CHS.

Breanna Bowe and Lizzy Wagner

Aquaponics, also known as aquaculture, is a way of raising fish and growing vegetables all together in one system. To do this, the water from the fish tanks is filtered and used as fertilizer for the plants. The plants then filter this water, so it can be recycled back into the fish tanks. This makes it so the water in the fish tanks doesn’t have to be changed all the time.

The original problem that sparked CHS to acquire an aquaponics system was that while raising trout for biology class, 5-10 gallons of water had to be changed from the fish tank every day. Mr. Tracy Bartels, the science teacher who is in charge of the aquaponics system, realized we were wasting so much water that could be used to grow plants. Before this situation, he was familiar with aquaponics and tried to build a small scale system in a biology class. He then built a homemade system that would filter the water from the tanks and grow plants.

This eliminated having to constantly change the water. His system was successful, which led to a second tank with an aquaponics system. In these systems lettuce and kale were grown that were then used in foods classes and for teachers to take home. Now, because of grants and new opportunities, CHS has a scientifically engineered commercial system. Walleye are raised now in place of the trout, and there are two types of lettuce growing in the system.

As of right now, there has not been much student involvement in the upkeep of the aquaponics system. Seniors Patrick Calnin and Jacob Leitner have helped with tasks and problems throughout the year. Along with the Trout in the Classroom program, Mr. Bartels would love to see more students being able to get involved.

“I help out with small tasks like planting seedlings or doing water tests every now and then,” Calnin said. “The system is primarily run by Mr. Bartels due to the amount of attention required for the complexity of the interconnecting systems of filters, lights, heaters, pumps, etc.”

The future for the aquaponics system is hopefully a second greenhouse. This system was purchased in hopes of a larger system that would be big enough to grow all the vegetables needed for the district’s food service needs. With a second greenhouse, this task may be able to be accomplished.

In addition to being able to grow a substantial amount of vegetables, the benefits of a second greenhouse and larger aquaponics system would include: students having the opportunity to learn scientific principles of how the system works, being able to manage an aquaponics system by performing daily tasks, and developing job skills through an aquaponics course. Mr. Bartels believes this would be a great experience for anyone who wants to learn more about the aquaponics system or would like to pursue a career in this field of work.

“What drew me into the program was that I was interested in environmental engineering at the time. And I figured this would be very helpful if I choose to pursue that field, and the program has a very hands-on learning process to learn the processes that go into a basic aquaponics system,” Calnin said. “The program is a great idea for anyone looking into an agricultural or STEM field because of the concepts that are introduced, and the course allows exploration for related careers.”