- Associated Press - Sunday, June 1, 2014

MUSCATINE, Iowa (AP) - Sophomore Brandon Moore has the whole world in his hands - or a self-sustaining part of it, anyway.

Moore and his classmates in Lee Falkena’s science class at East Campus created an aquaponic system from Moore’s schematics this year. Each student designed a system and Moore’s was chosen by vote.

An aquaponics system is an isolated ecosystem that can be used to raise fish or feed plants, or both. It uses a naturally occurring bacteria in water that feeds off of ammonia. The bacteria converts ammonia into nitrites, which then become nitrates that plants use for photosynthesis when the water from the fish tank below is cycled into the plant container above.

The Muscatine Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1nfAtyN ) there’s more than one way to create such a system, but in Moore’s design, the herbs planted in a plastic tub above the approximately 10-gallon fish tank are grown in clay pebbles. Water from the tank - which currently houses no fish - gets pumped up into the tub and the clay pebbles allow the water to constantly trickle back down to the tank. Though there is some dust runoff from the pebbles, it won’t hurt the fish, which will eventually be introduced into the system.

Moore and his classmates have been adding small amounts of ammonia to the water every week to attract the bacteria they need. When tests say that the bacteria is present, Moore, who will be taking care of the system on his own over the summer, will put goldfish in the tank. The fish, Moore said, will help the plants thrive.

“You’re synthesizing fertilizer at the same time you’re growing plants,” Moore said, adding, “That’s how it works in a regular ecosystem outside, too, there’s just a lot more to it. … Really you’re just taking a section of ecosystem and isolating and controlling it.”

Moore has been interested in aquaponic systems and other alternative growing methods since he was in fifth grade, when he first started reading about them and discovered the hydroponic, aquaponic and vertical gardens at Disneyland. He was fascinated by them, he said, and since then he’s been making ad hoc systems, like the one he and his classmates created, at home. In those systems, he would start plants and then move them outside. This system - and the one he plans to build on his own at home next fall - are more sophisticated and grow plants fully.

Because of his love of plant life - he is also the self-proclaimed “master” of the community garden at East Campus - Moore said he’s going to study plant biology and horticulture in college.

“This is what I think it’s gonna end up coming to in the future,” he said, gesturing at his system, “large scale stuff like this.” He believes that eventually people will have used all the land that they can, requiring agriculture to have to move up or down rather than out. He hasn’t quite figured it out yet, but he said he’s working on a design to irrigate a large aquaponics system, one that people could use when the time comes.

His personal future plans though are a bit more diverse.

“I kinda want to open up a radio station type of thing,” he said, describing how he wants enough land to have a venue with a stage for concerts and festivals and to run a garden center at the same time. In the garden part of his business, he would raise plants and fish to sell and wants to have two greenhouses_one regular and one aquaponic.

He said he’s aware that obtaining a space like that will take time, but he doesn’t seem bothered by the wait. In the meantime, he’s going to continue doing what he loves in the ways he can - growing plants, indoors and out.

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Information from: Muscatine Journal, http://www.muscatinejournal.com