What’s in your water? (part one)

I’ve been keeping freshwater fish since early 2011. My philosophy has been to keep things simple and to let nature teach me what works, so that I can invest as little as possible in time and money to make healthy ecosystems on a small scale.  The goal initially, as with most aquarium hobbyists, was to have a bit of life inside our home – to give us something to look at and engage with, other than a screen.

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As time has gone on, I’ve learned that all this is easily achieved by imitating and fostering nature.  In an aquarium, this means a healthy nitrogen cycle (I always establish this through fishless cycling), a large quantity of live plants (see the Walstad method), biodiveristy, and most importantly – good water!

As I’ve rediscovered my interest in growing my own food, the lessons I’ve learned from fishkeeping have started to reappear in new and interesting ways.  It turns out the nitrogen cycle doesn’t just occur in my little hobby fish tanks, but absolutely everywhere in nature – including the soil we grow our greens in!

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So here’s the problem.  I live in a densely populated urban area with only the water from my tap to work with (no water catchment options yet).  Why is that a problem?  Well, the municipality I live in has to provide safe clean drinking water to a lot of people, and the way they do that is by treating it, among other things, with chlorine – actually, chloramines.  And these compounds that keep the water free of dangerous pathogens and bacteria, when introduced to a healthy aquarium with fish in it, destroys the good bacteria (see nitrogen cycle) and kills the fish!

So what happens when I use that same tap water to keep my indoor herbs and greens growing strong?  What happens to the beneficial microbes and nitrifying bacteria in my growing medium or soil?  I’m not suggesting you don’t water your plants from the tap – but you really should know what is in your water, so that you can give your soil and your plants the best conditions to thrive.  Fortunately the EPA has mandated that municipalities provide their residents with an annual water quality report, which you should be able to find very quickly through a web search.

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Obviously I’ve had to treat the water I use for my fish tanks.  To do so up to this point I’ve been using an expensive, commercial aquarium water conditioner, which has done a flawless job of making that same tap water safe for fish.  But there’s a catch – it says right on the bottle “not for human consumption.”  So there’s no way I’m drinking water out of my tank (not that I would really want to), eating the fish I raise in the water, or feeding the nutrient rich waste water to the greens I am growing to feed my family.  In fact, these water conditioners contain (or have as by-products) toxic hydrosulfites and even formaldehyde.

So, if I want to keep fish more naturally, use their waste water to feed my plants, and even (hopefully soon) get myself experimenting with aquaponics, I really need to find a cost effective way to treat my water.

…and I think I’ve found it!  Stay tuned.

 

 

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