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Colorado Aquaponics Bought the Farm - Announcing Flourish Farms

posted May 9, 2012, 11:07 PM by Tawnya Sawyer   [ updated May 9, 2012, 11:10 PM ]

The Colorado Aquaponics team is excited to announce our new commercial aquaponics facility, Flourish Farms in Arvada, Co. Plans had been in the works to start up a commercial system and at the end of January, the right opportunity presented itself when we purchased Colorado Aquafarm’s aquaponics system and took over the lease of a 3,800 square foot greenhouse space.

Colorado Aquaponics considers this commercial aquaponics venture an opportunity to add one more piece into the puzzle of sustainable food production. We strongly believe that aquaponics at home, in the classroom, for the community and built on a commercial scale allow a broad and diverse group of people to take charge of growing food locally and supporting this amazing technology as part of the future of farming. We are very excited to have this piece of the puzzle in place and looking forward to adding other facilities in the future.

We have one page up on the farm website, but are currently focusing our attention on preparing for the farmer’s market. Please check out how things are progressing and like us on Facebook.

We plan to announce some open house dates later this spring and Flourish Farms will be part of the Aquaponics Association Conference Denver farm tour September 21, 2012. Cheers.

The Fish

The Flourish Farms system is a University of Virgin Island configuration with one 1,000 and two 1,200 gallon fish tanks. One of the pleasures of being an aquaponics farm is the fish eagerly greeting us each morning, mouths open for breakfast. Next comes the frenzy of fins and tails when the first food pellets hit the water. We can’t imagine a better way to start the farm day. Currently there are about 500 mature rocky mountain white, blue nile and Mozambique tilapia, and approximately 500 3-5” beautiful baby koi. Our spring koi sale drew all kinds of koi enthusiasts, who purchased over 100 lovely fish to brighten ponds all over the Denver metro area and beyond.

The Plants

Over 1,000 square feet of deep water culture raft beds run the length of the Flourish Farms greenhouse and allow for a variety of mixed lettuce and salad greens to be harvested each week. The rafts are fully planted out with green oak, lolla rosa, green star, giant red mustard, red Russian kale, mizuna, arugula, tat soi, mint, rosemary, romaine, several varieties of bibb and a host of other species. Growth rates have been impressive in just 10-14 days after transplanting many of the varieties are ready for harvest, two weeks sooner than our original projections. All seedlings and growing methods follow the national organic program and we plan on pursuing certification in the future.

Growing out as well as up is one key to success in small greenhouse production. We have incorporated 85 ZipGrow Towers from Bright Argotech and plan to add as many more in the north portion of the greenhouse. We see some great market potential with using the towers not only to take advantage of vertical space, but to also allow for living food displays, providing the customer with the freshest product harvested on the spot. Just days ago the towers were getting planted up with dill, cilantro, chervil, sweet Genovese basil, mint, strawberries, rosemary, thyme, stevia, loveage, sage, parsley, lettuce varieties and other culinary herbs. 

The flavors for the baby greens are simply amazing. The sweet, tender and nutrient dense little leaves make the perfect springtime salad. Even our kiddos can’t resist plucking hole heads up and eating them right out of the rafts, can’t get any fresher than that. Some of the more mature plants like the arugula, tatsoi and mustard greens pack a hardy and intense punch, amazing all of us with the unique and distinct flavor. We cooked up some mustard greens the other night with some onions, mushrooms, garlic and butter and was delighted by the culinary perfection of flavors.

Greenhouse Operations

As with any farm, there is a lot of work to be done. The first three months at Flourish Farms was a blur of activity getting up to speed on the greenhouse operations. Fish health, water quality, and integrated pest management, were and continue to be top priority. A number of projects took place right from the beginning to get the greenhouse space into a configuration that would allow better processes, airflow, visibility and growing capacity in the space.

Steve Stedellie, the greenhouse operations manager is taking this opportunity to live out his life-long dream of growing food in an urban setting. He has been working tirelessly putting operations in order, developing seeding, transplants and harvesting schedules, evaluating specific nutrient needs and establishing a biologically appropriate integrated pest management routine. System maintenance has been his top priority in the filtration, raft beds, plant growth and fish health.

There are a number of short and long term goals planned for the future to include filtration, more growing capacity, plant nutrient and water quality studies and the addition of renewable energy with solar installations.