Think Tank

An empty glass aquarium left out in the backyard may seem like an unlikely source of inspiration, but for Jack Ikard, it provided the spark for AquaSprouts—a system that converts standard 10-gallon aquariums into self-cleaning aquaponic gardens for low-maintenance indoor fish viewing and plant growing. 

“My favorite aspect of aquaponics is seeing the fish,” says Ikard, the CEO and founder of AquaSprouts and a junior at St. Edward’s University. Ikard teamed up with a classmate and locally based product developers to launch the system. “I had a ten-gallon fish tank in my backyard that I’ve had since childhood, and I had the vision of turning that into an indoor little garden—so you could have the benefits of seeing the fish and the beauty of an aquarium, but also the benefits of aquaponics and getting plants right above your aquarium.”

Indeed, traditional, large-scale aquaponics systems, which combine aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in a soil-less environment), are normally done outside and in opaque containers to prevent algae growth and overheating. Conversely, an AquaSprouts system offers the same symbiotic setup—where waste from the fish is pumped out and converted into nutrients for the plants by bacteria in a grow bed, and clean water is cycled back into the tank—but this time, for an indoor environment and on a much smaller scale. This means there’s no need for home users to have to change their aquarium’s carbon filter or even spend much time cleaning the tank. Plus, it provides free fertilizer for the plants. “It’s replicating Mother Nature,” Ikard says. “The fish and the plants both rely on one another.”

The system can work with any kind of ornamental plant or even edible leafy greens, herbs or baby tomatoes. “What you can’t grow are deep-rooting plants,” Ikard says. As far as variety and number of fish, Ikard suggests sticking with the stocking recommendations for indoor fish. “You can have as many fish and variety of species that a 10-gallon aquarium can take,” he says. “So this is going to be on the pet-side of fish.”

Currently the AquaSprouts team has been working to raise the necessary capital to begin offering the systems for $150 for a complete kit that includes a standard 10-gallon aquarium, or $130 for those already in possession of their own aquarium that they wish to upcycle. In the meantime, however, Ikard says his company is already taking preorders for the kits to make this technology available to a wider audience and to promote the benefits of aquaponics in general. 

“We wanted to bring new life to all those old aquariums out there,” he says. “Aquaponics, in general, is a very sustainable form of agriculture; it’s very water conscious, and in this time of drought—here in Texas especially—it’s a great technology for people to realize that it’s available.” —Nicole Lessin


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