Aquaponics gardening benefits W.E.B. Tri-Community

BY ROGER GRAHAM
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
05/11/2018 08:30 AM
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The W.E.B. (Welling, Eldon & Briggs) Tri-Community uses an aquaponics system to grow strawberries and tomatoes in its hothouse in Briggs. Aquaponics refers to a system that combines conventional aquaculture with hydroponics in a symbiotic environment. The water is under the gravel-like top in the beds. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Minnows and larger algae-eating fish swim in a tank inside the Welling, Eldon and Briggs Tri-Community’s hothouse in Briggs. The group uses fish waste to fertilize plants in its aquaponics garden where it grows strawberries and tomatoes. ROGER GRAHAM/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BRIGGS – Cherokee Nation leaders and others visited the Welling, Eldon and Briggs Tri-Community on May 7 to learn more about aquaponics gardening.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. toured the W.E.B. facility’s aquaponics gardening systems.

Aquaponics refers to any system that combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.

Brothers and CN citizens John R. and Vernon Sellers met the officials and spoke with the community’s use of aquaponics and aeroponics gardening.

Vernon said the group began looking into aquaponics in 2015 when some of its members attended a seminar on the system’s benefits, which allows individuals to garden without tilling.

“We live in rough country up here, and it’s really tough to till the ground. So the lady who put one the seminar had a (garden) bed about waist high,” he said.

Vernon said she called her finger her tiller and used it to draw a line in in the soil and planted her seeds.

“Before she could even cover them up, I said, ‘ma’am, I don’t know what you’re growing, but I’m in.’ And so that’s what got us started,” he said. “You’re using the same water with fish waste, which fertilizes the plants, which purifies the water. You use about one-tenth of the water you would use on the same size garden…plus you don’t have to deal with all the outside problems.”

Vernon said the system resides inside the community’s hothouse where several water tanks hold fish. Minnows and larger algae-eating fish resembling small sharks are raised, as well as large goldfish. He said the goldfish were best because they handled changes in temperatures best. He said he admits he made mistakes early such as over-planting, but feels he’s on the right track now.

“It’ll grow anything. We’ve even got a lemon tree over there in the corner. But right now I’m concentrating on strawberries and tomatoes,” he said.

In the W.E.B. Tri-Community building stands two tall tubular structures that house lettuce being grown through an aeroponics system, which is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate medium (known as geoponics).

“Aeroponics is what I call gardening with clean finger nails and a necktie,” said Sellers. “You don’t get dirty because you don’t have to mess with any dirt. You just add water and a spoonful of nutrients. This will also grow anything but for cucumbers and tomatoes. You need more room to grow (cucumbers and tomatoes) than what we got in here, so we only grow small things like lettuce, spinach and kale, things like that.”

The community group uses the excess vegetables and fruit for lunches it serves on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. As for the science of aquaponics and aeroponics, Vernon said he’s sold.

“Man, I’ll tell you what, this is the only way to go right here. This (system) would especially work for elderly people who don’t want to get out and fight the tiller, pests, varmints or neighbors,” he said.

For more information about the W.E.B. Tri-Community, call 918-931-9371.
About the Author
Roger began working for the Cherokee Nation in 2005 and joined the Cherokee Phoenix staff in 2008. After 25 years in broadcast news and production, Roge ...
roger-graham@cherokee.org • 918-207-3969
Roger began working for the Cherokee Nation in 2005 and joined the Cherokee Phoenix staff in 2008. After 25 years in broadcast news and production, Roge ...

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