Happy Seedlings, Happy Fish, Happy Family? Achieving All Three Through Function Stacking In An Integrated Seed Starting/Heating/Aquaponics System

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Serenity Farm
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Brad Dilts
Serenity Farm


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: aquaculture, watering systems
  • Crop Production: fertigation, high tunnels or hoop houses, irrigation, nurseries, water management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: aquaponics, hydroponics, organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life

    Proposal summary:

    A huge part of our workload is starting and caring for seedlings for eventual transplant into the gardens. We have previously worked in a small lean-to greenhouse.  It doesn’t have good thermal regulation, leaks, and requires a lot of fuel. Watering is a manual process, requiring constant attention. We periodically lose seedlings due to missed watering or flooding.

    I’m building a new seedling greenhouse that is a 30' x 60' walipini style, dug 5' below grade, and covered with double layered plastic. To solve the above problems in the new greenhouse, I’m designing an integrated aquaponic seed starting and heating system with the following features.

    1. Use of a "rocket stove" mass heater to efficiently heat the greenhouse through use of a thermal mass. This will release heat into the greenhouse over time for more even temperatures with less babysitting and fuel.
    2. A low profile fish tank to absorb heat from the rocket stove and circulate warm fertilized water through elevated "thin film" watering beds. Seedling trays sit in these beds, where the seedlings are consistently bottom watered through capillary action. This reduces or eliminates manual watering, reducing labor.
    3.  As fish population increases, they can be sold for additional revenue.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The focus of research will be to evaluate feasibility of this system and effectiveness in meeting the following criteria:

    1. Improve thermal stability of the greenhouse.
    2. Provide more consistent soil moisture for the seedlings through use of thin film watering beds.
    3. Provide fertility for the seedlings and cleaner water for the fish, reducing stress and improving outcomes.
    4. Provide another revenue stream for the farm through fish and live plant sales.
    5. Reduce daily workload in establishing and caring for seedlings.

    Outreach will be accomplished through social media postings and field days in conjunction with our local extension office's "Growing Growers" program.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.