Saturday, June 21, 2014

Montana Roots aquaponics

It's a lush greenhouse, but there isn't much dirt to be seen anywhere, except what you track in from outside.

Welcome to Montana Roots, an aquaponic paradise in Livingston.

From the outside, it looks like just another greenhouse. But inside (as shown in photo above) there is something -- or, rather a series of somethings -- happening to create a green wonderland.

Sam and Amory are gardeners who are experimenting with a self-supporting biosystem.

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil, but using any kind of nutrient in the water. Aquaponics uses fish waste within the system to provide nutrients.

In Sam and Amory's aquaponics system, the first step, still in its initial stages, is raising grubs to feed the fish.

The larvae of black soldier flies will fuel the second step, the fish. Right now there are 300 bluegill and a handful of "outcasts," as Sam calls them. Currently, the fish eat purchased fish food.

The water carrying the processed fish waste goes through rocks, then through a more solid formation where worms do their, er, dirty work. In the top photo above, you can see the plants in this biological filter overflowing on a shelf above the rest of the greenhouse.

Every step along the way is verdant.

Finally, the water reaches the main greenhouse level, where a variety of plants can be grown. Their roots reach down into the water where pumps make sure there is plenty of oxygen to feed the hungry plants.

Right now there are mostly lettuces, herbs, and bok choy. In winter, brassicas such as broccoli, mustard greens, and kale grow well. No root vegetables, of course, since they do need soil to form.

What happens in subzero Montana winters?

Sam explained that the water keeps the temperature inside the greenhouse warm enough that no heaters are necessary. Sometimes the edges of the leaves of the plants nearest the outside walls freeze, but as the day warms up, they revive.

Sam and Amory share their bounty at the Livingston farmers market.

They also share their knowledge with Livingston middle school students, who apply on a first-come, first-served basis, in the Root Down program. Beginning with a week in the greenhouse in June, 15 students learn about gardening, farming, ecosystems, and life in general as they enjoy monthly camping trips and get-togethers throughout the year. Sam said the students also help deliver produce to local restaurants and the Livingston hospital, proudly announcing they grew it themselves.

Sam said he is excited about another project. With newly obtained grant money, he will be overseeing construction of a greenhouse at the middle school so more students can learn about growing their own food and enjoy eating it in the cafeteria.

If you want to learn more about any of these projects, contact Montana Roots via their website (currently under construction) or Facebook page.


  1. Wow. What a well written article! Thank you for portraying what we do so well!

  2. I enjoyed my visit! Plus, your greens are very tasty -- keep up the good work!