by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
Max Wulff and his wife, Marilyn, took the plunge into aquaponics after studying the subject for some time. Today, they sell their happy greens at the Farmer's Market on Bridge Street, Sundays between 10am and 2pm.
The greens raised by the Wulffs are unlike those you encounter in the grocery store. The kale is sweet, but spicy, because, Max said as he presented me with a sample, it is harvested young and tender. Kale, he said, is far better raw than cooked. The sample was all he promised, as were the mustard greens.
The Wulff's koi are fed seven times a day, and always appear to be watching for more, their noses and heads breaking the surface of the water, eyes gleaming. If not for the net over the tank they might well leap out, so eager are these koi for the delux koi snacks received.
Aquaponics drafted our fish friends, including koi, to serve the plants raised by the Wulffs, in the cause of producing healthy produce entirely rooted in water. Marilyn raised the floating bed on which the couple's youngest seedlings reside so I could see their thread like roots.
Max had a stand at Westside Market in Cleveland, retiring to Ashtabula several years ago. The possibility of growing produce stayed with him, resulting in the line of grow tanks in the couple's basement. Like a freeze frame photo, you can see the plants progress over the six weeks it takes them to grow to market maturity.
Ashtabula was still the hunting ground of Native Americans when hydroponics originated in Mexico City. In 1929 it was revived by William Frederick Gericke of the University of California at Berkeley, using the term, aquaculture. This was replaced with 'hydroponics' when he discovered the term already in use in another application. Gericke's tomato vines astonished the public, growing to twenty-five feet in height in his back yard with his mineral nutrient solutions rather than soil.
Max commented everyone asks when he will have tomatoes.
Today, aquaponics is an integrated part of the permaculture and the local growing movement, working around the country to ensure everyone can be fed from within their local area.
For Ashtabulians, the question may well be if Wall Eyed Pike can be substituted for koi. If it is possible the Wulffs will let you know as they extend the edge of the envelope for happy organic greens.