Butch Weaver is one of the most innovative engineers of our time. A graduate of MIT, and employee #12 at Qualcomm, his inventions and patents are still being used today in cellular phones.
Butch is now retired, but keeps busy as a philanthropist, member of the JCC board, volunteer at the Milk and Honey Farm, President of the Oreg foundation and an accomplished pilot. He also owns a 26-foot Growing Dome at his home in Pagosa Springs, CO.
When they were selecting a greenhouse for the Milk and Honey farm at the JCC in Boulder, Butch wanted a greenhouse that was both efficient and beautiful. The 42-foot Growing Dome was a natural fit due to its passive solar thermal design, aesthetic geodesic shape and integrated features for climate control. The Growing Dome enables the farm to grow food for the community all winter long and produce starts for the outdoor gardens in the spring.
The 42-foot Growing Dome also comes standard with a 3,000-gallon water tank. The water tank acts as a thermal mass for the greenhouse, allowing for year-round gardening without using any fossil fuels. It is also a great environment to harvest decorative or edible fish like tilapia or bluegill, and ornamental fish like koi or goldfish.
While you can water your plants directly from the tank, Butch has added a custom aquaponics system to filter the water from the koi pond and convert the fish pee and poop to nitrates needed for
the plants in the Growing Dome. The aquaponics system includes a de-chlorination filter, swirl filter, sediment filters of varying coarseness and a bio filter with two species of bacteria. One to convert the ammonias to nitrites, and then convert the nitrites to nitrates. The fish are much more tolerant of nitrates, and the plants absorb the nitrates more easily. There is also a UV filter to kill single celled algae, bacteria and pathogens. This all makes for a very nutrient rich tank that is healthy for the fish and used for the drip irrigation system both inside and outside the dome.
One other challenge for the farm was to keep everything organic. While finding organic commercial fish food is challenging, they use AquaOrganic fish feed which is plant based and USDA
certified organic. It is available from The Aquaponics Source. This means that everything out of the tank that is used to water the plants is also organic.
Butch also needed a way to feed the koi consistently without needing to be there 24/7. He looked for commercial fish feeders but could not find the size needed to adequately ration the food. His solution was an automatic cat feeder hooked to a PVC pipe. This allowed him to feed the fish 1/8 cup 3 times per day in the winter and a 1/2 cup 3 times a day in the summer. The perfect amount!
Year-round growing and the use of aquaponics enable the Milk and Honey Farm to donate over 1 ton of fresh, organic produce to the community each year.