In the central Texas region of the United States, Lilypad Farm started in November 2009 using the deep water raft culture invented by Dr. James Rakocy at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) at St. Croix. Owner-operator, Adam Harwood spawned the 2.2 acre – live where you work concept – farm adapting his 3 separate 3,000 square foot hoop houses into 23,000 gallon systems. This small scale commercial aquaponics system allows for year round production of tilapia and varieties of plants. All of this has culminated into a regional success story for sustainable agriculture.

While aquaponics is generating more and more interests, there are definite limits to be considered in the planting methods, the design elements, construction choices along with regional requirements. These combined

Nile tilapia 30 weeks old/ 480 plus grams

Nile tilapia 30 weeks old/ 480 plus grams

determining factors make the argument for a sustainable family farm lifestyle rather than large commercial farming.

The proven growing method for this type of application of aquaponics is deep water raft culture meaning grow beds with a minimum of 12 inches of water contained in any variety of geometric shapes. The flexibility and scalability of this approach to aquaponics make it a potential answer to food security concerns globally.

Adam Harwood’s family has prepared for the worst yet hope for the best by keeping a watchful eye and by applying several decades of combined real life skill sets. Their small scale commercial aquaponics system allows for year round production of tilapia and super clean , highest quality foods, that are all natural.

Their passion is quickly becoming a work of art along with a window into the endless possibilities of Aquaponics. All of this has culminated into a regional success story for sustainable agriculture.

A Lifestyle Not Just Another Business

This “home office” offers higher profits from a small-scale effort with a solid wholesale/retail sales strategy supported by-product liability insurance for the agricultural produce and a manufacturing license for the retail sales of fish, that are (skinless boneless) packed for retail sales.

Attaining the financial rewards in the market require entirely different skill sets than the production. Knowing your market and successfully placing products creates very little room for error, which points to a family run operation as the safest option in the current economic atmosphere.

 Working from home and having 24 hour control is a true benefit, making this a lifestyle. Larger size Farms pose multi-level management positions which has the potential to encumber the outcome of a commercial aquaponics venture.  The skills required to run a large-scale operation are significant and attract big salaries which can swallow the profit margins. The smaller farms are sustainable, cleaner, less likely to fail, and are not a strain on an emerging industry. Still, the super high returns from aquaponics send off bells and whistles for producers alike making it very attractive for big players to emerge.

We must remember that “anyone can buy a business”, but this is one industry that requires skilled and dedicated personnel to ensure growth. Those interested in aquaponics will serve themselves well by realizing this is upstream technology with great promise if we learn to apply it appropriately.

Superior Sustainability

Tomatoes   8/plants on a -32 sq  foort  raft  88 days =107 lbs, output

Tomatoes 8/plants on a 32 sq foot raft 88 days =107 lbs output

There are a number of ways to grow food using hybrid hydroponics. At Lilypad Farm, the choice is to use the same approach as the UVI system with deep water raft culture. These soilless grow beds allow for much cleaner, easier to transplant foods, that remain in their net pots until time to sell, package and distribute the product.

This means the food is still live as it goes to the end-user making it a premium, superior quality food. In the vegetable and herb food market, the freshest, most nutrient-rich, foods have the best chance of high profits. In Adam’s experience, water farming commands higher prices for its producers. Simply put, aquaponics has a place in the farm-to-fork markets and someday may represent a small portion of food supplied into the mainstream.

The great news is that this commitment to superior quality food can be recreated and achieved by any decent practitioner of the art form known as aquaponics. Fundamentally, aquaponics is a year round concept and can handle high altitudes, freezes, hot weather and even drought. It is a defendable food growing system. It has all the pluses with very few minuses making it a potential emerging solution to serve a percentage of the growing demand on world food supplies.

From a consumption standpoint, there are connections to water with very little actual usage. Also, only a few small electrical motors are used ensuring low electricity usage.

Financially, the business can be managed to can handle a profit net loss statement making it a viable and reporting form of income. Add the low startup costs and even lower replacement costs, and it’s easy to see what  makes this a whirlwind idea.


Ergonomics of aquaponic farming include both rearing of fish and plant production working towards a production critical mass for the system. This is the goal of the farm – keeping up the numbers. Each worker can only make so many plants ready per hour to install in the (growbed) system.

 Separate ergonomics are also used in the germination and management of the future crop.  Best case germination makes for superior plant selection to be transplanted. Disciplined efforts here determine the outcome during harvest.

 Fish rearing techniques are the only (ergonomic) constant from a daily management stand point.  Fish harvesting  when approaching critical mass quickly becomes a daily aspect of the process treated separately using a different ergonomic scale. Fish sales as an additional income stream can offset losses during periods of bad weather and extreme condition that might interfere with plant production.  But remember, fish are the critical factor that insures the outcome of  this style of farming. Most reports point to the plant production as the key to year-end revenue numbers, but the fish are the engine!

Unnaturally high (fish) density allows for abnormal results in the plant production offering glorious results. Firsthand knowledge and actual practice allows me authoritative license to promote Aquaponics  using the UVI methods. There are numerous global applications that may come from this  proven emerging Technology.

There are definite limits to the amount of work required to complete the ergonomic chores at hand. We do not use machines.  Nothing can replace manual labor in this field in the current practice of deep water raft farming. Art forms like this have a place in the food world.

After removing the products, the reintroduction process/cleaning process , the physical chores of maintenance, add to the ergonomics. Making for a path of understanding the practical science that makes for Small scale commercial aquaponics, to be Viable to recreate.

Sucrine /Genova  Basil   winter production 33 days in the system

Sucrine /Genova Basil winter production 33 days in the system


Up cycling your current aquaculture farm to utilize the grow bed methods of deep water raft culture is real. This removes dangerous ammonia and certain nitrites and converts them into profits without adding a tremendous workload to an existing farm.

There are no reasons to keep you from separating the heavy solids from fish farms and either repurpose the solids or use them for a supplemental profit stream. In short, covert some space into a grow bed alongside your fish rearing tanks. The varieties of different species which can work in aquaponics is numerous. Up cycling may post profits thru Aquaponics using deep water raft culture.

Attention to detail is the pinnacle of a small-scale commercial system management. Aquaculture skills are the preeminent factor in the final analysis. Aquaponics must take a side seat to aquaculture. Still, sound practices in both fish rearing and hybrid hydroponics are the key to a best case scenario. The overall goal is to have a harmony of both co-create the environment called “Aquaponics”.

Consider this a first hand, non-biased approach to small-scale commercial aquaponics. It is a very rewarding business when following the recommended – live where you work concept.  Adam and Susan Harwood, farm nearly every day of the year while enjoying full and active pursuits in the “adventures of life”.

Research Evidence

Although the design of aquaponic systems and the choice of hydroponic components and fish and plant combinations may seem challenging, aquaponic systems are quite simple to operate when fish are stocked at a rate that provides a good feeding rate ratio for plant production.  Aquaponic systems are easier to operate than hydroponic systems or recirculating fish production systems because they require less monitoring and usually have a wider safety margin for ensuring good water quality. Operating small aquaponic systems can be an excellent hobby. Systems can be as small as an aquarium with a tray of plants covering the top. Large commercial operations composed of many production units and occupying several acres are certainly possible if markets can absorb the output. The educational potential of aquaponic systems is already being realized in hundreds of schools where students learn a wide range of subjects by constructing and operating aquaponic systems. Regardless of scale or purpose, the culture of fish and plants through aquaponics is a gratifying endeavor that yields useful products—food. (Rakocy, Masser & Losordo, 2006, pp.16)

Rakocy, J., Masser M., & Losordo, T. (2006). Recirculating aquaculture tank production systems: Aquaponics integrating fish and plant culture (SRAC Publication No. 454).

Retrieved from University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture website

Interested in learning more?

Submit a training request here.

Or, contact Adam directly.

Adam Harwood
Lilypad Farm
FM 621, San Marcos, TX USA

We’ve had so much response to the massive cilantro pictures that we decided to post a video on youtube.


Growing in three inch net pots in an aquaponics system allows us to grow this amazing cilantro.

The root structure you’ll see in the video is a simple example of the reason why you need the twelve inches minimum of the deep water raft culture. A gravel bed can’t do this.

This plant is two months and a few days old. It weighs a minimum of five pounds.

This is cilantro. It has a ready market. We’re able to do this over and over again.

I can’t tell you how excited and happy we are that experimental crops do work. You can add cilantro to the list of seeds that work in a deep water raft culture aquaponics system. The video was from February 3, 2012. Keep up with the numbers.

Deep water raft aquaponics produces large root systemsThis is a 2 month old cilantro plant in our commercial aquaponics system. It weighs over 5lbs and has a giant root system that is the result of deep water raft culture. Gravel beds might not do this. Here we use a deep water raft system (uvi system), …one more time – production production, production, of the cleanest high quality foods. This food  just taste awesome. Food lovers will be amazed at the difference in taste, texture, and, of course, the freshest live foods around. Thank you from Lilypad Farms.

When you see an aquaponics system, the equipment looks very technical. It is technical, but don’t be afraid of that technicality. There is elegant simplicity in the design. The simple part of the sciences is really the fun part. I am Adam Harwood. I can tell you that I don’t carry PHD’s or carry letters on my back. I have a very simple and real approach, and, if you want the truth about the future of aquaponics and the truth as we know it for the last three years running a commerical aquaponics system at Lilypad Farm, just stay tuned. I believe I can really help you with that.

The question is: What is aquaponics?

My Version of the History of Aquaponics

In a broad overview, aquaponics has been around for at least a thousand years. There’s real evidence that the Inca indians grew fish in the same closed loop water cycle in a terrace on the side of a mountain. Other countries today still use similar versions that are naturally occurring.

What we do here at Lilypad Farm is deep water raft culture which is based upon thirty years of research from the UVI system in Saint Croix. That’s the system I use here that was invented by Dr. Rakocy. Now there are many citations with his name. Also, Charles Schultz and Don Bailey and I apologize if I miss other really important people in the industry.

There are five or six different varieties of ways to grow with aquaponics. These are usually some combination of the following:

  • Various media types such as shale, gravel or clay bio balls
  • Ebb and flow or timed flow methods
  • Raft or constant flow methods
  • Deep water raft culture

Commercial Aquaponics at Lilypad Farm

Here, at Lilypad Farm, we use something called the deep water raft system, and I like to just abbreviate it calling it the UVI system. It’s not in its infancy. It’s been around for thirty years. What we stand on in the authority that I talk about is production, production, production. You can raise food in gravel beds with the ebb and flow approach, but the production is never the same as we have with deep water raft beds.

Let me explain a little about deep water raft aquaponics. What that really means is that the water is a minimum of twelve inches deep and your raft can be an inch thick, an inch and a half thick, even two inches thick. This allows a tremendous root structure. At the base of these plants is this amazing filter, and they need that kind of room to grow.

We have forty eight pieces on a four-foot by eight-foot sheet. I see other systems that have one-inch cups peat pot. Some even have two inch cups. We’ve come to find out that three inches is really the answer, and we use a three inch net pot throughout the entire system. Along with this, we have a significant number of fish in a compact situation. So, I’ll use the words unnatural and abnormal

To explain, things that happen unnaturally would be that so many fish would be put into such a small area and then the results become abnormal that the results are so giant that its beyond normal.

I have a tremendous amount of fish, and I have a tremendous amount of plant production. It can be scaled back having less fish and still have some comparable plant production.

Part of being sustainable and having a commercial farm is exactly this. We are the largest of the residential systems and the smallest of commercial systems. It’s very sustainable. We pay our bills. We can save a little money, and we’ve taken it to a pinnacle. There is an intense amount of fish that we can take-out on a daily basis, and there is still a tremendous amount of plant production.

We rival and encourage people in general to use deep water raft culture as the optimal choice for aquaponics systems. So in its present form, aquaponics can be scaled down to a very manageable home system that runs on a scant amount of electricity and evaporative loss only. Even to a system size that I have which is a very large residential system that makes a commercial amount of money, it still runs on a scant amount of electricity and not a lot of water.

I’m connected to water, but I’m not a water user. I have three three-thousand square foot buildings and room for a couple more. It’s complicated to manage that much affair, and it’s not for everybody. I live where I work. I think that is critical in aquaponics. That’s why backyard systems are really, really important.

I think that anybody who sees the equipment thinks it’s highly scientific, but, once you get into it, you’ll realize that the science is incredibly simple. It’s really taken me close to a lifetime of experience to amass the amount of information that I can impart on people in a short period of time. I’ve managed to, in over twenty-two years, culminate a lot of skill sets. There are numerous skill sets involved in having a large residential, small commercial operation such as interfacing with the local and city people and then all the way to interfacing with the marketing and office end on how to collect and distribute the money.

Being Part of the Future of Aquaponics

So the future of aquaponics is vast. And, it can be amplified anywhere in the world that does not require a lot of electricity. Also, you can be connected to water and not be water user. You will grow ten times more on ten times less. Aquaponics is not a household word, but we’re hoping that it will be. It’s not a craze. It’s really here to stay. It’s no longer in its infancy.

Aquaponics is at a point where it’s going to amplify, so if you tell two and they tell two, interest is growing exponentially.

Our goal is to foster and educate…we help develop other people. Literally, I have some people come and stay and work for a while. I have people come for two days. People come for one-on-one sessions.

We have grown a business. We didn’t buy a business. Anybody can buy an aquaponics company, but, growing an aquaponics company, that’s the future of aquaponics.

The future of aquaponics really requires you to start by figuring out your own scale and size, and then take it to what I believe here is it’s most conventional and biggest and wise portion.

We sense that we’re starting to become an authority on exactly a two-point-two acre system where a family can live and work. It’s sustainable. You can earn a living. It can also be scaled down to a smaller system for your backyard that’s bigger than a hobby. It can feed you and the people around you providing food security and safety.

Just the the brilliance of it all will excite you. There’s nothing finer than having superior, high quality, super nutritious food at your access all the time.

The past in aquaponics even if we go back a couple centuries people used native species fish that were available to them, and, in its present form, I bring in fish that are table food. In the future, people can revert back to what’s available to them locally. They can use ornamental fish. There are varieties and super varieties of fish that can be used for aquaponics.

If you’ve ever had a fish tank, and you’ve ever wanted to grow plants, then aquaponics is for you. There is a whole new world for y’all out there. And together – you, we, all – we can take small amounts of fish then use and utilize every portion of their action to make glorious plants with it.

Aquaponics simply put is the sharing of fish and plants together. That may be one of the easiest ways to say it ladies and gentlemen.

Aquaponics is not a new science. It’s been around a long time. It’s not in its infancy. It’s blowing and going, and, if you want to be a part of it, come on board. We’ll help you any way we can.

Have additional insight on aquaponics? We’d love to hear it.

Produce, produce, produce….this is our mantra at Lilypad Farm.  Commercial aquaponics is as much art as it is science.  If you want to see art in motion first hand, then maybe one of our 2-day intensive training courses is what you need.

We have a producing Aquaponics system at Lilypad Farm based on the UVI method and are committed to sharing our success with others.

Here are the basics of what our 2-day intensive training course covers:

  • Site Preparation, System Construction and Material Sourcing
  • Fish tank and  Grow bed Design and Construction
  • Fish care and feeding…What types of fish you can raise
  • Plant Starting and Transplanting methods
  • Maintenance and Operational Issues
  • Plant Selection, Propagation and Harvesting…
  • Fish and Food Products Marketing…

Sign up today on our site, spaces are limited and you do not want to miss out on this great oppourtunity…you will not be dissapointed…