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Reiman Gardens opens BioDome exhibit

By Staff | Jun 3, 2014

THE BIODOME exhibit runs through mid-November at Reiman Gardens on the Iowa State University Campus in Ames.

AMES – What will future space colonists eat in their long trek across the galaxies?

A new bio-dome display at Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens offers a glimpse of what could be.

The BioDome is the main attraction in the Hughes Conservatory through Nov. 15 as part of Reiman Gardens’ space and science fiction theme this year.

The BioDome features both plants and fish.

Plants include lettuce, basil, tomatoes, kohlrabi, mustard greens, sage, rosemary, cucumbers and pole beans grown with hydroponic technologies.

Fish include Nile tilapia and redclaw crayfish grown with aquaculture technologies.

The combined system is known as aquaponics.

The BioDome helps visitors imagine challenges for space colonists, as well as future inhabitants on Earth who face limited supplies of water, nutrients and other natural resources that need to be managed in a sustainable manner.

The closed-loop, self-sustaining ecosystem provides protein and carbohydrates in the form of fish, vegetables and herbs.

The exhibit showcases research conducted by ISU’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management by ISU Extension fisheries specialist Allen Pattillo.

Supported by a grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Pattillo built an experimental aquaponics system in a campus greenhouse in 2013.

He wanted to see how tilapia, native to the African tropics, fared in the Iowa climate.

Pattillo advised Reiman Gardens and helped install the exhibit.

The BioDome features a 120-gallon tank for tilapia, one of the world’s fastest growing species of fish.

Fish waste provides nutrients for the vegetables and herbs, fed by continually circulating water in the system.

Visitors can watch the playful antics of Australian redclaw crayfish grown for food, as an ornamental species, and possible medicinal use for calcium supplements in repairing bone loss.

The exhibit demonstrates four types of soil-less plant systems.

Two floating rafts hold plugs of lettuce and mustard greens.

Tomatoes and herbs mature in individual Dutch pots, each connected to a water line.

Water also moves through a pyramid of plants custom-built from Nutrient Film Technique channels and five vertical towers, including one that travelers may have seen at O’Hare Airport’s urban aeroponic garden in Chicago.

Although the exhibit focuses on the future, Pattillo said a handful of commercial-scale aquaponics systems now operate in Iowa.

His research has generated interest, and the Reiman Gardens exhibit, which opened April 15, has increased the number of inquiries.

“People are enamored at the potential for these systems,” Pattillo said. “Many people want to know how much we could produce this way.

“We really don’t know, but we’re going to find out. Data collected from this exhibit will help us know what to expect from this type of agriculture in the future.”

Produce harvested from the exhibit will be donated to Plant-A-Row for the Hungry that serves Story County food pantries.

Although tilapia usually reaches market weight of about two pounds within six months, the fish will stay in the tanks for the duration of the exhibit.

The display is supported by equipment donations from FarmTek Growers Supply and a special project grant from the Leopold Center.

The Hughes Conservatory is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Reiman Gardens is located on a 17-acre site south of the ISU Jack Trice Football Stadium, 1407 University Blvd., Ames.

For more information visit: www.reimangardens.com.

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