Scott Anderson could be considered a Renaissance man. A computer science program coordinator and instructor at the University of Southern Indiana and a respected restorer of historic buildings, Anderson also runs a bustling side business: APE Aquaponics. Named for its closed-loop growing system added to only by rainwater and fish food, the one-man company produces organically grown heads of romaine lettuce and green and red bibbs, a tender lettuce with round leaves.
“It’s a hobby I was interested in, and I have the resources to do it,” Anderson says.
APE Aquaponics occupies multiple levels of the historic former Auto Hotel Building at S.W. Third and Walnut streets. Lettuce plants germinate in a seedling room for about 10 days and then move to styrofoam rafts in water tubs for about five weeks. With four rafts to a tub, Anderson can grow up to 72 heads of lettuce at a time.
Anderson’s organic filtration system starts at the literal top. Rainwater caught in drums on the building’s roof is funneled into four 1,000-gallon tanks. Each tank holds about 100 tilapia, whose waste is then pumped to three separate tanks for aeration and conversion into ammonia. The resulting fertilized water is piped via a gravity feed into the tubs holding the rafts of lettuce seedlings, providing nutrition to the lettuce heads.
“This really is aquaponics,” Anderson says. With no artificial fertilizers or pesticides used in the growing process, “it’s as organic as you can get.”
The perks of aquaponics are numerous. Since no soil is used, Anderson’s greens have no earthy taste. The fans situated in the lab to circulate air also help the lettuce build wind resistance, resulting in stronger leaves. The lack of outside fertilizers reduces the risk of contamination. And while outdoor growers must rely on fair weather for their crop, APE Aquaponics’ business is indoors and climate controlled, allowing it to operate year-round.
Anderson is setting up space in the basement for hydroponics and fertilizers, and his building also provides space for other local producers. Roger and Mary Winstead of Beautiful Edibles rent space to grow their mushrooms, and Anderson has installed a prep kitchen on the first floor.
APE Aquaponics’ greens are served in dishes at 2nd Language, Pangea, and Madeleine’s Fusion Restaurant, and sold at Elbert’s Natural Food Market and Franklin Street Bazaar. Anderson also grows spicy Diakon radish, Mizuna (a Japanese bitter green), alfalfa, and arugula.