Video: Quarantine leads Outer Banks hang gliding instructor to fly into homegrown aquaponics

A red cherry shrimp that resides in Wolf Gaidis' auqaponics tank. [submitted photo]

Wolf Gaidis is the manager of Kitty Hawk Kites Flight School at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, and also makes regular appearances on Beach 104 and 99.1 The Sound for the daily Wind Report at 9:50 a.m.

While the flight school was closed during the downtime due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wolf looked to the water.

He blended his long-standing fish tank fondness with a love for indoor vegetable and herb gardening, and his passion’s seed grew an eco-friendly contraption few on the Outer Banks have ever seen.

We recently had a chance to talk with Wolf to talk about it:

How long have been on the Outer Banks and what got you into hangliding?

I’ve been coming to the OBX with my family since I was 2, but I’ve lived here year-round since 2017.

I got my first hang gliding certification here in 2009 with my dad, but didn’t start teaching hang gliding until 2017. I now have my H4 Advanced Pilot and Advanced Instructor certifications.

What were your most recent jobs before you moved to the OBX?

I was actually a music producer and audio engineer. I started in St. Louis MO as an intern at a local music studio. I’d spend 12-18 hours a day listening, watching and learning. I eventually got to the point where I was good enough to run sessions for myself. I got lucky enough to meet a guy by the name of Bill Hamel down in Florida and worked under him until early 2017. I found that the music industry was too cutthroat for my personality and came back to hang gliding – haven’t looked back.

Have any of your previous work experiences or your current job skills helped you in your quarantine creation?

Oh absolutely. Music production and hang gliding instruction are weirdly similar – they both require creative problem solving. I’ve always loved making things, whether it’s a bumpin’ record or an excellent student-turned-pilot. I also have a lot of experience working with my hands. Woodworking is one of my favorite hobbies, and I built hundreds of model and R/C gliders as a kid. Again, it all comes back to creative problem solving.

So what was your quarantine creation?

So I’ve always loved things that grow – it’s so cool to see a seed become a sprout become a little plant that eventually bears tomatoes or whatever. Unfortunately our climate doesn’t allow for year-round growing and with the cold snaps this year planting felt risky.

I also love fish tanks – watching the fish swim around in their little world is a way for me to escape from the stresses and anxieties of my own reality… so I combined the two! It’s an indoor aquaponics system.

Basically, an aquaponics system is a system where I feed the fish, the fish expel that food (poop and pee) and it becomes nutrients for the plants. As the plants absorb these nutrients and grow they also filter the water for the fish! So I get a cool fish tank to relax by, delicious plants to eat/use, and lower maintenance on everything as a whole! The best part might be that it sits right in my living room and I can see the whole thing working.

How did you know how to do it? Was it instinct, or the internet or something else?

I had to look up how to make a weir and an overflow syphon, but outside of that I pretty much just came up with the actual construction myself. I did do a lot of research into ensuring that the fish would have the proper ecology to survive though – facebook, reddit, and 2 of the employees at the local petsmart were invaluable.

How long did it take? Did you have any help?

I probably spent about 150 hours designing and constructing the entire thing. There was a lot of trial and error and “TLAR” (that looks about right) construction. I’d be able to do it in 20-50 hours were I to make it again. I did it completely by myself, but I liked it that way. No conflicting opinions – this was purely MY brainchild.

What parts did you need for the project?

A bunch of 2×4’s and glue to make the base, close to 6 feet of PVC pipe and special fittings to plumb the filter and grow bed, a concrete mixing tub to make the grow bed, a 25 gallon tub for the bio filter, 8 feet of vinyl tubing, an 800 gallon/hour submersible pump, 2 bags of red lava rock, 3 cups of crushed coral, 80-100 lbs of pea gravel and organic substrate, rocks, plants, and a LOT of patience. Oh, and the 75 gallon tank!

What was the cost of the parts?

I got the tank used on Facebook for $50 (A STEAL). I didn’t keep track of all of the costs, but I think altogether it was close to $250.

How does this contraption work?

Water overflows from the tank down through a mechanical filter (basically just very, very fine mesh) into a grow bed where the plants sit. The water then overflows from the grow bed down to the biological filter. The water is then pumped back up into the tank, and the cycle continues!

What kind of fish are in the tank? How big is the tank? What kind of plants are you growing?

Currently I only have otocinclus catfish, a rubber lipped plecostomus, a black racer nerve snail and two mystery snails. I will be adding a colony of red cherry shrimp this week (excellent algae cleaning crew), and probably 20-40 small fish like neon tetras or harlequin rasboras. I’m actually waiting to get to a specialty fish shop in VA Beach so I can get some unique species that will be a joy to observe and care for.

As for plants, I have a lot of mosses for the shrimp to hide and breed in along with a lot of stemmed plants and aquatic grasses to beautify the tank. I’ll be growing tomatoes, sweet basil, mint, and I’m going to try to grow a red onion!

I know it’s early but how are the plants doing?

All of the aquatic plants are thriving! This bodes very well for the other plants as it means the water quality is excellent. I’ve had to allow some time for the nitrogen cycle to run its course before I could safely introduce the non-aquatic plants.

The finished product!

What do the other residents of the house think?

They love it! I’m very lucky. I think it helps that it’s actually visually pleasing! I put in a lot of time and effort in to make sure that it doesn’t look half-assed.

Do you have pets? If so, do the pets ever get overly curious?

I have a dog and a cat and 2 other fish tanks – they don’t seem to have any idea it exists. I thought the cat would be all about it!

I know you’re proud of your project- are you willing to offer assistance to others in this eco-friendly project?

I would love nothing more! I’m an instructor at heart and love sharing knowledge. I encourage any and all people curious about my project to reach out to me!

How good is it to get back to work at the hang gliding school?

Dude. It’s good. REAL good. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed it. All of my instructors feel the same. I encourage anyone interested in the experience to read my piece about what it’s like to be an instructor out there… it changed my life. That is no exaggeration.