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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 32
March 16th,  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,
We're SO excited to be leaving to teach the first mainland Friendly Aquaponics Affiliate training at the end of the week!

Aquaponics is a revolution in food production and food freedom comparable to what the world saw with personal computing. We know that producing our own quality food, instead of just hoping giant agribusiness companies will do it, is a GOOD idea.

As part of this revolution, we encourage and support affiliates, something no other aquaponics trainers do. We are committed to an "open source" policy and to teaching others how to spread the knowledge required to build and operate these systems. If you want to take this further than just starting a farm, and feel you can stand up in front of a roomful of people and cheerfully spout aquaponics, contact us (AFTER your commercial farm is going!). The farm is the most important part; it MUST come first (this is NOT Multi-Level Marketing, LOL!).

The Florida training will be held March 21st to March 24th, 2011 at the Community Center of Ridge Manor, 34240 Cortez Blvd, Ridge Manor, Florida. Susanne Friend and Tim Mann of Friendly Aquaponics will be teaching the course  with Friendly Aquaponics affiliates Tonya Penick and Gina Cavaliero, who own and operate Green Acre Organics, where the hands-on sessions will be held. We still have openings in the Florida training, so call Gina Cavaliero at 352 302 9734 if you want to register.

If you're interested in commercial scale aquaponics, please take a look at both the Hawaii and Florida Commercial Aquaponics Trainings (Special Offer in right sidebar of this email), where you will learn more about real-life operation of a commercial aquaponics system than you can anywhere else in the world. For smaller home backyard and apartment systems, please read on:
Purchase Construction Plans and Operating Information for 4 Different Sizes of Apartment/Condo Aquaponics Systems $49.95

Our Apartment/Condo System package includes new and easy-to-understand building instructions and complete operating information for 4 different sizes of small aquaponic systems based on our years of experience operating a commercial aquaponics farm. Anyone can build a system out of plastic barrels, but operating one successfully without good and easily-understood information can be frustrating. You simply use the "Daily Operations Checklist" in the manual and follow the step-by-step instructions on your way to success.

We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and built our first commercial aquaponics systems with FAR less information than this manual contains. We included all the information learned from that experience in this manual so you don't need to make any of the same mistakes we did.

Learn about our Apartment/Condo Systems!

Aquaponics Nugget #32:
Flow Rate In Aquaponics Systems (Part 1)

Flow Rate In the Hydroponic Troughs

Since building our first systems, we did several experiments with water flow rates in our system troughs in an effort to make them more energy-efficient. Why would we want to do this? The water pumps in an aquaponics system usually run 24/7, and even a small improvement in energy efficiency could mean a large savings over a period of years. We did our most useful flow rate experiment ACCIDENTALLY! We have a large aquaponics system with three separate sets of troughs. We noticed for a long time that growth in one of the trough sets was excellent, growth in another was barely OK, and growth in the third was poor, and the vegetables there had more bad leaves and bugs than anywhere else in the system.

Susanne had the idea that the problem must be connected to flow rate, so I got out there with a 5-gallon bucket and a stopwatch. I put the bucket under the trough inflow and timed it to see what the flowrate into the troughs were in gpm. It came as no surprise to see that the “good” trough had a flowrate of 5 gpm (gallons per minute), the “OK” trough had a flowrate of 2/3 gpm, and the “poor” trough had a flowrate of 1/3 gpm, or a quart and a half of water per minute! We have a WaterPik that puts out more water than that! What didn’t make sense was that this system had a pump that was rated at 30gpm at that system’s head, and all these flows only added up to 6 gpm, NOT 30! So the first step was to figure out why the pump wasn’t working at its capacity.

It turns out that when you neglect to put the pump intake filter on the sump tank because the fish you put in the sump tank are WAY too big to ever get into the intake pipe, then somehow some 2” net pots along with some of those flat plastic plant tags DO get in there and clog the pump intake. After taking the pump apart, cleaning this mess out, putting a filter on the intake this time like I should have originally, and starting it back up, the pump pumped 30 gpm just like it was supposed to, and all the troughs got at least 5 gpm. Plant growth suddenly exploded in the "OK" and "poor" troughs to match that in the "good" trough..

The most important thing about this experience was that we saw good growth and poor growth in the same system that could only be attributed to different water flow rates in the troughs. ALL the troughs in question had the same DO going in and the same DO (to within a couple of tenths ppm) going out, the same water from the same fish tank, the same vegetable varieties, the same sun exposure; it was the flow rate that caused the fluctuations. So, we came to the following conclusions: for LETTUCE, in 4-foot wide by 10-inch deep troughs, in 70-76 degree F water temperatures, in an ORGANIC aquaponic system, with trough DO’S over 4 ppm, 5 gpm of flow into a trough was plenty, 2/3 gpm was not quite enough, and 1/3 gpm was definitely too little. Although we’re recommending 5 gpm as a minimum flow rate now based on this, this requirement may vary depending on vegetable variety, water temperature, trough configuration, and DO level in trough.

To take advantage of this new information, the first thing we did was hook all the troughs (in a new system we were building) together in a SERIES. The water flows from the first trough in the system into the next one, then from that one into the next one, and so on until it flows out of the last trough into the sump tank. In contrast to the 2 or 3 parallel pairs of troughs other systems use (that take the flow from their pump and split it into 3 separate streams, one for each trough pair), we essentially have a single trough in our current system designs. If your pump is only feeding a single trough series, you only need a pump one-third the size of the one that is required to get the same flow per trough when your pump’s output is split into three pairs of troughs. And that pump costs less to purchase, and costs 1/3 as much to run as the bigger pump that is required when you split your flow into 3 trough pairs.

In the first system we built this way, we found that there was no measurable nutrient drop from the beginning to end of a single trough series that is 316 feet long. In other words there was no reason based on nutrient availability that this plumbing scheme wouldn’t work. There is a 1,200-foot long trough series under construction at a student’s farm now, based on this information. He almost has his second 300 feet done now, and is already growing in his first 300 feet of trough. When we built his system, we DID put in piping for a second trough circuit and leave room for a second pump in the pump house, because we don’t know what the limit is on trough length before you start to see a nutrient drop. We’ll know soon if 600 feet works, then soon after that if 1,200 works.

THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT! It doesn’t matter how long the trough is!!! You can have a trough 800 feet long or 8 feet long (as in our Micro Systems), and if they both have 5 gallons per minute of water coming in, then the speed the water flows past the plant roots in both troughs is exactly the same. The water flow into the trough in gallons per minute is what establishes how fast the water flows past the plant roots! (I have to say this again, it's so much fun to say it with three exclamation points):
It doesn’t matter how long the trough is!!!

Although we think we're being conservative with our 5 gpm flow rate recommendation, we have a Micro System with slightly less than 2 gpm flowing through the troughs that grows plants just as well as our large commercial systems with 5 gpm flow rate per trough. What this means (and Susanne WON'T let me test this with our big commercial systems, she's such a meanie!), is that a 2 gpm pump that only uses 20 watts could  run 300 feet of trough, probably could run 600 feet of trough (we'll know soon), and we think could run 1,200 feet of trough.

(Next week: "Flow Rate in Aquaponics Systems" Part 2, with information on scaling aeration and pumping for custom-sized aquaponics systems).

Click to see our new Video!

Free Farm Tours
Aquaponics tour at the Friendly farm!

We hold a free workshop on our farm the FIRST Saturday of every month,  focused on growing food with aquaponics and permaculture.  Click here for information. See you there!

If you are a school, a non-profit organization, an organization working with the poor, Native Hawaiians, or ex-inmates, or if you are a church, we will hold a free farm tour for you anytime. You DO need to email us first to schedule, or we might be out on errands!


3-1/2 pound kalo (taro root) grown in a 2" net pot (little bump at bottom)


4-month old prawn (macrobrachium rosenbergii) grown in hydroponics troughs of our aquaponics systems

Special Offer! Sign up for our April 4-7th, 2011 Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training OR our March 21-24th Florida Commercial Aquaponics Training now, and we will email you our Micro System package so you can begin studying aquaponics! ($99.95 value)

Sign up for Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training

Sign up for Florida Commercial Aquaponics Training

In The Farmily
Today's Farmily column is about MONEY in the Farmily. Jack, our ten-year-old son, is the Farmily's mogul. We were at the surf shop four months ago and Jack said "I want to learn how to surf, can I buy a surfboard?". Jack and I had been looking at a nice used board that cost $300 (not including $40 worth of fins and surf leash which were sold separately), so I said "Sure, when you have saved the money for one; how much money do you have now?".

Jack looked thoughtful for a moment, then said "$494". I was floored, then I realized: Jack had put money away every time he got some for a birthday or earned some for a job, while his brothers and sister blew theirs on consumables and game cards. They each had about $11, Jack had $494.

After seeing the financial acumen Jack exhibits even at this early age, we're certain he will be capable of supporting Mom and Dad when we're old and crusty. This is good, because our investments in GM and Lehman Brothers went south when those firms did.

More on money: I (Tim) built my first sailboat, a 25-footer, when I was 17. I was earning $2.50/hour at the time, and the boat cost $2,500 for materials, more money than I could imagine in the whole world.

When I was 19, I built my second boat: a 37-foot sailboat. I was earning $4/hour, the boat cost $13,000 for materials,  and that was more money than I could imagine in the whole world.

When I was 25, I built my third boat: a 56-foot sailboat. I was earning $11/hour, and the boat cost $75,000 for materials; (again), more money than I could imagine in the whole world.

If I'd worried about the money before I started any of these projects, there's a good chance I would have just gotten depressed and never have tried building a boat.

However, all I could think about was how much I wanted that boat, more than anything in the whole world. The money seemed to take care of itself (I still had to earn it, but the jobs just kept coming!). Building the boats was easy with this attitude!
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