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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 22
January 5th,  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

Again, we've had a "gap" in the newsletters; however, this is good news because it was caused by a surprise holiday visit by my two children, Emily (18), and Joe (15) who live with their Mom in California. I (Tim), only found out they were coming about a week before. I've spent as much time as possible during the holidays with my kids, and other work that I promised has slipped its deadlines by quite a bit.
So, I will re-make my promise:

We're still working on our aquaponics technical support forum, which will be operating within a couple of weeks. Open to the public, it has a BASIC read-only section that is free, and covers subjects and questions applicable to ALL aquaponics systems. It also has a comprehensive commercial technical support forum with the ability to post questions to us (which will be answered within three business days).
We are charging $29.95 per month for the commercial forum, with a discounted yearly subscription at $250. We'll inform newsletter subscribers as soon as it is finished: you could subscribe for a month to try it out!

The commercial support forum provides answers on fish and vegetable operation, system design and construction, farm design and construction, product processing, water quality, organic and food safety certifications, permits, and will be added to as users indicate areas of interest and problems they're having with their aquaponics systems. It is designed to be equally useful to users in commercial aquaponics whether you've built one of our systems, someone elses, or are designing your own.

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

If you want to learn aquaponics easily and inexpensively, the Indoor System package is perfect for you. It includes new and easy-to-understand building instructions and complete operating information for 4 diifferent 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 without good and easily-understood information can be frustrating. Complete operating information, including troubleshooting, is given in the form of a "Daily Operations Manual" where you simply use the checklist and follow the step-by-step instructions on your way to success with aquaponics.

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 spending that money and time in this manual so you don't make any of the same mistakes we did.


Learn about our Apartment/Condo Systems!

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Aquaponics Nugget #22:
Gammarus and Organic Aquaponics Systems (Part 1 )


Gammarus in Aquaponics Systems

The first year we operated our original High Density systems the fine solids capture tank filled up with crud and required regular cleaning. After about 15 months of operation, we had
gammarus (common name water flea) show up in one of the two systems on our farm, with seemingly no discernible transmission vector. We hadn't brought any fish or other living things into our systems from outside the farm in the previous year. We first noticed when one of our farm interns came in to the lunch room and said "There are little shrimp crawling all over the plant roots and eating them!".

Susanne went into high gear and "keyed them out", which to a biologist means tracing down the class, order, and species of the living thing in question. She found that they were detrivores (means they eat dead things), and were no threat to the plants growing in the system. In fact, the residence of these little beasties is considered by experts to be an indicator of a high level of health in an aquatic ecosystem. After we got over our initial scare that we had a new system pest to deal with, we were proud of our little gammarus for making it to our farm from somewhere else all on their own. They're also kind of cute.

Soon, we started seeing differences in the net tank in the system they showed up in; first, there was a heck of a lot of
gammarus in the tank. We noticed the net tank wasn't getting filled with fish poop as fast, then noticed it wasn't getting deposits of fish poop at all! It's been two years since the first gammarus colonized that system, and we haven't cleaned the net tank once since!

Even more telling than this was what happened when we transferred the
gammarus to system #2 in an effort to help them colonize it: when we first put the gammarus into the troughs, this system's net tank had a 3-inch thick solid mat of fish poop floating on the top. Over the next month and a half as we watched, the mat of poop gradually disappeared; neither was there any fish poop adhered to the nets in the tank as there always was before gammarus. We did some digging and found the net tank full of gammarus, as if they had decided it was the promised land. As we seeded gammarus into the other systems, they took up residence throughout each system: in all the tanks, in the hydroponics troughs, and in the roots of all the vegetables. The vegetable roots seem to be much cleaner, as the gammarus clean any crud off them that is deposited. We can't help but think that this constant attention to crud on the roots can only benefit our plant growth.

We don't have a complete hypothesis explaining why the fish poop disappeared yet. We are still feeding the fish the same amounts of food, so they MUST be pooping the same amount of poop. Our preliminary thoughts are that the
gammarus are affecting the crud that used to accumulate in the net tanks, and eating it or just plain breaking it down somehow so that it passes out into the systems. There hasn't been any corresponding rise in nutrient or ammonia levels as one would expect if the gammarus were simply breaking the crud up and it was going out into the troughs to decompose. We like what we see, so we're offering to seed every new aquaponics system (that our students on the Big Island build) with gammarus as well as mosquito fish and system water containing nitrifying bacteria.

Gammarus need well-oxygenated water, which generally means cold water, because cold water dissolves more oxygen than warm water, so if you’re in a warmer area than we are (68-78 degree F water temps), they might not do so well. They do poorly if there are any pollutants present, and require abundant calcium (which we add in the form of calcium carbonate to buffer pH. They are a good indicator of over-all system health: clean water along with good calcium and oxygen levels. If your gammarus start dying off, or it you try to seed them and they don't establish, it's an indicator that something's out of kilter with your system, and you should investigate.

Here's their scientific classification:

Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Anthropoda
Class – Crustacea/Malacostraca (there is some ambiguity in classification of class)
Order - Amphipoda
Family - Gammaridae

Common Names: Gammarus Shrimp, Shrimp, Water Fleas, Scuds, Side Swimmers

Here's a line drawing to show you what to look for:
gammaruslinedrawing1 2
They can get up to 20 mm (3/4 inch) in length but adults usually average about 15 mm (1/2 inch) in length. Ours seem to be about 7mm (1/4 inch) maximum size, with most of them about 5/32 of an inch to 3/16 of an inch long.

And as it turns out, they have been an astonishing blessing to our system. The absolute worst job on the entire farm was cleaning the net tanks. It was a two-hour job that left us covered from head to toe in stinking fish poop. Since the
gammarus colonized our system, we have not had to clean the net once! They live in the net as well, and keep it pristine.

(Next week: "Gammarus and Organic Aquaponics Systems" Part 2, including information on where to get gammarus and how to introduce them to your system).

Click to see our new Video!
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Regular Free Workshops
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Lettuce in the Small Commercial System
Aquaponics grows more for less water, work, and energy; and is more fun!

We hold a free workshop on our farm the FIRST Saturday of every month,  focused on growing food with aquaponics and permaculture. These workshops start with a one-hour free farm tour from 10-11 am, then the free workshop from 11-12. Sample topics include: "How to grow"; bananas, sweet potatoes, taro, green onions, tomatoes, and so on. Each workshop will cover a different vegetable and include a handout with instructions covering that vegetable for you to take home. Click here for information. See you there!


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Installing the liner in a hydroponics trough.



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Installing a hapa into a tilapia breeding tank.


Special Offer! Sign up for our April 4-7th, 2011 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 Commercial Aquaponics Training

In The Farmily

Although we talked about he aquaponics support forum in the main column, there's a personal side to our decision to put the forum together. First, we've got a Family as well as a Farmily. Susanne and I have Victor, Jack, Lucky, Rose, and Susanne's Mom Isabelle to take care in Hawaii.
As you heard, Emily and Joe came to vist for the holidays, and they are awesome kids who we want to spend time with too!

How do we spend time with our family? Unfortunately, we don't: we've been working too much. We promised our kids we'd quit work at 6 in the evening and spend time with them, but we haven't been good at keeping that promise.

Part of the problem has been our committment to helping others get established in commercial aquaponics ventures, not to mention all the backyarders who email and call with questions. We spend tens of hours every week answering emails and phone calls because we want them to be successful. And it continues to snowball on us.

Instead of helping out a few people, as we were a couple of years ago, we now get emails from hundreds of people building systems, asking for advice and help, whether or not they have ever purchased anything from us.

We came to the conclusion that we  need to offer comprehensive support systems for those doing backyard aquaponics and for commercial growers.

To enable us to spend quality time with our kids and quality time answering the user's questions, we are charging for the commercial side of this forum. Here are our committments to the users:

FIRST:
The free "BASIC" forum will have better information than was available to us when we got started doing aquaponics.

SECOND:
The "COMMERCIAL" forum will have real-world answers to questions about how to earn a living with aquaponics. We know more about this than others, as we were the ones who pioneered organic and food safety certification for aquaponics systems, the economical and easy to operate Low Density aquaponics systems, and originated many other time and money-saving aquaponics techniques.

We guarantee that you will not find better, more accurate information elsewhere, especially not  for less than at the Commercial Forum.

THIRD:
Kids, we'll actually be able to quit at 6 and go jump on the trampoline with you!

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This email, our manuals and construction plans are all copyrighted by  Friendly Aquaponics, Inc, Susanne Friend and Tim Mann, 2008-2010

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