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Friendly Aquaponics
Special Newsletter

Commercial Aquaponics Newsletter Number 5
May 3rd,  2012
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

Today we'll share all the creative ways our students (and others we know) have invented to kill their commercial aquaponics systems. Why would they do this? They wanted to "try something new", or were told to do something by someone they trusted, whether or not that person knew anything about aquaponics.

Why are these system failures so valuable? Because knowing what to avoid is as important as knowing how to do things correctly. Especially when your investment and your time is at stake.

This column, and our courses, are designed to remove as many of the barriers as possible between you and your success in commercial aquaponics.

There are many teaching "commercial aquaponics"; many of whom have never operated a commercial system that their livelihood depended on. We suggest you ask for verifiable income, expense, and profit numbers from whoever you're considering taking a course from or purchasing a "commercial" aquaponics system kit from. If they can provide them, that is. We gave you these numbers
for Zac Hosler's farm in Honaunau, Hawaii, in our April 17th newsletter (click here to read it).

We will give you these numbers for Mr. Shumin Wang's 30,000 square foot aquaponics farm in China in our next Commercial Newsletter (We are very proud and honored that Mr. Wang is a student of ours).


If the teacher you're considering can't provide numbers for their economically successful students, we'd love to meet you in person at one of our live Aquaponics Technology Trainings (only $495) For those of you who can't free up the time to come to Hawaii, our Commercial DIY Training has all the information combined in our Aquaponics Technology and Commercial Aquaponics Trainings together, and allows you to duplicate our success anywhere.

How To Kill Your Aquaponics System (Or Just Part Of It!):

Method 1:  Use any variation of organic oil-based, soap-based, pepper-based, wax-based pesticides; or the conventional organophosphate pesticides on your vegetables, even inside a greenhouse. We have a report of a mortality event involving 800 pounds of tilapia (all this grower's fish!), after a soap-based organically approved pesticide spray was applied to the vegetables inside a greenhouse. The owner was careful, there was no rain to wash the spray down into the troughs, but he still got enough of it into his system water to kill all his fish.

Fix 1: Don't ever spray any of these things onto your vegetables or use them in your system (we'll cover in another Commercial Newsletter the organically-approved pesticide sprays you can use, and their methods of application) . If you kill your fish using this method, there is a possibility that the toxin is still present in your system (depending on what type you used and how much you used), and just getting new fish may put you through it all over again. The only guaranteed fix may be to dump all your system water and start over.

Method 2:  Use citric acid (also known as ascorbic acid and Vitamin C) to adjust the pH in your system lower. Citric acid is an organically-approved herbicide, which means it is designed to kill plants, specifically weeds.  Our student who did this had all his roots turn black and most of his plants died.

Fix 2: Don't try to adjust pH downwards, period. We haven't found any dependable method of doing so, nor have we ever found a need to do so, even though we've started aquaponics systems with pH as high as 8.3. The pH drops almost immediately as the fish respirate carbon dioxide into the system and the nitrifying bacteria do their job. If you do try to adjust pH downwards, try something different than citric acid. Let us know how your experiment works out!


Method 3:  Use salt (also known as sodium chloride) to treat suspected fish diseases by adding it to your aquaponics system. Your aquaponics system has no way to rid itself of salt, and the salt will either kill all the plants (if it is in a high enough concentration), or just give you unbelievably and confusingly poor growth in a lower concentration (because you can't for the life of you figure out why things are growing so poorly!). The only way to determine if it's actually salt in your system that is behind poor growth is to have a professional lab do a water test for sodium chloride (or to know for certain, because you put it in yourself).

Fix 3: Don't let salt get near your aquaponic system, period. If you are truly certain you have a fish disease (and the experts themselves will have differing opinions about this), remove your fish to a tank that is completely separate from your aquaponic system. Add salt in the concentration recommended by the experts and leave the fish in this salty water for the length of time recommended by the experts, then rinse them in a fresh-water dip as you transfer them back to their fish tank in your aquaponic system to make sure there is as little transfer of salt as possible into your aquaponic system.

Helpful Hint for keeping your organic certification intact: If the experts recommend treating your fish with any kind of antibiotic or medication, run, run away, for if your organic certification people find out, you will lose your certification for up to two years. You will find that conventional produce is worth around half as much as organically certified, but is the same amount of work.


Method 4:  Using potassium carbonate to adjust pH in your system and to supplement potassium. For a short while before we went organic, we tried using potassium carbonate alternately with calcium carbonate (oyster shells, coral sand) to adjust pH in your aquaponic system. Then we had a student with a relatively small system put a couple of cups a week in, to the point where his plants stopped growing from potassium toxicity that had built up in the system. 

Fix 4: Don't put potassium carbonate in your aquaponic system to adjust pH, period.
It is possible you may also want to be suspicious of other methods of adding potassium. We have only seen a single potassium deficiency in 5,000 square feet of aquaponic system in four and a half years of operation, and that was safely remedied with an organically-approved foliar kelp spray. If you've added a bunch of potassium carbonate to your system already, and your water test (sent out to a lab) indicates toxic levels, then your only fix is to dump most of the system water and refill.

Method 5:  Use any material or device that is not listed as approved in the OMRI publications dealing with these things (We will be doing a separate Commercial Newsletter on organic certification, and will explain the difference between a material and a device in that newsletter). This stuff won't kill your system, it simply kills the possibility of your getting organic certification, and the higher prices for produce that go with it, for two years, during which time you need to keep operating your system in "transition mode" as defined by your organic certification agency. A partial list includes polyisocyanate foam for rafts, EPDM for trough liners, sprouting table liners, or tank liners; non-food-safe materials, ABS piping, and more non-approved fertilizers, nutrient additives, and chemicals than we have room to list.

Fix 5: Only use materials in your aquaponic systems that are listed in our materials lists, and/or are approved by OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute). What it says. If you use a material or device that is not approved, you may have to wait up to two years from the time you discontinue using it to get your organic certification instated. We will be doing a separate Commercial Newsletter on organic certification, and will explain the difference between a material and a device in that newsletter.


Aloha, Tim and Susanne

We hope this has been useful to you. In the next "Commercial Aquaponics" newsletter we will share the success of Mr. Shumin Wang, a student of ours from Shanghai, China. Shumin took our October 2010 Commercial Aquaponics Training, then built 30,000 square feet of greenhouses with about 24,000 square feet of aquaponics system in them. Shumin's system just came into production this May, and is what we believe to be the largest operating aquaponic system in the world. We will have construction cost, income, and operating cost numbers for his systems included in the next newsletter, along with information on what he is growing.

If you have any additional questions you would like us to answer in this continuing series of Special newsletters, please email them to Tim.

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Purchase Trough Liner Directly From Manufacturer!

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Pistou basil growing in our Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse

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Large-leaf basil interplanted with tomatoes equals yummy pesto in the future!



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Tim joking around, but really showing off the strength of the 20-foot curved beams used in the Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse.


Special Offer! Sign up for our June 28-29 Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse Training  or our June 24-26th Aquaponics Technology Training, and receive our Micro System package for free so you can begin studying aquaponics! ($99.95 value)

More Information on Hawaii Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse Training

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Tomatoes on the north wall of the Hawaii Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse; the wall reflects light and provides a built-in tomato trellis


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Tim with the PV system charge controller, inverter, breakers, and cabling from the PV panels on the wall to the right. The roll-down white plastic cover (rolled-up in this picture) keeps all this (black) equipment from heating up too much on a sunny day.

"The Fish's View"

We're swamped this week, so this column will of necessity be rather short, sort of like a fingerling tilapia.

The fish's view is that of a prey animal. They are always processing information from their senses: is that thing up there a predator or a food item? (This is actually pretty deep stuff, I mean think about it! It's what we do, at the buffet line in a hotel!).

Fish can tell the difference between a single person carrying a food bucket and a single person carrying a net, even when the person is outside the tank. Don't ask me how they do it, but I've seen it over and over again.

They also seem to be completely aware of what's happening when the customer shows up to buy 500 pounds of fish to start their commercial aquaponics system with. Everyone disappears to the bottom of the tank, and it looks like there are no fish at all in a tank that you know has 1,500 pounds in it!

To be very clear:

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"If you read it on the internet, it must therefore be true."
Samuel Adams
(1722-1803), A Founding Father of the United States


(PS: This is a joke!)




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Friendly Aquaponics, Inc
PO Box 1196
Honoka'a, Hawaii 96727
US

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