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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 148
November 26th,  2013
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend

Today's "Nugget" will be Part 3 of "Startup Reloaded: Starting Your Aquaponic System Is Easy And Fast!". We have a simple and dependable way to do this, that we've continuously improved over the last six years, and we share it with you here.

Watch out for the announcement of our new book: "Aquaponics The EASY Way!" within the next two days. It's done, and Susanne's doing the last bits of proofing and checking. She insists on getting it perfect for you. It's still available at a presale discount of 33% now, for only $19.95 by clicking here. It will be $29.95 when finished; you'll save ten bucks and get it emailed directly to you when it's finished if you buy it now!

Our side column today
is one of the "Tropic Bird Chronicles", when Tim was operating his 56-foot sailing fishing vessel "Tropic Bird" off the island of Hawaii. If it was guaranteed, they wouldn't call it fishing, they'd call it catching!

Aquaponics Nugget #148, Startup Reloaded, Part 3: (Starting Up Your Aquaponic System Is Easy And Fast!)

How To Get "Started":

We skipped the "Clean Water" section of startup here, because we covered it in these recent back newsletters of ours: #125, #126, and #127.  Check them out if you want to learn all about water to fill your aquaponics with, and how to avoid difficulties with your source water. Also, you may want to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this newsletter series before you read today's article, which is Part 3.

Ammonia Level Is Important!


IMPORTANT! First, don't add the inoculant bacteria until and unless your ammonia is lower than 3 ppm, preferably 1 ppm. Nitrifying bacteria are inhibited by ammonia levels of 3 ppm or higher, and if your ammonia is higher, you WON'T get system startup. Make sure you have less than 3 ppm ammonia in your system before wasting inoculant bacteria on it. If your ammonia is higher, dump half your water, refill to dilute, pump for 12 hours to mix, measure ammonia again, THEN, when your ammonia is down to 1-2 ppm, add your innoculant bacteria.


Next: The Nitrite Spike


We can experience difficulties during the startup period, because of something called the “nitrite spike”, which can last from a few days to three to four weeks. This is an abnormally high concentration of nitrites that only occurs during startup. Once you’re through startup, it never happens again. The trick is getting through startup without killing any of your fish, which, as we mentioned, find high levels of this stuff toxic.


This should be easy to control, in the same way we put exactly the right amount of baking powder in a recipe, but unfortunately it’s not. People always ask us: “Can we slow this down by putting less bacteria in, or speed it up by putting more in?”, but it's not that simple.

The problem is that these bacteria are living organisms, and the time it takes them to double (their reproductive cycle) can vary hugely depending on temperature, how much oxygen is in the water, and how “lively” a bacterial culture you started with. We’ve often wished there was a “volume adjustment knob” on the startup process, because then it would be much easier to understand and deal with.


When nitrifying bacteria are introduced to a system, the fastest-breeding and feeding bacteria are the ones that eat the ammonia and produce nitrites. The ones that convert the nitrites to nitrates have slower reproduction rates and are much slower to get established, resulting in what is called a "nitrite spike" where you have very high levels of nitrites for a week or two before they start getting converted to nitrates as fast as they're being created.

This is a concern because nitrite is as toxic to fish as ammonia. Theoretically, over 6 ppm of either will stress and eventually kill tilapia. However, we've had our fish in an ammonia spike of 24 ppm for a couple of weeks because we didn't know what we were doing, and they lived. We also had fish in a nitrite spike of over 10 ppm for a couple weeks, and they all survived that. We recommend that you don't do this on purpose, though.


You need to have your rafts in the troughs as soon as you fill the system with water, because the system water will grow lots of algae if there are no rafts on the troughs to shade them.


Keep the water pump and the blowers both on 24/7 during this time because these bacteria need oxygen. Test once a day hereafter for about a week, and you should see nitrites showing within two to three days at about 2-3 ppm. If you don’t do something to modulate the nitrite spike, you could end up with so much nitrites you get into the theoretically toxic range for fish of 10 ppm and over.


To measure nitrites and nitrates properly, get a bottle of Hach H27454 test strips (Aquatic EcoSystems catalog #H27454); this strip is sensitive enough to measure the low levels of nitrites and nitrates that sometimes occur during system startup. If you use other, less sensitive test methods, you may erroneously conclude that you don't have nitrites or nitrates, when in fact you do.


The drawing above shows our experience of the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate curves plotted against time and ppm levels measured. This is an “average” startup for a DWC system with from 6,000 to 24,000 gallons total water in 72 degree F water; yours may be slower or quicker depending on many factors (I know, it's kinda small for the newsletter; email me and I'll send you the full-size file!).

Important- How to modulate the nitrite spike! Here’s how you modulate the nitrite spike to keep your fish safe (ONLY necessary if you are starting your system with fish in the system): the first day that the nitrite side of the test strip shows up as 5 ppm or over, take about half the rafts off your troughs. Keep monitoring nitrites each day, and if they continue to go up from 5 ppm, take the other half of the rafts off your troughs (leaving the cover on the fish tank).

Because the nitrifying bacteria that create nitrites are sensitive to light, this measure should bring the nitrites down to about 5, where they will stay for seven to fourteen days or so. At the end of this phase, you will see the nitrites go down to 2-3 ppm. At this point, you can put all the rafts back on the troughs. You only have to do this startup ONCE with a system when it is new.


This part is sneaky, so you need to plan for it: you need to have seeded your plants into the net pots two to three weeks earlier than this to have them ready now. Plant your sprouts into the rafts as soon as nitrates first show up on your test strips, which can be as soon as five days or as late as twenty days after inoculation, depending on water temperature. After system startup is over, (during normal operation) you will see ammonia levels from 0.25 to 1.0 ppm; nitrite levels in the same range; and nitrate levels from 1-3 ppm up to a maximum of 10-15 ppm. You can see this on the graph above.


We planted our little vegetable sprouts into the rafts we’d left in the troughs six days after we first put in the inoculant bacteria, then added the balance of the rafts and planted them when nitrites dropped to 3 ppm. We ended up with 1 ppm nitrites and 20 ppm nitrates ten to twelve days after inoculation; perfect!. This is the easy way to control nitrite spikes during system startup yet still start the system quickly.

Note: only plant about one-fifth to one-sixth of your system every week or so, depending on the particular vegetable varieties you’ve selected; this will ensure a continuing harvesting and planting cycle, which is what you want. If you plant the whole thing, it will all be ready to harvest at some time in the future, and you’ll have way too much of whatever it is, plus an empty system the next day.

(Our next newsletter will cover how to "haul" your fish safely, in order to have as many of them as possible survive the haul; and give you a couple of sources where you can get some VERY inexpensive fish to start your aquaponics system with. Thanks for listening!).

An Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse with the participants in our second June 2013 course in Tennessee!

June2013Class1-385px 2

For smaller home backyard and apartment systems, please read on:
Purchase Construction Plans and Operating Info for 4 Different Sizes of Table Top Aquaponics Systems $49.95

Our TableTop System package includes easy-to-understand building instructions and operating information for 4 different sizes of small aquaponic systems based on our years of experience. Anyone can build a system out of plastic barrels or IBC totes, 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 also cover how to make aquaponics systems out of weird things like old refrigerators and door frames; this makes aquaponics much more economical to get started in, and fun too!

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 TableTop Systems!


Friendly 2014 Commercial Aquaponics and Greenhouse Trainings;

Texas Training from January 13th to the 17th at Ben Godfrey's farm in Milam County, Texas (Click here for more information!).

One-day CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) Course given by Ben and Alysha Godfrey at their farm on January 18th, Saturday (click here for more information!).

Tennessee Training from January 27th to the 31st at Randy Campbell's farm in Elora, Tennessee (Click here for more information!).

These trainings are $1,495 per person for five days of the most comprehensive and profitable Commercial Aquaponics and energy efficient Solar Greenhouse technology on the planet. If you can't wait until January to learn about profitable commercial aquaponics, check out our Personal Intensive trainings in Hawaii.

(Below) One of Ben and Alysha Godfrey's aquaponics systems in a greenhouse in Milam County, Texas. I can't wait to taste their system water! lettuce2-385px

(Below) Another of Ben and Alysha's aquaponic greenhouses.

(Below) Tim drinking water from one of Randy and Katie's aquaponics systems at a Tennessee training. "I've been doing this for six years; I'm certain the food from these systems is safe and healthy" (Tim).  TimWaterDrinkingNugget

These five-day trainings allow you to travel during the weekend so that you only need to take a week off your busy life to attend, and include our $999 DIY Commercial Aquaponics package, $998 DIY Farmer's Market Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse package, and new $295 DIY Commercial Tilapia Hatchery manual as course materials, plus our Plywood/Epoxy/ Tank manual, CAD construction drawings for all greenhouses and aquaponics systems, and much more!

(Below) Randy and Tim showing attendees at a Tennessee training how easy it is to use a DO (dissolved oxygen) meter to measure oxygen levels in the vegetable troughs.


If you're located near Tennessee or Texas, Randy and Katie Campbell (in Tennessee) and Ben Godfrey (in Texas) give regular free farm tours of their aquaponics systems and greenhouses to introduce the public to the benefits of aquaponics and energy-efficient greenhouse growing.

In Tennessee: Call Randy and Katie at 256-679-9488 or email Randy to find out when the next farm tour is scheduled.

In Texas: Call Ben at 254-697-2927 or email Ben to find out when their next "Family Day" farm tour is scheduled ($15 fee per family is charged).

More details of the Aquaponics Technology course here.

More details of the Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse course here.

More details of the Commercial Aquaponics course here.

(Below) Randy and Katie's Chinese-style Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse in Tennessee in the February snow, 2013. 70 degrees inside and you had to take your coat off when working with the vegetables!

GreenhouseSnow3Small 2

The Friendly  Aquaponics Way Video!
Back Issues Of Newsletters Now Available, Click Here!
Trough Liner Distributors:
West Coast USA
East Coast USA

Click here for Trout fry and fingerlings directly from the hatchery to you!

Spanish Language Micro System package now available!
Free Farm Tours

Aquaponics tour at the Friendly farm!

We hold a free Farm Tour on our farm the FIRST Saturday of every month at 10:00,  focused on growing food with aquaponics.  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!


Thousands of inch-long "fifty-cent" baby tilapia from our "backyard" hatchery.


What they turn into about a year later: a beautiful 2-pound white tilapia grown in the fish tanks of our aquaponics systems.



Sign yourself up for the Texas January 2014 (13th-17th)

Or sign yourself up for the Tennessee January 2014 (27th-31st)

Commercial Aquaponics and Solar Greenhouse Training
NOW, and receive a free Micro System DIY package so you can begin studying aquaponics, as soon as you register! ($99.95 value)


Micro System Classes!

Our four affiliates are now offering Micro System courses.

Click here
for a listing of affiliates and course locations!


"Fish Bites: Food-Grade Liners and Fish Tanks"

Corrugated steel round fish tanks come from Scafco Grain Systems,

Tell them you need an open-top tank, not one with a conical steel roof, which you don't need or want for a fish tank.

For Liner, order standard sizes AND custom-sized round and rectangular food-grade vinyl liners from DLM Plastics, 1530 Harvard Avenue, Findlay, OH, 45840, 419-424-5250. Get "White NSF-61 PVC", it is FOOD-GRADE vinyl (the "NSF" on the label means "National Sanitation Foundation").

"Tropic Bird: The Fishing Chronicles"

It was 1984, and we were on the Kona side of the island, picking up flagline with Tropic Bird, my 56-foot sailing fishing trimaran, on a nice day. I could say the sky was grey and clear at the same time; the ocean was blue and clear at the same time.


This was because the volcano fire pit of Halema'uma'u at Kilauea had been erupting for two years now, and the air on the Kona side of the island on this day was like the air in the LA basin during a big inversion. Thick. The confounding air confused me. This was the day I dove into the sky and flew into the ocean.


We'd set our eight or so miles of flagline while under sail just at the break of dawn, and had let it “soak” for a couple of hours. We'd moseyed back up the line under sail after a nice nap hanging on the far end of the line. We noticed one float a little lower than the rest, and fired up the engine so we had a little maneuverability.


Motoring up to the line, my friend and crewman Dustin snagged it with the gaff, bringing it on board, and we started working our way up the line. After passing three or four hooks that still held bait but no big fish, Dustin cried out!


I remember an inarticulate cry; usually he would yell the name of the fish (as in “Ahi!”, or “Ono!”), but this time he just went Ah! Ah!.


Then he yelled: "It fell off!". I looked around, and the sea was quite calm. I was calm. I put the boat in neutral, went over to Dustin at the line-handler's position, and looked over the side. I looked at him and said "I'll be right back".


Took a deep breath, and dove over the side. Scuba tank, non; mask and fins, non, big breath, oui!


What I'd spotted, in that fraction of a second it took to make up my mind, was the $200 dead fish that would pay for all the fuel, ice, and bait costs for this whole trip, that had just fallen off the hook as Dustin pulled it up.


It looked like a little silver sliver, about forty feet down when I first spotted it. It was sixty feet down when I jammed my hand hard inside its gills, turned around, and headed back for the surface. I'd never tried to swim towing a 90-pound dead fish sixty feet underwater before.


Saltwater game fish such as this one have backwards-facing hooks inside their gills that keep small bait fish they've eaten inside their mouths; they're sharp, strong, and are called gill rakers.


The fish's gill rakers had a serious clamp on my hand. For just a few seconds I wondered if I could get my hand back out of its gills if this turned out to have been a bad decision.  Then I realized I was making good progress to the surface.


I checked my internal air reserves and depth gauge, and realized I was going to make it. I was at about thirty feet, and had at least thirty five feet of air left. At this point, I began a lazy spiral in my upwards thrust, so I could see in my vicinity.


The deep blue clarity just went on and on. At that point in my life, I hadn't yet been adopted by Mano, the oceanic shark, and so I was a little concerned about him. There seemed to be no Mano, and no nothing else, for that matter, except me, the fish, and Tropic Bird floating in the crystal dome of the sky thirty feet above.


At about twenty feet, the thumping of her diesel idling over was easy to hear; at ten feet, the light from the sky got much lighter, and pretty soon I scared the crap out of Dustin when two of us, one dead, one alive, came bursting out at the surface!


The last thing I heard him say when I dived off the boat was "OK", with a question in his voice. The next thing he heard me say after that was "Shortbill Spearfish!@!".


The fish in this photo is a  shortbill spearfish that might weigh 60 lbs. They're rare, and tasty!


Funny, I don't remember if that was the trip that we caught the two 270-pound ahi (yellowfin tuna) or not.


If it was, I certainly didn't need to worry about making expenses that early in the trip. But you never know when you're fishing. Like they say, "If it was guaranteed, they'd call it "catching"".

Aloha, Tim....

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