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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 91
September 27th,  2012
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

Today's "Nugget" revisits IBC totes (the poisonous kind). We dislike banging the same drum, but we got more emails with the subject line "All my fish are dying"
, and it does the opposite of make our day.

I'm writing this from a too-small seat on a transcontinental airplane, during the return flight from Nashville, Tennessee, back to our home in Hawaii. We had a small breathing space between the last day of our week long Tennessee training and heading home, and we used it to get to know our host and affiliate in Tennessee (Randy Campbell of Ellibell Farm) better.

Susanne and I think that Randy's farm provides a perfect model for our farm in Hawaii: it's an integrated, energy-efficient, diversified small farm that is to a great extent self-sufficient at the same time it grows food for the community around it.

Randy and his daughter Katie run the business side of Ellibell Farm as a corporation (that's been in existence for 11 years) named "Today's Green Acres". One of the farm's divisions is "E.A.T.", for Eco Aquaponics Training; this is the aquaponics training part of their operation, which focuses on providing healthy organic food for local consumers at the same time it shares aquaponics technology and methods with schoolchildren.

Randy and Katie's farm raises chickens, eggs, turkeys, and pigs for local CSA distribution, and has tens of acres in pasturage for the farm's animals and for sale as hay for feed. As his aquaponics system's fish multiply in the tilapia breeding operation he is building, he will have fingerling tilapia for stocking other people's aquaponic systems, as well as tilapia for eating, for sale.

LOTS more next week on Ellibell Farm, and the NEXT Tennessee "Friendly" Aquaponics and Solar Greenhouse Trainings in 2013!

If you want to earn a living from aquaponics (or just learn the best aquaponics technology available) , we have one training scheduled in the balance of 2012 in Hawaii:

We hold our 3-day Aquaponics Technology Training, plus the 2-day Solar Greenhouse Training, plus the 1-day Commercial Aquaponics Training, at our farm in Honokaa, Hawaii, starting on October 21st, and ending on October 27th. Attend one or more of these trainings to suit your needs. You can sign up now on our webpage here or using the "Special Offer" buttons in the right sidebar of this email. You can also call us directly at 808-775-7745, or email Tim for information.

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 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 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!

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!

Aquaponics Nugget #91, Poisonous IBC Totes Revisited:

All aquaponicists want to know well-tested aquaponics techniques and methods; because none of us want to waste our time or money. We recently wrote a 14-page compendium of all the things you can safely use in aquaponics systems for pest control (based on 5 years of experience in commercial aquaponic growing), then emailed free copies to everyone who ever purchased a DIY package or live aquaponics training from us (that was around August 2012; you may see this information begin appearing in other people's trainings after this date. You know what this means, right?  :)

As a result of this 5 years experience, and from corresponding with literally hundreds of students who have built our systems (and tried all kinds of new ideas we never recommended in our manuals), we know a lot about what is and is not toxic to the plants and fish in aquaponics systems.

We originally wrote about "toxic totes" in our August 11th, 2012 newsletter #87, but have just received more reports of dead fish apparently poisoned by contaminated IBC totes. We're reprinting that information so the widest possible audience can find it:

1. Toxic Totes: The panicked practitioner whose fish are dying always says: "But, I didn't put anything bad into the system!". Many people use "cheap" used IBC totes on the advice of "experts". I've never seen warnings about this one in any of their literature: poisoned IBC totes. We feature the following warning in a section of our manuals called "Tank Discussion".

Warning: the LDPE plastic that the totes is manufactured from is slightly porous; when a tote is used (even for a short period of time) to store something toxic, the toxic substance will leach into the LDPE, to leach out into your aquaponic system at some unspecified future time.

We've seen toxic results with totes used to store propionic acid (a food preservative that is used in animal food processing); and totes in which organophosphate insecticides or herbicides were stored or mixed "for a short time only".

Imagine having a toxic tote in your system: maybe your fish and plants don't all die, or just a few of them. You may not be able to trace it back to the tote. In fact, you may not even notice the problem; but if you or someone else is eating the poisoned fish and vegetables that come from your system; what's your responsibility to them?

If you can read the label on the used tote you're thinking about buying, and you understand enough chemistry to know that it is a non-toxic substance for your fish and vegetables, then by all means go ahead and use it. That is, if you're absolutely certain it never had anything else in it, even for a short time.

This can be a problem, because many of the places (often farms or industrial processing facilities) that purchase innocuous things in IBC totes later use them for mixing non-innocuous things such as Roundup, Polyglyphosate, mildewcide, and other things that are serious central nervous-system disruptors for fish (and human beings!).

Like "Dirty Harry" said: "Are you feeling lucky today?". This comes down to how good your information is and how much you feel like gambling with your safety.
The only guaranteed safe IBC tote (or other container made from LDPE) is a brand-new one!

Some Other Fun Things To Poison Your System With:

2. Citric Acid: This is an organically-approved herbicide, and you can spray it around your system by using extreme care. But don't spray it onto your vegetables, or use it to adjust pH downwards in your system; for it will turn your plant roots black and kill them all. It's an herbicide!

3. "Organically Approved" Oil-based, Pepper-based, and Soap-based Sprays:
These are all toxic to the fish in your system, through various mechanisms.
The oil from the oil-based sprays ends up coating the gills of your fish, and their gills stop working or work so poorly that they asphyxiate. The pepper from the pepper-based sprays goes straight into the fish's bloodstream through their gills (just like you getting pepper spray or Mace in your face: people have died from this), and this kills the fish. The mechanism by which the soap-based sprays works is the same as the oil sprays: soap is half oil and half water, and the oil fraction of the soap coats the fish's gills and they asphyxiate.

A student who had his entire operation inside a greenhouse sprayed his vegetables, very carefully, with a soap-based spray. His rationale was that since he was careful, and since there was never any rain inside his greenhouse to wash the soap spray down onto the rafts and into the water, he would be safe. It took him several spray applications over a three month period, but he finally killed all 800 pounds of fish in his system. We supplied him with another 500 to get started again, but he had to dump all his system water, reinoculate, and start up all over again.

4. Mildewcide and Others:
Use your head here and look for toxins you may have unwittingly introduced to your system. For instance: in an area that is plagued by mildew and mold because it is overcast a lot, you may think of painting your rafts with paint that contains a mildew-inhibitor, or mildewcide, in it.

It's a toxin that is designed to be added to paint to kill any mildews or molds that might be tempted to grow on the surface of your house. Using it on a raft will introduce the same toxin to everything in your system. Another example: If an upwind neighbor sprays an organophosphate insecticide or herbicide, a miniscule amount of this stuff washing into your water can kill things in your system.

Our Designs: Your System, Your Brain:
Last week I answered an email from a student with a Micro System of our design whose fish were all dying. Upon receiving the second email from them, I found out that they had a used IBC tote in their system, had put their rafts in the same day they painted them (before the paint was completely dry) and that their system was foaming from this, had sprayed oil-based pepper sprays and soap sprays on their plants (outside, in the dew and rain), and had also been using two chemicals: pH UP and pH DOWN, to adjust pH.

We discuss all these things in our Micro System manual and feature prominent warnings telling people not to use them because they have all killed fish and/or plants in the past! For a moment, I couldn't even think of how to begin to help this person, I just wanted to go take a nap!

The bottom line here is that it doesn't matter how good the information in our manuals is: it's up to you to keep poisonous stuff out of your aquaponic system; the only guaranteed way to do that is to use your brain!

The photo below is our Solar Greenhouse. It's cool when it's hot, and warm when it's cold (hope that makes sense to you, it's the best greenhouse we've ever seen!).

GrownOut1medium 2

Friendly Aquaponic's FIRST Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse in full bloom, Honoka'a, Hawaii, March 2012, (on a grey rainy day) showing PV panels, and growing plants.

Next week: Something interesting and valuable to know about aquaponics. Thanks for listening!

Click Here To See Our New Aquaponics Video!
Back Issues Of Newsletters Now Available, Click Here!
Purchase Trough Liner Directly From Manufacturer!

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 Offers!

Sign up for our HAWAII October 25th-26th Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse Training
or our
HAWAII October 21-23 Aquaponics Technology Training,
or our
HAWAII October 27th Commercial Aquaponics Training,

and receive a free Micro System DIY package so you can begin studying aquaponics! ($99.95 value)

More Information on  Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse Trainings

"In The Farmily"

I fell in love with my wife Susanne a little over eleven years ago in a health food store on the Big Island. I remember standing behind a woman at the checkout counter who had this gorgeous red hair down to the back of her knees. I was thinking "any woman with hair like that has got to have a face like a horse, they never get both", then she turned around and totally changed my world. She was beautiful!

I had just taken my dog to the vet, and had gotten a depressing diagnosis of epilepsy. The word "Dog" is kind of misleading; Max was my 145-pound male Rottweiler who had been having convulsions for a week or so. I'd never seen anything like this and I was scared.

The day I met Susanne, I had Max and my female Rotty, "Honey Girl" in the back of my pickup truck, and after we met at the checkout counter and walked outside the health food store, still talking, Susanne just walked right over to 250 pounds of Rottweiler saying "I love Rottweilers!" and stuck her hand out for them to lick. Which they did, with lots of
rear-end butt-wagging activity. Needless to say, I was impressed.

I talked to Susanne about the epilepsy, and she said she was going to Chinese Acupuncture College, and that acupuncture was a treatment for epilepsy, and that it should work on dogs, and that she'd treat Max for me if I brought him over to her house where she had her medical kit and needles.

So I got in the truck and followed her Mazda Millenia (with the gold trim package) over to her house, thinking things like "She's too pretty to be useful" and "she's probably a real estate agent". She was going into the house to get changed so she could work on the dog (she was wearing a silk skirt, blouse, and vest with high heels), when the dog went into an epileptic fit in the back of my truck.

Susanne instantly climbed into the bed of the truck and cradled Max's head so he wouldn't hurt himself. Max was flinging himself from side to side and throwing spit all over the place, and just as Susanne grabbed him, he lost control of his bladder and began urinating all over her. She just held onto him tight and waited until the fit was over before she left to clean up.

My estimate of her immediately went up several notches. It went up several more when, as she headed for the front door of her house, a little guy burst out of the door and came running up, yelling "Mom!" (this was her five-year-old, Victor). At the time, I had two kids of my own, and didn't have much time to spare for people who "didn't like" kids.

I obviously needed to re-examine preconceived ideas I had about this woman. Fortunately, this only took me about ten seconds. It was ten days later when she moved in to my luxurious converted garage. I was recovering from a difficult divorce and had lost everything, so I knew she couldn't be attracted to my money! (LOL!).

It's a little more complex than that, as I had my two kids two days a week, and she had her 75-year-old Mom in addition to Victor. How she tells it is: "I moved in and never left!".

Somehow we fit all these people into a 400-square foot apartment with a small sleeping loft, and became the happy family we've been ever since. The house has gotten bigger; now we have about 2,500 square feet with raw plywood floors that she knows I will cover "some day" with beautiful varnished hardwood.

See why I love her so much?

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This email, our manuals and construction plans are all copyrighted by  Friendly Aquaponics, Inc, Susanne Friend and Tim Mann, 2008-2012

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PO Box 1196
Honoka'a, Hawaii 96727

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