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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 131
August 8th,  2013
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend

In t
oday's "Nugget",
we start our long awaited and oft-requested series on "Alternate Energy For Your Aquaponics System". If you want to be more energy self sufficient (even if you don't have an aquaponics system yet), this information will be extremely valuable to you.

Our "In The Farmily" column today is about "growing fish in a pond", and why that's not as easy as it sounds. It's good background information for aquaponics beginners and experts alike!

Aquaponics Nugget #131, Part 1: Alternate Energy Systems For Aquaponics

First, We Talk About Electricity

Electricity is power: it can do huge amounts of work; heat and cool, and many other things if used properly and safely. However, it can also injure or kill if used or installed improperly, or if you don’t know what you’re doing with it.

DISCLAIMER: We do NOT recommend that you perform any electrical installation of either direct current systems or alternating current systems unless you have the appropriate electrician’s and contractor’s licenses required in your jurisdiction, and you also know what you’re doing. This section is entirely and solely for your entertainment, and should not be construed to mean that you actually try to install or service any of these things yourself.

The human propensity to self-destructive stupidity is why we have to put this warning in here; that said, we'll tell you everything we know about installing and using alternate energy systems with aquaponics systems and small farms.

Electricity: What It Is And How It Works

Alternating current electricity, or AC, is the kind in your home’s electrical outlets; direct current electricity, or DC, is the kind in car and boat batteries. It doesn’t have anything to do with a heavy metal band or one’s sexual preferences. Wasn’t that simple?  Electricity is very useful stuff, because it is energy in an easily transportable form; you can simply send it down an insulated wire from the place it is created to the place you want to use it.

Now, some definitions: "Load" means the actual thing that uses the electricity; a washing machine, a light bulb, or a water pump in an aquaponics system. In this article, we'll refer to everything that uses electricity as "the load", whether it's a farmhouse, an aquaponics system, or a single lightbulb. "On-grid" means connected to your utility's high-voltage transmission wires with a meter so they can bill you; "Off-grid" means that no such connection is available.

Off-Grid Systems:


If your load is off-grid, you will need a source for the power: off-grid energy systems commonly use photovoltaic panels (or PV panels; often referred to as "solar panels", even though there are two kinds of "solar panel": one that makes hot water and one that makes electricity) and/or wind generators and/or hydroelectric generators. All of these systems make DC electricity, which cannot be used directly by your loads, but which can be stored and then converted from DC into AC for use. This means you need a battery bank for storage.

The DC power produced by your alternate energy source first goes through a “charge controller” on the way to your battery bank; the controller regulates the amount of charge so you don’t under-charge the batteries or fry them. From the battery, the DC electricity goes to what’s called an “inverter” that turns the DC electricity into AC electricity that you can use to run pumps, fans, lights, and other AC electrical equipment that is your load. With an off-grid installation, you will need an internal combustion engine-powered electric generator for backup if your alternate energy sources fail or are down for some reason.

On-Grid Systems:


If your load is on the grid, and you want to supply your own alternate energy from PV panels or another source, you can use the grid as a sort of battery to store the electricity you make. Here’s how it works: although AC electricity cannot be stored in batteries, it can be run back into the electric company’s grid using what’s called a “grid-tie” inverter. This type of inverter doesn’t require batteries, but simply runs your electric meter backwards, giving you credit for the electricity it puts into the grid.

When you need electricity at a time when your alternate energy system is not making any (such as nighttime, when your PV panels aren’t making any, or during a period of no wind when your wind generator is not making any) you simply take electricity from the grid and run your electric meter in the other direction.

How To Design Your System For Your Electrical Needs:


It is easy to figure out what your electrical system requirements are: simply add up the wattage specifications for all the equipment (the information on wattage will be on a nameplate or sticker somewhere on the pump, motor, or blower) in the building that uses regular AC power. Figure that it will ALL be turned on at the same time at some point, add 50% to that number, and you will have an electrical system that is large enough to handle your needs.


The AC System:


Your AC system consists of your 120/240VAC distribution panel (the metal box in the wall where the circuit breakers are), and all the wires going through the walls or through conduits to the receptacles, lights, and switches where the electricity is used. Get a licensed electrician to explain this to you if it's unfamiliar territory.


The DC System:


Alternate energy systems start with DC electricity. PV panels, wind generators, and hydroelectric generators make DC electricity that you can charge a DC battery bank with, but do not make AC electricity. You need a piece of equipment called an “inverter” to make AC electricity from DC electricity.


If you have a grid-tied alternate energy system, you will have a DC charge controller to regulate the DC output of your PV panels or wind generator. This charge controller feeds a grid-tied inverter that turns the DC electricity into AC electricity and matches it to the electricity on the grid so you don’t fry your equipment. Sometimes the charge controller and grid-tied inverter come as an integrated unit, this is fine, and probably better than separate units, especially from separate manufacturers.


If you have an off-grid alternate energy system, you will have the same PV panels or wind generator, DC charge controller, and inverter, but you will also have a battery bank, and some DC circuit breakers to protect the equipment. This is the most expensive type of alternate energy system. With this kind of installation, you will also need an internal combustion engine-powered electric generator for backup if your alternate energy sources fail or are down for some reason.

(Below) Tim with part of the Hawaii Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse's alternate energy system; the PV panels are outside (in the sun, yeah!). You can see the charge controller (black box at top), the inverter (black box below that), the combiner box (upper right, where the multiple cables from the PV panels combines into a single set of larger cables leading to the charge controller), battery charge indicator (little flat black rectangle), and DC breaker panel (black box to the right of the inverter). Roll-up white plastic cover is so that all this BLACK equipment doesn't cook inside the greenhouse. See why we say: "Hire a professional!"

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 September 2013 Commercial Aquaponics Training Schedule: Tennessee:

These Tennessee 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 September to learn about profitable commercial aquaponics, check out our Personal Intensive trainings in Hawaii.

SPECIAL OFFER: First 25 registrations will receive 50 tilapia fingerlings, a $100 value (shipping not included). Register before September 1st and you are automatically entered in a drawing to win a COMPLETE 64 square foot backyard Micro System. This includes everything you need to get started (just add fish, media and seeds; shipping not included). This is an $1,800 value, and the course only costs $1,495.

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

First 5-day  training: September 23rd-27th (register here for first Tennessee training). Second 5-day training: September 30th-October 4th (register here for Tennessee second training).

(Click here for more information on Tennessee trainings).

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.

Both of these five-day trainings 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 the 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, Randy and Katie 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. Call Randy and Katie at 256-679-9488 or email Randy to find out when the next farm tour is scheduled.

Our Affiliate Program:

For those of you who aren't yet aware of our Affiliate programs, here's the deal: we're the ONLY aquaponics professionals who teach our students how to teach aquaponics, AND let them use our manuals (under license) to teach others with. In fact, there are two Micro System trainings being given by our affiliates right now (see sidebar). If you read below the turquoise box in the middle of the newsletter, you'll see that we also encourage and work with "Commercial" level affiliates to teach our Commercial Aquaponics and Solar Greenhouse Trainings. No other aquaponics teachers offer this, but you can partner with us to do so if you wish!

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

(Below) Our Farmily with our product in a "Big Box" store; the first time ever that a little mom and pop (Aquaponics!) farm took an account away from a multimillion dollar agribusiness. You'll see more of this, because you as consumers will demand it!

Costco cold room small 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!

Free Farm Tours
Aquaponics tour at the Friendly farm!

We hold a free workshop on our farm the FIRST Saturday of every month at 10:00,  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!


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

SPECIAL OFFER: For a FREE MICRO SYSTEM! (yes, the whole SYSTEM, an $1,800 value!):

Sign yourself up for the FIRST

Or sign yourself up for the SECOND

TENNESSEE September 2013 Commercial Aquaponics and Solar Greenhouse Trainings
NOW, and enter the drawing for the FREE $1,800 Micro System. Plus, you ALSO receive a free Micro System DIY package so you can begin studying aquaponics, as soon as you register! ($99.95 value)

Also: Micro System Classes!

Join Ben and Alicia Godfrey at Sand Creek Farm in Cameron, Texas for a Micro System training! Call Ben or Alicia directly at 254-697-2927, or email them to sign up for this course. You can visit their website here to see a list of all the other cool classes they offer!

Join David Lindemann in Melbourne, Florida, in one of his Micro System classes: Call David directly at 321-604-6684, or email him to sign up for this course. You can visit David's website here for details of the class and to see all the other cool things he's doing!

These Texas and Florida one-day live trainings use our $100 Micro System DIY manual as coursebook, and are a real deal!

The Farmily on raising fish in a pond and the Diel Cycle:

We often get this question at our weekly "Farmily" farm tours "Can't I Just Raise Some Fish In My Pond?”

However, we all want to do it more easily and simply. When you understand how aquaponics systems work, you will know that the hydroponics portion acts as a biofilter for the fish tank water, cleaning and recirculating it so the fish stay healthy.

In a stand-alone fish tank or "pond", the fish excrete urine and solids into the water. Because there's no recirculating aquaponics system that cleans the water by converting this stuff into plants that then get harvested and taken out of the system, the urine and solids just build up in the pond until you get an algae bloom, i.e., a whole lot of phytoplankton taking advantage of the nutrients in the water.

When algae blooms, the result is a high DO level (dissolved oxygen) in the daytime because of all the algae photosynthesizing and creating oxygen.

This daytime oxygen is good for the fish, but ultimately, the algae isn't, because there is a reverse cycle in the dark of night (called the Diel cycle) that is partially caused by die-off of a small portion of the phytoplankton population, but mostly caused because the bulk of phytoplankton use oxygen at night.

As a result, the nightly Diel cycle can consume much or all of the oxygen in the pond that the phytoplanton made in the daytime, which reduces the DO to often dangerous or lethal levels for the fish. The DO can easily go so low it stresses the fish at night, which means they grow poorly and may not reproduce at all. Some of these stunted fish may manage to breed, and some of the fry make it to very small adult size.

What this means is that without a biofilter similar to an aquaponics system connected to it, or a WHOLE LOT of water being flushed through it daily, a tank or pond will have a lot of  algae and just a few 7" to 8" long fish in it after a year of operation.

Aquaponics solves this problem nicely, AND gives you a ton of vegetables in addition to the fish. W
hen they are mature, these are stable, dynamic, and complex systems that are similar to natural pond or stream ecosystems in the variety of life they support.

So after you answer that one, people ask, "Why can't I just put some vegetables in a raft on top of my pond/tank?".

If you manage to put plants in a floating structure on top of your pond or tank, and you manage to protect their roots from getting eaten by the fish, then you will have about five percent of the area in plants that you need to really clean the water to acceptable quality for the maximum amount of fish you could raise in that volume of water.

This is also assuming that you have enough water movement and aeration (which, by the way, your pond or tank ALSO doesn't have, and you need to provide). So you either need to add water pumping and aeration to your fish tank or pond, OR reduce the amount of fish to the point there is no appreciable production from your tank, either vegetables or fish.

It's a lot easier and much more productive just to build a shade cover for your existing tank, then build a couple of hydroponic troughs and connect it to them; with a water circulation pump and an air pump or blower for getting oxygen to your fish and plants.

You need the shade cover to keep the tank from growing algae, which will use up all the nutrients in the water and prevent your vegetables from growing well (or at all).

You need the troughs so you can have enough area of vegetables to clean the water of fish effluent (nutrients for the plants), which is about twenty times the area of your fish tank. Then you'll get decent production of both without the problems incurred trying to do both in one container.

Aloha, Tim....

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