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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 42
June 21st,  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,
What's happening at Friendly Aquaponics these days? We're excited about the new "Tilapia Egg and Fry Hatchery" manual we're writing. Over the last three months, we developed a cheap, 95% successful method for hatching tilapia eggs and getting them to survive to be sturdy little 1" long tilapia fry. This had eluded us (and many others, apparently) for years.

It was simple: we just didn't give up, and finally figured it out! If you have a five-gallon bucket and a 40-gallon plastic trash can, the rest of the equipment necessary to set up this egg hatchery costs under $200. You can hatch up to 20,000 eggs per month with each of these $200 setups, so it makes going into the tilapia hatchery business cheap and easy!

Four years ago we built a tilapia hatchery, and duplicated the methods and equipment shown us by our teachers as closely as possible. We still lost 90% of our fry. Fortunately, tilapia are so prolific that the remaining 10% was about ten thousand fish a year, far more than we raised to maturity and sold.

Then two years ago we developed a method for raising tilapia fry that had almost a 100% survival rate. This simple method grows them big enough within a month to be able to go into an aquaponics system without experiencing mortalities there. Unfortunately, no matter what we tried, we were not able to get the eggs to hatch out and survive past the swimup fry stage. We lost 90% of them then, no matter how we fed them, aerated them, added new clean water, etc. This was a shame, because the average harvest from one of our 12-foot diameter greenwater breeding tanks every couple of weeks or so is usually 3,000 to 5,000 fry (which now all survived), and another 3,000 to 4,000 eggs. In other words, we were losing almost half our hatchery production at the egg stage. It turns out the solution was under our noses the whole time, like a lot of things.

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

Our Apartment/Condo 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, 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 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 Apartment/Condo Systems!

Aquaponics Nugget #42:
Redux of the Startup Blues,
(Final!) Part 4

As we mentioned last week, an additional benefit of farming aquaponically is that decent-sized aquaponics systems eliminate mosquitoes in a sizable surrounding area! If this interests you, please visit our new webpage Malaria Eradication Systems to find out more about this amazing and valuable phenomenon!

I apologize for not covering the
"Cheap Fish Food is NOT Cheap!" subject I promised last week. When I went to write this week's newsletter, I realized I had never finished the "Startup Blues" series. So, for our "Nugget" this week, we'll cover the last part of aquaponic system startup, mentioning some common problems people have, and the solutions for those problems. Here's the first: many small systems start-up slowly and seemingly NEVER show a nitrite spike. However, low levels of nitrates show up within a week or two, and these systems are growing vegetables and flourishing after the fourth or fifth week, so everything is fine.

So, do not be alarmed if your system startup does not include a measurable nitrite spike, even with you measuring with the “sensitive” test strips as recommended here. This is OK! The systems we’ve started up have all had nitrite spikes, but we think it may have something to do with the much larger mass of water in our commercial systems compared to these smaller ones.

Another phenomenon we’ve seen in several smaller system start-ups is an apparent nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen comes to the plants in the form of nitrates, which come, indirectly, from fish pee and fish poop. This deficiency shows up in the form of yellow leaves on plants. The whole leaf is yellow, NOT just between the veins in the leaf (this is symptomatic of an iron deficiency, also called interveinal chlorosis); and it shows up in the OLDER leaves first; they also look the worst. What you will see if there's a nitrogen deficiency is a plant whose older leaves are yellow and whose younger leaves are a nice green. This is because nitrogen is MOBILE, that means it can move from older leaves within the plant to newer leaves where it’s needed. We’ve NEVER seen this in any of our large commercial systems, only in these smaller systems. We feel this could be occurring for several reasons:

The builder, being on a budget, has put in a much smaller amount of fish than is recommended for their particular system. As an example, for a Micro System 64 they might have bought from 4 pounds to 10 pounds of fish, rather than the recommended 20 pounds. This means that the plants may be receiving lower levels of nitrates (nitrogen) than they need, because the nitrates come from the fish poo and pee, which there is not as much of with fewer fish. The recommended amounts of fish are considered minimums needed to run a system adequately. In addition to there being less than the recommended amount of fish in the system, there is another factor in play: fish that have been recently moved (as all fish in new systems are) do not eat much, or sometimes not at all, for the first couple of weeks or so after the move. This means less fish pee and poo, and contributes to there being less available nitrogen, and to the nitrogen deficiency we think we’re seeing here. Just wait, and your fish will start eating more and more gradually, and your vegetables will  bloom and grow better by the day.

System startups in these small systems seem to be rather slow anyway, and IF you do not have test strips that measure nitrites down to 0.5 ppm and nitrates down to 1 ppm (as the Hach #27454 strips in the Aquatic Eco catalog do), then you won't see the nitrates when they show up, and also may miss the nitrite spike because nitrites are too low to measure with some strips whose lowest measurable amount is 20 ppm nitrates. This doesn't mean they aren't there, it just means you don't have a sensitive enough test kit to measure them. Also, we have seen bad bottles of nitrifying bacteria inoculant every once in a while. Basically, if you are under 3ppm ammonia and put a nitrifying bacteria inoculant in, or water from another aquaponics system (that you trust to NOT have any disease in it), then you CAN'T STOP the nitrifying cycle from starting. A clear sign that you have nitrates in the system is the green algae which grows around the edges of the rafts on the liner at the waterline of the troughs.

Another thing to be very aware of is fish mortalities. They add ammonia to the system, which adds to the startup problem. Fish often die within 2 days to two weeks after being hauled, if they had rough treatment during the haul or are sensitive, and if they are allowed to sit on the bottom of the fish tank for awhile after dying (but before they float to the top and you see them and remove them from the tank) they will put a LOT of ammonia into the system. To fix this you have to dump water and refill to remove the excess ammonia. It is difficult to understand unless you know when the fish fatalities occurred (NOT just when they floated, as they were putting ammonia into the system as soon as they were dead), and relate this to ammonia levels happening at the time; because the two are VERY connected. Be VERY gentle when you transport and net fish!

The last one: we have had HORRIBLE luck transplanting plants that originally developed their root systems in dirt into the aquaponics systems. They look bad then die. The biggest plants we've transferred successfully that were originally sprouted in dirt are about 2-3" tall with roots that barely come out of the net pot an inch or two, and if they’re larger than that they seem to just die. This one came up because a student said “all my plants are dying in the system”. Only after extensive questioning did we discover that in trying to save money this student had potted their sprouts in DIRT, rather than the coir/vermiculite potting mixture the manual recommends, and they experienced what we just described. Potting in dirt is also a VERY BAD IDEA from the standpoint of introducing soil-borne diseases into your aquaponic system, as the soil you use for potting could have all kinds of pathogens. This is also why we DON'T use peat potting mixture, even if the bag SAYS it is sterilized. People lie, you know?

Please, if you try something new, REMEMBER to tell us when you email us and tell us your system’s not working. It can take us days to figure it out otherwise, and it wastes everybody’s time.

(Next week: "Cheap Fish Food is NOT Cheap!" (We just figured this out last week after getting "clues" for two years!)

Click to see our new Video!

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 Offer! Sign up for our October 2011 Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training OR our September 2011 Florida 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 Hawaii and Florida Commercial Aquaponics Training

In The Farmily
We talked about gratitude last week in  "In The Farmily", and that column was about our personal misfortunes and how we're still feeling gratitude for the lives we have.

This week's column is also going to be about Gratitude. However, because of simply reading the news, we've got a bigger perspective this week.

For instance, everyone who used to live within 20 kilometers of the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, Japan, has been evacuated from their homes, never to go back within their lifetimes.  It's that simple: move or die. Farms, homes, businesses, lives spent in a familiar community, are all gone now, with no clue and not much help for these people to build new lives and livelihoods.

There are some international authorities who claim that this 20-kilometer "dead zone" needs to be expanded to 50 kilometers, and that perhaps the contamination may spread even further than that, as this "nuclear event" is far from over because the reactor's fuel is not yet safely contained, and there are many significant technical barriers to doing so.

One nuclear plant engineer comments "there are still radioactive wild boar in Germany 30 years after Chernobyl". The Fukushima incident, after initially being classified a level 3, then 4, then 5, by the Japanese government, has now been classified a level 7,  the highest level of nuclear disaster. The ONLY level 7 incident ever recorded was Chernobyl. Three Mile Island was only considered a level 5.

To see what Chernobyl looks like 30 years later, visit this site: KidOfSpeed. This is a series of photos taken by a courageous young Russian woman who regularly rides her motorcycle through the Chernobyl area, with a Geiger counter to warn her away from "hot spots". It is a sobering look at what can happen when the nuclear genie gets off the leash.

So, this week, we've been appreciating sitting in our nice, dry home that is not radioactive, and reflecting on how powerless we are to reach out personally and individually,  and help people in a land 5,000 miles away.

We're also appreciating the fact that armed government thugs are not shooting at us when we meet in public, as has happened in the country of Yemen this past week. We might complain a little about rising gas prices and the fact that so many are out of work in the USA now, but I would trade getting shot any day for that! We wish the people of Yemen the best of luck in getting back to a truly democratic form of government.

It's been quite a month!
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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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Honoka'a, Hawaii 96727

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