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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 17
August 26th, 2010
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,
We're so excited! We are in final decision on our second USDA organic certification from Organic Certifiers from Ventura, California. This means they've said OK over the phone, but we are waiting to actually receive the certificate in the mail. So we apologize to you for not putting the "Water Quality" Nugget in this newsletter that we promised last week.

Why is this certification important? Organic Certifiers inspected and is approving our Low Density Aquaponics Systems designs. These aquaponics systems we designed are simpler and more economical to build and operate than our original adaptations of the standard University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) aquaponics system; while maintaining the same vegetable production. We'll explain why these systems that grow LESS fish are a good thing after the paragraph in the turquoise box.

Of course, you can also get certified with the organic certifiers Oregon Tilth, who certified the FIRST Organic Aquaponics System in the world: ours!

If you're interested in commercial scale aquaponics, please take a look at our Commercial Aquaponics Training (Special Offer in right sidebar of this email), where you will learn more about real-world operation of a commercial aquaponics system than you can anywhere else in the world. For smaller home systems, please read on:

One more week to go on the "Special Introductory Offer" on our Apartment & Condo Aquaponics Systems: for August 2010 only, this $49.95 package is $29.95!
Construction Plans and Operating Information for 4 Different Sizes of Apartment/Condo Aquaponics Systems $29.95

The Indoor System package includes new and easy-to-understand building instructions and complete operating information for 4 diifferent 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 without good and easily-understood information can be frustrating. Operating information is given in the form of a "Daily Operations Manual" where you simply use the checklist and follow the step-by-step instructions on your way to success with aquaponics.

We've 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 spending that money and time in this manual so you don't make any of the same mistakes we did.

Learn about our Apartment/Condo Systems!

Aquaponics Nugget #17:
Types of Aquaponics Systems (Part 1 )

Today we'll cover Low-Density and High-Density aquaponics systems and explain the differences between the two.

After receiving many requests for an economical, viable off-grid aquaponics system, we developed a system that is stocked with one-fifth the fish and uses one-fifth of the electricity and fish food that our standard commercial systems do, but has the SAME vegetable production. This is our Low-Density System.

Our original systems designed after the
University of the Virgin Islands UVI model had solids settling tanks (UVI calls these clarifiers), fine solids capture tanks (UVI calls these net tanks), and degas tanks, and had about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of fish in the system per square foot of raft area. The only reason these tanks are necessary in an aquaponics system is when you have more fish putting more fertilizer (poop) into your system than your plants can extract. If you have too many fish, and DON'T have these extra tanks to capture the extra poop, the fish will overpower the plants with too much decaying organic material; which turns into ammonia and cripples or poisons your system.

You have to be sensible when you set your aquaponics system up. Unless you're in a VERY special economic context (which we'll describe in a minute), you can't simply decide you want to raise more fish, unless you have a trust fund and are doing this for a hobby. As we've found during three years of operation, there are very few places where all the economic factors line up so you can even AFFORD to operate an aquaponics system this way!

The design criteria of the UVI systems was based on growing as much fish as possible, while not being concerned with the cost of raising those fish. It's understandable how this can occur in a university environment where the university pays the bills, and the program never has to stand on its own feet financially. What we discovered, after a year of operation in a commercial environment where we had to pay all our own bills, is that the fish portion of the operation loses money.

Our fish cost between $4.00-4.50 per pound to raise, and we sell them for between $3.50-5.00 per pound (not including labor to harvest and sell). Based on this realization, we developed our LD systems, which run on about one-fifth the fish the UVI systems use use (around 0.3 pounds per square foot of raft area), but which have NO clarifiers, net tanks, degas tanks, nor sump tanks. They are not only a LOT less expensive to operate, using only one-fifth the fish food and electricity to aerate the fish, but are much less expensive to build! We have gotten these LD systems organically certified by Organic Certifiers, Inc.

High Density Systems (HD) is the way aquaponics was taught to us by UVI: their system was developed by aquaculturists trying to grow as many fish as possible while keeping the water quality high at the same time. It works in UVI and anyplace else with water temperatures in the 80-88 degree F range; they grow roughly equal amounts of fish and vegetables by weight. This seems like such an "of course", that nobody questioned it: of course you would want to grow as many fish as possible. We didn't question it until we realized how much money we were losing on the fish portion of our operation.

We didn't have any cost and production volume data for our HD systems until about March 2009, because we were the first to grow aquaponically in our temperature range. What the UVI team told us was "Your vegetables should grow better, and your fish not quite as well, in your colder climate. What we found when we compiled our data is that 92% of the HD system's income was due to the vegetables, 7% to the fish, and 1% to the prawns. By weight, we grow almost exactly 8 times the weight in vegetables we do in fish, as compared to UVI which grows equal weights. This worked out well, because the wholesale price we get for our vegetables is twice the wholesale price we get for our fish.

In other words, aquaponic production is VERY dependent on climate. Our climate benefits us by making it possible to grow more vegetables than fish. This is in contrast to the more common philosophy most aquaponicists support of trying to grow as many fish as possible. We think they are encouraged to do this because they are in warmer climates than ours that support proportionately greater fish production, because they are still operating on investment capital rather than income, because they haven't gone bankrupt OR analyzed their financial data yet, or because (as is often the case with University research centers), they don’t pay their own bills for labor, electricity, fish food, and the cost to build and maintain their facilities out of facility income.

Please don't think we are dissing these systems, we're not; they got us to where we are today. There is one good reason to build and use an HD system, and that's if a number of economic factors line up exactly right for you in your location: If you get better prices for your fish than your vegetables, AND are in a hot climate so your fish grow fast, AND are on the grid, AND have very cheap electricity, AND have very cheap fish food and labor, (AND have run the numbers on all this to MAKE SURE), THEN the most productive and profitable system is an HD system just like our original UVI-type systems, which will grow more fish in that climate. They have more tanks, more plumbing, and larger blowers, but they MAY pay for their increased cost very quickly with the increased fish production. Just run your numbers very carefully if YOU are the one paying for the fish food!

IMPORTANT! Although discovering this was disappointing to us (we’d always wanted to raise a TON of fish!), we are glad to know instead of just guessing at it. We could have lost the farm because we stubbornly tried to focus on fish production instead of vegetables. Now, with our LD systems and HD systems, we have designs that give you the best chance of success in a WIDE spectrum of conditions and economic circumstances.

(Next newsletter will have information on how to measure water quality parameters inexpensively, understand what the measurements mean, and how to fix common water problems)

Regular Free Workshops

Lettuce in the Small Commercial System
Aquaponics grows more for less water, work, and energy; and is more fun!

We held our first free "Organic Certification and Tilapia Breeding Workshop" Saturday August 21st at our farm in Honoka'a, and it was a huge success judging by the comments from the 30 participants who joined us!

We've decided to have a free workshop on our farm every Saturday focused on growing your own food with aquaponics and also with permaculture. These workshops will start with a one-hour free farm tour from 10-11 am, then the free workshop from 11-12. Sample topics include: "How to grow"; bananas, sweet potatoes, taro, green onions, tomatoes, and so on. Each workshop will cover a different vegetable and include a handout with instructions covering that vegetable for you to take home. Click here for information. See you there!


Installing the liner in a hydroponics trough.


Installing a hapa into a tilapia breeding tank.

Special Offer! Sign up for our October 4-7th, 2010 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 Commercial Aquaponics Training

In The Farmily
Our aquaponics system is USDA Certified Organic, and it cannot be cheated: if we use any chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, our fish all die. Even approved organic pesticides would kill our fish. The fish are the “canary in the coal mine”, and force us to be honest.


Although organic produce IS better for us to eat, farming organically on a commercial scale uses the same amount of petrochemical energy as farming conventionally with chemical fertilizers and pesticides does, AND costs more in terms of labor. This makes organic produce cost more in the market. Why?

While chemical fertilizers and pesticides for use in conventional farming take a tremendous amount of petrochemical energy to make (usually in the form of natural gas), organic farming on a commercial scale uses just as much petrochemical energy (in the form of diesel fuel) to power the tractor, the diesel compost shredder and spreader and the cultivators, plows for plowing cover crops in, and the organic pesticide sprayers and so on that organic farming uses.

Unless you use draft horses, organic farming is NO MORE SUSTAINABLE than conventional farming in its use of our oil reserves! What this means is that as the cost of oil goes up, so does the cost of farming conventionally AND organically. When we run out of oil, conventional farming with chemical fertilizer AND organic farming with diesel tractors will both be things of the past.

The only type of food production whose cost will not go up when oil prices rise is aquaponic food production powered by renewable energy sources.

To find out what we're doing about this situation, and to learn more about what you can do to get involved in and teach aquaponics to others, please visit our pages "Which System for You", and "Affiliate Program".

This email, our manuals and construction plans are all copyrighted by  Friendly Aquaponics, Inc, Susanne Friend and Tim Mann, 2008-2010
Email: Friendly Aquaponics

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

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