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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 29
February 22nd,  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

We are organic beings. I don’t mean we eat bran and nuts from health food stores, I mean we occupy niches in a large, complex ecosystem called “the world”. We’ll explore what that means (and what it means to you) in this week's Nugget, which will continue last week’s talk about organic aquaponic systems in more depth.

Why should any of this concern you? We’ll talk about that in the Farmily column today. That’s where we talk about stuff that affects us and our Farmily intimately in our everyday life, and what we do to change and adapt to new circumstances. If you’re at all concerned about how dependent we are in modern society on our food, water, and energy supplies being uninterrupted, today’s Farmily column will address our vulnerability there.

If you want to learn how to build an organic aquaponic system instead of just read about it, we have trainings in Florida in March and Hawaii in April of 2011.

Our FIRST EVER mainland training is scheduled in Florida from March 21st to March 24th, 2011. The training will be held at the Community Center of Ridge Manor, 34240 Cortez Blvd, Ridge Manor, Florida. Susanne Friend and Tim Mann of Friendly Aquaponics will be teaching the course  with Friendly Aquaponics affiliates Tonya Penick and Gina Cavaliero, who own and operate Green Acre Organics, where the hands-on sessions will be held. These Florida affiliate trainings will be held at Green Acre Organics on a regular basis from now on. The conference room we've hired for the Florida training only holds 120 participants, so reservations for the course will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you're interested in commercial scale aquaponics, please take a look at both the Hawaii and Florida 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 Information for 4 Different Sizes of Apartment/Condo Aquaponics Systems $49.95

This manual is written so understandably that it makes it easy for a twelve-year old to build and run these systems. Build four different sizes of stable, durable, and productive indoor aquaponics systems that can be operated indoors OR outdoors, or even MOVED between indoors and outdoors, depending on the season. These affordable systems range from a COUNTER TOP 2.5 square foot system to one with 32 square feet in grow bed area. The 2.5 square foot system costs $95 for materials, the 32 square foot one costs $250 for materials. Most materials are available locally; some items may need to come from suppliers whose contact information is given in the materials lists. In addition to the four standard sizes of systems in the manual we show you how to build small aquaponics systems out of Igloo coolers, discarded refrigerators and freezers, plastic garbage cans and barrels, concrete mixing tubs, and other easily-procured items. Most importantly, we show you in complete detail how to OPERATE them successfully!

The Indoor System package includes new and easy-to-understand building instructions and complete operating information for 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 #29:
Organic Aquaponics Systems (Part 3 )

Beyond Certification
Last week we noted that "organic" has been defined by the USDA organic standards (a set of laws enacted by Congress) since the early 2000's. If you’re a consumer, produce is either organically certified, or it is uncertain, no matter what the farmer may declare.

Aquaponics is a great way to go organic if you’re a farmer. Seven of our students have gotten their commercial aquaponics systems USDA organically certified since 2008 when we got our first certification. The best thing about organic aquaponics is that the aquaponic farmer CAN'T cheat the way they can when growing in the ground! As aquaponic produce becomes more widely available and consumers become better-educated about this benefit, it will make aquaponic produce more trusted as to its organic nature than regular organic produce.

An aquaponic farmer can’t cheat even if their integrity and ethics allows it, because to do so could kill the fish, which provide the fertilizer for the plants in the system. Even such organically-approved treatments such as Neem oil, soap sprays, and pepper sprays will injure or kill fish in recirculating aquaponics systems, because the water in the plant growing areas always goes back to the fish tank. There are only a couple of organically-approved treatments an aquaponic farmer CAN use because they're the only ones that are safe for the fish.

Thinking about why the aquaponic farmer can't cheat begs the question “Can a soil-based “organic” farmer cheat? We weren’t aware of this at first, but several (what we consider) reliable sources told us that many organic farmers kept a "poison closet" containing all kinds of non-organic pesticides, herbicides, etc, that were used when things got too out-of-hand for organic methods to control. Malathion, Roundup, and others were mentioned. So, the answer to this question is “yes”. Consumers and vegetable lovers beware; you are SO trusting!

Getting your system USDA certified organic is simple. Observing and understanding the processes that are occurring in your organic system has more to do with chaos theory and understanding ecosystems than certification by a government agency. To do this, we must focus out and look at the whole system from a distance to see how the interdependent relationships between the parts make a functioning whole. The first thing we can do to facilitate this goal is to make a list of the non-microscopic inhabitants of our organic aquaponics system (because cataloguing the microscopic inhabitants of the system could be a very challenging and time-consuming task; there could easily be hundreds or even thousands of them).

Some of the inhabitants of our systems are easily seen from a distance; for instance, a five-pound white tilapia is hard to miss even a hundred feet away. Some you have to get closer to see easily; little red worms, gammarus, baby hi’iwai (a Hawaiian fresh-water edible limpet we grow in our systems), prawn post-larvae (only ½-inch long), and newly-hatched tilapia (about ¼ inch long). And whoever you pray to help you if you take a microscope to a sample of sludge from the trough bottoms, because it is crawling with thousands of little moving things and little stationary green and brown things that are also alive!

In other words, our organic aquaponic system is an aquatic ecosystem in man-made containers. It is stable, dynamic, complex and relatively self-balancing. Yes, these systems ARE maintained through the application of fish food, electricity for aeration and pumping, and the conscious attention of the operator to the system, just as conventional and organic soil-based farms need inputs and attention. But they are a lot closer than anything else we know of to being a food production technology that mimics the balance and complexity of the natural environment.

A lot of people know about hydroponics and aeroponics. Because they have the same suffix, they are often confused with aquaponics. But they are completely different types of growing systems. Hydroponics is usually sterile containers filled with water holding chemical nutrients that the operator purchased at the local chemical supply or hydroponics store. They often need to be "taken down", or completely emptied and sterilized, two to four times a year to prevent diseases from getting established and decimating the plants in the system. We have aquaponics systems that have been in continuous operation for over three years without ever being emptied or sterilized, which is a huge benefit for the commercial operator, or even the backyard operator. It means less work

(Next week: "The something-something of Aquaponics Systems" Part 1, with information on something really important or interesting about organic aquaponic systems. We haven’t run out of information for the Nuggets, there’s simply so much to impart that we haven’t figured out what comes next!).

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 Native Hawaiians or economically-disadvantaged persons, or a church, we will hold a free farm tour for you antyime. You DO need to email us first to schedule, or we might be out on errands!


Taro 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 April 4-7th, 2011 Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training OR our March 21-24th 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 Commercial Aquaponics Training

Sign up for Florida Commercial Aquaponics Training

In The Farmily

 Our Farmily experienced a scare in 2010 when a tsunami was predicted to hit our local shipping port of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. We weren't worried about getting clobbered by the wave, in fact we'd planned to go to a friend's house that overlooks Waipio Valley beach to see the wave hit the beach! There were warnings out from the night before, and everyone knew to stay off the beach. That wasn't the problem.

The problem was that we were out of propane. We threw the propane bottles into the truck, and found ourselves in a line twenty cars and trucks long at the propane store. On the way to the propane store, we passed three gas stations with lines from twenty to thirty cars long each. And it hit us that if Hilo docks got clobbered by the tsunami, there would be no more gas or propane coming onto the island for months until they got rebuilt.

We got our prpane, got our diesel and gas, and made it to our friends in time to see nothing at all, because the wave (which had been six to ten feet when it hit Tahiti earlier), was not even visible where we were.

This experience underscored how dependent we are on imports in Hawaii, and especially how vulnerable we are to interruptions in our oil supply. If the wave had been destructive, we would have had about two weeks of gas and diesel on the island. We would have had two weeks of electricity from the local oil-fired utility plant, then we would be walking where we needed to go and cooking on wood fires.

They would have made the docks on the other side of the island (which were never designed for fuel off-loading) serve the purpose temporarily with temporary facilities, about six weeks after the wave. We then would have had about six months of heavy rationing at two or three times the regular price for these "necessities" before they got the docks rebuilt and we were finally back on our blissfully ignorant way.

To find out what we're doing about this situation, and to learn more about what you can do to promote your own energy independence, visit our pages Alternate Energy on the Farm and Biogas on the Farm.  Our goal at this point is to live as sustainably and independently as possible, and to teach others everything we learn to shorten their learning curves and make the world a better place for everyone.

What does this little tale get you thinking about?
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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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PO Box 1196
Honoka'a, Hawaii 96727

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