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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 19
September 9th,  2010
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,
Our aquaponics farm grows our vegetables in Deep Water Culture (DWC) raft systems. These have 4-foot wide hydroponics troughs that have 9-12" deep water flowing through them; there are 2" thick styrofoam rafts floating on this water which hold the net pots that the vegetables grow in. Although there are many different types of aquaponic systems, we've found this to be the most economical to build, the most versatile in terms of what it will grow, the one with the least maintenance; and most important for a commercial aquaponics venture, the least amount of labor involved in planting, tending, and harvesting the vegetables.

We pioneered the organic certification of aquaponics systems, being the first in the world to get our systems certified both by Oregon Tilth of Oregon, and by Organic Certifiers of California. Why does this matter? With consumers becoming more and more educated about the benefits of purchasing organic, and more concerns about GMO crops, organic produce is worth 50-100% MORE than conventionally grown produce to the producer. It's not a hard question to answer: Grow the same thing but get up to twice as much for it? Who wouldn't want to?

And aquaponic organic is GUARANTEED organic. We've heard horror stories of "poison closets" on other organic farms where the farmer stores his conventional pesticides and herbicides for use when the organic methods can't handle an infestation. But there is NO WAY an aquaponic farmer can cheat and use these same poisons in an aquaponics system because it would kill his fish. Even some mild organically approved chemicals such as Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) will kill the plants and fish in an aquaponics system. As this becomes more widely-known by consumers, there is a good possibility that aquaponic produce will become  more desirable than organic, simply because it is guaranteed organic and there is NO cheating it. It also tastes great!

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:
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Construction Plans and Operating Information for 4 Different Sizes of Apartment/Condo Aquaponics Systems $49.95

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!

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Aquaponics Nugget #19:
Water Quality and Testing (Part 1 )


City Water, Ag Water, and Bad Water

City water is potable water by definition. You can use it for washing babies and drinking, and for anything else you want, but it is relatively expensive. However, even filling up one of the 1,024 square foot systems for the first time only uses about $33 worth of water at current prices where we live, so don't worry too much. You want to be careful of adding large amounts of this (chlorinated) water to a system that has fish or vegetables or both in it. You may want to put the water in a holding tank for a couple days to burn off the chlorine before putting it in the system. We dribble 50 gallons a day of chlorinated water into our systems with no ill effect. Measure your chlorine levels to be sure.

Ag water can be ditch water out of a ditch, or water out of a pipe that has come from some sort of an open water distribution system without treatment of any kind. It's PROBABLY okay to use as is. Probably. In reality, it can have anything in it, from deadly bacteria to fish disease vectors, or plant and fish parasites, and you need to be sure you have killed anything that’s in it before you put it into your system.

IMPORTANT! How you do this is to fill the system with whatever nasty agricultural water you have, and put in a quart of Clorox for every 600 gallons of system volume to get all that water sterilized.  Turn on your pump and your blower, and run the system like that for two or three days, with the RAFTS OFF THE TROUGHS. Every living thing in the system should be dead at the end of the first hour or two. (You don't want to be downwind from this.) The next two or three days will blow and burn off the chlorine in the system, until you can test it with chlorine test strips and find none. Do the same to any ag water you add to the system later, unless you want some interesting problems to deal with. Use a makeup water tank separate from the system to dechlorinate any new water after it's tested negative for chlorine, DON’T chlorinate the system again with fish and plants in it.

Stream water is deceptively clear and sweet-smelling. I once drank water out of a clear stream, then hiked a half mile upstream to find a huge dead cow floating in the middle of the water. Use the same precautions with stream water as you use with ag water.

WARNING! If it's not chlorinated coming out of the pipe you should treat it as Bad Water and chlorinate it as explained previously. You have no way of knowing and are gambling if you don't. If you don't mind a little disease in your fish (because none of the fish diseases or parasites transfer to humans or plants) then you don't have anything to worry about. Except getting a dose of Roundup or pesticide-laden water in from an unknown source like an irrigation ditch or stream that there was overspray into, and killing all your fish and plants. I know two local koi farmers who lost their entire ponds full of stock when herbicide-contaminated ditch water came through them. If you’re using ag water, this is a good reason to have a makeup tank; chlorinate the water in the makeup tank, wait until it tests negative for chlorine, THEN put in a few sacrifice fish to see if there are any herbicides or other poisons in the tank water, BEFORE adding it to your aquaponics systems.
 
Measurement Methods

The things we measure in our water are: dissolved oxygen, measured with a digital DO meter that costs about $350 and is really accurate, or single-use test strips that cost $0.50 each; nutrients (ammonia, nitrites/nitrates) measured with different test strips you dip in and then read the color, that cost about $0.50 each; pH, measured with a digital pH meter that costs $120. We also have chlorine test strips that work the same way the nutrient strips do. The basic measurement kit for a commercial aquaponics operation costs about $1,000, then about $200/year after that for the strips which are consumable. You measure iron in the water by looking at the plants for new growth that is yellowish, which is a sign of iron deficiency. No one has invented a crud meter yet so we don't measure that. The water test form we use in included in the Appendices for this manual.

High and Low Limits

The most important water parameter we measure is DO (dissolved oxygen). You measure DO with a DO meter; the one we like is the Aquatic EcoSystem catalog #850041 with a five-year warranty.  If DO is 7, that’s excellent. If it’s 6 you’re very good. If it is 5 it is decent. At 4 ppm you are OK but you should pay attention. If it is 3 you're going to stress the fish. At 2 ppm you have an immediate problem and need to solve it within the next thirty minutes or less. At 1 ppm DO you are killing fish, they’re just not floating yet. You'll notice there's a problem when they begin gasping at the surface after exertion (such as the feeding frenzy that happens when they are fed) and that's NOT CUTE, it’s an indication that DO is low and your fish may be dying. Get out your meter and find out what's going on! You can use test strips for this also, but they cost $0.50 each, and that motivates you to test less rather than more often. You can do thousands of tests with your own DO meter, and the more often you use it, the less each test costs you. The DO meter is an essential tool for monitoring the DO in and out of your troughs often; this is an indication of how well things will grow in your system.

We use simple commonly-available test strips to measure ammonia, nitrites/nitrates, chlorine/chloramine (brand names and suppliers are in the materials lists contained in our Construction Manuals). They're easy to use: just dip them in the water for the length of time specified in their instructions, then compare the color of the strip to the colors on the bottle. Ammonia is measured from 0 to 6 ppm by the test strips. Above 6 is supposed to be toxic to the fish, but we think we had some of ours at levels up to 24 ppm before we figured out how to fix it. Normal operating range for aquaponics systems is around .5 to 1.0 ppm ammonia. The same goes for nitrites: 6 ppm or over is toxic, normal operating range is .5 to 1.0 ppm. Nitrates are better tolerated by the fish and operating range is 20-100 ppm, with toxic theoretically being between 500-1,000 ppm.

IMPORTANT! If you are operating an organic aquaponics system and NOT using any caustic bases for pH adjusters, then your measurable nitrite and nitrate levels will appear so low that only test strips with a low range can even show these levels. The test strip we suggest is Hach 27454, available from Aquatic EcoSystems as their catalog # H27454. This strip has a nitrite scale from 0.15 ppm up to 5 ppm, and a nitrate scale from 1 ppm up to 20 ppm. If you use something else, you MUST use a strip or test that can test at these levels of sensitivity!

(Next week: "Part 2" of this "Water Quality" Nugget).

Regular Free Workshops

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

We're holding 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!


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Installing the liner in a hydroponics trough.



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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

We often get this question at our weekly "Farmily" farm tours "Can't I Just Raise Some Fish In My Pond?” Everyone wants to do it more easily and simply.

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 ten to 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.

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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PO Box 1196
Honoka'a, Hawaii 96727

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