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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 65
December 8th,  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

This week in the "Farmily" column, I've begun the story of how Susanne and I got the farm that we built Friendly Aquaponics on. It involves a 72-year-old house, a 62-year-old Cat D4 bulldozer, and a WHOLE lot of 12 to 14-hour days in the rain and mud. We haven't told this story before; and we think it's time to do so.

We know that often people look at the myriad of fish tanks, the 5,500 square feet of aquaponics growing area, the processing building and walkin fridge, and all the other infrastructure on our farm and think "Wow! I couldn't have built that". We're telling the story now because we KNEW we couldn't have built all this when we started. We not only didn't have the knowledge we needed, we didn't have the confidence either.

We know a lot of you are in the same situation, and after you hear this story, and understand what your real abilities are, you will be able to build your own aquaponics farm just the way we did. We're just ordinary people, and we followed some simple and ordinary rules while doing what we did. The story of how we discovered these rules is told in the "Farmily" column.

The first rule we discovered is: you've got to be able to work in the mud. Literally; because when we started our farm, we had to start bulldozing in the mud because it never stopped raining long enough for the ground to really dry out. We waited, and waited, and realized that you can only do so much waiting when you have a $1,100 a month mortgage. At some point you simply have to get up into the machine and start sliding around in the mud, doing the best you can. Amazingly, the day I got onto the bulldozer it stopped raining, and three days later it was dry and I was doing finish grading for the pad for our first aquaponics system.

Now you're going to say, "Yeah, you had a bulldozer and knew how to use it". It wasn't that simple. When we bought our land we had gotten a $15,000 quote for grading a flat pad for our house to sit on. We didn't have $15,000, in fact we had $800 at the time, but Grandmother Friend donated $6,700 so we could buy a 54-year-old Cat D4 bulldozer of our own. The rationale was: spend the money on the bulldozer, which we'd still have after the pad was done. We also needed a road and other improvements, and this was long before we knew we had aquaponics in our future.

I'd never operated a bulldozer before, but I had run a backhoe (and driven a car) and figured "how different could it be?". Well, it wasn't difficult to operate, in fact it was fairly easy to run. You had to be careful on hills, though, because tipping a bulldozer over isn't as minor as taking a spill on your bicycle. It turns out it was one of the best "tools" we'd ever bought; able to do a lot of work in a short time for a very reasonable cost. And almost ten years later, we STILL have the bulldozer, after doing tens of thousands of dollars worth of grading with her. Yes, the D4 is a her; her name's Katy, she's a member of the Farmily now.

If you're interested in learning about our new Solar Greenhouse technology, please take a look at our Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse Training (Special Offer in right sidebar of this email), where you will learn more about how to grow affordably using aquaponics in greenhouses than you can anywhere else in the world. The FIRST training is in Hawaii in February 2012. 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 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!

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 #65:
A Primer On Sustainable Energy-Efficient Greenhouses, Part 6

This column is an ongoing series on how to understand, build, and operate energy-efficient greenhouses. If you missed any of the previous newsletters in this series, you can click here: "Back Issues Of Newsletters" to read them first if you wish.

Last week we left you with a well-insulated aquaponic installation inside a nice cheap used greenhouse with good opening vents, roll-up sides, and perhaps a water wall for summer. This will work fine in most climates to EXTEND your growing season for one to two months on either side of the "normal" growing season. If you want to be able to grow year-round (and who doesn;t!), you need to be able to heat it in the winter and cool it in the summer.

We're going to tell you how to heat and cool it, economically and sustainably, with energy-efficient low-tech heating and cooling systems you build yourself. You may be thinking you're not a do-it-yourselfer, and can't do this? Then you need to hire someone to do this part for you. Your alternative is to spend thousands of dollars to purchase conventional greenhouse heating and cooling systems that you need to pay someone else to install ANYWAY, then spend more thousands of
dollars FOREVER on the energy to run them. It's worth your while to learn how to do it yourself, just as we did with the bulldozer.

So, how DO you heat and cool an aquaponics greenhouse with a minimum of energy using affordable, home-built systems?  By utilizing the principles we explained in earlier newsletters on this subject: the most important one is understanding and utilizing the beautiful, built-in thermal mass you have in all your aquaponics water. Rather than trying to heat and cool the greenhouse AIR (and air functions very poorly as a thermal mass) as conventional systems do, we will heat and cool the aquaponics water (which functions very WELL as a thermal mass).

First, WHY are we heating and cooling the water instead of the air? Cooling the air inside an aquaponic greenhouse only SLIGHTLY cools the water; because the water picks up the cooling VERY slowly from the air, and most of the cooling radiates out through the greenhouse skin; or is lost when the air inside the greenhouse heats up and needs to be exhausted outside, or needs to go back into the air conditioning unit to be re-cooled at a cost of MORE energy. So you have this inherently inefficient ongoing cycle of spending a LOT of energy to only slightly cool the aquaponics water. The same applies in the wintertime, only then you are heating the air, getting a LITTLE heat into the aquaponics water, and losing most of the heat when it
radiates out through the greenhouse skin. So let's forget trying to heat and cool the air; we've got aquaponics water thermal mass, and we don't need to waste our time and money on ancient and inefficient energy-intensive technology.

We're going to heat and cool the water in our greenhouse because it functions very well as a thermal mass. Also, just as heat or cooling transfers VERY slowly from the greenhouse AIR to the aquaponics water, the aquaponics water loses heat and cooling VERY slowly in the other direction: to the greenhouse air. When our heating and cooling energy expenditure is put into the water, it goes a lot farther because we're not losing the energy almost immediately to the environment the way we are when we heat or cool the air alone.

So, let's pretend it's wintertime and we're going to heat the water. This is easy to do: we just install a couple of solar swimming pool heaters up high in the north side of the greenhouse (Northern hemisphere), and install a small Grundfos hot water circulation pump to pump the heated water from the swimming pool heater through a heat exchanger inside the fish tank. What's a heat exchanger inside the fish tank? It's a coil of stainless steel tubing (or pipe) or Pex tubing that is immersed in the fish tank, that the hot water from the swimming pool heater circulates through and thereby transfers its heat to the fish tank water.

The heat exchanger tubing in the fish tank MUST be stainless steel or Pex, because copper pipe will oxidize and transfer cuprous oxide (deadly to fish and aquatic plants) to the aquaponic water; and galvanized steel pipe will do the same with the zinc coating on the outside of the pipe. This is also ONE of the reasons why we don't run the aquaponics water directly through the swimming pool heater; it has copper tubing inside it.

Now it's getting towards summertime, and you no longer need to heat the greenhouse, you need to COOL it. To cool it, you utilize the biggest, coldest thermal mass in the area: the ground about four to five feet down below the surface. This is really simple: you dig a trench or series of trenches (depending on the size of your installation), and run lines of type "L" copper tubing (GOOD heat exchanger but expensive, you need LESS of it), or lines of Pex tubing (cheaper, but MORE of it because it's a POORER heat exchanger) in the bottom of your trench.

Hook this up with some valves to the same Grundfos pump you used to pump the hot water from the swimming pool heaters, and insulate the above-ground sections with standard copper pipe insulation so you don't lose heat to the environment. Your heating AND cooling systems use the same pump; the valves are so you can switch the pump over to pump water down through the pipes in the trench for cooling or up through the swimming pool heater panels for heating. Now, when you circulate the warm water from the heat exchanger in the fish tank through the cold pipes buried in the cold ground, it comes back to the heat exchanger in the fish tank COLD, and cools down the aquaponics water.

The Grundfos pumps we're speaking of are very energy-efficient, usually running at 40 to 150 watts energy use; they're the only ACTIVE use of energy in this whole heating-and-cooling-system. No huge fans, no huge energy-sucking air-conditioning units or propane-gulping heating units. Just a quiet little pump pumping away, giving you almost free access to the heating and cooling energy that Nature provides us with everywhere in the world.

IMPORTANT! Please read this! No, we can't give you an exact number for how many swimming pool heaters, feet of what size pipe in what depth trench, or what size Grundfos pump to use. How big is your Solar Greenhouse, and how cold and hot does it get? You don't even know that yet, and these systems will need to be sized appropriately for each installation. But we'll have a spreadsheet calculator at the first Solar Greenhouse Training that will allow you to input your temperatures, pump flow rates, greenhouse size, water thermal mass, and get a good working idea of how many panels, feet of tubing, that you need to achieve your target temperatures.

(Next week: more about passive solar and geothermal heating and cooling! Isn't Nature great? There's already a solution out there for almost all our problems. It's called Biomimicry. Look that one up if you want to give yourself an education between now and the next newsletter)

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Franz Schreier's FIRST Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse in full bloom, Heppenheim, Germany, 2011, showing PV panels and growing plants!

(Next week: More on energy-efficient greenhouse technology, and how you can build your own! Thanks for listening!).

Click Here To See Our New Aquaponics Video!
Back Issues Of Newsletters Now Available, Click Here!
Purchase Trough Liner Directly From Manufacturer!
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 February 16th-17th Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse Training before December 15th,,or ANY of our Aquaponics Trainings, and receive a 50% discount, plus we will email you our Micro System package so you can begin studying aquaponics! ($99.95 value)

More Information on Hawaii Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse Training

In The Farmily

Before I met my future wife Susanne, I had bought a real "fixer-upper". This house was built in 1938, and had been abandoned two years before I bought it in 1999. I think the previous occupants left when the toilet fell through the bathroom floor ( I found it on the first floor under this second floor bathroom.)

This was probably the last straw for the previous occupants; there were other problems with the house, but having to go across the street to use the neighbor's bathroom is pretty final.

The bank that owned the house when I bought it had optimistically lent the previous owners $122,000 on the house, but after having it on the market for years, they accepted an offer of $68,000 from me. Under a program called Fannie Mae "Buy And Fix", I was able to borrow the funds to purchase the house and also the funds for the extensive repairs it needed.

Although I bought the house before I met my lovely wife Susanne, I hadn't had time to do much fixing up on it except for hauling ten truckloads of trash from the backyard to the dump. In the process of taking out the trash, I discovered two brand-new, never-used cesspools that the previous occupants had dug (they were UNDER the piles of trash), and even run pipes to.

The cesspools were DRY and had no contents, because the previous occupants (luckily for me), not understanding how water works, had installed the pipes so they ran uphill from the first floor toilet. After the first uphill cesspool didn't work, they apparently dug a second, but never got around to running pipes UP to it also.

When Susanne first saw the house, she suggested that we burn  it down and start over. Not having the experience with houses I had, she hadn't seen the new roof, the relative lack of rot and termite damage, and  the good foundation.

After I explained the true value of the house, she enthusiastically pitched in and did all the work side by side with me. She was hanging drywall in the house when she was pregnant with Lucky, now 9 (most guys would have trouble with the pregnancy alone, never mind trying to hang drywall at the same time!)

You can't even wear a tool belt because your belly is so big!. This is not to mention the extra thirty or so pounds you get to carry around with you when you are pregnant.. Susanne was a real trooper, she painted, drywalled, hauled junk, plumbed, installed new flooring, and grouted tile.

Long story short of it is that we fixed this $68,000 house up for $30,000 and six month's work, then lived in it for two years and finally sold it for $185,000.

The real problem with this house was that it was on a 55-mph highway, and we had kids. We found our 2-year-old wandering around out in front one day, after he defeated the child-proof gate latch and it scared the heck out of us.

We needed to move; the problem was where. We'd driven around the community often, looking and dreaming. One particular piece of land caught our eyes. We thought "If we could ever find something like that, it would be perfect". Then one day Susanne was driving home and noticed a "For Sale" sign on the border of the property. We called the number and started talking with the owner.

Usually in Hawaii, banks only lend 50% of the appraised value of raw land, and you have to come up with the rest as a down payment. This would have been impossible for us, as we had just paid all the bills when we sold the last house, and had about $25,000 in cash to start this new project with.

Fortunately, the owner of the property
was really nice; and was willing to carry a second mortgage on the property for three years, which became our "down payment" with the bank. As soon as we talked to our bank, we made an offer on the property which she accepted. We closed the deal, started paying $1,500 a month mortgage on a piece of bare land, and started building.

We were still living in our old house, paying the new owner $1,100 a month rent on top of the mortgage on the new land, so we were under a lot of financial pressure to get something built that we could move into.  ( This is a LONG story; more next week!)

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This email, our manuals and construction plans are all copyrighted by  Friendly Aquaponics, Inc, Susanne Friend and Tim Mann, 2008-2011

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