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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 139
September 17th,  2013
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend

In today's "Nugget", we continue with Part 5 of our series on "Energy-Efficient Greenhouses For Aquaponic Growing". If you want to learn how to do this instead of just read about it, we have trainings scheduled for Tennessee in September of 2013 (see bottom of this column, and right sidebar).

Our "In The Farmily" column today
is the continuing story of Bird and Boob, two feathered members of the Farmily that came along before I even knew there was going to be a Farmily.

Aquaponics Nugget #139, Part 5: Energy-Efficient Greenhouses For Aquaponics

(If you got started late, you might like to read back newsletter #1, back newsletter #2, back newsletter #3 , and back newsletter #4 of this series to catch up before continuing!).

Energy Efficient Heating:

A critical part of understanding this concept is to understand what we mean by energy efficiency. “Energy efficient” does not just mean “burns less heating oil or propane” for the same amount of heat; it means looking in entirely different directions for efficient, renewable, sustainable sources of heat. Can you think of one? I can.

There’s a huge, nuclear fusion furnace accessible to everyone, whether or not they pay the utility bill: the sun! One of our students, when asked if he was planning on using solar heating inside his greenhouse in the winter, said to me: “It’s too much bother”. This surprised me for a moment, until I asked why not. You see, he had a natural gas well on his property, and for him, that was a virtually renewable resource. But most of us don’t have gas wells. And they do go dry eventually. As I understand it, we’ve got about 10 million more years to go on the sun, so using it’s a good bet.

(Below) Our nuclear fusion furnace (top left). We're not greedy; we share this dependable source of heat and light with ALL our neighbors!

NuclearFusionFurnaceNewsletter 2

And it’s cheap! You can capture the sun’s energy and put it into heating the water in your aquaponic system inside your greenhouse using very simple and inexpensive equipment. Now you may be thinking about cloudy days, and how a solar heater doesn’t work on cloudy days. Two things: first, there’s often a lot more sun on a cloudy day than you might imagine; and usually enough to provide plenty of heat if you have adequate heating panel area.

Two, there’s so much “thermal mass” in your aquaponic system water that your system can easily make it through two or three really cloudy days without needing to turn on a mechanical heater of any kind (I mean the kind that burns something).

First, WHY are we heating the water instead of the air? Heating the air inside an aquaponic greenhouse only SLIGHTLY heats the water; because the water picks up the heat VERY slowly from the air, and most of the heat radiates out through the greenhouse skin and walls. If your greenhouse is set up this way, you have this inherently inefficient ongoing cycle of spending a LOT of energy to only slightly heat the aquaponics water. So let's forget trying to heat and cool the air; we've got aquaponics water as thermal mass, and we don't need to waste our time and money on ancient and inefficient energy-intensive technology.

We heat and cool the water in our greenhouse because it functions very well as a thermal mass, retaining the heat or the cold, which is what we want. 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 water heater panels up high in the north side of the greenhouse somewhere (Northern hemisphere) so they don’t block any light coming into the greenhouse, and install a small Grundfos hot water circulation pump to pump the heated water from the solar water heater(s) through a heat exchanger inside the fish tank or inside a separate tank that the aquaponics water passes through prior to going to the fish tank.

(Below) A typical 4-foot by 8-foot solar water heater panel showing plumbing connections, black color to absorb lots of heat, and thermal glass (to keep the heat inside the glass).



What's a heat exchanger? It's a coil of stainless steel tubing (or pipe) or Pex plastic food-grade tubing that is immersed in the fish tank or prior tank, that the hot water from the solar water heater circulates through and thereby transfers its heat to the aquaponics water.

Why do we need to use a heat exchanger? Why can’t we just put the aquaponics water directly through the solar water heater(s)? First, the aquaponics water is full of crud (technical term), and could foul the small diameter tubing commonly used in solar water heaters, and that is a concern. The bigger problem is that the solar water heaters are commonly made with copper tubing, which in the presence of the highly oxygenated aquaponic system water develops and releases cuprous oxide (which is a toxin to both plants and fish) into the aquaponics system. Galvanized pipe, which is covered with zinc, which is also toxic, also cannot be used for this reason. DO NOT USE copper or galvanized pipe anywhere in your aquaponic system water circulation!

Those of you who know about plastic “solar swimming pool heaters” will say “let’s just run the aquaponics water through one of those to heat it, instead of all this heat exchanger complication, because they’re cheap!”. You will STILL have the crud problem, and these plastic heaters are notorious for developing leaks after a relatively short time. Also, depending on the composition of the plastic, you may be leaching a toxic plastic compound into your aquaponic water. We can’t recommend them.

The heat exchanger tubing in the fish tank or other 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.

Hook your heat exchanger coil up with some valves to your Grundfos circulation pump and to your solar water heater, 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 your geothermal cooling trench (covered next) for cooling or up through the solar water heater panels for heating. Now, when you circulate the hot water from the solar water heater through the heat exchanger in the fish tank, it gives up its heat to the aquaponics water, and your all-important thermal mass gets warmer.

(Below) A Grundfos 3-speed circulating pump such as we use for circulating water in our solar heating units and geothermal cooling units.

GrundfosPumpNewlsetter 2

The Grundfos pumps we're speaking of are very energy-efficient, usually running at 25 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 low-cost access to the heating and cooling energy that Nature provides us with everywhere in the world.

(Below) A Chinese-style greenhouse, complete with roll-down straw insulating mat to keep daytime warmth inside at nighttime. The small entrance building serves as an "air lock" keeping the warmth inside, as well as storage for tools and supplies.ChineseGHPinkNewsletter

(Next newsletter in this series will cover energy-efficient heating, the next will cover cooling, and the next will cover thermal mass. Most important for those of you who are "lightly funded", a bit later in this series we will explain how to purchase and erect your own energy efficient greenhouse for pennies on the dollar, even if you never purchase any of our offerings! Thanks for listening!)

For smaller home backyard and apartment systems, please read on:
Purchase Construction Plans and Operating Info for 4 Different Sizes of Table Top Aquaponics Systems $49.95

Our TableTop System package includes easy-to-understand building instructions and operating information for 4 different sizes of small aquaponic systems based on our years of experience. 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, and fun too!

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 TableTop Systems!


Friendly September 2013 Tennessee Commercial Aquaponics and Greenhouse Training:

These Tennessee trainings are $1,495 per person for five days of the most comprehensive and profitable Commercial Aquaponics and energy efficient Solar Greenhouse technology on the planet. If you can't wait until September to learn about profitable commercial aquaponics, check out our Personal Intensive trainings in Hawaii.

SPECIAL OFFER: First 25 registrations will receive 50 tilapia fingerlings, a $100 value (shipping not included).

(Below) Tim drinking water from one of Randy and Katie's aquaponics systems at a previous Tennessee training. "I've been drinking this for six years; it's the reason I absolutely know the food from these systems is safe and healthy" (Tim).  TimWaterDrinkingNugget

First 5-day  training: September 23rd-27th (register here for first Tennessee training). Second 5-day training: September 30th-October 4th (register here for Tennessee second training).

(Click here for more information on Tennessee trainings).

These five-day trainings allow you to travel during the weekend so that you only need to take a week off your busy life to attend.

Both of these five-day trainings include our $999 DIY Commercial Aquaponics package, $998 DIY Farmer's Market Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse package, and new $295 DIY Commercial Tilapia Hatchery manual as course materials, plus our Plywood/Epoxy/ Tank manual, CAD construction drawings for all greenhouses and aquaponics systems, and much more!

(Below) Randy and Tim showing attendees at the Tennessee training how easy it is to use a DO (dissolved oxygen) meter to measure oxygen levels in the vegetable troughs.


If you're located near Tennessee, Randy and Katie give regular free farm tours of their aquaponics systems and greenhouses to introduce the public to the benefits of aquaponics and energy-efficient greenhouse growing. Call Randy and Katie at 256-679-9488 or email Randy to find out when the next farm tour is scheduled.

Our Affiliate Program:

For those of you who aren't yet aware of our Affiliate programs, here's the deal: we're the ONLY aquaponics professionals who teach our students how to teach aquaponics, AND let them use our manuals (under license) to teach others with. In fact, there are three Micro System trainings being given by our affiliates right now (see sidebar). You'll see that we also encourage and work with "Commercial" level affiliates such as Randy and Katy Campbell (with whom we're offering the September Tennessee courses) to teach our Commercial Aquaponics and Solar Greenhouse Trainings. No other aquaponics teachers offer this, but you can partner with us to do so if you wish!

More details of the Aquaponics Technology course here.

More details of the Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse course here.

More details of the Commercial Aquaponics course here.

(Below) Randy and Katie's Chinese-style Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse in Tennessee in the February snow, 2013. 70 degrees inside and you had to take your coat off when working with the vegetables!

GreenhouseSnow3Small 2

The Friendly  Aquaponics Way Video!
Back Issues Of Newsletters Now Available, Click Here!
Trough Liner Distributors:
West Coast USA
East Coast USA

Click here for Trout fry and fingerlings directly from the hatchery to you!

Spanish Language Micro System package now available!

Free Farm Tours

Aquaponics tour at the Friendly farm!

We hold a free workshop on our farm the FIRST Saturday of every month at 10:00,  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!


Thousands of inch-long "fifty-cent" baby tilapia from our "backyard" hatchery


What they turn into about a year later: a beautiful 2-pound white tilapia grown in the fish tanks of our aquaponics systems


Sign yourself up for the FIRST

Or sign yourself up for the SECOND

TENNESSEE September 2013 Commercial Aquaponics and Solar Greenhouse Trainings
NOW, and receive a free Micro System DIY package so you can begin studying aquaponics, as soon as you register! ($99.95 value)

Micro System Classes!

Join Ben and Alicia Godfrey at Sand Creek Farm in Cameron, Texas for a Micro System training! Call Ben or Alicia directly at 254-697-2927, or email them to sign up for this course. You can visit their website here to see a list of all the other cool classes they offer!

Join David Lindemann in Melbourne, Florida, in one of his Micro System classes: Call David directly at 321-604-6684, or email him to sign up for this course. You can visit David's website here for details of the class and to see all the other cool things he's doing!

Join Kevin Crawford in Longmont, Colorado, in one of his Micro System classes: Call Kevin directly at 720-363-5069, or email him to sign up for this course.

These Texas, Florida, and Colorado one-day live trainings use our $100 Micro System DIY manual as coursebook, and are a real deal!

The story of Bird and Boob, Part 2:

Bird lived on his perch most of the time now, but if we got cold rainy weather, I’d transfer him to a more protected perch inside the boat shop. He grew and grew and grew, and pretty soon he was taking half of a 12-inch long mackerel in one swallow.

I got tired of hacking frozen mackerel in half and waiting for it to thaw out, so one day I simply thawed a whole fish, then gave it to Bird. I waved it in front of him first, and he got pretty excited, so I thought it was worth a try.

Although he only had about a 4-foot wingspan now (he’d be 6 feet when fully grown!) he was sure he could handle that whole fish! I handed it to him, head first, and he got it going down the right way.

FrigateBabyNewsletter RH

This is what Bird looked like when I first got him.

Only it didn’t go all the way down: about three inches of fish tail was still hanging out of Bird’s mouth. Didn’t seem to bother him a bit; I checked, and he was still breathing OK. I checked back on him in about an hour, and the fish had proceeded about two inches further down Bird’s gullet.

On a wild impulse, I grabbed the remaining inch of tail and pulled, gently. Bird didn’t like it, but the fish didn’t get hung up on it’s way back out. The first three or four inches of fish next to the tail looked normal, but the head was completely dissolved, and there were only bones for the first three or four inches after the head.

He was making a lot of noise by now, complaining about me taking his fish, so I gave it back to him, and didn’t try that stunt again. I wasn’t being mean, it’s just that I have a lot of scientific curiosity about the way things work. My conclusion was: Bird was definitely designed for digesting fish efficiently.


Bird looked like this as a "teenager".

Bird got bigger and bigger as the months went by, and his ugly-looking down and feathers turned into adult plumage. He got long tailfeathers, and lost all the fluffy covering he came with. His head, which had been white, turned a light tan or brown. All his body feathers turned black, except for a patch of white chest feathers.

With a 6-foot wingspan, Bird was an impressive and slightly imposing fellow. People would visit the shop, and Bird would move on the perch, unfolding his wings, and sometimes telling me he was hungry. Sometimes they’d let out a little shriek, (especially the women), because he’d just looked like a piece of the background under the big shady tree the house and his perch were under.


Bird as an adult.

One day, I heard a squawk from Bird, and looking over, saw him take off from his perch and fly about 30 feet away, landing on a big log on the beach without too much fuss. He folded his wings and sat there with this kind of “What the heck was that?” look.

I went over and got him; offered him a wrist (inside a leather welding glove, because he also had some serious claws by now!), and he got on for the ride back to the perch. He did this just a few times more, then one day I saw him take off headed up instead of down, and watched while he went out over the lagoon.

I wondered if I’d ever see him again, but of course, he was still a teenager at heart. His wings weren’t very strong, and he hadn’t developed endurance yet. He was back on the perch in about five minutes; “I saw the big world, Dad, now what’s for dinner?”.

As time passed, he’d be away for longer and longer, until one day I realized he’d been away for a week.

Another week went by, and he showed up on his perch, squawking just like he’d done when he was a kid and was hungry; so I went and got him a mackerel, and thawed it in some hot water. He wolfed it down, and next morning was gone.

I never saw Bird again. I should say that more precisely: I never saw Bird up close again, and I’m not certain whether or not I saw Bird again, because I saw lots of frigate birds, soaring and gliding on the air currents over the island. He could have been there.

Aloha, Tim....

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