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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 16
August 20th, 2010
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,
We're repeating our Friendly Aquaponics vision and mission statement from last week's newsletter. They're worth more than a moment's consideration because the issues they address affect all of us so deeply.

Think about how you would feel and what you would think if you went to the grocery store and the shelves were empty. My mother-in-law remembers that before World War II, where fresh vegetables came from was the garden in the backyard. Everyone grew more than they could eat and "put up" their excess (an old-time word for "canning") for use during the winter. In what passed for "suburbia" at the time, they often had chickens, ducks, or geese in the backyard; and the slightly bigger home lots had room for pigs and perhaps a cow or two. People knew where their food came from: themselves or the farmer just down the road, with whom they often had a personal relationship.

Many of us buy and eat whatever we want, from salmon to mushrooms to watercress, without even being aware where these things come from or of the long supply lines (dependent on cheap oil) that get them to the store. More worrisome than these supply lines (which are dependent on a non-renewable, currently peaking or already peaked resource) is that for the large part, we have forgotten how to grow food ourselves. So our vision addresses this need in the American landscape: How do we become again the independent, self-sufficient, freedom-loving people who built this great country? We start by growing our own food.

Friendly Aquaponic's Vision:
To empower people to be able to take care of their own food needs.

First comes taking care of yourself. How much more confident would you feel if you knew how to grow some or all of your food? Then, how much better would it make you feel to be able to pass that knowledge along to others? Do you feel confident in the ability of Big Agriculture to continue feeding us affordably?

We started our aquaponics farm because our two construction businesses collapsed in 2007. We knew people wouldn't stop buying food the way they stop buying cars or houses in an economic downturn. We've been growing increasingly more food since then, and learning more about taking care of our own needs in this critical area. One of the most rewarding things we've done is teach others how to do what we're doing.

Friendly Aquaponic's Mission Statement:

To bring affordable, sustainable food production to everyone everywhere.

The world depends on cheap oil and the Haber-Bosch process (look this one up if you want a REAL education in how close we are to the edge) for cheap food. We can only feed from two-thirds to half the world's population WITHOUT chemical fertilizer and cheap oil. Aquaponics is the only food production method we know of that does not require oil, but can run on alternate energy sources. Adopting aquaponics for our food production would be many steps towards solving this problem. We think spreading aquaponics to as many places and people as possible will help defuse this potentially dangerous situation. There are viruses that threaten us, why not an aquaponics virus that spreads information and confidence?

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!
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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!

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Aquaponics Nugget #16:
System Start-up (Part 4; last on this topic!)


We've talked about how to measure and modulate the nitrite spike that occurs during system start-up, as well as common problems people experience during start-up and how to diagnose and solve them. Here are some additional ways to "Foul Up Your System Start-up", and the explanations of how to fix them.

1.     Two aquaponics system builders who purchased our plans filled their systems, then left the cover off the fish tank and the rafts off the troughs for three weeks or longer while they tried to inoculate their systems with nitrifying bacteria. They thought they “failed to inoculate” because no nitrites or nitrates were showing up on their test strips. They had TWO problems: the first was that their ammonia levels were WAY too high (over 6 ppm) for good nitrifier health. Their lack of measurable nitrites and nitrates wasn’t because there weren’t any nitrifiers or nitrates in their systems, but simply because the levels were so low they were unmeasurable using the inadequate test strips they had. Sensitive test strips that would work in this situation, which will show low levels of nitrites and nitrates well, are the Hach "Aquachek" test strips, their catalog number 27454-25 (you can get these from Aquatic EcoSystems in Florida at 1-877-347-4788, their catalog number H27454). You MUST use these strips or something equivalent which can measure nitrites in the range of 0.25 to 5 ppm; and nitrates in the range of 1-20 ppm, in order to have an accurate idea of what's happening in your system.

Their second problem was that they left their rafts off long enough for their systems to grow a LOT of green algae (there should be NONE or very little in your system, because you should have the rafts ON, except if there's a nitrite spike over 5 ppm). They made a mistake assuming there were no nitrites or nitrates; there HAD to be, as the incredible green algae water in the troughs and fish tank couldn’t have grown without these necessary nutrients and without the troughs uncovered.

The problem with this type of algae is that it has a very short life cycle, and when its little carcasses sink down to the bottom of the troughs and decay, they turn into a LOT of ammonia. This ammonia inhibits and depresses the nitrifiers, which, though they ARE present, are not obviously so because their measurable levels are so low. If you've done this, you will see low or unmeasurable levels of nitrites and nitrates on your test strips, leading you to think that NO system startup has occurred. The fix here is to dump three quarters of the green system water, refill with clean water, and COVER THE TROUGHS THIS TIME! After a while, your system will settle down and you will see normal levels of these nutrients (1-2 ppm ammonia, 0.25 to 1 ppm nitrites, and 1-20 ppm nitrates).

IMPORTANT- IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE NO NITRITE SPIKE! We have seen many small systems built by students start-up slowly and NEVER show a nitrite spike. However, low levels of nitrates show up within a week or two, and these systems are growing vegetables and flourishing after the second or third week, so everything is fine. So do not be alarmed if your system startup does not include a nitrite spike. This is OK! The systems we’ve started up have all had nitrite spikes, but we think it may have something to do with the much larger mass of water in our commercial systems compared to these smaller ones.

Another phenomenon we’ve seen in these small system start-ups is an apparent nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen comes to the plants in the form of nitrates, which come, indirectly, from fish pee and fish poop. This deficiency shows up in the form of yellow leaves on plants. The whole leaf is yellow, NOT just between the veins in the leaf; and it shows up in the OLDER leaves first; they also look the worst. This is because nitrogen is MOBILE, that means it can move from older leaves within the plant to newer leaves where it’s needed. We’ve NEVER seen this in any of our commercial systems, even during start-up, only in these smaller systems. We feel this could be occurring for several reasons:

1.     The builder, being on a budget, has put in a much smaller amount of fish than is recommended for their particular system. As an example, for a Micro System 64 they might have bought from 4 pounds to 10 pounds of fish, rather than the recommended 20 pounds. This means that the plants may be receiving lower levels of nitrates (nitrogen) than they need, because the nitrates come from the fish poo and pee, which there is less of with fewer fish. The recommended amounts of fish are considered minimums needed to run a system adequately.

2. In addition to there being less than the recommended amount of fish in the system, there is another factor in play: fish that have been recently moved (as all fish in new systems are) do not eat much, or sometimes not at all, for the first couple of weeks or so after the move. This means less fish pee and poo, and contributes to there being less available nitrogen, and to the nitrogen deficiency we think we’re seeing here. Just wait, and your fish will start eating more and more gradually, and your vegetables will  bloom and grow better by the day.

(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

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Organically Certified is worth more to your farm!

We're holding our first free "Organic Certification and Tilapia Breeding Workshop" Saturday August 21st at our farm in Honoka'a, Hawaii, just off the main highway between mile markers 40 and 41.

After this workshop, we'll 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. See you there!

Installing the HapaInstalling a hapa in a tilapia breeding tank.



Tilapia fry

White tilapia fry from our nursery system


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 know that understanding how systems work is the most important part of anything. You can concentrate on  a specific piece of a puzzle, but without understanding the other pieces that one piece can be largely useless.

We know our students will build the aquaponics systems that change the way the world grows its food, so that everyone has enough to eat. To do that, you need to understand systems.

I had a sail making business that depended on my 92-year-old, cast-iron Singer sewing machine. One day it froze up in the middle of a seam, when I had a deadline and was already feeling less than totally relaxed and confident that I would get the job done. I didn't know how to fix it, so I sat and stewed.

Then I decided to take the whole thing apart.

I disemboweled the machine. I took it completely apart. I figured out how it worked; how the different parts related to one another; where it was adjustable. It took some time: I spent four hours doing this. Then I found the teeny piece of thread in the guts of the machine that had made it freeze up. The next time the machine froze, it took only five minutes to fix. Now I can fix and adjust any sewing machine I meet because I understand how they work. Understanding the system gave me the keys to the kingdom.

Aquaponics is a revolution in food production and food freedom comparable to what the world saw with the advent of personal computing. The difference is, this revolution will affect how we grow and create food for ourselves and others. We don't know where it will lead, but we do know that producing our own quality food, instead of just hoping giant agribusiness companies will do it, is a GOOD idea. When you understand how aquaponics systems work, you will have the tools with which to start the revolution.

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".

Our goal is to live sustainably and independently as possible, and to teach others everything we learn in order  to shorten their learning curves and make the world a better place for everyone.
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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