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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 21
December 7th,  2010
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

Our apologies for the "gap" in newsletters; we've been busy lately. In addition to running the Friendly commercial aquaponics farm, we held our fifth Commercial Aquaponics Training this October 4-7th in Honokaa, Hawaii with thirty-two participants from places as diverse as China and Arizona.

In addition, we've been installing a 4,600 square foot commercial aquaponics system for a client, which began operation just two days ago. We're excited about it because it was the first to use our sloped grading system for the hydroponics troughs, which decreases grading and trough installation costs for anyone dealing with a sloped site. This farmer
plans to double the size of his farm to 9,200 square feet of growing trough area by summer 2011 by constructing additional systems himself!

We've also been crafting our aquaponics technical support forum, which will be operating within a couple of weeks. Open to the public, it has a BASIC read-only section that is free, and covers subjects and questions applicable to ALL aquaponics systems. It also has a comprehensive commercial technical support forum with the ability to post questions to us (which will be answered within three business days).
We are charging $29.95 per month for the commercial forum, with a discounted yearly subscription at $250. This compensates us for the time we have to spend away from the farm and our family, answering questions to keep the forum current. It is designed to save commercial users from paying for expensive consulting when all they need is a simple answer to one or two questions. We'll inform newsletter subscribers as soon as it is finished: you could subscribe for a month to try it out!

The commercial support forum provides answers on fish and vegetable operation, design and construction, product processing, water quality, organic and food safety certifications, permits, and will be added to as users indicate areas of interest and problems they're having with their aquaponics systems. It is designed to be equally useful to users whether you've built one of our systems, someone elses, or are designing your own.

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 backyard and apartment systems, please read on:
Plans and Operating Info for 4 Different Sizes of Apartment/Condo Aquaponics Systems $49.95

If you want to learn aquaponics easily and inexpensively, the Indoor System package is perfect for you. It 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. Complete operating information, including troubleshooting, 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 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 #21:
Water Quality and Testing (Part 3 )

Additions To Aquaponics Systems

In our last nugget #20, Water Quality and Testing Part 2 (seems like years ago!) we talked about additions (organically approved things we add to our aquaponics systems to make things grow better), ending with chelated iron. In this newsletter we'll explain how additions are made and add some clarification on the differences between our organically approved systems and other systems which use caustic chemicals for pH adjustment and maintenance, or are not organically certifiable for other reasons.

Because we're primarily a commercial aquaponics farm, our organic certification is extremely valuable to us and we need to maintain it to get the higher prices organic produce brings. As a result, the ONLY two inputs we add to these systems besides fish food are organically approved iron chelate and calcium carbonate. These provide additional iron and calcium to the plants in the system, and the calcium carbonate also adjusts and buffers the pH to keep it near a relatively neutral 7.0.

We add our additions by mixing them in a 5-gallon bucket and adding the resulting mixture a cup or two at a time into the degas tank or the first vegetable trough in the system. These two chemicals are non-toxic, are not caustic or dangerous, and do not require special handling nor the use of protective equipment when applying.

Putting Other "Stuff" Into Aquaponics Systems

People put all kinds of stuff into aquaponics systems whether or not they know what the result will be. There is a bewildering variety of theories about "stuff" floating around out there in the aquaponics fog. The "fog" is the mass of "information" available on the web from people who are not growing at any scale, are not growing commercially, and whose operations are not organically certified. Some of this "stuff" is the use of worm castings, worm beds actually in the aquaponics system itself, compost teas or compost, dirt or soil or a mixture thereof used as potting media; also the practice of feeding bugs from bug traps, kitchen garbage, and other items to the fish.

We like our organic certification. It earns us much more than growing the same amount of uncertified produce would. We have to do certain things to keep it, and NOT do others to not lose it, so we are restricted from trying anything that cannot get approval as an organic practice. If you are NOT concerned with successful commercial operation, nor organic certification, nor being able to safely eat uncooked vegetables from your system, then by all means, try these theories out.

The biggest potential problem involved in using this "stuff" is the possibility of introducing the deadly variety of E. coli (technical name is strain H0157) into your aquaponics system. These bacteria come from warm-blooded animal manures, but NEVER from cold-blooded animal manure, which is why fish are safe to use as the fertilizer generator in an aquaponics system. Eleven of these bacteria can kill a healthy adult human.

Using any of these things safely might be a possibility IF (and only IF) you are ONLY growing vegetables in your aquaponics system that will be thoroughly cooked before being eaten. However, because little or no research has been done about the viability of this strain of E. coli in an aquatic environment, you're taking a risk of unknown proportions. It's probably better to "Just Say No" to the possibility. If you're growing commercially, using these practices may preclude your ability to get organically certified.

The reason the use of these manures is organically certifiable when growing in soil is that they require a minimum of 120 days between the time the manure is administered to the field and when crops can first be harvested (according to organic standards). This is plenty of time for any E. coli colonies that may have been present in the fresh manure to die and become non-viable.

Caustic Chemical Additions

The university aquaponics establishment (UAE) and others recommend using potassium hydroxide and calcium hydroxide as system additions for the purpose of adjusting pH. Both of these are highly caustic chemicals that require care and protective gear to handle. Also necessary is an additions tank that lets this highly-basic stuff into the system SLOWLY.
The additions tank can be a 55-gallon plastic barrel situated higher than the sump tank, that has a small (1/2" or 3/4" pipe with a valve to regulate flow) trickle of water coming into it from the fish tank. This small trickle of incoming water fills the additions tank, causing the water in it (and whatever chemicals have been added to it) to spill over downhill into the sump tank.

The additions tank has an airstone inside to keep the added chemicals in suspension while it dispenses. The flow from the fish tank going to the additions tank is adjusted so that the overflow from the additions tank trickles slowly into the sump tank over a period of hours. This way
the addition happens slowly without injecting large slugs of high-concentration chemicals into the system. This is NECESSARY  if you are using hydroxides or similar chemicals for pH adjustment, or you can easily kill or stress fish or plants.

If you use these chemicals to adjust pH in your aquaponics system, be aware that they are NOT organically certifiable, ARE caustic and dangerous, DO need to be handled with proper safety precautions and protective clothing, gloves, and eyewear, and DO need to be trickled slowly into the system to avoid killing fish and plants with a burst of highly basic water. Your pH and nutrient levels will probably experience large uncontrollable swings when you use these bases for adjusting pH, and you most likely will never see any gammarus show up in your system (more about gammarus and what their function is in an organic aquaponics system in the next nugget next week). We can say this with authority because we're the only ones we know of who have operated both the UAE-type systems AND organically certified aquaponics systems.

System Overflow Tank For Irrigation

(Or, how to keep all your fertilizer water if your aquaponics system experiences decent rainfall). If you install a separate tank downhill from your sump tanks and plumb the overflows from the different sump tanks to it, it will catch the overflow of system nutrient water that comes from those tanks (and systems) when it rains. Then you will have system overflow water you can use as makeup water for your aquaponics systems during dry periods, or great irrigation water to use on the farm that already has fertilizer (organic nutrients) added.

(Next week: "Gammarus and Organic Aquaponics Systems" including information on where to get gammarus and how to introduce them to your system).

Click to see our new Video!

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

We hold a free workshop on our farm the FIRST Saturday of every month,  focused on growing food with aquaponics and permaculture. These workshops 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!


Installing the liner in a hydroponics trough.


Installing a hapa into a tilapia breeding tank.

Special Offer! Sign up for our April 4-7th, 2011 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

There's a new BABY in the Farmily! Well, new to us, anyway. His name is Canyon, he's five months old, and killer cute, and his Mom Paisley and his Dad Cory live on the Friendly Farm.

Canyon rates as one of the best babies we've ever met. He holds his head up amazingly well for his age, focuses on faces across the table, and already has a winning smile! Canyon rocks!

Although we talked about he aquaponics support forum in the main column, there's a personal side to our decision to put the forum together. First, we've got a Family as well as a Farmily. Susanne and I have Victor, Jack, Lucky, Rose, and Susanne's Mom Isabelle to take care of also.

How do we spend time with our family? Unfortunately, we don't: we've been working too much. We promised our kids we'd quit work at 6 in the evening and spend time with them, but we haven't been good at keeping that promise.

Part of the problem has been our committment to helping others get established in commercial aquaponics ventures, not to mention all the backyarders who email and call with questions. We spend tens of hours every week answering emails and phone calls because we want them to be successful. And it continues to snowball on us.

Instead of helping out a few people, as we were a couple of years ago, we now get emails from hundreds of people building systems, asking for advice and help, whether or not they have ever purchased anything from us.

We love helping out. The problem is, it takes us away from doing work that pays the bills, and takes us away from our kids. Also, we've noticed that people have the same questions over and over, (even though the information is in several places in the manual and drawings that accompany our courses and DIY materials).

We came to the conclusion that we  need to offer comprehensive support systems for those doing backyard aquaponics and for commercial growers.

To enable us to spend quality time with our kids and quality time answering the user's questions, we are charging for the commercial side of this forum. Here are our committments to the users:

The free "BASIC" forum will have better information than was available to us when we got started doing aquaponics.

The "COMMERCIAL" forum will have information from ongoing research projects, and will have real-world answers to hard questions about how to earn a living with aquaponics. We know more about this than others, as we were the ones who pioneered organic and food safety certification for aquaponics systems, the economical and easy to operate Low Density aquaponics systems, and originated many other time and money-saving aquaponics techniques.

We guarantee that if you find better, more accurate information elsewhere for less than it's offered at the Commercial Forum, we will happily refund your money.

Kids, we'll actually be able to quit at 6 and go jump on the trampoline with you!

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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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Honoka'a, Hawaii 96727

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