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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 146
November 19th,  2013
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend

In today's "Nugget", we were supposed to cover "yucky roots", but changed our minds, because we've noticed far more buzz about "cycling" (or what we call "start up") on the forums we watch. We have a simple and dependable way to do this, that we've continuously improved over the last six years, and we share it with you here.

Watch out for the announcement of our new book: "Aquaponics The EASY Way!" within the next few days. We apologize for any delays in delivery, but Susanne's been working on it night and day; and insists on getting it perfect for you. It's still available at a presale discount of 33% now, for only $19.95 by clicking here. It will be $29.95 when finished; you'll save ten bucks and get it emailed directly to you when it's finished if you buy it now!

Our "In The Farmily" column today
is Part 4 of the story of our son Lucky, and why he got the nickname "Lucky". He really is lucky, as you will understand when you read it!

Aquaponics Nugget #146, Startup Reloaded, Part 1: (Starting Up Your Aquaponic System Is Easy And Fast!)

How To Get "Started":

Many amateur aquaponics "gurus" call startup "cycling". That's a term that comes from the aquarium industry, and doesn't have much to do with aquaponics. We feel the term is misleading; a “cycle” is something that happens again and again (and you only ever need to do this once). We just call it startup.


"Startup" time is when you fill the system with clean water and introduce ammonia and nitrifying bacteria to begin the nitrification cycle which powers plant growth. 


We will tell you how to startup your system in three simple paragraphs. If you follow instructions to the letter, everything will work fine. However, these paragraphs can’t possibly cover all the ways startup can get difficult, especially the ways that are out of your control. So first we’ll give you those three simple paragraphs, then we’ll fill several pages detailing the things you might have to deal with, and give you simple ways to avoid these difficulties.


1. If you just fill your aquaponic system with water and put fish in it, it will start up all by itself. You can’t prevent it from starting up unless you do something really dumb. To start it up sooner (so you have vegetables to eat sooner) simply “inoculate” it with some of the nitrifying bacteria that occur naturally in aquaponics water. You can buy these from a mail-order company such as Aquatic EcoSystems (877-347-4788, on the web at, or at a local aquarium store. Don’t believe their salesman when they tell you “how much you need”. We were told we needed a gallon per 1,000 gallons of system water, yet we started up a 24,000 gallon aquaponics system quite nicely with a single $42 gallon of bacterial inoculant (24 of those would have been $1,800 with the shipping!).


2. We recommend operating your system with 0.3 pounds of fish per square foot of raft area or media bed. However, we suggest starting your system with 10-20% or so of this recommended operating amount of fish. There are two reasons for this: first, it is difficult and/or expensive to just buy a large amount (by weight) of live fish. Second, until your nitrifying bacteria get well established and numerous, you do not want to inject too much ammonia into your system, which is what “too many fish” will do. Ammonia levels of 3 ppm or over in your water will slow down or stop your system startup in its tracks, because the nitrifying bacteria in your inoculant are inhibited by too much ammonia, even though it’s their “food”. It’s like that kid’s movie “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs”; at first, the people thought it was cool that food was raining from the sky, then it turned into a big problem for them. Too much ammonia is a big problem for your nitrifying bacteria, and will stop your startup dead.


3. Although there are some bacteria present in the water itself, these bacteria are primarily “colonizers”, which means that they live in colonies on solid surfaces; this is sometimes called a “biofilm”. There is a limited amount of surface area for them to colonize in your brand-new aquaponics system, and as a result, there is a limited amount of bacteria; and they can only process a small amount of ammonia, period.

But, as you put baby plants into your system during startup, you are adding a tremendous amount of surface area (the bacteria colonize their roots!), and as your plants grow and increase their root area, the bacteria colonize them and increase exponentially until they can handle an incredible amount of ammonia.


4. Let me explain that (dang! I went into four paragraphs!): I did a “back-of-the-napkin” calculation on the amount of plant roots in our system after doing a rough measurement and count of the roots on a few sample plants, and came up with a root surface area denominated in square miles, in an aquaponics system of only 5,000 square feet! This made the amount of system “area” represented by the sides and bottoms of the fish tank, the sides of the troughs, and the bottoms of the rafts look positively sick! When you have a new system that you’re just planting baby plants (with teeny roots) into, there’s very little area for the bacteria to colonize, as compared with later, when your system is mature and you have lots of big plants with acres or square miles of root area. This is why it’s easy to overload a young system with ammonia during startup. Once you’re through startup, you don’t need to worry about this again.

(So that's how to startup your system! Our next newsletter will cover the possible difficulties you could have during startup, and how to deal with them successfully. Thanks for listening!).

An Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse with the participants in our second June 2013 course in Tennessee!

June2013Class1-385px 2

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 2014 Commercial Aquaponics and Greenhouse Trainings;

Texas Training from January 13th to the 17th at Ben Godfrey's farm in Milam County, Texas (Click here for more information!).

Tennessee Training from January 27th to the 31st at Randy Campbell's farm in Elora, Tennessee (Click here for more information!).

These 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 Jamuary to learn about profitable commercial aquaponics, check out our Personal Intensive trainings in Hawaii.

(Below) One of Ben and Alysha Godfrey's aquaponics systems in a greenhouse in Milam County, Texas. I can't wait to taste their system water! lettuce2-385px

(Below) Another of Ben and Alysha's aquaponic greenhouses.

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

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, and 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 a 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 or Texas, Randy and Katie Campbell (in Tennessee) and Ben Godfrey (in Texas) 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.

In Tennessee: Call Randy and Katie at 256-679-9488 or email Randy to find out when the next farm tour is scheduled.

In Texas: Call Ben at 254-697-2927 or email Ben to find out when their next "Family Day" farm tour is scheduled ($15 fee per family is charged).

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!

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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 Farm Tour on our farm the FIRST Saturday of every month at 10:00,  focused on growing food with aquaponics.  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 Texas January 2014 (13th-17th)

Or sign yourself up for the Tennessee January 2014 (27th-31st)

Commercial Aquaponics and Solar Greenhouse Training
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!

Our four affiliates are now offering Micro System courses.

Click here
for a listing of affiliates and course locations!


"Fish Bites: Food-Grade Liners and Fish Tanks"

Corrugated steel round fish tanks come from Scafco Grain Systems,

Tell them you need an open-top tank, not one with a conical steel roof, which you don't need or want for a fish tank.

For Liner, order standard sizes AND custom-sized round and rectangular food-grade vinyl liners from DLM Plastics, 1530 Harvard Avenue, Findlay, OH, 45840, 419-424-5250. Get "White NSF-61 PVC", it is FOOD-GRADE vinyl (the "NSF" on the label means "National Sanitation Foundation").

"In The Farmily: Lucky's Story, Part 4"

Then we remembered one of the most critical things of all: we needed to have a Hawaiian name for Lucky. We live in Hawaii, he was born in Hawaii. But you don’t just “pick” a Hawaiian name; you ask, and wait until it is given to you by an elder Hawaiian who has “mana” (means “personal spiritual power” in Hawaiian); otherwise the name is just meaningless sounds.

This is someone the family knows, who is very respected, and who has high moral stature. We thought of such a person immediately; John Kaimikaua, Susanne’s Hawaiian kumu, or spiritual teacher.


John, who has since walked the rainbow, was a highly respected and revered member of Hawaii’s hula community. He was the human repository of traditional Hawaiian chants thousands of lines long that he had memorized, beginning when he was a boy of eleven.

But John had a very private life; we had only met with him in gatherings where he appeared in public; all we knew for certain was that his “halau” (hula school) was on the island of Oahu somewhere, and he was originally from the island of Molokai. We had no idea how to connect with him; no phone number and no address.


So I got a phone book, opened it to the Yellow Pages, and started phoning “Hula Studios” one by one. There were twenty-one on Oahu. Almost all knew John, but had no idea how to get in touch with him. Some gave me “other people to call”.

Once I got a lady who said: “Yes, I know how to get in touch with him, but I can’t tell you. Tell me who you are, give me your phone number, and the next time I talk to him I will give it to him”. Pretty close to despair, I phoned the last number.


I realize I need to explain that “pretty close to despair” comment: in ancient Hawaii, infants weren’t named until they had survived through their first year; then they were given a name at a feast and community celebration of their birth. We were so intent on finding Lucky’s Hawaiian name because we felt, somehow, that it would help keep him alive.


I phoned the last number: “Patty’s Hula Studio”. The others had all had long Hawaiian names (I speak some Hawaiian and understand far more than I speak), and somehow, I thought the answer would be there. I confess I thought “Patty” was probably some know-nothing rich haole who had a hula halau as a hobby.

John was one of the most traditional hula teachers, who focused on “hula kahiko”, or ancient Hawaiian hula, which told epic stories of history, battles, and movements of people, stars, and gods; nothing like the modern hula which talks about moonlight in Waikiki. And probably nothing “Patty” would know about.


Patty answered, in a beautiful voice with a local lilt to it, and after I had explained why I needed to get in touch with John, she said “of course, I have his number right here. Do you have something to write with?”. I would have carved it into my arm with a fingernail at that point, so I said “of course”, and she gave it to me.


Susanne was in the ward with Lucky; I called the number, and got John. I explained who I was, what had happened to Lucky, and what we were asking of him. He said: “Yes, I will meditate on it.”, and I thanked him, getting ready to say “Aloha, goodbye”’; then he stopped me by saying: “Wait, wait, something is coming down now...... Ka Mana Ihi O Keola.... “The Sacred Power Of Life, that is your baby’s name”.


I thanked John as well as I could for such an incredible gift; went back to the ward and told the story to Susanne. She cried (of course), and I cried (of course).

Somehow we had a firmer grip on the idea that our baby was going to live. Not a belief, because we know beliefs are mostly fairy tales. It was just that somehow, things felt different now Lucky had a Hawaiian name.

(to be continued)

Aloha, Tim....

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This email, our manuals and construction plans are all copyrighted by  Friendly Aquaponics, Inc, Susanne Friend and Tim Mann, 2008-2013

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