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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 44
July 19th,  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,
What's happening at Friendly Aquaponics these days? We're doing something we should have done a lot sooner. We've planted 180 varieties of vegetables in our aquaponics systems to do in-depth growth and marketing testing on them. Six months from now, all that information will be in the manuals and available to the public. We've been guilty along with everyone else in aquaponics of just growing lettuce and basil, and basil and lettuce forever, to the point that there's little or no information available anywhere about how to grow REAL FOOD in aquaponics systems.

That's what we're doing now. Let them grow lettuce and basil; we're growing butternut squash, and melons, and sixteen different varieties of tomatoes, twelve varieties of beans, even some things that look like they might attack you and try to eat you!. Although we originally did a test planting of 135 varieties of vegetables in our first commercial aquaponics system in 2007, we switched over to lettuce so soon that we didn't get the information we needed to see which other vegetables produced enough to be considered for commercial aquaponics system use.

We needed to pay the bills, and lettuce is valuable, easy to grow and market. By the way, aquaponics systems grow the best tasting lettuce you've ever had! We'll still grow lettuce because everyone loves it, just not lettuce to the exclusion of everything else.
Although we're still tracking down the origins of the lettuce blight that hit us, it hit at least five other Big Island farmers we know of at the same time. Some of these farmers are organic-in-the-soil farmers, so it is beginning to look like it was a systemic island-wide event rather than a disease that singled out just our farm, or that only affected aquaponics farms.

We've got lettuce back in our systems now, and it looks fine. Susanne has done some sophisticated water testing now, along with one other aquaponics farm, and she's gotten the USDA plant analysis lady to go to the other farms and check them out as part of this mystery lettuce disease adventure. One of the things we're quite suspicious of is that the lettuce blight appeared in farms that were either ONLY growing lettuce or PRIMARILY growing lettuce, in other words, in farms that were monocropping. The best you can say about this situation is that it encourages diseases by offering lots of landing area, and by not cycling different crops that don't get the same diseases.

If you're interested in commercial scale aquaponics, please take a look at our Commercial Aquaponics Trainings (Special Offer in right sidebar of this email), where you will learn more about real-life operation of a commercial aquaponics system than you can anywhere else in the world. 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, 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 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 #44:
"Cheap" Fish Food is NOT Cheap!

As we mentioned in our previous newsletter #41 (NOW available with all the other newsletters on the "Tadaah!!!" Back Issues Of Newsletters page, that we finally got around to creating after all you readers considerately and politely bugged us for long enough to REALLY embarrass us) an additional benefit of farming aquaponically is that decent-sized aquaponics systems eliminate mosquitoes in a sizable surrounding area! If this interests you, please visit our new webpage Malaria Eradication Systems to find out more about this amazing and valuable phenomenon!

We are REALLY, REALLY going to cover the
"Cheap Fish Food is NOT Cheap!" subject I promised eons ago. Now. Really!

Many of us tend to use price as our only consideration when purchasing things. A common example is eating something cheap instead of something you actually WANT to eat that costs more. You feel bad afterwards, have gas, get a headache (our kids all do now after McDonalds, and don't even ASK to go there anymore!), and don't end up with the nutrition you were really after. What appeared to save you money ends up costing you far more. Cheap fish food is the same.

We first experimented with cheap fish food when we tried feeding some $0.34/pound dog food to our tilapia. This was at a time when the fish food we used 500 pounds a month of had just increased in price from $0.42/pound to $0.60/pound. We threw the dog food in the fish tank; it floated, got soft, and the fish ate it.
We thought we had found a way to save some money until the next day, when we took a look at the top of the fish tank, and found wads of floating, gritty, yellow fish poop. If you rubbed a wad of the stuff between your fingers it was as gritty as if you had crushed a bunch of corn chips and mixed them with water. It was obvious that not much of the nutritional value of the dog food (if any!) had remained inside the fish. So we canned this experiment early, and the fish rejoiced by eating even more of their "expensive" food. We hadn't really gotten the message yet. Isn't that the way with life? You almost have to get hit over the head with something to pay attention.

Then, I got a call from a student whose plants had nitrogen deficiencies and looked sickly. Fortunately it was fish feeding time, and I saw him throw a handful of pellets into the fish tank that were at least 5/16" in diameter before they started to soak up water. The fish just ate a few of the pellets, then left the rest alone; VERY different from feeding time at our place, where you have to step back quickly from the tanks after you throw the food in so you don't get soaked.

These pellets got almost 1/2" in diameter when soggy, and still floated; the fish didn't eat any more of them when they got soft. So, not only were the fish eating a much smaller amount of the fish food per fish than our fish were, what came out the other end of the fish was full of large gritty particles that (we reasoned), would go out into the aquaponics troughs and, because of their large size and proportionately small surface area, take a long time to break down into ammonia, then nitrites, nitrates, and all the micro nutrients needed by the plants. Our fish food comes out of our fish in the form of slimy poop "strings" that just dissolve between your fingers if you rub them together. It breaks down into nearly invisible particles so soon after it is excreted that we hardly ever see any floating fish poop on top of our tank water.

Our guess was that the nitrogen deficiency was due to these fish eating a LOT less of this food than our fish ate of our smaller pellet size food (pound per pound), and also due to a less-complete processing of the fish food (on its way through the fish) that didn't allow it to break down as quickly as the 1/8" diameter pellet size that we use.

Another thing we noticed was that you could crush a pellet of our fish food and it would turn to a very fine dust with no grit in it; and when you tried to crush a pellet of the gritty food, it was still gritty!  The cheap food had been manufactured with a much larger particle size of corn and soybeans (major fish food ingredients) because grinding the corn and soybeans coarsely was much cheaper than grinding them to a smaller size. In other words, the cheap food started out gritty and stayed gritty, and the more expensive, finely-ground food started out, well, finely-ground, and ended up coming out of the fish even more finely ground!

So, two years later one of our students with a commercial aquaponics system asked me to take a look at it, and I saw the exact same phenomenon: he had been buying a "cheap" large-pellet-size, gritty fish food that left gritty fish poops on top of the tank water. The plants didn't quite seem right, not sick or suffering from nitrogen deficiency, but not doing well, the way plants in an aquaponics system normally look.

I lifted a raft, and in contrast to the normal light-colored or white roots I expected to see, I found darkish-colored roots with a light coating of slime. Apparently the fish poop, instead of breaking down into the fine particles ours does, had floated out into the troughs and deposited onto the plant roots to finish the process of decomposition there. I recommended switching fish foods to the "expensive" food (that breaks down inside the fish and inside the fish tank into fine particles), and it seems to have solved the problem.

The moral here is, cheap is often too expensive to use! The same reasoning applies to blowers, water pumps, and other equipment. Aquatic Eco Systems gives a great example of a "cheap" $259 water pump in their catalog that only uses $813 more of electricity per year than the "expensive" $479 water pump. So, be on the lookout for ways to do things more economically and more easily, but also try to see everything that is affected by your choice to make sure that your choice isn't actually costing you more in the long run.

(Next week: "How To Try Something New in Aquaponics, And Have It Work the First Time!" (This is a logical extension of the "good scientific method" explained in our Newsletter #41!)

Click to see our new Video!

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 October 2011 Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training OR our September 2011 Florida 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 Hawaii and Florida Commercial Aquaponics Training

In The Farmily
We've talked about gratitude a lot in  "In The Farmily", and this week we're appreciative that two organic farmers from Kyoto, Japan, could travel halfway around the world to join us at the Friendly Farm to learn about aquaponics. David, Mido, and their son Nouah have joined the Farmily and are soaking up aquaponic knowledge. Susanne set this up; she invited them to come gratis, stay at our home, and do our Personal Intensive Training when David first inquired about what was possible.

This is particularly important to us. When we first saw the videos of the tsunami engulfing the coastal areas of Japan, we thought of the loss of life and human suffering that would ensue. But our second thought was of all the farmland that now would be useless for tens or hundreds of years because it was soaked with salt. This was before the news broke about the Fukushima nuclear plant releasing radioactivity in the area, further polluting and removing even more farmland from possible future use for food production.

Our third thought was: "They need aquaponics there; it can grow food without needing fertile soil, and would work fine on land that was too salty for anything else".

Our hope now is that David, Mido, and Nouah take aquaponics back to Japan and share and spread this new food production technology where it  can do the most good.

Everyone who used to live within 20 kilometers of the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, Japan, has been evacuated from their homes, never to go back within their lifetimes.  It's that simple: move or die. Farms, homes, businesses, lives spent in a familiar community, are all gone now, with no clue and not much help for these people to build new lives and livelihoods.

There are some international authorities who claim that this 20-kilometer "dead zone" needs to be expanded to 50 kilometers, and that perhaps the contamination may spread even further than that, as this "nuclear event" is far from over because the reactor's fuel is not yet safely contained, and there are many significant technical barriers to doing so.

The Fukushima incident has now been classified a level 7,  the highest level of nuclear disaster. The ONLY level 7 incident ever recorded was Chernobyl. Three Mile Island was only considered a level 5.

So, this week, we've been appreciating sitting in our nice, dry home that is not radioactive, and reflecting on how happy we are to have been able to reach out personally and individually,  and help people in trouble in a land 5,000 miles away.

It's been quite a month!
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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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PO Box 1196
Honoka'a, Hawaii 96727

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