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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 135
September 3rd,  2013
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend

Being a pioneer can be scary. You're in new territory without any maps; "There be sea serpents here!", as the old charts used to say. There are no aquaponic sea serpents, but after surviving a near-bankruptcy (in another life, in a different business) I know there are risks in any business that one needs to minimize wherever possible. It's a new world out there: huge companies like GM need bailouts costing billions, and major banks and brokerages melt like snow in the summertime. The old rules no longer apply.

How does one navigate this brand new world? In 2006, we had two thriving businesses tied to the construction industry. When they both went poof in 2007, we decided to grow food. We were uncertain how to start, but we knew food never goes out of style; people don't stop buying it like houses and cars when the economy gets difficult.

After less than a week of intense research, we set our feet on the path that led to us becoming the first aquaponics farm in the world to get USDA organically certified in 2008, the first ever to deliver to Costco, and the first to share everything we learned with others who wanted to duplicate our success. Our farm has paid the bills since the first check came in September 2009.

We'll talk a lot more about the greenhouses and their integrated aquaponic systems we pioneered and developed (in the series beginning in this week's Nugget) but 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).

In today's "Nugget", we start a brand-new series on "Energy-Efficient Greenhouses For Aquaponic Growing". If you're hoping to be able to grow food year-round for your own use or as a business, we'll show you how to make that desire a reality in the most affordable and sustainable way.

Our "In The Farmily" column today is about how our Farmily is moving towards a life of self-sufficiency and sustainability!

Aquaponics Nugget #135, Part 1: Energy-Efficient Greenhouses For Aquaponics

Where We Started:


A year and ten months ago our goal was to develop the world's most efficient all-weather growing structures, but at the same time have them be affordable and productive. We knew a lot of the basics (suggested reading: our back newsletters #'s 60-72 for a "Primer On Energy-Efficient Greenhouses") but have learned so many ways to improve them during the last year and eight months since we finished and planted out our greenhouse.

First Generation: the Hawaii Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse. We got 90% of it right the first time around, which is practically unheard-of for first generation anything! Because we only deal with heat (not cold), the improvements we need for Hawaii are larger vents and a water wall (we'll explain a lot more about these in this series).


Generally Speaking:

Here's the Basic Rule Of Greenhouses: "The more extreme your local weather "extremes" are, the more you will have to spend to get a greenhouse that can successfully cope with them. If your winters are in the teens or single digits (Fahrenheit), and your summers are in the high 90's to low 100's, you will have to spend more for a greenhouse than if your climate was milder.

In Hawaii, we don't need a greenhouse at all! So it's actually funny that we ended up with a greenhouse that will work in the temperatures just noted. We built this "unnecessary" greenhouse because the bulk of our students live in places where greenhouses are necessary for year-round growing. Our purpose in building our greenhouse was so we could understand and improve on the technology, then share it with people in places that require greenhouses.

There's no magic wand to give you a cheap greenhouse that will keep your plants warm when there's snow outside, and cool when it's cooking outside; it costs what it costs. The good news is that the energy-efficient technologies we've developed use only a fraction of the energy that conventional greenhouses do for heating and cooling. Because your main concerns are how much these greenhouses cost, and how much they produce, this series focuses on construction and operation cost and production numbers. And to do that, the first "study case" we'll present has no greenhouse at all included. This is the least expensive scenario possible!

How do you grow in an aquaponics system in a temperate climate using no greenhouse? The same way you grow in the soil; by only growing during the normal growing season. I'm sure you have realized by now that you can't just plant "fish seeds" to get your fish going again in the Spring the way you plant vegetable seeds; so how does this work?

As Fall gets closer and the weather gets colder, you will do a final harvest on your vegetables, then drain your vegetable troughs and cover them with tarps or black 6-mil plastic, remembering to weigh it down with sand in garbage bags or something similar so it doesn't blow away in the winter wind. Now, with your troughs secured for the winter, turn your attention to the fish.

You will have two problems to solve in order to keep your fish alive and in good shape for the Spring: one is keeping them warm enough that they don't die; and two is keeping the water in the fish tank clean enough that the fish don't get sick (and die). Let's tackle number one first:

One: Because you had planned for this, your fish tank is in some sort of an insulated protective structure that shields it from the wind: a small greenhouse, a prefab storage building, or a structure you build. This structure's walls are well insulated, and it is well insulated underneath the floor. You can accomplish the same thing by putting the fish tank in an uninsulated structure, but insulating it well on the outside and underneath it.

Hook up a propane- or natural gas-fired pool heater with a thermostat and a circulation pump to this tank, set the thermostat temperature at the lower end of the fish's "comfort range" (the range of temperatures that the fish can survive within!). Keeping the fish at the lower end of their range keeps them alive but uses the smallest possible amount of fuel to do so. A setup like this will maintain your tank temperature automatically at a small cost for electricity and gas in most locations. If you are a real do-it-yourselfer, you can use a wood stove or an automatic pellet-feeder stove to keep the fish tank water warm enough.

Sit down with a piece of paper and a calculator and get an idea what this will cost you before you start into a winter committed to keeping your fish alive; it won't do you much good to spend more money keeping the fish alive than it would cost to just buy new fish in the Spring.

Two: You need to feed the fish, (even in the wintertime) but you don't want to feed them too much. Fish will get irritated if they don't get everything they want to eat, but they won't die the way we do; they're far more energy-efficient creatures. If the fish are kept at the lower end of their comfort range of temperature, they will metabolize much more slowly, eat less food, and poop less. This last is important, because the more they poop, the more ammonia the poop generates as it decays, and the more tank water you'll have to dump to bring the ammonia in the tank down to a safe level for the fish.

Monitor tank ammonia level at least every two to three days, and if you're using tilapia, catfish, koi, or most perch, dump half the tank water and refill anytime that ammonia gets up to 3 ppm (parts per million). If you're using trout or another fish that is more sensitive to ammonia than tilapia and these others are, experts suggest keeping the ammonia level below 0.5 ppm.

In the Spring, when you're sure you've passed your last "freeze", refill your troughs and turn on the pump that pumps the water back to the fish tank. Your fish tank kept your fish and your nitrifying bacteria alive through the winter; but the bacteria will take a little while (maybe two to three weeks) to get all the surfaces in the troughs fully colonized again, forming what's called a "biofilm".

If you're smart (and properly equipped!), you will have started your first batch of seedlings in a warm location, either in a small greenhouse or inside a building under artificial light, so that they're ready to put into the troughs when the weather turns nice and your nitrifiers are well established again. Gradually feed your fish more and more as your plants get bigger, and your nitrifying bacteria get well established again. As your plants get more mature (and you continue planting out the system until the whole thing is again full), the plant's ability to remove nitrates is soon back up to par, your ammonia and nitrites are nice and low, and you're in normal operation again until next Winter. That's it!

(Next newsletter in this series will continue explaining our Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse Technology, with tips on how to make your own greenhouse more efficient, 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 Commercial Aquaponics Training Schedule: Tennessee:

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). Register before September 1st and you are automatically entered in a drawing to win a COMPLETE 64 square foot backyard Micro System. This includes everything you need to get started (just add fish, media and seeds; shipping not included). This is an $1,800 value, and the course only costs $1,495.

(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 two Micro System trainings being given by our affiliates right now (see sidebar). If you read below the turquoise box in the middle of the newsletter, you'll see that we also encourage and work with "Commercial" level affiliates 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

(Below) Our Farmily with our product in a "Big Box" store; the first time ever that a little mom and pop (Aquaponics!) farm took an account away from a multimillion dollar agribusiness. You'll see more of this, because you as consumers will demand it!

Costco cold room small 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

SPECIAL OFFER: For a FREE MICRO SYSTEM! (yes, the whole SYSTEM, an $1,800 value!):

Sign yourself up for the FIRST

Or sign yourself up for the SECOND

TENNESSEE September 2013 Commercial Aquaponics and Solar Greenhouse Trainings
NOW, and enter the drawing for the FREE $1,800 Micro System. Plus, you ALSO receive a free Micro System DIY package so you can begin studying aquaponics, as soon as you register! ($99.95 value)

Also: 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!

Also, for a great two day Basic Aquaponics Course, attend Sahib Punjab's Backyard and Small Urban Farming class in Orlando, FL, on the 7th and 8th of September. Sahib's goal in his workshop is to empower you to grow your own food naturally, right in your own backyard.

Visit Sahib's website  for more information.

In The Farmily:

Our Farmily experienced a scare in 2010 when a tsunami was predicted to hit our local shipping port of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. We weren't worried about getting clobbered by the wave, in fact we'd planned to go to a friend's house that overlooks Waipio Valley beach to see the wave hit the beach! There were warnings out from the night before, and everyone knew to stay off the beach. That wasn't the problem.

The problem was that we were out of propane. We threw the propane bottles into the truck, and found ourselves in a line twenty cars and trucks long at the propane store. On the way to the propane store, we passed three gas stations with lines from twenty to thirty cars long each. And then it hit us like a brick: if Hilo docks got clobbered by the tsunami, there would be no more gas or propane coming onto the island for months until they got rebuilt.

We got our propane, got our diesel and gas, and made it to our friends in time to see nothing at all, because the wave (which had been six to ten feet when it hit Tahiti earlier), was not even visible where we were. When it "hit" Hilo, it was only about 12 inches high, and just caused an impressive "surge" in the harbor, but no damage!

When we stopped to think about it, this experience underscored how dependent we are on imports in Hawaii, and especially how vulnerable we are to interruptions in our oil supply.

If the wave had been destructive, we would have had about two weeks of gas and diesel on the island (except the Civil Defense would have immediately requisitioned it, and there would have been none for private citizens).

We might have had two weeks of electricity from the local oil-fired utility plant if they didn't shut it down or put it on partial service to save fuel, then we would be walking or bicycling anywhere we needed to go and cooking on wood fires.

They would have made the docks on the other side of the island (which were never designed for fuel off-loading) serve the purpose temporarily with temporary facilities, about six weeks after the wave. We then would have had about six months to a year of heavy rationing at two or three times the regular price for these "necessities" before they got the docks rebuilt and we were finally back on our blissfully ignorant way.

To find out what we're doing about this situation, and to learn more about what you can do to promote your energy independence, you can visit our pages Alternate Energy on the Farm and Biogas on the Farm.  and read our newsletter series on Alternate Energy For Aquaponics (this is the last newsletter in the 4-newsletter series, but it has links to all the first three!).

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

What does this little tale get you thinking about?

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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