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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 18
September 2nd, 2010
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,
 We just got our second USDA organic certification from Organic Certifiers from Ventura, California. This means that now new aquaponic growers can get certified through Oregon Tilth, OR through Organic Certifiers, the two largest certifying companies in the US.

Why is this certification important? Organic Certifiers inspected and approved our Low Density Aquaponics Systems designs in addition to our original adaptations of the standard University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) aquaponics system. This means that commercial growers now have a wider variety of system configurations to select from when tailoring their operation for financial success. For an explanation of why systems that grow LESS fish could be GOOD for you, and why systems that grow MORE fish could cause you a PROBLEM, please click here.

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:
Construction Plans and Operating Information for 4 Different Sizes of Apartment/Condo Aquaponics Systems $49.95

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!

Aquaponics Nugget #18:
Types of Aquaponics Systems (Part 2 )

Today we'll cover several types of aquaponics systems, hopefully explaining their differences well enough so you can understand and make an intelligent choice for your own system.

Deep-Water Culture (often also called Raft Aquaponics). DWC in its simplest form is a fish tank and a hydroponics trough or water container of some sort. There's a pump that circulates water through the system, and usually an air pump or blower that supplies aeration to the fish and plants in the system. This is the kind of aquaponic systems we use on our farm, because they are the least expensive to build and operate, and the most productive for the least labor. They are also currently the ONLY systems that are certified organic.

Gravel-Bed Aquaponics: These systems grow vegetables by running the system water through beds or tanks filled with different sizes and types of gravel, with the plants planted directly into the gravel. These systems also have a pump, but have differing methods of aerating and circulating the water; some have what are called autosiphons, and are set up to operate in flood-and-drain mode where at times the gravel dries out and at times is flooded; other systems simply flow the water through the gravel, just below the surface of the gravel.

We have reports of gravel bed hydroponics working for a few months in the tropics, then the bacteria associated with aquaponics clogging the interstitial spaces between the gravel bits, not only gluing them together, but also creating anaerobic decomposition zones that generate all kinds of nasty stuff that gets back into the system and uses up all the oxygen. As the system clogs it gets less efficient at growing plants and keeping fish alive, and the gravel eventually has to be removed and washed or replaced. Gravel beds seem to work much better in temperate climates, i.e. Australia, but they may still have the following drawbacks:

Planting into and harvesting out of gravel beds is a LOT more work than working with deep-bed raft hydroponics, where you can pick up a lightweight raft and move it to a couple of sawhorses at waist level to do your harvesting and replanting. Gravel beds are heavy, and are either on the ground (making your work harder because you need to bend over for planting and harvesting), or are up at waist level on a really strong frame that costs a lot of money and labor to build. It takes work to pull a plant's roots out of the gravel, and work to dig a seedling cube or a 2" net pot with a seedling in it into the gravel. In some systems there are issues with algae growing at the surface of the gravel. Some people solve these with ebb-and-flow systems, which we think are a recipe for a disaster (see Ebb-And-Flow in this section). 

To be fair here, we also have a report from a guy who designed a gravel bed system that has good drainage and aeration that seems to work just fine, in Texas in a climate similar to ours in Hawaii. To be even more fair, we have another report from someone who put in a good-sized commercial gravel bed system who has now removed the gravel and is using rafts in the system. We feel the labor involved makes these systems inapplicable to a commercial situation, and they may be more work for the backyard aquaponic gardener.

Nutrient-Film Technology (NFT) systems usually have narrow plastic troughs or pipes with a very shallow film of water flowing along the bottom of the trough/pipe (hence the name). Although a standard in the hydroponics industry, and well-suited for a bacteria-free chemical hydroponic environment, they can have a few problem areas:

The small-size water delivery lines that deliver water to the hydroponic channels tend to clog badly with the bacteria and crud that thrives in an aquaponics system. If the water supply is interrupted by a pump failure or a clog that is not caught right away, the system can lose its plants very quickly as they dry out rapidly with no water reservoir below to draw on. This is prevented in a raft system which always has deep water below the plants. Also, NFT systems usually involve more than one pump which creates more potential failure points than a one-pump system.

The infrastructure for NFT, with all the racks, movable troughs, and greenhouses (which are required so this stuff doesn't blow away in a big wind) is expensive, much more expensive by our estimates than the aquaponics systems we use. We are thinking of trying a modified test NFT system that we call a "thick" NFT system, with 2" of water in the troughs, and a vertical rack system. We should have this information available to put in our course manuals within six months or so.

"System Kits", and "Complete Systems": We can't use trade names or refer to specific companies doing aquaponics business. However, there's a bewildering variety of systems out there that are built with old used plastic barrels (or even more expensive brand-new ones), fiberglass planting trays, plastic and fiberglass fish tanks, tank stands, custom greenhouses, special biofilters, “trademarked” this and that; it goes on and on.

We’re sure the people selling these systems are good people. But we've seen websites offering aquaponics systems for sale that cost three to ten times as much as if you just bought the parts yourself from the same places they buy them. These inflated prices often do not include all the materials necessary to build the system, nor shipping, nor construction and assembly.

There's nothing magical about the equipment these people sell. If you have someone to show you the way, you can build and operate the most economical, productive, efficient, and durable aquaponics systems yourself, from parts and materials you buy locally. If you take the time to acquire the knowledge, you will save a ton of money, have more fun, and you will have the understanding to be able to solve problems yourself instead of having to call on the "experts" and pay them more money.

Most important, a
nyone can build an aquaponics system, but operating one without good and easily-understood information can be frustrating. Part of the information in our manuals 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 realized that we needed a "Part 2" of "Types of Aquaponics Systems", and promise that we will put the twice-delayed "Water Quality" Nugget in this newsletter next week).

Regular Free Workshops

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

We're holding 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. 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 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 often get this question at our weekly "Farmily" farm tours "Can't I Just Raise Some Fish In My Pond?” Everyone wants to do it more easily and simply. When you understand how aquaponics systems work, you will know that the hydroponics portion acts as a biofilter for the fish tank water, cleaning and recirculating it so the fish stay healthy. In a stand-alone fish tank or "pond", the fish excrete urine and solids into the water. Because there's no recirculating aquaponics system that cleans the water by converting this stuff into plants that then get harvested and taken out of the system, the urine and solids just build up in the pond until you get an algae bloom, i.e., a whole lot of phytoplankton taking advantage of the nutrients in the water.

When algae blooms, the result is a high DO level (dissolved oxygen) in the daytime because of all the algae photosynthesizing and creating oxygen. Oxygen is good for the fish, but algae isn't, because there is a reverse cycle in the dark of night (called the Diel cycle) that is caused by the die-off of the phytoplankton, which have a 2 to 4 hour long life cycle. The nightly die-off of phytoplankton consumes much or all of the oxygen they made in the daytime, which reduces the DO level, sometimes dangerously. The DO can easily go so low it stresses the fish at night, which means they grow poorly and may not reproduce at all. Some of these stunted fish may manage to breed, and some of the fry make it to very small adult size. What this means is that without a biofilter similar to an aquaponics system connected to it, or a WHOLE LOT of water being flushed through it daily, a tank or pond will have a lot of  algae and just a few 7" to 8" long fish in it after a year of operation.

Aquaponics solves this problem nicely, AND gives you a ton of vegetables in addition to the fish. W
hen they are mature, these are stable, dynamic, and complex systems that are similar to natural pond or stream ecosystems in the variety of life they support.

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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