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size-grading harvester

Our size-grading fish harvester results in zero fish mortality

We invite you to our fourth Commercial Aquaponics Training and First Biogas Training being held April 19th through 23rd, 2010, in Honoka'a, Hawaii. Your trainers Susanne and Tim guarantee it will be the most valuable training of any kind you have ever taken or your money will be cheerfully refunded in front of the entire class!

You can do this too! We'd never farmed before in our lives, and just two years after breaking ground we're delivering 650 pounds of organic lettuce mix per week to our local Costco!

squash and melons in our aquaponics

Squash and melon plants in our aquaponics system

Our students now operate 12 commercial aquaponics farms (3 are USDA certified organic), as a result of the training we gave in October 2008 alone. Many more projects by students are underway.

Complete plans, manuals, materials lists, and contact information for suppliers are all included in your course. Our training will hugely reduce your learning curve with aquaponics, save you a ton of money, and allow you to do this in months instead of years! And it's fun! We've had more fun working outdoors on our aquaponics farm than we ever had in our office- or construction-based businesses.

freshwater prawn

Freshwater prawn from our hydroponics troughs

New Aquaponics Technology at April Training:

  • Energy-efficient Aquaponics System uses one-tenth the energy, produces the same volume of vegetables
  • New system configuration means you can build more grow bed area for a lower cost than ever before
  • Economical fish hatchery/nursery technology
  • New, faster sprouting and growth technology
  • No-hormone fish culture retains organic certification for vegetables, same fish yields
  • Most important: how to sell high-quality aquaponics produce to the "Big Box" stores
  • Aquaponics training in the classroom

    Sign up now for your Aquaponics training ($1,500) and we will email you a free copy of our Micro System package for you to begin studying aquaponics now! ($49.95 value)
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    aquaponics hands-on

    Hands-on aquaponics training in the field

    First-time ever Hawaii biogas training

    This training will be held on April 23rd right after the Aquaponics Training and will be hosted and taught by David House, the author of the "Biogas Handbook", which will also be included as the course textbook. The training will cover:

    The many uses of biogas (methane) on a small farm: heating, cooking, hot water, light, engine fuel, refrigeration, and more

    Explanation of the use of diverse substrates (the "stuff" you feed the biogas digester) allows you to use available wastes for energy from biogas

    Use of appropriate technology (read cheap!) to build and operate economically

    Hands-on sessions at the farm give you practical experience in building and operating systems

     

    Sign up for Hawaii BioGas training ($250) and receive your copy of the "BioGas Handbook" to begin study now!
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    watercress in aquaponics system

    Watercress loves aquaponics!

    crawfish

    Keep crawfish out of your aquaponics! (We covered this in newsletter #2)

    Aloha Aquaponics Enthusiast,

    Our first two newsletters were received so favorably by readers that we’re going to put all our newsletters onto our website so you can refer to them whenever you wish. We will continue the same format of "nuggets" of aquaponics information. With this newsletter we are expanding that to include all elements of sustainable food production. If you have specific questions about aquaponics, biogas, or sustainable food production, please either check our website at friendlyaquaponics.com, or email us at training@friendly aquaponics.com with your question, and we will include the answer in future newsletters as well so everyone can benefit from it. Thanks for your interest in the future of aquaponics and biogas!.

     Nugget #5: Welcome to the Farmily!

    This nugget should be titled “Why aquaponics needs to replace conventional agriculture as soon as possible so we don’t run out of food”. Aquaponics is the only modern agricultural technique that doesn’t need to rely on oil. Conventional agriculture cannot operate without cheap oil, because all the machines run on it. Manufacturing the chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides is also extremely energy-intensive and requires a LOT of oil. Commercial-scale organic agriculture also must have cheap oil to operate, because it uses exactly the same machines (plus a few more such as compost shredders and spreaders), and the fertilizer it runs on comes from planting and plowing in cover crops, and from composting wastes usually brought in from off-farm; all of which are oil-intensive activities involving tractoring and trucks. Conventional and organic farming both use EXACTLY the same amount of our non-sustainable petroleum resources; there’s NO benefit oil-wise in going organic!. If we wait until our oil runs out, we’re going to be up the proverbial creek without a paddle, scratching rows in the dirt in our backyards with hoes and hoping for the best.

    And the oil is running out; the United States stopped being able to supply its oil needs from its own domestic sources in 1972. We’ve been dependent on foreign oil imports since then, and the percentage of imported oil we use has been steadily increasing. Why else do you think that all the overseas conflicts we’ve gotten into since 1972 have been in oil-rich Middle Eastern countries? Where is new oil going to come from? The answer is: there is NO NEW OIL! It’s a limited resource that will never be replenished, which we have to make last for the rest of our history on this planet. And the only way to do that is start switching from technologies that consume oil to alternate technologies that don’t, preferably now. It’s just like planting a tree: the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the next best time is today.

    Aquaponics offers the best alternative we’ve seen for switching from an unsustainable oil-dependent agricultural system to a sustainable energy-self-sufficient agricultural system. We’ve made improvements in energy-efficiency in our own aquaponics systems in the last two years so that now they run on only 30% of the energy our first systems used. Given that our first systems used only 50% of the energy that the UVI (University of the Virgin Islands) systems we learned on in 2007 do, our leading-edge systems are only using 15% of the energy the UVI-designed systems use. The importance of aquaponics systems in making our food supply sustainable is that they run on electricity, not oil, and thus can be powered from sustainable, alternate-energy sources. Unless you have draft horses and know how to hitch them up and plow (we do!), aquaponics is the only sustainable candidate for the future of the world’s food supply. Everything else uses a non-sustainable resource we are rapidly running out of.

    Even in Hawaii, with our prodigious geothermal and wind power resources, almost all our energy comes from burning oil in big diesel generators. It’s not a pretty picture; it happened that way because that’s what our utilities make the most money from. But it’s certainly not sustainable; we know that if the fuel barge doesn’t come, the utilites turn off the power in about a week max. We also have nine days worth of food on our supermarket shelves and import 94% of what we eat. This is absolutely insane in a state with a 365-day per year growing season.

    So, the farmily at Friendly Aquaponics has taken a stand. We are saying that we will shift this imbalance of energy and food dependency towards energy and food self-sufficiency and independence. We are only a small mom-and-pop farm with a small research budget, but we see the tremendous importance of this to the future of our communities. We’ve made huge progress in the last two years in making aquaponics more sustainable, even with our lack of funding and need to pay the bills while we do our research. We’d love to be better funded, or to attract a big player who saw the importance of this the way we do. But we’ll keep on keeping on no matter what. We have a window of time to do this in; we don’t know how long it is or how soon it will need to be implemented. So, we are doing everything we can now to make our own farm sustainable and to teach others how to grow in a sustainable manner. If you are interested and want to play, welcome to the Farmily!

     Nugget #6: Why we’re investing in biogas

    Half of our team (Tim) used to design and build electric wind turbines, so our thoughts a year and a half ago were to design and build a wind turbine to power our aeration blowers, have a more sustainable farm, and save money on electricity. Then we got a year of virtually no wind at our location, courtesy of “massive global climate change” (what they used to refer to as “global warming” until someone realized that some places were actually getting colder rather than warmer).

    This failure of wind sent us in another direction in which we learned about biogas and wrote a successful $45,000 grant for a biogas project (biogas is methane by another name). Methane can be used for virtually anything that propane or natural gas is used for, including heating, lighting, and powering internal combustion engine-driven electrical generators. You can use it to power automobiles and farm tractors. It can be made in a relatively low-tech fashion from any organic waste that was once alive, by putting that waste in a biogas digester (AKA a biogas generator) and “fermenting” it. During this process, the digester produces methane and as a side product, a liquid concentrate that is a wonderful fertilizer. So, we are building our first biogas project now. It looks like it will save us $1,100 of our current $1,500 per month farm energy bill.

    Now at this point people often ask “why don’t you just put in photovoltaic (PV, or solar electric) panels? Well, we checked it out and found that we can power the farm for only $250,000 worth of PV panels and charging system. Yes, Martha, solar electric is for rich people. The biogas-powered electric generating system we’re building has a target price tag in the $25-35,000 range for a 10 kW (ten kilowatt) system, which makes it more affordable for a wider range of users than photovoltaic systems. We’ll talk a little about biogas first so you have some background, then explain why the biogas concept has so much potential for aquaponic farmers in cold climates.

    The first part of our biogas project consists of building a biogas lab: yesterday we poured four footings for the lab and will start putting up posts and beams tomorrow. The lab will test different substrate recipes (the stuff the biogas digester runs on) and different techniques of making the biogas with different digester designs. It will will allow us to quantify the many variables that go into biogas production and then design a good affordable biogas digester with its attendant support systems and diesel electrical generator that is suitable for small farms. The lab will also give us data to develop methods and techniques so anyone with moderate construction and mechanical skills can produce biogas in an economical manner on a small farm.

    A little explanation is in order here: most current biogas technology is from city sewage treatment plants that treat liquid wastes with 2% solids content. This is the amount of solid “stuff” in the waste stream that is fed into the biogas digester. In other words, they’re processing mostly water, and need very large (and expensive) digesters to make their systems work. A small amount of biogas technology comes from the large dairy and swine farms across the United States that also put out liquid wastes with only 2% solids content. The price tag for these biogas/electrical generator installations on dairy and swine farms starts at around a half million dollars. So, the existing technology is unaffordable and also sized way too large for the average small farmer or sustainable community.

    A small amount of research has been done that indicates that high solids (10% solids) biogas production is feasible and also economically attractive. So, to make a biogas project for a small farm economically feasible, we need to figure out how to do 10% solids and a mix of different kinds of solids such as is commonly available on a small diversified farm, rather than the rather steady-state and steady volume of waste that a pig or dairy farm puts out. That’s where the biogas lab comes in. It allows us to try out a lot of different ideas in a short time on a small budget to refine our digester design before we have to spend $10-12,000 on our full-size digester that we only have one shot at getting right.

    To accomplish the most research economically in a short time, the lab has ten 5-gallon size digesters, six 6-gallon size digesters, and a single 500-gallon digester, with instrumentation to measure total gas production from each digester, plus analysis capabilities to measure the makeup and quality of the biogas we are generating. There are heat exchanger elements inside the digesters that circulate hot water captured from the waste heat of the electrical generator’s diesel exhaust so we can run the digesters in mesophilic mode (105-115 degrees F) as well as psychrophilic (65-85 degrees F) mode.

    The reason for the mesophilic mode is that even though the mesophilic digester uses up energy in the form of heat to heat its contents, it produces much more biogas in the same time than the psychrophilic-type digesters that operate at a lower temperature range. At the time of the training this April we should have the biogas lab fully operational, and will be doing hands-on training on building and operating the various elements of a biogas digester and its associated systems.

    Now that you have a basic understanding of our biogas project, we’ll explain why this is so important to aquaponics farmers in cold climates. We’re lucky to have a 365-day growing season at our farm in Hawaii, but most farmers in cold climates have a short growing season of only 5 to 7 months. They have to make all their income during this short time while having expenses that last for a full year. The two major problems these farmers face if trying to grow during wintertime are that heating greenhouses is expensive, and there’s not enough sunlight for good plant growth, resulting in a need for expensive supplemental lighting. Thus, they never even bother to build the greenhouses because ultimately the cost to produce the vegetables is not tied to the cost of the greenhouses but rather to unpredictable and continually rising petroleum-based energy costs for their heating and electricity.

    Biogas offers a potential and sustainable solution to these problems. The fuel that powers the diesel engine on an electrical generator turns into almost 65% waste heat that goes out the exhaust stack and radiates from the engine and its radiator. Rather than paying for propane or heating oil to heat an aquaponics greenhouse in the cold months, the farmer can just recapture this waste heat with a very simple heat exchanger system, then affordably transfer it to the greenhouse and heat the greenhouse. If the aquaponics farmer either generates enough waste on the farm to feed his biodigester, or can cheaply transport it from a nearby free source (most farmers are happy to have someone show up to haul their piles of animal poop away for no charge), then the farmer can also have a relatively cheap source of electricity to power supplemental lighting for his aquaponic crops.

    We feel that breaking food production’s current ties to petroleum costs is a good thing. It is our fondest hope that what comes out of our biogas project is a way for farmers in temperate and cold climates to grow affordably year-round, using renewable farm wastes and animal poop as a sustainable energy source, and that ultimately it will result in lower food prices for everyone.

     Stay tuned for more Nuggets!
    Forward this to a friend
     Check out our new backyard Micro System
     Visit our website for more information

    Special Offer! For any students who have taken either one of our Commercial Aquaponics Trainings or Personal Intensives in the past, you may audit this course for $75 to cover printing of materials and refreshments. Please respond and let us know you are coming so we can expect you!

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    Friendly Aquaponics, Inc
    PO Box 1196
    Honokaa, HI 96727

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