We had a business plan four years ago when we started our family aquaponics farm. It was a GOOD business plan, judging by the fact that our local credit union gave us a $100,000 home equity line of credit based on it. It was like most business plans, judging by the fact that almost nothing subsequent to the loan getting funded happened on the schedule forecast by the business plan. We'll explain ONE of these things to show you what you must be ready to deal with when you embark on any business. Why do I say ANY business, not just aquaponics?
Because at a recent training, we asked one of the students attending (who was a successful contractor) to answer this question for the whole class, as if it was asked by someone who was interested in becoming a contractor: "How much money can I make as a contractor?" We asked him this because we are always asked at these courses "How much money can I make with aquaponics?", and our answer is always a 1-1/2 to 2-hour presentation, plus a LOT of additional business information bearing on the subject. The contractor did what we expected: he just laughed! The class "got it" right away, understanding that this is a complex question that NO ONE can answer with a number.
So, we're building our first system back in 2007, and we go to buy tilapia fry from a hatchery on the Mainland to start our aquaponics with. Before we started construction (as part of our due diligence) we'd found a couple of hatcheries that would sell us 10,000 fry for $500 plus about $200 UPS overnight shipping. We thought we were all set. When it came time to buy and ship the fry, the hatcheries on the Mainland asked us for a Hawaii Department Of Agriculture form allowing them to ship to Hawaii. First time we'd ever heard of it, so we contacted our State Ag Department to get the form and got a story instead. OK, there were four species of tilapia that they allowed to be imported into Hawaii. Guess what? None of the Mainland hatcheries hatched any of them!! Guess what the Mainland hatcheries all do hatch? Nile tilapia, which is on the Hawaii Ag Department's "Restricted" no-no list.
So, we called around frantically to see if we could find any. Found a guy who said he had "thousands". Spent a couple of weeks finishing our first system, and called him to schedule picking up some fish. "Thousands" turned out to be about 250 fish from 4 inches up to 8 inches in size, and that is what we started our first aquaponic system with. Our VERY NEXT move was to build the $20,000 hatchery we originally had scheduled to build at the end of our first year's operation, when we had cash flow and were not so swamped with learning new stuff. This hatchery took a month and $20,000 to build that we sorely needed for other things on the farm. The lesson? Maximum flexibility and the ability to work your butt off is more important to business success than having the best business plan in the world. Just ask the chairman of GM, or the ex-chairman of Lehman Brothers Holdings!
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. The next training is in Hawaii in October 2011. 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 or IBC totes, but operating one successfully without good and
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!
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 #59:
A Primer On Aquatic Ecosystems, Part 3
So far in this series, we've looked at freshwater prawns, (macrobrachium rosenbergii), and water fleas (gammarus) as examples of successful new organisms that fit into available niches in our aquaponics systems.
This week, we'll look at a third
example where we introduced a new organism into our systems that flourished. This is the hihiwai, (Latin name Neretina granosa), which is an edible freshwater Hawaiian limpet. They normally grow in Hawaiian streams from sea level in lightly saline water to 1,200 feet of elevation.
So, one day we're in our friend Kiko's Hawaiian sailing canoe sailing off the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island (where we live), when he says "Let's go up the river!". We turn the canoe, surf through the surf on a 44-foot Hawaiian sailing double canoe, past surprised-looking surfers sitting on their boards, and into the river.
Here's a handsome Hihiwai in a Hawaiian stream, clinging to its rock. They grew AND procreated just fine in our Micro System!
Once we got a ways up the river, we ran out of wind and dropped the sail, then paddled. We went as far up the river as the rocks would permit, then anchored the canoe for some swimming. I don't remember who, but someone noticed the hihiwai stuck to the rocks and said "what are these?". Kiko, ever the Hawaiian natural historian, gave us the name, the story, and all the lore about the little animals. We decided to take some home and see if they would survive in our aquaponics systems. So we did.
We harvested about 30 hihiwai, put them in a bucket of stream water, and kept them cool and aerated all the way home. We put them into a 64-square foot Micro System, checked them a few times the first week, then pretty much forgot about them for four months. This was what we did with the prawns, because we are so busy running the farm to worry about much else. So, four months goes by; we harvest vegetables from this Micro System, replant, and every time we remove rafts from the system that have hihiwai stuck to their bottoms, we carefully put the hihiwai back into the water on the bottom of the trough.
They were sweet little limpets: they would cruise along the liner or the underside of the rafts, eating algae off their surfaces. They didn't chew holes in the liner, or eat mosquito fish, or chew on vegetable roots, because they are algae eaters. We KNEW about this feeding habit BEFORE we brought any home, and weren't too worried that they would present a problem in an aquaponics system. The algae we normally see around the top two inches of the waterline on the liner in this system grew noticeably thinner with the hihiwai munching on it.
The kicker was four months later, when we had to drain and sterilize this Micro System because it got clogged with duckweed. We harvested ALL the hihiwai that were in the system, and there were 60! Remember I said we put 30 in? Well, I also remembered how big the smallest of the original 30 were, and there were 30 new ones that were smaller than that! They had made 30 new hihiwai in the four months they were in the Micro System, and the original 30 we put in were now huge!
Although the hihiwai are cute and so on, they are particularly interesting because, although it is legal to gather hihiwai for personal consumption, there's a $10,000 fine if you're caught selling them! They're a favorite food in Hawaii, and are valuable. This is also true of another organism, with the Hawaiian name "Opae 'ula", which is a little red freshwater shrimp. The poachers who sell these two usually get $25/lb for them.
So, armed with this information, I called the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and talked to their specialist who knows about these guys. I got a verbal opinion from him that, although it's unlawful to gather them and sell them, it should be OK to culture them and sell the cultured ones, since the purpose of the law was to help keep the numbers of the natural stocks high enough to stay viable.
One would want to get this in writing before basing a business plan on it, but it appears that it may be aquaponically possible to raise organisms for profit that are currently not allowed to be sold because the only source for them is gathering in the wild, which could endanger wild stocks by putting a price on them. This is a whole new field where aquaponics can be a valuable addition to environmentalist's and naturalist's efforts to keep diversity alive in our natural ecosystems. It is even conceivable that businesses that culture such organisms for sale could contribute a certain percentage of the organisms themselves to restocking the natural environments they originally came from.
(Next week: We're Giving A Training And Will Be Too Busy To Even Scratch An Itch! We'll resume newsletters the week of the 31st October. Thanks for listening!).
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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
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In The Farmily
I fell in love with my wife Susanne a little over eleven years ago in a health food store on the Big Island. I remember standing behind this woman at the checkout counter who had this gorgeous red hair down to the back of her knees and thinking "any woman with hair like that has got to have a face like a horse, they never get both", then she turned around and totally changed my world. She was beautiful!
Now, I've been told that you shouldn't marry girls you meet at the bar, and you shouldn't marry girls you meet at church, but no one ever warned me about health food store girls, so here we are eleven years later, as married as it gets.
Marrying my best friend started out good and has just gotten better. With Susanne's constant applications of patience and compassion (I probably would have divorced me a long time ago!), I'm learning to listen and not be such an idiot as I used to be.
Susanne has a saying: "We're all imprisoned in boxes of our own making. The instructions for getting out of the box are written on the outside, where everyone but ourselves can see them."
I always do my best to remember what she said when I am bothered by a situation, especially when I have a position that includes "But I'm right!". Another telling thing she says is: "Would you rather be right, or would you rather be loved?". Isn't' the answer to this obvious? One would think so, but how often do we insist on being right, and causing damage to the ones we love, rather than trying to solve the situation in a way that doesn't harm anyone?
The best thing Susanne says, though, is to our kids when she discovers they've lied about something: "Even when you "get away with it", who always knows that you lied?" And the kids always sheepishly say "I do." Then she asks "How does that make you feel?", and the answer is always "bad!" We have the most truthful and honest children I've ever met.
See why I love her so much?