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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 92
October 2nd,  2012
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

I love thinking about interesting things.

For instance, why was last month called "September", but this month is not called "Octember"? Or why isn't September called "Septober"? (maybe it's because no one could say 'Novober"? You try it!). I don't spend a lot of time doing this; it happens all by itself.

Kind of like our Tennessee trainings last month: although it was an exhausting time presenting to a discerning group who asked a lot of good questions about aquaponics and greenhouses, at another level they were effortless and rewarding for us, because the level of participation and involvement on the part of the attendees was so high. Also, our hosts, Randy and Katie Campbell, were a ton of fun to be around!

Although carrying a full class load in high school, 16-year-old Katie is also an active participant in the farming operation, and wants to share the benefits of growing and eating healthy food with other young people. She has a friend in high school who doesn't understand that her migraines might be connected to the fact that she mostly eats Coke and junk food; and whom she is trying to teach that good food is our best medicine and represents one's best chance to have a long, healthy life.


Susanne and I presented the "Friendly" aquaponics and solar greenhouse trainings at the Ellibell farm; using the farm conference room (that comfortably holds 40) to give the classroom portions of the trainings; then took the course outside; and simply walked 150 feet to the three greenhouses, each with it's own aquaponics system inside, for the "hands-on" portions of the courses.


We were excited about this training before we ever arrived in Tennessee, because one of the three was our design for a Chinese-style "Friendly" Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse, recently finished by Randy (and his now-trained greenhouse construction crew). This is the newest; there are two more on the farm: Randy calls the biggest one "the jungle" because of the riotous aquaponic growth inside. The Jungle is a modified conventional hoop house, oriented with its long axis East-West, just like a Chinese-style greenhouse, and with insulation in the back wall just like a Chinese-style greenhouse.


Risking Randy's wrath (he built it!), I irreverently dubbed the third one "the junkyard greenhouse" because it had been built from salvaged windows and doors, 2X4's, cheap polyethylene skin, and rough-sawn barn siding (on the insulated North side, for this was a "modified" Chinese-style greenhouse also) that was leftover cutoffs from a construction job Randy's company did. This remarkable greenhouse undisputably shows that you can build a functional greenhouse, even if you're on a limited budget, if you are creative about procuring materials and possess some simple construction skills.


We actually installed the ETFE film on the newest greenhouse (The "Friendly" greenhouse") in the middle of the week between the aquaponics and greenhouse training, with a proprietary method we developed that we call the "Easy-Tension" system. The most complex tool used was a battery-powered screwgun, and the actual tool used to put thousands of pounds of "stretch" on the greenhouse was a 3/4-inch wrench.


Everybody got to participate in the tightening "ritual", and then got to "thunk" the greenhouse. ETFE is nothing like polyethylene greenhouse film, besides being totally clear (with better light transmission than glass!) it is installed at a tension that would ruin poly, but makes the ETFE greenhouse cover as tight as a drum; when you flip it with a snap of a finger, it makes a "thunk", just like a tight drumhead, and when you slap it with the palm of your hand, it makes a satisfying "whop" sound.


The oldest ETFE installation in the world that we're aware of is in Japan; I have heard that it "has no discernible degradation", after 26 years! Although expensive, ETFE is one of those materials that is actually CHEAP because you only have to install it once!

I once did a rough "back of the napkin" calculation and determined that once you have installed standard poly on a greenhouse (and removed it, and installed it AGAIN after it wears out), that sometime between the second and third "cycle" of removing and replacing this non-durable material, you have spent about the same amount of money on labor and materials as if you'd simply installed ETFE once.


The only thing wrong with this is that with the poly, you've lost a minimum of ten percent of your light transmission right from day one, and that's at the optimum light angle of 90 degrees to the poly. When the sun is coming at a lower angle to the poly, as occurs during the winter when the sun is lower in the sky (and also when you most desperately need all the light you can get on your plants), the poly blocks even more light than this. And when the poly gets dirty from dust and dirt carried by the wind, a certain amount sticks to it, blocking your light even more.


Why is this important? Well, for a commercial grower, getting the most light possible into your greenhouse can make the difference between a failure and a profitable operation. If you don't get enough natural sunlight, a greenhouse grower's only recourse is to install supplemental artificial lighting and pay for the electricity to run it.

Because of the high cost of purchasing and operating artificial lighting, many greenhouses worldwide are built with glass, which is not only a more expensive material by itself, but because it is so much heavier than ETFE or poly film, it requires a much stronger, much costlier greenhouse structure to support it. As we mentioned earlier, ETFE has better light transmission than glass, so it is a logical choice to use if you need to make a profit with your greenhouse, and want to build your greenhouse for a reasonable investment.

Click Here To Find Out More About The January 2013 Tennessee Training, And Get A $1,000 Discount!

If you want to earn a living from aquaponics (or just learn the best aquaponics technology available), we also have one training scheduled in 2012 in Hawaii:

We hold our 3-day Aquaponics Technology Training, plus the 2-day Solar Greenhouse Training, plus the 1-day Commercial Aquaponics Training, at our farm in Honokaa, Hawaii, starting on October 21st, and ending on October 27th. Attend one or more of these trainings to suit your needs. You can sign up now on our webpage here or using the "Special Offer" buttons in the right sidebar of this email. You can also call us directly at 808-775-7745, or email Tim for information.

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 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 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!

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!

Aquaponics Nugget #92: Organic And Make-Our-Own Fish Food Revisited

A friend with one of our aquaponics systems purchased a BioPod (an expensive way to make Black Soldier Fly Larvae). He thought he’d throw his compost in the pod, harvest the larvae that came out, and not have to pay anything for fish food. When he harvested his first larvae and fed them to his tilapia, he was dismayed to see them sink straight to the bottom of the fish tank without the tilapia showing the slightest interest in them. This is because tilapia are normally hard-wired to only eat things that float, and the sinking soldier fly larvae did not fire off the necessary “gestalt” that informed the fish that “this is food!”. You need to feed tilapia a floating fish food, period; or start training them very early in their lives to eat sinking food.


You may remember our abortive experiment growing duckweed to feed our tilapia. The fish didn’t eat it, and we had an ongoing problem cleaning the duckweed out of our systems. People at our farm tours ask “Why don’t you just make the food yourselves?”. We could, if I didn’t have to pay my labor force or pay for electricity. We’ve designed an efficient small fish food manufacturing plant with a solar-powered fish food dryer that we can build for about $50,000. This plant will put out 1,500 pounds per day of fish food at a cost of about 35 cents per pound. We’ve got thousands of pounds a week of great free waste protein, fat, and carbohydrates within a few miles, just for picking them up and hauling them off. The only problem is that this plant needs to run a minimum of 2 days per week to break even (and would make 3,000 pounds of fish food in those 2 days, or 15,000 pounds in a month), and the entire island only uses 2-4,000 pounds of fish food per month, of which we use 875 pounds.


If we make 3,000 pounds of fish food in a week, our cost to produce is $1,050, or 35 cents per pound. If we make 1,500 pounds in a week, our cost to produce is $1,050, or $0.70

per pound. If we make 200 pounds per week (which is what we use) our cost to produce is STILL very close to $1,050, and the fish food costs us $5.25 per pound.


So, until there is a big enough market on the island, it is simply cheaper to just buy the fish food. The food we have available at our local farm supply Co-op or ranch store (always a BIG factor in deciding what food to use), costs $1.00 per pound. It’s Rangen 1/8" (3 mm) floating catfish food, with an approximately 34% protein and 8% fat content, along with vitamins and minerals to constitute what is called a "complete diet" for omnivorous fish such as tilapia and catfish. Tilapia CAN survive on an exclusively vegetable diet, but they won't thrive or grow very much.


People always ask us “Is the fish food organic?”. Our organic certifying agency, Oregon Tilth, did not require an organic fish food, for two reasons: first, none is currently available anywhere in the US, and second, there are no USDA organic standards in place for fish yet. The reason for this is that the Organic Certification rules allow you to feed a non-certified diet to the livestock that the manure used to fertilize organically certified produce is derived from. It makes sense, because if everything needed to be certified, we could never get off the ground: it would be the chicken or egg problem, with neither a chicken nor egg in sight!

The photo below is our Solar Greenhouse. It's cool when it's hot, and warm when it's cold (hope that makes sense to you, it's the best greenhouse we've ever seen!).

GrownOut1medium 2

Friendly Aquaponic's FIRST Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse in full bloom, Honoka'a, Hawaii, March 2012, (on a grey rainy day) showing PV panels, and growing plants.

Next week: Something else interesting and valuable to know about aquaponics. Thanks for listening!

Click Here To See Our New Aquaponics Video!
Back Issues Of Newsletters Now Available, Click Here!
Purchase Trough Liner Directly From Manufacturer!

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 Offers!

Sign up for our HAWAII October 25th-26th Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse Training

or our
HAWAII October 21-23 Aquaponics Technology Training,
or our
HAWAII October 27th Commercial Aquaponics Training,

and receive a free Micro System DIY package so you can begin studying aquaponics! ($99.95 value)

More Information on  Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse Trainings

"In The Farmily"

It was 1976, and I was anchored in my 37-foot SeaRunner cutter "Spice" in a bay on the North side of Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands, with my friends Chuck and Nancy, who were cruising on their dugout canoe "Tyone", named after Chuck's son.

At least I thought I was anchored in the bay with them: I had come in late at night; there were no anchor lights on any boats to be seen, in fact, there were no visible lights anywhere on shore in the bay either! I had inched my way in using my 30,000 candlepower searchlight and my depth sounder. I had anchored in 35 feet of water about a quarter mile from shore near one side of the bay (it was a big bay!).

I felt really comfortable on the boat: the night was gorgeous, with little pinpricks of fire all over the sky; a gentle breeze coming offshore (the sailor's favorite wind direction!), and I made myself a nice dinner from the ono I had caught earlier in the trip over from the South side of Nuku Hiva, and some rice with onions.

After some tea, some dreaming about tomorrow, I turned in. But first, I untied my dinghy and put it in the water, oars inside, tied to the stern of Spice, so it would be all ready for exploring first thing in the morning. My dinghy had a 30-foot long "painter" or piece of rope, attached to a strong eye in her bow (remember this: 30 feet).

When I woke up to the first light of day, I went up on deck and just about had a heart attack. The wind, which was still quite light, had switched during the night and now was blowing towards the shore; Spice had turned 180 degrees on her anchor and was hanging off it in the opposite direction. The dinghy, which was only 30 feet behind the boat, was bumping up and down on a huge ledge of coral heads that was only a foot underwater!

I'd picked what I thought was a safe spot when I anchored the night before;  a quarter-mile seemed like a safe distance in a quiet, sheltered little tropical bay! Even now, we were still 300-400 yards off shore.

Spice, luckily, was still in 35 feet of water; because the coral heads coming up to the surface just behind us dropped off precipitously into 25-foot deep water, which got deeper right away.It was spooky to say the least.

When I got over my shock, I got out the binocs and "glassed the bay" for Tyone. I found her about a half mile away down the shore. Nancy and Chuck had made it in while it was still light, and had picked a better place to anchor and land. I saw their dinghy on the beach, and rowed in myself, then found them.

They'd made some friends of some local folks, and everyone was busy making banana fritters, which they offered to me. Delicious!! The Marquesans have their priorities straight: they spend a lot  of time gathering, preparing, and eating food, then sit around talking about important things afterwards, and laughing a lot.

We hung out with our new friends all day, then when it was getting close to dark, begged off to row back home. But we'd made a date to go chicken-hunting the next morning at 4:30. They don't have feed and grain stores in the Marquesas, so as a result most of the chickens live in the wild (since people don't feed them).

The chickens all hang out in the jungle, and you can't even catch a glimpse of one during the daytime. But at night, they're essentially blind, and after sleeping all night, they're pretty stupid and slow, too. Chuck had an over and under .410 shotgun with a .22 on top; this was the chicken-hunting firearm.

We went ashore as planned, with flashlights, and moving quietly found a tree with some roosting chickens. I pointed the light, clicked it on, saw five chickens on a branch about 20 feet up in the tree, and was immediately deafened when Chuck let off the .410 about two feet away from my head. But he got a chicken!

Unfortunately, only one chicken. All the other chickens on that branch, and in the vicinity (and maybe on the entire island, for we looked for another hour or so) had fled when they heard the gunshot, so we had to be satisfied with our single chicken, which we shared with our new Marquesan friends.

Luckily, I still had some of the ono from the day before, which I had started drying in the rigging to make ono "jerky"; for it hadn't yet gotten so dry it couldn't be fried up again with the onions and rice. We had another good meal.

Damn! This was living; just need to be a little more careful of the reefs!
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