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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 57
October 14th  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

We really stirred up a controversy a couple of newsletters ago when we discussed the use of compost and/or worms in  aquaponics systems. We cleaned up the misunderstanding (we hope!) with our Special Newsletter #5 that Susanne, our "staff biologist",  wrote. We ALSO hope everyone WANTS to learn more about the microbiology of aquaponics, so they know how to practice safe aquaponic growing and create healthy aquaponic produce.

So, with that in mind, our "Nugget" today is on the subject of ecosystems; aquatic ecosystems in particular. We'll discuss what kinds of things CAN safely be added to an aquaponics system, and give some examples of disasters caused by the addition of things that we know have upset aquaponics systems in the past.

Last week, we introduced the trough videos that are now posted on our website here. We are filming an ongoing series of construction and how-to videos that illustrate various portions of aquaponics system construction: we will post these on YouTube and on our website for viewing at no charge. One of these videos that will be available soon is an assembly video of one of our Tabletop Systems, the 10-square-foot model, that will include a complete free downloadable materials list.

These small systems are easy to assemble, and will get you started in aquaponics at a low cost. They only require a small space; you can install them on a table or counter, or on the floor. You can run them entirely indoors, and light them with a couple of compact flourescent lights (complete info on lighting requirements is in the manual). In addition, we wrote an entire "Nugget' in newsletter #56 on how to grow both indoors and outdoors not only with these small, movable systems, but also with the "Micro Systems" of up to 128 square feet in size (huge!), so you can beat inclement weather and still keep harvesting vegetables if you have some unused space under roof.

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 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 Apartment/Condo Systems!

Aquaponics Nugget #57:
A Primer On Aquatic Ecosystems, Part 1

An ecosystem consists of interrelated and interconnected groups of organisms performing all kinds of functions: photosynthesis (growing plant matter), parasites and hosts, predators and prey,  symbionts, epiphytes, plus an almost uncountable diversity of different animals and plants filling many other functions, or "niches", within the system.

Any ecosystem has "niches" which are either filled or open. A niche, simply put, is a "place to live" where there is some kind of "food", or means of "making a living" for an organism that occupies it or can occupy it.

To illustrate this in terms everyone can understand, imagine a city of 1 million people. Everybody is busy, everyone (except maybe 3-4%, this is 2004) has a job, a place to live, and plenty to eat. Now, drop 200,000 immigrants into this city. They can even be NICE immigrants, who speak the language, work hard, don't steal, and whose kids show up clean on the school bus every morning with their homework done. You're STILL going to have HUGE problems assimilating all those people because there aren't any available NICHES!! The jobs, the houses, the school buses, and the food are all spoken for!

We know people always want to experiment and "add some of these", or "put some of that" in their aquaponics systems. Just as we discussed the idea of adding worms and compost to an aquaponics system, we want to discuss this a little bit so you understand what you might be in for when you "try something new".

We'll use the example of our student who put a gallon of EM (Effective Microorganisms, a bacterial compost additive) every week into his large, mature, commercial aquaponics system for four weeks. The sad thing about this incident was that he didn't try this on the advice of an aquaponics professional who had used EM successfully, but on the advice of a backyard gardener who had never run an aquaponics system in his life, and who truly had NO idea what could or would happen as a result.

Unfortunately, there already was a large, varied, and thriving bacterial population that was perfectly adapted to conditions in this aquaponics system. Simply put, these guys already occupied all the available niches for bacteria in this aquatic ecosystem. Now, when the gallon of EM containing 200,000 immigrants a week was dumped into this system, what occurred was confusion, consternation, competition for jobs, theft, muggings, and murder on a bacterial level that went through the roof.

The system was left in disarray, with no stability, no balance, and no solution; there were not enough of the original bacteria left to instill proper bacterial-level order in this ecosystem, or they were sick and/or compromised in some manner. Most of our student's plants died after their roots turned to black slime. He saved a few, then got all the dead plants out of the system, cleaned the sludge out of the bottoms of the troughs, exchanged some water for new water, and tried again, this time with no immigrants. Not surprisingly, his system worked and everything grew like crazy once again!

We are NOT saying that there's no proper way to use EM beneficially in an aquaponics system; just that, if there is, we don't know what it is yet. Careful experimentation needs to be done to figure out if it can work and how best to use it (and the host of OTHER bacterial additives on the market). We welcome anyone with a sense of adventure who would like to expand aquaponics knowledge in this direction, and we suggest you do your experimentation with a SMALL, easily-sterilizable and refillable system; it makes cleaning up the sludge after a failed experiment a LOT easier than the job our friend had! If you are unclear about how an experiment works and would like to understand better how to set up a useful experiment to test your ideas, see our newsletter #41 in the first column.

For examples of successes where we understood the system and we (or some other agent) added an appropriate new organism; just look to our experiences with prawns, gammarus, and hii'wai (an edible Hawaiian fresh-water limpet). Let's look at prawns first: I mean, we DID look at prawns first before bringing any into our systems, not only with suspicion, but also with an understanding of the ecosystem we were thinking about bringing them into that was based on a year's worth of experience with aquaponics.

First, we knew they were detrivores. This means that they eat dead things, and we could count on them to NOT eat live plant roots or live mosquito fish. We knew that they sheltered under rocks in streams (their normal habitat in the wild), and did NOT dig holes in riverbanks as crawfish do. This could have been REALLY bad for our foam rafts, which are pretty punky material, and would be easy for a crawfish to dig into and destroy.

The only concerns we had were that the prawns might not be able to find enough food, and we had no workable technology to feed them, because we only had floating fish food that we couldn't get down past the rafts to the bottom of the troughs easily (where the prawns live in an aquaponics system). We also thought the mosquito fish might eat them all while they were still small. You see, what we put into our system was PL's, or post-larvae, which are little prawns about a half inch long. So, we put 300 in an 850-square-foot system, and forgot about them; we were so busy!

When I lifted a raft about four months later I fell right off my horse! There was a prawn that was easily 14 inches long from its tail to the end of its claws, and weighing about a fifth of a pound, that immediately squirted away into the darkness under the raft next door to the one I had lifted. I got out my net and a bucket, netted one up, and took it down the hill to show Susanne. She ALSO fell off her horse! So, the prawns were a resounding success!, The only problem with them that we found was that they require a brackish water phase in their breeding cycle and do NOT breed in freshwater as our tilapia do. We cover much more about prawns and how they fit into aquaponics systems in our back newsletters numbers 45 and 47.

(Next week: Part 2 of this).

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 Offer! Sign up for our  our October 2011 Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training now, and we will email you our Micro System package so you can begin studying aquaponics! ($99.95 value)

More Information on Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training

In The Farmily

We just met a member of the "Farmily" we didn't know we were related to. I'll let this email we received from Tricia Fee and her family speak for itself. Right now we're nominating her for the position of "Patron Goddess of Aquaponics".

Dear Susanne and Tim,

After a year from getting your plans I just wanted to update you! We love our aquaponics business! My boys and I built a very successful micro system in our basement and fell in love with it! right away I knew we wanted to do this and have been saving for expansion. This summer, we moved our micro system outside and used the blueprints to bring in the bulldozers and heavy equipment to build the 512 system...... I am done now and love aquaponics more than ever.

I am constantly educating people on this "new" method of farming and all the wonderful benefits. Anyway, I have learned a ton and have followed your construction manual to the letter! Thank you for being so thorough and even including the phone numbers! That was so super helpful as many times I was calling/talking to people about construction material I had never worked w/ or even seen!! I do very well w/ reading something and being able to make it, but I had never even glued a PVC pipe together before last year. I would have had it up at the beginning of the summer, but being a single mom of 3 boys in sports and a full time RN, it has been a challenge!

I live in Ohio and am now constructing the green house for my wonderful system. I have done very little marketing and already have people waiting anxiously for my veggies & fish.

I wanted to let you know how successful your system has been for me and to re-connect in case I need a little more advice!! Lol!

Many thanks for sharing your wonderful system,

Tricia Fee and boys, Andrew, Benjamin, & Christian
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This email, our manuals and construction plans are all copyrighted by  Friendly Aquaponics, Inc, Susanne Friend and Tim Mann, 2008-2011

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