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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 26
February 3rd,  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

I've slipped again on the support forum. Again, this is good news: this slippage was caused by another visit by my child, Emily (18) who lives with her Mom in California. I'll cover why we got another visit so soon after the last on in the "Farmily" column in today's newsletter. The one thing I let get between me and my promises about work deadlines is my family. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing (you can decide for yourself) but I've heard that no one who's dying ever wishes they'd spent more time in the office.

Our FIRST EVER mainland training is scheduled for March 2001! The training will be held in Florida from March 21st to March 24th, 2011. The training will be held at the Community Center of Ridge Manor, 34240 Cortez Blvd, Ridge Manor, Florida. Susanne Friend and Tim Mann of Friendly Aquaponics will be teaching the course  with Friendly Aquaponics affiliates Tonya Penick and Gina Cavaliero, who own and operate Green Acre Organics, where the hands-on sessions will be held. These Florida affiliate trainings will be held at Green Acre Organics on a regular basis from now on. The conference room we've hired for the Florida training only holds 120 participants, so reservations for the course will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you're interested in commercial scale aquaponics, please take a look at both the Hawaii and Florida 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. For smaller home backyard and apartment systems, please read on:

Hands-on Live Micro System Trainings planned for Hawaii locations in February:

If you want to learn aquaponics easily and inexpensively, these Micro System trainings may be perfect for you. They show you how to build AND operate a stable, durable, and productive 64 OR 128 square foot backyard aquaponics system in two weekends for less than $900 (for the 64), or $1,200 (for the 128) worth of materials you can buy locally.

The training includes our standard Micro System manual and construction information ($99.95 value), plus six hours of hands-on instruction in building and operating these small affordable systems.

Anyone can build a system out of plastic barrels, but operating one successfully without good and easily-understood information such as included in this course and manual can be frustrating. Complete operating information, including troubleshooting, 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.

These LIVE Micro System trainings are now available on the Big Island of Hawaii from two Friendly Aquaponics Affiliate trainers. John and June Greenfelder are giving Micro System trainings in the Hilo/Hamakua coast area; and Alexis and Chris Smith of Coastview Aquaponics are giving Micro System trainings in the Kona area. The Hamakua training is six hours and is scheduled for Saturday February 12th from 9 to 4; the Kona training is Saturday February 19 from 4 to 5 hours long, and begins at 12:15 pm. Susanne and Tim will be co-teaching both of these trainings with our affiliates.

To register for either of these trainings, just click on the links below or sign up for the Hamakua course by calling John and June at 962-0515; or the Kona course by calling Alexis and Chris at 325-7665.

Enroll in the February 12th Hamakua Micro System course

Enroll in the February 19th Kona Micro System course

Aquaponics Nugget #26:
Gammarus and Organic Aquaponics Systems (Part 3 )

Gammarus in Aquaponics Systems

In this week's Nugget, I'm going to explain our current understanding of organic aquaponic systems and their relationship to
gammarus . To recap and bring some of you up to speed first: the first year we operated our original systems (these were an adaptation of the UVI-type systems optimized for construction and operational economy), the fine solids capture tank filled up with crud and required regular cleaning. After about 15 months of operation, we had gammarus (common name water flea) show up in one of the two systems on our farm, with no discernible transmission vector.

After we got over our initial scare that we had a new system pest to deal with, we
noticed the net tank wasn't filling up with fish poop as fast, then noticed it wasn't getting deposits of fish poop at all! It's been two years since the first gammarus colonized that system, and we haven't cleaned the net tank once since!

When we first put the
gammarus in system #2 to help them colonize it, this system's net tank had a 3-inch thick solid mat of fish poop floating on the top that you could set a coffee cup down on (AFTER you'd finished the coffee, and make SURE to wash it well afterwards!). Over the next month and a half, the mat of poop gradually disappeared; neither was there any fish poop on the nets in the tank as there always was before gammarus.

The net tank was full of
gammarus, as if they had decided it was the promised land. As we seeded gammarus into our other systems, they took up residence throughout each system: in all the tanks, in the hydroponics troughs, and in the roots of all the vegetables. The vegetable roots seem to be much cleaner, as the gammarus clean crud off them almost before it is deposited; this freedom from crud would increase the root's ability to take up nutrients. But where did the fish poop go? The gammarus didn't magically transport it to another dimension.

There's another as-yet-unexplained phenomenon in our organic aquaponics systems that we think may be attributable to the presence of the gammarus: the fact that our pH is ALWAYS rock-steady within 0.2 or so of 7.0, has been for over two years, and hasn't had ANY adjusting in that time. I'll restate that, because it's completely impossible by what everyone else teaches about aquaponics: we've added NO pH adjusters to ANY of our aquaponics systems in over two years and our pH is stable at 7.0..

We needed a hypothesis explaining both these things: where the fish poop disappeared to; and why the pH is so rock-steady. What we KNOW is this: the
gammarus came and the fish poop disappeared. We added calcium carbonate to each system to buffer the pH every four to six months before the gammarus appeared. We are still feeding the fish the same amounts of food, so they MUST be pooping the same amount of poop.

We think the
gammarus are breaking down the fish poop at such a microscopic scale that it passes out into the systems and is stored there in some sort of "buffering" arrangement. We think the nutrients are there, but in a form that doesn't show up with conventional ammonia/nitrite/nitrate tests. There hasn't been a rise in ammonia or nitrite/nitrate levels as one would expect if the gammarus were simply breaking the crud from the net tank up and it was going out into the troughs to decompose. There was so much poop in the net tank that we formerly needed to clean it every couple of weeks.

Calculations indicate that we may have a total biomass of 120 to 200 kg of
gammarus in our systems. There's a lot of calcium in these little guy's shells (calcium carbonate, remember?), and we think that somehow the calcium carbonate we added to buffer the systems pH has ended up in the gammarus shells. The gammarus recycle calcium endlessly as they die and their decomposing shells liberate calcium back to the system. This STILL doesn't explain why we don't need to add additional calcium. Vegetables take calcium out of the system when you harvest them; it's been two years now, and the vegetables aren't showing ANY calcium deficiencies and the pH is rock-steady right around 7.0. What gives?

The only way to definitively understand what's going on is to address these questions with experiments that collect data about these systems at a molecular level; so we can understand where the various components of the fish food and the calcium carbonate we add to the systems end up. There may be several "waypoints", because any single mineral, compound, or element may appear in  the system at multiple different points depending on what process it is involved in during its travels to its final disposition in the system.

If we had $80-125,000 for operating expenses, salaries, spectrometers and other laboratory equipment, we could design a useful experiment that would measure and quantify the chemical and molecular processes occurring in these systems so we understood their workings better.

If you like the idea of having gammarus in your aquaponics system, the easiest way to get them is to find someone with an aquaponics system who has them already and bring a few home with you in a bucket. If you don't know someone like this, you have to go hunt the gammarus in the wild.

Here's what you want to look for:
gammarus need well-oxygenated water, which generally means moving water, because moving water usually contains more dissolved oxygen than stationary or stagnant water. So, find a stream, or a location where a stream feeds into a lake or pond. Turn over rocks and logs if you can find them, and look underneath them, and under any mats of vegetation (especially decaying vegetation) that you find. You will need a small net with small mesh like window screen or smaller to scoop them up with, and a bucket of water to carry them home in. If it's a long trip to home from the lake, you will need a little battery-powered bait bucket aerator to bubble the water, because these little people need lots of oxygen!

Here's a line drawing to show you what to look for:
gammaruslinedrawing1 2
They can get up to 20 mm (3/4 inch) in length but adults usually average about 15 mm (1/2 inch) in length. Ours seem to be about 7mm (1/4 inch) maximum size, with most of them about 5/32 of an inch to 3/16 of an inch long.

(Next week: "Gammarus and Organic Aquaponics Systems" Part 4, with information on what an organic aquaponic system is and how they work).

Click to see our new Video!

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. These workshops 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!


Taro 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 April 4-7th, 2011 Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training OR our March 21-24th Florida 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 Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training

Sign up for Florida Commercial Aquaponics Training

In The Farmily

I've been trying to finish the aquaponics support forum FOREVER, it seems. Emily, our 18-year-old daughter who is an accomplished bluegrass violinist, got an offer to tour Europe with a band this summer, and she came to Hawaii to audition with them over the last week.

This of course meant that the parents had to go into high gear, taking her to sound checks, practices, and gigs with the band, and providing cold drinks, moral support, and a cheering section.

The band really fell in love with Emily, so she's going to get the experience of a lifetime, touring Europe in a musical group. The band has done this route for many years, and has friends and acquaintances in many countries. Named "The Durgas", their name means "Peaceful Warriors" in Sanskrit. Their message, delivered in a German-Polish-Reggae style, is that everyone all over the world can live in peace.

This band has done concerts on the bridge between Serbia and Bosnia in Sarajevo, with ex- combatants from both sides attending. They've done concerts to benefit Aung San Su Chi, the elected female leader of Burma who has been under house arrest by the military junta for the last 20 years.

If you want to check out their music and see what's captivated our Farmily, you can visit them at this link: "The Durgas", hope you enjoy them, their music, and their message that "peace is possible", as much as we have.

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