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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 46
August 4th,  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,
 
How much do you trust people? (as far as you can throw them, right?). We've been meditating a lot on trust and its application in our daily lives. We feel let down when someone fails to do something they promised, or lies to us. While we don't lie, sometimes people feel we've let them down, or not delivered something they expected. Here's an example of why this has been on our minds lately on the farm:

We have an iron-clad "no-smoking, no tobacco products on the farm" rule. This is not because we're against people committing suicide by cigarette. We're aware of the population problem and applaud anyone's personal efforts to help out. It's because most tobacco products carry tobacco mosaic virus, which easily transfers to lettuce and tomatoes and is deadly to them.

A friend of Susanne's learned this the hard way when she had a cigarette-smoking friend help out in her garden. This person touched some of the tomato plants, and 24 hours later, every tomato plant in the garden had mosaic virus and all were dead within 48 hours. This is not a risk we can afford to take, with so many people's livelihoods depending on the crops from our farm. We tell friends and interns that they are welcome to smoke whenever they wish, off our property, and that they must wash their hands thoroughly before working in the aquaponics.

Our idea of trusting people collided with the real world yesterday, when we found a fire burning in a patch of dirt about 3 feet square out near the farm driveway. It was far enough away from the house that we might not have noticed it. Our friend Chris Smith visited yesterday with two farm interns of his, had walked right past this spot (it wasn't burning then) then given his interns a one-hour tour of the farm. When they walked back past the spot on their way out, it was burning, and Chris told us right away.

We're in the middle of a drought, and the spot in question was covered with dry horse manure (it looked like the dirt was burning) and was upwind from a dry log pile, which was upwind from dry bushes, which was upwind from another dry log pile, which was upwind from our neighbor's dry million-dollar house, and it was a really windy day.

We put out the fire. Then we thanked our lucky stars that this hadn't occurred on our day off, when we'd gone to the beach early in the morning; because we might have come home to our neighbor's house in ashes and a multimillion-dollar lawsuit
(or possibly a criminal charge) on our hands. Then we called Chris to make sure his interns hadn't smoked on the farm, and he assured us they had not. We trust him. When we finally put it all together, we realized a guest staying at the house who had departed four hours earlier (cigarette butt ashes were clearly visible in the fire area, four hours later!), must have been the culprit. When he arrived, we informed him of this rule, but it seems he didn't honor his promise not to smoke. We just trusted him. There's that difficult word again, trust.

What do we do now? Well, it's raining hard this morning; that removes the possibility of fire for awhile. Soon, we clear and burn the brush, we consolidate the log piles, we bulldoze the horse manure into a pile that can safely burn all by itself if it catches on fire without spreading to the next flammable item. But what do we do about trusting people? It's not safe, is it?

As Susanne says, "Life is a sexually-transmitted terminal disease". We can't protect ourselves against everything; in fact, we would circumscribe our lives to the point they're no longer worth living if we followed that philosophy to its bitter end. What we can do is develop our antenna to be a little more sensitive, and help people keep their word when they've given it.

How would that have looked in this situation? The guest who had been smoking even though he promised not to should have been asked to leave the moment we found out he was a smoker. Our failure was that we wanted to be nice people and be liked. What we should have done is keep our word and take care of our responsibilities to everyone else, including our neighbor, who would have been negatively affected. We didn't realize what a serious game we were playing; we were just lifing along thinking everything was grand and we were being nice people by letting him continue to stay here even after we discovered he was a smoker. I think we've learned our lesson.

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). We've got trainings scheduled in Florida at Green Acres Organics in September; and at our farm in Hawaii in October. At these trainings, you will learn more about real-life operation of a commercial aquaponics system and business than you can anywhere else in the world. For smaller home backyard and apartment systems, please read on:
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Aquaponics Nugget #46:
Aquaponics Runoff Water Use


Apologies for not using part 2 of "Prawns Are Sexy" here (we will next week), but we noticed something that has a broader application and will benefit more people sooner. This is an extension and companion column to this week's "In The Farmily" column just to the right, where we talk about Chris Smith's "wicking beds". Read either first, you won't miss anything.

Chris' wicking beds utilize aquaponics runoff or overflow water that would otherwise be wasted. Anywhere your aquaponics troughs are exposed to the weather and it rains, your system will eventually overflow, which means you will be losing nutrient-rich water that you paid for by feeding the fish that created it. If you can capture this water and use it to grow more food, you have turned a loss into a profit.

That is exactly what a wicking bed does. But there are other applications of runoff water that don't require structures more complex or expensive than PVC pipe to channel the water to the plants in the ground. Here's an example from our farm:

"A Tale Of Two Bananas"

The following picture shows Jack with a banana plant he planted two years ago.1-SameBananaNoneSmall It was planted in what we call "potato rock" in Hawaii; this is rocks the size of your fist with some smaller stones and a miniscule amount of actual dirt thrown in. Needless to say, potato rock isn't very fertile.  Both this and the next banana plant down the page are from the same root stock, except this dinky one just got rainwater for the last two years. This is its FIRST stalk of bananas it has ever given, which may weigh as much as three or four pounds when it's ripe (in another couple of months, maybe).

"The Second Banana"

1-SameBananaAPWaterSmall 2This is the "Second Banana", from the same root stock as the first.  Jack and his friend Topher also planted it two years ago, in the SAME potato rock soil, but in a different location This banana received runoff water from one of our aquaponics systems. It has given us six 60-pound bunches of bananas so far, and has another four HUGE bunches of bananas on it that will ripen in the next two months or so. Come to your own conclusion, we've come to ours!

You may say "Wait, I'm growing inside a greenhouse and it doesn't rain in there!". There are other ways to utilize aquaponics runoff water for instance: create it yourself! If you're in a greenhouse or don't get much rain, you can divert system water to use in growbeds or plantings in the soil outside your aquaponics. You will need to add makeup water to keep your system water at the right level, and you also need to make sure you don't deplete your system's nutrients. This is really simple: just keep more fish in your system, and/or feed your fish more than when you weren't diverting system water to outside uses!


(Next week: "Raising Prawns In Aquaponics Systems", Part 2)

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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!


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3-1/2 pound kalo (taro root) grown in a 2" net pot (little bump at bottom)



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4-month old prawn (macrobrachium rosenbergii) grown in hydroponics troughs of our aquaponics systems


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In The Farmily
Chris Smith, one of our early students, visited the farm yesterday with two of his interns, and shared some really cool new ideas with us that he's been trying out.

Chris has put in a "wicking bed system" on his farm to try out (I hope I got that name right, I was kind of on the periphery of the conversation running the weedwacker at the time). What a wicking  bed consists of is a wooden 2x10 or 2x12 frame (just like a standard dirt raised bed in an organic garden), but the bottom of it has a plastic liner about 3" up the sides, which is then filled 3" deep with gravel or volcanic cinder. 

He then puts a piece of ground cover over the top of the cinder, and fills the area above that with growing media (spent coir, vermiculite, etc, from the aquaponics operation). It looks like any normal raised bed from the outside, because you can't see the plastic under the cinder, the cinder above it, or the ground cover on top. 

How this works in conjunction with his aquaponics system: he takes runoff water from the aquaponics (that would normally overflow the troughs out onto the ground and be wasted), and channels it to the wicking bed, where it trickles down and is captured in the gravel, and kept from continuing on into the ground by the plastic liner. This establishes a reservoir of nutrient-rich aquaponics water below the growing media. The cinder wicks the water up to the ground cloth, which wicks it into the growing media, which wicks it upwards to the vegetables in the wicking bed.

Chris' idea is revolutionary, because  it expands the scope of aquaponics systems immensely. It allows us to grow root vegetables that haven't' grown well in the deepwater raft system such as  onions, carrots, beets, daikon, wasabi, and also to grow others such as corn, berries, peppers, and asparagus, that either haven't grown well or wouldn't work in rafts for one reason or another.

This is just another confirmation that we really only know ten percent now of what we'll know in another ten years about aquaponics, and trying new things such as this to quantify the knowledge is how we'll get there!
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