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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 36
May 10th,  2011
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,
We're doing much better this week; we've mentally recovered from having most of our crop ruined. We got an infected batch of seed that we hadn't tested before mixing it with about $1,800 worth of other seed; thereby ruining a year's supply for our operation. This was a big blow, but we've reorganized and gotten it under control.

Although the incident didn't happen because we only had a single crop, but rather an infected batch of seed, we think planting our lettuce in the same systems with other marketable crops
(instead of mono-cropping as we had been) will help head off this situation in the future. We have written and are following procedures now for test germinating and planting each new batch of seed in a small, isolated test system before we plant it in our main commercial systems. We've also ordered new seed, and are going to diversify our planting to include other marketable aquaponic crops.

How could we have avoided this? Well, as I'm sure you've heard so many times
before "If only I'd known then what I know now!". Hindsight is a mean trick we play on ourselves: at any given time, we are always doing the best we know how to do. The real trick is not to blame yourself, not to beat yourself up, but to simply look around, see what needs to be done, and do it to the best of your ability. It's called living. When there's no blame applied, it's that much easier to use the energy you have on moving forward into the future and finding the solution to the problem.

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. 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, 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 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 #36:
Redux of The Start Up Blues (Part 1)

"Startup" time in an aquaponics system is when you fill the system with clean water and introduce ammonia and nitrifying bacteria to begin the nitrification cycle which powers plant growth in your aquaponics system. One of the things most people do when starting their aquaponics systems is to put fish in (they usually put the water in first!). Then, if they know about inoculating bacteria, they will add that, and hopefully have a fast and safe startup. In this Nugget, we're going to cover some of the ways startup can go bad, and give you ways to avoid these difficulties. The first way has to do with what happens to the fish before they get to the safety of your fish tank. So, we start the next paragraph boldly with ALL CAPS so you understand how getting things right at this point will set you up for success later on in your aquaponics career.

IMPORTANT- How to kill fish with bad hauling techniques! Even if you already have fish in a pond or lake on your property, you still need to haul them to get them into your aquaponic system. Hauling fish stresses them and even on the best and most careful fish hauls we’ve done (and we have a GREAT haul tank with lots of aeration that has good oxygen levels even with 300 lbs of fish in it), we still lose about half a percent of them. If you have a bad haul that stresses your fish, OR your fish supplier stresses them without your knowledge before you pick them up, you can lose up to 20% OR MORE! Here’s what this looks like: your supplier, not caring much about how long the fish survive after he’s been paid, has pumped the fish tank down so there’s only about 10 inches of water in it. The problem is, he didn’t do this when you arrived, he did it last night, and the fish have been stressing in this too-shallow water for 12 hours now.

When the fish are transferred to your haul tank, they are already stressed, have lost a lot of their slime coats (this affects fish in the same way that losing skin affects a person), and some of them are already dying. It just won’t become obvious for another day or two. You have to get them out of the haul tank with a net when you get home, which stresses them further. Then they’re introduced to completely different water than they came from, which may stress them further. Unless you’re really observant (and know to look for this), and check the BOTTOM of the fish tank two or three times a day, the first time you may notice a problem is a couple of days after the haul, when the first dead fish floats to the top of the fish tank, and you remove it.

The problem is that this fish has been dead for a day or two before it floats to the top, and has been pouring ammonia (a product of decomposition of decaying organic material) into the tank the whole time. If you had a bad haul with fish that were stressed before you even loaded them, and lose 20%, this can show up as fish dying for the next two weeks or so, with an attendant HUGE ammonia problem (more about that in just a bit). For now, how you reduce or eliminate this problem BEFORE you ever transport your fish is do as many of the following as you can:

A. Make sure your fish supplier handles the fish gently and professionally before they are loaded into your haul tank, and load them with as little and as gentle handling as possible. Hard handling will stress the fish and increase your loss.

B. Haul with a tank that is filled TO THE TOP with water and has a solid cover battened down on top of the water. This will ensure that the tank water doesn’t SLOSH, as it will in a partially-full haul tank or one with NO TOP! Sloshing inside the tank will stress the fish and increase your loss.

C. Make sure your haul tank has plenty of airstones and enough air pump capacity to drive them. You can get cheap air pumps (Aquatic EcoSystems catalog number DW9622) which only use 8 watts; you can run up to 6 of these off a $15 AC inverter that plugs into your cigarette lighter. One of these air pumps will keep about 30 lbs of fish alive for a two- to three-hour haul. If you don’t have a haul tank with a tight lid, putting the fish in those sturdy grey 42-gallon garbage cans and lashing the lids down with bungee cords works just fine, and will keep 30 pounds of fish alive. You can drill a hole in the middle of the lid and run the airstone tubing right down through this hole, then put the airstone at the bottom of the garbage can. FILL IT TO THE TOP!

D. Handle the fish as little as necessary and as gently as possible when you transfer them from the haul tank to the fish tank at home.

E. Check the bottom of the fish tank with a big net the next morning and about two to three times daily for the first few days to get dead fish out of the tank before they add a lot of ammonia to  your system and cause a problem. If you have dead fish, get them out of the tank as soon as possible after they die. If you see a fish swimming or acting strangely at the surface, get it out of the tank. It WON’T recover, and you might as well get it out before it adds ammonia to the tank.

F. DON’T feed the fish until they stop dying; even if you have a good haul and no mortalities, don’t feed the fish for the first few days to a week. They won't LIKE it, but it won't hurt them, and it will ensure that your ammonia levels stay low (more on this in next week's Nugget).

Now you've got your fish home, they've been in the tank for about a week, your ammonia level is nice and low (under 2 ppm), the fish are accepting food, and your mortalities have ceased. Another week goes by, and you notice a couple of dead fish one morning. What's this? Well, you will see two separate periods of mortality coming from a bad haul. The first one is usually over in the first three or four days after the haul; and consists of the fish that were so badly damaged in the haul that they died relatively soon from their injuries and trauma.

This second batch of mortalities that sometimes occurs from ten days to two weeks after the haul are (we believe) fish that were lightly damaged during the haul, not enough to kill them outright, but enough to compromise their immune systems. These fish basically caught colds and died from them because they were so weak. We've never been able to identify a true "fish disease" incident in either the first or second batch of post-haul mortalities. Get the dead fish out of the system as fast as possible to avoid adding unnecessary ammonia.

(Next week: "Startup Blues, Part 2"; we'll cover more of what NOT to do, plus what TO do!)

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.  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 October 2011 Hawaii Commercial Aquaponics Training OR our September 2011 Florida Commercial Aquaponics Training (dates to be announced) now, and we will email you our Micro System package so you can begin studying aquaponics! ($99.95 value)

Sign up for Hawaii and Florida Commercial Aquaponics Training

In The Farmily
JackMicroSystemSmall 2
Jack's Micro System

Jack's Micro System was a victim of the same lettuce blight we talked about in the "Aloha" section last week. But Jack and his Mom have already made a seed order for all kinds of things, which have arrived and have been sprouted. Jack thinks they'll be big enough to put in the system in another two weeks.

Now, because of the blight, and having to wait for the new seeds to sprout, Jack doesn't have any plants in his system now. And this raises a good aquaponics question (we talked about this last week too):

"Won't the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates build up in the system to dangerous levels without any plants to take them out of the water?"

Yes, they would, IF Jack kept feeding his fish normally (as if there were a full complement of plants in the rafts). However, it is easy to keep these nutrients in the system from spiking dangerously simply by feeding the fish LESS.

If this kind of a situation happens to you, simply feed the fish about one-fifth of what you normally feed them, check the ammonia every couple of days to make sure it doesn't get over 3 ppm, and you should be OK. At the worst, you will need to dump system trough water and refill to dilute the ammonia level to below 3 ppm, until you have plants to put in the rafts.

The fish won't LIKE it, but we have kept tilapia in aquaponics systems for up to 3-1/2 weeks with no feeding whatsoever; they'll be OK.

We'll follow Jack's adventures with his new Micro System for the next few "In The Farmily" columns!

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