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Friendly Aquaponics Newsletter
Number 102
December 14th,  2012
Images from our farmily aquaponics farm
Aloha Friend,

In today's "Nugget" w
e cover "green" in aquaponics water and why it's a problem. We also have a special announcement:

We are 4 signups away from filling our January 20-26th training in Tennessee, so we've opened an additional 7-day training. Our second Tennessee training is from Sunday, January 27th, until Saturday, February 2nd.

Tennessee Trainings In January 2013:

Special Offer Until December 25th: we're going to extend our $1,000 off offer on either of the two 7-day complete trainings in Tennessee until December 25th to give you a chance to affordably send a loved one to the best commercial aquaponics and integrated greenhouse course in the world.

his is only $1,495 for all 7 days instead of $2,495. These trainings include our $995 DIY Commercial Aquaponics package, $998 DIY Farmer's Market Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse package, and new $295 DIY Commercial Tilapia Hatchery manual as course materials!

If you're located near Tennessee, Randy and Katie give regular free farm tours of their aquaponics systems and greenhouses to introduce the public to the benefits of aquaponics and energy-efficient greenhouse growing. Call Randy and Katie at 256-679-9488 or email Randy to find out when the next farm tour is scheduled.

1. The four days of the Aquaponics Technology training is everything we know about the techniques and methods of growing with aquaponics. Each day has hands-on segments. In addition, you will spend all of Day Four building several 12-square-foot TableTop Systems from scratch (under our expert eyes, of course). More details of the Aquaponics Technology course here.

2. You can take one of these 12-square-foot TableTop systems home, assemble it there, and begin growing with aquaponics immediately, even in the middle of winter! The cost of this kit is only $450; much smaller "kits" from others start at $1,295 and go up from there, not including shipping.

3. The two-day Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse course is everything we know about energy-efficient greenhouses, including information and complete CAD plans showing how to build a Chinese-style aquaponic solar greenhouse; along how to convert existing greenhouses to be as energy-efficient as possible. We even show you how to purchase and erect a good used greenhouse for ten cents on the dollar! More details of the Aquaponic Solar Greenhouse course here.

4. The one-day Commercial Aquaponics Training is everything we know about the various ways of making money with aquaponics, from CSA's to Costco, from wholesale to retail, from selling simple produce to producing value-added products, including Food Safety Certification and Organic Certification. More details of the Commercial Aquaponics course here.

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

The free information in these three newsletters: last week's, the week before last week's and two weeks before last week's newsletter will meet most people's needs for tilapia breeding. However, if you want the complete story in 72 pages, with highly descriptive photos of the process and equipment we use, our new commercial tilapia hatchery manual is finished and ready for you. There's even a "micro-video" that my gorgeous biologist wife Susanne shot with her treasured Leica Microscope that explains why the techniques we use work so well.

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 easy-to-understand building instructions and operating information for 4 different sizes of small aquaponic systems based on our years of experience. 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, and fun too!

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 #102: Green Water in Your Aquaponic System Equals Yuck!

The phenomenon we're going to describe today has much the same effect on your aquaponic plant roots as using an undigestible fish food does (this was described in newsletter #95).

In that situation, you had large undigested chunks of fish food going out into your system and coating your plant roots, instead of getting turned into ammonia, then nitrites, then nitrates. Out on the plant roots, these chunks simply rot, apparently overwhelming the bacteria's ability to deal with them and turn them into the nutrients the plants need. The roots rot too, becoming grey and slimy, and the plant becomes unhealthy at best. Not a good situation for your aquaponics system!

A very similar phenomenon occurs when you are encouraging free-floating algae to grow in your system. Here's how you do it: you harvest a quarter of the plants in your system, but for some reason don't bother to replant the rafts and put them back into your troughs, instead leaving the one-quarter of the trough area uncovered, with no rafts on it and the water exposed to sunlight (in normal operation, you would have covered the troughs, allowing little light in to encourage the algae growth).

You leave these rafts off the troughs for about two weeks. At the end of that time, you will find that your aquaponics water is now a beautiful bright green because of all the algae now growing in it, instead of that nice tan tea-color you've gotten used to.

Your system has grown an incredible amount of free-floating algae in a very short time because of the availability of the light in the "open" areas not covered by rafts. The tiny particles that this algae represents are still circulating through your aquaponic system as your pump operates, and passing by all your plant roots in the three-quarters of your rafts that are still in the troughs. The problem starts when this algae gets caught on the plant's roots as it circulates past them.

The plant roots under the rafts are in the shade, and when the free-floating algae gets caught on the plant roots, it's also in the shade. And do you know what happens to the algae caught on the roots when it no longer has sunlight to grow and reproduce? Right, it dies! Right on your plant roots. Now, you have rotten stuff all over your plant roots. Looks like this:


Unhealthy and crud-covered plant roots; NOT how they normally look.

We saw this phenomenon happen to several of our student's systems. When we got emails from them describing the problem they included photos of the plant roots: they  always look slimy; grey, brown and ugly; and their plants look unenthusiastic. Although it had never happened to our plants, we knew there was a problem somewhere.

So what we did to figure it out was to compare what was different about these systems (which wasn’t working!) with ours (which was!). The one difference that stuck out like a sore thumb was the "green water" they described in their emails.


I think Susanne was the one who had the epiphany this time ( a moment of extreme mental clarity and understanding, says the dictionary). All of a sudden, it just made sense to her: instead of being nice and clean, the way the plant roots in our system were, this algae that was making the water so green simply circulated through their systems and coated all their plant roots, then decayed. The plant roots were choked by the decaying algae, and apparently the nitrifying bacteria couldn't stay ahead of all this decaying material fast enough to keep the plant roots clean.

437 Fava roots 01 15 08

Healthy and clean plant roots; this is how they should normally look.

We made a recommendation, and our students put the rafts back on the troughs (even though they weren't ready to plant anything in them), and covered the sunlight-transmitting holes in the rafts by putting two or three empty pots in each hole. The algae gradually died off, and around two to three weeks later, their system water was back to that nice tea color, and the plant roots in the systems were all nice and clean, and light in color. No slime was to be seen anywhere.

Although this wasn't a strictly controlled, scientific study, our observations were objectively made, and the conclusion Susanne came to was verified (for all practical intents and purposes), when the plant roots in these systems got cleaner, and the water lost its green color and became normal again. This is what's important when you are doing commercial aquaponics; for you often don't have much time in which to figure out the problem.

Welcome to aquaponics: if you try something new and it doesn't work, you don't have grant funding or a research budget to give you some breathing room. You've got now, and you're often walking a knife edge, as you need to make decisions with less than perfect information. But if you understand the "system" that is your aquaponic system, then these answers are easier to arrive at.

(We'll have something interesting and useful about aquaponics in next week's "Nugget", thanks for listening!)

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.

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 at 10:00,  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!


Thousands of inch-long "fifty-cent" baby tilapia from our "backyard" hatchery


What they turn into about a year later: a beautiful 2-pound white tilapia grown in the fish tanks of our aquaponics systems

Special Offers!

Sign up for our TENNESSEE January 20th-26th Commercial Aquaponics and Solar Greenhouse Training
and receive a free Micro System DIY package so you can begin studying aquaponics! ($99.95 value)

The "Tropic Bird Chronicles", #42: "Hitting The Dock"

I'm being lazy today. Susanne's on a trip with Victor, and I'm doing a lot of the stuff they normally do around the farm. I feel like a one-armed paperhanger, and this is the second newsletter I'm writing this week, so I'm running this column again. Today's
"Nugget" is brand-new, though.

For those of you who have ever set foot on a sailboat, you know that one of the the most important things to not do is run it into stuff.


This is because sailboats are built rather lightly compared to steel ships, concrete docks, and breakwater rocks.


Sailboats are designed to only hit water. Sometimes they even have problems with that: I've been in my boat, safely anchored up in port two or three times after major storms at sea and seen other sailboats come limping in with makeshift plywood or canvas patches over their cabin sides, which had gotten bashed in after getting hit by a big wave during the storm. 


One day, a long time ago, I was anchored out off the Santa Barbara wharf in my 37-foot cutter “Spice”, in about 40 feet of water. I’d finished work, and rowed out to my boat from the harbor, which was just the other side of the wharf. It was a little rough in the anchorage, but my trimaran was anchored on a bridle going to the two float bows, so she rode directly into the wind and swell, and I had a good night’s sleep.


But as day dawned, and I stuck my head out of the hatch at first light, I realized that there was no chance I was going to work that day. The wind had picked up during the night to about 50 knots, and the swells to about 18 to 25 feet. It was a real roller-coaster ride: the boat surging violently back as the swells swished underneath, and up and down by the height of the swells. I was barely able to hanging, and I was a real deck monkey in those days.


Things got even more interesting when I turned my head and looked behind at the beach: of the seven boats that had been anchored in the roadstead the night before, mine was the only one still anchored. All the rest were up on the beach, having dragged their anchors and gone through the breakers. Luckily they were high and dry and salvageable, for they could have sunk in the process, in the break zone.


The sun rose a little more, but I couldn’t see it because of the driving rain and clouds. This was what the marine community called “a Souther” back then, and the local Spanish community referred to as “el chubasco”. What the Los Angeles Times says about them is this: “These storms will contain large hail, damaging winds, and even tornadoes.” That’s comforting, yes?


I spent most of the next hour up on the bow, trying to keep the chafing gear on the two anchor lines, which were zinging back and forth through the chocks, which were trying to saw them in two and put my boat on the beach with the others. I looked up, and saw a stolid, chunky, steel tugboat about a hundred and fifty feet away: this was the Santa Barbara dredger’s tug, which was normally inside the harbor, but their skipper had decided to take a little outing and see if he could offer assistance.


At about 55 feet long, big diesel engines, and watertight steel hatches, it was the only boat in the harbor that could make it out and back in without worrying about taking on water and sinking. I couldn’t hear a word they were saying, but it was obvious they wanted to throw me a line for a tow. I caught their first throw, made it fast around the biggest, strongest thing on the bow, which was a large round aluminum bitt that you could lift my boat out of the water with.


Then I dropped the anchor lines. This is a little more involved than it sounds, for one second an anchor line would have no strain on it, the next it would have a little over 2,000 pounds as my four-ton boat surged back against the line as a 20-foot wave swept by underneath. By now the waves were breaking regularly about fifty feet behind my boat; they were mountains of water with huge faces around 30 feet tall. I managed to release both the anchor lines without removing any of my fingers, then I hung on as the tug jerked me off at a ninety degree angle with its 950 horsepower.


I hurried back to the helm (steering wheel for those of you non-boaties), and tried to keep the bow of my boat pointed after the tug. This was kind of difficult, for my boat was a lot lighter than the tug, and when we went downwind through the breaking waves at the harbor entrance, my boat tried to surf up the tug’s behind, and my only recourse was to steer off to the side, which kind of made the tug pilot go wild and white-eyed.


Although the tug pilot was a good driver, by now the conditions were so chaotic that maneuvering was difficult to impossible; he deposited me near a dock by dropping the end of his tow line, and barely got himself out of the way before the wind blew his boat into another boat and dock. The harbor was crowded!


As the dock was downwind from me, I couldn’t avoid going to it, like one of those little “Scottie” magnetized dogs goes to the other. The only question was whether or not I would be able to get a line onto the dock to avoid sliding past the dock into something else, something that no doubt would cost more than I could afford to pay for repairs on. I secured a large line to a bow cleat, and as my treasured little ship hit the dock, so did I, with the other end of the line in my hot little hand.


It took me about two-sevenths of a second to get the line around a solid cleat on the solid concrete dock, just about the time my float bow also kissed the solid concrete. If this had been a human kiss, they both would have had bloody noses and chipped teeth. As it was, my little plywood and fiberglass trimaran was the only one with damage. But the cleat held, and the line held, and I hurried to get more lines on more cleats. I put out fenders and warped my treasure in to the dock, to safety. After everything was settled, I took stock: there was a single, deep ding about ten inches above the water line in the float bow; and no other damage at all. Sigh of relief!


It was late in the day, and I had been on the boat for the last twenty-four hours straight by now, so I jumped off onto the dock to look around. Jumped was a misnomer, for I had been carefully going from handhold to secure handhold on the boat. I had foul-weather gear on, so although soaking wet, I was warm. But when I went for the dock, I felt a certain amount of “lift”, and realized that moving around without a handhold might be a mistake. I got blown sideways by the wind, hunched down, and recovered by grabbing one of my dock lines to steady myself. This is when I looked around and realized that not only were there no people walking anywhere in sight, there were also no vehicles on the roads; for this was the kind of weather that could blow your car across a couple of lanes of wet road in nothing flat.


I climbed back aboard, got myself dried off and some dry clothes on, and cooked something hot for dinner, listening to the shriek and scream of wind in the rigging of the boats in the harbor. And the next day I went and found the tug captain, thanked him, and started paying off the $100 he’d charged me for the tow into the harbor. Pretty cheap for saving my life’s dreams, and all the work I’d done the last two years of my life. I will always think kindly of that man of the sea, who didn’t have to, but did. He risked his boat to save mine.

(Something fun next week!)

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This email, our manuals and construction plans are all copyrighted by  Friendly Aquaponics, Inc, Susanne Friend and Tim Mann, 2008-2012

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Honoka'a, Hawaii 96727

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