Getting antsy

Rio_GrandeDecember 31, 2013

Well it's been a long winter! Here in Indiana it isint practical to grow year round unless you have major $$$ flow. So we shut everything down in late November. Ate greens for weeks before we ran out. As winter is set in I have a really hard time not thinking about changes for next years system. I know I am adding a couple large dwc runs for lettuce and Asian veggies, and we are doubling our current nft system. Hope to get the weekly sales at the supermarket like last year and add 2 farm markets a week.

We are really interested in putting in a few aquaponic runs off of a central tank. It is a play toy and not sure it is worth messing with but my dad wants to play with it.

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PupillaCharites(FL 9a)

Rio, nice to see you out here again and going full steam ahead on your plans. Good luck.

This sad month for me and you reminded me to make this comment. The things I remember most about my Dad are exactly the sort of projects he was especially enthusiastic about that I also enjoyed. If I could do it all over again I would do more to hunt down these things and do them together. In the end seeing him smiling and working side by side together may have cost us on some trials but it was worth every penny of it a zillion-fold. Just to think how he'll be beaming if you actually can use your wits to make it profitable - what a bonus and you'll never see the project in the same light! What a great thing you have and are doing. Happy New Year.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 11:41AM
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Thanks and happy new year to you too. We lost my wife's mom this month and it made me realize how important my parents are. We will be putting out the aqua setup so he can play with it even if it's a flop.

Take care. Sorry for the loss of your father. I can't even imagine what that will be like for me.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 9:22PM
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PupillaCharites(FL 9a)

Thanks Rio, sadly I lost Dad a while back, and now Mom. You are so right.

Some projects seem to me so well fit for bonding with your parents for ages 8 - 80 (really even more). It seems entirely another level to me than going to a sporting event or even playing baseball.

Hydroponics in my case but I'm betting it's pretty universal for everyone, and even more so for you guys since they are in the farming world. There's something about growing and the fish part which I haven't tried I'm sure would make it more awesome in the same way.

That's what hit me about your first post, and the fact that you had somewhat different plans but were willing to go along with Dad's idea. 20 years from now all the current hydro stuff will be a fading memory but I guarantee the work on Dad's part will be crystal clear. Not to mention you are opening a new can of worms together that potentially have the fish hooking you.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 11:26AM
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It is amazing to me how things change your outlook. Both parents spent time in the hospital in the last year in life threatening situations. Both got lucky. I took over their farm last year and got to see them every day. Normally I am a bottom line kind of a guy but when it comes to them I no longer see it that way. Trying to spend as much time with them as I can. Dad supervised the hydro table late in the season once he could get out and do something. He caught the bug. I am confident there is only money to loose with the Aquaponics experiment due mostly to our seasons, but it doesn't matter. It's gonna be fun. My kids help us and love working the farm. Pic of dad at the hydro table.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 11:32PM
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It takes aquaponics setups a while to get going. They produce at much lower NPK levels than chem hydro, which is made possible by the tremendous amounts of beneficial bacteria in the system that eventually form.

I could get lettuce and greens to grow, but my tomato plants turned purple from lack of phosphorous. Fish waste is 5-.1-.1, which is why it's easy to grow greens. If I did it again, I would try tomatoes on a run-to-waste bucket system where additional fertilizers were mixed in after the water flowed out from the fish tank.

I have seen pics of at least one guy's setup who claimed to be growing purely aquaponic tomatoes, but he had run the system for years. I think he had several types of aquatic animals living in it, too, besides fish.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 10:02AM
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PupillaCharites(FL 9a)

Your Dad looks great there, and you are so lucky to share the hydro project. I imagine a twinkle in his big hands and like my Dad he'd surely grab a heafty lettuce and raise it up gripped high for show, with a satisfied twinkle in his eye for a job well done. Sounds like a real great family and really lucky kids too to share in it all.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 10:23AM
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Thanks cole any info I can get is gonna be helpful. I have seen aquaponic systems growing tomatoes but not first hand.

Pupilla, he always puts that sour face on when I get out the camera. In that pic he was a 35 day post op for removal of cancer in his pancreas. Gave him a 5% chance of survival for 5 years. After the surgery the doc said he was very lucky and to enjoy his retirement. What you can't see in the picture is a chair, there was another one half way to the house. He would go chair to chair. When he felt better he would go to the next one. I never knew how lucky I was until this year.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 6:33PM
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PupillaCharites(FL 9a)

I understand about pancreatic cancer, it can takes you out in days if you don't get it early and have everytyhing go your way. After being through that and have that sort of situation, putting on any face is amazing to have, and all the more reason if Dad got the motivational bug.

You probably saw it, but if you didn't yet, don't miss that Aussie video link Robert posted on aquaponics near the top of the posts now. It's a great and humbly presented overview that get right to the point.

As for the profitibility - here's what I worked on as a primer for your Dad and you for what it could be worth. In a good system, the fish gain nearly 1% of their weight each day feeding free duckweed like in Robert's video with some fish food supplementation (but no hydroponic fertilizer to buy, the supplement helps provide the trace minerals you had to buy the fertilizer, if I understand how a good system works). That means if you give the fish 10 pounds of food, they gain 6 pounds and all the fertilizer they make is free. There is some extra filtration, but once the system is moving that's about it. You're kids can even go fish for dinner and on a small scale raising 5 pounds of your own fish weekly (the production of the 67 fish example that follows) for home consumption is a great deal for a family, and it will be basically organic if you chose without much cost or effort.

So let's see, a good starting point: 100 (max, 200) pounds of fish in steady state established running system does 1000 heads of lettuce using 400 gallons fish water. The actual lettuce to fish weight at a given time will be in the neighborhood of 2.5:1 to 4.0:1 since the actual plants will be at various maturities from transplant size to ones ready for harvest. 100 pounds of fish is about 67 fish if you use Tilapia. Starting up is like 15 stocking fingerling size fish each 5 weeks. By the time it is rolling with all the fish, you will keep the rhythm but be swapping out 15 Tilapia at each stocking. The 15 you pull out will weigh about 25 pounds. In Indiana, since you have a tank, no fees or licenses for Tilapia. To sell the fish, apply for a free fish hauler's permit and you're set.

Hope that helps the bottom line. Aquarium heaters are cheap and unfortunately Tilapia like warmer waters, 76-77F. It is worth it since for every two degrees lower, you lose like 10% of the fish growth rate.

It would probably take heaters between 500W and 1000W for a tank that size but I'm projecting that based on my little 15-16 gallon hydroponic tubs. A average continuous 500W for example is 12 kwh per day which is perhaps $1.10, though commercial farm rates are usually a bit lower.

There are successful aquaponics outfits north of you, so it's not out of the question. Also other cooler water fish if that becomes an energy issue. Trout are more involved, but it's about 66 F and grow a bit slower, but your hydro practice might make it easier for you than others would suggest who start cold.

Hope that helps Dad with the bottom line considerations ...

This post was edited by PupillaCharites on Fri, Jan 3, 14 at 10:57

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 10:38AM
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Thanks for that info. As always you get me thinking which I appriciate. I am convinced to do it if for no other reason to give dad a play toy. Our hydroponics were profitable within 40 days of setting up. We would have retained a profit on it but I doubled the size and spent it. That being said I was expecting a 500.00 net loss for that project. Planned for it and was plesantly suprised. Hopefully this will go similar although the start up costs will be higher, my build it out of nothing mentality will likely cause it to cost much less than projected. I was looking at system supporting 60 grown fish using a small swimming pool as a tank. That tank was my bigest cost concern. We can't build it small or we will end up rebuilding it bigger. Best to dive on in.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 11:58AM
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PupillaCharites(FL 9a)

Your welcome Rio, really I should thank you since I've taken a shine to your Father/Son project. Drop that bottom line thinking as much as you possibly can if it is an investment the dividends for your pilot production go beyond cash flow and enter in your own family grocery bill.

Here is in my opinion the fallacy of straight cash crunching on an aquaponic farm:

Fish is a healthy food in moderation but can be dangerous in more than a couple of servings per week. This problem is from toxic environmental accumulations, but if you take precautions, guess who can eat more fish they raised by the sweat of their brow?

Factor: A 1.5 lb Tilapia fish gross gives a little over 0.5 pounds delicious fillet. (35% is fillet) Nice serving.

You can buy your fish but is it really the same? No, it is not. Americans generally sweep under the rug (I am not an organic activist, so this has nothing to do with that scene) what they eat when no one wants to think about it. The wholesale and retail price of Tilapia, from Taiwan and China principally determining US market price. Please read the following mainstream media article which tries to lay out the difference, I'll just quote some of the what's under the rug and ask you if your home raised fish isn't worth far more than some (edit to keep my language clean) imported fish. Just think, Your farm raised fish is pristine as you make it.

From Bloomberg article on Tilapia:

At Chen Qiang’s tilapia farm in Yangjiang city in China’s Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong, Chen feeds fish partly with feces from hundreds of pigs and geese. That practice is dangerous for American consumers, says Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety.

“The manure the Chinese use to feed fish is frequently contaminated with microbes like salmonella,” says Doyle, who has studied foodborne diseases in China.

On a sweltering, overcast day in August, the smell of excrement is overpowering. After seeing dead fish on the surface, Chen, 45, wades barefoot into his murky pond to open a pipe that adds fresh water from a nearby canal. Exporters buy his fish to sell to U.S. companies.

And on the flip side the Chinese have perfected the front end of an aquaponic system (fish) probably using substantially all farm waste as feed, and not buying essentially even fish food. The veggies are probably 95% of the income, but that 5% is a really cool fertilizaer making machine I would think for anyone working in farming and livestock could really love. The way I figure it you get 40 heads of lettuce per pound of fish. Good luck on the tank, I wish I had a good suggestion, for one. If you end up with something worth bragging about, please let me know how you did yours after the dust clears.

This post was edited by PupillaCharites on Fri, Jan 3, 14 at 13:04

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 12:30PM
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Will do. Dad detailed a similar story a few years ago explaining that he will no longer eat imported fish. When we started the hydroponic lettuce last year the aquaponics were naturally a topic. He mentioned yesterday how good catfish used to taste and that even pond catfish around her taste oily. As I was leaving he says,, "you think we could grow some catfish in your " water garden". Yep,, I think we can do that.

I agree whole heartedly with the info above. Being a farming faimly back when I was a kid we had market cattle and cattle we ate. This was long before free range was a fad. The cattle we ate diddnt get any injections of anything in their life cycle. If they did, we put a second ear tag in them and sent them to the feed out lot to be sold to market. They were fed different feed and were smaller than cattle born at the same time. They diddnt taste much diffrent, but we knew everything that made them was natural. We had cows that never saw any antibiotics or supplement feed. The ones that did the calves were double tagged and went to the feed lot. This was all back in the late 70s

The clean aspect is very important to our faimly and our CSA is built on the absence of pesticides and herbicides.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 1:50PM
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Aren't there PCBs in commercial catfish food? You would make healthier fish by making your own food for them.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 5:10PM
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Don't know, but I can find out.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 7:06PM
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PupillaCharites(FL 9a)

Good luck finding out specifics from anyone Rio, that information is not consistently available, for me to find anyway. I haven't eaten farmed salmon in a very long time specifically because of rumors of high antibiotics (Chilean product) and high PCBs (all, especially European).

The commercial feed for catfish is of similar composition as Tilapia, I think you can use the same thing. The problem with singling out one thing for decision making regulators and internet bloggers is people tend to obsess over one thing without realizing that there are 5 more things that we aren't asking about.

So a little common sense is about the best I can think to do. If food is being imported grown from unregulated sewage paddies I steer clear. If like US fish, there are gray areas like Cole's comment suggests which only scratches the surface to draw attention to these other areas, the best we can do is enjoy these foods in moderation and use our own practices as suggested to make our food less contaminated.

Take the fishmeal Cole is talking about, and in general. The PCB risk is in one interpretation from certain marine boney fish only useful for feed. The best we can do is balance our diet; even regular beef has a good fraction of PCBs, maybe 25% of what's in fish. The catfish caught in the great lakes basin are likely to be more contaminated than anything you grow; Tilapia are much lower for this risk.

If you only eat one or two meals per week even of catfish, I feel good are well within strict guidlines. But what you can do is eat less of the fatty part and skin of the fish where PCBs reside in much greater amounts - sticking to the fillets, and eat fish that aren't old (large) which multiply the contaminants as they stick around. Further, by raising your own on a diet supplemented by the fish food (and for this get the highest protein lowest fat version and that too will really help). Duckweed is a cinch to grow and great fish food, and if there is an insect source or you want to do worms you can probably even do with most of the fishmeal. Tilapia are virtual vacuum cleaners, so veggie waste, algae, they'll eat it all.

Another rough guideline: Purina Aquamax Omnivore for both Catfish and Tilapia is one of the commercial foods out there. It ought to cost less than $1/pound, and for our purposes, 2 pounds per day given to 100 pounds of fish is overkill, and you will get more than a pound of it back in fish weight and the rest plant fertilizer. To the extent you offset that with Duckweed, bugs, grubs, worms, you get rid of it and make your own pristine fish way better than anything commercially or (freshwater fished locally) you can buy reasonably and your source of contaminants to watch is basically from the water you choose to use - so if you went with a base of direct clean rainwater we get the ability to be near the quality of a clean fresh alpine stream. Anything you produce in this way, compared to the diet of the average supermarket goer, is simply far superior and can be eaten with as much confidence and pride as we get :-).

Also, I can't tell you with what pleasure I would pick my Southern Army Worm caterpillar pests off my plants and watch the fish fight over them.

I just found that farmed Salmon can have 10 times the concentration of PCBs as farmed Tilapia, according to many studies done 8-10 years ago, and even wild salmon are like triple, darn, now I'm going to think twice when I eat the yummy crisped skin.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 1:52PM
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We were taking at work about how good salmon tased when we were kids. All the salmon I get blow days has a metal taste to it. Just dosent taste right.

I was reading about purine aqua max. It should be readily available around here. If not I was reading on an Australian site how to make an "Organic" food on site.

Lots to learn probably double that amount to learn again.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 1:59AM
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PupillaCharites(FL 9a)

Yeah, the learning seems to never stop. Seems like the local farm Coop can frequently order AM for the best prices on 50# bags. Be sure it is fresh, usually on your request for the next delivery the dealer has. If you want to see who Purina has locally, check their dealer locator and wade through the results, but Indiana is likely one of the best places in the country to be for this:

Aquamax feed locator

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 4:49AM
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The coop we deal with is a purine dealer. Sometimes though I wish we lived near a southern states. They have some unique products. Spending today keeping pipes from freezing. Feeling it for the people in South Dakota and Kansas where -12 is nothin, it's a big deal in southern Indiana.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 1:24PM
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PupillaCharites(FL 9a)

The 80 degree weather ended here, tonight we'll get down to 26 degrees, and that's a hug deal on the almost always mild northern Florida coast so I guess what I say is laughable to some people about my concept of cold. I'm just hoping the hydroponic strawberry fruit and flowers survive intact, since they are stuck outside in the elements and at the moment are going much better than I had hoped. Good luck with the pipes.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 3:34PM
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Wow,, pipes bustin everywhere. Was a a busy week. I bet anything under 50s is tough in Florida. I have a good friend in north Florida. I have been to his place where it is 80 deg at 10pm in April.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 12:53AM
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I really feel for you guys in the Northern States with temperatures going below freezing , I have been down that road before and know the obstacles facing you with each passing season.
Thank God we have temperatures that never go below 46F in the middle of winter.
In your circumstances being creative is the only way to go.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 3:14AM
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