Do you know how to grow your own food? Do you earn your living from growing food, or from some other business that is less than dependable in these difficult economic times?
In addition to running our commercial aquaponics farm, Friendly Aquaponics teaches how to build and operate your own aquaponics systems, from indoor tabletop systems, to backyard home systems, to full-sized commercial systems of thousands of square feet. With four years of experience doing this, and hundreds of systems built using our materials, we know that our courses and DIY manuals work.,
We know because thirty to forty percent of our students have built and are successfully operating commercial and home aquaponics systems. Both our live trainings and our DIY courses give you state-of-the-art aquaponics systems at a fraction of the cost of “kits”, AND with much better technical and operating information.
None of the people selling these “kits” operate a commercial farm for their living as we do. Our aquaponics information comes directly from our real-world experience growing and selling vegetables for a living. In addition, all the “kits” sold by these people need to be assembled, just as our systems do, so they don’t save you any work. However, you can buy the equipment and materials for our systems for one quarter to one-sixth of the cost of the “kits”. Get the idea?
Because of improvements in seeding, germination, sprouting, planting, plant nursery systems, and grow-out systems that my awesome wife Susanne has come up with in the last year, our commercial systems hold 4.3 times the amount of plants per square foot as the Nelson and Pade and UVI aquaponics systems do. This means our systems put out four times as many plants per square foot as “kit” systems based on these designs do, in the same time, and our systems only cost one-quarter as much to build. If you do the math here, you will see our systems grow sixteen times the number of plants for the same cost to build.
The building industry effectively died on the Big Island in 2007, and our family’s two construction-related companies shriveled on the vine. We looked for alternatives in food production. We knew people might stop buying houses and cars in an economic downturn, but not food. This turned out to be almost prescient in the middle of 2007, a year before the current economic crisis hit.
Tim had been interested in aquaculture for years, but unfortunately, was married to someone else at the time who never supported the idea (or anything else that he wanted to do, for the most part!). And as serendipity would have it, my parents had built and operated an aquaculture facility in California when I was a child. So when we heard about aquaponics, we began to be very excited, and began doing some research on it.
The most successful commercial aquaponics project we found was operated by the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) Dr. James Rakocy. In my internet research, Dr. Rakocy’s name kept popping up all over the Web when searching aquaponics references. We read all his papers; they were excellent, full of detail and economic analysis. We were sold on aquaponics and signed up for the UVI Short Course.
Ten days later we were boarding the plane for the Virgin Islands. Ten days after that, back on the Big Island, we started planning our first aquaponics system. We are at the end of the supply line in Hawaii; so shipping items from the mainland often costs more than the stuff itself. The first thing we discovered was that building an aquaponics system the way UVI had done would cost almost as much to ship the system components here as it cost to purchase them on the mainland. We also found that electricity on the Big Island was 33 cents per kilowatt-hour (that was when we began in 2007; it’s 44 cents per kilowatt-hour now), much higher than the 22 cents per kilowatt-hour we were told electricity cost in the Virgin Islands.
After we ran some financial projections with these numbers and got depressed by the results, we redesigned the UVI systems for more economical construction and operation in Hawaii. Our first systems had an equivalent capacity to UVI’s commercial system but only used half the electricity for the same aeration and pumping parameters, and cost half as much to build in Hawaii in 2007 as UVI said its system cost in 2004.
We built that design in 2007. We planted 90 different species of vegetables in our first test planting to get information on what grew best, optimum planting densities, and production volume, because the UVI course only provided data on basil, lettuce, and okra. Encouraged by the results from our first independent design in aquaponics technology, we built a hatchery, a recirculating nursery aquaponic system and one more grow-out aquaponic system in the next twelve months, each with improvements we learned from the previous systems. As of June 2010, we have a total of 5,900 square feet of raft area in six aquaponics systems, and another 1,200 square feet of covered sprouting table area.
We figured out an effective, economical and simple way to breed and raise tilapia fry. After more inquiry and trials, we figured out a way to grow Macrobrachium rosenbergii (Malaysian Giant River Prawns) successfully in the hydroponics troughs, and are doing more trials aimed at determining optimum stocking densities, grow-out times, and harvest sizes for best production for the prawns. We designed and built a simplified, economical family backyard 256 square foot aquaponic system that after two years of successful operation still achieves good production with ease and economy of operation. This is what we call our LD (or Low Density) system, which runs on one-fifth the electricity our original systems do, or in other words, one-tenth the electricity of the original UVI systems, for the same vegetable production. We designed and built a simple 64-square foot backyard system we dubbed the “Micro System”, tens of which have been built in the first few months after release of the plans set.
In October 2008 we produced our first “Commercial Aquaponics Training”. This training gives people everything they need to build and successfully operate a small commercial aquaponics system in an intensive, four-day course with lots of hands-on sessions at the farm. The 2008 training had 78 attendees; one of them actually built a small system in the five days between the two weekends of the training; fourteen others now have aquaponics systems in operation; six of those are commercial systems; and five of those have already gotten organically certified as of June 2010. For those unable to attend a live training, we made the same training available as a package which includes a 112-page course manual, computer-drawn construction plans, a 47-page construction manual, a day-by-day operations manual, and much more. These do-it-myself plans have allowed people all over the world, in locations as diverse as Singapore, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Trinidad, Arizona, Idaho, California, and Kauai, to build commercial aquaponics systems without expensive travel and training in a distant location (well, if you feel you HAVE to go somewhere for training, Hawaii’s not so bad).
In April 2010 we produced our fourth Commercial Aquaponics Training with 48 participants; this training was particularly interesting because 75% of the people who attended came from outside Hawaii. More interesting was the fact that several of the course participants had previously attended other commercial aquaponics trainings, including the UVI training, yet still felt our course offered enough value to make coming to Hawaii worthwhile. We currently produce our live Hawaii courses twice a year, in October and April, and have added a fifth and sixth day to the course to cover building and operating methane biodigesters.
Most recently we designed and built a Micro Aquaponics System of 64 or 128 square feet of grow bed area, and have published plans costing $99.95 for this system, which can be built for under $700 worth of materials (on the mainland, this is about $9,000 in Hawaii). This is a reply to all the $2,495.00 (or more) aquaponics system “kits” we kept seeing on the internet with only 20 square feet of grow bed area, the sellers of which promised the purchaser they would “grow all the vegetables your family needs”. These claims are garbage, because these tiny systems cannot possibly do what the sellers claim. We are offended by them preying on people new to aquaponics who didn’t know any better and didn’t have any alternatives. Now there’s an alternative in the Micro System, and we hope to see these incredibly robust and productive small systems springing up in backyards all over the country as a result.
Contact our friends at
Friendly Aquaponics, Inc.
PO Box 1196
Honoka’a, HI 96727