Aquaponics 101 – Sell the sizzle

An economics lecturer back in the day, once told me, “don’t sell the sausage, sell the sizzle.” How wise these words proved to be.  While our new wired world makes the market for our goods and services many multiples bigger, it also dilutes our influence.

Let me explain it another way.  In the previous business model the market was smaller, but so was the competition.  Nowadays, if you cannot somehow differentiate yourself, your products or services, no matter how good, will not sell.

How then does that affect Aquaponics?  Well, in one way it is good because Aquaponics, being a rather new and novel way of growing fish and vegetable crops, does in fact differentiate us from the other struggling vegetable farmers and aquaculturists.  But this “difference” is also a double-edged sword because the ordinary man in the street has no idea whatsoever what Aquaponics actually means.

So what then is the “sizzle” of Aquaponics?  How about, “better than organic”, “space-age food production”,  “the future of food production” or some other catchy byline?

One of the basics of scaling up to Commercial Aquaponics, as I have said so may times, is a rock-solid marketing campaign.  Don’t even start thinking about the technical or even financial aspects of your new system without first considering the following;

  • Is there a market for my products?
  • Where are my potential customers?
  • What are they willing to pay?
  • Why would they choose me over so many other vendors?

Although you are unlikely to get firm orders without a salable product, this short exercise will keep you grounded when you tackle the other elements of your system design.

As mentioned in a previous post, I have been hard at work on a number of online initiatives, one of which is a Classified Site called landbou.net. This site is specifically targeted at the agricultural sector (landbou meaning agriculture in Afrikaans) and provides a market place for buying and selling products and services relating to farming. Advertisements are free and I have created categories for both fish and vegetables.

Please feel free to register and start placing some ads. It is currently aimed at Southern African countries but if the demand is there, I would be glad to extend it to other countries.

Enough for now.

Synaptoman

butter-lettuce-soil

Going the Distance for a Green Future with New Initiatives

I have many like-minded readers from around the World. This is the first in a series of Guest Posts.  Todays article is by Sam Marquit, an independent ‘green’ contractor and co-author of Fair Marquit Value.

There are some incredibly inspiring global and local green initiatives today. Being an independent contractor, I really began to notice the way that green materials and building practices could change the carbon footprint of my client. Now, as a commercial contractor, businesses also have an amazing power to promote green practices and become a beacon for others to follow as an example. There are a few green initiatives out there that have really done something for the world. The most inspiring thing for me to see is the amount of changes in the travel industry. Eco-friendly businesses in tourism and hospitality make a difference every day. Hotels are unique in the way that they advertise eco-friendly and recyclable practices right alongside with accommodations and other services. That’s something that every business should be doing to get more people interested in saving the planet.

 

Just think if you were a business owner and could win an award for doing something for your community or protecting a local wildlife preserve. These are just a few of the things that you can win an award if you’re nominated in The Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards. Businesses around Asia strive to be nominated and chosen for awards in multiple categories. These categories include environmental protection, cultural preservation, resource efficiency and community engagement. Not only do these categories cover green materials, but they also look for social welfare qualities and responsible business tactics. That’s an important aspect to building a business in today’s marketplace.
In addition to the variety of initiatives, there are a number of green facilities that continue to go up. Las Vegas is actually home to the “Most Eco-Friendly Hotel in America.” The Las Vegas Palazzo Hotel and Resort was given this award because of its solar energy panels, water-recycling program and waste reuse. The hotel has several other ways that it recycles and uses green materials. It’s important to recognize that hotels can partake in these practices as well and save on energy in the long run as well as reduce their carbon footprints.
Inspiration comes in many forms. If more businesses choose to be green like the new green Las Vegas hotels, the impact would be extremely beneficial for its customers and planet. We can all do our part for a greener world and it is up to us to continue the positive green trend.

 

 

Aquaponics and the Meaning of Life

With the first Winter rains now falling in the Western Cape of South Africa and the grapevines almost bare of their Summer plumage, ones thoughts turn to more philosophical directions. I enjoy Winter in the Cape. It offers a time for introspection; re-visiting the successes and failures of the previous growing season and planning for what lies ahead.

Aquaponics (AP) really is a scale model of the workings of the earth and provides a great platform to explain how everything hangs together. I have taken many school groups through my various AP builds over the years and I have found it extremely heartening to see the “light-bulb” moment as a child suddenly sees the point of it all. When he/she realizes that every system (whether organic or mechanical) works exactly the same and that it is infinitely scalable, the impact is huge.

Nature has no waste. Every output from one system is an input for another. Our artificially created, urban living areas “appear” to generate massive waste and seem, on the face of it, to be unbalanced, but in reality nature mops up the waste over time and uses it as an input in another system. What we must realize is that it doesn’t all happen immediately and it may be many, many years before the next system even needs the output from the earlier system.

There are many examples of this. Gold mining is one. The goldfields of South Africa and other gold producing countries are littered with “mine dumps”. These discarded mountains of earth are the by-product of the mining and extraction process. At the time, the cost and availability of technology and the price of gold didn’t make it feasible to process these dumps any further. Now, many years later, it provides a lucrative new source of gold which is extracted from these “dumps”.

Landfills are another example. I predict that in the future these hidden dumps of a civilizations waste will power cities with easily-extractable methane and the solid matter recycled in a multitude of ways.

There is no waste in the long-term.

AP has often been described as a “closed-loop” system; a perpetual motion, organic machine that, once in balance, will sustain itself indefinitely.  In theory this is true, but in practice it is not very long before some or other input is required, the most obvious being food for the fish. Another is an AP systems rapid depletion of iron and other trace elements needed in only small doses, but without which, the system comes crashing down.

The secret of AP and Life itself, is thus BALANCE. Balance is often not apparent in a snapshot, but if you look at the system, in whatever form, over a period of time, it seems to smooth out and settle into a balanced state.

Our lives, in a seemingly meaningless, headlong rush to the grave, also seem out of balance, but below the surface of this raging river is a calm, balanced, REASON for it all.  Sometimes we just have to step back, lift our eyes from our iPhones and other distracting gadgets and realize that this is all part of a bigger plan.

We are just so bogged down by detail and noise and confusion. To truly appreciate the meaning of it all, maybe we should just go out into our gardens and truly OBSERVE the miracle of nature, be it only in a tiny patch of green that we call our own.

Henry David Thoreau, the finest American philosopher who ever lived, said, “Our life is frittered away by detail.

Get out there and appreciate it.

Walden1

Later

Synaptoman

Bitcoins – the missing link?

A concept that has intrigued me for many years, is a lifestyle combining the simplest of permaculture living with the absolute “bleeding” edge of technology. An eco-village (real or virtual) where we grow our own food, generate our own power and educate our children, free from the pressures and interference of big governments and rampant consumerism.

Now its easy to give up the day job, sell the house and cars and buy a piece of land in the country, but where will the money come from to feed, clothe, educate and protect your family? How will you afford healthcare? Many folk like me, with some web-based income, will find it easier to adapt, but what we cannot do without, is high speed Internet connectivity and the ongoing means to sell our wares online.

Once you have an online business up and running, the reality of payment options rears its head. I have fiddled with PayPal, credit cards and direct deposits over the years but the manual interventions required at almost every step makes the income earned not worth all the admininstration involved.

I started researching online virtual currencies a few months ago with a view to adapting my business model to a wholly online experience. With the recent financial upheavals in Europe I realised that governments and banks could not be trusted with our money and although online currencies where fraught with growth pains, they offer a welcome break from the traditional financial model.

Over the next few months I am going to re-visit my dreams of an eco-village, start another web business helping folk earn an income online and move all my payment options to virtual currencies, namely Bitcoin.

My ebooks book can now be paid for with Bitcoins.

Aquaponics – The Synaptoman way

  
If you’d like to trade in virtual currencies, including Bitcoins and SLL (Second Life Lindens) pop over to  VirWoX

To buy or sell Bitcoins, go to Mt.Gox and open an account.

Enough for now.

Synaptoman

Small bites of Synaptoman

Thank you for all your votes on the SA Blog Awards, your support was greatly appreciated. Although I won no awards this year, Synaptoman still maintains a Top 10 position in the News and Politics category in the South African Blogosphere.

The weather here in Paarl has been challenging with regular daytime temperatures of close to 40 deg C. February is normally hotter and we are starting to wonder if 2013 will be another 50 deg year.

The grape harvest has started coming in and we look forward to a great vintage. The Child Bride (back from the UK at last) has started spending more time here in Paarl with me while the Knysna house is being used as a holiday destination. The garden and small fruit orchard looks after itself and we pick fresh produce whenever we go there.

On the Aquaponics and Permacuture fronts the vegetables and fresh eggs flowing from my Paarl garden now form a large part of my daily diet. Those following my Twitter feed will also know that I have been flying my ARDrone 2 on a regulare basis and taking some awesome aerial photos of the Cape Winelands. Bush fires have recently threatened many wine farms in the area and violent labour strikes have also added their share of irritation.

For my US readers, why not pop over to the Aquaponics Store (link on the right)? They have some great aquaponics equipment for us “geek gardeners”.

My Twitter account is slowly gaining traction and a steady stream of Aquaponics, Permaculture, Technology and current affairs tweets have attracted some followers. Have a look around and I promise you won’t be bored.

Well, enough for now. Time to make some delicious Basil Pesto.

Fresh Basil

Modern Survivalism 101 – An Introduction

Synaptoman, the blog, has concerned itself with many topics over the years and has, surprisingly, thanks to you, the loyal reader, reached the #7 spot in the News and Politics section of the local South African blog charts. Topics have ranged from Aquaponics to Sustainable Living, Permaculture, Humour and even some local politics. I have carefully charted a course for this blog based on what my readers want to read about and have even had the occasional reader survey, not that I have a particularly democratic personality.

What is clear is that most of my readers come here for the Aquaponics. While I could write indefinitely on this subject, I have put most of what I have learned into my book, Aquaponics – the Synaptoman Way, which you can buy from this website. This little publication sells a considerable number of copies and I am sure ranks as one of the most downloaded eBooks on the subject of Aquaponics worldwide.

What you must bear in mind however, is that Aquaponics is just one small component of the ‘bigger picture” and it is this, that will be the main focus of my blog for the foreseeable future.

Modern Survivalism, as practised by Jack Spirko and the other good ol’ boys at The Survival Podcast represents a 21st Century approach to mankind’s oldest problem that is, how to survive as a family or community when things are going well or even when they go pear-shaped. It is a concept far removed from the wack-job bunkered down in a cellar surrounded by guns and “surviving” on tinned food while the world around him goes to hell in a handbag.

No, Modern Survivalism is a holistic approach to the old Boy Scout motto of “be prepared” and the important thing here is that in your preparations (preps) you should not do anything or spend any money on items that you would not need anyway. In a real “Shit Hit the Fan” (SHTF) situation, your preps should place you and your family in a far safer place than all those around you without unnecessarily attracting any attention to you.

I will spend the next couple of posts dealing with the basic concepts of Modern Survivalism and then outline how I have applied them in my life here at the southern tip of Africa.

Be Prepared

Syanaptoman

Chickens Revisited – The Holistic Gardener

A phrase I have read on numerous forums regarding chickens goes as follows, “If I had known how easy and fun it was to keep chickens, I would have done it years ago.”

This is spot on. Chickens, especially a small flock of hens only, are clean, quiet, cheap, productive and a load of fun to have around. Today I’d like to discuss where they fit into my self-sustainability plans.

This has been a long and really interesting journey and probably started with my first interest in Aquaponics almost 5 years ago. I found the concept of a closed-loop food production system intriguing but questioned the blinkered approach of the purists in this industry. Aquaponics, despite being a really cool way to produce food still seemed overly reliant on technology, power and it was also expensive to build and maintain. Also, over time, minute nutrient deficiencies developed and had to be supplemented by artificial inputs.

At this time I really started researching a more holistic approach to home food production and delved into composting, mulching, permaculture, worms, food forests and heirloom seeds. It was only after my chickens had joined the mix that I started getting a really comfortable feeling that, at last, my system was complete.

It was not the first time that I had incorporated chickens. A client, for whom I built a commercial system, suspended his chickens directly over his Tilapia ponds, a practice I subsequently strongly disagreed with. Keeping my own chickens now has enforced this view even more. Not only was it extremely unhealthy and potentially fatal, but also particularly cruel to the chickens, even if they only spent short periods of time over the tanks.

Here is a short description, in point form, of what I believe is an extremely productive, environmentally friendly, sustainable method of producing food on a micro to commercial scale.

  • Extensive soil preparation and conditioning.
  • Zero Till thereafter.
  • Extra deep mulching.
  • Composting, with and without worms.
  • Design using permaculture principles.
  • Chicken kept for litter (mulching), eggs and meat.
  • Aquaponic system used to produce fish and supply nutrients for seedlings and out-of-season vegetables in a greenhouse.
  • Use of heirloom seeds only.
  • Zero pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
  • Companion planting.

I don’t think I have all the answers, but nature itself is teaching me some valuable lessons. When you do something right, you are rewarded with a cheap, bountiful harvest. When you fight against nature, your results are disappointing and expensive.

Cheers

Synaptoman