The Highways of the Mind

For us living in the Southern Hemisphere the approach of Spring is clearly evident.  From the geese that have suddenly gone into gang-rape mode to the morning sun which arrives just a minute or two earlier every day.  My Permaculture experiments have proceeded unabated, mostly concentrated at my little cottage on a wine farm in Paarl.  Travelling back last weekend to the now-deserted Knysna house (the Child Bride being in the UK until November and Brat Deluxe in hist first year at University in Cape Town) I was pleasanty surprised to find that the absence of humans had certainly been good for the garden.

This Winter has certainly been one of the wettest in recent years and my very deeply mulched beds and compost heaps had benefited by the regular downpours turning the plentiful organic material into dark rich compost.Image

Meanwhile at my new home in Paarl, the chickens that are now part of my daily life, have revolutionised the way I look at gardening.  Aquaponics first opened my eyes to sustainable living but adding three simple egg-laying hens to the mix has suddenly made the process so much easier.  Their constant digging and rooting for insects in the mulched beds have aerated and turned over the soil.  Their droppings and littler from their coop has fertilised the soil in way that would have cost a load of money using dangerous and unsustaniable chemical fertlisers.

This Winter I experimented with green manure.  This is basically planting a crop in Winter that just covers the soil and is then trimmed down to soil level as Spring arrives.  Nitrogen fixing plants are used and after the plant is cut, the roots rot under the ground providing important elements to the soil and also opening deep channels deep into the soil.  The leaves also provide a handy snack for the chooks.

Image

On the Aquaponic front I brought a couple of Tilapia and all my Comet Goldfish broodstock to the Paarl Cottage and come Spring I’ll put together a small AP system just to keep my hand in.

As soon as I start my Spring plantings I will have to confine the chickens to a smaller area around their coop as they can cause real damage to new seedlings.  I built a simple fence out of bamboo and will work on a gate this week.  They are going to have to start getting used to a smaller range area but it’s that or a ruined garden.  This is what the fence looks like.  I will probably plant gooseberries and tomatoes up against it.

Image

I leave you with this quote from Henry David Thoreau whose book, Walden I have kept on my bedside table for years;

The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels.  How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!”

Image

Later.

Synaptoman

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Aquaponics 101 – Let the training begin

With the training system at Harkerville, Knysna complete, we are now scheduling our Practical Aquaponics training courses.  This intensive hands-on course includes both theoretical and practical training in all aspects of Aquaponics (AP) from design, building and commissioning a system to day-to-day maintenance and trouble-shooting.

Some topics covered in the course are;

  • An Introduction to AP.
  • A comparison of AP to pure Aquaculture systems
  • A comparison of AP to pure Hydroponic systems.
  • The Fish.
  • The Plants.
  • Planning, site selection and other considerations.
  • The materials list (what you will need).
  • How it all fits together (various basic designs)
  • Costing and Economic considerations.
  • Fish/Plant selection and Marketing Considerations.
  • Troubleshooting.
  • Visits to other local AP sites.

The duration of the course is 2 days and the course fee includes transfers from and back to George Airport, 2 nights accommodation onsite at the Masescha Resort, a visit to other AP sites in the area, all meals (excluding drinks), the course, as well as a free copy of the publication, Aquaponics – The Synaptoman way.

We also have a special accomodation only rate for spouses/children/partners who would like to accompany delegates.

Our January 2010 course is fully-booked but we still have places for our February 2010 course, which runs from 22 February to 24 February 2010.  Places are strictly limited to ensure individual attention to all delegates.

Email me at aquaculture(at)knysna.sa.com * for further details.

Cheers for now


Synaptoman

* (replace the (at) with @ to foil the spammers)

An image of the completed training system, all ready for plants and fish.

Aquaponics 101 – Festive Building

A very Happy New Year to all of my readers.

Believe it or not, we have worked straight through on the new system with the exception of the Christmas and New Year long weekends.  The system is coming along nicely and the only problem encountered so far has been the extreme temperatures.

With the normal temperature in our area hovering in the 30-34 deg C range, in the valley where I am working and in full sun, I am enduring temperatures of up to 40 and in the greenhouse tunnel, who knows?

We have now completed the tunnel, the shade cloth area and the two ponds.  The growbeds are positioned and the support ends have been glued and bolted on.  All that is now needed is to plastic weld the PVC sheet half moons into place on the growbed ends.

All the underground plumbing has been completed and the supply line from the sump is also complete.  The ponds are full of water and I have put the standpipes in the ponds in case the valves (which are closed) leak.  Most of the drains are complete and all that remains here is to run the main 80mm drain down the hill to the sump.

Some images for clarity.

This is a shot of the inside of the shade cloth area before the large pond is installed.  You can see the plumbing for the central drain.  You can also see the growbed stands which have just been completed.

After the large pond was installed and fitted, I treated myself to my traditional swim.

The growbeds are bolted together using stainless steel.  We use off-cuts of PVC as spacers so that everything fits neatly and snugly.

Here is an image of my bush workbench where I cut all the PVC.  We just use an old wheelbarrow and a couple of clamps to keep everything in place while I cut with the grinder.

This is what the system looks like from the outside at present.

And after a hard day building in the bush, this is how the Child Bride treats me.  Sushi, prawns and Champers.

Cheers


Synaptoman

Aquaponics 101 – OK, here’s the deal.

This blog is currently attracting up to 800 visitors PER DAY from all corners of the world and I find it it extremely motivating, during my trials and tribulations, to know that a loyal band of readers are following my every move.

I’d thus like to invite you along for the next chapter of my Aquaponic Adventure.  You are welcome to join as a casual reader, a commentator, a critic or even an equity partner.

The last three years of home and commercial aquaponic builds have been a great experience and together with extensive research into topics as diverse as composting and sun tracking, as well as building 7 large greenhouse tunnels for numerous clients, I feel that the time has come to put this all together into developing the ultimate, self-sustaining Aquaponic system. which I am initially calling, “One Earth”.

I don’t have the capital to pursue this dream, hence this post.  What I need is an equity partner (or partners) to fund one years worth of research and the cost of building a pilot site incorporating all of the technology developed.  In return, my partner (or partners) would own a share of the facility built, a share in the profits generated by this site, but more importantly, a share in the intellectual capital and/or patented processes and procedures developed during this period.

The idea is to build a system here in Knysna, South Africa, in a temperate climate and then later replicate it in a cold climate (say Alaska) and a warm climate (say the Philippines).  Set out below is a rough brief of the system.

  • It must use no grid-generated power (ie. renewable energy only) of which the whole system should use a maximum of 30KWh per day.
  • It must use rain-scavenged water from the greenhouse structure as top up after the initial fillup.  All internal condensation must also be preserved.  New, unique systems must be developed to achieve this.
  • Heating and cooling must be achieved by renewable means only.  A unique compost heating system must be developed to achieve this.  Solar heating must be optimised by new sun-tracking optimisation.
  • New filtration systems, combining the best of existing aquaculture and aquaponic principles, must be developed and implemented.
  • All ponds, raceways, growbeds and compost bins must be custom designed in-house and manufactured ourselves for patenting and future sale.  Roto-moulding techniques will be used here.
  • Plants will be grown in a mix of gravel, NFT systems and compost-based potting soils to optimise nutrient take-up for a variety of different vegetables and herbs, depending on their individual requirements.
  • Stocking densities of fish will be ethical and provide the fish with sufficient space and stimulation.
  • It must provide employment and training to local people, wherever it is built, as well as educate children and students from the local communities.  Training courses in self-sustaining aquaponics could also be offered on-site.
  • It must be able to be replicated in rural, urban or inner-city environments, with only minor modifications.
  • The entire system, down to the smallest bolt and nut, must be able to fit into a normal shipping container for transport to any country in the world and assembly on site, by semi-skilled staff.

I am ready to start this project immediately and have found ideal land on a long lease to build the pilot system.  I am prepared to offer all the experience and reasearch I have acquired to date, as well as 12 months of design, development and build time.  I am looking for an equity partner with $200 000 to invest for a 50% share of this project.

Comment below if you are interested or email me privately at aquaculture@knysna.sa.com

Cheers for now.

Synaptoman

Aquaponics 101 – The talkers and the do’ers

Yes, yes, I know, I’m getting slacker and slacker keeping you updated on our progress, but now the pressure’s on and we are pushing hard to get the latest commercial site operational before summer.

What really takes time is the plumbing.  Every spraybar and drain takes numerous elbows, t-pieces, pipe, clamps and valves.  We’ve painted the solids filter and drain with a waterproof (fish-friendly) paint and it all looks nice and neat.  Here’s a shot of the painted solids filter.

The strawberry towers (all 110 of them) also need to be hung and plumbed with 20mm pipe and one valve per row (ie. 3 towers). Here’s the growing forest.

I also did some pressure tests on the fish pond drains and unfortunately the press-on joins didn’t hold up very well. I haven’t worked out what kind of pressure in bars 4 x tanks of 46000L through a 80mm pipe exerts, but clearly more than a PVC press-on join can handle. So everything had to be dug up again and the joints replaced with proper glue-on PVC joiners, which tested fine.

The two pumps arrive next week. We will be running the whole system on 1 x 750W pool pump and because we are totally reliant on wind and solar power, we will switch over to a smaller 200W pump to keep the plants irrigated at night. The blowers will run 24/7 which hopefully will be sufficient aeration for the fish.

The 9m mast for the wind turbine is almost ready, so this week we placed the re-inforcing foot in position and concreted it in. The hole is 1m x 1m and 1m deep, so the mast should be able to hold up to any wind. Here’s what it looks like in the hole before the concrete was poured.

We’ve had a lot of little mice and shrews that have fallen into the pool (aka sump) and they provide a nice midday snack (wink).

Oh well enough for now. I’ll try and post more regularly. Promise.

Synaptoman

Aquaponics 101 – Building a drain.

This week saw us continue with the central drain in the vegetable tunnel at the new commercial site.  All water is going to end up in this drain and it will be filled with gravel to provide even more bio-filtration and who knows?  Maybe we can even grow something in this damp environment.  Watercress?  Rice?

Just to recap, the water flowing from the Tilapia ponds will go through a solids filter, then into the drain and then into the sump.  Water to the growbeds will flow into this drain and the strawberry towers will also drip directly into the drain.  So here is how we are going about building it.

First we dug the channel and then lay plastic down.

Then we concrete it. We mixed an admix called Sikalite into the cement to provide even more water-proofing. Levels are important. It has to be completely square across but have a gentle slope down to the sump.

Then we built a small brick wall all the way down the length of the drain right down to the sump. It is one brick high at the top of the tunnel becoming three bricks high at the sump side. I am going to make a fibreglass rim flow over the end and into the sump. This is what it looks like at the end.

I have also mocked up my solids filter and it will consist of three compartments, namely filtration cloth and charcoal, secondly coral and oyster shell, and thirdly a settling section in which I’ll probably stock some Tilapia fingerlings to eat any remaining solids. Here is roughly what it will look like.

Meanwhile at our completed site the plant growth is quite phenomenal. We are being visited next week by some members of the local Town Council and I am sure that they will be highly impressed at what Aquaponics can do towards food security. Just look at the difference after only a few days.

Believe it or not, those giant leaves in the foreground are beans !!

Enjoy your weekend

Synaptoman

Aquaponics 101 – Dem pipes.

Seems strange, doesn’t it, to transport expensive pipes half way across the country only to cut them up when they arrive on site.  Sure it does, but that’s tough, and so are the pipes, that’s why I use them.

The 12 x 500mm pipes will eventually become 24 x 6m length growbeds that will last years.  Here are some action shots of the cutting of the pipes and what they look like after placing on the growbed stands.

The frame work that we are busy with in the middle will eventually hold the strawberry towers. Water will drip out of the bottom and travel down a gravel-filled drain to end up in the swimming pool (aka sump).

At our other Aquaponic site, disaster struck twice on Tuesday.  First the sump collapsed and sand poured into the system and then a gale force Northerly wind almost blew the greenhouse (with us inside) away.

We had to dig out the old sump, cut the concrete slab bigger and then sink a new tank into the ground.  Oh, and also rescue 15 massive Koi from a sand-polluted pond.

Here are some sorry scenes from “Terrible Tuesday”.

The giant Koi were quiet happily swimming around in this mess.

We had to cut the slab bigger to get the new tank in

New sump in and now the cleanup begins

By today, everything was back to normal, without losing a single plant or fish.

Enough for now.

Synaptoman

P.S. Debbie, fruit salad.