Aquaponic Gardening

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So much discussions have come about regarding the viability of aquaponics as a business.


Can it work, or not?

and why?

In Canada (Toronto specifically) the focus for local has been huge. Being in a cold climate we cannot source certain products locally, and they come from California, or Mexico. I have no experience running aquaponics on a huge level (I've got a small setup on the second floor of my restaurant)

But what I dont get, is why is a hyroponic/greenhouse setup selling, say cucumbers viable?

We have greenhouses in Ontario growing peppers, cucumbers,  year-round in a cold climate. so these guys have heating costs in the winter, probably artificial light for the lack of sun in the winter - and I am sure they are turning a profit? (They wouldn't be in business if they werent making money!)

Regarding additional income streams such as consulting, training, farm tours

That is all part of the business IMO. My restaurants turn a profit from all aspects of the business. (ie. Catering) but are base is dining in/taking out)

If you look at my restaurant model, I've got 3 cooks, 2 waitresses, cost of rent, heat, hydro, enormous food cost (30-40% in many cases) TONS of competition, and at the end of the day we turn a profit.

from 7am to 10am we sell 3 eggs, 3 bacon, homefries, toast and coffee for 3.99!! plus I got to pay all those other costs. but money is made because of turn-over.

Why NOT aquaponics? (forgive my lack of knowledge)

But if you've got say, 4000 sq. feet of grow beds, ample lighting etc. and you follow what most of the experts are saying. (ie. say 27 holes per 2X4 raft)and decide to grow, say buttercrunch lettuce

4000 sq. feet should technically give you a gross production of 13,500 heads of lettuce?

obviously you stagger the harvest cycles, have an ample amount of seedlings ready to replace the harvest.

Is it unrealistic that 4000. sq. feet of grow beds, with proper lighting, fish to plant population etc. will output, say 10,000 heads a month?

am I missing something here? (again, forgive my lack of knowledge regarding aquaponics, growth times)

I'd love to dive in and learn aquaponics, grow year-round for the many, many local restaurants that "do" source locally but simply cannot find them.

I guess I am trying to figure out what one could expect out of total production, then discuss the input costs etc.

Would love to hear your opinions.

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Dino, We here have a answer that is fact, every decent farm is family owned in Texas, next your source of funds must come from within, second the model is not a 5 year model, every person today wants to buy a farm, this is not possible without life changes, We can explain that later,. what is crazy that people have this notion that they can make it work, the fact is not every body can, nor will find the farming a win, it has to do with ownership, and the ability to respond, meaning responsibility , both time wise and money wise, we live inside what the farm will produce and  have the patience to let mother nature make the profits, The best manager in the world can not out think mother nature, Positive is how we live, please hear it for what is worth. modify your desires to fit your ideals and you to can have a profit from farming, this is the fifth skill set, we learn the first four by classes the fifth is a life's work. It is not crazy!!! And for sure you are sane, your pal Adam Harwood 

Dino Pantelidis said:

Its crazy, one perspective shows a profit, whilst the other shows a loss.

Crazy stuff!

Hi Adam, the website is: www.aquaculturenorthamerica.com. The little coho hatchery I work weekends at, subscribes to both it and its sister publication Hatchery International : www.hatcheryinternational.com. Both published in Victoria, British Columbia. And I must say lots of good articles, with some exposure to aquaponics. That's where I got my my idea for a project from, and led me to these great forums.
I don't know if their mag is available online or not.
adam harwood said:

Hello,  Ian, can we find this article and where is it published if at all!????? thank you, Adam

Todd, The costs may be high, prohibitive I'm not sure of. If one is prepared to be creative, without compromising the system integrity, there are ways to mitigate some of the cost factors. For example, heat and light. Both critical to the system. I am in the process of adapting an oudoor wood fired water heater to run hot water/glycol through good old pick up radiators with fans behind them blowing into a rock sink underneath the green house. When this does not seem to fit the bill, the fluid is moved to overhead rad units.Its not pretty to look at, but it works. I see no point in reheating warm water. Getting the most out of my energy supply is foremost. As for light, well where I am direct sunlight in winter is a thing to be wished for. We just don't get much of it, which leads to the question of lighting. BC Hyrdo our power supplier has a few tiers of pricing. Our house, which uses about 200kWh/month @ $0.667/kWh. This averages out to around 400kWh over a billing period for a cost of about $36.00. Once one gets above the Residential Rate costs climb almost exponentially. I have done some reading about lighting, and have come across a few articles that "claim" that 220-240V is a much cheaper power source than 110-120V, especially when using transformers/ballasts for fluorescent lighting. Something about needing less energy to produce the required voltage. Now I am not claiming this to be true, however I am planing on trying it out. When electricity costs are going to be rising by 13-55% over the next couple of years I don't want to be caught with a 1000-kWh monthly bill in the middle of winter. What the heck, they use 240V in Great Britain for everything, and they do not have the resources we have to generate electricity.They must be on to something. What a wonderful world this aquaponics is! It really stirs the creative DIY juices eh?

Todd Sowell said:

Interesting. In Wilson Lennard's video that was mysteriously removed he said the same thing about using buildings. The costs of lighting and temperature were prohibitive.

 


Ian Cameron said:

I just read an interesting article in the Aquaculture North America magazine. It was written by a University of Wisconsin professor. In it was noted that many commercial start ups for recirc aquaculture and aquaponics were in unsuitable buildings, and ultimately failed. The temperature, humidity, etc, are not properly thought out for an indoor commercial system, especially for those of us that do not have an engineering background, and can ill afford to hire a number of "experts" to address such issues. At our latitude 51N and above this presents some unique problems if one wishes to go commercial, which means year round. Fluid heating and cooling becomes a major issue, which then leads to constructing a suitable building to house everything. When it gets to -30 or more, as it does, any failure in the system can be catastrophic. Redundancy needs to be the norm rather than the exception. And that is what creates the major expense on start up. Think about what you need for start up costs, then double it. Then add 10% for the 'just in case'. Give yourself lots of financial room to maneuver.

Ian: I have two clients both electricians that have told me the same thing. by going to a three phase system your electricity becomes 30-40% more efficient (cheaper) They both have explained it to me, and for the life in me I just don't get it!

I don't see how/why its cheaper. I believe they said 3 phase/220/240 but I definitely remember the 3 phase power in their phrases.

Dino: now that's interesting. I'm pretty sure that the standard line power of 220V-240V coming into the house is single phase? Not sure, but there are 2 live legs, a neutral, and the ground goes directly to earth. 120V on each leg. Thats how it is split at the panel. Wired the house myself (and passed inspection). I know that 3phase is used for heavy loads. Our little local mill has it for running band saws, edgers and chipper. That all being said, I have, fortunately a 14kW diesel genset as house standby, I'll have to play around a little and see...... one never knows till one has tried. BTW I've always been intrigued by eating "grown on site" foods. I think thats what makes our community garden such a success, when the produce is used at our local restaurant,and the owners can rightfully claim "grown right here"! Great advertising.

Dino Pantelidis said:

Ian: I have two clients both electricians that have told me the same thing. by going to a three phase system your electricity becomes 30-40% more efficient (cheaper) They both have explained it to me, and for the life in me I just don't get it!

I don't see how/why its cheaper. I believe they said 3 phase/220/240 but I definitely remember the 3 phase power in their phrases.

Thanks Peter: Sounds like you know your stuff:

Actually my off-peak hydro cost is 0.069 cents per kw

Some numbers from the food terminal (2011 average)

Organic-Green Leaf Ctn 24 - $52.00

Organic-Head/Iceberg  Ctn 24 - $60.00

These are wholesale prices that wholesalers bought directly from the terminal and then sell to retail, restaurants etc.

None of these products were local.

Hydroponic products:

Hydro-Boston coming out of the province of Quebec - Ctn   12 Clamshell -  $15.00



Interesting point re: heating your water.. I wonder if the [tank] being insulated and heated would be more economical? I wonder what the cost would be to heat that up. Thanks very much for your numbers/input.

If you have a moment, please check http://www.hydronov.com/2010/English/E-02-001.htm

these guys are out of Quebec - supplying most of the year-round hydroponic lettuce

"While current production figures for protected soil crops in Europe show harvests of 108 plants/m²/year, HydroSerre Mirabel Inc.is now harvesting 500 plants/m²/year in a climate far from being ideal in eastern Canada."



Petar brings up some very good points. I would add that $0.21 per sq.foot per week is probably a fantasy of a number for an AP greenhouse facility. The true cost of your fertilizer alone (fish effluent) and all that entails is going to ramp that portion of your costs up quite a bit. Take into account, disease that may crop up amount the fish, subsequent treatments, re-stocking, ( and if your going with Talapia) ridiculous heating requirements (in colder climates) etc...

Yes, you may make some that up in subsequent fish sales...but for that to happen you need to deal with your specific, local regulations, permits, food safety, HACCP for processing etc... (which can be quite costly depending on your area) which will allow you to sell the fish in the first place.

Add to that, that extra costs of pest control in an AP setting, since most of what is normally used (organic or otherwise) will harm/kill your fish. So you might be looking at a larger % of crop loss than classical organic farming or hydro. (Or potential fish kills).

And yes guys, 3 phase power is more efficient.

forgive the ignorance, Ctn 24? Container of 24 heads?

As far as water heating there has been some real progress made with both ground source heating and solar water heating in the last couple years. Combine that with some insulation and you'd potentially save some heating costs.

Yes- 24 heads -

Yes he does Vlad - Im assuming a strictly hydro grower has substantially less costs than an AP grower.

Peter, it sounds like you know your stuff. (I'm not even pretending that I know about AP)

Its a business that intrigues me, (soil-less farming in general, actually) and I will probably push ahead and start small regardless.. Damn gut instincts.. :)

Dino, can you get organic certification there in Canada with the system you have in mind?

Hydronov has built ridiculously huge facilities in many places in the world specializing in Boston lettuce production. I'd hate to be competing with such a facility. So unless you can carve out a niche market of sorts, or become certified organic...


Dino Pantelidis said:

Thanks Peter: Sounds like you know your stuff:

Actually my off-peak hydro cost is 0.069 cents per kw

Some numbers from the food terminal (2011 average)

Organic-Green Leaf Ctn 24 - $52.00

Organic-Head/Iceberg  Ctn 24 - $60.00

These are wholesale prices that wholesalers bought directly from the terminal and then sell to retail, restaurants etc.

None of these products were local.

Hydroponic products:

Hydro-Boston coming out of the province of Quebec - Ctn   12 Clamshell -  $15.00



Interesting point re: heating your water.. I wonder if the [tank] being insulated and heated would be more economical? I wonder what the cost would be to heat that up. Thanks very much for your numbers/input.

If you have a moment, please check http://www.hydronov.com/2010/English/E-02-001.htm

these guys are out of Quebec - supplying most of the year-round hydroponic lettuce

"While current production figures for protected soil crops in Europe show harvests of 108 plants/m²/year, HydroSerre Mirabel Inc.is now harvesting 500 plants/m²/year in a climate far from being ideal in eastern Canada."



Vlad: yes

(These prices are inclusive to the Toronto market) every city has unique terminal prices. Toronto being very high because of the demand.

Organic certification is identical across the border as organics are sold and bought to/from Canada and US farmers.

I do know that Canadians pay more for almost every food product on the shelf.

here is an example: I use GFS for my restaurants: GFS has "retail" outlets in the US similiar to Costco. on one of my trips to Michigan I visited the store and snapped this photo.

We have 50 locations (our franchise) and do have "buying power"

here is what I paid for the cheese on my electronic invoice (2X bags)

4118411    CHEESE CHED MED SHRED COL GFS                   2/2.5KG        $68.04

I wouldn't go with tilapia in a cold climate, they require too much heating to get good production and if you are going to be growing greens, you might as well let the water be a bit cooler and grow trout or perch or some other better and native fish.

Even here in Florida Tilapia are only reasonable along the coast or if you are willing to heat a greenhouse through the cold spells.

Now has anyone looked into the idea of doing Fee Fishing with their aquaponics systems as a way to sell the fish for higher dollar with less labor?  It doesn't take much fish to grow lots of veggies and trying to sell small amounts of fish is kinda a loosing challenge but might just be perfect if you have a handy pond you could stock with some of the big guys and let people pay you to fish for them.

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