Aquaponic Gardening

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The Green Onion                                                                                                                   8/21/11                            

Kerusso Farms’ sustainably grown chives or green onions, as some call them, are the length of my arm, from elbow to finger tip and are as thick as my ring finger! The tops are an elegant green color while the bulbs are a beautiful pearly white.

 

Earlier in the season the onions were meticulously seeded, 12 tiny seeds at a time, into a custom organic potting mix that was formed into a cube, by a tool called a soil blocker. For you fellow gardeners out there, these blockers are the cat’s me-Wow! Anyway, very early this spring we placed the trays of seeded cubes into a custom made germination chamber. From there, we carefully monitored their heat and moisture levels until they grew to about 2” tall. As the seedlings started to grow, we carefully set them outside, each morning, to harden them off (make their stems strong) and then bring them back inside the seedling house each evening. We did this until we thought they could withstand whatever nature would throw at them. After they had hardened off, about 6 weeks time, we planted them into the newly tilled garden.

 

This morning, our 14 year old daughter hand dug the green onions, seeing the fruit of her labor up close. She tediously separated, washed, cut off the hairy roots and gathered each one into ready-to- eat bunches.

Two weeks ago we arrived at the Sparta farmers market, $35.00 introductory full season rate, and set up shop. Just as we finished hoisting the canopy, $84.00 plus travel, an older gentleman walks by our beautiful market booth, stops and looks at our handsome green onions. The prices were clearly marked but I guess he felt he needed to make a point and asked “how much are the green onions?” as to which I replied,” only $2.00”. Thinking he was interested, I asked if he would like a bag for his onions but instead his reply was “no, heavens, no, maybe I should start selling onions” and before I could explain the toil that went into bringing those onions to market, he walked away with a smirk on his face. Needless to say, this got me thinking.

 

This is the part where you can skip to the end, “the kicker”.

 

So let’s break this down a bit. I bought the Organic Chive seeds (onion seeds are highly perishable) for approximately $2.50/pack of which I was able to multi-sow 12 seeds into each soil cube and I could fit 84 cubes or 1008 seeds, onto one tray. For sake of conversation, let’s say it took me 30 minutes & a mere $.0.50 to buy soil, make the cubes & place the seeds into them. Now I had to drive 60 miles, each way, to purchase, bulk organically certified, and custom mixed potting soil from a local Michigan company. Let’s chalk this up to 2.5 hours with drive & purchase time. Following me so far? 3 hours invested not including gas at $3.60 a gallon. Let’s move on. The cubes are now seeded but need watered (am /pm) & rotated in the seedling tray amounting to 3 minutes each tray. This is 3 minutes x 42 days (6 weeks) = 126 minutes total, but I will round that off to two hours. After the seedlings grew, we had to be transplanted. That took about 45 minutes; remember 84 cubes, which is probably a low figure. I will give myself 15 minutes (total) for tilling the new soil, which I actually had to do 2 times. Now we need to keep them babies watered and weeded until market day, onions are easy, I will a lot 1 hour, for the entire season. Flash forward to market day, where my daughter hand digs bunches of what we hoped would be 12 onions but with around an 85% survival rate, we end up with roughly 10 onions per cube planted. Some of these onions are too small to sell so we are now down to 9. So let’s sell 9 onions per bunch for $2.00 which translates into $.22 per onion. Sounds pretty pricey eh? So the new wannabe onion seller, has approximately $3.00 in materials (we won’t count the tray, the drive time to market, the gas, wear & tear on the tiller and other tools as it would be too difficult) and 6 hours (the kids only get a measly $3.00/hr) into 84 bunches of onions which equals $21.00 invested. If I were to sell all of the bunches at $2.00 each, that equals $168.00, minus the $21.00, we have $147.00 left. $147 divided by 84 bunches, comes to $1.75 per bunch profit. We are making big bucks now people… sleeping yet?

 

That market day, we made $134.00. My son was impressed. Along with other produce and the fresh ground homemade wheat bread, we sold 4 of the 5 bunches of green onions.

 

Here is the kicker “the end”.

 

On market day, my son, my daughter, my wife and I all easily worked a total of 45 hours to get to that point. Without taking any further expenses, from the $134.00 total, we collectively made less than $3.00 per hour, per person!

So my advice to all my friends, and customers, who seek financial independence, become green onion sellers and get rich quick!

 

I can hardly wait to tell you about selling 27 lbs of heirloom tomatoes for $13.00.

 

To be continued…

 

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A farmer will never be appreciated.  If it was me, that gent would have walked off with a comp union up his nose.  When we were still helping my father in law with his sheep, it was 6 months of grind and all the risk to get between R6 and R9 on the hoof.  Once in the butcher's, the price had gone to R60 per kilo for the monumentous effort of slaughter and cutting up the carcass. 

 

Let me re-phrase my intro (not the nose bit - that will remain). Now that red meat is clearing R150 per kilo, we regret quitting on the sheep - safety issues though.  Chasing stock thieves around at night was just not worth it.  A head of broccolli is R15 (about $2.1) and a head of crisp lettuce (small) is well over a $1.  I do not earn dollars.  Farmers will soon be appreciated by their family and friends who reap the immediate benefits of what we produce. A few years from now, hopefully, we would have rock star status...............A decade from now, who knows, perhaps banker bonusses?  I think farming will always be a tough way to make a living, but the perks of the job is getting better all the time. 

Very good lesson there TJ

I like my plan better. Dehydrate and/or mason jar everything and eat it later. I get full value from everything I make. It doesn't pay for your car or home. It does cut down on the food bill.

 

Two Jay your writing was hilarious. I too have done the math on small operations and you really have to love it because you will go broke living on it. Great post.

@ Chris, we have 2 Excalibur dehydrators and 2 pressure canners going right now.  While those pieces of equipment are doing their magic, I am grinding whole grain wheat flower to start baking 32 loaves of bread for the farmers market and food co-op tomorrow am.

It's gonna be a long night! 

Your hard work is it's own reward. Sure you may not be getting rich at it but you have to start somewhere. The people that bring fourth the daily bread are the truly blessed ones. That is why I got into this in the first place.
It's not the money; it's the fun. That's why they call it a hobby. Believe me, I know all about hobbying. I'll let you now as soon as I start making any money at it. In the mean time, it's tinker, tinker, tinker....enjoy!
It isn't a Hobby to Two Jay, They are living it.  At least the farming family doesn't go hungry but it can be difficult to pay the other bills with produce.

Well yes, I don't mean to belittle anyone. I was just trying to point out that economic sustainability is one third the equation of independent living, while the farming part is also only one third. It is great that he/ they have that part down but until we actually find some way to pay for those other bills; it's just an expensive hobby.The third part of the pie is of course, community/ social sustainability, which means involving, educating his community/ clients.

But most importantly, it's not how much money and time we put into this venture but how much enjoyment we get out of simply doing. Ibelieve that if we do anything successfully long enough, the by product will undoubtedly be financial independence/ sustainability.

Two Jay:  People do not understand what they haven't experienced.  10 years ago I was selling my crafts at a large crafts show in San Angelo, TX.  At end of show, one older gentleman came by and remarked:  "Well, I guess now that you people have taken all the money out of San Angelo, you are gonna leave now."  I thought about how I could react.  With kindness, but firmness, I replied:  "Yes sir, that is one way of looking at it, but please allow me to offer another viewpoint.  He nodded his head and said okay.  I said:  "Sir, there are over 300 vendors at this show and over 200 of them are out of town.  Less than 50 have their own travel trailer.  The rest of us stay in local motels.  We eat at local restaurants & fast food eateries for about 4 days and we all purchase gas on our way out of town.  We charge local and state tax on all we sell here and the show generated X amount of dollars last year, which X% is collected in taxes, that we send back to the city/state.  So, tell me; Are we giving or are we taking?"   He looked at me in astonishment and said, "Well young fellow I never thought of looking at it that way."

 

We all have dreams and aspirations of doing something worthwhile, good, benevolent, and even profit-making as we grow our knowledge and experience.  I am 59 and would like to replace my present job as a PC Technician with an income from growing flowers in my backyard, raising vegetables, possibly selling same from a future commercial aquaponics business, and/or a combination of them all.  I have been in many activities earning a living since I was 14 years of age and worked at about 30 different places and being fired from only one.  My point is that most will never see beyond their own noses and that is because they have limited their experiences to only a few things and/or working for one employer or doing one thing all their lives - waiting for that inevitable moment of retirement.  My dad "retired" at 63 from years as a spice salesman for McCormick, a grocery owner, a jobber for a warehouse, and finally as a service station owner when there were real service stations.  He passed at 93 years of age and from 63 to 91 years of age he had a garden in his back yard and every year he sold tomatoes from his back yard.  When he ran out of his own stock, he would drive up to Arkansas (from North Louisiana) - purchase 750 lbs which he picked himself (up until 88 years of age) and resold the same.  Some years he made money.  Others he didn't - but he lived a rich and full life and enjoying what he did.  I am hoping that aquaponics will provide me food that I will enjoy eating - fish that I will enjoy raising, feeding, and even slaughtering for food (I used to be commercial fisherman in Alaska too) which doesn't bother me, and more importantly, something I can share with others convincing them that this is a good thing for them to do for them and their families as well.  I believe in the next several years hard times are coming similar to what my own parents lived through during the depression.  Time will tell, but I hope not.  I want to enjoy this adventure...........

Remeber that we are starting into an age where actually few people expect to stay in the same job for long.  For the Gen X and Y, apparently a career consists of staying with the same employer for 2 years.  Most Gen X and Y can expect to have at least 11 different careers during their working life (at least this is the expectation of the statisticians.)  This sort of "job jumping" is actually having a pretty big impact on many businesses since none of the young people seem willing to "pay their dues" and "learning the ropes" needs to be really fast if you expect to get any real work out of them before they leave for something better.

Now I'm not really sure how all that impacts the farming and cheap food discussion since very few of these young people have much connection to were food comes from.  I feel like quite an odd ball since I'm definitely in that age group.  Then again, I did grow up with kinda odd ball parents so maybe I picked up a few things that were not passed on to many in my generation or the one after me.

There is a big resurgence of small farming and local food. 

 

It will take some time but hopefully we can get enough education about low tech sustainable ways to grow and preserve food out there that when the collapse of western civilization happens maybe we can help show the way to survive.

A lot of people don't understand where their food comes from or what it takes to get it to market. Hell, I'm one of them (though not the worst); today's food systems are really freaking complicated!  It sure ain't a get rich quick scheme, but you're standing at ground zero of the food revolution!  What can I say, your rewards will be great in heaven? At least you will have eaten well?

 

I have to believe that there are people out there who care about their food and want to buy local, etc. The trick seems to be connecting with them efficiently.

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