Aquaponic Gardening

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Getting Organic Certification and Income Enough to Support Myself


I do not have a system yet and I am currently residing in Illinois.  I hope to be moving to the northern Arizona area early May 2013.  If I can line everything up I like to be able to begin installing my system upon arrival.  I am in the process of getting my business plan together and while doing research I received correspondence from a commercial aquaponics dealer.  I was told that most systems have difficulty getting certified as organic "except for their system."  Obviously I know some or all of this may be a sales tactic but is there any truth to this statement?   Has anyone out there tried to get certified and run into problems and do you have any feedback on this?  Does it mainly relate to the type of system used i.e. raft, media based etc?  I'd really like to be organic certified because I believe consumers are more trusting of those products and will be more likely to become repeat buyers.  I'd really like to be able to support myself from what I grow.  Does anyone have any info that can help me understand if I would be able to make enough money doing this to become self-sufficient and self-sustained, i.e. not needing to work for someone else, bring in enough income to live on?  There's not a lot of data out there relating to sales info and how local communities support aquaponics farmers.  CSAs and locally grown certified produce from soil based farms do have data but they are not quite the same.  I want to be sure this is something that will be worth my while.  I have gardened my entire live using organic methods.  I am highly interested in the Farm to School program and would really like to get involved in aquaponics education of students and their local communities.



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Comment by Manfred Steibli on June 12, 2013 at 11:44am
Hi Dawn,
Regarding organic certification, the people at Friendly Aquaponics in Hawaii seam to have the most experience. Their news letter were the best info on Aquaponics I ever found on the web.
Did you move to AZ yet. Come and see our setup.
Comment by Dawn Jamison on October 31, 2012 at 10:37am

Ryan Chatterson (or anyone else who can help): Ryan, I really like what you are doing with your system.  Your business model is almost exactly what I envision.  I have an opportunity here in Illinois to work with a school district to set up an aquaponics farm and model it like a CSA while they utilize the farm as an educational tool for K-7 grade kids.  I have found a corporation that I may be able to get a small start-up loan from and a non-profit for kids has at least one acre available for greenhouses and a heated and lighted barn to use for a staging area.  Before I move forward with any serious commitments with loans etc. I want to find out if by setting this up like a CSA and possibly selling to local restaurants if it will generate enough to cover operation expenses (for me to actually make some money).  When you email me I can tell you what that amount would need to be.  The loan can be for 80% of the start up equipment and supplies and I will fund 20%.   I understand the seriousness of finding the market first which is partially established and I might be able to actually sell produce and fish to the corp that supplies the loan.  I just need more information on how much a CSA sells on average per month so I can complete the expense/income projections.  Is there any way you can forward to my private email address an average or estimate (doesn't have to be exact) of what you sell per month?  The non-profit group that has the acre I would rent from said another farmer used one of their acres and was able to grow enough produce for 25-27 families for the 20-25 week growing season.  This was soil grown organic produce.  I also need to better understand what size greenhouses work best if anyone has tried different sizes and has any related advise.  I want to be able to dismantle the greenhouses but need them to withstand some possible high winds.  Size will be a factor if I'm using PVC and re-bar as opposed to the metal tubing and cement foundation.  We have cold winters here and our summers are humid and can get up in the high 90's for a few weeks.  I know you said It's best to take a training class but I'm currently unemployed so don't have the 3,000+ laying around.  I'll probably buy Murray Hallam's DVD set though.  Thanks so much and keep up the excellent work everyone.  My email:

Comment by RupertofOZ on October 23, 2012 at 3:40pm

Yep, it's an indexing valve Chris... but doesn't operate on pressure... other than that which is generated by a certain flow range...

While it's normal utilised in a timer interrupted methodology, it has been further refined to work in gravity fed, or continuously pumped scenarios....

The "aquaponics valve" is a mechanical indexing valve... there are no electrical components...

Comment by Chris Smith on October 23, 2012 at 10:20am

That looks like an indexing valve.   My situation was converting a standard Friendly system which has the fish tank being the highest point. Water continuously overflows the tank, through the system and into a sump. I have added media beds below the top of fish tank elevation and the top of the troughs. The top of my media beds are 8 inches lower than the fish tank water. The indexing valve did not seem to be a good option since there needs to be an interruption of flow and some pressure to advance the valve.

My valve works with continuous flow(no interruption) and no pressure. There are no timers involved. The valve works mechanically.

Comment by RupertofOZ on October 23, 2012 at 6:34am

Sorry Chris... I skim read... and interpreted this..

"We have recently removed one deep water trough and added numerous gravel beds,"

As having "converted" one of the troughs.... rather than you actually removed and replaced one trough with gravel beds...

(probably was thinking of another operation that did that.. as I read it)


And yep... timed flood & drain.. with a standpipe.. is just so much simpler, and IMO.. more reliable than siphons...

Mind you there are those that say that timer failure is a problem... I've had two fail in 6 years... and swapped them out in about two minutes...


Can't agree with you here though...

"Since there are no products on the market today to sequence or divert water to different locations without pressure I invented one and have been testing it for months. I hope to have it ready for sale in the near future."


Yes there is... and it's sequenced on flow... or more correctly, interruption of flow... specifically designed for timed F&D systems... (by me... )



1", 1 1/4", and 1 1/2" models.... 4 ports, six ports... and 8 ports (1" model)

Comment by Chris Smith on October 22, 2012 at 10:10am

Dawn here is a link to a discussion I started years ago about certification that you might find interesting

Comment by Chris Smith on October 22, 2012 at 9:57am

Thank you Rupert.

I'm not sure where on our site it says we converted a trough to gravel. That is not what we did. What we did do was to replace our net tanks with media beds. Since we had water falling from the fish tank to the troughs I was able to add the media beds(more grow space/filtration) without any extra power consumption by using gravity. We started with one bed which got clogged with poo in a few months so we added another. It took much longer for the two to clog. We added two more and now have not had any clogging issues since. We have also gone to a timed flow to the beds so each bed gets 15 minutes of flood and 45 of dry time. I am done with siphons as I have spent toooo many hour of my life tuning and tinkering with then. I believe that the longer dry time allows the worms more time to consume the solids. Since there are no products on the market today to sequence or divert water to different locations without pressure I invented one and have been testing it for months. I hope to have it ready for sale in the near future.

We still have our solid settling tank and 95% of the time we pour the solids into one of the media beds for the worms to eat. With the price of fish food we do not want to remove nutrients from the system in the form of poo. I could remove the tank but I occasionally sell the poo for fertilizer and use it in my soil gardens.

The media beds do need a little filtration before the troughs to remove fine particles. We have a swirl filter between the media beds and troughs which doubles as a surge tank.

Our stocking density is high. We have no way of knowing how many pounds of fish are in our 1000 gallon tank but there is a LOT of fish though. We have found low density stocking only works well for us in small tanks where we can get a rough count on fish and estimate the pounds.

The plants we grow in the media tend to be heavier than the plants in the troughs on average and sell for more per pound. Even if the weight and price were the same the media bed plants would bring in more since there is MUCH less labor involved. Our main crop the troughs is lettuce which we harvest every day. We have to plant seeds every week and transfer plants from a close spacing for seedlings to a grow-out spacing. This makes for a lot of labor/time. The plants in media we start once to twice a year and the only labor is harvesting.

Back to the original subject of organic certification. We have found that with education to our customers they do not want us to spend the $$$ or jump through the hoops for the cert. The O cert is a controlled label for packaging purposes. We do not package or sell in stores so the cert would be useless for us. For the most part it is up to the honesty and integrity of certified dirt farmers to follow the rules. Certified farms get checked one day a year and are given warning that the inspection is coming. The other 364 days the farmer can do whatever they want. In aquaponics we cannot cheat and use chemicals in the system without killing the process. We cannot even use most of the organically approved pesticides. We can safely use a few though.

Comment by RupertofOZ on October 22, 2012 at 1:43am

Your operation is certainly one of the better run and consistantly productive operations that I've seen over the last couple of years Chris.... kudos..

Your website says that you converted one of the troughs in your original system to gravel grow beds...

There's no denying the benefit of doing so for certain crops, especially longer term you say...

Two questions for you... in converting one of the troughs to media bed... do you still maintain and remove solids ala the original raft model... or is your stocking level low as per the Friendlies model??

And secondly... compared to the volume, and return from short rotation crops that you previously had in the converted trough.... does the volume/price.. for the long rotation crops... stack up... and is therefore more profitable?

Comment by Chris Smith on October 22, 2012 at 12:48am

To quote Rupert " What are the advantages of a hybrid system?"

I own and operate Coastview Aquaponics and have used a "hybrid system" for some time now. I have tried most every viable aquaponic technique over the last bunch of years and have learned. My systems started with Friendly technology then evolved. My wife helps me with the farm work and now my 4 year old daughter is now helping too. We are truly a family farm. We sell ALL our produce from an honor farm refrigerator at the top of our driveway and to people who come to our free weekly open farm time on Saturday mornings where we give tours to new customers.

On our farm we find HUGE advantages to "hybrid"systems. We prefer to call it integrated instead of hybrid. We have learned that not every crop will grow at its optimum in any one technique as we were taught. After experimenting with many techniques and crops we have figured what works for us in our location. We find that integrating many techniques we can grow most everything we want to grow.

We use elevated media beds for growing long term crops where there is an advantage to having roots planted in medium and we are continually harvesting the plants for many months at a time.We do not bend over to do the harvesting for these long term crops. Some of these crops we have successfully harvested for 6 months and much more from the same plant.

We use DWC like an assembly line to grow our short term crops where we harvest the entire plant at one time then replace the harvested raft with established small plants. We call it a "growing line". Since the roots are not planted the rafts are mobile and we take advantage of that mobility. In our DWC the rafts are constantly moving toward the harvest end of the troughs. We only bend over to pick up the heaviest rafts and move then the shortest distance to the harvest station. The smallest (lightest) plants move the farthest distance to the opposite end of the troughs. Through efficiency we have saved ourselves much time/labor/$$!!!

We use wicking beds to grow root crops.

Our systems are turning a profit in terms of paying the cost of operation and paying off the investment. We sell produce to our neighborhood. We eat unlimited amounts of produce and fish. Our children eat and love vegetables which is the BIGGEST and unforeseen benefit of aquaponics( they have not yet been corrupted by Mc D).

We consider our operation successful for many reasons but we do not make enough to pay the mortgage. Our labor is not high paying like we were led to believe but we love it and it is not our only income. I truly believe that I can make my techniques very profitable in my location but I have no more space to utilize.

Comment by Nate Storey on October 21, 2012 at 1:24pm


Let me clear one thing up: I've never said that raft is not a "viable technology." Biologically it is viable.  In tropical environments (where it is hot) with strong markets for produce and low cost of labor, it is also viable commercially.  Anywhere else, all hydroponic research for the last 40 years has proven otherwise (re: commercial viability).  That's not to say you can't make small margins, but that's never the question. The question is: "are you more competitive than your competitors?"  And the answer to that question (with a few exceptions is no.).  With raft in most places in the US, your costs are higher (especially labor) and your productivity is lower in comparison to NFT and other hydroponic production techniques.  That point isn't up for argument- the last fifty years of the hydroponic industry demonstrate this.

If you are asking whether you can be "in the black" you're asking the wrong question.  You should be asking if you can be "more in the black" than your local NFT hydroponic producer who bought his whole setup for farmtek, has lower fixed costs, lower variable costs and higher output.

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