What Doesn’t Work, Part 2:
Here’s an additional list of system components, techniques, and ideas for systems that we know don’t work, OR can have serious problems when applied on the commercial level, with some of the reasons why. For more information on this, see What Doesn’t Work.
(Below) A banana tree and a pineapple plant in a 64-square foot Micro System; one of our experiments that DID work.
Here’s a short list of the experiments our students have tried, with the “fix” in bold at the end of each item:
- A student listened to the salesperson selling them water pumps and blowers; and rather than just get the correct one from the materials lists we’d included with the construction manual, they bought what the salesman was selling. They ended up with huge overloaded hot blowers that used four times as much electricity as necessary; and huge water pumps that pumped four times as much water as needed, and it overflowed out of their last trough because it couldn’t flow back to the sump tank fast enough through the PVC pipes that were correctly sized if they had used the correct water pump. Just get the right size pump or blower to begin with!
- A student of ours started his aquaponics system with an existing “catchment” water tank that was under a tree; this tank had 6” of dead gunk and leaves in its bottom. This stuff then got pumped out into the troughs and the rest of the system when the owner turned on the air and water pumps. The water in the system stank, the ammonia level was through the roof, and this system “wouldn’t startup”. Start your system clean! Don’t put extra organic material in there for the “nutrients”; you will only drive the ammonia level through the roof!
- If you put black soldier fly larvae, worms, compost, or any kind of warm-blooded animal manure into your system, they are an almost guaranteed source of Coli, which can kill people if consumed on uncooked food. If your Organic Certification agency or Food Safety Certification agency finds out you ever used these (even if your water tests OK), you run the chance of losing your certification. Don’t allow contamination of your aquaponic system with BSF larvae, compost, worms, or animal manure; you can lose your valuable certifications!
- Duckweed will spread throughout your system and will double or triple your labor required to clean and package your crops later when you are processing and packaging vegetables. Its actual protein level, based on its “wet weight”, is 2-1/2%; this is because it is 92% water! Don’t EVER allow duckweed into or near your systems. Period.
- “Effective Micro-Organisms” AKA “EM”, “Beneficial Active Micro-Organisms”, AKA “BAM”: Regardless of what the salesperson says, EM and BAM are bacterial cultures that are foreign to aquatic ecosystems (which is what an organic aquaponic system is), and they will kick the system out of balance, doing things like killing all the plants, making the roots go black, etc. They may have a beneficial application, somehow, somewhere in aquaponics systems, but we don’t know about it. What we DO know is that experimenting with things like this in large commercial systems can be very expensive! Easy fix: don’t do it!
- Crawfish are just like piranha with opposing thumbs! If you ever get crawfish into your systems, you will be raising crawfish (and only crawfish) forever, because they are nearly impossible to eradicate, and will eat everything in the system! They leave the water at night and will crawl across short intervening spaces to inhabit nearby systems and tanks that previously didn’t have crawfish in them. Their eggs are so small they pass through any filter you can devise, and will end up everywhere. Easy fix: don’t bring crawfish onto your farm!
- About adjusting the pH downwards with “chemicals”: although there’s no need to do it (because an aquaponics system does this automatically by itself), people still feel the need to adjust pH down, and end up using things like phosphoric acid, vinegar, and citric acid. Citric acid is an organic herbicide; putting it in your system for any reason at all will make the plant roots go black and kill all the plants. Easy fix: don’t do it!
- We adjust the pH upwards in our systems with calcium carbonate (coral beach sand in Hawaii, crushed oyster shells elsewhere) at the infrequent times they need this done. Potassium carbonate can be used to help buffer pH, but it is not an organically-approved material, and we have one instance of a student poisoning his system with too much potassium carbonate, ending up with potassium toxicity, and having to dump all the system water and refill. Easy fix: don’t use potassium carbonate!
- If you invent something new like these things, please contact us and let us know what you did and how you fixed it, so we can share it with new students and spare them the same suffering! (We’ll omit your name, of course, unless you want us to print it!).