Commercial Aquaponics Setups in the Philippines

We have been in search for commercial aquaponics setups here in the Philippines to be able to share it with you, our readers, and spur awareness on how aquaponics technology might be a good alternative to growing vegetables and fish especially in times of extreme weather and drought which impacts food production using conventional farming. Two of the setups we visited earlier this year (2014) are; Bay Aquaponics in Laguna and La Estrella Farms in Calatagan.

BAY AQUAPONICS

Bay Aquaponics is owned by Akim Vergara of Bay, Laguna. It is located approximately 1.5 hours travel from Manila. In around 100+ square meters system, they grow lettuce in rafts, while basil, ashitaba and mint grow in media beds with gravels. The media beds also serve as filtration for the recirculating water in the fish tank with koi fish as producer of nutrients for the plants.

Since the setup is made of cement beds and tanks, the challenge with Bay Aquaponics setup is how to bring down the pH level as lye from the cement shoots up the pH. To slightly acidify the system and meet the pH level they are targeting for lettuce production, they use pineapple scraps submerged in the fish tank water. Laguna is known for pineapple production, so getting pineapple scraps from a nearby market for free is not a problem. Akim also shared that submersion of basil trimmings and malunggay leaves in the fish tank are additional sources of organic nutrients for healthier plant growth. Malunggay production, by the way, is another business Akim is into. He sells the basil and lettuce harvest for a premium price at a nearby restaurant in Bay, Laguna.

Here are pictures taken during our visit at Bay Aquaponics:

Bay Aquaponics2

Bay Aquaponics gravel beds growing basil, mint and ashitaba.

Bay Aquaponics1

Nursery and a raft with growing lettuce.

LA ESTRELLA FARMS

The travel time to La Estrella Farms (LEF) in Calatagan is approximately three hours from Manila. We stopped at the Bag of Beans in Tagaytay, where we met AP enthusiasts for a convoy drive to Nasugbu. The last two kilometers of the journey is rough, but the excitement to see a semi-UVI aquaponics system was not a deterrent to the group.  We were by no means going to be lost even if we do not know the exact address as the farm owner Chris Guidotti guided us in going to LEF aquaponics site. The aquaponics system is with six fish tanks rearing 12,000 red tilapias and two rafts growing 5,000 lettuce heads of different varieties. Each raft has 120 square meters of growing area with 2,500 lettuce heads, while each fish tank has 2,000 red tilapias with approximately 1.5 meters depth and 3 meters diameter. LEF is not applying pesticide or any additional organic or inorganic fertilizer in growing their lettuce. Plant nutrients come purely from fish and freshwater prawn poops.

Some lessons learned and reminders shared to us by Chris during our visit:

On marketing, LEF sell their produce at a niche market in Ayala, Alabang. Friends also call in advance to reserve fresh lettuce they harvest weekly. There are times that harvest would not suffice, Chris shared.

Backups of pumps and aerators are a necessity. You also need a generator in case of brown-outs. In fact, in order not to risks the lives of red tilapias they are growing at LEF, Chris secured two generators to ensure a ready power source is always on a stand-by.

In the rafts they grow ulang or freshwater shrimps. Ulang act as bottom feeders and aid in cleaning the rafts. However, when it was added about a month ago, the entire water from the jar of ulang was dumped into the raft. After a week, they noticed stunted plant growth. Unknowingly together with the ulang, there were black tilapia fries dumped as well and have since been eating the roots. After removing the tilapias that has already grown into fingerlings, the plants recovered.

As of this time, La Estrella Farms is still in the experimentation stage on aquaponics farming, but based on their sales of lettuce produce, Chris is optimistic for a return of investment after two years. They also plan on harvesting some of the red tilapias in the next few weeks.

Here are pictures taken during our visit at LEF.

P1190467

LEF is growing lettuce mainly using raft or deep water culture (DWC).

P1190459

LEF has 2 rafts growing 5,000 lettuce heads with total growing area of 240 square meters. 500 lettuce heads are harvested weekly.

P1190442

Chris explaining with the group how the fish tanks were setup and density of fish being grown at LEF.

P1190444

6 fish tanks housing 12,000 red tilapias. Each has 1.5 meters depth and a diameter of 3 meters.

P1190443

LEF filtration system.

Aquaponics is a promising technology given the advantages that it brings, such as; not dependent on arable soil, the system uses 10% or less water, plant nutrient is supplied by fish feed/poop used for growing fish, it can be designed with raised plant beds which is easier to tend than conventional farming, no weeding is needed, some plants grow well on aquaponics compared to soil-based farming. However, also consider disadvantages such as; huge initial investment for commercial size setups, and in the Philippines the high cost of energy in running pumps and aerators is a constraint in going into commercial aquaponics. Albeit, to end on a positive note, with the development of free energy sources today, we are hopeful that aquaponics will be a viable solution to food security and sustainable agriculture in the near future.

Let us continue exploring aquaponics.

Posted in Aquaponics | Leave a comment

Aquaponics at University of the Philippines

Last 29th of March 2014, the TM 291 class under Prof. Glen A. Imbang put their project management skills to action by heading an aquaponics awareness talk along with the launch of their class project, Aquaponix™. It was held at the Technology Management Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman. They describe Aquaponix™ as a group “dedicated to the exploration, product creation, and education around one of the most amazing farming technology today” which is aquaponics.

P1190511

Aquaponix TM team

With the mentoring of our Aquaponics 101 trainer and help from solar project team – Helios Power, the class was able to put together a self-sustaining aquaponics set-up with a pump and aerator that solely runs on solar power. The set-up boasts of a thriving array of different plants including thai and purple basil, kangkong, and green pepper. The system was later on awarded to the University of the Philippines Integrated School.

The team presented a class report of their first hand account in maintaining an aquaponics set-up. Included were the problems and difficulties such as the fish kills. There are several variables in which fish kills can occur, such as low dissolved oxygen, pH swings and too hot/cold water temperature. It can also be caused by toxic chemicals that are present in the IBC plastic due to the substances it previously contained. Naturally, this meant inevitable death for the fish. Our advice is that in buying IBC tanks for aquaponics purposes, one must ensure that the previous substances it contained are non-toxic.

We are happy to see more and more people taking interest in aquaponics. Recognizing the great potential of this farming technology is the first step in harnessing self-sustaining organically-grown produce. We are counting on Aquaponix™ to continue what they have started in spreading the benefits of aquaponics and potentially unite and empower urban poor communities in the Philippines where soil-based farming is no longer possible. More power Aquaponix™ team!

Here are some of the pictures taken during the launch:

P1190491

P1190525 P1190513 P1190494

Posted in Aquaponics | Leave a comment

Aquaponics in the Philippines

Amazed by aquaponics systems shared in the internet from all over the world, like Hawaii, Australia, Canada, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Greece, Trinidad and Tobago, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Puerto Rico, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Uganda and many more, we (Aquaponics PH enthusiasts) have been in search for success stories particularly in the Philippines that would spark inspiration among those who are contemplating on making big in Philippine aquaponics.

Following is a compilation of various aquaponics from small, medium, to large setups that we came across during our search:

1. Aquaponics in a condo veranda in Taguig. This is where test planting is done for various vegetables and herbs and the favorite plant of all – Basil. Why favorite? It repels plant pests like ants and aphids. Under a balanced system, test result shows that a one feet by two feet growbed will approximately provide your family 600+ grams of basil harvest every 15 days. And what’s amazing is that after cutting one stem, another two sprouts from the cut stem after three days.AP1final

2. Aquaponics in an unused car garage in Cavite.  600L fish tank with four growbeds in cycling stage. It’s another test setup for data gathering. Since the garage roof is covered with thick green polycarbonate, the sunlight can’t fully pass thru to aid in plant’s photosynthesis. Plants are leggy in appearance showing sunlight deficiency.AP2

3. Aquaponics in Bulakan, Bulacan. Newly setup system owned by Arnold and Anna Liza Salvador. The original idea was to produce tilanggit (tilapia processed like danggit), but when the couple found out about aquaponics, they thought of setting up a better and sustainable system in their backyard. Hence a semi-commercial aquaponics system that will provide fresh fish and vegetable for their locality was born.AP3

4. Aquaponics in Alabang by Bahay Kubo Organics team – Enzo, Ryan and Illian. This is an entry to Project Pagsulong in 2012 which we shared in our previous post here. We have been revisiting this site and plants are growing better as the system matures.AP4

5. Aquaponics in Laguna by Akim Vergara of Bay Aquaponics. Another aquaponics enthusiast turned entrepreneur who lives and breathes aquaponics.AP5_final

6. Aquaponics in Lucena by Philippine Aquaponics Club team – Carlo, Lance and Gab. This is just one simple and neat system among many others they have already built. The group also came out with new designs which you can view from their FB page.AP6

7. Aquaponics from an orphanage in Alabang. The system produces organic fish and vegetables for the nine hundred plus children in the orphanage. Here, one kangkong leaf is equivalent to five kangkong leaves we normally see in the market – it’s really huge.AP7

8. Aquaponics in Bicol. Test setup by Atty. Rael Bitara and friends in preparation for a bigger aquaponics dream in the future. You will fall in love when you see one potential site for their aquaponic system near Mt. Isarog. Hope to see aquaponics agri-tourism in that mystical place in the future. AP8

9.  Aquaponics in Laguna by aquaponics hobbyist Nikko Benitez. Interestingly, he was able to build his first bell siphon and make it work with no hassles.  He planted basil and amazed by its growth. AP9

10. Aquaponics in Pasig from Modular Aquaponics founders Engr. Martin De Leon and Erwin Leonor. Earlier this year we visited their place and got a chance to see their system that grows lettuce, okra and tanglad among others. They also grow duckweed and azolla for feeding to the tilapia. AP10

11. Aquaponics in Taytay, Rizal by Pinoy Urban Farmer founder Dino Juan. From an enterprising family who’s into aquaculture and other businesses, he thought of introducing several aquaponics system design in the Philippine market that would require small spaces fit for urban farmers.AP11

12. Aquaponics in Bantayan, Cebu has “Para Sa Aton” (For Us). Project overlook by Martha Atienza, Jake Atienza, Angelicum Oda with Aquaponics Bantayan team – Cloyd Anthony Ribo, Ging Alano, Lucille Alano. This is an art project that uses media campaign to tackle economic, social and environmental issues. Part of “Para Sa Aton” project is Community Aquaponics System(CAS) that is implemented alongside initiatives that provides common ground for the community to collaborate, exchange ideas, and participate through arts and culture, community dialogue and livelihood.AP12

As aquaponics goes mainstream in the Philippines, we are very optimistic that the risks brought by climate change, food security, radiation leak, over fishing of marine life and rising fuel cost used to produce and transport foods to the consumers will be mitigated with this technology. Aside from the access to fresh fish and vegetables, when we learn the symbiotic relationships of plants, fish and bacteria through an aquaponics ecosystem, also inculcated in the minds is awareness that all living things on earth are interconnected. Hopefully it spurs collaboration among our people to protect the environment for the next generations to still enjoy biodiversity in the Philippines.  As the saying goes “we do not inherit the lands from our ancestors, we just borrowed it from our children” and what we leave behind for the next generations is a living and breathing planet with all the beauty of nature that we see exist in our lifetime.

P.S.

So far, we have not yet come across any commercial aquaponics in the Philippines. If you want to share your commercial aquaponics success story in the Philippines please e-mail apphil@ymail.com, we would love to hear from you.

Posted in Aquaponics | Leave a comment

Organic Supplemental Plant Nutrients for Aquaponics

As organic products are slowly but surely making a big demand in the market today, Aquaponics system as its source is also gradually becoming more popular in the agriculture sector.

What is appreciating with Aquaponics is the simplicity of its process. Best of all, the sustenance required in the system (fertilizers & pesticides) are relatively easy to produce; yes – you can do it at your own backyard using readily available and cheap products.

Taking note of the nutrients to enhance growth of your plants, here are some organic supplements that you can easily make at home.

Fermented Plant Juice

Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) contains many nutrients that are very beneficial to plants. It contains rich microorganisms, which give strength to the plants. It enhances plant growth as well as photosynthesis (for greener leaves).

FPJ

To make your own Fermented Plant Juice, you will need the following:

• 1 kg Molasses
• 2 kg of any of these plants:
o young banana trunk, kangkong, bamboo shoots, camote tops, malunggay, green colored plants, fast growing plants
• Plastic Pail
• Manila Paper
• String

Procedure:

1. Harvest 2 kg of desired plant (preferably before sunrise to preserve its energy).
2. Place a handful of molasses in the pail.
3. Put in the vegetable-molasses mixture until ¾ full and top with the rest of the molasses.
4. Cover the pail with Manila paper and tie it with a string.
5. Place in a cool dry place and ferment for 7 days.
6. After 7 days, strain the liquid and transfer in a clean container. Wait until the tiny bubbles disappear before closing the container tightly.
7. Label it properly and indicate the starting date and date of harvest.

How to use:

• Mix 2 tbsp. of FPJ with 1 liter unchlorinated water.
• Use as sprinkle or spray to your plants.
• It may also be used with other fermented extracts.
• Spray early in the morning or late afternoon.

Seaweed Extract

Seaweed extract as supplement to your plants is a powerful source of growth hormones. It enhances the growth of plants and an excellent source of nitrogen.

seaweedextract

To make your own seaweed extract, you will need:

• 2 kg Seaweeds
• 2 kg Molasses
• Plastic Pail
• Cloth to cover the pail
• Elastic Band

Procedure:

1. Cut up 2 kg seaweeds.
2. In a pail, mix the cut seaweeds and 2 kg molasses.
3. Add 2 liters of unchlorinated water.
4. Cover the pail with cloth and tie with an elastic band.
5. Ferment the mixture for 30 days while checking every couple of days to stir, as this tends to expand.
6. After 30 days, filter and place in containers, properly labeled.

How to use:

• Mix 2 tbsp. of seaweed extract with 1 liter unchlorinated water.
• Use as sprinkle or spray to your plants.
• It may also be used with other fermented extracts.
• Spray early in the morning or late afternoon.

Worm Tea

Worm Tea and worm castings help replenish depleted nutrients in the soil, thus enabling plants to thrive. Worm tea enhances a plant’s appearance and can even help struggling plants to perk up overnight. The microorganisms found in the Worm Tea are vital for nutrient uptake in plant roots and also protect the plants from diseases.

worm tea

To make your own worm tea, you will need:

• 2 cups of well composted worm castings
• 2 tbsp. of Molasses
• Unchlorinated water

Procedure:

1. Fill a bucket with unchlorinated water.
2. Add molasses to the water.
3. Put worm castings into a thin mesh “teabag” of pantyhose and tie a knot.
4. Submerge the bag in the water for 24 hours, occasionally stirring.

How to use:

• Dilute 50/50 worm tea with unchlorinated water.
• Use as spray or sprinkle to your plants.
• Worm tea does not heat up and will not burn your plants.
• Use within 48 hours.

Posted in Aquaponics | 2 Comments

Plant Pests Control

As you embark on your own aquaponic venture it is important to learn how you will control or prevent plants pest infestation to save yourself from spending so much time, money and pain.

plant pests

You do not have to spend a lot for organic products. It is surprising, even relieving, to know that a lot of your kitchen leftovers can be used in creating your own, homemade organic pest controls. Below are some products you can make out of your kitchen supplies.

Non-chemical pesticides to keep aphids, insects, and pests off your plants:

Soapy Water

Try to find one that’s based on caustic potash, rather than caustic soda. Mix this with water until frothy.

Bug Spray

You can make an organic bug spray by using onion skins, peels, and ends. Keep your onion leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate until your container’s full. Once you have enough, place the onion pieces in a pail full of warm water. Leave the mixture for a couple of days, for a max of 1 week. After a week, strain out the onion bits and store the onion water in spray bottles.

How to use: Just spray both house and garden plants with the water to fights pests and aphids.

Garlic Spray

Chop garlics and cover with mineral oil. Let it soak overnight, strain, and add a liter of soapy water and store in a sealed glass jar. Dilute one part of garlic to 50 parts of water and use for spraying.

Oil Sprays

Oil sprays suffocate insects. Mix 1kg of soap with 8L of oil, stirring to boil and until dissolved. Dilute this solution with water just before using. Use this only on cool days.

Tomato Leaf Spray

Mix tomato leaves with water and bring to a boil. Strain out the leaves and let the mixture cool down. Use immediately as spray.

Chili Spray

Mix equal volumes of chili and water, blended and spray on caterpillars.

Aluminum Foils

Wrap aluminum foil around base of plants like tomatoes. The reflection from the foil confuses the insects and drives them away.

Molasses Spray

Molasses is a good deterrent sticky spray, ideal for cabbage moths and grubs on the Brassicas. Mix 1 tablespoon of molasses with 1 liter of hot water until well blended. Mix in one teaspoon of detergent. This will help the molasses to stick to the leaves. Spray top and under the leaves.

Vinegar Spray

For cabbage moths and grubs on the Brassicas. Blend ¼ vinegar with ¾ water, then mix 1 teaspoon of detergent. Spray top and under the leaves.

Scales

Scales shoot a sweet substance called honeydew, which ants feed onto. Ants will pick them up and move them all over the tree. Honeydew also leads to sooty mold, a black dusty fungus that grows over the stems and trees. Controlling the scale will prevent the sooty mold.

Using vegetable oil-soap mixture can help in preventing scales. Make the oil spray by mixing two cups of vegetable oil with one cup of pure liquid soap. Dilute one tablespoon of the solution to one liter of water and spray to the affected areas.

Note that since the solution is oil-based, using this is advisable during cold weathers. Using this during hot season may cause the plant’s leaves to burn.

Anti-Fungal

Milk Spray

Mix equal portion of milk and water and use as spray. The mixture reportedly controls black spots on roses and fungal diseases on other plants.

Washing Soda

Dissolve 110g of washing soda in 5.5L of water. Add 55g of soap and use immediately as spray.

Posted in Aquaponics | Leave a comment

Fish Treats

An imbalance aquaponic system can easily be recognizable if yellowing of plant leaves exist in the setup. Since plant nutrients are converted from fish poops, fish feed is a factor to consider in growing healthy plants and fishes together. In aquaponics, a happy fish translates to a healthy plant, so giving the fish some healthy treats once in a while will benefit both.

Here are some organic fish feeds available locally that will absolute be loved by the fish.

Grapes like seaweed. (Saw a tilapia devoured on this like he has not been fed in ten years)fish treat - seaweed

Duckweed. (Small leaf as it is, the tilapia fry really loves snacking on these plants)fish treat - duckweed

Azolla. (Another tilapia’s favorite next to duckweed.., eating the roots first then the leaves)fish treat - azolla

Organically grown fish feed is a sustainable solution to aquaponics dependence on fish meals. If you plan on setting up an aquaponics system, try to also learn how you can culture these fish treats or perhaps how you can produce organic fish meals. Just a thought that will surely help you succeed in your aquaponics endeavor. Have a nice day!

Posted in Aquaponics | 2 Comments

Plant Nutrients

Plant nutrients are necessary for plant growth. Carbon and oxygen are absorbed by the leaf from the air, while other nutrients are absorbed by the roots. If essential elements needed by the plants are not enough to sustain its growth cycle, signs of nutrient deficiency can be observed through the leaves. See below infographic on the signs of nutrient deficiency:

My Infographic

Two types of plant nutrients are the macro-nutrients and the micro-nutrients. The macro-nutrients are consumed in larger quantities and are present in plant tissue in quantities from 0.2% to 4.0% on a dry matter weight basis. Micro-nutrients are present in plant tissue in quantities measured in parts per million, ranging from 5 to 200 ppm, or less than 0.02% dry weight.

Macro-nutrients derived from air and water:
1. Carbon
2. Hydrogen
3. Oxygen

Primary Macro-nutrients:
1. Phosphorus
2. Potassium
3. Nitrogen

Secondary and Tertiary Macro-nutrients:
1. Sulphur
2. Calcium
3. Magnesium
4. Silicon

Micro-nutrients or trace minerals:
1. Iron
2. Molybdenum
3. Boron
4. Copper
5. Manganese
6. Sodium
7. Zinc
8. Nickel
9. Chlorine
10. Cobalt
11. Aluminium

Source: Wikipedia

Posted in Aquaponics | 1 Comment

An Afternoon in Ateneo de Manila University

In our quest to find and touch base with fellow aquaponics enthusiasts, Dean, Betty, Lani and I visited the Ateneo de Manila University to take a look at the AP set up of Jose Felix. Felix is a student at AdMU taking up Environmental Science. He is also involved with a group advocating community based social enterprise activities as a means to attain food security. Their group is currently working with an impoverished community near the Tumana River in Marikina City.  For Felix, setting up an aquaponics system for the community will potentially answer the issue of sustainable food production and in the long run could be a vehicle to promote healthy eating habits.

P1160671P1160681

The aquaponic system uses one IBC container. The IBC is cut to make up one grow bed and one fish tank. The system runs flood and drain with water drawn from the fish tank into the grow bed via air lift method.  Growing media used were I think river quarried stones. Supplying the nutrients are two catfish which Felix affectionately treats as pets. Currently, we saw kangkong sprouts in the growbed. Felix is hoping to get more funds to be able to further improve his set up or to set up another system elsewhere. He confesses that majority of the funds he used came from his own pocket. We observed that the AP set up rested on uneven surface. Dean pointed out that this might affect water movement.  Felix, in setting up his AP system, got help from Glenn Martinez. Glenn is acknowledged as one of the experts in the field and he gives advice to those wanting to learn more about aquaponics. We learned from Felix that Glenn will be coming over to Manila to give a lecture presentation on aquaponics at the Mind Museum in Bonifacio Global City sometime this month.

After taking a look at the AP set up inside the campus, Felix showed us the university’s vermiculture project and the water treatment facility. I hope that other universities and learning centers will also encourage their students to look into organic and sustainable processes of food production.

We are awed by the civic mindedness of Felix.  Most young people his age would be thinking about a lot of other things and helping a community become self sufficient would be at the bottom of that list, I suppose.

Kudos to young people like Felix who finds new ways of creating value for poor communities! We hope and pray that they succeed.

Posted in Aquaponics | Leave a comment

Aquaponics – A Concept from Three Inspiring Young Filipinos

Bahay Kubo Organics (BKO) is an aquaponics project conceptualized by three young Filipinos (Enzo Pinga, Ryan Aguas and Illian Pascual) to bring sustainable food source to a community in Manila. It hopes to create business opportunities and bring communities together with the use of an aquaponics farming system.  The project was an entry to Project Pagsulong which is a youth challenge to bring their business ideas to life and in the process help alleviate poverty.

Watch a video of BKO team explaining their idea behind the project.

Here are some pictures on preliminary implementation of BKO project.

BKO barrelBKO planting

Aquaponics urban farming is an innovative business idea in helping build a nation. Keep up the good works BKO, you are really our new breed of heroes.

Posted in Aquaponics | Leave a comment

Aquaponics Diagram

Aquaponics illustration

The diagram above shows how fish tank and grow bed are connected via pipes where water recirculates. Here you can also see the cycle where fish waste and poops are converted from ammonia – nitrite – nitrate by the nitrifying bacteria (nitrosomonas, nitrobacter and nitrospira).

Posted in Aquaponics | Leave a comment