Foreword

The Urban Aquaponics Manual first saw the light of day in 2007 – the first publication of its type in the world.

I created the 2nd Edition in 2008 and, in 2010; I revised the Manual yet again (3rd Edition) and made it available through a subscription web site – another first.

In 2012, I embarked on this 4th Edition.

I had already done a substantial amount of the work when, in 2014, I made the acquaintance of Dr Mark R McMurtry. In the ensuing couple of months, everything that I thought I knew about integrated aquaculture got turned on its head. (more…)

Getting Started with DIY Food Production

In our Introduction to DIY Food Production, we talked about why we should grow our own food and how to determine how much we’d need…and we introduced you to Microponics – the integration of fish, plants and micro-livestock.

While Microponics is not complex, we want to make your entry into DIY food production even easier so we’ve mapped out a pathway to help you get started…quickly!

Let’s begin with a garden.

Now, just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about the traditional kind of gardening where you labour and sweat…and run up big water bills while you fight weeds and insects for a tiny share of what you grow.

I’m talking about smart gardening…which is the reverse of traditional gardening.

The methods that we’ll show you are efficient in their use of water and labour…and require no herbicides and pesticides…so the outcome is clean fresh food for you and your family.

We’ll start this gardening adventure with three ideas for you to consider:

Any one of these methods will see you eating your first leaf salad, Asian greens and radishes within a few short weeks of planting your seeds or seedlings.  They will also accommodate any plant – including vines and root crops.

What’s more, they are water-efficient and won’t leave you with a sore back…and will only require the investment of an hour or two of your time to get started.  They will only require a few minutes of maintenance each day.

The other good thing is that you can take a modular approach – gradually growing your vegetable garden – one module at a time.

Right from the outset, we’d encourage you to start to think about food production from a waste transformation perspective.  

At this early stage, that means composting your kitchen wastes and newly acquired vegetable residues.  Keep it simple.  Just put the food scraps into a compost bin and allow them to decompose naturally.  Once you fill the bin, remove all of the earthy-smelling black compost to use on your plants.  Put the partly composted stuff back into the bin and resume adding your kitchen wastes.

You can also get a worm farm going.  Compost and worm castings are superb plant foods…but, even more importantly, they are part of the biological leveraging that enables you to produce your food cost-effectively…while also keeping you out of the destructive and expensive chemical fertiliser/herbicide/pesticide cycle upon which industrial farming is premised.

Once you’ve got your vegetable garden happening, it’s time to expand the menu to include some eggs.

Three chickens will produce 15 – 20 of the cleanest and freshest eggs that you’ll ever eat – each week – and you’ve achieved your first important milestone in your DIY food production.  You can now sit down to your first totally homegrown meals.

Don’t have the space…or local government or housing convenants prohibit keeping chickens?

Never mind…because you will almost certainly have the space to keep Japanese quail.  A dozen quail hens will provide you with 60 – 80 eggs a week.   Five quail eggs equal one chicken egg and, anything that you can do with a chicken egg, you can do with quail eggs.  A few quail hens can be housed in a square metre and they can be explained away (to anyone who needs to know) as cage bird pets.

The arrival of your chickens or quail signals the need for a subtle shift in our waste transformation efforts.  

First, we now need to redirect everything in the way of food wastes to the chickens or quail.  Start to think of those fruit and vegetable peelings, plate scrapings, stale bread and virtually anything that you’d eat yourself as being leftovers to be consumed by your birds.   

Kitchen wastes will offset the cost of purchased chicken mash or pellets and the best (and fastest) way to compost anything is to put it through the guts of a chicken.

Second, we need to start thinking of chicken or quail manure as an asset…something that has value  -and that can have further value added to it.  

At the very least, we can rake it up, mix it up with other carbon-rich plant wastes and end up with a richer compost…or we can feed to worms.  If we are keeping a  dozen or more chickens, then we can gather it up and feed it to Black soldier fly larvae and, in the process, produce another valuable dietary supplement for our chickens.  What’s more, we can take the larvicast (the stuff that’s left over when the BSF larvae are finished with the chicken/quail manure) and feed that to our worms, too.

Welcome to the world of the cascading returns that become possible through waste transformation farming.

Now, we’ll quickly reach the point where…as good as it is…our egg salad will become a little boring from a culinary perspective.  When (and if) you reach that point, it’s time to start thinking about some homegrown meat.

There are a range of options available to you when it comes to backyard meat production and they include:

You can even add lesser known organisms like snails and guinea pigs to the list – subject to your culinary and cultural preferences.

If you already have quail hens all you need to do is buy some cockerels and let nature take its course.  Incubate the eggs and 16 – 17 days later you’ll have your first chicks.  About six weeks later, you’ll be eating your first meal that includes homegrown meat.

You can purchase day-old broiler chicks from a hatchery or feed and grain store and be eating them about six weeks later.

Muscovy ducks are perfect waterfowl for backyard food producers.  They make very little noise and a drake and three or four ducks will keep you in duck meat forever.

A buck rabbit and 4 does will provide you with some of the finest meat that ever graced a kitchen – and you can raise it in a footprint of about three square metres.

Of course, all of this has to acknowledge that meat production is not a story with a happy ending…but, if you already eat meat, then you owe it to yourself and your family to only eat clean fresh meat that is ethically raised…and processed.

Once again, the rabbit manure is an important part of the value chain and should be harvested.  It, too, can be fed to the BSF larvae and/or worms. Indeed, chickens will even eat it.

By now, you are eating clean fresh food the like of which would cost you a lot of money if you had to buy it.

But, we’re not finished.  How would you like to add fish to the menu?

A simple recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) will enable you to grow your freshwater fish in a footprint of as little as five or six square metres.  

What’s more, you can use the nutrient-rich water from your RAS to water your gardens…effectively providing you with two crops – fish and plants – for the same amount of water that it would previously have required just to grow the plants.

Connect a hydroponic growing system to your recirculating aquaculture system and you’re doing aquaponics.

You can even build my personal favourite – the integrated aqua-vegeculture system (iAVs) –  the truly remarkable food production system that was the precursor to aquaponics.

Small-scale food production doesn’t end there.  If you have the space and zoning, you can also include pigs, goats and small cattle in your integrated food production system…along with fungi and fodder plants.  The sky’s the limit!

All of these things are not only possible but they are also quite easy to do…and we can help you.

Welcome to the world of Microponics and waste transformation farming…where the waste products of one organism become the feedstock for other organisms…in the quest for clean fresh food.

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An Introduction to DIY Food Production.

Growing one’s own food is a key aspect of the ‘Have More For Less‘ concept…and I’ve been doing it for much of the past 40 years.  For the past 12 years, I’ve also had an enduring commitment to integrated agri-aquaculture…and I’ve been writing about it for much of that time.

Suffice to say, I have a substantial body of work on DIY food production to share with you.  To simply dump it in front of you would be a little overwhelming – so I’ve created the following links to enable you to access the material in a structured manner.

I developed a small-scale food production regime that, in 2008, I described as Microponics.  Essentially, Microponics embraces the integrated production of fish, plants and micro-livestock…in an urban backyard.  If this all seems a bit confusing, at this stage, just bear with me and I’ll help you through it.

The first thing to understand is that there’s no need to do everything that I talk about.  If you do nothing more than grow your own salad greens, you’ll be in front.  If, however, you want to make a big difference to your food bill…and your health…the sky’s the limit.

Let’s begin with why we should grow our own food…and then we’ll look at what’s involved in producing enough food for our own kitchen.

If we try to mimic commercial food producers, the food that we grow will be more expensive than food bought from a supermarket.  To eliminate the need for commercial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides – and to offset the cost of live-stock food – we use something called integration to give us a financial edge while, at the same time, preserving our health and the well-being of the environment.

Now, Microponics is the integration of fish, plants and micro-livestock and it operates on the premise that the one thing that all food organisms have in common with each other is water – so we’ll introduce you to integrated aquaculture in its various forms.

Of course, one consequence of growing fish is that we end up with nutrient-rich water that we can use to grow fruit and vegetables for us – and fodder for our micro-livestock.

When people think of growing plants, things like forks, shovels, hard work and sore backs quickly enters their mind.  There are lots of very interesting ways that you can grow food plants that have nothing to do with hard work so we’ll be exploring things like the Integrated Aqua-Vegeculture System (iAVs), aquaponics, wicking beds, square foot gardens – and much more.

A constant diet of fish and salad would quickly become boring so we’ll also look at backyard egg and meat production…and that’s where the micro-livestock enter the picture.  There’s a long list of those for you to choose from including: 

  • chickens
  • ducks
  • turkeys
  • quail
  • rabbits
  • geese
  • pigeons
  • snails
  • bees 

The links in this article are just a taste of what’s to come as we venture forth into the world of Microponics and integrated backyard food production.

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The Have-More Plan

One evening, in early 1976, I walked into the Third World Bookshop – my favourite book haunt – in Adelaide’s Hindley Street night quarter.

About twenty minutes later, I emerged with a book that was to help chart the course of my life.

Written in 1943, “The Have-More Plan – A Little Land and a Lot of Living” was destined to become one of the classics of the back-to-earth genre.

havemoreplan

In just over 70 pages, authors Ed and Caroline Robinson provided their prescription for “how to make a small cash income into the best and happiest living any family could want.”

The book’s lifestyle promise proved to be an irresistible lure for me…to the point where we embarked on our own quest for self-sufficiency.

In late 1976, my family and I moved from suburban Adelaide onto a neglected 20-acre olive tree farm on the urban fringe.

In the ensuing years, we moved from one rented farmlet to another before buying our own house.  While the addresses changed, the general self-sufficiency idea remained constant.  We aspired to the Robinson’s suggestion of “the best and happiest living any family could want”…and we rode a learning curve like the Big Dipper.

We bred rabbits, goats and various breeds of poultry and waterfowl. We reared broiler chickens and pigs, milked two cows, grew olives and owned a 20hp grey “Fergie” tractor.  These humble beginnings paved the way for my introduction to integrated backyard food production (Microponics).

Wind the clock forward thirty eight years…and The Have More Plan re-entered my life.

The need for information relating to a project led me to my bookcase and, as I shuffled through a box of books, suddenly there it was in my hands – my copy of ”The Have-More Plan.”

I re-read the book three times in the week after its re-discovery.

On the first such occasion, I experienced the same sense of exhilaration that I did when I first read it 38 years ago. I even found myself being drawn into the back-to-earth call to action.

The Have-More Plan is a reflection of its age.   While much of its content is timeless, the book is a social snap-shot of the US middle class in the early 1940’s – complete with beliefs, values and behaviours to match the period.

During the second reading, I paused on the Robinson’s call-to-action – to move to a place in the country.

While being on acreage has its merits, much of what is discussed in the Have-More Plan is no less applicable to an urban backyard.

Most people, it seems, aspire to happiness and it’s my perception that they should be able to do that regardless of their age, ethnicity or financial circumstances…or whether they live in the city or the country.

It was during the third reading, that I realised that, for me, the real legacy of The Have-More Plan is the idea that the pathway to happiness is…self-reliance.  What began as an attempt to underpin our own food self-reliance later branched out into other areas like finance, housing, and transport.

In acknowledgment of the impact that The Have-More Plan has had on my life, I’ve named my island micro-farm…Have-More Farm.

You can obtain a free PDF download of “The Have-More Plan”…HERE.

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