Hello and welcome back for part two of the off the grid aquaponics install in Gusu, Malawi. If you told me in February that it would be May before the install was complete I would have only half believed you. Half believe because sometime, well most of the time, here in Malawi things don’t go according to plan and the half of me that wouldn’t have believed you would be because the final steps seemed so simple. HA!! How wrong was that?
The biggest hurdle we had to overcome was the electric system. This system is completely off the grid and by off the grid I mean zero access to electricity or water. Since this system uses both, this meant we had to provide our own. The water was accomplished through a borehole. The electricity was accomplished through a solar panel setup. It was the solar panel setup that gave us fits and had Jeremy just about ready to jump out of his skin. However, after receiving a few more batteries and a bigger, better inverter and then a few troubleshooting trips to program the inverter properly, the electrical system is running in tip top shape providing about 4.5 kilowatts of power.
Once the electricity was sorted out we could fill the fish tank and turn on the pump. Note to self; in a multiple grow-bed set-up a) get a bigger pump than you think necessary, b) for simplicity sake put a water pump and flood/drain siphon in each grow-bed and c) create clean out access to all the pipes. I gotta tell you, balancing the water flow between three grow-beds that will accommodate accurate flood and drain techniques with one undersized pump and u-drains is quite the challenge. I foresee a redo or workaround in our future.
So, now that the mechanical system was sorted out and the system has been made water tight we were ready for the fish so on Thursday May 16, 2013, two thousand tilapia fish fry were transplanted into the system. It was kind of anti-climatic but exciting at the same time because if this works then a whole new world of income generation plus better nutrition for the village will have been opened up. The possibilities are mind blowing.
However, the work doesn’t stop here. Jeremy is going to take the lead in developing newer and better ways to make and prepare the fish feed. Right now we mix soya and maize flour for feed. The downside is the feed isn’t quite nutritious enough for the fish and the flour clogs up the system. Jeremy will work on a system to pelletize the flour as well as add a better source of protein like fish meal to the feed mix. Dennis will keep an eye on the grow-beds and transplant lettuce and other plants into the grow-bed for food and to help filter the fish waste. Richard will be tasked with installing the large agriculture sun shade over the entire system to help regulate the intensity of the sun’s rays. And then, if everything goes okay, 8-9 months from now the first fish harvest will take place.
If, after all this, the system is still working we will then start to duplicate the system on a cheaper scale all around the site. The goal as of now is to have 9-10 one thousand fish systems producing fish every month. Each system will be owned and operated by individual villagers. Once this is successful then we can expand the project to include more villagers and create a co-op that is managed by the village. Over the course of the next few months and years we will periodically post updates so you, the reader, can see if this works or not. If you would like to learn more about aquaponics you are invited to email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And a VERY special thanks to J.T. for visiting and helping to build the system and to Jeremy for his tireless work with troubleshooting and getting the electrical system up to snuff. Without you two individuals this project would still be on the drawing board. For this, E3 and Gusu owes a debt of gratitude.