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  • Starting a farm in Jozitown

    My friend Ozzie and I used play music together. With both of us having families now, the music careers were put on hold for a bit. He runs a garden service business, and with all my failed attempts at farming, I have some equipment. Ozzie recently found an unused backyard, and persuaded the owner - who relocated to Australia - to let us use it. It is probably about 500 sqm,

    I fired up my tiller this morning, and we tilled the first 60 sqm. The whole area is currently a lawn, which is a bit of an issue, but we'll sort that out. The idea is just to plant the whole area with "easy" crops, so that we can get the cash flow going. While everything is growing, we will do some serious thinking.

    Ozzie likes organic hydroponics. He does weird teas with different kinds of manure and prefers NFT. Me, I need some livestock. I have a little RAS system - 10kl - that will go in my tunnel, and I think a little iAVS will compliment it nicely. To start, I will go with a 1:1 ratio, and see how it goes. I am a bit stuck with the fish portion of the system. Based on 50kg production per cube, I estimate the stocking density at about 13kg, using an FCR of 1.3 and a daily feedrate 0f 1.4%. Does this sound familiar?

    Then, this system needs to be above ground. Any suggestions?





  • #2
    Yeah...my music career has been on hold, too...for the past 40 years...for which the world should be exceedingly grateful.

    Tell me more about the land. Is it in a residential area...or is it zoned rural? Does it have water and power connected? Any outbuildings? What are your 'easy' crops?

    I share Ozzie's interest in organic hydroponics although mine is in its infancy...and I also have a small 72-hole NFT system that I hope to re-assemble in the coming days...so I'd welcome the opportunity to compare notes.

    Livestock? What do you call livestock...and are you able to keep it on your 500m2 block? My forte is micro-livestock....from worms and BSF larvae right through chickens and smallholder breeds of cattle...although I'm currently limited in that I live inside a residential zoning.

    Since you're doing some serious thinking...I'd like to present you with something to think about.

    My peak interest is waste transformation farming (WTF)...integrated food production...where the wastes produced by one organism become the feedstock for other organisms. iAVs and aquaponices are good examples of taking a waste...in this case it's the metabolic wastes of the fish that result from feeding the fish)

    It involves the categorisation of all organic wastes...and putting them to their highest use within the system...adding value...reducing inputs while maximising outputs...generating financial and biological leverage.

    WTF is productive, resilient and sustainable.

    I believe that it's a method of farming that offers hope to a world depleted by industrial farming. It also seems to cater for the specific interests of Ozzie and yourself.

    If you're interested in the waste transformation model, I'd be willing to do what I can to help you better understand it...and design and build your own WTF farm. It can be small...just enough to feed your families and friends. It can be a bit larger and feed a village...and/or become a demonstration farm for fee-paying students...or it can be as big as you like...only limited by by your resources.

    I want to see WTF demonstrations farms al of the world. I'm currently working with a Singaporean environmental services company to establish a WTF in Bali...but I want to demonstrate that WTF works almost anywhere outside of the frozen wastes.

    I'm sorry if I've overwhelmed you, so early in the piece, but it just tumbled out. I'm 68 this year...and I'm ridding my life of bullshit in the interests of get the best out of my remaining life energy.

    Of course, if you'd rather just talk about iAVs, I'm good with that, too.

    Comment


    • #3
      The piece of land is in a residential area against Northcliff hill. The property is terraced. The lower terrace is where the house, garden and pool is. The middle terrace is a lawn, with a garden shed on the one end. That is where we are firing up the farm. The upper terrace is tiny, and it looks like it was used as an entertainment area at some point. It has municipal water and electricity. For now, we will stick with fast growing leafy greens and herbs - spinach, kale,chard, radish, lettuce etc. They are relatively easy to sell.

      I often get accused for talking in riddles.Livestock in my case will be fish. I have had aquaponics systems in various formats over the past 5 years. I don't think I would have made any money off it, but we are having at least some of our veggies from the system. I have goldfish in my tank.

      The popular fish for aquaponics around here is Tilapia Rendalli, or redbreasted tilapia. It is a local fish, so we don't need permits for it. Rendalli can eat whole food - lettuce, banana leaves etc. The benefits of this is obvious. When I eventually get round to building an iAVS, that will be my fish of choice.

      As for WTF (or any other growing system) and its ability to feed the world, Gary, if I ever get the opportunity to host you in South Africa, I will take you around to failed projects around here. Billions have been spent on upliftment projects of all sorts, and lots of people made lots of money for all the wrong reasons. There are hordes of NGO's around my area, all working on some or other project. Very few of these projects survive when the NGO leaves. If you drive around Johannesburg however, you fill find tiny patches of land planted with corn or choumoellier (a kale preferred by the locals), and in certain areas you will find cattle grazing next to the road. Small scale farming in the urban areas are carried out on a guerrilla basis. My point is, there is context to everything, and unless the local context is fully understood, I would be very hesitant to suggest that any particular growing system is the answer. One thing that none of these growing systems - spin farming, square foot gardening, iAVS, biointensive gardening, hydroponics, aquaponics, wicking beds, vermiculture, hugelkultur, raised beds, permaculture etc - are able to address is staple food. One could debate the nutritional value of corn and wheat and rice all you want, but the fact that there is a demand for staple food, remains. I suspect this is why the aforementioned projects fail. Instead of trying to teach the villagers to grow tomatoes in a smarty pants way, it would make far more sense to teach them how to grow corn better. Maybe then the projects won't fail. And maybe when the immediate problems are taken care of, then the smarty pants way might be useful.

      Now that that is out of the way, yes, I would love to learn about WTF, but for time being, it will be for pure academic purposes. My more immediate goals are to get all the equipment I own to earn their keep. When I have that going, I am going to try out iAVS. And when I notice a waste stream, I will see how to extend the operation into some form of WTF. One step at a time.





      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
        The piece of land is in a residential area against Northcliff hill. The property is terraced. The lower terrace is where the house, garden and pool is. The middle terrace is a lawn, with a garden shed on the one end. That is where we are firing up the farm. The upper terrace is tiny, and it looks like it was used as an entertainment area at some point. It has municipal water and electricity. For now, we will stick with fast growing leafy greens and herbs - spinach, kale,chard, radish, lettuce etc. They are relatively easy to sell.
        OK...you sound confident about your capacity to grow food in soil, so that's a logical place to start. And it will serve as a point of reference (and comparison) as you gradually expand into other things.

        Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
        The popular fish for aquaponics around here is Tilapia Rendalli, or redbreasted tilapia. It is a local fish, so we don't need permits for it. Rendalli can eat whole food - lettuce, banana leaves etc. The benefits of this is obvious. When I eventually get round to building an iAVS, that will be my fish of choice.
        Being able to grow fish on natural diets (rather than buying fish feed) is a great way to source plant nutrients.

        Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
        As for WTF (or any other growing system) and its ability to feed the world, Gary, if I ever get the opportunity to host you in South Africa, I will take you around to failed projects around here. Billions have been spent on upliftment projects of all sorts, and lots of people made lots of money for all the wrong reasons. There are hordes of NGO's around my area, all working on some or other project. Very few of these projects survive when the NGO leaves. If you drive around Johannesburg however, you fill find tiny patches of land planted with corn or choumoellier (a kale preferred by the locals), and in certain areas you will find cattle grazing next to the road. Small scale farming in the urban areas are carried out on a guerrilla basis. My point is, there is context to everything, and unless the local context is fully understood, I would be very hesitant to suggest that any particular growing system is the answer. One thing that none of these growing systems - spin farming, square foot gardening, iAVS, biointensive gardening, hydroponics, aquaponics, wicking beds, vermiculture, hugelkultur, raised beds, permaculture etc - are able to address is staple food. One could debate the nutritional value of corn and wheat and rice all you want, but the fact that there is a demand for staple food, remains. I suspect this is why the aforementioned projects fail. Instead of trying to teach the villagers to grow tomatoes in a smarty pants way, it would make far more sense to teach them how to grow corn better. Maybe then the projects won't fail. And maybe when the immediate problems are taken care of, then the smarty pants way might be useful.
        I don't doubt a word you say about aid programs...and what happens when the NGO moves on. Mark McMurtry, the inventor of iAVs, travelled extensively through Africa, the Sahel and the Middle East..setting up systems. None have survived for the very reason that you've suggested. I think iAVs (and all other aspects of WTF) will only survive in places like Africa if there's a social co-operative enterprise to coordinate things...certainly long enough to ensure that the method is established.

        Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
        Now that that is out of the way, yes, I would love to learn about WTF, but for time being, it will be for pure academic purposes. My more immediate goals are to get all the equipment I own to earn their keep. When I have that going, I am going to try out iAVS. And when I notice a waste stream, I will see how to extend the operation into some form of WTF. One step at a time.
        No problems, you'll pick it up as you go along. You will have a waste stream in iAVs...uneaten fruit and vegetables, dead fish, plant residues...then it will be time to expand your operation into chickens.

        Gary






        Comment


        • #5
          So, with the first crop planted, I had some time to procrastinate productively i.e. read.

          iAVS is fascinating. I can see where the conventional wisdoms of flood and drain comes from and I get the agitation (to put it mildly) from Dr McMurtry. Let me confess, I read about iAVS years ago, but it simply did not have enough bells and whistles to it for me to even consider it. Now, after a few years of RAS and aquaponics , I have gained a much better understanding of the biological processes. I am now of the opinion that iAVS in fact has plenty of bells and whistles. Please forgive my ignorance.

          I am trying to get my head around the sizing of the system. What I thought I knew about sizing doesn't seem to apply to iAVS. So, the basis of the design seems to be 4 toms per sqm. And then lettuce needs 10% of the area. Does this mean 40 lettuces per sqm, or do you increase the biofilter size tenfold?

          At 15 kg/m3 how do you size aeration?

          I am also curious, has anyone tried a multitank fish portion to keep the nutrient input stable?

          Some of the literature mentions a high tech and low tech version of iavs. Is there any elaboration of this somewhere?

          Lastly, I found a reference to a iAVS vs UVI spreadsheet by Dr McMurtry. Is this publicly available?

          I am late to the party. Thank you for bearing with me.

          Regards
          Nicol




          ​​
          Last edited by Nicol du Toit; 02-27-2019, 05:03 AM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
            iAVS is fascinating. I can see where the conventional wisdoms of flood and drain comes from and I get the agitation (to put it mildly) from Dr McMurtry. Let me confess, I read about iAVS years ago, but it simply did not have enough bells and whistles to it for me to even consider it. Now, after a few years of RAS and aquaponics , I have gained a much better understanding of the biological processes. I am now of the opinion that iAVS in fact has plenty of bells and whistles. Please forgive my ignorance.​​
            iAVs is fascinating...and it comes with an amazing story, too. Don't be concerned about your ignorance. For as much as they followed the path that you did, the whole world (including me) skipped over iAVs. There are some likely explanations for that...here...and here. It was a tragedy but there's nothing we can do about it now. We can only press on and do what we can to have iAVs realise its destiny.

            Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
            I am trying to get my head around the sizing of the system. What I thought I knew about sizing doesn't seem to apply to iAVS. So, the basis of the design seems to be 4 toms per sqm. And then lettuce needs 10% of the area. Does this mean 40 lettuces per sqm, or do you increase the biofilter size tenfold?​
            Theres a blog article called Sizing an iAVs. Read the article, and ask any questions that arise out of that. Meanwhile, I'm looking for a metric that helps to explain the production relationship between fish and plants in iAVs. This one may help...."Each 1.0 kg of fish weight gain provided sufficient quantities of all required plant nutrients to sustain 2 tomato plants yielding 5-7 kg of fruit per plant over 3 months."

            Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
            At 15 kg/m3 how do you size aeration?​
            The need for supplementary aeration will depend on your particular situation.

            Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
            I am also curious, has anyone tried a multitank fish portion to keep the nutrient input stable?​
            Cohort production is possible...although it's not quite as straightforward as units comprising a fish tank with a sand biofilter of a predetermined ratio.

            Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
            Some of the literature mentions a high tech and low tech version of iavs. Is there any elaboration of this somewhere?​
            iAvs was designed for use by impoverished villagers without access to electricity. In such situations, the water is moved by hand (using buckets or a kalabash) or other human-powered device...or animal power. At the other end of the spectrum, iAVs wil function in controlled-environment greenhouses with all of the usual high-tech bells and whistles.

            Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
            Lastly, I found a reference to a iAVS vs UVI spreadsheet by Dr McMurtry. Is this publicly available?​
            Try this link. Updating the iAVs website is happening...but slowly. Your questions have prompted a whole heap of link-fixing and FAQ work...keep it up and, between us we'll get the website back up to scratch.

            Originally posted by Nicol du Toit View Post
            I am late to the party. Thank you for bearing with me.​
            Every is late to the party...except Mark McMurtry. iAVs only surfaced again in 2014...after a 14-year stint in the wilderness...and, it did so, in the face of ten years of high interest in (and vigorous promotion of) aquaponics.

            In the Publications section of the website, there are two excellent information sources on iAVs. The first is "The Aqua-Vegaculture System" and the other one is "The Integrated Aqua-Vegeculture System."

            Comment


            • #7
              Theres a blog article called Sizing an iAVs. Read the article, and ask any questions that arise out of that. Meanwhile, I'm looking for a metric that helps to explain the production relationship between fish and plants in iAVs. This one may help...."Each 1.0 kg of fish weight gain provided sufficient quantities of all required plant nutrients to sustain 2 tomato plants yielding 5-7 kg of fruit per plant over 3 months."
              It is reading the article that prompted this question.


              It is very difficult to generalise about the relative nutrient demands of various crops. When compared to indeterminate tomato – at 4/m2 – the following is a reasonable expectation:
              • Eggplant, melons (trellised) in range of. 60-70% /m2 of the requirement of tomato
              • Cucumber, peppers and Brassica (cole) spp. approximately 40 to 60% /m2
              • Squashes and gourds (trellised) at 40 – 60% /m2
              • Beans and peas (except for N) approximately 30 to 50% /m2
              • Beets, chard, kale, spinach, in to 20 to 30% range /m2
              • Lettuce (bibb, cos, leaf) in the 10 to 20% range (also dominantly N) – or less
              • Basil, rosemary, thyme and other culinary herbs ~ 10%
              • Chives, dill, radish – < 5%
              So, assuming the above is accurate, and 4 tomatoes per sqm, does this mean you can do 40 lettuces (4 / 0.1) per sqm?

              Your questions have prompted a whole heap of link-fixing and FAQ work...keep it up and, between us we'll get the website back up to scratch.
              I am glad I could help.

              Comment


              • #8
                If you plan to grow lettuce exclusively, I would question that iAVs is the best way to do it.

                The furrow structure, which is central to the iAVs concept, is going to make it difficult to plant out lettuce at the density that you're suggesting.

                iAVs was designed to produce nutrient-dense food plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, beans. peppers and the like. Lettuce would usually be grown as an intercrop...and would be harvested before the other plants shaded them out.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Gary, I am really just trying to understand what the below means, and how it influences the system sizing and management. What eventually gets grown in my iAVS is 'n sidenote at this stage.

                  It is very difficult to generalise about the relative nutrient demands of various crops. When compared to indeterminate tomato – at 4/m2 – the following is a reasonable expectation:
                  • Eggplant, melons (trellised) in range of. 60-70% /m2 of the requirement of tomato
                  • Cucumber, peppers and Brassica (cole) spp. approximately 40 to 60% /m2
                  • Squashes and gourds (trellised) at 40 – 60% /m2
                  • Beans and peas (except for N) approximately 30 to 50% /m2
                  • Beets, chard, kale, spinach, in to 20 to 30% range /m2
                  • Lettuce (bibb, cos, leaf) in the 10 to 20% range (also dominantly N) – or less
                  • Basil, rosemary, thyme and other culinary herbs ~ 10%
                  • Chives, dill, radish – < 5%

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Through the wonders of Wayback Machine, I visited the pre-upgrade version of the iavs.info website, and found the iavs recipe. Probably the best place to start.

                    I am off to find some sand samples to test now.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Wow!...Wayback Machine...I never knew such a thing existed. That's another credit on your social account with me because Wayback Machine will be off assistance to me in the coming weeks. Thank you.

                      I've been thinking about your earlier question about sizing a system. This may help a little..."Eighty 15 gram fingerlings...fed the appropriate percentage of their daily bodyweight...for 100 days...was sufficient to support 4 tomato plants." The bodyweight thing refers to the fact that fingerlings are fed different percentages of the bodyweight depending on their age. For example 15g fingerlings might get 8%...50g fish might get 4% and 100g fish might get 2%. The other clarification relates to the 100 days...and assumes (for the purpose of this exercise) the end of the crop cycle. Incidentally, harvesting of the fish would begin at 250g.

                      Bear in mind that, in Africa (for which this system was designed) villagers consume smaller fish than would be the case in a high end restaurant.

                      Let me know if this is what you were looking for...or I'll keep looking.

                      On the question of sizing an iAVs, I always recommend that new adoptees start with something small...say 500 to 1000-fish tank and 1000 - 2000-litres of grow bed...which is 3m - 6m by 1metre wide by about 400mm deep. This is your learning prototype. As you get your head around working with iAVs, you can expend the number of such units to four. This allows you to do side-by-side comparisons of fish species, plant cultivars and operating parameters...a very useful thing indeed. If you continue to expend your system, this way, you will end up with 16 such units...and your own research facility...and you will quickly establish yourself as the iAVs expert in the whole of Africa. At that point, you will be harvesting fish on a weekly basis. Not only will you be drawing income on a weekly basis but you will also be able to expand your operation to become an iAVs demonstration centre...where you can entertain fee-paying students from around the world.

                      Before we reach that point, however, we need to know what your iAVs goals look like. Are you just looking to grow food for your families? Or do you want to sell food into your local market? Or do you want to do that..and run a training business, too?

                      Regardless of your aspirations, I recommend the modular approach because it allows you to grow commensurate with your knowledge and skills. It also allows you build your operation over time using the production income from each unit to fund those that follow. This self-funding idea applies from your very first iAVs...since you'll both be taking home clean fresh food to your families...food that you'd have to otherwise lay out money for.

                      Good luck with the sand hunt. Let me know if you have any questions around iAVs-suitable sand. It's cost effective availability is arguably the most important aspect of building an iAVs.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I've been thinking about your earlier question about sizing a system. This may help a little..."Eighty 15 gram fingerlings...fed the appropriate percentage of their daily bodyweight...for 100 days...was sufficient to support 4 tomato plants." The bodyweight thing refers to the fact that fingerlings are fed different percentages of the bodyweight depending on their age. For example 15g fingerlings might get 8%...50g fish might get 4% and 100g fish might get 2%. The other clarification relates to the 100 days...and assumes (for the purpose of this exercise) the end of the crop cycle. Incidentally, harvesting of the fish would begin at 250g.
                        iAVS sizing seems to be carried out using weight gain and production (cumulative values), whereas UVI is about staggered production and nutrient balancing (instantaneous values). It took a while to get my head around, but I think I've got it now, thank you.

                        Before we reach that point, however, we need to know what your iAVs goals look like. Are you just looking to grow food for your families? Or do you want to sell food into your local market? Or do you want to do that..and run a training business, too?
                        This took a bit longer to figure out. Ultimately, I want to get out of the rat race and have the freedom to raise my family the way I was raised - with both of my parents being around. And the only way I know how, is to raise them on a farm. I don't know if iAVS is my ticket out, but it will be fun to try. The worst that can happen is that the little ones have a new sandpit.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          It seems as though the staged build might be the way for you. You'll know after the first unit whether iAVs is for you...no harm no foul.

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                          • #14
                            Our landlord accepted an offer on the piece of land we were borrowing today. We are hoping for an amicable agreement with the new owners, but at the same time, we need to consider our options.

                            We'll probably have to accept that any agreement will be in good faith, and that it might change at the drop of a hat. And we need to gear ourselves towards that. We need to be mobile. Soil based farming does not fit this context. It will be easy to cart Ozzie's hydroponics around, but a mobile iAVs is a bit of a challenge.

                            For the purposes of the discussion, I am aiming for 20 tons of tomatoes per annum.

                            Any thoughts will be appreciated

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                            • #15
                              In addition to that, my curiosity is getting the better of me. Any suggestions for a system that will fit in my home office, say a footprint of 2 sqm?

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