Adjusting our Floating Raft Aquaponics System

When I first arrived to Taino farm the first thing I noticed about the aquaponics system was the amount of tomatoes. I had never seen tomatoes grown in a Floating Raft system and the ones growing did not look healthy, I soon realized why. Tomatoes and other fruiting plants such as cucumbers and peppers can do very well in Aquaponic systems but not in Floating Raft Systems. This is due to two reasons: root structure and nutrients available.

Floating Raft Aquaponics is the growing of plants directly in water without any media. The roots receive no support in the water that they normally have growing in the soil or another solid growing medium. Consequently, our plants relied heavily on being tied up with string that moved constantly with the wind and caused unhealthy growth. The second reason fruiting plants do not grow well in Floating Raft Aquaponics is the lack the essential macronutrients such as phosphorous and calcium. These are necessary for a plant to successfully achieve reproductive growth, producing flowers and eventually large fleshy seeds that promote new life. However, in floating raft systems these nutrients are not present because the fish solids are filtered out before the plants have access to them. The solids need to be filtered out because otherwise they would clog up the piping and fill the plant beds with dirty water that can cause root rot- a fungal infestation on the plant root that inhibits oxygen intake by the roots (which is another problem we are currently dealing with in our system).

When the solids are removed the only nutrient that is widely present in the water is dissolved ammonia produced by the gills of the fish. This ammonia is converted to Nitrite then Nitrate by the bacteria in our biofilter before it enters the plant beds. Nitrogen, in the form of Nitrate, is the promoter of healthy vegetative growth such as the stem and leaf matter of a plant. Therefore, growing plants that are harvested before they begin reproductive growth is essential for a Floating Raft Aquaponics system. Some of these leafy green plants that we are now growing instead of fruiting plants are multiple varieties of lettuce, kale and arugula, and many herbs and spices such as basil, cilantro, oregano, chives, hibiscus and mint. These kinds of plants are perfect for Floating Raft systems because they are smaller and don’t require a large root support system as well as only relying on the Nitrogen in the system and are harvested before they go to seed.

What one of our Aquaponic Floating Raft plant beds look like now:
What one of our Aquaponic Floating Raft plant beds look like now

On the other hand, we have planted many fruiting plants such as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers in our Media Beds and they are growing well. This is because there the plants grow in rocks that form support for the roots. Furthermore, we grow worms inside the rock beds that consume the solid fish waste releasing the essential nutrients that a plant needs for reproductive growth producing flowers and seeds.  

gravel media bed
What our Aquaponic Media Beds look like now

Introducing farm intern Brendan

Hello All! My name is Brendan Cormier and I have been working at Taino Farm for 2 months now and have fallen in love with the farm here and have no intention of leaving any time soon. So I have started this blog to inform interested people about growing Tilapia in an aquaponics in the tropics of the Dominican Republic.

A little background about me: I graduated last year from the University of New Hampshire with a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems with an emphasis on agricultural business management. During my time at UNH I studied abroad in Costa Rica and found my calling to live in the tropics. I had visited my adviser and professor Andrew Ogden’s farm and when I returned home I asked him if he had any projects that I could get involved with to keep me in touch with Costa Rica. It was then he introduced me to aquaponics! I then spent my final two years of school studying every aspect of aquaponics and designing a commercial sized system to install at Andrew’s farm.

aquapoincs internships
Brendon loving it!

However, when graduated from UNH I realized hands-on experience working with a large-scale aquaponics system was necessary to study and learn how to manage a system myself. With a simple Google search of: Aquaponics Internship I have found myself back in the tropics in Dominican Republic learning more than I ever could have imagined. Taino Farm is a 10-acre farm in the rural town of Los Brasos about half an hour from Cabarete; the popular kite surfing beach town where the owner of the farm Robbie also owns Extreme Hotel, where most of the produce from the farm is sold.

I have been working on many different projects here involving the aquaponics systems at the farm and hope to help grow the system for the better. My projects as of now include: Finding the correct plants to grow, studying the water parameters of the system as a whole to make the system healthier and function more efficiently, and designing my own nutritious locally produced food source for the Tilapia in the system.

Why are People Obsessed with Coconuts?

The darling of the health and wellness industry is versatile, sweet, anti-inflammatory, and abundant here in the Dominican Republic. And why else are they so popular? First of all, coconuts include minerals to support hydration. This is key to maintaining your health in a tropical climate! Coconut also serves as an immunity booster. The anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral activities of coconuts allow them to fight against common infections that attack the body. The best way to get the immune boosting benefits of coconut is by consuming both the flesh of the coconut and the water. And besides the health benefits, there’s the delicious taste!!!

At Taino Organic Farm we love to make coconut milk. This is a wonderful option for a dairy replacement that is home made, organic and nutrient dense. We use it in our coffee and as a base for smoothies, soups, cookies, ice cream and more. Coconut milk makes our food creamier and when you know all the benefits it has for your body, of course you will want to eat as much as possible!

11350106_10205327800692057_878393907_nHealth Benefits

  • Helps the body maintain proper blood sugar levels
  • Keeps blood vessels and skin elastic and flexible (contains 50% copper)
  • Strong bones (rich in phosphorus)
  • Relaxes nerves and muscles (magnesium)
  • It helps in weight control (fiber)
  • Reduces the risk of inflammation of the joints (selenium)
  • Lowers high blood pressure potassium
  • Supports prostate (mineral Zinc)

As nutrition junkies, we are living to create vibrant health! The Finca is delighted to share this simple, delicious, locally sourced recipe with you. So easy, so tasty and so healthy.

Coconut Milk Recipe

Yield: 24 oz depending on size of coconuts

Ingredients

  • Water and flesh from 3 coconuts (Ask a local to help open the coconuts as they know what they’re doing … keeping all of our fingers is important to us!)
  • Vanilla
  • Himalayan Salt

Process

Simply combine all ingredients together and blend until desired consistency

Enjoy!

 

Taino Primal Coffee

Here at Finca Taino we get up early to harvest and work in the garden before it gets too hot, so this quick and easy breakfast treat is ideal. This is a strong, whole foods blend that creates a “euphoric” feeling. Perfect as a pre-workout supplement or in our case, pre-harvest! Trust us, 6 AM isn’t fun for anyone, but this drink makes us smile.

What are the key players and why do they optimize our health?

Coffee – a rich source of antioxidants and a clean source of caffeine

Pastured eggs – dense with micro-nutrients, brain boosting fats, complete protein

Coconut oil– healthy medium chain triglycerides that helps your body burn more calories, feel fuller for longer, and boosts brain function

*Think of this as a whole foods protein shake to supplement a busy morning*


Processed with Moldiv

Recipe

Ingredients

Serves 2

2 Pastured Eggs (from our Taino Farm chickens)

16 oz Coffee

1tsp Vanilla

2 tsp Coconut Oil

Cinnamon and Himalayan Salt to taste

*optional: liquid Stevia drops and Turmeric


Process

 Brew coffee as you normally would. Pour coffee, vanilla, coconut oil, pastured eggs, cinnamon and a pinch of salt into blender. Blend or pulse on low until frothy. Be careful and hold the lid of the blender down, as blending hot ingredients creates an air pressure build up. This coffee is DELICIOUS and foamy. It should be consumed fairly quickly as it tends to separate as it cools.

 

Enjoy!

What We Can Learn from Sounds

When I am back at school, I am plugged in. I can picture myself so vividly – crouching over a little cubicle desk. I am staring at my computer – working on a paper or maybe a problem set. I am distracted from my work only by other things popping up on a screen in front of me – a facebook notification or a text message. But nothing around me draws my eyes away from my thirteen inch computer screen. My headphones are playing some genre of music into my ears, masking the sounds of the world around me – of people flowing in and out of the library. Maybe a friend has passed by…I wouldn’t notice.

When I am back at school, I am plugged in. I am using tangled headphones connecting my phone in my pocket to my ears as I walk to class. Sometimes, if I am in a “loving life” type of mood, I will listen to country. Isn’t that ironic? I am loving life yet so definitively severing myself off from it.

When I am back at school, I am plugged in. I am lying in bed with my white noise machine on. It blurs all the sounds around me. I can’t even hear my breathing or the soft and steady beating of my heart, just the white noise that fills my ears and dulls my senses.

It is different here.

11430292_10154025875853009_1074470989_nWhen I run in the morning in Los Brazos, the small Dominican town in which Taino Organic Farm is located, I don’t use my headphones. I can hear my breath, the soft gallop of Piggy–the loyal farm dog of Finca Taino, the roosters talking to each other across the valley, the moos of the various cows we pass, the occasional “hola” from the early risers sitting on their porches enjoying the first yellow light of the day, the squeals of pigs (they didn’t sound particularly happy to be waking up), the sound of the wind and the subsequent elegant sway of the green that surrounded me. There are an infinite amount of sounds at any point in time, no matter where you are in this world. We can’t hear all of them–we couldn’t possibly. But that’s not a reason to miss the beautiful ones that we can hear.

When I go to bed at night at Finca Taino it seems that everyone around me is having their bedside chat with each other. I fall asleep to the occasional heehaw of the donkey who lives a floor down from me, to the chitter chatter of the chickens, the wind, the insects enveloped by the dark sky, the sound of far-away bachata dance music, a moto zooming by – a night just beginning or ending.

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When I wake up at Finca Taino it is early – 5:50 typically. It seems the world is wide awake and the light is just beginning to illuminate the world. I think it would be wrong to be frustrated by this, to be mad at the light and and the creatures for waking me up. It would be sad for these early morning sounds to anger me.

“Wake up grateful”; I read that somewhere recently. It is so easy to do that here.

At home I wake up to my alarm clock as well. It typically goes off around 6:15. In the winter, it would be dark still. It’s not the early morning blue kind of dark, but a black – an endless thick black – dark that makes the morning feel so far away. Even still, there were so many reasons to be grateful to be jolted awake by the alarming noise coming from my phone.

11638002_10154025875813009_430329023_nHere, waking up to the sound of the rest of the world, to the light streaming through my window–that is such an easy, obvious, and accessible reason to be grateful. It is so easy that gratitude is becoming a habit – almost an instinct. That is what nature can do; that is what can happen when I am no longer plugged in.

I think that when I return home, back to school, back to the “grind” after two months here in Los Brazos and Cabarete on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic, it will be hard not to wake up grateful. A hard habit to break.