Symbi Biological

Rainwater Collection

If you’re in California, the drought is something that is on everyone’s minds. The prospect of having little to no water is a scary thought. That’s why water wise farming methods like aquaponics are really getting a good look as a way to mitigate the drought in certain areas. While our wells have not run dry, I am taking steps to make sure I have enough water in the future for the aquaponics system. I think that a combination of well water and rainwater is the best way to conserve the well water and to help with better water chemistry. As I’ve shared before, our water has 200ppm of sodium. That’s not a good level for lettuce and other vegetables. Usually, you want sodium between 40-80ppm for most plants. Lettuces like even less.

To help solve for the drought and the sodium problem, we’ve installed some tanks on the side of the greenhouse and fish house to collect the water from the greenhouse gutters. I had one tank set up last year and it worked great. Actually, I had two tanks and the collecting part went really well. One of the tanks had a massive leak and so I basically just had one working tank.

Now I have a 5000 gallon and a 1500 gallon tank set up for collecting the rainwater. Soon, we will install three more 5000 gallon tanks under the gutters of the building that houses the laboratory and cricket room. Looking at the amount of water I use from my records, it looks like I use about 25 gallons per day in the Aquaponics system since the expansion to the third trough. For awhile, I only had two troughs in the system.

Closing the loop on food production

It was great to have the folks from Monterey Bay Aquarium come visit my little circus here at Symbi Biological. Talking sustainable feed and fish with people that really know what they are doing was a real pleasure. I can’t wait to go see the inner workings of the aquarium on my next trip there!

Conservation & Science

What do worms, carp and lettuce have in common? They’re all part of an experimental food facility aiming to produce both fish and vegetables with virtually no waste, and very few inputs.

The aquarium’s Conservation & Science team recently visited TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation, an 1,800-acre cattle ranch in Pescadero, California. Founded by investor, philanthropist and climate/energy activist Tom Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, TomKat has become a cutting-edge model of sustainable agriculture. Ranch managers maximize the carbon-absorbing powers of grasslands by carefully migrating their cows across the land, producing TomKat’s signature LeftCoast GrassFed beef.

TomKat fish food flow chartBut TomKat doesn’t stop at ranching; it’s constantly experimenting with other forms of eco-friendly food production. A few of us took the opportunity to tour Symbi Biological, which takes its name from the principle of symbiosis: a mutually beneficial relationship between living beings. That’s a good description for aquaponics, in which…

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Prematurely Dehydrated Cricket Problem Solved

For a little while now, I’ve been having some difficulty with the nymph stage of my crickets in some of the habitats. All of the habitats (bins) were set up the same with a mudpie inside to provide a place for drinking water and for adult females to lay eggs. In some of the bins, the nymphs (baby crickets) would all collect together in a pile and die. All at a similar stage of growth. As it turns out, they were dehydrating. What I find most interesting is it was only happening in a few of the bins, but just enough to ruin my production plans. After a few emails with my cricket friends at Bitwater Farms, we determined they were dehydrating and I needed to find a way to provide moisture to them because not all of them can jump back into the mudpie to get hydrated. I have a lot of capillary mat left over from some wall garden projects and decided to give that a try. I cut pieces about 6”x12” and rolled them up so that the material would hold the moisture longer and the nymphs can crawl around inside the roll. So far, so good. Since I’ve added the moistened capillary mat everybody is alive and jumping. I’m absolutely thrilled because my production volume is going to increase exponentially. Now I can concentrate on growing the herd and dehydrating them only after harvest instead of accidentally doing it at the nymph stage!

Eek, a mouse!

We had an invasion over the weekend. A mouse climbed into one of the meal worm bins and had one heck of good time it appears. I can hardly blame the little thing. A bin full of feed with live baby meal worms is a hard gig to pass up. Sadly, the mouse’s plan was not well thought out. As easy as it was getting into the bin, getting out of the bin proved too difficult. So with a full gluttonous belly, our mouse invader was caught red handed. Thankfully, there’s another mealworm habitat with live mealworms. So, while it is a bit of a setback, I’ve learned something and will install some wire grids on the openings of the bins. We have all sorts of predators on the ranch. Mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and now I guess we can add mice to the list.

Dung Beetle Pitfall Trap

Got some dung beetle pitfall traps put together and thought I’d share what they look like. They’re like a dung beetle bungalow. We’ll call them Dungalows. I will be deploying these as I follow the cattle searching for more dung beetles. I’ll let you know what I find!

To build a Dungalow:

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Baby Mealworms!!!

Honestly, I wasn’t really sure these guys were going to be a success. I started the bins and the mealworms morphed into adults, but then it seemed like most of them died and I couldn’t see any offspring. That’s because they are almost invisible when they’re “newborns”. Now they are a little more visible as “toddlers” and I am very happy about this. One other thing to note, I am very allergic to meal worms, it seems. I wear a dust mask to handle these guys. I seriously considered dropping them from the project, but since they’re breeding and feeding, I’ll have to adjust. We need more alternative proteins!

Let’s Raise a Glass!


This morning I was collecting some water to test with the photometer for nutrient analysis. Thought I’d share how well the swirl filter is working. Let’s raise our beakers for a toast!

Cricket Babies Eat Adults

The tables have turned. Awhile back, there was a post called Crickets are Full of Themselves. I described how when there is not enough protein available, the crickets will start to eat each other. And how it’s extremely important to take the breeding pods, where they lay the eggs, out of the bin before the adults eat the eggs and emerging babies. Well, it seems to work both ways. There was an adult cricket that got into one of the bins full of baby crickets and when I tried to catch him, he got a little crushed. I left the body in there as a food source and was not disappointed. The younglings are having a field day.

Swirl Filter Revisited

After a couple of months of operating the swirl filter, I really like the way it operates. I had to bump up my pump size to get a little more flow (8-10gpm), but it seems to keep more solids out of the net tanks and that’s exactly what I want. The water in the system is crystal clear and the beds aren’t accumulating a bunch of stuff. Another benefit is when I open the valve to pull the solids out from the bottom of the cone bottom tank, the pipes that lead from the tanks to the swirl filter also begin to clear as the water level drops down. It’s a great way to get rid of my solids that collect in the low part of the system. I guess this is due to some pressure changes as the water level drops. This was a big problem when I had the baffling clarifier. The system flow had to be slow enough so as not to create too much turbulence within the clarifier. Otherwise, the clarifier did not do its job effectively due to insufficient dwell time and we had cloudy water. The slower flow would cause the solids to accumulate in these pipes and they would get very cruddy slowing flow even more. The swirl filter can handle higher flows and seems to work better at about 10 gallons per min. Although, it also works pretty well at just 5gpm. Another factor worth mentioning is that I am cleaning the net tanks more often. This also has a big effect on water clarity. I’m cleaning them about every 7-10 days. Whereas, before I was doing it every 2 weeks or so.

Buncha manure, I tell ya

I was so excited the day that my coworker, Jose, dropped off a load of horse manure for the worms and I was there to film it. I realize watching a load of manure being dumped isn’t for everybody. I sure like it, though.