Mahanaim, Haiti Aquaponics Part 5

Progress continued today as we finished all the drainage plumbing and also completed the rebar assembly for the in-ground fish tank. We could not procure any PVC primer for the plumbing so we just used a liberal amount of PVC cement, hopefully it will hold forever. I asked the owner of the local hardware store why they do not have any primer and he told me that he has never used it and everything would be ok. So I am banking on that.

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Crew framing the fish tank with re-bar

This system is going to be a work of art when it is completed. The covering for the fish tank is quite large and will serve as a sitting area and heat refuge for students and system operators. The fish tank will appear more as a recreational pond but will be a functioning “raceway” type culture unit, eventually with sliding dividers to separate different age groups of fish. We plumbed the drain lines with intent for expansion so we have pipe clean outs on both ends of the growing beds and future drain lines for additional growing beds will be extended from the clean out ports.

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Drain pipes in position.

It is becoming apparent why growing various crops can be so difficult in Haiti. As the crew was digging the huge pit for the fish tank, you could see that no matter how deep you dig, there is an abundance of rocks. So many rocks that digging is extremely difficult and you have to use a pick axe just to break up the soil. The soil holds very little water, the climate is scorching hot, and irrigation water must be applied by hand to the entire field. I noticed that the only crops I have seen traveling all through Haiti are mostly bananas, plantains, okra, beans and castor beans. The bananas root very deep and do not require as much attention as a shallow rooted vegetable. The okra can tolerate very hot climates and the beans are mostly planted underneath the bananas the provide shade. I’m sure this contributed to the soil fertility because they are legumes, but they grow rather leggy looking for sunlight. If we can show that alternative forms of agriculture work here, it will be very beneficial in increasing the diversity of crops that can be grown.

In industrialized nations it can be difficult to have a profitable aquaponics business because the marketing of different crops is challenging. In Haiti there is very little high quality produce…period. If you have high quality vegetables and fish, and can find transportation to the right markets, you will not have any trouble selling out. The challenge is finding the capital to invest in the construction and ongoing operational costs. It is possible to run a system with no electricity if someone can manually pull buckets up from the fish tank by way of a pulley and fill the beds several times a day. This may seem very labor intensive but farmers in Haiti already have much labor to do in their gardens such as back breaking cultivation of soil, weeding and watering. This system we are building is modeled after the IAVS system invented my Dr. mark McMurtry from North Carolina State University in the mid eighties. We so far do not have access to builders grade sand but we are trying to find a similar gravel type medium. I have spoken with Mark over the phone twice and he was very helpful in giving me suggestions on how such a system could be operated in Haiti, as he did extensive work all around the world, including rural areas of Africa. If you didn’t know Mark McMurtry was the inventor of what people now call the “flood and drain” aquaponics system.

To finish the day I went out on the road with our Haitian friend Carlos who took me to several stores looking for tissue paper and gasoline. Every single stop I got many comments about how I look like Jesus. I find this hilarious and this also happens to me in the states. It is not intentional but I am in a heavy metal band and when you are in Haiti, a white guy with long hair and a beard, you will get many Jesus remarks. One teenager actually came up to me and said “Jesus please forgive me for my sins”, as he then proceeded to laugh with his friends. I laughed and said, “there is no hope for you my son, I am sorry”

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Crew starting to frame the growing beds with lumber to pour the concrete.

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