Another Successful Celebrate Sustainability Event

Well, it has taken us awhile to write about it, but our Fourth Annual Celebrate Sustainability Event at Mountain Sky Ranch was a huge success.  We had beautiful weather, great attendance, and a good time was had by all.  We had a handful of vendors and exhibitors, and we filled the day with tours, lectures and our famously good raffle give-aways.  And, as last year we capped off the amazing day with almost three hours of blues and other awesome music from Davey and the Blue Dog.

A highlight was our newly operating commercial scale Feed in a Box system, where we are now producing over 1000 lb. per day of delicious livestock micro-greens (sometimes called fodder).  We have a 40 foot long shipping container that has been used for our building for our proprietary system.  Dustin Dorband designed this incredible system, and we have now been successfully operating it and getting daily nutritious livestock feed for over two months.

There were hayrides for the kids, fishing all day in the ponds and a recycled box building center.  Several young folks caught their first fish ever.  What a joy.  The baby alpacas were a treat to see and guests were able to see our aquaponics systems functioning also.

We are looking forward to year five in 2013 and many years to come.  Come and visit us when you get a chance.

Myth Busters from Dr. D

You have all seen the show on Discovery Channel called Myth Busters, right? They pick topics like – can Jaws really bite through a boat, or can you put high explosives inside a cement truck mixer and clean it out. Then they use made for TV experimentation to either prove or invalidate the “myth”.

To some extent, in a much more programmatic manner, that is what we are doing on a daily basis in our research program at IOE. So what are the myths we have busted? Specifically in the infant technology of aquaponics, where we have been conducting a substantial amount of research over the last three years, we have at least raised some questions about a variety of myths. I know that as you read some of these you are gig to gasp, or maybe say –
heresy!! But anyway, here goes:

– trout will not survive in aquaculture systems when temperatures consistently stay above 25 C.
– multi-species fish culture in the same system is not practical.
– limited spectrum fluorescent lighting will not work efficiently with indoor edible plant production.
– water quality in aquaculture systems cannot be effectively managed by simple bio-mimicry methodology.

Well, how do you like us now? How can we call ourselves scientists? Hold on, let us defend ourselves. In the next period of time we will provide very detailed and scientifically validated data regarding the above conclusions. You just need to keep coming back to these posts and see how we save or reputations. We hope you will give us this chance. You will be glad you did. Till next time, just remember, you cannot call yourself a fish farmer until you have killed a million fish.

Science Isn't Always Fun

Have you ever had one of those days where everything just seems to go bad?  Well,  that is what the last 24 hours  has seemed like to me.  I left Colorado yesterday evening for a long driving road trip to Alberta, Canada.  First, the rental car company gave me a very hard time about my rental situation.  I used my GPS to pick my driving route – shortest time – and I must have found every construction project in Montana that slowed my progress by hours.  There was no cell coverage right when I was supposed to be making an important conference call.  Oh, and then there was the email this morning from one of our scientists in Colorado saying that he was sad to tell me that a tragedy had happened with the rainbow trout in one of our aquaponic systems!

I guess our Facility Manager, Dave, had found a large number of fish floating on this particular system when he got to our reseach building at our Meadow Hollow campus this morning.  He observed that the water pump on the system was not working, and when he checked the power plug he found it was not firmly plugged into the power outlet.  When he pushed it into the outlet the pump immediately started working.  After further review the guys determined that all but one trout in the system had died.  So they measured and examined all the dead fish for any obvious issues and did not find any.  The apparent cause of death was oxygen deprivation.

Meadow Hollow System 4 on June 15, 2010.  Fish kill due to pump issue duing the night of June 17.

Meadow Hollow System 4 on June 15, 2010. Fish kill due to pump issue duing the night of June 17.

Now, the rest of the story as Paul Harvey would say.  We had a very severe wind storm yesterday.  The power outlet in this greenhouse-like, fabric covered building is on the exterior wall that had been rattled and rolled all day yesterday in the wind storm.  Even though this system was working properly when it was last observed yesterday about 14 hours before the observation of the fish kill today, it is very likely that the pup plug had been jostled loose from the outlet during the storm, after the crew had left the site. 

So, obiously, we have learned a lesson from this circumstance.  We should put on our checklist to check all plugs of our systems at the end of every day.  What else could we have done differently?  This system has two airstones, and in almost three years of operation, there have never been critically low oxygen levels before (no pump failures prior to this).  Should the system have more airstones?  Should the stocking density have been less?  Maybe yes to both of those questions.  Lets examine this further. 

So as scientists,  what can we learn from this unfortunate situation.  Well fortunately, our scientists do a very good job of collecting daily data on this system and all of our systems.  We know that oxygen levels were adequate for the system prior to the pump failure.  We have an underwater camera in this system, and observations yesterday revealed healthy fish and no unusual water quality situations (excess suspended solids).  These fish were aggressively feeding, and the water temperatures had been consistently been close to optimal for the last several weeks (15 – 17 degrees C).  Fish growth had been exceptional since these fish were stocked into this system. 

Lets examine the economics of this loss.  These fish cost us $50.00 to purchase as fingerlings (80 fish initially).  They had consumed about $7.00 of food since they were stocked, and used about $8.00 of electrical costs for the pump and air stones.  Labor costs for their management to this point were probably about $10.00.  With the anticipated upcoming environmental conditions anticipated for the system these fish would have been harvestable with an additional investment of about $15.00 in food, labor and electricity.  Therefore the total costs from stocking to  harvest would have been ~$90.00.  We would value these fish at harvest at about $175.00 ($5.00/lb. for 70 fish at 1/2 lb. each average).  Therefore our net profit would have been $85.00.  If our stocking density would have been 50% of what we used we would have made net profits of about $30.00 (remember labor and power costs are really no different for the lower stocking density).  Now if we restock at the same stocking density we originally used and we expend the same costs to harvest, we would basically break even for the fish over the course of the two fish production periods.  If we completed a second production period with the 50% density we would cumulatively make $60.00 compared to the breakeven for the failure and success combo.  This would seem to be a no-brainer, right?  We should have reduced the stocking density!!

But wait.  Do we know that the fish with lower stocking density would have survived the short term pump failure/  I do not think that we do.  Also, aren’t we forgetting something?  What would 50% fish stocking density do to our plant production?  Again, we do not know, but I suspect it would greatly reduce our plant production.  Where are the profits from our plants under the two scenarios? 

Well, we will be restocking this system next week with a density similar to what we previously used.  We will be quantifying our plant production at the end of our fish production period, so we will have those economics.  Then we will be able to run another experiment with the 50% stocking density and we can then quantify the plant production under those conditions.

So wow, this current tragedy will actually give us the chance to learn more in the long run.  Our bad day today will become a contributor to great days to come as we use science to learn more about this exciting aquaponics technology!!

Some Endings! But Some Really Great Beginnings Also!

This is a big day for all of us here at the Institute of Ecolonomics (IOE).  Starting today, we will become regular BLOG ADDICTS!! We have been doing so much at our Northern Colorado Ecolonomic Development campuses that we felt it was time to begin to communicate with you on a very timely basis.

We are going to start this increased and improved communication process by using our Ecolonomic Life Blog, and as time goes on we will be adding other media as additional communication tools (podcasts, webinars, subscriber based research sites, etc.).  There will be new information avaiable here and in other places almost daily, so please check here often.  We want to make sure we are adding value to your lives as we continue our efforts.

What about the Endings?  Well we are ending our drought of inconsistent communication for one.  We are also ending our silence about some of the really exciting projects we have been pursuing for the last couple of years. 

So lets get to it.  What are we up to here at IOE?  Well, we are working hard to establish ourselves as a private non-profit research and ecolonomic development business that can assist many entrepeneurs suscessfully launch and build their businesses that will improve the planet.  How are we doing that?  For one thing, we have developed some world class incubation locations here in Northern Colorado.  Today I am going to begin to introduce one of those campus facilities - the Campion Warehouse.

The Campion Warehouse is located on the South side of the city of Loveland, CO, which is about 45 minutes north of Denver at the base of the Rockies and just east of Rocky Mountain National Park.  This facility is 5000 square feet in size with about 1000 square feet of offices and conference room facilities, and 4000 square feet of an indoor laboratory. IOE uses the office area for our corporate headquarters offices which is shared with Mountain Sky Group, LLC.  The pictures below show some of the office and conference areas in the Campion Warehouse. Oh yes, there are three of our really key people in these pictures – Melissa Morris our unblievable Office Manager and my Personal Assistant, Paul Golden our most recent addition who just received his Masters in Engineering from Stanford, and Matt DeMassino who is our lead aquatic biologist.

Melissa in our Reception Area

Melissa in our Reception Area

Paul (left) and Matt in the conference room
Paul (left) and Matt in the conference room

In the laboratory we are doing cutting edge research on indoor sustainable agriculture technologies.  Currently we are working with aquaculture, aquaponics, coral culture, seed germination in alternative systems, low energy lighting alternatives, vericulture and innovative water treatment technologies.  We conduct ongoing experiments using acceptable and reproducible scientific methods. Dr. Wayne Dorband, IOE President, directs this research activity that is managed daily by a group of five scientists and our associated construction group.  At this point we are conducting the following specific experiments as well as others at the Campion Warehouse:

  • Effects of worm additions to substrate based aquaponic systems (System 1).
  • Efficacy of fish species polyculture  in small scale commercial recirculating aquaculture systems (Systems 1-4).
  • Feasibility of rotating bed hydroponic plant production for commercial systems (System 9).
  • Indoor aquaponic plant production using low energy alternative lighting (Systems 1-9).
  • Potential for using aquaponics as a filtration source for home aquarioum systems (System 8).
  • Potential of culturing South American Pacu in relatively low temperature environments (Aqua System).

As the results of these experiments are obtained, we will briefly describe them here in this format, and we will be publishing more formal scientific reports detailing the experimental outcomes.  We have been conducting research in the Campion Warehouse for almost three years, and we have conducted close to fifty different experiments like the ones described above during that time.  Again, we will be describing results of those efforts through our future reports. In the pictures that follow you will get a glimpse of some of the current systems (see the experiment descriptions above)  that we have here at the Campion Warehouse. We will be providing more detailed photos in future posts.

System 1 at Campion Warehouse.  300 gal. fish tank with trout and tilapia. Flood and Drain Aquaponics.

System 1 at Campion Warehouse. 300 gal. fish tank with trout and tilapia. Flood and Drain Aquaponics.


System 8 at Campion Warehouse.  Raft aquaponics with minimal bacteriological surface area and T12 flourescent lighting.

System 8 at Campion Warehouse. Raft aquaponics with minimal bacteriological surface area and T12 flourescent lighting.

System 9 at the Campion Warehouse.  A Volksgarden rotating culture system from our partners in Canada.

System 9 at the Campion Warehouse. A Volksgarden rotating culture system from our partners in Canada.

System 3 at the Campion Warehouse.  Flood and drain, with sump and fish tank above.

System 3 at the Campion Warehouse. Flood and drain, with sump and fish tank above.


We feel we have a large obligation to the planet right now in this critical time in history.  We know that many are probably doing more than we are, but we are trying to do the best that we can.  We look forward to sharing what we learn with you and hope you can appreciate what we are doing. Please comment on our reports and give us experiences of your own.  Till next time.

Joel Salatin Speaks in Fort Collins

Well, it is way to early in the morning, and I have already been awake for over two hours.  I just woke up from a sound sleep and could not go back to sleep.  Why you might ask?  Well, I had been dreaming about space travel, and as I suddenly woke up, I was immediately thinking about the incredible seminar I had attended last night in Fort Collins.  Joel Salatin, notorieous for his recent appearances in the movies Fresh and Food Inc.  was hosted by the Front Range Permaculture Institute at the Lincoln Center.  What a great experience.  This man has got it right!!!  He is the true ecolonomics expert of today. 

Here are just a few quotes from him that I think are cool:

  • I am a Christian, Liberitarian, Environmentalist, Capitalist, lunatic.
  • The industrial food system is cracking.
  • May your pork be rose colored and your rain barrels be full.
  • The measure of an open and free society is how it treats its non-conformists.
  • Innovation has to be birthed at a prototype size.

This guy is as Randy Jackson would say – The Bomb.

You should google him – Joel Salatin – and check out many of the things he has done and that he promotes.  You will not be disappointed.

Well I am Going to Try this Again!!

I am clearly very bad at using this cool tool.  I just spent over an hour composing a really neat post and then I went to publish it and spam, bam, thank you mam it was gone.  Vanished.  Off into space.  I editted it, I draft saved it about four times, I asked the web person for help several times, I previewed it , I editted it and then – poof it was gone.

Have you ever had this experience.  I know I am not alone.  Well sometimes that is also the case with things we do to be ecolonomic.  We try hard, we get help, we do all the right things and then poof what we do seems to be gone.  Well we have to get up off the carpet and try again.  That is what I am doing now – trying again.  I am bound and determined to work to make the planet better.  I will do it.  I will.  You can too!! Lets work together, and try and fail, and then do it again.  Talk with you later.  I need to go now and think about what I can do next to make the planet better.

IOE Meadow Hollow Greenhouse during our Fall Sustainability Event.  Those tomatoes tasted great!!

IOE Meadow Hollow Greenhouse during our Fall Sustainability Event. Those tomatoes tasted great!!

Understanding effective aquaponics design

Recently, we posted a news article on the development of an effective aquaponics sytem at Mountain Sky Group that is inexpensive and sustainable in nature. Wayne Dorband, Ph.D., and George Hetfield have much to be excited about; I encourage you to read the news post. The systems they now have operating and are experimenting with were constructed out of plastic materials that were probably headed for the landfill. Not only did they smartly reuse materials to keep the cost of their project low, the food and fosh they are propducing happen to be excellent.
I hope this technology is something that can be exported to poor families worldwide in need of viable alternatives to help with living.
Understanding a simplified aquaponics system

Understanding a simplified aquaponics system

Illustrated by Whitney Dorband

The Natural Way to Get Rid of Weeds

Dandelions are a very familier weed and seems to really like flower beds and lawns. Photo from Grian Herbs Knowledge Base.

Dandelions are a very familier weed and seems to really like flower beds and lawns. Photo from Grian Herbs Knowledge Base.

If you’ve ever had your own garden you know the dilemma of weeds. They are always getting in the way and can be real pains in the neck (and back). If you don’t really care about the environment then toxic herbicides are the way to go, but they are harmful to more than just those weeds. Herbicide run off is toxic to wild animals and even children who play near the place they were sprayed, not to mention other plants and insects as well. The chemicals can also ruin the soil. The solution is a lot better than getting down on hands and knees and plucking the weeds out though. There are things you can do that are good for the environment and will make those pests a little more manageable. (more…)

Rain, Rain (Don't) Go Away

I’m sitting here, inside, listening to the rain fall. I can hear it distinctly on the roof. It’s a soothing sound. Rather pleasant to just close your eyes and listen. It never really rains here in Colorado. We have had a very wet late spring and early summer. It has rained every afternoon for the last few weeks. I can’t complain really. We need the moisture, but I feel like something can be done with all this water.

A great idea is to have a rain water collection system that can be used to water plants and can even be used in toilettes. This is a great way to conserve water and money. You can easily make your own collection system, or you can buy one. Both of these methods can be found online by doing a simple Google or Yahoo search. I believe that it’s a great idea for water plants, but you must not drink or consume this water in any way. There can be some toxic run off, either from roofs or any other surface that uses chemicals to create it (so quite a few). Now, this is not bad for your plants, because they were getting soaked by the same water anyways. (more…)

Alternatives to Pesticides

The threat of winter frosts are finally over here in Colorado, which means gardeners can get serious. Gardening is a relaxing and fulfilling activity. It is wonderful to see a flower garden grow and bloom into something spectacular with colors shooting everywhere. A vegetable garden satisfies the hunger and the wallet. But, gardens are not all fun and games.

It is impossible to avoid the bugs and rodents that are known to invade a garden. A fence can keep out deer and if installed underground can keep out smaller, burrowing rodents as well. But a fence does nothing for bugs, which can cause an even bigger problem. Tomatoes attract a certain type of bug that kills the plant. Even after a thorough cleaning in fall, the bugs still remain because they live in the ground through the winter. If you plant the tomatoes in the same place the next year the bugs invade and kill the plants again. This is just one of the many examples of how rodents and pests are always a problem to gardens.

Pesticides are an easy fix for these problems. They spray on quickly and they are pretty much hassle-free, but they are not the friendliest for the environment. Pesticide run-off ruins the soil and can kill more than just the bugs. If seepage makes it into any sort of water source, fish and other water dwelling creatures can be affected as well. Pesticides are a major problem, but so are pests. What are you to do?

There are many natural remedies that can be used to protect your plants as well as the environment. Many different types of bugs (like Praying Mantises and lady bugs) will kill harmful bugs and leave your plants alone. There are also certain plants that pests don’t like and will keep them away. These include marigolds and chives. You can either plant these in and around your garden, or create a spray using a mixture of the leaves or petals and water. You can also use a garlic spray, but I have seen plants wrinkle when it was used. These are all environmentally friendly fixes as well as cost effective. You can always research more ideas for organically getting rid of these beasts.

That just covers the bugs, but what about those four legged friends who always seem to want to ruin your plants? Well, I just read an article from BBC about farmers in Israel using owls and other prey birds to get the rodents that enter their fields. All they are doing is building nests and attracting these birds to live near their fields. This is very cost effective and it is a very natural way to get rid of those bothersome animals. I would be curious to see if this would work in small, private gardens.

You can follow this link to learn more about the owls and prey birds in Israel –

Until next time, we hope you will comment on our blogs here the Institute of Ecolonomics, and we ask you to always think about the best things you can be doing for our planet. Have a great day!