The day has finally arrived, I have my FULL AP up and running!!! Whoo hoooooo!!!!
Originally, the plan was for 6 months from start to finish… well… almost made it
1 year and 11 months later, my full AP grow space is now complete… WHEW!!! Not that I’m one to say anything is ever completely over.. its the journey, not the destination right?… Right!?!?!
I was able to determine that for the last 2 grow beds, I was gonna need roughly 1.2 tons of cinder/lava rock to fill those beds. Now originally I thought about having this delivered, but as with all things, there was a monkey wrench in that plan, they informed me that because this is the start of the busy season, I would not get my rock delivered till Monday! Whaaaa!?!?!
Well, as you can guess, that will just not do! A man with a plan (along with a 1 year delay) is not going to stand for another delay of 3 days! I will be at work, I cannot wait till the following weekend.. so I made an effort to take the old pick up truck and haul the last of my material myself.
Now let me just say, 1.2 tons in the bed of a 1/2 ton pickup that is 35 years old is an experience! I NEVER went over 35 miles per hour, because the drop in my rear was quite impressive, let me tell you!
Still, the old girl did herself justice and got the rock media home without bottoming out, a flat, the bed disintegrating, the tail gate busting open and spilling its content, etc. etc. She came through with flying colors and I love that old beast even more as a result!
Once home, grabbed the wheel barrel and started shoveling it out of the bed, into the WB and hauling it to the beds. This took all of close to 4 hours from start to finish, but it was work well done, the beds are filled, the siphons are doing their jobs and now the fish tank is a nice rusty Kool Aid
This is of course normal. Had this happen when I got the first two beds installed. Eventually the sediment will settle and the water will clear naturally.
In order to accommodate the additional flow needed for the beds, I had to completely shut off my excess ‘pressure valve’ completely. Normally I was using this to aerate the water in the tank, but now with 4 beds siphoning off at random, there is more than enough water returning to the tank via the 4 inch pipe at any given time to keep things properly oxygenated. Although, I am considering adding a DIY Venturi to the pressure valve. The reason is mainly because I like projects. With the main system completed its now time to give considerations to the finer details
As mentioned before in Part 2, I am planning on replacing the hoop house with a Pergola. A materials plan is in the works and I plan on posting updates with regards to that as well as the Venturi and the addition of a swirl filter to the mix.
Lots of plans, lots of ideas, and plenty of motivation!
I was able to make some fantastic progress this weekend. Got the new grow beds lined, plumbed and did an initial fill of the beds to check for leaks and to make sure the siphon’s were doing their job. All in all, aside from a few extra trips to the hardware store for some missing parts, some sore muscles and finding that I was a bit short on the lava rock to fill the beds completely, this weekend went by without much incident.
Next weekend I’ll have the additional lava rock shipped and added to the beds (what lava rock I did have on hand was good enough to fill about 2/3rds of just 1 bed). I’m also planning on taking on the next stage of my AP build, which will be to replace the hoop house with a pergola. The first stage of this little endeavor will be to start first with a bit of re-organizing some of the 1″ rip rap that I used to create a flooring for the AP. I’m going to start by shortening the width of the existing rock base by about 3-4 feet. Originally I had though I would be building a total of 8 grow beds, as I’ve found, 4 is going to be more than adequate for me needs. So I’m going to move the base that would’ve been under the other 4 beds and use that to surround my fish tank.
The reason for this is simple, 1. it gives a more aesthetic look to the tank, 2. it helps complete the tie in with the grow beds and 3. I normally need to top off my tank about 2-4 barrels a month. Sometimes, I step away to grab some other material, I forget I’m filling the barrel and it spills over, creating a lovely mud pit that my dog loves to trample around it. So that’s gotta go!
The hoop was always going to be a temporary structure, and it has served its use and well, but it iss a bit of an eyesore. Ultimately, the backyard is in need of a total revamp. The Aquaponics ‘Greenhouse’ was always meant to serve as a strong focal point to the north of the yard.. so now that the AP build is nearing completion, it is time to work on the other elements that will tie in with it.. starting with the Pergola.
For those not familiar with Pergola’s, I’ve got a few I can show you that give you some idea of what I’m looking to do.
The new growbeds will effectively double my overall systems grow area to about 96SF from the original 48SF. For a family of 2, this will be more than adequate
The new beds are to the east of my current ones and have finally been moved on to the support blocks and leveled. My next step will be to get the liner inserted, creation of two additional siphons and then finishing up on the plumbing. Due to the grading of the yard, the new beds will be roughly 6 inches higher than the first two. This works to my benefit as the output pipe needs to maintain a good angle to get the outflow back to the fish tank.
The fish seem to be doing well. Switched up to Goldfish after my first batch of Talapia died due to a parasite in the system (my best guess). Overall, the system has been performing splendidly! It has fully matured and can be readily seen with the strong growth going on in the first two beds.
I’ve been supplementing the system every two weeks with Seaweed extract to make sure extra nutrients are getting to the plants. I started doing this about 6 weeks back after seeing that my peas were looking a little on the ‘pasty’ side. So far, the Seaweed appears to be working quite well
New plans are in the works to start in on a worm farm and creating my own ‘Worm Tea’ to help replace the Seaweed extract. I did add in worms to my growbeds and they are munching away happily, so I’m going to see about grabbing a few more and trying to raise a bit of my own. This will also double in the creation of worm castings to be added in later via some wicking beds that I’d like to use for root based veggies like carrots, yams, potatoes, etc.
In the interim, I’ve taken a stab at growing many things in the Aquaponics greenhouse. Some meeting with great success (eggplant, beets, radishes, leafy greens, kale, marigolds, cabbages, basil).. others, not so much (squash, watermelon, red peppers, strawberries). Lessons learned from this past 6 months include the following:
- Aquaponics, like soil farming is dependent on ‘when to plant’. Just because you grow in an AP greenhouse, does not give one licence to grow anything at any given time.
- If at first you kill off you first batch of fish, try, try again! I lost all of my Talapia within the span of a 3 month period. My best guestimate is it had to do with a parasite getting in to the system. Knowing that different fish react different ways, I switched up my next batch of fish and went with Gold Fish. Benefits include that they are all still alive, plus, they are much easier to track in the tank due to their gold color. Not edible of course, but my main focus is on the greens as I collect on those items almost every other day. With fish, you are looking at a harvest every 9-12 months. I found it best just to keep them happy and healthy little poopers. The plants are the real reward
- A greenhouse in Phoenix may seem like a good idea at first, but there is really only 1 to 2 months to worry about a cold snap causing frostbite, so it is best just to cover my plants (I’ve been using my shade cloth).
- The other thing I’ve learned, is that a PVC Canoli in my backyard is a bit of an eyesore. Plans are in the works to swap that PVC/film structure with a Pergola to add an aesthetic to the backyard as well as add to the value of our home (with a Pergola I can also still utilize my shade cloth in the Summers, as that is where the real danger lies each year to my plants).
As with all updates, this needs to be a good one after such a long stretch of inactivity. So, thankfully, the Holidays have been kind. I made a concerted effort to break out my tools and get cracking at expanding my grow space!
What’s that you say???
Why yes, I have deemed it necessary to expand my existing grow area by doubling it!
What you see below is essentially 2 additional beds that are 3′W x 8′L x 1′T, similar to the two original beds I made with some slight modifications to help increase strength in the corner sections. Once more, this is very simple construction… 2 x 4′s, OSB board and a lot of deck screws.
The next steps will be to cut a hole in each for the siphon and overflow. Then add in some pond liner.
After that will be setting up the foundations, leveling and finalizing the plumbing of the beds. Then adding the lava rock.
More to come!!!
Low and Behold! I’m posting again!
Yes, tis true.. I’ve not posted in quite a while and for that, my apologies.
Life has a way of making certain things a priority.. for me.. that includes a variation of different jobs, financial instability and lastly a mass fish die off
I guess you cannot be a true AP’er till you have a few of these kick you in the butt while learning the ropes. The last started right around the beginning of May, with my last fish finally kicking the bucket mid-June.
As with any concerned farmer, I tried a number of things to see about stopping the problem. I changed out the water, did a full tank cleaning, checked on my waters oxygen levels, I even tried ‘salting’ the fish a couple of times based on recommendations from some forums I routinely visit (for those not familiar with salting, essentially you dip a fresh water fish in a concentrated solution of salt water for a period of about 5 minutes, this is done to hopefully kill any parasites that might be effecting the fish as well as help in the health of their scales).
Alas, none of these items remedied the problem and I eventually lost my whole batch.
So, I decided to start on a new tack… fish out, crawdads in. I switched from using Talapia to Crawdads as my main supplier of fertilizer for my plants. I’m currently on finishing up my first month and so far so good! I’ve not had any die-offs and these little suckers do a grand job of keeping the tank clean!
Currently I’ve got about 10 in my system, with plans on adding about 20 more. I started with a small batch to see how they would fare. Water temps have been between 85-95 degrees.. which had me worried that the temps might be a shade too high. I also wanted to make sure I got the Ph levels at a range that was comfortable for the plants and mudbugs (now hovering at 6.9).
I’m also a shade late, but we decided on a replanting of a number of items in the grow beds. Most of what was there were mostly winter plants and the heat did not treat them well. So a clean sweep was decided upon.
Up next, I plan on finishing the last two of my grow beds and then switching from a hoop house to a more aesthetically pleasing Pergola to protect the plants.
Stay tuned! More posts to come
For this edition of the build, it will come in two parts. This first part was essentially to get the shade cloth down and the opaque solar film up. Unfortunately I did this a bit too late with the recent cold snap and so some plants were lost due to frost. As this year is essentially a trial run of learning the ropes of AP, I’m now realizing what times of the year are best to make the transition from Summer to Winter. Obviously waiting till January was missing the ball by a fairly long shot. Totally on me
So for this weekends project, got my buddy John over to my place (cause believe me you don’t want to tackle covering a greenhouse all by your lonesome) and we knocked out getting the sides attached with the film. As you can see the end frames are still needing to be trimmed up and attached properly, hence Part 2
But for now, with the film secured from being blown off by
the wind and getting it tightened down fairly good, I should be able to get the end frames wrapped up by next weekend, while still being able to take advantage of the solar thermal properties of the film being put in place.
That point was proven about an hour after we had placed the film and got it cut to length. My friend John and I went inside and you could immediately notice a significant increase in temperature from the outside air. Today
(Sunday) marks the first FULL day the film will be in place and I’m interested in seeing how well it will help to keep the water temperature up a bit for the fish.
As I’ve got other items on my plate for today, getting this post up is the next best thing to getting those end frames complete (which will come next weekend, so stay tuned for that update).
Well, I’m glad to say that I’ve finally been able to get back to the ‘build’ portion on my Aquaponics Greenhouse!
Hard to believe its been nearly 3 months since I’ve had the opportunity to really get back towards the building portion of the green house.
The main reason with the delay has had to do with finances and usual things that life like’s to throw at you to put a kink in your productivity, but thankfully I’ve been given a respite, so now back to the build
As it is now December, most people in the northern hemisphere are experiencing winter. I am not among them. Living in Phoenix, snow is not an option, but we have been able to dip into the 30′s during the night at some times. During the day our temps have been holding steady in the 60′s, so we’ve been more fortunate then most with regards to harsh weather (that’ll be made up for during the summer). With that comes keeping the tanks water at a reasonable temperature for the fish. At this point it has been achieved using some large aquarium heaters and they’ve done a fine job at keeping the fish alive. Their appetites however are another issue,they have greatly decreased due to the waters drop in temperature. With that comes a decrease in growth.
Up till this point as the greenhouse goes, I’ve been using shade cloth (which was a necessity during the summer months). Ideally this should have been taken down in late October or early November and replaced with actual greenhouse film to help retain heat during the nights that can be collected during the day.
So now that I’m back on the build, that is now my intent, to get the greenhouse’s end frames built and the applying the greenhouse film so as to help keep the heat in and the cold out.
As with the whole of my build, I am not going by any set plans. I find ideas online (mainly from Google images) and then pull elements that I like along the way. So with the end frames I first determined the door width by measuring where the inner wall of the greenhouse meets the grow beds and then measuring that out to just where the grow beds inner wall ends. In the end it gave me a door width of roughly 3 1/2 feet, which is more than adequate to get in and out of. Door height is not bad either, I do have to dip my head a bit upon entry, but its acceptable. Once inside I have plenty of head clearance.
After looking at how others have put their end frames together, I decided to mount the outer frame of the door to the 2×6 Cedar base and use that as the bottom part of the frame for the door versus adding in another 2×4 piece along the bottom. Mounting the frame was done using some deck plates and screws. Attaching it to the top I used a metal tape which can be easily wrapped around the PVC piping, then screwed securely to the door frame itself. In this way I eliminate any sharp ends that might rip in to the greenhouse film.
To the sides of the door I also added in a couple of 2×4′s at roughly 45 degree angles to add additional support to the door. As you can see to one side, the pieces are not aesthetically the same, I had to shorten one sides support in order to provide clearance the PVC piping that enters/exits the greenhouse.
Next up will be to build the actual door itself. For this it is simple 2×4 construction. Build the rectangle with enough clearance for the hinges and latch, then add a 45 degree cross member inside the door to maintain the doors rigidity. Later I’ll add some seals to help keep the inside as sealed from the outside as I can to maintain internal temperature.
On the other side of the green house I had contemplated adding a second door so as to have access from both ends. Ultimately I decided against this as I want to make sure that side will be able to accommodate a small swamp cooler for the summer months.
All in all, some good progress. Like most things on this build, it just surprises me how much better it looks than what I think it will look, ultimately because I do not consider myself a big DIY’er, but this project just might prove me wrong
This weekend has been a plethora of activity. Rather that the typical building progress with my greenhouse build, this deals with demolition (in a sense). The yard has had a number of old dead bushes lining the back wall for more than a year. I finally made the time to get cracking on that particular item for getting the backyard back into shape.
The first item was to get the branches knocked down or cut off and following that getting the root balls removed. All in all there are 13 of these pesky bushes that I’m contending with. Thankfully I was able to get the branches taken care of and will follow up on digging out the root balls next week. I also took it upon myself to prune the tree a bit as it was getting on my nerves.
Needless to say this section of the yard now looks 1000% better than before. Cleaned up, raked, it really opened up the area. The plan of course is to get this area ready for future updates. We have a number of ideas in mind… rain water harvesting, solar water heater, compost pile, black soldier fly incubator, and possibly an anaerobic digester. The other plans include the typical backyard upgrades. We’ve got ideas for a deck, an outdoor fireplace, dedicated BBQ area, jucuzzi, arbor, assorted potted plants, some xeriscaping ideas, etc. etc.
Updates will be posted per project as we’re able to work on knocking out each in succession. We’re planning on speaking with a landscape designer next weekend and will have to determine how best to proceed with updating the existing irrigation system, but it should make for a urban farm/yard when completed.
No, we are not made of money.. most of these items will be taken on piecemeal when funds permit and as much of the cost will be offset by doing the labor ourselves. But its exciting to know that following next weekend, we can get cracking on our ideas!
I’ll keep you updated!
The Downtown Urban Farming Initiative (or DUFi for short) is a project I came upon through a discussion I had with my mother-in-law whose company is helping to assist in making it a reality.
In essence, it brings in local agriculture to otherwise derelict plots of land and makes the area viable once more by providing the ability to grow healthy food choices, promote good health and spur economic growth through entrepreneurship and tourism.
What makes this initiative so unique is that unlike ones that have been implemented in large cities such as New York and Detroit with success… smaller towns, with fewer resources are often unable to start – let alone sustain – these programs due to lack of direction, limited financial resources and a shortage of dedicated human capital. Their approach is a distributed urban farm program aiming to resolve the weaknesses of other programs by engaging small businesses as key partners in the downtown farm.
Right now, their latest project is being modeled and implemented in Historic Downtown Bryan, Texas. Downtown Bryan is passionate about supporting and advancing commerce, culture, and community. They actively work towards these goals through economic development, support of local art and culture, and community engagement. This environment creates the perfect conditions for the incubation of the Distributive Urban Farming Initiative and the creation of living classrooms that will serve both the local community as well as others seeking to replicate the model.
Providing local produce to local restaurants is just one aspect of their approach to spurring economic activity around the gardens. The gardens enhance lots that are otherwise unused and create attractive spaces for special events, providing another source of revenue to support farm operations.
The project however does need to get the ball rolling and needs pledge support to make it happen. The expansion will only be funded if at least $15,000 is pledged by Dec. 9.
I’m asking for all in the blog space willing to make a great gesture, to give a little support this holiday season to make this idea a reality
I’d say that as AP’ers the biggest factor in what we build (and for that matter maintain) comes down to two simple components, space & money. After going through my first build there were many things I’d liked to have known prior to my putting stuff together that would’ve made my progress a bit simpler and with less headaches (both in design and cost). So I feel that the best thing I can do is share those lessons with the community at large, in hopes that some of what I share will help those of you with your own builds.
First get a good handle on the size of what you wish to build before buying a thing. This ultimately comes down to how much grow bed space your going to have overall. If you’re indoors, this is going to be small most likely, so determine the square footage of grow bed space, then that’ll determine what you need as far as the number of fish and finally the size of your tank.
For example, say you have a grow bed that is 3 feet by 5 feet by 1ft = 15 sq ft. With that you can determine the amount of fish you can have for that system. In this case a safe number that I used was 84% of 1 sq ft of grow bed space to 1 fish (so 15 sq ft x 0.84 = 12.6 rounded up for 13 fish). For that same number of fish, the size of your tank can be determined by roughly 2 sq ft of water per fish (this is at a minimum, the more water you can use in your system, the better, as this will help stabilize temps, nutrients, Ph, etc.) 13 fish = 26 gallons minimum (again, if you can provide a larger tank with the same number of fish, all the better for your system).
Now you may ask why I went with these figures? The answer lies in that as a beginner I wanted a few things right off the bat, stability with my system, as well as knowing I’ll have a good ratio of plants to the amount of fish poo. If you put in too many fish, they’ll produce too much poo and the fish essentially die from toxicity because there are not enough plants/bacteria to help clean the water. Some will argue my findings and that’s fine, but I’m basing this off my own system and have had great results so far with headaches being kept to a minimum. As the fish mature, they will produce more poo over the same period of time.. food for thought.
These are going to be items that will continue to be used in your system for the duration of your use of it. Fish food, seaweed extract (nutrient booster), testing kits, sometimes starter plants (if you decide you don’t wish to start from seed). All of these items will be ongoing, so if you find these items with a low overall cost prior to your build, you will save money over the long run. Plus consistency in the products you use will not throw a potential kink in your system down the road that is unforseen.
ONE TIME PURCHASES
The pump I chose was an Aquascape’s Aquaforce 2700 Solids Handling Pond Pump which pumps 2700 gallons per minute (on level ground). I over-sized my pump in order to take advantage of the fact that this can still pump out a great deal of water even after it is pumped vertically by nearly 14 feet (flow volume decreases considerably over various heights for all pumps, so be sure to check this when determining your own designs). For me I wanted something powerful, with a good head height, had a built in screen to keep the fish out and one that didn’t chug down electricity like a demon (pump is rated at 147 watts continuous). This pump also gives me the opportunity to add additional grow beds down the road.
For your own pumps, determine a good value based on water volume needing to be moved, head height (vertical flow of water over distance) and the wattage rating and of course how that all relates to price.
Here is another place where you can build using scrap materials and put together your own solar water heaters to heat your tanks throughout the day (mainly for outdoor AP setups, though it can be used inside if you provide a good enough pump to get the water from the SWH to your tank).
For alternative heaters, I went with EHEIM Jager Aquarium Thermostat Heater 300W. I did this primarily because I did not think to plan ahead and build my own SWH system for my tank. These heaters are rated up to 260 gallons each, I bought two for my 840 gallon tank. Turns out, you’re more likely to save a good deal of money by buying multiple smaller heaters than one gargantuan one. Plus, they can be spaced throughout the tank to heat multiple areas at the same time. Each has its own temperature regulator, so when reached they will automatically turn off. These are VERY important for those in colder climates. Mine are huge to be sure, but you can find heaters sized to fit your particular tank setups. The main negative remark I have for these is that they will eat a bit into your electricity bill. If you can build/plan your own SWH setup before hand, you will definitely start saving from day one!
BUILDING MATERIALS FOR GROW BEDS/FLOATING RAFTS/NFT
These are another area where real savings can be had!
- Always buy used or recycled materials. Craigslist and FreeCycle were two places I went to find materials from people that were just throwing the stuff out! This can be wood, PVC, cement mix and other building products. Start here and stock pile the materials you will need for your build ahead of time.
- For anything that cannot be ‘salvaged’, again shop around online (out of state, nix the tax, save 5-10%).
- Another recommendation is that if you have to build with new materials, look at speaking to a contractor to buy the materials for you. These guys are able to get materials ‘at cost/wholesale’ versus retail. So you arrange a fee for them to use their shopping power to your advantage. The savings here can be as much as 50%
A WORD ON TANKS
This is a special note to those who plan to build outdoors and make their own tanks… USE THE GROUND!!! i.e. don’t build a tank.. dig one. If I had it all over to do again, I would’ve saved a considerable amount of time, money and sweat if I had just dug a hole (possibly lined it with concrete) and then just laid a pond liner in said hole. Much easier to do, much less time spent, much cheaper option.
A FINAL WORD
So as with all things AP, its a learning process. I’m still learning myself, there is much more to share.. and I feel that all of us have an innate need to be a bit more self sufficient in our lives.
I WISH YOU GOOD LUCK IN YOUR OWN ENDEAVORS!
Drop me a line if you have questions. I’ll do my best to answer them