Monthly Archives: March 2012

Growing Protein Sources..

When I used to think of gardens, it was in the traditional sense.. fruits and veggies. More and more though I’m coming to a conclusion that I need to also focus on the other half of growing food… proteins.

I’ve never been a fan of humanely killing animals for general consumption. This came after visiting a slaughter house in Greeley, Colorado when I was attending college. When you see it at that scale and the sheer mechanics of it all, it will definitely change your view of how you get the chow on your table. Like most, its much easier to just buy a package of pre-processed meat to serve because of the disconnect one has with ones food nowadays. But now that I’m making a more dramatic leap into cultivating my own foods, it becomes much more apparent that I need to add proteins into the mix and attempt to do so as humanely as possible.

Eggs are our first jump. As no fertilization takes place, our eggs are in essence a simple source of protein that can be repetitively cultivated and not have any negative side effects towards the animals themselves. Our chickens are not for meat consumption, purely for egg laying. The next steps will be to harvest things like fish (on ice), Crayfish, Quinoa, Spirulina, Soy, milk products such as cheese and whey. Other protein bearing foods like nuts and beans can be cultivated as well.

I won’t say I’ll be totally cured of the need for beef. I readily admit that on occasion I’ll head out for a steak every now and again. But hopefully no where near as much as I once used to.

Truth be told, it’ll get much easier as time goes on. We’ve all seen the grocery bills climb in recent years and that trend, like gas prices, is not likely to go back down to more reasonable prices ever again.

Worms? Black Soldier Flies? >Ewww!!!< Wait! – Learn to Love Them!

Anything related to bugs and worms is not going to get much press.. so I’m going to do my fair bit to explain why they are a necessity if you ever wish to have a decent garden.

Worm Composting BinSure there are microbes, fungus and molds that can help to bring about the composting process.. but on a sheer scale of HOW MUCH composting can be done, you really can’t beat the Black Soldier Fly and Worms for their efficiency. Typically you can expect a mature worm/soldier fly composting setup to have a 1 to 1 ratio effectiveness… i.e. 1 pound of worms/flies can process 1 pound a day of organic material into compost. THAT my friends is a lot of compost work!

There are added benefits to using such setups as well. The natural microbes that are found in worm castings you WILL NOT find in processed fertilizers due to the heating/cooling treatments they use in their manufacturing. These microbes are beneficial to plants in that they continue the breakdown of rotting organic matter even after you’ve applied them to your garden, they are not harmed in the digestion of the worms. If anything they are given a layer of protection thanks to the mucus produced by the worms in their castings. Other studies suggest that these microbes also help in fending off disease that would otherwise naturally attack the plants. Sort of like adding white blood cells to your garden mix. Worms are also beneficial in aquaponic gardens by adding another level of processing to the nitrite/nitrate production of your system. They will readily eat the fish waste and produce beneficial worm castings that will help your plants thrive!

Black Soldier Fly’s have an additional benefit as well. Besides just being composting machines, they also produce larvae via reproduction. These larvae can be harvested as a high protein source food for fish, chickens or any other animal that could use additional proteins in their diets. BSF’s are also naturally occurring in most regions. You can get them established using some good old elbow grease and building your own BSF composting/harvester or ordering one online. One place I’ve found that provides a great deal of info is the Black Soldier Fly Blog. Tons of great info on how to setup/build your own or purchase a ready made setup.

Here’s a great example of the effective composting capabilities of Black Soldier Fly’s..

I bring these ideas to your attention simply because some people might understand the idea of composting, but not realize that there are ways to BOOST the composting process by adding in some of nature’s super-troopers into the mix!

Commercial Aquaponics – A Fine Line Between Being Environmentally Friendly and Factory Farm..

I’ve spoken before about how adding sophistication to one’s growing setup can be a recipe for more things that can go wrong. But lets say you do it right.. lets say you keep your balances checked and within a reasonable median of safety, then what? Well you might become exceptional at making an ultra-efficient growing setup. You might also be coming to a crossroads..

The one factor in any aquaponics setup that should be foremost in your mind is that you have living breathing animals that rely on your care. If you are aiming to produce huge numbers of fish, the means by which you achieve that goal can easily go from being a system that provides harmony with the fish, to something more like what you’d see in a factory farm. Granted the fish will be harvested in the end, so the idea would be, “What does it matter if the fish are happy or not?” Well, in the end, that bit is up to the grower. I’m personally of the belief that if you’re going to grow something, whether plant or animal, that you provide an environment that is the best it can be for them.

I’d like to provide this video of a commercial AP setup that is right on that bleeding edge. They are currently able to achieve 1lb of fish per 1 gallon of water through the use of high protein fish feed (which most likely is derived from fish-meal, i.e other fish) but also through the application of liquid oxygen being applied to the system.  Its a spectacular setup.. a good deal of thought did go into this design. But if you look closely at the tanks you can see the density of fish is at a point of being nearly inhumane. At that density it becomes questionable as to whether the setup is environmentally sound or is primarily for profit at the expense of the fish.

I’ll leave it to your own judgement, but I just want to leave you with a final thought..
Just because a technique(s) impressive and it can be done, some Common Sense should come into play telling you that its pushing the boundaries of what should be sustainable, only to become what is artificially inflated and more for greed then striking a good balance with the natural world around you (or the one you help to create).

Rotating / Carousel Gardens..

These types of gardens essentially take a ‘vertical garden’ and expand upon it by providing a centralized lighting system and water supply.

Rather than a number of pots/grow beds that are staggered at different levels, a rotating garden or carousel is a system that allows for rows of plants to be anchored and form a circular tube with the plants in the interior facing a artificial light source. Water and nutrients are pumped into each planter automatically in a closed loop. This follows more of a hydroponics setup, so nutrients need to be added periodically to keep the plants happy.

There are a number of ready made systems on the market both for consumer and commercial setups.

The system below is geared more toward the latter of the two..

Urban Farm Fanatic Item #2 – Aquaponics Greenhouse… The Build Continues!

Well, the opportunity to finally get down to the fun part of building the greenhouse, i.e… actually building the greenhouse has come! No bushes to dig out, no irrigation to dig around for, no screening out river rocks. Just fun old, “Break out the power tools and grunt like Tim the Toolman Taylor building!!!” Arrrrghhh arrrgh aaahhhh!!! 🙂

Originally my thought was to just start adding in a few images as the build progressed, but by the end of the day I had realized that I had been quite the camera bug.. and so putting together just a few still frames wasn’t going to do this build the justice it deserved. After all, you plan a project for months, you need to give it the full blogging treatment. So, I decided to dust off what little knowledge I have about video editing and put together a nice little clip of the days progress… and yes, this all occurred in just one day! (The magic of the hoop house build.) All together about 8 hours of work.

After completing the first days work, I’d have to say the hardest part of the initial build was the 2x4x6 foundation. I was wanting that to be as level as I could get it, but realized that the ground was in no way level for my needs. I pre-drilled holes for each of the pieces on my back porch which I knew to be level, then moved them into the yard for assembly (the greenhouse’s dimensions are 12×40). I used scrap blocks to add support to the low lying areas. Followed that up with the sledgehammering of the 3 foot re-bar pieces (drove those half way into the ground.. my right hand is dead by the way from swinging an 8 pound sledgehammer).

As for the easiest part, that would be the assembling and installation of the PVC supports. Got a nice little 45 degree joint to mount the two 10 foot sections together, slid one end over the re-bar on one side, then bent and slid it over on the opposing side. That part took all of 20 minutes to complete the entire hoop!

Next weekend I will be receiving a large order of rock that will be applied to the foundation. The plan was to do that anyway and I thought it better to work with the rock in order to achieve a level base rather than trying to dig up the surrounding dirt and raking that around. But as I said.. next weekend.. right now the old bod is ridiculously sore, so I’m going to be giving it a breather before I put it back to work!

Enjoy the video!!! 🙂

Fanatic Inspiration #3..

If ever you need ideas, the webs just a click away 🙂

Farming/Gardens – Aquaponics – Making the Most Out of a Small Space

Efficiency should be your number 1 goal when putting together a system of growing, whether that is for growing fruits/veggies or livestock. The more complications you add into that system, the more there will be chances for it to go wrong.

Most Urban Farming methods rely on systems that can take advantage of small spaces simply because that is the hand people are dealt. Usually somewhere indoors, maybe a patio  or if lucky a small yard. So when I went researching for a means to create such a system for my own urban dwelling, the choices got narrowed down real quick. I had looked at wicking beds, hydroponics, traditional dirt farming, raised planter boxes, pot gardens, etc. Ultimately though one technique came through with the most bang for the real estate buck.. Aquaponics. Essentially the creation of a small ecosystem utilizing plants, fish and bacteria colonies that works in a closed loop.

The beauty of this system comes from its many benefits. .

It’s scale-able:  You can put a system together with 1 goldfish in a 1 gallon bowl, 1 pump and a small planter bed to grow your greens.. all the way to a commercial based setup that can feed thousands.

Water usage: A system that can provide soluble nutrients to your plants while utilizing less than 1/10th of the water needed for traditional soil based farming of the same grow area.

Elimination of ‘Killers’: No pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or weed killers are needed.

No Weeding: As mentioned in #3, weed killer is not required because few, if any, weeds will show up in an AP system. The ones that do slip through, you simply grab, pull gently, and the entire plant, along with its roots are removed never to regenerate again.

Stop growing horizontal: Vertical tower growing is becoming more popular by the day.. by taking advantage of vertical empty space, you can take a just a few square feet and expand your grow space by a factor of six or more (depending on ceiling height).

Eliminate bending: Don’t know about you, but constantly having to haunch over to tend to a garden was fine when I was a kid.. as I got older though, the bod just didn’t have the same flexibility or spring in my step. AP offers you the ability to set the height of your grow beds, thereby eliminating much of the need to bend over.

Growing time is reduced: You can essentially grow the same foods you do now in traditional dirt farming in 1/3 to 1/2 the time. A constant supply of nutrients, water and oxygen is supplied to the roots of your plants in an AP setup. This helps the plant improve both in size, nutrient density and how quickly it can be harvested.

You can add fish into your diet: Talapia, Perch, Catfish, Crayfish, Barumundi.. the list can go on and on, but you can essentially provide a stock of your own fish for consumption.

There are many more benefits to this type of system. All together you’re maybe looking at 2 to 3 moving parts.. the main pump, the air-stones pump and maybe a backup pump. The rest of the system relies on gravity and what are known as auto-siphons that help the water fill and drain from a grow bed (these have no moving parts but rely on air to create an open/closed drain). There are many different styles and types of Aquaponics that can be referenced for your own setup, should you decide that’s a direction you want to go.

But again, the decision of what type of growing style you go with is a personal choice. I’m simply describing something that has many benefits for the small space dweller.

Its not a perfect system, there are a few drawbacks like not being able to grow many root based vegetables. But the community supporting it is vast and growing everyday. New ideas and development may one day solve some of those drawbacks.

Rhode Island Reds, Cuckoo Morans & Ameraucana – Chicken Status!

Our Brood - 1 Week

Our Brood - 1 Week

Well, we haven’t killed them yet! 🙂

As mentioned earlier, this is our first foray with raising chickens and we were a bit worried.. recently we had a pretty good cold snap kick through here, so I was concerned about maintaining the temperature where it needed to be. But the chicken coop held up well (no leaks) and our breeder light kept the temps well into the 90’s even with potential drafts (wind gusts were hitting 40-50mph). They all came through with flying colors!

We also finally nailed down names for each of our brood. Names? Wow! You guys seriously are city slickers! 😉

Of the Rhode Island Reds, there is now Blondie (the lighter of the two) and Paprika. Our Ameraucana chick has been named Bluebell. Finally the two Cuckoo Morans, one has an very prominent white spot on its head, so I named her Eightball and the last was a toughee.. since we had such difficulty coming up with one, ‘She Who Could Not Be Named’ is now called Voldemort :))



I’d say a job well done so far! They are now just over a week old. The wing feathers are coming in nicely! Appetites are strong and they like to engage with us now (especially if we’re providing Mealworms for a tasty treat).

The next steps will be to ween off the breeder light and reduce the temp about 5 degrees each week. I’m also going to need to add a cover on the breeder bin eventually, to negate accidental ‘jumpers’ from leaving the area too soon.

Some observations thus far.. of all the birds, Bluebell is by far the most docile and accepting of being handled. She also has a serious chicken sweet-tooth for meal worms and likes to do a happy dance as soon as she’s got her beak on one.



Next up, Blondie and Paprika are more lovers than fighters, though they take a bit more time to warm up to being held. Already you can see that their gobblers are starting to form on their heads. Lastly there is Eightball and Voldemort.. who would prefer not to be picked up and are typically vocal about it, they are also the biggest of all the chicks. These little guys need more one on one time 😉

All chicks are starting to form feathers on their wings as well as testing the use of said wings. Each one DEFINITELY has a unique personality! I’ve never had a bird for a pet and found it kinda strange those people who do, but now I’m starting to understand it more and more.



The only other item of  I’d like to mention has been that they do need stimulation. Chickens I’ve found like to have items to keep them occupied. We’re planning on adding in a straw tower in one corner for them to peck at and later I’m thinking of installing a sandbox in the run for them to scratch around in once they’ve existed from the breeder box.

In the next week or two I plan on adding an automatic door to the coop and some perches for them to roost on once they’re older. I’ll post those updates as soon as I have them.





Dislike of Corporate ‘Farming’..

The concept of this message is sound. The means by which its delivered is quite engaging. Granted.. this is by Chipotle.. sooooo take this with a grain of salt in regards to their motives 😉

Fanatic Inspiration #2..

Took a tour of a commercial grade Aquaponics farm in Chandler, Arizona.. Rhiba Farms.

In comparison to the previous tour with Garden Pool, this was obviously an order of magnitude bigger than what I had seen before. A considerable amount of time and funding was spent on putting these facilities together and it shows. But it should in no way detract from the accomplishment the McClung families achievement.

This is version 1.0 of Rhiba Farms. There are currently plans in the works to move their entire facility over to a 3 acre plot in the near future, effectively increasing their size by about a factor of six!

The biggest surprises I found at this facility was that everything is raised on a foundation of asphalt (the current facility was at one time a phone servicing business). Mosquitoes were out in force over the floating beds since there was no barrier to keep them at bay. They are currently experimenting with small fish and shrimp in the beds to work on breaking down wastes, but also to act as a curb on the mosquito larvae that seem to thrive in these beds.

Our tour guide was actually the owner of the facility and took his time answering everyone’s questions (the tour was topping 2 1/2 hours before we had to depart). So if you are ever in the area, they give these tours the last Sunday of every month.

Unfortunately, video was not an option as my batteries were getting low, so I stuck with still frame shots. They do however cover the majority of the facility.

Siteplan of Rhiba Farms

Siteplan of Rhiba Farms

Seeding trays

Seeding trays

Rearing tanks (3,000 gallons), solids filter, de-gasser

Rearing tanks (3,000 gallons), solids filter, de-gasser

Floating beds (salad greens), make up 60-70% of his revenue

Floating beds (salad greens), make up 60-70% of his revenue

Sump tank (about 250 gallons)

Sump tank (about 250 gallons)

Rock box (bacteria and cooling, also grows peppers here)

Rock box (bacteria and cooling, also grows peppers here)

Greenhouse (about 25% of his revenue from here, edible flowers.. Really? Yes, really)

Greenhouse (about 25% of his revenue from here, edible flowers.. Really? Yes, really)

Showing his home based AP setup that's currently in development. Runs $3k.

Showing his home based AP setup that's currently in development. Runs $3k.