Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Termite Mansions New Lease on Life – New Aquaponics Build Begins!


So, here was all this wood just sitting in our yard, a vestige from the previous owner. We didn’t like the old shed, we didn’t care for its location.. so what did we do?
WE TORE IT DOWN!!!

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how much of the old shed might be salvageable, but surprisingly I’d say we were able to save ourselves about $250 in lumber material by taking from the old and re-purposing for the new. The new in this case is a continuance of our desire to build an Aquaponics Greenhouse in our backyard. This is no small task. Financially it definitely goes beyond a simple home setup. But with a little patience and a lot of hard work we hope to end up using 1/5 of our backyard for the sole purpose of growing food.


Now the best way I can see of taking on this task it to start initially with the idea of how much grow area we will appear to have available then building a fish tank that will be of an appropriate size to accommodate that grow area. Eventually the mindset came out to be that the larger the amount of water volume you have in your system, the more stable its going to be from variations in nutrients, Ph and temperature fluctuations. So for our purposes we decided to start big on the tank and limit the initial amount of fish based on the amount of grow bed area we’d have available. This would allow us to size up as additional beds are added to the system, but provide a much more stable environment right from the get-go. Our tank will be 8′ long x 4′ wide x 3.5′ deep. This gives us a total volume of 112 sf, or just shy of 837 gallons for the tank… and that is where I begin the actual build of the AP for our greenhouse.

As you can see from the pictures, there was plenty of reclaimed wood that escaped termite damage from our old shed. I figure I’ve got enough OSB board and 2×4 material to complete the fish tank and at least 2 grow beds to start. What you don’t see is the sheer amount of time I had to spend ‘de-nailing/screwing’ this timber. I spent 2 days and roughly 11 hours dedicated solely to that purpose.

In the last shot, you are seeing the beginning of the base for the tank itself. I will be adding prodigious amounts of reinforcement as 837 gallons of water is equivelant to 3 1/2 tons!!!

Extra reinforcement, coupled with the fact that I intend to bury this tank in the ground should provide enough support to keep anything from busting (fingers crossed).

I’ll keep you appraised!

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Got Perch? Chickens Need a Place to Lay Their Weary Feathers.


One of the last add-ons to the chicken coop was the addition of a couple of perches for them to roost on. I had put this off for a while only because they were too small to make use of them just yet. That has changed as they seem to have grown by a factor of three! So roosts were needed and relatively soon. These were simple enough to install as I had pulled them from a couple of our closets (replaced with better closet storage). They worked perfectly. The chickens are fat and healthy, and after a good days scratching around the run, they now have a place in the coop to truly rest.

As for the ladies… they are doing very well. Growth has as mentioned, been astounding. We keep them on chick starter for the last 6 weeks and will continue to do so till they reach full maturity in another 17 weeks. At which time we’ll switch to a feed that provides additional nutrients like calcium for healthy egg production.

The only bad issue to report as of late has been a local bird species that has a taste for chick feed and has diligently made attempts to dig  under the surrounding run. One was successful 😦 So with that I am in preventive maintenance mode. I now have 2/3rds of the surrounding run with additional mesh that runs below the rock line and plan on finishing the rest of the run in the next week. Do not underestimate small birds and their tenacity to want to get at food. These little buggers actually moved 1/2″ rip rap rock and dug a tunnel under the run to get at the feed. AMAZING. So when building your own enclosed run, I’d recommend running steel mesh on the bottom of your runs as well to prevent such occurances with your own chickens.

Fanatic Tear Down of the Termite Mansion!


This weekends big ticket item was the dismantling of our old shed. There are many reasons I can list as to why this shed was taken down. First and foremost because it was a termite buffet (the proofs in the pics). We knew we had termite issues as we had a pest control company come out and check our surrounding areas for potential pests. One thing you must understand about the state of Arizona.. if you live here, you’ve got termites, guarantee it. No real way to get rid of them completely. Its why most building construction (at least pre-early 80’s) was done using cinder-block construction.

One does not truly understand the issue till one sees a colony first hand. For me that colony was most pre-dominant below the shed, which I believe has sat there for at least several years. Another reason for my wishing to dismantle it was that it consumed a part of our yard that we wish to revamp into something more ‘us’. Lastly I planned on reclaiming a good portion of the wood (obviously the stuff that the termites did not get their teeth into) and use that for my Aquaponics Greenhouse build.

I can honestly say that aside from a few sheets that were unprotected from the elements and pests, that there was a good deal of wood that I can re-use for my project… YAY! All told, the teardown took the better part of 5 hours, which in my mind was remarkably fast considering the size of the structure (8’x16′).

This weekend kicked into the low 100’s, so by the time I was done, I was a wet soppy mess. I had little left in me to proceed at that point. The next step is to remove nails/screws from the wood and sort what’s usable and what will be tossed.

All told, a very productive weekend!

Fanatic Inspiration #4 – ‘The Plant’ – 93,000SF of Net Zero Growing!


The Plant - ExteriorIt’s always exciting when people put their creativity to good use and take something that’s been tossed aside and turned into something quite remarkable. In this case it comes in the form of a former meat packing plant in an industrialized area of Chicago that is undergoing a major conversion. The goal by 2015 is to have an entirely off the grid food production/processing facility incorporating aquaponics and underground farming; a brewery; a local food business incubator and outdoor growing spaces will also be part of its design.

The Plant - DiagramSome highlights of note about this fantastic project:

  • The Plant will create 125 jobs in Chicago’s economically distressed Back of the Yards neighborhood
  • Divert over 10,000 tons of food waste from landfills each year to meet all of its heat and power needs via an Anaerobic Digester, which produces methane through organic material breakdown in an area with no oxygen, is to be integrated into the setup that will help provide both power and heat for the grow areas, brewery and kitchen (roughly 400kWh by consuming roughly 27 tons of food waste a day by their estimates)
  • It will have artisanal food businesses, including a beer brewery, a bakery, a kombucha (fermented tea) brewery, a mushroom farm, and a shared kitchen
  • Plans to host seminars for sustainability professionals, college students, schoolchildren, and the public to learn about a wide range of topics, from energy and efficiency in buildings to obesity to growing techniques
  • Operates under a what’s called a social enterprise model – meaning there is a non-profit and for-profit side, but both are aimed at socially and environmentally responsible goals

Obviously this is NOT a small project. A great deal of thought has gone into putting this plan into action. The Plant’s founders have already secured $1.5 million in grant money from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to get their project off the ground. They’ve even had a recent visit from Chicago’s Mayor.

To get a better understanding of the system they plan on using, a fantastic video was created to help make it simple to understand..

If you are ever out Chicago way, you should pay them a visit and see first hand the incredible amount of good ideas being brought to life!

The Plant

Fanatic Solar Install!


Our Solar InstallThere are a few out there I know who are contemplating solar as a means of staving off increases on energy rates. I thought it would be good to give an account of my experience since we’ve just recently made the leap.

First, you need to determine up front what you want to spend.. if you’re like me, you’ll more than likely be considering a lease option versus buying a system outright.

As far as I know there is only one company currently offering the lease option for solar installs and that is Solar City. Essentially you forgo the upfront cost of buying the entire system outright (granted you get tax credits when purchasing versus leasing, but they are not available till tax time, so you front a small fortune right off the bat). With the non-purchase option, you are tied to a 20 year lease that is transferable with the home (this can also be paid down sooner if you so wish by making slightly larger payments). This sounds bad to a few people, as the idea would then be that you cannot sell the house without transferring the lease and that might stall/stop the sale of your home. Two things to take into consideration when you are coming to that realization. 1. Solar installs typically increase the overall value of a home on average by $12,000; 2. When the new homeowner takes over the lease, they are also taking over what would already come with the home anyway, an electric bill. The difference of course is that the bill is typically 30-50% less than if you didn’t have the solar in the first place (this includes the cost of the lease). Another consideration.. the equipment is not yours, you are not responsible for it, in this case Solar City is, they will need to repair any damage or replace any faulty equipment (all of which is insured) should it occur (hail, tornadoes, tsunami etc). Another factor is that those tax rebates will now go to Solar City instead of you. This is how they keep their business viable while still allowing you a no-cost of entry into getting solar for your home. So there are those items to consider with regards to a lease. This is the way we went.

As we did not purchase our system outright, I will not speculate about that. Suffice to say that the equipment and tax rebates would be yours to do with as you please.

We are in on the cusp of having our system turned on for the first time.  You will go through some hurdles till your system goes online. Initially there is the consultation. From there you have a site audit where they determine the size of the solar, your home energy usage/waste etc., then comes the system design for your home, that is then submitted for a building permit, after approval the installation of your solar begins followed by a city and utility inspection of the setup. Once the final inspection by the utility is complete, your system can then be turned on.

Ours is grid inter-tied, but can be updated with a battery storage option.

From start to finish it’s about a 5-6 month process, so if you are considering it, be prepared for a wait.

We’re on the last leg ourselves and should be able to start our system sometime this month.

We are very excited!

Aquaponic Greenhouse Build – Got Rock?


As with all builds, there comes a stage of which you question why you decided to do something a bit.. extreme 😉

In this case, the questionable decision of adding 10 tons of 1 inch rock to setup the base of your greenhouse. This was how I spent my Saturday. Thankfully my good friend came over to lend me a hand and we made good progress. All in all, it took us about 6 hours to move all 10 tons, or about 1.6ish tons per hour.. and boy were we both beat by the end of it.

I’ve had the opportunity to move that much rock before.. but that was roughly 12 years ago.. and as in all things.. the mind is willing, but the flesh.. well its a bit dated 😉

I am grateful that the path between the dump site and the end goal of where it needed to end up, was for the most part level and maybe only 20-30 yards. We took time alternating between wheeling the barrel back and forth, as any more than 2-3 times in continuous succession and we had a tendency to get sloppy or almost tip the load.

At the start of the job I had been worried that I didn’t order enough rock, but by the time we had got through half the pile it was obvious that I had figured out the proper amount for the job.. whew! Even had enough to run a good portion around our chicken/coop run (see previous post).

My recommendations for those thinking of proceeding with such a job.. if you’re gonna order that much rock, you most definitely want 3 or more people to help even out the workload. It can be done with less, but at that point satisfying one’s pride can come at a cost. The more friends you can drag into it.. the better!

The next step of the build will now be to add the end frames, then the grow beds/nft raft trough and finally the greenhouse film, door and fan ventilation. After that I will need to proceed with getting the shed/tank installed and then work on running the plumbing.

Still a ways off from completion, but progress has been great.. and steady. As long as I maintain momentum, I’m probably looking at around May/June to get started on cycling up the system.

I’ll keep you appraised 🙂

Fanatic Chicken Coop Update!


One of the first posts I put to this blog was our building of a chicken coop/run in our backyard. For the most part this was 90% complete, but needed just a touch more. The other items include a chicken coop door, adding some 1 inch decorative rock around the base of the run, both for aesthetics and also to discourage predators. The last was to get some perches installed for the hens.

For us, its more than just a building for chickens, it’s also a serious part of our backyard landscape.. so we treated it not only as a home for our chickens but also as a decorative element to accentuate our yard proper.

The chickens get something akin to a Taj Mahal and we get some bragging rights in our neighborhood. So far this has been about 5 full days work on my part split over 4 weekends. It seemed like a pretty heady task at first.. but taking it step by step and breaking it down into smaller tasks really made this more manageable.

So this weekend we got the chicken coop door installed.. whooopteedoooo, you may say.. but in this case what we added was an automated chicken coop door so we would not need to wake at the crack of dawn every morning to let our little monsters out! Its a pretty slick piece of kit that I purchased from www.AutomaticChickenCoopDoor.com. Followed their online installation video. It took me a few hours only because I made the last minute decision to add 2×4 supports to either side of the door (not required, but really makes it sturdy).

Altogether though this was a nice addition. It works off a timer that goes off twice a day, about an hour after sunrise and about a 1/2 hour after dusk. Right now I’ve got an extension cord that goes out to the breeder lamp and so I just added an additional outlet splitter and added in the door as well. Eventually though the plan will be to make this run completely via battery/solar. Thankfully the kit also includes directions on how to do just that.

The other item of note is that I decided to add a 1 inch rock around the periphery of the coop/run to add an aesthetic element, but also one that should help discourage potential digging predators. I’m still needing to finish that up with some landscape trim, but ran out of time due to the fact that the previous day we added about 10 tons of the same 1 inch rock to our Aquaponics Greenhouse build (more on that in an upcoming post). 😉 Simply put, I’m a bit beat 😦

All in all, a very productive weekend that got our 2 week chicks out of their little Rubbermade container and into the coop proper. As mentioned, final details like roosts and a ramp are yet to come, but the chicks are still young so I’ve got a few more weekends to get those knocked out.