Monthly Archives: October 2012
I always figured that once I got to the growing stage of my build, things might taper off on the project front. As things currently stand, I’m still needing to add about 4-6 more grow beds. But I’m also thinking about other items that will be needing to be addressed within the next few months.
SOLAR WATER HEATER
The first item that has come up on the radar has to do with keeping my fish tanks/grow bed water at a higher temperature during the cooler fall/winter months coming up. I thank my friend John for bringing this idea to light.
My buddy happened upon a system which works simply by running water through black hosing along a fence line and then returning that water to the tank in some fashion (see example above – not my system by the way).
Normally, Talapia can handle rather colder water temps without issue to their survival. What does crop up is their ability to grow. Optimum temperatures for Talapia would be an 83-87F degree water temperature. At this temperature, the fish are in their ‘happy zone’, which means they eat the most and grow the fastest at this temperature range. Currently my water temps are now hovering between 75-78F degrees. So a noticeable change of nearly 10 degrees has occurred just in the past month. I had thought burying the tank would offset this much of a change (which it does, but it just progresses more slowly), but I didn’t take into account (or at least didn’t put much concern into) the flow of the water from the tank through the plumbing and grow beds. These actually act to help heat or cool the water depending on surrounding temps.
The main expense is limited to the tubing and connectors and then running the lines in an area that can collect the suns rays throughout most of the day. This system also has the added element that the cinder block upon which it is laying can also act as thermal mass storing heat to some degree. So even after the sun sets or gets shaded over by clouds, there is still heating going on to the fluid flowing withing the lines.
FISH TANK & GREENHOUSE LIGHTING
Another project I’d like to tackle in the near future has to do with setting up some type of lighting for both the fish tank and the greenhouse itself. For both I’d ideally want them to be running on a 12 volt system running off a battery and using a solar panel(s).
For these items, I’m most likely going to purchase them over the counter, versus trying to build them from scratch myself. My electrical know-how is limited at best and I’d rather not electrocute my fish 😉
I did make an attempt at adding lighting into the tank using a rope light, but found that it created too much reflection on the waters surface to see the fish. It will need to be waterproof and submerged to be truly effective at seeing what the fish are up to at night.
For the greenhouse my thought is either using rope lighting or possibly LED Christmas lights running off an inverter. This will keep the setup simple and since its modular I can add/remove strings as needed and place them along the PVC ribs of the greenhouse itself. I can also setup a switching element near the entry way to turn them on or off.
When starting out with this project, like most, I had no clue about how to really go about it. So I started with doing a little research (my fav’s being YouTube and various AP Forums). First was to determine what type of AP setup I wanted to go with and its size (there is NFT – Nutrient Film Technique, Floating Raft and Flood and Drain) I decided on the flood and drain system primarily because it had the most information out there on how to do it. I also didn’t want any system with standing water in my greenhouse that might provide a nesting ground for mosquitoes.
When coming up with whether to go with a pre-built system or doing it on my own, that was a no-brainer. I like building my own things when I have the capacity to do so, plus you get a LOT more customization options and its typically MUCHO cheaper to do.
So when designing my system, the first thing that came into play was location within the yard. I wanted to distance it a bit from the house, but also wanted to be sure it got the most daily sun as possible. I went with the length of the greenhouse going East/West along my yards North wall and that seemed a perfect location. The other aspect was placement of the fish tank. It needed it to be near enough to the greenhouse area and also low enough to not require using a sump tank to return the water to the fish tank. I wanted this type of setup because keeping the system as SIMPLE as possible in terms of plumbing and additional mechanical requirements was a priority of mine. So I placed the tank on the West end of the Greenhouse within 4 feet of the entrance and dug a hole to bury the tank itself (more on this later).
I sketched everything down on paper and then came up with my overall dimensions and a parts list.
The three most dominant materials I needed during the building of the tank and grow beds was 2×4’s, 4×8 OSB Board and deck screws. When starting this, I tried to use as much reclaimed timber as I could find. This helped with eliminating potential waste and helped reduce my overall costs. It can be a bit more time consuming, but I found much more satisfaction in taking materials from a previous derelict project (in this case and old shed) and turning it into a new, useful project.
SOME POINTS THAT NEED POINTING AT
So with my initial materials in hand and a bit of gusto, I got going.
Now this is where you start finding issues you initially don’t plan for, some of the items that came into play for me where these..
- Find a Mentor – If you can find someone locally who has been working their own AP system for a while, they are going to be your single best source of information and inspiration. They have already gone through the process of putting a system together, getting materials, cycling it up, purchasing fish/plants and more often than not, finding those little hiccups that creep up that most people never see coming. It is wise to find such a person in your area and establish a good relationship with them. Having an extra hand (as well as an educated one) can save you a LOT of headaches.
- Grow Bed Width – I originally was going for a four foot width to reduce the need to cut the OSB and cut down my production time. I found that this seems logical in theory, but it does not work well in practicality when actually using a grow bed. Midway through building the first of my beds I realized the reach across the width was going to be too much of a reach (since one side of the bed would be butted up against the outer wall of the greenhouse). If I could have accessed both sides of the grow bed, it wouldn’t have been an issue. Plus my wife has a shorter reach… so 3 foot width was decided on versus 4 feet.
- Too Much Sun – I originally thought, you can never give a plant too much sun… HA! Lesson learned. Plants can get burned just like people, so yes, shade is something that may be required. In this case during our ridiculously hot summers in Phoenix, I had need of using shade cloth (85% screening) to help my plants to not get burned. This can then be removed during the winter to help add sun when necessary.
- Plumbing – Piping is cheap, fittings are where things can get expensive. Pre-plan your plumbing as much as possible to help reduce your overall costs. I also recommend never going below a 1 inch diameter PVC. I used this both for plumbing the grow beds, but also to build my hoop house. My recommendation is to not go with smaller diameter PVC, the cost savings is minimal but the overall strength and flow rate capacity is considerable. Stick to 1 inch or larger diameter PVC when working on your build, you’ll appreciate the benefits in the long term.
- Grow Media – Much fuss has been made about Hydroton and its benefits. I cannot argue that. But the stuff is cost prohibitive, i.e. expensive. The alternative I was pointed to with Cinder Rock (also known as Lava Rock). The benefits of this material are these. Its very porous so there is plenty of surface area for all the good little bacterial cultures that are needed for your system to find a home. This also helps with keeping the roots moist. The Lava Rock is also considerably lighter than river rock, so when you buy it by the ton, you get that much more to add into your system (this is also a blessing when you are trying to get this material loaded into your grow beds as well). Its inert, meaning it does not have trace minerals that will be harmful to your system as some other stone is prone to have (these trace minerals can be harmful to either your plants, fish or both). Lastly, it is more easily available or sourced locally.
- Water Volume – Simply put, the more the better. More water volume does two great things. One.. it keeps major fluctuations from happening in you water quality. I went with about 800-900 gallons for my setup. The second is temperature fluctuations. More water equals a lower variation in the waters temperature over time (not of much issue for the plants, but big deal if you want to keep your fish happy and healthy).
- Thermal Mass – This is also where burying my tank was a requirement. Thermal Mass is the equivalent of having a temperature buffer for your fish tanks water supply. By burying my tank I am afforded a free regulator that can keep my waters temperature from dropping below 65-70 degrees in the winter and from going over 90-95 degrees in the summer. Optimally the fish prefer a honky-dory temperature of 85 degrees to be truly happy, but by adding in this buffer protection via thermal mass, it helps add an additional bit of insurance that my fish will live to a ripe old age.
- Non-Permanent Structures – The Hoop House used for the Greenhouse was designed to be a non-permanent structure. I did this for a couple of reasons. First I did not want to get into permitting issues with the city or county. Second if the structure needs to be removed down the line (either from a personal need or if we sell the house and a potential new owner would prefer not to have that in their back yard) I can do so with little fanfare.
- Research Recurring Material Needs – This can be fish food, plants, water testing solutions, additional hardware needs, etc. Do this well in advance to know you’re getting a quality product at the best price. This can add up over time, so the savings you make here will stay in your pocket where it belongs 😉
THINGS I’D HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY
- Fish Tank – I would not have built a tank, but simply dug a deep enough hole and then lined it with pond liner to create my tank. I would have saved a good deal of time and money this way. I would’ve also gone twice as big.
- Grow Beds – I’ve currently got 2, but will be needing to build 2-4 more in the future. If I were to start this project again, I would’ve got them all knocked out at the same time with the design still fresh in my memory.
- Get Some Extra Hands – I’m a bit stubborn when it comes to asking for help. I like to do things on my own. But I’ll emphasize it now.. when help is needed, don’t be afraid to ask for an assist from either friends or family. I could have saved myself a good deal of blood and sweat if I’d simply asked others to lend me a hand every now and then 😉
- Prep the Land Better – I look at the setup I have and if given another opportunity, I would’ve prepped the ground a bit better by working on getting the grade leveled out a bit better. Truth be told I would’ve preferred a concrete slab for the greenhouse, but then that gets into permitting issues and a permanent structure setup. Had my yard been bigger, I would’ve gone that route.
- Went Even Bigger – Yes, for most people having a 12×40 greenhouse would be considered quite a decent size, for me I’d have preferred a setup that was easily double that. Course funds and the wife were the main reasons this did not come to be, but its food for thought down the road when version 2.0 comes out 😉
The AP Greenhouse has been a big goal of mine and now to see the fruits of my labor (pun intended) starting to come into their own, its just a big warm and fuzzy right where one needs it 🙂
I’ve done soil based planting since I was a kid with my Grandparents out in their big garden in their backyard. But the sheer SPEED at which the plants we’ve put into the new AP system grow is just incredible!
We decided to give everything a try.. we’ve got Swish Chard, Kale, Basil, Corn, Fennel, Peppers, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Leeks, Garlic, Lettuce, Pumpkins, Beets, and Chives. That’s not to say that some things didn’t quite take.. we did try Yellow Squash and Strawberries, but they did not make it. After a bit of research we believe its because the waters Ph is still too high for these varieties and so the nutrients aren’t being absorbed through their roots.
The other fascinating aspect is Fish.tv. Watching our Talapia grow has been grossly entertaining. Its been about 5 weeks and they are now four times their original size. We started out with 50, and I’m ecstatic to say we have yet to lose one fish!
The system itself has had very little need of intervention. The siphons have been doing their work splendidly without adjustment. We have had to top of the tank on occasion. We now average about 1 to 2 – 55 gallon barrels a month (through evaporation).
On occasion, bugs have crept up, but it has taken little work to keep them at bay. Usually I will clip off the infected leaves and either toss them in with the fish, or give the chickens a treat every now and then.
Overall, it has been a very productive month. The wife has been regularly clipping off a few of the herbs to assist with various dinner preparations. All our chickens are now laying eggs now that the heat has dissipated. We now routinely get about 3-5 eggs a day!
I’d say by next month we’ll be able to start collecting on the eggplants and tomatoes!
Good times! Good times! 🙂