Category Archives: Solar
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 😉
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 😉
There 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!