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Fanatic Growth! Who Doesn’t Like a Bit of Green in their Garden ;)


beets-01Today was more of a sit back and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor kind of day. One thing I had originally started in on was pruning back a bit of the greenery, but other chores made that a secondary concern. Thankfully the Mrs. took to the task and cleared out a bit of overgrowth.

beets-02(A word of advice, while you can pack your plants more closely in an AP, I don’t recommend it as the larger plants have a tendency to ‘hog the spotlight’ i.e. the sun. For those plants that like a lot of direct sunlight, getting shaded out by other plants can hinder their growth, if not outright kill them). So sadly, most of my snow peas went kaput as a result of this garden ‘bullying’. The Kale and Cabbage decided to take command of the grow bed and the peas suffered as a result. Thankfully we harvested quite a few pods before pulling them.

Otherwise the rest of the garden is doing swimmingly!

One thing that really blew us a away was when we harvested the beets… I’ll let the  pictures do all the talking in that regard 😉

cabbage_01 fennel_01 kale_01 swiss-chard_01

While the size is quite impressive, I have found that allowing them to get too big can result in fibrousy beets (in this case its a toss up as to whether you can use them for various food recipes, but often times its just better to juice them.)

seedlings_01The cabbages are monsters, but not quite ready to harvest.. the main ‘balls’ are nowhere near ready, so I’ll give them another month and check in again on their progress. The other monsters in the room are the Kale.. these guys have been harvested almost on a daily basis and provide a great source of vitamins as they pack a micronutrient punch! Love them Kale chips 🙂

Fennel.. the tops are exploding, but the base, which is what is harvested still needs time to mature, so much like the cabbage, more time is needed.

I’m also very happy to see the Swiss Chard is doing swimmingly. We grab a few of those every few days when the mood hits.

seedlings_02In the new beds I laid seeds down about 10 days ago. Already seeing a number of those starting to break through. In these shots you can see my cucumber and mixed sweet bell peppers coming up with some vigor!

In addition I also planted short carrots, cucumber, lettuce, spinach, cantaloupe and tomatoes. Let the next experiment begin!

Stay tuned!

Fanatic Progress with New Growbed Additions! – Part 3 of 3


finished-beds_01AQUAPONIC SUCCESS!!!

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!?!?!

finished-beds_02
Anyhoo, the final two beds have been built, lined, leveled, plumbed and now filled with rock media. This last little bit is great exercise by the way 😉

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.

finished-beds_03Now 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!

finished-beds_04Once 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 😉

finished-beds_05As 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!

Stay tuned!

Fanatic Progress with New Growbed Additions! – Part 2 of 3


ap-beds-build-01Ohhhhh… the good times, the just keep a comin! 😉

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.

ap-beds-build-02Next 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.

ap-beds-build-02-2The 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!

beds-filling_02The base will also work to tie in with the new Pergola that I’m planning on building to replace the hoop house, which will look a bazillion times better!

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.

Till the next update! beds-filling_02

ap-beds-build-05ap-beds-build-04  ap-beds-build-03beds-filling_01beds-filling_02

Fanatic Progress with the New Growbed Additions! – Part 1 of 3


02-2014_04I had been planning on expanding my overall system for a while now.. I’m glad to say that progress is FINALLY being made on that front.

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.

02-2014_03 02-2014_02 02-2014_01

02-2014_06 02-2014_05

Urban Farm Fanatic – We’re Back From Our Second Long Hiatus ;)


01Yes, yeees… I realize I’ve been quite terrible at keeping an updated blog as of late. Life seems to get in the way of my fondest hobby.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 😉
  3. 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).
  4. 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!!!

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Urban Farm Fanatic – We’re back from a long hiatus!


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.

Crawdad

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 😉

Covering the Aquaponics Greenhouse – Lets Get Warm Again!


greenhouse-film-applied_01For 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 😦

greenhouse-film-applied_02

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

greenhouse-film-applied_03

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

greenhouse-film-applied_04

(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).

Fanatically Clearing Out the Old in Order to Make Way for the New!


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! 🙂

Aquaponic Bang for Your Hard Earned Dollar – Some Lessons I Learned w/my Build..


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.

My Initial Siteplan

SIZING

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.

Seaweed ExtractREPEAT PURCHASES

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

PUMPS

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.

EHEIM-Jager-Aquarium-Thermostat-Heater-300WHEATERS

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!

  1. 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.
  2. For anything that cannot be ‘salvaged’, again shop around online (out of state, nix the tax, save 5-10%).
  3. 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 😉

Aquaponics… The Other ‘White’ Meat…


Alright… what’s that title got to do about AP? Just that if you’re into gardening of any kind.. this is definitely THE best alternative way to go (I’m biased, so sue me) ;

The system provides both plant and animal harvests, you deal with less headaches usually associated with traditional dirt based farming (weeds, pesticides, herbicides, making sure you water regularly, etc.) Plus its scalable, can be used inside and out and pays for itself in self satisfaction.

Cabbage

Beets

To whit, I bring to you some humble images from my garden as it currently stands. Growth has been great, although I will admit that the one thing I wasn’t ready for was the fish and water temperature. Now that Winter is fast approaching, the key for me was to keep the water temperature up as high as possible. To do so, I’m mainly relying on a couple of large aquarium heaters rated at 300 watts a piece. Not the ideal, as I’d prefer a solar water heater option and not have to pay for the electricity, but that will come in a few months time when time and funds permit. So in the interim, the heaters will have to do. So far, water temps have not dropped below 64 degrees at night.

Corn

With a drop in temp, the Talapia are not as voracious with their food, so their growth has slowed down as a result. I get into this in more detail on my previous post.

Eggplant

Kale

The plants on the other hand are doing quite well. Everything in the AP is thriving. I’ve got a couple of plants with some nutrient deficiencies (corn and lemon balm). I’ve made efforts using Seaweed Extract to help give the system a nutrient boost once every nine days, but I feel this has more to do with the waters Ph and the reduction of the roots ability to absorb the nutrients. Thai BasilIts not a deal killer as far as the plants go, but definitely something I’m going to stay on top of to see if it can be remedied down the road.

I took the liberty to buy a batch of lady bugs as of late to help with a small infestation of some tiny black bug that creeped up on our squash plant. We released these at night as this helps them stay put longer and hopefully hang out for a while to feast on whatever our AP has to offer. Pablano PeppersI’m happy to say that they eliminated most of the pest problem (the rest we simply snipped off and fed to the chickens). Summer SquashThe hope is that they will reproduce in the system and make it their permanent home for a while. But I must say, they do a great job chowing down on anything that might be an issue.

Another item that was recommended was to add in a few Marigolds to the system. TomatoesApparently bugs do not like the smell of them. So we placed them evenly down the length of the beds and they also add a nice splash of color.

All in all, the experiment seems to be chugging along quite nicely!