Today 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.
(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 😉
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.)
The 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.
In 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!
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!?!?!
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.
Now 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!
Once 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 😉
As 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!
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.
Next 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.
The 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!
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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 😉
- 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).
- 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!!!
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.
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 😉
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).
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! 🙂