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Fanatic Carrots! Yes, You Can Grow Root Based Vegetables in an Aquaponics System!


carrots-01Well…

Long time, no post. Not exactly a good way to keep people entertained with my blog, granted, but, like many I’ve been dealing with hiccups in my system as of late.

It started with a fish die off fiasco (essentially lost my initial batch of Talapia, lost my second batch of Talapia, switched temporarily to Goldfish to keep the veggies going, but bought a sick batch from a local Petsmart ((hint: if you see a lot of floaters in the tank when you go to buy, find someplace else, they’re already diseased)) so got a second batch from another store location and that seemed to do the trick) then I had to deal with Ph problems in the water.

carrots-02Following my growbed expansion, all my measurements sorta went out the window with regards to maintaining proper Ph. For the longest time I was putting in waaaay to little Muriatic Acid to bring my tap water down to a more reasonable 6.8-7 ph (I was getting 8+ and was shocked that the Goldfish seemed to handle this without issue)… I only just achieved this great feat in the last week. I’ve been battling that little hiccup since August of 2014. I knew from others experiences, that I’d rather err too ‘high’ on Ph, than too low (as I find it is more easy going down than up in this arena). You also don’t want to adjust the Ph too fast, or you risk stressing out your fish and killing them off.

I finally got my fish still kicking after about several months as well as finally getting my Ph down to where its supposed to be.

But when you have too high a Ph in your system, you risk stunted plant growth, which is the Pandoras box of which I was trapped. So instead of last seasons HUGE growth, only 2 things in my system made it through without too much issue, that being my Basil and my Carrots!

carrots-03CARROTS!?? you say? Aren’t root based vegetables and rock media at odds with each other when trying to grow those types of plants? For the most part, yes. You will get the beautiful artwork of carrots that you see on this page, as opposed to the ‘traditional’ versions you see in your grocers store! But, they are edible and they take a while longer to get to size (at least that was the case with my system). For my carrots, I had the high Ph problem that stunts growth, plus the plants battle with growing in lava rock. The end result…
about 7 months to get to harvest and some of the most squat and odd looking carrots I’ve ever been party too 😉

But the experiment was a success and I found that carrots in my system are a fairly hearty plant even with a high Ph issue.

I used Zanahoria Short n Sweet carrot seeds from Burpee. I figured at the time the shorter squatter carrots were a much better fit for my system, versus the typical longer carrots we normally plant in dirt. These typically have a 68 day harvest cycle, but as I said, it took me nearly 3x that time to pull what you see in the pics right now. I also did this because I needed the root filtration that the carrots were providing my system to keep the water clean for the fish. My other plants were doing terrible due to the high Ph problem, so now you know the full story. Just some food for thought 🙂

carrots-04In the end, now that the Ph has just grazed 7.0, I’m now seeing a marked improvement in all my plants now, and expect much better growth in the next coupla months.

I know for most people out there, if your system isn’t indoors or have a greenhouse, you are working on other projects to pass the time (its currently in the 70’s here in Phoenix). So while most people rag on us about our ungodly summer heat, you gotta admit, that while most of the US is freezing its nickers, this is the best time of the year for us 😉

Well, that’s a wrap for now. More updates to come now that the fish and Ph are seemingly under better control.

Till next time!

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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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! 🙂

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!

Future Updates to the Aquaponics Greenhouse..


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.