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!!!
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 🙂
Been a bit of a dry spell on updates with regards to our brood of chickens, so though it best to give a great big shout out to my peeps! (yes I said it)
Well, initial thoughts are these… they are all just fascinating to watch! I’d say the only one that has actually gotten prettier since being a chick is the Americauna (Easter Egger). She has got the most colorful plumage of the lot, plus the decorative feathers around her jowls really add interest versus distracting from her. She’s also the most friendly of the bunch, being a more placid bird.
The Cuckoo Morans (the black ones) are by far the biggest as well as highest on the pecking order. They are not fans of being held, but will relax the longer you hold them. They are also the most curious of the bunch and will always be the first to inspect something new that comes into their territory.
Lastly the Rhode Island Reds, have a great color, are a bit milder than the Cuckoo’s, but tend to be the last to the party.
All the birds recognize us on sight and look forward to us refreshing their wading pool (helps to keep them cool in the triple digit heat). All of them now recognize that we will provide them scraps as treats on a regular basis. Watermelon is their favorite 😉 and boy can these gals poop! Surprisingly though the straw does a wonderful job of neutralizing any odors. Right now I clean out the straw every 2-3 weeks as needed.
They have also been remarkably quiet. My initial worry about having chickens in an urban setting was the potential for disturbing our neighbors. But for the most part the ladies have had impeccable behavior! The local dogs and wild birds make more of a clatter than these girls ever do. So my concerns have been placated.
We’ve got another 8 weeks before we start seeing our first eggs, but that’s fine. Its just as enjoyable taking care of the birds and watching them learn about their world around them. Eventually the plan will be to allow them free range of the entire yard during the day (after we’ve secured a few areas in the yard and clip their wings), but for now they seem happy and healthy!
Efficiency should be your number 1 goal when putting together a system of growing, whether that is for growing fruits/veggies or livestock. The more complications you add into that system, the more there will be chances for it to go wrong.
Most Urban Farming methods rely on systems that can take advantage of small spaces simply because that is the hand people are dealt. Usually somewhere indoors, maybe a patio or if lucky a small yard. So when I went researching for a means to create such a system for my own urban dwelling, the choices got narrowed down real quick. I had looked at wicking beds, hydroponics, traditional dirt farming, raised planter boxes, pot gardens, etc. Ultimately though one technique came through with the most bang for the real estate buck.. Aquaponics. Essentially the creation of a small ecosystem utilizing plants, fish and bacteria colonies that works in a closed loop.
The beauty of this system comes from its many benefits. .
It’s scale-able: You can put a system together with 1 goldfish in a 1 gallon bowl, 1 pump and a small planter bed to grow your greens.. all the way to a commercial based setup that can feed thousands.
Water usage: A system that can provide soluble nutrients to your plants while utilizing less than 1/10th of the water needed for traditional soil based farming of the same grow area.
No Weeding: As mentioned in #3, weed killer is not required because few, if any, weeds will show up in an AP system. The ones that do slip through, you simply grab, pull gently, and the entire plant, along with its roots are removed never to regenerate again.
Stop growing horizontal: Vertical tower growing is becoming more popular by the day.. by taking advantage of vertical empty space, you can take a just a few square feet and expand your grow space by a factor of six or more (depending on ceiling height).
Eliminate bending: Don’t know about you, but constantly having to haunch over to tend to a garden was fine when I was a kid.. as I got older though, the bod just didn’t have the same flexibility or spring in my step. AP offers you the ability to set the height of your grow beds, thereby eliminating much of the need to bend over.
Growing time is reduced: You can essentially grow the same foods you do now in traditional dirt farming in 1/3 to 1/2 the time. A constant supply of nutrients, water and oxygen is supplied to the roots of your plants in an AP setup. This helps the plant improve both in size, nutrient density and how quickly it can be harvested.
There are many more benefits to this type of system. All together you’re maybe looking at 2 to 3 moving parts.. the main pump, the air-stones pump and maybe a backup pump. The rest of the system relies on gravity and what are known as auto-siphons that help the water fill and drain from a grow bed (these have no moving parts but rely on air to create an open/closed drain). There are many different styles and types of Aquaponics that can be referenced for your own setup, should you decide that’s a direction you want to go.
But again, the decision of what type of growing style you go with is a personal choice. I’m simply describing something that has many benefits for the small space dweller.
Its not a perfect system, there are a few drawbacks like not being able to grow many root based vegetables. But the community supporting it is vast and growing everyday. New ideas and development may one day solve some of those drawbacks.
What initially got my motivation going was a visit to what has been coined ‘The Garden Pool‘ down in Mesa, Arizona.
Took a tour of this families wonderful idea to convert their backyard pool into a greenhouse. The creativity here is absolutely 1st rate! They have chickens, fish (talapia), pygmy goats and utilize a number of growing techniques to produce food for their family of four. They have been interviewed by local news media and have even been filmed for both the Discovery and History channels!
Took some of my own vids. Granted need to work on my videography skills and the sound is not as good as it could be, but its still great to pick up on all the questions that were tossed out!