A Green Project Challenge

The intent of this project is to see if being more green is viable given the cost of materials vs. the Return On Investment (ROI) for operating my own greenhouse aquaponics/aeroponics system in our backyard. The challenge is whether I can design, build and operate an aquaponics/aeroponics based greenhouse system in a sustainable manner with a small carbon footprint while providing food for the table at a reasonable cost over conventional methods such as purchasing fish/vegetables at the local grocery. Join me on this journey of discovery while I forge a new chapter in my quest for a better tomorrow.

Monday, March 4, 2013

2013 Spring Growing in the Aquaponic System

Well, it's been awhile since my last post, but I've been busy during the winter. After 18 months of fish waste buildup in the gravel growbeds I had the misfortune of major clogging in the beds with fish waste at the end of December. Two of my grow beds clogged completely, causing them to overflow and draining two of the fish tanks overnight.  I only had about 4"-6" of water in each tank,  but thankfully I didn't lose any fish, but due to the extreme cold of the water(approx. 45 degrees), it took me several days to fill the tanks back up. I had to add water and wait for it to heat up over a day, then add more, and on and on until both were full. I then took on the task of cleaning the growbeds, this took approx. 7 full days over a two to three week period in January, in the cold. It wasn't any fun, since I only had a five gallon bucket with holes in the bottom covered with mesh and a high pressure hose nozzle on a garden hose. I could only wash about three gallons of gravel at a time. It was painstaking, back breaking work, and cleaning 400 gallons of gravel should not be taken lightly, but it paid off in the end. Unfortunately, I had contracted the flu while doing this in temps that hovered in the 30-40 degree range and I paid for it afterwards.
I had  to remove all 40 tomato plants and most of the basil and mint from the beds, everything else had been choked out by the basil and tomato plants prior to the clogging. I was able to salvage a few pieces of mint and a few basil plants, but everything else was tossed out. I replanted 6 weeks ago and you can see from the video that cleaning the gravel beds was well worth the effort.

Enjoy...and keep on growing.

Late post of last years Aquaponics activities

Sorry for the late post. This was at the end of the season last year towards the end of September 2012. I moved positions within my company at my day job...you know the one that truly pays the bills, and didn't have much time to dedicate to my Aqauponic adventures. I'm hopefully back on track and can post more as time allows.  This post is related to the phenomenal growth of my tomato and Basil plants in the fall. The tomato plants along with the basil, actually choked out all the other growth in the beds by late November. I harvested the Basil, drying some and making the rest into homemade pesto which I froze.

Mainly Tomato and Basil plants

I also had several types of Lettuce and Kale growing in the sprouting rafts

Some of the final product, Dried Basil and Pesto.

Here's an Overview of the September 2012 Growth in the Greenhouse.

Until Next Time....Enjoy!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Red Wiggler Worm Harvesting

After 8 months in the same media I determined it was time to harvest worms out of the two worm beds I had started in order to provide new bedding material for the worms to grow in.  I had read somewhere that you really need to provide new bedding for your worms every three to six months as worms, like people, do not like to move around in their own poop. So I set out to harvest both worms and castings for use in some of my potted herbs. I had to build a worm sifter in order to separate the worms from the castings. I did this by building a frame out of 2x2 lumber and attaching 1/4" hardware cloth to it using staples.

This proved to be labor intensive as the smaller baby worms would fall through the openings after each load of material was sifted and I would have to pick them out of the castings. Larger worms were not an issue and usually stayed on the wire mesh after which I could dump them into a 5 gallon bucket. This took me approximately 8 hours to finish using my sifter, and wheelbarrow as a catch all.
I was able to retrieve approximately 3 lbs of worms from both beds, which was good considering that we have had 100+ degree days and the soil in the beds was rather warm.

That being said, I made up two fresh beds using peat/sphagnum moss and newspaper, layering both several times. This built up media accounted for about 1/3 of the plastic tote.  I came to find out that as a new bed the worms would try to leave; and out of one bed they did just that.  I came back after 3 days only to discover that one of my beds was completely devoid of worms, they had crawled out. Lesson learned, shine a light on the opening of the bed 24/7 for several days to keep them in until the worms get used to the new environment. I also, lost about half of the worms out of the other bed, but I have enough to continue with my composting. I will probably build a larger outside bed next spring and purchase more worms.

August Update - Baby Oh! Baby! more Fish Tanks

It's August and it's very hot outside, we are having 100+ degree days with little humidity, so I am having to add water every other day to both systems in the greenhouse. The only positive of the heat has been an increase in broods from the breeding colonies that are in place. This being said, I have had to install two new fish tanks. I fashioned these out of two 55 gallon blue plastic drums. I go over this in the embedded video.  More updates to come soon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

July 2012 Update - Mid Summer heat and bugs

OK...I know it's been awhile since I last posted any updates, but as everyone knows, everyday life can consume much of your time just tyring to get by.... Anyway, enough of that. I didn't have much time to dedicate to the plants in the greenhouse due to other responsibilities during June and the 1st part of July, but I'm in the process of rectifying that. Here's an update on what's been going on with the whole system.

As you know it can get pretty hot in Texas, and boy it has been. This has been detrimental to most of the plants in my raft system...all of the Squash, & Cucumber plants succumbed to the heat along with some of the more tender Bibb lettuce. Tomatoes and Peppers didn't do well either, but I think this was mostly due to lack of enough fish in my system to provide the required nutrients. The only plants that did well were my Basil, Swiss Chard and Romaine Lettuce plants.

As for the media grow beds inside the greenhouse, I have had to rip most of those out due to an explosion of white flies that started on my tomato plants and rapidly spread to almost all of the other plants in the greenhouse. I had them under control for quite sometime, but I believe the high heat in the greenhouse stressed the plants causing them to become less resistant to the white flies. After removing most of the plants with the exception of my red Swiss chard, some of the mint, basil and rosemary and spot spraying with insecticidal soap, the white fly population has dwindled considerably and is barely noticeable. I will continue to treat for them as I add back plants to the media grow beds. Lesson learned, be consistent and persistent with pest control.

Here are the Media growbeds partially replanted with the remaining plants from my rafts.

and a pics of the rafts after cleaning the surface of the foam boards, the liners were cleaned as well.

On a happier note, due to the increased temperature in the greenhouse, my fish tank water is hovering anywhere from 82 to 86 degrees which has promoted much spawning inside the tanks.
I currently have five broods of baby Tilapia in various stages of growth. I currently up to about 300 fish, including fry and fingerling's. A pic of the latest small fry is shown below, they are gray and hard to see in the photo but show up better in the video.

I also traveled, once again, down to Overton Fisheries to purchase some Red Mozambique Tilapia. I bought forty of these and actually ended up with about forty-six. While most were a solid orange/red color. I had 13 that were partially or fully grey with a red sheen to their bodies. The only way to tell the difference between these reds and normal grey Tilapia is by their Red Eyes. Since this is the first year Overton has offered these Tilapia, I believe their breeding program has not quite gotten to the point of producing pure reds.

I think I will try to breed these back to each other in successive generation to get  pure red females that I can then breed to a Nile Male for all male offspring....Some I'm off to by breeding tanks for my next chapter in Aquaponics. I intend to setup some breeding colonies of greys and reds, and once I get my Aquatic species/Aquaculture licenses perhaps I will try some Blues, & Niles.

Here's a quick video update on the aquaponics system...enjoy.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Plants, Plants and more Plants

Here's where my system is at going into mid May, I just got finished placing some of my left over expanded shale into the area around the pump house and barrel filters. I placed some above ground plastic edging at the boarder of the ground tarps over to the greenhouse , and then used about 3 wheelbarrow's full of shale to fill it in about 2" inches deep. I was in jeopardy of losing the weed block as it was beginning to deteriorate from the sun.

It turned out rather nice and provided good drainage for any rain water coming off the greenhouse.

I have also included a few pics of the raft system plants to show some of the growth that is going on.
I have five varieties of lettuce, which include Romain, and bibb. Just wish I had more growing.

 I also have squash and cucumber plants in the raft systems which seem to being doing "Just OK", but really haven't taken off yet.

Here is a quick overview video of the entire greenhouse setup, inlcuding the DWC Raft and new nursery plant rafts.

Until Next time....

Monday, April 30, 2012

Disaster in the DWC rafts...UPDATE.

OK...so it's taken me awhile to get the system back up and running. I received the ES3500 pump with some shipping damage. The unit's condensor cover was cracked along with the plastic base due to improper packing.  The FedEx delivery driver handed me the box and the pump was just bouncing around inside apparently with very little packing material. There was no obvious damage to the outside of the box, but of course the box was dropped and the pump's cover cracked when hitting the ground. Any way, I contacted the seller and was assured that a new cover would be sent out, I have yet to see one after 2 weeks, so I will follow up and see if or when it was shipped. So for now, I just epoxied the cover back together, everything else apparently works and I haven't found any other cracks in the unit.

After getting the pump in shape, I had to do a bit of re-arrangement on the plumbing for the system using 2" PVC throughout and getting rid of the 5/8" garden hose feeding the grow beds.

and as you can see, the new pump is in place. I also added downspouts to the feeder pipe with ball valves attached and have built spray nozzle which redirect water back into the fish tanks and provides extra aeration.  Of course, now I have a multitude of piping to climb over to get to the fish tanks. Of course I have also had to redesign the bell siphons to adjust to the increased water flow as the fish tanks were filling to fast and over flowing. I am still tinkering with balancing the system. I added some nursery DWC raft to the systems and so far I have had good success in sprouting new seeds.

I also added a washing machine tray on top and I have a constant flow of water traversing the tray and grow beds which then drain directly back into the fish tanks  So far I have had about a 75% sprout rate on seeds, not great but good for what I'm trying to accomplish.

That's it for now...more to follow soon.