All posts by Save Green Team

The Greenhouse Project-Phase 1

We have never been a family to just do one thing at a time. We are always in the midst of several projects at once and as one gets completed we tend to add two more. So on top of our bee’s, chickens, rabbits, tilapia, & aquaponics, we are in the middle of completing our 21′ X 10′ Greenhouse attached to the side of our home.

Of course the original plan was to have this project completed before Thanksgiving 2013, but best laid plans………

We found that starting the project before pulling the permits was probably not the best idea we ever had. We got a little excited and started building,  thinking that we had the required set backs etc, so getting a permit should not be a big deal. After we started, I thought, I ought to go ahead and get the permit to be safe.

So down to Baltimore County Zoning I went, thinking I would have the permit in hand when I got home. Well, that did not happen. I found that because we sit on a corner lot that the setbacks are 25′ vs the 6′ I was expecting. So here we go again having to get a zoning variance to get our permit.

About the same time, one of our neighbors across the street from my backyard, decided that she would call in to see if we pulled the permit. This neighbor does not understand or want to understand our green, homesteader lifestyle, so complains about anything we do. Note: Also the neighbor that turned in our chickens to the county.

Ok, so we were issued a stop work order until we were able to

Greenhouse
Greenhouse when stop work ordered issued

secure the proper permit. Fortunately, we were not issued a citation, so we were able to file for an administrative zoning variance, meaning we would not have to go in front of the judge.

We needed to file all the proper paperwork with site plans, and reasoning for our greenhouse in the location we had chosen. This seemed a lot better than compiling everything and going in front of the judge to plead our case. He either signed it or not. The only hold up would be if a neighbor complained and demanded a hearing in front of the judge.

So we were on pins and needles until the day that the judge was supposed to make a decision on our case. We contacted his office every few days to see if anyone had complained or demanded a hearing, although we knew there was only one that would.

And of course they did, the day before the judge was to make a decision. They were unwilling to pay the fee’s associated with demanding a hearing, so they simply lodged a complaint and let it go. But it was enough for the judge to go ahead and order a hearing so he could here both sides.

We were scheduled for a hearing on December 19, 2013.  So on top of our holiday preparations we needed to compile our case for our greenhouse.  We worked hard the few weeks leading up to the hearing date, including securing signatures of every other neighbor within 500 ft of our property.

To my amazement, when securing signatures, twelve of our closest neighbors offered to go to the hearing on our behalf. This just shows how good of a neighborhood that we live in, most neighbors watch out for their neighbors and help whenever they can.

The day had arrived and our caravan of neighbors journeyed toward the courthouse.  We felt there was no real reason we should be denied, we had all our ducks in a row, we thought. We were excited, yet apprehensive, since we had no idea of what our complaining neighbor would say. Whatever it would be we felt we had compiled plenty of counterpoints with supporting documentation, including neighborhood pictures.

We entered the courtroom about 15 minutes early and waited patiently for the judge and any others to arrive. About 10 minutes after scheduled start time the judge entered, saw the crowd, and asked if the complainant was in attendance-they were not. He allowed a few more minutes for them to arrive before starting the proceeding.

No arrival, so the judge began and asked us to state our project details and why we needed a variance to accomplish it. After laying out our case he asked the others in the group to speak, which were all in favor of our variance—–no opposition.

The judge was courteous and weighed the arguments vs county regulations and immediately approved our variance. He stated that the only reason he requested the hearing was to see how serious the complainant was and what arguments they could have against a greenhouse.

What a relief! Now we could move forward. Although we were already 3 months behind, maybe we could get a few nice days, get the tarp down and at least get the exterior done where I could work inside during cold days.

That was not to happen either, this winter has been very cold and very wet compared to our usual winter. Plus it just keeps hanging on and on and on. Maybe we can get done by this Thanksgiving.

Greenhouse
Greenhouse facing side street

We did get a nice weekend last week-mid 50’s low 60’s but windy. We took the opportunity to get some work done, before the next snow storm that they were calling for the following Tuesday.

Front view GH
Front view GH
Front of GH
Front of GH
Rear of GH
Rear of GH

 

 

 

 

At least we were able to get the house siding put back on and make the house and greenhouse look a little more presentable. But it is now back under cover until we can get another break in the weather, which looks like it may happen in a couple of weeks.

GH re-covered
GH re-covered

Read On: GH Project Phase 1 Completion

Greenhouse Inside

Bee Attitudes

HoneyBeeLast year, 2013, we began our journey into bee keeping. Being against bee keeping, my wife talked me into at least taking the beginner’s bee keeping course to get more information. By the time the 6 week course was coming to an end, I was hooked! (I have no doubt, my wife knew that would happen!)

We decided to start with just one hive, with the idea of getting it through the winter, then adding 2 more this spring. Reason being the expense of getting started and if we messed up, we would only lose one colony instead of two or three.

I believe, though, that we were doomed from the start. We ordered our bee package and all of our supplies though a local supplier, thinking we would be better off dealing locally. While I still believe this is true, the supplier still orders bee packages (bees that have just been put together and must be “Trained” to accept and work for an unknown Queen) and nuc’s ( 4 or 5 frames of bee’s with an established Queen) from a bee supplier in Georgia.

For those that live in or around Georgia, you already know what kind of weather you had late winter and spring 2013. Cold, Wet, and LONG! This kept package bee production to a minimum, with most shipments going out 1 to 2 months later than projected.

3# Bee Package
3# bee Package

We were scheduled to get our bee package on April 13, 2013, but it did not arrive in our hands until late June. This put our colony behind about 2 months-thats two months less of quality brooding time needed to grow a strong colony to over-winter.

We inserted the package into a single hive body and begin liquid feeding immediately. We continued feeding 1-2 times a day until late august when the single hive body seemed to be pretty full with brood and honey. We then added the second hive body on top and reduced feeding to daily or every other day.

Other than removing the top lid to add feed, I left the hive alone, since the bee’s know more about what they need to do than I do. It was about late September, early October when I decided to actually go into the hive and see the progress the bee’s had made. At this point, I had hoped that the second box would be nearly full of stores for the bee’s to live through winter.

Top Body Comb Production 1
Top Body Comb Production 1
Top Body Comb Production
Top Body Comb Production

 

The above pictures are exactly what I pulled out of the hive on that day. Not a pretty picture or anything like what I was expecting.

Unfortunately, being that in our region nectar is pretty well done by Mid-October, I again began feeding feverishly. I thought that although the comb production was haphazard, maybe with enough feed, they could still fill the frames with enough stores for winter.

This did not happen. My thoughts about what the bee’s should do and what they were going to do were two different things. They did not eat, my feeder sat on top untouched. They did not grow their stores much, so I had to come to the realization that I would probably lose this hive before spring.

I checked again in November, then again in December: no real change but my bee’s were still in tact. Maybe they could pull through if we have an early spring.

Anyone that watches weather much, knows what this winter has been like in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Here it is March 24, 2014 and it is snowing like crazy outside. This is the winter that just won’t stop. So I guess there was little hope for my fledgling colony.

We have had a few sixty degree days,-just a spring teaser-so I was able to open the hive and see if there were any survivors. Of course, there were not. The hive was completely empty except for a few dead carcases on the bottom board.

I was very dis-heartened, but I am one that will stick with a plan once I start. I ordered two nuc’s for spring, which are scheduled for delivery on April 5, 2014. I am in hopes that using nuc’s this year will increase my odds of over-wintering the hives.

Hives
Hives

Well, my hives are cleaned and ready for the new arrivals. I have set them next to my over-sized rabbit hutch, which was originally built to house my chickens. And hopefully in the near future will be able to house chickens again.

But for now I am concentrating on getting my new bee’s when they arrive to adapt to their new environment. Hopefully since they are coming from Minnesota this year, they will quickly adapt to our weather and will over-winter well. My plan is to have 3 hives next year, so it would be nice to have two strong colonies to start with in Spring 2015-and maybe even some honey!

Chicken Revolution in Baltimore County Continues

Saving Buffy & Her Friends has been an ongoing post laying out WP_000149our story of fighting to keep our backyard chickens in Baltimore County. If you have followed the post’s, you already know that we did lose the battle to keep our beloved girls, but we continue on with our battle to change the outdated regulations (must have at least one acre to own chickens) concerning the keeping of backyard chickens.

Last year the County Council passed resolution 73-13, which called for a committee from the planning department to research other municipalities and their regulations regarding backyard chickens as pets. They have a primary focus of looking at counties within Maryland and possibly modeling a plan consistent with other surrounding counties.

There is one major issue with that approach: All of the surrounding counties are doing the exact same thing in looking to relax lot size restrictions! Anne Arundel, directly to our south, has revised their regulations to allow chickens on lots of quarter acre, but limited the amount to 4. You can see the revised regulations HERE.

Yet within Anne Arundel County is our State Capital, Annapolis. Annapolis, MD adopted their own set of standards in 2012, allowing up to 4 chickens on any lot with proper permitting and set backs.

In a similar situation, Baltimore City, which is in our own Baltimore County, allows up to 4 hens per residence with required permitting and set backs. Baltimore City Health Code Title 2, 2-106: Title 10, subtitles 1 & 3 outline all regulations for any animal classified as an “exotic” pet. Pigeons, Pot-Bellied Pigs, & Bee’s (Yes honey bees are listed as exotic pets!) are included in this list with chickens.

Howard County to our west has relaxed the regulations to allow chickens on lots above 10K square feet, (about quarter acre). This was just passed last July 2013.

So why should any Government entity restrict our ability to utilize our property in a way that is not detrimental to the neighborhood, based strictly on how much ground we own? What does the amount of ground have to do with the amount of pets?

According to the Humane Society, dog’s are the most owned pet in the nation. Yet there are few to no restrictions on dog’s or the size of  yard needed to house a dog. In Baltimore County, I can have up to 3 dogs without a kennel license. There are no size restrictions, nor is there a lot size restriction.

So, in Baltimore County, I could have three 200# Mastiff’s in a 12 ft

Mastiff vs Chicken
Mastiff vs Chicken

wide row home? I wouldn’t because that would not be good for the animals to be so confined, but I could according to the current regulations. No I am not saying we need regulations on dogs, just showing the idiocy of local legislators

It is good that counties are relaxing guidelines, but limiting lot size to 10K sq ft still precludes many who would like a few backyard hens. We are included in that as our lot is only 7600 sq ft (roughly 1/5 acre). In our original battle, we had 7 which gave us about 3 dozen eggs a week, plenty for our household of seven. Our lot size is ample for 6-8 hens, which is all we are hoping to get.

Our Facebook groups have organized and rallied around a set of regulations which we put together through several meetings, emails, and conference calls. We wanted to be very proactive in our approach to promoting legislation that makes sense for the public, the county, & suburban homesteaders. 

We were able to submit our recommendations at the public input meeting last Thursday March 20, 2014. We are in hopes that the board will recommend most, or all, of our proposal to the County Council for approval when it is time. From my understanding, they would like to hold more public input meetings and to appoint an advisory committee to help organize the vast amount of information concerning backyard chickens.

If you live in Baltimore County and want to help in our efforts please join our Facebook groups to stay updated and see how you can be involved.

Chicken Revolution. This is a closed group, but just request addition to the group.

Baltimore Chickens. This is an open group, anyone can join interested in changing the zoning laws in Baltimore County to allow chickens.

Other municipalities that are trying to organize, here are two documents that may be helpful to you.

This PDF document is my research when we were trying to get a zoning variance to keep our chickens. Although we were unsuccessful, the research is still very useful for anyone working with local legislators: Chicken Research for Council

This is the proposal that our Facebook groups have put together for submission to county (PDF). Baltimore County Proposed Regulations

I invite all questions, comments, and am happy to assist with any group working toward a common goal.

 

Cleaning a Fluval Canister Filter

As our venture into aquaponics grows, it becomes easier to clean and maintain my fish tanks which hold breed stock before they are added to the aquaponics system. I hold  fish in a 55 gallon and 30 gallon tank until they become at least 3-4 inches in length. This size seems to work out well when they are added into the population of aquaponics tank. They can better defend themselves from the bigger bullies.

Since I have sold a few hundred fish to newbies just starting out, I get a lot of questions about equipment and maintenance. One of the most important pieces of equipment in a breeder tank is the filter system. I use the fluval 6 series canister models ( I have a couple of the 206 and one 306 model) as these seem to give me the best bang for the buck, with the least amount of time for maintenance.

9 mo old tilapia
Approximately 9 month old tilapia. About 6-7″ in length

Keeping these models clean with active bacteria growth is paramount to maintaining a healthy environment for my blue tilapia. These models keep my water crystal clear, even if my tanks are over-stocked. I can normally get between 3 and 4 weeks of tank filtration between cleanings.

Fluval 306 Canister Filter
Fluval 306 Canister Filter

As a note, there are other good canister filters out there and many will have the similar set-ups, but the important steps are essentially the same. Through trial and error, here are some key points to maintaining a long running filtration canister for your breeding tanks.

Never clean your canister, parts or filter with running tap water! The chlorination/fluoridation will kill the good bacteria growth that you are trying so hard to maintain. Always clean all parts in tank water that you have drawn off for replacement.

fingerling tilapia
Fingerlings over-loaded in tank before I split into several tanks.

Since every few days to once a week, you should be drawing off and replacing 25% of your tank water. How often depends on how many fish you have in a tank. Rule of thumb is about 5 gal per adult tilapia, so a 55 gallon tank should have no more than 11 adult fish. From fingerlings to 4″ you can easily triple that number, but as they get to 4″ and above be ready to move those fish to your aquaponics set-up, another tank, or sell them.

I start by “vacuuming” sediment from tank, leaving filter on to help get some of the sediment that I stir up. I only draw off about 1 gallon doing this, but this gallon is discarded since it will be full of solids.

After that first gallon, I draw off a full 4 gallon bucket, which I will move to the sink to use for the filter. It will normally take two to three 4 gallon buckets of tank water to thoroughly clean the filter. Sometimes I can clean it with less, but on a 55 gallon tank, replacing 25% is 12.5 gallons anyway.

Let me note here, that I always have a 5 gallon bucket of fresh De-chlorinated water to replace as I draw off. I do this to maintain a high water lever during the process, so I don’t have to cool and remove my heater. Since I started doing this, I have never burned up a tank heater!

Dirty Filter Media CupsI pour about half the 4 gallon bucket into a stopped sink and start  taking filter apart. I first wash all the hard plastic parts and set them on a towel while I am dealing with the different filter media.

When all of the hard plastic pieces are done, I drain water and pour the remainder of the 4 gallon bucket into the stopped sink. I pour in the bio-media to rinse and clean first. You do not want to scrub these bio-balls or ceramics, as they are the main carrier of the advantageous bacteria for your tank. Just rinse in the sink of tank water and replace into clean container.

Foam Filter Media in sink of tank water soaking
Foam Filter Media in sink of tank water soaking

Water after the third time of squeezing sediment out of foam.
Water after the third time of squeezing sediment out of foam.

The last things I clean are the foam filter media. This is because these will take two to four sinks of water to get out the sediment that has been trapped in the foam. I will rub and squeeze these foam pieces several times until the water turns almost black, then change the water and repeat. This must be done several times until the water remains almost clear after squeezing the foam. Remember, as you draw each 4 gallon bucket from the tank, replace the water in the tank with fresh De-chlorinated water.

The last thing you must do is to clean the water transport tubes. Although I said, “Never clean parts in tap-water” I have not found a good way to clean the water flow tubes in the tank water. I do use running tap water to clean the tubes themselves. The water pickup tube and discharge nozzle can be removed to clean in the tank water.

Before putting filter back together, I always determine whether I need to replace any media. I am not sure what the recommendations are for the different medias, but I have found proper cleaning and maintenance stretches the life of all filter material. I do replace the carbon and water polishing pad (pad the carbon media bag lays on) every 30 days. I find that this helps keep crystal clear water ongoing in my tanks.

Cleaned Filter parts and Media
Cleaned Filter parts and Media

It has been almost a year and I have not had to replace any of the other media material, as there is no breakdown of material and cleaning it regularly keeps it in good shape.

When hooking the filter back up, before you plug in to start it, use the manual pump to allow the canister to fill completely. This step will insure

Water Flow from Properly cleaned filter
Water Flow from Properly cleaned filter

that there are no water pockets when you turn on the filter. If you have done everything well, you should get a very strong water stream across the top of your tank as soon as you plug the system in.

I hope this helps some with those of you that are struggling to keep a clear tank or are constantly cleaning the filter. A properly maintained filter and tank should be able to easily last 30 days in between cleaning.