Category Archives: D.I.Y.

Things we planned or built that might be beneficial to any homesteader.

Aquaponics-Grow bed maintenance

I had to make some changes in the greenhouse this winter which gave me the opportunity to take a closer look at my grow beds. The grow beds had a high concentration of fish solids making it difficult to maintain clean water and a proper ph balance.

These tanks have been in operation for over 3 years so I guess that’s not bad considering how lax I have been cleaning the swirl filters, which removes 80% of the fish solids. Note the mud like substance in the photos as well as the algae buildup in certain areas of the grow bed.

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The only real option I had was to remove the grow media and rinse it through strainers to remove as much of the solids as I could before returning it to the grow bed.

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Hopefully I will never let it get that bad again, but I know my fish and plants appreciated the clean out.

 

 

 

Water Retention is just “Swale”

On our little 5th acre suburban homestead in the Mid-Atlantic Region, there is always one area of concern from mid-June through late August…..Water.

We don’t tend to get a lot of rain during these months and when it does rain, it is a quick storm or sudden downpour. The problem with the rains we do get is it runs off very quickly instead of soaking through for a deep root watering of all our plants.

So, this year I decided to try and build a water retention ditch through part of our back yard. Most of our ground is very level, so I don’t know if you could call this a true swale, but it is built of the swale concept.

I started by digging a trough basically about 18″ deep and made sure that the bottom grade of the ditch was perfectly level from one end to the other. Getting the base level means that although the trough is anywhere from 12″ to 18″ deep, the water will still remain evenly throughout ditch.

After the ditch was dug and I insured it would hold water evenly, I put a layer of landscape fabric before adding fill. The fill is done with old logs and tree trunks, which will help retain the moisture of every rain.

Then to top it off is a “path” of large rock. The rock will allow easy water flow, yet adds the appearance of only being a path through the mulch of garden beds.

Sorry I did not get pictures of the area when I first started, but here are the pics of the project and finished work.

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The swale runs between some fruit trees and in the middle of a larger “food forest” which I am hoping that it will keep enough water dispersed throughout during the dryer season.

The berm built on the side from the dirt dug from the trench will serve as extra planting space. Have not decided exactly what I will plant yet, but I will have it finished up in the next few days.

My plan is to add two or three more if this does exactly what I am hoping it will do. Any way I can keep more water on the property is a great advantage to the amount of watering we have add to do these past few years.

2016 Honey Flow

Its that time again. Around July 4 seems to be the perfect time to harvest our honey from the hive. I had high hopes this year, as this was the second year that this hive would give us honey, but once getting into it, I was a little let down.

Last year (2015)we were able to get about 11 pounds of honey. Not a fantastic harvest, but still very excited about our first year. This year I truly expected that we would be able to harvest two to three times that amount, as the hive seemed very strong and thriving.

I guess sometime in the spring, we must have had a swarm from this hive. When I opened it up, the bee population seemed very low. Unfortunately, I had my wife taking pictures while I explored the hive and none of those pictures came out for some reason.

In the brood boxes, I found lots of empty cells, drone and female, along with a good amount of brood. There was a layer of pollen and honey, so the house bees seem to be keeping up on their duties. I did not find any queen cells, so the hive is not “thinking” about a new queen. I am guessing that this queen is starting to fail (I did not re-queen in 2015) so I am going to get a new queen and make that change now, so there will be plenty of time to assimilate and grow winter stores.

Back to the honey. I did get almost the same amount of honey this year as I did in 2015, so I guess I can’t complain too much. I will say the honey this year was much darker, so they must have got nectar from a different source than last year. I will be adding 2 more hives in the spring, so I look forward to the coming years of beekeeping.

Please enjoy some of the pictures from our day.

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Hop on to experimentation

I have had many ups and downs over the past several months. From epic fails to neglect, I have learned that I need to pay closer attention to my aquaponics systems. So I am starting another experiment.

I just completed writing on how I neglected my system over the winter and the issues it caused. One of the best ways to keep a system in balance is to keep it planted at all times.

I planted some herbs, garlic, and onions, which have all done well in the system previously. My wife had just purchased some Hops plants for one of the garden beds, so I thought what a perfect time to experiment with something new.

Hops-yes the hops used for beer making-are a very prolific plant and can be extremely invasive if not cared for properly. They also like a moist, sunny area to grow, but do not like sitting in water.

My thought was putting it in a fill and drain system which would allow the roots to get watered 3-4 times an hour but they would not sit in water full time if I used a large container and set it near the top of the grow media.

I dug into the grow media to find the water level when the bed was full of water. This was about 2″ below the media surface. I then filled a large planting pot with media and planted the hops in it, being sure that some of the roots were at the very bottom of the pot with the majority of the plant toward the top of the pot.

20160420_075002 20160420_075010I then set the pot into the hole I had dug in the media bed and pushed the media up around the sides of the pot to hold it firmly in place. Hops tend to grow to around 20 ft tall and since I only have 10 ft from the top of the grow bed to the top of the greenhouse, I put a cage in the grow bed so I could espalier the growth as it gets too big. The large pot, I am hoping, will keep it from spreading too far in the grow bed.

I will post an update once I see it taking hold and growing-or if it becomes another failed attempt at growing plants not usually in an aquaponics system.

Bee-utiful Morning

Finally! Had a nice weather day and some actual time in between planned and unplanned projects to see how my bee hives looked.

My one hive is empty because the bees swarmed last year and found a new home. I took it apart first just to see if I could determine any cause in the housing conditions to make them swarm.

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Left empty over winter since the bees swarmed last year

20160413_115817 20160413_120058 20160413_120149I could not

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Threw away all the existing frames. Don’t want to transfer anything to the new hive.

get any definitive information from the empty box. The pest’s that took up residence may have come in after the swarm, so I can’t really blame it on hive moths, veroa mites or other small critters. I may have inadvertently killed the queen at one stage last year and the bees decided to leave with the new queen they had grown. Who knows?

 

I am throwing away all the “guts” of the hive and will burnish the interior of the hive body with a torch to  be able to use it for my next hive. Hopefully this will kill anything that may have survived after the last bees left.

So, on to the good hive. It has been thriving well. This is the hive I got 11 pounds of honey from last year. They seemed to over-winter well, but I felt I need to take the hive down to see what is actually happening.

20160419_104008 20160419_104023I put a honey box on top a couple of months ago because the weather has been strangely warm-and rainy-so I just wanted to see how it would go. Surprisingly, when I pulled the honey today, it was about half full and the majority of comb was drawn and ready to accept more. This may bode well for this years honey harvest in July. But my main concern today was to check and see that we had a good brood, meaning lots of new bees over the next few days.

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Top Hive Body
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Bottom Hive Body
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Switched Hive body boxes and installed Queen excluder between honey box

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When checking the top box of the two deep hive, plenty of activity and lots of capped cells. So we should start seeing an explosion of bees in the next week! But maybe not….

The lower box was empty! I really was not expecting it to be empty, thought I might at least see some eggs or larvae. I went ahead and switched the two boxes positions (Since bees like to work their way up) and I will check it again next week to see if the queen is laying in the top box now.  I am hoping that will be the case, so just have to wait and see.

I will update when I get into the hive again. For now the hive is back together with the honey box on top—-fingers crossed.

 

Sometimes you just have to pause your plans

This time of year is always exceptionally busy, as it is with most “extreme” gardeners. But when a friend calls and he needs help to build a handicap ramp on his mother’s house, one just has to hit pause and help.

His mother had fallen and displaced her hip. Although she will make a full recovery, it will take time. We never know what the future may hold, so taking the time now to build a handicap ramp may save us time and money in the future.

Ironically, mother’s dog just had a knee replacement surgery and could not do steps either. We were struggling to pick up a 60# dog and carry it down and up the steps 4 times a day, so the ramp could definitely be utilized immediately.

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Measure to Manage-Aquaponics Nutrient Analysis Report #3

Every 6-8 weeks, I post my photometer readings for the aquaponics system water. The biggest change I’ve made this term is using rainwater exclusively. I should also add that I lost a bunch of…

Source: Measure to Manage-Aquaponics Nutrient Analysis Report #3

Being creative on our 1/5 acre suburban homestead

Having only a 1/5 acre lot in the middle of suburbia always tests our ability to be more creative to utilize the ground the best way possible. Doing that we are going to try growing espalier fruit trees next to our greenhouse.

I have always wanted some Asian Pear Trees, but they don’t do really well in the Mid-Atlantic region. The “hot” season is not really hot enough or long enough to grow the fruit to its full capacity.  Fully grown Asian pears should be about the size of a grapefruit, but in this area they are usually about the size of an average apple.

Through my research, thinking I was going to add a dwarf tree in my greenhouse, I found the idea of growing them espalier. Espalier growing according to the dictionary is:

es·pal·ier
iˈspalyər,-yā/
noun
  1. a fruit tree or ornamental shrub whose branches are trained to grow flat against a wall, supported on a lattice or a framework of stakes.
    • a lattice or framework for an espaliered tree or shrub.
verb
verb: espalier; 3rd person present: espaliers; past tense: espaliered; past participle: espaliered; gerund or present participle: espaliering
  1. train (a tree or shrub) to grow flat against a wall.

Since I have a 6′ base wall on the south side of my greenhouse, I thought this would be the perfect place to try and espalier 2 AP Trees.

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First I planted 4-8′ landscape timbers at 6-7′ apart, buried 2 feet in the ground with concrete (leaving 6′ above ground). Everything I read stated that this spread and height seemed to be the optimal for what I was hoping to accomplish.

First I attached eye hooks into the posts at 12″ increments starting0305 202 about 2″ down from the top of each post. This allowed me four lines since I did not want to go any closer than 2′ to the ground.0305 212

I purchased 3/16″ cable wire for the structure and sewed in through the top two sets of eye hooks, making my top two rows for growth.

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At this point it was a matter of how to attach the cable to the eye hooks. I needed something that0305 206 was going to be sturdy enough to keep the line tight, but also allowed for me to tighten the lines further if it became necessary.I came up with cable end clamp set and turnbuckle. Attaching these would allow for everything I needed, hopefully. They were not that hard to attach below is a graphic depiction of process.

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Before attaching the other end of the line make sure the turnbuckle is completely open so that you can use it to adjust tightness of the line. This will leave you plenty of room for future adjustments if/when necessary.

Finishing all the lines and planting the trees was all that was left. I think it turned out pretty good, I am really hoping for some great fruit off of these trees in a couple of years!

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Finally I can say it……I am done!

It has been several months in the making, but I can finally say that our bathroom project is done! We started this rehab back in November and expected to be done by Christmas, but you know what they say about the best laid plans!

Well here are some pictures of the finished product-except for a few decorative items that I am sure my better half will add soon….

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