Category Archives: Aquaponics

All the Preps…..Jonas

If you have been following our bathroom remodel, sorry to say that it was put on hold for the last week. Although I do have at least one post to do about it, this week has been spent preparing for the inevitable Jonas Storm hitting the east coast. I am not a doomsday prepper, but I do seriously believe in prepping for the eventuality-nay reality-of natural disasters; like winter storm Jonas.

It is not just about going to the local big box and buying up all the necessities: water, milk, bread, toilet paper, etc. Although these are good items to make sure you have on hand.  There are a lot of other preparing depending on the disaster that is going to hit. It our case in Baltimore-Blizzard Jonas.

Since our chicken coop is a mile from our house (due to local 0123 2440123 245regulations), I went and took the time to wrap the entire coop in a heavy mil plastic to keep the majority of the snow at least outside. But with 60-70 mph wind gusts, I hope it will hold up.

I did make it to the coop yesterday morning and it seemed to be fine, but the worst of the storm did not really hit until yesterday afternoon. I am stuck this morning-even 4-wheel drives are not moving for a while because of the 4-5ft snow drifts surrounding them.

0123 240Next I concerned myself with the rabbits. Although rabbits handle cold well, I really did not want to worry about trudging through the snow to take care of them. So we decided to move them into the greenhouse.

There is not really much room in the greenhouse, but I nestled them into the back corner, covering the rear entrance. We use this entrance very little and with snow piled outside, the likelihood of needing it was less.

Yeti 1200 w/ two solar panels (in case)
Yeti 1250 w/ two solar panels (in case)
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Yeti 1200 and 150
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Full charge on Yeti 1250

 

 

 

 

You can never have enough good batteries, especially if you get into a grid down situation. So on my stock up trip to Costco, I did buy extra batteries. I also made sure that my solar powered generators, batteries, and lights were fully charged. I love Goal Zero’s products, so I have most of their product line and solar panels. We do have a Honda gas fired generator, which I fueled and started just to make sure there were no issues.

So in comes Jonas! I did everything I could to be ready, but it seems, there could always be more. I forgot to dig out my heavy hat, gloves, boots and scarves. It was not too bad rounding them up, but I could have had them out and ready.

Spent most of yesterday transporting essential personnel. My wife is a nurse, so not going to work is not an option! I was hoping she would not get stuck there all weekend, but that all depended on transport picking up the personnel that could not drive in. They were able to get fully staffed so my wife was able to leave at the end of her regularly scheduled shift. But she did have to get a ride in this morning since my 4wd is plowed in!

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I did take a little time to dig out the greenhouse entrance so I could feed the rabbits and fish, as well as check on the aquaponics operation. Although it was nice and toasty in the greenhouse, I was a little concerned about the amount of snow laying on our windows. Since we used conservatory windows, they are not built to withstand holding that much weight. I thought starting a fire in the Rocket Mass Heater might help to melt it off a little quicker.

The rest of my day was spent, shoveling and snow-blowing to insure that emergency personnel could get on our street if need be. The majority of my neighbors are either elderly or disabled, so it falls on the few of us able bodied to keep the road and driveways open to essential personnel.

My neighbors son-in-law, my brother-in-law, and I dug out most houses on the street. We live on a short section of one-way street, so there are only 10 houses on the block. Out of the 10, we dug out 6 before the worst of the storm hit.  At this point we had already had about 15-18 inches, so I thought it would make it easier on us this morning.

Most of the work we did yesterday was gone! The winds, gusting up to 70mph, re-covered everything and pretty much buried any vehicle.  There are a few people out shoveling, blowing now and I will join them soon, even though I am still trying to recover from yesterday.

I do love snow but Baltimore ended in a new single snowfall record of 29.3 inches. Add the wind to the mix and this was definitely one of the worst storms to hit our area in my lifetime. We are looking at cloudy skies and sun for the next week, so we should be able to recover quickly and get Baltimore “open for business” again!

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Growing well

A home ed life

Well, I had a major panic over the weekend when my ammonia levels reached a ridiculous high, so I rushed out and got Interpet Ammonia Remover. I had to use two lots, according to the instructions, over a 4 hour period, to bring my ammonia down, and then wait 24 hours before re-seeding with Tetra SafeStart. I couldn’t find a scrap of information on the internet about how the ammonia remover worked, because unlike AmmoLock and others I found mentioned a lot, it stops the ammonia showing up on tests, so it doesn’t just change it into a less toxic form, it seems to actually remove it. However, this could therefore damage my nice bacteria, so I needed to replace them, just in case. So fingers crossed this has worked!

My plants are doing great!

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They’re growing really well! I also put in the seeds that had been germinating…

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Wishing for a greener 2016!

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As we have just stepped into 2016, here is a quick review of how things went for our little roof top farm (greens.farm) in 2015 and what is in the pipeline for 2016.

We entered into 2015 with the objective of starting two or three small organic farming projects, that will reduce our dependency on commercially farmed vegetables, and to share our experiments through social media in an effort to encourage those around us to practice a greener lifestyle.

When I look back into 2015, I think we achieved only 25% or less of what we hoped for, but we are very very happy that we never lost our passion and kept moving through some of the tougher times and busy schedule. Even more importantly, we stay resolved to continue this journey through 2016 with bigger but practical goals.

In 2015, we experimented quite a bit on aquaponics and now…

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Aquaponics – New hybrid system experiment

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One of the challenges in having longer term plants, that lives more than 4-6 months, in aquaponic growbed is that they fill up the grow media with roots over time and it increases water level in the growbed. Also removing older plants from the growbed becomes very hard.

A new experiment is in progress to reduce the intensity of this problem. I am removing media (gravel) from a growbed so the growbed will have just water in it, and then to place pots filled with grow media in the water. It will look like a vegetable plant in a pot but the pot itself is placed in water with top two inches above water. I am using pots with holes around it for easy waterflow and for roots to extend into water. This way we can easily lift each pot/plant out of water or move around in the growbed.

Technically…

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Beginning winter aquaponics

If you caught my post a few days ago, you know how increasingly hectic things have been around the little suburban homestead. I am really trying to carve out the time to catch up a few posts, but it has still been difficult. I can start to share some of the posts and projects that have occupied so much time.

The greenhouse and aquaponics setups have been pretty good. I cleaned the grow beds out, cleaned out all the filters and lines and prepared the beds for winter planting.

I started planting with the usuals for our winter feeding of the chickens: lettuce, spinach etc. Then I added a few tomato plants and some peppers, along with some bush bean plants that were volunteers that I transplanted from outside.

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Also, you may notice the onions. This was a first for us. I threw them in just to see what would happen and surprisingly, they took off. They seem very happy in the rocky, water-laden media.

Along with getting the grow beds together, I did some basic maintenance on the greenhouse; sealing air gaps and insuring fewer heat leaks this winter. Of course I also test fired the rocket mass heater to check the flue for any obstruction. All went well and I think the greenhouse is ready to produce great things this winter.

Aquaponics – First harvest of Amara (Payar) Beans

I love to see others success with aquaponics systems!

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It been at least three months since we planted amarapayar, but it was in a system with very few fish and so we hardly got any beans so far. A couple of weeks back I added a few more bigger fish into the system and we are starting see good fruition on Amarapayar and long beans.

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Two Months….

It has been two months since I have shared anything. I thought it was only a few weeks, but regardless, not good for anyone blogging. These last two months have been so eventful and packed full of activities that it is hard to determine where to start.

Of course, trying to get ready for winter has been a priority. Cleaning the little homestead, pulling up the garden beds, pruning trees and arbor, laying new wood chips around the garden paths, mulching trees to protect roots from winter, cleaning out aquaponics tanks, setting up greenhouse, readying the animals (rabbits, chickens, bees) etc, etc, etc. I have pictures and will post more later….

Fortunately so far this year it has been very mild for us. We have stayed pretty consistently in the 50’s and 60’s-a good 15-20 degrees above normal for the Mid-Atlantic Region. They are even calling for 72 degrees on Christmas Eve, with Christmas Day in the 60’s! It has given me some extra time at least to get our gardens and yard together.

We have had a few health scares as well, both myself and my wife. My Melanoma keeps spreading, so keeping on top of it with my doctor has to be a priority. I was also diagnosed with C.O.P.D. not bad enough yet for oxygen, but fatigue and shortness of breath set in quickly.

My wife ended up with the hospital with what they determined a cardiac “episode” I guess they determine an episode when they cannot truly find anything, but all symptoms seemed like a heart attack to me. AT least enough to transport by ambulance instead of taking a chance driving her. She is back to normal, just have to be sure to see a heart specialist after Christmas to, if nothing else, get baseline readings.

We moved into our little homestead in 2005, with a plan to remodel the bathrooms and kitchen within a short time. We did do our guest bathroom about 4 years ago when my brother-in-law became disabled and moved in with us, but have not made progress on the other bath or kitchen. The beginning of November came and we made the determined decision to gut our primary bathroom. This is currently a work in progress, which was hoping to have done by Christmas, but things happen. We should be done early in the new year and I will do a post on the rehab as well as having a lot of pictures. Stay tuned…

Well, for now, I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I will start posting more regularly again very soon!

Preparing for winter-too much to do!

I am taking advantage of the nice-but cool weather today to start preparing the suburban homestead for winter. Bees, chickens, rabbits, fish, the greenhouse, the aquaponics systems the garden, canning, freezing, dehydrating, and I am sure there are a few other things that will need my attention over the coming weeks.

This morning started at 5:30, fixing breakfast for the little woman. Yes she still works outside the home, which is why I became here “Homestead Hero”, as she calls me. Hero I am not, but it is a full time job to take care of a homestead-even a small 1/5 acre suburban homestead.

After getting her off to work, its time to gather food scraps and greens (grow in the garden and greenhouse) to feed the chickens. Taking food and water to the chickens is not as easy as walking out the back door since we can not legally keep fowl on our property. (In Baltimore County-must have 1 acre for any chickens) So I have to take a short drive of about 1 1/2 miles to get to the chicken coop on our friends property. This isn’t so bad and I really do not have to go every day since we installed the solar electric door to let them in and lock them up at night. But it’s nice to feed them greens and scraps to keep our feed bill low.

Once back from the coop, I focused on getting the bees wrapped all warm and toasty. We have had a few nights now at 30 degrees, so why wait until the last minute.

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I start the wrap with a layer of 2″ foam board around three sides. This is held tight with a metal plumbing strap. Then I can surround the hive with straw bales. These serve as a great wind break and an insulator for the cold weather accompanied by high winds that we usually have here on the east coast.

In the third picture, many of the bees came out to see what was going on, almost looks as if they are getting ready to swarm, but they quickly settled back inside to their routine.  I was going to start feeding them today, but with the activity I will just wait until tomorrow before I disturb them again.

While I was outside, I just checked on the rabbits. We have a mating pair of Florida Whites, of which our female is currently pregnant. She is due on the 27th, so I just added some straw in the cage so she could build a nice comfy warm nest to deliver the litter. I have the plastic wrap put up but have not surrounded the hutches with it yet. That only takes a few minutes to unroll and attached to the outside of the hutch, so I can wait until later this month.

Our buck-Columbus
Our buck-Columbus
Our female-Sweet Pea, Just 7 more days to delivery!
Our female-Sweet Pea, Just 7 more days to delivery!
Plastic ready to wrap
Plastic ready to wrap

 

 

 

 

 

Chickens, bees, and rabbits-check, check, and check. So on to the greenhouse. I have not been real active in the greenhouse over the summer, since all of my attention has been devoted to the outside garden projects.

Of course the last few weeks have been filled with canning, freezing and dehydrating our spring and summer crops. “crops” that makes it sound like we have so many acres, but we have just enough for one little homestead hero to handle.  You would be amazed at how much can be grown on a 1/5 acre!

Anyway, back to the greenhouse. I wrote a couple of months ago about our cherry tomato plant in the aquaponic grow bed. I figured today was a good day to say goodbye to it-after 11 months of growing and fruiting. Yes it was still delivering cherry tomatoes, but the growth had taken over the greenhouse and the vines had rooted in several places throughout 2 grow beds.

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winter 008It took some time to clean out the remains of the tomato plant, along with some lettuce, spinach, and mint that the growth had been hiding from me. But now that the grow beds are empty, except for a thriving mint plant in one corner, I can start to plant for winter growth.

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Our outside Bean Tower during season

While working outside I found some bean plants that had sprouted around my outside grow tower. I guess when I let some stay on the vine to dry for use as seeds next year, they must have fallen off and germinated in the ground around the barrel.  There were six small plants that seemed to be thriving, even after the frost we encountered the last two nights.  I thought this would be a perfect time to try green beans in our aquaponics system.

I installed one of our larger tomato cages into the center of the grow bed. Then I dug up the 6 bean plants and cleaned the roots for transplanting. This will be a first for me trying green beans so I am excited to see how well they do.

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The other grow bed, with the mint in the corner is now planted with seed for lettuce, mescaline, spinach, and arugula. It is nice to be able in the winter to feed our chickens and rabbits fresh greens.

Part of preparing for winter is also thinking ahead to spring, so today I had a full load of wood chips delivered. I use these to spread on paths and walkways between the raised beds, as well as around fruit trees to keep roots warm in the winter.

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Anyone like pumpkins this time of year? I did not plant pumpkins this year because it absolutely took over our garden beds last year. But I guess God had other plans for the garden this year as I have a great amount of pumpkins that grew. I think it fascinating that they are hanging from my tomato cages and green bean tunnel.

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winter 003While working around the homestead today, I had an engineer here all morning checking, measuring, taking pictures and asking questions, readying our house for a solar panel installation. We are really looking forward to adding solar to our property, hopefully to help get our utility costs reduced and be more in line with our belief in sustainability and eco-friendly.

I think this is the first time I have ever written over 1000 words for one post. I hope I did not bore you, but there is always a lot going on at the little suburban homestead this time of year. This hero, although tired, really enjoys the activity.

 

Reduce personal energy dependence

Today’s economy is rising tide of expenses and debt for the average consumer. It seems to many that there will never again be a low tide where one can catch their breath before dealing with yet another increase or financial crisis. In previous posts, I gave several tips on ways to decrease your expenses and although we are soon starting a new year, those tips are still very pertinent today.

We have moved forward in our sustainable living model with the addition of rabbits, bees, tilapia fish, and a large aquaponics setup, which have all helped in reducing our need on outside sources to live a comfortable, frugal life.

I would like to take a moment to once again discuss the desire and need to reduce our energy consumption-initially to reduce our expense and be less dependent on outside sources, but since have noted how much a difference has been made in reducing our carbon gas emissions.We are taking our energy reduction one step further with the addition of a solar panel grid to our electric system.

In the past decade solar power was an expensive venture to install and maintain, but in just the last few years many new innovations have made solar power a very affordable opportunity to the average homeowner. In just the past few months, thousands have contacted us to see how affordable solar energy has become.

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Through our program and partnership with one of the leading solar companies in the United States, it is as simple as:

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And with a completely FREE evaluation of the property, there is nothing to lose. Everything will be handled initially by phone and email, and only once you decide solar is the right choice will an engineer visit your home for an on site assessment and installation plan.

The truth is, going solar may be one of the smartest things you can do as a homeowner because it can increase your home’s resale value. And as utility prices go up, your savings grow.

There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by converting much of your power generation to green, clean, solar energy. Take just 30 seconds to request your no-risk consultation and you could be on your way to savings in your pocket, while making a huge difference on our environment. Currently available in limited markets, but quickly expanding, so if we are not in your market yet, check back soon.

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Suburban Homesteading-A New Way of Life?

Urban and suburban homesteading have grown beyond belief in the last decade. Many living in the city or near a city have chosen to be more self-sustainable through gardening, beekeeping, aquaponics, permaculture, and raising/breeding meat animals (rabbits, chicken). Not all inclusive, this list is considered by many, a new way to be more self-sustainable, more “green” in today’s world.

Planted Garden
Ready and planted garden beds for 2014 growing season.

Being a part of suburban homesteading, doing all I can to make the best of our little 1/5 acre, has taught me many lessons. Among those is that this trend is not a new lifestyle- it is a reversion to the lifestyle of our ancestors. Our ancestors being self-sustainable out of necessity were really living a “green” lifestyle before green was cool!

Our trip into homesteading began with two major forces driving our decisions, beginning with the economy, on to the need to house and feed more people under our roof. Economic conditions over the last decade have not been all the best, of course coming to a head in 2007-8 with the collapse of the housing market. This is when we truly became serious about be more self-sustainable.

We have always gardened, but the amount of land dedicated to gardening grew substantially as more relatives (children and siblings) began to move back in with us due to lost jobs, lost homes, and health issues. As our population grew, the need to produce more of our own food grew. We quickly went from one main garden bed in our back yard to over 30 raised beds throughout the property.

Growing our own food became a necessity, but we found that we had some much more control over what was going into our bodies. We chose to never again use any type of pesticide or herbicide within our property limits, determining that using natural substances made better sense and in many cases was more effective. Enter the chickens!

Chicken manure is among the best “natural” fertilizers available, but having the actual chicken made so much more sense with the added value they bring to any yard and garden. The pecking, natural soil aeration, eliminating bugs and other pests, the eggs, and not to mention the shear joy of just watching them run and play in the yard made having them a no-brainer. Of course the County did not have the same opinion and took our chickens after a year because of local zoning regulations. More on this in other posts.

Bee package
First 3# Bee Package

So without chickens, we moved to rabbits. Choosing to raise meat rabbits at least gave us another great fertilizer source, but also another source of meat. There were no regulations on growing personal use rabbits, as well as we did not sell any, nor could we butcher any in public view. So at least we could still accomplish some of our goals without the County constantly in our business.

As our garden grew, we felt a need to expand our ability to insure a good crop each year by adding bees to our little homestead. Seemed like a natural jump and fortunately we live in a county that has no regulations concerning beekeeping. Bees are an interesting lot and require little effort on the part of humans. If we provide proper housing for them, they are very attentive to their own needs to survive. This was a great step into our expanding homestead.

First Aquaponics bed
First AP Tank/bed

Extending our growing season for some fresh vegetables became a project last year, opting to try indoor aquaponics. Although this process had a huge learning curve for me, since I had no knowledge of fish or gardening without soil, we ventured forward. This has been one of the most enjoyable ventures so far and one that I was able to actually help fill a need to others in perfecting a “portable” AP system for other local enthusiast’s.

Greenhouse
Completed Greenhouse side view

This year was a major project year, deciding to build a 10′ x 20′ greenhouse to expand our growing season to year round and move our aquaponics into a larger area outside our basement. Again comes the County! This fight through multiple hearings, petitions, emails and phone calls finally came to an end in our favor after about 8 months. So we have been able to move forward and complete the structure, we are still very much in the set up phase of the interior.

Of course how could I get through this post without thanking my parents and grand-parents for teaching me many of the skills I never thought I would use in  my life. Canning, freezing, and dehydrating have become commonplace to extend our ability to use our own fresh crops, which I learned from my mother and grand-mother. Planting, growing, and harvesting knowledge are an extension of my father’s passed down skills. My grand-father taught me about chickens, cows, and horses-although our land could never accommodate large animals, I understood the value of chickens on our property.

Every day is a joy to be able to get out of bed and do something I love that is a benefit to my family, my budget, and my community since we always have enough to spare to our elderly and disabled neighbors and our friends. Although my initial reasoning for our lifestyle had nothing to do with being more “green” I have found that many of the skills handed down to me are just that-a greener lifestyle. Self-sustainable and green can go hand in hand, but a” new” lifestyle it is not. Our ancestors understood a green lifestyle out of necessity, and passed down the knowledge and skills so future generations could enjoy the benefits of a self-sustaining lifestyle!