Our last class on June 20th went well even though we had a few minor glitches.
First I need to check my emails better to make sure that when I send something, it actually goes! I found that no one had received the pre-class email with follow-up dates, time, location, and other pre-class information. For some reason, which I am sure was operator error, the email ended up in my “drafts” folder.
For that reason, some of the preliminary information that I send so I don’t have to spend as much class time on a subject, did not go. This meant more time in class covering subjects in more detail.
Another issue was a change in class time, because of potential weather, so a couple of participants showed at the original start time versus the new time. These issues made for a very interesting and long aquaponics basics class, but at least everyone got a lot of time to thoroughly understand the subject matter.
The aquaponic system building class went much more smoothly and everyone was able to properly build the system. With the class being very hands-on and pretty much one on one instruction, (Thanks so much to my two assistants for the day, Rob & Chris!) We were able to get the entire class done in about 2-2 1/2 hours.
We will not be having any aquaponics classes through the summer, but will probably set another round in September. Until then, here are a few pictures from the system class.
This has been one tough summer and fall. It seems that the more I worked this year, the further behind I got, Needless to say, my postings the last few months have suffered, or should I say been non-existent. But here I am. In the last few days, I have had a little time to start concentrating again on catching up the the post’s I had planned.
Several have asked how the greenhouse was coming along, since this was my major project this year. I must say that I am pretty happy with the exterior which completed phase 1. But now we have been focusing on the inside: plumbing, electric, and heat.
These have been major undertakings, but we have now completed them and have added our aquaponics tanks.
We are still in the process of “cycling” our aquaponics tanks to get the proper bacteria forming on the grow media. The ph, nitrites, and and nitrates must be in range before we can add our tilapia stock, but all is coming along.
The first tank seemed to be pretty good so I added 5 of my adult tilapia and after 3 days, they are doing very well. We also added just a few plants (herbs) to the grow bed to help with bacteria growth and filtration.
Since the tanks for tilapia must be maintained
at a constant temperature, I am still using electric heaters to insure the temperature never goes below 70 degrees. Most of the time the tanks are maintained at 85 degrees.
I did take the time also to add a strawberry barrel to the greenhouse, so we should have some fresh strawberries before long. That will be a nice addition this winter!
Well with winter setting in on the mid-atlantic region and the almanac calling for a cold, wet winter, I am glad I was able to get this project completed. I can comfortably work in the greenhouse all winter and have some great fresh vegetables and tilapia all year!
I was amazed to see that it had been April 6 when I last posted, almost 2 months, wow. But as every avid gardener knows, when colder weather gives way to the warmer, longer days of spring, our time seems to grow so much shorter. This year we had the added pressure of completing the greenhouse project, which I will write more about later.
The last few weeks have been spent doing the final preparations to the garden beds for planting. Since we use all raised beds, turning the dirt and mixing in dried grass and leaves is the final step before adding our plants which were started inside about 6 weeks ago.
After this long hard winter, we are starting way behind, but the beds are full of grass, weeds, hay, and rabbit poop-perfect for the final step of mulching it all together with the dried leaves from last fall.
We have about 40 large trash bags of bagged leaves that we have let sit all winter, which will now be used to mix on the garden beds. The hardest part is just lifting our mower into each bed to do the job. Here is a pictorial of the process.
At this point, it is just a matter of covering with landscape fabric, planting, staking, and adding the top media. Top media is a combination of dirt, straw, hay, & rabbit poop. If you look to the top and left of the picture below, you can see our ever bearing strawberries.
I am pretty proud of how our strawberries are coming in this year, should harvest enough for a small family festival!
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
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.
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.
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.