When we first built our greenhouse on the side of our house a few years ago, I thought this is more than enough room for what we will ever do in here. Wow, was I wrong!
Putting in the three 300 gallon fish tanks, with the grow beds, gutter garden, and potted plants seemed to be about perfect, but this year when an opportunity presented itself to acquire some 4 to 5 year old citrus trees, I took it. I now have a total of 6 citrus trees which must be protected from our mid-Atlantic winters.
Lemons, limes, mangoes, and banana trees have made a home in our greenhouse. To make room I had to eliminate one fish tank and build a step-platform to hold the trees. I still have 2 fish tanks which is more than adequate to keep my grow beds alive. Here are a few pictures of our overcrowding.
Watering, weeding, and digging, but very little close to harvesting. This year has been very strange. I think the spring weather, almost constant rain, getting the garden out later than normal, and now near drought conditions are causing strange growth patterns in our garden.
I actually took time to walk around our 1/5 acre homestead the other day just to survey how all the plants and trees were doing. I was a little surprised at the lack of growth from some plants that usually do very well, while their is an abundance of growth from other plantings.
On the good side-Our corn is ridiculous! I planted it next to one of our sheds and it has grown taller than our 10′ high shed! Not only that, but most years we only get 1 ear per stalk, most of the stalks this year are giving us two!
Most of the melons are doing very well-trying to take over the garden even when I built “towers” for them this year.
This is the second year for my Jerusalem artichokes and they are feeling very happy as well.
Many of my fruit trees-in particular the pears- which gave us an abundance of fruit last year, has not even flowered this year. The trees seem full, healthy and happy, but no fruit. The apple trees, right next to the pear trees are bearing much this year-I had to thin out the fruit growth there was so much.
I think everything else is pretty much on track with our late planting. Have some nice green tomatoes, green beans are vining well, all the herbs and other plants seem to be doing their job. My only real concern is the pepper plants.
Our pepper plants are usually very prolific. We get so many peppers that I cut the amount that I normally plant down to just 8. They are still growing, but they are much farther behind than other plants. They don’t seem unhappy, just slow growing. I will just keep an eye on them and if they don’t spring up I may go ahead and plant more, or I guess if they don’t produce, I can put some in the greenhouse aquaponics for late season or winter.
Here are some pictures of our garden beds around our yard. Enjoy!
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.
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.
A few days ago I wrote about many of the projects I had been working on since it was almost impossible to get outside between raindrops to plant the garden.
I talked about the potato barrel project, which since first installing, I have expanded quite a bit since I had so many extra barrels. (Some already cut for AP tanks) The potatoes seem very happy in the new “digs” so I thought other plants might feel comfortable as well. I have not decided what else I am going to plant yet-other than a couple of barrels of red potatoes-but I have no doubt that my wife will soon let me know what I am thinking about.
Another project I had been putting off but really needed done was to paint all of my fish tanks and grow beds in the greenhouse. I have had a real issue with algae, and although I have kept Plecco’s (algae eaters) in the tanks, the issue is still out of control.
So I finally took the time to paint the exteriors of all my tanks and grow beds flat black. This will keep the sunlight from penetrating, thus reducing my algae growth. I also bought black bucket lids to put on top of my swirl filters.
Getting the garden in place this year has been a real chore with the deluge of rain we have been getting in the Mid-Atlantic Region. So I have been filling my time, in between raindrops, doing a few little projects that needed done.
First we moved the rabbits out of the greenhouse into their own new digs. The housing use to belong to our chickens, but since we no longer can have them on our property (Thank you Baltimore County), it seemed like a great place to house our rabbits. I just needed to add a small rabbit condo to the mix.
We always have extra wood laying around and in this case I had an old antique secretary desk that was beyond repair. This made for the perfect base and 2 floors for the new rabbit condo. All I really had to do was add a third level (we only have two female rabbits housed here) and some ramps for them to climb.
Overall I think it turned out pretty good for just a few hours work.
Next I had to take the new chickens-our 6 meat birds-and get them out of the house. They were getting too big too quick for the extra large dog cage we were using. We are going to dispatch them next weekend, so I only needed a couple more weeks. I moved them into the greenhouse where the rabbits were to keep them out of sight of our 1 problematic neighbor.
They seem happier in the expanded space, I just hope no one tells them about our weekend plans!
Another project I have been wanting to do was make some dedicated space for our potato crop. We have done ok with potatoes the last few years but I am horrible about adding to the hills as they grow, thus reducing my harvest.
This year I decided to do as a friend of mine did last year: grow my potatoes in barrels! I cut three barrels in half, drilled in some drainage holes, and set them along the fence row where they will get plenty of sun all day.
Once having the barrels set, I mixed some our local dirt (clay), compost, and perlite to formulate a good bedding mix for the new potatoes. I scooped this into each barrel and leveled it at about 4 inches deep. This seemed a good starting point with potatoes.
I did this a few days ago and I just looked into the barrels this morning and saw several of the potatoes growing. When they get to about 6-8 inches I will add more dirt, burying the plants to about 4 inches again. I have already made up an extra barrel of the dirt mix and have it standing by so hopefully I will add more each week to realize a larger potato crop.
My friend that showed me this method got a great yield from his 1 barrel last year so I am real excited to see how this does for me.
This is just a few of the projects I have done over this rainy period. The last few days, there have been enough dry spells to get the garden in, so I will have several updates in the coming days.
I took a little time off last Saturday since it was going to be a beautiful day, except for a few sprinkles early morning. I decided to go to one of our local garden experts tour and talk, so I visited Miriam’s Gunpowder Gardens.
This is the first time I have ever been to Miriam’s but I must say it was not only beautiful on the banks of the Gunpowder River, but educational. Miriam is very versed in all manner of flower, shrub, and tree on her property. With over 30,000 plants that is some feat indeed!
One of the great things about taking the free tour of the gardens is the opportunity to ask a lot of questions and learn more about specific plants and gardening techniques. Not to mention, when the tour is over, the opportunity to dig and take some plants home-again absolutely free!
I went to the tour with the idea of grabbing a few bee-friendly plants to enhance our honey production from the hives. There was so much, I ended up walking away with several varieties of bee-friendly plants and trees.
It was a great day and Miriam offers free tours every Saturday-weather permitting- through the summer. The tours start a 9 & 11am with 1 afternoon tour at 1pm.
For more pictures or to ask Miriam a question follow her on Tumblr at:
This last year has seemed to quadruple in speed. So much has happened and changed that I did not even realize how much I have neglected my aquaponics systems in the greenhouse.
You know you have not been paying attention when you find moss growing on your grow media! The grow bed above “B” tank in my greenhouse has collected a large amount of fish poo in the grow media, allowing for moss growth on top and around all the edges.
Honestly this past winter, I did not grow much in this bed and kept feeding the fish as normal. The tank is currently over-crowded with about 30 adult tilapia fish, which produce a large amount of waste.
I have a swirl filter attached to the system to help eliminate heavy solids, but I have not kept up with cleaning and draining the swirl filter on a regular basis. The swirl filter with an over-populated tank should be drained every other day and cleaned about once per week. Through the winter, I probably drained it every 2 weeks and cleaned the filter once a month-very neglectful on my part. Truly I am surprised I have not lost fish from the tank as the ammonia levels are way out of control.
I dug down into the grow media a few inches and found the majority of fish waste was contained in the top 2-3 inches of the media. I took off the top few inches and rinsed it thoroughly before replacing into grow bed.
I added a pound of red wigglers to the bed, which should reduce the amount of solid fish waste, since they feed heavily on the waste. Planting the bed full of herbs or other plants will have a significant impact as well.
Over the course of the next few weeks I will drain the filter daily and clean the filter two to three times a week. I am hoping within the month this will clean the majority of the waste from the system and get it back in balance.
Living through our 20’s are tough for most of us – it’s the time we make some of our biggest decisions. We have moments of clarity and joy, scattered with moments of inquisition and uncertainty. We question the time we spend on this planet earning money, and whether more money and stability is worth sacrificing happiness. Through our love of the environment, science, and community, Sean and I discovered aquaponics, and the possibility of a tiny business selling plants grown from fish poo. Sounds exciting right?!
For the last five years I have fueled my aquaponics entirely with Tilapia Fish, but this year have seriously considered expanding our systems with catfish. Have not as of yet, but probably will before summers end.
After a little bit of a wait, I finally got some catfish to help power the system. They’re really small at about 4 inches. Not sure if we should be calling them kitten fish at this stage. I’ll have to check on that. After the big fish kill from the aerator diaphragm failure, I wasn’t sure how many hybrid carp I had left in both tanks. So to make room for the catfish, I emptied the tank with the least amount of fish “stashing” most of the water from the 500 gallon tank into the rest of the system. Earlier in the day, I noticed the sump tank was low and figured if I clear the swirl filter to lose about 100 gallons, I could isolate the fish tank by closing the valves and use a pump and hose to empty it into the rest of the system saving my…