Tag Archives: garden

Cylburn Arboretum Aquaponics

Cylburn Mansion
Cylburn Mansion

We recently had the opportunity to visit the Cylburn Arboretum Aquaponics Project. Cylburn Arboretum is 200 acres of open space, beauty, and learning located in northern Baltimore City. The Mansion and grounds are maintained by an association to ensure the preservation, enhancement, and interpretation of the site’s gardens, woodlands, historic buildings and collections as educational, environmental, and recreational. Although the mansion and grounds are beautiful, we focused our day on the aquaponics project, vowing to come back in the spring as all the gardens begin to bloom.

Tilapia at Cylburn
Tilapia at Cylburn

Our interest in the aquaponics project stemmed from seeing a more commercialized operation, as well as learning more about growing tilapia fish, since that is their fish of choice also. I was impressed with the size of the tilapia they had-ranging from 3-5# each at about 2 years old. One great reason to grow tilapia (other than the great taste) is their quick growth rate.

The large hoop barn which housed the system was well laid out. Utilizing both fill & drain and constant height aquaponics sytems. Two extremely large constant height systems (some call them raft systems, because of the use of styrofoam rafts for planting) encompassed the entire left side of the hoop barn.

The fill and drain system was much smaller on the right and was the first thing you saw upon entering. The remaining space housed the fish tanks and solids & bio-filter’s. Bio-filter’s are a media (grow-stone, clay pellets, or plastic bio-balls) which grows necessary bacteria for the fish to survive in the system.

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All in all is was a great day to have the opportunity to see another aquaponic system, giving us more ideas for our own. If you are ever in the Baltimore area, I recommend a visit to the Arboretum, especially in the spring or fall time of year!

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Organically speaking-2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Preparing for Spring? Part 2

In my previous post, “Preparing for Spring?”, I spoke of the need to get the garden beds ready this fall for next spring planting. So my garden beds are ready, but prepping for spring is far from over.

Of course with our new greenhouse and our aquaponics setup we are year round growers now, but the winter plans for the spring plantings must still happen to insure we get 2-3 grow cycles from our garden beds next season.

We traditionally start right after the first of the year pre-planting

Starting our garden indoors for spring planting
Starting our garden indoors for spring planting

in grower packs, toilet paper tubes or gallon milk jugs. Yes I said toilet paper tubes! They make great seed starters because when it is time to plant in the ground, the entire tube with plant is buried. The paper will break down and compost quickly.

Plastic gallon milk jugs make a great mini-greenhouse and can

Mini greenhouse milkjug
Mini greenhouse milkjug

allow for some (cooler crop hardy) winter growing. These are great for your lettuces, spinach, kale, arugula & mescaline.Using these are easy,  just cut the gallon jug in half-not completely, just enough that you can hinge it open towork inside. Add your grow media, then your seeds. Close the top and seal the jug back with a strong tape-duct, packing, etc.

Mini greenhouse milkjug
Mini greenhouse milkjug

Water and watch, you will see quick sprouting, then handle as you would any container garden or transplant . We have started many of our spring plantings this way in the winter.

This year was a little different since this is the first winter with the greenhouse.Normally we start our growing on a rack in the master bedroom. (It gets the most natural winter light in the house), but this year we have already started our growing because we have plenty of room in the greenhouse to start them.

We start with our own seeds from last years crop-keeping and drying the seeds from the best plants of the year. When we seed harvest each year, we also keep a few seeds back in the freezer, just in case we need them for some unknown reason.

Tomatoes for spring 2014 planting
Tomatoes for spring 2014 planting

The seeds are added to an organic compost that we produce, and put into grower packs or inside toilet paper tubes. As they start to sprout, we can identify non-growers and replant those so we insure plenty of growth for our need and a couple of neighbors that we do starts for. This usually means by mid-March we have around 500 plants to go in the ground.

For this year (2015 spring planting) we have already started our

Starts for 2015 grow season.
Starts for 2015 grow season.

planters, since some will go to the aquaponics system. The rest can be transplanted in a pot if they get too big before they can go to garden, but they can stay in the greenhouse until we can get them in the ground.

Getting plants started this early helps us to extend our outdoor grow season. Usually where most gardeners can only run one harvest on longer grow vegetables, we

Starts fro 2015 grow season
Starts fro 2015 grow season

can many times get two separate harvests-one mid to late summer and one late fall.

At harvest, our crops are handled one of 4 ways:

1) Eaten immediately

2) Frozen

3) Canned

4) Dehydrated.

Most harvests will yield us 1-2 years of product, so if we have a “bad” year on a particular vegetable, hopefully we will have enough from the previous year preserved.

Canned from 2013 and 2014 grow seasons
Canned from 2013 and 2014 grow seasons
Frozen from 2013 & 2014 grow seasons
Frozen from 2013 & 2014 grow seasons

Regardless of how foods end up, it is imperative that we start as planned to gain the most value from a planting season. So starting plants early to mid January is a normal happening around our little suburban homestead.

 

Preparing for Spring?

Most people think that gardening begins when the weather breaks after a nasty winter, but most likely they are not gardeners. Any true gardener knows that preparing for a successful harvest means preparing in the late fall-early winter for the NEXT harvest season. Outside garden beds which in most cases just lay fallow all winter, must be properly “put to sleep” to insure that vital nutrients are available for the planting in the spring.

After the harvest in the fall when weather will no longer allow us to plant in our region, we begin the garden hibernation

Bagged leaves
Bagged leaves from neighbors

process. Actually we involve many of our neighbors, because they know we want all fallen leaves and grass clippings from their yard. They happily cut, rake, blow and bag as they would every year, but instead of setting it out for the trash or going to the dump they call me. I will gladly stop by and pick up all bags. Why? Because leaf and grass clippings make a great garden bed cover for winter!

Mulching the leaves and grass from neighbors.
Mulching the leaves and grass from neighbors.

Processing for use is simple. I just get out my mulching lawnmower, open the bags, and mulch away! Mulching the grass and leaves into very small pieces will allow for maximum composting over the winter.

The only other ingredient I add is the

Rabbit manure/hay mix
Rabbit manure/hay mix

manure/hay mix from our rabbits. This is one great reason to keep rabbits as their manure is highly compostable and rich in N-P-K. (Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium).

As a side note: I believe chickens are better than rabbits as they are much more beneficial to gardening overall than rabbits. If you have followed our other posts, you already know why we have rabbits instead of chickens. If not, read: Saving Buffy our year old Orpington

After processing I spread the mixture across our garden beds to

Spreading mixture across garden for winter composting
Spreading mixture across garden for winter composting

lay all winter. This mixture will compost down over the winter and in spring afford us some nutrient rich soil. Many years, I have also sown winter wheat and hairy vetch into the mixture which in spring is just cut and mixed into soil to further enrich the spring soil.

Now my garden beds are ready for their winter sleep, waking in spring energized, enriched for a great spring planting!

Read on: Preparing for Spring? Part 2

Greenhouse Project-Inside

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.

Lots of sun! 72 degrees inside-28 degrees outside with windchill of 15!
Lots of sun! 72 degrees inside-28 degrees outside with windchill of 15!

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.

AP tanks in GH
AP tanks in GH

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.

Few plants in first AP grow bed
Few plants in first AP grow bed

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

Just a few adult tilapia in my first AP tank in the GH.
Just a few adult tilapia in my first AP tank in the GH.

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.

Strawberry Barrel
Strawberry Barrel

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!

Stories on our aquaponics :

First venture

Adventure continues

Gutter garden

Days grow longer-Time grows shorter

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.

Weeds, grass, hay, and rabbit poop on beds before preparation.
Weeds, grass, hay, and rabbit poop on beds before preparation.

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.

Spreading the dried leaves bagged last fall
Spreading the dried leaves bagged last  fall
Piles of dried leaves to spread and mulch
Piles of dried leaves to spread and mulch
Spread dried leaves
Spread dried leaves
Dried leaves after mulching
Dried leaves after mulching

 

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.

Completed, planted beds
Completed, planted beds

I am pretty proud of how our strawberries are coming in this year, should harvest enough for a small family festival!

Lots of blooms and buds
Lots of blooms and buds
Strawberries Anyone?
Strawberries Anyone?

Best Laid Plans-Our Venture into Aquaponics

Chickens, bees, rabbits, dogs, and cats; How much more can you add to a 1/5 acre lot in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area? Living on a corner lot in a major sub-division of our suburban town tends to make it a little more difficult to homestead the way I would like. Too many regulations and  a couple of neighbors with nothing better to do than worry about what anyone else is doing.!

Sheep, goats, pigs are not WP_001445allowed, but there is no regulation regarding fish! So I guess fish it is, tilapia fish to be exact. An African Cichlid that many believe is the fish that Jesus fed the multitudes just outside Capernaum.

Using Tilapia as our tank fish for the grow beds  for aquaponics just made sense. They proliferate quickly, they do their job very well in adding nutrients to the grow beds, and they taste great when they become too big for the tanks!

This part of getting the Aquaponics system together was probably the easiest choice, but there are drawbacks. These fish are from a very warm climate and cannot live in water below 60 degrees. Actually everyone I talk with says the water temp should be constant between 80 & 90 degrees. So no matter where we have our tanks in our area (Mid-Atlantic U.S.) the tanks will have to be heated. We will work around that hurdle as we need, but for now it is Tilapia.

We started the fish in our house in a standard 55WP_001439 gallon tank. We bought 25 fingerlings from a breeder and started our fish family about 9 months ago. We let these 25 grow to about 6 months of age and then allowed them to breed, then moving mama into a breeder tank to take care of the babies when they dropped from her mouth.

Our plan was to have our greenhouse built and 4-300 gallon tanks installed to handle the babies which were bred. We should have been done around Thanksgiving 2013 which would have been good timing for the fish to move to the larger tanks. Unfortunately, we hit a snag with local zoning and ended up in court until Christmas. Refer back to the last line of the first paragraph.

Anyway, we did get everything passed and gained approval for our permits. We hadWP_001412 about a week to work before this long drawn out winter hit the east coast hard and stopped our work. So the greenhouse has been under tarp for several months. As soon as the weather breaks, we will return to our work on it.

So back to the fish! When we had our plans and started getting material for greenhouse, we went ahead and an allowed some “breeding” to happen. Since Greenhouse construction would only take a few weeks, when we were done, we would have fish ready to go into the four 300 gallon tanks.  BUT……

I was not expecting that our first pairing would yield over 300 fish. Not that it really mattered at the time, but once we realized the greenhouse was going to be delayed until spring, we had to make other arrangements. We only had 2-55 gallon tanks inside, which was not near enough for 300 babies and 25 adults.

Thank God for craigslist and Amazon! We were able to quickly put together WP_001438another 30 Gallon and a 125 gallon tank, plus I quickly put together a 275 gallon aquaponics tank in our basement. All with heaters, filters, & pumps.

I had to cut the tank and grow bed from an IBC tank outside and then try to fit it through a 30″ door, so I hacked it up pretty bad. But for a quick makeshift tank, it works. I have 4 other IBC tanks to use when the greenhouse is finished and I will do a much better job on them!

Well hopefully soon the weather will break here and I can get back to work.  I will update on the greenhouse soon, but at least for now we have plenty of fish for the new tanks when it’s done!

Aquaponics-the adventure continues

Gutter Garden

Greenhouse-Completion Phase I