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.
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.
Hopefully I will never let it get that bad again, but I know my fish and plants appreciated the clean out.
Since we have had our solar installed, I have written an update each month so that anyone even thinking about going solar can have the facts in hand. This month is no different and actually I am pretty impressed with the numbers considering the amount of 90+ degree days we have had.
I am really no going to say much as I will just post pictures of my bills and you can decide for yourself.
As you can see our Utility Bill total was $165.17, which added to the $45.93 from the solar bill made our total utility cost just $211.10. Now take a look at last years utility bill:
There is about an $85 difference from last year, but ok I know your thinking, ” well, there were less Kw used this year than last.” Ok, let’s take a look.
So June 2016 Kw total (Utility and Solar) :1323Kw. Wow, yes that is less than the 1643 from July 2015 exactly 320. Yes we are being proactive in reducing our energy usage.
Lets look deeper:
Taking a look at ONLY Kw usage:
1323 Kw used total (utility & solar) if we paid utility (.099 Kw) we would have paid $130.98
But we only paid $120.28-so Kw for Kw, Dollar for Dollar-we still saved over $10 this month. Some months will be better than others but a savings of $120+ a year is worth it to me.
As I had stated in an earlier post, this is a very small system due to the lack of roof space we have, but in the long run:
We put no money out of pocket up front
We paid nothing for installation, permits etc
All maintenance, repairs, and/or replacements are free during the life of the contract (20 yrs-and the contract is transferrable to new owners if we would ever sell) Not a penny comes from me!
We can monitor production/usage on our own website hourly if we choose.
Company monitors system 24/7 and sends someone to repair/replace any issues without us lifting a finger.
We are making a significant impact on the environment by reducing our dependence on grid energy.
This has just been a great experience so far and I am so happy with the outcomes and returns from our system.
I would recommend anyone even thinking about solar to at least get a free, no obligation consultation. It is all handled by email and phone until you make a decision to have it installed.
Disclaimer: Although I am excited about our solar install, I do receive a referral bonus from anyone that submits a free consultation through this website and moves forward to install. BUT the good news is YOU CAN TOO! Be sure to check out the Solar Rewards Program so you can claim a $250 bonus with each and every referral-NO LIMIT!
p.s.-If you are not ready to go solar, but want to still make a difference on the environment, check out how you can have a great impact here:
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.
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.
Solar.SaveGreenGoingGreen.netIt has been almost 2 months since we had the solar panels installed. We have a website to monitor the production on a daily basis and I must say I am pretty happy with the first few weeks-even with all the cloudiness and rain.
In April, which we were only live about 20 days and most of those days were deluged with rain, we were still able to produce 291.5 kw of energy through the solar panel. I would say this is not too shabby of a start.
So far in May (Through May 28 2016) we have produced 310.69 Kw. Still a little low, but as you can see from the graph below, we have still had a lot of clouds and rain.
Our highest day production was 22.07 KW on May 16th. If we could produce 20 Kw a day for an entire month (600Kw for 30 days) This would run my greenhouse without issue, never having to pull extra energy from the grid.
Comparatively, my electric bill from the local utility (Baltimore Gas & Electric, BGE) for LAST YEAR AT THIS TIME due June 1, 2015 was a total od $280. I received my bill this year and it was for $195-a total reduction of $85.
But lets look at Kw usage from our utility bill. (Does not include solar production)
May 2015-934 Kw Average temp 57 degrees
May 2016-538 Kw Average temp 56 degrees
This is a reduction of 396 Kw from last year overall, but since I cannot know the exact days to calculate to compare apples to apples, meaning I do not know the exact reading dates that are accounted for in billing. If I did, I could calculate how much energy I produced in solar for the exact same days-giving me a very good picture of how we are doing.
I will be tracking our progress as I want to be able to have accurate information for anyone who may be thinking about going solar.
For more information on how easy and inexpensive it is to go solar please visit:
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:
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.
I 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.
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.