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.
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.
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.
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…
Our second full year in the greenhouse with the aquaponics systems has been wrought with a few mishaps and mistakes. Nothing major-lines burst, junctions break, heater burnt out, air pump stopped-but today I woke up to an entire tank of dead tilapia fish!
It happened in my constant height tank, which was the first of the type that I had built. I had cleaned out the 3 stage filter last week during our warm weather snap because the water was starting to turn a little too brown. I checked the ammonia level, which was high but thought it would go down after I cleaned the filter.
I never cleaned out the grow bed. Honestly it never really dawned on me as I had the 3-stage filter and the gutter garden circulating water for filtration in this tank, but I did not grow anything in this grow bed over the winter.
This morning, after removing the fish, I took off my 3-stage filter and it was already full of sediment. So I looked under my grow platform and it was 1-2″ deep in solid fish waste! The ammonia level was through the roof, so no doubt why all the fish died.
Needless to say I am pumping all the water out of the tank and cleaning the grow bed so I can start the system fresh with new fish. We had been talking about changing this particular tank to a cold water fish, so we would have 1 tank that did not need heated. I guess that decision is now made.
Unfortunately, I was planning a neighborhood fish fry next weekend to utilize the fish from this tank. Most were 14-18″ long and 5-6#-perfect for a big fish fry! I guess the fish fry will be postponed for a while!
As with everything, there is a learning curve, one just hopes for no sharp turns like this! But with this epic fail, I have a chance to start fresh and utilize my new found knowledge to become even better with my aquaponic gardening.
Having only a 1/5 acre lot in the middle of suburbia always tests our ability to be more creative to utilize the ground the best way possible. Doing that we are going to try growing espalier fruit trees next to our greenhouse.
I have always wanted some Asian Pear Trees, but they don’t do really well in the Mid-Atlantic region. The “hot” season is not really hot enough or long enough to grow the fruit to its full capacity. Fully grown Asian pears should be about the size of a grapefruit, but in this area they are usually about the size of an average apple.
Through my research, thinking I was going to add a dwarf tree in my greenhouse, I found the idea of growing them espalier. Espalier growing according to the dictionary is:
a fruit tree or ornamental shrub whose branches are trained to grow flat against a wall, supported on a lattice or a framework of stakes.
a lattice or framework for an espaliered tree or shrub.
verb: espalier; 3rd person present: espaliers; past tense: espaliered; past participle: espaliered; gerund or present participle: espaliering
train (a tree or shrub) to grow flat against a wall.
Since I have a 6′ base wall on the south side of my greenhouse, I thought this would be the perfect place to try and espalier 2 AP Trees.
First I planted 4-8′ landscape timbers at 6-7′ apart, buried 2 feet in the ground with concrete (leaving 6′ above ground). Everything I read stated that this spread and height seemed to be the optimal for what I was hoping to accomplish.
First I attached eye hooks into the posts at 12″ increments starting about 2″ down from the top of each post. This allowed me four lines since I did not want to go any closer than 2′ to the ground.
I purchased 3/16″ cable wire for the structure and sewed in through the top two sets of eye hooks, making my top two rows for growth.
At this point it was a matter of how to attach the cable to the eye hooks. I needed something that was going to be sturdy enough to keep the line tight, but also allowed for me to tighten the lines further if it became necessary.I came up with cable end clamp set and turnbuckle. Attaching these would allow for everything I needed, hopefully. They were not that hard to attach below is a graphic depiction of process.
Before attaching the other end of the line make sure the turnbuckle is completely open so that you can use it to adjust tightness of the line. This will leave you plenty of room for future adjustments if/when necessary.
Finishing all the lines and planting the trees was all that was left. I think it turned out pretty good, I am really hoping for some great fruit off of these trees in a couple of years!