30 rainbow trout arrived on Friday all in the 6-9" range. A couple of them seemed pretty frazzled from the delivery and introduction into the pond, and I found one dead Sunday morning (tasted delicious!). Other than that, they seem to be doing very well. They haven't been eating all that much, though this morning, they seemed to be quite active, despite the sub-30 degree outside temperatures. I think the timing of feeding may be important with them. On Sunday, I tried feeding them around 9 AM, and there wasn't much interest. This morning, I fed before work at around 6:30, just as the sun was coming up. It's generally a good time to fish, so I guess it makes sense.
In addition, I created what I'm calling a Snow Camp greenhouse (because it is so ghetto!). I just used some extra fencing to create a tunnel shell over the two buckets with taller plants and then draped some 6 mil plastic over the top, tied it all down so it wouldn't blow away, and called it a day. Is it any warmer in there that the outside? Probably not! But, at least it'll keep the hard frost off of the plants (spinach, bok choi, broccoli, cilantro, and arugula). I found some nice tutorials about making a greenhouse on the cheap with a PVC-based tunnel shell and 6 mil plastic, but the 20X100' roll of 6 mil plastic is $90+ just by itself! If I'm gonna spend more than $150 on a greenhouse, I might as well do it right. And since we're hoping to move soon, it just made sense to use what I had around and make the best out of it. Hopefully it's good enough!
Well, I pulled up my peanut plants today. I didn't really know if it was the right time or not, but I figure it won't be too much longer before we have our first frost, and I wanted to have them up before then. In any case, we have peanuts! I'm gonna dry them out for a few weeks, so I'll report back on how they taste.
In other news, I have a bunch of green tomatoes on the vine. They are still very green, and I keep hoping that one morning, I'll wake up and they'll start turning. Time is running out!
The broccoli is looking good. I've been battling some caterpillars that really eat up the leaves like crazy. They hit them last spring, as well. I've seen fewer and fewer recently, so maybe I'm winning the war. Or, maybe they are regrouping for another assault.
The bok choi is looking good, but the spinach is kind of hurting. When it sprouted, it looked like grass it was so thick together. I suspect that maybe it was TOO thick, and they choked each other out. Hopefully the strong will survive!
Finally, I'm gonna get some rainbow trout in the pond in November. I hope to grow some cilantro or something in the buckets during this time, but I'm not sure anything will grow with the water as cold as it will be. If all else fails, I'll empty the pond and fill it up periodically to keep the nutrients down. Apparently, the trout don't like water over 70 degrees F, so it may be a struggle to fatten them up enough to eat by next spring.
Well, summer didn't go so well with all the disasters, but hope remains for the fall! I sprinkled some broccoli seeds directly onto the hydroton Friday afternoon, and put a reflective cover over the top of the bucket to keep out the sun. The cover wasn't a perfect fit, so it allowed a little sunlight to peek in. But, you can see how quickly the seeds germinated. Now Monday evening, it looks like most, if not all, of the seeds have germinated and are doing well. I'm not sure what the carrying capacity of this system is for broccoli, but I suspect some major thinning will be in my future in a couple of weeks!
A couple of weeks from now, I'll put in some bok choi and some spinach, and hopefully, barring any more major disasters, we should have some nice fall veggies by the end of October.
I'm back in business. So, the rubber containers ("buckets") that I've been using had this pre-installed metal-threaded bulkhead fitting/outlet that I used as my drain. Problem was that they were only about 1/2" diameter, so thin, that a single piece of gravel could get stuck inside it and clog it up. That was the cause of the disaster.
So, what I had to do was to try and push all my hydroton/gravel to the other side of the bucket while attempting to not kill any plants, remove the metal-threaded bulkhead fitting, drill out a larger hole, and then install. I used 1" pipe this time, probably still not wide enough, but a major improvement. I've heard the occassional piece of hydroton getting sucked clean through, so I think the risk of clogging is lessened.
I also followed the recommendation of every single other aquaponics person in the universe and put in a standpipe with the cut out "V" at the top. I don't understand why that makes such a difference, but trust me, it does! The suction is now pretty impressive. I drilled plenty of holes through the standpipe to allow the water to fill in and drain out before it even gets to the top "V", and given that my water is running constantly, I found that the more holes I had, the more flow I could give the bucket without overtopping the standpipe and flooding the plants.
From everything I've read, people use the flood/drain system to ensure that the roots have enough oxygen to avoid root rot. Given that my pump is also operating the waterfall for my pond (more of an aesthetic purpose), I choose to let my pump run all the time. I find that the plants seem to do well enough that I don't notice the difference. Maybe they'd be even bigger if they had some time to breathe fresh air! Given that the water doesn't stay all the way at the surface, part of the root system is always getting some oxygen, so that should help.
My next system will likely be aquaponics only, so I'll try out a timer and do a flood/drain type of thing. I'm looking forward to not having to run the pump 24/7 from an electricity-use standpoint, as well.
Well, I'm not surprised this happened, but I'm still not happy about it either. My middle bucket, with the tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil, is now defunct. The drain clogged with a big piece of gravel that I was not able to remove. I had to cut out the drain. So, then I figured I might as well make it a little wider, and I desperately (and hastily) tried to drill out a new drain and pipe it in. The seal wasn't good enough, and the thing was leaking. In the day or so that this all went down, I tried to keep the plants alive by putting them in a big cooler with the pond water, changing the water as frequently as I could, but to no avail. With the drain leaking and all the plants looking droopy and 95% dead, it wasn't worth continuing. So, it's now shut off for now while I figure out how to stop the leak. Of all the buckets to go, why did it have to be that one??
Lesson here is that the drain needs to be 1) larger diameter (probably at least twice) of the incoming flow and 2) large enough for gravel or hydroton to flow through easily without plugging it up.
I also need to read up on how drains work, 'cause I noticed yesterday while I was checking for leaks that despite the larger diameter pipe, the water wasn't really flowing out very quickly. I'm thinking there is some sort of pressure thing going on that I don't understand.
Crooked neck squash leaf comparison. The aquaponically-grown leaves are close to 3X the size of the soil-grown leaves! These two plants were planted on the same day from the same seedling cup purchased from a local garden center.
Two identical tomato plants grown from seed. The aquaponically-grown seedling was about the same size as the soil-grown seedling is now. At this point, the aquaponically-grown plants are about to flower, while the soil-grown seedling will be lucky to survive!
Things are looking good! If there was ever any doubt as to the effectiveness of growing vegetables in an aquaponics system, these two comparison photos tell the story! There's no question that aquaponic veggies grow bigger and faster. Next question to answer is "Do the veggies taste similar?" Hopefully that little tomato plan will survive and get big enough to be able to compare tomatoes in addition to the squash.
So, I bought about 9 big bags of hydroton to add on top of the existing gravel. I really like the hydroton - it's so easy on the hands! I know that sounds pretty wimpy, but digging through the gravel really does take it's toll, while the hydroton is so smooth and light, it's easy to manipulate.
I found some old spinach and broccoli seeds from last year. So, I threw them in the far right bucket, and things seem to be going pretty well. The spinach in particular seems to like the conditions. A note on the pipe grid - I started out pointing the water down, but I noticed that any changes in water pressure could cause the water to splash off the hydroton, and any lost water is wasteful. So, I flipped the pipes over, and now it's like little fountains splashing all around. I hope it will also prevent roots and such from clogging the insides. I didn't glue any of the grid, which I found helpful, as I've had to clean them out fairly frequently from gunk getting sucked up and sent in from the pond pump.
So, all my fish survived the winter, and all the plants, too! In fact, the plants appear to be doing better at this time of the year than they were last year. I can't even imagine what they'll look like come September.
I ordered some tilapia, but I will likely cancel. We decided that we're going to try and sell our house and move closer in. It's not a decision that we came to lightly, but we're excited about the prospect of living in town and spending a lot less time and money in the car. Of course that means I'll have to start from scratch and probably build something on a smaller scale, but I'm looking forward to the challenge!!
Well, it's been a long time since I updated this. I actually had done a bunch of work on the hydroponic buckets a while ago, but never got around to taking pictures and getting up a post. Since we had a rare snow day, it seemed like a good opportunity to post some photos. The new work was to create a level platform for the buckets, plumb three separately controlled input lines, as well as tie three new output lines into the existing return line into the pond. I also tied in an output that just dumps into the garden, just in case I want to flush the buckets without sending that water back into the pond. I'm excited about the ability to control the flow to each individual bucket, and I'm also excited about having 3 buckets instead of 2. That means more veggies, more flowers, and the capability for hosting more fish. Fingers crossed that I'll actually be able to get the tilapia this year!
The buckets are not quite done. They are about 2/3 full with gravel, but I'm hoping to get those clay pellets to fill up the rest of the space. I've constructed a PVC pipe grid to deliver the water. I just need to drill holes into them to allow the water to come out. The only thing I'm worried about is the drain. I'm using an existing drain that is installed on the buckets. It's a little small, so I'm worried that roots or leaves or something else may end up clogging the drain. And, I'm worried that if the drain clogs, that it will be difficult to free the clog. We shall see...
I'm also thinking about constructing a bamboo roof to keep out the leaves in the fall, to filter some of the intense summer sun, and maybe act as structure for climbing vines to attach to. I haven't made up my mind how I like it so far, though.
You can see all the fish at the bottom. None have died yet, despite the freezing cold!
Bucket platform and a couple of bamboo posts installed for potential roof system