Wednesday, December 8, 2010

FROZEN

OK, so flood and drain is all right during the spring, summer, and fall, when it's not ridiculously cold, but when it doesn't get out of the mid-30's for days on end, and it gets below 20 every night for a week, flood and drain with an outdoor pond is not smart!

Checked on things this morning, and it appears that my aerator, though powerful enough for my pond, is not powerful enough to keep the whole damn thing from freezing over! I had 1-2" thick ice covering the entire pond, so my pond pump wasn't getting enough water to send through the system, which then caused my return line to freeze, too.

I'm just hoping that the return line doesn't crack or burst when it thaws out.

Assuming it doesn't, I'm gonna switch the pump to run 24/7, which worked last year to keep the pond ice-free for the duration of the winter, which was also quite cold. Continuous flow for the cold season.

I wondered if this was going to happen, and I now I know.

I've got the pump off today, which means that the plants won't get any water. I'm just hoping the plants survive the day while I'm at work. I'm hoping to put some water into the pond today, which should warm it up a bit, and get that pump going full steam.

BTW - putting your hands into icy pond water repeatedly to try and get the pump to go sucks when it's 18 degrees out.

UPDATE -

2-3 days have now passed since this post, and despite day time temperatures climbing above freezing all three days, the grow beds are quite literally frozen solid. I've removed the greenhouses from above them, hoping that the rain we're getting now will be able to penetrate into the hydroton and help to thaw it out. Tomorrow, it's supposed to rain and reach the upper 40's. With any luck, everything will thaw out and the return lines will drain. If that happens, I'll be able to turn everything back on. Even if that does happen, I wonder if the plants are still alive, as their roots are quick literally frozen into a block of ice right now. Should be interesting!

UPDATE 12/12 -

Got 2 out of the 3 growbeds going again. The 3rd is still frozen in the return line. The arugula there doesn't look it will make it. Many of the leaves look translucent, as if all the chlorophyll has abandoned the plant. Nevertheless, I'd still like to get the flow going again, though it's supposed to be even colder tomorrow night than it was last week. Based on last year, though, as long as the water was flowing, it never completely froze over or through, and everything was still working. We'll see...

Monday, December 6, 2010

No trout, but we got catfish

I couldn't find a trout supplier this year. Bummer. I'm sure I could have found one way out near Tennessee and driven 4 hours+, but it wasn't worth it. Instead, I found out about Southeast Pond Stocking (http://www.seponds.com/) and picked up 20 channel catfish. They happened to be making a delivery round, and one of their stops was in Siler City, about 15 minutes from my house.

I think the catfish are used to the good life of coastal living and warmer temperatures, though! They probably were in for quite a shock when they arrived in my pond, and water temps were about 40 degrees. Temps. are probably lower now, as we're in the middle of a serious cold spell, with day time temps in the mid 30's and night time temps below 20 degrees (fahrenheit).

Hopefully, they'll pull through!

The arugula in one of the grow beds is doing really well, which the spinach in one of the other grow beds is doing pretty well. The others are still very small and fragile looking. Not sure what's going on, but at this point, there's not much that I can do. The mini-greenhouses are doing OK. I think the larger issue is that the trees around my property are getting tall enough that they're starting to shade the growing space for more hours of the day. Short of hiring some tree trimmers to come in and cut off the top third of the trees, there's not much I can (or will) do.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mini-greenhouses or coldframes - not sure what to call them

First post in a while. I've been so busy with work and travel that I haven't had any time to spend in the garden. Maybe that's why it's been so sucky lately??

Anyway...

Dedicated readers (if there are any) may remember that last year, I put together a makeshift, greenhouse-like structure out of old fencing, some fenceposts, and some plastic tarps. Rather than go down that same path this year, I decided to build a mini-greenhouse for each of my grow tubs.

 First, I built a wooden frame around the grow bed. Not as easy as it sounds, even though all the grow beds are the same product. They each seem to sag in a different way, so each of the frames had slightly different dimensions and different heights.

Next, I created a PVC greenhouse using mostly existing 1/2" PVC that I had from other experiments uses. I bought special 45 degree elbows and special 3-way fittings for the bottom corners from a greenhouse supply store.

  
Once the PVC frames were done, I used my old plastic that I used last year. I basically rolled the frame in the plastic, then used plastic clips to hold the clear/opaque plastic to the PVC frame. Each greenhouse has 2 little chimneys that I'm hoping will help it from getting too hot in there. Though the plastic drapes down the sides, it's certainly not air tight, so there should be some air flow, even when the sides are fully down.

 
 Here's a view through all 3 greenhouses. I rolled up the sides to keep air moving through there. I probably will keep it rolled up until it gets closer to 25 degrees at night. 

The cilantro, arugula, and spinach that I've planted, along with the tub full of strawberry plants, proved last year that they can handle the cold. The greenhouses should help warm things up during the day nicely, and they'll keep the frost off of the plants at night. Another side benefit is that they keep the leaves from landing on the grow beds! This time of year, it's a daily chore picking the leaves out.

I put in another order for rainbow trout this year. It went so well last year, I figured we'd do it again this year!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Indoor experiment over

We decided that we didn't like having the system inside. Two main reasons: 1) it was partially blocking access to our sliding glass door, and 2) we were concerned about the weight of the system on our 100 year old floor joists.

In addition, we didn't have proper grow lights, and the plants didn't seem to be fairing very well.

So, it's a chance to do some things I should have done in the first place: put a couple of coats of poly on the wood to make it waterproof and have it be able to be used outdoors, and build new grow beds with more appropriate sizing for the system.

We're trying to sell our car, and if successful, we may use some of that money to get a small greenhouse (8' X 8'). If that happens, it will be the perfect size for this system, and we'll get a small propane heater and run the small system in the greenhouse with tilapia.

My permit for tilapia should come any day now. The Wildlife Resource Commission folks came to inspect my property a week ago and didn't see any reason why my permit would be denied.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Downspout Silencer

It's crazy, but I had a dream last night about how to make my downspout on my indoor unit quieter. So, I got up this morning and tried it out, and after a little tinkering, it worked!


OK, so the image on top is what it looks like in the water. Don't worry about the darker sponge-like filter things wrapped around the pipe. I tried some holes near the top that I don't think do anything, and since I didn't have any spare pipe, I put that filter around it, and it keeps the water in. I'll replace with a fresh piece when I get a chance to prove that it's not actually doing anything in the process, because there's a chance that it's letting in air through the holes but not letting water out.

The top light blue filter, though, does serve a purpose. It seals up the two pipes in a way that doesn't let water come out, but does let air in.

In general, my silencer is just a length of pipe (pictured 2nd), that goes from the bottom of the fish tank up to just past the bottom of the downspout. It's 2" pipe over 1" pipe, so it's a loose fit. That lets the air in. At the bottom of the pipe, there's a notch to let water/air out, as well as a few holes drilled all the way through. These are always submerged.

When it's going full blast in siphon-mode, this thing is like a mega-aerator! There are bubbles everywhere! It really stirs up the sediment, which gets the fish all excited, because there are likely some floating edibles in the water.

It's much quieter than just letting the water from the downspout hit the top of the fish tank, and as the siphon gets going, I believe that water fills the inside of the 2" pipe such that it meets the water coming down, and then it gets very quiet, as all air and water is then directed out through the bottom of the 2" pipe.

Here's a video from close range. It's hard to tell that it's quieter, of course, 'cause it's so close to the drain, but just trust me, it is! It does show the incredible aeration. And, near the end, you can hear the phone ringing (hence the end of the video) - just for reference, that phone is 2 rooms away.

video

Monday, August 9, 2010

Small System Upgraded

Well, I moved my portable system inside to see how we'd like it indoors, given that my plan was to raise tilapia fry/fingerlings over the winter. All in all, it was working out OK, except that the sawhorse/2X4 support for the grow bed was taking up a lot of unnecessary space. I thought more about it, and it dawned on me that if I ever had to give a workshop in the winter, I would need an extra fish tank, since I wouldn't want to expose the little tilapia to cold temperatures.

So, I decided to build my own fish tank, with built in structure for the grow bed right above it. I thought something made of wood would look a lot nicer, so I did it.

Cost a little less than $200 including all the lumber, screws, and liner. I had extra liner from my pond, but not enough. I needed about a 10' X 10' piece. The inside dimensions on this tank are 36" X 30" X 21" tall. It's about 100 gallons, which is comparable to the fish tank I was using before.

I still plan on sanding this thing and staining it. I'm thinking it might live inside from now on, but if I ever move it outside, I'll put some coats of clearcoat on it, and it should be fine in the weather. All in all, I'm pleased with how it looks - much nicer than the black oval tub!



As you can see, the seeds are coming up nicely, though I need to provide more light. I've been avoiding purchasing a grow light, just 'cause I don't want to spend too much money, so I might find some lower cost grow lights - like the bulbs you can put into a normal light socket.

I've got about 20 small goldfish in there, at least until I get my tilapia permit and get ahold of some little tilapias.

PS - the biggest problem with the system indoors is how loud it is when the siphon kicks on! It's pretty close to our TV, and whenever it comes on, it completely drowns all other sounds out! But, I also bought a timer to flood less frequently (the pump is now on 1 hour for every 4 and off at night except for 2 30 minute sections just to aerate for the fishies), and the pump is basically off in the evening when we might be watching TV.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

New Portable System Built!

I've had some serious discussions with a new group called AquaPlanet about going into business together. My role would be a "partner", and I would basically be an aquaponics consultant. Though it's early on in the game, I'm excited about the prospects of doing aquaponics full-time. My role as a partner would be to help teach workshops, consult on new/existing systems, and program and manage the web site, which we are just getting started on.

All that as a background to this new portable system. Since I'll likely be giving workshops, I figured it would be good to have a system that I can bring to show the students. I didn't want to do something small in a fish tank, 'cause I don't think that really captures the magic of aquaponics. Plus, I wanted it to be big enough to be useful to me, since I'd be investing my time and money into building it! So, I thought about what I would need as far as supplies and finally got some time this weekend to put all the pieces together.

First, the materials:

* 110 gallon stock tank from Tractor Supply ($60)
* 630 GPH pump from 5th Season Gardening ($55)
* 3'X3' Botanicare Tray from Sunlight Supply ($100)
* 2 treated 2' X 4' piece of lumber from Lowe's ($8)
* 2 sawhorses (I had some sitting around, but they'll run you about $35 new)
* PVC fittings for the drain from Lowe's ($10)
* 3/4" garden hose from Lowe's ($30)
* shut-off valve for the hose from Lowe's ($2)
* 15 slotted pots from 5th Season Gardening ($15)
* large bag of hydroton from 5th Season Gardening ($35)
* 4' X 8' sheet of polystyrene sheathing from Lowe's ($10)

So, if you stop right there, you have my system, but it's not portable.

The portability comes in by also buying:

* 2 55-gallon (clean, used, with hose faucet at bottom and removable lids) from Baytec Containers ($100)
* 1 FishAlive KA 1100 aerator (not yet purchased, but should be about $65)

Portability is achieved because:

* I'll pump out half the water to each of the 55 gallon drums on my truck.
* I can scoop out the fish with a 5 gallon bucket and put them in one of the drums on the truck
* The aerator can keep them alive for many hours (6+) while driving
* The plants are in pots that I can take out, one by one
* That leaves just the parts to carry, which, when dry, are easy enough to lift


Here are the photos:
 This is the system, all set up and running on my back deck. Having a nice, level spot is key. Grow bed on top with 15 pots filled with hydroton, fish tank under it, regular garden hose delivering water from pump in tank (can't see)

 This is a 6" pot with hydroton. Planting in pots will make it easy to move the plants around and disassemble and reassemble the system in a different location

 This is the bell valve cover, patterned after Affnan's design. I had to modify it slightly, because the Botanicare trays have channels for the water to run through. So, the teeth are different on mine than on his (and he definitely does a nicer job of making his look tidy and professional!)

 If you pull off the bell valve cover, this is the drain. It's a 2" funnel design that goes into a 1" bulkhead fitting (see below). Without the bell valve design, water would flow in and then out this drain, but never go any lower than the top of the drain. With Affnan's siphon, though, almost all the water drains out, even while it is filling!

 This is a look "under the hood". You can see the bell valve in place, the big teeth positioned in the channel while the little ones are on top. The tops of all the teeth are about level. I eye-balled it, so I'm sure it's not perfect.

 This the bottom of the bulkhead fitting and then the drain into the fish tank. I ended up with a double elbow to minimize splashing and find the right balance to get the siphon to work properly.

 I purposely bought a pump that was a bit oversized for my system, knowing that when I'm setting up and taking down my system remotely, it'll be nice to have a little more power, so I don't spend so much time standing around waiting for water to move from point A to point B. So, I needed a little flow control on the inlet to get the siphon to work properly.


 I have to say that the hardest things about this were:

* Getting the siphon to work properly. I tried a lot of different combinations - altering the flow rate, altering the teeth, altering the length of the drain pipe under the grow tray, adding in elbows under the grow tray,  and even trying to use a sponge to slow the inflow water down a bit. I wanted it to work at full throttle, because I figure it's going to be a little challenging to get the throttle exactly where it needs to be when I'm on the road. But, I couldn't get that to work properly, so I had to choke it down a bit. I plan on marking the exact alignment of the plastic throttle (above), so that I have a pretty good idea about where it goes. However, these siphons are finicky little creatures. Too little flow, and the siphon won't cut on. Too much, and it won't cut off. There is a VERY fine line between these, and you have to hit the sweet spot. Once I got everything leveled and had a good feel for what to do, I was able to find the sweet spot pretty easily, though. For more about this siphon, please see Affnan's blog. I highly recommend it. He goes into great detail about how everything works and has nice figures.

* Cutting the styofoam for the pots. It wasn't difficult, but it takes a long time and is messy. I probably should caulk around all the edges to keep little pieces of styrofoam from getting into the system. I ended up having the most success with a little pumpkin carving knife from a Halloween kit!


video


The above is probably the world's most boring movie, but it shows the siphon from when it starts draining all the way through until the siphon kicks off and the grow bed is almost completely drained. It's takes about 2 minutes for the tray to empty, and it takes about 10 minutes for it to fill to the point of starting the drain cycle. So, that means that every hour, my system will be draining and filling 5 times. By the way, you'll notice a slight drip/leak. That's 'cause I didn't use any caulk around the bulkhead fitting. Since I want it to be portable, I figured it would be best to take the whole drain apart for moving, so that the grow tray is easy to stack without having a drain sticking out of one end. Since it drips into the fish tank, I don't think it's a big deal.

Yesterday, when I was still trying to get the siphon to work properly, the siphon would work correctly for 2 - 3 cycles, and then it would start to auto-siphon. Today, it's gone for about 3 hours or so without a hitch. I'm hoping that means that it's good to go!

So, I'll let this thing spin by itself for a couple of days. I put about 10 gallons of my pond water in it to help kick start the microbes. I plan on putting about 10 goldfish in here of varying sizes. I want to use this system as a hatchery for tilapia, though. It should fit inside next to my south-facing sliding glass door, so I can keep it going through the winter without having to heat the water. I'm really looking forward to having my own stock of tilapia to use in my pond for the summers, since my supplier has yet to FAIL me! 3 summers in a row I've tried to get tilapia in my pond, and it hasn't happened yet...

Well, sorry for the long post, but I hope it was informative.

Friday, July 2, 2010

July Update

Just a quick update with photos. Things are going pretty well, except that every now and then, my tomato structure will fall down. The plants with large tomatoes are extremely heavy, and I've got all kinds of string trying to keep the pvc pipe towers in place. I'll need to do something better next year - maybe some kind of rack that hangs above that I can fasten the PVC into for support.

Tomato taste report:
- The Amish paste continue to be the most productive in terms of #'s of tomatoes, but their taste isn't all that special. They make nice salsa, though
- I let those 3 large, green German Johnson's sit on the windowsill, and lo and behold, they turned red and taste good.
- I've had a couple of the Moonglow's. They have a subtle flavor and a nice texture. I ate one tonight that I just picked right before, and it seemed a bit watery.  That got me to thinking that maybe it's best to let them sit on the windowsill after picking for a day or two to sort of let them dry up and enhance the flavor. Thoughts?


Cherokee purple (left) and Brandywine (right)

Moonglows and Cherokee purple

The whole system

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Trouble with German Johnson's

From the beginning, they seemed a bit weak in the system. I bought them as organic seedlings from Whole Foods. They just never seemed to take well to my aquaponics system, though they had 3 very large tomatoes (still green) on them. For the past week, they've looked weak and wilted, as if they weren't getting enough water. I tried giving them a little boost of nutrients, I tried pouring fresh water over their roots, and I tried cutting the water level down a little. Nothing - they remained wilted. I finally pulled them up yesterday, 'cause they simply didn't look like they were going to make it. The roots looked pretty rotten.

Doesn't make sense, as there are several other tomato plants in that same grow bed, and all are doing fine and producing fruit and looking healthy.

So, maybe it's just that German Johnson's don't do too well in aquaponics (or my aquaponics)? Or maybe I just had a couple of weak plants.

Will try them again next year to see if they consistently perform poorly in my system.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Update and a Reminder

First, the reminder:
- Once your plants are well established and large, you should check your drains periodically (maybe every 2 weeks) for root invasion. Roots grow very quickly and will spread throughout your grow beds. One of the best spots for a root to find is the drain, as it has a nice flow and a steady supply of nutrients. If you aren't vigilant, you may find that your drains have clogged with roots, and your grow beds will overflow.

Now the update:
See for yourself. Things are looking good. Tomatoes are large and healthy. Shouldn't be too much longer before they start to turn color. Some varieties are more prolific than others. Cherokee purple's are probably doing the best in terms of making the most fruit. Also doing well are the Amish pastes and the Brandywines. Not doing so well are the Pineapple somethings and the Moonglows, which only have about 2 tomatoes each on the vine. Not sure why this would be - it could be a great many things. Maybe they like a different pH? Maybe they need more or less sun? Maybe they need more or less water/nutrients? Or maybe they just take longer to get going?

Also, you can see that the yellow squash is repeating the feats of last year by showing MONSTROUSLY large leaves. It seemed at first that they were more normal-sized, but at this point, they are MUCH larger than the squash I have in the dirt. Also, you have to be careful to not leave the fruit on the vine too long. You go away for the weekend and come back to squash the size of bowling pins!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Problem Solved!

I went with the cheap and easy option - elbows! Found a neat little piece of conduit in the electrical department for the overflow ($3). Kinda looks like this:

          ------(
)-----/

Happened to have some 2" pipe and a 2" elbow, and had some leftover aquarium caulk.

So, I put in the piece I bought (middle), put in the 2" elbow (and a lot of caulk), had to move the pump outlet over a little (the pipe on the right was longer, so that the pump was centered in the skimmer) to make room for the previous two items (and added a lot of caulk), and voila!

Did all of this just in time for the 2.5" of rain we got yesterday. Now the pond is at an all-time high level, with probably an extra 300+ gallons in it from before.

Took the opportunity to update the veggie photos.
Broccoli looking really good. I cut a bunch of it already, fearing that I would somehow let it sit too long again and have it flower.

Tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, squash, etc.
Basil, tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, etc.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Small Problem - Losing water on the drain cycle

OK, so flood/drain is definitely working out well for the plants, and I'm pretty sure that the fish like the bubbles when they kick on. It reminds me of Finding Nemo ... "bubbles!!!"

However, and this may be a problem unique to my set up, the cycling is causing me to lose water, and the equilibrium level of water is less than optimal. Here's what's happening...

In my pond, I have a skimmer with the pond pump at the bottom. The idea behind the skimmer is obvious - it allows you to catch stuff floating on the top before it sinks and then gets sucked into the pump. Now, whether that works as well as it should is another matter that I don't want to get into here. At the back of the skimmer is an outlet for the electrical cord from the pump to go underground to the outlet. There is also an overflow outlet that goes out the back, travels on a french-drain like gravelly-path to a small pit that I dug underground and lined with gravel and sand. This works quite well for keeping the pond from overflowing.

Here's the catch, though. While the pump is pumping, the 3 tubs with plants are filled with water. When the pump shuts off, that water drains out from the tubs and into the pond, raising the water level. When the water level reaches the overflow drain, the water flows out of the system.

I am most comfortable with the water level when it is just below the level of the drain, but as you can see, this is not currently possible for very long. Every time the tubs drain out and the water level comes up, I lose water until the maximum water level (when the pump is off) is below the overflow drain.

What I need is a way to automatically seal the overflow when the pump kicks off - or, better yet, seal the entrance to the skimmer. This way, the pond can handle the extra water, as there's plenty of space in the pond before it overflows.

If not that, I need to re-engineer my overflow so that it can somehow store the water while the pump is off and the level is higher until the pump kicks back on and it can handle the additional volume.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Just a quick update on the garden:

Things are growing quite well. I've got about 6 different heirloom tomatoes in, some broccoli that's starting to crown, strawberries, basil, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, and yellow squash. I'm using leftover 1/2" pvc as support for my tomatoes, which is nice, 'cause you can keep building on to it if you need more height. Other than that, I'm waiting for a call from Foster Lake and Pond about the tilapia. Should be sometime this month.

Oh yeah, I also replaced my water inlet piping, 'cause I had it going from the 1.5" feed lines down to 1/2" when I was trying a drip grid. The problem with 1/2" pipe is that it's the perfect size for hydroton to get stuck in. So, I got some 1.5" PVC. Shouldn't clog now!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Snow Camp Aquaponics Has Gone Flood/Drain

I purchased a timer relay, and after some consultation with my electrical engineer of an uncle, managed to set everything up nicely. As we speak, I've got my pond pump running for 60 minutes, which runs the waterfall and floods the grow beds, and as that switches off, an aerator switches on for 30 minutes, allowing the grow beds to drain fully while still providing the fishies with oxygen. As a bonus, the aerator only uses 15W of electricity, which is a fraction of what the pond pump uses. So, for 8 hours a day, my electricity meter will be spinning a little more slowly.

The garden this year will feature heirloom tomatoes. We've been enjoying the spinach, arugula, and cilantro. And with such a warm start to spring, it looks like it won't be long before the first fruits of summer!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rainbow Trout Harvest Summary

So, out of 30 fish delivered, this was the end result, with all fish harvested by 3/31/10:

- 1 fish died during/as a result of delivery on 12/4
- 5 fish were 10" or under at time of harvest
- 3 fish were in the 15", 2-3 lb. range
- 5 fish were in the 13-14", 2 lb. range
- Most fish were around 12", 1 lb.
- 6 fish were pregnant females. I didn't keep the roe, as I have no way of raising fry/fingerlings. The roe looked like those little corn on the cobs you get with asian food.

Total number of fish cleaned and ready to eat: 23
Total number of fish under-sized and not worth the effort: 5
Total number of missing/unaccounted for fish: 1 (where the heck could this fish be?!)

All in all, I think this was an extremely successful trial run! I am shocked at how quickly the trout get to marketable size. In only four months, several fish basically doubled in length and probably tripled or quadrupled in weight. I hope I'll have the same success with tilapia this summer!

Update (4/6/10): There are still 2 trout in the pond! So, instead of getting shorted one fish, I've got one extra! Both appear to be around 13" in size. I'm torn - part of me wants to see how long they can make it in > 70 degree water. What if one is a pregnant female? That would be a great way to get trout for next year... But the other part of me just wants to catch them and eat them before they die of heat exhaustion.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trout fishing!

Well, it's happened a little sooner than I had hoped, but the water temperatures in my tiny little pond have reached the danger point for the trout. With 70's and 80's predicted today through the foreseeable future, I decided it was time to start harvesting the trout.

Even as I made this decision, I saw a trout on the bottom upside down, but when I tried to net it, it swam away - not quite dead.

Due to the fact that I have goldfish and koi in the pond in addition to the trout, I thought that I would try to catch them with a hook and line. I called over the neighbors, and we managed to catch a couple using artificial worms. I had hoped to be able to bait the hook with some of the floating food, but it didn't work out. Too hard when dry, too sloppy to stay on the hook when wet. All in all, it was pretty fun catching the fish, but it wasn't as easy as I had thought it would be. I figured since they were so used to eating anything that landed on the water, they would throw themselves at the hook. However, it seems that genetics and instincts are present, even in "domesticated" trout!

So, after pulling in 3 fish with the hook and line, I went with a net I used to bring fish into my kayak. I was surprised to see that the goldfish and koi seemed much more net-savvy than the trout. I easily caught another 5. 4 fish for the neighbors, 4 for me. There should still be 21 trout in the pond for me to catch.

The biggest fish so far was 15" and at least 2 pounds - maybe more! They range from 10" to 15", with the majority in the 12-13" range. I am blown away by how much they grow!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quick Update

Weather has warmed up a little, and we had a couple of near 60 degree days. Both the trout and the veggies like things a little warmer than what it had been. Broccoli is still growing. I lost a few, though. Their trunks would sometimes get squishy in the middle in a 2-4 inch section, while everything else looked OK.

I think that if I was able to maintain a temperature inside my "greenhouse" of 30 degrees during those colder nights, I think they would be fine. This little experiment has given me a lot of hope for winter-time aquaponics with an outdoor pond. I don't think it would be too expensive to have a small greenhouse and a little heater of some sort that would be capable of keeping the air temp around 30 degrees. Day time heating on sunny days, would, of course, raise the temps in there greatly. It's just those cold nights and cold/cloudy days where you have to worry.

The trout are still very shy in sight and sound, but it's not a big deal to stand a little bit away and toss the food in from a distance. I've also noticed that, at night, they are afraid of normal flashlights, but seem unconcerned about LED lights. That got me to thinking that it would have been cool to have installed an underwater LED light in my pond for night time. The fish don't seem to notice the light at all. If they do notice it, they certainly don't seem to be afraid of it.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Photo Update

Take it from the top:
* What's left of the spinach. The cold weather definitely took it's toll.
* Broccoli with arugula in the background - These probably suffered the most. I cut A LOT of leaves and stalks that had just gone limp and lifeless. But, you can see the flowers coming. If only they can survive this latest batch of cold (see last picture!)
* What it looks like inside the "greenhouse" - Not much space, as you can see. It's probably pretty hilarious to see me contorting my body around when I'm inside there checking on things
* The "greenhouse" from the outside - It's just fence wire held up with some stakes and bamboo posts on the inside. A little bit of rope to keep the plastic from blowing off, and that's about it. The black is some leftover ground cover that I used when I installed the pond. It's hanging on the north side, 'cause I didn't have enough plastic to make it all the way to the ground!
* The pond after our big winter storm on Saturday. We got about 6 inches of snow. It's been two days now, and still the road isn't plowed! How am I going to make it to the Carolina vs. UVA game tonight?!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Landscape Aquaponics

I've been thinking about how aquaponics is done in the backyard, and if there's any money in setting up systems for other folks. To me, if more people were growing their own food, we wouldn't have as many food issues as we do now. One of the potential barriers to people putting in their own aquaponics systems (in addition to time, lack of expertise in construction, plumbing, etc.) is that some people may not like the way they look.

That got me to thinking about "landscape aquaponics". Playing to more of a water garden crowd. Something that not only provides food, but also looks great.

Monday, January 25, 2010

NC Aquaculture Conference

I went to the NC Aquaculture Conference this past weekend at Atlantic Beach, NC. Parts of it were geared towards people interested in getting into aquaculture commercially. There wasn't much talk of recirculating systems in terms of starting up your own business, which was disappointing to me. There wasn't any mention of aquaponics at the conference. The couple of people that I talked to were mixed - some were keenly interested, talking about some good results they saw, while others dismissed it as not being profitable. One guy mentioned that he knew someone who had an aquaponics setup to treat the waste from his tilapia and had beautiful tomatoes growing in April. But, he didn't have a distributor and had no way of getting rid of the tomatoes, so he didn't make any money off of them.

Bottom line: Have a good business plan! Do your market research. Know who's gonna buy your fish and your veggies ahead of time.

The main message I got from the conference was that it's hard to make money in aquaculture. One of the extension agents told us that he tries to convince 95% of the people that tell him they're thinking about getting into aquaculture to NOT DO IT!

There's some interesting research going on with regard to raising saltwater species in recirculating systems. One species, flounder, likes it less than full strength seawater. And, there were some species of shrimp that can live in brackish water. That got me to thinking about a system with a two-stage plant section - one section with saltmarsh species like juncus and spartina that could take some of the salt out of the water, and then have salt-tolerant veggies, like artichoke, asparagus, beets, and squash, or salt tolerant flowers. You'd have the extra cost of the salt mixture that you'd need for your water, but with tilapia prices tanking, flounder might just work. If not flounder, then shrimp for bait fish in season might also work well.

Update on winter

Sorry, no photos today, but I wanted to update on the trout.

First, I need to report that we went through 2-3 weeks of extremely cold weather, with night time temps often below 20 degrees. I didn't lose any fish, but my plants suffered badly. There were whole plants that were basically turned into little vegi-sicles from the water coming out of the pond freezing upon contact with the plant. The upper 2 inches of the clay hydroton was frozen solid like permafrost. The arugula and cilantro took it in stride, but the broccoli was wilting badly. I cut off all the wilted leaves, and with the more moderate temperatures the past week, they seem to be recovering. We'll see. Obviously, this would not happen with a proper greenhouse, especially if it were heated.

Now, back to the trout. I was wrong when I said they don't feed in the cold! It has much more to do with the timing of things, though even this can be inconsistent. I will say that they don't feed as much in the dark (after sunset). But if it's warm, they may feed no matter what time of day it is. Second, I've discovered that they're much more shy of my presence that the koi ever were. If I go anywhere near the pond, they spook and don't really feed much at all. But, if I stand about 10 feet back and lob the food into the pond, they go NUTS! They really attack the pellets, some jumping cleanly out of the water. It's really awesome to watch!

All in all, I really enjoy having the trout in the pond. They are much more fun than the koi at feeding time! There's one fish, though, that insists on sitting in the skimmer, right above the pump. I'm not even sure how he gets in there, 'cause there's a net to trap leaves at the entrance to the skimmer. But, since I often forget to check the skimmer for leaves, he probably spend 2-3 days in there at times, just swimming against the current and waiting for the odd pellet of food to get sucked in!