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!