Friday, November 4, 2011

This Blog is Over

Well, we sold our house and moved finally! Good news for us, but not such good news for this blog. Since it's pretty location-specific, I'm going to end it. I'm going to see if there's a way to archive this, as there might be some useful info on it for others, but there won't be any new content.

I will be starting from scratch with aquaponics at some point this late winter/early spring. We're renting as of this moment, so I probably won't be doing anything permanent. But, I can't see myself going through a growing season without some sort of aquaponic system set up!

You can follow my new exploits when they happen at my website

There's pretty much nothing there right now, but I'll be working on getting it up and running with content as time permits.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sand Experiment Update

Started to notice some yellowing in the leaves of the basil and tomatoes, so I'm guessing that I've run out of useful nutrients. I guess I made it about 10 days.

I'm going to supplement the nutrients as I would a normal hydroponic setup to see if a twice per day flood is adequate for the plants.

I'll be moving the first week of August, so my experiment doesn't have too much longer to run. It's a race against time to see if I can get some harvestable cilantro before I have to dump all of my sand/gravel for the move.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sand Update - Long Overdue

Well, it's been a long time since I updated the blog about the sand system. I blame travelling too much (at first), and then the heat of summer (lame excuse). Anyway, I'm sad to report that the sand system is proving to be too much trouble than its worth. After adding in some more river pebbles to the top to try and ease the surface ponding, it was only a couple of days before it started ponding again. I then tried to dig the inflow deeper into the sand, putting it flush against the bottom layer of pebbles. It wasn't two days before one of the beds began to develop a quicksand-like mush above the inflow, and surface ponding began again in earnest. I was initially optimistic and pleasantly surprised, as I was able to increase the inflow to full throttle after I buried the inflow. But, like I said, it didn't last.

Despite the surface ponding, the system works. I just don't like the water on the surface. It just feels wrong. I was able to do a taste test between a sand-grown tomato and a hydroton-grown tomato, and I have to say that the sand-grown tomato was noticeably tastier. My wife confirmed my impression, as well, and hers was a blind test.

In addition, I'm happy to report that our house is finally under contract. If all goes well with our home inspection and appraisal, we'll be closing on 8/15. I'll be sad to leave this place and my aquapondics and everything else, but I won't miss the commute.

In preparation for leaving, I thought I'd put the sand system through one more test. I took out all the fish. There's still some solid fish waste and other junk at the bottom. I've switch the pump to come on only once per day, at noon, for 45 minutes. [EDIT: I'm going with twice per day, once at 10 AM and once at 4 PM, each for 45 minutes.  It was getting too dry in there] My thinking is that if the damn things are going to mimic a surface flood, then I might as well try to treat my grow beds as if they were a floodplain. So, this little experiment will see a) how long do fish waste nutrients last when only cycled through grow beds once a day, i.e. how long will that old fish water provide for the plants remaining in the grow beds, and b) how will the plants do with just two waterings per day. My sand beds still have one tomato each, and I also seeded them with cilantro. There are a couple of other random veggies in there still, like cucumbers and sweet peppers. So, there's an array of different nutrient requirements in each bed.

This little experiment may prove extremely important, as it may imply that you can power many, many more sand beds off of one fish tank, when you only flood the sand bed twice per day. Imagine having a single 100 gallon tank, and then maybe 4-8 50 gallon grow beds of sand/pebbles, each getting flooded only twice per day? Sounds pretty awesome, to me, and it would probably mean that you could get the density of fish in the water up to commercial-like levels.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Feeding Time

Borrowed the underwater camera and let it run during a couple of different feedings to see how the fish were doing underwater. Added some of the soundtrack from The Life Aquatic. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thoughts on Food Production

I've been thinking a lot about aquaponics and where it fits in with society and the future of food production. I probably should sit down and outline this a bit to make it more organized and coherent, but maybe I'll just start writing and see what happens.

I heard someone refer to aquaponics as an "open source technology", and that really resonated with me. As I'm sure many of you can relate to, I've often wondered if there was a viable way for me to quit my current job and try to do something with aquaponics as a career instead.  I have a Google News filter set for "aquaponics" that scans through all the news sources on the web that it follows and looks for the keyword "aquaponics". Every day, I get about 3 emails (sometime less), and virtually all of them are talking about this "new technology" and give a brief introduction to what aquaponics is in the context of talking about how a developer is talking about converting an old, abandoned warehouse into some giant indoor, urban farm with aquaponics.  Almost all of them go on to talk about they are planning to grow lettuce or some other green, rarely even hinting that you can grow anything in aquaponics.  Additionally, I see folks out there valiantly trying to make some money off of this technology by starting aquaponic consulting companies or building ready-to-use aquaponic systems to sell. While I'm certain that there are a great number of people who will make money off of aquaponics in one way or another, I personally believe that aquaponics is more important than that.

Maybe it's just me, but I have a hard time justifying charging someone for my time "consulting" about aquaponics when everything they need to know is already out there on the web. While there are a number of good e-books for sale out there that are a good investment for the beginner, anyone with an internet connection and a little bit of time can not only download plans and building materials, but also get great advice on what to do and, more importantly, what NOT to do.

So maybe it's not about making money on aquaponics?? Maybe aquaponics and producing/harvesting fruits, vegetables, and seafood on the local scale (or micro/backyard scale) is more important than money??

We are at the cusp, in my opinion, of a major shift in the way we live, work, and play. I am, admittedly, left-biased, and my opinions are rooted in my background as an American, but I've reached a point where I don't think things are going to get better. I believe we've reached a point where lies and falsehoods are blindly followed as doctrine, while truths are mocked and shouted down by an ever-growing majority. Honest, logical debate is a thing of the past, and the two sides are as far apart as they can be.

Fueling the fire is an ever-increasing population base with ever-increasing needs, not the least of which is food. While billions of people live in relative poverty, residents of wealthier nations are able to eat fruit from South America in the winter.

In addition (though the issues are not at all separate), our global environment is changing in a way to make our planet less hospitable for humans to live on. It took a great deal of pushing on our part to get this change moving, but now that it is in motion, I fear that there's little we can do to stop it. Scientific consensus points to more extremes in temperature and precipitation, and many places around the world that have become used to available water will face drought conditions far more often. Extreme droughts (and resulting wildfires), floods, and violent weather have played a major role in recent years in contributing to crop shortages.

What does it all mean?

To me, it means that we need to do things differently. We built an entire civilization on the premise that we can move things efficiently and cheaply from one corner of the globe to another, so long as there was a great enough desire and a willingness to pay. Underlying that premise was an absolute lack of understanding of how our own decisions can affect the world we live in on a daily basis. By not building in the costs of how our actions affect our environment, we've not only set in motion consequences that we can only imagine, we've also come to expect a certain quality of life that never should have been.

While there may be little we can do to stop or slow global climate change, there is certainly a lot that can be done to ensure that everyone not only has enough to eat, but that they are eating fresh and healthy food.

There was a time not too long ago when most households, if they had the space for it, had their own gardens. There were also local farmers that sold their food to their local communities. Communities worked together to harvest and store their local food, and if the harvests were good, they would have enough to make it through the winter. Somewhere along the way, though, people forgot how to grow their own food. They forgot where food comes from.

I believe we need to go back to a paradigm where everyone grows some of their own food. Aquaponics is one way to do this, and it offers the benefit of providing fish, too, but it's certainly not the only way and maybe not even the best way to grow food. In the end, it doesn't matter how the food is grown, so long as the methods used are sustainable and reproducible.

With this backyard production in place, local farmers can supplement with crops that are more suited to larger-scale production, like corn. Local farmers need to supply their local communities first, then provide any extra to neighboring communities who have need. I'm imagining some sort of global food bank database, where people, communities, and countries can all make requests for food or list their available surpluses. Something almost like a Craigslist for food. The hope is that the distance that food travels (foodshed) is greatly reduced.

Aquaponics is a great learning tool. My google news feed has many articles about schools installing aquaponic systems for classroom use, and many of the schools are using the food produced in their cafeterias. Let this continue and expand, so that our children know how to build and manage aquaponic systems and know how to grow their own food.

Farmers can benefit from a more systematic, planned approach, too. If they know their community and what people generally grown, they can tailor their crops to fill the gaps. They can even collaborate with other farmers to ensure that they won't be over- or under-producing any given crop.  The local food movement has done a great deal to bring the farmer back into the fold of the community, but this would complete that process.

There's probably a lot still left to be said, but I'm running out of steam, and I'm certain that if anyone made it this far, they'd probably appreciate a break anyway!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Added some pea gravel to the Sand System

My original load of sand over time and under pressure of water has compacted, and some of the roots were starting to show, especially when I was digging my channels around the sides. I decided to add some pea gravel to the sides to see if it might help to keep some of the algae from forming. So far, it seems to be working. It's been almost a week, and there's no sign of algae on the new pea gravel. The water seems to be flowing just under the pea gravel's surface. Plan is working!

Added the pea gravel only to the sides where the water flows around. You can see the algal mat covering the sand in the middle. Much of that sand "flooded" before when the mat built up enough around the sides when it was all just sand. 
Things are looking good, despite the lack of sun.

Caterpillars Love Broccoli

I've been battling caterpillars for the past 4-5 days or so. They have waged war upon my broccoli.

This is one of the little buggers. They have a silk-like web that they spin around themselves, too.
Here is a close-up. Please let me know if you know what species this is.
You can see all the holes and fragmented leaves. I've pulled off about 30-40 of these daily.
Tomatoes are already as tall as my stakes. I'm going to have to figure out what to do about this.
Broccoli crowns coming in. I'm checking these multiple times per day to monitor for flowering. I have a feeling they will flower.