Total Pageviews

Friday, December 30, 2011

Root Zone Heating and Insulation of Greenhouse

When I intended to use my greenhouse mainly for storage I installed a double layer floor over the native dirt instead of using gravel.  I wanted a surface I could easily clean.  The first layer consists of 3/4" thick mats of recycled tire rubber which had been used as an athletic floor in a gym.  Over this I placed an indoor/outdoor carpet that extends from wall to wall.  This flooring has proven resilient to flooding.  I recently learned that insulating the floor of a greenhouse is a good idea since the earth itself can suck a lot of heat energy out of the greenhouse.  The thick black rubber floor makes a good insulating layer.  Years ago I purchased a large amount of mylar faced bubble insulation which was on sale with the intent of using it in a projected construction project that never was realized.  I have been able to use this material in the lower wall areas of the greenhouse where transparency is of no value.  Because it has both insulating properties and is reflective, I plan to use it under my nutrient film trays to retain the heat provided by a 40 foot seedling heating wire.  Adding and retaining heat are my chief concerns at this time of year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Crop Choice and Water Temperature

The summer and autumn seasons of my greenhouse aquaponics were a limited success.  I grew edible crops and found ways to combat excessive heat gain in the greenhouse with materials I had on hand.  Winter has presented a more difficult challenge.
My tomato plants were killed by the low temperatures of early December, however the herbs I planted in the other half of my bins have survived the cold and remain green.  The attempt to heat the greenhouse with a chimenea turned out to be destructive of the insulation on the ceiling, but the insulation which has deformed and withered probably kept the polycarbonate roof from melting.  I plan to do more work on the use of other methods such as a rocket mass heater, but at this time I will continue to use a propane heater to moderate the air temperature.
We have now focused on keeping the water system stable and preventing freezing.  We have a titanium fish tank heater on order and we have wrapped the pipes in the system with heat tape and added tube insulation.  Freezing in the pipes creates imbalance in the dynamic flow of the bell siphon system.  It also threatens structural damage to the tank and pipes  if the water freezes hard and expands.
Herbs and green vegetables such as spinach, mint, beet greens and cabbage resist cold air temperatures and continue to produce in the winter.
I can start crops like strawberries and tomatoes earlier in the greenhouse and keep them longer as the weather cools, but it is evident that I should switch them out for more hardy crops before sustained sets in.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


I went to Hawaii earlier this month and while I enjoyed the tropics we had a cold snap in Utah.  I had set up a heater in my greenhouse but it wasn't handling the really cold temperatures.  On the other hand, one of my chickens managed to get out of the coop one night and froze to death.  My son moved the heater from the greenhouse to the chicken coop and suddenly the two chickens left are laying eggs and doing fairly well.  He started using the chimenea to provide heat for the greenhouse but there are laws in Utah County that forbid wood burning on certain winter days when the atmosphere is trapped in the valley, creating an inversion and smog.  We went shopping for a propane heater and it seems to be doing a better job than the electric heater.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

There are Fish!

I tried putting 20 goldfish in my fish tank several months ago and as far as I could see at the time, there were no survivors.  Yesterday while redoing some plumbing on the fish tank I discovered two healthy gold fish.  I haven't really fed them, but there is algae growing in the tank and I guess they were doing fine as cold water vegetarians.  Someone at the aquaponics association meeting told me that it might be disease and not water quality that killed the initial batch of fish.  Apparently they were right.  Go figure. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Is and What Will Be In My Greenhouse

Beginning in April of 2011 I began to make plans to turn my existing greenhouse into an aquaponics garden.  At this point, late November of 2011 I have accomplished an initial harvest in the grow bins pictured on the lower part of the graphic above.  I am still harvesting tomatoes from the three bins pictured on the lower right and herbs including beet greens, mint, parsley and dill from the three bins pictured on the lower left.  I have yet to experience a success at growing fish.  State regulation of fish suitable for eating are a major block to stocking my pond with trout or other edible fish and since I have decided that koi will best suit, and I don't want to waste the lives of anymore fish until I have my other items in place, I have sustained my plants with occasional supplements of chelated iron and other minerals and soluble plant food. 
I am now ready to set up the next two sections of the growing area.  These include hanging tubes for vine plants along the north wall of the green house and trays for lettuces and similar plants along the center.  The growing trays are made of rain gutter with an electrical cable along the bottom to heat the water as it flows past the roots.  The lettuce will be planted in coco fiber contained in plastic cups. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Several Ways to Harvest Sunlight

I have essentially finished my 'winter coop' which is adjacent to my greenhouse.  The picture above may require some explanation.  Under the corrugated polycarbonate sheet that constitutes the roof of my small chicken coop are two separate systems for harvesting solar power.  On the left is a solar panel with the battery pack above it.  This gathers electrical energy to power the 75 watt incandescent bulb that turns on for several hours in early morning with a timer, adding necessary light and heat.  On the right is a black painted panel on which I've placed 36 cheap water bottles.  During the day the black panel heats up the water in the bottles which is stored as thermal energy and released gradually as night falls. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's Getting Cold

We've had a couple of nights when the temperature fell below freezing but I've found some ways to add enough heat to the green house to avoid death of my tomatoes.  The first night I found out rather late in the day that it would freeze.  I quickly set up a little charcoal grill that has a domed cover.  We lit it and the following morning I found that most of the briquettes had been consumed, but not all.  Although I plan to eventually install the necessary heat and smoke dispersion to my chimenea, for now I found a room sized convection heater for less than $40 at Home Depot plus a 'Frost King' regulator plug in that will start the heater when the temperature drops to 35 degrees and stop the heater when the temperature raises to 45 degrees.  This will save on electricity costs while keeping the killing frosts at bay.  It is 'hard freeze' that kills plants. 
I also purchased four workshop 2 tube florescent light fixtures and a box of daylight (6500 kelvin) bulbs to add an additional amount of light and some heat directly over the grow bins.
I plan to plant lettuce, peas and spinach in rain gutter trays that are heated with a warming cable meant for seedling trays.  These are intended to be like the display at Green Sky where the water trickles down the gutter and discharges into the fish tank.  After looking at the price of 'rock wool' growing bricks and other alternatives I am using coco fiber in my grow cups.  This came about when I found a super sale on some hanging baskets furnished with coco fiber.
Meanwhile I'm making a mad dash to finish up my 'winter coop' which will use black painted tubes filled with water to gather heat during the day as well as a solar panel to run a fan and light.  It will be interesting to see how I get through the impending winter.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Expanding my Aquaponics System

I picked up a lot of great ideas at the Aquaponics Association convention.  Now I have to decide which are best for my limited space.  I plan to float an extruded styrene raft on top of my fish tank.  It will provide shade for the fish in the open part of the tank as well as providing some nutrition for the koi I plan to use instead of fish that I could eat.  As a semi-vegetarian my protein needs are better met by my 4 hens.  Furthermore, the regulations on growing fish for food in Utah create an insupportable cost factor ($100 dollars for a license).
  I plan to integrate horizontal growing trays for lettuce and similar herbs like I saw at Green Sky Aquaponics and 'The Land' at Epcot.  I will plumb them with a hose so I can move the wheeled table on which they stand in order to move from place to place in my greenhouse. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Convention Starts Today

I'm in sunny Florida where I plan to attend the Aquaponics Association Conference being held near Disney World.  Although my fish have not thrived, I've had success wit my grow bins.  Beet greens are one of my favorite vegetables.  Beet sees planted in expanded shale don't grow bulbs, but they do produce a lovely crop of greens.  My tomato plants are growing lots of fruit.  I have tried growing seedlings in vermiculite to transplant to my grow beds but I have found that direct sowing of the seeds into the media is far more productive. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Good Site for Growing Information  provides information on growing zones for various vegetables, including information about greenhouses.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Moving right along.

My grow beds are happily growing but I think I overfed my gold fish.  I still have a couple of hardy survivors but the rest turned belly up.  My main activity this week has been harvesting and dehydrating 'golden' plums from the tree that grows next to the greenhouse where I have my hydroponics setup.  I was just getting prepared to go back and pick fruit when a number of my grandkids showed up.  The older children, 7, 6, and 5, really like picking plums.  I gave each of them a small plastic bucket and provided a table they could stand on.  They got busy and harvested a peck of nice plums which I have turned into dehydrated fruit.  I used a steel tube apple corer to remove the pits, taking more of the 'meat' than I liked, but far more efficient than any other method I tried.  Plums really hang on to their pits and most of the fruit directly around the  pit is somewhat more sour than I like. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tricking my Brown Thumb

I carefully planted seeds in vermiculite and waited for seedlings to show.  The few seedlings I saw were quickly identified as products of a fall of elm seed disks from a huge elm tree in a neighbor's yard, but no sign of the carrots, beets, parsnips, or tomatoes that I planted.  Finally I went ahead and purchased some weedy looking tomato plants for a deep discount along with dill and parsley that was similarly low in cost.  They began to thrive in the grow beds.  A week ago I tossed some year-old beets seeds in the beds, with a fatalistic feeling that since they weren't getting any fresher, they were just as well off adding organic matter to the grow bed.  Surprise!  The beet seedlings are showing up as pretty little green leaves on red stalks.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Larvae Harvest, Plants thriving

First BFL harvest this morning!
I found three large larvae- 3/4" long and black, in the catch bin this morning.  I took them down and fed them to my chickens.  For the next few days I'm putting the harvest bucket in a shady place near a spot where I put some food scraps under a layer of wood compost.  I plan to let any that come out of the bin in the next few days find their way to a place where they can become flies and breed.   It took a week from putting little white larvae in my collector bin to the appearance of the mature larvae.
Also, the grow bins in my aquaponics setup are doing well.  I planted various herbs, a squash and some tomatoes and all are apparently thriving five days after being planted. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Win Some----

I planted a lot of seeds in vermiculite and waited for them to grow as I finished setting up my system.  Alas, my dread brown thumb curse seems to have struck.  The only seedlings popping up have been a few errant elm seedlings, and I have been harvesting a lot of those from my grow tanks.  While shopping for a few extra feeder bases for my chickens I purchased bedding plants at at 75% discount, making them almost disposable if they don't thrive.  While planting them I had evidence that the red worms are spreading through the bins. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Worms and Larvae Arrive

I finished the BFL collector/compost bin several days ago.  I added a bin from a discarded refrigerator as the catch tray which is handily held in place with the wire handle of the bucket from which I made the bin.  You can see the top flap which is cut out of the upper part of the bucket and then secured on one side with 'Gorilla Tape' (a sort of super duct tape) and has a tab on the other side which serves both as a handle to open the flap when I want to add more compostable materials and keeps the flap from going into the bucket.
The BFL, or 'Reptiworms' arrived in good odor.  There was a smell of ammonia, but I would expect that if they are busy eaters.  They were very active so I dumped them in the bucket and will wait to see what they make of the 'escape' ramp.  I should probably place the entire setup under a net to prevent birds from feasting on the mature larvae in the catch tray.  The tray can easily be detached and put in my chicken coop.  I plan to scatter some of the mature larvae in places where they can continue the process by turning into Black Soldier Flies and mating. 
The worms arrived in the same post.  They were wiggling nicely and had an earthy smell.  I put most of them into the prepared tray of my Vermihut and scattered the remaining worms in the damper areas of my grow bins.  I only put them in one bin each of the two sets of three bins.  I expect they will migrate from bin to bin since the holes in the shower drains I used as connectors are easily large enough to let the 'red wrigglers' pass.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Design Changes to BFL Collector Vermi Hut Ordered

My son critiqued my finished project and recommended that I cut the pipe in half to allow access to the ramp from above.  That seems logical.  At this point I'm looking forward to delivery of the larvae.  I have engaged another family to save their food waste so there is plenty for the little critters to eat when they arrive.  I've also ordered a 'Vermihut', which is similar to the 'Worm Factory' as a worm composting environment.  As I understand it, worms are somewhat pickier eaters than Black Soldier Fly Larvae.  While the BFL will eat almost any food waste with the exception of potato skins and dairy products, worms prefer more of a salad type of diet.  My aim is to have protein supplements for my chickens and the fish I eventually plan to raise in my aquaponics setup.  Some of the worms I have ordered will go directly into my grow bins, hopefully to serve a useful purpose in breaking down the organic wastes.  The rest will take up residence in the Vermihut.  From what I've read online, the Vermihut may run somewhat hotter than the Worm Factory, due perhaps to the design of the latter which is elevated.  It seems to me that setting the Vermihut on top of a few concrete blocks would serve to add ventilation, achieved in the Worm Factory by longer legs on the bottom of the system.  Who knew I would be eagerly anticipating shipments of worms and maggots?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Different Twist on a BFL Collector

I am going to be receiving some BFL from in a few days.  I want to give them a home, but I'm not equipped to make the Garden Pond BFL collector or pay for a BioPod.  So this is the design I've made.  The body is a Lowe's bucket, cheap at less than $3.00.  The ramp is a length of 2" ABS pipe.  I have some stainless steel screws left from my fish tank construction and lots of lumber ends and pieces for the stand at the back that gives a tilt to the bucket and keeps it from rolling. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Like Minds but Different Skills

I was browsing over at and came across a thread called 'my slimline aquaponics system'.  This is an initial image before he added glass fish tanks and clad the entire system with the same elegant wood.   I immediately noticed that he used six bins plumbed together in two sets each connected to a bell siphon.  On the other hand, while my system looks pretty industrial and clearly shows its roots in my desire to repurpose and recycle items where I can, his system is elegant and sleek.  I found another thread by the same poster which features pictures of his compact chicken coop which he installed over a water storage tank.  It also shows the same high level skills of carpentry.
I noodle around with saws and hammers, drills and screwdrivers, but although I've been proud of some of my constructions, usually it is because of a high degree of function rather than elegance of execution.
A few examples of my work are found in my living room.  I found kitchen carts with granite tops at a local store at a price that was less than the cost of the granite.  I purchased three of them.  I converted two of them into matching consoles that hold various items of my home entertainment system.  I cut about six inches off the legs, repositioned the bottom shelf and added panels made from matchstick place mats stained dark and mounted on thin sheets of plywood.  The fronts drop down for access to projector, speakers, DVD etc.  I left the third one tall but cut down the width and length to make a table that sits next to my back door.  The drawer holds keys, the top a mail sorting box, and a kitchen sized trashcan fits under the top.
Another project is a TV cabinet that fits in the corner of my living room.  The top holds a flat-screen TV and the bottom is home to children's books and toys for when my grandkids visit.  I made it out of plywood and piano hinges with oriental hardware ordered from the internet.  People have mistaken it for an antique.  I've made some nice frames for large pieces of stained glass, but most of my carpentry work is more functional than it is attractive.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fishy decisions

After reading through nwestwood's thread over at I decided that trout would be my best choice for my fish tank.  He tried blue gill but they didn't thrive very well.  Next he tried bass and then trout, thinking of the trout only for the cooler months.  However he found that the trout did fairly well right through the summer months.  I initially planned to stock my tank with blue gill, but I found they are difficult to obtain locally and tilapia, which many favor for aquaponics, are illegal to grow without variances and various bureaucratic hassles.  Since I'm not all that fond of tilapia as an eating fish, this is fine with me.  Nwestwood also uses goldfish to control algae in his sump, a good hint.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Expanded Shale Added to Grow Tanks, Water System Working

I should install and garden lounge chair in the greenhouse.  With the evaporative cooler working and the water works from the aquaponics setup adding the sound of gushing water, it's delightful

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bell Syphons in joined bins working fine

On the same day that we discovered the problem with the fish tank which has been rectified in the intervening week, we ran water into the joined bins that make up two grow tanks.  Three 27 gallon bins were joined with ABS pipe as a consolidated grow tank, draining with one bell syphon.  We made two sets and each performed very well.  Now that the fish tank is stable we are going ahead with adding expanded shale to the grow bins.  I have some seedlings growing in vermiculite in preparation for transplantation into the grow tanks.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fish Tank OOPS

We tested the fish tank after installing it in the greenhouse.  It failed when the water was just beginning to drain.  My son repaired the tear and erected concrete forms around the perimeter of the platform.  Then he put the mended fish tank in place and began to slowly fill it with water, pouring concrete into the space between the form and the fish tank at the same rate as it filled with water.  As a result, the outer concrete shell fits like a glove to the inner tank and there is no visible bulging or distortion from concrete or water.  He stopped at 16" since the upper 1/3 of the tank receives far less pressure than the bottom 2/3.This is a closeup of the interior, showing one of the tension rods and the 1" gluing strip along the bottom.  So far the tank has proven to be sturdy and water-tight.
Here are pictures of the inside insulation of my greenhouse with the ends of the legs of the tables that will support my grow tanks.  I daubed on silicone to form waterproof sleeves 2" up the legs.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Diversion into Chickens

A week ago one of my daughters asked what she should do with her extra chickens.  Her municipality allows a family to keep eight chickens.  She had expected some die off of the chicks she raised, but all of them survived, leaving her with twelve chickens.  I volunteered to adopt the four excess chickens.  Some family members suggested that I look into the idea of a 'chicken tractors'.  This is essentially a portable chicken coop that can be moved around the yard, providing many of the benefits of free range chickens without the need for lining the entire yard with chicken wire and setting up a video surveillance and slingshots to keep 'varmints' like dogs, cats, and coyotes from disturbing the hens.  I had some 1" mesh vinyl fencing on hand and after browsing the internet I came up with the design that resulted in the structure shown above.  The roof is made of 1/2" corrugated plastic sheet which can be bent at a nice angle when the inside surface is cut through several cells.  I used 2" wide poplar planks coated with polyacrylic for the structure other than the floor beams which are in contact with the ground.  I had some square aluminum tubing on hand and used that for the floor beams.  Nesting boxes and roosting poles are hidden under the roof.  I had planned to put in ramps but the chickens quickly demonstrated a willingness to jump the less than 30" distance to the upper story of their cozy new home.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Readjusting measurements and putting in insulation

Although we've had some significant winds in the past two years since I installed my greenhouse there has been no problem with missing panels or wind damage.  I figure I should insulate the structure to provide for year-round aquaponics, however, I have to avoid any significant added weight to my plastic and aluminum greenhouse.  I used 1/2" x4'x8' polystyrene foam to line the north walls and ceiling.  I drilled holes in the struts on either side of the ceiling in four locations and strung plastic coated clothesline wire across from wall to wall at ceiling level to support the foam against the ceiling.  I simply taped the upright panels to the north wall and taped all seams with some 3" wide industrial tape that seems to be holding very well.  On the south wall, from the ground to four feet up, the upper level of the grow beds, I used conventional sheets of foam insulation that I had in storage.  I also had some mylar/aluminum coated bubble insulation which I used on the west wall up to a level of four feet.  That is to protect my fish from getting too much light.  Above the insulation I used 1/2" interval bubble wrap that came in 30" wide lengths about 27 feet long.  I taped the pull-apart seams with postal tape and taped the several strips together.  The material is very light in weight, an advantage in the situation, and quite strong when the pull apart seams are taped.  I chose this material instead of using poly sheeting because of the additional insulation factor.  I had underestimated the width of the bins that I plan to use as grow beds which led to readjustment in the size of the supporting tables.  I'm not using concrete blocks because of size constraints and my two level setup.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Google Earth view of Utelite factory near quarry.  Look for the long 'roasting' tubes where the slate is heated and expanded.

Views of Deer Creek Reservoir with Mt. Timpanogos in the distance and Bridal Veil Falls.

Revision and Progress

After a quick trip to Florida to witness the marriage of my youngest son, I'm back in Utah getting things going with my aquaponics set-up.  My middle son, the guru of anything he puts his mind to, strongly advised me against the use of wood in my fish tank design.  Not only the moisture from the tank, but the condensation created by a large amount of water would threaten the material.  I've decided on a similar design, but  using various types of PVC instead of wood.  This should save me on the liner since the PVC itself is waterproof and chemically inert.  After all, I'm using PVC pipe for the water supply.
I drove up to a quarry/manufactory north of Park City for my expanded shale/slate in the form of Utelite.  The back of my small pick-up was filled almost to the brim by a large loader.  Fortunately I have a cover for the back which prevented other drivers from getting cracked windshields as I made my way home past Rockport, Jordanelle and Deer Creek Reservoirs with a view of Timpanogos, still in her winter robes, and Bridal Veil Falls.  It was a picturesque trip.  Regional Supply delivered the plastic I ordered the same day.  With a pile of gravel, stacks of other supplies, and the promise of good weather, I have a lot of work to do.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Construction of Fish Tank

I had a lot of square aluminum tubing on hand.  I only put it at the corners for the sake of being pretty.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fish Tank Fail Or OOPS!

I should have a fish tank that will be the equivalent of my grow bins to give the fish enough room and handle the exchange of nutrients efficiently.  So far I have planned for a little more than 200 gallons worth of grow bins and planting tubes.  The commercially available tanks take up too much room or are too expensive, or both.  If I build a strong wooden box that is 2' x 2' by 8' it will have well over 200 gallons in capacity and it will fit neatly in my greenhouse.  Fish pool liner and wood for the pool would come to under $100.  Since I don't have to deal with outdoor conditions, cattle (as in a stock tank which is built to withstand large animals), or other similar conditions, it seems the best solution to my need for a large tank.

We installed the fish tank, plumbed the grow bins and decided to do a water test before adding gravel or chemicals.  The grow bins each consist of three 27 gallon bins connected with ABS pipe with the bell syphon installed at one end of one of the bins.  The sump is an old porcelain/cast iron bath tub.  I have a 550 gph pump.  The cycle went beautifully from the first in one set of bins and required only a little tweaking in the second set of bins to work as well.  Meanwhile we were filling the fish tank.  It had reached the point of beginning to drain when we heard a little popping noise then a wave of water ripped the side of the fish tank as over 200 gallons gushed across the greenhouse floor.  It immersed the electrical cord connection but fortunately it was on a breaker and immediately cut out before we could be electrocuted. 
We quickly discussed what could be done as the greenhouse slowly drained.  We purchased concrete mix, chipboard for forms and reinforcing mesh.  Today we will mend the side of the fish tank, create walls of concrete to contain what is now  liner.  None of the joints of the fish tank failed.  It was a simple failure of the material.  With concrete walls to provide the resistance to pressure we should be back in business again and ready to add gravel to our grow bins.

Getting My Feet Wet

A couple of years ago I decided to erect a prefab greenhouse in my back yard.  It is 10' x 12' in area and rather attractive, but so far it has been an orphan.  This past week I visited my daughter and learned about aquaponics.  Suddenly my greenhouse has a function.  The cycle of water between a fish tank and grow beds provides an answer to my concern about the lack of water in a putative emergency.  Although it is unlikely it will handle the job of feeding me and my household, it will surely be an asset if food prices continue to rise.  I have already invested in many of the items that are needed for an aquaponics setup.  First of all, I have the greenhouse.  I also have an evaporative cooler to keep the temperature inside the greenhouse from soaring in the summer.  I have bins to convert into grow beds and an old cast iron/porcelain tub to use as a sump.  My daughter provided me with the necessary plumbing for the bell syphons required for a 'flush and fill' system and I purchased pumps and aerators for the water supply. Above is a picture of my greenhouse with a seedling table and the bins I plan to use as grow tanks.  The walls of the greenhouse are made of corrugated transparent polycarbonate, both tough and light.  I plan to insulate the north wall with sheets of insulating foam and use 55 gallon drums of water in matte black as thermal sinks for winter warming.