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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Skirting Disaster, A Series of Unfortunate Events

Really cold weather hasn't been much of a challenge until last night when my son-in-law reported that there was a fire in the greenhouse. This occurred because the propane tank we used had been overfilled at the gas station where we take our tanks to be replenished. The empty tanks were refilled to a proper level, but the partially empty tank received more than it could hold and still function properly. At any rate, instead of neatly heating the radiant area there were flames coming out of the top of the attachment that screws onto propane tank. The situation was caught before extensive damage occurred. One of the rain gutters used in the float system was slightly deformed by the heat and some of the primroses were wilted but not scorched. We have a back-up system of a small barbeque brazier, the tabletop kind that is about 18" in diameter, which burns charcoal briquets. We used it last night when the temperature dipped into the teens and it kept the greenhouse from a hard freeze, even though the tomato plants have likely met their end. The water in the system didn't freeze. One of my sons keeps the heater or the brazier going as needed and it is he who responded to the fire and diagnosed the cause. Today is cold, under 20 degrees until after 10 AM. He will be in the greenhouse 'burning off' the extra propane while doing various things to the system. Less than a week ago we woke after a late night and family party and discovered that there were only three inches of water in the fish tank. Eeeeeek!. Fortunately I store extra water in 50 gallon barrels, partially as a heat reservoir but also as an 'at need' source of water that has sat long enough to degas the chlorine. I immediately added the water to the fish tank. Later we added additional water with a hose once the faucet and the hose were thawed enough to use. I add the chlorinated water through the plant beds and so far that seems to moderate the chemistry enough before it reaches the fish tank that the fish haven't visibly suffered. Apparently whatever caused the loss of water was fixed in the process of 'messing around'. So far we haven't had to add more water once the normal levels were restored and the system was up and running, draining and filling through the bell syphons. At this point mint, strawberry plants, parsley, kale and primroses are standing up to the stress of winter cold and we haven't lost a significant amount of fish, although I suspect that 'floaters' are not a realistic indication of fish loss. There are signs that the larger trout, some of which are longer than 6 inches at this point, are predating the smaller trout. This is just as well since it keeps down the nitrogen from too many fish.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Primroses Are Edible!

I felt like I had made a compromise when I added primroses to the greenhouse solely because they are winter hardy and provide a nitrogen absorber. Their efficacy has been proven by the smell test. With a proper balance of plants and fish, the air smells fresh. I decided to do some further research. I discovered that both the leaves and blossoms of the primrose plant are edible, having a taste ranging from mild lettuce to the more bitter herb. This makes them very eligible for a good aquaponics plant. Even though I plan to leave the leaves in place, once the blossoms appear I can harvest them and add them to a salad as a very pretty addition. Dandelion is another plant that can be eaten. My chickens prefer dandelion leaves over other greens. When they appear in my lawn this spring I plan to harvest some seeds and plant them in the greenhouse.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tomatoes in December and a Primrose Bonanza

Through thorough insulation and the use of a small propane heater on nights that go below 30 degrees, we have been successful in maintaining growth in our mint, parsley and tomato beds, as well as some of the strawberry plants. As I worked in the greenhouse this evening I harvested a handful of cherry tomatoes from the somewhat struggling vines. Today we went shopping for some nitrogen absorbers. In other words, our fish are outstripping our vegetation. I have become familiar with the cold hardiness of primroses, mostly as I enter and leave the Provo LDS Temple where the winter plants of choice are the hardy little plants that almost seem overcome by a sharp frost or deep layer of snow, but which bounce back as soon as warmth returns, providing a green ground cover in the winter and giving a lovely floral display in early spring. Although so far I have avoided floral plants in favor of fruits, vegetables and herbs, our trout are growing and as they grow, they eat more and provide more 'plant food'. Without an adequate amount of vegetation, they will end up with too much nitrogen in their water. Cook's nursery in Orem, west of the 1600 North interchange had mostly indoor plants and poinsettias for sale, however we found some flourishing primrose plants in a cool corner of a heated greenhouse. We placed them in the rain gutters that I used for float trays in the summer. I was pleasantly surprised to pay only a little over a dollar a plant for 18 plants.