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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Sweet Smell of Partial Success

I returned fro a three week visit to Florida to welcome a new grandson who was born in St. Augustine on the 22 of May to find that I could gather a handful of really tasty strawberries from my greenhouse. The tomato and pepper plants have thrived and are setting fruit. Best of all, the blend of scents from mint, strawberries and various herbs is heady. On a visit to the 'Grow House' in Denver during the Aquaponics Conference last September I noticed that they set potted plants with holes in the bottom nestled into the flood and drain grow beds. I followed that practice with my various nursery plants this year. I set the four inch peat pots into the gravel beds without any apparent negative effects.

Monday, April 29, 2013

If I were to Start from Scratch

Hmmmmmm. That's all I can say. There are so many varieties of aquaponics setups that the many enthusiasts and serious business people have developed that I doubt I could decide which would suit me best. I would likely move to Florida or Hawaii if I seriously wanted a thriving aquaponics system without the expense of a greenhouse or worrying about heat and cooling. In retrospect, I'm satisfied with what I have under the circumstances. By using mostly what I had on hand in terms of containers for water and plants and dealing with a preexisting greenhouse, I have had the opportunity to exercise my ingenuity. I have been through two winters now and begin on my third full growing season. The expanded shale from Utelite has worked well for me. I abandoned my worm factory at present, but the other day when I planted some peppers and tomatoes I noticed signs that there are still red wrigglers in the grow bins in spite of the harsh winter. Since I use the aquaculture side of the aquaponics system more as a source of natural fertilizer for the grow bins, I have decided that gold fish, super cheap and rather hardy, are my best choice for now. I have added snails to the fish pond on the advice of my son who helps me with the system now and then. I got them for free at the pet store where they are considered pests. I have resolved that as the weather grows colder with the approach of winter I will make certain that the water pipes have thawing wires running along them. Meanwhile, I plan to put some beans in my grow tubes just to see what happens. The media bins are filled with mint, tomatoes and peppers on a flush and fill system with bell syphons, the rain gutter trays run with a constant flow of water and planted with herbs and strawberries. Meanwhile I'm setting up container boxes out in the open yard to grow root vegetables such as carrots and turnips that don't develop very good roots in the media beds.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pyhrric Victory

"A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately lead to defeat" I sort of felt this way when I realized that we had actually survived this very nasty winter (which still continues as of April 10, 2013 with snow and cold below freezing) with the basic system still intact. The mint is thriving, some of the primroses are blooming, and there is still a fish or two in the fish tank. None of the essential equipment failed, and I will continue with the adventure of aquaponics.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Expensive Chicken Feed - Frozen Fish

Winter of 2012-13 in Utah set records for cold. Particularly in January when the temperature went below zero with sad regularity. For various family reasons I spent all of January in the east, ranging from Florida to Puerto Rico to New York City. I experienced some cold in Manhattan but not the hard, killing freeze that settled over Utah. My son tried valiantly to keep the greenhouse running. The propane heater and charcoal brazier proved inadequate. Even burning hardwood in the chimenea couldn't cut the cold entirely, then the greenhouse door froze shut. A brief spell of temperatures above freezing allowed my son to view the damage. A 140 gallon block of ice with fish suspended in it filled the fish tank. Most of the primrose plants survived and we now see blooms on some of them. The mint is shooting out green leaves. My enterprising son, unwilling to deal with a quantity of dead fish as spring approached, found a novel way to use the frozen fish and water in the fish tank. he chipped out the fishy ice and let the three hens we keep for eggs work their will with it. The chickens, omniverous eaters that they are, enjoyed the frozen fish and their eggs likely provided a lot of omega 3 fatty acids. The previous winter I had insulated my water pipes and taped electrical warming lines along them but I rearranged the plumbing last fall and made the mistake of failing to restore the insulating tubes and the warming lines that kept the system from freezing last year. In review, I purchased too many fingerling trout. As they grew larger, they overstressed the system. At least they provided a tasty treat for the chickens. This winter wasn't a complete disaster, some of the plants survived. None of the more important parts of the system failed. We restored the flood and drain system and soon I will plant the grow beds with various less hardy plants as spring comes on. We plan to add some snails to the fish tank and I will gradually add a few fish, either trout or gold fish. I don't plan to disturb the ecology of the various growing systems which have been through two growth seasons so far. It seems wise to augment the plants with a bit of fertilizer along with the chelated iron I use whatever number of fish I have and not try to keep a lot of fish. I engage in aquaponics more for plants than fish as well as the water storage/saving that is part of the system.