Thursday, April 19, 2012

I have been having a problem with the pH of my system.  My water comes from a well, and when I measure the pH from the tap it is 6.0.  But after the water sits in the open for a while (faster when I aerate the water), the pH spikes up to 7.8.  For a long time I thought that this was due to gravel in my beds or some other thing like that that was buffering the pH.  So I spent hours removing the gravel from some of the beds to no effect.  In frustration, I began to test the water by itself and found out that with no other outside influence, the pH was still going up.
So I went online to research this and found that frequently well water can have chemicals dissolved in the water from underground, and when the water is aerated, some of these things can be "gassed off."  I believe in my case, CO2 is going out of the water, resulting in an increase in pH.
Aha!  So I built this de-gassing tank out of a trashcan last weekend.  I put a cheap toilet float valve in the water supply line and installed a pump which circulates the water and supplies water to the float valves of my system.  The pH of the water goes up when it comes in and I have been treating the water with a very small amount to muratic acid to drop it down to the right level.  This slowly adds to my system and I should be able to regulate the pH effectively.
Here is my broccoli, which has been growing well.  Because my pH has been too high, many of the plants have been suffering from nutrient lock-out.  This happens because the plants cannot absorb the nutrients unless the pH is within a specific range.  The broccoli seems to be ok, but many of the other plants appear to have deficiency. 
Now that the pH is in a lower range, I am hoping that the plants will begin to thrive.

Tilapia at 3 Months

Well, it has been almost 90 days since I received my first batch of tilapia and they are doing great!  It is amazing how quickly they have grown.  They eat all the fish food I give them and they gobble up pieces of the leaves from the excess vegetables I throw into the tank.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Off The Charts

 My nitrite and nitrate levels on one side of my system are completely off the chart.  I have never seen colors like this.
 The readings that I am getting are for the beds on the right side, and you can see from this photo that the plants on the left side are doing much better.  I planted things ant the same time.  My current theory is that the pH on the right side is too high and it is locking out the nutrients that are building up.  I am working on getting the pH down by adding lemon juice and by adding water.  I tested my well water and it is about 6.0.
This is the growth on the left side of my system where my tilapia are.  The pH is too high here also, but not by as much.  I have been working on bringing the pH level down and am noticing that the leaves are beginning to darken slowly.  This is because if the pH is not in the correct range, the plants cannot absorb the nutrients, like iron.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tilapia at One Month

I have been on the road for the past two weeks, and the fish have really grown while I was away.  I was a little worried about not being home, but the auto-feeders worked well and the family inspections did fine.  I am hoping to set up a web cam and some other tools to manage things remotely at some point.
The seedlings have taken off while I have been gone as well.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

All I need is some good balsamic vinegar

Lettuce greens coming in nicely.  I am pretty sure that these seedlings are way to close together and will be over crowded when as they grow.  These are the seeds that I threw directly into the bed a few weeks back.  I have a bed that I am planning to use as a raft experiment and I will take some of the plants from here and thin this bed out.  I have the same problem with the arugula.  Maybe it won't be too overcrowded?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tilapia after a week

Here are the fish just after one week. These tilapia are providing the fertilization in my aquaponics greenhouse. It is amazing how some of the fish have already grown in just a week

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nothing dead yet (other than 15 cent goldfish)

The new tilapia are doing well.  Water temperature is hanging in the upper mid 70's and the fish are eating fine.  No fish loss so far.  Ammonia levels in control.
Here are some broccoli sprouts that are doing well.  They germinated in about 6 days and seem to be growing every day.

Friday, January 27, 2012

51 Tilapia Fingerlings

My tilapia fingerlings arrived today.  Here is a video of me unpacking the fish and adding them to my aquarium.
White Brook Tilapia was the source of my fish, and I have to say that I would highly recommend them if you are looking for fingerlings.  They are very professional.
I ordered 50 White Brook Niles.  They are a variety of sizes, but most are between 1 to 1.5 inches.  Stay tuned for the growth reports.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Baby Arugula

Here come the sprouts!  All I need now is some good parmesan.  I directly sowed some arugula and some lettuce greens into a couple of beds and the germination took about 5 days.  I have been spritzing these beds with a spray bottle to make sure that the water is getting to the seeds prior to the roots being long enough to reach the flood water.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Expensive Setup

Here is a quick tour of my setup.  It's kinda loud with all of the water sounds, but hopefully this will work.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Red Hot Chili Pepper

These are two chili pepper plants that survived from the soil garden from last summer.  I actually planted a pepper plant the year before and some of the peppers must have dropped in the soil beds.  Last summer, they germinated and grew underneath my tomato plants and I found them in the early fall.  They transplanted into the AP beds nicely and have been healthy.

Tilapia on the way for delivery next week!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2011 in Review

This is what the greenhouse looks like today.   All of the plumbing has been operational for most of the past year.  There are two independent systems, one on each side, and I added a fingerling tank to each system.  
First, I cycled the system on the left using pure ammonia.  It worked beautifully.  Ammonia levels went way up, then nitrites followed by nitrate levels.  I put a bunch of plants from my soil garden into the beds to suck up the nitrates and everything was thriving,  until...
Without any shade, my greenhouse was taking in enourmous amounts of UV radiation, and the plants were getting nuked.  The temperature was not too bad, but the plants were cooking.  I procrastinated buying a greenhouse shade for too long, and the plants were dead.
Ultimately, I bought the shade, and found that it worked really well in making the greenhouse bearable during the summer, but during the time that lapsed, I had not introduced any fish.

The system on the right has goldfish now, and I am in the process of ordering tilapia for the system on the right.  The main thing that I have been struggling with, that has kept me from ordering the tilapia, is water temperature.  Most of the things I have read is that fingerlings need water temperature in the 80 degree range.  I have added a few aquarium heaters, but they are only keeping the water during the winter in the 70 degree range.  Although this may be fine, I have been in a paralysis about this.  (Anyone with some experience here, let me know your thoughts.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

This is one expensive tomato

Too bad it has a crack!

Almost a year has gone by since I have been active updating the posts here.  I have had friends and family ask whether they should give up on me.  Well, I am back with some new years resolutions to get with it.

I have made much progress that has not been documented here, not as much as I wanted, but my system is up and operational.  Over the next posts, I will go over my system and get caught back up.

Please leave a comment and let me know who is checking in.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Laying out the beds

We have put in the table frames  - 4x6's spanning the top of the cinder block columns.  This begins to show what the greenhouse will look like.

Here is where the sump tanks are in relation to the grow beds.  There will be pumps in each of the tanks that will supply water to each of the beds.  That is what is next on the agenda.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Overflow System

Last weekend we worked on the overflow system, where the water in the fish tank overflows into the sump tanks.  I bought a 3 inch diameter bulkhead fitting (the grey thing sitting on top of the cinder block) for each of the two fish tanks.  The above photo is Burr cutting the hole in the side of the fish tank where the fitting is installed.  The tank material won't bond with any sealants for very well so we knew we only had one chance to get the hole right.

This is what the bulkhead fitting will look like when it is set up in the tank.  The top part is inside the tank and the bottom part is outside the tank.

The white PVC pipe flows from the fish tank at the top of the photo... the sump tanks.  These two tanks are connected underground, so that when water is added to one, the level will equalize between the two.  The pipe with the red valve in between the the tanks is a water supply line that will eventually be hooked up with a float valve to add water to the system if the water level is low.  I am on well water, so I don't have to worry about chlorine in the water.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Slow Progress

Making slow progress in the greenhouse.  Quite a bit of distraction over the holidays, but Burr has been helping in the meantime.  You can see the pavers that he laid out for the walking areas and the cinder block supports for the grow beds.
We have had some snow fall over the holidays as well.  With the new HVAC system (see below) I have kept the indoor temperature at a constant 50 degrees F.
This is the 95% efficient furnace that has just been installed in the upstairs of the building.  We have set it up with three damper controls that can open or close the amount of air going to each zone, upstairs, downstairs and greenhouse.
The heater was just in time for the winter snow!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

New Dormer Window

I have been out of town for the last two weeks, but Burr has been busy (as busy as possible with freezing weather) finishing up the dormer window construction.

The new window really opened up the space upstairs. I am envisioning this space as a great place for my seedling nursery, in front of the southern facing window.

Nice view on the garden from above. (Only growing weeds right now. Need some cold frames or something.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fixing the Hole in the Roof

I took these photos last Saturday, but have been traveling since then and thought I would post them now.    Here the roof is opened up and one of the side walls is in place.
Burr is overseeing the progress from inside and hoping it won't rain.
Framing out the new shed dormer.  This new roofline will give us a lot of new space for work and storage.

The framing takes shape, but the sun starts to set.

Friday, November 26, 2010

There is a Hole in the Roof

The weather cooperated enough today so that Burr was able to open the roof of the building that I am now referring to as "The Greenhouse."  He is putting a shed dormer into the second story for me so that we can have more storage space.  The south facing window should also give me a good area to start my seedlings as well.
Burr and Calvin spread a tarp over the roof just before it got dark.  It isn't calling for rain, but I would not be surprised if we didn't get some tonight.  They plan to work on it tomorrow and hopefully get everything closed in before it gets dark.

I spent time experimenting with the siphons for my growbeds.  At first I thought that I might need a larger drain pipe than the 1 inch that I am using.  I hooked up this contraption to my 1/3 horsepower sump pump so that whatever water I didn't want going to the growbed would be sent back to the tank.  I am using a valve to regulate the amount of water entering into the bed and  I found that it was very easy to find the right spot where the siphon turns on and turns off.  
I am experimenting with using two different bells on top of the siphon.  I found that the 2 inch bell sometimes has a problem stopping the siphon, so I added a snorkel (see photo above).  I also am experimenting with a 3 inch bell and it works well without a snorkel.  It is taking about 11 minutes for the tank to fill and about 4 for the tank to drain.  I am going to let it run all weekend and see how it performs.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Layout and Siphon Testing

Working on the layout of the growbeds.  Planning to use 2x6 lumber for the growbeds to rest on, but there are 2x4's in this photo just so that we could figure out the right height and position.  I bought some pavers that Burr has carefully laid out (perfectly level) for standing areas.  We are planning to put gravel in on the other areas up to the same elevation as the top of the pavers.
I have also been working on testing out the bell siphons for the growbeds.  I filled a fish tank up with water and tested a 1 inch diameter standpipe.  I am not sure that I like how fast it drains, and I may consider using 1.5 inch diameter.  But then again I don't have any gravel in the bed right now, so the amount of water is significantly more.  The siphon worked well.

In this photo, you can see my 1 inch siphon.  I am planning on testing this a little more before increasing the size of the drain pipe.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Filling in the Holes

With the tanks set, we have filled in the holes and are getting ready to build up.  
Burr has poured some concrete footings where we plan to place concrete blocks to hold the grow-bed tables.
This afternoon, while the concrete footings were setting, we carried in the concrete blocks that will be used to support the grow beds and the pavers that will be placed for standing on.  With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I am looking forward to making a lot of progress this week.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Setting the Tanks

Burr has been providing me with a bunch of help to get the tanks placed.   He chipped away the excess concrete footing material so that we could get the tank placed close to the side of the greenhouse, and we placed some concrete blocks in the bottom of each tank hole so that the tank would be level.  We filled in some excess dirt to hold the blocks in place.
Once the tank was level, we filled in the sides with excess soil.  The tanks will not move, especially when they are filled with water.  Each tank is almost 300 gallons, so that will weigh 1.25 tons for each tank.
I purchased some refurbished 55 gallon barrels, which I am going to use as sump tanks.  I am putting two barrels on each side and connecting them at the bottom so that the water level will rise together.  Each sump tank will contain a pump, so that the system will have redundancy.
We placed the tanks so that they would be below the top of the fish tanks and that they were level.
Here is the connector at the bottom of the two tanks.  I plan to put an overflow control on these sumps as well as a float valve that will allow me to have water added to the system if it gets too low.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


You may have been wondering whether I have disappeared or have given up on the greenhouse.  Nope.  I have just been busy with work and family.  
Today I shoveled out the dirt from the holes where the fish tanks will go.  The excess cement needs to be broken off, and then the tanks will be placed into the holes.  The electricity to the building is finally working and I have just purchased some used 55 gallon water barrels that I will rig up for my sump tanks.
I used Pano on my iPhone to make the panoramic photo.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I haven't made any progress over the last two weeks because I have been traveling to India.  But I returned this week and am ready to get going.  

Burr arranged for some help with the digging, which is a good thing because it would have taken me forever to dig out the space where I am planning to partially bury the tanks.  The guys did not finish this today and will hopefully be back tomorrow to complete the excavation.

They also dug a trench by hand for the electrical supply line that I am burying.  The electric company wouldn't do the tough to reach places that require hand digging.  So now we are ready for the power to be hooked up.