Saturday, December 25, 2010

Aquaponics Update

I'm about 6 months into the aquaponics experiment. My first system, looked great (IMHO) and worked pretty well until it sprung a leak in the grow bed. I'm pretty sure this was in the drain area. I unfortunately placed the drain near a seam in the EPDM, which wasn't in itself a problem except that one side was regular thickness and the other was double thickness where the seem was and I think that caused a tiny leak that ended up making the wood swell and cause a big problem. Lesson learned. I didn't lose any fish, but I had been wanting to try an IBC system anyway. (IBC's are the giant plastic 275 gallon containers that things like bulk pineapple juice and liquid soap are shipped around in). These are a couple of pictures of that system.

I have the fish tank section shaded to prevent too much algae growing in there so it's a bit hard to see in these photos. I cut the 275 gallon container into two sections, an approximately 175 gallon fish tank and a 100 gallon growbed which is filled with hydroton (expanded clay pellets-- very lightweight, easy on the hands). The grow bed is mounted on top of a structure I built for it made out of 4"x4"s and 2"X6"s. It's on casters like the original system. Right now, because the fish need to stay warm I keep it covered in greenhouse plastic. One interesting thing I learned was that, even though the temps in the grow bed get up above 100˚ during the day, the greens don't bolt, presumeably because of the 68˚ water flowing over the roots every half hour. I keep a 250 watt tank heater with a built in thermostat in the fish tank just in cases the water starts to drop at night.

Growing tilapia

conrete reinforcing wire being used as a structure to support the greenhouse plastic

So far I'm impressed with how aquaponics is working out. These plants have no supplements of any kind, they are strictly being fed with fish water.

P.S. Now I'm working on system #3. The 400 gallon pond is nearly complete...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seedlings are started...

75% of them so far...

I started the first round of my seedlings a couple of weeks ago. They won't go into the gardens until mid-late February but I like having a good sturdy plant to get into the ground so we can make the most of our short spring before the blazing summer when most tomatoes either die or stop producing fruit until October. For that reason I like to plant tomatoes that are mostly 75 days or shorter. I'll go as high as 80 if the variety really strikes me, but beyond that there isn't much hope of getting much, if any, fruit out of the plant. Peppers and eggplants, on the other hand, will tolerate the heat much better so I'll go as high as 90 days for them.

Below I've listed my "catalog" of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants for the 2011 season. The descriptions are mostly straight from seed catalogs. I'm growing hundreds of plants, but I'll only keep about 40-50. The rest I'll sell for $2.50 or so in the spring to help raise money for improvements to the tiny farm. :)

Rosa Bianca: 70-90 days – A lovely Italian heirloom that bears medium sized, 8 inch, oval fruits.  The pink/lavender colored fruits are occasionally shaded with a cream color.  Always sweet and mild, with no bitterness.

Hungarian Yellow Wax: 70 days- Developed in Hungary, this medium-hot pepper has a beautiful golden waxy color that resembles bees’ wax. The fully mature peppers are a more orange-red color, but the fruit is traditionally picked when fruit is 3”-4” long and still yellow. A favorite for soups and stews, pickling, frying, canning, or roasting, the 5” long and 1.5” wide peppers have thin walls and don’t need to be peeled before cooking.

Italian Relleno Sweet Pepper: 65-75 days- 18-24 in. Delicious roasted, fried, and especially stuffed. Popular variety similar to the Anaheim chile, but slightly earlier maturing. High yielding and well worth growing. Transplant when soils are warm, spacing seedlings 12-18 inches apart. Enrich soil with mature compost. Needs warm conditions day and night to germinate and fruit well. Watering tips, during germination, keep entire seedbed evenly moist. Harvesting tips, pick at peak of color.

Nardello Sweet Pepper: 65-75 days- Delightful fresh or fried, the sweetest non-bell Pepper when ripe. An italian heirloom from the Nadello family. Red when ripe, these 6-8 in. peppers have shiny, wrinkled skins. Almost like candy.

Ordoño (NS/S): 90 days- An ornamental type of chile producing green, yellow, orange, purple and red fruits, which are an inch long and grow upright. Hot and edible. Collected from Batopilas Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico. Good for container gardening.

Pasilla Bajio (chile negro): 80 days- The Pasilla Bajio offers a rich, smoky, mildly hot flavor to many dishes. It is also called 'chilaca' and 'chile negro'. The name, 'Pasilla' means 'little raisin' in Spanish, referring to the dark brown, wrinkled dried pod. It is called 'chilaca' when fresh and adds character to red chile enchilada sauce and salsas. When used as a dried pod or in powder form, it is a very flavorful ingredient in many mole sauces.

Sweet Canary Bell: 80 days- Canary Bell peppers ripen to a beautiful golden yellow that adds a gorgeous golden color to any recipe. We chose this variety of yellow Bell pepper for its exceptional flavor, thick walls, and incredible color. Canary Bell sets its fruit early and continues to produce peppers throughout the summer. You can use these peppers as a vibrant accent in salads, and they are also wonderful when sautéed or grilled. Easy to grow, you can plant them in the garden or grow them in large containers on a patio or deck.

Tabasco: ~90 days- Hot, prolific, and hardy, this is the famous ingredient in Tabasco sauce. Narrow 1" fruits are yellow or orange maturing to red. Good for container gardening.

Yellow Banana (Sweet) 72 days- An AAS Bronze Medal winner for 1941 and still extremely popular. Large, pointed fruits measure 6-7" long and 1½" across. The mild yellow peppers ultimately turn brilliant red. A favorite for pickling.

Tomato and Tomatillo:
Ace: 80 days, indeterminate- This robust tomato has wonderful fresh flavor, but is an old favorite for canning as well. It has clusters of 6-8 ounce fruits, 5”-6” in diameter, growing on bush type plants that do not require staking. Being a low-acid tomato, it may be easier on your digestion if you are sensitive. You will be impressed by the excellent yields these plants have for such a large tomato! Resistant to Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt (Race 1)

Black Cherry: 65 days, indeterminate — This is a new variety that is very productive with cherry shaped fruits that have the dark, purplish coloring of 'Cherokee Purple.'  Flavor is wonderful, very rich and sweet. 

Black From Tula: 75-85 days, indeterminate- Deep reddish-brown beefsteak tomato has a rich, sweet flavor that is delicious. Fruit is smooth in texture and weighs from 8 to 12 ozs. This outstanding variety is very productive and seems to set well even when weather turns hot. Russian heirloom.

Bradley: 76 days, semi-determinate- A disease resistant variety released in 1961 by Dr. Joe McFerran of the University of Arkansas. Our TomatoFest organic tomato seeds produce compact, bushy, semi-determinate, regular-leaf, tomato plants with heavy foliage that yield copious amounts of 7 to10-ounce. dark-pink tomatoes with a wonderfully, delicious sweetness that is well balanced with just enough acidity to give you that old-fashioned big tomato flavor you love so much. Tomatoes ripen at the same time making it a great variety for canning and freezing. Suitable for Southern regions. An excellent fresh market tomato. Fusarium wilt resistant.

Chadwick’s Cherry: 70 days, indeterminate- Heirloom cherry tomato named after the late master gardener, Alan Chadwick, originator of the biointensive method of gardening. Flavorful, 1-inch, red fruits borne in vigorous clusters of six.  Add these cherry tomato seeds to your collection of cherry tomatoes and taste the difference.

Chico III: 70 days, determinate- Compact plant produces high yields of 3 oz plum shaped red tomatoes. Plants set fruit well during high temperatures. An excellent processing variety used to make sauces and puree. A variety suitable for mechanized harvesting. Great for salads and sandwiches too. Suitable for home gardens and market growers in Texas and the Southwest. Disease Resistant.

Chocolate Cherry: 70 days, indeterminate. Plant produces high yields of 1" diameter chocolate cherry tomatoes. This cherry tomatoes grow in cluster of 8 and are very flavorful. The tomatoes are crack resistant and hold very well on the plant. They can be picked several days before completely mature and allowed to ripen off the vine without sacrificing quality.

Coyote: 50 days, indeterminate — This variety was given to heirloom tomato collector Craig LeHoullier by Maye Clement during a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Harvest Fair show, as a cluster of fruit on the vine. She indicated that it grew wild in her home country of Mexico. It is a tiny cherry tomato that ripens its prolific crop to an ivory, translucent yellow color, shading to darker yellow at the shoulders. Flavor is superb.

Gardener’s Delight: 65 days, indeterminate- Also known as Sugar Lump, these red cherries range from 3/4 to 1-1/2 inch across and are loaded with sugary sweet flavor.

Hong Yuen: 75+ days, indeterminate- This Chinese tomato produces clusters of many red, mostly two-inch, sweet fruits. Hong Yuen is fine tasting for salad or sandwich; this excellent cropper can also be used for sauce or whole-pack canning.

Juane Flamme: 70+ days, Indeterminate- Extremely prolific French heirloom tomato that bears in clusters of 6, beautiful, 1 1/2-inch, round, golf-ball sized tomatoes that are persimmon-orange colored inside and out. A delicious full-bodied tomato flavor that literally bursts in your mouth.  Very decorative. Makes a great flavored sauce.

Nichol’s (NS/S): 75 days, indeterminate- These seeds originated from the Nichols family in Tucson. Volunteer seeds that just kept coming up, they have been maintained by the family patriarch for about 50 years. It is well adapted to the desert; it is heat-tolerant and prefers full sunlight. The tasty, “pink cherry” tomatoes are prolific producers. Halfway between a cherry and a plum tomato.

Principe Borghese: 75 days, DETERMINATE — Italian heirloom variety very popular in Italy and California for splitting in half and sun drying. They maintain color and flavor well. The plants produce heavy yields of small, red plum-shaped fruits. The plants will benefit from support such as caging.

Prize of the Trials: 75-80 days, indeterminate- Best overall cherry tomato for flavor, yield, and crack resistance. Productive vines bear orange, apricot-sized fruits that thrive in hot dry climates.

Punta Banda (NS/S): 75 days, indeterminate- Collected on the Punta Banda Peninsula in Baja California and grown out at our Albuquerque garden. The plants produced hundreds of red meaty, thick skinned fruits despite heat, water stress and poor soil. Great paste tomato.

Red Grape: 60 days, semi-determinate — This variety is modern and currently very popular in the fresh produce market. The fruits are bright red, weigh about an ounce, and are smaller than most cherry tomatoes (½ by ¾ inches). Since they are mouth-sized they are perfect for salads and garnish plates. Twelve to sixteen fruits per cluster.

Rio Grande: 80 days, DETERMINATE- Very large, blocky pear-shaped tomatoes are borne in profusion, making for large harvests to turn into tomato sauce, paste, or juice. Deep red fruit is about 4 inches long. Vigorous plants are well adapted to extremes in temperature.

Roma: 78 days, DETERMINATE- One of the most popular varieties for paste, sauces and canning. Compact vines yield large harvests of 3 inch long, bright red fruit that may be pear-shaped or plum-shaped. Thick walled and solid with few seeds; slightly later than Roma with heavier foliage.

Sugar Sweetie: 65 days, indeterminate- This organic, perfect, cherry tomato has classic sweet flavor. You may eat so many right in the garden, that it will be hard to get them into the house for salads! Large numbers of 3/4" to 1" fruit are produced in grape-like clusters on 2 foot tall plants. Even though the plants are indeterminate, the plants may be grown in containers on a sunny patio, deck, or balcony. As the plants continue to grow until fall frost, they will likely require a stake, small cage, or some sort of support.

Sungold Select II (Open Pollinated): ~75 days, indeterminate, This is a selection from the regular Sungold tomato, sent to us by Reinhard Kraft of Germany. This is one of the tastiest orange cherry tomatoes out there! This variety is not completely stable and a few plants still produced red fruit.

Super Sweet 100 (F-1 hybrid): 65 days, indeterminate- This is a home gardener favorite that has more disease resistance than Sweet 100 while keeping the same fabulous taste. Small round 1 oz. cherry tomatoes are deliciously sweet with a high Vitamin C content. Long clusters of fruit load up on tall, vigorous plants and continue to bear until frost.

Toma Verde Tomatillo: 65 days, indeterminate- YOU MUST PLANT AT LEAST TWO NEXT TO EACH OTHER FOR POLLINATION TO OCCUR. If you can grow tomatoes, you can grow Tomatillos! They can be used in a wide variety of Mexican dishes, and their unique flavor makes an indescribably tasty 'salsa verde', which some say is superior to red salsa. The 'Toma Verde' is a large-fruited variety that has been adapted to grow successfully in a wide variety of climates. Related to tomatoes, tomatillos prefer similar growing conditions, but they will handle a lot more heat and drought. The 3'-6' tall, indeterminate plants grow quickly and produce well in both southern and northern climates. Fruits grow inside a paper shell and keep producing until the first fall frost.

Violet Jasper: ~80 days, indeterminate. When these little Oriental jewels ripen, your eyes will be stunned with color. They have pretty violet-purple fruit with iridescent green streaks! Fruit weigh 1-3 ounces, are smooth and have good tasting (though some have complained it’s grainy), dark purplish-red flesh. This variety will also amaze you with its yield: it’s not only high, but incredibly high, being one of the most productive tomatoes we have grown. A great variety for marketing. Introduced to you from China.

White Currant: 70-75 days, indeterminate. Treat yourself to one of the most unique and sweetest tasting tomato varieties known. The tiny fruit are half the size of a cherry tomato and grow in nice heavy clusters. Creamy-white in color with just a tinge of yellow. Deliciously sweet, a favorite of many.

Yellow Pear: 78 days, indeterminate- These prolific miniature pear-shaped tomatoes are 1-3/4 to 2 inches long and clear yellow in color. They are delightfully sweet considered by many as 'garden candy'. Baskets of these are as pretty as can be. Tall plants bear large and continuous harvests

Yellow Plum: 70 days, indeterminate — A very old variety. The plants are large and open with small oval fruit, 1 by 1¼ inches, that taste mild and sweet. There are typically eight to ten fruits per cluster, some late fruits have slight neck. Very productive.

Zapotec Pleated: 80-85 days, indeterminate- Deeply pleated, pink to dark-red 6-8 oz. fruits originating from the Zapotecs of southern Mexico. Unique appearance with a rich and earthly flavor. Excellent stuffed, baked or sliced.

What varieties are you planting this year?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Deviled Quail Egg recipe!

People are always asking what in the world they can do with quail eggs. My favorite thing to do is to devil them. When the Phoenix New Times asked me for a recipe of something I'm baking right now, it seemed like an obvious choice (even though technically it's not baked :) )

HERE'S a link to my deviled quail egg recipe.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Picking from the yard and foraging the foreclosures

First off, let me say that my camera bit the dust, so I'm having to rely on a little digital point and shoot that I'm not too familar with and as such have been hesitant to use it. No pictures usually= No posts. :( However, a new camera is coming soon. :)

Our neighborhood like many of yours is full of vacant foreclosed houses. Many of these houses have fruit trees, and I'm not shy of saving that fruit from the roof rats. Here in Phoenix right now the daytime temps are around 70 and the lows are around 50. (Today was a beautiful 80 degree day!)With this kind of weather, November is one of our best times for harvesting. Today in addition to all I picked from home, I grabbed a big basket and went for a walk around the block. Our first stop is a house around the corner that has a big pecan tree in the front yard that reaches right up to the street. We always stop there and get pecans that are in the public right of way, people live here (though I doubt they harvest many of their pecans from what I've observed) so I don't get too grabby or go up into their yard. A few houses down from that is an empty house with a giant pomegranate tree out front so we hit that up with our citrus picker. Then around the next corner and halfway back to our house is a foreclosed house with no gate separating the front and back yard. The backyard has a huge lemon tree with hundreds of lemons on it. We got some. :)

There are also mulberries and a recently discovered fig tree (ripe at different times of the year) in vacant housing or in the public walkway in the neighborhood. I only know of one other neighbor that bothers to pick any...

So here is a picture of most of today's harvest, everything not mentioned above came from our front and back yard. I even canned some dilly beans (like a dill pickle, but using a green bean instead of a cucumber) from our beans.

Do you have anything to forage for in your neighborhood?

Monday, October 11, 2010

A day in the life at the tiny farm

I'm jumping on the "Day in the Life" meme bandwagon. Here is Sunday 10/10/10 at the Tiny Farm.

6:30- Changed the chickens' water, checked the automatic (timer) feeder and the treadle feeder, both had food. I gave the hens some leftover cantaloupe rinds and seeds from last night's dinner and a few greens. I have one hen that sleeps on the lip of one of the nest boxes and I've never been able to break her of the habit, so I take the big spackling knife I keep hanging on a nail in the coop and clean the poop out of one nest box.

Our biggest fish are around four inches now

6:40- Feed tilapia. Check on the quail chicks. I sold 25 of them, but still have about 72 in the stock tank. Luckily I just inherited a bigger stock tank, so they fit pretty comfortably in there, and since it's two feet tall, they can't fly out of it yet. :) I change their water, give them food and clean the bedding a bit.

A few 8 day old quail

6:50- Check on duckweed/mosquitofish pond. Feed and water all of the adult quail. I also collect a few eggs that got laid after I collected them Saturday night. For whatever reason, one pen likes to lay just after dusk. I have them in 6 separate hutches right now so all of this takes awhile. I'm looking forward to their aviary being completed!

7:05- The quail hatch before the most recent one had a few wry necked birds in it. I'm pretty sure this was caused by excess humidity during the incubation. I've read that it's genetic, but I've never had another wry-necked bird from my breeders, so that doesn't really make sense to me. Either way I want to be sure that the trait doesn't get passed on, and it's been awhile since we've had quail. I pick out a tuxedo quail for butchering, and after I grab him I realize I don't have my butchering scissors outside so I take the bird with me inside to get them. The whole time he just kept looking up at me in a pitiful way that landed him back in the pen and I ended up processing a much more severely deformed jumbo brown instead. This was a better choice anyway, as the tuxedo's posture is barely off, whereas the jumbo's neck was so crooked that it definitely impacted his quality of life. Butchering always makes me sad and a little queasy.
After processing the bird, I put him in the refrigerator in a pyrex bowl with a very light brine. (1/4 tsp salt and about 2 cups of water).

7:25- Water all of the garden beds. I usually have the automatic drip system on, but we got a huge storm and we have hundreds of gallons in rain barrels, so that means doing it by hand. I fill up watering cans with the rain water and hit all of the beds, most of which have newly planted seeds in them.

One of the rainbarrels

7:40- Pick stuff! My favorite part of the morning. I bring in some passionfruits, my first fall tomato of the year, a few black-eyed peas, some cotton and a lime. There is a lot of eggplant (and mint) still out there, but I have a bunch in the kitchen already and need to use it up!

8:00- Make breakfast. I cook up some chicken and quail eggs on the stove and have them with some cantaloupe and morningstar fake bacon. My husband hasn't eaten pork in at least 10 years so thinks this stuff tastes as good as the real deal. He's waaay wrong, but since I have no desire to butcher any pigs, I don't argue (much).

I have recently become pretty firm that I will no longer work on the weekends. If I don't hold myself to this, I get really stressed out and am an unpleasant person to be around (the word "tyrant" comes up a lot and is about the only PG-13 word that gets used to describe me). It's a nice day and the high is only in the low 90's so we go to the zoo and buy an annual membership with some of my birthday money. One of my favorite part is the goats, chickens, turkeys and peacocks. I just can't get enough of those things and I'm plotting to find some room to put some turkeys at home...

3:00- Back from the zoo, I feed the tilapia again and give the quail chicks more food and water.

5:00- I collect the chicken and quail eggs and seed two beds with peas, lettuces, spinach, golden beets, early wonder beets, thyme and onions.

A few of the chickens just wanted to say hi!

6:00- Start dinner. It's melon and roasted roots with quail. I chop up all the "roots" we have, which this time around are just carrots, potatoes, onions and garlic and add rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil and put them in a baking dish. In the center goes the quail from this morning stuffed with garlic and a little butter with a few extra pats put underneath the breast skin. Bake at 350 for a little over an hour, turning the quail every 15 or 20 minutes and basting with a small amount of butter.

7:15- Dinner! We saved all of the bones and little cartilage bits to make stock with in the solar oven tomorrow. Even a tiny quail can make a couple of cups of stock.

9:30- Final check on the baby quail, they get more food and water to last them through the night.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A great (and also sad) quail hatch!

I went to bed with one quail just barely hatched and this is what I woke up to:
In the incubator!

These are from shipped eggs from a flock completely unrelated to mine so I can refresh the gene pool. The eggs these guys came from arrived on a particularly hot day and sat in the mail truck touring the neighborhood for at least 5 hours. Needless to say I was worried about their viability but was pleasantly surprised when 98 hatched out of 118 set. :)

Unfortunately one of the last quail to hatch had an umbilical hernia. About an inch of intestine was protruding from the little guys belly button. This is the first time I've ever seen this in person and sadly this situation doesn't have a good prognosis so I had to cull the bird. Now I've eaten some of my quail before, but their death served a purpose. It was much more difficult to kill a tiny bird, only to bury it in the garden. One of the hard moments in raising livestock.

On a brighter note-- here are a few of the 92 smiling faces from the hatch.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Time to refresh the coturnix quail!

Well, it's that time of year again. Once a year I like to bring in some quail eggs from a new source to refresh the bloodlines. No one wants a bunch of inbreeding! I'll sell some of the adults I currently have and replace them with birds that hatch out of these:

Out of 120 eggs shipped only 2 got cracked. It always amazes me how well eggs (and even chicks) do in the mail. I probably crack 2 quail eggs a week just bringing them from the quail pens into the house.

I will be keeping a total of only about two dozen birds, the rest will be sold or eaten. I currently have about three dozen, so those plus whatever I get out of this hatch will be the birds to choose from. I decide which birds go where by a few different criteria:

1. Genetics: I want to have as many different bloodlines represented, I especially want the roosters to be from different bloodlines as the hens as much as possible.
2. Defects: Any bird that has any trait that I wouldn't want to breed (for example I have one chick right now with crossbeak) gets eaten. It's unfortunate, but it's important to not have those birds in the breeding pool, mine or anyone elses. They are given a good life until they are table size.
3. Interesting, good looking or other positive qualities: I have a few that I recently hatched out with color patterns I haven't seen before, I'll keep at least one of those. I also have a rooster that I love because he has a bizarre and warbly crow very different from the others. I also have a few birds that are especially friendly and/or lay very large eggs, they stay here as well.

Ideally, all of the other birds get sold or bartered with. I wouldn't want to sell a bird that I wouldn't use for breeding myself, I feel that even as a tiny scale hobby farmer I have a responsibility to not muck up the genetic pool for this amazing breed. (And no one wants bad quail karma!)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Aquaponics and a tiny pond

I still haven't added the tilapia to the aquaponics system, but I think the tank may have nearly finished cycling this weekend. In the few weeks we've had them, the females have gotten a little bigger but the males have more than tripled in size.

Grow bed about 2 weeks after planting seeds

The plants are doing fantastic in the grow bed. I've been adding small amounts of fish emulsion both to help with the tank cycling and also to provide some nutrients for the growing plants. This picture is about 10 days worth of growth from the last post's picture.

Finally, I've made a tiny pond on the tiny farm! This roughly 45 gallon pond will serve to grow duckweed to help feed the tilapia. I'm hoping to eventually grow 100% of the food for the tilapia on the property. To build it (after my usual sticking my shovel through some irrigation lines and repairing them) I used leftover pond liner from the aquaponics set up, rocks that were already on the property, plants that came free with my tilapia, a handful of duckweed from the fish store ($1.30) and a pair of gambusia fish to eat mosquito larvae ($2.49). Total cost: about $4. I could have gotten the gambusia free from friends with ponds or the city of Phoenix, but this particular fish store (Phoenix Tropical Fish) took the time to really help me with questions a few weeks back so I thought I'd give them some business, even if it's just a couple bucks.

Pond area: BEFORE


I'll add some plants around the outside of the pond when the weather cools down a bit. The duckweed is spreading rapidly and the water hyacinths are blooming, so it's been a pretty good payoff for a few hours of very sweaty digging and rock piling.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Aquaponics sprouting!

Some free cucumber seed being put to work

I planted some cucumbers and summer squash for the fall season in Phoenix. I was a bit hesitant to just throw the seeds in the hydroton (clay balls) as I thought they would just get washed down to the bottom, but lo and behold after three days, my cucumbers have sprouted. I planted 6 seeds each from two different varieties and every single seed sprouted, so apparently they do stay put fairly well. In a couple of months we'll see if the tiny seeds like lettuce and herbs perform the same.

I am still cycling the tank, so the fish are still indoors as I'm trying my best to not kill them. In order to prevent the tiny tilapia from getting sucked into the filter once they do go in, I've devised a simple and cheap mesh cage for my pump. I bought a small roll of fiberglass mesh used on window screens and sewed it into a tube shape. Using a couple of my zipties I tightened it around both the cord and the hose fitting.

alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5501416758518513250" />

I will remove this after the fish get big enough to not get sucked through the normal 3/8" holes in the pump cage so I can pump some solids out. These will be filtered out using aquarium spongy filter media that will be placed underneath where the water comes out of the pump into the grow bed.
The progress so far is exciting!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Aquaponics progress

The new system is nearly entirely built. I have learned a lot of lessons, on how to build and plumb more efficiently (for way less money!) for next time around. So many parts that I imagined would be easy to find were not, and some didn't even exist. I've kept all my receipts and will update with the way-over-budget total when I'm done and have returned all of the incorrect parts that I bought. :) I will also add a more reasonable hindsight budget for next time!

The system is a roughly 100 gallon grow bed and roughly 100 gallon fish tank. Both are built with 3/4" plywood and reinforced in the corners (top and bottom) and lined with EPDM pond liner. I will probably also add some reinforcement going over the top of the grow bed to keep it from bowing over time. It's all on an old shelving unit my carpenter neighbor built and gave to me when he moved. Very sturdy but added more casters in the middle (you can't see them in this picture) and some extra 2 by 4 bracing just to be extra sure. The system can obviously not be moved around when full, but the idea is to empty the tank (even temporarily) between seasons so it can be in afternoon shade in summer and full sun in winter. When it's in place I have cinder blocks underneath it for extra insurance.

The most simple explanation is that a pump pumps about 40% of the water out of the fish tank to fill the grow bed, when the water reaches a certain level a siphon kicks in and floods the water back into the fish tank. I went with an Affnan siphon for those of you that are interested in those sorts of details. I'll do a more complete post about siphoning in the future.

Looking down into the growbed-- need a little more substrate to fill it up.

The rocks on a plate are a temporary weight to hold down that pipe. The pipe has lots of holes drilled in it to act as a strainer to keep the rocks from entering the siphon, which is inside that pipe. The pipe to the left of that is an overflow pipe (I need to make it shorter). It's simply a back-up in case the siphon ever fails, it will keep the grow bed from overflowing. The other pipe is hooked up to a 35 watt(!) Laguna Max Flo 600gph pump, and carries the water from the tank to the grow bed. I will put some aquarium filter underneath where it comes out to keep too many solids from entering the grow bed. It might be hard to see but the water pipe is zip tied in place in three different spots to be sure it stays in place.

Still a little more fine tuning, but as it is now, everything works how it should. I plan on beginning to cycle the tank tomorrow, it should be ready for the tilapia in about 3 weeks.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Aquaponics beginning

After a year or so of wanting to do aquaponics, I've finally begun. For those of you that don't know about it, aquaponics is similar to hydroponics only instead of adding chemicals, you use a fish tank and the fish provide the plant nutrients and the grow beds provide the filtration for the fish.

I had some plans to build a 1000 gallon fish tank filled with tilapia and stick some growbeds on it and call it a day. It turns out, after some research, that there's recommended ratios and a few other things that just made it more complex than I was expecting. Not the least of which is our climate. For at least a month we have highs around 115 and lows around 90... and humidity. It's also quite expensive to do something that large, not prohibitively expensive, but enough so that I don't want to mess up. So for now I'm building a 100 gallon fish tank which will pump up about 50 gallons twice an hour to a 100 gallon grow bed filled with rocks which will siphon back down into the fish tank.

Building the outer frames for the fish tank and grow bed

I was lucky enough to get some tilapia fry (babies) off of craig's list, as it's expensive to overnight big bags of water from the hatcheries, and I only needed about 15 fish, which is well below any minimum order sizes. We did a trade for them too, which was an even bigger bonus. I gave her seed packs and quail eggs.

Those gray smudges are 1/2" long tilapia

I have a pond pump, and pond liner on the way. Both the fish tank and grow beds will be lined with pond safe EPDM. Until then....

Not so flattering pic... it 100 degrees in there

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy solstice, the mead is done!

First off a happy summer solstice to all of you. As always, it feels like we're at least a month into summer here by the time the solstice rolls around. I've instituted a new family tradition that we'll celebrate the solstices (and maybe the equinoxes too) with some homemade hooch. Today I think it will be more of our hefeweizen as it's already at its peak and delicious. The hefeweizen was actually our second attempt at liquor making, the first one was the honey mead we started several months ago but just bottled this weekend. The mead was a bit of a learning curve for us as we learned some important lessons in sanitation, and how as it turns out, you should check all of your seals BEFORE you put the mead in the primary fermenter, otherwise you may have to put your hand in the brew to tighten things up. Despite the odds the mead turned out drinkable and not poisonous. We opted for a dry mead rather than a sweet one and this one is definitely dry. I think we left it in the fermenter a little long as it tastes more like a chardonnay that was left on the counter overnight... a hint of vinegar. Hey, I said it was drinkable, not wonderful. We're hoping that some aging will help it get a little better.
22 bottles of La Mano Venenosa Mead

The rest of the tiny farm is being productive as well. The 11 chickens are pitching in laying plenty of eggs in the 105 degree heat. Here's a week's worth:

Not bad considering that a few of these birds are pushing four years old and I'm still getting about 9 eggs a day!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The first blackberry!

This morning I got to pick the first blackberry I had ever grown. I didn't even know you could grow blackberries in Phoenix until I was about 20. Ever since then I had wanted to and when I bought my house I tried (and killed) several blackberry plants and pretty much gave up on it.

Fast forward to about a year ago. My husband and I were riding bikes around the neighborhood on our way to visit the house that had heritage breed turkeys for awhile. No, not legally, but no one complained. You could see the pen from the street and I think a lot of people like made a point to go by that house just to watch the turkeys. Anyway, we stopped at a yard sale a couple doors down. I bought a little birdcage to use as a hospital cage for small birds for $5 and I noticed he had a huge hedge of blackberries. Long story short: we rode our bikes home with a birdcage and a gallon bag of blackberries. He invited us to come back later with a shovel and dig up a few. We did. I planted them. Two out of five survived and I now have blackberries. I recently found out that they grow 'wild' in the irrigation ditch a street over and an awesome neighbor whom I've recently befriended happens to live next to that ditch and brought us 8 or 9 plants of which a few are starting to leaf out. These are not the thornless 25 gallons of berries per plant you see advertised in the catalogs and magazines, they are good old-fashioned very thorny blackberries. It makes them a little rough on the hands, but it also means they're a little rough on predators. I've planted them against the fence to the chicken pen and against where I plan to build a big quail aviary in the fall, so now they can serve two purposes.

A big day indeed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Solar update, more baby quail, PICS

For those of you that are curious, the electric bill last month was $9.47. Way to go, solar! About $8 of that is administrative fees and taxes, the remainder is from the couple of days before they installed the new meter that credits us with surplus power. After all the math, it seems like it will pay for itself in about 5 years. However my husband and myself are both essentially freelance so the investment in the piece of mind that we have (basically) one less bill to pay every month is worth even more to us.

We had an 80% hatch rate for this last batch of quail. This seems a little low for eggs that didn't have to travel but still very much acceptable. There comes a hard time in nearly every hatch when a quail or two has started pipping out of the shell and for whatever reason gets stuck and doesn't progress. The general rule is to not help the quail, that hatching is a test of fitness and for the sake of future generations you only want to breed the best and healthiest birds. Often birds you help out will be weak or have other problems and die anyway. Every once in awhile though you get a bird that is so close, really seems determined and peeps away at you from half inside the shell as if to beg you for just a tiny bit of help. Honestly from time to time I help one of these birds, I tell myself I really shouldn't, but I can't just let it suffer. An important part of responsible animal husbandry is to not be such a softy, that you really aren't doing the breed as a whole any favors by helping out individuals in this situation. My solution for this is that if there is one that I've helped, to band it and make sure it doesn't get used for breeding.

It takes about 4 to weigh as much as a cherry tomato. :) On to the pics!

Breed responsibly!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Solar is finally completed!

As the title states, after a long wait, lots of red tape and a few dollars, the solar panels are finally hooked up and running. All 5.04 Kw. We had a great time watching the meter run backwards the first couple of days, but then the utility came and replaced it with a digital meter. Like digital slot machines this took away some of the fun and excitement, but the end result is still the same. It's been up and running for about 12 days and here are the statistics courtesy of the inverter box:
30 Kwh of electricity produced today
398 Kwh produced so far
676 lbs of CO2 saved

What would you do to celebrate? We brewed our first beer. With some help from my friend Chloe who is an experienced brewer and a fantastic local brew store (Brewer's Connection in Tempe) we now have 5 gallons of hefeweizen in the primary fermenter. Between that and the 5 gallons of honey mead bubbling in the closet, we should be in good spirits for awhile. :)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The ever-popular banana ice cream

I feel I should repost the banana "Ice cream" recipe for those of you that have either not seen it or for some reason have not gotten around to trying it because maybe you're skeptical that a one-ingredient recipe could be so awesome. Let me assuage your anxiety. It is that awesome. It's vegan to boot so you can serve it to your friends that are always insisting that tofu-based pies are as good as the real thing.

Freeze some bananas. If you froze them in the peels let them thaw out just enough that you can easily slice the peels off. (15-20 minutes) Cut into slices. Put in the food processor until it gets to be the consistency of fancy ice-cream. Eat.
For a way more complex version: add a teaspoon of peanut butter in the food processor with the banana slices and then when it's done add chocolate sauce. As my new favorite feedback booth guy at the end of a recent Antiques Roadshow says.... "Champion!"

I realize a picture should be here, but I ate it before I thought to take a picture. Besides, you all know what ice-cream looks like.

Monday, January 18, 2010

More Solar

Looks like Phoenix is scheduled for rain for the entire week. This could have some say in whether or not our solar gets installed. This also means no global sun oven meals, I really can't say enough good things about that product. It heats to 325-350 in basically the same amount of time our indoor oven does. If I really pay attention to moving it with the sun every 30-60 minutes, it will get up to at least 375. I'm not sure how much of a difference ambient temperature makes, but in the summer it will be 60 degrees hotter outside than it is now. While it's not cheap (around $225) it's nice to know that it's made in America with non-sweatshop labor and that a portion of the proceeds go towards providing solar ovens to people that need them in parts of the world with less money.

Mikey- Our utility (APS) is paying $15,120 towards our 5.2 KwH system. If I remember correctly, it's not just a straight $3,000 per kwh, it increases as your system size increases. (I think it was $12,500 for a 4.8 kwh system) Arizona has a crappy buy back policy. They will buy any unused electricity from you at the end of the month at wholesale costs, should you need more than you produce in a given month you buy it from them retail. Alternatively, you can let your unused production roll over to the next month (and every year in April the slate gets wiped clean, so it's a bit of a use it or lose it). The latter is the route we've signed up for.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The solar countdown...

Well, for those of you wondering about the significant lack of posts, I've been extra busy. :) I have 30 kinds of tomatoes started, 10 pepper varieties and two eggplants. Way more than I'll have room for, but it's hard to stop myself. The bigger news is that we're getting solar panels. When I first looked into it I thought it would be I pay for them, they come out and install them and it was all done. I wish. There are many layers of approvals that need to be gotten (the solar company does most of this, but there's still a lot of waiting between each stage of the process) We had to get two 35 foot palm trees removed, which were going to make it too shady (probably two more will have to be pulled out before it's all done) there will have to be significant trenching in the backyard because of how our house is set-up, then more people have to sign off on things.

It seems like a lot of steps just to get solar power, but when it's all done, it should be 110% of our total power usage and because of all the rebates, credits and incentives, it will be about 85% off the sticker price, so we just couldn't refuse. There are nine days until they start installing the actual panels, which is stage one of the home stretch. I'm crossing my fingers that everything goes well.

Pictures to come!