Friday, June 5, 2015

3 weeks in!!

It's hard to believe it, but three weeks have past since we got the "Great Aquaponics Experiment" off the ground.  Things continue to go amazingly well. The fish continue to grow (and live, even!), and the plants are too. Most of them, at least. (More on that later.) We've harvested our first strawberry, and even began a bonsai project!
The water continued to remain cloudy, so I added another bag of carbon, attached in such a way that the water flowing from the bottom gutter into the tub had to flow through it. The water is finally clearing nicely. Water tests yesterday showed an ammonia level of 0.05, a trace of nitrite, and a nitrate level of 30 ppm. This was on water drawn straight from the tub. They're all within acceptable levels for this set up. I think sometime this week I want to take samples from the tub, and each of the gutters as it's flowing to see if there's a noticeable change in readings from each level. Sheer curiosity.
  Here are the pics to document how things are going.

First, the full system:
Happy Broccoli!
And Butternut squash:


And Zucchini:
Not so happy cucumbers.
As I was looking through the rocks, I realized the buried beans that were rotting instead of sprouting were blocking water flow and creating dead spots in the rocks. I dug through there as much as I could, improving the water flow considerably. We'll see if any of these droopers come back. If they don't, I'm not too worried. These are the slicing cucumbers. Only 4 of the 15 plants are not doing well, and we have 2 other types of cucumbers in the system that are doing great.
But not all of the beans rotted, Some are sprouting quite nicely!
(Of course, every time I see a new bean sprout, my mind immediately responds "Beans! Beans? The special beans! I let him go, I didn't know he'd stolen my beans. I was watching him crawl back over the wall when bang, crash, the lightening flashed, and, well, that's another story, never mind, anyway..." Extra credit if you recognize the reference. ;-) )
The yellow cherry tomato plant is going absolutely bonkers! It's grown at least 8" since we put it in the system two weeks ago!!
But, wait! What's that in the back ground?? That's right - a ripe strawberry!!! The third one so far.
The other tomatoes seem to be happy, too.
Both the tomatoes and the zucchinis actually have buds on them.
The lettuces are doing well, considering the warmer weather we've had.
And the beet and carrot sprouts are beginning to be recognizable. (The carrots are the frilly ones.)
And the sprouts growing out of the screen are still happy and healthy, growing amazingly fast.
But hands down, the happiest plant has to be this mint. It's easily doubled in size!
We've had some surprise sprouts, too. Mainly some small tree seedlings. I've been pulling and discarding them, but decided to keep a few with the thought of possibly trying my hand at a Bonsai. If I find any more, anyone want them???
 So that's where we sit today, Friday, June 5. Three weeks into the grand experiment. Pretty happy with it all so far. And, in all honesty, rather dumb-founded that it seems to be working so well,  It just doesn't seem possible to successfully grow plants with just water and sunlight. And fish poop. Can't forget the fish poop. :-)
And just for fun, here are two pics of a nocturnal visitor to our front window last night. Just gorgeous.
Hope your summer is starting off as beautifully as it is here. Here's to another week of happy, healthy growth!! And not just for the plants. :-)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Week One is in the Books!
So the Aquaponics system has made it through its first full week fully planted. (Well, I *thought* it was fully planted. More on that in a bit.) As a reminder, here's what it looked like on Monday of this week:

The water in the fish tub has started getting very cloudy (thanks, I believe, to the large number of beans that are rotting instead of sprouting. Note to self- don't bury any of the beans in the rocks next year. Just let them sit on top. Those are the main ones that are germinating.) To help with the cloudiness, I decided to add some carbon to the system to help remove color, smell and cloudiness. We'll see if it makes a difference.
If this doesn't work, then I'll probably run an external power filter for a few days to try to help it out.
So now for the first week comparisons. Here's the system on the first day it was planted, Friday, 5/22/15.
Here's the system today, Friday 5/29/15
Wait a sec. That looks awfully full!! Did I actually have that much growth in just one week??
Well, no, not really. While there is some very nice growth, I've actually added some more plants.
A green bell pepper (the first one is a yellow pepper.)
Lemon Cucumbers (I really didn't need more cucumbers, but these seemed fun. The fruits are the shape and color of lemons.)
Zucchini (in case the seeds don't germinate.
And....wait for it....STRAWBERRIES!!! (How could I not????)
So, now that you know what's new, here are some comparisons for you. Remember the seeds that were caught by the screening at the end of the gutter?
Here's what they look like now.
The tomatoes are growing apace! The grape tomato on the end has actually grown to reach above the gutter above it. They all have set small buds!
The lettuces have sprouted and are showing nice growth.
And the broccoli/spinach/swiss chard seeds continue to develop nicely.
So that's where we sit at the end of our first week. My plan is to document growth, change, challenge and success each Friday with pics and posts. Whether I can follow that plan or not is another thing. :-)This is our year to try, experiment and fail, if necessary, to learn what's best for next year. (Such as only plant beans on TOP of the rocks!) As such, I'm being rather loose and fast with what I plant where and how. If something grows and produces well with this, then we know it will do well when we have more time and experience to bring to bear.
Of course, if everything does well, we may be swamped with a bit more produce than we anticipated. Anyone out there have backyard chickens and want to barter eggs for produce??? :-) Guess I shouldn't really be counting my chicken (eggs) before the harvest!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Off and Running!!
Well, the system is finally fully planted. More or less. Might add another pepper plant or two. :-)
We had a bunch of seeds that we received free a few years ago, and figure they're a good risk for this system. If they don't sprout, we're not really out much. In order to improve the chances that they would sprout, I soaked them in warm water for 24 hours before putting them in the system.
The easiest way I could figure out to do this was to put them in ziplocks.
Then staple the bag the seeds came in to the ziplock. Those seeds tend to start looking alike after the 5th or 6th bag, and that was the only way I think of to keep them labeled. 
Then I put them all in a gallon ziplock, and let them sit on the table till I was ready to plant them.
The weather outlook finally looked warm enough to do the final planting on Friday, May 22. Here's the flat of transplants. Notice how wilted a lot of them look.
And here's the system fully planted:
 It's normal for plants to experience something called "transplant shock" when removed from one growing spot and placed in another. I was expecting some major shock and wilting when I changed all the plants over, since I had to not only remove them from their containers, but rinse as much of the soil from their roots as possible. I found it easiest to do this by dunking the root system into a large bowl of water and swishing the dirt off. This sounds easy. Don't be fooled. It was a mess, and took much longer than I expected. Having to handle, squish, and irritate the roots that much had me convinced it would take a while for the plants to rebound, if at all. The following are pics taken right after transplanting side by side with pics taken of the same plants 3 days later. 
Full system (notice the tomato plants on the second row!)
Right after transplant:
                   3 days later
Bell Pepper (2 hours after the first pic was taken, the plant was almost completely sideways and limp)
Friday:                                                                                              Today:
Butternut squash. (I think they're even grown!) 
 Everything seems to be pretty happy. As I figured would happen, some of the seeds got displaced by the water flow and caught by the screening at the end of the channels. What I didn't expect was for them to seem to thrive there. I *think* these are swiss chard seedlings (they could also be spinach). It will be interesting to see if they are able to actually grow successfully there.
 And I found our very first bean sprouting today!
 The broccoli seeds and swiss chard seem to be sprouting nicely.
And the fish seem to have settled in as well. We did lose one large lionhead to some sort of fungus. I was worried until I discovered that, at the store, the fish from the same batch had the same fungus. This is why you should only purchase your fish from a reputable place with a good return policy.
(In case you don't know, I actually work for Petco, and all the fish came from there. Every other fish, beside that lionhead, is doing fantastic and growing. The lionhead was replaced per their guarantee.)
 This shot shows the black moor, two large lionheads (from a different batch than the one we lost), two pearlscales, a fantail, and some of the extraordinarily nice comets. Yes, I broke my rule of not combining single tails with broadtails.  But these comets have unusually long fins, which slow them down considerably. Plus, since I actually WANT some excess waste, I can overfeed quite a bit to make certain everyone gets fed.  I'm still on the lookout for one or two really nice orandas, preferably blues or calicos, and maybe a really nice calico fantail or two. We'll see.
I've been testing the water pretty consistently, and am amazed at the steady results. This many small and med goldfish (many of them are 4-6" long) in this size system will usually overwhelm everything with ammonia very quickly. My ammonia has never gone above a slight risk, and nitrites and nitrates remain at zero. The plants seem to be doing their job, and enjoying it. Even with water temps in the low 60's, the fish are eating well and being active.
I'm hoping to take weekly pics to chronicle the growth and development of the system. I imagine we will need to add something to support the tomato and possibly the broccoli plants once they start to fruit. Here's a full listing of what we've planted:
Oregano - transplant and seeds
Basil - transplants and seeds
Lettuces - seeds
Tomatoes - 4 different varieties - transplants
Parsley - seeds
Spinach - seeds
Swiss Chard - seeds
Peppermint - transplant
Spearmint - transplant
Butternut Squash - transplants
Chives - seeds
Pepper - transplant
Broccoli - seeds and transplants
Beets - seeds
Carrots - seeds
Thyme - transplant
Cucumbers - 2 varieties - transplants
Beans - 6 or more varieties - seeds
Summer squash - 4 varieties - seeds
Watermelon - 2 varieties - seeds
And that's where we sit. 19 feet of growing space. Will all of these survive and actually produce? Only time will tell! Stay tuned!