This page is a work in progress . . .

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. . . About my work in progress!

A ''few'' months ago, I got a wild hair and I decided to build myself an aquaponics system.  Lawdy knows I've certainly got several of most of the materials I need to make one (pumps, lights, aquariums, a greenhouse that sort of thing.)  All I needed to actually buy was some PVC and about $2.00 worth of fittings for the plumbing and some form of growing media.  So I went for it, and here is were I'm posting my progress pictures and notes about it!

So what is aquaponics?  Well, in technical terms it is "the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a recirculating environment."  In layman's terms, I grow fish in an aquarium.  The fish go about living their lives which includes breathing, eating and pooing.  Plants love, love, love poopy fish water, so you pump that out of the aquarium and through a bed of plants.  The plants use up all the organic matter the fish produced (poop) which cleans the water, which you then return back to the aquarium.  A perfect, natural, self-sustaining life cycle in a compact package!  Or it will be once I figure out how I'm going to grow the food for the fish as well!  I haven't 100% decided yet which fishes I'm going to cultivate yet, so until I do, what to feed them is at the bottom of the list.

September 2009

Sorry for the picture quality of these first three pictures.  I took these with my cell phone (though for a cell phone, it's really not a bad picture, huh?)  The only reason I have them is because my sister called me as I was cleaning out the greenhouse and asked "what'cha doing?"    Afterwards I was looking at them on my phone, getting ready to delete them and I thought it was a shame not to share them, so here we are now.

Dirty, filthy, nasty greenhouse!  It took me three solid days to haul all the crap out!  And this was the CLEAN side!  This pic was taken after I'd been working on it for about 3 hours!  My late father, bless him, was the world's largest pack rat, he didn't believe in throwing anything away!  But it all had to go somewhere, which is why this wonderful greenhouse that many people would give their left arm for, was packed full of crap.

This is after two days of cleaning, vast improvement!  But still a ways to go.  Before this point, you couldn't walk down that aisle for the old dead plants and stacks of used, broken plastic pots.  The benches were piled with even more trash.  I still have all that glass you see leaning on the lower right side of this picture.  Anyone need some large sheets of regular and tempered glass?  It's free if you haul it off!

Time to go to the dump!  Took longer to fill that trailer than it did to unload it.  I was in and out of the dump inside 15 minutes (not including driving time, which was about another 15 minutes give or take.)  Of course, I had a couple extra pairs of hands to help me at the dump, that always makes a difference.    And no, because I know someone is going to ask (someone always does), that trailer is not for sale!  Not only do I use it a fair amount, but my handy-dandy Dad made it, so double no to any more offers to buy it!  Sentimental value if nothing else!

October 2009

I do not have any pictures of my progress in October.  Mostly I spent the time gathering materials, and drawing up plans.  So all I've got to show you really is copies of my scribbles.  They probably only make sense to me soooo . . . click the pictures for an enlarged view only if you are really bored!

November 2009

I started construction.  Now granted, it may seem like I'm taking a looooooooong time to do this, and so I am, I'm in no big hurry (just try finding vegetable seeds this time of year!)  But I did get the light fixture hung and the timer installed (ok, I know, not a big deal, but progress is progress!)  I also started making the frames for the grow beds (below.)

December/January 2009

Finished the grow bed frames!  Yes, they are crude, and yes they are black and green.  I ran out of green paint half-way through so finished off with black, and it was my father who was the carpenter, not me.  But they'll do what I intend for them to do, which is to keep the plastic containers from bowing out and breaking when I fill them.  Since between the two of them they'll have upwards of 440 lbs of rocks/water/plants and what-not in them, it was a necessary step.

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A shot of grow beds #1 and #2 in their frames.  That's my orange tree there in the right hand foreground.

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Another view . . . how do you like my awesome carpentry skills?  LOL!  Obviously my scrounging, err, ''green'' skills are better, the wood is all re-purposed, the paint and the screws were all left overs and salvaged materials, even the plastic tubs were scavenged.  I don't know where they came from because they've been around the house for years, but they all had Target red sales stickers on the for $2.49.  I'll take it 

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Aaaand yet another view!  You can see my light fixture and the aquarium which will eventually house the fish.  Ah, and that's not condensation on the windows there per se, we're having an arctic cold snap this week and that's ICE you're looking at there!  I need to make some changes with the heating/cooling, but one thing at a time.

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Here is the south side of the greenhouse, all cleaned up!  Well, I still have a few things on the north side there (beside the Beaucarnea, a.k.a. Pony Tail Palm) I want to get rid of, but it's going to have to wait till warmer weather in the spring.

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This was the weirdest thing.  It's an Amaryllis I bought a very long time ago, that died.  The bulb got all mushy and rotten about two years ago, so I chucked it in a bin I throw organic matter in, and forgot about it.  While I was cleaning up the greenhouse at the end of September, I opened up that bin and lo and behold the silly thing was sitting on top all that compost growing!  Looks pretty good for a plant that hasn't had any sun to speak of for two years, doesn't it?  The little seedling next to it is a volunteer cilantro I found growing in the gravel.  If it does well, I may eventually knock it out of it's pot and put it in my aquaponics bed.

On the sill there is my ''moss terrarium.''  I saw one like it on Etsy, and choked when I saw the price tag!  So I sat down one evening with a little Sculpy Clay and made my own gnome and cottage.  It only took me a few minutes, and cost was a matter of cents.  The jar, I have several like it in all sorts of sizes lying around the house.  The moss is some Irish Moss I've got growing in my garden around the pond.  The broad-leaf pale green plants you see there are volunteer pansies that obviously had seeded themselves in the moss last fall.  I left them in there, I thought they added some interest.  If they get too invasive I can always pull them out.

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A daylight view of the west side of the greenhouse, where I'm installing my aquaponic beds.  You can also see in this shot part of the house.  My greenhouse is attached to the house, so you can just walk out of the basement right into it.  My father built it years ago out 99.95% recycled materials.  The cinder blocks came from a King Soopers job he was working on.  They had just laid up the front of the store, when we got one of our famous Colorado chinook winds, and it blowed the whole thing down by morning.  Dad's boss told him he could have them, if he hauled them.  I was of course ''volunteered'' to help, as I so often was!  The cedar used to frame up this greenhouse came from another job, a strip mall that was being demo'd, the cabinet there was out of a hospital remodel and the wire-rack benches there are from another King Soopers.  This time it was a bakery that was getting remodeled, and they were throwing away all the old baking racks.  One man's trash is another man's treasure!

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And this is the orange tree!  My father bought it mail order over 40 years ago, and it came in a Dixie Cup (I think it may have been a Dixie promotion.)  This poor tree has been through thick and thin and is one hardy damn plant to have survived so long.  It's had some ''very interesting'' pruning techniques applied to it over the years, but give me some time and I'll get it straightened out!  In the pot, it's only about 4.5' high, and when it blooms (which is the best scent in the world) it always reliably sets fruit.  You don't want to eat them though, the oranges are bitter as hell.  My mother used to make a mean marmalade out of them however! 

In case you're wondering why I've got upside-down terra cotta pots surrounding it, well this is why . . .

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Because somebody . . .

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. . . is very naughty!  Beren just can't seem to resist staying out of that particular plant (or anything that has to do with anything he's not supposed to touch for that matter.)  Labs! 

February 2010

So it's been a few months, and I'm still a slacker and haven't gotten much done on this project.  I've been busy playing FarmVille if you must know!  I got hooked on it during the last cold snap when it was too cold to work comfortably in the greenhouse, and I do not recommend anyone getting started on any of those Facebook games, your life will trickle away before you realize it's gone. 

Anyway, I did take a couple of (crappy cell phone) pictures last night, so I figured I'd share them with you.

Kind of hard to tell, but the little cilantro seeding (five pictures above) is the now much larger plant in the lower right corner of this photo.  I'll try to get better pictures another day (like when the sun is up!)  The ''trash can Amaryllis'' is the plant just above the cilantro.  It's been putting out new leaves and looks really good!  But I suppose it ought to, those are grow lights I've got on those plants, so they're getting an extra four hours of light every day.

Same plants, different view.  Never mind the plastic ice cream bucket in the lower left, that's just one of my kitchen compost buckets waiting to go into the compost bin.  It's really not been warm enough to melt off all the snow and ice, so it's a bit dicey getting to the compost bin.  I generally stack those buckets up until I have enough of them to make it worth (necessary) the trip up the ice-packed stairs to dump them.  I can't wait till spring, I'm sick of winter.

March 2010

Stormy weather . . .

March was a nasty month.  It snowed and snowed, then snowed some more.  This is a shot looking out of my greenhouse and up at my Boxelder tree growing in my backyard.  Doesn't look like it, but the snow out there was mid-thigh deep.  This tree has been a good durable tree for me for many years, but the March storms didn't agree with it so well, and broke quite a few big branches out of it.  Kind of hard to tell in this picture that they are broken, but I assure you, my bro-in-law can attest that they were!  He and I spent an entire day once the weather warmed up and went to work on the poor tree with a chain saw.  On the upside, the tree looks a whole lot better, is in a much healthier state now, and I got about a third of a cord of wood for next winter!

April 2010

Just some pictures of the ornamental plants in my greenhouse, doing their thing.

This is a Ficus benjamina bonsai I've been torturing for a few years now.  It's got a lot of years ahead of it before I'm anywhere near satisfied with it's shape.  Bonsai isn't an instant-fix sort of hobby, it can take decades to produce results.  This particular plant is a cutting, off a cutting, off a cutting I made when I was in High School.  I've got a few more cuttings off this same plant sitting on the sidelines that I may do something with someday, or just give away to anyone who happens to want one.  I can always make more.

One of my neglected Amaryllis decided to bloom for Easter this year.  Honestly, I barely take care of this plant, and it's bloomed every year for the last 10 or so I've had it.  Screw Poinsettias, get one of these!  Much prettier in my opinion anyway.

Just another shot of my red Amaryllis blooming.  The first floral spike it sent up (the short one) had gotten damaged as it was developing, so was stunted, the second one shot up there about 18-24''. Since I no longer do this sort of thing professionally, I don't have access to all the growth hormones and regulators I did when I grew plants commercially, so, my floral spikes grow as tall as they want to, not the nice, neat, compact plants you get at the store.  But you know?  That's just fine.

I did get some actual work done on my grow beds this month.  I have to admit though, I've had an unacceptably hard time finding the fittings I needed.  I'm sure there are a fair number of hardware store employees that think I'm off my rocker, and they think their cobbled together ideas of what they think I should do are just as good, but the fact remains, I'm building something that I had a bit of a time wrapping my head around.  Physics are involved!  And getting the exact parts I needed was very important.  Actually, of all the people I talked to, only one comprehended I wasn't plumbing a toilet - unfortunately, he didn't have the parts I needed either!  So kudos to Home Depot for good employees, but you guys need to expand your plumbing department a bit too, your employees can't sell it if you don't have it.

In the end, I had to make-do with what I had, and what I could find.  I ended up spending more than I had first anticipated (which was $2.00) so I've now spent a whopping $5.00 on fittings . . . 

I decided in the beginning that my best bet for this project was to go with a Flood and Drain type system for my grow beds.  What this means is what it sounds like - the beds will fill up with water, then when they are full, completely drain.  The sorts of plants I'll be growing would never survive completely flooded all the time, the roots need oxygen or the whole thing will rot and die.  Flooding eliminates the possibility of dry spots in the beds.  I ran across a simply brilliant design invented by a gentleman named Affnan.  He calls it Affnan's Bell Valve and has generously made his design open-source for all to use, thanks Affnan!  If you decide you want to do a similar project to mine, I highly recommend you spend a lot of time studying his diagrams and videos. 

Close up shot of the bulkhead fitting.  It doesn't fit very well because the container I have for the grow beds is too thin.  I'll need to make or find a gasket of some variety.

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Thursday, January 01, 2015 7:36:19 AM
by A.E. Wieden a.k.a. Lúthien
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