Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Beginning Again! Bob and Grumpy

Here we are in Powell River - a bit of Paradise by the Sea. Stunning ocean views, beaches everywhere, forests and mountains and birds and everything I like - even a Starbucks!

Last week we broke ground for our new state of the art aquaponic greenhouse. Here is a photo of the four foot deep hole which will someday provide geothermal temperature control in winter and summer.
Finished hole, ready for posts, pipe, ditch in foreground, large area is for grow beds and rafts, area to the right is for the fish. 6000 square feet of grow space.

Bob the dirt guy did all this with his digger in a couple of days - he uses that thing like his own arm, never seen anything like it - fast and efficiently he digs, smooths, rips out trees, piles stuff up. He can do a lot of damage in just a few minutes! 

work in progress

Don says, " see that 6000 square foot hole? How many times a day do you think you'll walk the length of that?" But I can only see a large hole in the dirt with a giant mountain beside it. 

The mountain will go back in the hole eventually, but Gerry is like me - he only sees a mountain and a hole and he freaks out. Gerry is the neighbor - all nice and friendly at first, till he sees all this action.  It goes something like this:
First day: we get a visit from the district rep - a neighbor complained that we will be producing light pollution. He left congratulating us on our new venture- welcoming us to Powell River.
Second day: the health inspector -  a neighbor complained that our septic field might not be right and we live near a salmon stream. Wrong, system recently inspected..
Third day: Gerry himself - I don't like what you're doing, I'm going to build something right on your border. Also, I'm bringing a surveyor in to determine our exact border and you will pay half his fee.

Gerry's interesting structure - we're not sure what it's going to be yet - any guesses?

Fourth day: (what took him so long?) The fisheries officer - a neighbor says you're working next to a salmon stream. Not close enough. We do have to put a couple of bales of hay in the drainage ditch though, to catch the silt draining from the hole. 

We think all the appropriate officials have now visited us and we're good to go. Tomorrow Bob puts the posts in. 
The greenhouse will have a solid wall on the north side with no windows, but a reflective wall. Attached to the outside of the north side is the fish house. There will be solid walls on the east and west ends with windows, and a hoop house-style south side with double film. Air will circulate from below the earth, keeping temps even. 

Meanwhile, we have bought some bamboo and some tall straight junipers to screen our offensive view from Gerry, though the saying ''good fences make good neighbors" has been coming to mind!

Here is a picture of Jeff on his birthday, standing in front of the garden and the giant hole/mountain, holding a giant broccoli. :)

It's hard to tell with a new project like this, but we're hoping to be selling greens by Christmas if not before.
Next post you will see some building going on. :)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Very big news for our little fishies

Life is never certain - our fish should know that by now!

We have found our new home - on four acres. Happily, it is "home" in Canada. Sadly it is nowhere nearby. Also sadly, we will have to take apart our now-seasoned aquaponic operation and start over. That is going to feel terrible to tear apart all that we created, all that's growing, all that growing potential! Sigh. At the moment, the greenhouse is dormant - things look the same as they did in November. Well, some things are growing slowly. I expect by the end of February, with the lengthening days, it will burst into growth again.

We won't abandon our fish - we'll find a fellow aquaponic farmer to adopt them. And hopefully the tanks and grow beds as well. Anybody want to start a backyard system? Now would be the time. We'll take all the things we can use with us to start our new system. We are believers!. We've seen how and what it can grow. Our new system will be in a warmer greenhouse, heated if necessary, with solar panels to heat the water for the fish, propane back-up, and lights for the winter. We have learned so much here. Thank you, Hunt Academy. :) We will take our knowledge with us and start a new system. Powell River, and possibly Comox and Courtenay can look forward to greens and herbs year-round.

The really really cool part is, we get to start our new adventure with my sister and her husband! We feel so grateful and blessed! Thank you everyone, for your good wishes, and your prayers. I'll post again when we start building our cool new greenhouse!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Aquaponics in November in a Hoophouse in the PNW

I'm sure everyone is dying to know what's happening in an aquaponic hoophouse in November. You have questions like, "are the fish freezing?" "Are the tomatoes freezing?" "Did you take care of the moisture problem?" Things like that. So here I am to answer all your burning questions.

The fish are happy as clams. As you will recall, they were born shortly before July 18, 2012, so they are now almost exactly 4 months old. According to what we have been told, they should be ready to eat in 5 more months. They'd make a pretty small meal right now; most are about 4 inches long or so. They also could start making babies, even at a young age, but we haven't seen any yet. Though I'm not sure we would without a magnifying glass anyway.

They will not freeze as long as Jeff keeps stoking the fire that heats their water. He keeps their water temperature around 70 degrees, but they have had water temperatures as low as 60! They survive lower temperatures, but will stop eating, and, obviously, not grow as fast. And not poop, I might add, thus not feed the plants.

Everything in the greenhouse is growing very quickly and greenly - obviously there's a lot of nitrogen access to those roots! If you ever wondered what a tomato would look like if it could keep growing through the winter, well, I can say that they are a weed! They are winding everywhere. Exploding would be a good word. However, their fruit is ripening very slowly now, and there are fewer of them. I am guessing this is due to the reduced temperatures and reduced hours of daylight.

Today I was trying to trim them and string them and control them somehow - they are so unruly. My hair got caught in one of the fans and I fell into a White Currant tomato vine. So I took it out. White Currants aren't my favorite anyway. They're ok, and kind of interesting looking in a bowl of mixed small tomatoes (we have Chocolate, Sungold, White Currant, Jolly Elf Grape, and Sweet One Millions), but though they're sweet, they get soft quickly.
November 13, 2012  On the ground is the removed tomato plant with root system sitting on top

June 26, 2012 - these are the same tomatoes  on planting day. They were almost dead from waiting to  be planted.
We still have the moisture problem, but the moisture doesn't seem to be settling on the plants like it was.  Jeff put in more fans and covered the fish tanks. We still get "rained" on every time we bump the roof or close the door firmly, but the basil isn't rotting anymore. In fact, every plant looks very happy, like it's not even November!

So now you know everything you always wanted to know about an aquaponic hoophouse in November. :)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hoophouse in October

For us, Fall began on Friday. Though outside night time temps have dropped below freezing a couple times already, the rain began just 2 days ago. And this is how fall has affected the greenhouse. It's WET! Huge droplets of water tremble above our heads, splatting on us when they're too heavy to hang on. When it rains, it rains inside too; the drops shake off the inside of the plastic.

So we don't like this of course. We're trying to figure out a solution. A second layer of plastic, stretched just an inch above the existing layer, is our first plan. (Should have done it when it was dry!) The fans are already fanning - doesn't seem to change anything. Tomorrow I'll try wiping the insides with a big shammy on a stick, and wring it out outside. Jeff's installing the heater with fan, as I write. Somehow the boiler will be heating the greenhouse - hmmm, not sure how, a Jeff thing. We've been feeding wood to the boiler for awhile now, to keep the water around 70 degrees for the fish. We covered the fish tanks, hoping to eliminate some evaporation. 

The good thing about the rain - all our rain tanks are full again! When we had a water loss this summer we had to use city water and wait 3 days for it to de-gas because we had no rain water left. 

Thanks to Angela for feeding the fish and the boiler when we're gone - seems we've been gone a lot this fall, with one thing and another - got to stop that! Angela had to use the tractor and go get wood, and shove it all in there, and break it up to fit, and get her hair all smokey - twice a day! All of you who plan to start your backyard systems - buy a solar heating unit - that's my female opinion! Or maybe one of those cute little pellet stoves they're selling for this purpose. 
But thanks to Angela and Alister the fish are fat and happy. Two weeks ago, Alister was giving a tour to an interested party. 
"And here are the fish, in these tanks here, oops tour is over." 
A pipe had blown, and the fish were gasping at the bottom of the tank. They were saved by the two of them running buckets of water back and forth from the sump.  The pipe blew at the sump, where it gets quite a jolt of pressure each time the pump comes on. Fixed now.
These are some tough fish, let me tell you!
And here is their first photo: 

Pretty terrible photo! Need an underwater camera! But you can see the variety of sizes. Weird how they grow at such different rates. We'll probably have to size and separate them at some point. 

We're feeling a little ignorant about fish-raising (aquatics). Jeff is working on going to a one day intensive seminar at the end of the month on raising fish, and also on greenhouse environmental management. 

About 2 or 3 weeks ago, everything started to really take off at a new speed. The tomatoes I almost threw out because I thought they must have blight,now have lots of new growth on them. Some of the tomatoes are maxing out the height of the greenhouse and more. The basil and lettuce, which were kind of stalled for awhile (temperatures too high??) have grown inches in days. 
I'm not sure why this is. The chemistry is about the same, except the nitrates are lower due to our most recent water loss. And I've only given the system one shot of maxicrop - right after the water loss. 

I'll leave all the heat lovers in while they're still loving it, but I also planted lots of cool weather plants today - broccoli, kale, cauliflower, lettuces, spinach, arugula.  So we'll see who does better as the weather gets colder.

Found a ton of aphids on the parsley, so I took it all out and fed it to the fish. Also the thyme had something on it - spider mites I think. Those I pulled out, shook all around in the fish tank to get the bugs off, and replanted. Trimmed all the herbs, stuck some of the trimmings in the gravel to grow more. This works really well in this system - I've put cuttings of all the herbs, and tomatoes, into the gravel and they grow like crazy. 

This would be prettier if I hadn't just picked all the ripe tomatoes. Making salsa tonight! New plantings at left.

Our own rainforest

Flashy Troutback and Red Sails lettuce

The basil bed
We've been seeing a business adviser as well - he's helping us figure out all the necessary steps to making money from aquaponics. He's nice - "very cutting edge, and he's proud to be part of it," he says. 

So consider this - you too can grow food all year round in your own backyard! With just one tank and 3 growbeds, you can feed a family of 5 all the veggies and protein they can eat. Watch "Food Inc" and think about it! Jeff and I would love to feed the world (sans pesticides and roundup and GMO's) by promoting urban farming to anyone who will listen. But if you can't garden, then "know your farmer." (Us) :)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pests, Tomatoes, and Two Recipes!

My topics of the day don't really go together very well. Sorry.
We'll start with the bad news and end with the good. :)

Beware! The pretty white "butterflies" flitting about everywhere right about now, are the harbingers of brassicae disaster! They are cabbage butterflies, and they are searching out their fav places to lay their eggs - plants from the brassica family! Soon they will turn into little green caterpillars and eat your supper!

The other day I found their evil work in one of our growbeds. That pretty picture of mixed greens I posted previously, had a collard green in the mix. The leaves were riddled with holes. The watercress and arugula were affected as well. I pulled all the plants from the gravel, and was horrified by the millions of tiny green caterpillars I saw on the gravel surface! I wanted to reach for the BTK (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki) so badly! But knew I could not! Though BTK is approved for caterpillar killing in organic gardening, I can't spray it into my growbed because of the fish.

Time to get creative. Jeff adjusted the drain so the bed filled totally with water. We left it that way for a day. Voila! All caterpillars drowned. Scared me though. Insect infestations in a greenhouse can take over everything. As soon as we have to close up the greenhouse for winter, I will watch closely and order beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings as necessary. I can also use, in moderation, a foliar spray made of molasses, water and dish soap. Insecticidal soaps and neem oil can be used if I am very careful not to get the spray into the bed itself and thus to the fish. Smaller plants can be pulled from the growbed and dunked upside down in the fish tank, where the fish will be happy to eat the bugs. I haven't needed to try this yet. Apparently the Aquaponic Source is selling a fish-safe insecticide - I think I will buy some just to have on hand.

There is also one tomato plant that looks like it might have late blight. Maybe it was too close to the water input and its leaves were splashed. I've never had a tomato with late blight before, so I will take some photos of late blight to the greenhouse tomorrow and see if I can identify it. Or if anyone lives nearby and recognizes late blight when they see it, I'd love your help!

Okay, now the good news. We're FINALLY getting enough ripe tomatoes at a time we can't eat them all. Some are from the dirt garden - I planted them in dirt when they grew too big waiting for the system to be ready. Yeah! After sharing them, I will make heirloom tomato sauce!! Here are some tomato pictures. Aren't tomatoes beautiful?
Orange Oxheart, Brandywine, Japanese Trifele (my fave) Sungold, and I forget the name of the round red one.
I bought some Romas at a stand, fearing I would never have enough tomatoes to can. They were $17.99 a box! I've paid anywhere from $8 - 12. before. Apparently there's a drought or a blight or something somewhere and tomatoes and potatoes are expensive this year. I tried roasting them instead of boiling them to get the skins off - suppose to be delicious. I like that you can just pick the skins off their backs.

 Hmmm, this turned out to be a picture of my countertop that happens to have canned tomatoes on it.
Fellow tomato lovers rejoice! I have found yet another way to love tomatoes! This is awesome:

Slice your amazing heirloom tomato onto a plate
Brown some butter (put butter in a pot, swirl now and then, let it get light brown, then pour into another container before it goes too dark)
Pour the delicious nuttiness of the browned butter over your tomatoes while it is still hot, thus sizzling into the juices of the tomatoes and creating something different than you've ever tasted before! Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Or just salt. Eat immediately. Wow! I tried this today for the first time and was wowed!

And I did promise you a watercress pesto recipe to put on top of your tilapia. The peppery lemoneyness would be lovely on any white fish, as well as on pasta or sandwiches etc. I think arugula would be a nice substitution for the watercress if that's what you  had.

4 cups watercress, leaves and smaller stems
2 garlic cloves
zest and juice of half a lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 - 1/2 cup walnuts or pine nuts
1/4 - 1/2 cup grated parmesan, grated off a real block of parmesan
1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil
In a food processor, pulse all except olive oil til chopped, Add oil in a stream til smooth and desired consistency.

The fish, by the way, are getting fat and sassy. Almost time to let them go into the big-boy world of the tank.
On that day, I will take a photo of them and post it for you to see.

Friday, September 7, 2012


This is how you spin honey:

Pick a lovely sunny day and do it on your deck. Why not?
I'll tell you why not, you will be swarmed by the very bees who gave you the honey, and they're all screaming, "What the *&$# is this? Give us back our honey! Okay we'll take it back ourselves then. Perhaps we'll take a pound of flesh too!"

Plan B is to scoop everything up, shake the bees off, and hand it all inside, quickly shutting the door after every item.

Cut the cap off, scrape the comb with a forky thing from Lowe's that's real purpose it to clean paintbrushes. Place in the spinner. Crank by hand, spinning the honey out into the giant tin can, and also, unknowingly,  spraying a fine spray of sticky honey all over everything in the room.

Pour into a bucket. Strain three times with graduated strainers to get the wax out.
Clean up the mess!! Melt wax and honey mixture from cappings in a double boiler, never reaching any higher temperature than 140 F. 137 is perfect. Pour this mixture in a straight-sided jar and lay a piece of cheesecloth on top. The wax will float to the top and you can neatly lift it off with the cheesecloth. Put this wax outside for the bees to clean up. Use the wax for candles, soaps, salves, lotions etc. Eat the honey!!

How to grow stuff:

How to pickle stuff:

How to ferment stuff:

Place desired veggies in a jar. These jars have green beans, carrots, yellow beet, cauliflower, garlic and onion, pepper flakes and italian seasoning, brine. Cover and let sit for 4 days, burping daily. Soon it will look cloudy. Then one day when you burp it, it will bubble all over the place. Taste it and see if you like it. Put in fridge, where it will continue to pickle. This is called Veggeroncini. Next I will try saurkraut. Next time I will also post a recipe for watercress pesto, which is delicious on TILAPIA! And we are growing a LOT of both!

Monday, August 13, 2012

First Tomato

Today, we sliced into our first tomato! Pretty late for a first greenhouse tomato, due to our June 26 planting date.  Said tomato - a big Brandywine heirloom. My selected tasters said it was great, but my critical judgement says "it is pretty good, despite having grown up on nitrates, worm tea and seaweed fertilizer."  Then  Alister put some Marmite and avocado on toast and topped it with the tomato slice! Crazy delicious! (It's the New Zealand way to eat a tomaawwto.:)

The Tilapia are only just a little over an inch long, and reduced in numbers (as per last post), so they have provided the tomatoes with minimal fertilizer thus far, and the ecosystem in the growbeds won't be fully developed til next spring. So to me, this tomato is a thing of beauty! Since the fish are not very photogenic yet, you only get a photo of the tomato:

We've begun to eat our honey! Great chunky spoonfuls of it, globbing it all over fresh peaches, wax and all, drizzling it on artisan bread toasts with goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts and chopped rosemary. Also, I admit, there's a frame of honey sitting on the counter and we just dig at it with spoons whenever we want!

There was a price to pay for stealing honey from those bees. Jeff was meddling in the bee hive without a suit again and a bee stung him IN the nose! Here is Jeff, looking ridiculous and alarming. If you have ever seen Jeff before, I think you will agree. 

We seem to fit more than enough of the criteria for a grant from the USDA (urban farm, water conservation, alternate energy, new farming technique, etc) so we are looking into that. If that materializes, look for some big growth around here! :) 
young greens ready to harvest
cucumber sandwiches for lunch

Meanwhile, I need to go tie up some tomatoes and plant some brassiccae seeds for winter!