archives for 01/2017
Even though we
started with a kit,
no aquaponics system is truly plug and play. Instead, you have to build
up handy bacteria to change fish waste (ammonia) into the form of
nitrogen plants can use (nitrate). While you can do this by putting some fish
in your tank and hoping the bacteria will grow faster than their poop
will build up, most folks cycle the tank using chemistry instead.
Cycling is pretty
simple. Basically, you set up both your tank and grow bed (with pump
running), then you add a source of ammonia to bring the content of the
water up to 4 to 6 ppm. After that, it's just a waiting game while the
bacteria accumulate and do their job.
(This picture actually
portrays a pH test. But let's pretend, shall we?)
I've been getting a lot
of aquaponics questions both on and offline, so I thought I'd sum the
most common ones up in a single post. Questions have been paraphrased
to save space.
"What kind of fish are you putting in your tank? Are you going to eat them?"
"Are you growing potatoes? If not, what are those little round things in the grow bed?"
"Are you concerned about the sustainability of your aquaponics setup?"
"Doesn't cycling with pee as your ammonia source mean the tank stinks?
We added a small strip of flashing to block some light and reflect the rest back.
The trouble with me
learning about the joys of paint is that now every project takes three
times as long. Gotta lay down some primer and then pretty colors before
Mark can start putting it all together.
We finished up the board cutting for the new elevated storage loft.
Aimee needs help designing a
steampunk airship. Any takers? (Roland?)
For story reasons too
complicated to get into here, I'd like to have most or all of the
living quarters down in a gondola suspended below the balloon. So more
like the semirigid or nonrigid airships in the diagram above, although
I'm not actually set on it not having a rigid frame.
The Hindenburg had
capacity for 72 passengers and 40 crew members. It was 250 meters long
and 40 meters in diameter and used hydrogen gas to stay afloat.
Here are a couple of
other diagrams that floated my boat. (Click on any image to find the
source of the pretty pictures.) Now I'm ready for your ideas --- go!
The new elevated storage sitting area is a huge improvement.
sofa bed is complete! Time for a long, step-by-step post showing
how we did it.
As Mark mentioned earlier, we
began by building the base for the mattress to sit on top of. Since the
sofa may hold multiple people at a time, we wanted it to be sturdy, so
we built a rectangle out of two-by-fours, added two braces in the
middle, and topped it all off with a big sheet of plywood.
Next came the supports.
One end will be open to the room, so we decided to make a bookcase to
both hold the sofa aloft and increase our storage area.
Inside, we pulled the
ancient futon out and started preparing the space. Our trailer came
with carpeting, which we ripped out nearly right away. I never got
around to dealing with the metal rails that held the edges in place,
though, and one strip was going to get in the way. So Mark pried it
loose, nails and all.
The door frame was also going
to impact sofa placement, so Mark cut a notch with a sawzall. You might
not want to try this at home in a real house. But trailers are so
underbuilt they're easy to manipulate. Turned out that what looked like
a massive hunk of wood was actually a hollow piece that was easy to pry
Legs and bookcase in
place and ready for the top....
We set the plywood box
on top of the bookcase and legs and tapped it into place.
Next, Mark added
brackets to connect the legs to the top...
...and a two-by-four at
the bottom to finish bracing the structure.
He also added a
two-by-four set on edge on the front of the bed platform to hold the
mattress in place. Add in a memory-foam
mattress (half the cost of the entire project), and Huckleberry was
ready to check the new lounging station out.
My old Muck
boots were 4 years old and starting to leak on creek crossing days.
The good news is that
the plants in my
aquaponics setup are
doing well. One celery transplant bit the dust, but everyone else is
either hanging in there or actively growing. I even dug some daffodil
bulbs out of the yard for faster prettiness --- 24 hours after taking
the photo above, their leaves had already turned green and begun to
The bad news is that I'm
having a harder time getting the chemistry to even out. Half
a cup of pee was
apparently way too much, and I soon discovered that urine also tends to
dramatically raise the pH of the water as the urea decomposes into
ammonia. So I had to change out about half the tank's water to get down
to an ammonia concentration of 6 ppm and will be slowly adding lemon
juice to bring the pH back on track as well.
The elevated sofa project went so well we decided to make another elevated storage/bed in the bedroom.
48 hours after my partial
water change, my
aquaponics tank experienced lift off! The nitrite reading had been
stubbornly sitting at 0 since the beginning, but abruptly that light
turquoise changed to a very faint violet. Progress! Looks like those
critters are finally getting to work now that the pH is closer to
proper values. (I actually overshot and went too low this time, but I
think it's going to even itself out...or I'll add a bit of well water
to bring us back up to speed.)
Meanwhile, the grow bed
is really greening up. The chives have grown nearly two inches and I
think the celery might be putting out new leaves. I'm excited to see
how quickly the plants and bacteria work through the nitrogen and how
well the ecosystem stabilizes now that it's gotten its start. Once the
ammonia disappears and then disappears again after I add a second dose,
I'll consider adding fish!
The place we get local lumber
is going to be closing in a couple months.
"What's next?" I asked
Mark once the
living room remodel was basically complete. "Hauling in manure for
the spring garden? Cleaning out the composting toilet?"
Before anyone gets
concerned about the state of our marriage, I should explain that I'm
the world's lightest sleeper. After battling with insomia for decades,
I finally developed sufficient sleep hygiene so I mostly sleep when and
where I should. But nothing living is allowed to be anywhere near me
when I sleep, and my sleeping room can be used for nothing except
sleeping and changing clothes...which means it looks significantly
worse than my office area did pre-remodel. Sleep hygiene, to me,
doesn't seem to involve actual, well cleaning.
What's the plan? Mark
helped me purge about two-thirds of my accumulated possessions, then I
packed the rest into bins to sit under the sofa during remodel part
two. I've picked out paint, Mark
brought home the lumber, and next week will be time for
rejuvenation of my sleeping space!
Our first Snow Capped Shitake mushrooms came during a recent dusting of snow.
Our first truly cold
spell of the winter hit this weekend, with two inches of fluffy snow
and daytime highs below freezing. Saturday night it dropped to 7
degrees and I was worried about our outside critters.
The Kubota X900 got stuck
today about halfway out to our parking area.
While the weather has
been so cold and snowy, I've been taking the honeysuckle to the goats
rather than the goats to the honeysuckle. They don't get quite as much
nutrition out of armload deliveries, but Artemesia still prefers the
couch-potato approach. After all, she's been eating so much hay to feed
her babies that she's a bit unsteady on her feet on uneven ground and
doesn't feel like reaching up in search of climbing vines.
To further spoil my
herd, I decided to cook up their carrots and butternuts on the coldest
morning, adding a handful of rolled oats for extra carbs.
Unfortunately, even after draining the soup, Artemesia still turned up
her spoiled nose and required me to go home for an uncooked version.
Lucy ate the discarded goodies while my pregnant doe happily crunched
away on her usual cold breakfast. So much for hot mash!
Happy birthday, Mark!
I've only known you during one of the ten factors of your current age,
but I imagine you brought peace and joy to everyone around you during
the others as well. I feel so lucky to spend every day in your presence
and I look forward to saying I've celebrated three of your factor
birthdays with you when you're twice this age.
Certificates can be very costly to come by, so I thought I'd share this
opportunity for a program that actually pays you to learn. You spend
six months studying on-site with room and board paid for, then you
commit to a year of community service (that comes with a $18,000
stipend) to cement that education. In the end, you walk away with a
(presumably) very deep understanding of the topics plus that
certificate which can help you make a living by teaching or consulting.
Interested? Check out their
website and work up
your resume fast because applications are due February 1. Good luck!
I end up doing 90% of the
wood splitting with the biggest wedge.
Back when I was first getting
the pH and ammonia levels in my aquaponics tank close to recommended
values, the water went crystal clear. I'm now realizing that sparkling
water is actually a bad sign in aquaponics.
A thin sheet of plywood on
two hinges makes a good plywood curtain.
Joey took these great shots of an
Arthur wall --- a heated wall to train espaliers against for freeze
protection. Since fruit plants need lots of light, you'd probably only
plant them against the south side (or the north side if you lived in
Tasmania where these photos were taken). So what would you put on the
opposite face to utilize all that heat? Perhaps a chicken coop to up
your egg production?
How long was the Kubota X900 stuck
earlier this week?
"Wanna go to circus school
with me?" I asked Kayla one day last week.
Our big carrot harvest of 2016 continues to feed us and both Aurora and Artemesia.
The trickiest post of
remodeling (for me at least) is deciding how much of a perfectionist to
be. For example, in the bedroom there's a lot of water damage in the
ceiling tiles from a leak that came before our time. I'm sure the pros
would have told us to rip the panels out and replace them...but instead
I just laid down a coat of primer and then a coat of paint.
Similarly, I decided not
with the indented lines of the wood paneling and even avoided
spackling over nail holes. This room will see low use during daylight
hours and will generally be viewed under low light, so less disruption
of my sleep during remodel trumps polished perfection. Plus, it
lets me get to the fun part faster --- painting!
Artemesia has been
putting so much food in her belly lately that she's a bit ungainly on
her feet. Meanwhile, the only good grazing is now on steep hillsides
full of thorny blackberry brambles. So while it's been
cold and wet, I've been pulling honeysuckle off the side of the barn
and taking it to my pregnant doe in the coop. (No, of course she's not
Finished up the elevated bed
platform this afternoon.
When Mark and I went to
pick up the bedroom paint, there was a new type of painter's tape
beside the traditional blue stuff. "Frog
Tape: Keeps Paint
Out. Keeps Lines Sharp. 10% Bonus Length." the advertising read. Plus,
it was a dollar cheaper than the blue stuff. I bought a roll.
So did the product live
up to its claims? I didn't do a side-by-side comparison, but I'm not
sure I'm sold on the Frog Tape.
Our first touch of color this year showed up in the form of an aquaponic daffodil.
While I was sick this
past summer and fall, I doubted everything about the homestead (well,
everything except Mark and Artemesia). Now that I'm bouncing back, it's
easy to settle into old patterns. But I've decided to be smart instead
and make the necessary changes so I don't go down the same dark road
attached my garden-planning file in case anyone wants to use
it as a jumping-off point for your own work-to-joy analysis. For those
terrified by the mere idea of Excel, here's the upshoot:
I suspect we'll end up
having to buy a few more goat carrots, onions, and possibly winter
vegetables. But otherwise we should still be eating primarily off the
farm for the entirety of 2017.
The new elevated bed needed an elevated shelf for the night time fan.
One renegade hen got
into the mule garden last Tuesday. "Whatever. It's winter," I said.
We made a major goat
A little more paint and the
bedroom is done. It's tough to take a comprehensive photo of such a
small space (literally about twice the size of a twin bed), so here are
a few shots from each direction as a sort of tour.
bed gave me plenty of room for storage. Books by me (multiple
copies of each, so they don't need to be easily accessible) go in the
bookcase support while bins of clothes and ancient journals/sketchbooks
are safe in mouse-proof bins.
The closet is pretty
empty at the moment, but I'm just thrilled to have finally found the
spot where rodents were entering my sleeping space. Down beneath a
built-in cabinet, we discovered a four-inch hole that Mark has now
filled in with wood and liquid nails. No wonder that corner of the
trailer was mouse central for the last decade!
Better yet: my boots and
winter coat finally have a home other than draped-over-that-chair and
tossed-in-that-corner. Here's hoping that cutting down my possessions
to the ones I really use and giving each a place will prevent future
clutter. For now at least, it's a joy to have everything so shipshape.
My aquaponics experiment
is a slippery slope. I started out with easy
herbs transplanted out of the garden (plus a few daffodils
for color), and all they needed was the tiniest of fluorescent lights
overhead. But as the ammonia got converted to nitrite and the nitrite
to nitrate, I realize the error of my ways --- herbs aren't hungry
enough to use up all of the nitrogen in my tank.
So I've added some
greedier plants, starting these from seed because I don't have any
heavy feeders in the garden at the moment. Cucumbers and summer squash,
plus some basil and parsley to round out my herbs.
It's been a year since we
moved our firewood station closer to the back door.
Did I ever mention that
I love manure? Mix in a healthy helping of high horsepower Kubota
action and fertilizing the garden has never been so easy or so fun.
Thanks for coming over and taking pictures, Mom! Your wonderful presence and all those delightful bags of leaves were much appreciated too. Next time, maybe I'll let you drive.
We harvested enough shitake
mushrooms today to last several meals.
Aurora's feet are now
half again as big as her mother's. Strange since our little girl is
only 1/4 Nubian (and 3/4 Dwarf Nigerian) while her mother is half and
We broke our big splitting
Except for that one cold
spell a couple of weeks ago, this winter has been unbelievably mild.
I've taken the change of speed as a personal favor from the weather
gods and am enjoying every moment of the sunny days.
Artemesia needed some
I'd been resisting putting
anything on my newly painted walls. But the edge of the office ended up
turning a little wire-filled, between a router and a charging station
for all and sundry.
We got some seed in our straw
Artie's sick and it's my
own fault. Here's hoping Mark's TLC will fix what I broke.
To cut a long story
short, Artie started circling this past weekend, which doesn't sound
like a big deal. But it's kinda scary when your goat isn't able to
stand still long enough to eat and instead spins endlessly, pivotting
around one hind foot so relentlessly that she builds up a
three-foot-long trail of twisted straw. (For future reference, laying
down hay instead of stray at least prevents the buildup since the
shorter particles don't turn into the same sort of rope.)
Monday we were flooded
in and unable to do anything about it. But Tuesday I sent Mark to the
vet to get thiamine and penicillin (the latter is to treat the related
listeriosis, which is an unlikely counter-diagnosis, but possible).
Then my long-suffering husband got to learn to jab needles through
tough goat hide...two needles four times a day until she's healed.
Artemesia is feeling a lot
"The nitrite level suggests the tank is not yet completely cycled." --- ScottS
I took this picture a couple
weeks ago after a flood.
Coming home is one of my
favorite parts of our farm. Whether it's Mark returning from town
(caught by Mom in this photo as I drove her back out to her car) or me
returning from the wide world and soaking up the richness of our
environment, there's nothing quite so wonderful as diving back into the
beauty and tranquility of our trailerstead. Winter gray or summer
green, Lucy and farm both welcome us with wagging tail. Perfection!
I've learned my leason about
using felling wedges for firewood splitting.
deciding my aquaponics system was (hopefully) fully cycled and
ready to deal with fish poop, Kayla and I went to pick out our new
livestock. I opted for one male and two female guppies, plus a tiny
cory catfish. The catfish is actually my favorite --- it doesn't have
pretty colors, but it swims here, there, and everywhere and keeps me
It was a little tricky
to float my pet-store bag in the fish tank since the grow bed usually
sits about half an inch above the top of the aquarium. I had to get
Mark to lift the grow bed while I slid cinderblocks under the legs to
give me room to play in there while introducing the fish to their new
home. After removing the bag, we returned the grow bed to its usual
We started on the 2017 garden this week by adding some buckets of horse manure.
Artemesia was finally
feeling well enough Saturday to come out and graze. What a relief!
Aurora says, "It's about
darn time! Let's see if I can catch up on a week's worth of trouble in
We got enough snow last night
to make the extra long quick hoop sag.
In late January, two and
a quarter inches of snow melts awfully fast. Even with temperatures
hovering in the mid thirties, the sun is bright enough to uncover
daffodil buds by lunchtime. When do you think they'll open up?
I finally put the finishing
touches on a short film I made for Directing class.
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