With the yard full of perennial plants, that was the next question. Where can we grow vegetables?
This is where our greenhouse is perched. The greenhouse kit was put together in April. By May, we started everything but the tomatoes by seed and moved them into larger containers of compost. They took off and began to crowd each other.
At the end of June most of the plants were moved to the lower deck for more space and bee visitation.
On my way to work, a farm had an IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) out front for sale. We purchased and placed one under the lower deck. My husband set up two 55 gallon drums to collect rain off one side of our home roof and pump the overflow into the IBC. This rain water helped save on our water bill.
With the plants cleared out, we made plans to start our trial aquaponic set up. We found a feeding trough at our local Farm and Fleet store for a reduced price and found that my dad had some heavy plastic display tables stored in his yard. The table and trough fit the 10 foot width of the greenhouse. We also purchased a small water trough for our sump under the grow bed.
My dad also had a couple 55 gallon drums stored under his deck that he was glad to get rid of; one we are using as a fish tank. For this trial, we will use feeder fish in the fish tank.
The center of the grow bed has a homemade bell siphon stand pipe. This bed we are using lava rock for our grow media. I put some pea gravel around the plant roots to soften the change.
The sump area has a float adjusted to kick in and pump the water into the fish tank. As the water rises in the fish tank, gravity feed pushes water out of the fish tank and pours about 4-5 inches of fish tank water (about 30 gallons) through the grow bed until the pump stops and the siphon pulls the water back into the sump; then it starts over again. The fish tank water gets run through the lava to clean and filter it for the fish and feeds the plants the fish waste that is in the water. The cycle takes about 10 minutes to run full circle. I estimate that the fish tank water gets changed out every half hour.
I had started new seedlings for this project to see the difference in grow patterns between compost and aquaponics. With our full time jobs it took a couple weeks to first figure out the bell siphon, then set up the fish tank with the gravity feed pipe coming out the side of the barrel and then balancing the whole works with the float.
We started out with mostly rain water and about 40 gallons of pond water, added the plants and cycled for a while. We added the fish about two weeks later. That was a rough week. The weather turned and the outside temp was 96 degrees with the dew point 70-72 degrees for a week. Inside the greenhouse was 120 at high noon. We froze gallon milk jugs with rain water inside and changed them out in the fish tank three times a day to keep the water cooler.
After the hot weather broke, we purchased a fresh water test kit because the plants just did not look like they were being nourished. The test showed we were feeding the fish too much. We changed out all the sump water with rain water and cut back on the feedings for about 2 days; retested the water in the fish tank and it all balanced.
I dropped lettuce seeds loose in the lava rock two days ago to see if they would grow and today I see tiny green leaves spread out where I planted them. The greatest news ever is now that the system has cycled out, the plants are greener and look sturdier. Today they look like they grew more in the last 24 hours than they did the last two weeks.