Sunday, September 30, 2012

My First Aquaponics System - part 1

Our First AP Tank, minus the fish and air pump
We chose to start out with an outdoor system in our backyard using an IBC tank due to space constraints in our yard, where the water is located/easy to get to, where electricity in the yard is located until we get our solar system connected, where the plants would get the best sun without being in too much light at the wrong parts of the day, etc. We also will have one indoors to compare the two methods.

My goals in setting up both systems was to spend the least amount of money for the biggest bang for our buck. I chose to use an IBC tank with water in the top instead of grow medium, a floating raft made out of foam much like the one I'd seen on a tour with Dr Brooks, with grow medium just in small cups floating in the foam. We put a 130-170 gph pump in the lower tank where the fish will be, and pumped water from that up into the top portion under the rafts. Eventually this will be solar powered, but for now it's simply drawing electricity from the house. We drilled 5 holes in the top part so that it would trickle over into the fish tank below, returning the cleaner water (in theory) from the grow bed to the fish tank below. We realize we may need to add an extra filter to the system since we are using less grow medium, but we're learning as we go and going at this a bit piece meal. As the water falls it does aerate the fish tank water a bit, but we'll also be adding an air pump which will pump air under the rafts and also through a couple of air stones in the fish tank to oxygenate the water and aerate the plants which are currently just floating around in tiny cups full of grow medium soaking in water. 

We started our tank in fall which may be the worst time of year to do it, but by the 3rd day, I went out to add the 2nd half of the foam raft and move cups around, only to discover our lettuce had 3 of 4 cups already sprouting, and by the 4th day, all 4 cups had 2 to 4 sprouts each. Makes me a little anxious not having fish in the tank yet, because I worry that we do not yet have nutrients going to the plants, and the nutrients they provide themselves in their seeds is minimal, so eventually they'll need that bit of added nutrients, and I'd like to get the system cycling before adding fish in if possible. Going to add some sea weed as recommended by a few local AP enthusiasts tomorrow after a trip to a local aquarium store to look at and hopefully pick up at least one air pump and some air stones. Also looking online, so I think I might buy the air pump setup meant for our indoor tank and use it outdoors right now since I don't have any fish in it yet and can simply use all the air for the plants, and then I can move that one indoors once the larger pump arrives from online. 

Our First TINY Lettuce Sprout

So far so good. Even tho we're only in our first week, I'm hopeful! 

Things yet to do: 

Buy and set up thermometer (I killled the first one via drowning)
Buy and set up air pump
Buy and add small bit of sea weed
Locate, buy and add fish (Channel Catfish for now and possibly some Prawns, then later when it warms back up after winter, may add some Tilapia)
Locate, price, and buy fish food
Build worm compost and breeding set up
Visit and possibly pick up some duckweed, black fly larva and red wigglers
Further investigation on temperature and heating elements in case we'll need to heat the water out back for the catfish and possibly prawns
Further investigation, planning and eventual set up of solar power and deep cycle marine battery to run the whole system

And of course set up the indoor system as well. I will keep you posted. 

Monday, September 24, 2012


Growing our own food in Arizona is totally doable, but a challenge. The best way many people in Laveen have found is to flood irrigate. Which they say actually uses less water than the drip systems, but which still uses quite a bit of water. I looked around and discovered a lot of people having really great results with aquaponics. So far I've mostly been studying about aquaponics from a distance, but this weekend we made a concerted effort to get some things set up and growing. Of course this means everything I say here should be taken as me thinking my system through. Take it with a grain of salt please, and I will keep taking photos and posting them as we continue setting things up and see how they work out.

Aquaponics is when you utilize the water fish are living in to water plants, and the plants clean the water which you then put back into the fish pond, tank, etc. There are many variations on this theme, but that's the basics. There are some very good sites and articles online, and some decent books to read on the subject. Once I'd read all I felt I could take in, I needed to get more hands on and look at real life systems that were working to grow food people were actually eating. I've been fortunate enough to find some good meet-ups in the area which allowed me to see a variety of systems and decide which route we'd like to try here.

There's another aspect to Aquaponics that I'd like to include, which is fish food. You can grow duckweed and you can even raise red wigglers both of which can be fed to nile tilapia, one of the popular fish to raise in Phoenix since it is normally so hot around here. If done right, it can be a pretty complete system, so that theoretically you wouldn't really need to even buy fish food.

Of course I'm starting my tanks in the cooler time of year simply because that's when Carlie and Patch had vacation time together, so we decided to have a stay-cation and work on our sustainability efforts at home. Today we bought a 55 gallon food grade plastic barrel cut in 1/2 for grow beds, and a large IBC water tote with the top cut off so the bottom becomes a large fish tank and the top becomes the grow bed area.

Now I am left with a bit of a conundrum, and trying to decide will I heat the water, or start off with one type of fish that is good in the cold and larger, then move on to tilapia after it warms up again. Now, it's still in the 100's during most days here, don't get me wrong. Fall in Laveen, Arizona is not that chilly. But the water needs to be around 70 degrees for the tilapia to be happy, and in a couple months it will be hard to keep it that temperature without heating the water.

I've thought of a few ways to deal with this. I have thought of pumping the water from the tank up to the plants, then collecting the water the flows out of the tank in a black pipe which curves around in the sun warming the water and eventually puts it back into the tank. Basically a solar water heater specially built for the tank. That would allow me to keep tilapia in warmer water, but I might still need to heat the water for part of the year. It seems to me, it would be easier to just start with a fish that does better in cooler water, and then when it starts getting too hot for that fish, eat the cold water fish, and switch off to tilapia. After all, we're talking about raising food here. Not just the plants, but some of the meat, in this case fish. I'm thinking perhaps trout, or something which we might be able to also keep inside year round. More investigation is necessary.

In the beginning we don't have to start with fish in the tank, so we can actually put the plants in first, and get the water flowing properly and work on sorting out that part of the system first, then add the fish later. We'd like to have our system up and running before Patch and Carlie go back to work.

We've decided to have 2 Aquaponics tanks. One in the living room since we already had a fish tank in there, and one in the backyard in a semi shady area. When the hot part of the year hits, we may need to bring some shade cover in for the back yard tank like these guys did, but we may not. We'll see how it goes.

Inside we're using a 60 gallon fish tank to hold the fish and water, and a 55 gallon food grade plastic barrel which has been cut in half to hold hydroponic medium, plants, and possibly some red wigglers. Outside we're using an IBC tote with the top sliced off. The bottom is the fish tank, and the top is where the plants go. We could put hydroponic medium (rocks or clay balls) up there, but that's pretty expensive so we decided to fill the top with water and float a piece of foam with holes in it on top, and then put the plants in small cups poking through the foam. We'll see how that goes! More pics coming soon.

Making your own flours

For some reason it always sounded so challenging to make your own flour, and simpler just to buy it in stores. But I have noticed that low glycemic flours are pretty expensive, and after sprouting turned out to be just as easy as my neighbor promised, I thought OK, time to try flours.

Specifically Almond Flour and Quinoa Flour. It's so easy. Place the almonds or quinoa, or grain into a coffee grinder, grind, and poof, flour. I'm making pie crust for some mini pumpkin pie cheesecakes, and some overnight Quinoa with mine:

Photos to come. Simplifying to me, also means minimizing the wasteful spending, and I think making my own flours will do that. Plus I won't have to store as many flours that I don't need, and that's a good thing for some day when I live in a tiny house.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sprouted lentils after 3 days

This person put together A CHART! I love charts like this. When they make life so much clearer and simpler. Everything you wanted to know about sprouting on one page: Well, OK not everything, that would take books. But all the basics, and that's really what I want to know when I'm trying to prepare food. Here's some lentils I sprouted for 3 days and then added to my vegan chili

Friday, September 14, 2012

Almond extract part 2
After it sat in a cold dark place for 3 months, i strained it into a smaller jar. Now i have enough almond extract to last me forever. Need to get some dark brown bottles or paint some baby food jars and if it tastes good enough, give some to a couple friends and family.

Now what to do with the vodka soaked almond bits? Adult dessert perhaps? Nah, too bitter! BLEH! I hate to waste anything, but these are going in the trash. Thinking of doing a more complex extract and giving some to family for the holidays.  Maybe Orange Almond extract.