Monday, March 26, 2012

Gazebo Project, Sidewalk

I like to say it was the inguinal hernia I suffered last year that caused me to abandon my so-called gazebo project. I like to say it because it sounds better than I just got interested in other stuff and didn’t feel like working on it. I've fully recuperated from the hernia repair (though still wearing the hernia belt when heavy lifting). Regardless, it felt good to start back on that sadly neglected area of our front yard again. I excavated for the sidewalk leading to the gazebo, and then for another section of the sidewalk leading to our front steps. This while I await the "aquaponics" pond pump I ordered from Home Depot--the best price but only available for online shopping.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Aquaponics 2

The little hoop house is finished.
I love the rusty old sheet metal at the bottom -- once part of the roof on one of my father's outbuildings.
Since the old bath tubs are metal, I wrapped the bottom one--the fish tank--with recycled fiberglass insulation and some polyethylene. The tank cover is plywood from the floor of our old mobile home.
The top tub is the grow bed.
I'll be purchasing a small pond pump this weekend on my way to work, and hopefully will begin working on the fill-drain cycle on Monday.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Aquaponics 1

The thing about most of these projects is you can read about them until you turn gray(er), but the real education begins when you put your hand to it.

Aquaponics is a good example. In aquaponics, the edible fish you raise supply nutrients to your vegetables, which serve as a biofilter for your fish.

I love the idea of aquaponics, and I’ve been talking about it for a couple years now, reading a little here and there, debating about how big or small to go, and whether to use barrels or tubs or a timer or a bell siphon, and trying to create a mental picture of a working system that I could actually make that would allow us to grow more food.

Finally I decided to create the simplest, least expensive aquaponics system I could, just to try it for this upcoming season. I'd read of people using goldfish instead of edible fish, and just enjoying the abundant vegetables they grew. I was thinking of using the two old bathtubs left from the mobile home we took apart as grow beds and a small pump I’d bought at a garage sale awhile back to pull water from our big old goldfish pond, which is actually a little five by nine by four foot deep “swimming pool” I built when we moved into our home. That fish pond, though constructed of cement block, is these days as naturally self sufficient as any natural pond, and I didn’t think I’d upset its ecosystem by installing my grow beds. The pump would run on a timer and the tubs would be positioned with their drains above the pond. I had gravel for the grow beds on hand, so the price for this system seemed about right.


The first and biggest problem with this brilliant idea is that frogs have invaded that pond, and frogs carry salmonella. That bit of information killed the idea of my ultra simple, basically free aquaponics setup.

So then I decided to use one tub as a grow bed and the other as a fish tank, which was better, because I really want to grow fish we can eat anyway. I started playing around with the setup, and knew I’d have to construct some sort of shelter to keep rain and undesirable creatures out. By now I'd realized that an aquaponics set up needs to be a "closed system."

But that means we’re talking money for building materials, and I still want to build the least expensive system I can.

This is what that looks like so far. The PVC hoop house is pretty cheap. All the wood is recycled, as are some of the ¾ “ PVC pipes.

As you can see, we still have a bit to go before this system is functional. Hopefully I'll be putting the front and rear on the hoop house, making the cover for my fish tank, and working out my timer and drain during my next days off.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Drip Irrigation Experiment 3

The second drip irrigation barrel was easier and less expensive to make.

I drilled a 7/8” hole near the bottom and forced an old ¾” hose bib in. It took a lot of force to start turning that hose bib, but once it was in, no leaks, and no need for a washer or even a nut or fitting to hold it in place. The same went for the 2” PVC fitting used as a fill spout. Cutting the hole just slightly too small made for a tight fit and no fitting on the inside to hold it in place.

This bed is not as wide as the other, so I used two emitter pipes rather than four. I drilled 1/16” holes approximately 12” apart. It takes about six hours to empty the 50 gallon barrel, which means, I hope, my irrigator will water our garden plants for six long hot hours each day this summer.

I used a product called “Liquid Tape” to seal the 1/8 inch holes on my first effort, and re-drilled on the other side of the pipe with the 1/16” bit.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Drip Irrigation Experiment 2

I placed another four inch block under the barrel (I think the higher it is, the better) and changed the middle four way connector to a tee, eliminating the middle emitter pipe. Then I graded the bed a little toward the barrel and water flow is much better. I think the 1/8” holes may be too large. I’ll be making another drip irrigator for a smaller bed, and I’ll drill 1/16” holes instead.

Also on this barrel, the mosquito screen top is in place, held on with a band of hanging wire. Since getting that screen to stay in place was a bit of a pain, I placed a 2” PVC fitting with cap near the top of the barrel as a filler. We’re excited and can’t wait to plant.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Raised Bed With Drip Irrigation Experiment

Last year’s garden was fairly successful despite drought and the incredible heat, but we only made a dent in our overall grocery bill and our dependence on the likes of Walmart.

For two middle-aged people who have eliminated almost all so-called processed food from our diets, we spend an awful lot on food. We decided to try some raised beds this season and to experiment with a primitive drip irrigation system to see if we can increase our yield to something like the fabulous gardens we see online, or at least do a little better this spring and summer than last.

This 4x9 ft. bed is made from recycled cinder blocks (our old single wide mobile home once sat on those blocks). The blocks are simply arranged and stacked (not mortared in place), and the bed is lined with cardboard (holes punched in the bottom), and filled with topsoil and compost.

The gravity fed irrigation system is made, as you can see, from a 50 gallon plastic drum. I drilled a 5/8” hole near the bottom, pushed in a ½” plastic hose bib, and secured it with a PVC fitting on the inside. It’s (miraculously) sealed with two big rubber washers , and drains via a hose connection into five ½” PVC pipes with end caps. I drilled 1/8” holes 12” apart. I haven’t glued any of it together yet, as I’ve still to work the bugs out. In testing the water distribution is very much uneven. I may have to lift the barrel higher to increase water pressure, and perhaps drill larger holes in the far ends of the outside pipes.

We’ll bungee a piece of window screen on the top to keep the mosquitoes out.