Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Lettuce Harvest & Low pH

Another Compass School Aquaponics update from Eric Rhomberg:
Lettuce ready to harvest
"The lettuce has grown quite nicely, and today we harvested some to include in our school lunch. It's delicious!

Compass School student with Lettuce
A few weeks ago we discovered that the pH of the water was down around 5.5. We started more aggressively changing water periodically, which helped raise it a little. We then decided to gently bump it back up to neutral by adding a little dilute NaOH along with one of our water changes. We got the pH nicely back to neutral, with no observable signs of distress from the fish over the transition. But today we discovered the pH has crept back down to about 6.0. We're wondering what is causing this pH drop?"

Overfeeding the fish could do it. Back in August, I had problems with clogged water pipes from uneaten fish food. I had overfed the fish and the high ammonia level caused the pH drop. The ammonia toxicity killed a goldfish. After a partial water change and reducing the amount of fish food, the pH bounced back to normal.

pH fluctuation is a common issue in Aquaponics, but in my experience, the pH tended to tip to the high side more often than the low side. If the pH drop is not due to overfeeding, perhaps this thread at Backyard Aquaponics can be helpful, as low pH can be raised in a variety of ways. 

Stay tuned!

November 13 Update

More delicious lettuce was harvested today for lunch. The greens are looking good!

Lettuce for Lunch!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lights & Lettuce

Since the Compass School Aquaponic installation last week, we've had a couple of frosts outside. Brrr! 

But, another year of frost coming late means a longer growing season, which in my book, is a good thing.

How's it going at the school?  Here's the latest news from science teacher, Eric Rhomberg.

"We've got the lights set up, and we've transplanted in a bunch of lettuce. It was pretty cool to dig up the lettuce from our outdoor garden, wash off all the dirt until they were just bare "plant", and then stick them down into the gravel hydroponic bed. Looking good!  The fish seem active and "happy", the water is beautifully clear, and the plants look healthy. We're loving it!"

I agree. Lookin' good in Bellows Falls!  Stay tuned for more updates.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Installation at Compass School

Yesterday I moved my Aquaponics system to Compass School, where it will be used for high school science experiments.  

It sits under a west-facing window as before, but now it is mobile. Check out the stand that the students built for it! They painted it and even added casters to roll it out of the way when they need the counter space for other lab projects. Nice work!

It took about an hour to set it up in its new spot.
To buffer the shock to the fish, I moved about 20 gallons of water with the system. We then added 10 gallons of dechlorinated water from the school's water supply. Here's an inside look shortly after setting it up.
Why is the water so cloudy? Well, a lot of organic matter was stirred up when I emptied the grow bed. The grow bed is 100 pounds of expanded shale, creating a lot of surface area where the plant roots, fish food and decaying fish food collect. Since I hadn't rinsed the grow bed media since I built the system, I rinsed it all in another plastic bucket before moving it. No worries. The water should clear up soon as the solids settle to the bottom of the growbed, and the water is cycled.
Eric with barrelponics system
Anyway, I'm psyched that the system is in good hands with Eric Rhomberg, the science teacher. I think it looks pretty cool in his classroom. Don't you?
The water cleared up by this morning. Here's the fish happily eating their breakfast. Looking good!
Check back for more updates from Compass School!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Moving Plants

Since I harvested the Tatsoi, I removed the overhead fluorescent light ballast. Now all my plants are receiving only indirect natural light through the window and really bending toward the light. There's only a few plants in the system left.
Spearmint front Left, Sorrel middle Left, Rosemary far Left, Apple Mint far Right
I transplanted this wild spearmint a couple of weeks ago into my Aquaponics system. It has kept its color and its roots have quickly grown. I moved it closer to the window and put it into a corner of the growbed.
I thought I'd face it pointing away from the window to see how long it would take to turn itself around.
When a plant grows toward the light, the observable effect is called phototropism. Positive phototropism is what happens when it grows toward the light. Negative phototropism is when it grows away from the light. I haven't seen negative phototropism with any of my other indoor plants.

Here it is the next day.

Here it is two days later. Pretty cool, huh?
 Like the other low-light herbs I'm growing, it looks like Spearmint is acclimating just fine.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Aquaponics at Compass School

Big news! I'm rehoming my T Barrel Aquaponics system this fall as I'm leaving Vermont this winter.
Eric Rhomberg at Compass School in Bellows Falls will set it up in his science classroom.
Eric teaching Science
Since Brattleponics has had an educational bent since its start in January 2013, I'm excited that the system is going to a local school where the students can keep it alive while they learn and experiment with Aquaponics.

Eric plans to incorporate Aquaponics into his Ecology classes. He'll give students the opportunity to explore Aquaponics in their own studies as well, as Compass has an independent studies component in its curriculum. A team of students will share in taking care of the fish and plants. It sounds like a win-win to me.

To my knowledge, no other high school in Windham County is incorporating Aquaponics into the curriculum, so kudos to Eric's pioneering spirit.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Like a Tank over Troubled Water

On a more somber note, let's take a moment to thank one of the hardest working goldfish living in the dark who passed away last month. R.I.P., my little buddy. My plants and I thank you for all the poop over the years. Sorry my overfeeding and neglect probably led to your demise. This was the solid orange one below on the far right...I think.

This summer, I had troubles with cycling enough water into the system. This caused a spike in the pH and created high ammonia levels. The outflow pipes were clogged up with algae and food. Now another fish is suffering from ammonia poisoning. His gills are crimson red. He has balance problems and stays at the surface. He doesn't seem to get enough air. His energy seems good, but he doesn't eat much. Anyway, I'm down to three fish.

Typically, I don't have to do any water changes with this system. I just top off the water a couple of gallons a week from water evaporation and plant transpiration. But this time it really needed more fresh water, so I changed 10 gallons, gave the pump and lines a good cleaning, and now the system is back to normal. The auto siphon runs every 15 minutes and pH is down. Water is clear again, so things are looking up.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tatsoi? Yeah Boi!

Yo, check it! Das aight, dat's Flava Flav in da house! Water be a-flowin' and the greens be a-growin'!

Amping up da flava this summah is Tatsoi, taking the place of Wild Mustard in the system. Tatsoi hails from Asia, but grows easily in Vermont. It is a versatile green in the kitchen.

This indoor Aquaponic Tatsoi is a couple weeks old.

Unfortunately, the outermost leaves of the baby starters were eaten by bugs before I transplanted them indoors. The new growth from the middle looks good so far. I planted them densely, about 4 inches away from each other.

Tatsoi tastes similar to Bok Choi. It's highly nutritious and flavorful and can be eaten raw or cooked. It's often used in stir-fry dishes, salads and soups. Once picked, Tatsoi has a fairly short shelf life, so it should be refrigerated if not quickly eaten.

Here's some Tatsoi growing outside. It's a bit larger than the ones indoors, but still prone to insects.

Garden Tatsoi surrounded by Purslane

If you haven't tried it yet, you should. Ch-ch-ch-check it!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How Low Can You Go?

T-Barrel Aquaponic System
Since I transplanted my Aquaponic Strawberries outdoors, I also removed one of the overhead fluorescent lighting ballasts indoors. This cut lighting energy use from 128 to 64 watts. The lights are still powered for 16 hours each day. Since I'm not trying to make anything bloom or fruit, I'd see how low I could go.

How are they doing? The plants' growth is slower, and color is generally more faded, as expected. Still, most seem to be growing without getting too leggy.

Single fluorescent 4' ballast with two 32 watt bulbs

Cilantro under the window

Tatsoi (a.k.a. Spinach Mustard) pale but growing well under the window

Rosemary always doing fine

Sheep Sorrel hanging on

Apple Mint going crazy

Spring Onion cutting grew back and ready to cut again

Wild Dill pulled from garden & doing well

Sorrel showing mad growth
(Front) Cilantro under lights is faded; (Back) Wild Mustard under window is faded but growing well

Wild Mustard transplants under overhead lights are growing slowly
Although you can't beat Aquaponics for reusing water in gardening, there's just no substitute for the color and flavor of growing plants in full sun. Check out this Wild Mustard growing next to the house on the South side.
Massive Outdoor Wild Mustard 
Maybe it's time to move my system outside?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

May Strawberries in Vermont?!

Yup, it's true. Some of my little Everbloom Aquaponic indoor strawberries fully ripened by Mother's Day. Unfortunately, they didn't have much flavor at all but were pulpy and tasted like water. There was no sweetness to them. Wife Susie said, "It tastes like it hasn't been kissed by the sun." She's right. I'm still amazed that they even turned red and fully ripend.
Small, red and hairy...
with lotsa seeds.
I transplanted most of them into a vertical pallet planter I made, and added a few Sparkle from the outside strawberry bed. 
All doing OK but 2nd one down on Left
The back side
Flower sill hanging on after a cold night
After a week, they are surviving, so the rest of the indoor strawberries will go outside. Stay tuned! 

June 17 Update:
Most plants are doing fine, but it's been too wet. The ones on the top and bottom rows are growing the best and making sweet berries again. This one ripened today, but the ants ate it first.