Let There Be Light

The Early Years

yarra_bigview

Backyard Aquaponics (AP): Uncle Yarra’s System

[updated January 22nd]

floaties

aquablue

98 thoughts on “Let There Be Light

  1. I shall give my acceptance speech on my verandah in about 14 hours (NYE for us).
    Instead of Champagne I shall toast ZK camaraderie with several bottles of Cooper’s home brew ‘Pale Ale’.

    P.S. Paris Hilton will be doing a cage dance in the shed (She’s down under for NYE). Bring peanuts.

  2. Another local AP’er is getting some of them, when I get them out I’ll try and get another photo.

  3. Added a pump-out today, so I can use all that nutrient rich water on the garden if GBs can’t take up all the nitrate.

  4. Uncle, you remind me of a story I once heard about Prof. George Kennedy, a geochemist from UCLA. It was related to me by one of my professor colleagues here at UH, who was a graduate student at UCLA in the late 1970s. I found this story amusing at the time and still do, because of (a) my low regard for the UH professor colleague and (b) my high esteem for Prof. Kennedy, which his story about “that crazy, eccentric professor” was supposed to reveal.

    It seems Prof. Kennedy had built a totally self-contained system at his house. This was way ahead of the sustainability crowd. He had taken his raw sewage off the city system and was running it through a series of natural purification systems, including fish ponds. He was eating the fish and drinking the water out of the final purification steps. I was supposed to be disgusted by this thought. Knowing what a pioneer he was in inorganic geochemistry, I was not too surprised he had pulled this off but was wondering what he was out to prove. Now I know.

  5. I recall they were carp. Tilapia would be a better choice. Sometimes they sell them in the supermarkets here–fresh caught. Haven’t tried them, yet.

  6. Hey yarra, are going to post some data? growth charts? Are you recording the inputs? If we can’t eat them at least give us data! This pilot project sounds like fun.

  7. CZK,
    On the blog you can see a rough timeline of how long things have taken to grow. Tomatoes were quite quick to get above the trellis (~9 weeks IIRC).
    I’m just looking through the missus’ produce log, I reckon we’ve only got about 20kg of produce so far; which makes the water consumption look farking atrocious. However, keep in mind that there hasn’t been much of an engine for growth (a few goldfish). Basically a lot of the growth achieved has been through adding seaweed concentrate to the water, but this can’t be added in the concentrations it would in a straight hydroponic system (otherwise the fish would die).

  8. I have to say, Yarra sounds like he knows his way around an electric guitar. Slippery pots… maybe it’s less of a problem for those who don’t use picks. Jeff Beck of more recent vintage comes to mind.

  9. Kind words Holmes, but due to shortened metacarpals, I don’t actually play (despite some well-intentioned efforts when I was younger).

  10. I’m pulling about 2kg a day from the tomatoes, selling them to the local coffee shop.
    They pay me $ 6.66 a kg, which cheaper than they’re paying their provedore ($8 kg).
    They’re cherry tomatoes, that’s why they’re so expensive.
    At last, I’m getting something from this set-up!

  11. Just got the power bill today. Seems we’re up ~5kWh/day in consumption. Suspects are:-
    a) The AP set-up
    b) The water bore (dry summer, more water used, 1.1kW motor)
    c) the bar fridge
    Unfortunately these have all come on in the same quarter so I don’t know which is worst, but I’m gonna start with the bar fridge.

  12. Got a PM about this. I have made a mistake in that the arm on the float looks to be made of brass, which could leech copper and kill the fish. I will have to put heatshrink or similar plastic coating on it.

  13. For the fish photo work you need to have the light in the correct spot. I will think about it over the night and see if I can remember the trick. There are also filters for a 35mm which can work or your digital camera may have an aqua setting.

  14. Funny, I was over at Nudges asking about this, only asking for your wife’s link to see what she was posting!

  15. Yarra always walks. So does Jack Bauer. So does Rico.

    “Polarising filter” seems to do the job.

    Like i say, Yarra takes over. When I’m done, he takes over.

  16. Yarra, I’m toying with the idea of a fish pond. I’m thinking cement floor, maybe some basalt rocks. Maybe goldfish for starters, then go tilapia. My sons want to fish, so they can practice catching them in the pond. There is also a recreational aspect, as you know.

    My only criticism of your set up is it is too neat, especially for an Aussie. I personally swing from neat freak to slob. It’s a character defect bordering on insanity.

  17. EE, I’m harvesting shitake mushrooms for a week already – earliest date ever for me. I’ve been obtaining plug spawn from Paul Stamets’ company for a number of years. The shitake grown on oak never fail. I’ve had mixed results with the other species of fungi he offers, though. Anyone else trying them?

  18. EE,
    There is a mycotopia web-site I’ll post a link to when I’m on my other pc.
    Doom,
    Maybe line it in case there is ground movement and it cracks.
    What crustaceans can you grow in Hawaii?

  19. Uncle, if we stick to fresh water, we can grow shrimp and crayfish. Salt water and I’d be tempted to grow slipper lobster, my favorite food.

    Lobster: grilled on barbie, steamed, thermador, pan seared, in stew, on pasta, soup base, it’s all good (copyright, JHK).

  20. Hey GB, Doom and Yarra-

    This is like a trip back in time for me. My father was an avid smallmouth bass fisherman and used to grow nightcrawlers (much to everyone’s chagrin) in special boxes made of recycled wood and paper products–he had a whole wall filled in our dirt-floored garage…

    http://www.worldrecordbass.com/article.asp?ID=78

    Also, somebody posting on CAF’s site was slightly less enamored of the fungal approach.

    Robert Callahan
    Apr 12th, 2009 at 10:08 pm
    I can’t believe I’m sitting here reading all this dribble. Some of the worst soil pathogens, as imperfect fungi, are devastating to plant life. Look at Pythium, or try Phytopthora infestans. Even perhaps Fusarium species. Soils, and soil dynamics are as complicated as any aspect of life.
    Then,look at fungal symbiosis with mycorrhizae for their wonder, but temper the hoopla please…

  21. Crayfish are notorious escape artists. Keep a grill on top (that’ll keep the birds out, too).

  22. I have to laugh when I’m at the hardware store and I see people buying a wee bucket of worms for $12 (contents 500 worms). When I want some I just get a shovel off the raft in the septic tank, rinse it off through a screen and voila, a zillion worms.
    Some of the worms deep in the trench must think they’re on Arrakis, as they are about 10″ long and as thick as my little finger!

  23. OMG, Yarra! Dune–I’m in heaven! That one dismal movie–even Sting didn’t help–couldn’t touch the books.

  24. Yarra, the potatoes growing in a vertical stack idea really works. I didn’t use tires. I had some old, shriveled-up, leftover seed potatoes and threw them in an unused wire mesh cylinder I had been using for a compost bin. They got covered with sod, dirt, kitchen scraps, and stuff and I forgot about them. Then I noticed the potato plants growing through all that junk. Now they are over 2′ high and I keep filling in around the stems with more kitchen scraps, weeds, and dirt. Healthier-looking potato plants – I have never seen.

  25. Like I wuz telling the boys over dinner tonight (beef stew with vegetables), potatoes, the Inca’s gift to the world—we owe them, and the Maya-Toltec-Aztecs for corn—a mighty debt of culinary gratitude.

  26. My potatoes vines are now between 3′ and 4′ tall and running over the edge of the bin. Deep green colored leaves. So far so good.

  27. Good thing with that method is you’ll have to disturb the soil to get them out, i.e. no re-using the same soil for an intensive plant like potatoes.

  28. True. However, I would normally rotate potato beds along with everything else on a 4 year rotation. What’s really fantastic is not only do the plants show great vigor and health but this method totally excludes hungry voles and the damage they can do. My garden has had a vole infestation for some time. They can devastate any root crop. I’m working on eliminating them, but it will take some time. This is the only way to grow potatoes for me now and possibly even after I fix the vole problem. Since I can set up the vertical potato stacks anywhere, this will also leave me more room to grow other things in the garden (that are not so appealing to the voles). Thanks again, Yarra.

  29. “How about some pix??”

    EE, I don’t have a digital camera or a cell phone. Besides, we don’t want to make the other potato growers envious, now do we?

  30. “Besides, we don’t want to make the other potato growers envious, now do we?” –GB

    GB-

    You must not be a real Amurrikan! We absolutely want to make other potato growers jealous–that’s the whole point of doing anything here in the UPL, no? I’ll just have to visualize what they look like, instead. We’ve had so much rain here in DC this spring that everything green has exploded horizontally and vertically. It’s pretty cool.

    Keep those crop updates coming!

  31. “You must not be a real Amurrikan!”

    I was born in Albany, I thought that made me an Albanian.

    If you’re passing through the Albany/Saratoga area again let me know. We could meet up and then I could show you the garden, if you’d like.

  32. EE, along with voles, insect pests, plant diseases, and the vagaries of weather, another headache I (and other gardeners) have to contend with is slugs. Not just little grey green ones. Big orange ones. They eat everything green. This year with the rain they are really bad. Last year I made a little 18″ wide and 6 or 8″ deep pond in the middle of my otherwise well-drained garden out of a large innertube. I keep it filled with rainwater from the barrel when its dry for an extended period. A couple days ago a small bullfrog(?) showed up in the pond. How did he find this tiny little puddle? I’ve got a rock in the middle for him to hide under. Could this be the answer to my slug problem?

  33. GB-

    For the life of me, I can’t recall where I saw this, but there was a cute article somewhere on the net about a guy taking his daughter camping/hiking somewhere in the Pacific Northwest and he referenced a phenomena that occurs from licking Banana Slugs. [I, of course, immediately thought of dave.]

    We used to put pans of beer out for the slugs–my thinking was they would at least die drunk and happy–and that worked quite well. But I haven’t really gardened in over ten years and I probably couldn’t bring myself to kill these babies at this point. Sounds like you may have solved your problem with the frogs. There are probably birds that would consider them a delicacy, also.

    Thanks for the tour invite! I will definitely let you know when I’m headed north again.

  34. Slugs are an interesting study in ecology. You can eradicate them for awhile, but they always come back. We have lots of grey and black ones, and the occasional escarot snails (regular and spiral shells) which I’m always tempted to capture and feed lot on corn meal, then eat after roasting with a lot of garlic and parsley.

    Snails don’t like desert dry conditions, but neither does your garden. If it’s hot, the slugs and sails will camp out under any rocks until sunset. GB, the frog is the answer to your slug prayers. Invite his friends.

    When things get rough(er) here, our big backyard lawn will be converted into a large garden, complete with spray irrigation already in place. I will lay off our yard people (reluctantly because they need the work) and roto-till the grass as compost, after a nice broad spray with Roundup.

    I figure if you wait it all out long enough, the house will be yours mortgage-free, but your worthless money/no credit won’t buy food or other stuff, so barter will be the new order of the day (best too, as folks will attempt to steal from anyone flashing PM coins).

    I think we should keep our space program, to convince us that we can at least do some things correctly, futile as the effort may be.

  35. jhoon rhee swears that crushed egg shells around the plants keeps the slugs away. she says that the slugs don’t like crawling over them.

  36. “and roto-till the grass as compost, after a nice broad spray with Roundup.”

    Please, PLEASE don’t do that. I’m begging ya.

    Glyphosate is a poison that doesn’t go away and neither will the grass by tilling. Tilling disturbs the soil structure.

    Kill the grass with black plastic or tarpaulin. As the roots decompose they will leave little tunnels of aeration behind. Grass is expensive green manure but it’s already there.

  37. But Uncle, Monsanto says there is no soil activity to Roundup and it is safe to use around gardens. They wouldn’t lie to us, would they?

    Good points, seriously, thanks. The black plastic or tarp is the way to go. We have tough grass, it’s a hybrid called __________, it’s a type of Zoysha, not Z-3, tougher for kids playing football, etc. I’d be tempted to dig it up and sell/barter it for food.

    We had a lawn infestation of a weed that looks like a tiny palm tree, with nuts, actually small seed pods. The Weed from Hell, and it wanted to be our lawn, not the grass we planted. The mower would hit it and spread the seeds all over. Nothing would eradicate it, too much to pick by hand and it had spreading roots, not Roundup because the seeds were immune (no soil activity). I finally went to the garden shop and looked it up. The only known cure was to cover the lawn in black plastic or tarp and leave it fallow for two years! We moved, instead.

  38. anyhoo, i was reading some stupid shit about bill clinton “freeing” 2 young, submissive, fucking hot looking, female reporters from n korea. i bet that him and kimel jung, or what that little midget’s name is, fucked the shit out of both of them, or thier surrogates, first.

  39. been watching roscoe out there marking his perimeter. it’s like having my own mini-lion. nothing smaller than some kind of medium dog dares to cross the perimeter.

  40. yup dave, cats are dangerous enough at the size they are. scale them up a bit, like maybe 2 to 5x, and dogs, people begin to have problems with them.

    i told you my ocelot story?
    http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/ocelot.html

    anyhoo, the Grabers, of Graber Olive fame (fancy gourmet olives), had an old house/estate in my town growing up. the daughter was about my age, a few years older maybe, she used to take their pet ocelot out for a walk along the sidewalks and i’d see her and him on a leash. beautiful cat (see link), like a house cat on steroids. no one wanted to mess with missy Graber and her kitty.

  41. “oil’s @ 72. who’s making $, little bitches?”

    Not me, Dude. I’m getting screwed, and I’m starting to get pissed about it. I’m wondering if I should make a stink.

    I bought Barclay’s call sign “OIL” at about $35 bucks a barrel at like $16. So at $70, I should be at $32 a share. No. It’s at $25.

    But not the other way around. There is a scam here. The fees and the rigamarole are going to be fantastic.

    I just might make my fortune on a class-action on this one.

    Check it out. I’ll show you spreadsheets. It makes no sense.

    The SEC needs to take a good, hard look at these ETFs.

    I think there is prison time involved. I think execs know it and they are trying to unwind positions real slow to avoid said prison time.

  42. Yesterday I fed the bullfrog a big fat greasy moth. Today I fed the frog a green grasshopper and then later a flying ant. I just toss the hapless insect into the water and wait. Out from under a board I put across one end of the 2 foot pond for shade comes a swirl of water and then its all over. Its definitely getting bigger. If its sticks around much longer I should name it. So far I like “zeke” or “slim”.

  43. haha, believe it or not, i have GMS commodities, i make $. no one says it has it make sense.

  44. i told my brother to buy GMS back in feb.; and he listened to me, for once. noe he loves me, until he loses $, what an asshole.

  45. Uncle Yarra, I can tell by those trees in back that you either live in Australia or Southern California. Have you noticed any large rabbit-like animals hopping around?

  46. Used to get a few hares, rabbits, too.
    No water – no feed – no cover – hawks and eagles seem to be doing OK.
    I dunno where I live but I think I know where I’m going to die..
    Those pallets could make a good funeral pyre.

  47. Finally found a good use for squash vine borers after I dig them out of the zucchini stems. They make good frog food. Zeke needs to fatten up for winter.

  48. Hey GB,
    I was cleaning up an old pile of wood that hadn’t been sawed up into fireplace-sized pieces. Some mulch was underneath and the chickens went spastic over them – like a Warner Bros cartoon, they were pulling them out of the ground like rubber bands. This was while the chainsaw was going only 3 feet away – hungry little fuckers…

  49. UY, I’ve started this past week feeding earthworms to my frog. He will take them right from my hand if he is hungry enough. He is getting a noticeably round belly. I expect he should be going underground soon. Frost any day now.

    Its been a good year overall. The potato thing worked out so-so. Voles got in from underneath. I’ll have to fix that. Fall garden looks good.

    Are you going to be trying some new things in the garden in your growing season?

  50. Strawberry towers. Real estate is at a premium in the greenhouse and strawberries are just too flat (low kg/m2 yield).
    Also, I have yet another reason to drink beer – as bait in slug traps.
    Despite there being a plethora of moisture in the growbeds, the slugs still commit suicide by going into the slug traps I’ve put in there.
    My Dutch Creams have come up, will bury them again soon.
    I have two other varieties to plant but have to get some more alpaca manure from next door.
    New Zealand spinach is going absolutely apeshit. It is salt tolerant (in fact it tastes salty) and is immune to aphids and slugs.
    I also have some beautiful purple broad beans (flowers are purple).
    We’ve also planted a persimmon tree (now budding well).
    My Silver Perch have gotten big enough to eat the snails in the fish tanks. None are left now. They go spastic over worms, too. Once they get towards plate size I dont think I’d want them to eat out of my hand anyway (I like my fingers intact).

  51. Yarra, I like the idea of strawberry towers. I’ve been thinking about growing more strawberries than the 2 pots I keep on the deck rail every summer. If I put a bed of them in at ground level the rodents (squirrels and chipmunks) will eat most of the fruit, though.

    I picked up a load of horse manure to store until spring compost-making.

    Silver perch, eh? Sounds tasty. I’ve always been partial to yellow perch.

    Putting some orders in the mail. I’ll be planting a Kristen sweet cherry, some Northstar sour cherries, a Danube sour cherry, and a Spartan apple tree in the spring.

  52. Cool.
    Prices for 300mm PVC pipe fittings are just plain rude ($60 for an end cap!).
    Time to call the A-team and engineer something myself.

  53. GB,
    In answer to your question, no, I haven’t built the strawberry towers yet. Lately all the $$$ have gone on a new driveway. That will free up a lot of space for an orchard where the old driveway was. I have updated the AP thread (new aerators) but need to put some more comments on it. Basically the air-stones clog up with algae depending on nutrient load. Now I just have the air coming out of 12 small pipes.

    Been getting about a ½ pound of stringless beans each day though (plus sundry strawberries and cherry tomatoes).

    P.S. Do you get your seeds from an seedbank/heirloom supplier?

    http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=4188

  54. So, UY, next year my garden is going to be about half as big and enclosed with new fencing. Growing annual vegetables is tough (and dumb) enough as it is. Better to have a smaller garden that’s weed-free, somewhat pest-free, and a joy to walk in than something you can’t keep up with. Any new plans for you?

  55. had a pump that kept getting stuck at start-up.
    The other one was OK, though.
    Changed run cap to 10uF instead of stock 8uF and seems to be OK.
    Strawberry towers are great.
    I have harvested a few fish, too.
    Rainbow trout and Silver Perch – damn fine eating – too fresh to dress, just salt & lemon after a quick grill.

  56. Got half the garden planted already. Leeks, shallots, carrots, beets, spinach, pac choi, and garlic (from last fall’s planting) up. Cucurbits, tomatoes, peppers, cole crops, corn, lettuce, arugula, annual herbs, and flowers started and growing in pots indoors and in cold frames. Added a few new Kaki persimmon trees.

  57. I’m not gonna ask again.
    Where the fuck is my own private bunch of nazi gunners to get the cockatoos?!

  58. Dude, you have to learn to share. A small percentage loss to the critters should be acceptable.

  59. Nah, I need to order one gross of wedge-tailed eagles.
    That’ll sort ’em out.

  60. I’ve recently had a pigeon hawk (merlin) visiting for bird snacks. The neighbor runs out and chases him off when he/she has got prey on the ground over at his place. Dumb ass. I just watch the show. These falcons are great garden protectors. A few less house finches is a fine with me. No charge, either.

  61. i used to be a live and let live kinda guy. we used to have a flock of finches, maybe 30 to 40, living around the house. then, one day i noticed that they were flying to/from the roof at sunset and sunrise, and my oldest boy complained about attic noises at night, keeping him awake. they were nesting above his room. we called some specialists, and they fixed the vents where the little bastards had pecked away the rusted screens and they removed two large nests. i could not believe how much branches and shit (literally) they had stored up there. those guys deserved whatever we paid them for that job.

  62. I found whole branches of my mulberry trees stripped of leaves, high up in the tree. Weird. Who knew that woodchucks do this kind of thing? Must be when they are young and agile. . Found the chuck hole under the shed…same as before.

  63. Its 0* F out and my fish are under 10 inches of clear ice and down at the bottom of the lake.

  64. Anyone wanna see pictures of the SP I smoked the other day?
    (I don’ts got publishing rights here)

  65. Yarra, you need to send those photos/videos to JR or Bif. Do you have their email addresses? They can post them here.

  66. Doom,
    Warm smoking – dunno how hard it is, a mate brought around his smoker box thing and we just put it on low heat with the sawdust in it.
    Dave,
    They’re not like trout – you grow them out in the same tank, ergo that tank would have a lot more fish mass in it by the end, barring events that might reduce yield.

  67. Yarra whats the volume of tank and how many fish and whats the yield. Also is this some kind of test, or is this full operation?

  68. back in the late 1980s, we found a homey restaurant in Clausthal-Zellerfeld (in the Harz Mtns) that specialized in smoked trout. they also put a lot of finely chopped garlic inside the cavity. it was so awesome that the mrs. doom und moi have been trying to replicate that dish ever since. i think the slow cooking part is a must, but then they served to order, so it can’t take too long. probably some kind of rack or screen, but there were no holding marks. aluminum foil with holes?

  69. Geez, maybe I should check in here more often.

    Bif,
    Yes, it’s been operating for about 6 years now, tanks are 3000L, 825L of growbed per system. You probably get 10-12kg of vegetables for every kg of fish meat.
    About 1kWh a day to run the pumps.
    100 fish less a few mortalities at a bit over a pound each when harvested.
    From an agronomic standpoint, I’m about break even on cost.
    Freshness wise – no comparison.

    Doom,
    It only took about 20 minutes – the fish are on a piece of mesh/rack. It will not leave marks as the rack is not hot – it is the vapors that come through the sawdust that cook the fish.

    The title for this thread is also a link to the aquaponics website that shows the build out.

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