Alberta Aquaponics

We Will Grow On You!

Alberta Aquaponics - We Will Grow On You!

Beware the ides of March!

Early spring is always the worst time of year for me. The entire time is a hurry up and wait scenario that about drives me around the bend.

There is always so much to do to get going for the grow year but you are held back waiting on plants to grow, weather to warm up and prep work to be done.

Donna reconnecting pipes to get the beds cycling

This last year we didnt make it easier on ourselves, we shut everything down in the greenhouse for the winter.

We decided that to look at some new options this summer to cut down more costs of operation over the winter months as well as cut down on the power consumption we use. This took some planning and some saving up to make happen, and will also take some experimentation and engineering for implementation. This has also led us to a lot more start up work this spring than we usually have.

The greenhouse became a winter storage area for just about everything (yes, you can read junk storage area in that) and as a result took a few solid hours of clean up to get back under control and ready for this year.

The mess
More Mess
Yet More Mess
Lets not talk about this corner.

The storage of the bee hives for the winter in the greenhouse is not one I think we will do again. The humidity and temperature fluctuations made a perfect environment for mold to grow on a few of the hive boxes. Although not devastating, it is going to cause more work in cleaning everything up for the summer months.

The bees themselves wintered well and are loving the warmer weather. The bees have been out for cleansing flights over the winter months where you would see a few darting here and there, but now they are out in full force searching for food and checking out the world around them.

We have been putting out syrup for them and have the feeders going in the nuc (the small hive at the side of the big hive in the pictures) to make sure they have something to keep them going until the dandelions pop up (usually the first food source for the bees).

I am glad they wintered so well and am looking forward to attempting a hive split this year to double out colony count.

Bees Out And About!
Bees Getting The First Syrup Feed Of The Year

We have a bunch of our starters going already (no big surprise there) in the basement ready to be moved out to the greenhouse. (those actually got moved out today). We have the dirt starters for the community growbeds in the front yard and the aeroponic starters for the aquaponic systems in the greenhouse.

We have a few new things we are trying this year including aquaponics sugar pumpkins, dragon breath peppers and arabica coffee (the coffee will be growing in the living room for 3 – 5 years to get a crop from). We shall see how it all goes.

Aeroponic Starters
Dirt Starters
Coffee Plant In The Living Room Aquaponic System

We are going to attempt to change up some if not all of the aquaponic water delivery systems and go from direct feed pumps systems to air driven evacuation pumps.

We have looked at the air lift systems as well and have decided to attempt the evacuation pumps instead due to the higher flow rates and stability in pressure changes.

So far we have gotten our air pumps and I am just waiting on getting one more piece to connect the one way valve complete the first build for our inside basement growbeds.

I am pretty sure you will be seeing a lot more of this build as it goes along and info on how well it works out for us.

Air Driven Evacuation Pump

So, today I am filling in the wait with doing an update for the site, but now, I am back to the hurry up so I can go out and check on the solar cooked banana bread I have baking in the front yard.

Banana Bread In The Solar Oven

Words Of Starks And Gardeners…

To all the Game of Thrones fans, you will get the title. For those not Game of Thrones fans, simply the weather is changing and its time to prepare.

For us here it is our annual migration of some plants and fish into the house to the indoor aquaponic gardens.

Last night Donna and I prepped a couple of growbeds, added in another fish tank and got it plumbed to a third aquaponic growbed and pulled some of the already grown plants from the greenhouse to populate them.

The tank we set up is a 70 gallon and is hooked up to a Fluval canister filter that has nothing but the sponges in it, feeding out to the growbeds which are ebb flow going back to the tank bellow.

It seems that every time I set these up, I get the same questions as to why I am using an expensive canister filter over just an in tank pump going directly to the growbeds.

The answer is actually fairly simple and comes to the basics of aquaponics.

In aquaponics, it is the bacterial breakdown and conversion of the ammonia in the fish urine to nitrates and nitrites that is useable by the plants to sustain them and not the solid waste of the fish which actually clog up and choke out the aquaponic system.

By implementing in the canister filter I am able to block out a large majority of the solid waste mass and clean it easily, minimizing the issues that could be created by the solid build up in the growbeds. This process also leaves the liquid waste of the fish flowing through the filter uninterrupted to the media in the growbeds and the home of bacterial load for the for the aquaponic cycle to take place.

Yes, the filter is more expensive than that of a standard in tank filter, but the long term payback makes it worth while in my mind.

With the setup we put together last night, we brought in water from one of the aquaponic systems in the greenhouse to fill the tank and give things a bit of a jump start with the new media. The water already holds some of the bacterial load to speed up bacterial development to some capacity and the water is already “fish rich” with nutrient to get things going for both the bacteria and the plants.

We brought in a few herbs, some kale and some clippings of the Trinidad scorpion peppers for the down stairs and added in a bell pepper, kale and herbs in the living room system.

The plants are looking a little depressed from the move, which is normal. They should however pick up over the next couple of days and start looking a lot happier for the move.

I will likely bring in fish tomorrow afternoon to add to the tank, giving the tank and system a good full day of build up before adding in the stressors and destabilizing the water system. I expect that I will add in around 10 to 15 fish depending on their size.

For the other fish in the greenhouse, we will be consolidating the three tanks down to one tank for this season and doing a test run of a couple of beds to see how the new greenhouse holds up for a full winter of growing, but that is another subject for another post. 

(Sorry the pictures are a little messed up. I will shut down the LED lights next time before I start taking pics.)

So That Year Was A Wasn’t That Was In A Big Way!

Alright, I admit it, this year has been a crap load of work and it took all year to get to where we are..

But where are we?

Well, lets go over some stuff.

The front yard has been completely redone. Grass out, Trees out, Rock in, Fruit Trees in and a new growbed ready for next years creation. Add to that the solar powered water capture aeration and watering system to round things off.

Yes, that took some time, effort and money. It also stalled us out on the back yard a little bit.

But now the back yard.

We have the new greenhouse up and wrapped.

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For this year we are going to stick with the plastic wrap and look at the insulated panels and 3 ply poly-carbonate for the walls and roof for next year.

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The new build, although only 30 inches larger on two sides offers up an incredible 4 times the growing space over the last greenhouse.

It did not take long to start putting in grow beds and start sorting out where everything is going to go for the next grow season.

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We still need to do some rebuilding on the fish tank covers and redo a bunch of plumbing as well as create a couple of swirl filters, but everything is starting to come together in a big way.

For the immediate projects, I still have the door to complete (I ran out of material to complete the build) but I have hopes that will be done by tomorrow afternoon. At that point I will call the greenhouse build completed until spring when it will be the green house implementation that will take over!

Be prepared that will be a show and a half if I have anything to say about it!

So on to other new stuff.

Not aquaponics, but again lifestyle related, we have gotten ourselves a new vehicle. This is not just any vehicle however, we purchased an Electric Vehicle in the form of a 2016 Nissan Leaf SL.

2016 Nissan Leaf
The 170 KM range per charge means that Donna can go back and forth to work all week on a single charge and 100% emission free.

This car combined with the solar we have on the garage means we can run the vehicle for virtually nothing but even if we had no solar on the roof of the garage, the vehicle would cost us around $1.34 per 100 KM including tire wear.

We have said goodbye to gas stations, green house gas pollution, noise pollution (the thing is honestly silent), expensive gas, oil changes, tune ups and expensive mechanics all in one shot.

We were a little worried about the transition at first but are now 100% sold on the fact that electric vehicles are the wave of the future and work for 87% of all vehicle owners.

So, where are we?

The front yard is lower maintenance and more environmentally friendly and offering up more spaces for growing food.
The Greenhouse is very close to being completed and ready for implementation for next year with a lot more room for growing and teaching.
The new electric vehicle has us on a road of even greener futures and ties into our closed loop lifestyle.

Overall, I would say we are in a great place!

News and event updates!!
news flash

For those interested in electric vehicles, this week is National Drive Electric week. There are events being put on in both Calgary and Edmonton where you can check out electric vehicles, go for a ride and meet some very cool people.

Calgary’s is being held on Saturday September 17, 21016 at 10:00 am – 4:00 pm at the Ikea Parking lot in Deerfoot Meadows.

Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/201601196920833/

Edmonton has their event on Sunday September 18, 2016 at 12:00pm  – 4:00pm at the Rock-N-Wash 4803 55 Ave NW.

Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/1197962170255953/

SignTinFoilHatArea

Another meeting of the crazy people doing crazy stuff in the back yard! Hope to see you at the face to face meet up!

For those wanting to talk Aquaponics, we have our Face to Face Meetup taking place this Sunday September 18, 2016 from 2:30 – 4:30 at the Clarion Hotel (2120 16 Ave NE, Calgary, AB)

Hope to see you folks at the events!

 

Greenhouse build update.

On the Greenhouse build, we still have a ways to go and a short time to get there.

We now have the foundation established with the timbers leveled and secured and the sidewalk blocks in place for the “dance floor”. The pallet racking walls are up and secured for the long runs waiting for the roof to be put on and the adjustments for the side walls for spacing before they get lagged into place.

We have already started our pre-plan for the grow layout, and it is amazing just how much more space and potential grow area we are getting out of the small design change and expansion of just 30 inches on two sides.
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Over all it is starting to look like something and with luck we will get it all completed before the weather starts getting cold on us.

I cant wait to get this new greenhouse rocking and growing!

How about some updates already?

I have been asked a few times about whats happening at Alberta Aquaponics this year, and the answer is simply, we are a little busy.

Our Aquaponics are on hold for the most part, but it is for good reason and it will come back, better than ever.

It served us well for several years, but it is time to move t another version.

It served us well for several years, but it is time to move t another version.

We are in the process of rebuilding the greenhouse in the back yard which has turned into a little larger of a project than we had initially anticipated with having to reorient the in ground fish tanks and then having to repack the old holes to make them solid enough to support the new build. (a lengthy process, but worth it for the safety factor)

Digging out tanks to make them fit in the new build.

Digging out tanks to make them fit in the new build.

Our back yard looks like a bomb went off in it (not something I am proud of).

The back yard is a mess while we go through the rebuild.

The back yard is a mess while we go through the rebuild.

I can assure the world it will get better with the hopes of making a bunch of progress this weekend (weather permitting).

Once it is all done up we should be able to have four times the grow space compared to what we had, a safer environment over all and a more effective winter grow space.

We are not just working in the back however.

Our Front yard has also gone through a bit of a transformation with the taking down of the two large Pine trees that have been out there for over 30 years.

Taking down the pine trees

Taking down the pine trees

Massive change to the look of the house!

Massive change to the look of the house!

We have replaced the two trees with a multi fruit plumb tree on one side of the yard and a multi fruit apple on the other side.

Grafted 3 fruit Plum and grafted 4 fruit Apple trees

Grafted 3 fruit Plum and grafted 4 fruit Apple trees

The next stage for the front is to remove the top couple of inches of grass, weeds and topsoil, top put down cardboard, put down landscape fabric and cover the entire front yard with Rundle rock. From there we will also be adding in another wicking grow bed for the front yard community garden (this may turn into a next spring project based on funds).

As we make progress and find time, I will update the progression and the projects.

Calgary Land Use Bylaws may be new cost for aquaponics.

 

The City of Calgary is reviewing the planning and development rules for growing, processing, and distributing food.

As a result of this they have put out a new survey asking for input.

A direct topic on this survey is that of aquaponics and applied legislation, permitting and licensing

What this means is that Aquaponics is now facing more legislation at the municipal levels directly with these new amendments. I strongly suggest that if you dont want aquaponics outlawed in Calgary or have another permit implemented for it in the near future, you make your opinions known on the documents.

Here is the link: Calgary Land Use Bylaws Page

Remembering Jesse Hull

The Aquaponic community has been struck a mighty blow today with the word of the passing of Jesse Hull.

Jesse Hull along with his friend Molly Stanek worked very hard on creating aquaponic educational spaces in schools and public areas all over the USA and was an active part of the Aquaponic Association at its pinnacle.

jesse

Sadly, I only got to know Jesse via phone calls and the internet and never had the privilege to share that beer together in person we talked about so often. Even without meeting him in person, Jesse was an inspiration, sounding board, voice of reason and role model for me and someone that I will truly miss.

“Be happy, as soon and as often as you can be” – Jesse

Happy New Year!

Happy-New-Year-2016

May your gardens be green and lush,
May your crops be pest free.
May your fish breed a plenty,
May your water be fresh and clean.

May 2016 be the best year you can make it!
Happy New Year and best wishes for a healthy and happy 2016!

Alberta Aquaponics

Finding the Spotlight

As every real estate person will say, its all about Location, Location, Location!

Solar is very much attuned to this.

Home builders and city design developers are only now starting to consider the average home as being a net zero structures. As a result, is likely that your home, as with most buildings in the city, is not constructed to take advantage of solar the way you might hope.

Few buildings are oriented to full south exposure let alone have the desired roof pitch for taking advantage of the perfect sun angle. This does not mean that solar is out of the question, it simply means that you have to make some choices and go with what is optimal for your situation.

It should be pointed out there are companies that you can hire who will do a full assessment of your property, take sun measurements, calculate angles, calculate solar panel layout  and estimate the electrical output. For some this may be a good choice prior to making the investment in gear and going it alone.

For us, the choice was pretty simple for the base of where we needed to install, so we opted to go it alone for the most part.

A direct facing south roof is not something we had and therefore had to attempt to find the best option available.

Our house is facing South East and has (at the moment) two very large pine trees blocking and shadowing the roof making that side of the house a poor choice.

The other side of the roof, although getting a good level of sun during the later afternoon and evening, has a lot of protrusions for ventilation, sewer and furnace venting making it a poor choice for the solar panels to be installed on.

This made us look toward our garage as the next option.

The garage has one side of the roof directed North East and the other side pointed South West.  We have a standard 12:3 pitch on the garage roof which is also not optimal.(It should be noted here that local legislation also restricts the distance of the solar panel mountings from the roof and the use of adjustable solar panel structures on roof tops making the likelihood of being optimal less likely for most builds.)

The side of the roof with the most available sunlight during the day is on the South West face with mid-day and afternoon sun exposure.

The North East face gets a lot of sun first thing in the morning. Although off axis for the majority of the day, still has sunlight exposure throughout the day.

Our garage roof was too small for the full 5 kW of solar we chose to install on the South West face alone, which is where we would get the majority of our sunlight, so we opted to put 3.5 kW of solar on the South West face and 1.5 kW of panels on the East face. This layout gives us a capture of the morning sun on the 1.5 kW side and then is still lit to some capacity in the afternoon and evening when we will be capturing the majority of our sunlight on the 3.5 kW west side.

Arrays on the garage

Arrays on the garage

We are well aware that because of this not being optimal, we will never get the full potential of the 5kW of solar that we have installed. We are ok with this because of the pre-planning we did based on our electrical usage and estimations on productivity.

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All of this goes to show you do not have to be in a perfect situation for this to work or to make a difference in your power creation.