The middle of Summer!

One of two raised bed gardensRemember what my garden looked like back in May?

Here’s what it looks like now!

The Square Foot Garden method of gardening is producing some pretty good results for me.  However, when I plant again next year, I’ll plant the spreading vine plants in their own, seperate containers.  The squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, watermelon, and pumpkin have leaped over the wall of the raised bed garden, and with my encouragement are quickly taking over my yard.

I’ve got photos here, if you are interested.

The potatoes are also doing very well.  One surprise for me… I didn’t realize that potatoes produced a seed pod!  In hindsight, I should have realized that this is the case.  I did know that potatoes are flowering plants, and flowers imply seeds.

After doing a little research, I waited for the pretty flowers to wilt, then dead-headed the seed pods before they really formed.  The plants need to be putting their energy into making fatter potatoes, not growing unedible seeds.

The garden is already producing.  I’m getting snap peas, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, and fresh herbs from the kitchen herb garden.

Squash TomatosSummer has been hot around here.  Although we had a couple of welcome cool days this week, today it hit 106°F.  When the weather is that hot, heat loving plants like squash and zucchini grow amazingly fast.  

I’ve doubled the amount of water delivered to my garden by my automatic drip system.  And I suppliment that with water from my hose (through a bubbler) whenever I’m suspicious that the plants are on the edge of wilting.

The idea is to prevent wilting now, but to force some of the fruit bearing plants to wilt when the fruits are ripening.  This works very well for hot peppers and tomatos.  It makes the peppers hotter, and the tomatoes sweeter.

Aquaponics tank

But what about the fish?

The problem with aquaponics is that you need media to grow plants in.  I’ve been investigating various different media.  There is the expensive stuff, expanded clay, which would cost me about $250 to fill up my grow bed if I purchase it locally.

Expanded shale is much less expensive, however the closest I’ve found it is in Stockton.  And while I wouldn’t mind taking a road trip up there if I have more than one errand to run, spending $90 on gas for my pickup to get $45 of shale seems way too wasteful to me.

Locally there is gravel.  Wendy and I went to a local gravel dealer and put the gravel to the vinegar test.  (Some gravel contains lime, or other carbonate, which when dissolved in vinagar gives off lots of CO2.  In your pond, it messes up the pH terribly.)

The local gravel passed the vinegar test and so will probably not mess up my water quality.  The gravel is graded in the sizes that I want, and the dealer is less than a mile away.  Also, the amount required to fill up my media bed is less than $30.

So I’ll use gravel for most of my plants, and I’ll use coconut fiber for tuber plants.

Aquaponics tankOf course gravel is VERY heavy.  The container will hold 720 pounds of water when full, without the gravel.  Since the density of this gravel is probably around 2.7 times that of water, I could easily have 1,800 pounds of weight being supported.  My old aquaponics setup (right) wasn’t sturdy enough.

See what I did in the old setup?  I used the metal bars that caged the IBC to support the grow bed.  Only 4 of those bars fit, so that’s what I did, I bolted those 4 bars to the lower cage.

This caused problems.  First, the grow bed now almost completely covered the lower tank, restricting my access.  I didn’t like this.

Second, although those bars would hold almost 800 pounds of water, I never trusted them.  They seemed okay with the compression, but I worried that a bump against the side of the setup would cause the bars to collapse.

I didn’t want that, so I built a bed that I knew would hold a ton (literally) of rock and water, as seen above.

Now about the fish.

Right now I have a few goldfish, and two bluegill.  Wendy’s been feeding them mealworms to suppliment the fish feed that I give them.  In fact, Wendy’s put together a meal worm “farm”, that I’ll discuss at a later date.  But basically, when the mealworm farm is established we won’t need to purchase any more.

We have also been investigating what it takes to breed bluegill at home, and are considering making an indoor aquarium to breed them.  

I’m still investigating fish.

One more piece of news….

Wendy and I are not completely satisfied with our current living conditions.  The home we live in right now is a rental, and it’s a little small.  Not bad, really, but I’d like a guest room so I can invite family and friends to stay with us.  

Also, living in the city of Fresno leaves us with lots of restrictions.  Building structures is difficult and regulated, and some animals are not allowed.  For a true “Backyard Harvest”, we need some edible animals.  Rabbits are allowed, and we will at some point have them.  But we also want goats and/or sheep.

So it’s very preliminary, and might not happen for years, but we are looking around for county property and saving up for a down payment.  Our qualifications are that the property must have water and electricity, at least one home with 3 bedrooms, and a large lot – preferably 1-2 acres.  We will give preference to those lots that already have a “mother in law” house and a workshop.  If you know of something like this for under $200K, email me. 

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