Plecos require heat.  Winter’s on its way and our house will not stay warm enough to keep the pleco alive without heat.  I’ve added a 100 watt heater but as the tank feeds the plant wall which cools the water, I don’t think the 100 watt heater’s going to be enough.  I may have to buy a bigger one.  We’ll see how it goes.

And now Wadly’s glaring at me because I have an aquarium and he doesn’t.  Maybe I’ll gift him the aquarium as long as it stays in situ feeding my plant wall.  He can fuss over it, add things (no plants, but more fish and/or decorative stuff).  I’ll continue to feed the fish and top it up with water as needed.  That might work.

I haven’t got the ideal configuration of pump and heater yet.  The water running through the plant wall provides plenty of oxygenation.  I need to get the two appliances in the right place in the tank to do the most efficient job.  The pleco’s saying he’s still cold.

I think I need the heater at one end and the pump at the other.  I probably need to crank the heater up a bit more as well.  I’ll keep messing with this until I get it working.  I’ll get a bit longer pump tubing and move the pump to the other end of the tank.  Then I can position the heater under the plant wall drain.  We’ll see what that works.

I’m going to pick up a screen for the pump inlet.  If I do it now I won’t end up losing a fish or a snail (assuming I haven’t already lost the snail) to the inner workings of the pump.

My favorite mocha

Unless I’m having a bad day I usually have one large cup of coffee before breakfast.  Because it’s the only cup I’m going to have, it’s gotta be good.  I’ve discovered a new treat that satisfies my chocolate craving along with my java fix.

Safeway puts out a nice ice cream they call “Select”.  It’s great for people like me who have soy and/or cane sugar issues and can’t eat just any ice cream.  Sometimes I don’t know why I can’t eat an ice cream.  Nothing leaps off the label and screams “BAD”, but my body rebels.  I like, and can eat, Select Chocolate ice cream well enough to know better than to buy it in the half-gallon size.  If you’re a woman, you know exactly what I mean.  Fortunately, Select Chocolate is one of the ice creams packaged in single serving cartons.  A single serving carton has enough ice cream for three mochas.

Add a couple heaping tablespoons of Select Chocolate to an oversized cup.  Add coffee.  Add a teaspoon of real maple syrup (I can’t eat cane sugar, fructose, stevia, yada yada.  Maple syrup works great.  No pancreas issues, no glycemic issues, no yeast issues).

You’re probably going to need to pop it in the microwave to heat it back up.  It’s like desert in a cup.  Nummy.

Easy Au Gratin Pork

I’m the queen of fast and easy cooking.  I love to eat but I have better/more interesting things to do than cook, so when I come up with a fast and easy, I use it fairly often.  Wadly like really plain meals, no fancy spices or complicated dishes.  This is one of his favorites and easy enough for the beginningest of cooks.

This recipe makes enough for three or four depending on the size of the portions.  This recipe can easily be scaled up or down.

Preheat your oven to 350º.  I use a toaster oven which makes this dish very practical to cook.

Cube a pound of pork and layer it in the bottom of a baking dish.  The kind of pork doesn’t matter.  Using exactly a pound doesn’t matter.   Make sure the dish is deep enough to have ½” of head room once all the ingredients have been added or you’ll be scraping burnt white sauce off the bottom of your oven.  If you think there’s a chance it might bubble over, stick some foil under it when you pop it in to cook.

Peel, halve and slice two medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes.  These are my favorite potato but you could use reds or russets or whites.  I think the Yukon Gold have more flavor, so I use those when I can get ’em.

Dice ¾ cup onion.

In a sauce pan melt half a stick of butter over medium heat.  Once it’s melted and has stopped bubbling (butter actually has water in it and it’s the water that needs to cook off) throw in a heaping teaspoon of thickener.  I use Red Mill Baking Mix (gluten issues).  It has a lovely flavor which enhances both the pork and the potatoes.  You probably don’t have it on hand, so use flour but consider buying it the next time you go shopping.  I know both the health food store and our local Safeway carries it and it makes a much lovelier sauce than flour.  It also makes awesome fluffy pancakes.

If you’ve got it, add a teaspoon of ground flax seed.  It adds fiber and a lovely nutty flavor and is generally good for your health.  Ditto for where to buy . . . I use this in a lot of things for the flavor and health benefits.

Stir this mix until it bubbles.  Pour in about a cup of milk stirring until it bubbles and thickens.  Turn off the heat.  Stir in the potatoes, peppers and onion and a modest handful of grated Parmesan cheese.  Pour this mix over the top of the cubed pork, distributing it evenly.

Spread another modest handful of Parmesan cheese over the top.  Grate about a cup of Pepper Jack cheese over the top of that.  This is your crust and it will cook to a crispy gold/black and will be delicious.

Pop this in the oven for an hour and maybe a bit more (potatoes need to be fork tender).  Serve it with a nice green salad and some steamed broccoli and you’ve got a wonderful healthy meal . . . if you ignore the butter, potato carbs and pork fat.  <grin>

This dish reheats excellently.  It also travels well if you need a casserole to take to a get-together.

Last night I added diced red and green peppers to the mix and it was excellent.


Chuck has reached another milestone.  Until just recently he had to be wherever I was. Now he’s satisfied if I’m within hearing.  This is a big step for this previously neurotic little fellow.  He’s now getting on Wadly’s lap without enticement, sucking up for scritches and pets, eagle eyeing him for tidbits and goodies.

Instead of being the squishy little fellow he was when he came, he’s a regular little hard body, able to jump into my truck or the van when he’s allowed to go along on my forays away from the farm.  He can now stand on his back legs and get treats.  Big progress!

A new home for the goldies

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

One of our neighbors is pasturing her retired mare here with our mare.  When she stopped in last night to feed her mare she brought an aquarium she’d gotten free at a yard sale.

We already have two aquariums with stands we’re not using, but this one is just the right size to go under my plant wall.  Rather than setting the tank on top the stand, we set it inside and it’s  just the right height.

I had to raise the plant wall a bit, but now the goldies have a real home instead of a painted 3 gallon bucket.  I’ll have to get a couple plecostomus to handle any algae.

New Biofilter

Click to enlarge

I wanted to give you a shot of the new biofilter. Originally I’d planned for the biofilter to be layers of gravel and filter medium over which would float a raft of nitrate sucking plants . . . but it’s funny how things work. I discovered the roots of the plants are an awesome biofilter all on their own.  The amount of debris that is released when the plants are disturbed is amazing.

Click to enlarge

The pump injects the water across the front side of the filter tank. You can see the connection to the left of the drain plug. I used a threaded rubber bulkhead fitting (tee eliminator) into which I screwed the pump hose fitting. I got the rubber bulkhead fitting here.

The flow of water travels over a small bed of crushed oyster shell (ph moderation) and swirls around the bricks that hold up the corkscrew reed and iris pot before reaching the roots of the various water plants.

To keep the roots out of the overflow I’ve got a temporary gizmo rigged.  I bent a piece of pvc and connected it between the back side of the outflow bulkhead (regular plastic type) and a piece of 4″ pvc set vertically in the tank.  You can see it in the upper picture.  The vertical pvc has holes around the bottom to let water in.  The water enters the holes and rises to flow through the bent pvc and out of the biofilter into the fish tank.  This arrangement isn’t ideal, but it will work for this season.  The pressure from the rigid pvc causes the bulkhead fitting to leak slightly.  Next season I’ll run a piece of  90º plastic conduit from the bulkhead fitting to a hole drilled in a halved section of drain pipe which will sit on the bottom of the tank.  This will be a much more attractive (and functional) arrangement than what I have now.

I don’t know if this method of filtering will hold up to a full summer of use but before I delve into rocks and filter medium, I’m gonna give it a try.  And the plus side of this is, the roots are not where the fish can eat them.  How great is that?!

Marigolds and

End of season blooms
End of season blooms

The peppers and tomatoes in my growbed are going great guns. I’ve already picked tomatoes and my grow bed peppers are way ahead of those I have in soil, though not big enough yet to pick. It won’t be long.

I have a tire-bed of glads (tiny tot and regular), violets and a small climbing rose. I had a late-season beautiful red gladiola fall over from heavy rainfall. Rather than waste the beautiful blossoms I cut it and some marigold, white columbine and multicolored zinnia to fill a small vase.

Looking at the marigold in my growbed caused me to think it would be good to put together a cut and cut again wall of flowers.

There is no comparison between the marigold I planted in soil and the one I planted in my growbed. The one in the growbed is huge. The one in soil looks stunted by comparison. I think the marigold works as an attractant, enticing to it any insects that might want to address my food crop. I notice bees, bumbles and earwigs get attracted to it and are stuck there instead of visiting and leaving. It’s been interesting to watch the behavior over the summer.

Maybe I’ll do a grow wall of wild flowers next year. The variety and color of blossoms are great and they bloom all season long. Terry prefers the aggressive growth of wave petunias so I won’t plant wild flowers in his planter again next year.