Root Trimmin’

Plant wall, current iteration

It’s been a while since I posted anything about my plant wall. Having the begonia bucket overflow onto the floor is a good time . . . definitely. Root incursions are a thing and today was the day.

All the plants are doing great. Other than the aforementioned need for a very infrequent root trimming to keep the drain system working, it’s completely trouble free. It runs, I ignore it, It grows, I ignore it. Leaves die off, I trim ’em. Not too arduous a job in my opinion.

The begonia bucket is a small plastic flat backed bucket picked up at the feed store for a few bucks. It’s plumbed with an overflow and seep. The overflow runs into the pipe garden below it. The pipe garden also has an overflow and seep which feeds back into the fish tank. The begonia’s finally gotten so leaf-heavy I’ve got it supported to keep the leaves out of the way. All the plants are adding leaves, runners, off-shoots, branching . . . no blossoms yet on this setup but now that the begonia has grown legs and has produced an off-shoot, I expect by next spring I’ll have blossoms.

I might move the whole setup farther up the wall and add another tube for some of the plants I had before but eschewed when I started this setup, like primrose, peperomia, hoya, strawberry begonia . . . I have the tube and the caps and the drain system . . . I just need Wadly to spray that sucker green.

 

Awesome Chocolate Waffles/Pancakes

This recipe uses zucchini from my aquaponic bed. I’m getting enough zucchini to be able to eat a whole one a day, sometimes two a day. Woot!

ChocWaffles
Mmmmm.

These are SO awesome!  Fresh zucchini, coconut flour, eggs, cacao powder, medjool dates, butter and baking soda.


2 eggs, 2 medjool dates, 2 tbsp melted butter, 1/2 cup grated fresh zucchini
2 eggs, 2 medjool dates, 2 tbsp melted butter, 1/2 cup grated fresh zucchini

In a pint jar add 1/2 grated fresh zucchini, 2 large organic eggs (warmed in hot tap water before opening), 2 tablespoons melted butter, 2 medjool dates (pit removed).  Spin on the blender attachment and run on lowest setting until everything is chopped and mixed.


After blending
After blending


Cacao powder, coconut flour and baking soda added and blended.
Cacao powder, coconut flour and baking soda added and blended.

Spin the top off and add 1 tbsp coconut flour, 1 tbsp cacao powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda.  Spin the top back on and blend until the powdered ingredients are integrated.

Step4
Cook and serve with butter. Mmmmm.

New media with a twist

Leaves showing signs of chemical imbalance
Leaves showing signs of chemical imbalance
I noticed some chemical burning on the tomato plant leaves and tested the water.  8.0 ph when I need 7.3.  Ouch.  Burn baby burn.  While all three tomato plants have blossoms, only one is producing fruit and shows no sign of the chem burn.

PH is totally busted.  Ouch.
PH is totally busted. Ouch.
I didn’t just test the PH, I tested nitrate, nitrite and ammonia. All were perfect for the system. For those readings, I couldn’t be happier.

PH after 2/3 water change
PH after 2/3 water change
Our well water is 6.0. For the house I “condition” it by running it through oyster shell to bring the PH up to 7.3 naturally. For a quick and very un-permanent fix to the problem I did a 2/3 water change in the fish tank and got what I expected, close to perfect PH. This, however, is a really poor solution. I flushed my nutrients (okay, I lied. I dumped the water in outside planters) and added kelp to compensate for the loss.

The whole point is to have a system I don’t have to think about or fuss
about or test or monitor or . . . you get my point. I cannot keep doing
water changes. I don’t want to have to add anything to the water to
keep the water at 7.3. Which means I’ve got to find a different media.
This media, as suspected, spikes the PH.

The trial

6" pvc with survey end caps.
6″ pvc with survey end caps.

For a couple years my brother Dan was a maintenance engineer at a produce processing plant. He did a system retrofit and brought me some of the stuff being thrown away. This flood and drain planter is a piece of 6″ schedule 40 pvc pipe. The ends are survey caps purchased at a local plumbing supply warehouse.

The really sick looking plants are the result of neglect on my part . . . pulling one system apart and putting another together with too long a span between stressed the plants. They’re recovering. The tomato plants are purchased and are my test subjects. The tank holds two goldfish, not quite enough to supply this many plants with nutrient.

One of my concerns with media this light is its ability to hold the plants in place as they grow and produce fruit. I will have to run retaining lines between the support ropes.

A question of media

Ugh, it floats
The failed floaty stuff, the new light clay-like stuff and hydroton.

In planning my next plant wall I’ve been testing hydroponic planting medium.  In the past I’ve used hydroton but there are currently two issues with this media.  Because it’s heavy in iron it eventually trashes the magnetic pump.  I replace pumps about once a year.  At about $50 a pop that’s not horribly expensive but it is inconvenient.  Secondly, it’s no longer available.  That makes the inherent equipment-related problems with the media moot.

Leftmost is the floaty stuff, middle is the light slippery-clay feeling media.  Rightmost is hydroton.
Leftmost is the floaty stuff, middle is the light slippery-clay feeling media. Rightmost is hydroton.

I bought two bags of a product that was supposed to be a replacement for hydroton.  It felt like sandpaper, very garnet/scratchy expanded glass feeling.  The pieces were quite large for hydroponic media, didn’t break when whacked with a hammer and very light.  Other than the roughness and overly large size, I thought it would work fine.  Wrong.  The stuff floats.  Using it in a flood and drain system allows all the plantings to shift every watering cycle.  When working with seeds, the media used to hold the seeds vanishes into the mix.  Ugh.  When planting cuttings they sink a bit into the mix every cycle eventually drowning.  Double ugh.

Light with a slippery-clay feel
Light with a slippery-clay feel

I reported the failure to the excellent staff at our local hydroponic shop and got a sample of another product to try. It had a light silky clay feel, sank when dropped into water and could be crushed.  The product is a little big, roughly 2-3 times the size of the hydroton beads.

PH is one of the most important items to monitor in a hydroponic system.  I’m not a fan of chemicals and like to handle this as naturally as possible which makes the ph of the media very important.  With that in mind I crushed a piece of the new media and tested the ph.  It tested lower than I expected at 6.0 which means it’s not inert.  Because our water has a very low ph which I moderate with oyster shell, I’m keeping an eye on my test system. Time will tell.

Moving on

I’m the type of person who continually tweaks and adjusts.  Some of the stuff I try is a bust and some is inspired.  I have a rack hanging over the back of my kitchen sink with a drip tray under it where dishes are set to dry.  It keeps my counter space clear and allows all the drips to fall into the sink.  Brilliant.  And I’ve done other things with far less stellar outcomes, they’ve inevitably led to ideas about other things so it’s all good.

Here's the plant wall winter 2013
Here’s the plant wall winter 2013

There are a lot things I like about my current plant wall, and few things I don’t care for. Because the plant wall surface isn’t covered with plastic ala P. Blanc, the rate of evaporation is significant.  Wadly adds roughly 6 gallons of water twice a week.  I’d like to reduce the evaporation.

Dying foliage allows pathways for water to drip onto the floor.  A change to prevent that in future is a must.

Slow growing smaller plants get crowded out by the bigger, faster growing plants.  They just can’t compete.  I’d like something that nutures both the big and bushy and the smaller, more delicate plants.

As this plant wall is a single piece, it’s heavy and difficult to move.  Repositioning plants and editing is difficult.  I’d like something a little more modular that takes up less vertical space for the same number of plants that allows the fish to be as much of a focal point.  At this point I can’t tell you what’s in the tank, other than healthy reproducing guppies and at least one fresh water shrimp.  I’m sure there are algae eaters and plecko in there as well but I haven’t seen them in . . . a really long time.

So, on to the new plan, something modular with less exposed surface area that will allow for planting a few seasonal edibles and allow us to see the fish.

Supervising the grooming of the flock and errata

Grooming in progress
Grooming in progress
13-03BogFilter
Post winter depression with promise of spring.

 

The tire holds my gunnera which, at our elevation, will only winter over if mulched and covered. It’s still a bit soon to uncover it . . . maybe in a couple weeks. I want to make sure it isn’t frost bitten. We had hail a couple days ago.

I got the bog filter trimmed up a bit and all last year’s triangular reed foliage trimmed away.

As of yesterday the pump has been cleaned and water is circulating. Having both bog filters full of hydroton takes much less water out of the main tank when the pump starts running.

I haven’t pulled out last year’s hyacinths as the roots are doing funny things and I want to see what happens.

I have no idea if the penny royal in the upper filter survived. I can’t see anything on the surface.

The water beans are growing and the stems are getting thicker each year. Go beans! I’m hoping to get some winter hardy water irises in the big filter this year.

Bog filter 2012

Upper tank in August sunshine
Penny royal in small tank.
Hyacinth, bean and fairy moss.
Blooming reed

The larger of the upper biofilter tanks is doing really well, though the water hyacinth has not bloomed this year and I’m holding no hope that it will.  The triangular water reed has nearly tripled in size even after removing half the original plant last spring to give to Mindy.  Jill?  Can I restock you when I cut this back in the fall?

This year this larger filter tank is loaded with hydroton which provides shelter for the roots.  The water bean, hyacinths and reeds are mega happy, sans blooming.

The smaller tank is also filled with hydroton and has last year’s penny royal which amazingly enough, wintered over due in part to the tank being made of closed cell foam (insulative), containing hydroton (insulative) and filled with standing water (insulative).

Because the maple tree and the triangular reed are sheltering the smaller biofilter tank from the sun the penny royal is growing much more slowly, which is a plus.  Last year it was horribly root bound it grew so fast.  I cut out most of it and thew it away, then took the remaining bit and cut it in half to give to Mindy.

I like the fairy moss as a fill-in between the larger plants.  It helps keep the mosquito population down.  Having marigolds growing in a pot on the back frame helps as well.  I don’t worry about mosquitoes in the big tank – fish food!

The reed is blooming, though it hasn’t yet peaked to produce the mass of feathery tendrils that will be the end product.

Bloomin’ Bean

Blooming water bean

The bean I got from JMH last year is blooming.  I have two blossoms, this one and another in the middle of the tank.

I picked up Fairy Moss and water Hyacinths today.  The upper tank’s looking pretty good.

Upper and middle tanks

This is what the upper two tanks look like right now.  The penny royal is growing, the season triangular reed is coming up.  The water hyacinth and fairy moss is spread in the middle tank.

So far, so good!

Flood and drain versus drip

The begonia in the gutter has more flower stalks and bigger leaves even though the plant is the wall is older and has more leaves.

My plant wall has two systems.  The wall itself is a drip system.  The nutrients drip down the roots.  The gutter, however, is a flood and drain system.

This morning I was catching up on posts on WindowFarms and read a post by Ed where he has modified the bottle window farm into a flood and drain system.  Brilliant!  His post caused me to look at my wall and evaluate its health/growth in comparison to the plants in the gutter.

The begonia in the gutter is faster growing with more flower stalks and bigger leaves.  That’s pretty definite as far as supporting evidence goes.

So the moral here is, if it’s food you’re interested in growing, flood and drain is going to be more efficient/effective.

Snail killer

Yoyo loach

The loaches have done a wonderful job of snail removal.  It’s been over a week since I’ve seen a snail.  Prior to that, I’ve only seen two and they’ve been at the top out of the water and where the loaches couldn’t reach them.  <squish>  Wadly doesn’t like the loaches but I think they’re darn fun to watch.  He likes his slow and mild guppies.

Hawaiian begonia blossoming!

Blossoms for the first time in over a decade.

One of the begonias in the wall has masses of blossoms. The light, the warm water temps and the consistent nutrition are really pumping out the flowers. Now the Ricinifolia Immense is joining the gang. It’s put out a blossom stalk for the first time in over a decade.

Consolidating for storage

Ready to be put away

I’ve pulled my grow bed apart and gotten it stored away in the loft.  I’ve put the hydroton in barrels and buckets for the winter.  I’ve still got to pull the grow bed frame and cover the tank.  Next year I’ll try and find a nice clean 55 gallon drum (plastic) for storing the hydroton.  That’ll let me put it all in a single container.  The 30 gallon drum I’ve got just isn’t big enough on its own.

Vertical gardening

Open source window farm

Every so often I do a search on plant walls and vertical gardening to see what’s new.  This morning I ran into this.  It’s pretty cool!  But better than just the idea is the way this system works.  It is built on the airlift model.  Instead of using a pump and timer to handle delivering the nutrient rich water, the system uses an aquarium air pump.  While you can buy the whole system, they provide full instruction for a number of different models that can be made from plastic water bottles.

This is very cool.  If you’ve got a kid who needs a science project, the hanging plastic bottle farm would be a stellar undertaking.  Add an aquarium and some fish and you’ve a great “watch it work” project!

Watch this video.  Then visit our.windowfarms.org and start reading.  Fascinating stuff.

More blooming begonias

Begonia in the gutter ready to burst into bloom

I haven’t done anything about a gutter yet, and I need to . . . desperately. I’m making that a priority for tomorrow.  I’ve got two sewing machines to run up to be repaired and will handle it on the way.

All the baby fish are doing great.  I lay on the floor and watch them scoot around the tank.  Some are big enough to come out and feed with the adult fish.  I wish I could get a picture but they’re just too small to get into focus through the glass.  I end up with tiny little blobs of lighter colored stuff in a fuzzy greeny background.  Ugh.

One of the gutter begonias has blossom stalks topped with buds ready to bloom.

The big begonia is doing really well though the leaves aren’t quite to the size achieved last summer.  They’re close, just not quite there.  The wood fern is doing well.  I have  some stuff that is just limping along.  My cape primrose isn’t happy.  I’m hoping it will come around . . . it’s really slow to show happy or sad so I just have to be patient and see if the changes I’ve made help.  By late spring I should know.  I think the gloxinia is toast . . . I think it’s been totally overgrown by the surrounding foliage.

About 1/3 of the rex begonias I planted are still growing.  I think they would have done much better if I’d gotten them in the wall when all the other plants were about the same size.  Now I’ve got stuff that’s gotten huge and the rex begonias are pretty much lost in the undergrowth.  Time will tell whether they make it out of the understory.

All the philodendron, ivy and dumb cane varieties are doing tremendously well.  They really like the wall.  The hoja is doing good.  The rain forest cactus are doing fine.  The Christmas cactus bloomed a couple weeks ago, just one pretty salmon colored blossom.  It’s another plant that’s going to be lost in the undergrowth.  It just grows too slowly to stand much of a chance.  <wince>  Ditto for the epiphytes I planted last summer.  I have to stay philosophical about all this.  That’s what planting a vertical garden is all about, learning what works and enjoying the result.

Not guppies

It looks like the babies I thought were guppies are actually neon tetras.  They’ve finally gotten big enough to have color and shine.  Cool!  Where they were hanging out in the tank should have been a clue.  Guppies stay right at the surface until they’re big enough to not be eaten.  Tetras hang out in the middle darting in and out of the foliage and cat babies cruise the bottom.

More babies

We seem to have a steady supply of babies in our aquarium lately.  Right now we’ve got 4 adolescent guppies, at least two baby guppies hiding in the foliage and at least one, maybe two, baby catfish.  Not bad for a 50 gallon tank.

The only change I’ve made recently is in feeding.  I’ve been tossing in a cube (frozen) of blood worms twice a week.  These are gut loaded with nutritional stuff fish need and I think the addition to the diet is making a difference.

The plant wall looks great.  The light is making the difference.  I don’t have a new gutter yet.  It’s still in the planning stage.

Blooming Reed

Bog fern blooming

Up close you can see the little feathers.

Remember the hooch in the jungle, the cabin by the lake? The reed sitting in the north end of the bog filter tank is now blooming.

Last year I had two reeds, a small triangular stemmed one that looked like a very small version of this one and a zone hardy one that had small crimson blossoms.  I lost the small reed and the zone hardy one has morphed into this gigantic thing that’s nearly 4 foot tall with blossoms that aren’t crimson this year.

I can safely say I have no idea what’s going on.  I plan to whack this thing in half when it dies back and give half to Mindy.

Sump and reconnect

Pump out at the top, wall drain at the bottom. The sump sits in the corner under the plumbing.
Plant wall draining back into aquarium. The drain is supported by a hanger on the wall. It just looks like it's sitting on the

The black at the top is the wall drain.  The clothes pin is pinching shut the primer line.
The black at the top is the wall drain. The clothes pin is pinching shut the primer line.

Wadly and I got the wall connected to the aquarium last week.  The first picture is the plumbing to and from the wall.  When we move into our *real* house I won’t be able to drill holes with impunity . . . darn it.

Yesterday I got the sump connected.  I still have to paint the . . . I’m not quite sure what to call it.  It’s a collection of elbows and short pieces of pipe that takes the place of u-pipe and overflow box for controlling the level of water in the aquarium.  The portion in the aquarium will be green, the part out of the aquarium and inside the sump container will be black.  The next hot day we have I’ll pull it and paint it using Krylon Fusion.

I have the pump to push the water into the wall in the sump.  The wall drains directly into the aquarium.   I also have a very small fountain pump in the sump to keep the water circulating between the sump and the aquarium when the pump for the wall isn’t running.  I still need to clean up all the water and electric lines, running them so they won’t clutter the landscape and I still need to provide a cover for the sump to keep out debris AND I need to moderate the sound of running water in the sump.

After I manage all that I need to build a custom cover and light array for the aquarium.  And then I need to find and install the gutter for the wall for when the plant wall comes back in.  And install an overhead light for the wall.  Got the light, just don’t have enough electrical current available to run it but that should be fixed soon.

New aquarium

49 gallon aquarium

The larger aquarium is all set up and connected to the wall.  I’ve run 1½” black PVC pipe from the plant wall out in the sun porch through the wall to the left end of the aquarium.  The pump is in the right end with the hose for the pump using a separate hole high in the wall level with the top of the plant wall.

With the new larger tubing I had to put additional slits in the gutter stand pipe to prevent the gutter from overflowing.

I traded the pleco for a very much smaller one.  I bought five small neon tetra to give the two babies I already had a school and I bought two more catfish for a total of four.  With the guppies and adult neon tetra I have about 25 fish in the aquarium.

My next step is to get the sump built so I can maintain the water level in the aquarium when the wall is being watered, dose the wall separate from the aquarium and top the water up without adding water directly to the aquarium.

Jungle hooch

Jungle hooch

Wadly's view of our cabin by the lake.

Wadly sits in the kitchen in the morning, drinking his coffee and gazing out over his domain.  This morning he said “our cabin by the lake is now a hooch in the jungle.”  It made me laugh.   The reed has gotten to be a fairly impressive size.

The first picture is what we see when we walk out the door.  The second is what Wadly sees sitting in the kitchen.  You can see why he’s calling it a hooch in the jungle.

 

The larger traveling wall

Wadly on his beloved John Deere moving the plant wall

In the last couple weeks we’ve made a number of changes to our aquarium/plant wall setup.  We moved our plant wall outside for the summer and swapped our original 28 gallon aquarium for a larger 50 gallon one.

Yesterday I swapped our fairly large plecostomus for a scaled down model too small to eat new hatchlings and sleeping fish.  I also got two more catfish and five neon tetra about the size of the tetra babies we already had.  I think that brings our tetra count to 10.  Wadly will have to buy some more guppies to round out the pack.

I’ve still got a lot to do to the new aquarium.  I need new air hose for one of my stones, I still need to find/build a sump and I need to run plumbing through the wall to connect the plant wall to the new tank.

When we moved the plant wall out we hung it on the horizontal beam on the east end of the sun porch.  To leave it outside and still connect it to the aquarium inside the living room it was necessary to move it to the north wall.  Rather than remove the gutter and disturb all the plants again, we fastened a 2×4 to the back of the plant wall and moved it with the tractor.  It was a little time consuming but very easy nothing damaged in the move.

There’s no way to get it back into the house using the tractor but I wish we could.  This last move was incredibly easy.

To sump or not to sump

I’m planning the changes I want to make to our aquaponic system when the wall comes back indoors.

This time I want the water level in the aquarium to be fixed, so I’m planning to install a sump.  In reading up on sumps I ran into a good tutorial on one of the salt water aquarium sites.  What I found delightful, beyond how clear and informative the information was the author’s style.  “I once had a zebra goby that, despite my lectures, would make the trip several times a week before I finally managed to find an effective way to enforce the height restrictions on the ride.”  Part 3, sump tutorial

Wadly’s changing to a bigger tank.  The new tank is the same depth front to back but is 4″ taller and 18″ longer.  That’s a fairly significant increase in water volume.  The addition of a sump bumps the volume even further.  I will be able to have the tank heater and small circulator pump in the sump along with the larger pump required for feeding the wall.  Moving the pump and heater out of the tank will really clean up the inside which will make Wadly even happier.

Wadly’s current tank has been very successful.  Having it attached to the wall keeps the tank’s inhabitants fairly healthy and clean with little work on our part.  The tank’s health and stability are supported by the baby catfish, baby guppies and, most surprising of all, baby neon tetras we’ve had since the tank was established.  The baby tetras were jousting last night.  They’re so flashy it’s easy to see their antics from across the room.

 

Carlos is coming

Lorr (our son) has discovered wholesale rot under the window and into the floor and floor supports where his 60 gallon aquarium housing Carlos the turtle, two gigantic plecos and a couple really fat goldfish.  Moving the tank is a must so it looks like Carlos is coming to stay.  The big concern is keeping Carlos comfortable.  The goldies can join mine in my 100 gallon tank outside and the plecos can go to the aquarium store.

Wadly’s next day off is Tue.  We’ll drag the big aquarium out of the loft, clean and set it up for all Wadly’s fish.  We’ll leave the smaller aquarium set up to accommodate Carlos temporarily while we get is larger tank set up and up to temp.

To keep both tanks using the wall, I’m going to have to install a sump.  I haven’t done that before.  It should be a learning experience.