Let there be light

I got a florescent fixture mounted for the grow wall this morning.  It’s got daylight bulbs in it.  That should help keep the wall growing and healthy.

I had an epiphany.  I’ve been fussing about what to do for a gutter and I haven’t been making a lot of mental headway until yesterday.  My latest effort to find a gutter for the wall involved an internet search for gutter 12″.  I found a place in CA that custom makes gutters as well as carries all sorts of beautiful fittings for people with lots of discretionary income (aka people NOT like me).  They had copper gutters, galvanized gutters . . . and stainless gutters!

A light finally flicked on inside my head.  We’ve got a sheet metal place local to us where they can custom build me the gutter I need!  They’ve done specialty stuff for me before in stainless.  It won’t be cheap, but it will both look good AND perform good.  What’s not to like with that?  I asked Wadly to pay for my new gutter for Christmas.  He’s game so now I just need to design it.

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.

Plant wall is out!

Wall hanging in the sun porch.

I’ve moved the plant wall into the sun porch for the next two months.  Terry wants to change his tank to a larger one and I need to solve my recurring aphid problem, so the wall’s out!

When I move the plant wall back in I’m going to make a couple changes.  I am going to mount the gutter on the room’s wall instead of attaching it to the plant wall.  Moving the plant wall with the gutter attached was not a productive act.  The way I’d built it, the gutter couldn’t be removed from the plant wall without taking the plant wall off the room wall.    The only way to set the wall down was on the gutter.  Yeah, it was ugly.  There was no permanent damage done but it was beyond messy.

The mounting system is a success.  The plant wall was easy to lift off the mounting bracket.  I’d definitely recommend using that scheme.  To hang the plant wall in the sun porch Terry used deck screws to fasten a beveled 2×4 to the horizontal support beam in the sun porch.  The wall slipped right on it with no fuss.

I’m using a temporary gutter right now made out of billboard vinyl.  It’s not bad!  The hydroton is light and takes up enough room so when the gutter is full of water it isn’t too heavy for the quick and dirty support assembly I build using 2 sticks screwed to the ends of the wall frame holding up a metal rod taped and rolled into the vinyl at the front.  The vinyl trough ends are folded up and stapled to the wall frame.  It doesn’t leak and it doesn’t add to the weight of the wall.  It’s not a permanent solution but it is a quick and dirty temporary one that works.  The drain is a threaded bulkhead fitting with a piece of plastic water pipe inserted in the top.  The water pipe has holes drilled to allow the water to drain.  The closer to the top of the pipe, the more holes I drilled.  It’s just enough to let the gutter flood to the right depth and slowly drain when the pump shuts off.

I’ve got the pipe for the new gutter ready to cut and mount but I’ll wait until the new aquarium is in so I know where to place my drain hole.  The new aquarium is 18″ longer so I have some good options.  I won’t be able to use a hard plastic threaded bulkhead because of the curve of the pipe but I have some Uniseal bulkhead fittings.  If I don’t have the right size I’ll order some more.

To keep the fish in the aquarium happy and healthy, I’m doing the water changes via buckets.  I siphon 5 gallons of water out of the 25 gallon wall receptacle and I siphon 5 gallons of water out of the aquarium.  Then I dump the aquarium water into the plant wall receptacle and the plant wall water into the aquarium.  It doesn’t take long, isn’t messy and isn’t very tedious so I’ll continue to do that twice a week until Terry gets the tanks swapped and I can move my plant wall back in.  We’ve got lots of baby fish right now and the catfish has just laid eggs again so I don’t know how he’s going to manage the swap without disturbing everyone.

Moss!

Spagnum moss

It’s aphid season again.  I’m keeping a close eye on my wall as I’m already spraying it when I see aphids.  Fortunately they gravitate to some plants more than others and I check those plants daily to make sure they’re free of aphids.

In my close study of the wall I found it had gained sphagnum moss!  How cool is that?!  I’ll keep an eye on it to see how fast it spreads.  This is pretty exciting!

Rex Begonias

Angel Wing and Napolane or Snow Man

Spotted Angel Wing

I got my new begonias in the wall yesterday.  They arrived in rough shape, which I think is to be expected when live plants are shipped.  The box was a bit smooshed.

In the wall I’ve got two angel wing, two that are pale silver (Napoline and Snow man) and a couple that have curly leaf edges (Curly Annie and Curly Eyelash). There are even two that are a combination of all the above . . . okay, maybe not the Angel Wing bit, but a pretty green spotted or ringed in silver. I’ve also put two small plants that broke off from the parent in the gutter to hold them over for LouAnn’s wall.

I didn’t put all the new begonias in the wall.  Of the dozen I received I still have four in pots.  I’ll put those in LouAnn’s wall as well.

Drain change

Updated overflow

I updated the overflow drain on the larger bog filter tank.  I’m still using electrical conduit elbow, but it’s 1½”, not 1″.  The outlet pipe is also resized for an 1½” tee-less connector.  I enlarged the hole in the piece of perforated drain which keeps the roots from plugging the conduit.

I’ve been finding more uses for inner tube.  This plumbing change includes a piece of bicycle inner tube for connecting the two pieces of pipe together.

The only thing I wish I’d done before assembly was to paint the conduit black, but once the water hyacinth is added to the tank the leaves will hide the gray.

Pond willows

Willows in pea gravel filled pots

I couldn’t leave the corkscrew willows in the upper biofilter tank.  The hydroton grow medium is not heavy enough to keep the willows upright and in the tank when the wind blew.  I knew putting them there was a temporary solution.  Yesterday I implemented a more permanent fix.  The willows are only in the water for this summer.

The half-gallon pots have recycled window screen in the bottom to keep the gravel from migrating out the drain holes.  The willow trunks are held in place against the side of the tank frame by truck inner tube pieces and staples.  The pots are held up against the side of the tank by cord hangers over hex head screws.  Everything can be easily removed when it comes time to plant the willows out after they go dormant this fall.

Cape Primrose update

Two stalks showing and many more in the works.

Another plant showing a blossom stalk

The Cape Primrose has started it’s continuously blossoming cycle.  After the initial single blossom stalk, each new leaf will produce at least two stalks with two blossoms per stalk all the way through the summer.  Unlike begonias whose blooming period comes and goes, the Cape Primrose will just keep producing gorgeous blossoms.

The plant showing the single blossom is one of two or three.  If you click on the second image you will see a new stalk starting on another plant.  If you look closely you can see the base of the blossom stalk comes out of the base of the leaf.

The wall has gloxinia in it as well.  I don’t know if or when it will bloom.  The fun is in watching to see what happens.

New growth

I've lost one spider plant at the top. I have others in the gutter I can put in its place, I just need to do it.

The hoya is finally showing gwoth. The small leaf is new.

The wall is doing really well.  The gutter begonia is ridiculous and the floor is littered with discarded pink petals.  The flowers are appearing in a slow wave from the bottom of the cascading growth to the top.

The avocado all have multiple roots, though no stalk has appeared.  I am expecting to see that feature shortly.

The hoya has finally started to grow.  This is a very promising sign.

I got an email from Keith at Rex Begonias.  My plants should be here today or tomorrow.

I’ll be filling in some of the empty spots in the next couple days.

Corkscrew Willow

Corkscrew willow in upper filter. Terry's antique toy trucks look great on the shop deck.

I had a lovely visit with my brother Dan and his wife Vala yesterday.  They live far enough away that I don’t get to see them often.  I was gifted with some corkscrew willow cuttings which I’ve stuck in the upper bog filter until I can get them rooted and ready to plant.

Growbed finalized, bog planted

Wintered over and new plants out in the bog filters
3 gallon buckets ganged for flooding the grow beds

Missing end cap allows the near bed to flood more.

It’s still too cold for starting seedlings outside.  The water in the tanks has finally reached 55° which means we can start feeding the fish, but that’s still a bit too cold for plants to grow vigorously.  Within the next two weeks that should all change.

I put the plants I’d wintered over in the laundry room out into the bog filter tanks.  I also stopped at JMH Gardens and picked up some penny royal, fairy moss and some kind of pond bean.  I can’t remember what Jill called it.  I’ll ask when I go back in a couple weeks for the water hyacinths.  I’m pretty sure “bean” is right, but given how I’d managed to mangle all the other things I purchased (fairy frost is a fabric not a plant), I’m feeling a bit less confident at the moment.

Instead of rock in the upper (smaller) bog filter I’ve added hydroton this year.  The lighter medium will facilitate the take-down of the filter in winter.

The grow bed plumbing is finished with the exception of one 1½” end cap.  Three 3-gallon buckets are ganged together using tee-less connectors and 1½” pipe.  Terry painted the buckets black which will facilitate warming the water over the next few weeks.

Once I’ve got the new end cap drilled with holes and installed the flood depth can be fine tuned.  I’ll plant the beds with seedlings the first of June if the water’s warmed enough.

Biofilter update

Upper tank with hydroton

It’s still too cold to put out any of the biofilter plants I’ve tried to winter over but it is time to get the tanks in and circulating.  This upper tank is foam.  I got it at a year end sale two years ago for $10, a great buy.

Last year I used a tee-less fitting and a piece of rubber hose for the upper tank outlet.  All last summer I had issues with the upper tank overflowing due to a too small outlet with penny royal root blocking the flow.  I’m hoping I’ve solved some of that with this year’s setup.

I pulled the tee-less connector and inserted a tapering vacuum cleaner wand extension pipe into the hole.  After determining I would get a good seal, I pulled it out, trimmed it accordingly and reinserted it into the hole.  No sealant was required to give a good water tight fit.

This change allows better outlet flow and the mean level inside the tank is lower decreasing the chance of overflow.

What you can’t see (I’ll drop the water level and get a snapshot before I put the plants in) is the 3″ PVC pipe that keeps the hydroton out of the outlet and inside the tank.  The pipe is one foot long with a 45° angled end.  This angle fits over the outlet and is fastened to the tank with a 2½” screw.  The other end of the pipe is a straight cut which is covered with a piece of 30% sun shade cloth.  The length of the pipe has saw kerfs to increase the ability of water to enter the pipe.

King of vertical gardens

Patrick's private wall - aquarium is under the floor (glass) and is 6x8 meters.

Here’s a great thing to share with you, a video of  Patrick Blanc giving a presentation on vertical gardens at the California Academy of Science.  The video is an hour and a half long and is broken into parts.  I didn’t have any trouble with buffering, so give it a try.  He talks about all his walls, what was good, what was bad and includes maintenance, inspiration, plants he used, insect control, maintenance . . . it’s well worth watching at least once if not more.

New growbed setup

Half-buried tank, two grow bed trays.

back side of the grow bed. Note flush bottle. When the water reaches a set level in the bucket above, it then overflows into the tubing feeding the coke bottle. When sufficient weight is reached, the bottle pulls on the cord and flushes the valve in the bucket. A small hole in the cap of the bottle allows the water to drain out and the cycle repeats.

This is my new setup, sans the second bucket.  I am waiting on tee-less connectors to add the second bucket to the dump tank (existing bucket).  I’ll use a short piece of 1½” plastic pipe near the bottom of the buckets to connect them.  The two buckets, connected together, will give me the volume I need to fill both beds in a single dump.

Here’s the list of parts.

  • 2 five gallon buckets – mine used to contain pickles and were obtained from a local deli.
  • 1 pump
  • black tubing running from the pump to the bucket (visible in the top picture as the black loop to the right of the bucket and in the bottom picture).
  • 100 gallon Rubbermaid stock tank (buried to first step in the tank side).
  • 2 mortar mixing trays (the 8″ deep ones).
  • miscellaneous scrap lumber – none of this lumber was purchased new.  I’ve got 4×4 for the four legs (mix of pressure treated and cedar – it’s what I had), 2×6 for the between post supports and 2×4 for the top plate on which the tray rims rest.  The bucket rests on a notched 3×4 and a notched 2×4 held up by 2×8 scraps screwed to the tray frame.
  • a handful of 3″ decking screws
  • 1 toilet flush valve.
  • 1 16 oz plastic coke bottle (flush valve counter-weight).
  • black tubing to feed flush valve counter-weight bottle (visible in the second picture – connects to a piece of aluminum tubing which inserts through the bottom of the coke bottle.
  • miscellaneous hardware including a collection of stainless nuts and washers to act as the flush valve weight (offsets the weight of the plastic bottle so the flush valve flap closes completely).
  • Plumbing parts – some 2″, some 1½”.
  • Tee-less connectors to gang the buckets together.  I never order enough tee-less connectors.  They are the first connector I reach for when I have to fasten pipe to pipe or insert pipe into something.  I could have replaced the 2″ tee with a tee-less connector for less than a quarter of the price of purchasing a 2″ tee.

It took me an afternoon to take apart the old single-bed stand (I needed to reuse the legs and some of the shorter lumber) and another afternoon to construct the new two-bed stand.  You cannot see it from the picture, but there is a 2×6 that supports the center of the beds underneath going from left to right.

It took another afternoon to get the new bucket and flush assembly put together and get the tray flood plumbing set up.

I still need another 100 liters of hydroton.  It should only take another 50 liters (1 bag) of hydroton to fill the beds, but I want to increase the size of the gutter for my plant wall so want some extra to ensure I have enough.  Until I get the additional hydroton, I’ll let the beds cycle and build the nitrite/nitrate eating bacteria colony.

Growbed Updates

The new and updated dump bucket
The roller assembly gizmo hanging on the side of the bucket. Note the notch in the bucket collar to accommodate the gizmo.
The outboard end of the gizmo assembly. Note the notch in the lid to allow the lid to (mostly) set down on the bucket.
The back side. Note the notch in the bucket collar.
Stainless long necked bolt.

 

Yesterday was a  beautiful day, mild, sunny and quiet.  Wadly was off visiting family and I had the peace to putter to my heart’s content.

I managed to get the dump bucket for my grow bed rebuilt.  This time I added a genius gizmo for the flush counter-weight assembly.  This crafty  gizmo was the happy confluence of circumstance and available parts and it all started with the proximity of the flush valve to the edge of the bucket.

Because my 5 gallon buckets have a lot of ridges and raised lettering at the center I mounted the flush assembly against the side of the bucket.  This gave me a smoother flatter surface for sealing the toilet flush valve to the bucket and, by mounting the toilet fill assembly next to the side of the bucket, I was able to reduce the distance between the rollers that lift the toilet flush flap and support the flush valve counter-weight.  I saw the lock assembly for a sliding window sitting on the bench ready to be taken out to the aluminum pile to recycle.   That started the mental wheels turning and I was able to scrounge the remaining parts to pull this gizmo together.

The new roller carrier is small, requiring one small notch in the bucket collar for installation and support.

The rollers are from the bottom of a sliding glass door.

The bolts holding the rollers are stainless.  I have no idea where they came from.  Whenever we disassemble something for recycling, we take any potentially interesting small hardware and stick it in one of our multiple cabinets with plastic drawers.  We had this particular bolt type in two lengths.  The shorter was twice the length I needed but they do a perfect job.  The additional bolt sticking out is more of a design statement than a flaw.

The holes in the center of the rollers was just a bit smaller than the circumference of the bolt which allowed the bolt to be pressed into the roller assembly.  A bit of judicious encouragement from my rubber mallet did the trick and the rollers are now pressed onto the bolts.

The holes in the aluminum slider window lock handle were just slightly smaller than the threads on the bolts.  Because the piece to receive threads was aluminum and the bolts were stainless,I was able to force screw the bolts into the holes to create the necessary threads in the aluminum carrier.  You see what I mean about a confluence of circumstance?  The bolts were the right size to press into the rollers and the holes were the right size to accept threading from the bolts.  Kismet.

Each bolt has a fiber or teflon washer and a stainless washer to ensure proper spacing for the roller.

The rollers aren’t stainless and aren’t designed to be out in the rain.  Terry painted them for me to help keep the rust at bay.  As to the bearings, an occasional squirt of WD-40 (water displacement 40th formula tested) keeps rust in check and the rollers turning smoothly.  the arrangement allows the cord to be lifted off the rollers and the roller assembly to be taken away from the tank/growbed assembly for maintenance.  At some point I’ll make a plastic cover for the roller assembly to keep the rollers drier.

If you’re wondering what I used to extend the overflow tube on the flush valve . . . it’s a vacuum cleaner hand wand extension pipe.  We’ve got a shelf under one of the benches that gets all the plastic pipe chunks we might need for a later project.  Wand extension pipe is just plastic pipe and the taper makes them perfect for fitting onto other pipe or into openings of not exactly the right size.

 

 

New ferns

Gutter fern

Two more different new ferns

The new ferns seem to be doing okay.  I have a couple that are more vigorous, but they are different varieties so the differences in growth are easily explained.

The gutter fern is a delicate thing when compared to the stems of the Hawaiian begonia (Ricinifolia Immense).  The stems of that particular begonia grow to be bigger around than my thumb. The other two ferns aren’t as big as my original wood fern, but they’ve just gotten started.

Orchid cactus – new growth

Increased growth on heliocereus

It’s been almost four weeks since I changed the watering frequency for the wall. The difference is really starting to show.

The heliocereus is putting shoots out of its shoots. It’s acting like it’s spring!

The peperomia is finally producing new growth both at the base and at one of the nodes on one of the stalks.

And finally, the wood fern shows the most dramatic difference. The part of the frond that had grown prior to the water frequency change looks really stunted. The part that grew after the change looks very different.

Peperomia is finally showing some life.
Change in a single frond shows the biggest impact.