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.

 

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.

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.

Begonia invasion

Begonia as far as the eye can see . . .

Here’s what the wall looks like today. The begonias are taking over . . . and still no new gutter.

There’s a philodendron crawling across the floor . . . and the palm at the top is doing okay.  The spider plans are barely holding their own, the dieffenbachia is also doing well as are all the various dumb cane varieties.

The hoya is doing nothing . . . still.  It does occasionally get sneaky and route water off the wall onto the floor so I’m keeping an eye on it.

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.

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.

Plant wall new year

Lots of new growth

I took a picture of the plant wall last night.  It’s really growing nicely.  I’m still waiting on the gutter.  It must be time to nag them again.  I ordered the new aquarium light.  It should be here next week.  I can’t build the new aquarium cover until I’ve mounted the new gutter and got the new light, so it’s wait . . . wait . . . wait.

The yoyo loaches are keeping the snail population in check and they’re fun to watch, but I doubt I’ll have any new babies while they’re in the tank.  They’re like short fat eels who will eat anything that will fit in their mouth.  They dive into the foliage, wiggling their way through to find buried goodies which is just what’s needed to get the snails and their eggs.  Fortunately it takes them a while to get up a head of steam in open water and the other fish have plenty of time to shift out of the way.  It’s amusing to see our sole head and tail light getting harassed when he has always been the one  harassing others. Payback, gotta love it.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.