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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The wall has really grown this summer. I mean REALLY grown. It’s now a struggle to see the fish. Somebody remind me . . . wasn’t this project for the fish? That’s a 50 gallon aquarium hiding back there!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now that all the other plants have been moved out for the summer, I can get a good picture of the gutter begonia in all its glory and litter. This is the dichotomy of prolifically flowering plants indoors. The litter is non-stop but so is the beauty. Click the image for the full impact.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve got a lot of blank space in the wall right now. I tore out all the waffle plants. I just didn’t like them. It takes a lot for me to dump a plant, so that gives you an idea how much I didn’t care for this particular variety.
I didn’t tear out the waffle plants until I had a plan for replacement. I have some rex begonias coming as soon as the weather gets just a bit better. It’s pointless to spend the money and then have them die in shipping because the weather sucks. I can be patient.
I’ve got a bunch of stuff in the gutter in preparation LouAnn’s wall. It’s been an excellent teaching moment. If you’ve been following the wall since its inception, you’ll know I had my timing set to water running through the wall at set intervals. From watching plants in the gutter, its become apparent the watering periods were too infrequent. As a result, I’ve changed the timing. The pump pushing water to the wall is now on for 15 minutes and off for 1½ hours. Terry has noticed we are now replenishing the aquarium with twice the volume of water. This may be too frequent. I don’t know how long I’ll have to watch the wall to determine if the timing is right.
I got an email from Keith at Rex Begonias Ltd that he was ready to ship my begonias. I had to put him off. We still had snow on the ground. We’re going to coordinate so he can ship when he has good weather to arrive when ours is reasonable as well. It’s hard to be patient. I made the order last October and now that he’s ready to ship, I want them NOW. I’m restraining myself. NOW and alive and healthy aren’t necessarily compatible given our still wintry weather.