Last night I finally installed the rest of the drip wall in the back of my bigger rig. Where I originally planned out 48 bays, I had to settle with 44, because I forgot I planted the blueberry bush in an awkward position (so I’ll be training it to grow upwards in the place where the bay would be.
The plumbing was tricky, since I didn’t have all the parts I needed (and I learned on the fly a number of curious properties of hydrodynamics) but each set of grow beds is now fed from 5 ports on the spray bar on top made out of 1/2″ CPVC and 1/4″ tubing.
Three of the ports feed the three drip towers in the back of the bed (with one exception), where two are routed to he front corners of the bed (where I may install some additional drip towers, facing inwards, too, to catch the wasted light). Once parts come in, I’ll be making all of them more efficient by feeding them from their centers with a CPVC T-coupling rather than on the ends.
Successful plants to take to the the drip towers as of now include broccoli, chard, and one spaghetti squash (on the bottom, which I’m going to train to dangle over the edge of the shelf). More seedlings are on their way, growing Kratky-style in plastic containers until they’re large enough to survive the transplant.
It’s also time to do some cable management and clean things up a bit.
Had a surprise today. My tomatoes were already putting out flowers – and now they’re putting out bunches – but the strawberries have put out their first two blooms, and the blueberries were a complete surprise. The instructions for that cultivar stated that it could take up to two years for the plant to fruit, and just a month later we have berries on the way. 🙂
So, yesterday (March 19th) was San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day) which is kinda like Italian Father’s Day. It’s really convenient with Mothering Sunday falling on the following weekend.
Anyways, as a treat, after an excellent dinner of Pasta e Ceci (which is what’s traditional) my wife decided to make Sfinge ‘e San Giuseppe (also known as “Saint Joseph’s Donuts” or “Saint Joseph’s Cream Puffs” – pronounced /’ʃfɪnd͡ʒ(ə)/ in Napuletano). All they are are choux pastry puffs filled with sweetened ricotta, or mascarpone – both of which are usually flavored with citrus zest – or cannoli cream, topped with a cherry – sometimes with a dusting of ground pistachio. There’s also a zeppule variant in which the pastry part is deep fried, rather than baked.
Meaning “It Was of May” in Napuletano – Both the lyrics were written by Salvatore Di Giacomo and the music composed by Mario Costa in 1885. My favorite recording of it was by Roberto Murolo some time in the 1950s:
With the fact that the Coronavirus may keep us stuck isolated until May, it seems far too appropriate.
Era De Maggio
Era de maggio e te cadeano ‘nzino a schiocche a schiocche li ccerase rosse, fresca era ll’aria e tutto lu ciardino addurava de rrose a ciente passe.
Era de maggio; io, no, nun mme ne scordo, na canzona cantàvemo a ddoje vvoce; cchiù tiempo passa e cchiù mme n’allicordo, fresca era ll’aria e la canzona doce.
E diceva: «Core, core! core mio, luntano vaje; tu me lasse e io conto ll’ore, chi sà quanno turnarraje!»
Rispunneva io: «Turnarraggio
quanno tornano li rrose,
si stu sciore torna a maggio,
pure a maggio io stonco ccà».
E sò turnato, e mò, comm’a na vota, cantammo ‘nzieme la canzona antica; passa lu tiempo e lu munno s’avota, ma ammore vero, no, nun vota vico.
De te, bellezza mia, mm’annammuraje, si t’allicuorde, ‘nnanze a la funtana: ll’acqua llà dinto nun se secca maje, ferita d’ammore nun se sana.
Nun se sana; ca sanata si se fosse, gioia mia, ‘mmiezo a st’aria ‘mbarzamata a guardarte io nun starria!
E te dico: «Core, core! core mio, turnato io sò, torna a maggio e torna ammore, fà de me chello che vuò!».
It Was of May
my English translation
It was of May, and they were falling into your lap bunches and bunches of red cherries, Fresh was the air and all of the garden was scented with rose, for a hundred paces.
It was of May; I, no, I don’t forget a song sung with two voices; more time passes and more I remember fresh was the air and the sweet song.
And she said: “Love, love! my love, you’re going far away; you’re leaving me and I count the hours, who knows when you shall return!”
I responded: “I will return when the roses return, if this bloom returns in May, then in May I will be here.”
And I returned, and now, like that time, we sing together the old song; time passes and the world turns, but true love, no, that doesn’t change course.
Of you, my beauty, I fell in love, if you remember, in front of the fountain: The water there inside never dries, and a wound of love never heals.
It never heals; that healed if it could be, my joy, amidst this perfumed air I would not be looking at you!
And I say to you: “Love, love! my love, returned I have, May returns and love returns, do with me what you wish!”
So everyone knows that I keep native (and naturalized) fish. In my collection I have various sunfish (bluegill, pumpkinseed, etc.), mummichogs, bullheads, shiners, creek chubs, mirror carp, and even a brace of goldfish (those laste two were a failed science experiment… but now beloved pets).
The wonderful thing about natives in NJ is that you don’t need to worry about heating your tanks (they’re comfy with the local weather), and that they all are quite happy in sub-optimal water conditions (they don’t mind low to even moderate levels of pollutants, they’re happy in virtually every pH a human wouldn’t mind swimming in, and some could care less about salinity etc.)
However, like all fish, they like to produce a lot of waste – in the form of ammonia (NH3) and ammonium (NH4+). In order to handle that waste, every aquarist needs to cultivate a colony of two different types of bacteria in the tank’s filter, gravel, and other surfaces that break the ammonia down. The first type of bacteria (nitrosomonas) break those compounds down into nitrite (NO2-) which is less poisonous that ammonia. The second type (nitrospira) take the nitrites and break them down into nitrate (NO3-). Like with humans, nitrate isn’t poisonous to fish, unless it’s in seriously high quantities.
Once the colonies of bacteria keeping this nitrogen cycle in check are large enough that there is virtually no ammonia or nitrite detectable in the water (i.e. they eat them as fast as its produced and ultimately turn them into nitrate) the tank is considered “in cycle,” and the major maintenance at that point is to do regular, weekly water changes to remove the excess nitrates – which are simply waste, and clean out the filter and gravel (where the bacteria grow) from residue.
However, there are plenty of other living things out there that absolutely love to eat nitrates, specifically plants: Especially big leafy greens, tomatoes, and other vine fruit.
This is where aquaponics comes in. Like with hydroponics where the plants are grown in gravel or other media with flowing water to deliver the nutrients, instead of using commercial hydroponics solutions, I’m able to use the water from my aquaria to grow vegetables and fruit. Tank water simply contains (nearly) everything your average garden needs to grow already in it, and the plants that feed off of it remove (nearly) all of the waste that conventional water changes and filter cleanings do.
It’s a serious win-win. 🙂
My Prototype Rig
Now, with aquaponics, like with hydroponics, there are dozens of methods to choose from, and lots of highly opinionated people out there about what works best. My goal in putting together my prototype was to see how well a proof of concept system would work, made from a bunch of materials that I simply had lying around my house. To that end, based on the drawing above I put together:
A 10 gallon tank (filled with young pumpkinseed sunfish and its own conventional tank filter – the water and nutrients).
A 16 quart Steralite plastic container (the grow bed).
A bunch of quartz aquarium pea gravel (the growing medium).
A drain pan coupling, drilled in and sealed to the bottom of the Steralite container with a rubber washer.
A few lengths of PVC pipe, one for the input, and one for the gravel guard output with holes drilled in them at regular intervals.
A pump to circulate the water (I had a spare canister filter I used).
Some filter pad or filter floss for the input (to strain out any solid waste).
A 90 watt equivalency LED spotlight (which pulled ~10 watts), eventually upgrading to two 120 watt equivalent bulbs (each pulling ~12 watts).
In the end, the prototype looked like this:
The canister filter pumped the water up into the grow bed, where it flowed over to the gravel guard on the output, and flowed back down into the tank, both cleaning and aerating the water at the same time. I had to re-house the basil and oregano, because the tomatoes quickly dominated:
And just today, I had the first blossoms open:
The Second Rig
The month after I started the Prototype, I decided to break down my 40 gallon tank rack, and convert the top two tiers of space into a single grow bed shelf.
Putting two 40 gallon tanks on the bottom rack (our wild specimens on the left, out domesticated sunfish on the right), I invested in some Hefty 40 quart storage tubs (two per tank), plumbed them, filled them with gravel, and bought some dedicated Beckett 290 gallon per hour pumps to keep the water flowing. For lighting, I put two of the 90 watt replacement full spectrum LED lights hanging above each tub.
Having 1″ PVC returns at a length of approximately 2 feet allowed the returns to act like trompes, pulling air back down into the tanks, so when they run I don’t need to use an air pump to power a bubbler. 🙂
On the input end, I had to build a PVC splitting pipe for each tank, so that the water coming up from the pump watered both tubs evenly. I figured out a way to rig up some smaller CPVC in a “u-bend” so that the water also pushes air into the water before it hits the gravel bed as well – so there’s oxygen introduced on the way in, and oxygen introduced on the way out.
Once I had all four beds set up, I planted them one by one and watched things grow.
In the beds we planted – from left to right (1-4):
Two kinds of heirloom tomatoes.
Strawberries in the front, basil in the middle, oregano in the back.
Strawberries in the front, kale in the middle, blueberries in the back.
Bibb lettuce all throughout.
So far, only the basil has come ripe enough for us to enjoy on two occasions in caprese. It has the crisp bite of spinach and a really deep flavor.
That’s it for now. In my next entry I’ll go over some of the pitfalls I came across, as well as the next phase of this project’s prototype. 🙂