April 2015 Farm Update

Sorry It’s been a while since I made any updates.
This past year has been busy. My son is now just over 13 months old and I find it very challenging to keep up with everything I need to do.
Over the winter we had been selling produce to the Howey Market and the Orlando Home Grown Co-op. Now that the warm season is in full force, I am going down to every other week at the Orlando Home Grow Co-op but will try to keep up the lettuce production to keep a good supply at the Howey Market.

I’ve had help this winter in making a soil garden a reality so perhaps we will have some warm weather produce from that as well as the aquaponics. Warm weather crops planted include some cucumbers, tomato (mostly small sweet varieties) eggplant, squash, zucchini, Okra, and beans.

Things I learned this past winter.
Get your cool weather crops started earlier. We had some great snow peas, Veronica, Broccoli, Kohlrabi, and Fennel but they were started late and we didn’t have enough for a long enough season to really get a great benefit from marketing them. Our primary produce over the winter was of course Kale (many varieties) and lettuce and this past winter we added Celery as a major crop. I will keep the lettuce and celery going through the summer I hope and will also have some varieties of kale probably into late summer but in reduced quantity.

I switched over to using grow grips for the lettuce this past winter but I am still having difficulty getting consistent germination in them so I fear I may need to try some trays of coir for germination and then prick out seedlings to put in the grips after a couple weeks. This bums me out a bit since the extended family who help with many of these small regular weekly projects are about to be heading back North and I’ll be left to figure out how to handle more time consuming work without having the ready baby care on hand.

On a more specific to Aquaponics Note, this spring we seem to have hit critical mass for gunk build up. I went 2 years without any real clogging issues with the indexing valves and then this spring I’ve been cleaning them out regularly when they and the pipes get all gunked up. I’m having to start implementing some solids separation into my systems, at least for certain seasons. I really wish I was able to attend Ryan Chatterson’s class this spring because learning to design a “easy” way to separate, handle, then re-utilize the solids would be so helpful to me now. As it is now, I’m having to attempt it through trial and error when I only get 10-50 minutes to work on it at a time. Despite the clogging, the media beds that have been getting short changed on that system because of the three valves that have been intermittently not working right, are still doing pretty well. In some cases too well and I need to find some time to tend to the overgrown plants.

The Bunk Feeder system expansion has been a very good experiment. They have been running for over a year now and the only failure (or I should say possible near future failure) is the one bed where we put the Heavy River Gravel, the plastic is breaking at the connectors to the pipe frame and trying to fall in. The beds with the lighter weight media all seem to be doing OK.

The center row where I used 4 different types of media to compare,
River Rock
Expanded Slate
Grow Stones
Clay Pebbles

They all work,
the River Rock is too heavy for the Bunk feeder liner the way it is connected to the frame.
The Clay Pebbles are fine but I can’t really see any benefit over the stalite for the cost.
The Grow Stones are too light and where the water enters the bed they have been washed around enough that I can’t plant in the first 18″ of the bed and I had to reduce the stand pipe height by about 2″ just to keep them from floating everything too much.
I will also say I don’t enjoy handling/planting into the grow stones. I don’t think they are really appropriate for flood and drain beds, at least when the water flows in fast enough to flood the bed in 5 minutes. I might still recommend them for vertical growing where loose media is required like in vertigrow stacks or other similar methods. Or for any situation where even the expanded shale/slate/clay products might still be too heavy.

This year my homeowners insurance says I can’t allow customers to visit my property so there are no on farm sales of produce or aquaponics supplies or farm tours. However, I’m about ready to say never mind about the insurance since they are already NOT covering any Liability, Theft, or ANY Water Damage (basically only fire or wind damage but with the exclusion of water damage I’m afraid we will still be stuck paying out of pocket for any damages from a hurricane because of wind blown water or for fighting a fire with water.) So Perhaps next year I’ll decide the insurance isn’t worth it and make farm tours available again. Sorry no Tour De Tanks this year.

Finally, I am working hard to make a Diversion Valve system available for aquaponics. Sorry it won’t be super cheap (I had problems with the cheaper valves/actuators leaking and failing.) And the controller alone is going to be about $150. I hope to have all the parts to make a kit
Controller, Diversion Valve, Actuator by the end of April. Estimated Price for that kit would be $400. Pair that with an indexing valve or two for a great system that doesn’t turn the pump on/off all the time. I was tempted to make what I would call a 555 kit that would cost $555 include the Controller, diversion valve, actuator and two indexing valves but chances are everyone would want to modify the kit in some way that it just makes more sense for people to contact me directly to put together a custom package to suit their needs in the first place.

I hope everyone is well and getting enough of whatever you need. Till I manage my next update, tata

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