My sister sent me a link to a website that explains and documents one family’s DIY aquaponics project. She knows that aquaponics is on my very long list of things to try someday, which is why she thought of me. She was right, I thought it was a great idea. Basically, the McClung family bought a house in Arizona that had a run-down old swimming pool in the backyard. Rather than spend ridiculous amounts of money to restore the pool, they decided to turn it into a greenhouse with a tilapia pool in the deep end and growing area in the shallow end. There are also some things growing over the pond. If you’re interested take a look!
They’ve posted a video as well as some diagrams and a 360-degree moving picture.
I realize this might be trickier in our Canadian climate. They can grow 365 days a year down there (so jealous!) and we can only do that if we want to pay a fortune to heat and light the plants. But still, if I ever buy a house with a run-down swimming pool, you know what I’ll be doing! This or some version of it.
And if not, well, I’ll have to look into building some other system that will hold fish and plants. Aquaponics is like hydroponics, except you’re using the natural waste from the fish to feed the plants instead of feeding synthetic fertilizers to the plants. It’s like a mini-ecosystem. You’ve got fish tanks large enough to grow tilapia or other fish for eating, and you’ve got grow trays for plants, filled with an inert substance that holds the roots of the plants. Every so often, water from the fish tank is pumped into the grow beds to flood them and water the plants. The plants take the nutrients, which are actually waste and toxic to the fish, and so filter the water. When the water is returned to the tank it’s cleaner and this creates a better growing environment for the fish. Another key to this system is having a good balance of healthy microflora, or bacteria. Plants grow amazingly fast (I learned this at a conference, from a real scientist!) when there’s a good population of microflora. Great flavour in the plants and the fish, too, apparently. I really can’t wait to try this!
Aquaponics is truly a backyard system. Some people are working on how to make it feasible economically, and it’s proving to be difficult in terms of economizing BOTH the fish and the plants. When I spoke to a professor at the University of Guelph, he told me that you really have to focus on one or the other in a commercial setting. The best systems are those that a person would set up in their backyard for their own use. And really, that’s what I’m passionate about. Everybody growing stuff in their own backyards. Why not some fish too??!!
Last week, it was time to take the mesh covers off of my selected tomato plants. As you can see in the photo, many plants were becoming cramped under the light fabric. I felt it was important to cover them, though, in order to prevent any accidental cross-pollination of the tomatoes I wanted to save for seed.
In reading more about tomato plants and saving their seeds, I discovered that the idea of tomatoes cross-pollinating is controversial. Or has been, at least. People’s experiences vary, depending on the type of tomatoes they grow. Basically, the likelihood of crossing has to do with the length of the style. The style is the female part of the plant: it accepts the pollen. If it’s long and extends out past the male parts of the same flower, then it’s more likely to be cross-pollinated. If it’s shorter than the male anthers, it’s not very likely that any pollen other than its own will do the job.
In order to determine whether your tomatoes are more or less likely to cross-pollinate, you’ll need a magnifying glass to investigate the physical properties of the flowers. Or, you could do as I did and just cover the plants to be sure. Or, grow only one kind of heirloom or open pollinated tomato. <gasp!>
I noticed last week that tomatoes were forming under the covers, so I took off the mesh and marked the tomatoes that were formed so I would know later which ones to save the seeds from.
I am so looking forward to harvesting these seeds. Almost as much as I’m looking forward to trying all 22 varieties of tomato in my garden!!!
When the time comes, you can expect another post about the various methods of saving tomato seeds – there’s some wonderful controversy about that, too.
I love seeds.
The more I have, the better I feel.
I collected seeds from my Grandma’s Lilac tree, just to have a piece of history. In the photo above, the Lilac seeds are second from the left. Next in line, third in, are seeds from her Clematis. I’ve never tried to grow either one of these, but I’m sure going to try. My sister let me swipe the seeds from her Lovage plant, which were actually about six feet in the air on really tall stalks. These are on the far right in the photo. Last but not least, the seeds on the far left are taken out of a bundle of sweetgrass, given to me by a CSA farmer when she was showing me her medicinal garden.
Seeds are so important. They carry the genetic blueprint to the next generation, and provide us with the means to feed ourselves and our families. Not that all of us are growing all the food we need to survive nowadays. We’ve come a long way from the days of the early homesteading pioneers. I think seeds are just as important, though, and the preservation of unique and rare varieties will only happen so long as people are actually growing them. It’s a bit of a paradox: if we want to preserve heritage breeds, we need to eat them. And save a few seeds for next year.
Here are a few ways that you can be a seed scavenger:
- when you eat a pepper or tomato or any other fruit veggie, save some of the seeds to grow your own
- if you have herbs in your garden, let a few go to seed and save some seeds for next year
- you can also do the same with flowers!
- when you’re out, keep your eyes open around flowers or other plants that you like, and if you see a seed pod, bring it back with you if you can.
I made a new pin for the occasion – because maybe I’m a geek that way. I’ll be doing a whole series of mini-workshops, casually, throughout the day under my tent at Kitchener City Hall. One of them is about edible flowers, so I made a new pin just because I’m pretty much addicted to getting pins printed and I will use any excuse.
I’m planning to run the Edible Flowers mini-workshop at 10am, and give away pins to everyone who attends.
Other mini-workshops (and times) under my tent include:
11 am – All About Honeybees
12 Noon – Seedling Tips
1 pm – Veggie Growing Tips
2 pm - Compost Advice
There will also be garden aprons and Seed Starting Kits for sale, and maybe a few other things.
I’m really looking forward to this event, it will be a fun day.
Hope to see you there!
Reader’s Digest has quite a few articles about growing food this month! I was pleasantly surprised to see a page about edible flowers, one of my favourite things. It often comes as a surprise to people that they can eat the violets that grow in their lawn (if they are lucky enough to have such a thing). Pansies are also edible, and Johnny Jump-Ups, which is why I’m growing them, along with Nasturtiums and Sunflowers and Calendula and Bergamot.
Something I didn’t know, that the article taught me, is that the older rugosa varieties of roses are more tasty than the newer hybrids. I’ve been wondering about rosehips, too, and I have a feeling that if the older types are better tasting they probably also have better rosehips. So I’ll be checking out rugosa varieties, if it ever comes to the point where I’m planting a rosebush!
Because landscaping should be as edible as possible.
In another article Sara Alway writes about ‘Soil Mates’, beneficial pairings of veggies and herbs. I’d heard of growing Tomatoes and Basil together, but it wasn’t actually mentioned here. Some odder pairings were mentioned, like Spinach and Pepper, Brussels Sprouts and Thyme, and, in keeping with the edible flowers theme, Zucchini and Nasturtiums.
The article is actually condensed from her book, which looks like a fun and informative read. I might have to get me a copy, or see if the library has it.
It’s definitely starting to get way more exciting around here, with all the seedlings taking over the place and ruling my life! Today is moving day for quite a few of them. More peppers have sprouted, so I need to make space under the grow lights upstairs, so the seedlings that have finished germinating and are more hardy will be moved out to the greenhouse. I’m sure I’ll be taking photos, for those who love the baby pics.
Happy sunny day today!
Today I went to buy seeds. The ones you see in the photo were not on my list, but I couldn’t resist. They were $1.99 each, and twice the size of the usual seed packet. Lots of seeds inside too. The little wee hot red peppers looked so cute I just had to buy them to try them out. And the ‘Sweet Horn’ (Corno De Toro Giallo)? OF COURSE!! Leeks, I didn’t have – but now I do! Same with the onions. I have lots of green bunching onion seeds, but none of the regular bulb style onion.
Since there’s a bit of a language barrier between me and the seed packets, I’m not sure if they’re untreated or not. I guess I’ll find out if there are any obvious treatments when I open them up, but because I’m not sure they won’t be for sale. At least not this year – if I save my own seeds then someday down the road it’s possible. For now I’ll enjoy them and keep you posted.
And speaking of keeping you posted, I should say that I finished setting up the other half of the greenhouse shelves today in the scorching heat of the sun! Hubby had set everything up so I just needed to wedge the shelves into place. They set up and tear down fairly easily, and are braced on the sides of the greenhouse. Quite a nice piece of engineering, I have to say. He told me that if he was charging me what customers of his company usually pay for his engineering services, I would owe him $1,000 for the day.
I can’t wait to get them fully operational. I’m not sure how well you can tell in the photo, but the shelves have sides all the way around. This is to hold gravel/soil and a heating cable, so I can warm my seedlings from the bottom. I really want to get some seeds out there soon, as experiments, to see how well they grow. But we still need to purchase the cables, and possibly a thermostat of some sort (more engineering….).
I did my best.
Because I know that it can be very overwhelming to choose between too many different kinds.
I thought I’d let you know about a few that I’m excited about this year.
Here they are:
1. Silvery Fir Tree
This one will replace the ‘Patio’ variety I was planning to grow. According to Seed Savers Exchange, it’s compact, and grows well in hanging baskets or on patios. And it has pretty foliage, always a plus for those growing in small spaces and trying to also be decorative at the same time! I’ll be using this one in my patio pots, such as the ‘Grow Your Own Salsa’ pot, which will also have a pepper plant and some bunching onions. They’ll be available as seedlings, too, for those who want to fill their own pots.
This one replaces ‘Golden Queen’, a yellow slicing tomato. This plant is indeterminate, which means it will not stop growing until it gets too cold. So, think large sprawling plant that will probably need to be staked. Quite the opposite of the tomato above. It’s an heirloom variety, and the seeds are organic. And if that’s not enough to convince you, yellow tomatoes also have less acid than the red varieties, so tend to be easier on the digestive systems of those who are sensitive to tomatoes due to high acid levels. They’re not as good for canning, for this reason, but they taste so good you won’t have enough left to can anyway!
Another new one for me, Elfin has been chosen for a patio-growing cherry tomato lover that I know. Generally I find Tiny Tim plants to be so…. tiny. But regular cherry tomato plants tend to be indeterminate, which means HUGE plants. Huge plants mean HUGE roots, which don’t do well in containers.
After a bit of searching, I found these ones. They are determinate, which means they can handle living in pots, but tend to be a fairly well-sized plant and produce lots of cherry tomatoes. I’m really looking forward to growing them, and I hope the little cherry tomato lover will enjoy them too.