Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Progress Report - Week 2

Okay, the cilantro and parsley and lettuce all died and I pulled them out.

But the tomatoes seem to have recovered.

And the basil is wonderful and I'm already pruning it into my dinners.

I also planted 12 sets of herb seeds to go into the spaces and possibly the second growbed.  And they're sprouting nicely.

Nitrates remain low.  PH remains high.  I'm treating with vinegar, but it's not seeming to change it much.  I'll keep tracking it and maybe get a better water tester.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Progress Report - 1 week

Most things have gone really well.  A few have been less than perfect.

My bell siphon would work for 6 hours then either not activate or not stop.  I'd jiggle it, and we'd go through the whole thing again.  I tried increasing the inflow of water and further restricting the outflow in order to help the activation.  I tried drilling a hole in the top of the bell and running a tube outside to the bottom, to help it deactivate.  Those were imperfect solutions, plus now the flow of the water was giving me a 6 minute cycle - way too fast.  So for now, I've pulled out the siphon system and put in a simple timer.  Right now I'm running 15 out of each our for most of the day, and 15 of each 2 hours at night.  I've also put in an LED light system overhead.

My plants have had mixed results.

The basil is VERY healthy.

Lettuce is very UNhealthy.

Tomatoes started getting some burned edges, but I don't know if that was from the inconsistent flooding and draining, or lack of light, or transplant shock or water quality.  They don't seem to be getting any worse, and I hope they'll be okay.

I used some Parsley and Cilantro in my meal the other night, but I'm not sure how they're doing.  They look a bit yellow to me, but that might be from lack of good light.  So perhaps the new lights will fix that.

My nitrate level started going down (as expected) so I've added some fish.  Despite having high PH they all seem to be happy in there.  I'm slowly lowering the PH with white vinegar, but didn't want to go to quickly for fear of stressing my original fish.  He's been with me through thick and thin, and I'm rather fond of him.

Tonight I'm going to pull out the lettuce.  I'm also going to start some seeds in woolrock on another shelf and add those to the growbed when they're ready, where the lettuce is.  And this week I plan to get some more fish and work on getting my drain system better.  The original drain was 3/4" to accommodate a fast siphon drain, but now I want it to only trickle out while the 15 minutes of flooding is happening.  I also want to start thinking about how to hook up the second growbed.  I'd originally planned to stack them and have each drain into the one below, with a sump on the bottom.  But I'm thinking it would be best (and easier to use the LED lights) if they are side by side.  The water level doesn't go down much with the one bed, so I don't think a second bed will be too much for it.  But I'll need to plan it out and get splitters and such.  I won't actually plant the second grow bed until I've got a lot more fish in there, but I want to be ready.  I'm hoping to have the fish/plant ratio of my current setup stable in about a month.  At that point, I want to be prepared to expand to the second bed, with it all hooked up just waiting for fish and plants.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The final touches... so far

I finished hooking everything up, and transplanted my plants.  I seriously expect most of them to die, and I'm hoping my poor fish survives the experience.  And that he likes the friends I eventually pick out for him.

The siphon is working like a charm!  I found the volume control on the water pump, and turned it all the way down to the lowest setting, and I think it's filling at about the right speed.  I'll need to time it, but not tonight.  But it's draining completely, and stopping correctly.

Here's the final pictures for tonight.

Wish us all luck!  (No deaths, no flooding, no leaks, etc... omg how am I going to sleep with the worry?)

More set up

This morning I did a little more shopping, and got some things set up.

Plastic primer ($5.49)
Copper paint (hey - no reason not to make it festive, right?) ($3.99)
1-1/4" bore bit ($5.49)
3/4" bore bit ($4.79)
Power strip ($4.49)
10 piece saw/driver set (for removing slats from the plastic shelves in order to have room for the drainage) ($14.99)
24" Level (I've been wanting one for quite a while anyway) ($8.99)
Zip-ties ($2.49)
Water test kit ($21.00)

I'm only going to set up one bin at this time.  If I screw up, I'll have a back up.  If the system requires a second one, I'll do it then.  But for now... I don't want to get overwhelmed.

I've primered the first bin:

And here's the coat of copper:

While the primer was drying, I took my first water reading:

The results are:
Nitrates - 160 - Way too hig
Nitrites - 0.5 - Barely high
Hardness - 150 - Hard
Chlorine - 0 - Good
Alkalinity - 300 - Way too high
PH - 8.4 - Alkaline

I actually think this is really good.  This means that my fishtank already has complete ammonia to nitrate conversion happening in its gravel.  The water is too hard, but that won't kill the plants, and I can start replacing some of the water with filtered water, in order to counter that.

I worked HARD this afternoon!

Drilled drain hole and overflow hole:

Inserted fittings.
Bottom drain (it was supposed to self-seal, but it leaked a bit so I siliconed it):

Overflow grommet:

Assembled the siphon pipe, manufactured the bell - including a breather hole to break the siphon  (The bottom crenelations were made with a round file):

Drilled the ever loving bejimineys out of the guard pipe:

Purchased plants.  Since my nitrates are so high, I thought I should hurry up and get plants in there instead of waiting for seeds.  (Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, Red leaf lettuce, Cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes):

I also washed the expanded clay. OMG it floats!  That could be a problem.  But it only floated when I got the water level up to the top.  And the water should NEVER be above the growing medium or you'll get algae.  So I supposed it'll stay put well enough.  I hope.

I've also put the airstone in the tank and hooked it up to the pump and plugged it in, and put the water pump in the tank (no hose yet) and plugged it in. 

I tested the siphon (in the sink with a clear pint glass) and took some videos:
Bin filling:

Siphon activates:

Water is emptied, siphoning stops:

And here are the real parts:

And now I'm resting, waiting for the silicone to dry (3 hours) so I can put the bin on the shelf, fill it with washed clay pellets, make sure the siphon works, and get the plants out of their dirt and into the clay.

Whew!  What a day!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A starting point

I've done a lot of research, planned, revised, considered building, purchasing premade, went back to the drawing board, and finally took the plunge today.  Right or wrong, I bought stuff.

So here's the fishtank I already own:
It already has one fish that just wouldn't die... which is why I haven't given the tank away.  But the pump died years ago.  The light died a decade ago.  My interest in fish... well, I never had any.  This is the tank my husband's father gave him when the father got tired of having fish (or more likely his wife did) and then the husband got tired of the fish.  And when he moved out, he left a lot of stuff... including the tank, with the one remaining fish.  Okay, well, it's a starting point.

So today I bought a lot of stuff to go with it.  
From Home Depot: A plastic shelving unit ($41.96), a couple of plastic bins ($5.42 each), a PVC saw ($13.89), and some miscellaneous PVC parts (about $25 worth).
From my local hydroponics store (Glen Avon Hydroponics): A 132 GPH water pump ($11.49), An air pump ($8.99), Some more PVC parts ($8.00), and a 50 liter bag of expanded clay ($39.95).
It doesn't look like much, does it?

I assembled the shelving unit (which required shifting the aquarium about half a foot):

And here is the clay (in case you're curious - I know I was):

Okay, the day is over.  I'll work more on it tomorrow!