I decided that it was time to get this blog out of mothballs, blow off the dust and bring it up to date. The fact is that regarding my aquaponics project, which I first started planning seven or eight years ago, that inevitable obstacle of funding delayed any practical moves towards realization. Hence the sale of my house.
First the refurbishment.
Then the ‘For Sale’ sign.
Then, after a considerable wait, the sale – which rather inconveniently occurred during a long planned visit to Tasmania and New Zealand to visit friends and family. My visit took place between November 2013 and January 2014, with the house sale being completed in January. Thus, much needed funds were liberated!
Keeping it brief, I was able to come to an agreement with second son, which helped him to buy a large enough property to provide space for me to live, and develop the aquaponics – although the funds necessary to get started were still not immediately available. There is, however, a large garden, a section of which became mine to deal with – completely overgrown with bramble, nettle, buddleia and convolvulus. We all took over the property in September 2014.
We refurbished the old static caravan for my accommodation. New floor, some walls, rebuilt inside to my specification,
and cut back top growth in garden plot (about 35m x 15m).
I couldn’t yet afford the planned insulated greenhouse for the aquaponic system, so work began to get stuff growing in the garden. We cut down some trees, and shifted some earth about with a digger.
I laid out some beds, using our cardboard removal boxes for weed suppression. Imported about three tonnes of compost from local authority recycled garden waste. Put up a small greenhouse I brought from the last place.
I refurbished an old cedar greenhouse which had been left derelict for 10 or 15 years – stripping the ivy from inside and out, having new roof vents made, replacing glass which the ivy had broken, and digging out a sycamore tree which had self seeded in front of the door. Total cost for an excellent 8ft x 12ft cedar greenhouse, £600!
I started serious food growing in a small way in 2015, while continuing to break in what was effectively virgin ground (although it had once been a fine productive garden). It soon became clear that rabbits would be a problem, so rabbit fencing had to be installed round all beds. Rats became very interested in my compost bins!
By spring 2016, I had a proper garden, although brambles, docks and nettles continued to be a nuisance. Constant strimming of the areas between the beds allowed grass to take over from docks, nettles and brambles.
I was at last able to release enough money to purchase an 8m x 6m insulated Keder greenhouse. Before its arrival, I had built a sunken sump tank with concrete blocks, setting them on a concrete base about 1m below ground level.
Then with ongoing help from second son and a hired digger, we prepared the site for the arrival of the installation team. The greenhouse was installed in a couple of days, at a cost approaching £7000. (You can see why I had to sell my house!)
The greenhouse arrived partly on a pallet, and partly on the roof of the fitters' truck.
It was difficult to envisage a 8m x 6m greenhouse emerging from this lot!
Meanwhile I needed to stay on top of the gardening outside and in the two small greenhouses, and as winter approached and the weather worsened (the site proving pretty windy) I found my desire to continue with outside activities somewhat diminished!
Entering summer 2017, my garden is in reasonable shape. I am forced to admit that I am no longer able physically to achieve what I might have done even 10 years ago.
However, the sump tank is insulated, lined with board, and fibre-glassed (this by an expert).
The fish tank, which used to be the water tank in the roof space of a demolished school, is in place, after some manhandling through the 2m wide entrance.
It is glass fibre and insulated. It has been filled and tested for leaks, as has the sump tank. The fish tank will hold in excess of 2000litres of water, and the sump tank more than 1000litres.
I have laid the first of two 3m x 1.2m concrete pads which will be the bases for the grow beds. I have purchased some IBCs which will be cannibalized to make the grow beds. I have also purchased six ready-made auto-syphons, for the flood and drain system in the grow beds.
Meanwhile, so that the big greenhouse is starting to earn its keep, I have made a raised bed down one side, where I am growing cherry tomatoes, roccoto chillies, cape gooseberries and Lord Nelson sweet peas (because I like them and they will attract pollinators!) I also have tubs with more tomatoes, carrots, spring onions, lettuces, parsley and coriander, as well as three citrus fruit trees. Next I must lay the second concrete pad, and build the block piers to support the grow beds.
Soon I must have second son install mains electricity, and to follow, a heating system for the fish tank, using partially mains supply and partially a solar thermal panel. The mains supply will eventually be supported by solar PV panels which currently connect to the main house.
I have yet to buy the pump, the heart of the system, and the air pump for the fish tank.
Just to be clear; if this was to be a commercial exercise I would be building a different system which would be designed to produce a large quantity of a few profitable plants – salad leaves and herbs. But I have different goals. I want to provide a wide variety of food for the family in as sustainable way as possible, and also, perhaps, to demonstrate the possibilities for the system as a community project, as climate change tightens its grip, with an inevitable impact on food production and cost.
So far so good! I hope to have the system running this year, but without fish while I cycle up the system, developing the bacteria in the grow beds (which convert fish waste, i.e. ammonia, into nitrates which the plants can use) and balancing the pH in the water. I will be growing plants during this phase and would hope to order fish next year: I will be growing Tilapia, which is the reason for heating the fish tank. I am hoping that the fish tank and sump totalling about 3000 litres of warm water (about 25 degrees C) in the insulated greenhouse will help me to a longer growing season, particularly if in winter I supplement the natural light with some grow lights.
That’s it – up to date for the moment. More to follow as and when.