Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Indoor Aquaponic Strawberries

My Everbloom strawberry plants didn't do well last summer - too many weeds and not enough hot weather produced few berries. I pulled the strawberry plants from the garden after a few hard frosts in late fall, and let them thaw out for a couple of days indoors.

I separated the 3 plants into 9 smaller plants, removed the dead growth, washed off the dirt and transplanted them into my Aquaponics system. Now, they don't have any weeds to battle and receive regular hours of light...and a constant water source, of course.

Here are some pictures from November.

After only a few days indoors, these tiny plants showed new growth and vibrant color. Incredibly, one of the baby plants even started a flower.
Other Aquaponic gardeners have success growing strawberries vertically in towers and media beds. But, my strawberries are living inside a cool room, under low wattage fluorescent lights. There are challenges ahead. Time will tell...

Fast forward to early April. Obviously, the plants have grown a lot. There are constantly over a dozen flowers in bloom, which I pollinate with a Q-tip.

The Q-tip works! Check out a couple of baby strawberries below.

The baby green strawberries show some hope, but will the temperature and lighting be sufficient for them to ripen? For now, they're alive and doing well, and will have a nice head start on my outdoor strawberry bed when I put them back outdoors next month.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Beer & Aquaponics

Beer and Aquaponics go together like peanut butter and jelly.

After all, plants thrive on CO2 - good ol' carbon dioxide. It's the same gas produced by fermentation. When you make beer, it usually takes about a week to ferment. During that time, the beer creates a lot of CO2 - much more than if you were to talk to your plants.

My indoor Aquaponics system is in a small office where there's often something brewing alongside the plants and fish. Either I'm fermenting beer or wine, or my wife is making pickles, sauerkraut, or kimchi. It's a smelly room.

Last night, I brewed a small five gallon batch of beer - a hoppy light-bodied I.P.A. (Indian Pale Ale). Fermentation started this morning, after about twelve hours in the carboy. The beer is already off to a good start!
beer fermenting in the dark under my desk
The plants love it, and it sure smells great!
(pictured Left to Right) Strawberries, Rosemary and Sorrel

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner, Unless Baby is Mint

Unfortunately, what came to mind for this blog title was from a cheesy '80s movie. Planting mint in my Aquaponics system was like Dirty Dancing. I knew that if given a chance, it could thrive like Frances "Baby" Houseman.

I planted a little shoot of mint, anyway, and strategically placed it in the corner of the growbed where I thought I could control it.
baby apple mint
It grew quickly and made lots of new shoots and leaves. I picked them for tea and cooking. My wife even used it to marinate a leg of lamb.

I decided to cut it all back before going on vacation. This gave it a chance to develop runners, much like a lilac or strawberry. Beneath the rocks, it crept along.
mint runner
notice the root growth on the runner
I've cut it back and transplanted it into other systems and pots, but have to control its growth below the surface or it could easily take over. Maybe planting mint is a losing battle and just a matter of time before I have to remove it altogether?

Check out Affnan's experience with mint in Malaysia.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Tight Lines Y'all!

I'm on vacation down south escaping the January cold in New England, while the ice thickens on my favorite ice fishing spots, I have been doing some fishing on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

Last week I fished off the jetty at Huntington Beach State Park, south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Google maps satellite view of area
It's a 1.3 mile walk to the jetty from the beach
View from the end of the jetty. Murrels Inlet on right
Here's a little video I took from the day before when it was sunny. I caught a stingray that day, but it got off my hook before I was able to hoist it up the rocks.
The next day I had better luck. I hooked a few Spiny Dogfish, but was only able to land one. 
2 1/2 foot Spiny Dogfish
The other fishermen were only catching dogfish too, and nothing else. Since dogfish have a reputation as a "garbage fish," they were tossing them all back into the water. A fellow fisherman offered me a few, so I left with enough shark for a week. Dogfish is used for "fish and chips" in the U.K. and would be tasty with careful preparation.

Since dogfish have no kidneys, they pee through their skin. They need to be immediately bled, gutted, de-skinned and iced, otherwise their flesh will quickly spoil and smell of ammonia. I was careful to prepare them, and then marinated some for 4 hours in apple cider vinegar and lemons. I soaked the rest in a milk bath overnight to remove any fishy odor and tenderize it..

Ready to bake
Ready to eat
The dogfish was delicious. It really absorbed the marinade well; perhaps I used too much apple cider vinegar. The flavor was kind of like chicken. One benefit of eating shark is there are no bones to worry about, just a thin strip of cartilage that runs down the backbone which is very easy to remove. 

The next day, I removed the rest of the fillets from the milk bath, rinsed them in water and marinated them with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and just a little vinegar. Then, I iced it all down for our road trip to Florida. A couple of days later, it had become super tender lemony ceviche. I decided to broil it. It made great fish tacos.

Broiled dogfish
It seems the lowly dogfish is slowly making a comeback in the culinary world. Check out Eat Magazine's article, "Spiny dogfish makes history as first sustainable shark fishery.

Meanwhile, I'll be fishing along Florida's "Forgotten Coast." Tight lines y'all!

Monday, December 08, 2014

How to Make a Mini-Aquaponic System for $20

Upcycle a 5 gallon water container to become a mini Aquaponic system.
My most popular post (so far) describes how to convert a standard 10 gallon fishtank into a Deep Water Culture Aquaponics system for $50. (The materials cost about $35. I rounded up since I needed to buy a hole-cutter and also gas to drive to a few stores.) I built it to be plastic-free and portable. It worked well, but wasn't ideal for transporting to and from my Aquaponics presentations. Glass is considerably heavier than plastic and susceptible to leaking and cracking. Water weighs 8 lbs/gallon, so that whole system weighs about 90 pounds.

I love the scalability and simplicity of Aquaponics. Motivated to build a smaller, lighter, sturdier, and less expensive system, I did some research and found the video below on Youtube. It uses a recycled 5 gallon water container. To keep it simple, I decided to modify the design a little and eliminate the vertical PVC structure with hanging plants. All my plants grow in the growbed.
This system experiments with drip irrigation, similar to Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and uses the air pump to lift water. This system is super portable and uses only 2 watts of electricity from a simple $5 aquarium air pump (which was the most expensive component). This time I didn't have to buy anything since I already had all the materials. I estimate the whole system costs about $20, and it costs even less if you use recycled materials.

Materials/Tools: Hacksaw, knife, small aquarium air pump, about 7-8' airline tubing, airline "T" connector, one-way air pump check valve, 1 gallon bag of inert growbed media (growstone, hydtroton, expanded shale, or pea gravel), 4" inch PVC pipe, a handful of small office clips, and a twist-tie.

How to put it together:
Find a 5 gallon (18.9 liter) plastic water container and rinse it out. If it has a handle, even better.
Take a hacksaw and cut the top off just above the handle. Then cut off the bottle neck. Keep it, you'll need it.

Invert the top part into the bottom and the neck through the hole.
The bottom becomes the tank and the top becomes your growbed. You'll feed your fish through the stem.
Cut holes in the bottom two inches of PVC pipe for drainage. Center it inside the top part. You can use a hacksaw to cut parallel holes across the bottom couple inches of the PVC or, use a drill to make the holes like I did. You don't need to drill this many holes; I had already drilled this PVC for a different system, so I used it.
The PVC piece becomes your gravel guard.
I used a sample gallon bag of Growstone made in the U.S.A. from recycled glass bottles. It's extremely porous and incredibly lightweight.

Hold the gravel guard down and add the stone around it evenly.
Connect a small section of airline tubing from the air pump to the one-way check valve. The valve helps prevent risk of electrical shock from water backing down the tube into your air pump, but it will also restrict the flow of air from it. The arrow on the valve indicates the direction of the air from the pump.
Make sure the arrow on the valve points away from the air pump.
From the check valve, connect about 3' of aquarium tubing into one of the top ends of the "T" connector.

Important: the "T" connection piece must stay at the bottom of the fish tank, otherwise the air pump cannot lift the water through it and the system won't function correctly.

I ran the airline tubing through the hole in the handle of the water container to help keep it in place.

Connect about 4' of tubing from the middle connector for your water/air lift to the growbed. I added a few inches of airline tubing to the bottom connection and anchored it to an aquarium ornament. 
How to lift water with an air pump.
My aquarium ornament conveniently had a perfect sized hole in the bottom that was designed to connect airline tubing to push bubbles. (With the "T" connected, instead of pushing air through it, it now draws water from the bottom of it.) You can also use a rock to anchor the "T" connection to the bottom of the fish tank. Make sure the end stays open so it can suck water through. 

Take a twist-tie and make a loop above the level of the growbed in the section of airline tubing that runs from the check valve down through the hole in the handle to the "T" connection. Connect it to an office clip on the rim of your growbed. This is another precautionary measure that will help prevent electrical shock if water accidentally backs up through the hose.

Take the end section of your water/airlift hose and form a circle around the circumference of your growbed. Poke about six small holes every few inches of the airline. Make the holes just big enough for water to drip out. Clip the airline underneath the top rim of the growbed to secure it in place.
Fill it with water and stop an inch or so below the bottom of the growbed. Fish food needs to fall into the water from the hole in the middle of the growbed, so don't overfill. Plug in the air pump. Add some small plants below the dripping water. Make sure to rinse any dirt from the plant roots beforehand. I transplanted aloe, mint, a small Jade plant, strawberry, and a rosemary shoot.
You'll want to add some fish, of course. Pick varieties that will stay small since there is only 2 1/2 gallons of water in the system. I am considering adding cold water snails, crayfish, fathead minnows, or some other variety that won't grow too large and won't require a heater. Here's a short video of my system in action.
I haven't added fish to my system yet since the water is just beginning to cycle. If you are new to fishkeeping, check out these tips for cycling your new tank.

For additional water filtration and aeration, I am considering adding a small homemade sponge filter like the one from the Youtube video below. They work great.
Post comments and questions!  

Monday, December 01, 2014

Living in the Dark

Every 15 minutes, the bell siphon in my Aquaponics media bed flushes the flood and drain system, aerating the water for my goldfish below. The fish live in the dark. 
Using camera flash during flush mode. 
I feed them once a day. Other than that, I generally don't think much about them. I can't see them well without a flashlight, so they've gotten little attention in the few years I've kept them.  

These comet goldfish are from the local pet store. They are low maintenance and make a lot of fertilizer (read: poop a lot). At their present size, I think they're ideal for this cool-weather system.

The roots of the plants keeps their water clean, and a small pinhole at the bottom of the siphon (in the media bed) provides a constant trickle of fresh water in between flushes, which keeps them healthy.
Swimming around the water pump prior to flush mode.
These goldfish are about 4" long.
One huge benefit to the fish living in the dark is there is no algae growth. With the absence of direct sunlight in the barrel, I don't have to deal with algae killing the roots of my plants. Above the fish, the media bed fills to a couple of inches below the rock surface, so no harmful algae grows there either.

Someone asked me, "Are they happy?" It's hard to really know, but they've tripled in size, haven't gotten sick yet, and they eat well.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Aquaponics Saves Lives

It's true. My Aquaponics system has turned into a mini Humane Society for outside garden plants. Currently, I am growing the following transplants:

I just transplanted this parsley after harvesting all the leaves. It's grown well in this system in the past, so I should see new growth soon.

Wild Mustard
I love wild mustard. It's like wasabi as a leaf. Try it.

These purple basil are doing better indoors than they did all summer outdoors. There's been a lot of new growth and I've been cutting it back every couple of weeks.

The rosemary are my resident plants, so even if I decide to harvest all the others, I still have these two plants to filter the water for the goldfish below. They buffer the system in between plantings.

The sorrel is growing really quickly. It's an acquired taste, which is kind of sour like a wild strawberry, but I like its juicy flavor.

My coworker, Tim Stone, gave me a mint plant and I put one of it's shoots in the system. So far so good - some new growth and it's rooting well. I hear mint can take over, so I'm watching this one carefully.

All these plants are growing indoors, under two 4' low wattage florescent ballasts with indirect light from the window above.

Meanwhile, the fish are getting fat. Stay tuned for my next blog about them.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Grilled Northern Pike on Rosemary & Cedar

The other day I went kayak fishing on the Connecticut River and hooked into a strong Northern Pike. The fish pulled me around for about 5 minutes before coming to the surface. During the fight, I pulled my camera out but changed my mind. I didn't want to risk losing a nice fish for a good photo. 

I was surprised to land the toothy monster without a metal leader on my line (I was fishing off the bottom with nightcrawlers for perch and bass). At 5 1/2 pounds, and 32" long it was easily enough meat for a few meals, so I decided to harvest it.
gutted pike ready for filleting on a large pizza box
I'd never really cooked a pike before. I'd caught much smaller ones on the Connecticut River, but always released them (for taking a Northern on the river, the minimum length requirement is 28"). Pike and Pickerel have a pesky "Y bone," which makes filleting them a bit more tricky. Online, I discovered the website of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department , which has an instructional video how to remove the Y bones, and offers a slew of recipes, from "poor man's lobster" to a pickled pike dip. (Yeah, really.) Since Northern Pike is North Dakota's state fish, I figured they know a thing or two.

By the time I finished filleting, it was too late to cook, so I cut and submerged the fillets in ice water and let them soak overnight. I decided to freeze a lot of the fish (in water), since there was about 2 1/2 pounds of fillet. I have plenty of Aquaponic Rosemary, which is one of my favorite herbs for cooking fish.
Aquaponic Rosemary
For last night's dinner, I followed this recipe, substituting maple syrup for brown sugar: 

Cedar Planked Pike

Soak a cedar plank for at least 1 hour or longer until the wood becomes saturated. Keep plank in water until ready for use.
Pike Fillets (Rub quantities should make enough for 2 decent size fillets), 2-3 fresh sprigs of rosemary
1/2 Tbs smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Mix rub ingredients thoroughly. Apply to fish. Set aside. Heat your grill to 350 degrees (better with charcoal than with gas but both work, you can also use your oven just be careful the wood plank will smoke). Place rosemary on soaked plank on grill for 5 minutes prior to putting fish on it. Place fish on plank overtop the rosemary and cook until tender. Do not flip fish. Serve on plank.
I started the raw fillets over indirect heat for the first 20 minutes 
I finished the fillets over direct heat for the last 15 minutes. Here they are almost done
ready to eat 
So how did it taste?

Delicious. The fish has a densely flaky texture, but wasn't too flaky. It held up well to all the spices, and the mixture of the cedar, rosemary and maple syrup really brought it to another level. A little squeeze of lemon...Boom!

If pike weren't so predacious, slimy and bony, there might not be an open season for them. I took my time filleting, but still managed to miss a few thin bones.

More Northern Pike recipes here: