Open Source Aquaponics
~ Reconnecting with Food
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Well, December was the first month of challenges for the project.  Over Christmas the waterline to the greenhouse froze up which means hauling buckets of make-up water from the house!  Fortunately we had a warm spell and the line unfroze, but it did show me where I made an error.  I had installed some heat-tape on the line to prevent this but placed the thermostat too close to the greenhouse.  The radiant heat from the greenhouse prevented the heat-tape from turning on before a colder section near the house froze up.  So, until Spring I will be closely monitoring the temperatures and running an trickle of hot water through the line on extremely cold days/nights.  The other major challenge last month was humidity.  The dense foliage of out-of-control plant growth combined with high humidity levels made it easy for mildew to begin covering my plants... primarily the tomatoes.  Running a dehumidifier helped a lot but I ended up employing a fan pointed upward on the base of the pedestal in the center of the greenhouse to circulate air throughout the structure.  I also pruned back all the plants that were severely affected by the mildew.  In doing so I discovered I had a lot of fruit in development and many of them have recently started to ripen!


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Did some clean-up on the tomatoes trimming back lower leaves that are dying off.  Doing so revealed a wonderful crop of hidden fruit! :)  Federle tomatoes and Mexican midget cherry tomatoes appeared all over the place!  Have a look…

In addition to tomatoes, some of the Goldenberries have reached a ripe state (never eat them green as they may be poisonous before ripening) and taste better than I expected.  Up until recently I've only had them in dehydrated form with similar texture to a large raisin but much different flavor.  They are quite tart and a bit sweet too.  I call them Nature's sweet & sour candy!
They are extremely nutritious too!
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Plants are accelerating in their growth and flowering (especially the tomatoes and strawberries).  The entire top of the greenhouse is now covered with tomato plants spreading out and branching off in every direction as can be seen in the picture above.  It's become a bit of problem as they are now difficult to access near the top (if at all) for pruning etc., but the scientist in me says "let's see what happens" ;)  I'm going to guide them where I can or prune them when I need to but otherwise let them do what they feel inclined to do.  Worst case scenario I will have to cut them back, so why not see what they can do given what's available to them.  They're definitely putting out some fruit finally so I'm pleased so far.  Golden berry plants are also growing like mad and intermingling with the tomatoes in the canopy and are producing lots of calyx with fruit inside.  They take a long time to mature, but I know what they taste like and they are well worth the wait!  

I recently obtained some Maca root seeds from an online vendor and although the packaging said germination in 7-48 days, they germinated in only 3 days and look very healthy so far!  I'm extremely pleased as Maca root has become a staple in my diet over the past couple years for it's amazing energizing abilities.  I look forward to finding out if the freshness factor (like so many other forms of produce) has an impact on the effectiveness.  If you decide to try this medicinal herb yourself, start slow and increase your use up slowly as it can affect your hormone levels significantly at higher consumption rates.

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While pruning dead/weak leaves off of various plants in the greenhouse I discovered that one of my broccoli plants has started forming a head.  Given the sorry state of the rest of the plant and limited leaves, I’m quite surprised.  Additionally, the goldenberry plant that started flowering a couple weeks back appears to be in fruit production mode!  The fruit forms inside a paper lantern looking cover called a calyx.
From wikipedia...

“A prominent feature is the inflated, papery calyx enclosing each berry. The calyx is accrescent; at first it is of normal size, but after the petals fall it continues to grow until it forms a protective cover round the growing fruit. Because of the fruit's decorative appearance, it is popular in restaurants as an exotic garnish for desserts. If the fruit is left inside the husks, its shelf life at room temperature is about 30–45 days.”


I can’t wait to try one of these fresh given how delicious they are dried!

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One of the hydroponic Goldenberry plants has started to flower!  I’m hoping that it will pollinate and produce some wonderful golden berries.  When they are dried they taste like sweet and sour candy but are packed with nutrients and are considered one of nature’s “superfoods.”  I’ve been ordering them off Amazon for a few years now but they are becoming more expensive and difficult to get as their popularity grows.
I’m currently testing them under many different growing conditions as the high protein component alone makes them a great choice for sustainable living.  I’m testing them hydroponically in living peat moss, in self-watering grow boxes called “Earthtainers”, in home-made cedar water conservation boxes (seen at right), in grow pots kept in the greenhouse and outdoors and will put some in the ground next Spring.  Some type of little beetle love laying it’s eggs on these for it’s larvae to eat when they hatch so I have had to be diligent about checking the undersides of the leaves throughout the Summer and remove them or they will eat the leaves very quickly!
Here’s some nutrition info on them...

“The Goldenberry is high in protein - (approximately 16%) which is extremely high for any kind of a plant or fruit making them an excellent protein supplement for those who don’t care to get their protein from animal or meat sources.  Protein is vital to the development of tissues in the body among many things.  As we burn off energy, our bodies require protein to rebuild and make repairs throughout the body.
Goldenberries are high in Phosphorous – Aside from calcium, phosphorous is one of the most vital minerals in the body and necessary for the growth and strengthening of bones and teeth.  Calcium alone isn’t capable of building strong bones and tissue, as research has shown that phosphorous is needed to maximize bone-strengthening benefits.

Goldenberries are an Excellent Source of Vitamin A – Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that not only aids in keeping eyes, skin and mucous membranes moist but it’s also a potent antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals in the body.  These free radicals are capable of causing severe tissue damage.  It exists as beta-carotene in many plants which the body converts in vitamin A.

Goldenberries are an Excellent Source of Vitamin C – A water-soluble vitamin also known as ascorbic acid that is a potent antioxidant, required by more than 300 metabolic functions in the body including tissue growth, adrenal gland function, healthy gums, metabolism, etc.  One of the major benefits is that it can bind with toxic substances and certain heavy metals to render them harmless while setting them up for easy excretion.

Goldenberries are rich in Complex B Vitamins – There are numerous B vitamins that exist in the Goldenberry fruit (B1, B2, B6 and B12).  These complex B vitamins do a great deal to reduce stress, improve memory, improve energy and reduce fatigue, spur metabolism, relieve PMS and reduce the risk of heart disease.  They’ve even been shown to help the body burn fat and glucose off for energy.

A Delicious source of Bioflavonoids – Studies have proven that bioflavonoids possess antiviral, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine and antioxidant properties.  Essential, the Goldenberry can potentially help you correct a number of ailments if it becomes part of a regular diet.”


Plants are improving.  Tomatoes started browning around the bases to about 2 feet up so I pruned them out and they seem to be doing great!  The pruning also opened up the bottom area for some of the smaller plants I have growing next to them to get more Sunlight.  During the pruning back I discovered I have a pepper and several tomatoes on the way!  I pinched back the tops about 10 days ago to encourage them to devote more energy to reproduction vs. growth and this seems to have worked.  However they exploded with new growth that I neglected to pinch off in the past few days and are growing like mad at heights that will now require a new way to access them.  
The race to keep up continues... lol.
Cherry tomatoes on the south side of the greenhouse are taking off as well.  With the exception of maybe two plants, all the plants I’m attempting to grow hydroponically are not doing well.  I suspect that the living moss is absorbing most of the few nutrients that are available and/or the nutrient availability in the  water is simply not there yet.  As the fish grow and more nutrients for the plants are added things may change, but at this point many of the potted plants are doing pretty well and I plan to expand on the integrated design of some soil with constant access to nutrient-loaded water as I have in the potted plants.  Having the plants in pots also allows for flexibility in moving the plants when needed or desired without damaging too much of the root structure of the plant.
pH has been registering at 7.8 or so which is too high for some plants as well.  I’m investigating the idea of filtering water through dried peat moss to perhaps lower the pH while also providing some growth stimulants known to be stored in peat moss... namely humic acid and fulvic acid.  These are interesting molecules in that they chelate minerals and transport them into the roots (humic acid) and throughout the rest of the plant (fulvic acid).  Minerals are critical to many metabolic processes and deficiencies are quickly noticed in plants.  I will probably hold off on this however as I want to give the system a chance to mature and “find it’s own footing” before I apply system-wide changes involving chemistry.  Perhaps the pH will lower as time goes on and more nutrients are added to the system?

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Generally the different experiments I’m running with various hydroponic and quasi-hydroponic set ups is going well.  Curiously though are results in the sphagnum moss trough where I have two plants of the same type but strikingly different results.  One appears as expected with thick dark green leaves, but the other looks nutrient deprived as if it’s not getting enough iron (very pale with a yellowish tinge).  Also of note is that they are only about a half a meter (1.5 feet) apart.

Tomatoes are about 5-6’ tall now and I’ve pinched off the new growth at the tops of a some of them to try to stimulate flowering.  That appears to be working well as many of them are now flowering.  I don’t yet appear to have any tomatoes, but I just started manually stimulating them for pollination two days ago.  A few of the lower leaves of some of the tomatoes browned and curled a bit which could be a disease or pest issue or even nutrient deficiency (which wouldn’t surprise me given that I just got the fish two weeks ago so there’s very little nutrient load).

Nitrates = 0 PPM
TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) = 240
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Sphagnum moss beds are doing “ok”.  Better than I expected given the that there has been little to no nutrients in the system.  Nitrates =  0 ppm.
At left is a closeup of a broccoli plant growing only in moss.  No grow pot or soil.  It also has a little friend helping out with pest control.
Been having some difficulty with some green worms on the broccoli, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi... likely moth larvae of some kind.  If I catch them before they do too much damage they make a tasty snack for the toads or fish.
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Entire system is up and running.  Instead of moss as with the first set of narrow troughs above the fish tanks (photos above), I am experimenting with sand as both a filter and a quasi-hydroponic setup.  A tiered trough system is set up with a small fish pond at the top and a winding stream that goes around one level, waterfalls into the next and winds around that level and so on back to the fountain and drain.  
Instead of planting the plants directly in the sand, I put them in pots with organic compost and placed them strategically throughout the troughs.  So far, it has been working well, but I’ve discovered that mid-Summer sunshine is not very significant.  Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise though as it may keep the greenhouse from over-heating during mid-day and gives more light during early and late hours of the day.
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Hydroponics trough one is set up and operational.  Here are some pics and a short video detailing the status of the hydroponics...

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