Plant and Seed Exchange – Success!

When I started Three Acre Paradise one of the ideas was to host events (such as a plant and seed exchange) on the property that would encourage others to work towards similar goals of self sufficiency. Why do this? If we leave it up to corporate farms then we will lose many varieties of vegetables and herbs in favor of those that are easily harvested and store well for shipping. A lot of the best tasting and most nutritious fruits are not machine friendly or preserved easily so we are stuck with growing our own or settling for what the grocery stores will stock. We are also becoming overly dependent on the distribution system, a minor breakdown of any part could cause mass disruption (such as a trucking strike or exorbitant fuel prices). I’m not a doomsday prepper but I see a lot of value in staying connected with one of our most important needs, the fuel that feeds us.

 

Plant and Seed Exchange

The original plan was to start holding events in 2019 but recently I have met several people who said they wish there was something happening now. In May I started a meetup group for homesteading, the first event was to be a plant and seed exchange to be held here on the property July 1. The attendance turned out to be higher than I originally anticipated, we had a total of around 12 people show up (I expected half that) and had a good variety of plants.

Various potted plants

Besides the various potted plants, I set up a table for seedlings and seeds along with supplies for taking them home such as envelopes and markers (seeds aren’t visible here).

Seedlings and seeds

What’s the point if you can’t sample some of the goods? Since I grow a lot of peppers there was plenty to share. Nobody was brave enough to try them here but a lot got taken home.

Variety of peppers - Jalapeno and Thai Hot

If you are in the Brevard County, Florida area the next exchange will be in September. A date hasn’t been set yet but you can join the meetup group here.

Dragon Fruit Update

The dragon fruit which I originally wrote about here is doing fantastic. Keep in mind these were planted from cuttings around 9 months ago, they have reached the top of the frame and are starting to branch out. The top of the frame is just about six feet tall so the most aggressive plant has grown at about a foot a month, the others are just behind it. I do have a second frame that is doing good, just not as good as this one. The main two differences seem to be that this one is partially shaded and the soil a little dryer.

Dragon Fruit support

Here’s another picture of the top where you can see the plants are branching out:

Dragon Fruit branching

I’d say this has been the fastest growing perennial plant on the property, I do have another one that has exploded in size (Pigeon Pea) but I’ll save that for a future post. The Dragon Fruit has not fruited yet, hopefully this will happen within the next few months.

Fabulous Iced Tea

OK, now for a product pitch. If you made it this far you may as well continue! One of my goals is to stop eating out so much. We love eating from the land but old habits die hard. There’s also the challenge of my job, it requires a lot of travel so I’m on the road and don’t have any alternative but to eat at restaurants.

That being said, I still like to eat breakfast out every morning. Maybe it’s because we don’t have fresh eggs (chickens aren’t laying yet, the last batch got killed last year by dogs). Maybe I don’t like to clean up a mess, more likely it’s a combination of things. One thing I did figure out, since I’m not a coffee drinker I need my morning caffeine in another form which is iced tea. I’ve made iced tea at home but it just never seems to be as good as the tea from the local diner, at least until now.

Introducing ….. drum roll … the Glass Iced Tea Jug from FORLIFE (they use all caps).

FORLIFE Glass Iced Tea Jug

Yes, it is expensive but so is eating out. There’s several advantages to this over my old method of a tea ball into a pot of water. The tea strainer has tiny holes so the leaves do not leave it (pun intended). It also holds the leaves underwater so they all get to be part of the brewing. The glass is high quality, you can pour boiling hot water right into it. The strainer is easy to remove with it’s chain and hook. The bottom has a nice no slip silicon cushion and the top has a similar one with an opening for the spout.

Tea strainer closeup

My formula – 1 tablespoon of black tea leaves, add boiling water to just over the top of the strainer. Let sit for 20 minutes, remove strainer and fill with water to the FORLIFE logo. Add a spoonful of sugar and stir, since it’s still hot it will dissolve quickly. Pour over ice, put remainder in fridge. Viola! I have tea for the day and it tastes great.

Coming Up

This site is supported by referral links, by clicking on a link you help me out even if you don’t buy the product linked to. I appreciate any and all clicks! Hey, click this one for fun!

I’ve got some more good comparisons coming in future posts, many of these are around seed starting. Since they are just being started I’m not showing anything yet, I’d rather make the first post about each once there’s some results to show. In addition, I’ll be posting a series about my chicken coop build and improvements, it’s still a work in progress as I want to add a run and garden near it but the main coop is pretty complete. I’m always open to new ideas, if you have a suggestion for a comparison let me know.

If you are in the Brevard County or central Florida area consider joining the meetup. If you aren’t interested in exchanging through a group and would like to just trade one on one get in touch. Keep on sharing!

 

Hurricane Storm (Warning) Preparation

A Hurricane is Coming!

Last post I went through my hurricane pre-season checklist, this post focuses on what I do once it looks like we are directly in the path of a storm. The pre-season list is pretty generic and can be used by just about anyone with maybe a few changes, the pre-storm list is a lot longer and more specific for my situation. That being said, it may still be helpful and I hope it at least encourages others people to get a similar list together. Having a list such as this takes a lot of pressure and guesswork out of the process, once I’ve completed the items I can feel confident we are ready and I can focus on helping others get ready (family and friends).

When you create pre-season and pre-storm lists be aware they are starting points and will probably be revised as they are put into practice. I’ll present this one like I did last post, in numerical order and plus a summary at the end. The order of this one is important, I do things that have the least impact and disruption first and they are the easiest to undo (if required) if it the storm takes a turn away from us.

The List

1. Get cash

If you don’t already have a cash stash on hand then this should be the first thing, get to the bank or ATM’s before everyone else does!

2. Stock up

Although I’ve already stocked up on most things pre-season, this is the time to grab some  perishable items. We normally have enough food on hand for a couple of weeks but since there’s the possibility we may be hosting and feeding a crowd it’s a good idea to grab  extra. We’ve got the basics covered so these are things that are normally not in high demand before  a storm. The cover photo for this post is one I took last year of the Gatorade aisle at a local store, luckily that’s not something I’m looking for now. The items I get: meat, milk, salad mix, potatoes. I’m not worried about losing power to the refrigerator or freezer so these will be safe. I also stock up on dog, chicken, and pond food if we are getting low just in case the stores are closed for a while after the storm. The last thing on the list is salt for the water softener.

3. Fuel all vehicles and generators

This is another one to knock out pretty early on, lines at gas stations are only going to get worse and some may even run out of fuel and close. I make sure the cars, boat (can be siphoned for extra fuel), lawn mower, tractor, and generators are all fueled up in addition to all the fuel cans.

4. Start charging all devices

Charging can take a while, it’s best to start early on. The devices to charge are battery banks for phones, weather radio, gmrs radios, cameras, rechargeable batteries, and drone.

5. Put batteries in all lights

I store all the flashlights and stationary lights without batteries to prevent corrosion issues, this is the time to put the batteries in. I’ll leave them in for the remainder of the season then take them back out after the chances of a hurricane have passed for the year. See the Hurricane Season Prep post for my flashlight recommendations.

6. Put water bottles in freezer

I’ll put around a dozen water bottles in the freezer, these will be used in a cooler as one of the last get ready steps.

7. Wash all laundry

This may take a while so best to start ASAP. If we end up on generator power for a few days it will not be able to power the dryer. It could run the washer but there won’t be any hot water.

8. Fill water softener salt tank

Water filter system with salt tank

Since we are on well water we have a water softening system which consumes salt. I’ll top this off now so it’s not something I’ll have to think about for the next few weeks in case we are busy with clean up activities.

9. Clean up yard, secure all loose items

Patio chars and table

Everything on the list to this point is either pretty easy or something that doesn’t have to be undone if the storm changes direction. The remainder of the list becomes a lot more work to undo so I wait until we are about 12-18 hours from seeing storm force winds. Cleaning up the yard and securing loose items is done to keep potential losing these items or having them become flying debris that could damage the house or a vehicle.

10. Place flashlights, inverter, and generator in get ready position

Deep cycle battery and charger

I put the fueled up generator and a spare fuel tank as close to the running are where it will need to go but it will still be protected. When the time comes to use it I just have to wheel it outside, hook up the power cord and sire it up. The battery and inverter are placed near the main TV in the house and flashlights are placed in their designated locations (bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen). By the way, the Battery Tender float chargers are a great way to keep seldom used batteries (in or out of vehicles) in ready to go condition.

11. Move plants

If a planter can be fairly easily moved I put it in the garage or workshop for protection. I’ll move the most valuable first and if time permits I’ll move some of the others after everything else is done. An EarthBox loaded with soil and water is around 80 pounds, they aren’t going to blow away but the plants could be damaged.

12. Take down sun shade(s)

Shade cloth over garden

I’ve got sun shade cloth over the main garden, this has to be removed or it would act like a big sail and lift the whole frame. The pipe frame is weighted down with concrete blocks so that is left set up.

13. Remove exterior lights

Exterior pineapple light with glass

I take the glass off of all our outside carriage lights and hanging porch lamp since these are expensive and hard to find replacements for. I also remove the bulbs, when I reassemble these it’s a good time to clean them up and put some dielectric grease on the bulb threads. This is something that is smart to do on all bulbs and electrical connectors, especially outdoors.

14. Remove porch fan blades

Porch fan with removable blades

Very important! If you have fans on an outdoor porch you may want to keep this one in mind. My fans have blades that snap off pretty easily so it only takes a few minutes. I’ve seen many cases where fans blow around and either get damaged or damage the ceiling above them.

15. Put up storm shutters

Metal storm shutters on side of house

At this point we are pretty sure we are getting hit by some bad winds. These are a bit of a pain and take a few hours but are probably the single most important thing to do. If the storm doesn’t look like a bad one I’ll leave the porch shutters off but nearby so they can be put up quickly, if it’s a strong storm I’ll put them all up now. Here’s an additional picture of the porch with shutters installed and fan blades removed. We left one shutter panel off so we could see outside and get a little light in the house.

Metal storm shutters installed on porch

16. Put secondary water hose in place

Garage utility sink

If we can’t fire the generator up right away then we have no water, one of the drawbacks of having a well. I’ve got a secondary well that has natural pressure (artesian) so I run a hose from that well head to the utility sink in the garage and keep a bucket nearby. The spigot is opened but I put a valve on the end of the hose so it can be turned on and off at the sink. We have drinks already covered, this is used to manually fill toilet tanks.

17. Stage drinks and snacks to coolers

Igloo Polar Cooler (120-Quart, White)

This is the final item and done as the winds start picking up. Remember those frozen water bottles? They go in big coolers along with some ice and a variety of drinks. These are for use while power is limited, once the generator is up the refrigerator and freezer can be used again.

The Brief List

Here’s the same list in short form without comments:

  1. Get cash
  2. Stock up – meat, milk, salad mix, potatoes, dog food, chicken food, pond food
  3. Fuel all vehicles and generators
  4. Start charging all devices
  5. Put batteries in all lights
  6. Put water bottles in freezer
  7. Wash all laundry
  8. Fill water softener salt tank
  9. Clean up yard, secure all loose items
  10. Place flashlights, inverter, and generator in get ready position
  11. Move plants
  12. Take down sun shade(s)
  13. Remove exterior lights
  14. Remove porch fan blades
  15. Put up storm shutters
  16. Put secondary water hose in place
  17. Stage drinks and snacks to coolers

The Wait

The hard part is over, now is the time to wind down and relax. Hurricanes are mostly boring, if there are really high winds they usually only last a few hours. It can be hard to sleep with the wind howling outside so we usually end up watching TV or sitting around with a cold drink in hand.

We’ve been lucky, Three Acre Paradise is protected very well by a lot of trees. These aren’t just the ones on the property, most neighbors also have dense canopies over their yards. In 2016 we sat in the garage with the door open during the brunt of hurricane Matthew, in 2017 we didn’t put the shutters on the porch and stayed there for most of hurricane Irma. That’s not to say we couldn’t get a much more dangerous storm but I’m pretty confident in staying put for anything up to a category 4 storm and possible a 5. Evacuation would be difficult, there isn’t many ways out of the county and history has shown those routes get jammed up very quickly. I’d prefer not to join that mess and make it easier for people who have to evacuate to be able to get away (beachside communities, mobile homes).

If you find this useful please let me know, I don’t have an after storm checklist but if there’s interest I can put up my thoughts and what we have done in the past. Until next post, stay safe!

Hurricane Season Preparations

Getting Prepared

Hurricane season is here! I’m going to share my seasonal preparation list, this is the things I do at the beginning of the season. It’s a great feeling to know I’m ready when the warnings are given for this area, I don’t have to run around and scramble to find last minute supplies or hope the generator runs. Being prepared really doesn’t take much time or effort, just run through your list at the beginning of the season then a pre-storm list when warnings are given for your area. I’ll present the tasks I do as a numbered list with notes about each one. I’ve also got Amazon links to a lot of the products I use, I own and recommend every one of these with the exception of the cheap flashlights, as noted I get free ones from Harbor Freight tools.

The List

1. Fill all gas cans

I actually don’t have to run out and fill a bunch of cans since I keep them topped off all the time, If you plan to do this then come up with a way to keep the fuel fresh. What I do is put a colored tie wrap (zip tie) around the handle of the gas can – a different color each year. 2018 is yellow, when I use the contents of a can then I fill it up, place it back in storage with a yellow tie wrap around the handle and pull out a can that has not been filled this year. If I haven’t changed all the fuel near the end of the year I put the remainder in the vehicles and refill the cans. For additional protection I add a fuel stabilizer, this one for gas and this one for diesel and have never had a problem with stale fuel.

2. Fill propane tanks

Just like with gas cans, I try to keep these full all year. Propane has the advantage of not going bad, it can be stored indefinitely as long as the container does not leak. If you have multiple tanks as I do you may want to be careful how you rotate them, the tanks can only be filled for 12 years beyond their inspection date. After 12 years you have to pay to have it re-certified which may be more than the tank is worth. I always have them filled, not exchanged, as it is a cheaper and the tank will be filled all the way. The exception is if a tank is getting close to expiration I’ll do an exchange. One more tip, remove the plastic wrap your tank has one, it will cause the tank to rust very quickly. If you don’t have caps for the valves and you want a good way to track which are full then look in to using safety plugs.

Here’s my overkill method for storing fuel:

Fuel storage rack

It’s a propane storage rack I got off Craigslist.

3. Fill and test generator

I’ve actually got two generators now, one I bought in 2004 and a larger one that was on clearance at Sams club a couple of years ago. The older one has a Subaru engine and has worked flawlessly every year. I’ve used it for more than just power outages, when my house was being built it came in handy for running power tools.

STOW G-4.5R generator

When I saw the clearance deal at Sams it was a no-brainer – a 5.5 Kw generator that also had a Subaru engine for around $200 (the old generator is actually 3.7 Kw, not 4.5 as the label says).  At the beginning of hurricane season I take the generator out, fill it with gas, and run it under load for around half an hour. It’s nice to have a spare to loan out but even nicer knowing I’ve got a backup.

20 amp plug

Up until last year I used a 20 amp circuit to backfeed electric to the house, last week I finished installing a generator hookup panel. This installation will be shown step by step  in a future post, as well as the pros and cons of each method.

4. Test 12v battery / charger / inverter

A generator is great once the storm has passed but what do you do when the lights go out and it’s too windy go outside? I keep a spare 12 volt deep cycle battery for this purpose, it’s mounted in this trolling motor case to make it somewhat portable. I use this 600 watt inverter with it to power the TV and a few lights, we avoid opening the refrigerator until the storm has passed (drinks have been staged into a cooler).

5. Check battery stock

This is simply making sure there is enough fresh batteries for the flashlights and radios. These are kept separate from the everyday supply to ensure they are there when needed. After hurricane season passes they are moved to the everyday use bin.

6. Stock up on toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, cups, plasticware, foil

There is a possibility we will be providing refuge for 10+ people so I really don’t want to have to be washing dishes on top of everything else. Paper for everyone! And who wants to run out of toilet paper? I keep a case of each of these off to the side, after the season passes we return them to everyday use. Sams club is a great place for this (or Costco if you have one nearby).

7. Check tarp stock

Tarps do go bad! At least the cheap ones do, I still like to make sure I’ve got a decent variety of sizes available and that they are in good condition. Sometimes they get loaned out and not returned, when the roof is leaking that is not the best time to find out.

8. Stock up on food

I’ve got a shopping list for this plus some long term stores that can be used if needed. For the items that are replaced annually, be sure to buy stuff you like and will eat. I’ve refined my list over the years to include things that keep well and that will get used up post season.

9. Trim trees

Three main goals here. One, cut down branches that could damage structures or property. Two, remove branches or trees that could fall on power lines and three, cut down dead or dying trees or limbs that could become flying debris.

10. Check radios

This includes weather radios, Family Radio Service (FRS)  and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radios. This is just a quick functional check of these radios. The FMR and GMRS radios are great for keeping in touch with friends or family members, if you go this route then I’d suggest making a laminated card with instructions for whoever else may be using it. FMR radios are pretty simple but also limited, GMRS are a lot more usable but require a license (easy to get) and a higher learning curve. You could also look into an phone app such as Zello for keeping in touch but it does require an internet connection.

11. Check first aid kit and expiration of medications

To me this is one of the most important things. Last year I cut my foot pretty bad during a hurricane, this came in very handy. If you keep medications, even the over the counter variety, make sure they have not expired and replace if so.

12. Trash bags

I keep a full box of the heavy duty contractor bags on hand. These aren’t just handy for post hurricane cleanup, if you have a large group like we may then the trash can pile up pretty quickly. Remember all those paper plates we stocked? The link provided is an example but you can probably get them cheaper locally at Home Depot or Lowes.

13. Check emergency lights

This is more an inventory exercise to make sure all lights are present and accounted for. I remove batteries from most after the season so there shouldn’t be any corrosion issues. My lighting plan is simple, a portable flashlight for each group (couple, family, etc) and a stationary light for each room (one per bedroom, bathroom, great room, and kitchen). For portable flashlights I like these Dorcy lights  since each group can have their own color and they are extremely durable. You don’t need an insanely high powered light for walking around the house and yard and the batteries last a lot longer.

Dorcy flashlights

I use two different types to stay stationary, these Energizer lights and these Streamlight ones. The only reason for using the two types is the deals I got at the time.

Stationary lights by energizer and streamlight

I keep one other primary light, this Streamlight is a powerful spotlight that does double duty on the boat when we take it out at night. This is a very bright spotlight so I only need one. In addition to all the lights mentioned, I keep a supply of cheap lights around such as these (or use the free Harbor Freight ones, that’s what I do). I consider them throwaways but it’s good to have extras for kids or to just leave around.

The Brief List

I hope this list is helpful, here it is in a condensed form:

  1. Fill spare gas tanks
  2. Fill propane tanks
  3. Fill and test generator
  4. Test 12v battery / charger / inverter
  5. Stock batteries
  6. Stock TP, PT, paper plates, cups, plasticware, foil
  7. Check tarp stock
  8. Food stock – see shopping list
  9. Trim trees
  10. Check radios – weather, walkie’s
  11. Check first aid kit, check expirations of meds
  12. Trash bags
  13. Check emergency lights

Other Considerations

One other thing to note, I keep a lot of nails, screws, ropes, wood, and other building supplies on hand at all times so those are not included in my checklist but may be something for you to add if they aren’t readily available. Also, I’ve got pre-made metal hurricane shutters so those are ready to go at any time and don’t need to be inventoried.

Next post I’ll run through my pre-storm list, this is the one I go through if it looks like we are actually in the path of a storm. This list will be more specific to my property but the goal here is to give you some ideas, not necessarily provide a ready to use list for your own use. After that I’ll get back to some plant updates 🙂

 

 

 

Mulch-R-Us and Flea Market Find

Tonight’s post will be pretty brief, it’s been almost two weeks since my last post so I wanted to get something up and try something new.

Flea Market Find

First up, I’ve seen these a few times in the past and have been tempted to buy one but the price is a little steep. It’s called an AeroGarden, basically a self contained hydroponic system with lighting built in. They are primarily designed for people who don’t have much space but that’s not my purpose, I want to use it for starting seeds. They actually make a seed starting accessory for the system, basically smaller planting pods but a whole lot more of them in the same amount of space. Well, last weekend I found one at the local flea market for $20, and this included the seed starting kit! I’ll report back how well this works once it’s up and running.

Aerogarden bargain find

Mulch Delivered!

Last post I mentioned that a land clearing company had contacted me about bringing a bunch of tree chippings to the property – for free! How can I turn that down? The property is not ready for the bug mulch job that is planned once fencing and infrastructure are completed but hey, sometimes you have to take things when they are available.

Well, I’m happy and sad to say they did deliver (pictured at top of post). I’m happy because they did bring a lot of material for free. I’m not so happy because it was really low quality, more like tree chunkings rather than chippings. The chips are large and will take a long time to break down. A lot of it is mixed with dirt, this is a good thing as it is topsoil scraped from the land they were clearing. I’m sad because they wouldn’t deliver it to the back yard where I wanted it, they were afraid of their trucks getting stuck due to all the rain. They did deliver one load to the back, luckily this was actually the cleanest load so I’ll leave it in place to spread out as a path at a later time.

In total I got 10 loads, or around 200 cubic yards of material (I cut them off after this). My Kubota tractor has a 1/3 yard bucket, maybe 1/2 yard when I overfill it since the mulch is fairly light. This means it will take around 300 trips back and forth to move the chippings/mulch/sludge to the back, some will remain in the front. This is the reason for the late post – I still have around 40 yards to move but should be done by this weekend.

Here’s something new, my first video within a post! This is just a 10 second clip, it’s a video of one of the piles as I pull material from it. The material has started composting already and it is so hot it is smoking!

Next post I’ll be going over my hurricane preparations, with the crazy weather we have been having the last few years I’m hoping this may be useful for someone. Until then, stay dry!

Fencing, Dragon Fruit, and Grow Bags

This week I’m featuring three completely unrelated topics plus a bonus! The rain has finally eased up a bit although we still get an occasional shower but it’s nothing like the previous weeks, good thing so the fence installation could go on schedule.

The fence coordination required me to be around, I had to schedule it around work so it was a good thing everything went smooth. The installation company did a good job, I had confidence in them since they included a lifetime warranty. This part of the fence is just across the front of the property and goes forty feet back per side, the remainder will be a wildlife field fence.

fence_01

The installation included concrete at every post, that was a pleasant surprise. I went with the vinyl rail fence as it should last a long time, the lifetime warranty reflects their confidence in it. The gate across the driveway is aluminum, future plans include adding electric gate controllers (next year) and decorative columns (who knows when).

fence_02

It would have been nice to carry this around the whole property but that is cost prohibitive, also it really doesn’t offer any animal control so the front will have a secondary fence behind it to keep our dogs in. I’m not worried about deer getting across this as they tend to come in through the back where it is more wooded.

fence_03

Next topic – Dragon fruit (Pitahaya). Back in February I posted about the Dragon fruit holders that were built and installed in November 2017. It has been right around 7 months since they were planted and most of the plants are around 6-7 feet in length now and growing at about a foot per month. They are just at the point of going over the frame so it is starting to look nice and filled in.

fence_04.jpg

Once these branches grow over the support by about two feet it will be time to start pruning, this will encourage branching and new growth. As pieces are removed they can also be planted to get more plants started, I figure each support can handle six to eight plants. I’ve started using old cut up jean strips to support the branches, this helps prevent damage as it spreads the contact across a larger area.

fence_05

Now for the grow bag update, this is from the EarthBox vs Grow Bag Challenge. Once it was evident the EarthBoxes were way ahead of the grow bags and there was no catching up I decided to double the amount of water the grow bags were receiving. That turned out to not really matter as the sky also decided to open up for a couple of weeks so there has been plenty of water. Here is the EarthBox as it stands today:

fence_06

A lot of fruit has set in and I’ve harvested a few peppers from the plant on the right. Here’s the state of the grow bags:

fence_07

They are growing, but still far behind the EarthBox ones. In fact, they are still way behind where the EarthBox ones were a month ago. What about the tomato planted in 100% cow manure?

fence_08

It’s still the worst of the bunch. I really thought this one would do better.

Now for a bonus, I’ve been looking for good summer greens that grow well in the hot Florida weather. I’ve got a few that are working pretty good but this one has really stood out. It is growing in an EarthBox, in fact it is growing so well it has smothered the other plants that were in there. I have harvested it multiple times, it makes a great leaf vegetable for salads and is also good cooked like spinach.

fence_09

This is New Zealand Spinach. The plant you see has been cut down, harvested, and abused and it is still growing like crazy, it’s about 4-5 feet in diameter. This is one plant. If you are looking for a very productive hot summer leaf vegetable then give this one a try.

This coming week may be interesting, I’ve had a land clearing company get in touch with me and say they can bring several hundred cubic yards of tree chippings (for free!). This will be a huge leap forward in getting the soil built up, if it happens I’ll post some pictures next week.

One last quick note, if you are in the Brevard County, FL area I’ve started a local homesteading group, this will include at least a quarterly seed and plant exchange meetup. The details can be found at the link, I hope to see some people who follow the blog there!

Space Coast Gardening and Homesteading

Melbourne, FL
39 Members

This meetup is for people who want to become more self sufficient by reducing their dependency on commercial resources. The primary focus is on growing and raising our own foo…

Next Meetup

SCGH Plant and Seed Exchange

Sunday, Mar 3, 2019, 3:00 PM
2 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

Buying Plants and Interesting Property Finds

It’s been a busy week! For this post I want to mention some of my thoughts on the best places to buy plants then I’ve got some pictures of things that I’ve found on the property.

We spent last weekend in Minnesota visiting some relatives, while there we dropped by Walmart to do some shopping for a birthday party. I took a few minutes to browse through the nursery area to confirm something I have suspected for some time, the plants and seeds they were selling there (hardiness zone 4b, St. Paul) are almost exactly the same ones they sell here in Florida (zone 9b).

The big box stores don’t care if your plants grow. What they care about is selling you something, even if it’s not right for your area. I’ve noticed that many plant varieties sold at the home improvement stores are often for the wrong zone. I have a couple of suggestions to help avoid ending up with something that won’t grow.

First, take advantage of the guarantees offered by the big stores. Most offer one year guarantees, save the pots and your receipts and take them up on this if the plant doesn’t live. Second, try to buy from local sources. Nurseries will usually have plant better suited for your area and you can also find a lot of private sellers on sites like Craigslist selling plants they have propagated. Third, buy seed from mail order suppliers that offer more options and choose varieties that are better suited for your zone.

On to the next subject, interesting property finds. When we purchased Three Acre Paradise it was completely overrun by Brazilian Pepper trees, a big nuisance here in Florida. I wanted to keep as many of the good trees as possible so I spent around 6 months clearing the property which exposed a lot of interesting features. Some were removed or destroyed by the land clearing process but a lot still exist which I spent some time yesterday taking pictures of.

The first one here is an oak tree with a few dead branches. A majority of the trees here are oak and palm followed by pine. A lot of the oak and pine trees have dead branches which look really eerie at night when the moonlight shines through:

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The daytime picture isn’t nearly as interesting as a night shot but I haven’t had much luck getting night photos. A majority of the dead branches may be due to the trees being stressed when the land was filled in years ago. Some other damage has been caused by wind over the years, I’ve got a few palm trees which fell over at some point then continued to grow. Here’s a some examples:

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The next one is what I call the four sisters. It is four palm trees that grew up in an almost perfectly straight row. Maybe they were planted that way on purpose? I doubt it but it is strange:

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Here’s a man made oddity, an old fence post that an oak tree grew around. This is on the west property line, a chain link fence has since replaced the original barbed wire one. Three Acre Paradise was originally part of a larger property (to the east) and was divided out at some point.

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For more of a natural hug, here is a couple of trees that grew up around each other. I’ve got dozens of examples of these since the trees are so dense in some areas.

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Because of the dense cover, a lot of trees have grown up at odd angles as they try to reach for some light. Here’s one of many examples of these. Notice how they are all growing towards the left:

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I’m slowly thinning out trees as it makes sense, I want the new growth to be stronger and straighter so more things can be planted. I’m only removing and trimming as needed though as the trees have provided an excellent wind break during the hurricanes that have come through in the last two years.

This next one is man made, the remnants of a tree fort from who knows when:

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Whoever built it did a great job for the foundation to still be there after all these years.

The next four pictures are just some of the plants that were already here growing wild, there is some Wax Myrtle, ferns, and an unidentified plant that likes the wet areas:

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I’ve preserved as much native vegetation as possible while also improving the drainage and water retention of the property. I know that sounds like two opposing goals but the plan is to direct runoff water to designated holding areas so I don’t have to irrigate but still have high & dry areas to grow.

The last pictures are the most fun. These are a couple of things that were found while clearing the land, starting with a traffic light:

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Now, remember I mentioned the property was heavily overgrown? Prior to the purchase we walked around as much as possible but were limited due to the density of the plants, primarily the Brazilian Pepper trees. Here’s how dense it was, we never noticed this until after the purchase and the clearing started:

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Yes, that’s an airplane hiding in there. I’ts actually just the fuselage, a lot of parts were scattered around but no wings were found. I’d really like to know the history but none of the neighbors seem to know anything about it and they have lived around here for a long time.

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The plane will never fly again but it was reborn into a running vehicle, I gave it to a friend and he used it as a project with his sons to turn it into a parade vehicle. It now has the running gear from a golf cart and can be driven. Here is a picture of the plane as it was removed from the collapsing shelter:

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This week might be an exciting one, if all goes well we will have the front fencing installed (if the weather cooperates). My big goals for this year are to have the fencing in and the infrastructure for future projects completed, this would be all the underground water and electrical wires as well as grass borders.

Oh, by the way the first image isn’t from the property, it’s from the lake down the street. It’s a popular gathering spot for watching sunsets.

Until then, stay dry!

Aquaponics Filter Build

It’s raining here! Unfortunately it seems like we are either in a drought or flood, there hasn’t been any significant rain in a while and now it looks like a tropical depression has parked itself right over the state. Hurricane season is right around the corner. The good news for me, I finished the filter build and it has been tested prior to the beginning of this deluge.

Starting with this post I’ll be updating the format a little, I’m going to put a section at the bottom of each post with information and links to any items used within the article. I think this may be better than just having links throughout, if you want to help support this site please check out any Amazon links provided as I am on their referral program. I’ll link to other sites as well but I’m only affiliated with Amazon at this time.

On to the filter build, there’s a lot of plans on the internet for different types of filters but the basic idea is to capture and eventually remove large solids from the water flow. One of the most common is called a swirl filter, this is where the water is swirled to create a vortex to trap solids. My design started with this in mind but changed a little bit as that didn’t seem to trap enough, I wanted as close to 100% removal as possible with little maintenance.

The first step was to build a stand for the filter to sit on. While not very exciting of a build, it may help someone out so I’ll cover it here. I measured the height of the fish tank and filter tank to figure out the height of the stand so your requirements will probably be different, but basically the top of the filter is just below the top height of the tank (using gravity flow for the water). Next step, cut the legs and shelf supports using 2×4 lumber:

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For aesthetics and strength, I routed the legs so the shelves would be recessed into them. This also helps keep everything square.

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Nailed together shelf supports:

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Attached plywood to shelves:

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Screw shelves to legs:

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At this point I tested the height and made sure it was level in the location it was going to be installed. The pavers aren’t perfectly level so I figured how to orient the stand to be level and not wobble on the ground. Turns out I had to cut all the legs down by about an inch. You can see I also cut a hole in the middle, this is for the filter drain.

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The final step was to paint it so it has a fighting chance against the elements. I had plenty of leftover exterior green paint left so that became the color of choice.

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For the filter I had a 15 gallon tank that had previously been used as part of the water system for the house, a lot of designs use 5 gallon buckets but that just seemed too small. This tank had an opening on the top already but it was too small to work with so I cut around a ridge to make a larger opening but also tried to leave as much material as possible for strength.

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Here it is with the cut off part removed:

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Next I cut a hole in the bottom for the drain. I went off center to avoid a plastic seam.

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“MADE IN U.S.A” – awesome.  Bulkhead installed. I’ll put a link to the one I used at the end of this post.

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The drain is just a PVC quarter turn valve from Lowes:

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The aquaponic system doesn’t have any leaks and I want to keep it that way. Before going any further, a leak test:

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Next step is to cut holes for the inlet and outlet pipes. The inlet (from the fish tank) is slightly higher than the output (to the media beds) to allow for the gravity flow through the system.

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Uniseals installed. These are the most common types of seals used in home built aquaponic systems and for good reason, they work. Even if you have to go through a curved surface like this filter or a bucket they handle it with no problem.

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Don’t let anyone fool you, pushing the pipe through the Uniseal is not easy. I’ve found it helpful to bevel the pipe edge slightly and use some soap as the directions recommend. Once you get the pipes through they do a great job though and they are quick and easy to install.

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Here’s what the pipes look like inside the filter. The water coming in is to the left, it is directed near the bottom at an angle to start a swirl, then exits out the top.

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Here’s how it looks from the side:

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This design did work but the lighter particles still remained suspended and were getting through. One thing that I tried was to reduce the suction of the output flow by adding a pipe with holes. The idea was that this would break up the flow into more but smaller drains.

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This did help, but the lighter solids were still not settling into the tank, instead they would eventually find their way out. I tried adding some screening to this pipe but it would clog up in a few hours. I added some plastic fencing rolled up near the top of the filter to break up the circulation but that only helped slightly. The final solution? I filled the filter about 3/4 of the way with lava rock. Bingo! This works great.

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I know the swirl has been stopped but the results speak for themselves. The picture above is what the rock looked like after about a week of running, the debris at the top is actually algae growing but the water exiting is crystal clear. I left the additional filters in the media beds so I could see how much was getting through and with this setup it is very little.

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Now the very last problem to solve was that there was algae growing in the filter since I had left the top open. This was solved by cutting the bottom off of a large nursery pot of about the same diameter and holding it down with a bungy cored. Maybe in the future I’ll come up with something more elegant but for now this works.

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The filter has been in place for about three weeks so far and the water seems to be a lot cleaner. I have flushed the filter out weekly but it could probably go for a month or more between cleanings. One reason I’ve had to clean it more often is that raccoons have discovered the automatic fish feeder and have dumped the entire contents into the fish tank twice so far so that is something that will have to addressed right away.

Thank you for reading and if you want to help support this site please check out any of our Amazon links below or from the Product Links page. It doesn’t cost you anything 🙂


Links to products mentioned in this post

Lifegard Aquatics 3/4-Inch Double Threaded Bulkhead

Uniseal – best prices I have found are from  The UNISEAL Warehouse

 

EarthBox vs Grow Bag Challenge

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I like EarthBoxes, and I like grow bags. If you aren’t familiar with grow bags, they are basically cloth pots made from a durable fabric that is UV resistant. The advantage of a grow bag over a traditional pot is that the water drains out easily and the roots get lots of oxygen by breathing through the bag. I have found they work well with plants that don’t like too much water such as herbs. In my experience they work better for herbs than the EarthBoxes do, maybe I’ll do a comparison of that in the future.

For this challenge, I wanted to compare the growth of a pepper and tomato plant between the two. Before I get into the results, here’s how the grow bags were set up. I went through an EarthBox setup in the Aquaponics vs EarthBox post so I won’t repeat that.

Since the EarthBox is fixed in size, I wanted the grow bags to be similar in volume. EarthBoxes hold 2 cubic feet of potting mix which equates to about 15 gallons, since the EarthBox has two plants and each grow bag will only hold one I went with seven gallon grow bags (I’ve used this brand in the past and they have held up over the years). For the soil I used Miracle-Gro Raised Bed Soil since it is formulated for vegetables.

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each bag held just about a cubic foot of soil which was perfect.

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Now, just for fun I filled an extra bag with nothing but straight cow manure to see how a tomato plant would do in it.

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By the way, if you are using cow manure for any gardening don’t go for the cheap stuff, there is a difference. I’ll post some pictures in a future post proving it but one simple test will show you, put equal amounts of Black Kow and a cheaper brand in a pot or cup and spray down with water. The cheap brands are mostly un-composted wood fibers. Who would have thought that genuine cow poop would be so expensive.

Here’s a shot of the EarthBox and grow bags set up. I put them in an area where they would get equal amounts of sun. The grow bags are directly on the ground for this test and the EarthBoxes are raised up so they don’t get shadowed by the grow bags.

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I’ve been asked how to cut nice circles into the plastic EarthBox covers, here’s my solution. I use a can with a bolt attached as a handle and heat it up with a propane torch. It’s simple and easy and you can make a couple of different sizes.

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Next, I set up drip watering for each. The EarthBox gets a two gallon per hour dripper, each grow bag gets a one gallon per hour since they are half the size. The drippers run every morning for thirty minutes. I’d say the EarthBox has an advantage here as the water does not evaporate or drain out like it will with the grow bags.

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The last step is to put the plants in. For tomato plants I’m using home started Roma Tomatoes, for the pepper I’m using Lunchbox Orange from Bonnie Plants. I try to select plants that are the same size.

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Now for some results. Here are the tomatoes and peppers after one week, each shown side by side (EarthBox on left and grow bags on right):

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Tomatoes Week 1

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Peppers Week 1

Not much difference so far, the seedlings are just getting settled. Now for week two:

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Tomatoes Week 2

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Peppers Week 2

Boom. The EarthBox plants have taken off while the grow bags haven’t done much of anything. Week 3:

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Tomatoes Week 3

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Peppers Week 3

The EarthBox has once again reigned king. Now I know you may have noticed the yellowing leaves on the grow bag plants, this is most likely due to lack of water. For the next three weeks I have changed the drippers on the grow bags to two gallons per hour each, effectively doubling the amount they are getting now. That may or may not help since the bags are so porous. In the future I’m going to re-run this competition with some changes to the grow bag setups, details will be provided when that is started. I’ll post these plants again in three more weeks to see what has changed. Here is another view of the containers after three weeks:

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Oh and lets not forget about that extra plant, the one growing in the cow manure. how has it done? See for yourself:

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I’d say not so well, in fact it barely looks alive. I’ve upped the water on this one as well so maybe that will help, time will tell.

If you have any feedback or ideas for future comparisons I’d love to hear it! I do have a lot of things already planned but am always open to new ideas. One more thing, if you do any shopping on Amazon please consider clicking one of my affiliate links first, there is no cost to you and it helps support the site 🙂 A list of links can be found on this page, I try to update it with new products as they are shown and used on this site.

Over the past week I’ve been working on a filter for the aquaponic system and it is now in place, I’ll show the build process for that next week. Until then keep on planting!

 

Deer Control and Banana Circle Updates

It’s been 3 months since I planted the banana circles and I thought there hadn’t been much growth. This is one reason I created this blog, it’s a way of documenting the property build out and I can look back to see how far it has come. The bananas have grown a lot more than I thought, there’s also been a lot done to the circle themselves (here’s the original post).

There are two banana circles, I’ll call them the southeast and southwest based on their locations. Here’s there approximate locations on the property, note that the orientation of this is north down:

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Lets start with the southwest circle of Dwarf Cavendish. Here’s the before picture right after it was planted, note the almost dead looking banana plant to the left:

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And here it is now, that almost dead plant is the one to the front right:

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One big difference in this circle is that an additional mound of dirt was just added outside the previous circle. This was done since I built up the ground in this area up to the same level as the original mound, I didn’t want to move or replant the bananas so I just added an outer ring of dirt. Over time I’ll migrate the new banana pups to this outer ring. The original banana plants have not been moved so you can see that they have grown a lot and there’s a lot of new pups among them. I’ve also thrown some vegetable crops in with the banana plants, mainly Bok Choy, various beans, Daikon Radish, and sweet potatoes. When I do a six month update I’ll try to have the same orientation as this picture so it is easier to see the growth difference. It’s all part of the learning process for the blog 🙂

Now for the southeast circle of Hua Moa. Here’s the before:

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And current:

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The orientation of these two pictures are pretty close and it is pretty easy to see there has been a lot of growth. By the time I do a six month update this circle will also have similar changes as the other one, I’ll be building the soil up around it and adding an outer ring. The vegetables added to this mound are okra, onions, Daikon Radish, and some Roma Tomatoes (with a few Everglades Tomatoes thrown in). I’ll also be adding a third banana circle in the future but I haven’t planned out exactly where yet, probably in the front yard to give them some separation from these.

See the object in the picture circled in red? That’s the latest attempt at deer control. It is a remote motion sensor I picked up from Amazon (link). It’s designed as a driveway sensor, it included two remote sensors and a monitor for $25. It actually works very good and has good range, the house is around 150 feet from the sensor and there are walls in the way, the monitor still picks up the signal. The sensors have good motion sensing range, to mount I simply screwed them to some 2×2 posts that are stuck in the ground.

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The plan was that anytime the alarm goes off I would ping the deer with a pellet gun. It doesn’t hurt them, probably feels like a mosquito bite does to us. This worked, I would get waken up at night, go out and hit them with a few pellets and eventually they would go away. By the way, these green flashlights work great for sighting animals at night, they can’t see the green light but humans can quite well. Anyways, my hope was that they would get tired of it and eventually stop coming around. That part of the plan didn’t work, apparently they don’t learn their lesson and I got tired of being waken up at 3 AM so now the alarm stays off.

I’ve got one more plan to try for deer control, that is a large solar powered motion light mounted to a portable pole. I’ve tried some smaller motion lights but I think they just light up the buffet, maybe the big one will be more effective and moving it around may help confuse the deer. Other then that, I think fencing may be the only answer and is already planned so that may have to be the solution. Some people have suggested things like a rag soaked with urine, I really don’t want to have to deal with that. The other option of having deer fillets on the grill would work but I wouldn’t be too popular with the neighbors. I hear that Florida deer just taste like pine needles anyways.

Next week I’ll post the three week results of the EarthBoxes vs Grow Bags. Hope you have a good week and keep on planting!

Aquaponics vs EarthBox – 6 week (final) results

We are now six weeks into the Aquaponics vs EarthBox challenge and there’s no big surprises since the three week results. The EarthBox plants have grown huge, I’ve even harvested them a few times. The aquaponics plants have grown, not a whole lot in size but they have a lot more leaves but not nearly as much as the EarthBox plants. I had originally planned a three month checkpoint for this competition but have decided this will be the final update for this round. I’m going to do a few improvements to the aquaponics system then replant and see if I can get better results.

Here’s the EarthBox plants as of now. The first is the Chinese Cabbage, I’ve harvested these twice and they are still growing like crazy. For size reference the EarthBox is 29 inches wide. These two plants are dwarfing the box.

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Next, the Kale. This has been harvested once to make some Kale Chips and a few older leaves have been removed.

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Last, the Swiss Chard. I take a leaf here and there to mix in salads and cut off old growth when it starts to go brown. I’ve got Swiss Chard growing in several places around the property.

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Keep in mind these are all after six weeks of planting. The aquaponic system is working and growing but the EarthBox plants have just exploded. For the aquaponic results I’m just going to show each bed which has the same plants as the EarthBoxes (one of each per bed) plus a few other things. Media bed one:

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The Swiss Chard in the back left is not the one from the competition, that was planted earlier. For scale, these beds are 37 inches wide, eight inches wider than an EarthBox. Media bed two:

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The plant in the back center is celery that was a leftover core just stuck in the bed, it’s growing good and I’ll occasionally cut a stalk off for salads. Finally, the raft bed:

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Overall I prefer the media beds over the raft bed, the raft does have the advantage of being easier to clean.

Over the next month or so I’ll be adding a filter to the aquaponic system, covering the sides with something other than black plastic, increasing the fish load, automatic water level maintainer, and building a screen cover over the fish tank (I caught a raccoon fishing there one evening). I’m hoping to see better results and I’m sure there’s plenty of room for improvement. Surprisingly, I didn’t get too much hate mail from other aquaponic users but I did get a few that said the systems can’t really be compared.

Here’s my take on the results. For anyone starting out and just trying to get some vegetables to grow, go with the EarthBoxes (or GrowBox). They are fairly foolproof to set up and can get you some quick success. The cost to start up a single box is under $50 all in, including some seedlings. Annually, it runs around $1 to refresh the box (not including seedlings) and they should last 15-20 years. It really doesn’t pay to make your own, but I’ll still post a “how to” for that in the future.

Aquaponics systems have the advantage of a secondary output, the fish. You can eat the fish or raise decorative fish to sell at a profit. The downsides are a much higher entry cost, higher maintenance (you have to add trace minerals, keep it clean, and feed the fish), and a single problem can wipe out everything at once.

I hope some people find this useful, again I want to state I have not received any promotional materials or discounts from any manufacturer (or store). All of this is my own opinion, my goal is to just help others get the biggest bang for their gardening buck and I’ll continue to test and compare methods to show what has worked best for me.

If you like this post please like and follow our Facebook page to get the latest updates. The next comparison will be EarthBox vs Grow Bags for tomatoes and peppers, the planting has already been completed so I’ll post a three week update soon. Happy planting!