Chicken Coop Build – Final

Welcome to part three of the chicken coop build at Three Acre Paradise. Part one of the build focused on building the foundation for the coop, part two was the main framing. This post is about finishing touches and moving the coop into place, I’ll have some follow up posts in the future with the feeders and watering system (and a chicken run when I get around to building it).

As of the last post the coop has taken shape and has been moved outside as it got too tall for the workshop. The focus now is on features and trim work. In this picture, you can see a few trim boards installed and a couple of others cut and ready for staining. The trim is simply 1×4 lumber (and a few 1×6 pieces) screwed over the stapled edges of the welded wire. For future repairs of any part of the coop it shouldn’t be too hard as most boards are screwed into place.

Chicken coop trim

Inside the coop house I’ve put a divider board in to separate the chicken area from the storage area. The storage will be used for coop supplies and for the water tank for the automatic watering. This view is from the storage side which is approximately two feet deep and four feet wide.

Chicken coop storage

Here is the view from the chicken side. The opening this picture is taken from is the clean out doors, the nesting boxes are on the right, and the chicken entry door is partly visible in the back.

Chicken home

In both previous openings you can see the lip at the top and bottom, these are for the doors to fit flush against. This will help keep rain out of the coop and give the doors something to support against. I also added some welded wire between the hen house and open area of the coop, this is to prevent the chickens from trying to roost up there and potentially get stuck. The same opening to the storage side is blocked off with wood.

The coop is being installed in the shade of some large trees so heat should not be an issue.

Blocked chicken access

Next, here is the coop with trim installed. The small opening at the bottom will be a slide up automated door for the chickens to access their run during the day, more detail on that later.

Chicken coop trim

Now for the nesting box. I didn’t have a real good plan for this so it was designed as I went, one thing I’d do different next time is make the opening a lot bigger. By the time it was built I lost a lot of interior space so it went from a three nest design down to two. The first thing was to build some sides, these were made from thick plywood and attached directly to the coop.

Nesting box sides

I then added some 2×2’s around the bottom to support the floor.

Nesting box floor support

Then the floor was cut and test fit prior to staining and mounting.

Nesting box floor

With the nesting box floor in place, I made it so the back could be opened for cleaning. This took some trial and error but here is the result.

Nesting box access

Here’s the back flipped open. Note all hardware I used is heavy galvanized, no zinc coated stuff for this coop.

Nesting box opened

All is going good so far, next is the top. This turned out to be pretty challenging, I wanted to be able to flip it open and latch it up out of the way but that didn’t work out. Weatherproofing took priority so the end result is it can be held up most of the way or easily removed, but it is not hinged. I may modify this at a later time to make it easier to use.

Here is the top piece after being cut and stained. Note the grooves line up with the siding, the little details count!

Nesting box top test fit

Here’s another view, you can see it is difficult to make it weatherproof and easy to use. To make it so the top could flip up all the way would require it to be attached to the outside but I prefer it goes up into the coop so water won’t enter.

Nesting box construction side view

I put a trim board above the nesting box roof to further keep water out and for aesthetics. The latch to hold the top on was also added at this point. Note all hasps on the coop are twist to lock and if needed I could add something through the lock hole if raccoons became a problem. So far they haven’t.

Nesting box almost complete

A shot inside the nesting box showing how the back is secured (opens for cleaning).

Nesting box inside

Here is the nesting box with the top on and secured.

Nesting box completed

You may have noticed in a couple of the other pictures that the side door is on. This was built with a 2×4 along the back edge then 2×2’s on the other 3 sides. Some shelf bracket angle pieces (galvanized) in the corners help keep it square.

Chicken coop main door

The hen house clean-out doors and storage doors were made from the pieces that were cut out, that way the grooves in the wood lined right up. Here is the hen house doors mounted and partially stained.

Cleanout doors installed

These doors have a piece of 1×4 on the inside as a hinge backer and one door has one in the middle for support. Here you can see the middle piece clearly.

Coop door middle bracing

With the door opened you can see both backings.

Coop door backings

This is the coop clean-out doors wide open, it makes things a little more clear. At the top and bottom of the doors you can see how they fall into the lip on the coop to help seal. When closed, the doors are flush against the coop sides and blend right in.

This picture was taken before the nesting box was completed so you can see it in progress as well (right side).

Cleanout doors installed

This inside shot is after the nesting box was completed, you can see there was a lot of space lost due to the sides and roof of the nesting box structure. Bigger next time!

Nesting box from inside

Doors on, nesting box build, main door ready. We are almost ready to move the coop!

Coop ready for move

I mentioned earlier about a sliding door on the back of the coop, here is an inside shot of it. For now I can raise or lower it from the outside using a rope, in a future project this will be automated to open at dawn and close at dusk. The door will probably have to be changed quite a bit as it does not slide up and down too easily.

Chicken run access door

Now, how to move the coop. As usual, I tackled this problem when the time came so there was no real plan until then. The coop is way too large and unwieldy to pick up with just pallet forks on the tractor so the next best idea is to make a dolly.

I used some tires from Harbor Freight, the axles are just threaded rod, and these were attached with some angle iron drilled out. The dolly frame is a hodge podge of 4×4 lumber but it served it’s purpose well. I picked up the other end with the tractor and very slowly drove it to the new location.

Coop dolly

To retain better control, the heavy side was the one lifted by the tractor.

Coop dolly front

When the coop was straddled over the foundation, a little push from the tractor put it right in place. I used some concrete anchors and angle brackets to bolt it down, unfortunately there’s no pictures of those steps. Here’s what it looked like right after the move.

Chicken coop in place

You can see a few chips in the foundation from maneuvering the coop into place but none of them are too bad. This makes a good case for putting dye into the concrete, if that were done there wouldn’t be any need for touch up. All concrete projects I do now have the coloring put right in the mix.

Coop in position

Next step is to shingle the roof. I waited until after the move to do this to avoid damaging the roof and also reduce the total weight during the move. The shingles match the ones on our house, these are leftovers from when it was built.

Coop being shingled

Shingled installed, just need to do the ridge.

Coop shingled except ridge

The chickens were already placed in the coop but I noticed at night they all gathered at the hen house door. The interior of the coop is very dark so as an experiment I put a small light in there, that worked as the birds went inside.

For a more permanent solution, I added a solar powered led light. Here is a link to the one I used, I cut off all but one light from the string so the battery would last longer. The solar panel was mounted by the coop door which faces west.

Coop solar panel

Mounting the panel was simple as it already had a bracket attached, a few wire clamps hold it in place.

Coop solar mount

Wires were stapled along the interior:

Coop light wiring

A final wire clamp holds the lamp in place. This has been running for a year and a half now with no problem.

Coop lamp mount

In the future I’ll add a more elaborate solar power system to power an interior light, wireless video camera, door for the run, and water monitor but for now this works well.

Here is a picture inside the coop with bedding in place, note the retaining board added to the front to hold the shavings from falling out. That board is removable to make cleaning easier.

Coop house bedding

From this angle you can see how the retaining board and coop doors all line up when closed. The coop doors help hold the board in place, there is a beveled board attached on the inside to keep it from falling out.

Retaining board detail

Hangars for food and water were added to use until the permanent feeders and watering were set up, happy birds!

Coop food and water

So there you have it – the coop is fully operational. On this last picture you can see the small rake hanging on the back, this is used for cleaning and herding the chickens around.

Completed chicken coop

Most of the things I’d do different are around the foundation, it would be bigger (taller) and the whole thing would be on higher ground. It has held up well including through some of the worst flooding this area has seen but I’d feel better if it was about six inches higher up. The nesting boxes are smaller than planned but has not caused any problems for our current eight birds.

If I were to do it again, and I probably will make another coop someday, it will be made from concrete. I’d build it as a building that could be re-purposed later or divided up for multiple bird types. This coop cost around $1,500 to make, the one I’d like to have would easily be triple that. That’s a project for five years out, this coop will easily last that long and maybe ten years or more. At a year and a half old now there’s very little sign of wear.

If you are reading this and are in the Brevard County, Florida area please check our Facebook page for upcoming events. We host seed and plant exchanges at Three Acre Paradise a few times a year and also have other types of meetup events here.

Until next time, keep on planting!

 

 

 

 

Dragon Fruit Support – version 2

Back in February I wrote a post about building a dragon fruit support, then posted an update on their growth in June. What I didn’t show at that time is I’ve also planted a few random dragon fruit plants in the yard that are growing up palm trees instead of the supports. I thought they may really like the palm trees since the palms are fibrous and easy to grab onto with the dragon fruit air roots. This has worked well and sparked the idea for this project.

Dragon fruit growing up palm tree

The dragon fruit in the picture above is about seven feet high, one interesting feature to note is the segment length of the last growth. The segments growing on the other supports are at most two or three feet long, the one on this palm tree is about five feet. The disadvantage of this is that the dragon fruit plant will keep climbing the tree and the fruit will be unreachable without a ladder. How about combining the palm tree with a support frame?

This project involves cutting down a palm tree and using it as an upright support for the upper frame like from the other posts. I already have two extra upper support frames built so I won’t cover that here.

The first step is to find a victim, I mean volunteer palm tree. There’s plenty of these at Three Acre Paradise, I planned on thinning the palms out over time as other trees become established. The volunteer needs to be healthy and vertical, as a bonus the one selected is in a place where I need to get some more light through for some new plants. First step is to cut off the upper section, let’s begin by cutting a notch out to control the direction of fall:

Palm tree with wedge cut out

Next, start cutting on the opposite side just above the notch. I took a picture of where the cut is then continued cutting until I heard the tree creaking:

Palm tree backside cut

And boom! The tree fell exactly where expected. This was an easy one since the tree is very straight and there was no wind. If I wasn’t this confident I’d use some ropes to control the fall and the tractor to push it over.

Palm tree felled

I cut it a little high knowing that it wouldn’t be clean, one more quick cut and the top is straight and level.

Palm tree top cut level

Next is to cut an X into the trunk to set the support top in to. This was a little bit of a challenge, the palm trunk is very fibrous and can’t be knocked out like a hardwood notch. I used the saw to cut as much as possible including at an angle to loosen the remaining pieces.

Notching palm tree stump

Once the cuts were made I used a hammer to smash down the remaining fibers.

First palm notch cut

Next, the cross cut to form an X. Turns out I had to make all the cuts a little deeper than what was done on the first pass. Here’s the result:

X cut into palm tree stump

Now for the test fit of the support top:

Test fit of upper support

All good! The top sit pretty tight and level but it still needed to be secured better. I used the palm pieces that were cut out as wedges and drove a couple of heavy nails in to make sure it stayed put. The result is very secure, if there is rot or shrinkage over time it should still be OK as the dragon fruit will be draped over the top by then and will be  weighing it down.

Nailing and wedging support into palm trunk

Here’s a close up of the scraps wedged in:

Scrap wedged into palm trunk

The final step, planting the dragon fruit around the base. I had four plants that were already rooted so they should grow pretty quickly. I mixed in a lot of Black Kow with the existing soil, this formula has worked well in the past.

Dragon fruit planted around palm trunk

Here’s a shot of the whole thing:

Dragon fruit and support

I don’t like to waste any material including trees cut down, for palms I cut the trunk into pieces to use as markers for new planting areas. The top will be left to rot in a mulch pile. To cut the trunk I use the tractor to support it off the ground:

Tractor supporting palm trunk

Then cut the trunk in to various lengths, between eight inches and two feet.

Palm trunk pieces

Besides being great border pieces, they also become home for insects and plants. In this picture they are around a newly planted Jamaican cherry:

Palm trunk pieces as border

I’ve got high hopes for this batch of dragon fruit, besides the palm trunk the location is similarly shaded like the other grouping that is growing well. I’ll post updates of all of them in a couple of months and hopefully there is some flowering by then.

The chain saw I use is a battery powered on by Echo, model CCS-58V4AH. Most of my lawn tools are the battery powered Echo series, they work great except for the pruning saw extension (it’s not recommended for the battery powered model but I tried anyways). I was able to make all the cuts shown in this post on a single battery charge although I do have a second battery for backup.

Next week I’ll show a neat way to propagate plants using a cloner. I’m always open to suggestions for future posts, if you have any ideas or want more detail on anything I’ve done please let me know. Until next time, keep on planting!

 

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
3 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…

Check out this Meetup Group →

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:

ap_filter_01

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

ap_filter_02

Nailed together shelf supports:

ap_filter_03

Attached plywood to shelves:

ap_filter_04

Screw shelves to legs:

ap_filter_05

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.

ap_filter_06

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.

ap_filter_07

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.

ap_filter_08

Here it is with the cut off part removed:

ap_filter_09

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

ap_filter_10

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

ap_filter_11

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

ap_filter_12

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

ap_filter_13

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.

ap_filter_14

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.

ap_filter_15

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.

ap_filter_16

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.

ap_filter_17

Here’s how it looks from the side:

ap_filter_18

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.

ap_filter_19

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.

ap_filter_20

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.

ap_filter_21

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.

ap_filter_22

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

 

Upcoming Projects

Last week I posted my views on homesteading, prepping, and self sufficiency which are all goals for Three Acre Paradise. While those are all part of the big plan, there’s also some other things that are very important when working towards these. Low maintenance, aesthetics, and convenience are all key items. I like to build things so they don’t require a lot of work to maintain, otherwise I’d be spending my time with weekly chores rather than enjoying the property and working on new projects. They must fit in and be pleasing to look at to help create a relaxing and low stress environment. That’s what Paradise is all about.

Here is an overhead view of the property as it is today. The house, pond, and workshop are in the middle, the main road at the bottom and driveway leads up to the house and shop. The red border indicates the property line. The width of the property is about 230 feet, the depth is 550 feet.

property_plan_00

The top priority right now is to get the property fenced. I’ve had a lot of trouble with deer eating just about everything from the smallest plants to the larger fruit trees. They have chewed down vegetation, scraped bark off trees, and trampled through sensitive gardens. Secondary, the fence will keep our small animals in and others out. We have three small dogs and a flock of chickens that all seem attracted to the woody areas where predators like to hide. We’ve also had the neighbors dogs over feasting on the chickens, fencing should cure these problems. The first step is to fence the front and put up a gate, that has been contracted out and should be done in the next few weeks. The yellow lines show the approximate area for the this:

property_plan_01 - Fencing

Here’s what it looks like along the road. I’ve made sure the area is clear and level so the fence company shouldn’t run into any problems.

property_plan_02 - Fencing

The fence along the front will be a three board split rail made of vinyl, similar to this:

property_plan_03 - Fencing

The gate will be aluminum and eventually automated. Since the split rail does not keep smaller animals in or out I’ll have to put another layer of fencing behind it. This will be the same or similar to what is used on the remainder of the property. The only part that will remain un-fenced is a section along the back where there is a utility easement.

property_plan_04 - Fencing

The easement will allow animals (such as the deer) to easily pass between properties such as they do today and hopefully will keep them from thinking they have to jump over the fence. There’s already a good collection of wildflowers growing in that area, I’ll probably add seed for some other beneficial plants. I can’t put any trees back there in case the city has to dig to access the buried water main. Here’s what that area looks like today:

property_plan_05 - Fencing

The dirt mound is a raised and cleared path for the future fence, the utility easement is to the right. Since the neighbors yard behind me is fully fenced this access path is pretty important. The fencing that will be used will be a field fence such as this:

property_plan_06 - Fencing

Once the fencing is complete the focus will be on a new garden area. Here is where it will be on the property:

property_plan_07 - Garden

The garden will be approximately 40-50 feet per side. There will be a pergola running down the middle with supports to help with plants that like to be trellised. The garden area will also be fenced so there will be two layers of protection from larger animals. An electric wire will help discourage the smaller ones from climbing in. Here is what that area looks like today, it has already been cleared and prepped:

property_plan_08 - Garden

Next project will be a potting house on the pathway to the garden (PH on this drawing):

property_plan_09 - Potting House

This will be a work area for planting seeds and storing gardening supplies. I’m also thinking of adding a sitting area on the side facing the pond just as an area to relax. This area has also been prepped:

property_plan_10 - Potting House

Once the garden has been moved the old garden location will become a carport. I’ll have a concrete slab put down and a metal carport cover put in. This will have two parking places for whatever extra vehicles we have at the time (CP on drawing):

property_plan_11 - Carport

We could also use the carport area for parties and gatherings, it’s nice to have some additional shaded area due to the sun and unpredictable rains. This is what the garden looks like today, it has a shade cover and everything is planted in containers:

property_plan_12 - Carport

Yup that’s a lot so far, but the biggest stuff is done at this point. Timeline for these is by the end of 2020 but hopefully sooner. After these I’d like to build a fire pit and picnic area with paths leading to them (FP and PA):

property_plan_13 - Fire Pit

One more overhead to go, this one is pretty all inclusive. What I’ve added here is the current chicken coop on the left about mid way down, current aquaponic system behind the shop (AP), and a bunch of poorly drawn squiggly lines. Those lines are the approximate edge of the grass to natural areas. Basically, there will be grass parallel to the driveway, around the house, and partially around the pond. Everything outside that region will be gardens, food forest, walking paths, and other small coops or structures. The grass along the driveway will provide parking for when we have a lot of guests over.

property_plan_14 - All

There are a few other things to be built but I haven’t pinpointed the locations yet, this includes a quail area, tractor shed, mulch bins, and aquaponic expansion.

Some of the other projects that are planned are expansion of the solar power system, battery backup, antenna tower, shop storage, aquaponic improvements, seedling start experiments, growing microgreens, and more growth comparisons (EarthBox, aquaponic, grow bags, raised beds, in ground, others).

For more fun, I’ve got some ideas for a “live off the land challenge” where I consume only what the property produces for a day, three days, and eventually a week. Planning for these are still in the works but I’ll post a timeline soon.

Stay tuned for next post in a couple of days, a six week check into the Aquaponic vs Earthbox challenge!

Dragon Fruit – Frame Build and update

White dragon fruitIf you’ve never heard of or seen a dragon fruit (pitaya) then you don’t know what you are missing. This unique fruit tastes great and is really easy to grow in the right climate, here in Florida it does quite well. I was introduced to the fruit about a year ago at a farmers market, we purchased a few to take home and I was hooked. The fruit can be cut open and the insides scooped out with a spoon to eat directly or used in a recipe. Once mine produce fruit I’m going to experiment making a drink from it.

Building a Support

Dragon fruit plants must be supported as they grow and can get quite heavy, up to hundreds of pounds. Typical frames are built around 5 or 6 feet tall to allow easy access for harvesting. For my build I chose to use 8 foot tall 6×6 lumber as the upright support and buried it in the ground around 30 inches resulting in a 5 1/2 foot height. The branches of the support are made from 2×6 lumber and are 6 feet wide total. To save a little money I purchase 12 foot long pieces and cut them in half.

I built these frames in late October 2017 and planted the dragon fruit in early November. First step in prepping the 6×6 uprights was to cut 5 1/2 deep notches in the top to accommodate the 2×6 branches. Here’s a picture of just getting started, notice the saw can only cut a couple of inches deep.

Dragon fruit wood frame

Here’s a picture of the tops cut as far as I can with the hand held circular saw.

Cutting top of dragon fruit frame

Once those cuts were complete, I used a reciprocating saw with a long blade to complete the cut all the way through the wood.

Notches cut in dragon fruit frame support

A hammer and chisel made it easy to bust out the unwanted parts and clean up the cut area.

Dragon fruit frame notches removed

When I took these pictures I had no idea they would end up in a blog post so there’s not as many as I would like. The next step is to notch the 2×6 pieces in the middle so they fit together then they will be placed in the cutout just made. I also cut the ends at an angle and gave them a curve (used a paint can for template) to give it some flair. Here they are assembled.

Dragon fruit support

A closer view of the end detail. Nothing too fancy.

Dragon fruit support detail

And a closer look at the top of the support.

Dragon fruit support frame

I now added some 2×4 supports diagonally across the support arms. This assembly was not secured to the upright posts, they are heavy enough to just be placed on top once the 6×6 post is buried in the ground. If all goes well these will support the plant as it grows up and through (top view).

Dragon fruit support top

I built a total of two of these and placed them in opposite corners of the property. This is a strategy I use with a lot of plantings, spread them around in case one area has better conditions and as a backup in case the other gets sick or dies. Here is a view of the installed support in the back area.

Dragon fruit support installed

Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures right after planting. When planting I dug out a hole for each cutting and filled it with a combination cow manure and compost along with the cutting. I then placed mulch around the whole thing to keep weeds down and help lock in moisture, but kept the mulch from directly contacting the cuttings or post. The cuttings were all bought off Craigslist from two different people so I would get some variety.

Here’s their growth after just a little over 4 months after planting. It took them about 30-45 days to get rooted and begin sprouting so most of what you see here actually happened in the last 2-3 months.

Dragon fruit growing on support

All cuttings were single stems so everything else is new. I’m pretty impressed with the rate of growth, especially considering they have only been in during late fall to late winter. We’ve had a few cold days and maybe two below freezing but otherwise it’s been pretty mild so that has probably helped. Here’s a picture to see how high they have grown.

Dragon fruit climbing support

As you can see they’ve more than doubled in height, at this rate they may be through the top in another 4-5 months? In any case I’ll post an update in about another 4 months. Here’s one more picture so you can see the height at a different angle.

Dragon fruit climbing support post

So far I am happy with the support system but it really isn’t doing much yet. It seems very strong and stable and I didn’t use any concrete to hold the base in place, the 6×6 post has a lot of weight so that may help. If it turns out to work really well I’ll probably build two more and at that time I’ll create detailed plans for anyone else that wants to use the same design.

Happy planting!

 

Aquaponics System Build – Final Steps

Now that the aquaponic system is all plumbed up and leak tested, it’s ready for the last few steps so I can start adding fish and plants. The first step is to get a baseline reading of the water – the critical measurements being pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. For a properly running system you want a pH to be around neutral (6.8-7 is a good range), ammonia and nitrites at 0, and nitrates around 20 ppm. If the nitrates are too high it is bad for the fish and too low won’t provide food for the plants. One of the most popular kits for water measurements for aquaponic systems is the API Fresh Water Master Test Kit. The readings were all good since the water was new, the pH a little high but as expected for a new fill up and nitrates were 0 since there hasn’t been any activity into the system yet.

Now that I had a water baseline, time to start adding media to the grow beds. I’m using expanded clay since I got it as part of the deal with the system, there are less expensive alternatives if you are starting from scratch. While adding them it was interesting to see that some sink right away and some float (bed to the right).

Filling aquaponics media beds

With the media added I was curious what the water readings would be after running for a day. The media had been used in a system previously so what effect did this have on the water? To my surprise and delight, the ammonia and nitrates were still zero but nitrates were at 30 ppm. This being the case, I went ahead and dropped some starter plants in to take advantage of it and get a jump start on balancing everything out. I also added some filter material into six inch net pot cups to act as mechanical filtration from the fish tank.

Aquaponic media beds ready

Next, I added an aerator to the system. It’s debatable whether additional aeration is needed with all the water splashing around already but it certainly won’t hurt. For this I selected the Aquascape 75000 Pond Air 2, primarily because it is the right size but also since I have had good luck with a larger Aquascape pump that has been running in my larger pond. For just a few extra dollars you can get the extended warranty through Amazon, in my opinion it was worth it. This aerator came with 2 separate air stones and plenty of tubing. The first stone was placed in the sump.

Aquaponics air stone

The second air stone was placed in the fish tank, and the aerator itself was put under the fish tank on the ground. A future project will be to make a weatherproof box to contain all the electrical items and a backup power supply.

Aquaponics Aquascape aerator

I also added a 250 watt heater to the fish tank. I’ll add a second one before winter next year but for now I think we are past any really cold days. I’ve chosen to stock the tank with Tilapia which can die out if the water goes below 50 degrees so it will be important to have some redundancy. Once the heater and aerator were set up the Tilapia were placed in the tank, around 35 total of various sizes so they can be harvested at different times.

Now there’s fish and some starter plants in the media beds, time to build a raft for the remaining grow bed. The board of choice is the DOW 2″ Blue XPS styrofoam board. If you can find it locally it will be a lot cheaper but unfortunately I couldn’t and couldn’t order it from any of the big box stores. The nice thing about the way i got it was that it was 2 smaller pieces so cutting to fit wasn’t very hard. I started by trying to use a foam cutting tool (looks like a soldering iron) but that turned out to be too slow and didn’t make a very nice cut. A battery powered circular saw was the better choice.

Sizing aquaponics raft bed

After the initial fitting the next step was to cut holes for the fill and drain. When drilling holes using a hole saw make sure to extend the center bit out so it pokes through the other side.

Drilling aquaponics raft bed

Most hole saws aren’t deep enough to go through all the way so you may have to flip the foam over and finish from the back side. Having the center bit poke through helps with alignment.

Test fit of aquaponics raft

Next, measuring and cutting holes for the net pots. I used 3 inch pots and from research it seems having 8 inches of spacing was the minimum suggested. Here’s a look of the layout I used, no actual measuring as I figured it didn’t have to be perfect.

Laying out aquaponics net pots

Once you have the layout, just use a mark the locations with a sharpie. To cut the holes I used a 2 7/8 hole saw that I got locally at Ace Hardware. The big box stores didn’t carry this size in stock. I tested using a 3 inch hole but the pots weren’t very tight.

Drilling holes for aquaponic net pots

This step is optional but I want the system to look good and hopefully extend the life of the foam . I painted the foam with a white latex exterior paint, one coat over most of it and 3 coats on top. I let this dry for several days before risking putting it in the system.

Painted aquaponic rafts

Last but not least for now, I wrapped the raft bed and fish tank with black plastic. This should cut down on algae growth. My original plan was to build wooden frames around the tanks but when pricing the cost of lumber that idea took a turn. The plastic will work for now and I’ll keep an eye on Craigslist for some free scrap fence panels or pallets that can be re-purposed for this.

Aquaponic beds ready

One final picture, a closer view of the raft once installed.

Aquaponics raft bed

Next I’ll be adding plants to the system. As time and materials allow, I’ll build nicer covers, a protective cover over the fish tank to keep birds and animals out, an automatic fish feeder, a backup power source, a box to house the electrics, and a shade cover over everything.

I’ll post monthly updates on how this system is doing, but for now I consider it a success. Happy planting!

Aquaponics System Build – Tanks and Plumbing

With the holiday season over it’s time to get back to building, and the rush is on to get things ready by spring. We experienced a setback in late December, a neighbors dogs got loose and killed all of our chickens. That being the case, I’ll document the process of raising them from chicks when we get new ones in February or March. I’ve also made a lot of other progress on the property, we are getting ready to start the first phase of fence and have started a couple of banana circles which I’ll show in a future post. For not, the focus is on the aquaponic system.

The system was originally going to be a three grow tank system with media beds, I’ve switched that to two media beds and one floating raft system. Last post showed setting up the pad for the system, now I’ll go through the assembly.

The Layout

First thing to be done is place the sump and tanks together. I’m starting with a simple setup, the fish tank will overflow into the grow beds, they will dump into the sump, then a pump in the sump will return the water to the fish tank. Here’s an amateurish drawing of the plumbing:

Sump based aquaponic system

The system does not have any additional filtration at this time, I’m hoping the sump and floating raft bed act as settling tanks and I’m also using some filter material in the media beds to grab any solids. There are some system designs that are probably better than this, one uses the pump return to feed the grow beds and fish tank so each subsystem can be isolated for cleaning or maintenance. For now, this will do and I can always change it later.

The Build

First step is to lay out the sump and grow beds to get their width so I can set up supports. I wanted the grow beds to be as low as possible to get good flow from the fish tank overflow, in the end I had to raise the fish tank anyways.

Blocks for aquaponic support

Once I had the width and depth figured out it was time to put support boards on. These are 12 foot long 2×10’s.

Aquaponic tank support

Next, put the grow beds on.

Aquaponic tank installation

Before getting too far, checking for leaks and testing the bell siphon.

Aquaponic leak testing

Here’s the underside of the center tank where it dumps into the sump. Yes, it’s a little dirty but I’ll clean it all up once assembled.

Aquaponic sump detail

The bell siphon test was successful, so I placed all the tanks and plumbed everything up.

Aquaponic tanks

A view of the fish tank.

Aquaponic fish tank IBC

Back side of the grow beds.

Aquaponic tanks plumbing

Here’s one of the spouts the feed the grow bed. I didn’t glue these connections so they can be adjusted or moved around as needed.

Aquaponic fill spout

Testing everything, success!

Aquaponic tank layout

And a final view of the raft bed.

Aquaponic being filled

So far everything seems to be working good. Next I’ll add the media to the grow beds, build the raft, and add aeration and a heater to the fish tank. If everything goes as planned I should be able to start planting early March. Time to start some seedlings!

Happy planting!

Aquaponics System Build – Base

I had planned on eventually building an aquaponics system but it wasn’t a priority – until there was a deal on eBay that was an absolute bargain. It’s a good size for starting out, has 3 grow beds and a fish tank made from IBC containers. Now I have this system sitting on the driveway waiting to be installed so the priority has gone to the top of the list.

The location needs to be near a power source and raised up to avoid any flood areas, I’ve got a good spot behind the workshop that is built up and fairly flat. I didn’t want to put it directly on the ground so I’m using a bunch of leftover materials to make a pad approximately 11′ x 13′ (canopy will be 10′ x 12′).

The first step was laying out the shape and leveling the edge boards in place. This will be a temporary setup (2-3 years?) so I didn’t want to concrete the pavers in place.

Aquaponics pad squared

Next, added paver base at about 2″ depth. Normally this would be deeper but again this isn’t a permanent setup and the ground underneath is very well packed down. This was just about a cubic yard of material.

Aquaponics pad with media base

Started tamping down the paver base by hand, eyeballing level to try to get it as close as possible to be 2″ below the top (height of a paver).

Aquaponics pad media base leveling

Finished tamping. A good workout.

Aquaponics pad media base levelled

Made a screed board, spaced a 2×4 under another using 1/2″ pieces of plywood.

Screed board design

Laying in the pavers a row at a time. I used a simple alternating direction pattern. Not fancy, but I didn’t want to cut any pavers so they can be reused again.

Aquaponics base paver installation

All pavers in place.

Aquaponics pad pavers complete

Brushing sand into the cracks. I had a bunch of sand left over from the last chicken coop clean out.

Sanding pavers on aquaponics pad

And the finished product. Now I just need to clean up the area around it. I’ll start the aquaponic system build in the next week or two.

Aquaponics pad completed

Until next time, keep on planting!