I’ve previously blogged about building a dragon fruit support, these have worked well and I now have a total of four in the yard (one is on a palm tree trunk). I’ve also given a few to friends and relatives since building several is only a little more work than building one.
In this video I cover the materials and tools needed plus the build process itself. It’s a bit long so I sped up parts where I’m using power tools and this also reduced the noise.
The most difficult part is notching the 6×6 post, if anyone has suggestions on making this easier I’d like to hear it. In the meantime, let me know if this was useful.
Have you ever planted a bunch of stuff then forgot what was where? Maybe not if you are new to gardening but that day is coming. I quickly learned the value of labeling everything that goes into the ground unless it is absolutely unmistakable. It’s also handy for when spouses or friends go roaming around so they don’t have to ask what every single plant is. In my case, I’ve got hundreds of things planted around three acres so there is no way I could remember everything.
The challenge I had was to find an inexpensive but durable way to label things as they went in. A lot of plants die off so the labels need to be able to be reused and easily changed. Metal and wood products are out, they simply don’t last very long in the ground here or are too expensive. Oh, and one more thing, my handwriting is awful so I want to be able to print them out.
The solution came bits at a time but I now have a system that works and holds up for years. I make plastic labels, print adhesive labels to go on them, then fasten them to plastic covered stakes (solid plastic or fiberglass stakes are very expensive).
For the plastic labels, I tried several different things and finally found what I believe is the best solution for the price. I use plastic rain gutters, they sell for around $5 at Home Depot or Lowes for a ten foot section.
These gutter sections are thick plastic and UV protected. They are designed to last for many years in direct sun and weather extremes so are ideal for this purpose. You can make around three hundred labels from a single piece.
It may be hard to tell from the photo but these are thick! They also have several flat surfaces which can be cut for the labels. I don’t like to waste but I think the longevity of these makes up for the plastic that will be disposed of. To make it easier to work with, I cut these into shorter sections first (around two feet) then use heavy tin snips to cut out label blanks.
The blanks are about an inch high and three inches long. Once I have a bunch of blanks cut, I use a soldering iron with a big tip to make a hole in one end of each. You could also drill a hole but I think melting one through keeps the label stronger.
The holes get a little dirty and messy from the iron getting crud on it but that usually scrapes right off.
I’ll prep a whole bunch of blanks at once then do the finishing as they are needed.
To finish, I print a label from a Brother label maker, I strongly suggest getting one that includes an AC adapter as these things can eat batteries.
I haven’t had any of these labels fade out from the sun yet, the ones that are two years old now actually look as good as the day they were printed. If you use the genuine Brother tape refills it would be expensive, I use a generic version of TZ tapes. Using a 1/2 inch tape holds two lines of text nicely.
As you can see above, for a finishing touch I like to clip the corners and trim the label. Trim it pretty close to the hole so when tie wrapped to a stake it doesn’t try to wrap around. I like to use the short plastic coated stakes from Lowes, the three foot ones are right at a dollar each. For temporary applications I’ll use bamboo stakes but they only last about a year.
Of course you can put several labels on each stake to save even more cost, I do this when plants are close to each other. I hope this is helpful for someone, if you have any other great ideas for labels please let me know!
Shopping from my links helps support this site and doesn’t cost you anything 🙂 Even if you don’t buy these items, clicking either of these links first when you start your shopping will help us out.
Every year I like to try a some new plants, in this post I’ll list a few of the ones I’m trying out this year. The ones shown here are just the garden vegetables, herbs and fruits not included.
First though, an update on the aquaponic system. The plants here have exploded in size and became extremely productive. It is actually more productive than the EarthBoxes (see the previous Aquaponics vs EarthBox results) however I stand by my recommendation for EarthBoxes for new gardeners. They are easier and cheaper to get going but I am absolutely going to expand the aquaponic system based on the latest results. Here is a few Roma tomatoes taken from the system this week. This is just one plant:
Over the last couple of years I’ve created a list of the regulars – things that will always be grown at Three Acre Paradise. Here’s a few of them:
Bell – the good old standard for salads and cooking
Banana – nice addition to salads
Habanado – a Habernero without heat, also a good salad addition
Jalapeno – a little heat with a lot of uses
Datil – unique flavor I really like
Thai Hot – good old red pepper, many uses
Habernero – just for fun
Everglades – tiny sweet tomatoes for salads
Tami-G – great snacking grape sized tomato
Roma – all purpose
Bok Choy (green) – great cooked or in salads
Kale – Siberian and Curly – healthy greens for cooking and salad
Malabar Spinach – salad addition, light taste and easy to grow vines
New Zealand Spinach – also great salad addition and ground cover
Swiss Chard – very productive for salads and cooking
Asparagus (going on year 2)
Daikon radish (also for soil building) – large radish with tasty leaves
Garlic – still struggling with these but doing ok so far this year
Onions – Walking, White, Red, Yellow – growing all over
Sweet Potato – two varieties here, worthy of their own post
Turnips – Top White Globe (also for soil building)
Yard beans – these are easy to grow and are ok with the heat
There’s quite a few other things but these have shown to grow well here and are well established. Here’s a few of the new things I’m trying, I’m in no way trying to promote Baker Creek seeds it just so happens they have a lot of what I like:
The Shishito pepper looks like it should do well here and is a sweet pepper despite it’s looks. So far it has sprouted easily from seed and the seedlings look good. I’m constantly on the hunt for easy to grow peppers, for some reason I’ve had a lot of trouble getting Bell peppers to start from seed.
Although I’m already growing Bok Choy this variety will add a lot of color to the garden and eventually our salads. Since the green version does so well I thought this would too, so far it is doing good and I have harvested a few small leaves.
The Chinese Pink celery is also being grown more for it’s color more than anything else, the other Chinese celery (green) I am growing has done well and been productive for over a year. So far so good, it has sprouted but is still very small.
Seeing a theme here yet? This mix was chosen just to get some radish variety in the garden. I’ve been growing Daikon radish for over a year and it’s done great but I don’t always need a radish the size of a bowling pin.
I’ve actually grown this one before, I think it did very well and is an excellent tomato. The reason it’s on the new list is I can’t remember which one it was, I grew several similar varieties (such as Black Krim) so this time I’ll track it better to see if it goes on the permanent list.
All the items listed above I am pretty confident will do well but I haven’t found a good large tomato yet, there are several planted to see how they do. If everything goes to plan the garden will also be relocated this year and will be much larger. I’ll be mixing the aquaponic and EarthBox growing areas together plus will add some other growing methods such as traditional raised beds and adding NFT (nutrient film technique) and wicking beds to the aquaponic system. For all this to happen I have to finish the yard fencing and get the rest of the infrastructure in place (pipes and underground electric).
Coming soon – a video walk through of the property. This may end up as two videos to keep the length down but as soon as the fence is completed I’ll get this done.
Pigeon peas are a great fit at Three Acre Paradise, besides being an edible legume they are a fast growing perennial and can provide quick shade for more delicate plants.
Pigeon peas are a fast growing perennial legume that have many uses in a food forest or permaculture environment. Pigeon peas have been used as a protein rich food source for humans for at least 3,500 years and are popular in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. They are also very drought tolerant and can provide a heavy harvest for three to five years.
Food Source: Pigeon peas are protein rich and can be used as a green vegetable pea, dried, or made into flour.
Animal Fodder: The leaves, seeds, pods and the remnants of seed processing are used to feed many kinds of livestock.
Improving Soil: Since they are a legume Pigeon peas provide nitrogen fixing for soil. This can be accomplished by simply pruning the plant and dropping the cuttings on the ground. The deep tap root helps break up hard soils and pull nutrients from deep down and the plant can provide shade and a wind break for smaller plants.
Growing Pigeon Peas
Pigeon pea plants can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 15 and can grow up to 12 feet tall. The plants deep tap root can grow to up to six feet in length which helps the plant to locate water. For the first few months after germination the growth is slow but speeds up as the plant gets established. Most Pigeon pea cultivars are a short day plant blooming when nights are long. For best results start plants directly in ground although they can be started in pots and transplanted later.
Pigeon peas are easily propagated with dried seeds. They are not very picky about planting depth or soil type.
Pigeon Peas at Three Acre Paradise
Currently there is one area where Pigeon peas are growing at Three Acre Paradise. There are two plants that have grown to about ten feet high and wide. There were several other areas where they were planted but they were damaged by animals and did not recover. Next spring I will be starting two new areas and they will be better protected against damage.
The pictures in this post are of the same plants over a several month period.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion lately about poison ivy, not sure if it is a coincidence but in the last two months or so there has been a huge amount of growth of it here at Three Acre Paradise. I’ve got a history with poison ivy, not a good one so I thought it would be a good time to share my story and what I had to do about it. I’ve talked about it before but wanted to get more in depth this time.
Carl Meets Poison Ivy
When we bought Three Acre Paradise it was anything but that, more like a jungle consisting of palm trees, oaks, a few pines, and mostly brazilian pepper trees. If you aren’t familiar with brazilian pepper trees, they are an invasive species in Florida that will quickly take over a property and smother out all the native vegetation. They are also related to poison ivy. Some people are highly allergic to them, luckily I am not but if you burn them the smoke can cause severe respiratory problems.
I set out to clear the property by myself, hiring a company to do this would be costly and it would be difficult to make sure they only cleared the nuisance trees. For some reason I grew up having never been exposed to poison ivy even though I spent a lot of my early years climbing around in the woods.
I started in the front of the property where there is some tall palm trees, these were full of vines which I pulled out by hand. Little did I know at the time, a lot of these vines were poison ivy. These were thick and up to 100 feet long once pulled out. One of the worst things about poison ivy is that it takes a while to have an effect. Later that evening it started kicking in and kept getting worse over the next week.
Here’s some pictures of my legs when it was bad:
Back side of other leg:
You can see where the vines came in direct contact with my skin.
It was strange that it kept getting worse, I ended up going to the doctor and they prescribed me some steroids (prednisone) but that was just as bad and I had to wean myself off of it. Hot water helped the immediate pain, I was told that is not a good thing to do but it sure felt good. It took a while to realize it but a lot of my clothes and some towels and sheets may have had some of the oil on them (urushiol). Once contaminated, it is very difficult to get rid of so I ended up throwing out a lot of clothes. This was probably the single biggest thing that stopped it from getting worse.
I tried every poison ivy remedy on the market. The best thing I found was Zanfel, this is a scrub to wash off the urushoil. It’s expensive though, $30+ for one ounce. After a lot of research I found out it is the same thing as Mean Green Power Hand Scrub, which costs around 33 cents per ounce. That’s a much better deal!
Here’s my advice if you have to deal with poison ivy. If it’s a small amount, use some long needle nose pliers to grab it by the root and put it in a trash bag or throw it somewhere that it won’t come in contact with anyone. The pliers in the link are just an example, if there is a Harbor Freight store near you then they probably have them for a lot less. For large amounts of poison ivy I use a herbacide such as Roundup. Yes, I know this is the evil stuff but in this case I call it justified. Let it die and dry out then use a tool like a dirt rake to pull the vines out.
A lot of people recommend wearing long clothing to help avoid contact. I agree with this (as well as a pair of gloves) but some days it’s just too hot for that.
When you are finished with your poison ivy task, take a shower and use the Mean Green on any part of your body that may have been in contact, typically arms and legs. Get the Mean Green now, before you wish you had it! I can’t say enough times how much this stuff has helped. I haven’t had a single outbreak since using this. Wash the clothes you were wearing by themselves and throw some Fels Naptha soap, regular laundry detergent won’t cut it (just slice off a little bit and throw it in).
Be careful with any tools that may have some in contact with poison ivy. Once I recovered I hired a helper who was immune to it to pull the rest of it out, that doesn’t stop the urushiol from being spread. He had used a power cord for a saw, I wound that up around my arm and sure enough ended up with a second outbreak. If the tools can be washed you could use some Mean Green or Fels Naptha on them. Most of the tools I use get a lot of use throughout the yard (dirt) so I think that just wears off the oils over time.
On another note, this Sunday is the second Plant and Seed Exchange being held at Three Acre Paradise. The first one was pretty successful with about a dozen people showing up, I think there will be quite a few more people this time. I’ll show some pictures in the next post as well as some property updates. Until then, stay safe! (from poison ivy)
If you like this post please like and follow our Facebook page to get the latest updates.
Plant cloners are an easy and fast way to propagate many types of plants, anything that can grow from cuttings is a good candidate. Plant cloners are basically sprinkler systems inside a box that keep the stems and eventually the roots of the cuttings moist with nutrient rich water. The cuttings get exposed to water, food, and air so the success rate is high. Here’s a short video showing what goes on onside the box:
I’ve put together this post to show the basic cloning process, how to clean the cloner, and what you need to get started. For the demonstration I’m using Cranberry Hibiscus cuttings, they grow very quickly in the cloner.
Setting Up the Cloner
The first step is to set up and turn on the cloner. This is easy to do, basically you put the pump and spray bar inside, fill with water and nutrient solution, then place the top on and fill the top holes with cloning collars. I’ll show these parts in the second part of this post where I go over my cleaning method. Plug the cloner in, place in position and we can now add the cuttings.
To prepare plants for cloning, take some cuttings from a healthy plant. I’ve found that larger cuttings work better than small, I try to get them around six inches in length. Here’s eight Cranberry Hibiscus cuttings that I’ll use for this demonstration:
Trim off most of the leaves, I just leave a few of the smallest ones on. If it is a fruiting plant then cut off any flowers and fruit.
Dip the end in the rooting gel:
Put a cloning collar around the stem. I leave about an inch to inch and a half on the bottom for roots.
Next, place the cutting and collar into the cloner. It doesn’t matter where you put it, I like to space them around to give some room for growth. The colors of the collars have no significance other than for identification of cuttings.
Just a side note here, since I use my cloner outdoors to take advantage of the natural sunlight it also runs the risk of filling up with rainwater. To solve this I drilled holes around the edge just above the top collar holder. If rainwater collects in the top it now has a place to drain instead of leaking down into the cloner.
Here is the cloner with all eight cuttings randomly in place:
Nothing left to do but wait! My cloner is located inside a tomato cage (formerly a dog pen) and is shaded by larger plants and shade cloth over the garden. This works well and I don’t have to worry about a light and timer. It sits on a couple of concrete blocks and the extension cord and plug are elevated off the ground to avoid water.
This sure was easy, right? Now if you’ve followed the blog you know I like to show results, so let’s check in and see how these cuttings are doing.
Here’s a top view after exactly one week, you can see each cutting has at least one large leaf now:
And the roots. There’s definitely some progress here:
These cuttings would probably do just fine transferred to pots at this point, but let’s leave them in for another week and see how things so.
Second week , leaves are looking good:
They’ve made a lot of progress! How about the roots?
At this point they need to be removed and put into pots or other growing medium. Can you believe this is after just two weeks? Cranberry Hibiscus is probably the easiest plant I have cloned and it’s always been 100% successful with no loss. Tomato and other vegetables take a little longer, around three weeks and have been about 75% successful. Here’s a mix of the plants just cloned and a few from a previous batch that are ready for whatever comes next (probably a Craigslist giveaway):
Cleaning the Cloner
I’ve come up with a process that makes cleaning the cloner pretty easy. The first thing I do is run it as-is after all the plants have been removed removed but replace the water with a weak bleach solution, about a quarter cup of bleach in the tank of water. Run this for half an hour or more to clean out the pump and nozzles. Once this is done run it again with some clean water and make sure all the nozzles are clear. I use compressed air to blow out any clogged nozzles.
Next, I remove all the cloning collars and drop them into the tank:
I’ve cut a piece of welded wire that fits into the tank near the bottom, this is placed over the collars to keep them from floating:
Then I use the top to hold the whole mess down. You can use a small bungee cord with small holes near the edge to keep everything from floating up or put something heavy on it.
Now I just fill it most of the way with water and add some bleach. After about an hour I flip the top over to the other half gets cleaned, when I do this all the collars come floating up but they are already good to go.
Here’s all the items I use for cloning with amazon links to them. Using links from any of my pages before you do your shopping really helps out, even if you don’t buy the product linked to. I appreciate all the clicks and it goes to helping fund future projects 🙂
I highly recommend getting and using a cloner if you do a lot of propagation by cutting, the one I chose was due to size and plant spacing. You could build one yourself, it’s probably not worth the trouble since they are fairly inexpensive. If you do build one it doesn’t eliminate the need for rooting hormone or nutrients although there is probably less expensive alternatives, I prefer to go the easy route.
Next week I’ll show some more progress on the fence clearing, it’s not going as fast as I’d like due to weather and an insane amount of poison ivy. I’ve also got another comparison going on, this time it is for starting seedlings. Until then, keep on planting!
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.
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).
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.
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.
Here’s another picture of the top where you can see the plants are branching out:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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?
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.
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 3Members
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…
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:
For aesthetics and strength, I routed the legs so the shelves would be recessed into them. This also helps keep everything square.
Nailed together shelf supports:
Attached plywood to shelves:
Screw shelves to legs:
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.
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.
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.
Here it is with the cut off part removed:
Next I cut a hole in the bottom for the drain. I went off center to avoid a plastic seam.
“MADE IN U.S.A” – awesome. Bulkhead installed. I’ll put a link to the one I used at the end of this post.
The drain is just a PVC quarter turn valve from Lowes:
The aquaponic system doesn’t have any leaks and I want to keep it that way. Before going any further, a leak test:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s how it looks from the side:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
If you like this post please like and follow our Facebook page to get the latest updates.
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.
each bag held just about a cubic foot of soil which was perfect.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
Not much difference so far, the seedlings are just getting settled. Now for week two:
Boom. The EarthBox plants have taken off while the grow bags haven’t done much of anything. 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:
Oh and lets not forget about that extra plant, the one growing in the cow manure. how has it done? See for yourself:
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!