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!

Pond Rebuild – Aeration and Housing

This is the final post related to the pond rebuild after the fish kill in 2017. When doing this rebuild project I had not anticipated posting the procedure in a blog so there isn’t as many pictures of all the steps as I would like but I think there’s enough so that it may give other people ideas.

With the pond sump now in place it was time to hook up and test everything out. This next picture shows the basic items hooked up which include the aerator and water feed to the fountain. The aerator I used is the Aquascape 61000 Pond Aerator Pro, this gem has performed flawlessly even though it was out in the open and uncovered for several months (including through a hurricane).

pond_final_01

The sump was plumbed up with a high flow valve like what is used for livestock feeders. This worked well except it was constantly cycling, normally not a problem but it caused the pond fountain to pulse with the same frequency. I later solved this by adding an inline timer valve to just add water in the early hours of the morning.

pond_final_02.jpg

The aerator included an air stone but that quickly showed a weakness. Because the pond floor is very soft silt, the stone caused an upwelling of the dirt underneath and ended up on it’s side blowing large bubbles. The primary issues are that it was too small and light and too close to the bottom. After a lot of research I went with a membrane style diffuser and made a plan to give it a semi permanent mount on the pond floor. Here;s pictures of the diffuser top and bottom (with pvc attached):

pond_final_03pond_final_04

Turns out a standard 5 gallon bucket is just about the same diameter of the diffuser, lucky me! To create the concrete base, I first cut a hole in the bottom of a bucket to fit the threaded PVC piece to attach the diffuser.

pond_final_05

Next, I attached the threaded piece to an elbow and measured the height of this on the outside of the bucket. This is done so the top of the threaded pipe will just about be flush with the top of the base (which is now the bottom of the bucket). It will be more clear in a minute. I marked the hole location for the entry pipe:

pond_final_06

Then cut the hole.

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Again, the base is upside down at this point. Since I don’t need the whole depth of the bucket and wanted to remove extra to make the pour easier, I cut the bucket off a few inches above this new hole and set up the pipes inside.

pond_final_08

Next, concrete was added to a little more than an inch over the side entry pipe.

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This wasn’t going to just drop out when hardened, I used a multi tool to cut the sides and peel the base out.

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Now this may make sense, here’s the base flipped over so you can see the threaded part.

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Now with the diffuser screwed on.

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This has worked much better than the cheap airstone that came with the pump. The diffuser is larger, keeps itself clean, is higher of the pond floor, and is weighted down by about 20 pounds of concrete. One last picture of this with the brass connector added and the concrete is drier.  Ready for installation.

pond_final_13

Now for the sump housing. Again, I don’t have a lot of pictures of the construction but I’ll explain how it was built. I made the four sides separately then screwed them together to form the box. There is a one inch gap at the bottom to allow water and debris an escape and also for air flow. Once the box was assembled and squared, I created a roof frame that also doubles as a flip up lid.

pond_final_14

Plywood added and painted prior to shingles.

pond_final_15

This was built completely indoors in my workshop, it’s a lot easier to do that than try to lug all the tools and materials out to the pond area (also cooler in the shade). Once completed, I used the tractor to move the housing over the sump area and tied it down to the slab with some galvanized angle iron and tapcons. Here’s a picture of it installed:

pond_final_16

And with the lid flipped open:

pond_final_17

Inside there’s plenty of room to work around things and enough space to add a water pump for irrigation. At this point I’ve got the timer valve installed and the lighted fountain going.

pond_final_18

I can’t think of anything I’d do differently at this point. If anything, maybe make the pad a little larger and run a few more pipes into it for the eventual sprinkler pump. Over time there will be plants and trees hiding most of the box but for now I think it looks pretty good.

Hopefully all these changes will prevent another fish fill like last time. Another big change is that the pond is only stocked with tilapia now. Previously, it had tilapia, brim, bass, and catfish. I have already noticed hundreds of tilapia minnows which I never saw before since the other fish were eating them.

Now that spring is here, I’ve got some great projects planned. Stay tuned!

Pond Rebuild – Sump

Last week I went through a brief history of the pond, what prompted a rebuild, and construction of the bulkhead. This week I’ll show how the sump was built and installed.

The sump is simply a 12 inch diameter piece of PVC 3 foot in length. It was installed at a height so that the ideal water level of the pond would be about a foot up in the sump, this would allow the installation of a float valve to help maintain this level. In addition, I ran an additional pipe to the sump area for running hidden wires and hoses into the pond.

Pond_Rebuild_Sump_Highlight

The first step was to dig a trench from the new sump area to the pond. I placed the sump close to the artesian well head to minimize additional piping. The sump area will also have power run to it for the aerator and lighting, in the future I could also place a water pump in there for irrigation.

Pond_Sump_01

For the sump itself, I needed to seal the bottom of the pipe and ordering a PVC cap would be expensive (I got the pipe from Craigslist). A concrete plug was the simple and inexpensive answer here, all I need to do is pour it down the pipe and it would create a plug. To keep it from slipping out after hardening I drilled a few holes around the base and inserted some long nails in place, these would become part of the plug.

Pond_Sump_02

It’s hard to tell from this next picture, but with the pipe flipped over the nails remained around an inch above the ground so they would be in the middle of the plug.

Pond_Sump_03

Next step, mix up some concrete and drop it down the pipe. I set the pipe on a scrap piece of plywood and taped the nails in place so they wouldn’t get pushed out or leak. This all worked very well.

Pond_Sump_04

Once the plug dried I flipped the pipe over and made a hole in it for the feed pipe from the pond.

Pond_Sump_05

One more thing before installation, there would be a secondary pipe coming from the bulkhead for wiring, hoses, or any other additional lines needed to the pond. I needed a 90 degree bend for this pipe but using an elbow would be too sharp for pulling through. Using a propane torch, I heated a section of pipe and carefully bent it so give a nice slow bend without pinching it.

Pond_Sump_06

Ready for installation! Laying the pipe out was the easy part, the two runs were kept side by side with a slight gap between. Here’s where they ended by the sump.

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Here’s a view looking down the sump. I used a little spray foam to help seal where the pipe came into the sump tube.

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Looking towards the lake, note the pieces of 1×2 to keep the gap between the pipes when I filled the dirt back in.

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A closer view where the bulkhead meets the lake. The bulkhead angle doesn’t match the lake slope perfectly but that’s OK. You can see the dirt near the top will be towards the back of the bulkhead, this is good as it keeps dirt out of the area where the pipes exit.

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Another view, from the bulkhead looking back towards the sump. The total run is about 35 feet long and about 2 1/2 feet below the ground level at the pond.

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View from across the pond for perspective of size.

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With everything in place the dirt was put back over the pipes. The next step is to pour a concrete pad for the sump area. To preview the size and orientation I marked corners with these fiberglass rods. This will eventually be covered and surrounded by plants.

Pond_Sump_13

When building this last year I wasn’t documenting it for a blog otherwise I’d have more pictures of the process of making the pad. In any case, here’s the result after it was poured. In the next post I’ll show the process of building the cover and I also painted the pad, in future projects I add color to the concrete to save a step and it looks better in case the concrete gets chipped.

Pond_Sump_14

You can see a total of four things coming through the pad. There’s the sump, extra pipe to the bulkhead, a PVC run to go to the well head, and a smaller pipe for electrical. The black flex pipe coming up is a water line for a fountain. Here’s another view, looking towards the pond.

Pond_Sump_15

Next steps are to connect the well and float valve, paint the slab, hook up the aerator and run the aeration line, hook up the fountain, and build the cover for everything.

One more note about the build, notice the slab looks pretty thick. I actually built up the middle with dirt at about 3 inches, total height is about 6 inches. I wanted it to be high enough to keep everything above probable flood level and keep mulch and dirt out. Turns out we had record flooding later in the year and this was just about perfect, water never came above the top of the slab. All electrical I have run outdoors has the connections up high to keep them out of water and it all remained functioning during the flood.

Until next time, happy planting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pond Rebuild – Bulkhead

When we moved into the house in 2015 one of the first yard projects was to dig a pond. This served two purposes, the first being the aesthetics of having our own private pond to enjoy and the other is that it supplied a lot of dirt for building up low areas of the property.

Pond drained for servicing

With a 60 foot diameter the pond was calculated to be about 25,000 gallons.  For a water source I had an artesian well installed, this is a deep well that has natural pressure and is pretty commonly used in Florida for irrigation. This well provided enough pressure for a fountain and helped maintain the water level of the pond since there was continuous loss through ground seepage and evaporation. The loss was pretty minimal but the fountain also provided aeration to help support the fish. Neighbors supplied Tilapia, Brim, and Bass from their ponds and by the end of 2015 we were in business.

Fast forward to early 2017 just as spring was arriving and heating up the water. I  went out one morning and saw a few dead fish floating up. By the end of the next day there were several hundred floaters with no signs of life in the pond. I spent the day cleaning up and trying to figure out what went wrong and after discussions with several people the most likely cause was oxygen starvation. The water level had dropped pretty low (I would manually add water when we were in a dry spell), the water was warming up causing organic matter to start breaking down, plus there probably wasn’t enough aeration to begin with (well water may have little or no dissolved oxygen).

This was a good time to implement a few ideas I had been thinking about. I would dig the pond deeper to help keep it cooler plus add more water volume for the fish, add additional aeration, and figure some way to keep the water level constant. A big part of the solution was to add a remote sump, that would allow me to add these additional features without a bunch of ugly pipes and pumps exposed near the pond.

Pond sump drawing

I’d add a second pipe to the sump area to run additional wires and hoses for things like the fountain and aerator hose. With a plan in place, it was time to get down to business. The easy part was digging the pond deeper which also provided more fill dirt to use around the yard. The next step was to build a concrete bulkhead, this is where the pipes for the sump and accessories would enter into the pond. Previously I had just run a pipe straight into the pond but that was ugly, may as well do it better this time.

Forming a bulkhead from scratch seemed pretty complicated so I just started with a concrete block cut down. I found a bunch of 2 1/2 inch electrical conduit on clearance at the local Home Depot so that would be the size used, otherwise I would have gone with 3 inch. To get started with the concrete I just placed the pipes face down on a piece of plywood (with their appropriate ends attached and taped up to protect them).

Setting up pond bulkhead pipes

I made them slightly different lengths so the connections wouldn’t be exactly lined up, it also served as a reminder to keep checking which I am working with later since they serve different purposes. Here’s another shot of the setup:

Pond bulkhead pipes pre-concrete

Once the concrete was poured and hardened, I built a form for the front part to give it a slope and a lip on the bottom. The purpose of the lip is so I can fan off any debris that gets there without worrying about undermining the bulkhead (protects the dirt underneath). No scientific method went into the angle as the bank slope varies. 45 degree seemed good enough and it ended up working well.

Pond bulkhead formed up

During the concrete pour I inserted some wire to add strength. Note I tried to build the form to be easily disassembled after the concrete set, that didn’t quite work as designed so some of it had to be cut to be removed.

Pond bulkhead form poured

The result after removing the form:

Pond DIY bulkhead

It came out very nice and strong after letting it cure for a few days. A view of the back:

Back of pond bulkhead

One last thing to mention, the connectors are different on the pond facing part of the bulkhead. One of the openings is threaded, that is so I can connect a pipe or hose so when filling the pond so the water doesn’t just flow right out of the opening. If it did, it could cause erosion or undermining of the bulkhead. Instead, I’ve made a distribution pipe that can be screwed in to spread the water out, much like a sprinkler. The other connection is not threaded since it is just for accessory lines.

Completed pond bulkhead

The next step for the pond was to build, plumb, and install the sump along with the bulkhead, these will be the topics of the next few posts.

Happy planting!