craig1267

My Backyard Micro Farm

18 posts in this topic

I'm going to start a thread just for my backyard microfarm.  Everything started some years ago when I took my hobbyist gardening pastime of growing a few vegatables in the sping for fun.  Due to my curious and experimental nature, and also since I work from my house as a software developer and consultant, I started to wonder how I could produce more of my own food in my yard.

 

I built an aquaponics system.  Then I started building wicking beds.  Then I added quail, then muscovy ducks.  At the time of this writing, the original aquaponics system is shut down, but a new hydroponic system is being built, an I'm working on a new RAS.

 

My ultimate goal is to raise my own meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables for my own consumption supplement a significant amount of our store-purchased food.  Why?  Why not?  So far it has been an engineering challenge and a management challenge, and a lot of fun.  I will document my various systems in here.

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I am in the process of a similar project. I come from a different direction as i have only done aquaponic gardening and my interest/enjoyment  to this point has come mostly from experimenting with the fish aspect. But i have challenges myself to take vegetable and plant growth more seriously and try to really move the needle as far as food production as opposed to just academic exercises.

 

 

While i recognize that it's unlikely i will ever be "finished" with my system, the vision i have in my head is very grand and  I expect the full project to take a year or 2 years to "complete". The current plan components include, Expanding the aquaculture/aquaponics, adding wicking beds, container plants, quail and some soil gardening.  I will similarly make my own thread once i am a little further along.

 

definitely keep us updated. You have a little more of a tropical climate but our weather is similar enough that i am sure we can learn from each other's experiences.

craig1267 and ande like this

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This post will be an overview of my vegetable production. 

 

My major goal is thus:  Efficient production of food with as less work as possible, in the smallest amount of space possible.  In lieu of trying to design something to achieve this, I sort of stumbled on two things I really liked:  1) Gary's ultimate grow bed design and 2) the square foot gardening methodology.

 

The square foot design method as been discussed on here before, but the method requires you to design your grow beds, typically raised beds, so that you can divide them up into grids the size of 1 square foot each.  So, you might have a 4x8 foot grow bed, for example, that would give you 32 individual squares, each 1 square foot in size.  You follow a defined guide that give you the plant spacing.  For example, a bell pepper will take up 1 entire square foot.  Beets can be grown 6-9 beets per square foot.  It's very intensive, so you must have soil full of nutrients.  You can continually harvest things, especially greens.  For root crops, when you pull them up, just replace the hole with some compost, and re plant.  It works well. I'm not going to get too far into it, since a Google search will provide tons of information and explain it much better then I ever could here.  Plus it will have pictures.

 

Now that I've covered the methodology for plant management, I'll talk about the kinds of grow beds I'm using.  As of the time of this writing, I'm using multiple designs of grow beds.  The first is a standard wicking bed with high quality compost (purchased locally) on top of a gravel substrate...but with a twist.  I have two 4x7 foot beds that are 1 foot deep that are built using a wood frame and a EPDM liner that lines the bottom 6 inches of the grow bed.  A drain is fastened at the bottom of the liner with a very short stand pipe that connects to a 2 inch PVC drain line that is shared by all the beds.  This PVC drain line flows into a sump that I dug in the ground and lined with EPDM all the way.  It holds approximately 75 to 125 gallons at my best guess. As previously mentioned, all beds drain into this sump tank.  The soil beds do not need to be lined all the way to the top since the water level is not ever designed to reach this high.  Only the bottom 1 inch or so holds water.  The rest of the soil column gets progressively drier towards the top.  The unique design about these wicking beds is the gravel substrate.  They can act as a biofilter, or as Gary put it when describing his ultimate grow system, a subsurface horizontal constructed wetland.  Instead of static wicking beds with separate reservoirs, this system can accept water that has organic matter in it.  If circulated enough on a daily basis, oxygen levels are kept up and any organic matter in the water is mineralized when the biofilter is established in the gravel layer of each bed as water moves though them.  The pipes develop the same brown biofilm as aquaponics systems, so I know a similar process is taking place.  A small submersible pump is placed in the sump which pumps water directly into the bottom of each wicking bed through a network of 3/4 inch PVC water line, directly into the gravel substrate.  In addition to the two 4x7 foot beds, I also utilize 3 old bathtubs that I had from a previous garden.  I plumbed 3 of the bathtubs to drain into the sump tank, and left the 4th bathtub as a stand-alone unit because the drain was messed up.  I also have 2 gallon barrels that were cut in half and are designed in the same fashion, but they are currently not plumbed into the system.  That will happen soon, as well as the addition of a third barrel.  You can find a link to Gary's post on the ultimate grow bed design here if interested in additional detail.

 

My second grow bed design is a 4x11 foot hydroponics grow bed.  At the time of this post, this bed was just finished and put into service.  It is built about 3 feet off of the ground and supported with cinder blocks.  I'll explain why I did this in a subsequent post.  The depth of the bed is 6 inches, and lined with a EPDM liner. This bed has its own reservoir, separate from the wicking beds.  One 4x4 foot section contains pea gravel that was left over from a previous aquaponics system, and the remaining 4x7 foot section of the bed uses a different approach.  It is a DWC bed that employs an air gap.  I was inspired by the Kratky method and others here on the forum that experimented with it.  I went to Home Depot and purchased standard wooden fence boards made out of pine.  I cut each fence board to 4 feet exactly so that when laid across the grow bed, the fence board would rest on the sides of the bed.  Unlike rafts that float directly on the water, when you cut holes in the fence board and place net pots in them, the net pot is suspended just above the water level.  The roots reach down into the water, and any roots not submerged can take up air from the atmosphere instead of what little oxygen is in the water by comparison.  The reservoir is a 55 gallon barrel on its side with a section cut out up top.  The drain has a stand pipe that can be adjusted to change the water level height if needed for some reason.  The submersible pump pushes water through the gravel substrate first since I am experimenting with different types of nutrient solution, including manure tea and RAS water, so I'd like to attempt to establish a biofilter here as well for any mineralization of left over organic matter in the water.  I'll definitely post updates about how this works out.

 

The third is a leftover component from an aquaponics system that was shut down.  I originally built two gravel grow beds using pea gravel sourced from a local river bottom.  They are 3x5 (3x6 maybe?) feet long each I used 3 feet because they were placed against a fence, and I only had access to them from one side and I needed to be able to reach everything.  One of the beds has some structural problems, so I am planning on taking all gravel out of it and only using one of these beds.  It is going to be moved across the yard and will most likely contain its own reservoir and small submersible pump.

 

The fourth is not currently built yet.  Staying true to my goal of space utilization, I have vertical space on the fence that is currently unused.  I plan on building multiple sections of 6 inch PVC pipe, cutting holes in them and designing a DWC system that will most likely be plumbed into one of the hydroponic reservoirs and hooked into the pump in that reservoir. 

 

In total this will leave me with approximately 64 square feet of soil garden.  I'm not sure of the square feet of the bathtubs since they are not perfectly square.  I have 62 square feet of hydroponics grow space, not including the 55 gallon barrels and the soon to be installed PVC DWC system.

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Today I purchased a few 10 foot sections of 6 inch PVC sewer pipe, amongst other things.  I chose the sewer pipe because the standard US schedule 40 pipe at 6 inch diameter has very thick walls.  This is going to be the design for growing vertically on the fence.  I'll post some pictures as I get it hooked up.

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Hi Craig,

 

Congratulations on the way things are coming together, mate.  You'll be up to your armpits in clean fresh food before you know it.

 

Gary

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Hello everyone,

 

It seems I have been busy with getting married, at least officially now, and my work as the CTO of a technology company, as well as growing some vegetables.  I've got the hydroponics system going with the 4x11 foot bed, the PVC pipes, and those are producing great.  Unbelievable, at least from my perspective.  I don't think I'm nearly as good as a commercial hydroponics shop, but that's ok.

 

My RAS has been built, cycled and fish have been added.  I'll hopefully be able to document this in further detail soon, but for now...just a general status post.

 

After experimenting with commercial hydroponic nutrient solutions, I'm totally sold on the idea.  It has produced the best out of anything yet.  So much, in fact, that I am going to convert two of the wicking bed bathtubs into additional hydroponic beds.  I'll still have plenty of wicking beds to grow in, but I'll also have just about equal amount of hydroponic grow space.

 

I've also started work on a canopy for shade cloth now that we're entering our hottest months here in New Orleans, July through September.  Towards the end of that period, we traditionally see a drop off in precipitation also.

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Hi Craig,

 

Congratulations on your wedding......and good to hear from you again.

 

Good to hear that you're still powering along.

 

Gary

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I haven't been growing much this winter, unfortunately.  This Spring has brought a renewed interest though, and some projects are now finally moving forward.  A new patio is pored, and a drainage system has been installed to solve a serious drainage problem I had.  Due to the grade of the yard, water would pool by the kitchen back door.  Not any more!

 

My wife is the woodworker, so she is busy making the fence look great.  In the coming months, I'll be expanding my growing area and I'm going to be building a water feature on the patio that will double as an anoxic filter for my fish system.  Since my RAS is run independently, I'm trying to think of ways to keep nitrate down.

 

I have some pictures.  The tomatoes you see are from last year but got bitten by a frost and survived.  They don't look too great, but are coming back.  They'll be pruned shortly to encourage the new growth.

 

On the plant front, I've been consistently getting bell peppers.  I've just started multiple squares (I do square foot gardening) of carrots and beets, and 2 bush beans in the wicking beds, with more to come.  I'm experimenting with F1 hybrid seeds, and I've got a ton of cucumber, eggplant, cherry tomato and different spicy peppers (all F1 hybrids) seeded that will go into the new gravel bed.  I'm a little late with carrots and beets, but I have a new overhang that I've built to reduce sunlight in the summer.  Our growing season is year round, with the worst being the summer.  My goal is to see how long I can grow carrots and beets into the summer this year.  As for the cucumbers and hot peppers, those are right on time.

 

Concrete slab going in for patio.  The Duck is helping.

 

Slab is in, now the fence is going up.

Edited by craig1267 (see edit history)
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Another update.  I threw my back out!  I haven't done much in the past month because of it.  The two additional gravel culture beds are halfway built now, and I have a bunch of starts that I grew from seeds to plant the beds out.  Most of these are F1 hybrids that I am going to test for growth rate and taste.  I never really was a seed saver.

 

I'm trying out a hybrid eggplant variety, something called dolce rojo hot peppers, and another pepper variety that is designed to be stuffed.  I managed to find a pablano pepper seed last year and that survived the winter.  I only have one though, unfortunately. I planted out a few square feet of hybrid carrots that supposedly do well in heat, as well as some beets, but these fell victim to a torrential down pour that I couldn't do anything about because of my back, and then dogs they went digging up the dirt beds because the fence isn't up!  Grrr.

 

Since our summers here are very hot and humid, everything will be under lattice elevated about 10 feet from the ground to provide dappled shade instead of a uniform sunlight reduction with shade cloth.

 

As for my micro livestock, I haven't eaten a single duck egg since the fence went down and the patio was being poured because the dogs find them before I do.  The ducks can't be put away behind the fence where the dogs can't get at them.  Apparently duck eggs are a hot item for a dog.

 

Overall, things are shaping up though.  The bluegill are growing out, and I might have found a source for hybrid striped bass fingerlings for the second 325 gallon aquaculture tank.  We'll see.

Edited by craig1267 (see edit history)
neighbor, GaryD and ande like this

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HI Craig,

 

Bad luck about the back, mate.....and I can empathise on the dog thing.  

 

Mine is only about a foot high but she's a furry wrecking ball during her waking hours.  Digs holes where not needed, shoulder rolls into anything that stinks, brings dead things inside. chews anything made of wood (like drawer pulls and furniture parts big enough to get her jaws around)......but I'm smitten by her.

 

It's really quite sad how a man of my years can be controlled by a tiny fluffy white dog.

 

Battling adversity seems to be the nature of farming.....at any level.

 

Gary

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Another update.  The patio is done and the fence is up.  The pergola is now actually kind of level, and I've been putting up some lattice sheets for shade.  So far it does make a difference, since we are now up to 90F, in the low 30s C, during the day.  Last year I bought a aquarium chiller from a guy around here, and I'm hoping that with that running at night, I can bring the water temps in the grow system down 10 or maybe 20 degrees.  I know that tomatoes will abort their flowers if the night time temperature stays up too high, so we'll see if this works when coupled with the shade effect from the lattice.  I tried it last year, but without shade, the direct sun would skyrocket the water temperature, and no machine besides an industrial cooler would take care of that.

 

I've got a bunch of heat loving stuff ready for one of the new grow beds.  I'm a bit too late for beets now, and can't get the seeds to start.  It's just too hot, even in partial shade where I have them, so I'll just wait for the fall.  I'm going to take a stab at pole beans and cucuzza squash in the gravel beds.  I thought of the cucuzza when VKN was posting about his snake gourds.  I found a local supplier of cucuzza seeds, presumably from a heirloom variety they've been producing for years, so the plus there is I could save the seeds.

 

I'll have some pictures soon once things start to take a little more shape.  I've done a huge redesign of things this past year.

GaryD and ande like this

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Hello everyone,

I have a new video showing what we've been up to lately.  If you've read my past few posts here, lots of supporting infrastructure has been going on: patio, fence, pergola, fixing a drainage problem.

The video shows a walk through of how everything looks currently.
 

 

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I agree.

By the way, if your wife is looking for someplace to live when she tires of you, I'd be happy to provide her with a good home.  I'm fascinated with the idea of having a woman around who is a handy carpenter.....and she certainly appears to be.

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Gary,

You should see some of the things she's built.  I found an old table in the trash that she painted and redid the top using cedar planks from a closet that we dismantled.  She built our entertainment center, custom shelving in one of the rooms, etc...

I can build things that stay together, but I don't guarantee that they look good.  I also don't guarantee they are level :)  They work though.....usually.

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