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Old 03-19-2013, 06:16 AM   #1
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Thumbs up My polytunnel is up!

Well, it took me two weekends in all - I only have Sundays to work any significant amount of time, I am babysitting my boys on Saturdays, and wife has her (well deserved) day out . But it is up now!

Muscle power - ouch, was it back-breaking work - to dig a trench around it, for fixing the skirt of the poly! I only needed about a foot deep trench, 60 feet of it, about 1.5 spade wide.. But the Irish soil, my gosh, it is 50/50 mix of stones and very clay-ish dirt - I can imagine the only thing worse to dig in, would be a solid rock - or the same mix, but dry. Pickaxe & spade in tandem, all the time. Considering my sedentary lifestyle (with occasional soccer matches every Friday or so), I expected myself to be in a worse shape, than it turned out - have some body aches day after, but doesn't feel like I was crucified (which I was expecting), and no injuries to speak of

Now, time to furnish it inside - as I've mentioned before, I'll try my hands at Aquaponics. After my epic battle with that minuscule trench, I am quite happy I've picked that method. Will be documenting my progress somewhere. Need a small pile of wooden pallets for benches and all "furniture" inside. Have soda bottles ready to build strawberry (and other) towers of them.

IT should be more fun and less struggle from now on, wish me luck with my Aquaponics



BTW - being away from news, having my brain preoccupied with something else, that the mountains of shit piling up, just waiting to come down on us - gosh, how refreshing...

P.P.S. Quick pictures (only have these two now, ghast photo quality - taken on my generic "Android Phone", proudly made in P.R.C. )

http://plus.google.com/photos/115842...CNvp2YS24JKnIg
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Old 03-19-2013, 06:41 AM   #2
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Would love to see a picture of it if you have the opportunity.
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Old 03-19-2013, 07:01 AM   #3
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...link to photos added in the OP, hope it displays correctly for you guys
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Old 03-19-2013, 07:13 AM   #4
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Sweet!
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Old 03-19-2013, 07:27 AM   #5
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...yeah, not bad for a software developer, huh (at least it stands the right side up!) - hope I will be able to say the same after any of "gale force winds", that we are enjoying here on a regular basis
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Old 03-19-2013, 04:34 PM   #6
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hey Bushi

do you reckon that a poly tunnel will be enough to stop the water freezing in an average Irish winter ?
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Old 03-19-2013, 07:08 PM   #7
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Rblong,
If you have a double wall tunnel with a three inch dead space between layers of poly sheeting, you could extend the growing season by quite a lot. Here in Florida, I use a hoop house [poly tunnel] to get started two months earlier. It is all about the temperature of the ground when you are gardening. I can plant seeds any time I want, but until the soil temp gets to be around 50 Fahrenheit, nothing will germinate.
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Old 03-19-2013, 07:58 PM   #8
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yo ancona

I reckon Florida will probably always be warm enough for aquaponics but we get some real cold snaps here in blighty.

Recent winters have had week long spells of down to -15c and frost penetrating the ground up to a foot deep.
Its my understanding that if your water circulation stops, your fish die, even though fish dont seem to die if rivers or ponds freeze over ?

I may have this wrong and am eager to learn what options there might be in the event of a major freeze ..........
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Old 03-19-2013, 09:15 PM   #9
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hi,

I was doing a little research/thinking around that, and there is couple of options:

1. bubble wrap polytunnel foil insulation (I would use it as ancona mentions, as a double wall thing, fixed on the inside, perhaps. Plus good regular insulation of north-facing side, with reflective surface on the inner side - you want to catch& store as much of the low winter sun energy, as possible, you don`t want to let any of it going straight through your tunnel.
2. heating, and rocket mass heater specifically. Might get expensive, depending on heat loses, but might be necessary on occasions (cold spells), to prevent fishtank/pumps etc. from freezing
3. composting pile(s) inside, for the winter (composting produces loads of heat)
4. I will most probably add soda can solar heater, to heat up water in the tank during the day - have it half-finished, and it might be a good match, coupled with water`s high specific (latent?) heat, to pump temps up during the daytime, and store the heat in the water.

Apart from that, sure, don`t expect miracles in winter, the amount of available daylight alone will impact the growth.

Next thing, it is best to use local fish, that would do well in the expected temp. ranges anyway (I am thinking about stocking mostly Karp, and some Kois for the aesthetics ) - most widely used Tilapias would rather give the ghost, or require rather intensive heating, I suppose (I am not sure how low the water tank temp will go, but they start getting funny below 14C, which I suppose we can go much lower here during wintertime).

I don`t think there is anything to be gained by isolating the fishtank additionally, because water gets circulated through the growbeds, and I cannot think of any way of insulating the growbeds - they will tend to have temperature that will average somewhere between polytunnel inside, and the water temps. - thus insulating the whole tunnel/keeping desired temp inside is a priority.

but a lot of it all is in a "we will see" stage :-)
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Old 03-20-2013, 04:53 AM   #10
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Might as well have the aquaponics indoors or in a good spec sunlounge ?

Its a fair amount of work to ensure a polytunnel environment will never fall below freezing ........

Dont carp survive if their pond freezes over ?

And I heard that they dont taste all that nice .........
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Old 03-20-2013, 06:07 AM   #11
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...absolutely, you can have Aquaponics indoors, provided enough daylight/artificial grow light is available for plants. In a sunlounge, it would be a treat - what with all the plants, and sounds of water, and the "TV", of fish.

In fact, one commercial Aq. farm I've read about, has been retrofitted in the closed down meat factory - where the only light available for plants is artificial, but the advantage of the building was, it was already fitted for food production (high hygiene and food safety standards, approvals and what nots, stainless steel everywhere etc.), plus, being a meat factory, it was very well insulated (originally - to keep the inside cold/refrigerated) - so it was a breeze to reverse it, and keep it warm instead. Secondly, it is fully organic farm, in the middle of town - where demand is local and right on your doorsteps. Not many traditional farmers can enjoy such a feat.


Local fish (including Carp) would survive all right if the water freezes over, in natural ponds (sometimes, you need to cut few holes in the ice, if the ponds are densely populated), but there would be different issues in Aquaponics:
  • it is high fish density environment - they would quickly suffocate without aeration (you can have up to one adult fish per gallon of fish tank, so in my case, the max of some 200+ fish in a single IBC tank),
  • what if water pipes start freezing over, what if it kills the pump,
  • when temps/light drops low enough, plants slow down/stop absorbing nutrients from fish water (Nitrates/Nitrites), I suppose the same applies to the bacteria processing Ammonia into the above substances as well - all this is bad for fish and call kill them - and the whole virtuous cycle slows down (or breaks down)
  • ...and probably two thousands of other issues, that I cannot think about upfront, before facing them
so all in all, I'd rather just keep it warm enough - here in Ireland, it is not that terribly cold in winter, most of the time, it only drops below freezing occasionally, so I hope that previously mentioned precautions, should get me through the winter with production slowing down, but not stopping completely. "We will see"

Other option would be, to use, say, Tilapias, and have the whole system cycling, as seasons pass - just harvest all Tilapias when it is getting too cold for them, freeze/smoke them, harvest your grow beds, and voila, you are good for winter. And you would need to start the cycle afresh early next spring. But I'd rather have it running continuously, if possible.

As for the taste - fresh Carps are YUMMY, if you know how to prepare them, although I agree they would normally have a muddy taste to them (because of the way fish lives and feeds - bottom feeders), and can taste a bit fatty too - and they are absolutely repulsive, if frozen. It takes a skill to get them right - basically, it is best to get your Carp alive, and let it live in a container of fresh (not muddy) water for a day/two, before killing it - that allows it to shed most of that muddy taste. Scrub well & thoroughly, when preparing, before gutting, good to use salt grit to rub it clean of slime. Finally - breadcrumbs batter, and pan frying (not deep frying) would be my preferred way of having it -with some herbs and a lemon. PITA to prepare, in short, but I love it when done that way, with crusty breadcrumbs batter

Two "buts" here - there should be no mud in Aquaponic system, to give them that muddy taste, and secondly - you wouldn't eat your fish anyway, most of the time - the majority of food coming out of the Aquaponic system is plants anyway. You will have occasional fish, but vast majority is veggies, and the fish are mainly used to provide nutrients to plants. Therefore, some people are skipping the edible fish species altogether in backyard systems, and go for ornamental & hardy varieties, like Kois or Goldfish for example.
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Old 03-20-2013, 07:21 AM   #12
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I wonder if there is anyone else in Phoenix Arizona that will get hungry when they turn off the water/electricity? /sarc.

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Old 03-20-2013, 07:28 AM   #13
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http://geodesic-greenhouse-kits.com/...use_design.php

While these guys are expensive, they have a lot of great ideas for building a good system.

North Wall Insulation
Vents that can be opened to prevent overheating in summer
Water Tanks
Any heating/cooling down to the undersoil below the structure
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Old 03-20-2013, 07:42 AM   #14
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Good info

Thanks Bushi and all other contributors.
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Old 03-20-2013, 07:58 AM   #15
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Did I understand correctly that the digging was to bury the skirts of the "tunnel"?
If so, be aware you'll be doing it again when the plastic inevitably succumbs to sun/ozone.

These greenhouses are fairly common around here (farm country) - and it gets damn cold in winter, though most just let the stuff die in there - they are a bitch to heat at night, and easily get way too hot in the day, so most use significant power in fans and heaters to run these. You could probably not need the electric fans if you use those "turbine" things as I use here on my home. FWIW, small amounts of propane or kerosine (hydrocarbons in general) kill tomatoes and a few other plants very quickly, at levels a human can't smell.

They also get some coarse cloth to cut sun in the hot times, you just toss it over the whole thing. Most here use boards and weights to hold down the skirts so it's easy to mess with things.

Just FWIW from someone who usually sees about 50-100 of these around the immediate area. No one is doing aquaponics that I know, however - here we just do fish in ponds. The tunnels are mainly used by nurseries to generate the zillions of transplants the gardeners buy every spring.

I'll second ancona on ground temperature...lots of experience on my part there. The water inside will help moderate things, but it won't be enough most likely. You'll have to actively control that one I believe, even if your weather isn't as crazy as mine.

I personally built my tiny greenhouse out of glass, attached to one of the large buildings. No glass at all on the roof - just a tilted south facing side. That keeps the heat down in summer, and allows the other sides to be insulated better for winter.
I used sliding-glass-door glass, available free from a local outfit that repairs them - most are double glazed and only had one of those broken - so I get the other one to use.
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Old 03-20-2013, 10:16 AM   #16
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my friend went bankrupt with his greenhouse business and sold me EVERYTHING he had for 150, I built a 9 by 33 foot double walled ( 3 1/2 inch dead space) greenhouse on a slab next to my house, unfortunately it is connected to the house and the city counts it as living space and taxes it as such. I vented the wifes dryer into it (she does three loads of clothes a day) and that solved the winter heating problem. I grow plumeria for a hobby; they have to be kept above 40 degrees in the winter.
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Old 03-20-2013, 10:24 AM   #17
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...yeah, it wasn't particularly hot when I was getting this done - so I am afraid, some more tightening up will be required after some hot days. What can you do.. I'd prefer to have geodesic dome covered with polycarbonate, but that'll be stage X for me, I just want to have the freaking thing started, and functional for few years (that's how long that plastic is supposed to last anyways).

Damn you, DCFusor, you have all the "best practices" implemented (re: glasshouse along south side of a regular house/building - if it was mine house I am living in, and if it was permanent setup - that's what I would do as well). No planning can beat experience, huh . Respect my friend!

Ireland has very stable temperatures, in comparison, throughout the seasons - the swings between max summer/min winter temps are very low (in the range of maybe +25C/-5C, in the extremes, but mostly, between +19C/8C, I'd say), which makes me think that well insulated polytunnel could be viable during winter here.

Yep, Aquaponics is not ideal, it is a complex system, but one that CAN be eventually run 365/24/7 on solar/biomass (not starting with that first), with some redundant equipment - so reasonably collapse-proof.
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Old 03-20-2013, 09:03 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by bushi View Post:
Yep, Aquaponics is not ideal, it is a complex system, but one that CAN be eventually run 365/24/7 on solar/biomass (not starting with that first), with some redundant equipment - so reasonably collapse-proof.
Bushi, I wasn't bashing you or aquaponics, I'm just amused these "doomers" think they are going to be able to stave off 1.7 million suburban Phoenix zombies. They actually ran a human interest story in the Austin American statesman today about an aquaponics farm south of here, and he says he only uses 130 gallons of water a year, almost no footprint. No offense meant.
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Old 03-21-2013, 05:42 AM   #19
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..none taken, Jay, just wanted to clarify, that I believe it is a reasonable compromise between space taken/productivity, energy input (labor including)/expected outputs, complexity/potential robustness - although certainly, dependent on some level (however small) of technology, surviving the shock. It is just OK on my personal scale of risk, I believe I would be able to keep it running even when grid is down, with relatively modest modifications (although I will start the easy way first, there's plenty to learn even without over engineering things!)

One good thing about Irish weather (and it is arguably the ONLY good thing about it), is the fact, that drinking water is not an issue here , in fact, it is soooo far on the list of my worries, that I don't even plan specifically how to source it, in case of ze Germans ("in case of ze Germans", is Polish slang term equivalent to SHTF, or other extreme emergency - I personally find it funny, given the historical context). You just stick your tongue out, and have a mouthful, whenever thirsty
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Old 08-15-2013, 04:42 AM   #20
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OK dear readers, the saga continues... just wanted to give you an update. My Aquaponic setup is up & running. Low intensity for now - learned a lot, since the times of my first writings, and you have to cycle the system for a while, to establish biofilters/ammonia eating bacteria/algae eating stuff, etc. - and you don't want to overstock it at the beginning, the system needs couple of months of getting up to speed

It grows some things very well, others OK, yet others seem to be doing worse, than control group in the growing buckets in soil.

Generally, pepper plant is doing great, much better than controls. The same for beetroot & radish. I've tried pumpkin there, and it is rather... slow-motion growth, although it is not dying on me. Tomatoes are doing worse than the control, but seem to be OK, in general. Aubergine seem to be doing pretty much the same, as control.

Now, as for the "controls" - I just started loads of plants, and transplanted some of them later into my aquaponics grow bed, leaving the rest in their growing buckets filled with soil (mostly compost) - and these became "the controls". I don't have anything growing directly in soil. Here's the caveat, that might skew the experiment - I am using mostly fish tank water, to water my "control" plants. Ie, this is NOT the same water, as rain water, or (God forbid) tap water - it is nutrient-rich. Therefore, my "controls", might be skewed to the upside, vs. the same plants, but watered with "regular" water.

It is running for close to two months now, more or less. I only have four small(ish) Koi's in there at the moment - but I shall be able to stock it more densely with Carps any moment now, I believe.

I need to get my stuff together and take some pictures, and write some more about it, if you want
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