Algae Eater

Last Saturday, I added an algae eating fish to the open air fish tank with the koi in it cause there was just a ton of algae. Below is the photo showing how much it’s improved since it was added.

Neat, right? It’ll probably all be completely gone by this weekend. Nuts. It means there will be more nutrients for the plants since the algae won’t be there to suck them up. Awesome!


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Water Testing


It’s been months since I tested the water out in the unit cause honestly it’s fine 99% of the time. I’m still kind of concerned that the water is screwing with the growth of the plants, but maybe not. The water looks like it’s within acceptable levels for growth, it might just be that I don’t have enough fish in the tanks to generate the kind of nutrients the plants need. I’m thinking of bumping up to one more goldfish as well as adding in some variety for the food cause to date I’ve only fed them fish flakes. According to a couple different sources, including the Petsmart employee I spoke to the other day, i need to throw some veggies in there. Like a sliced strip of some vegetable that slips my mind right now. I’ll probably throw it in there tomorrow morning.

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Garlic Comparison

In a bid to avoid boredom, I went out and dug up along the sides of the garlic I planted to see how they were doing. Here’s what I got.

They don’t look that far apart in terms of growth, but it’s got me thinking that I will be waiting until July to harvest. There is a lot of green up top, but that could even out with a bit more time in the ground I’m hoping. The problem is that I feel like I need to harvest it all at once since they’re all in the same growbed cause I’ll be drying it.

Anyway…. I guess I should find something to do….

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Harvest Valve Update

So today, in advance of the harvest that I’m anticipating doing next weekend (a whole 7 garlic bulbs, BOOYAH!) I added valves so I could shut off flow to one side of the unit or the other. The point, as I said in yesterdays post, is to give the garlic a day or two on one side to dry a bit and stay more intact for harvest.

But, whoops, as you can see on the right I forgot I had that pipe running between the two units. I’m going to cut that one in the middle and add a valve just before I shut off flow to the that side. That’s because I’ll be disrupting the caulk that I’ve got on there, potentially creating another leak issue.  But since I’ll be letting that side spend a day drying out of the bed, I can re-caulk after and let it dry normally as opposed to the crappy “blow dryer” drying I’ve been doing to make sure the plants don’t get dried out.


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Final stretch before first harvest


Ok, so I haven’t been planting on exactly the best schedule for everything. In fact, for the last few months I’ve just been throwing stuff in and seeing what happens. That all said, it’s coming close to time to harvest the garlic and I’m not entirely sure when to yank it out.

I’ve basically got three zones of garlic, one that has been growing for 7 months, another that’s been going for 6 months (The late harvest) and the last has been for 4 months. I’ve read that the most common time to harvest is about 8 months from planting, but I’ve also read that you’re supposed to harvest when the “fronds” hit about 3 or 4 dried out ones on the bottom and 5 or 6 green on the top. Idiot me yanked off the dried out ones long ago. On some of them I’ve got like 5 or 6 dried out at the bottom and huge green action on the top. Take a look.

Once I’ve got a spot setup to clear dry out the 7 month garlic, I’m going to harvest it and do a high density planting. To harvest I’ll be adding valves to the pipes that lead into the tanks so I can dry out the garlic a bit before harvesting. Apparently it’s essential under normal conditions that the dirt be kind of dried out so that the skin can also dry out a bit and the now turn to mush in your hands. I am very interested though in taking one, fresh out the ground and making something with it to see if it tastes stronger than something that is uncured.

Last time I planted, I did it in a more traditional lay out. But I’m going to try planting a bit more in the tighter zone because of how much nutrients I feel the aquaponics provides the garlic.

I was also having problems with the algae, so I threw some basil and rosemary into the unit to soak up excess nutrients. I also added an algae eater. Take a look. The combination seems to have cleared everything up.

The sugar cane is also growing like crazy. It’ll have to get moved to something in the next month. Hopefully I’ll be able to build another version of the Falcon. to move them to.


Another new development that I failed to blog about is that I finally got the Millenium Falcon up and running with the right pump. I transferred one of the sugar cane plants I bought over to it and it’s been doing ok for the last few weeks. I’ve had issues though with the fact that I was gone for a bit. Mom and Dad weren’t exactly sure what they were looking at, so at one point there was not nearly enough water in there. Evaporation has been seriously hitting both the Falcon and Red 5. I’m hoping that now that the water is back cycling, the sugar cane will rebound.

I’ve also added a plastic sheeting around the Falcon because apparently while I was out-of-town because the koi I first bought disappeared. Either cause of animals or suicide (cause one of the replacement ones my Dad got jumped out) they died. And the automatic feeder I have isn’t really made for the outdoors. This should help though.

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Update Week: ?

Fish Tank Heater

For a long time, the fish were surving in whatever the temperature was outside. Sometimes this was a low as 45 degrees. At one point, there was a cold snap in Sacramento and my Mom got concerned the fish would die. She moved them inside for a while because outside it hit as low as about 20 degrees, which means the fish would have hit some kind of Captain America type arctic stasis.

That said, the other day I got back to Sac and three of my four fish were dead. I don’t know if it had to do with the temperature or what, but it seemed like maybe I should focus on doing more things to stop stressing the fish.

I invested in getting an actual heater for the tank. I’d put it off for a long time because I wanted to get away without having to use a heater. Heaters = electricity and my goal is to use as little as possible. My parents recently had solar panels installed that has the potential to bring in as much as about 150 kwh. Seeing as how the heater I got only hits 0.2 kwh and that’s if it’s on all the time (which I think it barely hits 10 hours, maybe 12) I figured I could go ahead an syphon a little without feeling bad.

Now the water level changes, obviously, every 10 minutes so I couldn’t just install it on the side. I bought a couple of those wacky noodle pool toys and cut off some pieces, zipped tied them to it and added a brass weight (to keep it vertically balanced) to the bottom so that it can rises and fall with the changing water level.


The garlic looks like it’s doing ok and until the other day, I was concerned that the weight of the rocks would prevent the bottom from bulbing up. I had to yank one of them to fix a leak in the pipe that runs into the fish tank from the grow bed. The bottom of the garlic looks like it’s slightly “bulbing up”, but nothing huge yet. And the other day I actually dug around one of the larger ones and I could definitely see it “bulbing up”. I’m going to wait till June when it’s time to harvest to find out how the rest have done. I’m suspecting that aquaponics is more productive in terms of getting larger produce when what you want isn’t below the rocks.


sugar cane in aquaponics

This one used to only have 1 stalk, now has about 4 coming out.

Speaking of root growth, the sugar cane is doing pretty well. I’m still trying to get the Falcon up and running with the right pumps. Right now I’ve got all three sugar cane plants setup in one of the grow beds. Two of them, have developed new stems off the old ones that were shipped to me. One hasn’t yet, but I think that’s cause the shoot that came with it fell off before I transfer it to the unit.

I have high hopes the sugar cane will work out in the long run, as it all ready seems to be doing pretty well. I’m curious if it’ll actually grow to 20′ tall as it’s supposed to.

Green Onion and Bib Lettuce

Green onion

See that strip of green in the middle? that's Green Onion

Bib Lettuce

Bib Lettuce

I threw in some seeds to get some more growth going about a week ago. Honestly, the garlic et al is boring me in how long it’s taking to grow so I though, f-it, let’s throw in some other stuff. And as I said above, I had to remove one garlic plant to fix a pipe so I figured since I had the space and since I’m not 100% convinced that more garlic is a good idea at this point I wanted to put some other stuff in. Hence the green onion (nestled in between the garlic) and the bib lettuce in the blank spot. Some photos below. We’ll see how it goes.

Today I threw in some Rosemary and Chive seeds along one edge. Hoping it will help fight the algae in the tank as well as give me yet another thing to grow.


Three of them died, as I mentioned earlier. I only replaced two of them out of concern that they might have died because of the alkaline levels that four generated. I’m hoping that with the introduction of the heater at some point I can finally get setup with tilapia. The tank when I put it in was averaging about 50 degrees right now on my new meter. Now with the heater, it stays about 65-70 degrees.

Now my main concern is switching to Tilapia. When it comes to feeding, I’d have to feed them twice a day by hand as opposed to just letting an auto-feeder handle it. And I’m not around every day to do it and I don’t want to put the burden on my parents. And from what I’ve read, I’d have to weight them once every two weeks to make sure I was feeding them accurately. Yikes! Still, I’m thinking/working on it.

As for the solar water heater, still waiting on the right pump.

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Growth Update: Week 17

OK, lot’s to talk about since I haven’t been updating. Here, let’s take a look.


I harvested the last of them weeks ago. They ended coming out all right. Lot’s of shapes and sizes. I think I would have gotten a better harvest faster had I done the trimming like I was supposed to. But then again, the number of fish I had at the beginning wasn’t really enough nutrients either since I grow straight from seed as opposed to coaxing them along in another container or something.

That means I’ve moved almost everything over to garlic, which has been growing like gang busters. I planted a couple more, obviously way out of season, but heck, who cares? It’s a greenhouse for a reason, right? We’ll see how they work out when I come back in October or November to harvest them.


It’s growing really well still. I yanked some out to take a look at how well they were doing, expecting to see some kind of bulb growth but I saw none. Ken says that should come later in the season, but I’m not totally convinced. We’ll see what it looks like when I’m supposed to actually harvest in June. The concern is the the pebbles won’t move enough to let the garlic grow naturally because of the weight. I guess that’s June’s problem though.


I’ve dubbed the unit “Red 5” but now I’ve added it’s partner, the Millenium Falcon to the mix. Since I have extra parts lying around I built the second unit pictured below. It isn’t up and running yet because the pump is on back order. Should have it going by next week hopefully for my latest addition to the crops: sugar cane.


I’ve ordered a total of three so far. The climate in Sacramento is not what is considered to be conducive for sugar cane growing as it is a tropical or sub tropical plant. I’m testing the theory it CAN be grown up here, because one of the major components that sugar cane needs to grow is a lot of water. But that’s based on the estimates of growing it in soil. It requires 24″ of rain typically in a year. But with aquaponics, I want to see if it’ll grow using the 90% less water estimate that is achievable.


Mom accidently knocked the leaves off in the trashcan (or something like that), but you can see the new shoot coming up on the left.

The overall point of the sugar cane is to grow it for ethanol production, as well as its waste run off being used as a fertilizer because they only use like 6% to 11% of the actual juice for ethanol. And since it’s all pretty liquid like it could, theoretically be used for hydroponics if processed properly.


yellow is bad, right?

I planted this one a week ago and it looks like it’s wilting. I think this has more to do with a problem I had with the water, which was not cycling properly cause of a valve issue and that side of the unit has basically been try all week. I fixed it today so hopefully it’ll perk back up soon.

I’ll be planting this 3rd one picture below in the Falcon as soon as the pump shows up, along with some garlic I suspect. Sugar can grow up to nearly 20′ tall, so eventually the indoor stuff will have to be moved to either a larger greenhouse or to an out door setting.


I might also be having a problem because I added a fourth fish to the mix. The pH levels are running higher than they were before, so it might be bad for the sugar can in particular. Once I get the Falcon up and running I’m going to move one of the fish over to that tank so the levels can be brought back down to three. Hopefully that will solve the issue if having the water run through it properly doesn’t.


I bought a couple of dual pain windows as well as some single panes to help insulate the unit a bit better. I really wanted to get double pain for the top too, but I couldn’t find the size I wanted. Still, it should help keep the unit warmer as well as provide better sunlight than the 3mm thick visqueen I was using.


The Solar powered water heater has been built, but it’s still missing a pump that is on back order. The plan is to have it running during the day to heat the fish tank. In Sac, even when the sun is out it still stays pretty cold in bodies of water. This should heat the tank during the day, leaving only the night that I now have to figure out with some kind of heat pad.

Ok, I think that brings everything up to speed. I updated the water testing part as well if anyone is interested in checking it out. Link in the sidebar.

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