What is it now? Week 4?

Yeah I haven’t been able to keep a week by week so here I am now playing catch up. The days have flown by in such an allergy antihistamine high blur. So many could be productive days lost because all I wanted to do is sleep off the drowsiness! Bleh! Worst year ever! I have been making sure that I do visit my greenhouse each afternoon before I venture off to work. So many things seem to be very happy whilst growing in their beds. The herbs and leafy greens are the only things that just don’t want to grow. My assumption is that it is still too hot in the green house and I need to bump up my 20% white shade cloth to a 40% aluminet shade cloth. My sugar cane and bananas probably LOVE IT! Like YEEEAHHH BABY! bring the heat! I don’t think they’ll mind if I cut back the sun just a bit more. If anything this is a good sign that come winter the house will definitely keep a nice temperature. I will say though that I recently stumbled across the fact that I planted my sugar cane wrong. I only planted straight up because the small rooted one I got looked to be rooted in such a manner. Come to find out the canes are laid horizontal in furrows then buried. I only found this because I was researching if it was possible to actually grow sugar cane up her in zone 8a. IT IS!! This meaning outside a green house. I thought of finding a good spot on the property to dedicate a cane cutting. The practice is that before the first frost the cane is chopped to the ground and the roots are insulated by the leaves that were cut. I thought I’d do a trial run this year and come winter Ill straw bale off the ground where the roots are to better insulate it. I mean why not right? It is always worth trying once.

I will say I got a little impatient 2 weeks ago and went ahead and bought two small tomato plants and a pepper plant. I had already been behind in the growing season and figured whats the harm. I mean they were only like three bucks. It turned out a good choice because while I was perusing the plants I saw Sweet Potatoes! I had purchased some slips through Burpee and they had failed to send me what I purchased in a timely manner. A day before canceling my order and two days after I bought some from Bonnie at a local feed store my other slips showed up. I really wasn’t planning to attempt two potato barrels this year being I have never done one, but I guess they left me with no choice. So I have both Vardaman and Beauregard sweet potatoes going now. You know I really dont care WHAT type they are! As long as they grow happily and produce some nice tubers to make my efforts and frustrations not seem in vain.

The Vardaman were fresh slips so they were slightly smaller plants.

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The Beauregards were in soil and slightly larger than the Vardamans but this is after a week or so and as you can see the larger plants are really taking off.IMG_1685

Most people use soil in their potato towers while some add sawdust. I stumbled across a blog where they used a perlite and vermiculite mix. Being that I got four 4 cu. Ft bags of vermiculite from my brother in law’s work for free I figured why not just give it a try. I had some left over perlite that I used but I think after its all gone I’m going to cut some potting soil with the vermiculite so that its not ENTIRELY vermiculite. If it works well then next year I’m going to paint the inside of the barrels flat white to better the sun light exposure.

Ever since the first leaf burst forth my Orinoco banana plant has been progressing so well. Both the Manzana and Orinoco have 3 leafs flayed open in such glory. The Orinoco leaves are huge! larger than my head. With each leaf its gaining height and its making me worry a bit. I chuckle at the situation because I really have no idea what I’m going to do ahaha this could get interesting towards the middle of the summer.

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Sure you can see the sugar cane in that picture but here is a better view.

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And for everything else!

Beans, Broccoli, Cucumbers

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Squash

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Pepper

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Cherokee Purple Tomato

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Black Prince Tomato. I cheated and made sure I snatch one with some buds already on it.

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The Scarlett Runner Beans seem to be happy. I made a nice lid to go over the fist take and was sure to give it a nice bright white coat.

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Welp! I thought I’d get into the good news first then move on to the bad news. All my fish are dead. Yep, at least for the ones in the large tank. I have had a few little ones bite the dust in the blue barrel but most the other fish seem to be doing fine. I actually changed these guys diet when it came to the blue barrel clan. I purchased two cups worth of duck week a while back to see what that is all about. Duckweed was said to be a crazy grower and good fish feed. So I took the top to the first IBC tote that I had cut off, added about 30 gallons of water, and chucked it in there with a air stone. I had started with the little solar bump but it seems the duck weed roots were just long enough to allow itself to be pulled into the pump. Figured Id hock that idea out the window for the time being. Ended up losing a ton of my original purchase because I put too much Fish Fertilizer in the water, yet some duck weed remained. It bounced back strong. Then I lost the whole crop during a storm where the water level rose and allowed it to all drain off the back end. Found it the next day and pulled all I could off the ground and chucked it back in the water. Needless to say this champion aquatic plant bounced back yet again. I put a nice cover over it so that it wouldn’t get flooded in another storm. Felt like a losing battle for a while there. Here it is now…

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Doesn’t require much. Some people say the water can even be stagnant, yet I like just having some aeration. I actually pulled off about 3 cups before taking this picture. It only floats on the top so its crazy to think about how much of a power house this tiny little plant is. I decided to keep my blue barrel clan hungry so Ive only been skimming off two fingers worth of duckweed every two days and swirling it into their water. The gobble it up! The blue barrel clan is actually not as timid as my first group of fish. The minute I pop my head in there they come up ready for food. That makes me happy. Ill actually have more to add to the family because upon skimming off the duck weed today I realized I had also skimmed a bunch of frog eggs. Stinkin frogs turning my unadulterated water into such filth! Nah Ive been enjoying having all this glorious creation in my life. Back to the sad note though… My fish all died from high ammonia levels. I knew it was going up or at least wasn’t going down, but there wasn’t much I felt I could do because I have been relying on the rain water to stock my tanks. I didn’t have my barrel in place during that storm. I had run out of back up barrels to hold and transfer water. I had ignorantly hoped the grow beds would become established before the worst could have happened. Well the worst came, had its way with me, and left. Problem one was my SLOs bottom pipes. Upon investigation I found that some fish that had died, before floating upwards, had been pulled snug under the pipe where I could not see them. Even one was in the valve area of my IBC tote. Didn’t find him till I swiped my finger in there to clean out the settled dirt from my lava rock dust…yeah that was a lovely surprise. So here I had decomposing fish that I could not see making the ammonia levels rise thus killing off my stock of goldies. I mean better it be fish that only cost me 17 cents a piece than really losing out on something that was pricey. Which is why in my first year I’m only worrying with plant growth as my focus and not both plant and edible fish. Out came the old style pipes and in went the first SLO set up I had. Ill just have to stock larger goldies when the time comes and everything balances out.

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I blacked out the whole tank and the windows that cascaded onto it and the sump. It was a great help and within days my algae bloom problem came to a halt. Depending on the ammonia levels I might end up restocking with a few larger gold fish come Wednesday. Until then…

Oh and I shouldn’t have much issue with not being able to collect ample water now…Got 150 gallons worth the last storm.

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Week One…

Besides my struggle of trying to figure out why I have multiple fish dying off daily the greenery has been showing its happy face. Figured I’d keep track each week after initial planting. The algae is still over whelming in the fish tank and sump which is giving me the green water look. As I said my goldies are dying off daily. I know the system is just starting up so I’m hoping the deaths are just due to the transition. In an effort to keep things positive here are the pictures for the Week One progress. The Herbs are about the only seeds taking their dandy ol’ time. The Broccoli and Beans are the most aggressive at the moment.

 

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A week in the merde…

Did I say that? Oops…I meant mud. Well, it was kinda a crappy week a few weeks back. If I could of stubbed my toe on something, I did. If I could of hit my head on something, I did. If there was a possibility of failure, I failed. Injuries and inconveniences all around. I even had a hose at work just decide to turn on when I was present and soak me at the end of the night while closing. So yeah…pretty mer….:cough: crappy of a week. I finally had everything set up the way I wanted it and I was beginning to cycle the system. Yet, I was awoken one morning to the statement “Your pump is making a funny noise.” It was cold, it was rainy, not too mention earlier than I’m used to being up, and what I came across did not help. We had a night of some serious rain. I guess the water flow and ground pressure was so much that even though my sump tank was full of water it was still over come. I mean the ground pushed up and in shoving all the water out, twisting off a pipe connection, and the pump did the rest.

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So needless to say I had to remove the grow beds. Which that also meant digging out all the media, digging out all the sprouts I had already started, and losing a good bit of progress. I attempted to get the cage out of the ground but after shoveling mud for a half hour I said SCREW IT! Out came the angle grinder with a cut off disk and now the base of the cage has its resting place in the earth. Never would I have thought I would ever be filling a hole I so happily dug. What has to be done must be done…

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As you can see I definitely rethought the whole setup. I wasn’t going to dare risk losing another tote to this ground and I also wasn’t about to buy the brick and mortar to give it some supporting walls. In the end it might have been equal in cost, but I think sometimes disaster can lead you to a better functioning idea in the long run. There really is only one downside to the new layout (in my eyes) but that will be eliminated at the end of the summer when I expand the Greenhouse. Not a huge expansion but just enough to make it more accessible in some areas. My double beds have been retired and I have decided to replace them with cut full barrel cradles. Being I dont have sealed whole barrels I must leave the metal ring on. I think they function well. The fish tank has now been moved and elevated and the sump is now a dual chop setup and the two pieces are tied together.

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I made the mistake of putting connectors up top, yet after cutting a hole in the tank I had no choice but to leave them. Hate how dusty the lava rock and hydroton can be. Some wash it before use, but I just don’t have the time nor the water to waste. Guess Ill just have to live with it. So next came the thought of how to incorporate my banana plants and sugar cane. I have been very saddened by my loss of dragon fruit due to a frost that came right after I had to dismantle my greenhouse. I was up merdes creek without a paddle and wasn’t able to protect my bananas, cane, and dragon fruit. Yet now due to my new setup it gave room to having extra grow bed space. I chose to put another fist tank outside. This one was made from a 55 gallon drum. I was able to use my already cut sideways barrel as a sump. I was very unhappy with the wiggly setup I had before and I’m very pleased now with the new way.

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My worries were washed away when the other day I noticed my cane had begun to put for some leaves and another shoot was coming up through the rock! So happy.

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Even my smaller banana that had lost its new leaf during the frost has burst forth with a new one the past two days. So glad its still alive! As for the larger banana plant I’m really not sure. What I have might die up top and a new swordsucker/pup might burst forth. For right now I’m hoping for the best and just trying to be patient.10

I cast in some seeds for various vegetables last Monday and sure enough just about everything is showing its face. One bed is nothing but herbs. Another for Arugula, Red Chard, and Spinach. The third has brocolli, pole beans, and cucumber. The fourth has peppers, tomatoes, and squash. Here is a few pics…

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So being that Im still in the early stages of cycling I’m now going through an algae bloom. Ive had a few goldies bite the dust the past week. I know algae will always be in the system, but you don’t want too much. Considering just how much sun the fist tank is getting I decided to tarp it off and black out the windows that shine the sides of the tank.

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I wasn’t planning on building the box frame around it till more towards fall, but I might have too sooner than I thought. I have some Scarlet Runner seeds coming this week that will be in a small grow bed above the fish tank to offer an eventual shade after everything balances out. I still need to close in the back bottom part of the greenhouse and add the door. Closing up the back side will restrict even more light from the sump and will hopefully help equal out this algae issue. I know the little bio film on the walls and pipes isn’t all that bad, I just don’t want the green water and the risk of a system crash. I know that its just the issue of having patience and letting this ecosystem establish itself and balance itself out. Anyways, the other day I was in the green house and realized HOLY CRAP IM BOILING! It was pushing 100 degrees in the full sun. While this might seem more optimum in the winter I know its not during the summer. I want my plants to be warm yes, but I’m also trying not to sun dry my tomatoes whilst still on the vine! Figured I’d start off light and purchase a 22 % white shade cloth. Let it reflect just a bit of that suns intensity. It wasn’t too bad of price for a twelve by twelve considering it only ran me 60 bucks. I also figured it would be good for the cloth to come down off the roof a bit for a little extra sideways rays.photo(44)The whole area is still a bit messy but I know once we get full swing into the growing season the grass will overcome all those mud spots. I do have high hopes for the Scarlet runner vine to over come the tall side of the structure and add some beauty. I was recommended them when in search for a vigorous vine. They are a pole bean producer and have a wonder flower. So hey why NOT! Hoping it will do the trick and I will have the plus of gaining produce from it. Win Win.

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Last Monday I took a drive in search for a local acquisition. I have been reading up on Duckweed and want to make an effort in cultivating some to feed to my fish. Its known to have a higher protein level than the soy bean, high in fiber, and amino acids. Sadly there is more hate for this aquatic plant out there then there is love. Its like Kudzu. Once regarded and now because its winning its own fight for survival people hate it. Yet, it is very advantageous in water purification. Kudzu is an amazing vigorous grower and is 100% edible and a better biofuel than corn. Sorry I got off topic. Duckweed is a very vigorous grower with the possibility of doubling in size in one day. If conditions are right that is. It can be frozen or dried and used for another time. Its actually edible for human consumption as well, imagine that! So being that this very small plant, actually the 2nd smallest flowering plant in the world, is so hardy and advantageous I can’t restrain myself from giving it a go. It doesn’t need deep water at all but I figured the top half of my original IBC tote will function accordingly. I ended up buying the tiny solar power pump from Harbor Freight to put in the middle of the water. Duckweed doesn’t like moving water, but from some resources say a little agitation helps with growth. We shall see. Until then…

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I actually have that up on blocks now to keep the wood pallet from rotting on the ground. Ill build something nice around it if the whole venture turns out well.

 

Last but not least…

Crazy I didn’t even realize I forgot to title the last post. Oh well, there was so much in that last post I guess I can say it was nice not to have to type a couple of letters. Tonight’s post is short and sweet. I took the time today to put the second smaller banana plant (manzano) in its own dedicated bed. Being I was running low on room I wasn’t sure exactly where to put it. Then I remembered the top rails I took off the IBC tote initially to be able to cut the opening. So I reinstalled the rails and decided that at the moment it is a small plant and having it above the fish tank couldn’t hurt.

IMG_1585I had the wood square base made for my first single barrel set up but never used it. Figured it would aid in better weight distribution. Not crazy technical, but hey it wasn’t being put to any use and now it has purpose. So I took a small simple pump and had it come off the wall of the fish tank. Keeping it a constant flood at the moment.

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The set up for now. Im considering a third SLO that will pull off the side and then have the three dedicated grow beds flow into each other. Its better than having 4 pumps going. We shall see… Until then…

It seems the cold is finally dosing off to sleep for a couple of months. The warm weather has reawakened and reared its beautiful self into a medley of amazing spring days. When its cold you can easily justify not getting much done because….well because its FREEZING COLD! Nobody wants to work in that type of weather. If only I were a bear and could just hibernate. Of course I would definitely prefer the fattening of oneself before such a long and luscious time of rest. Yet now there is no such time for a trivial state of inactivity. I have been a busy bee. As promised I will be updating on the Aquaponic activity. So where to start? Hmmm… Ah yes! The hole…

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As usual I work the weekends and I was unable to finish the burial of the tote. In came the rain and now I have a muddy hole. Thankfully I haz a buket! By the end of it all I felt I was wearing platform shoes due to all the sticky clay build up. Afterwards, In preparation I chose to do two long grow beds. I planned them to come straight off the fish tank and lay over the partially buried sump. I wanted to utilize a gravity flow which would reduce the use of multiple pumps. That also in turn cuts down on operating costs. Even more so with aid of the SLOs I could maintain a constant level in my fish tank which would keep from stressing the fish out. Wouldn’t you say you’d get stressed if your house shrank and bloated itself all day long? Anyways, along the way I have made some changes to my original idea. The grow beds! I ended up not utilizing the metal rings. I figured they would give extra support when the full weight of the bed would stretch the barrel, but they proved to be more of hassle to keep in place.

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So for the grow beds I thought to do two drain points in the middle of each half barrel section. I wanted to utilize the functions of a bell siphon. The bell siphon would allow for the water to rise, then when the highest point of water is reached the pressure in the bell would drain the bed, and allow it to refill again. Of course you need to utilize some media guards so you can access and maintain your drainage areas. Some people drill holes, but to be honest I did it on my first single barrel and I hated it! The chop saw works so much better.

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IMG_1541Oh before I forget. BULK HEAD FITTINGS! They can be so costly in a hardware store. Its ridiculous the price they put on them when in all actuality if you shop online they’re relatively cheap. I figured maybe Grainger would have a good price…nope! They wanted like 40 bucks for a 2 inch bulk head fitting! I got them from a plumbing supply online for 6 bucks. I needed large fittings to put in the side of my fist tank and have them seal up real nice. As for the grow beds you can get away with buying male and female electrical conduit fittings and purchasing the right O-Ring. All for pennies. Now for the SLOs! Solids Lift Overflow is what it stands for and theyre really quite simple and extremely effective. Essentially its a T pipe adapter with one pipe going down to the bottom of the tank and the other pipe extending out the side. Being that the top is open it doesnt create a siphon. If it were closed you would drain off your tank till it was dry. You set the SLO to the highest water level you would like. The pump in the sump tank then adds water to the fist tank. As the water level rises in the fish tank the SLO begins to pull water from the bottom pipe up and out. This is good when you’re wanting all the settling fish waste out of your tank and fertilizing you’re grow beds. Also, like I said earlier, its good because you are only using one pump to move water.

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Tractor supply had these nice end fittings that I thought would work nicely with what I was doing. I figured it would hold back fish from going up the pipes and getting stuck and also provide a good base support for the SLO. Well… They were nice to start with, but I couldn’t get any reasonably sized Gold Fish. So I know the little guys might get pulled into my SLOs unwillingly or even voluntarily. First off I cant have myself being the nightmare murderer of gold fish nor could I condone any fish committing suicide. I thought about wrapping them in cheese cloth…

IMG_1563Although then I had issues where the SLO wasn’t able to pull up water quick enough to my grow beds. Frustrated with it I thought maybe Ill just risk it and hope nobody loses a life, but then how would I sleep at night knowing my goldies were in constant danger! Then this was born…

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Two SLOs joined into one unified ring determined to preserve the life of all fish! Self supporting and effective!

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The water has actually gotten a lot cleaner over the past couple of days. I’m happy because I never took the time to filter off all the rain water I had collected. I’m sure its fine. Its not like there was anything toxic coming off the tin roofs. If any thing Im sure its had time to off gas anything harmful. So here is a shot of the grow beds, the fish tank in operation, and the feed lines.

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I ended up cutting some of my cost using some lava rock with the hydroton clay balls. It got pricy real quick with those clay balls. I just wanted lighter grow bed media. So from the first test runs I realized that everything was working, but I was having issues with the water coming in too quick. The beds were fine, the SLOs were fine, but the fish tank was getting full too quick. I bought some ball valves to help throttle the pump a bit.

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Two on the spray bar and one to dump excess water back into the sump tank. Upon inquiring about my issue I was advised to not throttle my pump. I know it would put stress and take away some of its operating life, but I felt like I had no choice. Yet, I forgot about one idea that kinda made me chuckle to myself when it was brought to my attention…

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WHY DIDNT I THINK OF THAT!? A simple over flow line that would drain and dump the water back into the sump. I goofed and put the first one too high. Kinda a wast of a fitting, but if I ever need it I can plastic weld the hole shut. On a side note I must mention a Feed Store that is literally 3 houses down from me. They supply mainly Feed and other equipment, but they do have some odds and ends. I actually bought my second Tote there because I could acquire a used one. They have been such a savior for me in the fact that I don’t always have to head into town to the local hardware store. I dont mind home depot, but half the time I hate being bothered while Im there. Usually I have my head phones in and they STILL bother me. I have even been purposely buying bright colored head phones so that maybe JUST MAYBE they might notice. Hmmmm maybe I cant hear ya fella. Theyre nice people and have been helpful from time to time, but theyre still small town country folk that almost always have no idea about the things Im looking for or doing. I think they dont like that I zip in and Im in random isles that don’t match up. They probably think Im stealing…oh well. So anyways back to the feed store…I went to look for some simple pipe fittings and sure enough they had what I needed. Then as Im walking down and perusing one of their always dusty shelved isles I get a glimpse of some bulk head fittings! And not even over priced! And to think I didnt have to order online, they were right there all along.

So with the fish tank drainage solved I began to have issues with the beds. The siphons were working just fine. Problem was that they were keeping up with the incoming water. The siphons were never hitting their bottom low points and shutting off. I was raising the grow beds water level to the high pointed I needed but then only draining off half until the whole cycle finished. Then I was also coming across the fact that one of the siphons wouldn’t reach its mark and start because the other beat it to the punch. The beds were level from the start but I think everything settled slightly throwing things off a bit. I had already solved the issue with not throttling the pump so I was already at my maximum water flow. I didnt want to have to enlarge my drain pipes, because I would just be spending money on new pipes and it might not even work. Here is what I have now…

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I took off the 45 degree siphon end and reduced the 3/4 inch pipe with a 1/2 inch reducer. Figured Id choke back the water flow a bit. I pulled out the siphons from one grow bed to test. I left the left side of the bed with the highest point of water stand pipe, but the right side I pulled out the stand pipe leaving the drainage open at the lowest level. So with the drain throttle back a quarter inch it allows the water to escape the bed quickly but not quick enough. Sure enough in about 16 mintutes the bed will drain but still fill to the highest point and barely peak past that. At the moment my timer is limited to 30 on and 30 off. So I get to fill my grow bed to its high point and once the timer clicks Im able to drain it to its low point. For now lets see how well it works. As you can see the two ends…

Barely a spill over at the high point.

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Water does escape, but eventually the fill overwhelms the drain.

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And Im excited because I laid in some seeds in the beds the other day and sure enough I’m seeing some greenery!

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Wednesday was an exhausting days worth of work, but yet was so refreshing. I ended up busting 3 of my shovels in the process. Mainly because they were sun beaten fiber glass. Also lets not forget that Georgia ground is not soft. I do want to eventually utilize my solar panels to run the green house, but there is always a need for good ol direct electricity…

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I think the key is to dig backwards. You are happy to see your progress and the dread of the distance is behind you.

About a month ago I was in contact with an individual that participates on a forum that I frequent. Its mainly in a thread about food. I posted last year a picture of figs I had collected. He mentioned something about them and yet posted pictures of bananas he had harvested. Well after a while an exchange came into play. I sent off some fig cuttings and actually a whole air layered branch I had forgotten about because I thought I had failed in air layering. Turns out it rooted like crazy. I was aware he was going to send me a banana pup so I prepared a dedicated grow bed and tank for the new arrival. Being my barrels have removable lids I could just cut directly in half.

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Was a pain in the butt dragging that sideways barrel, full of water mind you, into the green house. Thankfully I havent completely reassembled the green house just yet. I was happy that I was able to recycle my old spray bar from my first tank and use it for this set up. I tested it out with the already made bell siphon from my other grow beds. Works great! Drains to the low point and shuts off.

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Well the box arrived and it was full of goodies. Not only did I get one banana plant but TWO! A ton of sugar cane came as well. My favorite next to the bananas was the rooted Dragon Fruit cutting. Thank you very much generous friend.

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So in preparation for the new arrivals I fitting my old single barrel with some new pipes and utilized the bell siphons I had laying around. Worked just like the other. The cane will have its own bed. I read that the roots get crazy so I dont want to risk losing other plants to it. Two of the cuttings already had roots so I just buried them all in there.

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The larger of the banana plants is now in the higher grow bed. People say they do will in Aquaponics. They love water. Some even plant them next to ponds. If it fruits then it fruits. If not, thats cool, I just want it to live.

IMG_1579I put the dragon fruit in one of the long grow beds. I plan to bring a support for it down from the roof once it starts to grow.

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The larger of the two banana plants is a Orinoco banana and from what I read theyre quite hardy and can take cooler temps so Im hoping it will be a good fit for me being that Georgia doesnt get too cold during the winter. Plus it will be green housed. The other is a Manzano banana plant. Its also known as the Apple Banana. Supposedly it is a completely seedless banana and has a taste of apple/banana. I hope I will get to try it one day. It doesnt have a home just yet, but I will more than likely halve another barrel and put it right above the fish tank to shade the fish a little bit during the summer sun. Ill be picking up a pump today and getting everything finalized tomorrow. Im sure thats everything for now. Until then…

Spring Renewal…

Well at least I was hoping to feel the effects of spring this week. I was able to finish setting up my aquaponics system and fill the grow beds. It was so very exciting to finally see it all work. Still needs a little tweaking and an extra bag or two of grow bed media before I toss the seeds in and close up the walls of glass. I guess the weather has decided to give me yet another break in time and drop the temps here for what is hopefully the last time till November! Felt a sense of urgency as I commuted home last night. Predicted freeze, which did come true, happened last night. More frustrated than panicked being I knew come 1 am I would be pulling in the driveway, heading to the greenhouse, and freezing my butt off while pulling water pipes apart. As of today I haven’t made the venture out there for inspection. I’m sure everything is ok. I picked up some final supplies yesterday to put in overflow pipe lines in my fish tank that will return water to the sump. Good precaution features. Also to, my pump is a little to strong for my setup at the moment, but hey go big or go home right? As promised I will do a post of the build progression. I think I did an ok job with getting photos.

Not only is there a spring renewal but also a Blog Renewal. Yep, this ol gal of a blog just turned 1. Its been a very quick year. Time flies when you’re having fun right? Indeed it has been fun, but this year to come I need to be cracking the whip and getting more productive! Sure a lot has happened, but nothing has be completed. Some might beg to differ but I’m ashamed of my lack of productivity, but that happens when there are so many avenues of choice. I mean imagine if I wasn’t single? Happiness and Loneliness go hand in hand sometimes, a double edge sword per se. So as always this blog will continue to keep documentation and help boost productivity. A busy summer is already a head of me. A job change even. Also too there will be a making of more room for the “more important things.” Until then…

From out of the darkness…

Every other day I find myself considering a blog post, yet before I click the tab to redirect me I find myself venturing off to bed. Mentally side tracked as of late with a whole bunch of mumbo jumbo on my mind. Is it because Ill be 28 this year with only 2 more years before 30? Scary. Mid life crisis is coming up quick. Yep I said it, Mid life. If I make it to 60 then I will be perfectly content with life, although I’m hoping the world will end before then. But that is another story for another time.

So incredibly frustrated with my clay dabblings being on hold the past, what is it?, two months now! I’m partially to blame but a whole other huge fault is this stupid weather locking up the transportation of  certain materials. I’m not letting Atlanta Clay off easy either. I placed an order only to be told it would be a week. Then after a week it was another week. I then decide to wait two weeks only to call and be told it would be another week. So I wait another week or two and call back 2 days ago to AGAIN be told it would be another week!!! Wheres a match?!…I’m going to burn them down. When I went the first time the girl running the place mentioned she didn’t want the trucks to get stuck. So did that mean she hadn’t ordered at all in fear of shipment delay? Argh! I live in one of the largest ceramic material areas of the world! I shouldn’t have these issues. To Google I shall go and search out other viable options. I stumbled upon Axner Pottery Supply out of Orlando, FL and gave them a call. They were having issues with shipments as well but were fully stocked. The stress of shipping costs these days had me worried, but my worries were expunged when I was told there was a 60 dollar pallet shipping cost from FL to GA. I was so happy I could have kissed the lady if we weren’t so far away. So I had to order at least 200 lbs of material. Many point and clicks later I had amounted 609 Lbs of materials. More pounds the cheaper it is by the pound can really get away from you. Turns out Id be spending $90 on shipping because I didn’t know about the fuel costs etc. Still! The fedex costs were laughable…400 + for shipping and the over night was pushing 4 thousand HA! Why even display that calculation? No one in there right mind would pay ten and half times the cost of something to ship it. Come Monday or Tuesday I will be seeing a lovely pallet load of materials I can finally put to use! Going to formulate a cone 6 dark brown body of clay from a recipe I found online along with a simple cone 6 glaze. Finally a move forward.

So ever since my last post Ive been keeping in mind my ventures in glass. Plus, with the nearing finalization of our remodeled kitchen I will have the project of a glass and metal back splash for the stove top. Been keeping an eye for the discount “broken” glass phenomenon that keeps appearing from time to time at hobby lobby. I need to just ask a manager about it. It just materializes from time to time from what looks like a accumulation of busted stained glass packages. Its a decent chunk of glass for 7 bucks. I wish it were the 1960s or 1970s and we all were surrounded with tacky colored glass so that I might be able to better facilitate my studio with salvaged acquisitions. But for right now I guess Ill stick with bottle glass. At least Bombay still uses real blue glass and hasn’t transitioned to what ever they call this interior bottle painting to achieve the appearance of colored glass. Tyant you tease me so with your faux red bottles! How dare you!

Pot melts have been fun and the variance they create with the glass blending and swirling is nice. Although, I now find them some what limiting. Not to mention the kiln space of having to support the pots etc. Crushed glass in a mold is just effective, yet I have the freedom of glass arrangement. So now this is where size matters…wink wink. If I were to have varying sizes I could better blend or shade. This is where I had hoped the metal pipe I have would be slightly wider in diameter but its all in how you use it…wink. Ok Ok mind on art and not so much in the gutter. I welded me up a crusher to make some smaller bits of glass, i.e. Frit.

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Some scrap from the first run of the metal twister aided nicely as a handle. Ended up welding longer rod extensions off this to add more comfort to my hands and took the strain of my wrist.IMG_1498A little glass to test it out.

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Not bad after a few plunges.IMG_1500What I had of white glass and two bottles of Bombay Sapphire later.
I need to run a magnet through it to insure I don’t have it contaminated with metal flakes. It was a good test and the next one will be of stainless steel and will also be larger.

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Spring is approaching awful quick! This weather has made things difficult this year. For a while now I have been checking my greenhouse throughout the day and finding that it just wasn’t placed correctly. When it comes to summer it would have been fine, but I’m also aiming for better function in the Winter. Efforts have been made to relocate it this past month. Thankfully I despise building with nails so it was unscrewed and dismantled easily. The far multi-window wall actually stayed whole and was moved via some carts. I just couldn’t risk the old wood going bad with the screws. A location was chosen, but then I finalized in my mind how I wanted my aquaponics system set up. While having to bury a large tank to function as a sump tank I chose to go where a hole was already dug, my fire pit.

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Yet, upon tweaking the setup slightly I only ended up being able to take advantage of a quarter of the depth I had already dug. Pick axe and shovel in hand I excavated the rest of the whole. Feels good to dig again. This area of the property has become the most used section and has the most history with me. I dug this pit when I first moved, used it to do my very first pit firings, its been the center of quality time with the family, private contemplation, burning of many things, expansion, and is now the resting place for my green house. You can even see a layer of old ash that I dug past. So within the next month I will have my Aquaponics system set up and running for the year to come. Ill be sure to do one single post on just that. I’m happy with what I have in mind. So until then…

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3 times a charm…

I kind of milked the clock this morning…till about well not the morning. I had this hope and desire for remaining home and not making my trek into work. Sure enough I saw an email explaining that for yet another day we would be closed due to the weather. SCORE! Its a blessing in disguise because that means three days we would be closed, three days people would be camped up in their homes, and its 3 days lacking before a very popular “go out to eat” holiday. I’m very sure I will need a stiff drink by tomorrow evening. So being that this day crept by I’m not sure I utilized it fully. I was very pleased to see my results this afternoon when upon feeling my kiln was cool I opened her right up!

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So the mold cracked. Ill take one fissure over an explosion any day! I decided to let the kiln hit cone 07 and shut off to really see if I could get a complete melt. Usually with the pot melts I keep it on for another thirty or so minutes till I don’t see any more flow. Again to my pleasant surprise the whole piece was one form! I was very happy. I was even more happy to find the glass fall right out and with no serious plaster/silica attached. Nothing stuck like the kiln wash does. Again SO HAPPY! I will be making casts like this from now on.IMG_1480

You can see the vein where the crack was. Thankfully the glass wasn’t in a very liquid state before the kiln shut off. I really expected this crack to happen. I made the mold too thick, not purposely, just rushed the other night. I didn’t bring the pour flush with a top edge to skim it square so the bottom was uneven. So I’m sure that played a part considering the crack is along the same line as my two kiln shelves.IMG_1481

So this darn metal twister…I swear I have too many fast thoughts and ideas swimming throughout my head. I make headway in one direction only to be countered by another. So don’t know how affective the friction fit will be on the interior of something but I thought I have twelve feet of this tubing so I might as well give it a go. The smaller tube has two large screws welded onto it which in turn screw on to bolts welded to the bar you see to the right. I felt I needed to have some level of break down to the tool for storage purposes.

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I really wanted to get the castings done tonight but because of the moisture of the mudding, the fact they’re around a larger piece of metal, AND are probably one of the most thin casts Ive tried to attempt I wanted to just wait a while. The moisture of the mud will zap the molten aluminum of some of its heat. Being the steal is larger than the ring it will also play apart in heat conduction. So yeah the minute on part of that aluminum solidifies the whole flow will come to a halt. Id like to avoid that. Until next time…IMG_1483

And take two!…

Hmmm where have I been? Let me tidy up and sweep off some cob webs…This post is looking to be a biggy. Ive had a bunch of little things going on that have really kept me from completing anything! When it comes down to it I am my own worst enemy. So this has become another week of snow. I know Georgia gets nothing like the north and well the other week’s fiasco was ridiculous. I must say though the past 48 hours has been enjoyable because enough came down to cover everything! I despise when its so little that everything looks dirty. I guess its just me.

Ahem! Ok so where should I start? The newest bane of my existence is the one any only Metal Twister. As a dabbler and DIYer I took on the task of fabricating my own instead of spending the $400 for one made by a company. I have already spent a good lil chunk of change dealing with this fabrication frustration, but I will say in the end it is mine. Its really a learning experience and a stimulate for my brain to think and problem solve. NOT TO MENTION THE HEADACHES! I was finding it difficult to acquire some larger metal collars with more than one set screw. So I weighed out the options and thought that for right now Ill fabricate the tool with one function. Figured I could do a lost foam cast and have all I needed.

twist So now here is where I hit a road block. I am no engineer, but if I were one I would have known this was going to happen. After this realization a huge colorful star shot across my studio and left the words “The More You Know” glittering in the air. I’m very well aware of expansion and contraction with things being hot or cold. Yet, for what ever reason I didn’t think anything of it when it came to the metal. With clay you can visually see the shrinkage from one step to another. I used to hate it in college when I would throw a bowl in the wheel and feel so accomplished because of its size, then I would have to grin and bear it as it dwindled 10%  then another percentage in the firing. I will say though this road block actually presented another direction and option in future projects. So going into it I thought would just be able to slide out my square tube from the cast, yet as you see below there was no sliding involved. I had to beat the living daylights out of the thing just to get it free.

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So after the glittering star subsided from its glow I sought out answers to my problem. Google Tech spared no delay in delivering me to a forum to find my answer. It is defined as a “Interference Fit” or “Friction Fit.” The shrinkage from material to another brings them so close that the friction between the two keeps them from coming apart. Some even said that the strength can be even greater than the two materials themselves. All of a sudden I thought YES! Screw buying a collar…ILL MAKE ONE! Set screws are only a couple of cents and I already have a tap and die set. The direction was then to take a step back and consider a twister with more than one function. So between the pipes and tubes I had available I found a coupler that slid nicely over a pipe. I threw a piece of foam board on the lathe and turned it down to a nice size. Took a forstener bit to bore out the foam perfectly center. I was able to glue it snug, add a channel, sink it in some sand, and cast myself a nice collar that utilized a “friction fit.” Sadly though, I did a pretty poor job drilling out holes to tap with threads. I was a little rushed and without a drill press I can only achieve a partially straight hole. Ah pues.

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I opted to use some old sockets for my setup. I was actually quite happy with that one weld, yet many of the other ones were really iffy. I’m learning one day at a time. Attached it to the rail ready to set the whole thing up. I ran into another issue as to how I was going to meet everything up and have it even and level. Then I thought about what I would use as my hand bars to twist. So many things were flying through my head. I ended up chopping some old wrench heads off and welding them to the other end of the turn pipe. Then one of those flying ideas slapped me in the face and asked me a serious question. Is it strong enough? My main goal for this is to have it as a cold forge twister and not a hot forge. Hot forge requires very little strength because the metal is heated. I began to doubt whether the pipe I used was thick enough. I’m sure it would work for a bit, but in the long run I know its life would be short.

 

twist4 twist3  twist5The one good thing that has come from all this is that Ive taken the time to search out a better metal supplier. Come to find out a city over from me there is a place by the name of NE Georgia Metals and it has a stock of a lot of rods, pipes, tubes, and sheets of metal. I mean I knew I was getting ripped off by Home Depot and other hardware stores. Yet, to be honest I was floored when I found out just how much I was getting ripped off. I paid $45 for a half inch flat bar that was 2 inches by 36 inches. I could of got 144 inches of the same bar for $33. That is a disgusting mark up. I understand everything in this world is marked up no matter where you go but that in itself is ROBBERY. Of course I have to buy all 144 inches, but even having that much mark up for convenience…pffft. I told the guys at NE Georgia Metals “You WILL see more of me!” Nice guys too. Sure enough they did see me a few days later because I was back to pick up some larger piping to attempted my 3rd direction in the metal twister world. I do believe this will be the final direction. Ill do a post just for that when its finished.

A few posts back I did a grandiose tour of what my little cave has going on. I ended up becoming entangled in yet another remodel of the studio. A big thing for those artists that have studio spaces (and are successful) is that the studio is “working for them.” Their space flows from one work area to another and it helps provide inspiration. Remember the rock tumblers from when you were a kid? They were sold at those popular science stores. Yeah, Imagine yourself inside one of them and youll understand how I feel when Im in my studio. No flow. Just one rock clashing against another and never knowing which way is up. I decided to make the now dirt area into the soon to be metal working area, one small cement slab at a time. I ripped up my rocket stove that after much deliberation I had to just be honest with myself and accept that its not being used enough. Went out a few Sundays and picked up 12 bags of quikcrete and proceed to finish a small 4 foot by 5 foot section. It was great to actually use my cement mixer that I picked up a while back. Having proper tools for certain jobs always makes them easier.

metalNo moisture barrier I know, but when it comes down to it its only a studio space. Hopefully I wont be regretting this later.

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Look at that. Beautiful. 3 Bags to spare.metal2

After moving my welding table I thought Id make a new purchase. Cutting can be annoying when all you have is an angle grinder. Needless to say its going back! I’m not getting straight cuts! even when I’m letting the blade do the work. Oh well, the 7 inch blades work well on my normal chop saw.metal3

Where this weather has given me some extra days off from work it has also stolen some of my productivity. I finally sat down one night after work and made a decision on which new clay body recipe and glaze recipe to test. I had been worrying about the Manganese Dioxide being on the toxic side of the equation when it came to my handling the clay and also the fumes/gases affecting anything within my Green House. After some research and inquiring on forums I decided to go ahead and test a clay body with said ingredient. Manganese Dioxide helps make a darker body of clay, close to brown if not metallic black depending on the style of firing. Orange stone has been fun, but it is a stoneware that matures at cone 10. Since Cone 6 is my target range I feel I need to better acquaint myself with a Cone 6 body when it comes to “bettering” the functional aspects. I know there is the constant debate on whether stoneware is better than earthenware yada yada yada. I’m going my direction and we shall see what happens. So because of all this snow Atlanta clay hasn’t been able to receive supply shipments and wouldn’t you know two of my needed ingredients they’re unable to get! Sigh. Hopefully next week I will be able to toy with my new clay and get back to the wheel. I was going to just get all my needed ingredients in one trip but because two of my necessities were on hold I was left pondering whether or not I should just head to Atlanta to get the 3rd acquisitions. Monday morning I figured I might as well just get it out the way.

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Yep! Thats it! Just a hundred pounds of dust. 50 lbs of Silica. 50 Lbs of Plaster. When it comes to melting glass I have been wanted to experiment with this mixture. I hadn’t been able to decided my direction. I have been doing Kiln Wash coated clay circles, but then I was plagued with cleaning off the kiln wash. I found myself limited from custom shapes. Sure I could make them but then that is a whole lot of time spent and so many firings becomes costly. I considered I could weld stainless steel shapes…Even then I would have to protect them with kiln paper or kiln wash. Then I’m buying kiln paper regularly and cleaning off kiln wash. My other option was creating a 50/50 plaster silica mold that IF done right has the glass released with extremely minimal clean up. So very intrigued by this! I must TRY! My test is this; Create a simple shaped mold, let it dry out for some time in the kiln on low, add glass, and turn up the heat. Even if the mold is lost for now then I’m ok. For now that is. I also had to get some organizational items recently as well.

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My simple shape. Tear Drop. Thank you foam board for being so versatile.

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It was late and I was really not in the mood to build a wood frame and coat it with a release. SO! Hot glue, tiles, and a piece of glass turned out to work well.

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The ratio from what I found is equal weights. 1.5 lb silica (325 mesh even though its advised 200) 1.5 lb plaster, and 1.5 lb water.

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Creamy

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Virtually leak free!

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Not bad. Ended up burning out most of the foam, figured the kiln would take care of the rest.

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Was going to use some bottle glass but decided last minute to crush up some of this stained glass.

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Technically I’m approaching this test with the direction of Pâte de Verre. Pâte de Verre is basically where glass is mixed with a paste then fused together. There are many ways Ive found its done from frits sprinkled in a mold, glass mixed with an organic compound that burns off leaving glass attached, to just loosely layering glass. I’m doing just that. I figured the mold is “preheated” so I pulled it out and added the glass then back into the kiln it went. I know there is a high level of risk here. I could return tomorrow to a horrific mess in my kiln due to my ignorance. OR! I could return to a nice yellow tear drop haha. I did ease the kiln up from medium to high so we shall see. Until then…

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Extra Day Off…

Always a good thing to wake up and find that a fellow coworker would like to alleviate you of such stresses from a soon to be shift. Don’t get me wrong I do love my job, but after the past two weeks I will be more than willing to be rid of one shift to gain some free time. Also too I was dreading the impending snow because I was going to have to brave the black ice on bad tires. Now….BRING ON THE SNOW! Although I’m not getting my hopes up because this will be the 5th time the far from geniuses we call “weather men” have predicted the frozen precipitation. So today I figured before I return to my cold tin can of a studio Id pay another tribute to those other artists out there that aid in our inspiration. First up! Audrey Kawasaki!

Hi-Fruc-ex Audrey_Kawasaki IMG_8343I love her use of nature along with the human figure. The soft shaded tones blended into the wood grain. She doesn’t always use the wood but a large percentage of her work does. The girls always have this tone of innocence coupled with sensual stares and positions. I think my love for flourishes and calligraphy make her work  extremely attractive to me. The flows in which she has the animals around her and even with other work where the hair is extremely exaggerated yet balanced. I love that each work has its own color scheme instead of having it be accurate as with realism.

Next up! Alexa Meade. Yet another example of a person that had a direction in life and then had art step in and totally turn that direction around. She did a nice thing on TED to help explain her story. Instead of using a canvas she used people and things as the canvas to convey a 2D painting on something 3D. I love the combination of everything and in the end its the photograph that portrays it all.

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The experiments in milk with the paint flowing off are amazing.316bc9_9c3123557cdc17ebb5192bf34bf317ac

Last up! Well I could go on but I dont want to spend my whole day on here! Si Scott. Been a favorite of mine for years. Has done many things for magazines and other advertisements. Has a solid base in typography but also uses his style for other things. Gorgeous flourish work. The precision is ridiculously amazing. Everything sits and has its perfect place, never does it look as if there was an attempt to just fill space.

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