A shifting of light reveals the sights of the valley in muted green, gray, and foggy blue hues. Streetlights still shine in the coming glow of dawn, competing for attention in a sparkling cityscape that quietly glistens with potential and intrigue.
Laid out for my inspection and inspiration, I take note of all the great works and great failings of this crossroads of prosperity and change. I am both humbled and motivated to witness and be a part of it.
I walk on.
My morning routine has changed over time, but this path grows more constant and continues to provide a perspective that increases my awareness and informs my ever-opening mind.
Lessons learned, and lessons still in play, I rise and climb this hill as a metaphor for my life.
Momentarily, I can see the past and the future all laid out in the pre-dawn quiet. I savor the calm before the game is fully in play. The fragile calm before the city has come alive in the bustling chaos of another day.
As I descend into the valley again, I make note of the beauty along the way. I remember to be thankful for all that is. Mindful, I walk in peace and contemplate my world.
My neighbors arise and begin to come out into the morning chill and begin their days.
Children head off to school, lugging their backpacks and musical instruments while others are driven like tiny delicate royalty. They are all greeted the same by teachers and custodians alike.
Still more people emerge and race off on their way to cubicles, offices, factories, and stores- providing the lifeblood for another day in paradise.
Domestic bliss left behind, the masses converge on the jammed and humming highways and city streets- giving proof once again that we are not done with this world. We still have much ass to kick.
Life goes on, once again, in all of its infinite ways. For better or for worse, our momentum has brought us here to another day together.
Last night someone left an encouraging message on the sidewalk, written in chalk. Temporary messages like this somehow seem more meaningful when you find them intact- I share it with you:
You can shine brighter than a star
Just be who you are
Encouraging words written for no one and everyone bring an auspicious welcome to your day. So breathe deep, and face the day happy if you can.
I created an aquaponic system in my backyard partly out of necessity, and partly to test the concept for use at the family farm.
When we decided to move, I had to figure out what to do with the plants and fish from our backyard pond.
Frankly, I didn’t want to invest the time and effort to recreate the pond as it had been, and I had been reading a lot about aquaponics systems, so I decided to just do it.
How the Aquaponic System Works
The basic concept is to use a medium such as gravel or formed clay pellets to grow plants in, instead of soil. To accomplish this, a nutrient-rich flow of water is applied in a way that allows the plants to get the nutrients they need while also providing oxygen to the roots so the plants are not drowning.
My system is based on a gravity-fed cycle where the water starts at the fish tank and flows to a radial filter to remove solids, then to a grow bed, and finally to a sump tank, where the water is then pumped back up to the fish tank.
It is not setup in the same linear fashion as the graphic depicts, instead, it wraps around a 90 degree corner. However, the water still flows as depicted above.
The grow bed features a bell siphon which causes the water to slowly rise in the grow bed until the water level reaches a certain height that activates the bell siphon.
The bell siphon produces a rapid release of the water from the growbed into the sump tank.
Because the water drains very quickly out of the growbed, it causes oxygen to be drawn down into the plant roots within the grow medium, which allows the plants to breathe and thrive, instead of drowning and dying.
The grow bed also contains a lot of surface area in the form of the gravel that is used. Each piece of gravel provides area for algae and bacteria to grow on, and it is these little organisms that do the work of converting fish waste into nutrients that are easily used by the plants.
The water that goes into my sump tank also feeds a bunch of pond plants I had, and then the water is finally sent back to the goldfish, filtered and clear.
I also have a colony of mosquito fish that live throughout the system and eat mosquito larvae. These mosquito fish are amazingly effective, and we haven’t had any problem with mosquitoes. Your local county government might even provide them free of charge- it’s worth checking into.
I bought some used IBC Totes that had contained food-grade glycerin. It is important to make sure your buy either clean IBC Totes or else ensure they were only used to contain/ship food-grade materials.
There are lots of nasty toxic substances that are also shipped in IBC Totes- be sure you know and trust your source so you don’t poison your system (and yourself).
IBC Totes are about 4 feet wide, high, and deep, and come in 275 gallon sizes as well as 330 gallon sizes. You can usually find used food-grade IBC Totes on Craigslist for between $75-$125 dollars.
I also used this as an excuse to buy a Sawzall reciprocating saw- which makes the chore of cutting the IBC Totes a much easier task. I highly recommend getting one if you can.
For the radial/swirl filter, I followed the instructions from a video I found on YouTube that seemed like a good design (link below). I used a couple of 5 gallon buckets and a 55 gallon plastic drum that had once been used to hold/transport garlic.
To connect everything I used a range of different diameter PVC pipe and fittings, and an energy efficient magnetic impeller pump.
I had to special order some things on the Internet as even in San Jose the local Home Depot doesn’t carry a lot of 2″ pipe fittings to connect to an IBC Tote, but there are plenty of options online that should have what you need, whatever type of IBC Tote you are able to find.
Finally, if you use any silicone sealant, be sure to use the aquarium safe type, and be warned- it takes a full 24 hours to dry and cure before you can put it beneath the water line.
When you first put together your aquaponic system you need to be very careful about the water quality, and the nitrate/nitrite cycle.
Because I already had an established pond and was able to capture and move a large amount of the water, I didn’t have to wait for the nitrate/nitrite cycle to get in balance.
There is a lot of information on the Internet about conditioning your water and aquaponic system, and lots of people recommend waiting 14 weeks before adding fish and plants. However, there are lots of other people explain how to get things started much quicker by using water conditioning products to remove chlorine and heavy metals, and amonia to kick-start the nitrite/nitrate cycle. When combined with notoriously hardy goldfish, you might be able to establish the nitrite/nitrate cycle in a few days instead of weeks.
Essentially, before plants can thrive, your aquaponic system has to develop the fundamental layer of an ecosystem comprised of the different algae and bacteria needed to process fish waste and turn it into usable nutrients your plants will love. This happens over time as a layer of slimy algae grows on the surface of your fish tank, and in the gravel/medium used in your growbeds.
If you rush the process and introduce fish and plants before the system is ready, you can kill your fish and plants- and then no peppers for you!
However, if you do it right you can find that your aquaponic system will outproduce your soil-based garden. If you choose to go with a fish that you can also harvest, you can enjoy your own fresh organic fish, or maybe even sell it for profit.