Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Aquaponics Explored and a Garden Update

   We’ve had some welcome rain the last couple of days. The garden loves it. It always has a leap of growth after it rains. I’ve got to believe it’s because it doesn’t have all the additives in it, (to make it healthy for us), like the city water. All the plants look so happy and hydrated. Plants that give us food take priority when it comes to watering the yard. The water bill is on my mind in the summer. I feel lucky to have city water. Farmers that have to rely on rain are having a hard time. 

  I’ve been reading a book on Aquaponic Gardening by Sylvia Bernstein. It’s a step-by-step guide to raising vegetables and fish together. I’ve been researching this topic online for a few months now. I’m convinced this is the ultimate way to grow veggies and fish. My husband and I are trying to eat more fish, but it’s very expensive and the threat of mercury in our fish is scary. I stock up when it’s on sale but it would be nice to have our protein on site. It just makes sense to raise them along with the veggies. What intrigues me is that it takes less water than a garden in the soil. The water is recycled and never has to be dumped. It goes from the fish tank to the veggies and back to the fish tank several times a day. The plants sit in a medium of clay pellets, or a wide array of choices. It’s a totally organic system. There has to be an organic balance for everything to live. As soon as we can I’ll be switching to this system. I'm not done reading  the book yet. More to come as I read it.
  As far as the fish are concerned you can raise Tilapia, trout, bass, fresh water shrimp or a few others. The Tilapia sounds good to me, also the fresh water shrimp. The best part is there is no weeding! I spend a good amount of time weeding, every day, 7 months of the year. I really don’t like it!! I do it for the food the yard gives us and to keep things looking nice.

  It’s amazing how much food we get from our garden.  To think that aquaponics could increase that yield is exciting. Last year we canned a year’s supply of tomatoes and tomato products, green sauce, green beans and carrots. That’s a year supply of those. Then we grew, ate and froze peas, squash, cucumbers, potatoes and sweet potatoes. On top of that, I can and freeze fruit and veggies when they are at their cheapest to buy. 

 We don’t have fruit and nut trees of our own but we will someday. I do have a few almond trees that have been growing all summer. They were already sprouted when I found them in the compost pile. 

  I have 2 that are doing really well. One is in a pot (in the blue pot), and one came up in the garden in the carrots (below). The one in the ground has been bigger all along but now the other one has caught up in height and they look about the same. 

  I’m still working on cherry trees from seed. I planted a bunch last summer but none came up. A friend of mine has a peach tree that she was given that had come up in a compost pile. This was about 6 yrs ago. Now the tree is about 10 ft tall and gives lots of peaches. I’m encouraged by that so I keep trying.

  We’re getting carrots although they aren’t very long. The stiff clay soil is to blame here. The clay soil does have minerals in it but it’s hard for the roots to penetrate it. I didn’t double dig that bed; I don’t have the back for that anymore. I just add lots of compost and mix it in a little. This soil will need years of that treatment before it’ll be ‘good’ soil.

  This is our second summer here so it just hasn’t had time to lighten up with the added compost. My house in CA I lived in for 7 yrs and that soil was beautiful. It takes time to build soil from compacted grass. Amazingly though, we get a lot of produce from our garden. 

  I’m so excited that the celery is doing so well. We’ve been eating it and I can’t help but to nibble on it while I water and weed every morning. 

Stella loves to nibble from the garden. She’ll be coming over tomorrow for the day! She has her own little tools and garden gloves.  Her favorite thing to do is look for worms. While we water the worms come to the top of the soil and I usually pick one up and let her hold it. She was nervous at first but now she’s very brave and holds them, but not for long! 

Pretty good for a 2 yr old! She can pick peas with 2 hands so she doesn’t pull the branch off or the plant out of the ground. She's a little expert already. I have so much fun with her in the garden. Now Kym and Stella are growing veggies at their house this summer!

The celery is on the left and the carrots on the right.

  They’re having a great time and Stella gets to see the daily growth, which is amazing to a kid. It’s all very much like magic to see veggies form right in front of you, and then you get to eat them! It connects kids to their food, shows them where it comes from and makes them conscience of eating healthy. 

  You want your kids to eat their veggies? Then grow some! Make it their own project and their responsibility to water it and take care of it. When my kids were 3 and 5 we had a little plot in the back yard. It wasn’t more than 12’x12’ but I gave each kid a row of their own. (A pot on a porch will work too!) It was their choice what to plant. They got to choose from the seeds I had at the time. They watered it every day and when it rained I showed them how to look at and feel the soil to see if the rain was enough or does it need more. We had slugs and the kids liked to take the salt and kill them for me. Icky as that sounds, the slugs were really doing damage and we had to take care of it. That’s what gardeners do; they take care of the plants. I loved gardening with them. It was like magic when we got to pick and eat the fruits of our labor. I will always treasure those memories. Fast-forward, now I’m making new memories with a new generation. Making memories in the garden is a precious part of my life.

  I took down the peas. They were done producing for the most part. I left a couple plants for Stella as she has just perfected picking and I want her to practice as long as possible before the plants are really done. The cucumbers have taken over where the peas were. I love growing cucumbers this way, off the ground. It keeps them clean and they don’t have a yellow side from sitting on the ground. Cleaner is easier for me. We’ve been getting quite a few cucumbers every day. We’re eating them for lunch and dinner every day and we’ve even started juicing again to use them up. We’re still sharing with the family as well and there is still a surplus. I’m not complaining at all, I love them. The peeling isn’t bitter at all so there’s no need to peel them. I feel so healthy eating all this fresh produce every day!

  The juicing is definitely giving me energy. I zip around here for several hours after drinking one.
If you’re looking for a recipe, we’ve been doing 3 cucumbers, 2-3 stalks celery and 1-2 apples. We did one yesterday that was 3 cucumbers, 6 carrots and 1 apple. These make a couple cups of juice, which is just right for us right now. From what I’ve read it’s a good idea to have a different juice every day. It can’t hurt, right?
   I tried juicing before, that’s why I own a juicer, but I never really liked it and it seemed expensive for the veggies. It takes a lot. But if you have an overflowing garden, it’s perfect. I have to tell you that the worms are loving the leftovers, (from the machine). Everyone is happy; it’s a wonderful thing.
  Here we are having our green drink. Don't we look healthier already?
  Something else that’s abundant right now is the squash. Both zucchini and yellow straight neck squash are producing several a day.

 We love the small ones, 8” or so, split in half and grilled. We eat lots of this! We also eat a lot of stir-fry although we’re kind of tired of that right now. I got a yummy recipe from my friend Melodee, for Zucchini Alfredo Pesto. It is to die for. I made homemade ravioli and put this on it. It was heaven!!! She said I could share it, so here it is!

Zucchini Alfredo Pesto

1 (12oz ) pkg of uncooked egg noodles or any pasta
3 T vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 c. zucchini, shredded
½ c. milk
4 oz. cream cheese, cubed
½ c. fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add egg noodles and cook for 8-10 min, drain.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in garlic and cook 2 min. Mix in zucchini and cook for 10 min., until some of the moisture has evaporated.

Pour the milk into the skillet and stir in cream cheese until melted. Mix in basil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over the cooked pasta.


  Bob and I ate this at Mel and Greg’s house last summer. It’s just wonderful; you have to try this, seriously. It’s a great new recipe to help use up all that zucchini.

 So back to the garden. Everything is growing like crazy. The tomatoes are getting tall and are loaded with fruit.
  The stakes are 8ft tall. I wanted to give them room to grow. They are more than half way up them now.

  You can see the newspaper on the right in the isle. I weeded it first, then raked the wood chips aside and then put 10 or more layers of newspaper down. I'll cover this with wood chips. I plan to do a row a day until it's done, then a trip to the store for wood chips. I put the chips that were there on top of the newspaper to hold it down in the wind. By next week it'll be done and that will be nice since we have some muddy spots right now. I changed my mind about using the old carpet out there. It got a little stinky sitting around waiting for wood chips so I pitched it. It's a good thing I've been saving newspaper for a year! Thank you Denver Post.

   Lots of Roma's this year. They are already big and beefy.

  We had to eat a couple a few nights ago, using them for green fried tomatoes. The first green fried tomatoes of the season are always  the best. I picked 3 tomatoes for this but only used 2. Sliced very thin they go a long way. So yummy! Super easy to make, here's the recipe!

Fried  Green Tomatoes

You will need;

Pick firm green tomatoes, 1 for each person to be served.
1/2 c. or more Flour 
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 c. or more Oil (Canola is good)

With a mandolin or a very sharp knife, cut the tomatoes very thin. The thinner the better. 
Get 2 medium sized plates. On one put flour and salt and pepper, mix well. On the other plate beat an egg with a little milk or water. Get your skillet heated on medium (lower this if it starts to burn while cooking). Stoves are different. Add oil while it's heating. Put your plates next to the stove with the flour closer to the skillet. At this point get another larger plate or platter and put 4 layers of paper towels on it and put it next to the stove as well. 

  Take each slice and dip them in egg and then in flour. Carefully put into skillet. Keep an eye on the first ones you put in there, they brown quickly. You'll have to flip them before you're done filling the skillet with the first batch. As they finish cooking put them on the platter with paper towels. As soon as you can, taste one and add salt ( if needed). 

  After the first batch check your oil, if it's burned at all you should wipe it out and start with fresh oil. Be careful with the hot oil. (This use of oil and the mess keeps me from making these often. We have them maybe 3 times a yr. It's a treat for us.We're trying to cut back on fried foods as well.) Now just try not to eat them all before the family knows what you've made! 

  You can do this with zucchini too! When my kids were growing up this is the only way they would eat their zucchini. It tastes very much the same.

 The basil is doing well despite my trimmings.

  Putting a big saucer of water in the garden has brought the birds on a daily basis. It’s good for insect control. This pic was taken through the window. They hung around quite a while and patrolled under the squash. I may put another one in the tee pee corner of the garden; I seem to have grasshoppers in that corner, maybe that would help. 

  The tomato plants are climbing up the tee pee as well as the green beans that survived the grasshoppers. I planted more green beans so as to fill in the tee pee a little better. It’s late to plant but I’ll take a chance. The earlier plantings are up about half way now.

  Each day I gather the harvest of the day in our tray that Mel's hubby Greg made for us a couple yrs ago. I use it every day, thanks guys! 

 Each picture of the tray is one day's harvest. Some purple carrots, snap peas, a couple yellow squash, a couple zucchini, three Roma tomatoes and three cucumbers on this day.
 The corn was ready so I picked it. A tiny ear from a tiny stalk. I read about how to know if corn is ripe. One of the things I learned is that when the corn stands out  from the stalk at almost  a 90 degree angle, it's ready and it's  like it's saying come and pick me.
Another is to peel back the husk and check the kernels. I thought you could go by the dry silk alone but I guess it's good to check it, as long as you put the husk back so it can keep growing if it needs to.
 A little of everything on this day.


  The tomatillos are getting tall. They are just loaded with fruit. I enjoy the shape of the plants. It grows straight for 12-18” then branches out into 4 branches. If left alone it balances itself until the fruit get too heavy. I grew too many in that space last yr. I thinned it out this yr but they still need more space. I get a kick out of the little balloons with the fruit inside. We just love the green sauce we get from these! 

   Bob snapped a couple pics of me in the garden. I thought I’d pop them in.
A cucumber a day keeps the doctor away, or 5 or 6.

My story is #168 on this site. It's a fun place to see what others like me are doing.

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