Paper Wasps

It may be a bit hard to see from the photo I have taken (enhanced by upping the light level as well) but this is a paper wasp nest that surprised me by being built under the leaf on my banana tree.  I usually see paper wasps around the edges of my house where there is a far more solid structure for them to construct hives on, but this is unique.

Paper Wasps

I only find issue with these wasps when they’re right over my doorways and to date the only time I have ever had them threaten me was when I tried removing (failed) a hive on my front porch.  Otherwise with an obvious lack of bees around the garden they seem to have filled in as a potential pollinating insect so I rather enjoy them.

 

Magnet Stick

One of the things I like about continuing the Garden Wiki as a blog is that I can now freely ramble about the dumb little things I contend with not only in the garden but also related to the yard, shed, and generally around the whole property in the realm of outdoors.  To that end there has been this burn pile I started on the lawn a few years ago about 20 feet from where I was gardening.  It has seen all sorts of tree limbs and yard waste but also a few bits of wood from my shed and other places around the yard that have come complete with screws and nails lodged in them.

My problem is that I needed a way to remove screws and nails from the lawn so that my riding lawnmower wouldn’t get a flat driving over them.  I’d pondered building a large electromagnet but that seemed extreme.  Luckily a Tractor Supply Co. near my house had some magnets mounted to metal sticks which are strong enough that I can now go out and waive the magnet stick over my burn pile area and it pulls screws and nails directly out of the ashes.  This has been a major hassle reducer and clearly has other uses in hard to reach spots inside my shed and wherever else small metal fragments need to be removed.

Magnet on a stick for picking up nails and screws.

Future Aquaponic Setup Speculation

So here it is toward the end of the regular growing season and I’ve had months of watching my little system do its thing.
aquaponics 2013

If you want to learn more about the setup above then visit our forum.  This system was put up as a test partly because I thought I’d be moving mid season so permanency wasn’t an issue and partly because I expect things to go horribly wrong at first, and then I gain wisdom!  This entry is entirely to remind myself what I need to make a setup work better next season.

1.  Another barrel to act as a sediment trap, preferably with a tap at the bottom of it for occasional easy draining.  This season I’ve had to push a hose into the blue barrel at the end of the line and overflow it to clear the sediment out.  Some of which would still get sucked up by the pump, into the PVC tube and clog up against the lava rock in there.  Not a good thing.  I know the tube is clogged when my strawberries start raining.

2.  A deeper grow bed.  The bed in this is only 2 inches deep which given a less than level environment, rock, water, plant matter falling in and primarily massive root zones has led to clogging.  Root pruning for instance.  I’ve already selected a 10 foot long horse feed container to be my next bed and it is about a foot tall.  If I can keep the water down to 6 inches or less it should be wonderful.

3.  Either a larger PVC return for plants like the strawberries or no plants but a similarly sized piece with holes cut into the top so tree frogs can enter and be my pest control.  They inhabit the current system, but I could technically build frog houses if I planned on it and house a larger volume.  I am all for the frogs.  Best discovery this year.

4.  A fake mounted owl or hawk on top of whatever scaffolding I create.  Birds attacked my test tomatoes repeatedly.  I’ve heard fake predators work wonderfully.

5.  A barrel for the returning water to flow into before gravity takes it down into the IBC tote.  Said barrel should be stocked with gambusia or other wimpy self sufficient breeding minnow as a live food source that randomly adds itself to the main tank for the larger fish.

6.  Wine glass holder.  Because hey… =)

hydroponic grow bed

7.  I love it when it rains because it refills the system, cutting down on the occasional need to add water with a garden hose.  That doesn’t happen often, but I’d like to do it as little as possible.  A rain collection system would be wonderful.  The grow bed collects a little water but it could be even better if there was a nearby structure that fed into one of the chambers and acted much like a rooftop rain gutter.

DIY PVC Bulkhead Fitting for Aquaponics

(FYI: This post is mostly a recap from what you’ll find over on the Garden Wiki Forum. It’s popular enough that a blog entry seemed logical!)

The major point of frustration I’ve had setting up my aquaponics system is in figuring out how to plumb the containers. I had no idea what I needed, and I’ve since learned about terms like “bulkhead fitting” which roughly means a water tight connection into whatever water chamber you may be working with.

DIY_PVC_bulkhead_fitting_aquaponics

My first goal was to learn how to put a bulkhead fitting in place on a test container, for which I chose the plastic crate you can see here. Quickly learning that bulkhead fittings are not something you can usually find at a hardware store, and not wanting to bother plumbers or pay a lot from online sources for specialty parts I decided that whatever the case my system was going to be composed of a do it yourself set of parts I would be able to find cheaply and from a normal hardware store. What’s the point of tinkering if you have to depend on lots of external sources, right?

What I ultimately found was advice online about how to build an improvised PVC based bulkhead fitting for aquaponics. The current wisdom (which I’ll improve greatly upon if you keep reading) seems to be that to build such a thing you have to avoid normal PVC and head into the electrical PVC section of your local hardware store and you end up using electrical male and female PVC adapters because they fit tighter together and with glue and some gaskets/orings you can build your own bulkhead fitting for just a few bucks. This didn’t work for me because I was unable to find gaskets/orings.

Instead I’ve found some absurdly easy to come by things at my local Lowes and used them on the crate you see in the image above and on everything else in my system now. The items are as follows:

A 1/2 inch FEMALE electrical (gray) PVC threaded adapter.

A 1/2 inch MALE normal (white) PVC threaded adapter.

A rubber washer made for a garden hose.

So why do these things work for my aquaponics setup?

Because the male and female adapters screw into each other well. The choice of using a normal PVC male adapter is because they seem to be made with longer stems, which didn’t matter on the thin side of the test crate shown here but when I eventually went and tried this on a 55 gallon plastic barrel I needed that extra stem length to go all the way through. The washer, which I found 6 packs of for $1 but could have simply stolen out of a garden hose from my very own yard just happens to fit (very) snugly over the stem of the male PVC fitting, 1/2 sized only, thus my choice of 1/2 inch PVC. So when you look at the picture above you simply see that I ram a hose washer onto a male 1/2 inch PVC adapter, slip the remaining stem through the hole in the container, and then the female (no washer on the back side, just pvc) electrical pvc adapter gets screwed in.

Even better, I’ve experienced little to no leakage on various containers. The sheer pressure of smashing that washer between the male bit and the outside of containers seems to be pretty water tight. No glue, less hassle and I find I can take them back off in a heartbeat to change things up, which is great for tinkering.

Also worth noting if you’re trying to learn from my experiences is that I used an appropriately sized hole saw bit to cut my holes. The tighter the hole the better. I believe I paid about $10 for a hole saw bit that’d cut my plastic containers to the size of the PVC stem. Totally worth the investment.