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By: Ernest Hancock

AzAquadome Project Update

Our experience with “The MoneyDome” gave us the confidence to connect two domes so that we could experiment with Aquaponic grow beds and float beds in one dome and vertically oriented growing in the other dome. The vertical growing dome will also have a double sink wash station/counter and free standing Prep Island that will also be used for entertaining in my food producing ‘Man Dome’ :)

I sewed the canopy for the MoneyDome (for information on how the math was accomplished on this please check the links available on the MoneyDome construction page) but I decided to go with moveable panels in the shape of triangles so that we could customize for shade and make the effort more attractive for my neighbors.

For the 6 weeks of Phoenix’ Winter (maybe a little longer :) we suspect that we will cover the entire dome with transparent plastic for the desired green house effect.

For the vertical growing we needed a new hub bolt design…

 

 

Several designs for vertical growing will be tested and each of the hub connectors can support hundreds of pounds so we plan on filling the ‘Vertical Dome’.

When we moved in Donna quickly became accustomed to running the Waterfall feature often. But the maintenance was even more than our swimming pool. I convinced Donna that I could maintain the waterfall feature, keep the water clean, grow some fish and vegetables while making the entire operation easier and cleaner than the maintaining of the ‘pond’… we’ll see how easy it is. But we are putting the time and planning into the effort early in the process with this goal in mind.

We are very fortunate that we had a more than large enough pond for the fish and that it was close to where we had our previous garden (that took a lot of work BTW). The side door that opens to the garden/dome area is our laundry room that is immediately next to our Radio/TV studio. This allows me to tend the Aquadome during my show’s commercial breaks. We have also installed four color/infrared cameras that tie into our studio’s video switcher, along with a cordless microphone I am able to broadcast from the Aquadome and show our video audience what we are doing in real time. Aside from the ‘coolness factor’, this also allows us to combine the AzAquaDome Project with the Radio/TV show without additional video or audio editing since it will be recorded at the same time and will become a regular show feature.

The two blue poly barrels will be incorporated later as filters for the solids that are produce by the fish. For now we are ‘conditioning’ the water. In order to control the mosquito population, Gambusia affinis a.k.a. "mosquito fish" have been added to the pond.  Mosquitofish are live bearing freshwater minnows related to guppies. Adult mosquitofish measure 1 to 2 inches in length, and can eat 500 mosquito larvae a day!  They also eat wind-blown organic debris at the surface of the water.

We got our fish from the “Lily Pond Lady” for free and she was a very big help. Donna spent some time with her and made a new friend. We found that we shared many common interests and knew many of the same people working to become self-sustaining.

 

If you are diligent you can get these barrels for as little as $15 in bulk from Craigslist. The ones that we bought were used to transport tomatoes and when they are available we usually buy 20 or more with friends and family to use for storage of… everything.(While writing this article, a friend emailed me a link to a guy who has barrels right down the street from us: http://www.arizonabarrels.com/)

The barrel on the right is backup in case we need it for extra filtration. Our experts are concerned that we will have too many fish in our larger than normal pond for the Aquaponics. They believe that we could use this size pond for several times the amount of food we plan to grow. If we need more growing area we have a ‘winding river feature’ that connects to the pond where we could grow more plants,… Duck Weed is good for cleaning the water and is great fish and chicken food. But we have two very large Pine Trees that shed needles constantly and must be regularly removed so that the pH is properly maintained… we’ll see.

The solids will be drained into a bucket. The pipe on the right side of the photo comes from the sump pump at the bottom of the pond. The water is pumped into the barrel and is directed straight up at an elbow in the center of the barrel. A large pipe hangs from the lid and loosely slips over the one inch water pipe. This contains the water in such a way that the solids will settle to the bottom while the pumped water rises to eventually drain towards the Aquadome from the upper portion of the barrel.

The large pipe connected to the fence behind the barrel is now being feed directly from the pond’s sump pump. Later we will connect the pump to the barrel and the large feeder pipe will be lowered to the correct height and connected to the barrel. If we think the fish are overwhelming the system we can add the second barrel and/or grow More Food.

Damn pine needles :)

There is another water feature that feeds water to the pond that can be used to grow more food and clean more water.

I decided to use stones so that I would have a better chance of getting trace minerals into the plants for a healthier diet. We used volcanic cinders for the bottom 2/3rds of the grow beds because they are much lighter and have a great deal more surface area for the growth of the bacteria that makes the system work.

 
The Naturopathic Knights were a big help, with several others, on “Rock Day”.

The H2OPEsystem is way way cool. It has been using two 15ft. x 1ft. roll out solar panels and a small framed panel to power the system day and night (about 250 watts I think) Two 12v batteries are inside the unit along with water pumps and water filtration. We are going to be pushing this system to its limits to see just how much it can do for us. We plan on running all of the pumps, the double sink and powering the lighting system day and night during the Phoenix Winter. I may have to trim some trees and other plants but the flex panels come with very long cords so I may even place them on the roof.

 

 

 

We have the H2OPEsystem in the grow bed dome for now but it will likely take a place of honor on the deck about 20 feet away from where it is now.

 

The Plumbing… OK, the upper large pipe (likely bigger than it needs to be but this way it will need much less maintenance) feeds the pond water into the lower tank. The return line goes directly back to the pond and prevents the tank from overflowing.

A pump moves the water from the lower tank to each of the grow beds where the water is constantly flowing into the three rock grow beds.

When the first grow bed empties (more on how that happens in a moment… very cool BTW) it feeds the two Float Beds which then overflow from the second Float Bed back into the lower tank. Depending on the water chemistry we may have the Float Beds drain directly back to the pond via a “Y” connection in the return pipe.

 

Now for the cool part, the Grow Beds are constantly being feed water. When they reach the desired height they automatically drain completely and start refilling again. I’ve included a link to a video that demonstrates this “Bell Siphon” concept in just over 4 minutes.

(Bell Siphon Demo)

A search of YouTube for “Aquaponic Bell Siphon” will generate lots of variations on this simple device that works amazingly well… and is very simple and cheap to make

The plumbing is pretty simple… water from the fish pond is constantly pumped into the Grow/Floating Beds and then regularly drained back to be recharged with new fish water. Ammonia-laden water is processed to harvest helpful types of bacteria such as Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter. Nitrosomonas turns ammonia into nitrite, while nitrobacter converts into nitrate. Both of these nitrates can be used as plant fertilizer. For more information - http://home.howstuffworks.com/lawn-garden/professional-landscaping/alternative-methods/aquaponics1.htm

 

To help get the bacteria started my friend Brian Gallagher gave me a gallon of his Aquaponic water to add to my pond.

 

The pH levels for the system are very important and we have to get the system balanced. The rocks have an impact on the pH and if we get too high or low we could have stressed (or worse) fish and plants.

 

To prepare for this we keep track of the levels with a tester kit and add Muriatic Acid over time until we get to where we want to be.

 

This weekend we will scrape back an inch or two of the rocks to get to the damp rocks and place a cotton ball on top of the wet rocks and then a seed on top of the moist cotton and replace the rocks.

 

The Float Beds are made of Styrofoam that I painted with white latex so that UV rays wouldn’t damage them. Chad is the owner of http://www.endlessfoodsystems.com/ and is helping us every step of the way and will show us how to properly use the Float Beds.

I’m meeting with the superintendent/principal of my children’s old Jr./Sr. High School Monday morning to schedule classes for the Junior High Students so that we can document their learning along with us. We’ll be supplying them a small unit to maintain and conduct regular classes as part of our “Defending Archimedes” project that promotes the concept of Self-Sustainability at all levels of life, starting BEFORE puberty.

 

In a few days the water was too dirty and green to see anything. After we started the pumps running through the grow beds and added the small mosquito fish, the water began to clear immediately and has maintained a clear shade of emerald.

 

I am continuing to sew the triangles and am determining the positioning with experimentation and observation

 

Below are the beginnings of our Pumpkin plants for our “Great Pumpkin Harvest Festival” the weekend before Halloween. We are inviting several food production organizations (permaculturalists, Fruit Tree advocates, Urban farmer organizations, neighbors, friends, supporters etc.) and we are encouraging the small children to pick their own pumpkins from our fields where we planted the pumpkins below that we started weeks ago.

The large pumpkin leaves in the bucket are from Brian’s Aquaponics Grow Beds that he planted the same time as Donna planted the others in the soil. Donna’s sprouted 3 days earlier than Brian’s but then his pumpkins got really big really fast. Brian suspects that the seeds were colder from the constant water changes, but he got really happy when he saw how fast they grew.

 

Weeks ago Donna bought eight Turkey’s for our family to ‘harvest’ this Thanksgiving.

 

Now they are much bigger and think Donna is their Momma. They are much friendlier at this age than the Chickens and they don’t mind being picked up and are friendly with the grandkids (lobbying for a reprieve I’m sure). For many years we have been talking about teaching ourselves this life skill… we’ll talk about this more in the next couple of eZine Editions.

 

 

And as long as the Chickens keep laying eggs, eating the bugs, fertilizing the lawn and generally stay out of my way… I guess they’ll be safe for a while.

Peace,
Ernie



 
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