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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sincere Flattery?

I spent a few minutes today catching up on favorite youtube channels and blogs. In the process, I stumbled across a video that looked unusually similar.

There was the bulkhead fitting created out of electrical conduit connectors. The standpipe had the Affnan-style flared mouth I figured out how to make out of standard US plumbing fixtures. The bell on the siphon had the same cap and a series of slots sliced into the base, as I'd done.

On the other hand, I didn't see a media guard. And instead of using the single 45 degree connector to exploit the coanda effect to form the siphon-starting water plug, the author of the video had a traditional 90 degree connector, but with a 45 degree connector at the end. From a hydrodynamic point of view, the 45 degree connector at that location wouldn't do anything useful. The video creator didn't cite any prior influences on his design, so it's not clear if he even knew his "design" was completely derivative of what I'd posted. Then again, he didn't repeat my faux pas of calling a standpipe an "upstand." ::blush::

It's not like I do any of this for money or even fame. I really do just want to make aquaponics accessible to the maximum number of people. But it was surprising to see myself so completely copied, if copied imperfectly. Heavens knows I've learned much of what I know about aquaponics because of the generosity of individuals who made their information available on the internet. But there are a couple of ideas that weren't out there before I posted them.

I'm reminded of a wonderful poem my mother wrote. In later life she went back to college to complete a Bachelor's Degree. In one of her college textbooks, she found her poem, attributed to "Anonymous."

The Gardener
by Pat Chiu

If you were a gardener, your child the seed,
Your task it would be to nurture and weed
'way wild things that threaten distruction and strife
and prepare the young plant for the rigors of life.

But a daisy's a daisy. A rose is a rose.
The child must be true to its form as it grows.
True to the form from the maker sent
And not to the will of the gardener bent.

There are so many people to whom I owe my understanding of aquaponics. And in some cases they may have been leveraging knowledge from others of whom I never knew. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

May those who've learned from my little contributions go on to further the journey. Upward, towards more effective and efficient systems, and forward, towards ever-more affordable ways of doing this kind of gardening.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

No Heaters and the Fish are Still Alive

A picture of one of my bluegills from last summer

One of the most fundamental tenets of medical ethics is primum non nocere, or "first, do no harm." In the practice of medicine, this means it may be better to do nothing rather than commit an act that risks causing more harm than good. When it comes to aquaponics, I've taken this advice to heart when it comes to feeding my fish and heating their environment.

I covered the greenhouse in early January but I didn't get around to connecting my rocket mass heater and solar heaters. Last year I was worried about either exhaust leaks or melting things in the case of the rocket mass heater or pumping cold air into the greenhouse during overcast days in the case of the solar heater. I eventually figured out how to overcome these difficulties. But 24 hours isn't enough time to do everything I want to accomplish in a day. As a result, my lovely heaters haven't been in use this winter. When I say "No Heaters and the Fish are Still Alive," I mean there has been no supplemental heat at all this entire winter.

And yet the fish (goldfish, bluegill) have survived.

I had a scare while we were fixing dinner for Chinese New Year. My son-in-law mentioned the green onions in the dishes were from the garden. Since I hadn't been to the garden that day, I asked about my goldfish. The goldfish live in the sump tank, and the sump tank water levels had gotten low that week.

He said, "I didn't see any goldfish. But the water is only a quarter inch deep in that tank."

I was sure the fish were dead. But when I got a chance to go out and inspect, I saw that the sump tank, though nearly empty, still had a couple of inches in the bottom. The pump is elevated on a pad so it stops pumping water when the level drops that low. The three goldfish were still in there, alive and well though cold.

In the same vein, I've worried about the bluegill. During cold snaps, I've gone for days and even weeks without visiting the greenhouse, much less feeding the fish. Whenever that happens, I begin to worry that I've got a tank full of cold water filled with dead fish. I'm just hard-wired to think an animal has to eat every day. Intellectually I know it's actually more harmful to feed fish when the water is nearly freezing. But the anxiety monster grows until I get a chance to go out and lift the lid of the tank. So far I've not had a single bluegill die.

I did lose my single surviving minnow, a fathead minnow or toughie (tuffie) as they are sometimes called. However, these minnows are only supposed to have a lifespan of 14 months. It's rather astounding that this solitary fish had managed to survive for at least 22 months after I bought him. If I thought my toughie had died of disease, I would have disposed of him outside the garden. Old age, however, isn't a communicable disease.Since the water was near freezing, I slid him into the bluegill tank, where one of the fish made a quick meal of my toughie's mortal remains.

Though nighttime temperatures will continue to drop below freezing, the weather should warm from here on out, on average. More importantly, the days will become increasingly warm, and the longer days will begin pumping heat energy into the greenhouse, to the point that I may have to start lifting the side walls by April or May.

Average highs, lows, and rainfall