Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bats: Good for Agriculture

I was watching the morning news programs this morning and while flipping through the channels I settled on the CBS Sunday Morning program.  They did a nice piece of bats this morning and I learned some interesting things that I want to pass along. 
  1. They don’t attach people
  2. The more bats, the less pesticides are needed
  3. Austin, Texas actually has a annual festival to celebrate bats
I've seen bat houses in Florida in many different State and County Parks, but didn't realize how important they are to our food system - until today.
This looks like something every homeowner should have, whether an active gardener or just someone that wants some pest control without the use of pesticides (who wouldn't want that?)  In fact, according to, a single bat can eat 1,200 mosquitoes per hour!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Growing Vegetables in Fall and Winter

I started gardening 4 years ago when a job transfer sent us from the Detroit, MI area to Tampa, FL.  The sunshine and tropical temperatures make vegetable gardening minimally difficult there, even in winter.  In Florida, gardening in the summertime is actually difficult and discouraged.  Summertime gardens can be challenging if attention is not paid to the type of vegetables being grown and the specific varieties selected, but a little practice is really all that is needed to grow food for the family dinner table consistently.
Recently, a job transfer sent us back to Michigan so we’ll need to adjust our strategy a little for spring and summer, but I’ve become so used to having fresh homegrown produce to eat in the fall and winter that I’ve started researching ways to grow vegetables during the winter.
I can predict what you may be thinking – he’s crazy if he thinks he can grow vegetables in the snow, wind, freezing rain, and below freezing average temperatures that can reach single digits for weeks on end. I’ve been called a lot of things, and crazy is definitely on the very long list of those descriptions.
But before you call my family to suggest a formal intervention I submit exhibit A, from a successful winter time gardener in Maine that has been growing vegetables in all four seasons for many, many years.

I've never visited Maine in winter, but I'm guessing the temperatures are not much different than temperatures in Michigan. I think I'm going to try it. 

I'll need to build a cold frame of some sort and perhaps a crudely designed portable greenhouse, but it sounds like it is possible.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Aquaponics Update

I am writing this from a motel room in suburban Detroit.  It's quite funny how things work out sometimes.  I had my aquaponics system set-up and operating for 3 weeks when my employer requested my presence in another state.  I had to disassemble the system and prepare it for the moving company to transport to Michigan in a few weeks.

As a result of this process, I've got a few tips for urban aquaponics enthusiasts based on my experiences.

1. Gravel media grow beds are great unless you have to relocate them.  I spent $220 on 200 gallons of river gravel and had to give it away for free to entice a friend to help me remove it from the tanks and move it to his urban farm since it was too heavy to transport it 1,130 miles from Tampa to Detroit.

2. Two hundred gallon fish tanks are great until you have to empty them and replace the grass underneath them to make the backyard presentable to potential home buyers. It's been 4 weeks and the grass is showing no signs of coming back. I guess it's time to throw in the towel and buy some sod.

3. Buying expensive fish for aquaponics is an inefficient use of money. Luckily I didn't do it. I used the el cheapo feeder goldfish with good results.  When I disassembled the tank I moved them to a home aquarium. They are still going strong several weeks later.

4. Before you build your system, give some careful thought to your water source. If it's not safe for fish, figure out how you're going to make it safe before you spend money building an aquaponics system. I used Chloram-X (tm) with good results.

5. Figure how you're going to test your water. Not all aquarium kits will accurately test water treated with bonding agents that remove Chloramine to make the water safe for fish.

6. In an urban setting like mine where the yard is 45 feet by 25 feet, put a alot of thought into the foot print of your system. In the sub-tropical climate of Tampa, I might have achieved nearly as much vegetable production per square feet using Earthboxes (tm). (Probably not, but minus actually conducting an experiment my gut tells me that it would be close for the first year until the aquaponics system was well established.)

7. Building a media based aquaponics system sounds easier than it is. Washing gravel is hard work for 1 or 2 people. I recommend you invite the nieces and nephews over for the weekend to lend you a hand.

When I re-build my system in Michigan, I'll have colder weather to consider but I do plan to re-build next season. With my first experience under my belt, I am willing to bet that the second time around will be much smoother.

Build an Aquaponic System