Friday, July 3, 2015

Check out our new website


Due to upcoming changes in our family's small farm, we've moved our website to http://www.ridgetopfarmandgarden.com/  
This will be our permanent web home. It would have saved us a lot of trouble had we began in this format in the first place. However, that's not what we did and now please bare with us as we continue to get situated in our new internet space.


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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Aquaponics Update



Around this time last year, Farmer John was busy finishing the greenhouse & setting up our aquaponics system. At the very end of May, the system was up & running enough to add 50 teeny tiny tilapia. Since then it has been a learning experience. To see how we set up the system check out this post.

• The Fish •
It is incredibly difficult to snap a decent photo of the fish in the large tank. The tank is deep, the fish stay at the bottom & the reflections are distracting. But, there are fish swimming around.
 
The lower tank was meant to just be a sump tank and hold only water. However, when we first got the fish they were so tiny they flowed right through the pipe from the upper tank to the sump tank. We didn't bother moving them back.

They're growing a bit slower than those in the big tank. But, I like them in the lower tank because I can get far better photos of those fish.

The tilapia should be getting large enough to eat soon. But, they aren't quite there yet. They seem to be growing slower than we expected. Maybe the water is cooler than they would like or maybe they aren't being fed enough?
 
Instagram post of Farmer John trying to catch a tilapia in the large tank.


• Duckweed •
We feed our fish pelleted food. They also get duckweed.

Duckweed grows like crazy & the fish love it. We keep it contained in this floating bed. This is in part to keep the fish from eating it all & not allowing any to reproduce.

One grow bed doesn't have enough grow medium in it, which means the water gets above the clay balls. Because of this, duckweed survives in that grow bed. That's fine. It keeps the fish from devouring it all.




• Heating the Water •
This has been one of the learn as we go parts of the system. We, unfortunately, have the problem of our power going out frequently. We chose to grow tilapia, and they need warm water. So, we had to come up with a way to keep the water warm even when the power is out.
Farmer John's original plan:
A propane on demand water heater with expansion tank, along with a coiled heat exchanger. The 12 volt circulation pump could be run off the golf cart battery we had.

The problem with the original plan:
The propane doesn't stay lit. I don't know if it is a faulty water heater or if it's sitting in a windy place and the flame gets blown out. Whatever the problem is with the heater, it wasn't working, so Farmer John moved on to Plan B.

Plan B:
A 1000 watt aquarium heater in the big fish tank & a 300 watt aquarium heater in the sump tank. This set up requires electricity, but since Farmer John works from home when the power goes out he quickly gets the generator going to power the 1K heater. So far, so good. This will probably be the method we continue with. We will work on figuring out what's wrong with the on demand water heater and put it to use somewhere else.


• The Grow Beds •
Fish & plants are the two components that work together to create an aquaponics system. Here is how we are maintaining the plant part:
We left the middle grow bed unattended for a few months & we had a jungle of tomatoes & tomatillos.

We were getting tomatoes until February.

Today that bed still has a tomato plant growing in the back, but also has new starts. The starts are okra, white currant tomato, mustard, & an overwintered kale plucked from the garden.

The far grow bed has pineapple ground cherries, Mexican sour gurkins, eggplant, & romaine.

Romaine just getting started.

Romaine perfect for cutting in the front grow bed.
 
At the end of September I transplanted a few geraniums to the front grow bed...

... They have over wintered beautifully and are thriving.


I look at this first year as our getting established year for aquaponics. I can't wait to see how the entire system grows this next year. Farmer John is already plotting a few additions.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015


This is my 5th year participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count & for the first time the weather was great. We have had a very mild winter & it seems spring is arriving early. Unfortunately, it was a busy weekend & I didn't get to look for birds as much as I had hoped.

Over the 4 days of the GBBC, I only spotted a handful of birds outside our house. They were all very typical of who hangs around this time of year.

American Robin

Dark-eyed Junco

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Northern Flicker

Song Sparrow


I did quickly look around 2 different wetland areas in search of birds. Here's a smattering of what I saw that day:

The first wetlands I visited was flooded, so I didn't get to walk around it like I'd hoped.

But, I did get to see many birds, mostly sparrows, splashing in the high water.

Female & Male House Finch

Many flocks of geese flew over.

American Coot

Anna's Hummingbird

Red-winged Blackbird

European Starling

Killdeer getting a worm

Bushtit

One Bald Eagle flew overhead at one wetland area.

Two Bald Eagles were perched in a tree near their nest at the 2nd wetland area.

It seems every time the GBBC rolls around I don't get out & look for birds as much as I would like. But, I do spot a few birds, have fun & hope for a better result next year.


My other GBBC's

Monday, January 12, 2015

Learning to Raise Pigs


Our oldest is raising 2 pigs to earn money for the laptop he's been wanting. Although he's been doing most of the feeding & watering, we're all learning a little about pigs.

The First Couple Months
Back in September, the day they came to live with us.

They always came to say hi when I walked by. I'm sure they were hoping for food. Whatever the reason, it was super cute.

Sniffing the air?



They liked to nibble on our shoes. It didn't seem as if it was meant to be mean. Maybe they were hoping they would taste good?


Watering
We use a bucket with watering nipples for our thirsty chickens The goats have a bucket. Neither of these methods were going to work for getting water to the pigs. We tried buckets and shallow containers. They stepped in them & spilled them every time.
So, Farmer John went to the feed store and came back with this. It works well as a constant source of water... in warm weather. Once the temperature started freezing, though, he had to unscrew the hose. Which, of course, meant no water.

The pigs then got upgraded to the container we use as a brooder for our chicks. They've had this for awhile and seems to work fine.


Feeding
We had the same problem with a feeding bucket as we did the water. They dumped over every container they were given.
So, Farmer John bought a container that fits in a tire making it sturdy enough to not get tipped over.


They have moved on to eating from this metal container we once used for our dogs.



Shelter
We talked about getting pigs and Farmer John started a shelter. But, the day came sooner than we were thinking. We had 2 pigs, but no home for them.
The pigs moved into what we call "The Duck Pen." It was originally built for ducks. But, ducks, chickens, quail, turkeys & goats have all resided in this pen. It was empty at the time, so the pigs moved in. Straw bales were lined against the chicken wire to keep them from pushing under the fence. This worked for awhile until they were big enough to break the bales.

Sleeping in their cozy duck house. We had a light on them for awhile. But, don't anymore.

Their current home is a mix of materials we had on hand. Their pen is set up inside the fenced area for the goats. Cattle panels were attached to the beginnings of the structure Farmer John originally started for the pigs. Their house is a hoop house we've used for gardening projects and housing chickens.


Getting Big
The pigs are definitely growing. I don't know how much they weigh, but they outweigh our son. And, they are getting a bit aggressive. They are no longer the cutie patootie piggly wigglies.
Resting in the hoop house.

They still come up to me at the fence.

I have no idea what the goats and pigs think about each other. But, with the fence between them, there doesn't seem to be any problems. The pigs easily outweigh the goats now.

It didn't take them long to turn their living space into a soupy, sloppy, mucked up mess.

Rootin' for something



So far our pig raising experience is going well. We've had a few minor issues with figuring out the best way to feed and water them. They escaped once. Capt. N has had to figure out how to get them their food without the goats jumping all over him and without the pigs trompling him. But, he's figuring it out.

They probably have about 2 more months until they reach butcher weight. Until then we will enjoy them.

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