First Sprout!

I was almost giving up hope, but up popped arugula! It took about 5 minutes, but I also noticed some broccoli peeking out in the back right.

First Planting

Today, Zachary and I planted seeds for 6 different vegetables – see the image of the seed packets below for what and the relative layout in the growbed when facing it.

I did a water test – disappointed to find a rather high pH of 8.4 – really want it around 7 or so. I’m not too worried, though, as the pH is said to lower over time, and eventually I may need to add some eggshells (calcium carbonate) to the sump tanks, which should raise it up to 7.4 or so.

Other stats were pretty negligible regarding ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. I’ll need to get some fish or find another way to add ammonia to get the system cycled.

First Growbed Finished!

Finally got through!   I can make the fall planting season now…


1] General view of growbed, sump tank (there’s a 1/8″ hole in the standpipe that always drains a little, there in case the power goes out so the water can drain and not rot the plant roots), and fish tank (no fish yet, and yes, it’s tilted a little!)

2] View of the bell siphon and standpipe

3] Demonstration of the bell siphon in action. After this video I added another layer or two of gravel so that no water would be exposed on top, to cut down on evaporation.

Shale Cleaning!

I wanted to document the process of what I am doing to “prep” the expanded shale, perhaps for a one-day sense of nostalgia, or perhaps as a warning to myself or anyone else who might take it upon themselves to create their own system of how not to do it!   The biggest problem I’ve had with the shale is that there was a lot of mulch mixed in.   I had already rented the truck and arrived at the site and was told it was “dirty”, and they didn’t have much left…  “No problem!” I thought, “I have to wash the rocks anyway.”    Well…  MULCH is much different than DIRT, and does not just wash away!  At any rate, here’s the process I had to go through, illustrated in the pictures:

  1. Put two shovel-fulls of shale on the homemade sifter (1/4″ hardware cloth fastened on a square 2×4 frame).   Pick out the really big pieces of mulch and mud balls.
  2. Shake the sifter over the wheelbarrow for 20-30 seconds – the dirt and shale that’s too small to use fall through (which should be a really good soil amendment, wherever I decide to work on a dirt garden).
  3. From what remains in the sifter, pick out most remaining big pieces of mulch.  Not all mulch floats (that part’s coming), so any bit helps….  but don’t spend too much time, or it’ll never end.
  4. Dump the rocks into the kiddie pool / shale washer!
  5. Repeat 6-8 times.
  6. Take the too-small shale to the back of the garage and dump it in the kiddie sandbox to save for future dirt garden use.   Then hose out the wheelbarrow out so that any remaining dirt does not get on the clean rocks that will be coming…
  7. Back to the kiddie pool, you can see that (a)  the water is dirty – that’s good, it’s getting off of the rocks – and (b) most/some of the mulch floats on the surface.   Good separation technique.   Use a pool net to skim the mulch off the surface.   Interestingly, some shale floats as well (it’s porous if you look at it really closely, so there’s air inside).   Pick out the shale that was in the pool net.
  8. Agitate the rocks in the water to help get any last bit of dirt off, and then use an old badminton racquet to pick up bits and pick out any remaining mulch that did not float.   (I eventually did not spend too much time picking, which I did at first, since it was taking SO much time and I’d never finish if I did.   I figure the mulch that makes it into the growbeds will eventually rot away and be consumed by worms that will one day be added.  🙂
  9. Put the clean rocks in the wheelbarrow…  Repeat until the kiddie pool is pretty much empty.
  10. Take the rocks over to the growbed and toss ’em in!