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Author Topic: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics  (Read 667 times)

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Offline ImogenTopic starter

Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« on: March 22, 2018, 03:14:42 PM »
A tiny bit of our garden's history

Ever since hubby and I moved into our current house we have been struggling with our garden.

At first glance, the garden looked ideal. With a surface of no more than 5 by 10 meters (16.4 by 32.9 ft) including garden shed and bicycle parking, it has a pretty good size for someone who doesn't want to spend their entire day gardening, but there's still plenty of room to create something nice. Another plus is that the garden faces Southwest, which meant it should get a lot of sunshine.

Strangely enough, most of our neighbors had their backyards (almost) completely tiled, with tiny strips of green at the borders. How dull, we thought, blissfully ignorant of the implied warning of our neighbors' decisions. We didn't want a garden like that. We'd have a garden that looked lush and green, a place where birds, insects and other animals would feel welcome. It would have a terrace/patio in the sun, and a small space for vegetables, and a pond where fish, frogs and salamanders would thrive.

Unrealistic?

Unfortunately, yes.

Limited space means making choices. Not that we realized that straight away. We happily started off and created the patio in the sun. We added the tiny pond with water lilies, fish and a cute little bridge. The back of the garden was meant to be filled with shrubs and flowers. On paper, the plan looked great. We'd enjoy our leisure time on the patio, enjoying the view of the pond and flowers. In reality, it became several seasons of frustration and continuously replacing dying plants. The only things that grew well were the weeds and the butterfly-bushes (Buddleja davidii). We threw in the towel and stopped to analyze why it didn't work.

The first problem we discovered was the huge fir in our neighbors' garden. Until then, we had loved that tree because birds use it as an entry point to our garden. Forced to reevaluate, we had to admit that this tree put the plant/flower section in the shade for most of the afternoon. On top of that, it also drained most of the soil's moisture and nutrients. We tried replacing the plants with grass and learned that a plot of brown/green grass littered with mud patches is not an attractive sight.

Next, we found that the ducks visiting our tiny pond were responsible for trashing the water lilies, and eating most of the oxygen giving plants. A picture of the culprits is shown below.


Since I had always wanted a vegetable garden, we decided on a major overhaul. First, we installed a small hydroponics system, which just means that we're pumping pond water into a couple of containers, which have drainage holes through which the water flows back into the pond. I think the system is also known as Dutch bucket. After the usual start-up problems (yes, you guessed it, we woke up one morning to an empty pond, muddy water sloshing over the neighbor's pristine tiles and our fish swimming/surviving in the last couple of inches of water). We rescued the fish and got the system working. Soon after, we had our first success when the zucchini and strawberries yielded fruit throughout the summer. We also found out that birds LOVE this system and frequently visit for a bath or a sip of water.

Current setup

The first picture below shows the aquaponics system (such a fancy name for containers with drainage holes!) with the ducks and a blackbird enjoying the water. The containers are still mostly empty but I plan to fill them again with zucchini and cucumber plants. I am still looking for plants I can use to fill the containers with until it's time for the zucchini and cucumbers. I am not sure lettuce will work, since their roots are quite small and may not reach enough water. The second picture is of the two square foot planters we placed on top of the grass (read: mud). The plastic greenhouses covering them will be removed later this week. The third picture is of the second aquaponics system attached to the fence separating our garden with the neighbors (we like living dangerously). I hope to fill those planters with strawberry plants and herbs. Who doesn't want fresh strawberries?!


Online Oniya

Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2018, 03:54:18 PM »
I've been so looking forward to this blog.  I live in a row house, and keep trying to do container gardening (about the only thing I've successfully grown is mint.)  I'm currently starting some tomato seedlings, though!

I am not sure lettuce will work, since their roots are quite small and may not reach enough water.

I know I've seen hydroponic lettuce in the stores, although it might use a different setup.

Offline Flower

Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2018, 07:13:52 AM »
-tags-

I've been researching stuff with gardening for our future house (-cough- watching Love Your Garden) so this should be exciting to read. (^^)

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Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2018, 09:44:36 AM »
Ducks are so pretty!  I'm sorry they ruined your pond :-(  Looking forward to seeing how your planting goes!

Offline Caeli

Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2018, 01:39:37 PM »
I'm excited to follow this blog. :-) Thank you for sharing about your experience!

Offline ImogenTopic starter

Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #5 on: March 26, 2018, 07:12:37 AM »
I've been so looking forward to this blog.  I live in a row house, and keep trying to do container gardening (about the only thing I've successfully grown is mint.)  I'm currently starting some tomato seedlings, though!

Oh, I know that feeling! I keep trying (with mixed success)! Previous years the beans and peas did fairly well in pots, especially sugar snaps proved relatively easy to grow. This year I have started tomatoes as well, and bell peppers. I have seedlings of both. They're still very small but since it'll be too cold for them outside until May, they should have plenty of time to grow - fingers crossed -. Since I'll only grow them in pots, I chose the bushtomato  'Maja'

Quote
I know I've seen hydroponic lettuce in the stores, although it might use a different setup.

I think I know the type you mean. Those use rock wool to get them started, which I probably should do as well and give them a start indoors. Since I have NO patience, I have transferred a couple of lettuce seedlings to the outside container for testing purposes :-)

I'm excited to follow this blog. :-) Thank you for sharing about your experience!

Thank you so much for the encouragement, Caeli! That means a lot!


Ducks are so pretty!  I'm sorry they ruined your pond :-(  Looking forward to seeing how your planting goes!

They are cute, aren't they? :-) It's okay, though. I am not too miffed at them trashing the pond (it also helps that they nested in our garden two years ago. Watching those ducklings hop into the pond for the first time = priceless!)

-tags-

I've been researching stuff with gardening for our future house (-cough- watching Love Your Garden) so this should be exciting to read. (^^)

You already have a head start, doing research in advance! ;-)  (and any excuse to watch home and garden shows works! (-loves those as well-!))

I hope you'll find something to like in the blog!

Offline ImogenTopic starter

Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #6 on: March 26, 2018, 09:50:19 AM »
Garden Updates

Potatoes

This year, I'm planting potatoes. After a failed experiment with growing new roses from cuttings last year, using this method, I ended up with dead cuttings and a flower bed full of potatoes. I was a tad bummed about the roses, but I can take a hint and this year I reserved part of one plant bed for potatoes. I usually buy them at a local farmer, so I just used those instead of buying special ones to plant, and let them sprout before planting to give them a quick start.

According to YouTube it's also very doable to grow them in pots. This clip, for example, teases with a huge harvest. Of course, they only show you the success stories but if this is as doable as it looks, it might be a lovely alternative for a small garden. It's on my 'must try this'-list!

If anyone has tried this, I'd love to hear all about it!

Fruit

Gooseberry
I have a gooseberry bush (Ribes Uva Crispa 'Whitesmith') which has been moved around the garden at least five times already. It seems to be happy wherever we plant it and yields a very nice harvest every year. It currently has a spot near the fence which allows me to lead its branches and keep it from taking up space. Since it's doing so well I may try to take a cutting and grow a second plant. My previous attempt at growing something new through cutting wasn't much of a success (unless the unintended potato harvest counts!) but I am greedy where sweet, ripe gooseberries are involved ;-). It's too early to try this now, but I have marked it on the calendar for October.

Grapes
Some time ago, we removed the grape growing against the wall. Although it did prosper and gave fruit each year, the grapes were ultra sour and only suitable to made into sauce and jelly (using heaps of sugar). I am not sure which variety it was, as we inherited it from the previous house owners. Having very limited space in our garden, we removed the plant and replaced it with a with a Himrod seedless grape. This is the sunniest spot in the garden, so I have decent hopes that the new plant will do well. Unfortunately, the switch means I may have to wait a couple of years before I can harvest again. Still, I'd be happy to give it time if it means having fruit that's tasty instead of sour!

Strawberries
Last year, I was too lazy to clean the aquaponics containers and I left the old strawberry plants to fend for themselves. A couple of weeks ago, I found that they survived the winter (!!!) and in an (accidental) attempt to murder them, I hooked up the aquaponics system and let the icy water from the pond into the plant beds. Add a weekend of frost and icicles forming where the water hit the clay pebbles, and I was sure my once lovely strawberry plants had perished. 

This weekend, I bought replacements. When I planted them and wanted to toss the dead ones, I discovered new, fresh leaves in the old plants (see picture). YAY, these strawberries deserve a 'survivor' award!


Happy Moments

Just a couple of small things that make me happy:


The first butterfly of 2018. In Dutch we call it a Citroenvlinder (citroen is Dutch for lemon). I think it's called a Brimstone Butterfly in English?



Thrift shop treasures: these pink and lilac pots are waiting for my tomato plants. :-)



The pots shown in this picture were the result of raiding the dark corners of my parents' shed. They were happy to declutter, and I'm happy with my new pots & plants! The grey planter at the top holds oregano, rosemary and basil; keeping the herbs that I use most often in easy reach.

Offline ImogenTopic starter

Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2018, 04:35:03 AM »
Mini Update


The young lettuce plants didn't make it. I put them in the big aquaponics container, and they seemed to like the spot. The small roots didn't appear to be a problem, as the clay pellets soaked up enough water to feed the plants, but today I still woke up to an almost empty planter.

My first thought was 'snails', but the remains of my poor plants were scattered all over. Finding a feather confirmed my suspicion: birds have been feasting on my young plants. I really should have seen that coming. I know birds like young lettuce plants, and I know they love bathing and drinking in the hydroponics system. I was too focused on the 'will they get enough water'-problem and forgot all about the bird menace -facepalms- 

I could solve this easily by protecting the next batch with a net, but that will also block the birds from bathing there and I love the sight of blackbirds hopping in the 'shower'. I think the better solution will be to use regular pots for the more fragile plants and water them by hand (and use a net!), and use the aquaponics containers for bigger plants. I replanted with leftover fava bean plants which have grown to a decent size already. Not protecting them is still risky, as doves love the beans and may still uproot the plants, but I think (read: hope) the plants are big enough to deter them from trying.




Offline Kyranna

Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2018, 01:00:38 PM »
I love seeing what you have done thus far to work around things. I have container gardening myself and am trying to work on 'finishing' the rest of our backyard as well to make as many lovely flower beds now... but not increase the amount of gardening work. I will definitely keep an eye to this blog and how things are working for you and may steal some ideas as well.

Offline ImogenTopic starter

Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2018, 01:09:17 AM »
Strawberries



Despite the cold and rain, my strawberries are growing steadily, and I am so very happy with how little work I need to put in using the current aquaponics system. No weeding, no watering, no hunting for snails and the water in the pond already looks more clean and fresh. Win-win! All I need to do is to check the system once a week to make sure it won't clog. Perfect!

In addition, the Rosemary, Summer Savoury and Chives also do well. Not too surprising; in my experience, herbs are among the best plants to keep in an aquaponics/hydroponics setup.

Broccoli



I don't know what I was thinking!

Now that I have seedlings (which, of course, all did enormously well) I have no idea what to do with them.

Well, okay.. I know I should plant them and I probably will, but broccoli was not a good choice for my garden. They take up a (relatively) large amount of space, take a long time to grow and yield only one harvest per plant. For a small garden, that is space and time I could put to better use.

If you are in possession of a greenhouse, it's possible to give them an early start by seeding in February, which may give an early yield around June/July. Unfortunately, that strategy requires use of an unheated, glass greenhouse, which I don't have. Still, I am not sure if it would have been worthwhile due to the amount of space needed to grow one plant.

I read a blog from someone who planted the broccoli very close together and thus saved a fair bit of space, but I'm not a fan. Planting them too close together enhances the risk of not getting a harvest at all. IF I am sacrificing my precious garden space I want the best odds of a decent harvest. Alternatively, I might try to plant them in pots, but I'm not entirely sold on that idea either. It'll take a lot of consistent watering to get one head of broccoli per pot (size: 20-25 ltr, one plant per pot). That seems a lot of work for little reward.

It's too early to transfer the seedlings to a plant bed so I have some time left to consider what to do with 'em. If all else fails, I might put them next to the rhubarb which currently seems the snails' favourite snack and hope they'll turn to the broccoli instead. There's a thought!

Bell Pepper



I got the first seeds for my bell peppers from the store but those were ridiculously expensive and took forever to sprout. So, when I needed a bell pepper for dinner I saved the seeds and planted them as an experiment. They did a lot better than the preivous ones. Today, I'll transfer the strongest/biggest of the seedlings to bigger pots and toss the rest. Of course, there's no guarantee they'll bear fruit, but trying to grow the plants for free is half the fun! 

Tomatoes



My tomato seedlings are growing steadily. The plants don't like cold, so I'll have to keep them alive indoors until the second part of May. Because of our climate, tomatoes are mostly grown under glass and they make up a large percentage of the vegetables grown in 'De Glazen Stad' (City of Glass), a horticultural area in The Netherlands best known for its greenhouses. Click here for a nice picture of the 'Glazen Stad' by Willem van Overkleeft. An aerial picture can be found here.

Offline ImogenTopic starter

Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2018, 01:14:02 AM »
I love seeing what you have done thus far to work around things. I have container gardening myself and am trying to work on 'finishing' the rest of our backyard as well to make as many lovely flower beds now... but not increase the amount of gardening work. I will definitely keep an eye to this blog and how things are working for you and may steal some ideas as well.

Hi Kyranna, and welcome!

Adding flowerbeds without increasing the amount of work sounds like a great goal!

I hope you'll find something to like in my gardening (mis)adventures and if you have hints and tips, please, feel free to share!

Online Oniya

Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2018, 02:26:36 AM »
Herbs do well because most of them can very easily become weeds.  In fact, mint is one of the few things I can reliably grow (I have it in an old burn-box in the back yard, filled with dirt, and I ignore it.  Works out well.)

What's the best way to separate tomatoes?  I planted a slice after we had BLTs, and now have a two-inch diameter cluster.  I know the parent plant was green-house grown, so I'm hoping this means it's not too big a plant.

Offline Rhedyn

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Re: Square Foot Gardening & Small Scale Aquaponics
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2018, 03:09:39 AM »
I'm finding your experiences and updates so inspiring, Imogen! I'm hoping to get some vegetables growing this year in our small garden too. I grow a few herbs and strawberries already but I miss having tomatoes, cucumbers and salad leaves in the summer and I really want to expand on my herb garden <3