down to earth: Aquaponics

Showing posts with label Aquaponics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aquaponics. Show all posts

Aquaponics revisited - UPDATED

8 September 2010
I've had a few emails recently asking about aquaponics so I thought I might do an aquaponics post, even though we sold our system three years ago.

Aquaponics is an organic way of growing vegetables and fish in the backyard. It's like hydroponics, with fish attached, and unlike hydroponics, it's organic. I think it will be much more popular in the future as people start producing more food in their backyards and try to maximise the space they have available. An aquaponics system such as the one we had, take up a small amount of space, we had ours on the back verandah, and even if you have no garden to plant up, you'd be able to produce a good amount of vegetables in a small space with no soil. It seems to me to be ideal for those people who want small livestock, like rabbits, chickens and pigeons.

Basically, an aquaponics system is made up of growing beds containing gravel and water, where you plant your vegetables. Those grow beds are attached by a series of pipes to a larger fish tank. The water from the fish tank is pumped up to the grow beds, the vegetables take up the fish waste and are fertilised by it, then the cleaned water falls back into the fish tank. That is a very simplistic explanation, there is beneficial bacteria involved too, much like a living culture in yoghurt, that helps with the purification of the water. So even though the system does use a lot of water - our fish tank held 3000 litres/quarts, the water is recycled constantly and apart from the occasional topping up due to evaporation, it conserves water rather than wasting it. Over the course of a year, you'd use less water on an aquaponics system than on a regular garden.

We had our system custom made by a local firm but you could just as easily make up a system using recycled barrels and containers. I've seen many systems made up of old bath tubs, rain barrels and large plastic containers. The cost of the electricity to run the pump was minimal. You need to feed the fish and there is organic fish food you can buy, which differs according to the type of fish you grow, but you can also feed them table scraps. I imagine someone has worked out by now a good way of feeding the fish without buying food all the time. That was something we were working on when we sold our system.

We liked keeping the fish, they were wonderful to watch and the sound of the water falling was delightful, but our fish died, and when it happened a second time, we gave up. We didn't know enough about it to stop what was happening. Now we know that we should have shaded our water to stop extra algae building up, which robbed the water of oxygen, which killed the fish.

We kept silver perch, a native Australian fish, but you can keep barramundi and redclaw, and other types of perch. I believe the popular fish in America is Tilapia. If you love to eat fish this is a great way of having fresh fish on hand when ocean stocks seem to be in trouble. This is definitely sustainable fish at its best. Aquaponics is suitable to most climates, if you're in a cold climate, you can keep the system indoors. You use your usual seeds or seedlings, you just need to wash the soil from the roots of anything you plant. The gravel in the grow beds takes the place of soil and the roots snake their way through the gravel to make them stable.

We got a few good crops from our system but never ate any fish. It takes about 18 months for fingerlings to reach plate size. Any green leaf crop, as well as tomatoes, capsicum/peppers, celery, beans, cucumbers etc are ideal for an aquaponics system. Had we not had a thriving soil vegetable garden and had we been younger, we would have persisted with the aquaponics. But when we had our second fish catastrophe, we decided to sell up.

There is a very good aquaponics forum here. If you're interested in aquaponics, it would be a good idea to join a forum and learn all you can before you buy. Any good system will give you vegetables and protein, and therefore move you further towards food sustainability. Like anything, there is a lot to learn, but the rewards are there if you put in the work.

ADDITION: I just received an email from Caroline who came to my Frugal Home workshop yesterday. She does volunteer work at the Yandina Community Gardens and said there are three working aquaponics systems up and running at Yandina that you can inspect on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. If you live close by, it would be worth a visit.

Growing fish in the backyard

21 January 2009

Many of us are looking for ways to produce organic food in our homes. There was a time we had an aquaponics system in our backyard, and I thought it would be a good idea to talk about it again, despite the fact that our system failed and we sold it.

Aquaponics is a way of growing fish and organic vegetables in one system. The way we set ours up was with two grow beds on top of a 3000 litre (792 gallons) fish tank. We kept silver perch in our pond, they're an Australian native freshwater fish. We had our system from March 2007 until the end of February 2008.

We had our tanks custom made by a local tank maker but they are equally effective using recycled materials of sufficient size. Hanno rigged up all the plumbing and attached the bubblers and underwater pump. Our electricity bill barely registered the pump usage, I think over the course of a year it cost us about $80 to run it. We used rainwater that we had stored in our backyard tank to fill the fish tank.

We grew a variety of vegetables, including some decent pink brandywine tomatoes, chard, celery, parsley, beans, watercress, capsicums (peppers) and chilli. The taste was good and we couldn't tell the aquaponics produce from that in the garden. Of course we still kept our soil vegetable garden but having the fish and vegetable combo was a great project for us and it was very interesting to see what we could grow.

I won't go into aquaponics in depth, please look at my aquaponics posts to see what we did, or go to Backyard Aquaponics. There are a few good photos there of Joel's system and a very good forum where you can ask questions and see what people are doing all round the world. The site is an Australian one but they have a lot of members in the northern hemisphere, including some members with hothouse aquaponics in snowbound America.

Basically, aquaponics is a system that pumps the water the fish have been swimming in up to the vegetables growing in tanks above. The fish waste in the water fertilises the vegetables, the gravel and microbes in the grow beds help purify the water and then it falls back into the fish tank as clean water. Over time the system matures with natural elements helping the fish and vegetables grow and generally, it will take about 12 - 18 months from fingerling to plate sized fish.

Our system failed because we didn't understand the effect sun has on water. It caused algae to grow, which consumed oxygen in the water and when the fish didn't have enough dissolved oxygen in the water, they died. It was heartbreaking to see it happen. We didn't know why it was happening and every effort we made to save the fish was in vain. That was the second time our fish died, the first time we didn't know why, we think it was some poison, maybe someone in the neighbourhood had sprayed. Nevertheless, the second time it happened, we decided it wasn't for us, Hanno had to do a lot of work whenever anything went wrong, so we sold our system. I have to say though, that if we didn't have a very productive soil garden, we would have persevered with aquaponics, and by now would have been happily eating the fish on a regular basis.

I think aquaponics is a good way of growing food if you have the time and strength to put into it. You need to learn a lot about how everything works together, and as it's a fairly new way of growing food, sometimes there are no answers, but it's an interesting hobby and if you get it right, a very good way to produce vegetables and fish in a small space.

Unstuff writes about the failing economy and what she has discovered in the past year. It's worth a read.


A beginning and an end

25 February 2008
All systems go! This is the week we move our Neighbourhood Centre into another premises. It will be a tough few days but the payoff will be working in a beautiful old cottage in a garden setting. I'm not looking forward to the move at all, but I love the idea of the new space. The removalists come on Wednesday, we have these two days to finish packing and to get the new house ready for us. I'll be working every day this week, tomorrow and Wednesday Hanno will go to work with me to help with the heavy work of removing notice boards and blinds and carrying boxes.

Hanno, Rosie and Alice waiting for morning tea.

We had a quiet day yesterday. Hanno mowed the lawn so we now have a lot of clippings for the compost heap and the chooks to pick through. We also picked five more dead fish out of the tank. We thought we turned the corner with the fish but no matter what we do, they keep dying. There are very few left now. We've decided to sell the aquaponics system. I really hate giving up on it but I can't stand seeing the fish die. It's also too much for Hanno when things go wrong. He'll be 68 this year and the days of shovelling gravel should be in the past for him. We now have our new season soil vegetable garden to concentrate on and further trouble with the aquaponics isn't part of the plan. So it has to go.

While Hanno worked away in the garden, I was busy ironing, folding and baking. I baked bread and a few simple oatmeal cookies for our snacks and morning teas this week. There were also tables to be tidied - why is it that everything seems to land on the kitchen table, and a bathroom to be cleaned. It wasn't as hot as it was on Friday, which was 40 C (104F), I think it was about 10 decrees cooler. Nevertheless, when we both stopped for morning tea, which was icy cold lemon cordial instead of tea, we took the time to relax and cool down on the front verandah.

This is the cowl scarf I'm knitting on circular needles. I'm using a really soft 100% merino wool and have just started the second ball.

Hanno continued on with the lawn after our break and I worked on my Warm Earth article; I'm writing about feeding chickens. After lunch, we turned on the TV and the fan and watched the cricket. It was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon - sitting there, being cooled by the fan, cordial glasses clinking occasionally, knitting and reading the paper, the dogs wander by and look at us when a wicket falls and we cheer, the phone rings, peeling vegetables in a big bowl in front of the TV, then I make dinner. It nice being here with just the two of us.

(Chookasmum) if you read this can you email either me or Sharon.

Trouble with the fish

19 February 2008
We have been having terrible trouble with our aquaponics system and the fish have been dying. About two weeks ago we noticed the water going a revolting shade of pea green. The fish were fine but something was happening with the water. When it started getting worse, we changed the water. We put the fish back into the clean water, the next day is was brown.

Our aquaponics system is made up of two grow beds that sit above a 3000 litre fish tank. One of the grow beds was cleaned out recently and replanted. When the water didn't improve, we changed it again. Luckily it's been raining a lot, and as we use only rain water in our system, we had the tanks replenished every night.

But replacing the water didn't improve the situation,
so we ripped out all the plants and cleaned the second grow bed. It was full of green slime, roots and duck weed. This is an all day job that involved shovelling out the gravel, washing it in a sieve, placing it in the wheelbarrow and buckets, cleaning out the galvanised container and shovelling it all back in again.

When we did that, there still wasn't much of an improvement so we changed the water again and waited. Overall, the water was changed three times and it's been every colour from bright green to a mid brown.

Every day a few fish died. It was horrible. I felt really bad that we had these fish and we didn't know enough to keep them alive and healthy. We did a lot of reading and realised the increased temperature and the afternoon summer sun on the water caused an algal bloom. The algae consumed a lot of the dissolved oxygen, and that is what made the fish sick. They didn't have enough oxygen, even though we had four bubblers running all the time and water was falling from the grow beds that created more bubbles.

We now have a cover over the water to protect it and the fish from the sun. They like living in dark water so I think they're happier than they were when it was unprotected. Over the past two weeks we've gone from about 80 fish to around 50. Yesterday was the first day we had no fatalities. I think the balance has been restored. We've lost a few of the larger fish we were hoping to eat fairly soon. The largest of the fish that died was about 22cm (8½ inches).

So now we're starting from scratch again. We'll have to replant the grow beds and wait until the beneficial bacteria in the gravel starts growing again. Luckily it has been kick started with a couple of buckets of unwashed gravel. The bacteria converts the fish waste into nutrients for the plants.

My hope is that the fish remain healthy and we repeat the success with the plants that we had last year. The brandywine tomatoes we grew in the system last year were the best tomatoes I've even eaten - they were sweet and juicy and had that old-fashioned flavour of real tomato.

It's still too dark to see anything outside but if, when I go out, I find the fish well, I think we'll be over this horror session. This lesson has taught me there is still a lot to learn about aquaponics but I hope we can continue learning and provide a clean and healthy environment for our fish.


Organic fruit in the backyard

9 February 2008

I felt the seasons change slightly yesterday. There was a nip in the air when I took the dogs outside early in the morning, and although it didn't stay cool for long, I know Autumn is not far away. Autumn is my favourite time of year. It's still warm in the daytime, cool at night and there is that wonderful change happening in the garden. Trees shift from green to gold and red, leaves fall, flowers bloom and we plant our main vegetable garden for the year.

There is not much growing now, just a few late eggplant and cucumbers, my experimental pineapple, herbs and fruit. It's the fruit that keeps us going at the moment, although we aren't eating much of it yet but there are lemons and bananas growing, plenty of passionfruit almost ready to pick and the blueberries arejust starting.

I wandered around the garden yesterday taking these photos for you. The first is the loquat tree. We cut this back heavily last year because it was too tall for us to pick any fruit. The bats ate the entire crop. This year I hope we get to share with them as I would love to make loquat jam. There are no loquats on the tree yet, and that may be the result of the pruning but I'll keep my eye on it for further developments.

Right next to the loquat tree is a group of about six bananas. There is only one bunch of bananas this year but if we can keep the birds and bats away, they'll be ready to eat late April. The birds love to eat the nectar from that red flower at the end of the spike. When that falls off and the bananas are a bit bigger, we can cut them off and hang the bunch in the shed to ripen.

Behind the bananas the creek is flowing slowly by. It's been much higher than it is right now but it's still holding a fair amount of water that will spill into the Pacific Ocean about 10 kms from here. Clicking on the photos will enlarge them.

Walking next to the fence that runs along the creek bed we find these golden passionfruit growing. There are about 40 fruit on the vines now. When we harvest them in the next couple of weeks, we'll cut the vines back so we have healthy growth later in the year.

And here is the aquaponics garden I planted out yesterday. In the foreground are yellow button squash, and behind are Roma tomatoes and dwarf green beans. We've had the aquaponics garden for almost a year now, so we're still novices, but we're happy with it most of the time. Hanno cleaned this grow tank out a couple of weeks ago and removed all the old roots and leaves left by past crops.

We are also growing silver perch in this system. They are swimming in a 3000 litre tank just below this grow bed. There are about 12 fat fish that are reaching 12 inches in length and I am hoping we can eat some of them for my birthday dinner in mid-April. We have about 80 perch in the tank but we haven't worked out yet when we should add the next batch of fish for next year. Our fish didn't grow much at all last winter so I wonder if it's best to restock in spring. I'll have to do some research on that.

I'll be able to do that research tomorrow as that is when we get our broadband speed back again after almost three weeks of a speed limited service. I haven't been able to visit many of my favourite blogs during that time because sometimes the pages didn't load at all, or they took so long I gave up. I will have a good time tomorrow catching up with what everyone has been doing.

Swappers, don't forget your swap deadline, Sharon wrote about it in the post below. I'm really looking forward to seeing all the photos. I am really grateful to Sharon and Lorraine for organising the swaps for me. Thanks gals!

I hope you have a great weekend. Thank you all for visiting and for your thoughtful comments.


Harvesting water

14 December 2007

Leanne in New Zealand asked if I would write about how we collect water for the garden. It's an important subject this one, especially as Australia is the driest populated continent on the planet. We've been going through the longest drought in our recorded history, many local councils have restricted the amount of water to be used in each house and Australians are looking for ways to cut back on the amount of water they use.

The shires closest to ours are now on level 6 restrictions. That is 140 litres (37 gallons) person per day, with heavy fines for non compliance. That 140 litres includes all water used for drinking, cooking, showering, cleaning, animals and outdoor use. We've never had water restrictions where I live and our dams are usually almost full but we decided a long time ago that water was precious and we shouldn't waste it.

When we moved into our home ten years ago we installed a corrugated iron 5000 litre (1320 gallon) tank. That cost us about $650. We have always used that water on the garden, to wash the car and the dogs and for watering the animals and chooks. I felt comforted knowing that in an emergency, we could also used it as drinking water.

Two years ago, when the drought had settled in and we had emptied our existing tank a couple of times, we installed a larger 10000 litre (2641 gallon) poly tank. This tank cost $1800 but our State government gives rebates and we claimed $1000 cash back. Hanno did our installation which saved a lot of money.

We put up some trellises and we're growing grapes and passion fruit near the poly tank. The pipes on the side of the shed collect water running off the roof. The one at the side of the tank, going into the ground, is the overflow. When there is too much water, it flows through this pipe into an underground drain and into a creek that runs at the back of our property.

We use the water in both tanks to keep our vegetables and fruit going, to wash the car and the dogs and for all drinking water outside. We also use the rainwater in the tanks exclusively in the aquaponics tank, which constantly recycles 3000 litres of water. This water is topped up from the tanks.

The water that goes into the tanks is collected on the roof of our house. The rainwater runs into gutters connected to downpipes which flow into the tanks. The iron tank is at the south-westerly side of the house and collects water from the back of the house. The poly tank is on the south-easterly of the property, behind our large shed. It collects water from the front of the house and the shed roof. According to Irrigation Warehouse "1mm of rain on every square meter of surface area results in 1 litre of water into the tank. Let's say that your house roof is 12 meters long by 10 meters wide - 12 x 10 = 120 square meters. If you had a very brief storm that dropped 1mm of rain on the roof, you would receive 1mm x 120 sq m = 120 litres of rainfall into the tank. A larger storm comes through and drops 25mm of rain, 25mm (of rain) x 120 (square meters of roof area) = 3,000 litres of rainwater into your tank. This calculation works for any roof area, all you need to know is the length x the width = square meters." We are blessed with good rainfall in our area and in this past year we've been having good storms and fairly frequent showers. This has allowed our tanks to remain between half full and full most of the time, even though we're using the water every day.

Below is the best photo I could get of our back roof. This, my friends, if the roof of people who are trying to do their best to cut back to the bare essentials while living a comfortable life. On our roof at the very top there are two whirlygigs that extract hot air from the roof space simply using wind power. Those grey bumps in the roof - there are three of them, are skylights. We installed them nine years ago so we wouldn't have to turn lights on during the day in dark rooms. On the right - the black ended round tank attached to the sloping panel is our solar hot water system. That went in about five years ago. The gutters on the roof edges are used to collect rainwater. And last, but by no means least, on the left, is a satellite dish for our pay TV. We don't have that service anymore, we gave it up to save money and so we could use the time we were wasting watching TV. I don't want that dish to be removed as it reminds me every day how far we've come and that everyday we have to consciously focus on saving water and electricity.

At the moment, Hanno and I use just over 100 litres of water each a day. We have a 5 star front loading washing machine, I wash dishes by hand, using a sink full of water and a small sink to rinse. We each shower once a day, we do about 3 or 4 loads of washing a week, we drink 2 -3 litres of water each a day. We are now in the habit of only turning on the tap half way, we turn off the water when we're brushing our teeth, we have 3 minute showers and a low flush toilet. Every one of these small measures helps.

Like much in this simple life, water conservation takes a plan and a focused effort. Sure it's a pain to do it at times, but it would be much worse if we had no water.

I'd love to hear your ideas on saving water. What do you do at your place?


Making the most of used water
Saving water in the home
Level 6 water restrictions

It's Spring!

1 September 2007

The end of winter is never the best time to see a beautiful vegetable garden as the harshness of winter does take its toll, but there is still beauty to be seen in a functional garden and even though plants are wilted and yellow, to me that's just part of the cycle of life. You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

It's the first day of Spring today so I'm celebrating the end of a beautifully cold winter and the start of warmer days. H cleaned out the chicken coup yesterday and today I hope he'll make a shade structure for them. We want them to have a little area of protection from the sun and rain. We'll use recycled timber and iron sheeting we already have so no money will be spent and waste products will be given a new life.

This is Cocobelle, my favourite chook.

Bare spaces here where we harvested all the turnips and some cabbages. We'll be planting potatoes in this bed.

I cleaned up the aquaponics gardens yesterday. I removed some celery that's been growing there for the past five months and planted beefsteak and Amish paste tomato seedlings. I still have one pink brandywine tomato growing there. It's just a side shoot from one of the large bushes we had growing but it's full of flowers and since the other tomato bushes were removed, it's really taken off.

This is the aquaponics system. The fish are in the 3000 litre tank at the bottom and we grow all sorts of organic vegetables in the two grow beds at the top. The water in the fish tank is pumped up to the vegetables, it trickles down through the gravel and this process and the action of beneficial bacteria growing on the gravel, purifies the water which then falls back into the fish tank.

So far we have planted in the aquaponics beds: tomatoes, capsicums (peppers), parsley,
asparagus and ruby chard. We'll probably finish off the rest of the celery in the next couple of weeks, so I'll plant some celery seeds (tall Utah) today to be planted when they're about 4 inches tall. I love gardening with aquaponics, it's so easy. You just plant and that's it! No watering, fertilising or weeding. It's all taken care of within the system. And the bonus? Fish!

Here you can see one of the two grow beds attached to the aquaponics system. In the centre and just to the left are the just planted tomato seedlings. Joel over at backyardaquaponics harvested 31 kilos of tomatoes from one bush last year. I'm aiming for half of that.

The fish are growing quite well. We have three large silver perch about 6 or 7 inches long.
They're quite fat now and have developed blurry stripes. We expect them to start growing faster as the temperature increases. We took all the plants out of the tank when we had the problem with the fish dying and now that's been rectified, I'd like to put some plants back in. I'm sure the fish like the plants and hiding in them makes them feel more secure. They're very timid creatures until it's feeding time and then they turn into a pack of sharks in a feeding frenzy. It's a good thing to watch as the fish swim right up to the surface and down again, hoping to get every bit of food they can. As soon as they've had their fill, they're quiet again and hang around the plumbers pipes we put in the water for them to hide in.

This large fish is one of the originals along with lots of the newer ones.

The soil vegetable garden is changing quite quickly as we've been harvesting cabbages, cauliflowers, green beans and peas, and planting seeds and seedlings. Our aim is to provide as much of our own food as we can grow and often it's a balancing act to keep the food coming every day. We often have gaps when we have to buy potatoes or pumpkins, with most of the other vegetables we make do with what's in the garden - if we have no chard, we eat cabbage or spinach, if we have no carrots, we eat turnips, no lettuce, we have rocket, there is usually something to keep us going. From my experience, creating a continuous supply is the most difficult thing to manage in the vegetable garden.

Over the past week or two we've planted bok choy, carrots, radishes and silver beet in this bed.

This is our vegetable and fruit growing list at the moment. In the ground producing, or as seeds or seedlings, we have: cabbages, cauliflower, bok choy, potatoes, English spinach, silverbeet and ruby chard, garlic, green and red welsh onions, amaranth, thyme, comfrey, oregano, marjoram, bay, rocket, lettuce, snow peas, green lake beans, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, pigeon peas, chokos, asparagus, parsley, capsicum, celery, zucchini, pumpkin, bananas, pink grapefruit, lemons, oranges, blueberries, raspberries, pineapples, passionfruit, peaches, nectarines, mandarin, grapes, red paw paw and avocados.

This is one of our newer Washington navel oranges. It's two years old now. I'll remove a lot of these flowers as the tree is still not strong enough to hold them all. Removing some of the oranges allows those remaining to grow bigger and removes the risk of the branches ripping away from the trunk while it's still young.

now that it's the first day of spring, we hope it will all start growing like Topsy. We'll spend the day making and applying fertiliser, harvesting, pulling out and planting, sowing, reorganising, changing, tying up and pruning and hope that our work helps produce some delicious organic food over the months to come.

Growing your own food

12 August 2007

Nothing is better than crunching on snow peas while you work in the winter garden.

Growing your own food, or even some of it, is an important part of simple living. It gives you a good supply of fresh, organic food, it saves you money, it provides valuable exercise and it helps reconnect you with the earth. As a society we've moved away from viewing the earth as the source of our food. We've become reliant on whatever is presented for sale at the supermarket and while it's appealing to have that convenience, those supermarket vegetables do not contain the nutrients that will be ever present in your own back yard produce.

Not everyone can grow,
or will want to grow, a vegetable garden but for those of you who do, you’ll find it to be a great way to unite with nature and the seasons. If you have some space that will be suitable for growing food, I encourage you to set out on a journey of discovery, abundant harvests, and fully flavoured natural food. If you live in your own home a vegetable garden and a few fruit trees is a wonderful investment in your future health and will enable you to reduce the amount you spend on fresh food. If you live in rented accommodation, growing herbs, vegetables and fruit in containers is an activity that will provide a source of cheap organic food that can be a rewarding and enlightening pastime.

Planted up yesterday - four Richmond Green Apple cucumbers. These are a delicious cucumber that used to be very popular in Australia in the 1950s, sadly it's hardly grown at all now. I think it's got a better taste than the Lebanese cucs.

Organic growing is back to basics gardening the old fashioned way. If you decide to grow organically, the food you produce will be healthy with no synthetic chemicals or poisons added, and it will be fresh. I often wonder how old those supermarket vegetables are and where they’re from, but something tells me I don’t want to know the answer. One thing is certain, the fresher the food when you eat it, freeze it or preserve it, the better it is for you.

What is better than fresh English spinach with a few new potatoes, all freshly picked and served with a little butter, salt and pepper.

I kept chickens and dabbled in vegetable production long before I worked consciously towards my simple life. We had our first chickens when our sons were very young and I don't remember a time when I wasn't growing something. I don’t know how I’d get on now without my vegetable garden and chooks. At the moment, our garden supplies about eighty percent of our fresh food. We are working towards year round food production but this is the aspect of food gardening that I've found the most difficult to work out - the continual supply of vegetables and fruit. We'll get there one day.

Work out what you are capable of growing. If you have a small backyard or a unit, you’ll be looking to smaller crops, vegetables that will grow well in containers, sprouting and mushrooms. If you have a reasonable sized backyard with a sunny area for a vegie patch, you could plant almost anything that is suited to your climate. So, work out what you like to eat and grow the vegetables that are expensive to buy or the ones that are best fresh – like corn, lettuce, celery and potatoes.

A garden is a great place to recycle many commonly discarded items like egg cartons, milk bottles and newspapers. Here you can see the recycled reinforcing steel we found which mades an idea trellis for cucumbers.

Go out into the yard and check where the sun rises. You will need a sunny position with full sun if you live south of Brisbane, but if you’re in a sub-tropical or tropical area, you’ll need some afternoon shade. Vegetables need about eight hours of full sun to grow to maturity. The further north you live, the greater the need for shade in the afternoon.

You also need to locate the patch close to a hose or a tap so you can water the garden when it doesn’t rain. If you have a water tank, your vegetables will benefit from the rainwater, so make sure the tank hose can reach the vegetable garden. If you don't have a tank, look into what rebates you're offered in your part of the country and take advantage of them. It is quite an easy exercise to harvest the rain from your roof to be used later on your vegetables and fruit. It is the ultimate in recycling.

Instead of repeating the very good advice of a follow blogger, I'll refer you on to scarecrow's garden. Scarecrow has an excellent section on her blog on how to start your vegetable garden - Food gardening for beginners, which you'll find here.

If you have any specific questions, please email me and I'd be happy to help.

You can grow a wide range of vegetables in containers. Try to pick up some polystyrene boxes from the greengrocer or supermarket. You could also use plastic garbage containers or buckets, as well as conventional plant pots. Make sure whatever you use has adequate drainage holes, if they don’t, poke or drill some in. Fill the container with good quality potting mix, if you have compost, use about a third compost to two thirds potting mix. Don’t be tempted to save money by using garden soil as it won’t drain properly and your vegetables won’t grow.

I was given the seeds for these pigeon peas by Elizabeth Fekonia over at the permaculture garden at Yandina. It's a fine garden Elizabeth and her volunteers have going over there. If you have a chance, drop in for a look. I'm growing these pigeon peas for soup - they are the lentils you buy as split peas.

When you think about it, a seed is an amazing thing. Given the right conditions, it contains everything necessary to grow into whatever species it happens to be. It’s a dried up hard packet of potential life. How good is that! Usually, the most thrifty way to grow vegetables is to grow from seeds. The most frugal seeds are those you save from last year’s harvest or swap with someone in your neighbourhood. You could also swap seeds online. There are a couple of Australian online seed swap sites, this is one I am a member of. You have to join, but it’s free and there are many other resources on this site that will help you in your quest for simple living.

To get yourself started, buy some organic vegetable seeds. You can buy these seeds from:
Or, you might find some at your local hardware store or plant nursery. Make sure the seeds you buy are open pollinated varieties of vegetables or herbs, and they should be fresh (check the use by date). Here are two excellent online resources with photos and information about heirloom open pollinated tomatoes:
Do some research on what tomatoes will suit you and then buy them from a place close to you.

Use some of the seeds you buy to plant in your own garden and swap the rest to get the other vegetables you need. You’ll be able to build up a big bank of seeds doing this and your new seeds will only cost you a stamp and a trip to the post office.

I believe the best seeds to choose are open pollinated types. In the old days all seeds were open pollinated but as a result of pressure to produce standardised fruit and vegetables several decades ago, some seed companies started to hybridise. In effect what they did was to breed vegetables for specific purposes and size. In the case of tomatoes, old-fashioned tomatoes were mainly the big beef steak types, these were no good for supermarkets. They had delicate skin that didn’t travel or store well and when trying to weigh a pound of tomatoes, two tomatoes where often well over a pound. So seed companies developed tomatoes with tougher skin (for transport) that were smaller and generally would weigh up as four to a pound. The problem was that when they were reinventing the tomato wheel, they forget to include the taste factor. When you taste a home grown open pollinated tomato it will taste like tomatoes used to taste like, it’s a hundred times better than a supermarket tomato. Aside from the superior taste, open pollinated vegetables are capable of passing on exactly the same characteristics to each generation. If you use seeds from hybrid vegies, sometimes the seeds will be sterile and sometimes they’ll not grow to type. You might be expecting a medium sized sweet tomato and you’ll get a small bitter one. Hybrid vegies can throw back to any of the types used to create it. So in essence, every year you will need to buy new seeds instead of being able to save the seeds from open pollinated vegies.

Another advantage to growing open pollinated seeds is that they will modify themselves
to suit your growing conditions. According to the Seed Savers website: “Food plants, grown organically, that have adapted themselves to your garden over generations of seed saving, will perform noticeably better in your kitchen than generalized hybrid plants, grown by chemical methods far away from your region, and subject to transportation and storage.”

I hope this has convinced you to start off with heirloom or open pollinated seeds. Don’t worry if you go the other road but in the future, when you can afford it or when you want to eat food like your grandma had, go the open pollinated route.

When you start, don’t be over ambitious in your first few years of gardening. There will be a lot to learn and there is a lot work involved in bringing your crops to harvest. Vegetable gardening is not for wimps. Go slow to start and add a couple of new vegies every year until you’ve reach your vegetable growing goal.

If you don’t have any idea about what you want to grow but like the idea of gardening, growing your own food, or living organically, then make a list of the vegetables you enjoy eating. Don’t grow what you won’t eat.

I think the most important piece of information
I can give you about gardening is that you feed the soil, not the plant. If you dig a garden plot and plant vegetable seedlings in it, without enriching the soil in any way, you'll get vegetables, but they'll be small and miserly. You must - I repeat, you must build up your soil with organic matter before you start plating. The more organic matter you have in your garden beds, the more abundant your harvests will be.

Yesterday H and I did a fair bit of work in our vegie garden. We pulled out a lot of old vegetables and fed them to the chooks. We're clearing an entire garden bed for potatoes we'll plant when we return from our trip. The next two months is our main planting time so as we plant, I'll take photos and show you what we're doing. So if you want to be ready for Spring, start planning now, start reading Scarecrow's guides, start enriching your soil, and soon we'll start our planting.

H and I ate this entire basket of silverbeet last night for dinner along with carrots, pumpkin, shallots, turnips and kipfler potatoes - all grown in our backyard.

I planted up some more capsicums (peppers) in the aquaponics garden yesterday. The fish are starting to become quite active again and the plants have responded to the current warm weather, so when we come back from our trip, I'll write more about the aquaponics system.