Saturday Night Moment of Zen

LA skyline near Dodger Stadium/Four Square Church.


I really am enjoying what this little camera can do. The shot above is zoomed (42mm), the one below is not. Love how it captured the lights. As I scanned through the multiple shots, the detail is such that the traffic lights move forward down the road. The random white dots in the sky are planes heading into LAX. Click photos to embiggen and see them uncompressed.


Wait till you see the food shots from the dinner I cooked one night. I’ll post those, hopefully, tomorrow.

Until then…


Aquaponics How-To

Shamelessly stolen from Balloon-Juice. Every Sunday morning, Anne Laurie, who cross-posts my Friday Recipe Exchanges, hosts a Sunday Morning Garden Chat and today she featured commenter MB’s aquaponics garden and I was so fascinated by it, I wanted to share it. So with apologies to John Cole (hey, you get like a million hits a day anyway) I took the whole post and reposted it here:

First a thumbnail sketch of aquaponics (AQ) in general and as practiced in the above pictured greenhouse. AQ is the process of growing plants in water like hydroponics but the fertilizer is (mostly) provided by fish who live in the water used to flood the plants. It is, at it’s heart, a symbiotic relationship wherein the plants feed from the fishes’ effluent which cleans the water that is returned to the fish who then, frankly, shit in it again. Fish gotta do what fish gotta do. The good news is that fish poo is just about the best poo you can use for plant food.

My AQ setup is housed in a 12×40 greenhouse and is comprised of a 600 gallon fish tank containing ~200 fish, four 4×7 gravel planting beds and a sump which runs most of the length of the greenhouse. I use one pump to pump water into the fish tank and the dirty water from the tank runs by gravity to the four planting beds. You have to have at least a 1:1 ratio between the volume of your fish tank and the total volume of all planting beds. You can support up to a 1:2 ratio. I have a 1:1.33 ratio. I have a total of about 1200 gallons in the whole system. The water is used over and over again and only lost to the system through evaporation and plant use. It it generally thought that AQ uses 1/10th the water needed for traditional gardening. This was a big selling point for me as I hate paying water bills and watering plants.

aquaponics loop siphon

The water enters the bed relatively slowly but exits quickly through the use of a siphon (shown above) similar to the siphon used to evacuate your toilet bowl. The orange arrows in the above picture indicate the direction the water flows. When it reaches the top of that pvc gooseneck and begins to drain over, it kicks off the siphon. It takes nearly 30 minutes to fill the bed but less than 5 to empty it. This is important because it sucks oxygen into the root zone. This also helps clean the water as the gravel “polishes” it removing all solids which remain in the bed available to the plants. A lot of aquaponists use the bell siphon system but I found it to be very, very temperamental whereas the loop siphon works pretty consistently. The pvc piece in the upper right hand corner helps the siphon stop when the water level is low enough to suck air into the siphon.

Fish poo is unusual relative to other animal waste in that it is immediately suitable for use by plants without composting. Worms also like it and will populate any AQ bed and that serves to further break down any solids. Finally, of course, the system depends on the nitrogen cycle to clean the water of dangerous nitrites that would harm the fish. In fact, the first step in the setup of an AQ system is to get the nitrogen cycle started, usually using ammonia, before fish are introduced.

The cleaned water dumps into the sump where it is pumped back into the tank through a venturi nozzle that infuses the water with oxygen – good for fish and great for the plants. From the fishes’ perspective, the AQ system is a giant filter and the principles involved would be familiar to anyone who has ever kept an aquarium or done water gardening. However, the “filter” is overdesigned specifically so you can overcrowd your tank without endangering the health of the fish. You need a large number of fish in order to make enough fertilizer for heavy feeders like cabbage and tomatoes. If you use game fish in the system, they will mature and you can eat them. However, AQ should not be considered a way to raise fish for food because it will never supply enough fish to be more than a meal now and again.

aquapnics goldfish

I have a mix of catfish, goldfish and a few bream. If it were up to me, I’d only have goldfish. They are very tough fish where most game fish are more sensitive to water conditions. Also I like the pretty colors. The experts will tell you not to buy feeders because feeders aren’t well-bred. On the contrary, I have had very good results with feeders and they have 2 real benefits going for them:

  • they are cheap as hell – just about the cheapest fish you can buy; and
  • if you don’t buy them they’re going to end up as some other critters lunch. Probably some pampered 1%er living in some rich kid’s bedroom. (Occupy the fish bowl!) So I figure I’m getting some good karma off this and striking a blow for the oppressed.

That is pretty much the basics. There is, of course, much more to it and it is an ongoing learning experience for me. I’ve had fish in the system now for about a year and a half. The first year is really a shake down cruise though I did see some results and was generally pleased with the production.

aquaponics cabbage comparison

Some plants do very well in the system, others not so well. Green, leafy things generally do very well and it is not unusual to see plants get really large really fast. I have an eggplant that is still producing that is over 6 feet tall. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant all do well. Okra, not so much. Above right is a picture of a cabbage currently growing in the AQ bed. On the left is a cabbage planted about the same time outside in my raised bed (outside cabbages are being fertilized with chicken poo – so it’s the battle of the poos, chicken v. fish.) The AQ cabbage is easily twice as big though the head is not nearly as compact. I really can’t get over how huge the leaves are on the AQ cabbages and I’m looking forward to eating this one on New Years with some black eyed peas, etc.


Finally, what Balloon Juice post would be complete without a pet picture? This is Vidalia, a 12 year old (11 in this picture) longhaired miniature dachsund, my constant companion and the sweetest dog that ever drew breath. Honestly, I don’t think she cares a whit about aquaponics, but she tolerates my obsessions and gives me a reason to get up in the morning.

If anyone has any questions about AQ or my project in particular, I’ll do my best to give a coherent answer or help direct you toward more information.

If you head on over to the Garden Chat, MB answers some great questions on the comments, too.


Calling the Butterball Hotline

h/t to commenter J at Balloon-Juice for reminding me how much I miss West Wing.  “…is there a chance I could kill my guests? I’m not saying that’s a deal breaker.”

BTW, the USDA has changed its recommendations since this show was written.

A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.

Gadget Post: Tenderizer

My new toy. I’ve been wanting one for a while, but just hadn’t gotten around to getting one. It’s fun, though it could be used as a weapon, I’m sure. I can see the headline now, “Woman Tenderizes Man’s….” ok, let’s not go there.

Anyway, it was highly rated, very sturdy, sharp and easy to clean. I used it on chicken breast the other day,  it really seems to help the seasonings permeate the meat. Today I purchased a top round steak, which isn’t a very tender cut. I wanted to see how it would do on a tougher job. I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, there’s a chicken about to get roasted….

Lesson 5: Horse Yoga

I swear to you, that is what we did today. Basically, trusting enough to let go of the reins, take your feet out of the stirrups and stretch and warm-up. Kind of like riding down a big hill on your bike with legs and arms outstretched…or driving a car blindfolded, take your pick.

Things are finally coming together for me, brain and muscles have begun to figure out how to coordinate information. I was still on Jack today and it was good for me. I’m still tentative when it comes to ‘convincing’ Jack when he decides he’s going to do it his way. He knows I’m a soft touch – especially near the end when I’m tired. Today we worked at it until I felt confident and had him do it my way. Bless his big heart.

Next week is our last lesson for this session and it’s Tiffany’s choice for who we ride. She’s keeping that information secret, I can’t imagine who she’ll put me on. I can pretty much guarantee who she won’t put me on:

Shoshoni – photo by Sun Pony Ranch

This is Shoshoni. She’s not only beautiful, she’s a handful and she knows it. It wonderful watching her work with a strong rider.

I’m thinking it might be Romeo:

Romeo – photo by Sun Pony Ranch

He’s a big love. And he’d be one to challenge me – he needs a light hand and relaxed legs. Definitely something I need to work on. But maybe it will be the big guy:

Jordan – photo by Sun Pony Ranch

Jordan is incredibly tall, all leg and neck. My introduction to him was him trying to bully Katy when I went to bring her up to the barn – she was having none of it. He’s really a sweetie, despite the bluster.

So I’ll have to wait until next week to know who it will be – one of these three or someone else? Either way, I’m sure it will be fun.

I’ll try to come up with some actual cooking this week. I am making a big batch of chicken tortilla soup for lunches this week, and I’ve been making some incredible lettuce wraps.  I’ll try and detail those later.  Until then…

Riding and Wildlife on a Wednesday Afternoon

I haven’t been doing much cooking. The outdoors has been calling. One of the reasons I love Colorado is the picture above. I’m riding in t-shirt and shorts, it’s 70 degrees and it’s snowing on Long’s Peak. It was a good ride, saw a bunch of wildlife, including an industrious beaver carrying a large branch across the pond. The pelicans are back, a sure sign of spring. Making BBQ chicken and potatoes for dinner, contemplating what to do for the recipe exchange tomorrow.

Been a stressful couple of weeks at work, so I’m grateful for the ability to get out and ride on a beautiful Colorado day.

More photos from the ride:

I don't know why, but I always find it funny when I see a Great Blue Heron in a tree.

Liked the framing on this shot. Pelican and Cormorant in the distance.

Pelican's are back. Love the Cormorant cooling himself.

My favorite spot to drink some water.