Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Your Local Grange

Until I read this story about the [California Grange being sued by the National Grange] I never gave a second thought to the Grange.  To me it was just a big building where they held square dances, but this article  [ What is the Grange?  ]  gives a much better description.

Gwen Schantz is chief operating officer of the Brooklyn Grange rooftop commercial farm in Long Island City, Queens.
According to this article, the California Grange has begun to attract "family sustainable farming".  I'm guessing we backyard gardeners might fit that description.   The California Grange has also taken a stance against GMO.
Rick Keel, a spokesman for the California State Grange recently said this “For lack of a better term, it seems to be ‘foodies’ who care about community today and see the Grange as a way to provide community service,”

"Since 1873 the California State Grange has championed the interests of farmers, ranchers, and rural Americans. The Grange stresses community service, and its Youth programs are open to all, urban and rural alike. There are over 185 chapters across the state.  For more information contact the California State Grange at (916) 454-5805. " - California Grange

With the Farm to Fork movement catching on; aquaponics and the local Grange may be a very good combination.   I'd like to encourage you to look into your local Grange for services.  It may take a while to bring the National Grange around to supporting sustainable farming, but it has to start somewhere.  The aquaponic and home gardening community have become forces of significant proportion.  I think we can make a difference.

If you are already a member I hope you will vote Ed Lutrell The National Grange Master out of office in November because he strongly supports GMO.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Microbial Fuel Cell

On October 4th 2013 I began an experimenting with Microbial Fuel Cells.   My initial experiment consisted of a piece of carbon fiber cloth 36” x 4” which I placed in the water of my aquaponic system.  The bacteria grew on this cloth.  After nine days  I measured the voltage at .97 millivolt (mv) using a stainless steel cathode of approximately 6"x8" .   


While there are some similarities Microbial Fuel Cells are not the same as a BEAMR (BioElectrochemically Assisted Microbial Reactor) which is basically a Hydroxy gas generator.   

Several years ago I was very involved with the creation of Hydroxy gas.  Commonly known as HHO or Browns Gas.  By using electrolysis and electrolyte such as KOH (Potassium Hydroxide)  water is separated into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) in a 2:1 molar ratio.  These two gases violently wish to be reunited and all it takes is a spark.  This gas has some good applications, but it requires more power to create the hydroxy gas than the gas will return as a fuel source.  Some people have found benefit when injected along with fuel into engines that do not have
I mention this because you may find this technique while researching Microbial Fuel Cells and fall victim to the misguided ideas surrounding the creation of hydroxy gas.  

Microbial Fuel Cells are batteries created by the energy produced by the bacteria.  I can't say it any better than what has been written on Wikipedia so I will quote the entire first paragraph.

"A microbial fuel cell (MFC) or biological fuel cell is a bio-electrochemical system that drives a current by mimicking bacterial interactions found in nature. MFCs can be grouped into two general categories, those that use a mediator and those that are mediator-less. The first MFCs, demonstrated in the early 20th century, used a mediator, this is a chemical that transfers electrons from the bacteria in the cell to the anode. Mediator-less MFCs are a more recent development dating to the 1970s; in this type of MFC bacteria in mediator-less MFCs typically have electrochemically active redox proteins such as cytochromes on their outer membrane that can transfer electrons directly to the anode.[1] Since the turn of the 21st century MFCs have started to find a commercial use in the treatment of wastewate"

A little more research indicates that a MFC (Microbial Fuel Cell) must use anaerobic conditions. In aerobic conditions bacteria are free to use near by oxygen for the electron they wish to transfer. The anaerobic condition leaves only the cathode exposed to available electrons from oxygen. This creates the electrical difference between the anode and the cathode.

But I did measure a very small voltage of  97 mv on Oct 12 2013, so maybe maybe the process would be better in an anaerobic condition, but still prove viable in aerobic conditions. I'll come back to this in a few weeks and post the results.  It may improve as the bacteria continues to grow on the cloth.

It was just two days ago that I measured 97 mv... I tested the voltage again today Oct 14 2013 and found that if I moved the cathode closer to the anode I could get 300 mv!

Weedponic Garden

Many people are growing with hydroponics and aquaponics because they wish to reduce their water consumption,  eat healthy organic food,  live in a more sustainable way, and reduce the carbon foot print of their existence.

Soil based gardening has become dependent upon outside resources but Aquaponics is even more reliant.    Some of those resources are affordable only because fossil fuels are still available.  If those resources were not available how would you feed your fish?  How would you supply nutrients such as iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorous and magnesium.

Aquaponics has good intentions, but it is not a sustainable agricultural method.  I currently do not have all the answers, but I'm working on it. Here are some options and food for thought

I'll start by defining the problems.   Fish food is made from grains and wild caught fish comprised mostly of fish with little commercial value, and processing waste. But the fishing industry is not sustainable, and much of the grain used to produce fish food is GMO;  raised using large amounts of fossil fuels for fertilizer and machinery in order to produce a profit while neglecting the environment. For more about the analysis of fish food read http://www.oscarfish.com/fish-food-ingredients.html.
The result is that similar to feeding cattle enormous amounts of gain are used to produce a small amount of meat.  

But we don't need to feed our fish commercially produced fish food.

David Epstein at Bioponica has been feeding his fish only vegetable matter.  This is a great way to avoid dependance upon fish food.

Live food such as Black Soldier Fly larvae, fly maggots, worms, and other insects are also good sources of protein.

But do we even need fish?  If you are like me an only eat fish a few times per year, maybe you will consider bioponics which replaces fish and fish food with humonia.  Bioponics is hydroponics using readily available urine rather than fertilizers made with fossil fuels.

Humonia (aged urine) is a strong source of nitrogen and potassium plus it provides many other trace minerals.   I have been growing with nothing but humonia, epsom salts and Fe-DTPA for quite a while, and I like the freedom it allows.  Humonia will always be available, but iron and magnesium are still missing and a bit more difficult to make at home.

I personally have no problem using humonia for a nutrient source in a bioponic garden.  Human urine shouldn't contain pathogens or bacteria if you are healthy.  Aged urine turns to ammonia.  But I get that some people would prefer not to collect their urine, or use it anywhere near a vegetable garden.  So I have been exploring various avenues to find a source of nutrients.

What if you could grow vegetables without any animal input including humonia.  Similar to David Epstein's plant matter for fish food; bags of plant matter can provide nearly everything a garden will need.  For example coffee grounds can provide the following.
Nitrogen: 2.28 percent
Phosphorus: 0.06 percent
Potassium: 0.6 percent

A little more research turned up these sources of nutrients:
Weed/Herb Tea
    Nettles, comfrey, yellow dock, burdock, horsetail and chickweed - Potassium
Cornmeal - phosphorus and nitrogen
Molasses  – [ acts as a chelate[Calcium,Magnesium,Potassium,Iron]
Banana - potassium
Coffee Grounds -  phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, copper, sodium and chloride
Egg Shells - 93% calcium carbonate
Seaweed – trace elements
Manure – nitrogen
Grass Clippings – nitrogen
Humonia –  nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium
Wood Ash - calcium  and potassium
Epsom Salts - magnesium and sulfur
Fish-Emulsion - nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, and amino acids

Vermicompost -
  • • Organic Carbon 20.43 – 30.31 %
  • • Nitrogen 1.80 – 2.05 %
  • • Phosphorus 1.32 – 1.93 %
  • • Potassium 1.28 – 1.50 %
  • • Carbon : Nitrogen 14-15 : 1 %
  • • Calcium 3.0 – 4.5 %
  • • Magnesium 0.4 – 0.7 %
  • • Sodium 0.02 – 0.30 %
  • • Sulphur Traces to 0.40 %
  • • Iron 0.3 – 0.7 %
  • • Zinc 0.028 – 0.036 %
  • • Manganese Traces to 0.40 %
  • • Copper 0.0027 – 0.0123 %
  • • Boron 0.0034 – 0.0075 %
  • • Aluminium Traces to 0.071 %
  • • Cobalt, Molybdenum Present in available form
Grass clippings - Over 3 days the Ammonia increases significantly  Plenty of Phosphate too
Soaking grass clippings for 3 days produced a lot of ammonia and phosphate

The iron in vermicompost and planting nitrifying legumes are the only sources I've found. Tests will have to be done.   I have yet to grow a garden this way but it appears a lot will be learned when I do.  Perhaps you too will set up an experimental Weedsponic Garden and let me know your results.

Wicked Beds

A look at the construction of my Earthan Beds. Previously these beds were Wicking Beds with sand in the bottom, but now I want to be able to let aquaponic water flow freely through the beds so I've replaced the sand with rocks. The soil I place back into the Earthan Beds is a mix of sand, compost, pumice, and garden soil, amended with Azomite. Pumice is not required, but it provides plenty of surface area for bacteria while making the soil light and airy. When I first started to use my wicking beds I noticed the smell of anaerobic bacteria. By allowing some water to flow out of the overflow tube each day I was able to prevent this anaerobic condition. When I removed the sand and soil from the wicking beds I found no sign of anaerobic bacteria. By letting the water flow through the Earthan Beds I will create a good environment for nitrification and prevent anaerobic conditions. The water from the Bioponic System will also provide nitrates and other elements for good plant growth.

The first video shows how I constructed the Earthan Beds

This video starts out with a tour of my fall garden.  
Click the hot spot to skip ahead to the nearly finished wicking beds.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Duckweed and String Algae

The video above is one of the best for both duckweed and string algae.

String Algae may begin to grow in your system.  It's not all bad because it can be useful as a fish food, but it tends to clog the system.  If your fish don't keep it under control a small amount of salt in the water will kill the string algae.

There are many varieties of duckweed.  I have two, but one or the other will tend to prevail depending on the time of year.  Duckweed can be rinsed and used in salads and it provides good protein for your fish.    Under ideal conditions duckweed will double it's volume in just a few days, but you will probably have to raise your duckweed separate from your fish because they will eat it faster than it reproduces.

Duckweed cleans the water, but it can also exclude oxygen if it grows too thick.  It prefers warm water, and seems to grow out of control when the conditions are right.  Creating the right conditions can be difficult, so I spread it around various areas and let it grow where it wants to grow. 

Good article about Duck Weed

Saturday, October 5, 2013