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Archive for May, 2012

Suddenly, everyone’s an expert on Aquaponic Gardening.  My Twitter account was loaded this morning with ‘expert’ tweets about how to properly grow fish and vegetables together.  Most of them were pointing to e-books, so were likely affiliates promoting a new info product.

I have nothing against info products. I dabble in them myself. It’s also quite normal to see a rising phenomenon like Aquaponic Gardening result in a proliferation of products aimed at the burgeoning market.  That’s free enterprise at it’ finest. The challenge for consumers is to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.  How will beginners know the good from the bad?

First, do some research on the author or creator of the material.  At least Google the author and see what information about him/her is out there. What experience does she/he have?  Can you see their operation?  Is the material consistent with other information on the market? What are others saying about the material?

If you are in doubt, email, FB or contact me on Twitter and ask.  I am making it a personal mission to become familiar with all the material out there on the subject of Aquaponic Gardening.  I firmly believe that Aquaponics is the future of backyard gardening.  I believe it will eclipse things like Square Foot Gardening, self watering container gardening  and hydroponic gardening in both popularity and production.

Aquaponic Gardening has many benefits including its adaptability to large and small spaces and even has real indoor possibilities.  Recent improvements in LED and CFL lighting have brought indoor gardening to a wider audience.

There are still some lingering drawbacks to Aquaponic Gardening, though, that require some attention.  The first is that the dependence on electricity keeps Aquaponics from being truly sustainable.  Solar technology has not developed to an everyman level, so for the near future at least, access to mains power will be required to run pumps, aerators, filters and in many cases, heaters.

The second drawback is affordability.  Right now, it’s fairly expensive to get started in Aquaponics.  Retail ‘out of the box’ systems are cost prohibitive for millions of people who might otherwise get involved.  Even homemade systems made from scrapped materials have built in costs for fittings, pumps, filters and the like.  While goldfish are inexpensive, edible fish like Tilapia can be quite pricey for the beginner. It is still much cheaper for most people to dig up a spot in the back yard, or build a raised bed, than it is to set up an Aquaponics system.  Until the start up cost gap is narrowed, we will find it difficult to move from pioneers and early adopters to the masses.  Making Aquaponics affordable to the general population is one of my goals.

Sometime this summer I’m going to add a resource page to the blog that will be a repository for links to websites, books, systems and people who can help us all be better Aquaponics gardeners and help keep us from being ripped off by charlatans.

 

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It’s been a rough day.  It was supposed to be a run of the mill Thursday.  I had some meetings on the calendar and was scheduled to teach some sales classes at work, but nothing dramatic.

The day started quite peacefully.  Lucy the Mastiff had no accidents during the night and was well behaved all morning.  I had my coffee and quiet time, then went upstairs to get ready for work.

While I was showering, Brittan got up, put on her farm clothes and prepared to face the day.  As I got dressed, she would head downstairs and infuse her soul with caffeine.  Before she stepped into the hallway, my cell phone rang.  My phone NEVER rings.  Especially not in the mornings.

The call was from a lady from Church who was taking care of our youth pastor’s dogs; letting them out to potty.  The youth pastor lives next to our farm.  The lady, who shall remain nameless to protect her identity from being besieged by pet sitter requests said, “Sam, one of your cows is out.”

Please allow me to point out that “one of your cows is out” is not an expression I’d hoped to hear this morning.  It is not a hopeful, amusing, entertaining or casual announcement.  It’s an “Oh, Crap” moment.

Brittan was already on her way to the truck before I could thank the caller and hang up.  I finished buttoning my freshly ironed white shirt, made sure it was tucked properly into my dress trousers, slipped on my shoes, jumped in the car and chased Brittan down the road.

Please keep in mind that our farm is surrounded on three sides by a subdivision and our Church Property.  The front side is a major road with thousands of cars blasting by in the mornings.  It is rush hour and a pregnant cow is loose in the neighborhood.  As long as she stays near the fence where the other cows, including her calf, are peacefully grazing, all will be well. If she strays to the highway, bad, horrible things will happen.

I pulled up beside the wandering cow and parked the car.  The escapee is Nadia, mother to our heifer, Butter and to our bull calf, Sir Loin.  Nadia is fairly easy going, but doesn’t like us touching her.  She has jumped fences before.  Brittan had arrived far enough ahead of me that she was putting a bucket of sweet feed in front of Nadia’s face to distract the bolting bovine while we got a rope on her.

Brittan is one of the best I’ve ever seen at calming an animal and getting them to allow themselves to be roped, caged, corralled or captured.  She has amazing patience with the animals.

After she got a rope on Nadia, I took it from her, held the rope fairly close to the cow’s neck and led her away.  B walked in front with the bucket of junk food just out of Nadia’s reach.

Now we faced our first and biggest problem, how to get Nadia back into the field.  She sure as heck wasn’t going to jump back in and there are no gates on the subdivision side of the pastures.  Our only option seemed to be to walk Nadia around the corner, along the shoulder of the road against rush hour traffic, up the driveway and through a gate.  This was not going to be easy.

The journey started off easy enough.  Nadia was cooperative and the smell of sweet feed was intoxicating to her.  As soon as we rounded the corner though, the fast cars and traffic noise spooked her and she lurched.  For a moment I was able to stay in control.  I stayed on the road side and kept pushing her to the inside.

Between the shoulder of the road and the fence is a boxwood hedge and a fairly dense stand of 2 to 4 inch diameter pine trees.  Fear of the traffic scared Nadia so bad that she jumped into the boxwood hedge and dragged me through it lengthways.  It is a thick hedge and she eventually stopped to rest.  I caught my breath then she turned around to race through the trees back to where we started.  I held on for a moment, being bounced off pine trunks, but eventually had to let go.  My left shoulder and left thumb had been jammed pretty severely by collisions with evergreens and my glasses lay twisted about three feet away from where my momentum ended.

Fortunately, Nadia ran into the Youth Pastor’s back yard where Brittan was able to grab the rope and tie her to a large wood framed swing set.  About the same time, a Good Samaritan stopped to ask if we needed some help.  We gladly accepted her offer.

I get a little fuzzy after that, because the shock, trauma and oxygen deprivation had me in a state of delirium.  I remember Brittan asking me what we were going to do.  I said, “we have to cut the fence and drive her in through the hole, then put the cows in another pasture.”

By that time I realized that Nadia would not leave her calf, so the fence cutting should work.

I stayed with Nadia, while Brittan went to cut the fence.  Our anonymous helper stood by the fence to calm the other cows who were by now in quite a state.

Even with a halter and second rope, Nadia proved too strong for the both of us, but she only wanted to be near her calf, so B walked behind her down the fence line and I walked beside, but about 10 feet away in case she decided to turn towards the road again.

This time, there were no incidents. The stressed out cow walked straight through the hole in the fence and reunited with her son.  Three of the 4 cows followed Brittan to the new pasture as if nothing had ever happened.  I had to go back and encourage the fourth one to move along and join the migration.

Once the cattle were in the other field we were able to do a damage assessment.  Apart from some cow pats and spilled feed in the Youth Pastor’s yard, the only other property damage was the cut fence, but that is fairly easily repaired.  No, most of the wreckage appears to be to my carcass.  I am fairly bruised from head to toe.  My clothes were ruined, but that’s no big deal.  I will heal, but not for a few days.

I forgot to mention that somewhere along the way, as B was climbing over the fence, one of her feet got stuck for a second and she went head first over the fence. She, being younger and more nimble than her man, went straight into her best Jackie Chan impersonation and executed a perfect tuck and roll.  She’s going to be sore, but nothing broken or strained.  Whew.

As a sequel, after Brittan got home, she went out to work the bee hives to prepare them for removing honey.  She got stung twice; once on the nose and once on the temple.  I convinced her to take some Benadryl.  She sent me an email saying she took two and was totally drunk.  She said she would take a nap and see me tomorrow.

So, how was YOUR day?

 

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I watched from the other side of the room as Brittan tried hauling herself from the comfort of the bed to face another early milking call.  Sunday mornings are particularly rough, because we have to get the chores done and get cleaned up in time for Church at 8:30.  We can’t really be late, because I’m the Bible teacher for the 8:30 class and apparently everything runs more smoothly if the teacher is on time.

Apart from the early hour, there is really no difference between Sunday and any other morning for chores.  The grunts, groans, creaks, pops, spasms, grimaces, aches and pains are the same 24/7, 365.

On this particular morning, B’s heel, hip and back are especially disgruntled at being forced to participate in the morning’s adventures.  Still, after muttering something incoherent, and possibly irreverent, she puts on a brave face and forges ahead.

I couldn’t help but chuckle just a little.  Not so much at her pain, but at the situation.  You see, Brittan is not alone in her war with the human body.  We’re in this together.  Between us, we are living examples of the first two laws of thermodynamics.  Summary: The universe tends to age and deteriorate.

Not a day goes by that one or both of us doesn’t come home without a new cut, scrape, gouge, pierce, poke, bruise, twist, strain or sprain.  Our cuts and scrapes bleed freely and mingle with the mud, muck and manure.  Our immune systems have undoubtedly been tested to the limit.  We’ve endured and fought off more infections that we can count.  Brittan quipped yesterday that she might just be walking antitoxin for every known infection short of snakebite.  In case you’re wondering, I concur.

In my case, it’s easier to identify joints and muscle groups that DON’T need attention, than ones that do.  Both my elbows have tendonitis. To be fair, that originally developed back in my dog mushing days and only recently reappeared with the frequency of hauling buckets of water to animals or plants that need hydrating.

Both of my rotator cuffs pretty much hurt all the time.  Raising my arms up over my head is fast becoming something I USED to do.

I’m pretty sure I will need my left hip replaced sometime in the future.  The pain in it is frequently almost too much to endure.

Both of my knees have been twisted and hyper extended so many times that on certain days it’s difficult to find a position that doesn’t hurt.  And I think I damaged the ACL in my right knee last week when I slipped in the mud.

Moving downward, both ankles really need to be taped daily because they’ve had so many sprains and get ‘turned over’ almost daily.  They have virtually no strength at all.

We won’t say much about the gout in my right big toe or the carpal tunnel in my wrists, because neither of those is related to farming.

Talk about a walking disaster.  Most of the  Zombies on TV are in better shape than I am.

Brittan sports a new bruise almost every day.  She’s been head butted by so many goats,  sheep and bulls over the last three years that I’m sometimes surprised she can walk at all.

The other day, I queried her regarding the blood running down her arms and she said, “I have no idea.  I was at the farm, what more is there to say?”

The woman is gorgeous, but I’ll bet you that under an x-ray, she has the knees, hips and heels of a woman three times her age.  She sure walks like one some mornings.

Yes, sports fans, we are the walking dead.  And we love it. I would not trade a single ache or scar, because the same activities that gave us pain also brought so much joy and pleasure.

When customers tell us how much they love the milk, eggs or hot peppers, the aches start to disappear. When they refer friends and family, it has more healing power than any antibiotic or analgesic.

We’ve participated in the births of animal and fowl of all kinds.  We’ve played with them, bathed them, nursed them and cursed them.  Our fridge is full of milk, our freezer full of meat and our larder full vegetables.

Sure, we could get everything right down the road at a supermarket and it would hurt a lot less. But the food we eat and serve to family and friends is not just groceries. It’s a part of us. And we are part of it.

Ok, symbiosis hurts a bit, maybe a lot, especially in the morning. But it’s a hurt that makes you smile. At least when you’re not grimacing…

 

 

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