Small Scale Aquaponics – Growing Greens With a Fish Tank

by Tiffany in Gardening

Small Scale Aquaponics Growing Greens With a Fish Tank

One of the biggest hopes you can have as a mom and an environmentalist is that your kids will want to take up your causes as they grow and mature. I could not be prouder of my oldest child (nearly 14) as he grows into a stellar young man. He is kind, empathetic, smart, a great cook and fisherman, and very much interested in sustainability and homesteading practices. He helps me in the garden and listens relentlessly to my babbling about political issues, food integrity, and saving the planet.

In an attempt to be more sustainable himself and grow greens for his three reptiles he decided he wanted to have a small scale aquaponics system in his bedroom. Actually he said something about a 50 gallon drum but I had to nix that idea and instead talked him into using his existing fish tank. He has a lovely 30 gallon tank and quite a few fish, all of which he purchased second hand on Craigslist by himself, using money he earned helping someone with a roofing project. With a bit of guidance from his Dad (who told him what he needed) he managed to rig together this pretty awesome little system. He spent about $40 for the materials. I love how easy this system is to put together. So many people have fish tanks in their home. It would be super easy for them to start using the nutrient rich tank water to grow greens, herbs, and other food items in their home. Plus when you clean the tank you can use that water in your outdoor garden. We do! Here is the fish tank:

fish tank

You can see the aquaponics grow bed in the upper right hand corner of the photo. He took a small plastic storage container (which we already had) and he cut holes in the lid so that he could fit it with eight small baskets or hydrofarm net cups commonly used for hydroponics. In the baskets you find hydroton expanded clay pellets… no dirt or soil in sight. The baskets hang down inside the storage tub and the bottoms dip into the water which is continuously filled using a small aquaponics circulation pump inside the fish tank. The water is pumped up into the aquaponics grow bed, it is filtered for debris, and then once is reaches a certain height it overflows back into the fish tank via a plastic tube (got it from Menards).

aquaponics system 003

And of course he added a grow light over the top of the grow bed to help the seedlings grow. And boy do they grow! A seed wrapped in a tiny bit of cotton ball will sprout and shoot up in a day or two, much faster than the those same seeds grown in soil outside. It is amazing. I can’t wait to post pictures of his mature greens and lettuce.

aquaponics system 010

Thursday, May 29th, 2014



What is a Victory Garden? Do We Need Them Now?

by Tiffany in Gardening

Plant a Victory GardenI am kind of fascinated with the idea of victory gardens. They are vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted during world wars l & ll to ensure adequate food supply to the troops and civilians.  They were planted at private residences and also public places. Public authorities, businesses, schools and seed companies worked together to grow more vegetables in order to reduce the pressure on the food supply at a critical time in our history. 

People were asked to produce more of their own food and food for their neighbors and townships so that the food supply system in general could be pared down and more resources could be used on the war front. It was also a morale booster for the civilians that they are also contributing towards the war expenses and doing their part to fight for their country at home. By growing more of their own food they could also avoid the restrictions of food rations and become more self sufficient during those stressful times.

Americans ploughed their front and back yards and even public places to convert them to victory gardens. Even playgrounds were not spared.  The gardens were a grand success as it is said that they produced about 40% of the the total vegetable and fruit needs of the country so that the nation could effectively utilize the resources meant for agriculture and divert them to waging the war. It reduced demand on materials used in food processing and canning. Railroads could focus on transporting munitions and not food. Excess produce from victory gardens were preserved and canned for the winter season.

The campaign for victory gardens was successfully launched with a media campaign that included colorful posters, features in  the magazines, etc. It helped to imprint the idea in the minds of the populace.

victory-gardenNowadays people are again thinking and talking about victory gardens. Though the victory gardens are history now, the idea behind them is still relevant. Production and supply of food materials are now controlled by corporations all over the world. More and more people have no idea how to grow their own food and feed themselves. They blindly delegate this responsibility to large companies and big agriculture. This is pure folly for many reasons though. These corporate food entities have no interest in making sure our food supply is healthy and safe. It is also crazy to think we don’t need to know how to take care of ourselves in a most basic sense…aka producing the food we need to live!

A replica of the campaign launched many decades ago is required now as it will help liberate the production and supply of food in this country. It would provide people all over the country with an opportunity to grow quality food items without the control of corporations. It would also save each homeowner money because they would not need as much from grocery stores and local markets.

It is a wonderful feeling to grow your own food and feed your family with nothing but your sweat and hard work. It is also a great feeling to become less dependent on “the man”. I like teaching my kids important lessons in the garden…aka where food comes from and how to grow it yourself! Preserving food is also another great skill for them to learn.

As a country we have become lazy and dependent when it comes to our food supply. It is time we wage a personal war to regain that control. For more information on how to get started see some of the links below…

Why We Have to Start Gardening in the City

Unusual Planters for a Thrifty Garden

Green seedlings growing out of soil in egg shells

Monday, April 7th, 2014



Why We Have to Start Gardening in the City… RIGHT NOW

by Tiffany in Gardening

Why We Have to Start Gardening in the City

Many people who start gardening in the city do so for a very good reason. They want good food. They want the crispiest, juiciest, cucumbers they can get their hands on and the ripest and most flavorful tomatoes.  They want foods grown locally, on a small scale, and without chemical fertilizers or herbicides. They want farm fresh, even though they don’t live on a farm. Is this unreasonable or just plain smart?

Most of our food comes from farms in rural areas and it is shipped across great distances to stores nationwide. Many people see no reason to take issue with this but increasingly others do see problems with this food system. Is it healthy? Will it feed the whole world? No actually. This food system has serious issues. It is wasteful, unsustainable, and unhealthy. To grow foods in the mass quantities needed to feed huge populations all over the country lots of space, energy, and chemicals must be used and abused. Throughout the country people still go hungry. Unhealthy processed foods become cheaper and more readily available and thus health problems abound, especially in urban areas. Urban residents become less likely to know how to cook healthy meals with fresh ingredients. They are more likely to know how to cook boxed mac and cheese.

So what needs to change? City dwellers need to learn that food is intimately connected to health, environment, economy, and community. The single best way to do this is to start growing food in the city. When we grow food in the city we establish local sources for healthy food, a local food economy, and a community that works for it own interests and the planet’s and not against them. Our cities need some nourishment…they need some gardens!

The facts are that more people are moving into cities…not rural areas. The United Nations has predicted that by 2030, two-thirds of us will be living in cities AND we will need 60% more food. The answer is not to transport more food or increase the scale of factory farms and huge agribusiness monocrops. We need to start growing food in those cities. How do we do that?

On a large scale, as a community we need to support:

Rooftop gardens on city buildings and parking structures
Community gardens
Teaching gardens
Aquaponics and  hydroponics businesses and operations
Farmer’s markets
Restaurants who use local foods
Schoolyard gardens
Community cooking classes
Wind and solar energy
Anaerobic digestion facilities
Legislation that supports local gardening
Legislation that supports the keeping of farm animals
Legislation that enables us to turn abandoned spaces into green spaces
Programs to provide a work force and skills training for those green spaces (unemployed,  homeless, etc)
Legislation to provide tax incentives for businesses and residents who garden

City Gardenscape

On a smaller and more personal scale we need to:

Garden in containers, on balconies, and window sills
Use front and backyard spaces for gardening and growing food
Collect rainwater
Install solar panels if we can
Grow food using vertical food systems
Grow food using small scale aquaponics and hydroponics systems
Grow flowers and other non-food vegetation for wildlife and pollinators
Raise animals for food (like chickens or rabbits)
Keep bees

Whether we are in the burbs or in the city we NEED to grow food. We also need to teach our children to do the same. We need to think globally and act locally….changing our cityscapes one home and garden space at a time. The concrete jungle has got to go…our cities need to go green pronto and the first step is to own up to your own part in the equation and then help others do the same. Let’s turn our cities into places so leafy and green they resemble jungles okay? Let’s plant the seeds of a greener future.

Monday, February 24th, 2014



Great Gardens Begin in Winter

by Tiffany in Gardening

Great Gardens Begin in WInter

One of the biggest obstacles for newbie home gardeners and homesteaders is that they get gung ho about their gardening goals a little bit too late in the year. When the weather warms they see Pinterest and blogs explode with gardening adventures. Nurseries and home improvement stores are overrun and you probably see your neighbors starting on their projects and digging in the dirt. What you don’t see though is that these same people start planning their adventures long before the weather turned warm. Great gardens are actually rooted in the winter months. That is when they are dreamed up and planned for. So if you want to grow your own food and have a great spring/summer garden don’t be left behind again, start NOW!

Here are some ideas and tips to get you started…

Write It Down

Take out a pencil and paper and get to writing. Start with a list of the things you want to grow and then research how those plants grow together. Some will be complimentary and others will not be. Draw out what it is you want to create. Use real time measurements so you will know if you have enough space. Outline a plan so that you won’t be left scratching your head in spring and wondering where to start.

Mark Your Garden Deadlines on a Calendar

Use a calendar to keep up with your garden planning. Write down what you need to start indoors and when so that you can meet any planting deadlines. Different plants grow at different paces and if you want a steady supply of certain edibles you will need to stagger your planting as well. Also make a note of when you need to move seedlings outdoors, taking into account any frost dates and when you need to start garden/yard clean up so you can have everything ready. I use the The Old Farmer’s Almanac Gardening Calendar.

Have Soil Tested

It is always a good idea to know the quality of your soil and to know if you need to amend it so that growing will be more productive. If your soil is lacking you will likely have problems growing and it might even frustrate you enough to make you give up when all you needed to do was be informed and proactive. Investing in your soil is arguably one of the most important things you can do (especially if you are growing edibles) and it starts with testing. Do a search for soil testing in your state and find out where you need to send a sample and what the associated costs are.

Order Seeds and Supplies

Don’t get caught in the trap of having to buy seeds at a local home improvement store or buy seedlings because you were late to the game and didn’t start your plants indoors. In my post about modern gardening practices actually harming bees, I highlighted a study conducted by the Friends of the Earth-US and Pesticide Research Institute. It found that 54% of common garden plants purchased at top retailers like Lowes and Home Depot contained neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been shown to harm or kill bees and other pollinators, with no warning to consumers. Don’t buy from these places!! Instead try heirloom seeds from places like Seed Saver Exchange, which is a non-profit, member supported organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations.

Other supplies include everything you need to start your seeds indoors. Don’t forget though that you can use recycled materials from home like eggshells and toilet paper rolls to grow seedlings and spend very little. Check out the post below for more information…

Green seedlings growing out of soil in egg shells

Visit Home and Garden Shows and Botanical Gardens

Why do these gardening shows often take place in winter? Because that is when master gardeners plan their gardens! Visit a local show, get inspiration, and talk to the gardeners and designers. Botanical gardens also highlight local plants that you can grow and they have people you can talk to about what will work best in your area. The best way to educate yourself about what you can grown in your own backyard is to talk to the people in your area who have been doing it for years.

Monday, January 20th, 2014



Gardening in June: Blackberries, Jalapenos, and Bell Peppers

by Tiffany in Gardening

June has been an exciting gardening month for me. It is a daily joy to go outside and see how things are growing and changing. Unless of course I go outside and see that squirrels have been eating my bell pepper plants, then I just want to go outside with a .22 and maybe have some squirrel stew for dinner. In lieu of that I have been making sure to spray them with an oil/cayenne pepper mixture and so far that seems to be working. I have already lost 4 of my 6 original bell pepper plants though. Those two are starting to grow peppers and are currently about the size of my thumbnail. Cute!

bell pepper plant

On the plus side though the blackberries are growing (their first year) and I am letting the birds eat them. Next year will be a different story. My blueberry bush is looking green and lush (also its first year) but no blueberries.


I have salad greens and herbs growing on my back deck in containers since we have very little space to work with. I find it a delightful challenge though to see how much we can grow in so little space. Each corner of our deck looks something like this…

salad bar porch pots

salad greens container garden

In our raised beds we have the aforementioned bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and pumpkin vines that are getting downright massive. We did not intentionally grow them, they just kinda happened because we used the raised beds as a compost bin during the winter and our Halloween pumpkins were in there. Once they started sprouting I didn’t have the heart to remove them, I just thinned them out and I hope we can keep them manageable and prevent them from strangling out everything that is growing around them. We shall see.

Pumpkin plants

Also growing are some jalapenos. Salsa here we come baby!


Also got the compost bin I so desperately needed AND the rain barrel. After our first big spring rain I collected over 55 gallons of rainwater. I haven’t had to use the water from the hose even once and we have had some pretty hot and dry days lately. We got it via a nifty city program. I had to take an online test about rainwater collection and benefits and then after passing I got a rain barrel at a wholesale price.

rain barrel in the garden

The compost bin was built in about 15 minutes and for about $20.

compost bin

What are you growing? What gardening adventures have you had so far?

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

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