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.

Small Scale Aquaponics fish tank


10 Easy Ways to Reduce Kitchen Waste

by Tiffany in A Green Home

Easy Ways to Reduce Kitchen Waste (2)

According to a research, the average kitchen wastes approximately $1000 in food per year. Roughly 40% of all food produced worldwide ends up in the garbage.  Think of how many hungry people could be fed if we cleaned up our act and actually used what we purchased and thus only purchased what we actually needed. Our budgets would be immediately helped by making a few changes and wasting less food. I know personally I cringe at the idea of throwing away $1000 a year. I can think of many ways I would rather spend that money.

Food waste also impacts the planet because we are wasting resources to grow food that we allow to rot and then eventually throw away. Just think about all the energy used to grow crops and the taxation of the soil. Throwing food away is highly wasteful and hurtful to our planet.

Here are a few very simple ways that you can avoid unnecessary waste in the kitchen…

Don’t buy food without plan: Probably the biggest mistake we can make when grocery shopping is buy food without a meal plan of some sort. We need to know when we buy something how and when it will be used. Sometimes we buy things on impulse and think will figure out later what to do with it. Perhaps those tomatoes look ultra appetizing or asparagus is in season, so you buy. Then they end up sitting in the frig or on your counter to rot because you had no clear idea what you would do with them. It is essential to make plans before buying so that everything is used per your plan and does not get wasted. 20-30 minutes spent planning a menu and ingredients list will save you money and it will reduce waste.

If meal planning is not your thing. Outsource!! I like eMeals. They even have a paleo meal plan.

Buy Foods At the Right Time: This is part of the menu plan. If you buy a bunch of avocados because they are on sale then taco night needs to be within 2-3 nights of purchase, not a week later. Coordinate your menu plan with what is on sale, what is in season, and what is available at your local farmer’s market and then use them up within that week.

Buy Less Food: Some people like to buy in bulk and/or buy most of their of food at once. Others like to make several shopping trips a week and buy a little bit at a time. The latter method will be more advantageous if food waste is a problem for you. Lots of groceries means you have to be very good at prioritizing and planning so that nothing goes to waste. If that is you then congrats…if not change your shopping habits and pick up groceries a couple times a week rather a couple times a month.

Organize the Kitchen: A big food waste culprit is a disorganized and cluttered kitchen. If your frig is stuffed to capacity and your pantry is overflowing how do you even know what you have in there??!? Once a month do a pantry overhaul. Once a week do a frig clean-out. This keeps your inventory fresh in your mind and it allows you to see what you need to use up. Make a list of the stuff you need to use pretty quickly and build your menu plan around that.

Store Foods Appropriately: If you buy apples by the bushel then you need to know how to store them so that they last. Wrapping the best apples in newspaper and keeping them in baskets or a boxes in a cold place for instance. Potatoes and onions are usually kept in well ventilated wicker baskets. I like these.

Also some fruits and veggies emit high levels of ethylene gas and can cause your other produce to go bad more quickly so make sure to keep them separate. Don’t keep your peaches and apples anywhere near the greens and celery. Do a bit of research on the foods you buy and find out how to store them properly.

Use Up Leftovers: Some families have a night set aside to enjoy leftovers so that they can use up the food in their frig/freezer before it goes bad. This may mean that your meal includes a mish mash of different foods but you aren’t allowing good food to go to waste. Just call it buffet night!

I also like to pack leftovers in school and work lunches and usually design our dinner menu plan around meals that will work well as lunches the next day.

Freeze Food Before It Spoils: If the food in your frig or on your countertops is looking pretty sad make sure to freeze it before it goes bad. Bananas that are browning can be peeled and frozen for fruit smoothies or for baking. Apples that are starting to go bad get turned into crockpot applesauce, which is then frozen. Greens that are not looking terribly fresh get frozen for green smoothies or for homemade vegetable stock. Small bits of meat get frozen for use in frittatas. Small bits of veggies can be frozen and used later in stir fry or casserole.

Buy Dried Foods:  If you have a problem using up mushrooms before they go bad then make a switch to dried mushrooms. I love using dried mushrooms and wood ears in soups. Yum! They last a long time in the pantry and you don’t have to worry about using them up fast. Fruit is another thing you can buy dehydrated or dehydrate yourself (to use up seasonal fruit stores). It can then be used in smoothies, baked goods, snacking. etc. If your kids let bananas go to waste but they love dried banana chips, think about making a switch.

Don’t Toss It – Compost It: If the food is too far gone make sure to compost it and turn it into black gold for your garden and your houseplants. If you don’t garden, compost it anyway…I am sure that many folks would love to take the compost off your hands when it is ready.

Consider the Packaging: Waste in the kitchen isn’t just about food. What about all of the packaging waste that ends up in the landfill?? To mitigate this buy food without packaging whenever possible…its usually healthier food anyway. Buy fresh broccoli rather than frozen, buy ingredients to make bread rather than buy it in bags. Choose packaging that can be recycled before any that cannot be recycled. Bring your own glass jars and shop the bulk bins for grains, beans, cereal, etc. Be intentional when it comes to what you purchase.

You can also go a step beyond…

Be a Freegan: Freegans look for free food (usually in grocery store dumpsters) that has been discarded. The food is usually still perfectly good but it is thrown out on freshness dates that are very conservative. If you want to explore this option read my post on Freeganism or watch the movie Dive. It’s a great film!


Let's Get This Garden Started! – WW

by Tiffany in Gardening

Garden Journal


Seed starts

Seed Starter Pack


Are You in Danger of Becoming Free?

by Tiffany in Gardening

food freedom

I heard a quote recently that really hit home with me. I thought about it all day long and realized fully just how true it was.

Growing food is one of the most dangerous occupations on this earth because you are in danger of becoming free. – Jules Dervaes

I could not believe how simple and amazing this truth is. When we do not grow our own food we are slaves to food companies, grocery stores, and a government that promises to protect our food supply but often doesn’t. We have to worry about food prices sky rocketing, the noxious chemicals and pesticides that may be inside our food, and having to rely on OTHER people for one of our most basic human needs. We certainly would not want to rely on other people for oxygen to breathe and we should also be a bit more concerned about relinquishing all control we have over our food supply.

The concept of a victory garden remains just as important today as it was in years past.  During WWII you would see posters encouraging you to grow your own garden so that you could avoid the restrictions of food rations and become more self sufficient during what had to be stressful times. Families grew their own food on what land they had. Other people gardened in vacant lots, on rooftops, and in city parks. Public schools even designated areas for gardens and the students maintained them.

The purpose behind the victory garden was to lessen the demand on commercially grown Poster - Plant a Victory Gardenproduce and thus more would be available to the Armed Forces and lend-lease programs. We don’t really have this problem now but we still need to reconnect with our food in the same way. We cannot trust in many of the companies that grow and supply our food. They are in this business for money, not to feed and soothe the masses. They don’t care if we are ingesting petro chemicals and pesticides that may give us cancer down the road. We may not be able to continue to feed our kids healthy, organic foods if this economic meltdown continues. We do not have to just accept that though. We do not have to take it laying down. We can grow our food to the extent we can and with each veggie we grow we are just a bit closer to food freedom. We don’t have to be victims… we can be the victors… all we need is a little homegrown revolution.

I am gardening for food freedom this year. Are you?

In honor of the upcoming planting and growing season for most of the US I am going to chronicle my journey and I encourage everyone else to do so as well. Even if you grow just one or two things this year… perhaps some cilantro in a window box or some tomatoes on your porch you are growing your way to freedom. Send me pictures of your efforts and your produce and I will even post some here with a link to your blog if you have one. Let’s come together this year and garden for freedom and support each other while doing it.

If you don’t have a yard to garden in you might try some of the following:

1. Plant in containers on your porch, patio, or window. Use any space you have available.

2. Use any resources you have available. You can recycle stuff you already have to make containers or even go to thrift stores and look for old pots. Check out the book Don’t Throw it – Grow It for eco friendly and frugal gardening ideas. It shows how to grow 68 window sill plants from kitchen scraps.

3. Look for a community garden that will give you a designated spot or plot to garden. You can also join up with friends or family and plant at one of their homes if they have the space and you don’t. I did this one year and it was great.

4. Find a small secret place to garden at a local park. I know one gentleman who gardens in various places in Central Park!

5. Do you have an elderly neighbor who used to garden but can’t anymore? Volunteer to work their garden in exchange for half the produce.

6. If you can’t find any way to garden then support another gardener or local farmer. Buy from local farms and skip the middleman.

So let’s get busy! And email me your pictures! Grab the button below if you want to as well.

food freedom banner

Related posts: Frugal Gardening


Eco Tip: A Smart Showerhead

by Tiffany in A Green Home, Eco Tips

Hotel shower head

Looking for a new showerhead? Why not pick one that is green/smart and helps you save on water AND energy.

I recently got a 1.6 GPM Energy and Water Saving Showerhead and it is a great product for a green home. It addresses a common habit…leaving the water running while it heats up. Of course no one wants to step into frigid water but it is all to easy to turn it on and then leave to do other things. I know I am guilty of that and my kids can be to. We end up wasting hot water and energy many times when we do this. But with this showerhead it is no biggie if you need to go run to the laundry room to get a clean towel because this showerhead is SMART.

It has a built-in ShowerStart technology sensor that senses when the water is warm enough. It senses when the water reaches normal bathing and showering temperature (95 degrees) then “pauses” the flow of water, retaining instead of wasting your hot water. When hear the water stop running and know your shower is ready to go. When you are ready to get in, jump in and turn the valve to resume water flow. Easy!

You save water by not wasting it and you save energy by not heating up water that just goes down the drain..your shower waits for you. It is also a low flow showerhead, and will save about 8 gallons or water for every 5 minutes you shower and according to their web site that should save you around $230 on utility bills and more than 7,600 gallons of water per year. It pays for itself after 3 months.

Here is a video to show you how it works. The only difference between the one in the video and ours is that ours has a cord attached to it so even the kids can pull it and re-start the water….very cool.



Other Eco Shower Heads I Like:

The Evolve Rain Showerhead – At 2.5 gallons per minute, you can enjoy a luxurious shower knowing you are saving money with ShowerStart technology. Adding to its ShowerStart technology, the Panda features and offset ball for maximum extension from the shower arm which creates ideal balance and great flow through its powerful rain spray pattern.

Waterpik Eco Flow Hand Held Shower – Water saving head saves up to one gallon of water a minute, fingertip pause control. Pays for itself in 6 months!


Photo Credit: mikemacadaan