Thursday, October 29, 2020


We've finally got our hydroponics system setup and mostly populated. There were all sorts of issues along the way, but I'll get to those later. First, the grand tour.

Click the pictures to embiggen. 

When you walk into the room this is the view you get. There's an old chest freezer, as in older than me old, that holds the fish. We've got fifteen in there. One that we took out of Mariah's parents' little pond and fourteen more that we got once we realized what a pain it was to get fish out of the pond. 

The ammonia in the fish waste gets transformed into nitrites and then into nitrates and is all of the food for the plants. 

On either end of the freezer there's a post running across. A small pump runs water through all the time. Probably a bit deeper than it should be, but the roots are still developing. Could be a problem later. Anyway, the water pumps in one side, out the other, and over to the second post. Might add a third post later. We just ran out of caps. I'd have to make my own. 

The bucket underneath has two small screw holes in the bottom. I was hoping to keep the water level high enough to grow duckweed in there to feed the fish, but low tide is too low. So, instead I use it to add water to the system slow enough to keep the temperature change from shocking the fish. 

Just a minor trickle. Isn't it cute?

Low tide

This is the inside of the chest freezer. I filled it half way and left it for a few weeks to make sure it was water tight. Terracotta pots give them something to hide in and keep the fish tank from being an infinite white void slowly driving the fish mad. You can also see the return hose from the posts and a bubbler. 

The posts are one system and this is the start of the second system. This is the control bucket. One pump in the fish tank pumps water into this and a pump in the control bucket pumps water back out. Water then flows through the six other hoses in the side of this bucket to six other buckets. The water automatically keeps level across all seven of them. 

There's a float valve inside the control bucket to stop the water at a certain level, but it's rather narrow, so it limits how fast the bucket can fill. So a timer pumps water in for half an hour, it sits for about fifteen minutes, and then the second pump drains it in about ten minutes. Then it sucks air for five minutes because the timer works on intervals of fifteen minutes. This give the fish tank a tide of 25-30 gallons. 

We did try giving them more water so that low tide isn't so low, but the float valve isn't as effective as one might like and there was overflow. 

Note the white(ish) block of wax under the bucket. That'll come up again.

The other six buckets are in a reflective grow closet. 




When I take a pot out you can see the roots coming out the bottom. Once that's happening with all of them I can lower the water level by removing the wax block under the control bucket.

Right now, only the tomatoes have roots that big. If the other stuff, like the strawberries, don't catch up, they'll end up moved to the continuous flow system.

These are expanded clay pellets. They are neutral enough to not change the PH level of the water, big enough not to wash away, and serve to help hold the plants in place. 

The biggest expense is the lights. That's true in general and not just in the case of people like us who scavenged most of the material. This light was $500. And I shopped around until I found one that wasn't made entirely in China. 

They are a major source of heat. Not as much as the pre-LED systems, but quite a bit. The basement likes to be in the mid-60°Fs, but this reflective room gets to 79°F when the lights are on. 


The biggest issue with a system like this is leaks. Or algae. So far, it's been leaks. Anywhere there's a hose coming in or out there's a rubber gasket and plastic grommet. Those weren't waterproof on their own, much to my disappointment.  So, I tried to use silicone to seal stuff up. Apparently a common mistake as the guys in the shops nodded knowingly when I griped to them about how that went. So I stripped it off and used a more adhesive caulk. That was better, but still drippy. So I put some inside, too. No good. Finally, after weeks of using different materials, letting it set, testing it, mopping the floor, letting it dry, trying something else, I got some Flex Seal and slathered it all over the ends of the posts. 

Suck it, leaks!

It still leaked where the hoses came and went... sometimes. That's why the control bucket is in a pan. And in the first picture there's an aquarium under the end of one of the posts. All that water didn't come from a leak. That's the fish hospital. The PH got a bit out of control and some needed assistance. Anyway, the leaks around the hoses seem to have stopped after running for a few days. 

That's actually, less complaining than I expected to do. BUT THE LEAKS WERE A BIG AND ANNOYING PROBLEM!

Oh, right the algae. If you're doing this at home you want to block out as much light as possible. Paint the buckets black, use black hoses, keep a lid on the fish tank, etc. A few years ago I helped set up a tower garden for my brother, but replaced the reservoir with a 300 gallon IBC tank and fish. But too much light got in, the algae clogged up the system, and water poured everywhere he didn't want it. 

Our system isn't as light-proof as I might like it, but it's better than my brothers' was and so far we have no algae. 


We got the freezer free from Craiglist. We thought we were getting a working freezer. So did the people who gave it to us. But the guys who pushed it to the curb tore out some vital parts... such as the power supply. 
The big fish was abducted from in-laws. The little fish are feeder fish rescued from a pet store. Cost us two bucks.
The posts came from the in-laws. They got them free some years ago as leftovers from someone's project. 
The pots were free from Craigslist. Some farmer was buying plants and had lots of empty pots to get rid of. 
The clay pellets were part of a previous attempt at hydroponics from 5-6 years ago. 
Buckets from the in-laws. 
Lids from HomeDepot. 
The reflective closet, the light over the fish tank, hooks, ropes, the drip pan, and some vent fans and other stuff we got off Craigslist for $250 or so - about 1/3 the going price. When this light was in the reflective closet the temperature sat at 77°F. 
The new light is new and ~$500. I did a lot of shopping to find one that wasn't 100% made in China. 
The tomatoes in the reflective closet are cuttings from stuff in the yard. The tomatoes in the posts are cuttings from a friends' yard. 
The strawberry in the closet is one from the yard that came with the house. The one in the post we got in the spring, grew like mad, and never produced anything.
There's blueberry cuttings from the blueberry bush outside using the light and some fish water.
We brought our peppers in and put them in the closet to see how well they keep producing over the winter. 
There is lettuce, zucchini, and some other things coming up from see to go in the system. 
There's two apple trees grown from seed.
We're still trying to figure out what to do about our two dozen lemon trees grown from seed. 
FlexSeal is like $30 a quart!
And the hoses and pumps and gaskets came from local hydroponics store and cost many moneys. By local I mean the several that are an hour away and the none that are close. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Lawn mowing

No, I'm not reviving the blog. I'm turning it back to what it originally was, a way to keep track of when I did certain things to the house.

Oh, I bought a new house on Halloween of 2018. I'm in a town north of Frederick, MD. And today I'm gonna bitch about lawn care.

I guess I'm a true suburbanite now. I'm getting in a feud with an
elderly neighbor about lawns and worrying about lawn care.

In Westport I had an electric mower and would mow my lawn, the lawn of
a house I was renovating, up to 4 other lawns for elderly neighbors or
vacant houses, and about half of a sizable lot that neither the city
nor the state would claim. All the extra mowing was to deny rats
places to hide and to make the large lot useful.

But all those lawns had nobody to care for them so the grass was
generally pretty thin and my mower could cover some ground. In my new
house the previous owner, and the neighbors, hire lawn services. Which
is fine when you consider their ages. They all have 20 to 40 years on
me. Who wants to be pushing a mower in their 70's? But you could make
it easier on yourself. These services are fertilizing the lawns and
spreading herbicides and pesticides. Look, my lawn is like a carpet.
It really is. These services work. But it's not the 1950s anymore. The
neighbors are still worrying about keeping their yard a monoculture
and a perfectly manicured green carpet while we're concerned about
bees and runoff.

I expect my lawn to thin out a bit over the next few years as I stop
fertilizing. But for now I'm starting to see why mine is the only
electric mower. It's because I've gone through 4 batteries over 3 days
and am only about half way done with my first mow. My yard is only 1/3
of an acre! The grass is so thick, the mower has to work so hard, that
each battery charge lasts me only 10-15 minutes. So, exhaust 1
battery, then the next, then spend 3-4 hours to charge both batteries
back up. I'm hoping that later mows will go easier, but not counting
on it.

One neighbor I talked to warned me about dandelion seeds blowing from
the city property next to hers. She got real quiet when I said I don't
mind dandelions much and that they're a major staple of the diet of
spring bees. Another guy mentioned before the city council that
someone wasn't raking the needles from my pine tree or any of my other
leaves. Are you kidding me with this? I said "Hi, I think I'm the
needle guy you're talking about. If they bother you I can get them
up." They make a nice mulch for my garden since most plants I'm likely
to grow like acidic soil. I offered them to the neighbors first and
got horrified looks (which I'm starting to delight in). The leaves,
however, i'm just gonna mow into mulch. Once the mower battery got low
enough that it couldn't cut the main lawn I came back over and drove
over leaves repeatedly. Sure, a blanket of leaves can kill the lawn,
but the grass under the trees is already pretty thin just from getting
that much less sun.

So many people want their grass clippings hauled off in this county
that they are encouraging "Grasscycling". Really? We need a word for
just leaving the grass where it falls? No, they didn't come up with
the word, but I'd never heard of it until I got here.

When you tell someone around here that you moved from Baltimore they
go on for a bit about horrible it is there and how much happier we
must be out here. For the most part we agree, but we do have to throw
out a little "But, you know, we didn't see nearly as many Confederate
flags in Baltimore as we see around here."

I've been wanting a robot lawn mower ever since I saw the one my uncle
Steve has in his yard, but always had a hard time justifying it. Also,
I was worried it'd get stolen. I was planning to wait until I'd been
here a few years and my push mower was on it's last legs before making
the switch. But if the lawn doesn't get easier soon I may need to go
ahead. I really don't want to have to go back to something gas
powered. And if I'm gonna have to mow a dozen times a week I want to
make the droids do it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Links dammit!

Zombie satellite. [link]

Simple homopolar motor.

Monty Python reference in Game of Thrones. [link]

The nuclear missile arsenal runs on 8 inch floppies. [link]

Little girl from Schindler's List gets traumatized by watching Schindler's List. [link]

12 Days of Evolution - complete video series.

Former NHL player talks about his abusive father and warns about abuse in youth hockey. [link]

Buried ships of San Francisco. [link]

Calling cards to get laid. [link]

A game I'll have to play someday.

Stormtrooper dressing room. [link]

3D printing ice buildings for Mars. [link]

175 year old battery that still runs, and nobody knows why. [link]

Cross sections of Star Wars ships. [link]

Monday, December 21, 2015

Links for whenever

Bloody Simpsons opening

Why we don't let the kids drive

Spock tribute song

Blue Origin's successful rocket landing

The perfect Republican speech. [link]

Words that should have died. [link]

A Star Wars love story - Green Leader [link]

Some people just need Darwin to smite them. [link]

100 fantastic photos made without Photoshop. [link]

Injured elephants turn to people for help. [link]

Hateful Eight filmed in native 70 mm. Why you should see it. 

Room temperature diamond manufacturing. [link]

Astronaut and cartoonist have a chat. [link]

Smartphone add on can diagnose malaria. [link]

A scan of Pluto's surface. [link]

Everybody Hates Ted Cruz. [link]

The biggest known planetary ring system. [link]


The invention and death of privacy. [link]

Brilliant room model. [link]

Scientists who discovered gluten sensitivity change their minds. [link]

How Claire McCaskill won her election by funding Todd Akin. [link]

Friday, December 11, 2015


I recently ordered some duckweed for a couple of projects for family and neighbor kids. Step one is breeding it. I knew I'd need more than my own eye to be able to tell me how fast it's growing. So I took pictures. Here's a bit more than 24 hours of growth.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Friday Links: October/November

Toy Story refilmed with real toys.

$1 of drug treatment equals way more in enforcement and control. [link]
These are Canadian numbers, but I'd have to guess that America's numbers are similar.

Game: Mosaic Box - collect pieces of a song and then assemble it to make famous musical pieces. [link]

How to find out where your microwave heats. [link]

Obama's real economic record. [link]

Homeless man had his dog stolen by animal activists.

Homeless man's dog returned to him. [link]

Guinea pig bridge. (turn down volume)

SG1 reunion panel. [link]

Benny Netanyahoo blames the Holocaust on Muslims. Germany corrects him. [link]

Mortgage derives from the French for "death pledge". [link]

The Y2K bug did do something bad. [link]

Guns and Roses marionette in the subway.

Hillary e-mails prove Bush and Blair planned Iraq war. Thanks for exposing that Republicans! [link]

The clips on bread bags mean something. [link]

Watch the video - Tesla battery tech for the house. [link]

When you speed up a recording everyone becomes the Chipmunks. What happens when you slow the Chipmunks down? [link]

People have stripes, too. [link]

Super efficient lettuce farm. [link]

Photos of molecules. [link]

Failed islands make for successful coral. [link]

A prison with an open door model. [link]

Negatives found in Antarctica successfully developed. [link]

George RR Martin's house. [link]

That car from the Fallout games had a real world basis. [link]

The day the U-Boat washed up in Hastings. [link]

Talking with North Koreans. [link]

Will Barbie spy for you? Or for the government? [link]

Historical texts find no evidence of Jesus. [link]

Big badda-boom. [link]

DEA chief denies science. "Drugs are bad, m'kay." [link]

The Petticoat Rebellion - or that time women took office. [link]

Serotonin comes from your guts. [link]

Air Force dumped bodies of soldiers in a landfill. [link]

Mice sing, too. [link]

Who has a 3D printer?! [link]

Cats at the G20. [link]

It's harder to buy a barrel of oil than you might think. [link]

Paper e. coli. [link]

The budget camera rigs of The Evil Dead. [link]

It sucks to be Vigo the Carpathian or to be around him. [link]

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

This is Halloween, this is Halloween

This was my makeup for Halloween 2015.
I made a plaster cast of my face, filled it with foam created by mixing Gorilla Glue and water. I used a high heat hot glue gun and white hot glue to make the teeth on some glass, popped them off and trimmed them to shape. Used pink hot glue on the face to hold the teeth in place and to make sure they'd fit my face. Spirit gum held them on. Black sclera lenses on my eyes to make them black.

Bonus: the teeth on my eyes chewed when my real mouth did.