Streamlined

Who’s keeping track of how many iterations the quackuaponics system has gone through this year? Not even me. This little (ha) project took up a TON of my time this spring/summer, and is partially to blame for my neglect of the actual garden. Let’s see… first I set it up back in early June. It was super fun to learn how to build a bell siphon and fiddle around with all the parts–let’s be honest, I’m a major nerd, and this sort of stuff is completely my jam. It started out going incredibly well, with the duck poop contributing to pretty much the happiest plants I’ve ever seen.

But, I was very soon running into some major filtration issues. Although they were temporarily resolved by various modifications, nothing really worked well for longer than a few days. Typically I’d notice that the siphon was not initiating, because the inflow was clogged up and running too slowly, which would leave the plant roots completely submerged. Cleaning out the disgusting filter and draining the disgusting pool every few days got old… really fast. So back in August I reworked everything from a circulation system to a flow-through system, taking advantage of the fact that we have a pond uphill of the duck run. For about a month we had water siphoning from the pond into the grow bed, and then out into the duck pool, and then running back out to the stream. Except for the occasional arthropod hose blockage problem, this worked great for keeping the water clean. Unfortunately, though, the plants were not happy–the pond water was not rich enough in nutrients to keep the plants rolling along the way they had been with the magic duck poop water.

So a couple weeks ago I hit my limit with (literally) mucking around with all of this. I decided to shut down the quackuaponics, and use the (former) grow bed as a flow-through water trough. Cleaning out the system was… well, a picture’s worth a thousand words.

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There was a truly impressive amount of root mass throughout the grow bed, with an equally impressive quantity of STINKY GROSS SLUDGE.

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So, to make an already long story short(er), I cleaned out all of the rocks and sludge (on a really hot day, just to max out my ultimate level of disgustingness) and also pulled out the round duck pool and filled in the hole where it used to be. I made a trip to Home Depot, and constructed what I like to call the Duck Deck.

As you can see, I rotated the trough 90 degrees from how it used to be. Now the siphon runs from the pond into the trough, and the water flows out the other end back to the stream. I first envisioned keeping the bell siphon in action, so it would be continually cycling between filling and draining. I thought this might help keep the water cleaner. But, it turned out just leaving the stand pipe in place works well enough, and then the water level is constant all the time for the ducks.

It didn’t take them long to figure it out! I think it was actually still filling when I took these photos…

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It’s been running this way for two weeks now, and hasn’t needed any maintenance beyond a new plug when a previously caulked hole in the bottom gave out. The ducks often spend a bunch of time in here in the morning before we let them out into the paddock. The water will get pretty grody, but after a few hours of fresh water flowing in it’s back to looking lovely and clear. It basically completely cleans itself out overnight.

20170930_110359823228521.jpgHere you can see the inflow (green hose) and outflow (PVC stand pipe)

20170930_110414-2050324293.jpgI added a cinder block for easier duck egress. 🙂 Check out that water clarity!

One thing I’ll be interested to see is how long we can keep this going through the winter. The pond does freeze, but typically the outflow and stream are still flowing even in very cold weather. I wonder how cold it would have to get for my siphon hose to freeze up… as long as it is running, we could even drop a heater into this trough for use throughout the winter. Ah, the experiments never end… 🙂

SIPHON PARTY

Trust, you have never seen anyone as excited about water coming out of a hose as I was earlier today when I saw the view above. Some jumping up and down and fist-pumping may have occurred. Why? That is lovely, clean water coming via our natural pond into the duck run using zero electricity… only the magic science of a siphon (THANKS, PHYSICS!).

As I’ve mentioned before, our duck buddies, while adorable, are GROSS MESSY BEASTS. I’ve been spending more time than I’d like to messing around with the quackuaponics system–no matter what I try, it seems to clog up and need a full clean-out more than once a week, and that just isn’t really sustainable (especially with the semester starting soon!). We were just out of town, and our dog-sitter/duck-sitter/friend (hi Hannah!) messaged me with the following sad images.

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Womp, womp. That’s a nearly-empty pool, and a grow bed that is overflowing out of the corner. In that latter shot, you can also see one of my new additions to try to remove solids before they get into the grow bed–it’s a bucket in which the water enters low and filters up through lava rock, before spilling out of the three holes in the front. It does catch a lot of debris, but like my other ideas, it hasn’t really been a true fix.

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The problem is still that we’re getting too many solids mucking up the grow bed, so the water can’t move efficiently to the other end where the bell siphon is. We also made a planting error, in seeding a bunch of lettuce at the “inflow” end. The plants have been very happy, but their root mass is also impeding water flow and helping lead to the overflow situation seen above.

(During this text exchange, Hannah also said that the ducks reminded her of West Side Story, which has made me laugh no less than half a dozen times now. I’m not sure who are the Sharks and who are the Jets, though.)

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Anyway, this is all to say that I’ve been rethinking the system as a whole. It has always bugged me that we have lovely, fresh, clean water flowing by about 10′ outside of the duck run. And yes, they get to go in there whenever they want to during the day, but it seemed like we should also be able to make use of it within the run, for days/times that we might have to leave them locked up. So since I spent all morning pumping out the pool, cleaning the filter, thinning plants, washing grow media, etc. etc. etc. I decided TODAY IS THE DAY. I’ve been curious about this for ages… we’re going to see if we can shift the system from circulation to flow-through.

What this means is that it’s not really “quackuaponics” anymore (sniffle)… because now we’ll be siphoning water from the (natural) pond straight to the grow bed, where it will percolate through, trigger the bell siphon, flow out to the duck pool, and then out an overflow pipe back into the nearby stream.

Here’s a picture from our second floor showing the big pond to the left, and duck run to the right. You can sort of make out the grow bed and duck pool in the run. The stream runs through a culvert under the driveway, and then through the brushy area at the bottom right of the photo. (Incidentally, if you look carefully, you can also see the yet-unused duck ramp going into the big pond. We have tried herding them up there at least 3 or 4 times now, and they won’t go in! They are homebodies. Also total wusses.)

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Sooo, to see if this whole thing would work, I had to run a hose through the culvert under the driveway. This… was not easy. There was a lot of cursing involved, a lot of poison ivy, a wet ass, and a lot of some kind of scratchy grass that tore up my arm. Also, this is why the manicure I got for my sister’s wedding lasted a grand total of 4 days. #WhyICan’tHaveNiceThings #AtLeastOneOfTheDaysWasTheWedding

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But! I got that sucker through, pinned it under a rock at the top end, and… huzzah!!!

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WATER! This is about when Brandon got home, and once again probably rued the day he married a crazy person. I talked him into helping me with the outflow pipe, which involved drilling a hole in the side of the pool (!!!), inserting a bulkhead fitting, and running a drain pipe out of the run and to the stream. You can see it on the left below. Brandon dug a ditch for it on the outside of the run since the ground is a bit higher there, so you can’t see it, but it runs out to the stream and discharges there.

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So! We’ll see how this all turns out. My main concern is that the ducks will muck up the pool very quickly, because the outflow is at the water surface so grodiness (technical term) will settle to the bottom. But, I’d much rather pump the pond out periodically than deal with cleaning all the filters and grow media like I’ve been doing thus far. I’m already pretty tickled that the flow rate of the siphon is just about perfect–the whole cycle (grow bed fills, bell siphon initiates, water flows out, siphon breaks) takes about 20 minutes, which is as good as I ever had it with the pump. The plants won’t be getting quite as many nutrients now, but we’re thinking of stocking the big pond with fish, which may help if that becomes a problem. In the meantime, if anyone out there needs a pond filter, hit me up… I’ll throw in the algae and duck poop for free.

Processing day

Well, the day has come… the Silver Appleyard ducks are all grown up, and our skewed sex ratio (7 males and 4 females) has started to become an issue, with groups of males ganging up on the girls. Brandon and I decided earlier this week that we needed to cull the flock, and I’ve had FEEEELINGS. I’ve been a vegetarian for… 23 years now?! Something like that. A loooong time. The reasons have changed–when I first stopped eating meat as a teen, it was because I wanted to go to vet school, and felt weird about eating some animals while healing others. I was also horrified by what I read about factory farming (and still am), but in recent years, reducing my ecofootprint has been the most important factor in my decision to forego meat.

When we decided to really start trying to produce our own food here at home, I had to give it some hard thought: a duck (or other animal) that we raise here is certainly going to have less ecological impact than a veggie burger that has ingredients grown somewhere, shipped somewhere else for processing, and then shipped to the grocery store where I buy it. But still… this is a stretch for me. I’m finding my comfort level. Brandon and our friend Tom have been processing the birds this morning–someday I may be able to help out, but that day is not today. I decided that, for myself, “success” would just be letting it happen without freaking out or calling a halt. Baby steps, but I achieved that much, and even went down to see how things were going and touched a gizzard (so weird!!). Apparently Brandon and Tom were discussing recipes with an eye toward easing a vegetarian into eating duck… we’ll see. It would be a real drag if after all of this I just didn’t like the taste!

Clarity

I’ve spent a lot of time lately making doodles like this, in an attempt to design The World’s Most Perfect Quackuaponics Filter Of All Time(TM).

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Right now we have the pond water pumping through a small filter we got at Home Depot, which I’m having to clean out far more frequently than I would like. Because I am lazy. But I’ve continued to tweak the system, and lo and behold, this morning I checked on things and saw this:

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IS THAT NOT THE MOST EXCITING THING YOU’VE EVER SEEN?!

What, you don’t know what you’re looking at?

That’s a brick and a piece of lava rock that fell into the pond, and I haven’t seen them since because the water has been so murky. But! Seemingly all of a sudden, it is perfectly crystal clear. Very hard to photograph, but SO CLEAR. And SO NOT STINKY. I put my hand in to adjust the filter, and there is literally no smell… which, if you’ve ever met ducks, you will understand is flat-out mind-boggling.

I’m pretty excited about this development… and may scratch plans to build TWMPQSOAT(TM) this weekend.

So what changed? A few things, which I’ll list in (hypothesized) order of most-to-least important.

1. The ducks are spending an awful lot of time out here…

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…instead of in the duck run. So, there’s just less, shall we say, “solid input” going into the system. But they are still in the run a fair amount, so I think the plants are still getting plenty of nutrients. Which leads us to…

2. The plants have just taken off lately. Here’s a comparison of the grow bed from early June to early July. No doubt all those plants getting established has put a substantial dent in the nutrient load of the system (despite the ducks munching most of the zucchini and cucumber plants at bottom right).

3. Another quick and easy change was that I propped the pump up on a piece of a cinder block (maybe 2″ thick?), rather than having it resting directly on the bottom. This is definitely resulting in a lot of the solids settling out on the pond floor, and the pump moving cleaner water from higher in the water column. The solids layer is not a major problem, because we have to drain/clean the pond every so often anyway–so I’d rather those solids settle out than clog up the filter and grow bed. I bought a few water hyacinth plants that I thought could help out even more, but I’m debating what to do with them because I know the ducks will eat them the moment I put them in the pond… Maybe I could build a little cage or something…???

4. Last but not least, there was a pretty major input of clean water last night, in the form of a BOOMER of a thunderstorm that dropped almost an inch and a half of rain. Probably not a totally critical factor, but worth noting.

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Anyway, whatever the cause of the magical unstinky duck pond, I’LL TAKE IT. Especially because the ninja floofs will be joining the big kids outside before we know it! They went for their first swim this afternoon.

July snapshots

A few random photographic updates…

I built a playpen for the new ducklings (a.k.a. ninja floofs) so they could nibble some grass and enjoy the sunshine on these warm afternoons.

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At first they were unsure, and just huddled together in a little pile….

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…but once they discovered some treats (lettuce) and water, it was game on.

These little buddies are already a week old, so in another week or two we’ll move them out to a confined area of the indoor duck coop so they can start to interact with the “big kids” (through fencing at first).

Speaking of the big kids, they are on the naughty list because they “harvested” an entire romaine lettuce plant from the quackuaponics system. I thought Brandon may have pulled it out, until I looked more closely at the (chewed-upon) remains of the zucchini plant nearby…

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DUCKS! You’re supposed to let the plant start producing before you chomp it all down, lol! I am still not sure how they got up there… I’m imagining a teamwork situation where one stood on another’s shoulders… but that’s probably not really what happened.

Luckily for us, the plants slated for human consumption are safe in the garden. I need to get more photos out there, but things are looking good! I planted all three hugels with different varieties of dry beans, and interestingly, some are happier than others. The cannelini beans in particular don’t look so great, while the kidney and pinto beans are just taking off. BEHOLD, BEAN MOUNTAIN:

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The “rock bed,” which I mainly use for herbs, greens, and pollinator-friendly flowers, is looking really lovely at this point.

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Just beyond the rock bed are the two raised beds, which are mostly full of tomatoes this year. I’m really pleased because we started all of them from seed this year, and they’re already flowering and starting to produce fruit. I haven’t gotten them tied up yet, though, because I’ve been wanting to try something different from my standard tomato-cage approach. I had the idea of using 16′ cattle panels to create an arch between the two raised beds. Then we could tie the tomatoes up to them (as well as grow beans, zukes, and other climbers) and hopefully eventually end up with a “plant tunnel” to walk through and harvest food. It’s super neat in my mind–let’s see if it turns out that way in reality. After a little creative truck usage, we got two of the cattle panels home today, so hopefully more on that project soon!

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Oops, I did it again

Since it looks like we’re ending up with only four females out of our 11 Silver Appleyard ducks, I decided that we should probably add a few more girls to the flock. I studied the calendar (and studied and studied) to try to figure out a good time to get them amidst our sporadic upcoming travel plans. It turned out that we could either do it RIGHT NOW, or we would probably have to wait until late August. The latter plan would probably be OK, but I was a little bit concerned about having them fully feathered out before really cool weather sets in, and you just never know in Michigan… and let’s be real, I also just kind of want more ducklings RIGHT NOW. 😁

So I called Metzer Farms “just to see” if it was still possible to order ducklings for shipment this week… you know, just an INQUIRY… and yeah. They’ll be here on Wednesday.

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All photos of the “NINJA DUCKS” (as the kiddo and I have taken to calling them) are via Metzer Farms.

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