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.

OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY

Big house news to share, and I am GEEKING OUT!

I probably mentioned way long ago that we really really REALLY wanted to install solar panels when we renovated the house, but it just didn’t fit in the original budget. We figured it would be one of those way-off-in-the-distant-future projects. But then, thanks to a Facebook post by Matt Grocoff, I became aware of the MI Solar Works program administered by a local non-profit, the WARM Training Center. From their website: “MI Solar Works is a state-wide initiative to solarize 6,000 Michigan homes and businesses by the end of 2014 as part of the Department of Energy’s “Race to the Rooftops” national challenge.” Basically, my understanding is that if enough people are interested in solar panels within a given metro area, they can provide low “bulk rate” prices for the panels and installation. Of course I immediately signed up, but was told that they didn’t yet have enough interest in Ypsilanti. Wop wop.

But then, on July 31, I received an email that they’d hit the quota for Ypsilanti! They’d also already done a Google assessment of our rooftop to make sure it was suitable for solar (the side that faces the river is just a few degrees off from due south). The next step was for me to send our latest electric bill, so that they could assess how many panels we would need.

[Incidentally, apparently our local evil monopoly power company has been able to impose regulations on the number of solar panels people can have. We are only allowed to install enough to cover our average monthly usage. Even if we wanted to buy more ourselves – and pay to have them installed – TO PRODUCE EXTRA CLEAN SOLAR ENERGY that would go back on the grid, we wouldn’t be allowed to. REALLY, DTE? I would love to hear their attempt at a non-evil justification of this steaming pile of horse shit.]

Anyway! Here are the numbers, in case anyone is curious. Turns out we use about $70 in electricity per month. This is perfect, because one of the standard sizes for solar installation covers about $72/month in usage. This is a 4.87 kW system, for which the array will be about 400 sq ft. We’ll likely produce “extra” energy in the summer, which will go back on the grid and we’ll get credit, which we can use if we’re short in the winter.

Here is a financial summary. The total cost is nearly $14,600 (ouch!), but there is a 30% tax credit, bringing the cost down to about $10,200. MI Solar Works is partnering with Michigan Saves to finance all or part of this amount, and no down payment is required. If we finance the entire amount, our monthly payments would be in the ballpark of $160 over 10 years. We will probably put some money down to reduce the monthly payments a bit, but we’re still figuring out what the best approach is for us financially. In any case, though, it is much more affordable than we ever thought it would be, and we are so excited! We have someone coming this afternoon to check out our roof and meter, and let us know about the next steps.

Check out all that glorious south-facing roof

My friends are talented and awesome

Do you guys remember my friend Corey and his amazing Turtle House painting? Well, in the spirit of nursery-related news and bragging about how awesome my friends are, I had to share my latest art acquisition. These four panels (each about 10″x10″) were featured in a show Corey did in Columbus.

But sorry to the poor suckas who saw them at the show, because THEY WERE ALREADY SOLD. That’s right, I got an inside line on the awesomeness that is these paintings and I snapped them up right quick. When I first saw them, I thought “must go in nursery!!!!” (with four exclamation points). Then I immediately started to feel bad, like I shouldn’t put them up there because then no one will ever see them, and maybe they should be somewhere on the main floor of the house to be properly appreciated? But won’t Cletus love them, and wouldn’t they be such a perfect accompaniment to snuggling and reading Darwin at bedtime??

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

(Cletus, apologies in advance for sealing your fate as a complete and total nerd. Middle school is gonna be rough.)

So, you guys all have to pinky-swear promise that when you come over after Cletus is here, you’ll be all “OH CAN I PLEASE SEE THE NURSERY” even if you think mobile’s a city in Alabama and cribs is a show on MTV. Because then I won’t feel bad about wasting these super awesome pieces of art on a tiny human who is going to spend the vast majority of his/her time sleeping, eating, pooping, and admiring the amazingness that is having TOES attached to your FOOT. OMG.

(I mean, I am also glad to have toes.)