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 upย 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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… ๐Ÿ™‚

Hose blockage

It’s now been over a week since I overhauled the quackuaponics to be a flow-through system rather than a self-contained, circulating system. So far… *mwah* (kisses fingers) it has been amazing. The pond is staying MUCH cleaner, and I haven’t. had. to. do. a. damn. thing. Laziness FTW!

This morning, though, I noticed that the grow bed outflow was just dribbling out a steady, small stream of water. What this usually means is that water is not flowing into the grow bed fast enough to trigger the bell siphon–so the grow bed is staying full, and all the plant roots are 100% submerged. Not good. I got a chance to check it out around lunchtime, and indeed, the inflow (from the natural pond/siphon setup) seemed to have slowed down significantly. I figured that perhaps some “pond gunk” (technical term) had gotten into the hose and slowed down the flow. Easy solution: I just hooked the siphon hose up to a hose that was attached to a spigot, and blew a bunch of water through to dislodge whatever was gumming up the works.

There may well have been some “pond gunk” in there too, but when I checked on the siphon outflow (which flows into the grow bed past this little barley straw bundle), I also found a surprise suspect.

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A grumpy little crayfish had apparently taken the ride of his/her life, zipping through the hose and out into the grow bed.

I am small but fierce! Beware my wrath!

The little bugger was just fine after that adventure, so I tossed it back into the natural pond–well away from where the siphon hose sits!

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 magicย 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.

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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Magic duck poop

I need to be grading papers right now and not blogging (sigh), but just wanted to give a quick update on the quackuaponics system. After lots of tweaking, I think I’ve got the system in a sweet spot as far as the filtration and flow rate–and the plants seem to agree! Things are just taking off out there. The only plant we lost was a dill; everything else is just booming!

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20170623_103856Romaine & red leaf lettuce

20170623_103901Sugar snap peas

20170623_103913Tomatoes and cucumbers (plus a zucchini way at the end)

20170623_103923Cuke, arugula, purple parsley

Interestingly, I planted many of the same greens in-ground in our main garden, as well as in the straw bale beds I set up as an experiment this year (still need to get a shot of those to share here). The greens in the quackuaponics system are MUCH happier than the ones in the straw bales, and even look to be healthier and growing faster than the ones in the traditional garden beds. We’ll see if that keeps up, but right now it looks like the ducks will be eating home-grown salad before we will! ๐Ÿ™‚

Catching up (quackuaponics edition)

Alright, last (I think??) but not least of the “catching up” posts… the quackuaponics system! A.k.a. Duck aquaponics, a.k.a. duckponics, a.k.a. “you guys are 100% crazy,” etc. But, bear with me here. We got a 260-gallon preformed pond for the duck run (specifically, this MacCourt oneย at Menard’s).

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But you know that thing that everyone says when you’re getting ducks? “THEY’RE SO MESSY.” It’s true. I think they more than make up for it with their charm and comedic presence–chickens have never made me laugh as much as these ducks do–but give them some water and they will turn it into a straight cesspool within minutes. So, I considered a bunch of possibilities for trying to keep their water clean, including:

1. Creating a “flow-through” system by running a siphon line from our (uphill) pond, into the duck run pond, and then an overflow line out of the duck run to the (downhill) stream. I still sort of love this idea, but the downhill side is not very downhill, so I’m not sure if physics is with us on this one.

2. Extending the duck run about 10′ to the west so that it actually spans across the stream that runs by there. Maybe dig out a deeper section of the stream to make a small “natural” pond within the duck run. I also love this idea, but it’s for sure the most technically complicated. We also worried about how to span the stream but still keep the duck run predator-proof.

3. Fence an area outside of the run (including a section of the stream) so that the ducks can “free range” out there during the daytime. This will reduce the “input” into the artificial pond in the run, and will also allow them to forage on vegetation, hang out in the stream, etc. This will be happening as soon as I can get some fencing set up.

4. Set up a grow bed filled with plants to help remove the excess nutrients from the water. As an added bonus, we could use it to grow food for the ducks! This just seemed like a fun project to tackle, so we went for it to see if we could get it to work.

The container we used for the grow bed was actually this bunk feeder that we spotted at a local ย farm store. It has a 15.5 cu ft capacity with close to a foot of depth, so it has great proportions for this usage. I filled the bottom ~2/3 with lava rock and the top ~1/3 with clay pebbles. This was primarily a financial decision, because the clay pebbles are about 10x the price of the lava rock!

To build the bell siphon, I watched a bunch of Youtube videos but ended up following this one the most closely. It definitely required a couple different trips to the Big Box hardware stores to get all the parts and pieces, but once we had everything it was actually amazingly simple to put together.

One issue we confronted from the get-go was that the ducks are just SO messy that the inflow to the grow bed would get plugged up–mostly with bits of straw and other solids that were not being removed from the system. Without sufficient inflow, the siphon would not initiate. (I also learned that with too MUCH inflow, the siphon won’t break… it’s a Goldilocks sort of situation.) I mentioned in a previous post that we were thinking of building a swirl filter to deal with this problem. We decided instead to take a lazier route, and bought this little Total Pond 1200 GPH filter from Home Depot (you can see it tucked below the grow bed in the photo below). We’ve only had it up and running for a couple days, but it definitely seems to be helping so far. It remains to be seen how long we have before the ducks also conquer its filtration abilities. ๐Ÿ™‚ ย If that happens, I’ll probably try a swirl filter in line before this filter, and see if that removes enough solids to keep everything up and running.

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We also planted a bunch more stuff, including many different types of greens (romaine lettuce, red-leaf lettuce, radicchio, arugula… these are going to be some fancy ducks, eating their arugula) and also plants that can climb the wall of the run (snap peas, zucchini, and even little sugar baby watermelons!). This is all very much an experiment, so we’ll see what’s successful in here and keep you posted!

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