A long overdue update. Automating chickens, vertical gardening, and fishies.

Looking at the time stamp, it’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since I posted.  We’ve accomplished quite a bit since my last post, despite back problems, and then shoulder surgery this past fall.  We’ve been very fortunate, our setbacks have been small and the support of friends and family has been more than enough to overcome all of them.

Before getting to our next phase, I wanted to give a quick run down of all that we’ve got accomplished over the past year or so.

Most importantly – we got all our necessary fencing done.  I’ve come to the conclusion that fencing is like learning – you’re never really finished while you’re still breathing.  Still, the girls have their pasture and the boys have theirs.  We have penning and feeding area’s for both, as well as a nursery pen for the babies in the spring.  Most of the fencing has gone through all four seasons at least once, and it’s still straight and tight so I’m feeling pretty good about the work.

We built a chicken coop!  I’ve never built any free standing structure before and it was an adventure.  Basically built it pole barn style, with fancy little nesting boxes that you can get to from the outside via a raccoon-proof flap.  That little bit was the trickiest part of the construction and Liz doesn’t even use the external access!!!  Still it’s not all a wash, I’m a better carpenter for having done it.  The saving grace is that Liz picked the colors and did almost all of the painting – so it looks really nice, despite my best attempts at making it look like a shack.    I’ll have post coming up shortly on just this chicken coop.  Automating it is my current unfinished project, it’s really cool, and I’m doing it using this sensor board.  Major thanks to Roman for all his help, and I still owe him some code I wrote but never cleaned up.  I’ll be doing a detailed post on this with code samples a description of the build out shortly.

Liz and I are not carnivores so we didn’t entirely forget about plants the past year.  We built 2 4×8 raised beds that we do square-foot and vertical gardening in.  This is not for the farm really, it’s mostly for our enjoyment and personal nutrition.  It’s kept our thumbs green as we get ready for commercial growing.  I’d post pictures, but at the end of December, it’s just a few dead okra stalks.  We also built an asparagus and strawberry bed, but it’ll be a few years before that’s really producing.  We had an asparagus bed back in NJ, and all I can say is that asparagus does not like Texas nearly as much as we do!

Which brings me to our next phase.  Right now we’ve birthed goats, with more on the way.  We’re getting enough eggs to eat and even sell a dozen or two every week.  We even have a nice little garden.  It’s starting to feel like a real micro farm.  But it’s still just a hobby farm, and the losses aren’t just on paper.  It took a lot longer to get to the aquaponics and greenhouses that I think are the only scalable and commercially viable setups for our little farm.

Sadly those tanks from my early post have been re-purposed for rain water capture.  Shoulder surgery in October made fabricating a system myself a pretty bad option.  After a bunch of research, endless phone-calls to tech support etc, I settled on a pre-built offering from http://aquaponicssource.com/.  There will be another detailed follow up on this topic, probably in January when we finish putting it up after the holidays.  For right now, I can’t say enough good things about the folks over at Aquaponics Source.  They were patient with my questions, very flexible and totally awesome to work with.  If you’re looking for a pre-built ready to grow aquaponics system I really recommend you check them out.

Just like the aquaponics, a hoop house ended up being a buy and assemble deal with my shoulder still being a bit useless.  A big thank you to David Chiles who came out and helped with setting up the pylons and assembling the hoop house.  He even brought the beer!!!  At least he let us feed him.  He even dug the trench for the electric run, which is no fun in Texas soil.  So thanks again brother.  Liz already did a post on our assembly, so I don’t have to!

It’s been a good year.  I try very hard not to bring God or Government into the business or the blog.  Yet, I feel very blessed.  This year has been filled with setbacks from the minor, our refrigerator dying, to the major, my shoulder surgery with complications of major nerve damage I still haven’t recovered from.  Still we pushed forward, and every step backward was followed by friends, family and just plain dumb luck to help us take three steps forward.  With any luck, by this time next year FunkNFresh products will be at a store, farmers market or restaurant for you to enjoy.


The Next Big Thing

It’s starting to get busy around here!  I hope to soon update you all on the goats and our newest additions, chickens!! For right now though my head is underwater.  Fishy, fishy water.  Our latest project on the farm is setting up an aquaponics system (more on that in a bit).  We spent this past weekend setting up a greenhouse that will provide shelter for the system.  It is a 10X20 temporary hoop house with plastic sheeting for winter and a sunshade for summer.  This will provide shade and airflow during the deep heat of our Texas summers, and warmth and protection during the few freezing days of winter.  The greenhouse will allow us to expand our growing season to almost year round.

To set up the greenhouse we first measured out the spacing for the base of the aquaponics tanks.  Then we needed to dig holes to fit square pavers, back-filling with sand to ensure level footing.  This was by far the harder job of the day and took a couple hours.  Finally, we set up the frame of the greenhouse under supervision of the goats, of course!

Not the most flattering angle for Pickles, hopefully there are babies in there!

Our system is being delivered this week but will have to sit and wait until after the holidays to be set up.  In the meantime here is a little info about aquaponics and the company we purchased our system from.

So, what the heck is aquaponics?  Here is my short answer:  Aquaponics is a combination of Hydroponics and Aquaculture. Hydroponics is a method for growing plants without soil, using only water and added nutrients.  Aquaculture is the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants in controlled environments.  These two concepts are combined to create a system where aquatic animals and food crops grow symbiotically.  Basically, there is a big tank that holds fish, catfish in our case, and a bed for growing plants.  As roots develop, the fish water is oxygenated and as the fish poop, the plants are fed nutrients.  This is a very basic description but I am sure AK will chime in shortly with way more information.

We have been working closely with a company out of Boulder,CO

They have an amazing team who helped us pick a system that would work best for our needs.  The best news is that they will be flying out early in the year to install our system in return for filming it for their own website!  We are very excited to work with this company and get our system up and growing.