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.


Fencing Work in Progress

Here is a small gallery of the penning area, and our lovely drainage ditch while I wait for the rock I need to finish it out.


My First Unfinished Project

I think we're going to need a bigger truck.
I think we’re going to need a bigger truck.

We’d been at the new house farm for about a month and it was time to start building things.  My 3d-printer is still in the garage, my oscilloscope and half of my electronics tools are still in some mystery unlabeled box.  Although I do know where my auto-bbq is.  Of course it’s 105 degrees outside right now, so I don’t really want to spend 16 hours smoking a pig shoulder.  Quite frankly, right now we don’t really need fancy 3d printed parts, or motion sensors. (I’m sure later on I’ll have plenty of need for a coyote perimeter sensors, powered by an arduino, scavenged op amps and lots of electrical tape when I run out of solder)  Did I mention we have road runners on the property too?  I’ve watched enough cartoons to know that road runner will beat the coyotes every single time.

My parents had graciously bought us a small greenhouse kit which we’ve slated to be our first small aquaponics setup.  It’s going to be a while before it’s fully operational.  Actually it’s going to be a while before it’s even partially operational, but I won’t let that stop us.  So on Saturday we started to put together the greenhouse.  The instructions said it would take 2 people about 8 hours, and they weren’t kidding.  Despite a rather large number and variety of parts, putting it together wasn’t too bad.  The only hard part was lining up the triangular panels where the walls meet the roof on the front and back.  I think Liz and I will need marriage counseling after that part of the assembly 🙂

Being in software for a living, I sometimes forget that if you start off in the wrong order, you can’t just go back and re-write some stuff.  Here is the point where we realized the “fish tanks” are not going to make it through the doors:


But at this point, everything was out of the box, like aluminum pick up sticks.  We weren’t picking up the fish tanks till the next day, and besides I needed to at least bury the sump tank, so we pressed on ahead.  I’m not sure if we’ll just pick the greenhouse up and lift it over our tanks later, or maybe partially disassemble it.  But we’ll make it work somehow.  Anyway, we pressed onwards and finished building the greenhouse.  It felt good to have our first structure on the land we built ourselves.  There are many more to come, and most of them won’t come with a kit.

Look we're growing boxes!
Look we’re growing boxes!