2015 Chronicles

This page lists the notable events of 2015. All events are listed in reverse chronological order (the January articles are at the bottom of this page).

Summary: 2015 saw the testing and scaling up of our hydroponics tanks, the installation of the Tier-2 solar PV and hot water systems, the first raised beds, and the completion of the plumbing for the rainwater collection system.

Harvesting Hydro Tank-1 120315

Compass Solar Installation 111615

The Tier-2 solar PV and hot water system went up in less than a week, thanks to the outstanding work of Compass Solar.

Click the button below to see a short video of the installation process.

Hydro Tank 2 Build 111615

An air pump is installed beneath each tank (above). Note the Styrofoam shims used for levelling the tank.

The gen-2 raft support is constructed from 1/2″ PVC pipe (above).

The construction process for our hydroponics tanks is described on the 2016 Chronicles page. Scroll down to the entry entitled “Building Hydroponics Tank 3 032316“.

Compass Solar Hot Water Installation 111615

This is the original electric 40-gallon hot water tank (above).

This image shows the new 50-gallon solar hot water tank. Click the button below to see a video that describes its operation, including instructions on how to drain the unit for maintenance.

Tank #1 Water Change 102815

Rainwater Distribution Front 101615

Bean Frame Cleaning 112715

The cover frame for Raised Bed #3 has been removed for cleaning as this bed is “cycled” (prepared) for replanting.

Beans In Pots 101615

Hydro Tank 1 Day 33 101115

Our first (gen-1) hydro tank has been in operation for several months (above and below).

Garden Photos 101115

Except for the pumping station and a few pots, the rear garden has not yet been constructed.

Hurricane Covers 100115

Tree Removal 091715

Doug Doll (from D’s Trees) Hanging High in the Air

Hydro-Tank-1 090715

Hydro Tank #1 is being cycled for the first time using adhoc processes that will soon be perfected, to reduce the labor required for cycling and re-planting.

Generac Operation 083115

Paving the East “Strip” 081315

Generac Installation 080415

North East Patio Build 080115

Rear Rainwater Piping to Tanks 072915

Kratky Pots Day-31 of Test-1 072515

Testing of the Kratky system went well. Based on the results, we decided to scale up to a 4’x8′ tank.

Rear Rainwater System 071515

One of our first projects after relocating to Florida from drought-stricken Northern California was to design and install a rainwater collection system. We captured runoff from every inch of roofing and piped it underground to front and rear pumping stations and tank banks.

After the initial installation, we increased the capacity to 5,000 gallons. Modular components, balancing valves, a 2” distribution system, and a 1-hp pump were employed to get the job done. The verdict? We can now water all of our raised beds for up to 45 days without rain. Our plants have been thriving (no chemicals) for nearly two full seasons. And, we have enough water to supply up to four large (4’x16′) hydroponic tanks.

The first test of the rear pumping station is shown above. The upgraded installation is shown below.

The biggest unexpected challenge with the collection system was designing overflow diverters to offload surplus water when the tanks are full. Although not quite perfect, the solution is a “waterfall” (actually three waterfalls). Click the button below to see one of the rear waterfalls in action.

(above) EBG-News-V16-Iss2_100716-a.pub

The rear pumping station is shown above.

Raised Garden Beds 071515

Ref: IMG-4654…

Garden Harvest 071515

Garden Photos 063019

Garden Frames 063015

The raised beds (above) are covered with Bok Choi and Asian Long Beans (on trellises). Sun cloth is used to protect the baby Long Bean plants (below).

First Kratky Test 062515

Pak Choi Day 1

Our first tests of a simple Kratky hydroponics system ran for two full cycles (about 2 months). Kratky systems require little more than water, nutrients, aeration, and the ability to maintain a stable temperature (filled with water and nutrients, the buckets sit in an insulated container that provides a stable temperature). A small aquarium air pump is used to provide aeration.

House Photos 062315

These images show the front yard after the front tank bank installation (within the enclosure) and before the front raised beds (and solar) were added.

The front tank bank and enclosure is now in place. The property looks very different than it did a few months ago.

Rear-Yard Construction Begins 062315

And now it’s time to tackle the rear yard.

Raised Beds-West 062315

The raised beds on the West fence line are ready for planting and the new cover frames (for each bed) have been constructed. One of our best designs, the cover frames can be easily reconfigured to serve the needs of different plant types. The first frame (nearest in the photo) is equipped with six green plastic trellis screens for growing long beans. Each frame can be covered with sun cloth to provide shade for the plants, or it can be wrapped in clear plastic to create a mini-greenhouse for Winter. The plastic is held in place by PVC clamps that we make ourselves. The frames are not anchored to the beds. This makes it easy to tilt the frame off the bed at the end of each growing cycle to replenish the compost and prepare the bed for the next cycle. When anchoring is needed, we used grooved concrete blocks (positioned over the bottom frame members) to hold the frames in place.

First Harvest 061515

Rainwater Distribution Pipes 053115

Several “bucket filling stations” were installed (in the initial design) to distribute water to the first raised beds.

The photos above show the rainwater distribution system as it nears completion. The front tank bank is smaller than the rear tank bank. The distribution system allows us to transfer rainwater from the front tank bank to the rear tank bank for storage. Our capture roofs in front are twice as large as the capture roofs in back, so the front tank bank fills quickly. The ability to transfer from front to back has proved very effective.

Asian Squash in West Bed 051515

The Upo squash on the West trellis is growing quickly. These plants produce giant fruits that can easily reach five pounds in weight and two feet in length.

IBC Tank Test for Rainwater 051515

These photos show the first tests of the IBC totes that will be used to store our rainwater. In addition to head pressure, we tested different options for filling, draining, and removal.

Add Generator Plug to Shed 051415

A plug was installed in the shed so that we can use our Yamaha generator as an alternate power source.

Constructing Front Tank Bank Enclosure 051019

The front tank bank enclosure is nearing completion and it’s time to determine the best height for the storage tanks (to provide optimum head pressure). We had hoped to use head pressure to feed our irrigation hoses but that approach proved insufficient as our garden continued to grow in size.

Concrete Block Delivery 050419

Many pallets of concrete blocks, cap blocks, and pavers were needed as we continued to transform the property. After a dozen trips for supplies, it just made sense to pay the extra charge to have Lowe’s deliver these items to the worksite.

The delivery charge is the same, regardless of number of pallets you order (for a single delivery), so we purchased as many pallets as we could afford, for each project. An added benefit of the delivery service is that it helped to speed up the project by allowing us to concentrate on the installation instead of the hauling (hauling 100 blocks can wear you out).

We bought almost all of our heavy construction materials from Lowe’s, because they’ve always offered a Veteran’s discount (unlike other chain-store suppliers), and they always give us a credit for any damaged or unusable blocks. Another outstanding supplier is Halls Hardware. We shop Halls for specialty items and expert advice.

Building Front Tank Bank Enclosure 050315

The front tank enclosure is going up nicely. We used vinyl fencing panels reinforced with 2″x3″ extruded aluminum rails. The rails were filled with pressure-treated timbers that were cut to length and pressed into place to fill the internal void and provide additional stiffness. This design allowed us to mount the fence panels to the rails (instead of the 4×4 posts) to make it easy to remove these panels later, if we need to service the tanks of the front tank bank. And, the rails will provide support for a supplemental solar generator system that will be installed later.

Upo Growing on West Heat Shield Trellis 043015

In addition to Confederate Jasmine, the West trellis is now planted with Upo, a fast growing Asian squash that quickly covered the trellis and blocked out the summer sun on the West wall of the house.

In a few months, the West trellis filled out nicely (above). Unfortunately, high winds knocked it down in the winter of 2018 and it had to be replaced with a shorter (6 foot) version.

Front Patio Build 043015

The next step is to build an enclosure to hide the front tank bank. In addition to hiding the tanks, the enclosure also helped to provide additional privacy for the front patio.

Installing the Front Pumping Station 042415

The design finished, it was time to begin the installation of the front rainwater downspouts, drains, and pumping station. We spent lots of time designing an overflow method only to discover that it was much easier to simply disconnect the downspouts that fed the sump pump.

West Beds Compost Fill 041715

Hauling compost for the initial fill of the tall (18″) raised beds on the West fence line is hard work (above). We shoveled about ten yards of compost by hand. At left, the West Trellis “heat shield” is in place, rising 12′ feet on PVC frames that are set into sockets for easy removal (to allow access to the plumbing cleanout on that side of the house).

Installing Rainwater Collection Piping 033115

With the front and West patios in place, and the carport and patio covers installed, it was time to lay in the piping system for the front section of the rainwater collection system. We used the lifting hooks (created earlier) to lift out the pavers that would cover the pipe trenches. The piping system uses a “flipper floor” approach like that found in data centers to provide access for maintenance.

Exhaust Fans for Tile Removal

Exhaust fans (in kitchen) for tile removal.

The tile project inside the house really hit a rough spot when it came time to remove the original tile in the kitchen. The original contractor must have used an epoxy adhesive because we couldn’t remove the old tile. After several hours of effort, our installers called it quits and went home, leaving the problem for us to solve. After assessing out options, we drove to General Rental and rented two large hammer drills. We also rented two large exhaust fans to blow the mess outside. And, we lined the kitchen walls with plastic sheeting to keep the mess from escaping to the rest of the house. Then we worked all night to bust out the old tile. Though exhausted by morning (no pun intended), our efforts kept the tile replacement project on track and succeeded in preventing cascading delays. Unfortunately, the kitchen was trashed by the dust and debris of the removal process, requiring nearly a week of cleanup.

West Pavers Installation 012915

The best time to lay pavers is surely the Winter season. After finishing the front patio, we just kept going. The West patio was designed to contain a deep planter bed and a tall “heat shield” trellis that would protect the hot side of the house. Planted with Confederate Jasmin and a variety of seasonal vining plants, the trellis would (hopefully) provide year-round protection.

New Tile 012715

All of the carpeting and composite flooring was removed from the interior of the house and replaced with tile. We thought about doing the work ourselves, but we had too many projects underway. The tile work was done by Act 1 Flooring & Supply (from Pensacola). We later discovered that the grout used for the tile was not “kitty proof” (their claws would sometimes dig out the grout). The good thing about soft grout is that it’s easy to remove. The bad thing about soft grout is that it’s easy to remove!

Front Patio Pavers Installation 010715

The paving begins! The front patio was selected as the first location for laying down pavers. Pavers are ideal for installing an impermanent surface that can be easily reconfigured at a later date if your plans change. The trick is to lay them in a hard-bordered “box” that keeps them from moving around. In our case, the front patio is bordered by the concrete driveway and the foundation of the house. Cutting the curves that were needed to match the contour of the driveway was difficult at first, but became much easier after the first hundred cuts. Another trick was creating a set of strong metal hooks to lift out pavers, as needed, to make adjustments, such as installing drain pipes for the rainwater collection system.