Rob Lineberger

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since Jul 01, 2018
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homestead urban woodworking
I've been interested in these topics for a long time. I've built a 5000 gallon aquaponics system with 13 tons of gravel plus a cob pizza oven, both with only a wheelbarrow and shovel. So I'm not exactly a newbie but I also have not fully delved in. Currently considering buying a lot and building a monolithic dome house.
Durham, NC
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Recent posts by Rob Lineberger

Cristo Balete wrote:David, I have a pond that is just in my clay hillside, no gleying, it just sits there.  It's dug out in a funnel shape, or a deep bowl over about an acre.  It's about 15 feet deep in the middle on average, but the water level drops naturally about 4 feet in a normal year, comes back up in January.   There are 2 springs that feed it, no outlet other than seepage.  There is an overflow on one end that goes on down the hill if there is heavy rain and the groundwater level is high and is contributing to the water level.

If you've got that much clay, especially down as far as you mentioned, you might not need to do anything.  No harm in trying it, and if it empties out too soon, then you can find something to line it with.



I agree.  There is nothing to lose. If it doesn't hold water to your liking, move the pump hose to the side and drain the water.  Insert liner.  refill.

David Pritchett wrote:Thank you very much Rob for the suggestions, your situation sounds virtually identical to mine, cheap fill then clay and about the same size of lot. I am very tempted to push things a little more towards the aquaponics route especially because we've been wanting to do that but had been looking more at ibc and barrel methods. Was there anything special you did to seal up the pond for the aquaponics? Most of the things I found online refer to using bentonite and cut plant matter to seal the pond sides. About what size did your pond end up being and what did you do with the excess dirt? What we havedoes decently for planting in but not spectacularly but I had considered using them to berm up the sides. How did you setup the beds you converted to aquaponic grow bed? Most things I have seen suggest using some kind of plastic or pond liner or just put them into bins of some sort. We were trying to establish a small food forest in our backyard (a food glen maybe?) and have really had decent success given its a first year garden. We were wanting to do fruit trees but I have seen some references to people growing trees in aquaponic systems so I don't think that is a good reason to avoid the aquaponics. Our current plan is to do perennials around the border, mainly a mix of blackberry, elderberry, globe artichoke and asparagus. The main issue is we do not intend for this to be a permanent property so we want to use it as a test bed but we can't do anything too crazy that would lower the perceived value too much.

Cristo, we have native red and white clovers and I have tried to get them to  establish themselves and start working their nitrogen fixing magic, though really this just means I do my best not to shovel them. I have found that clover is one of the best weed suppressors in our yard, so much so that they sometimes even suppress established dandelions.



Barrel methods are ok for micro-control of different environments. I prefer to go big, especially in the pond.  As big a pond as you can.  That helps stabilize temperature and water quality .  That said, the pond has to be small enough for you to farm the fish, and to provide enough effluent to fertilize the plants. Too big and the pump is less effective.

My pond was 30 feet long, 6 feet wide, and averaged 4 feet deep. The technique you are describing is gleying. You embed plant matter into the bottom and sides, put a coating of bentonite (aka cheap cat litter) and pound the heck out of it to create an anerobic slime layer.  Some people let pigs wallow in the pre-filled  pond and that does the trick.  In my case, given the compaction of the clay and the absolutely torrential rains, I just left it.  There was a little vein that drained the water slowly, but rain kept up with it.  If you use a liner then you're good anyway.

I piled the excess dirt around the pond.  A month or two later, rain had converted it to a gentle poofy pad of clay.  Not the best solution but I don't know what else to tell you.  Make earthbags for a retaining wall?

My growbeds were higher than the pond.  Not much to do there.  Pump water from the bottom of the pond to the top of the growbeds and watch it trickle down back into the pond.

I had 6ft wide growbeds by 2 ft deep.  13 tons of peagravel poured in.  Raked it flat. I had tomatoes, broccoli and other brassicas, squash, peas/beans, herbs, cucumbers, and lettuce.  The herbs didn't do very well.  Nor the tomatoes, which I was surprised by.  I've since grown my tomatoes upside down in the air and man! what a difference.  You could do that aquaponically with a smaller, timer controlled pump.  Everything else flourished.  I'm sure you could do dwarf fruit trees.  I'd suggest dedicated containers, such as an IBC or similar, with a drain hole near the bottom to keep a constant height of water.  The aquaponics media will wick that water up to the roots.

One important difference: you don't want it permanent.  Mine was meant to be so.  That setup could have grown plants almost indefinitely with fish food as the only input.    I will say when I got divorced my ex paved the whole thing over with mulch.  It looks horrible but it didn't cost her much to do it.  
I'd like to push back on the "many inputs" into an aquaponics system.  I agree that many people do it that way, but it's not necessary.

As someone who built a 25,000 gallon aquaponics system with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, I'm here to tell you it can be done simply, with the growbed media as your largest expense.  My setup was ~20,000 gallons of growbed (filled with 13 tons of pea gravel) and a 5000 gallon tank.  Everything was dug in  dense red clay.  If you don't have that, you'll need a polyethylene liner, which some may not like, but I'm ok with.  Anyway I just used clay.

If you covered the grow media in black plastic, it would warm the growbed.  Not much warms the water.  People try, but it really doesn't work very well.  Now a greenhouse over the pond?  That might work.  A greenhouse over the growbed and the pond?  Now we're talking.  

But even if not: the only inputs you need are one pump and fish food.  That's it.  A shovel, a pump, and fish food.

So yes, it is involved if you are in a coldwater area.  But then you get... trout.  MMMMMMM.... trout.

Lemme tell you what I did to get trout.

I made a second pond.  Let's estimate 8,000 gallons.  It was 5 feet deep, 4 feet wide, in a huge circle.  Maybe 30 feet.  Like a moat.  I made a couple of bridges and put a radial patterns of mismatched ceramic tiles on it, with a firepit at the center.  Anyway, I digress.  I installed 6 powerheads (large underwater fans) to create a current.  I shaded the pond as much as possible.  I hoped that with the 5ft depth, shade, and constant current creating evaporation I could get the water temperature low enough in the scant winter months we have here to possibly raise a few trout from fingerling to plate before the temps rose and suffocated the trout.

Sadly I never discovered the end to this tale because I got divorced, but I will say it didn't look promising given the consistently high temps.

The point is I bent over backwards, and might again in my next venture, to get trout.  But it's fighting upstream.  Forgive the pun.  You don't have to.  As long as your pond doesn't freeze over solid, you can raise beautiful, tasty trout.  With a shovel and one pump.

I envy you.

5 months ago
Cristo, that's a very cool trick about the voles.  When you say 18" circle, do you mean 18" deep? or 18" across?  
As someone who has raised fish for years and done large-scale and small-scale aquaponics, I agree 100% with everything you said.  Some things I would add:

1) consider "peeponics" to kick start the tank.  ie, add a cup of urine to the grow bed to start the nitrogen cycle.

2) Load up the tank with fish, or the plants will suffer.  
5 months ago
I don't know nearly as much as Bryant Redhawk, but I can share what I did in a similar situation as you are in.  I inherited eight raised garden beds.  Maybe 1/8 of an acre total.  Nothing was growing but weeds.  I dug into the ground to find the following:  1-2 inches of dusty, gray "topsoil" and then endless dense, compacted red clay.  The kind that retains whatever shape your shovel pulls it out of the ground, even if you let it sit for weeks in the sun and rain.  I dug down to over my own head, say six feet, and never encountered anything but the 1" of gray "soil" and endless clay.

So I gave up any notion of any easy fix.  I dug 4-feet deep into two of the beds and connected them, for a 6ft x 28ft hole, then filled that with logs to a 4ft high mound (eight feet of wood in total).  I used hugelkultur principles and followed that with branches, then sticks, then compost on top.  Even some of the red clay mixed in.  Within half a year I was planting successfully on that.

The rest?  I dug them out too, and used the heavy clay as aquaponics beds and pond.  The one good thing about clay is it holds its shape and restricts or even blocks water flow.  I had a 5000 gallon pond and 15,000 gallons of grow beds.  The only expense I incurred in this venture was a pond pump (about $100) and gravel for the grow beds.  Don't remember the cost, sorry.  Let's say $300?  If you want to be extra safe, use a pond liner, which adds another $300.

Then I had tilapia and crayfish and nice growbeds for almost anything.  Not everything will grown in them, but most things will.  The fish waste feeds the plants, the plants clean the water for the fish.  The only input is fish food.  It will last virtually forever with little intervention or maintenance.

It took me about 3 months part time to shovel all of that.  I used a fiskars shovel.  Highly recommend.  There are probably faster ways.  It was a great project and it turned out beautifully.

Completely ignores any notion of amending soil.

I got my hands on a sample of the soil and did this test.  I'm not very good at interpreting these.  Is this suitable for earthbag building?
5 months ago

Tyrone White wrote:
Bryant,
Thanks for the fast response.



Hey Tyrone, I completely know what you mean about information overload and your brain running around in circles of mistrust and verification. I encourage you to heed the first response you got from Bryant.  Seems like it addresses all of your concerns.

For example, in regards to the drying out, he says that the ideal time is just after the peach is eaten or even while it is still a peach.  That makes sense to me.  No need to dry out peach pits.

One question: if you are hesitant to plant peach pits in your soil, how do you plan to grow your trees in it?
5 months ago