First Garden Project

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Project by HaroldCR posted 05-20-2013 07:40 PM 2460 views 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hi. Been extremely busy lately. For those that don’t know, I am Harold and live in Costa Rica. I posted in another area and probably it doesn’t get much traffic, so, I am putting my greenhouse-aquaponics set up in my projects area. I got a late start building the greenhouse, what with maintaining our small tree farm, and various other projects. My wife and I are starting out knowing nothing, and watching you tubes and reading websites.

Ok. First the green house. We have a sawmill, so, we built with wood for the first go round. Can always change things. We have lots of critters living in the ground here, so, it’s very difficult to have a garden, unless you spread lots of poison, which we don’t want. So, I set posts that will never rot, into the ground, and lag bolted uprights to them. The green house is 11’ wide X 15’ long. It has grow beds on 2 sides and the far end. Later on, I will add a center section of grow beds, leaving room to walk completely around without having to back track.

So far, we have $150.00 total in the structure including plastic sheeting, shade cloth, and staples, nails, lag bolts, etc. I had bought 2 12V bilge pumps, over 2 years ago, but, never got started. Also have a 12V pump for a boat wash down system, my Son donated to the project. For the immediate future, I have several battery chargers and a LOT of batteries to run the pumps. I also have the makings of 3 Solar Panels I need to build, for charging the batteries, or, running directly to the pumps during the day and charging at a much lower rate, once the batteries are topped off. Later on, I will build a wind turbine to charge batteries and heat water for the kitchen and shower in our house.

I need to start plumbing the beds, and, that will be a little more money. I have [plants started, and the whole mess is experimental. I have lost a few plants, but, I’m learning. I started out using spring water from our community water system. We use NO chemicals what so ever in the system. Water is real good quality, out here in the jungle.

I took a small container, added a small amount of commercial fertilizer, 15-15-15 and added what I thought was sufficient water to dissolve and dilute the mixture. So far, 2 weeks of tiny plants later, my biggest problem is over watering. I started all the plants in small peat pots, so I could control the thinning and separating of species. Therefore, they hold more moisture than I realized.

Later on, we will build a tank of some sort and add Tilapia, to it, for the fertilizing of the water for the plants. We are trying to get sufficient plants growing to cut down on store bought or outside stand bought vegetables. Things are steadily increasing in prices here, except for my meager pension funds.

Now for the photos. My construction skills are slipping. I used to do remodeling houses apartments and penthouses for the big money people. Now, my hands hurt after swinging hammers or pounding stuff, so, it shows in the finished products.


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View HaroldCR's profile


10 posts in 1807 days

posted 05-20-2013 08:08 PM

For the rest of the project, you can see a pot full of small clay balls. We don’t have the clay balls (Hydroton) down here, so, I dug into the clay bank the Indigenous natives had used, and brought clay up to the house. We diluted it with water and poured it through a strainer to rid the roots and rocks out of the slurry. I then poured the mix into a cut off 5 gallon jug and set it in the sun to evaporate the water out. When the slurry was stiff enough, we rolled out the small balls and set them on newspaper on cookie sheets and set them in the sun to dry.

Yesterday, I built a small fire from scraps from the wood shop, and heat treated the balls, so they will not crumble into mush, when used as grow medium. Being we are both retired, we have plenty of time to do these things while watching TV news or youtube on the computer. We also gather up large 2 liter Soda bottles, and cut off the top and bottom sections, to use as “Net pots” which we also do not have here. I drill them full of small holes, and will have them sitting through plywood lids over the grow beds, so the roots hang down in the water as the beds are flooded and drained.

The center sections of the bottles, I will use as shrink wrap for the large battery packs I will use in the electric motorcycle-bicycle I am slowly building from scratch.

One of the photos shows a bottle bottom with the cucumber plant, and a second bottom where the brussel sprout plant died from too much water.

Another photo shows the snow peas and Blue lake bush green bean plants. They are long and spindly, so, I will run baler twine type stuff across the stud wall and have a trellis type system to support the plants this time around. They are growing in a half metal barrel with common crushed river rock. I sorted the smaller pieces from the larger and put the seeds directly amongst the rocks. A few rotted from too much water, so I drained some out and re seeded. There is a cut off 1 gallon jug bottom at the lower end of the barrel, with 1 bilge pump sitting in the water. I keep just enough water to allow the roots to have moisture bit not water on them. I need to get a drain hooked up pronto, or the roots WILL be in water full time and rot.

Too many projects and not enough time.

The final photo shows the window-vent I built in the far wall at the peak of the room. I need to get hinges and rig up a system so my wife can open and close the 2 windows, one is above the door in the front wall, so we can control the heat. We do get some shade from fruit trees, so, it never gets REAL hot in the green house, but, it’s easier to build as I go, than have to mod later on. Temps here in CR range from 60°F to 85°F, year round. We are into the rainy season now, but, we aren’t getting nearly as much as normal. I fear water will be the problem in the world, rather than fuel and stock markets.


View MsDebbieP's profile


14694 posts in 3845 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 05-21-2013 01:33 AM

the learning process—observation, contemplation, brainstorming, attempt #X … and then do it all again.

What an adventure you are on – creating a vision – and so much work you have done so far. Wow. It’s quite the set=up. Impressive!

I look forward to hearing more about your gardening.

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

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10 posts in 1807 days

posted 05-21-2013 07:21 AM

I look forward to hearing from others that have done similar projects or just doing well with their indoor gardening. I have a LOT to learn, and, need to do it as quickly as possible. I REALLY need to get into the fish thing, but, last night, on youtube info, I found it will take upwards of 6 weeks to condition the water.

I might try getting a few fish from a neighbor, and getting a few gallons of his pond water, that should include bacteria , and slowly adding our spring water to that, to build up a volume that we need. I need to find a cheap barrel with non removable ends, so I can lay it on it’s side and cut the opening and install inlets and outlets for the water.

In the states they are free or nearly so. Down here, EVERYTHING is money. These people don’t even want to trade, unless it GREATLY benefits them.

Thanks for your comments.


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10 posts in 1807 days

posted 11-28-2013 09:19 AM

Hi All Seems like forever ago since I posted our green house project. Today, the weather is pretty crappy, so, I will update our progress.

We now have 20 Tilapia in our first fish tank. It is 8’ long X 2’ wide X 30” deep. I dug it into the ground below our rear located grow beds. It is wood frame with 7mil plastic liner. I have 2 small 6V air pumps from Ebay for $6.00 each, shipped to Fl. I bought 5 to have spares. I also have 4 bilge pumps at 12V from Home Depot. They supply grow bed water and filtration. I use 6 & 12V for the system, so I can have everything running off of batteries. Hopefully, soon, I will have our Hydro system working, to charge the batteries.

We have started seeds several times, but, not so good luck. We DO have maybe 15 sweet pepper plants with flowers and several types of Lettuce. My wife plants seeds but doesn’t bother to mark down what they are. We have 2 Brussel sprout plants, that are spindly, and have had green grasshoppers eating on them. It is an ever vigilant chore to keep an eye out for these things. They get in at night and do their damage.

We had/have an invasion of mosquitos, and, they are laying eggs in the grow beds. I’m afraid of putting any control powder around, so I don’t kill the fish. I just found that Pyrethrin might be safe for them. Now, to find it down here.

The Tilapia are small, being from 3” to 5” long. I found a grower near Fortuna and got them from him. So far we haven’t lost any. They eat the pellets we throw to them, like a bunch of Piranha and are growing fast.

I need to get some new photos on this thread, but, it’s pouring rain, so, I’m too lazy to go right now. This retirement is too much work. I need to find a job s I can get some rest. Need to cut 3-4 trees and saw up a bunch of lumber, so it’s available when we replace the tin roof on the house in April or so, in the dry season.

Soon as I get the photos I will post them up.


View jroot's profile


5121 posts in 3475 days
hardiness zone 5a

posted 11-28-2013 03:14 PM

this looks really nice, HaroldCR. I am glad that you posted here. Don’t know how I missed it before – probably on a trip somewhere. You have given me an idea, and I thank you for that.

Do you eat the tilapia?

-- jroot ....... Southern Ontario .......... grow zone 5A ...................."Gardening is an exercise in optimism." ....... . . Author Unknown

View HaroldCR's profile


10 posts in 1807 days

posted 11-30-2013 07:13 AM

Hi No, we don’t eat OUR Tilapia, yet, but, do eat others. We are NOT food purists, but, checking out news stories and youtube videos, it’s not a pretty picture of how fish are handled once caught and processed.

Tilapia are excellent fish and, make great ceviche. This is a relish type dip. Take your Tilapia and dice it after filleting. Soak it overnight in lemon juice, or, add some other juices to it. Next day, chop up celery, onions, etc, very fine, and then add small amount of Mayonnaise, or not.

Serve with crackers as a dip, or, as a side on your plate.

It’s still raining hard, but, I will try to get a few photos today and post them up. We need to get better at germinating seeds. Seems to take forever ? Once we get better at that, I need to dig another fish tank into the center of the green house and then add grow beds above that. It will be a separate unit from the original.

Right now, we have flowering and non-flowering plants mixed, so, need to separate them.

Sure could use some helpful advice on seeds starting if anyone wants to offer some.


View HaroldCR's profile


10 posts in 1807 days

posted 11-30-2013 10:44 AM

Here are the newest photos. They show some of the plants , the fish tank under the grow beds, and the battery set up, although, it looks ratty, I need to get it prettied up, now that I have a workable system.

One photo shows the whole house cartridge filter. I use that, with a hose connected, but no cartridge to suction out the fish debris that settles to the bottom. If we don’t keep that cleaned up, there will be an accumulation of that stuff in the grow beds. Occasionally, when the water starts to cloud up a little, I insert a cartridge and run the filter for 4 hours or so, and it does a nice job of clearing up the water. Then, I take out the cartridge and spray it with the garden hose and blow out most of the fines that gets trapped in the cartridge.

We have a small problem with the roots hanging into the water,turning brownish color. They should be white, so, a better filter is needed.

So far, we have cleaned the tank twice in the 4 weeks we have had the fish. I need to get a better swirl filter rigged up. The 5 gallon bucket in one of the photos, is what I tried, but, it’s not big enough to allow settling, unless I have it designed wrong. No spare time right now to check this out.


View Radicalfarmergal's profile


4312 posts in 3107 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 12-04-2013 04:35 AM

Great to see that you have it up and running! You have had your share of challenges (mosquitoes, grasshoppers, balancing the fish/plant ratio), but you have persevered and you will be enjoying lettuce, peppers and eventually, Tilapia!

Maybe if you make some cute, handy plant markers for your wife to use when she plants the seeds you won’t have mystery seedlings anymore. : )

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View HaroldCR's profile


10 posts in 1807 days

posted 12-04-2013 04:56 AM

Thanks for the response. My wife is a retired nurse, and, has a bag full of tongue depressors. I took some and cut them in half. I wrote what seeds we had on each piece, so she could stick them in each cup as we planted.

When I asked her why she didn’t use them, her reply was “mi olvida” (I forgot). ?

Problem is, she does too many different things at the same time.

We put pellets into the fish tank and wait for them to leave just a few pieces, to avoid wasting food. The fish are growing fast, but, now, the plants are growing faster than the fish water can provide for. I hate to have to add more fish, so, we just have to sit tight.

I may take some tomato plants out of the grow beds and pot them, and use chicken manure fertilizer to keep them going. Plastic buckets are a rare commodity here, so, I have to look around for suitable “pots”. I do have a couple of spin dryer barrels, from junked clothes washers. I will dig those out, today.


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