Aquaponics Sweet Potatoes Update
We have been diligently watering our potatoes in a barrel daily, and patiently waiting till it was time to harvest. From what I gather you are supposed to wait till the leaves turn yellow and then harvest. Seems our plants want to keep on growing. They have overflown the barrel and are maintaining a vibrant green color. Unfortunately they are not capable of dropping roots into the concrete to develop more sweet potatoes. So I made the decision to harvest them.
Upon closer inspection I noticed the center of the barrel did have some yellowing leaves while the ends of the runners were growing like mad. Wanting to have more sweet potatoes in the fall, we decided to replant right after harvesting this batch. I traced a few of the runners back to where they first had roots in the soil and gently pulled the plant form the vermiculite and perlite mixture. What a surprise, lots of little tiny potatoes on these plants already! Awesome!
To be honest, I felt a great relief upon seeing these little guys on just the runners. Even though I watered these guys nearly everyday, I never once poked around to see if there were any orange gems hiding beneath the surface. We put aside four our five runner plants shown above. When you pull the runner out, cut it below the first set of roots.
So how do you harvest potatoes in a barrel? Easy, just dump it out. The perlite vermiculite mixture is actually light in weight making moving it a possibility. We spread a tarp on the ground so we could capture and reuse the growing media and then tipped the barrel over on the tarp.
Hmmm, I expected it to dump out and spill all over the tarp, not land as a solid plug. The root mass on the bottom was impressive. When I pulled it back like a rug, it easily detached from the mass and crumbled into a large ball of twisted twine. The vermiculite and perlite falling gently on to the tarp. The rest of the growing media mass crumbles easily with your fingers and quickly becomes a treasure hunt. If the kids were doing this, I am sure it would have been a game of who can find the biggest or the smallest or the most potatoes. The ease of running your fingers through the growing media like a pitchfork makes this activity definitely kid friendly.
Some were smaller.
Some were larger.
Some were funny shapes. Not going to tell you what Jaden thought this looked like. This blogs is still family friendly.
We continued to search for potatoes and started separating the bio mass from the growing media. The bio mass went to the compost pile while some of the growing media went to restarting the next batch of potato plants and the rest is in storage ready to be added when the time comes.
We were left with a large pile of yummy sweet potatoes! Yippie!
Summer heat tolerant lettuce is in full swing. We are getting anywhere from 40 to 60 heads a week of fresh lettuce transforming our diet at the same time. Any left over lettuce is finding it’s way to our Taekwondo friends and family.
As our system matures, we are experience a few issues. First a foremost is tall plants like corn need something solid to grab hold of with their roots. The looser clay pebbles we use to grow in are easy on the hands when it comes to planting, but are terrible for offering support to all plants. One gentle breeze was all it took to knock the corn stalks down and spread clay pebbles all over the ground. We ended up using twine to tie the plants up.
Since we transitioned over to Aquaponics 2.0 we have been planting like crazy and things are taking off growth wise. The tomato plants you see above are actually about 8 feet tall and are producing some amazing tomatoes. Pepper plants are doing well during our summer heat levels. The challenge is our nitrate levels are falling rapidly. Or in simpler terms, our fish are not eating enough to support the amount of growth the plants are demonstrating. We have increased the amount of food we are feeding our fish to the maximum levels. We also reduced our lettuce production and trim back many of the plants in the grow beds. Nutrient levels are starting to rise slowly and the plants are showing signs of renewed vigor.
Our corn suffered during these lower levels as indicated by the first ear above. We’ll continue to march forward.