The AquaLab construction is now complete! The winches have been mounted to raise and lower the ZipGrow Towers, the raft hydroponic units have been repainted and finished, aeration system is complete and all plumbing is finished.
The ZipGrow Vertical Hydroponic Towers are now hanging! We installed two horizontal steel supports to mount the top pulleys. These supports are also supported by a tension chain in the middle that attaches to the ceiling. These towers will grow leafy greens and will be able to be raised in the air to utilize the void space on the north wall, and be lowered to plant and harvest. We will mount a winch that raises and lowers the towers slowly and effortlessly.
After our last post, Ron Morgan engaged students at SIHS who are eagerly waiting for the AquaLab to be complete. Topics covered ranged from food to culture to international outreach.
Construction of the two raft hydroponic systems and the fish tank stands have started. The pond liners have been cut and inserted into their wooden frames. The frames have a horizontal support beam to prevent bowing when filled with water.
The fish tank stands will be raised to allow for gravity draining into the greenhouse hydroponic units. This will raise the tanks for maximum viewing.
Construction of the South iredell High School AquaLab has begun! Iredell County Schools, FFA and several community organizations have come together to make the cross-curricular AquaLab experience happen. The current AG mechanics shop was modified into an aquaculture lab that feeds the hydroponic greenhouse attached. A roll-up door makes the connection between the fish tanks and the hydroponic plants.
Students will be managing the AquaLab, applying knowledge of science, math, engineering and technology to food production in an innovative new way, aquaponics.This AquaLab will feature:
(2) Complete growing system each with:
- Fish Tanks
- Filtration Units
- On-floor raft hydroponics unit for growing tall fruiting plants
- Vertical hydroponics Unit (ZipGrow Towers) mounted on steel frame with a winch that raises and lowers the unit for harvesting and planting.
The AquaLab at SIHS will soon be connected with out first installation in Haiti. Students at SIHS will interact with students and community members in Haiti who are also using aquaponics to grow food. Conversations will emerge about science, culture, and whatever else inspires them. For students with are specific interest in aquaponics and international outreach, an internship with 100 Gardens in Charlotte can prepare them to build and train aquaponics farmers in Haiti, along with 100 gardens.
To learn more about the the benefits of aquaponics in schools and see how WE, as a community, can help bring innovative ideas to our region via food production., please visit The 100 Gardens Website.
Here are some of the original rendering formed by us and the faculty at SIHS.
All the concrete has been poured for the grow beds and the fish tank. The crew has done an excellent job and now they will proceed to plaster a smooth finish on the concrete. We are now returning to Charlotte and will let the concrete cure for a month. Upon our return we will seal the concrete and assemble to pump lines and aeration system. Also the cover structure, storage building and solar system will be in place when we return.
Today the crew began pouring the concrete walls for the growing beds. The plywood was the 3/4″ thick board and had to be cut by hand, just as everything has to be done in Mahanaim. There is electricity here so if battery powered tools were available they could be charged and progress would speed up dramatically. Nonetheless the crew worked all day cutting the boards to size and framing the walls. By the end of the long day two of the growing beds had been poured before we ran out of plywood. Tomorrow we will remove the plywood and use it to frame the last growing bed and fish tank.
It rained here for the first time since I have been here and it was quite a relief to get some cool weather in the evening. The tin roof shattered with sound but I can deal with that given the cooler night. It looks as though I will need to return on a later date to begin operation of the system as we will have finished construction, but we will not have the correct growing medium. Things are very difficult to find in Haiti, and much more expensive. Shipping to Haiti is very inefficient and since most products are not manufactured here, the cost of everything is higher than one would expect in a developing nation. This makes life even more difficult for the poorest population in the Western Hemisphere.
When I return I will try and find a way to deliver the rest of the materials we need either in the USA or hopefully in Haiti. I have seen some swimming pools here but the epoxy paint may have been imported. Finding a suitable growing medium will be very difficult as most gravel and sand here is combined with various different rock types and soil. If we come to a point where we just cannot find a source for the substrate we may just have to try and source from the Dominican Republic. We would likely not be able to bring in truckloads of medium but perhaps we could bring in styrofoam sheets for a raft system. This would be disappointing because I feel in a place with limited electricity that the flood and drain system would be more appropriate. Only time will tell. With that being said we are on the right track.
Productivity was in the air today in Mahanaim. The construction crew got started at 8am and worked until 7pm with only about 30 minutes to rest and eat. I feel so out of shape when I see how these guys work. They assembled all of the rebar frames for the walls of the growing beds and poured the concrete floors for the growing beds and the fish tank. Luiguy rented a concrete mixer and by the end of the day we mixed 53 bags of cement and all of the gravel and sand to make the concrete. The workers had a procedure for getting everything mixed correctly and rapidly. Several guys gathered buckets of sand and gravel, while another group poured bag after bag of cement into the mixer, followed by the sand and gravel, and then water. The concrete then was poured into the rebar frames and was flattened with precision, by hand.
I have noticed that there is no half-assing when it comes to work in Mahanaim. The concrete was carefully spread across the frames and into every possible crevice. Then it was smoothed out by a 2×4 piece of lumber until perfectly smooth. This garden will be the strongest aquaponics system ever for its size, that I have seen at least. 1000 years from now humans will be studying it saying “these primitive humans in 2014 grew fish and plants together, and they actually had to monitor it and plant things, silly animals”.
All in all it was an exhausting day given the long hours and the blazing hot weather but we should be finished pouring the concrete tomorrow! Once this is finished we will start construction of the open air building that will shade the fish tank and the storage room for the solar system batteries and supplies. By the end of the week we should be testing the pumps and have the air blower and diffuser lines installed. After we can test that the water is flowing correctly we will take pictures, empty the tanks so the concrete can cure, and head back to the USA. We will then try to find a solution for sealing or treating the concrete to neutralize the alkalinity. This will either be a scrubbing of the surfaces with phosphoric acid, or an application of epoxy paint. At the same time we are figuring this out we will be finding a source for suitable gravel or course sand for the growing substrate and I will be training the lead agronomist via email. He will be responsible for operating the system after we are gone. Now I am set to drink a warm Haitian beer and get a great nights sleep after a hard days work. Y’all come back now…ya hear?!