Adding- Soil to the enclosed life support system. This stage of development is adding two more anaerobic cycles to the system by adding soil. This is part two of an on going eco-system establishment with-in a closed life support system. In a traditional CELSS system for space travel, hydroponics is the choice for growing food. Food is given to the plants without soil with water containing everything the plant needs to grow and bear fruit. Any addition of anaerobic bacteria will kill any hydroponic system. The system described here uses aerobic and anaerobic bacteria to compose and decompose material for growing plants. This completes the living cycle. Zero waste. It is a non-linear system. In fact CO2, O2, NH4, NO3, NO2, light, temperature, humidity, H2O and the rest are related directly and inversely exponentially to each other. A traditional hydroponic system is more or less linear with relations to different chemicals, light and humidity. There is another cycle where CO2 is balanced with the amount of moisture in the tank and the amount of decaying matter in the water and compost.
Below is a description how additional anaerobic cycles are added to an eco-system. This same method can be used in your backyard garden.
Adding compost, soil and small stones have to be acclimated before the system in the tank is balanced. Mother Nature teaches us that putting key components thrown together in a system in a short time does not work. Complex eco-systems have to be grown into their new chambers or their new homes. When a set of living organisms are removed from their home they were born and placed into a jar or a new location, they will adjust to the container or their new environment. This can mean some of the organisms will die because they don’t have their right conditions to survive; and it also means other organisms will flourish and become a monoculture (these are weeds of an eco-system).
Mother Nature works on her own time, not ours. It is up to us to let Mother Nature grow into the environment we are providing. This requires us to take one step at a time building an enclose life sustaining system. The first step is to cycle through the nitrogen cycle in water. Place a few fish in the water and check the chemicals. This has been done many times before with anyone who has an aquarium and fish. Step two is to add a water table with stones, soil and compost. Plants are added later.
After adding a water table, we will have now another cycle that needs to be adjusted to the new environment. It needs to grow and balance out before the next step is done. In this case decomposition of the added compost is going to make a boat load of CO2. We need to add plants, or let plants get established enough to consume the CO2 to acceptable amounts. For CO2 to be consumed, light needs to be provided. In this case about 16 hours of light per day is provided. It is expected that CO2 in the tank increase over 10,000 ppm. Please remember that the air we are breathing is around 400 ppm. If we live in air that had more than 1500 ppm, we will become dizzy and evidently die. However, this is not the case with plants. The more CO2 available to plants, the easier it is for them to produce sugars for growth. The optimal CO2 level for plant growth is between 1000 to 1100 ppm. In this system it would be great the achieve a CO2 level between 400 to 1100 ppm.
It will take several weeks for the compost to absorb the water from the tank, produce CO2 and plants consume CO2. Later, more plants will be installed to help absorb the CO2. In the beginning, the added soil and compost needs to balanced out. In a few weeks, more plants will be added.
In this development, more natural water bacteria is collected and added to the system. It does not hurt to add more diversity. Whatever does not grow will balance itself out with the rest of the system.
Below are pictures of samples of the soil/water from the river. These samples are taken in the first of October, 2012 before the first rains. Rains wash all of the dirt, fertilizer pollutants and chemicals into the river. This will kill and feed the micro-organisms in the water. It is best to get a level sample before all of the organisms distorts the ecology.
You can see aggregate forming in the river bed. Some forms on the rocks a sand. Others are just in the water. Below has pictures of single celled bacteria with flagellums.
We are not doing hydroponics in this system. Nor are we doing Aquaponics. When we cycle a fish tank for nitrate and nitrites, we are building up bacteria connected to surfaces in the tank. Bacteria can only function when they are attached to something. This means they have to grow into the environment they are placed. A water table wicks up the water from below and lifts it to plant roots. It also give a home for the bacteria. In this case, the plant roots are mushroom mycelium.
In general, a water table is copied from nature. It functions to manage water for plants and nutrients.
Mushrooms produce a lot of CO2 into the air. The CO2 needs to be consumed by something. That something needs time to grow. With plenty of CO2 available, there is ample chance of CO2 consuming microbes and plants to establish themselves on the walls, in the water and on plants.
The type of mushrooms are not wood loving mushrooms, but are compost loving mushrooms . Porcini and Morel mushrooms are installed. In fact, when I opened the bag where I have been cultivating the mycelium, there is a clump of red wiggler worms. They all got dumped into the CELSS system along with the mushrooms mycelium.
Since there is no real dead wood in the system, it is best to place composting mushrooms. The fungi will feed the worms. I’m sure some of the worms will die because of lack of food later on, but they will become part of the whole chemical cycle.
Water tables are a simple concept. It’s basically a pile of soil dumped in to the bottom of 3 inches of water in a 40 gallon fish tank. The soil above the soil holds plants. There, you have it. A water table. In the picture below, it is not that simple, but with more thought out, the concept can be seen. There needs to be enough soil above the water where all of the soil does not turn into mud and can grow soil bound plants, not total bog plants. Bog plant may be installed because the height of the tank is no that tall.
The first layer, or the bottom layer, is similar to soil that holds water for wells. There are larger stones that pass water through in wells. In this case I picked using ceramic balls used for hydroponics and Aquaponics. I had a bunch of them in the garage and thought they would be suitable.
One gallon of balls are used in the tank. They are held down by a piece of plastic with holes. The plastic piece is a ”cut up sprouting tray” for plugs. It is cut to the tank’s shape, turned upside down with about a 1.5 inch lip. See detailed construction pictures below. The hydro-balls are captured under the plastic and held into place until they absorb enough water to sink. See the bottom of this post for details collecting the balls and sinking them in water.
Next is the acrylic “earth” ground. The walls are made of black acrylic . I did not want to use PVC because of off gassing. It takes about a month for PVC to off gas any of its toxic gasses. The walls hold in the soil to a higher level above the water. If there are no walls, then the soil would taper into the water like sand at the beach. There is not enough real estate to have a beach. And I need the soil high enough to keep partly dry soil. It turned out the water wicks all the way up to the top. This means the soil only gets bog plants.
Since no glues or solvents are allowed in the tank, everything has to be fastened by a physical device. In this case tie wraps are used to hold the walls to together. Black plastic is used to prevent light from entering the soil region. If light got into the soil, it will be like a new surface where light can interact with the soil. They system needed some depth to the soil.
Below are the four walls placed over the plastic mat of ceramic balls. A few balls escaped and are floating in the water. The picture is a bit purple because of the LED lights. The lights only contain red and blue LEDs. Together they may be a purple color. The box does not fix through the opening of the top of the tank. The box collapses and folds through the opening and then can be expanded out.
Another shot of the whole tank. To the right is a bog/water plant planted in a basket. Water can flow in and out of the basket. This gives a home for a colony of anaerobic bacteria. Each basket/planter has his own cosmos of life. The graduated cylinder in the picture shows the water level. This is how the water level is monitored. If water is escaping, this level will decrease. While more materials are placed inside the tank, the water level is going up. In a week or so, the water level will decrease and settle to its final location. Up to the right is the location where CO2, NH4, RH, Temperature and barometer will be hung. The electrical connections to/from the data collector are passed through stainless screws drilled and sealed through the plastic on the top. Power, and two RS232 connection wires pass data at 9600 baud. It does not need to be fast.
Below is a picture of the river water dirt. This is taken from the bottom of a near by river. I trying to keep with the same micro-bacteria biology we live in. There is a higher chance of contamination to a species of bacteria that is beneficial. The river mud is enclosed in a plastic bag for no more than 4 hours. If left longer in the bag, the microbiology will begin to adapt to that container and forget where it lived before.
The soil area is made of four acrylic plastic board at 1/4 inch thick. The dimensions are 7 x 17.25 x 8 inches. The other board is 7 x 8 x 8.25 inches. They basically fit inside the walls of the tank off to one side. There is no top or bottom to the box. 1/4 inch holes are made on each corner of the plastic. All cutting and drilling are done on a table saw using a fine plywood saw. Make sure it’s a new saw. Older and dull blades tend to chip the plastic.
When drilling the holes for the tie wraps, I placed on board on top of another and drilled through both. It is easier.
Tie wraps are used to fasten the boards together. No chemical solutions are used as glue. The chemical solutions normally kill the microbiology.
The bottom mat between the acrylic black plastic and the ceramic ball is cut from a sprouting plug try. This can be bought at any hydroponics store. The bottom of the try is cut to fit into the 40 gallon fish tank. The solid piece of plastic is trimmed off to 1.5 inches.
The plastic cover piece is placed vertical to create a wall where the balls cannot float out into the rest of the tank. In the meantime, 6 fish are swimming out in the rest of the tank.
I took the plastic and lowered it down over the balls. Unfortunately, one of the fish from the tank got under the plastic and is buried alive. It took an extra week for the ammonium in the water to settle down to normal after the fish decomposed. The black box is placed over the plastic screen. This sinks the balls to the bottom. The river mud, backyard dirt, mushrooms and compost fill half way up the black acrylic container.
The system is left alone for another 2 weeks to stabilize the changes in environmental living homes. Two thermo electric devices reduce the humidity with a cycle of 45 minutes on and 10 minutes off to allow defrosting of the thermo electric devices. It’s a soft of dehumidifier. The humidity can reach up to 90 %. The dehumidifiers can bring the RH down to 20 %.