Sunday, December 30, 2012

First Snow

We got about 3" yesterday.  The dome was really pretty covered in all white.  This morning, as soon as the sun came up, the snow started sliding off.  By 11:00 everything was clean except the very top.  By mid-afternoon it had melted and blown away.  Temperature inside the dome this morning was 35.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter growables

I found a good list of cold-weather crops to try next year.  To credit the source, here is a link to the University of Missouri article on winter greenhouse growing.

Leafy greens             Vegetables                Flowers
Arugula                             Beet                    Calendula
Chard                            Bok choi              Johnny jump-up
Cilantro                          Broccoli              Linaria (Toadflax)
Collards                     Broccoli raab                 Pansy
Cornsalad (Mache)        Cabbage
Cress                              Carrot
Dandelion                         Kale
Endive                              Leek
Escarole                          Onion
Lettuce                         Pak choi
Mizuna                              Pea

I have already proven lettuce production in cool weather, but now that night temps are at freezing or below, crops are growing very slowly.  Since I am still in construction mode, I am not set up for a good attempt at winter growing, but my pots are doing OK.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Update on the hubs

So I saw that my most-visited post was how I fashioned the struts and hubs.  It's not surprising that everyone wanted to see how I did this.  When I was researching this project, the hub assembly was the only thing I couldn't figure out. Prior to this design, other options were to buy pre-fabricated metal hubs or try to make them myself.  The wood version was much cheaper and easier...

After 6 months or so, everything seems to be holding together fine.  Still no heavy snow to really test the strength, but normal expansion and contraction and dampness has not hurt any of the struts that I can see.

I think I found a battery

A small Duracell golf cart battery made by East Penn Manufacturing (Deka) is $82 at Sam's club.  I think this will be more than sufficient to run 4 amps worth of pumps if the sun is hiding for a few days.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Putting together an off-grid solar system

I am in the process of sizing and ordering a solar power system for my pumps.  I have a 250w panel, and a charge controller and switch panel should come in the mail shortly.  I still need a battery, but I have one in mind from the local marine supply (Cabela's) that shouldn't cost too much.  This is all very experimental.  The solar supply companies charge a TON for these items, so I am piecing a system together from general DC power suppliers, mostly designed for boats and RVs.  If it works, it will prove that you don't need the word "solar" on the label of your components and therefore don't need to pay the premium for trendiness.  If it doesn't, the cost of the individual components isn't subtantial enough to be considered a waste.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Comments no longer require registration!

In looking through my settings, I realized that commenters were required to be registered users.  I have taken off that requirement.  Please contact me with your input!  I feel that resources on this topic are so limited, and I would love to turn this into more of an idea community.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Starting the aquaponics system

I decided to stop fighting the infiltration of dripping water into the greenhouse.  It's impossible to seal out water with film repair tape.  Instead I will collect the water and incorporate it into one of my aquaponics or hydroponics systems. I am running more gutter around the inside, just like I did to the outside.  I will use EPDM or flashing to direct dripping water into the gutter and I will pump pond water or nutrient solution through, and I will put simple plants right into the gutter.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Still warm inside

After 6 straight days without sun and the window open during a hurricane, the inside temperature is still 10 degrees higher than outside. I am pretty pleased with the performance so far.  The real test will come when it freezes outside.

The outer shell does leak in several places, but I am hoping that I can get the inner film layer to divert the water down where I will collect it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Don't worry, the dome has weathered the storm!

Early inspection this morning has showed no damage. Last night, when the wind was raging from the Northeast, the north vent blew open.  I will need to tie them down somehow.  I thought about doing it yesterday, but I figured I would let it go to see what happens.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Adding to the inner film layer

Not much going on.  I have been working on other projects.  Slowly (when the sun isn't out and it's cool enough to work inside) I have been stapling up more anti-condensate thermal reflective film on the inside.  Sorry no pictures, they don't show much.

I have also planted some fall crops.  Beets, lettuce, parsnips, carrots, radish from seed.  I'm not expecting much.  Light levels are getting low.  We'll see what happens.

The hurricane approaches!

I hope my dome doesn't roll away.  The eye of the storm might pass right over my town!  Apparently this hurricane is unprecedented for several reasons: path, temperature, time-of-year, maybe more.  People around here are pretty freaked out.  The home centers are packed worse than I've ever seen.  Here in southeastern PA, we have always bragged about our weather.  No extremes.  No fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, cyclones, droughts, blizzards, poisonous animals, mudslides, you get the idea.  We do have all of these, of course, but nothing extreme enough to worry about.  Ice storms can leave us without electricity because trees fall on the power lines, but that's usually the worst of it.  But now we have a hurricane about to make landfall in New Jersey?!?  Unbelievable.  Nobody is really sure what will happen, and you can't really trust the news because they always scream crisis, but the general consensus is that it's going to be bad.

The preparations I have made for the dome are to shut the valve on the rain collection system.  I didn't even have to do that.  Basically, there are no preparations to make.  I am a bit concerned that the film covering will blow off.  We will see.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Adding some more insulation

Don't  worry I haven't forgotten to update!  I am at that point where I am waiting to get paid again.  I have started adding the inner layer of greenhouse film, but going has been slow.  It is just too hot to work in there right now!  I also added some more Reflectix to the north side.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New rain barrel ideas

Check out the additions I made to my My $40 DIY Rain Barrel Design page, including an enclosure that looks like an outhouse and a 275 gallon rain collector under the garage.

Monday, October 15, 2012

I am thinking about an experimental green roof.

I am trying to do something useful over the doorway.  So far I have put down plywood and laid some rubber roofing (pond liner) on top.  I would love to build some walls around it and throw some compost up there.  Any thoughts out there?

Built a better pond filter yesterday

Update 3/29/14:  I figured I would add some more details to this post.  It is amazing how many people are looking at my filter!  It cost me about $20 (not including pump) and works perfectly. Granted, I did have most of the items laying around, but you might too!  Another advantage is that the PVC is not cemented together. I just cleaned the filter out after a year, but it could have gone much longer without clogging. Cleaning took 10 minutes.  The water is crystal clear!
1 bucket (minimum 5-gallon, but you can go bigger if you want)
About 4 feet of 1/2" PVC (again, for large ponds/pumps, go with 3/4 or 1" pipe)
2 PVC elbows non-threaded
1 PVC elbow female threaded on one end
1 PVC Tee non-threaded
1 connector male thread/hose bib to match your hose
teflon tape for taping threads
1 PVC straight connector (for outlet tube)
length of hose (I used old garden hose 5/8"id)
1 hose clamp
Stiff screen or mesh (I used 1/2" mesh)
Thin window screen (optional, depending on media used)
Bio-filter balls, lava rock, or both (I had and used both)
Silicone or gutter caulk for outlet hole

Take a 5 gallon bucket, some 1/2 inch PVC and fittings and assembled as you see below.

Cut a hole in the side about 4" from the top and inserted the outlet tube.  The straight connector (under the screen cover in the pic) helps form the seal.

Using gutter caulk or silicone, seal the outlet tube well.

The idea is to make the water cyclone in the bottom.  It keeps the inlet clean as it pushes the water up through the filter.  Use a mesh that is strong enough to hold your filtering media up off the bottom of the bucket.

I added a few bio bags from the fish store. I don't know if they help, but I'm sure they can't hurt. One of them I pulled directly out of my fish tank in my house.  The thought is that some of the beneficial bacteria that keeps the little fish tank clean will help the pond.

Fill with bio-media.

Attach hose and clamp.  Turn it on and check for leaks.  I don't care as much about how it looks as I do about safety and water retention, so I just hang the edge of the filter over the edge of the pond.  That way if the outlet tube ever leaks it will just drip back into the pond.  

Notice this filter has no lid and is not pressurized.  It does not need to be.  The filter has never clogged or overflowed.  It has worked flawlessly. 

The only negative about this filter is that it's an eyesore!
I thought that if I wanted to improve the look I could put a decorative barrel over the entire filter, but that's for another day!

Feel free to comment with questions or design ideas...

Air is moving nicely through the sub system

When the sun came out I stuck my face to the end of one tube and found that air is moving quite fast through the system.  Now I just need a thermometer with some temp sensors to stick down there and test.

Some finishing touches on the fan intake

I found this square drain that can hold a 4" tube pretty snug:

Then I cut out the grate and the inner ring to maximize air flow: 

Then I caulked the edge and screwed to my fan housing, then attached the intake tube and ran the tube up to the ceiling where the hottest air is.

I am being careful to block off the ends of the tube so no critters get in there and make nests!  I wouldn't want to have to get a snake to clean them out, so here is my 1/2" mesh end cap.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The subterranean system is running!

First I started hanging the Reflectix (semi-rigid bubble wrap insulation) above the pond:

Then I hung the 5w panel:

Finally I ran the wiring and connected:
Air is slowly moving out the end of the longest tube, so I would consider it a success for now.

I really have no way of testing the effectiveness of this system.  I is pretty much just a good theory that pumping heated air underground during the day will radiate up at night.  I guess I could disconnect and test the nighttime temps with and without the fan running, and maybe I will do that when it gets really cold...

Lettuce and spinach doing great

The spinach outside hasn't done much at all, but the plants in the greenhouse will soon be ready for harvest.  Not bad for a few weeks!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Building the housing for the fan

I figured the easiest way to fit the square fan to the round tube would be with plywood.  I am sandwiching the fan in between several layers, with caulk in between each layer to seal out air.

Here are the four sections I plan to use.  I first cut out the holes with a saber saw, then I cut the four pieces apart.  It's easier to saw the holes out when you can clamp them to something.

And here it is nearly assembled.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I got my 5w solar panel in the mail today!

This is the exciting stuff.  I picked up a 4" fan that can push 72 cfm for $14.00 at Radio Shack.  The solar panel cost 19.99 on Amazon with free shipping.  Can I heat my greenhouse indefinitely for $35.00 using the power of the sun and the earth?  We're going to find out very soon.  I have quite a few steps before I can get these installed.  I need to test the fan and panel and build a housing to fit to the duct work.

Monday, October 8, 2012

I found this cheap vent today

It's amazing how I have walked down this aisle and never noticed this excellent auto open/close vent.  It's made for a foundation, but could be adapted for any number of uses.  I just might have to cut a hole in my wall and put this in, just because it's under $17.00!  Anyway, I hope this helps.

It has a screen, screws for mounting in a rough-cut hole, and a nice plastic face cap for a clean look and easy insulation. It opens at 70 and closes at 40, which I don't love, but it might be perfect for someone else looking to just keep from overheating.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

10 degree differential

is the average between outside and inside. Today the high was 52 and the greenhouse stayed a steady 63.  It felt great inside.  Granted, a front blew through yesterday and brought Fridays 80 degree weather way down.  But still very encouraging to know that it can handle a 24 hour dip in the weather. Very high humidity, but the tropical plants seem to be loving it.  We still have yet to get our first frost, and that will be the real test.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Going to hunt for some plants tomorrow

Every year my friends and I go camping in a particular swamp in the poconos.  It is loaded with aquatic plant life, and I am going to try bringing some home and keeping them alive.  In the past, any attempts I have made at keeping  plants from this area alive have failed quickly, and I'm not sure it can be done.  But I will keep trying!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Learned some more about mushroom compost today

Today I got to speak with Mike McGrath.  He took my call and explained all about mushroom soil.  Apparently, in addition to making sure the compost is aged for about a year, you should find out the pH of the compost and also learn if it was sterilized  at the farm by formaldehyde or by steam.  Also, if you want it to be best for organic gardening, try to buy it from a source that does organic mushroom farming.  So, again, there are no simple answers and all mushroom soil is not the same.  But the impression I got is that it is always going to be a good soil additive.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Temperature this morning

outside was 46 degrees, inside was 50 at 6:00am.  I still have a lot of work to do though!  I just picked up a 4" DC fan at Radio Shack of all places.  72 CFM for 4.57 watts!  I just ordered a 5w solar panel on Amazon and it should be here in a few days. So I need to come up with some kind of housing for the fan and mount it to the  PVC tubing.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Check out my other projects!

I have just added a couple more projects to the Favorites on the right.  If you didn't see them yet, here they are:

My Urban Hydroponic Greenhouse

Temporary filter for pond

The pond water is getting very cloudy from algae.  I set up this bucket with large stones at the bottom, gravel in the center and Hydroton rocks at the top.  I also saved some of the rabbit-chewed romaine plants from the garden and set them in the hydroton.  We'll see how the pond water works for aquaponics as it stands right now and whether the plants and filter can help clear the water until I get a proper system set up.

The door is on

I fitted the door and started some of the stops and trim work.  Now that all large hole are sealed there is a noticeable rise in temperature inside, even when the clouds are out and at night. This makes me very happy!

Outside temp was around 71 today.  84 inside at knee level when the sun was shining.  Not bad!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Turning my chile peppers into perrenials,

or at least I am going to try.   I was listening to Mike McGrath this morning on NPR and he taught me something very interesting.  It seems that pepper plants are not annuals and can live for years under the right conditions.  This is amazing!  To think of all the work I have invested for the past decade of propogation, care and waiting all summer for peppers to ripen.  He said to dig them up, pot them, bring them inside before frost and keep them under fluorescent lights for the winter.

Here I have potted a few of my fire-hot aji omni-color chiles.  I gave them a pretty heavy trimming and will keep them in the greenhouse until temps drop below 50.

The lettuce race is over!

I forgot about another variable.  Rabbits!  In less than a week they devoured every one of the outdoor romaine plants.  Yeah I could have put up a fence or planted them in one of my raised beds, but the greenhouse plants are clearly the winners of this contest.

Can't see the lettuce?  That's because it's gone!

The indoor plants, on the other hand, have nearly doubled in size this week, and have required very little watering.  Humidity levels inside the greenhouse allow me to skip days of watering.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Learned a little about mushroom compost today

Mushroom soil is the most wonderfully rich additive to any garden for moisture retention, softening of hard clay, improving drainage, and just plain addition of beneficial nutrients. I use it all over in all my flower and garden beds, and I even spread it around my yard to feed my grass. It is soft, spongy, lightweight, easy to shovel and work with, and a deep black color that screams richness, and the best part: it's cheap.

In my town, mushroom soil is sold everywhere for $10 a yard.  I knew it was the spent growing medium from the mushroom industry, and I suspected from the smell that it was made from manure.  I didn't know if it was treated with any kind of chemicals or if it was safe for organic gardening, so I did a little research.

Yesterday I came across an article about mushroom compost and I decided to email the author, a Penn State professor.  Very graciously, he responded quickly with an answer.  No, he said, mushroom soil is not treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and it is commonly used in organic gardening.  This was excellent news.   Here is a link to the article if you would like to read more:

For anyone who is looking to enrich their soil, this is a must-try. 

Wondering about using tires for raised beds?

Does anyone out there have feelings about the use of old tires to contain the soil in my greenhouse garden  beds?  I haven't done much research on the pros and cons of old tires.  I like the idea of driving around and picking up the trash from the side of the road. Free supplies and helping clean the neighborhood feels doubly good.  I like the ease of construction--just lay a few courses of tires and fill with dirt.  I like the idea of circular flower beds in my circular greenhouse.

I guess my concerns are poisoning my plants or poisoning myself.  Is there any danger to recycling old tires to grow vegetables in?

Next step: solar pump and fan

I am waiting to get paid next week, then I plan to buy a 15W solar panel and a 15 watt dc pump.  The pump I have chosen is the Sun-15 from Sun-Pump.  The few reviews I have found have been positive, and the pump has a maximum head height of 9'11", which will work perfectly with my idea for a solar collector.

So far the search for a 4" fan has been tough.  I want a fan that draws between 5 and 10 watts, which is proving to be difficult.  The search continues.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Filled in the floor with stone

I got a large roll of medium-grade weed fabric a few years ago and I have slowly been eating away at it.  Well today I finally finished it.  That and a couple of tons of 2a stone and I have a new floor in my greenhouse.  I thought about buying some good ground fabric (it's not expensive) but decided to make do with what I had.  I wasn't going to do anything else with it anyway.

Went to the quarry today

If you have a truck and a quarry nearby, it is definitely worth it to buy from them!  I paid $10 a ton for 2A modified stone compared to $25 at the garden center.  Plus it was a cool experience watching a working quarry do its thing.  If you want a prettier decorative stone, then the quarry might not be the place to go.  I am lucky enough to have a place about a mile from my house that sells gray:  small, medium, large and some mixtures.  Give them a call before you go to see what the rules are and if they sell small amounts to homeowners.  In my state (PA) they ask for your vehicle/trailer registration and see what your GVWR is, then they will only load you according to what the tare weight comes out to.  Rules are probably similar in most states.

I can't wait to take my son here!  With all the books he has with giant loaders and dump trucks, plus his fascination with any toy tractor or Tonka truck, he would love to see the real things.  Maybe in a few years when he can ride in my front seat...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Painting the door

Last night it got pretty cold.  I need to seal this thing up!  If you remember, I picked this old door out of the trash and replaced a window pane.  Yesterday I sanded it down a bit, cut it to size and now I am applying a new paint.  Ace brand porch and steps paint.  I think it will hold up nicely.

Like the face lift?

I started playing around with the features on Blogger and so far I really like it.  If there is anything you would like to see, please let me know!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My first crop

I couldn't wait to get the flower beds in, so I put some lettuce and spinach in pots.  I started them in my basement under lights, and since it was time to transplant anyway, I thought I would try out the greenhouse.
So the race is on.  We'll see how the indoor plants do through the fall compared to the same seedlings in the raised garden bed.  The soil composition is essentially the same (compost and topsoil from my yard) so the major variables will be temp and moisture.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Thanks to my first follower!

I have been wondering if anyone was returning to see what I was up to!  If there are any more of you out there, rest assured that I am working as fast as my budget will allow.  Each month, I allot myself a certain small amount to buy supplies and then get straight to work, so you can see lots of progress in the beginning of each month, but considerable tapering after the 15th when I am broke again!

I will post immediately when I have something new to report, I promise.  Tomorrow I may find time to fit the door, then I should be all sealed up.

Oh and if you like what your reading, share a comment or hit the follow button!  I know a lot of your have your own stories in the off-grid lifestyle and I would love to know about it!


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Starting to look a bit like a greenhouse!

I looked in the door today and said Wow!  I finally feel like I'm getting somewhere.

Pond Pump

I set up a pump temporarily to keep the water moving and aerated for the fish.  I thought it would be a good idea to put the pump inside this bait bucket.  It will keep it off the floor and the away from the muck (that will inevitably develop) and the perforated bucket lid makes a great pre-filter.

I have plans to make a waterfall, but for the time being I just tied the outlet tube to my PVC rain drain.  I really want to get a rainy day so I can see how it fills!

Some work on the subterranean heat system

I bought another 30' of drainage tube.  It comes up out of the ground on the north side and will run along the perimeter behind the pond. Still looking for a fan to push the air through.  I though of stopping by the RV store.  I think they might have some DC fans for refrigerators.  We'll see.

Here we have it coming out of the ground:

Then behind the pond:

And here it exits:

I will bury all of it but the outlet by the door.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Added some stone around the perimeter

This should seal out air for now and provide drainage, but I'm still working on insulation at the base.

Trying to find (found) a 4" inline fan (DC 10 watt or less!)

I have added a 3' length of PVC to my subterranean pipe.  They make inline fans for boats that fit right over the pipe, but they draw a lot of amperage and move a lot of air.  I don't need much, but I am only finding cooling fans for computers that will require adaptation.  What can I use that is somewhere in the middle?

Update 11/12/12:  I meant to return to this post and let everyone know that I ended up getting a 4.75W fan at Radio Shack.  I wired it directly to a 5W solar panel and it is working beautifully.  Look at later posts for more details.

Some more pond work

I added a 325 GPH pump for some circulation, put in 6 goldfish for insect control, and added another course of stones over the liner.  I'm not sure how I am going to finish the top. 

The planks helped to work in the back without having to jump in the water.  We had some cold nights this week so I moved my tropical plants inside.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thanks to!

A few years ago I picked up a magazine with an article about DIY solar technology and a link to author Gary Reysa's web site,  I have to say that the projects, plans, and discussions that I found on Gary's site have been the major inspiration for my solar endeavors.  I am planning a solar thermal collector for the greenhouse that will also serve as a prototype for a future house system that will supplement my radiant heat and domestic hot water. 

Thanks again Gary for all the great info!

Cold weather coming, time to seal it up!

I still have 1 window and the door to install.  I just picked up the 2x4's and should be able to do it tomorrow.

In preparation for the cold, I must also seal the foundation.  In researching the few geodesic domes I could find online, I am considering  lining the inside and outside with old tires.  I love the idea of cleaning up the roadside, but I'm not sure that I can find enough!  I will need to keep my eyes open....

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rain Collection

This is another bit of engineering I am especially proud of.  After building several rain barrels, the question isn't how to divert water into the pond, but how to divert overflow back out once the pond is full.  Also, I won't want cold water entering the greenhouse in winter when I am trying to conserve heat inside. 

The gutter was a bit challenging as I tried to join 15 sections at a 12 degree angle.

The downspout directs water into the greenhouse.  The horizontal part is leaning only slightly inward.  This is the key to allowing overflow to escape.

Here is the other side of the wall where the rain water enters the pond:

Inside, I have a shutoff valve to keep water out when I don't want it.  The open T junction is part of my future sink system.  It will allow sink runoff to exit and run out the back of my yard. 

Filling the Pond

It's amazing how much math I am using for this project.  I take back all those times I said to my math teachers "when am I ever going to use this?" because now I am glad I can do it.  My pond holds pretty close to 450 gallons.  Because of the highly irregular shape of the pond, I was unable to use LWH measurements for volume.  So I turned on my hose and timed while I filled a 5 gallon bucket.  Then I kept track of time while I filled the pond and there you have it:  Tp/Tb*5.

You may be thinking "duh, of course that's how you do it," but I'm pretty proud that I figured that out on my own...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Close-up of vent opener

I cut out some 1x2 oak strips for mounting.  You can also see the strips of black weatherstripping that seal the window and the backing I installed. I may need to add some more foam strips, but I won't know until the entire house is sealed up tight.

Some creative trim work on the vent

I had some extra gutter laying around, so I cut it apart and used it to weatherproof around the vent. 
The curved part of the gutter forms a nice seal on the lower V sections.  I squirted some gutter seal around the perimeter of the vent assembly and attached to aluminum with TEK screws.  After using them a few times, I have to say that self tapping TEK screws are excellent for all your sheet metal needs!

Pond Underlayment

Otherwise known as carpet!  I have just ordered the 45 mil EPDM liner.  It should arrive in a few days from Maryland.  Plenty of time for me to plan the rain collection system...