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...