Greenhouse Construction Phase Two/ Notes from the Meeting of December 18th

At this meeting we got our greenhouse much nearer to completion— the plastic cover is now in place. We pulled it over the frame, and then rolled the edges around some scrap metal pipes, which were buried in shallow trenches along the sides. This should help to keep the plastic in the ground. We then cut short sections of black plastic pipe, slit them down one side, and used them to clamp the plastic to the end hoops. (Here is a link on an earlier page, where it describes the first phase of the greenhouse construction. Greenhouse construction )

Here are some pictures of the greenhouse.

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We still have to tighten the plastic a little, and put some duct tape under each clamp to stop them from abrading the cover. Then we have to modify and place a door, and attach it to the frame. We left the plastic cover loose at the west end, so that the door can be put into place. We will then attach the plastic tightly to the west end hoop. (Right now it is weighed down with landscape timbers.) We also have to frame a vent and attach an automatic vent opener, insulate the north, east, and west sides with bubble wrap, and pile a little more earth around the edges. After that, we can begin to instal hot frames and thermal mass.
The thermal mass will be large, black containers full of water. This will act as a sort of flywheel, absorbing the extremely high temperatures during the day, and releasing the extra heat at night to keep the greenhouse warm. Without any mass, the greenhouse would cook plants during the day, but rapidly freeze at night if the outside temperatures are much below thirty-two degrees.
The hot frames will be a second translucent structure inside the greenhouse. They will be sunk below ground level and insulated. Since they will only be exposed to the moderated conditions inside of the greenhouse, they will keep a fairly stable temperature. Extra heating will be provided inside the frames by means of compost and or electricity. For low cost electric backup heating, we could use an infrared bulb or a heat cable. These would be set to come on only if the temperature dropped dangerously. The hot frames will be used to start seedlings in the spring.
We also discussed remodeling the run in horse shed on the property to store tools and equipment, and our mason bee project. The shed remodel will probably be our next project.
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Greenhouse construction, Phase one/ Notes from the meeting of December 3rd

At this meeting we got the frame of our Greenhouse put up. We bent inserted lengths of rebar into PVC pipe, and bent the rods into hoops, inserted about a foot into the ground. We then joined them at the top with another length of PVC/ rebar. The rebar provides the strength, and the PVC keeps the rebar from abrading the plastic cover. S30A0132

Due to the wind, which picked up towards the end of our meeting, we were unable to get the plastic cover attached. It would have been buried along the sides of the greenhouse. We also need to build a wooden frame at one end to contain a door and vent. Once we get this done, we will install an inner hot bed for starting seedlings, low tech insulation on the north side, mass to collect solar heat and even out temperature swings, and possibly a compost heating system. These systems will be backed up by an electric heater.

Notes from the Meeting of November the 20th

At this meeting we continued to build compost piles, and did some preliminary layout work on the greenhouse. A piece of metal pipe inserted into the compost pile came out hot to the touch, so the pile is working well, probably due to all the coffee grounds we added. We will turn it at least once to heat up the outside, and speed up its progress.

Notes from the meeting of November the 14th/ Greenhouse Design

The weather is still fairly pleasant, so we have continued working on our Lakewood Farm. At this meeting we continued turning our abundant supply of leaves into compost piles.

We also discussed plans for our greenhouse. It will be a simple hoop house, which has the advantages of low cost and ease of construction/removal. However, it will be less sturdy and harder to heat.

We will thread twenty foot lengths of rebar into pvc pipes, and bend the composite rods into hoops. These will be buried in the ground, and connected along the top by another rod. Then greenhouse film will be draped over the structure, and buried along the edges. Rope will be used to tie down the plastic and keep it from flapping in the wind.

Hopefully, we will be able to construct the greenhouse at the meeting after next. I will post pictures of the construction, and then record its performance. This is an Eliot Coleman style greenhouse, and part of it will be used for early plantings of cool weather crops. It will also house a hot bed for starting seedlings in the spring.  These will be for sale, for member’s gardens, and for our farm site.

Notes from the meeting of November 7th

At this meeting, we got a hot compost pile started. We are layering leaves, manure, and coffee grounds in an eight by eight foot wire mesh bin. We also added a little blood meal. Sufficient nitrogen causes a compost pile to heat up. However, the manure we are using may not have enough nitrogen in it; the manure pile had not heated up. And we did not have enough blood meal and coffee grounds to heat up the pile by themselves.  If, by next week, the pile shows no signs of heating, we will add some more nitrogen.

We had some lawn care companies dump leaves. In fact, we got too many leaves (if that can be possible.) And the truck drivers dumped leaves right on top of our sheet mulch garden beds, where it may prove difficult to rake them up without raking up the sheet mulch. These leaves will be hot composted, since we do not know where they came from or what they might contain. We have already picked out some trash. A hot compost pile will break down almost all chemicals, and kill pathogens. The only common contaminants which a hot compost pile can’t get rid of are heavy metals and certain extremely long lasting herbicides. Heavy metals should not be a problem in leaves. People don’t spray herbicides on their trees. By the time the leaves land on the lawn, there should be very little herbicide present on the surface, and even less would end up in raked leaves. To insure that this reasoning is correct, we will be testing all finished compost before adding it to the garden beds. Compost can be tested simply for quality by planting a few radishes or other inexpensive seeds in it.
We got our first set of professional soil tests back. The cheap home soil test had rather inaccurate results. We will not need to add any nutrients to the soil except nitrogen, since we actually have overabundant levels of many nutrients. The pH is 7.8, which has an advantage. It will bind with any heavy metals which might be present, keeping them from being taken up by plants. The only common heavy metal for which this will not work is arsenic. In a few weeks we should have our heavy metal soil test results back. The high nutrient levels may have been caused by a chemical fertilizer overdose by the previous owner.

Notes from the meeting of October 28th

This meeting was held at our Lakewood farm site. Despite the wet and cold weather, we got a lot of work done. We finished our second hugelkulture. This one was wider, longer, and a bit taller than our first one, and was dug deeper into the ground. This should help it hold more water. In arid climates, hugelkultures are a balancing act. The surface dries out faster than a flat bed. However, the core holds a lot more water than a ordinary flat bed. So, they should be heavily mulched, and contain more core than surface area. One giant mound seven feet high and thirty feet long would work better than many smaller ones. We would need heavy machinery to move that much soil. So we are building them a reasonable size for hand work; about four feet high, with a trench about a foot deep, and a width of five feet. We mulched it with a layer of wood chips, and then a layer of leaves. We also added coffee grounds and manure to the various layers, to add a little nitrogen and improve the water holding capacity.
Leaves are a good top mulch in a desert area; they shed water, which then runs between them and into the soil. Then, due to the waxy nature of the leaf, the water can not easily evaporate into the air again. Wood chips and manure can hold water, but can also slowly release it to the air. So we hope to top all of our sheet mulch beds with leaves eventually.
We are still working on ideas for our sign. It will probably contain our logo. See our Logo here.
At our last meeting, we dug up a short piece of I-beam. So we decided to do a full heavy metal test, as well as our lead test, to find any contamination in the fill on our site. The results of this should be back in a few weeks. Even if there is some heavy metals in the soil, we can continue to use the site, though we may have to adapt in various ways.
We also discussed our focus for the farm site, and came to the conclusion that we should concentrate more on things members would find it difficult to do in their yards; the greenhouse, fruit trees and bushes, rare perennials, animals, aquaponics, seed raising, and staple crops. And we are hoping to schedule various social events—  a traditional blessing of the land for instance, or a potluck dinner in honor of a Saint’s feast day.
We have bought a membership with Seed Savers Exchange. This will enable us to purchase heirloom seeds from their yearbook, which contains more than twelve thousand varieties.

Heirlooms, hybrids, OPs and GMOs

There is some confusion about what all these words actually mean, so I am posting this to clarify things.

”Open Pollenated”, or OP, means that a plant will come “true” from seed; the next generation will look reasonably like the last, so seed can be saved from them. Wild plants are generally this way, as are most traditional plants.
“Heirloom” means that the OP strain in question is about sixty years old. Every heirloom plant was new once.
“Hybrid” means that two OPs were crossed to grow the seed. If a zucchini and a pumpkin were planted next to one another, and the seed was saved, it would almost certainly be hybrid seed; bees would have crossed it. The seed you planted next year would all come up looking alike. If it was better than the originals in some way, the gardener might decide to do it again on purpose. If, however, seeds were saved from the plants grown from the hybrid seed, every resulting plant would be wildly different. Selection over may years could then create a new OP variety which would come true from seed. Most heirlooms were once hybrids. So there is nothing wrong with a hybrid. The problem comes from their modern use. Since nobody else can duplicate a hybrid, companies dropped all their traditional heirloom varieties and switched over to them, thus greatly diminishing vegetable diversity, making famers dependent on bought seed, and setting the stage for disasters similar to the Irish Potato Famine ( at that time there were only two potato varieties in Ireland.) Also, modern varieties of any sort, OPs or hybrids, are suited to modern agriculture, and need large amounts of chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and perfect growing conditions. Heirlooms are better suited to low input methods.

You might be interested to know that apple seeds do not come true, since almost all of them are hybrids. You need two different trees for pollination to occur successfully.

GMO are a whole different matter. They are created by scientists in a Lab, and are dangerous on many different levels. Currently they are used to increase the control of large corporations over the food supply. However, unlike hybrids, which can be used rightly, GMOs have their own inherent risks.

I think that Heirloom varieties should be saved, because they represent the wisdom of the past; that small farmers should breed their own new OPs and hybrids, to adapt to changing conditions and methods, and to bring unique products to market; and that GMOs should be opposed in all situations.

Notes from the meeting of October the 23rd

This meeting was held on our farm site in Lakewood. We continued work on our second hugelkulture, and as usual unearthed more rocks and other stuff. The hugelkulture is now a mound of sticks and small logs. We have been sifting manure and coffee grounds into each layer as we build it, to help trap more water. At the next meeting we will add about three more feet of wood, and then top it off with layers of manure, soil, and wood chips.

We discussed ideas for our sign, and other ideas for future land development. And we got fluorescent tape and reflectors put up around our work area, to warn people and to avoid damage to the beds.

I have been researching hugelkultures a little more, and I have found that in a dry climate, large hugelkultures work better than small ones, since there is a balancing act between the core, which holds more water than a flat bed, and the mound surface, which tends to dry out faster that a flat bed. The small mound has too little core and too much surface area. So we will be building our hugelkultures larger then at first planned.

I have also found that bone char is the best way to supplement our soil’s phosphorus levels. Bone meal, phosphate rock, and soft phosphate tends to be unavailable in this pH, and the manure we are getting may be too leached. It is also a very dilute source. I got some advice from a more experienced permaculture gardener. Here is what he said:

(This comes form the Permies forum, which is a good source of information about various permaculture topics. However, I disagree with many of the philosophical and moral opinions voiced.)

“Phosphorus is a tricky element to work with; if the pH is below 6, it gets fixed by iron and aluminum, if it gets above 7.3, it gets fixed by calcium. However, plants and their beneficial fungi can be persistent and un-fix the phosphorus, perhaps with some acidic or basic root exudates and enzymes, depending on what is needed. It’s unlikely that phosphorus is completely absent from soil, all sorts of critters dropping dead and decomposing provide a fairly constant source from above. The big question is the availability, and that’s where things like bone char can help tremendously. A piece of burnt bone, once colonized by mycorrhizal fungi, can be an oasis of phosphorous in an otherwise phosphorus-fixed landscape.”

So, now I just have to find a source of bone char. We could make it ourselves, and we might do that, a little at a time. However, to get things started, I might buy some, if I can find a source without too much shipping costs involved.

Notes from the meeting of October the 17th

This meeting was held on our farm site in Lakewood.

We got another hugelkulture started at this meeting. At present it is a large half dug hole, with a pile of cut up brush next to it. We hope to finish it next time.

Also, we found it is very hard to build hugelkultures with our current number of members. The amount of ground covered each time is very small with this technique, whereas sheet mulching is faster, letting us compete more beds before Winter sets in. We probably will not build any more of them this autumn unless we can find some more local members. (Our membership is scattered across the Metro area.)

One of the reasons that hugelkulture building is so difficult here is that there are a lot of rocks in the soil, some of them very large. These take a long time to move, with only a small space gained for each. They will, however, be very effective at forming warm microclimates once we get them out.

We could, of course, do sheet mulch beds instead of hugelkultures. However, hugelkultures have a lot of benefits, particularly on this site.

And it would be easier to build hugelkultures at ground level, and pile imported top soil over them. But there is very little high quality top soil in Colorado, it costs money we don’t have, and the beds would probably be more drought prone that way, since roots would be less likely to move below the preexisting surface.

We plan to replace our rather messy temporary sign with something more elegant, especially so the neighbors don’t have to look at a piece of painted plywood against a tree all the time.