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Thread: Greenhouse Update

  1. #36
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Thanks for the update, and for bringing this thread back to the top.
    "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken." (stolen from TomF )

  2. #37
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Oops— I didn't post a pic of the solar hot water collector. Here 'tis, with the scaffolding still in place:



    Got it salvage, for cheap, hauled it home and cleaned it up. Works fine.

  3. #38
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    If I put something like that up, the Zoning Police would haul me away forever.

  4. #39
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Looking good, you are very ambitious. Be well my friend.
    "para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también" (for everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, as well.)

  5. #40
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Quote Originally Posted by Donn View Post
    If I put something like that up, the Zoning Police would haul me away forever.
    Not much zoning pressure in rural Wyoming. On the other hand, some oil, gas, pipeline, or power transmission company can bulldoze a road into our land and do whatever the hell they want. That is, property rights seem to increase towards the high end. So I keep my fingers crossed, and hope for the best.

    (Hey, Bobster– I'm sending you a virtual ripe tomato.)

  6. #41
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Not to be nosy or anything, but approximately what do you have into that set up?

  7. #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mrleft8 View Post
    Not to be nosy or anything, but approximately what do you have into that set up?
    Don't know. I kept the receipts but haven't added them up. I hired an excavator to level the site and dig out the foundation, about $600. The biggest single cost was the polycarbonate sheathing, which was about $3500, I think. We borrowed a mixer and poured the footers with buckets and sweat. Did the backfilling by hand. The lumber for the frame was about half salvaged. I hired a contractor mate and his power tools to help frame it, about $750.00. Other than that I did the work myself. So there was a steady outward trickle for paint, brushes, pumps, PEX tubing, cable, boxes, pavers, etc. etc. And uncounted hours.

    All told, I reckon it cost about a third of what it would if I'd had someone else do it.

    The best part was to have a design goal, to build a small greenhouse that would collect and store enough energy, self-ventilate, and otherwise maintain good growing conditions in our savage climate, yearround. And to work out how to accomplish that, in my own imperfect, haphazard way.
    Last edited by Chip-skiff; 10-21-2011 at 09:45 PM.

  8. #43
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Quote Originally Posted by BarnacleGrim View Post
    A greenhouse is on my wishlist as well, but so far down it may well never get done.
    Same here. Funny, I never wanted one when I lived in the Heart of Dixie.
    Last edited by Paul Pless; 10-22-2011 at 08:33 AM.
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

  9. #44
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Certainly seems very cost efficient, and an excellent investment.

  10. #45
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    It turned out very nice. If I lived up North, the cost wouldn't matter. Just to be able to do Spring/Summer chores and to avoid being cabin bound would be worth it's weight in gold, I would think.

  11. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by pipefitter View Post
    It turned out very nice. If I lived up North, the cost wouldn't matter. Just to be able to do Spring/Summer chores and to avoid being cabin bound would be worth it's weight in gold, I would think.
    I've not kept track of produce prices, since we don't buy hardly any these days, but I'd guess we save $40-60 per month. The cost might be paid off in my lifetime, which fresh vegs are said to extend— not a bad way to consider it.

    The real kick of pleasure, though, is to go into the greenhouse on a crackling, frosty morning, and it's warm and moist. I wipe the mist off my spectacles to go over and pick a small, juicy, ripe tomato and eat it right there. That's worth millions.

  12. #47
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    thx for the thread

  13. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeeG View Post
    thx for the thread
    Agreed. I missed this the first time, but what an amazing project! Congratulations on your hard work and the resulting good fortune!

    -M

  14. #49
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Thanks— stop by and have a tomato sometime.

    Still learning to run it. In good sun, the solar collector adds about 25°F to the fluid in the closed loop, i.e. 95° fluid returns at 120°. Passing through the coils, the fluid (1/2 glycol, 1/2 distilled water) gives up most of that and comes out a few degrees warmer than the water in the heatsink (400 gallons of plain water). Since the warmer the water in the heatsink gets, the warmer the return water to the collector is, with 20-25° degrees added each time around, things could get out of hand. But I could cover part of the collector pretty easily. So it's not like a runaway nuclear reactor.

    I've been storing heat, with the floor circulation pump off, and when the sun set today the heatsink water registered 95°. During the night, the circulation pump transfers 5-10° to the thermal mass of the floor— I've got a soil thermometer poked in the center bed. It registered 55° before I started pumping and I've had it up to 65°. Most of the plants are in containers, so the floor temp can be a bit warmer than roots like. But not too much. With the pump shut off and a nice sunny day, the floor temp was about 60°.

    Outdoors it's 27° and falling. Probably about 20° by dawn. I'm guessing that the floor will be about 65° tomorrow morning and the air temp inside about 50°. That is, the thing works.



    Fun with applied physics. . .
    Last edited by Chip-skiff; 10-24-2011 at 12:47 AM.

  15. #50
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    I'm not trying to be horrid or anything, but, I could not imagine living in a climate that would require anything like that to grow veges in winter. It is a wonderfully imaginative project to design and build. Here where I live you just wack up a simple poly tunnel and grow.

  16. #51
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    Yes, down by the sea here we don't even get frosts and a simple poly clad structure with shelves made from salvaged bed frames suffices. Keeps the wallabies and rabbits out too. Second planting of beans, lettuce and tomatoes today. Also Pumpkin and more Zucchini seedlings. Harvested red cauliflower and broccolini for dinner tonight.

  17. #52
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Actually, the PEX coils (about 100-120 ft.) in the big heatsink transfer most of the collected heat. The return line registers about 3° higher than the water in the tank, so 22° of the 25° gain is being transferred. And having a single length of tubing is pretty well leakproof and trouble free, and also cheap and easy.

    Build your own greenhouse, and we'll drag race. . .

  18. #53
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    No frosts? Lucky you. We tend to have sunny days and extremely cold nights— the wide temperature range is pretty hard on plants.

    I planted and tended a garden in NZ, South Island so it did frost a few times each winter. The big problem was the constant damp. But once things got going, they grew like mad, in the volcanic soil around Lyttelton Harbour, which is fertile where it hasn't been sheep-blasted.

    In any event, the active/passive heating system got its first test, with a two day snowstorm followed by a clear night at 3°F /-15°C. Looks pretty well frozen, right?



    Snow on the roof, thick frost on the solar collector. But inside it was nice, considering—



    48°F inside and 78° water in the heatsink (after being circulated through the floor for two days without any additional solar heat). I used two of the three ceiling-mounted radiant heat elements (500 watts each) during the coldest part of the night, which put the air temp into the 50s.



    The strawberries are just revving up, a new crop of lettuce is coming on, and I reckon we'll get another 2-3 weeks of pole beans and ripe tomatoes. I might start some Siberian tomatoes (heirloom variety suited to windowsill growing) and try a winter crop.

  19. #54
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    Mid-November and the tomatoes are loving it!



    Just picked a bunch today for salsa, with a handful of hot Hungarian wax peppers, cilantro, and parsley. The fist-size ones are Johnny's 361, a hybrid sauce tomato. The medium ones are Juliet and the smallest are Siberian and Roma types.

    Feeling madly optimistic, I started a container of basil and it's looking wonderful. Also Siberian tomatoes for a winter crop, with a couple cucumbers as well. The combination of solar heat storage, both passive and active, in tanks of water and radiant ceiling heat (I added a thermostat) is working so far. Some plants looked light-starved, so I wired in a few full-spectrum bulbs on a timer.

    Time to relax and enjoy. No more tinkering for a month or so. I'm happy.

  20. #55
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Very good, Seems like all that work is paying off.
    "para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también" (for everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, as well.)

  21. #56
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    I hate you.

    I couldn't even get tomatoes like that outside this "summer".....

  22. #57
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mrleft8 View Post
    I couldn't even get tomatoes like that outside this "summer".....
    Well.....

  23. #58
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    Quote Originally Posted by Concordia...41 View Post
    Well.....
    You do know that tomatoes grow on vines....Not in a styrofoam box in the vegetable section of the St. Frozenstine Wal~Mart....Right Boss?

  24. #59
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mrleft8 View Post
    You do know that tomatoes grow on vines....Not in a styrofoam box in the vegetable section of the St. Frozenstine Wal~Mart....Right Boss?
    Yes dear. I know tomatoes grow - I'd say more of a plant than a vine - but however they grow, they grow better where it's WARM

    Hence, this whole elaborate to-die-for (if I lived some place it snowed) greenhouse

  25. #60
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    nicely done! when will the salsa be ready?
    Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business.
    TOM ROBBINS, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues



  26. #61
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    Made it yesterday. Pretty good, I reckon. It's in a big stainless bowl in the fridge, 'til I decide whether to add more hot peppers. Seems like it takes a couple days for the full flavor to develop.

    The Wolf Goddess is going to visit her Alpha Mom, and wants to take tomatoes. So I'm nearly wiped out of ripe ones for now.

  27. #62
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    Last day of November, and even with some sub-zero nights and snowy days, the wee jungle is thriving.

    The flat-plate collector is yielding 120°-130°F for around six hours per day. The pressure in the closed loop seldom goes above 10 psi— pretty safe working conditions.



    The collector is angled for maximum efficiency at the lowest sun angle, which occurs in a few weeks. On sunny days when the nighttime lows are not too severe (mid-20s or above) I let the passive heatsinks and the electric radiants keep things nice, and bank the day's heat in the big subfloor tank. Right now there's 400 gallons of water at 96°, and it should be at least 2-3° warmer by day's end. With the floor circulation off, the soil temp is 55°. The forecast is for snow tonight, then high winds and more snow 'til Friday, so I'll turn on the AC circulation pump and send that nice, warm water into the floor, which has about 330 cu. ft. of compact sand, soil, and pavers. With the roots kept warm and the thermal mass of the floor radiating heat, the plants seem to be under no stress whatsoever.

    Didn't like leaving the ceiling radiant heaters on all night, so I added a waterproof thermostat, which keeps the air temp above 45° and saves quite a lot of power. The plants were looking a bit light-hungry, so I also added four 55 watt full-spectrum spring lamps.



    They're on a timer, to go on a couple hours before sunrise, then again for three hours after sunset. The only part I'm not keen on is having what looks like a big lightbulb out back. There are no street lamps nearby and no yard lights except when the weird neighbors spend the weekend, so I'm not used to it.



    The white dot on the horizon is not the moon, but only a reflection on the lens. After a week of supplementary light, the plants are definitely greener and also flowering.

    This is a mini-eggplant that already produced a nice yield:



    And the basil is sprouting like mad.



    Also tomato and cuke seedlings for a midwinter crop. It really is fun learning to run this thing, and having the big solar electric system done, I don't feel so bad about using the electric radiant heaters or the grow lights, since we're generating the power.

  28. #63
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    looking at single digits tomorrow night, but it looks like it shouldn't be a problem for you. You have me thinking on how to keep my shop warm in the winter in the same manner rather than wood stove (lots of wood, slow to warm) or electricity (kids broke my good baseboard heater) or kerosene, like a kick in the wallet.

    cool project.
    Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business.
    TOM ROBBINS, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues



  29. #64
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    From the pics you posted of your shop, the floor's a concrete slab, so radiant floor heat isn't a possibility. But you could score a couple used flat-plate water collectors (lots on CraigsList) and set a big livestock water tank under your workbench— no insulation, but a top cover is necessary. The tank is the radiator. Since you get freezing temps there, you'd need to do a closed loop with a glycol solution and PEX coils in the tank. I'd use a DC pump hooked to a PV panel, so it'll pump even when your line power is out. I used a Laing EcoCirc D5 090 B pump, with a check valve:


    The check valve makes it easier to charge the closed loop. (Note: one reason for doing a closed loop is that pressure head isn't an issue, so a very small pump can handle the circulation.)

    I'd also build some sort of hot air collection thingie for daytime space heating. This is my next project, to help heat the house, and I'll add a 10 watt PV panel and a DC computer fan to boost the airflow.




    The hot-air collector should give you warmth on sunny days and the hot water system will keep the shop from freezing at night.
    Last edited by Chip-skiff; 12-01-2011 at 12:36 AM.

  30. #65
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    Fascinating thread.

  31. #66
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    It really is fascinating... And an indication that the global food shortage.... Umm....... The fears of a global food shortage are perhaps more of a lack of foresight than an inevitability...
    I certainly am extremely impressed with your project Chip!

  32. #67
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    Thanks for the encouragement. I've always had to fix up places built by others— the greenhouse is the first structure I've been able to build from scratch. It'd be fun to build a house on similar principles, but I don't think I'll have the chance.

  33. #68
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    Default Re: Greenhouse Update

    thanks for the sketch, lots of head scratching this winter to come up with a new heating plan and this helps a great deal.
    Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business.
    TOM ROBBINS, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues



  34. #69
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    We have to get together for a sail next summer. Good time to compare notes.

  35. #70
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    Might as well post an update. In December there were nights around -20°F and the breaker panel didn't have enough capacity to use a big electric heater , so I bought a little propane heater and ran the hose in through a port I built to pass a water hose inside.



    Good thing I did: the temps went down to around -30°F. The multi-wall polycarbonate sheathing insulates well enough that the low setting kept the air temp around 40°F all night. So we made pesto and fresh salsa (with our own hot peppers) for Christmas.



    The cukes and beans were pretty worn out— they'd been bearing for six months— so I took them out and cleared the center bed. Also planted tomatoes in a flat, all Russian and Eastern European heirlooms with names like Kotlas and Stupich. The old tomatoes are still bearing and the new ones are about 6-8 inches high. Took this on a planting day.



    The black pot foreground is a Katrina cucumber that was looking sad, so I started a couple of a different variety (Socrates) to replace it. The sage-green plants lower right are mini-eggplant, blooming like crazy and starting to set a second batch of fruit. Aphids attacked so I brushed off with a natural bristle paintbrush left over from boatbuilding, and then carpet-bombed 'em with ladybugs.

    The shelves along the passive heatsinks stay a bit warmer so I keep the tender stuff there: (front to back) chervil, tomato seedlings, basil, and flat-leaf parsley.



    I stockpile containers with soil for the next round of planting.

    With the tangle of beans and cukes gone, there's more light. I planted the center bed with salad and cooking stuff: chives, arugula/rocquette, baby lettuce mix, spinach, Japanese radish, purple scallions, and tetragonia (NZ spinach).



    The red oakleaf lettuce lower right has been picked for a couple weeks. Leaf lettuce regrows if you don't hit it too hard. The strawberries (Seascape, from Johnny's Select Seeds) are doing well in hanging pots.



    Most of the bare root plants I ordered died, but I saved three and two of those threw out long runners this fall. I clipped the leaf clusters and planted them, so now I have nine pots growing, with the three oldest bearing nicely and the others starting to flower.

    Summed up, the passive heat storage (thermal mass of the insulated foundation and floor, plus four 75-gallon water tanks) will keep it above freezing with nights about -10°F. The three radiant heaters on the ceiling (3 x 500 watts) on a thermostat handle things down to zero. The active solar heat (flat-plate collector, pump, 400 gallon heatsink under the floor) keeps the soil temps about 55°F and radiates enough heat that the radiants don't come on that much until it gets really cold. Below -10° I light the propane heater, in part because at that temperature a power failure (no radiants, no floor pump) could cause serious hurt.

    I enjoyed designing and building it, and learning to run it is likewise absorbing. Nice to have fresh vegs right out back, all year round.

    Thanks for the comments—

    Chip

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