Backyard Food Production Complex

Discussion in 'Environmental Discussion' started by CarolinaJim, Jan 16, 2009.

  1. CarolinaJim

    CarolinaJim New Member

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    Growing your own food is probably one of the best things you can do for yourself and for the environment.

    Last summer it talked about buying or building a greenhouse as part of my backyard food production complex. I did and here is a picture.
    [​IMG]
    Of course the idea behind a greenhouse is to grow food all year round but since I don't want to enlarge my pollution signature any more than necessary I am staying away from fossil fuel heating or even wood heat for that matter.

    Having the luxury of living in USDA hardiness zone 8a, I thought I would combine aquaponics with my greenhouse in order to a. construct a significant thermal mass and b. possibly raise some fish.

    The greenhouse and the 250 gallons of water inside are enabling a microclimate which is significant enough to protect a test avocado and taro plant.

    This morning the temperature was 20F, the ambient air temperature in the greenhouse was 25F and the water temperature was 44F.

    By putting my tropicals adjacent to my water barrels and then covering with plastic I achieved the micro climates I was looking for and there, to date, has been no damage to the tropical plants.

    The temperature in the greenhouse right now is near 70 degrees while the outside air temperature is 28F. Therefore, I should get a few degrees of temperature increase in the water through the day. I am hoping for about 50 degrees.

    I am pleased with my prototype system and will take it to the next level, fish farming (bream), worm bin, perhaps a rabbit for fertilizer and a couple of chickens for fertilizer and eggs this spring summer.
     
  2. Rae Vynn

    Rae Vynn Artist In Residence

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    That's awesome, Jim!
    I'm growing wheatgrass in my kitchen... and I plan on growing containers of leafy greens on my porch, as soon as it warms up a bit.
     
  3. SSimon

    SSimon New Member

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    Neato. I've been inspired to try container growing next year and am looking forward to it. You're lucky to have ample sun and space for your get up. In addition to container growing, I'm going to try to supplement my shopping with locally grown produce from farmer's markets next season.

    You mention a bunny for fertilizer. I have a pet bunny and they are very delicate animals that may require a lot of nurturing and care to stay healthy. If they don't eat, they require force feeding or they'll just shut down. They also have delicate skin that if damaged, can infect easily and become life threatening. So if you're just looking for a low maintenance fertilizer, a bunny may not be your best option. They're actually quite a bit of work.
     
  4. CarolinaJim

    CarolinaJim New Member

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    Thanks! Raevynn, what is wheat grass? SSimon, once you get the containers established you should know you can use the little bunny droppings straightaway as fertilizer.

    Here is a great inspiration for both of you and anyone else who may be interested...anybody can do aquaponics...take a look at this video and see where it might fit in your lifestyle.

    http://www.farmfountain.com/ff4mov1.html - sculpture you can eat. Click on the gallery...the video is nice but the gallery might be a better place to start.
     
  5. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    that's bloody brilliant, Jim! I like the temperature regulation via the water barrels. What's the white material that you're using as the cover?
     
  6. CarolinaJim

    CarolinaJim New Member

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    Just plain old 6mil contractor grade plastic I had in my shed.

    Really impressed with the heat storage and ability to keep plants in micro climates from freezing. No lie this AM the whole inside was covered with ice. But the plastic covering the tanks was ice free. By the way the greenhouse topped out at about 75 degrees F today with outdoor ambient temp of 30 degrees F. Water temperature rose from about 44 degrees F to 52 degrees F. Temp is supposed to drop to 16F tonight but...I think everything will be OK.

    But my system is nothing compared to what I stumbled on while looking for aquaponics ideas all year round.

    http://www.farmfountain.com/ff4mov1.html - sculpture you can eat. Click on the gallery...the video is nice but the gallery might be a better place to start.

    Really really worth a look! No excuse for anyone anywhere not to be growing at least a bit of their own food.
     
  7. Rae Vynn

    Rae Vynn Artist In Residence

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    Wheatgrass is young wheat. Just soak and then thickly spread wheat berries on rich compost soil, cover with something until they sprout good, and then let grow until about 7" tall. Mow close to the soil, and throw into green smoothies, or use a special wheatgrass juicer to make wheatgrass juice.

    Very, very healthy. Very cheap nutrition!
     
  8. PriuStorm

    PriuStorm Senior Member

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    Hi Jim... congrats on your success. I think you'll be able to have your worms winter over in your greenhouse quite nicely. Here in Davis, we get close to freezing (32F), and I've managed to keep my worms outside all winter. They do get a little slow in the winter and don't eat as much as they do in the summer (this is my first winter), but it has been a success. I've been worm composting for 2 years now.

    By the way, quick question on the greenhouse... do you have some way to ventilate it in the summer other than the door (i.e. throughflow)?
     
  9. CarolinaJim

    CarolinaJim New Member

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    Thanks PriuStorm,

    Appreciate the words on the worms.

    As for ventilation, you're correct simply open up both ends.

    I'm also thinking of adding interior grapevines and exterior plantings like figs to shade the greenhouse in the summer.
     
  10. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    Jim,

    If temps become a problem, I wonder if you could rig some kinda batch water heating system. Sounds like your water temps are steadily moving up. Are you recording the daily OAT and water barrel temps? Will the figs handle that kinda cold? I thought they weren't up to temps below 20 deg F.
     
  11. hyo silver

    hyo silver Awaaaaay

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    Those are encouraging results, Jim. Keep it up! Please show us some pictures of the produce.

    I had rabbits as pets for years, and they weren't onerous. They need a protected place outside to hop around and nibble, in addition to a good sized hutch. The fertiliser is indeed excellent - gave us the nicest roses we ever had.

    Worms would likely be very content and productive in the steady temperature of the greenhouse. As long as they have somewhere deeper and cooler to worm to in the summer, they should be fine.
     
  12. CarolinaJim

    CarolinaJim New Member

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    Tripp, Acutally 10 deg F is the bottom for figs according to Figs That just supports the empirical data of the 30 or 40 year old Turkey fig which is on my parents place. Nice spreading productive tree about 15 ft tall.

    I already have the figs, I just need to move them once I get my greenhouse into its final position and off the test site (complaint from the household CEO).

    I monitored temps over this cold spell. The water temperature swung from just above freezing yesterday morning to about 50 degrees by the end of the day. That is without any insulation on the north wall. By adding some insulation to the north wall I suppose I'll be able to keep the water at just above freezing to maybe 40 deg F when the temp dips to 16 deg F like it did last night.

    My goal is just to develop a system which allows me to have some tropical plants in my complex. I don't need them to flourish in the winter I am just looking for a sustainable system which will allow survival.

    HyoSilver asked for some pictures of the produce in a post after yours.

    Below are pictures of the most important plants within the system right now which most dramatically demonstrates the success I am having. The plant to the left (dark green leaves) is commonly called elephant ear when folks are just using a variety for an ornamental (and usually inedible) plant. This plant is actually edible taro. It actually, like the avocado, has produced additional leaves.

    The plant to the right is an avocado grown from seed. (just so you know a seed grown avocado usually doesn't produce avocados ... for at least 10 years)

    And if you look at the lower right you'll see a blooming petunia.

    Anyways both of these plants came from my compost pile as volunteers so, I decided to use them in my experiment. The plants are covered each night with additional layers of plastic.



    [​IMG]

    I do have other plants in my greenhouse planted in the ground which one would normally expect to find growing in the winter in a cold frame in this region. Cilantro, collards, mesclun, chinese cabbage, green onions, brocolli (no heads yet), rutabaga (doing well still young).

    All in all I am pleased with this system. My goal was to determine if by using just water I could create protection for the tropicals. That is achieved. (Plus I get the added bonus of trying out aquaponics)

    Want to try something similar on a smaller scale? Try this one. A milk jug cold frame...good twist on old concepts. Baby lettuce...doing alright.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    Oh yea...and what garden complex would be complete without a compost bin...here is one I made out of an old trash bin...nice because it is on wheels. Lots of 1/2 inch holes.
    [​IMG]
     
  13. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    Brilliant mate. That's good stuff. It's great to see what can be achieved with some ingenuity and basic materials. It would been to be a bit more robust to reliably survive up here, but that doesn't take anything away from what you've done. How long to you plan to continue recording temperature data?
     
  14. Godiva

    Godiva AmeriKan Citizen

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    Have you tried covering them with black plastic instead of clear? You might get a few more degrees heat that way.
     
  15. CarolinaJim

    CarolinaJim New Member

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    Tripp, I lived in Nebraska and South Dakota for a bit during my military career. Yep...it is darned cold this time of year.

    Nice to be back in zone 8a.

    You are right. I think the growing food all year round is certainly a local climate driven issue. But, if you took a look at the farm fountain site in one of my earlier post you'll find that anyone can grow food all year round...heck...I'm sure that there has been a drug bust in Denver after someone found out folks were growing marijuana in the garage or basement. Growing a bit of one's own food is simply a matter of deciding to allocate resources or not.

    I checked the temp this AM. Was about 40 deg OAT and the same in the greenhouse and the same with the water. I'll keep monitoring the temps when we hit high and low extremes.

    After I move my greenhouse and align it perpedicular to the north south line I plan to line the back (north wall) with styrofoam board...the blue stuff. In front of that will be a line of tanks aligned east to west. I'll be using a simple recirulation system for the aquaponics part of this complex.

    If interested, here is a link to urban aquaponics...The Urban Aquaculture Manual

    Very low input with their systems. This system utilizes an airlift pump which is powered by a 4 watt aquarium air pump.
     
  16. PriuStorm

    PriuStorm Senior Member

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    Hey Jim,
    I came to remember a story I read about a guy who made his own solar collector to supplement the heating to his house. He lives in Nova Scotia so is used to seeing really cold temps. As I recall, it wasn't that expensive a set-up, and since you enjoyed making your greenhouse, you might enjoy making one of these to help increase your inside ambient temperature in the greenhouse.

    I couldn't locate the original article written up by Wayne Langille, but here's his detailed instructions on how to build:
    atlanticenergy.ca > projects > Wayne Langille - Solar Air Collectors
    and here's some pics of them on his house
    Solar Home Inventory

    Speaking about garden and compost corners, I took a picture of my compost corner which has evolved to be quite useful and productive. It's just a 'stitching' of a number of pics, so forgive the uneven edges, but because it's a blind corner and I don't have a fisheye lens, it was the only way I could think of to show it.

    [​IMG]

    On the right are my worms... I started with the bin on the ground but then graduated to the big rotary tumbler. Why use the tumbler for worms? I never was successful creating compost in the tumbler, so it's just easier to keep the worms in there at waist height. I do still use the bin on the ground, but may donate it to someone this year after I harvest the castings. The cover is to keep out excess rain, which I discovered will leak into it through the door hatch and disturb the moisture balance inside. You can see my cuttingboards hanging, which I use on the table on the right to chop up my waste into little bits.

    On the left I have two bins with lids. The bin closest to where I am taking the picture from is for food stuffs that I don't feed the worms... stuff like citrus peels, onion, garlic, etc. And also other stuff that the worms take a really long time to go through, like avocado peels, corn husks (after they've cleaned out all the remaining corn bits from eating), fruit that's too rotten or wet, etc. It's not often the worms can't keep up, but if I have too much for the worms, I put it in here, too. To discourage flies when there is a lot of fruit, I just add some of the other compost to cover the food stuff, which also helps to aid the composting.

    The further bin is for finished compost. Just barely under the rotary tumbler you can see my screen. I sift the big pile either into the wheelbarrow or into the bin for storage for future use, so at any given time I usually have some compost.

    The back corner is reserved for the garden waste pile, which now I have enough room to turn it back and forth and also create a new pile (you can see the startings of one on the right). I don't put any food stuffs in here, except for coffee grinds. I was so pleased to get this corner done... got the pallets free from a friend, got the chicken wire free off freecycle, then just stapled them on. The pallets keep the pile nicely contained and off the fence. I realize the pallets will rot and stuff, but they seem pretty easy to come by. I was originally going to build a big bin like I've seen others use, but it's just so much easier to leave it in a pile and be able to freely turn it back and forth.

    Here's the rewards of my efforts, a nice wheelbarrow of finished compost I sifted the other day.

    [​IMG]

    Congrats on your broccoli progress... I'm in the midst of enjoying broccoli and lettuce right now, which we are fortunate to be able to grow outside at this time of the year.

    Oops, now I added links which I can't seem to remove. Anyway, another question for you... Why perpendicular to north-south? That means the side walls face north and south, right?

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  17. CarolinaJim

    CarolinaJim New Member

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    Very cool. Nice compost production area. Looks like a great use of space!

    I was just looking at red wiggler worms for my future worm bin.

    As for positioning the greenhouse, I mean the door will face east...:)

    Godiva, I may incorporate your black idea into the future. You're a verm mom, right.

    I like the rotary worm bin concept that Priustorm uses how do you like the system you use?

    I'm leaning toward making my own bin using plastic bins.
     
  18. PriuStorm

    PriuStorm Senior Member

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    That's how I got started (just make a home for the worms out of a plastic bin). I actually had the plastic bin inside for almost a year but then decided to see if they would do ok outside. Here you can see it better under the tumbler (btw, I got that free from a neighbor/friend, too, because they couldn't make compost with it either).

    [​IMG]

    I gave it a bit of an earthen berm for insulation. Here's a peek inside the bin. I'm a little low on newspaper bedding, but you can see the airholes drilled in the top.

    [​IMG]

    And the happy worms in their castings

    [​IMG]
     
  19. PriuStorm

    PriuStorm Senior Member

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    So, just to clarify... is the door supposed to face east? I was thinking of getting/making a greenhouse, too, but it would fit better if the door faced south. Is that not good?
     
  20. CarolinaJim

    CarolinaJim New Member

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    Sorry for the confusion.

    The greenhouse can be oriented anyway a person desires. I am just going to reorient mine since I have been directed to move it:rolleyes:. Setting it perpendicular to the north south line is supposed to maximize solar gain.

    What type of greenhouse are you considering?

    As for worms what is a good amount to start with and does anyone have a recommended source for earthworms (red wigglers)?
     
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