Medieval Greenhouse On The Prairie
Nighthawk Bear takes us through his geothermal timber frame greenhouse build.
Building a Wyoming Geothermal Timber Frame Greenhouse
Welcome to the MOST difficult building project I’ve ever done. This is the beginning of what will soon be a Geothermal Timber Frame Greenhouse. Once it’s completed, I will be able to grow citrus and jungle plants in Wyoming. Who knows, I may even breed jungle panthers! All that’s needed is a stabile temperature around 50 degrees in the winter, and the right soil conditions (also maybe kevlar clothing if the panthers get frisky). I am currently focused on the structure and the temperature systems. I’ll try to explain why I’m doing this crazy thing, and how it will be accomplished.
I enjoy drinking lemon water in the morning, as it’s a great way to keep my body alkaline. It occurred to me that I could get citrus with far better quality if I grew it myself. Also, I want to help my family become less dependent upon grocery stores and long supply chains. In order to grow food year round, I would need a strong, climate controlled structure. I’ve held a fascination with medieval timber construction, and have also been inspired to build something like an old English garden greenhouse. It has been a grueling learning process, but my purpose is what keeps me motivated. A geothermal greenhouse will provide a well appreciated stable food supply even in the cold months.
Inspiration Precedes Perspiration
So how did I learn growing citrus in Wyoming was even theoretically possible? Once I heard of a man who inherited some land about 5,000 feet above sea level in the Austrian Alps named Sepp Holzer. He used permaculture in such a way that he was able to grow citrus trees in the mountains. Holzer, developed an understanding of the ecosystem and learned to mimic nature to help the land produce fruit. Unlike the Alps, nothing much grows on the plains. Grass doesn’t even grow here very well. It’s very dry where I live. When the clouds do bring moisture, it’s in the form of snow and -15degree temperatures. However, we do have a lot of sunshine. This is the number one ingredient in Florida oranges, if the commercials are correct. So instead of complaining about not being able to grow things easily, I took an extreme right turn and decided to create a way to grow just about anything.
Prepare the Battlefield
The first obstacle to building the greenhouse was the terrain. We live on a hill and needed to dig into the side of it in order to create a level area for the greenhouse. In doing this, we create about a 10ft earth wall at one end of the greenhouse. The earth will be lined with black rubber sheeting that will absorb the heat from the sun and warm the earth behind it. The stored heat will warm the greenhouse during the cold nights.
Additionally, I dug a 175ft long trench at a depth of 8ft. In the bottom of the trench I buried three corrugated plastic tubes that will be used to circulate air. The air at 8ft below the surface has a stable temperature at about 54 degrees Fahrenheit. This air will help warm the greenhouse in the winter, and cool it in the summer. For good measure, I also plan to circulate air between two layers of plastic sheeting. The constant airflow will warm the walls facing the freezing outside temperatures. With these systems combined, I hope to keep the temperature inside the greenhouse at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit even when the windchill outside is -20degrees F.
Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome
Normally, when you build a timber frame structure, you get the correct size timber from a mill. However, I don’t have such a timber mill nearby. From day one, I was inventing ways to combine found materials to fulfill my timber needs. By the grace of God, my neighbor never throws away anything. I literally used a baby boomer’s scraps to build this project. Working day and night, I glued, bolted, and strapped boards together. Then, after the glue dried, I fired up the chainsaw and carefully rip-cut the new beams down to make my own 6×8’s.
There is still much work to do. I have finally finished measuring, cutting, and assembling the timber structure. This was the bulk of the heavy labor.
The video linked in this article will describe a little more in detail what I have done so far. I hope this will inspire you to grow and build your way out of Babylon. You don’t need to go to the extreme lengths that I have. Just build your families and communities. Shorten your supply chains every chance you get. Work to get out of debt. These are all primary goals I hope we all will accomplish and make a reality in our lives. If we continue to focus on these, we will begin to see a level of prosperity outside the system that will bless those around us for generations.
This is OUR new age. We’re not talking yoga mats, man buns, and trying to channel Elvis. Our new age is full of family, friends, love, faith, and hope. Onward.
Homesteaders Past and Future
I’m the 5th generation to live and work the land; my nieces and nephews are the 6th. This is a fantastic thing to witness because each generation is changing and adapting in its own way. But at the same time are walking and connecting to the same land as those who come before. We are constantly building for the generations to come and learning from the generations past.
There seems to be a movement to get back to homesteading in the last few years. More and more people are interested in returning to the land where they can grow their own food. And create an alternative lifestyle closer to nature.
So, what is a homestead and homesteading? A homestead is a home in the country where the land is used for agriculture. The land will have a dwelling or farmhouse and outbuildings or barns. In the past, the homestead was seen as the ancestral home, but there are also 1st generation homesteads. Homesteading is the act of using the homestead to meet some or all of a family’s needs. It can include food preservation, gardens, livestock, fiber production, logging, beekeeping, etc. But overall, it is about living on and working the land.
History of Homesteading in the US
Homesteading has a long history in the United States. Most of the first European settlers would have been homesteaders. On May 20, 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the first Homestead Act. Laws were added throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, like the 1930s Subsistence Homesteads under the New Deal. These laws gave public land away free to US citizens. According to the National Park Service, around 270 million acres total, or 10% of the area of the US, were given to homesteaders. This land was provided with the stipulation that the homesteader had to live, farm, and improve the land. The Homestead Acts ended in 1976 with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Homesteading now is more of a movement and lifestyle.
Modern homesteading is seen as a lifestyle where the goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible and get back to the basics. Many homesteaders are looking for an alternative to modern city life and connecting to nature. Grocery stores are fantastic, but sometimes they cause us to disconnect from where and how our food is produced. Homesteading has the ability to give this knowledge back in a hands-on way.
Part of the homesteading lifestyle is learning and passing down skills. With many moving back to the homestead, these skills have been forgotten and need to be relearned. Gardening and butchering a chicken, for example, are skills that take practice and research to master. Some of these skills, like food preservation or mending clothes, are excellent homesteading skills to learn before moving to a homestead. Once a family is on a homestead, these skills are more straightforward to learn if passed down through the generation. While learning these skills, you become more connected to your ancestors and greatly appreciate their values.
There is no standard modern homestead; each one looks and runs differently. Some might only focus on fruit trees and laying hens. While others live off-grid and eat only food, they produce. Others might concentrate on fiber production and food preservation. There is even an urban homesteading or urban agriculture movement, where you do what you can where you at. Many times, starting small and building is the key to a successful homestead. Lean a few skills, then grow a small garden and raise a few laying hens might lead to a move to the country. Remember that every homestead looks different, and the journey takes time.
In the past, homesteads were off the grid with no power. Now, most homesteads are grid-tied and/or use alternative energy. Modern homesteading can be stylish and still have technological conveniences. Everyone is different, some may make coffee on a wood stove, and others may have a coffee machine. The same goes for homestead work or income. Some might need a job off the homestead (full-time or part-time) or need to produce extra goods to sell. But the modern homesteader is constantly adapting and changing to make it work.
So, why is homesteading vital to me?
Homesteading allows me to connect to my ancestor by performing similar tasks and having similar experiences. I get to plant the tomatoes in the same place my great-grandparents did and walk some of the same fence lines. Some of the fruit I eat is from a tree planted before I was born. The land and skills passed down through many generations have significant meaning. I’m the 5th generation to live and work the land; my nieces and nephews are the 6th. This is a fantastic thing to witness because each generation is changing and adapting in its own way. But at the same time are walking and connecting to the same land as those who come before. We are constantly building for the generations to come and learning from the generations past.
Tiffany Jones can be reached for more information on The Beartaria Times App as Farming Artist or Instagram as farmingartist13. Her family farm is Moonlit Farm and can be found at jonesmoonlitfarm.com. The 2022 MidWest BearFest is to be held at the Jones’ homestead from September 30 – October 2 if you wish to see the farm.
By: Tiffany Jones
From Kitchen Cuttings To A Garden
Anyone can grow these very simple roots. More importantly, what would we do without them?
It cannot be said enough that “hard times are ‘a comin’”, and it’s now more important than ever to acquire both food and the ability to reproduce it. Many people’s minds turn towards gardening when this notion hits them, and at the outset they think; “Oh! I’ll grow tomatoes!” But the season for growing tomatoes is very short in most places, and you can’t very well depend on them. Enter the root crops.
“The Latin writers have only treated of this plant in a cursory manner, while those of Greece have considered it a little more attentively; though even they have ranked it among the garden plants. If, however, a methodical arrangement is to be strictly observed, it should be spoken of immediately after corn, or the bean, at all events; for next to these two productions, there is no plant that is of more extensive use. For, in the first place, all animals will feed upon it as it grows; and it is far from being the least nutritious plant in the fields for various kinds of birds, when boiled in water more particularly. Cattle, too, are remarkably fond of the leaves of rape; and the stalks and leaves, when in season, are no less esteemed as a food for man than the sprouts of the cabbage; these, too, when turned yellow and left to die in the barn, are even more highly esteemed than when green. As to the rape [turnip] itself, it will keep all the better if left in its mould, after which it should be dried in the open air till the next crop is nearly ripe, as a resource in case of scarcity. Next to those of the grape and corn, this is the most profitable harvest of all for the countries that lie beyond the Padus.”
-Pliny the Elder on the turnip rape, Natural History, Chapter 34
Turnips, carrots, garlic, onions—root crops, all of them—are essential ingredients to our everyday diet. But perhaps most important of all: they are easy to grow, and they can be grown in multiple seasons. Anyone can grow these very simple roots. More importantly, what would we do without them? Sure, a survivalist might be able to hunt a decent amount of table meat from a successful outing, but isn’t it also necessary to have some garlic to rub into the steaks?
But even more importantly is the fact that these crops are extremely easy to acquire. Here, in the First World of the 2020s, we have grocery stores. And there, we find ourselves purchasing bundles of green onions, garlic bulbs, bags of carrots, and so on. Yet, these grocery store foods have the ability to serve more than one purpose. True, we can cut them up and eat them. But also, we can take discarded cuttings from these foods and plant them.
For example, should you purchase a bundle of green onions in the grocery store, and you use the green stalks but plan to discard the rooted ends—don’t. Keep those little white bulb ends. As you can see, they have small root systems hanging from them. Instead, take the ends of those green onions and plant them. They will take root in soil and sprout up naturally in prepared soil. If you have a whole onion, you can cut off the rooted end of it and put it in a dish of water. The dry roots will come to life, drink in the water, and within a couple of weeks you will have green stalks sprouting out of that “onion cap,” and it will be ready to put in the earth.
If you bought some carrots, and there’s a bit of green at the head of the carrots, cut those carrot heads off, put them in a dish of water, and watch the carrot return to life. You can plant the carrot in soil after it revives, and you’ll be able to harvest fresh seeds from its stalk in the next season. Harvesting seeds from these plants is very important at this time, as most store-bought seeds have been on the shelves for a very long time, and they might not be as successful as you’d like.
Have potatoes growing “eyes” on them? Divide those potatoes up with a knife, plant them, and gather a few bundles. Aged potatoes can be a treasure. Do you have some spare garlic rolling around in your food stores? Plant them root down into your backyard’s soil, and let them grow for a couple of seasons. Heck, you can even salvage unused portions of a celery stalk or cabbage in this fashion. Salvaging kitchen scraps can quickly fill up your empty garden space if you can’t find any seeds.
Is the weather getting chilly? Well, another very useful thing about these particular plants is the fact that they are capable of growing in colder weather. They are biologically designed to survive and even thrive in the spring and fall. They don’t always do too well in the scorching summertime. “Kitchen-cuttings” root crops like these are very useful, in the fact that they can be grown in at least three of our seasons. If the winter is mild, even four seasons.
In fact, if it is winter time, and you have crops of onion, garlic, or carrots in the ground, you can protect them from extensive frost damage by putting those fall leaves to use and surrounding the leaves of the plants, shielding them from weather that would potentially kill the crop. By doing this, by having your root crop in the ground through the winter, though it’s true it will not grow much with its leaves, the root system underneath will continue to proliferate. Of course, if the winter is utterly terrible, you might not have such luck. But it is possible to succeed even through the darkest of the four seasons.
With scarcity on the rise, and a tremendous need for frugality, thrift, and resourcefulness, it would do everyone a world of good to acquire some of these rudimentary gardening skills, utilize that backyard, or if necessary, even launch into a guerrilla gardening campaign. There is a lot of dirt available out there that’s simply not being used, and a lot of these small roots we eat don’t require much space at all. With things going the way they are now, it’s crucial we get some food systems going, pronto—which means it would do us good to utilize every method for getting a crop going as we can.
I’ve been a gardener all of my life to one degree or another, here in eastern Oklahoma.
I run the Trad Catholic blog known as The Forge and Anvil, and before that I was known for running The Hirsch Files. I’ve been linked to by Ann Barnhardt, OnePeterFive, Canon212, Vox Clamantis, and others. I’ve been published on sites such as Men of the West, Culture Wars, and Stares At the World. I wrote the introduction to Vox Day’s Innocence and Intellect. I currently have an e-book titled Let There Be Signs: 2017, and under the pseudonym Jack Mikkelson, I’ve published the book Bovodar and the Bears, and I am also the author of the Bovodar and the Bears comic series on Arktoons.
Getting Started with Permaculture By Mr. Permie Bear
Sometimes getting started on something is the hardest part, it certainly was for me getting around to finally writing something. Now that the so-called pen is on the paper, what comes next is likely to feel somewhat like a whirlwind on my end, but hopefully not on yours. I hope that what follows will help you get started and help you crush on a whole new level.
Before we can really get into some of the details, we ought to start out with a simple definition of permaculture. It’s a wonderful combination of amusing and inspiring when someone finds out that I am a Certified Permaculture Designer and comes up to me to say, “I just planted my first permaculture!”. Sometimes their excitement just can’t be contained (and for good reason) and I just can’t bring myself to tell them that what they told me makes no sense, so I usually just share in their excitement. Let’s not let that happen to you. By all means get excited, but do it with correct definitions. The word “Permaculture” is often defined as a combination of “permanent” and “agriculture” and while that’s close, it’s actually not quite the whole story. It’s really more like a combination of “permanent” and “culture”. It just so happens that often the easiest and most visible application is as it relates to agriculture. At its core, permaculture is a design language. It is a lens that we view and solve problems through. Ethics are at the core of permaculture and the tools we use to solve these problems are based upon patterns observed in nature. In essence, it is a way of thinking and designing systems to meet all of our needs as people living in this realm in perpetuity using ways that are not extraction based, but regenerative and therefore highly resilient and hopefully as permanent as anything can be. Systems and solutions that are Integrated and often times multidisciplinary, not singular and stand-alone. The three core ethics of Permaculture are:
1) Earth Care
2) People Care
3) Return of Surplus
These three ethics stem from the prime directive of Permaculture, which is the thought that in this life, we cannot rely on extraction based systems that value neither people nor the creation as a whole and that the only ethical thing to do is to provide for our own needs and the needs of our families. Something that many people in this and other communities really understand. Everything we do within the framework of Permaculture must look to those three ethics and if it does not uphold those, then our design needs work. So, for example, let’s say you decide to plant a garden. Does the way in which you plant and manage your garden meet these ethics? If you prepare your garden by spraying roundup to kill the grass, fertilize with miracle-gro, spray chemical pesticides, and burn all the garden residues – I’d say that’s a miss on 3 of 3. Let’s instead say that you use light blocking tarps or heavy mulch to kill the grass, manage the garden organically, and compost all your garden residues-Now we just hit 3 of 3. We can of course do better, but all of the things done in the second example are life affirming, not life destroying. That’s the kind of thinking we need.
I guess there’s one other critical part of permaculture that is really present in everything and that is the connections between systems. That’s really what we are identifying and implementing when we look for patterns in nature. It is my belief that those patterns were made by God and there can be no better guide than what the Creator has set before us.
The systems and patterns can be very simple, or very complex. Often times the more complex the system, the more stable it is because we have a plethora of redundancies. We already gave one example of a simple system, Plant a garden organically, compost everything you don’t eat. But that’s not many connections, and remember, as practitioners of permaculture, we are in the connection business. So, what if we add chickens? Chickens can turn the compost for us, get part of their feed from finding bugs in the compost, and add their manure so the compost is more fertile. If we got really crazy, chickens could also prepare our garden beds for planting. If we were to go absolutely bonkers we could add pigs to till the garden, chickens to level it back out and clean up after the pigs (who both eat the garden surplus, thus decreasing our need to buy food), the chicken and pig manure enriches the soil, we add guineas walking in and around the garden for bug control, have ducks around the perimeter eating bugs that would find their way to the garden, set up duck bathing pools around the garden perimeter so we can use the water from their bathing pools to water and fertilize the gardens (all in one shot), add certain plants to be used specifically for mulch and rabbit food (who have an area where their manure is collected for fertilizer), meat from these rabbits is used for people food and to feed the dogs that guard the sheep, which graze the grass in the orchard and fertilize it, which surrounds the garden providing a wind break and extra compost materials, more chicken food, and more pig food. See all the connections? Do you see how the needs of the system are being provided by the system? The nature mimicry? Rabbits garden, sheep fertilize, pigs dig, chickens scratch. They all eat. They have the chance to all exhibit these innate behaviors, each with inputs and outputs. We simply observed and designed. Returning to the 3 ethics:
- Earth care – Are the plants, animals, and soil taken care of? Yes, Animals are able to express their innate and unique behaviors. They are fed varied diets. Soil is protected with mulch and enriched with manure and compost. Pests are kept in check by animal and insect predators, therefore pesticides aren’t needed or used. (Note that I said, “Kept in check”. There will be some pests in the garden, that’s why they can be used as guinea food for example.)
- People care – The people work less because the animals are doing a lot of the work. Sure, you have to move them around, but compare that to all the individual tasks you now have to do less of like mowing, weeding, turning the compost, tilling, picking bugs, spraying plants, etc. Not to mention the enjoyment of working with each part of the system and the extreme health that will likely result from eating such high-quality food. (You will still have to weed, especially as you just get started. Sorry, But if managed well, weeding should be less and less each year.)
- Return of surplus – Compost is created and used. Manure is incorporated into the system whether as a compost addition, directly applying to the ground (as in the case of the sheep), or used to make liquid fertilizer (as in the case of the ducks). Nothing goes to waste. This system will yield more than we humans can possibly consume and so the excess goes back into the system and is used to further sustain it.
Another example of a permaculture practice that might be easier for many people to implement is the creation of plant guilds. I realize many people don’t have room for pigs, sheep, large orchards, and the like, but we all have room for plant guilds. This can be as simple as companion planting in the garden. Perhaps this is planting a nitrogen fixing plant like a green bean next to or before a nitrogen using plant like corn. Perhaps this is using the famous “three sisters” guild which is pole beans, corn, and squash. The beans provide nitrogen, the corn gives the beans a place to grow, and the squash shades out weeds that would compete with the corn. This could also be as complex as a perennial polyculture under our fruit trees. “Say what Mr. Permie Bear? What is a perennial polyculture? I thought we were done with terms and definitions, then you throw this at me? How dare you?”. A perennial polyculture is just a collection of plants that come back year after year that provide things like nutrients and mulch for our fruit trees, provide habitat and food for beneficial insects, and food/medicine for us. For example, we could plant an apple tree. Say 6 feet off the tree trunk (not a firm number), in the drip line of the tree, we could plant a ring of comfrey and daffodils. This will provide mulch and block grass roots from coming in. Under the tree we can plant lemon balm, yarrow, and mint for teas, medicine, and flowers for pollinators. We can then plant garlic and thyme for cooking and keeping away certain insects. Maybe we’ll even throw in a currant bush for some more fruit and some Dutch white clover to keep out other weeds and provide nitrogen. The amount of plants you can cram in under a fruit tree is amazing! When we create plant guilds, what we are doing is stacking functions and also more fully utilizing our growing space by taking advantage of different layers (stacking layers). The stacking of functions is using that same space or system to achieve several different results such as food, medicine, pollinator support, and even beauty. Here’s what stacking layers looks like in this simplified example: in the same space required for just a tree, by stacking layers we are using the tree layer (apple), shrub layer (currant), herbaceous layer (comfrey), ground-cover layer (clover), and even the root/bulb layer (garlic).
When establishing plant guilds, it’s important to know that some plants are neutral towards each other, some help each other, and some are antagonistic. Each of these behaviors can have its place in our designs so it’s important to research relationships between plants based on what you are trying to accomplish, whether that’s to help something grow or even to try and stop something from growing.
Now that we have covered some of the specific aspects of plant guilds, we’ll take a step back and look at the system as a whole and once again, we can compare this to the three core ethics and see we are on solid ground.
It is truly remarkable that with proper design, we can solve or avoid many problems and create systems and gardens that are much more productive than they would be if left to their own devices. We can truly be stewards. There is a saying in the permaculture circles which is “the problem is the solution”. One of my favorite examples of this kind of thinking is attributed to Bill Mollison, the co-founder of Permaculture. When someone was complaining about all the slugs eating their crops, he replied “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficit.” In this case, the excess slugs were the solution to growing ducks for meat and eggs without having to buy feed.
So, get started by looking around you. What do you see in God’s design that is working well? What connections do you see? What connections can you make in your Beartaria? Find outputs that can be used as inputs. Are you hitting the mark on the core ethics or do you need to redesign some things? The absolute, most important thing is to try. There is no “one right way” so don’t let the fear of not knowing get in your way. With ethics at our core, it’s hard to go wrong. Get out there and discover what works for you. In a word, Crush.
Mr. Permie Bear is a former commercial banker turned Missouri farmer. He, his wife, and their 4 children operate Piney Creek Farm in the Missouri Ozark’s and specialize in pasture raised meats and raw milk. He is also co-founder of Grateful Harvest Seed Company. His goal is to create a fully integrated permaculture farm which teaches and shows people what can be accomplished with permaculture on whatever scale they choose to engage, backyard to large farm. In his down time…. Oh wait, there is no down time.
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