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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. 

Farming

A series on soil creation and natural farming from FuBear: Natural Farming,  an Overview

The fundamental basis of all of these techniques is to use what is naturally available.

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Currently, when you hear the term “natural Farming” it is referring to one of two Asian traditions.  The japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, whose 1975 book “One straw revolution” had a big impact on the “back to the land” movement back in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  

     Or, more recently, it refers to Korean Natural Farming, which was promoted and popularized by Dr. Cho Han Kyu (referred to as Master Cho most often) since the 1960’s.  Master Cho’s mission was to avoid buying off farm inputs to maintain fertility and production on the farm.  He did not want poor Korean farmers trapped in a cycle of buying chemicals and poisons from corporations, and thus losing profitability.  Instead he wanted to use old farming techniques mainly from Japan and Korea, some of which have been utilized across Asia for thousands of years, based on fermenting of naturally growing plants locally and tinctures of those plants and the crops to pull out minerals and nutrients as well.

    Additionally, an offshoot of Korean Natural Farming, is JADAM, which is a system developed by Master Cho’s son, Youngsang Cho. JADAM’s mission is the same as Korean Natural Farming, and there is a lot of overlap, but using his chemistry and horticulture degrees to update and extend how to create some of the inputs, and researched more mixtures for specific pests.

   The fundamental basis of all of these techniques is to use what is naturally available. What plants want to, and can easily grow on your farm or nearby your farm, to improve your soils, and to control yours and your animal wastes, to promote more fertility in your soils. This is done by promoting and encouraging your soil food web, and using the “manures” and interactions of the microbiology with the plant, just as you would use livestock above ground.

   This is a broad topic, as it covers soil biology, plant biology, fungi, chemistry, and even some physics in the more advanced explanations. To simplify the discussion,  I will focus on the techniques used in JADAM, as it seems to bridge the old world techniques, and the new more scientific adaptations while still focusing on keeping everything as simple and cheap as possible.

      Even while using these concepts, it is still very easy to spend a lot of money, if you let yourself.  There are people selling composts, microbial innoculants, and prepared mixtures. So while I may mention or link to a product for purchase, just remember, all of this can be done without purchasing expensive inputs, at least in the small scale of 1/4 to 1 to 5 acres.  As you scale up, you have to buy equipment (or employees) to create and distribute the inputs over large areas, but that is the same with any farming operation.  The savings is in spending $5 to $50 dollars per acre to increase soil health, which determines productivity, vs spending hundreds of dollars per acre for chemicals which reduce soil health, and productivity over time.

Finally, additional resources that promote and advance these techniques, and discuss actual commercial farms using them, are Future Cannabis Project youtube channel(usually they are tagged with “living soil”) and John Kempf’s channel, Advancing Eco Agriculture, in which he promotes his business of consulting and supplying inputs at the commercial level. The information shared on these channels are gold, and I will reference them at times, or use them as a basis for an article.

 (additional links to above referenced groups)

“one straw revolution” documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj7nrOjhMtk

Korean Natural Farming website: https://naturalfarminghawaii.net/

another KNF website: https://www.naturalfarming.co/ 

     and his youtube in which he shows the process of making some of the inputs:  https://www.youtube.com/c/ChrisTrumpSoilSteward/videos

JADAM website and youtube channel:  https://en.jadam.kr/news/articleList.html?sc_sub_section_code=S2N1&view_type=sm

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpLIq2dhpu34qkIyyaeEGxw

Advancing Eco Agriculture site: https://www.advancingecoag.com/

The soil food web:  https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/soils/health/biology/?cid=nrcs142p2_053868

By: FuBear

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Farming

Building Beartaria Book Review

Need a great book to cozy up with during this coming chilly season? A book you will reach for again and again? Find yourself a copy of this hulk of a resource, “The Encyclopedia of Country Living” by Carla Emery!

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“The Encyclopedia of Country Living” by Carla Emery

Need a great book to cozy up with during this coming chilly season? A book you will reach for again and again? Find yourself a copy of this hulk of a resource, “The Encyclopedia of Country Living” by Carla Emery! A 900+ page collection of how-to’s, diagrams, anecdotes and good old country wisdom on just about anything you can think of in relation to living like a pioneer. The ultimate guide for living off of, and in harmony with the land. 

Carla began writing this book in 1969 as a helpful guide to hold in your hands and be able to pass on. In her words: “The ‘Back to the land’ movement had started happening then – a tremendous out-migration from cities to country. I was living in a tiny town in Northern Idaho, and the newcomers were everywhere, full of urgent questions about growing plants and raising animals.” Her original book from that time has grown and changed over the ensuing decades, with many contributions from others. The honest goal of helping generations of her fellow man and woman reclaim that oh so important knowledge is felt throughout. Knowledge that reads just as if it were being told to you by a loving grandparent on your front porch, or over a batch of slow cooking apple butter with a friend, or while helping to square the posts on a much needed fence line for a neighbor. 

I turn to this book often, and never close it without learning something new and adding a new bookmark. Even after having owned it for a number of years. It’s got a little bit of everything! From finding your land, to working it, to making it a Home full of family. To raising all manner of livestock from baby to butcher. To growing and harvesting then cooking and preserving almost everything, from seed to pantry to table. Including foraging and hunting! It’s a fantastic resource, for anyone, no matter what stage of homesteading you find yourself in. Crack it open on just about any page, and you’re sure to gain insight into the kind of true self-sufficiency you’d never even thought yourself capable of. 

Take it from another wise Beartarian, on the Eastern side of our great land, Mohawk Farmer Bear: 

“That’s a great book. Tons of practical info. Every homesteader should have one…It’s a book the Bears should know about.” 

Mohawk Farmer Bear

Our Western Beartarian homestead wholeheartedly agrees.

Enjoy, and Onward!

– Breanna

@ameliaameliorate on IG

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Farming

Hydroponics: A Step Away From Babylon

Lawnmower Bear shares the basics of hydroponics.

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Like many men and women of Beartaria, I took the stead pill early, while I was still living in Babylon. I was inspired to start building a homestead and growing my own food, but for the time being, I was stuck in a small apartment in the middle of the city. I was still determined to apply our community’s values and start growing my own food in my little homestead. There are many options available to apartment dwellers, such as container gardening, but the way I chose to start was growing salad greens in a hydroponic system.

Hydroponics is the method of growing plants in a container of water in a nutrient solution, instead of in the soil. The plant’s roots grow down into the water, and the plant grows upwards. 

The benefit of growing plants hydroponically is that food can be grown indoors efficiently, reliably, and quickly, in a controlled environment. You can start several kale plants from seed, germinate them, plant them in a nutrient solution under a grow light in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room, and start harvesting kale leaves within several weeks. The plants don’t need to compete for water or nutrients, so you can grow them very densely in a small space with low risk of disease or pests.

A basic hydroponic system consists of a container filled with a nutrient solution and a medium to hold the plant at the top of the container. It can be as simple as an old mason jar in a window with a drilled Solo cup holding a lettuce plant in the rim, or as complex as a series of plastic totes growing a variety of plants in net cups set into the totes’ lids, piped together with float valves to maintain a consistent water level, under timed grow lights, air pumps, fans, and humidifiers. Part of the fun is taking the basic building blocks and building the system that works for you.

A complex hydroponics system set up in an apartment closet

The simplest type of system to start with is a Kratky system, which does not need an air pump to oxygenate the water. You just fill up a bucket with water and nutrient solution, put a sprout in a cup in the lid, and watch it grow. The plant drinks the water down as it grows, and develops two sets of roots: long thick roots to drink water from the bottom of the container, and thin fuzzy roots near the top, to breathe the air at the top of the container.

A basic Kratky hydroponics system
A basic kratky hydroponics system

Hydroponics are ideal for nutritious leafy greens and lettuces. You can grow fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers hydroponically, but they require more specialized lighting, pH control, and nutrient combinations. The plants that I’ve reliably had the best luck with have been kale, swiss chard, arugula, lettuce, bok choy, and herbs.

So, what does a Beartarian trapped in an apartment in the city, need in order to get started?

Seeds

– A Container such as a 5-gallon bucket, 20-gallon tote, mason jar, or an old milk jug

Water (at a neutral pH)

Nutrients from either a liquid hydroponic solution from a garden store, or a dry mix of Masterblend Tomato, Calcium Nitrate, and Magnesium Sulfate/Epsom Salts (2 tsp of each for 5 gallons of water)

– A Cup in the container’s lid, such as a 2″ plastic net cup, or Solo cup, filled with a Grow Media like clay pebbles, rockwool, perlite, or soil cubes, to hold the plant in the cup as it grows

– A reliable Light Source, whether it’s a sunny window or an LED grow light

Once you build a simple 5-gallon bucket system and grow your first kale plant, you can build and experiment and invent whatever system works best for you. Hydroponics isn’t a perfect indoor gardening solution, and it is very limited compared to gardening in the living soil on your own land, but it offers a way for apartment-bound Beartarians to easily produce nutritious salad greens for their families, independently of Babylon.

By: Lawnmower Bear @lawnmowerbear on Instagram

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