Thursday, 22 July 2010

Thoughts On The Glasshouse

Thinking that we'd make better use of the solar radiation around-about we took the shadecloth cover off of the glasshouse last week. Not sure if it was the cover providing a little extra insulation that has saved us to date, or just the strength of the frost, but last night we had something of a disaster in the glasshouse. It looks like most of the cotton plants have been badly hit, and a few of the chilli plants, which we've had growing for about 3 years now, also copped a hiding. The tea plant and avocados seem okay, but they may take a bit longer to show the effects.

At the moment the glasshouse is just, well, a house made of glass. Nothing in the way of thermal mass to store heat, and enough loose joints to make sure it doesn't quite work properly. Over the last few weeks, reading along with John Michael Greer's series of posts about Green Wizardry I've toyed with a few ideas about how to make it more useful, or more correctly, how to make it do what I think it should do.

The first of these plans was a great little home made solar hot water panel along with a series of drums containing water. Excellent thermal mass, and should do a good job, it could even be supplemented with a wood/biomass system if needed. In considering how well it would work I got to thinking about the basic design of the glasshouse itself. It's a prefabricated unit of aluminium framing with thin single layer glazing. It's glazed all around, even the roof.

For a start, this is not the most ideal structure, given that the sun only shines from the east, north and west here, south of the Tropics. Why have glass, which is not the best insulator, on the south side of such a building? Why have it on the south plane of the roof, when it's usually so hot in there by summer time that it needs to be cleared of all plants anyway?

I toyed with the idea of covering the back and top with fibro panel or similar, which would allow for the inclusion of insulation, but that still leaves the front faces to lose heat, not to mention the question of whether the frame would support that extra loading.

Having given it more thought I am leaning towards reconstructing completely. It's current location is next to a four foot and more high rock and earthen wall. With a little planning this could be extended and expanded to form three sides of a new structure. By glazing just the northern facing aspects there would be as much light, and not nearly as much heat loss. If the design is clever enough then the glazing will be removable during summer to allow it to function as a greenhouse, eliminating the need to have plants migrating in and out as the seasons progress. And if I try to be really tricky I could build in water storage to act as thermal mass, and that thermal mass might even be able to double as place to grow up a few water plants and fish, allowing the glasshouse structure to fulfill more than one role, and provide for more than one system.

Obviously heating the water with a solar panel might not be such a good idea if one was growing fish in it, but there's nothing to say we can't have two water storages, one heated, one ambient, or even use a different form of thermal mass for the heat providing side of the equation.

In other news, all is going along in it's wintery fashion here, we've had some beautiful days, and some awfully frosty nights. Half the pruning has been done, and work is progressing (only slowly) on the vege garden renovations, primarily due to a hectic social schedule, including birthdays, lawn bowls, and even a trip to Abercrombie Caves (well worth a visit if you ever get the chance) to fill in those two days that separate work time.

There is also the fact that most jobs I do tend to turn into an experimental or creative endeavour well outside their original scope. Cleaning the chicken house out a couple of weeks back, which would normally take about an hour, if not less, turned into a three hour job. I'd often longed for a long-handled scraper to assist in pulling the muck out from underneath the raised house. This time I succumbed to the urge and built one using the steel sheet from an old computer case, a couple of bits of angle iron and tube and a hoe handle I'd purchased but not yet fitted. It works wonderfully, and the DW only rolled her eyes a little to find that the cleaning operation had taken so long and gotten so sidetracked. I imagine that next time it wont even take 15 minutes to get the whole job done!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Do you know where you're going to?

"Do you like the things that life is showing you?"
 Diana Ross - Theme From Mahogany.

Talk about slack blogging! I'd almost forgotten how it works...

Having been so slack there is certainly plenty to talk about now, though the primary reason for the absence, work, will not be discussed except to say there has been plenty of it, and making time for blogging has sadly been low on the list of priorities. After a long day in front of the computer, more time there to blog just doesn't seem so appealing.

Things are starting to quiet down now, marginally, so the time and inclination to gather thoughts and put keys to electrons has arrived!

The farmlet has been cruising along in winter mode, though I guess it was barely Autumn last time we spoke. We've lost two of the older chooks (6+ years old) but all the other creatures are doing well. The vegetable gardens have been planted out for winter production, and are currently (slowly) undergoing a makeover, as time permits. Recycled hardwood timbers are forming the surrounds, with crushed granite for the paths. Getting rid of the grass paths should go a long way toward making managing the weeding easier, and the proper raised beds will provide better drainage and growing conditions, hopefully. We've also made a new space for a perennial bed, currently with our new rhubarb patch, mints and horseradish, which has cleaned up what was a dauntingly disappointing corner of the patch previously.

So where are we at the moment? The last few posts we were in a quandary about where we were headed. We were off to Victoria or Tasmania, but weren't really sure.

The last couple of months have included a development that helped provide a bit of external impetus and a good dose of clarity. The development is more of an un-development, being that we've discovered a happy family of termites munching away at our house. This is not so surprising for an Australian house, but it is concerning if you're trying to sell the place. The inspector reckons they've done a fair bit of damage to the place, but without pulling plasterboard off we can't know for sure.

So we were faced with reducing the price we had put on the place in order to secure a sale, either that or doing some reconstruction to repair whatever damage there was. Combining this with our uncertainty over the idea of moving and we were seriously doubting the sensibility of the idea.

In the first case, we were torn about moving away from here. We've got a lot of good friends, and it's a great community. Whilst the climate is not ideal, and it's a long way from the beach, the community advantages (among others) outweigh the disadvantages as far as considering it from a post-peak oil survival situation.

After a fair bit of soul-searching and considering various scenarios we've decided we're going to stay on here, at the very least until the kids finish their schooling. Stability during those years of life is just as important as any other considerations. And beside that, the Permaculture Designer's Manual has a very good section on designing for deserts if things get really bad here :-)

So where to now? We've started re-assessing the place in terms of layout and planning, re-considering things so that we can attempt to fit even more producing plants in. There's certainly plenty of space here.

We will need to work on the water situation a bit, but there's nothing out of the ordinary that needs to be done there.

The main issue is going to be the house. Our two storey architectural monstrosity is not the best construction to start with, throw in some termite damage and I'm going to sleep daily wondering whether I'll be waking up downstairs in the kids room...

There's a nice spot in the front paddock that can fit a house in, and we've had a brief discussion with Council about it and they can't see any problems with building a new place and then demolishing this one. We've played around with some basic designs and think we can fit a complete single-storey house of equivalent usable size to the current one, into the same footprint as this one (yep, that's how badly this one is laid out!) Given that we already have a livable, if not enjoyable, house on-site considering owner building isn't so far fetched either, though I know DW will want it to be complete within a reasonable period.

All that remains is to sell off the farm block to free up some cash flows, though we can begin certain elements out of our normal budgets with a bit of saving. Planning our own house will be a new experience, and we'll need to figure out things like whether we see a draughtsperson first or an engineer, but all of that sort of stuff should be exciting enough, and keep us occupied while we wait to sell the block. And if it never sells at least our neighbour out there has a nice extra piece of land to use, and we've got a good, if distant, supply of firewood, while ever we've got fuel to get there.

It's funny, but when you're thinking of leaving a place you see it in an entirely different light to when you're thinking of staying. For one thing my shed is much better organised and a lot tidier now (lol) and we've planted a many more trees already. All the other projects that I'd been putting off for a long time, expecting to commence them when we moved to a new place, have also had another look over, things like forges, furnaces, potting sheds, cellars, biogas systems, a pumping system for the pond, the list goes on. Not going elsewhere gives me plenty of time to concentrate on being here, so there should be plenty of activity to report on in the future!