Caliche and the Greenhouse

Discussion in 'Members' Systems' started by 9anda1f, Oct 27, 2015.

  1. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Thought I'd post one of my projects that's been ongoing since last autumn (Sep 2014).

    Very cold winters here take a toll on our many young seedlings/saplings still in pots. As we've expanded our seed sprouting and hardwood cutting activities I decided to build something I'd always wanted to experiment with that would over winter these plants safely: an earth-sheltered greenhouse.

    This property has areas of concrete like caliche deposits at varying depths (due to previous disturbances) which would serve as a solid foundation for the building:
    [​IMG]
    Caliche layer

    So one day while my SO was visiting back east I began excavation:
    [​IMG]
    Initial excavation

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    Area roughed out down to caliche layer

    Then I began to find level and define the building's area:
    [​IMG]
    Initial building layout

    Now the funny thing is that being an engineer you'd expect I'd have prepared a full set of drawings complete with every little detail of this project ... not so! In the whole of this effort to day I've not layed pencil to paper in any meaningful way, it's been all done straight out of my head as I went and the design morphed at each decision point. It was truly liberating!
    = )
     
  2. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Now there's no clay in our area (that I've yet found), the nearest concrete company is 50 miles distant, and pounding tires sounded excruciatingly time consuming. While this is wheat country with a abundance of straw, bale construction doesn't really lend itself to earth berming. One day I found a bunch of 55 gallon steel drums for sale at a reasonable price so I hauled 50 of them back home. These had removable tops with a clamp ring and had been used for cherry juice contained within a plastic liner. I reasoned that I could stack these drums and fill them with water for thermal mass, but I'd have to do some creative framing using some recycled deck boards I'd saved from a few years back.

    [​IMG]
    First course of drums

    Figuring out the final dimensions based on drum diameters and heights:
    [​IMG]
    Beginning the second course

    To avoid the permitting process, I chose to make this a pole building (see the poles?)
    [​IMG]
    Central structure beam (old telephone pole)
     
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  3. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    The barrels were lined and filled with water, stacked and locked into position with the clamp rings and framing. The framing resting on the ground was pinned to the caliche with rebar to prevent lateral movement when backfilled. Framing the upper portions begins to show the final shape. The race was on to get it enclosed before winter struck.

    [​IMG]
    Begin framing

    [​IMG]
    Framing progress

    [​IMG]
    Sheathing with OSB
     
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  4. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    interesting project and congratulations on the progress!

    curious if you are somehow isolating the barrels so that they wont' rust from moisture in the air?
     
  5. Gonhar

    Gonhar Junior Member

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    Hind sight being 20/20 I would have added RV winterizing antifreeze to the drums as insurance in case of frost.
     
  6. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    how does it being a pole building get around regulations?

    What's the reason for so much wall on the west side? (instead of glass).
     
  7. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Hi Songbird: The water in the barrels is in a plastic liner ... these barrels are very light duty and leak without the liners (as opposed to some of the heavy oil barrels I have laying around). The barrels sit on 2"x6" frames which gives some air flow beneath. While I live in a very dry climate, humidity builds up inside the structure so I'm installing positive ventilation (as I'll show shortly).

    Gonhar: That may yet come to pass, however I'm going on experience with my earth-bermed root cellar which contains my well water pressure tank/pipes which hasn't frozen yet in spite of yearly -20 degrees F temps. I'm hoping to keep pure water in the barrels.

    Pebble: Once I get the water collection tanks installed, the east and north walls will be bermed to nearly the roof, the west wall bermed around it's single window, and the south wall bermed to just under the bank of windows.

    This greenhouse is almost exclusively for winter protection of trees we've been propagating and growing winter greens. Not much need for a greenhouse in the summer around here (although with the windows covered, it makes a cool shelter for the chickens on hot days). Our cold season lasts essentially 6 months when our summer sun turns to ongoing overcast grey skies with frequent fog.
    ; )
     
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  8. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    This is the state I made it to as winter set in last year (2014). The double-pane glass panels were in place but not well sealed and the door openings were covered with propped-up OSB panels. Metal roofing was installed but because of the shallow slope, water wicked up between the overlaps. This was solved by running a bead of black mastic between the panels, then spending most of the winter drying out the OSB ceiling:

    [​IMG]
    Configuration for winter 2014

    Ventilation was an issue, especially as the set-in-place but unsealed windows leaked causing high humidity within the building. Stay tuned for how I've approached ventilation and the current state of the greenhouse as we enter into winter 2015.
     
  9. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Thanks. I'm really enjoying the posts and seeing the story unfold. A great way to structure a thread.
     
  10. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Overwintered saplings:
    [​IMG]
    Overwintering seedlings/saplings

    Although last winter was rather mild as things go around here, I did need to use the little pellet stove in the greenhouse during the coldests snaps. Without good doors, insulation, and completed earth berming the structure lost too much heat to maintain temperatures above freezing.

    As winter gave way to spring, all the trees were moved back outside to planting or further growth. Whole new sets of seeds and cuttings were prepared for the year's propagation. These are Chilgoza pine seedlings, a species native to the Himalaya's that is renowned for excellent pine nuts. Out of nearly 600 started seeds we got about 50 healthy seedlings:
    [​IMG]
    Chilgoza Seedlings

    As summer wore on, we had numerous dust storms (from the bare dirt wheat fields nearby) so we used the greenhouse to keep the chickens in some cleaner air and cooler temperatures (they were only put inside during extreme events) by covering the windows with some thick plastic material re-purposed from the local grain storage facility:
    [​IMG]
    Summer Greenhouse Configuration

    I began preparing my list of tasks to get things ready for the upcoming winter ...
     
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  11. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    Excellent project and write up Bill, I'm getting some wonderful ideas for our place from this, thank you very much for putting this up. I am hoping to get to start on our root cellar soon, it will, by necessity, be chiseled out from our bed rock so it will be deep enough. I had not thought of using barrels, but they could be a great answer to the out of the bed rock walls that will need to be installed before the cap of soil goes on.
     
  12. grantvdm

    grantvdm Junior Member

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    Great Stuff!
     
  13. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    The overarching goals before winter were to seal up any water leaks, provide positive ventilation, insulate, and install real doors. After trying many different sealants, I ultimately used silicon caulk/sealant which finally made the sloped glass waterproof. To protect the OSB I first primed then painted the exterior with a marine paint:
    [​IMG]
    The sloped/covered area in front provides a drain for rain that keeps the soil dry for better insulative qualities.

    For ventilation I chose earth tubes coupled with a solar-chimney-type exhaust. To install the earth tubes I had to excavate some caliche and achieve a depth of four feet+ to get below the ultimate frost line around here:
    [​IMG]

    Here I've undercut the caliche (cal-crete) to show the depth of this impermeable layer to be about 18 inches:
    [​IMG]

    Tubes installed in the 40 foot long trench. Each tube has a piece of cord installed to allow me to pull through a cleaning rag. Each joint of the polyethylene pipe was sealed with weatherproof duct tape.
    [​IMG]

    All covered up! I'll need to fabricate a better cover for the input ends to keep water out of the tubes.
    [​IMG]
     
  14. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Hi Bryant,
    For my root cellar rebuild, see this (especially for the unique arched roof trusses some local farmer put together back in the day):
    https://permaculturenews.org/forums/index.php?threads/ever-designed-a-root-cellar.4973/#post-41796
     
  15. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    Sweet Root Cellar, I love the arched beams for the roof. I think that will work for us too. Our current plan is to dig down into the bed rock with my huge hammer drill then build the above ground part with earth bags so I could perhaps do a dome roof with the earth bags but this roof idea looks really good. For the in ground waterproofing I am going to test several materials; rubber membrane, waterproofing liquids, etc. I am thinking that if the rock is good enough that I may be able to use a combination of waterproofing liquid for the walls and a rubber membrane for the roof protection. This one has to be able to do double duty as a storm shelter since we live in a tornado zone that has seen two EF-4's in the last four years. (3 years apart). We live on the northern ridge of the Ouachita Mountains (eastern end) so there is a higher ridge between us and the normal tornado tracks for the last one hundred years. But you never know when one will jump or just drop right on top of you.
     

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