Monday, December 29, 2014

Reflective coating for the vertical farm bottles

29.12.14: I had a discussion with someone who said that my vertical farm bottles should be opaque and not of translucent material. The roots do not like light, and will not grow correctly out to the edges. Also in hot conditions the bottles could dry out too quickly with solar gain. So, one by one, I am covering them with reflective aluminium tape.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Latest addition: a front porch

16.12.14: I have added a frameless polycarbonate front porch to my house. This is recycling some 6mm polycarbonate from an unfinished solar panel building project. Because it is curved in a vault shape, it can be completely frameless and will withstand gravity force and upward wind loads.

Subsequently, after a few gales,  it became obvious that some bracings were required, and some metal bracings have been added, but the appearance of the porch remains extremely lightweight. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Ground temperatures in December

5 Dec 2014: We are in the usual downward curve of the ground temperature, but due to the mild autumn, and me needing less heating load, the curve is rounder than usual, retaining a useful temperature underground for longer than usual. This curve goes up to 1st December.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Vertical Revolving Barrel Farm

1st December 2014: These photos show the process of building the vertical revolving barrel farm. 
See some comments by John Macdonald about my vertical revolving barrel farm project.
The design of this is based on the Garden Tower project from Michigan, but their product is not sold outside the US and Canada. I would willingly pay the full price to buy their product if they would make it available in the UK. I have based the construction on their design idea which is to have a strawberry planter style outside surface with 30 pockets, then the centre filled with soil, and the centre line with a 150mm flue filled with kitchen waste and worms. At the base there is a collecting chamber for crumbly compost and a another collecting chamber for liquid produced by the worms. The construction starts with a B and Q 210 L water butt.
Here is the new water butt sitting on its base ready for action.First action is to join together the base and to add a turntable. This is the base which comes in three parts which must be riveted together.
I have made a turntable from eight castor wheels and a piece of plywood and a top level of polycarbonate, surfaced with some wetsuit rubber.Here I am cutting out one of two polycarbonate discs which will form the levels at the lower part of the butt.
I am using polycarbonate because it is extremely strong, I already have some from previous unfinished solar projects, and it is easily drilled and does not break when drilled.I have £35 worth of barrel and Oh dear!, now I am cutting it into two pieces with a handsaw.
Oh dear, it has now been cut in half, now there is a lot of work to be done.
The first and second disks are in place and the vertical flue is built from flexible rubber sheet, riveted into a vertical cone,which will carry the kitchen waste for composting.
Now the two polycarbonate disks need to be strongly bracketed into the base with aluminium brackets. The lower disc is drilled with fine holes to let liquid through and the upper disc is drilled with large holes to allow compost particles to crumble and fall through.
The upper disc has the larger holes, but I shall probably drill a lot more than this.
The lower base has doors which can be opened and closed, and there is a yellow filing tray which will catch the crumbling compost. The aluminium bars are necessary because of the 200 kg of soil which will live above this disk. The tray can be slid out to retrieve compost and then to return to the bottom of the barrel . There is also a sliding panel to allow the central compost flu to be dumped into the filing tray. 
Now I begin the tough and tedious process of cutting 30 holes into the side of the upper barrel. These are spaced at 36° intervals around the circuit.
The first few take the longest, and I start off using a jigsaw cutter.I am making progress and I use a large drillbit to get the jigsaw cutting started.
I tried cutting out a few with heavy duty metal scissors, but this took too long. The quickest method by far was using an angle grinder with a diamond cutting blade. The first cuts are treated as straight cuts, and then I can use metal cutting scissors to modify them or form them into a curve. With the diamond blade angle grinder it is quick but is incredibly dangerous, the slightest misjudgements and you can cut through and ruin the barrel. The blade is designed to cut through concrete paving stones and bricks, so thin plastic is instantly cut.
Now, using rigid but flexible rubber sheeting I am able to cut these out using a template and rivet them to the holes. All riveting throughout is 4.8 mm, and where the rivet is at risk of pulling out, I have used stainless steel washers.
It takes about 15 minutes per hole to cut out the rubber and to rivet and there is still more work to be done to fit a rear rubber on the inside of the barrel. As the work progresses, I work out a way to do the rear rubber and the front rubber with the same set of rivets, which is more economical with time and with fastenings.
 The top edge of each hole is formed into a much more pronounced parabolic curve.
Now, the upper part of the barrel is complete and it needs to be connected to the lower part. For some reason, I did not record any photos of the process of joining the other barrel to the lower barrel but this was done with surplus green barrel wall material and finished off with grey mastic. 
There is no significant downward load on the walls of the barrel, because the weight of the soil is entirely carried by the polycarbonate disk inside. This weight is transferred to the aluminium brackets which are then finally transferred to the barrel wall.

Setting it up in the garden
In this photo, the barrel has been filled to the top with a mixture of Perlite, horse manure, and potting compost in one third equal proportions. They are mixed in a barrow, formed into a slurry with water, and poured into the barrel. Then each pocket has individually been topped up to its surface and has been planted with seedlings.

Building one of these in December is not likely to produce massively good results until next spring. However, I have tried planting it with some Pak Choy, Kale, and Rocket, all of which are capable of growing in the cold weather. The idea of the revolving system is to allow the plants to get a fair share of sunlight, and to allow me to stand on the concrete doing maintenance instead of walking round the barrel on the grass.

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