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tefa (textured earth, food all-year): greenhouse substitute  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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This may be the third word I've made up (after husp and wofati).

The key is that I don't like the idea of a greenhouse. I don't like how it creates an artificial environment away from nature. I don't like how it is made from so much artificial stuff. I don't like how it requires so much work to keep plants alive. It can get too cold in winter and too hot in summer. Plus, I kinda wonder if the plants that come out of it are somehow sorta franken-food because they never received real sunlight - it was always passed through a filter of glass or plastic.

Over the last year, it seems that I have pushed the idea of adding texture to the landscape so that you create a lot of edge, including a lot of microclimates. And with a little effort, you can grow citrus in the mountains of montana.

I need a word for this. After some headscratching and bouncing ideas off of Jocelyn and Geoff, I came up with "tefa". Since I made up the word, I get to say that it is an all lower case thing.

"Textured earth" refers to hugelkultur, walls, ditches, swales, ponds, terraces, ponds, etc. so that there is lots more edge. And lots of opportunity for warm spots. And a lot of those spots will take on sun scoop shapes. And sometimes a sun scoop will sit just a bit north of a reflecting pond - so that the scoop will collect the warmth of the sun twice: directly from the sun, and again from the pond's reflection.

All of this texture is in contrast to a homogenized flat surface that would have a consistent temperature, consistent moisture, consistent wind, consistent pH, consistent nutrients, etc. Now the texture has warm spots and cold spots and lots of other variety.

And now we focus on those warm spots. In those warm spots, we grow things that we might otherwise try to grow in a greenhouse. Or someplace that is typically much warmer. So we are able to achieve "food all-year".




 
Lori Crouch
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Sounds like a great idea, but I wonder if it would work in all climates. I would love to hear some ideas on what zones you think it would work best in. Possibly there are some people on the forums that have this sort of thing happening for them already? Also, do you think it would be possible to do in a scaled-down environment as in urban permaculture?
 
Max Kennedy
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You're just a bit behind the times there Paul, Look up gardening in Victorian England where they had exotics coming from all over the Empire but didn't have the climate for a lot of it. You'll find pretty much all of it there.
 
Bobby Smith
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Lori Evans wrote:Sounds like a great idea, but I wonder if it would work in all climates. I would love to hear some ideas on what zones you think it would work best in. Possibly there are some people on the forums that have this sort of thing happening for them already? Also, do you think it would be possible to do in a scaled-down environment as in urban permaculture?


One question I have is how this works in the tropics. Being in Hawaii, I have no need to keep my growing season extended, though microclimates is certainly a need. Can a hugelkulture be problematic in areas like mine where "heat" is not a needed resource in my planted areas?
 
paul wheaton
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Lori, note that this forum is "paul's farm" so I am shooting for cold climate.

Max, do you have a link to something tefa-esque in england?
 
Craig Dobbson
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I think the idea is a good one. If I'm understanding this right, Paul is looking to create as many different climates in as wide a range of zones so that he can diversify his food varieties enough to eat something fresh all year without the need of a traditional greenhouse. So in a really cold climate, you may still be limited to hardy greens and the like, which may not be growing rapidly but perhaps at least not succumbing to the freezing temp that would kill them, during the coldest times. I don't think Paul intends to be picking peaches in february in Canada, though you never know. These areas would still be sufficient to over-winter trees and perennials that normally don't survive hard killing freezes while creating shelter for hardy things that do survive rather cold weather like carrots, parsnips, kale and many others. In hot climates there may be ways of modifying the system to create cool areas where you could be able to grow things that would normally die, go dormant or bolt in the heat.

Paul: Do you think that animal's body heat or hot compost would be helpful in an area like this? I could imagine a very large hot compost pile dug into the ground that could radiate heat into a pond or stone mass. Or maybe a heat trap that removed excess heat from a barn (passively) to a similar stone or water mass. Anything like that in mind?
 
Cj Sloane
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Pics?

In particular, I'd like to see pics of, say, tomatoes alive post frost. That's where my hoop house shines. For me to get an extra 4 weeks at both ends of the season is totally worth the hassle.
 
Rick Freeman
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In regard to these claims, I'm all for it. Have you seen proof?

paul wheaton wrote:

And with a little effort, you can grow citrus in the mountains of montana.

[...]

So we are able to achieve "food all-year".


I'm really excited about the idea of growing chard, lettuce, brassicas, etc. under two feet of snow. Also, I would be thrilled to see this work during spring planting up here in the upper Swan where snow covers over half the ground the second week of April. And, as CJ points out, growing tomatoes post-frost would be pretty cool. I'm wondering though, even with micro-climate siting, how we'll dodge those September frosts that did down into the 20s°F.
 
Alex Ames
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paul wheaton wrote:Lori, note that this forum is "paul's farm" so I am shooting for cold climate.

Max, do you have a link to something tefa-esque in england?


The "Victorian Kitchen Garden" on Youtube is a month by month excursion into their world. They used green houses and
many other creative methods for growing food year round. In the January show they take you inside the walled gardens
that most of the Manor Houses had. What you can learn there is used in permaculture as they placed plants based on their
sun preferences, etc. You grow to love the old gardener if you endure the whole series and there are indeed tricks to be learned.
 
Adrien Lapointe
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It would definetly require a lot of thinkering to be able to accomplish such a feat. I guess some points that would be helpful could be:

  • South or SW facing slope
  • A pond that does not freeze or freezes for a short time in front of the area (reflects light and make the temperature more even)
  • Big rocks to accumulate heat
  • Shelter from wind

  • I think one of Sepp's goals at Place of Gathering in Montana was to dig a pond that would not freeze. I believe that he designed the pond so that it would be deep enough so the bottom would be at a constant temperature (ground temp) and thus convection would prevent some areas at the top to freeze. That is just based on what I heard though. Someone who attended the workshop could confirm.
     
    Mary Saunders
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    Just today I saw a posting about some trees that will emit methyl if you drill a hole. There are some people at Yale interested in this. On a field trip, one guy saw something coming out and held a match up to it and got flames. They figure there may be root rot that is producing gas. They will have to ramp down the amount of carbon sequestration to count if a tree is emitting methane. It has been known that some trees create heat around their root zones, but this seems to be new. I grow citrus in northern Oregon, but I have to bring them in during winter, which is not bad because they bloom and smell good then. There are also painted-black pop-can heaters, video instructions on the net, that can be used near windows to generate heat. I have had some plants, notably arugula, wilt down from cold and then pick themselves back up when it warmed. I have also seen purple cabbage winter over here, without special preparations. Collards will also do well most years. Favas will grow in quite cold weather, for more protein. I have found purple potatoes to hold well in the ground as well. I have had squash germinate through the snow on top of the compost one year. It's a worthy experiment to log what succeeds in extending seasons.
     
    Brenda Groth
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    Paul, being in Michigan I am very interested in the tefa..only problem here is generally in cold climates hot manure is used to keep things warm in the winter, and with my husband's head injury we cannot have domesticated animals (he can't deal with the stress of animals, we tried a puppy for a week and he lost a year of progress against his panic attacks, so no animals)..

    Ihope to hear how you do your warm winter areas other than greenhouses..and if you can do any without the use of hot manure as well.

    will you be putting your tefa experiments here on this forum thread when you get your property?

    I have studied a lot of ancient farming methods for trying to get things to go over winter, and have a very few successes here in Michigan, but at this time my greenhouse is the only success I have (a very small 6x8 polycarbonate greenhouse..I can keep tomato, pepper and salad plants well into cold weather in it..but this year we lost all of our fruit to late season frosts and drought..so I'm still trying.

    I did discover that shading the fruit from east facing sun somewhat does help to protect the buds from early frosts..but when it drops to 28..even that isn't much help...we woke up to 37 degrees this balmy august mornning
     
    Devon Olsen
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    paul wheaton
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    Do you think that animal's body heat or hot compost would be helpful in an area like this?


    An animal's body heat. That is a rather interesting idea. Of course, the same animal might destroy the plant that we are trying to nurture.

    Hot compost: I lean more and more to the position that if you make a compost pile, you are doing it wrong. So I'm not planning on any compost pile stuff.


    Pics?


    It is really hard to take a picture of my brain. Oh, sure, I suppose I could part my hair and that would improve the odds. But then there is all that skin and bone stuff.

    Have you seen proof?


    That's the thing with ideas. You gotta work out how you are gonna prove it. At this time, I have the things I have learned from sepp holzer including his citrus tree in the alps stuff.

    how we'll dodge those September frosts that did down into the 20s°F.


    I am thinking that all of this will require a dozen or more techniques working in combination.

    Here is a crappy drawing of a few things. The reflecting pool. The vertical wall. Adding in some elements of wofati.




    tefa.png
    [Thumbnail for tefa.png]
     
    Alex Ames
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    tefa doesn't do anything for me. Husp is more my speed.


     
    Tyler Ludens
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    That's a very helpful drawing, Paul. Thank you!

     
    Devon Olsen
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    i personally love the idea if i havent said that already, how tall would you have to make the wall for a tree thats out of zone though?
    and the body of water would have to be a decent size i would assume to have ability to stabilize the temps a bit

    and what about texturing earth on a small scale for tiny microclimates, like 8 inch lumps and divets for better water harvesting and then the lower stuff would grow and be protected by things growing on nearby lumps, creating VERY MICRO climates, not enough on its own for out of zone plants but may do a bit for ya, and combining with "tefa" it might just work


    i think a dimension needs to be added to your design however, WIND can make or break a microclimate, so there needs to be included in the design how to stop wind from breaking your idea (im sure you already thought about that though...)
     
    Craig Dobbson
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    Paul: I guess what I was thinking was perhaps a Sepp style earth shelter for animals that would vent heat through the top so that it would keep nearby plants warmer at night. Also, a deep litter system would provide some heat through the composting process which would add to the heat being vented through the structure. I'm not a great artist but perhaps this will help get the idea across. Arrows indicate air flow and temp or sunlight "flow". Blue= cold, Red= Warm Yellow= Sunlight.
    tefa.png
    [Thumbnail for tefa.png]
    Tefa animal thermostat
     
    Neal McSpadden
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    Craig, I think what you to drew there was brilliant. I really like the idea of routing animal heat up to the plant and combining that with the rock storage.
     
    Devon Olsen
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    i had an idea last night on improving that animal included design but i was traveling at the time and couldnt post and my darn memory gave up on the idea already lol but i still LOVE the idea craig, if i can think of it again ill post it up
     
    Matt Baker
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    This is my idea for a backyard/suburban scale tefa bed. I would like to use this type of bed for a small plot urban intensive (SPIN) market garden turning peoples' lawns into 'tefa', hugelkultur, keyhole beds.

    Key components would be:

    1) Hugelkultur composting for initial 1-3 years will produce heat from within the beds.

    2) Sun scoop design allows for more direct sun exposure early in the season.

    3) High reflective surface on the keyhole pathway reflects more light up to bed surface

    4) Stones placed strategically around the bed absorb heat in the daytime and release it at night.

    Any thoughts, improvements or criticisms?

     
    Devon Olsen
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    I think thats a great idea for a place where one cant put in a pond and large stone wall, plus a animal shelter, the sand on the pathways is a great idea though to increase sun capture, how do you think it would affect soil in coming years though, as i would assume that eventually it would all sink into the ground and then you have extra sandy walkways... also, were does one get the sand?
    im sure you could purchase (and for me i could probably just grab some from my pond as i dig it out) but for anyone who doesnt want to spend a lot on establishing things or bring anything in from off site?
     
    Matt Baker
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    I agree about the offsite inputs. A pond would be ideal for light reflectivity and heat capacity; however in my case the beds will be quite small, i.e. >100 sq. ft., and the area that needs to reflect light and absorb heat is the pathway. I think other high reflectivity options could be used depending on what is available. For example straw is quite light coloured and may reflect some sunlight although it has a low heat capacity compared with sand. Gravel would be good too I think.
     
    Devon Olsen
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    well, i do think i will incorporate your sand pathways into my heat trap when i build it on my property, i have sand available from my pond site (though its not sandy sand, got some silt in it as well) and will lay it out at least a few inches in the pathways of my heat trap after its built

    another thing aobut sand, it allows moisture to go down and sink through it, but it DOES NOT allow evaporation from beneath it, having sanded pathways may jsut do a lot for water retention in the beds themselves?
     
    Matt Baker
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    Cool. Never thought about water storage aspect of sand. Let me know how it works out.
     
    Amedean Messan
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    The "food-all-year" part that could be a complete substitute of a greenhouse would be a theoretical stretch IMO.
     
    Brenda Groth
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    OK Paul so I'm a little clearer. the roof wouldn't go OVER the entire tree, just over part of the wall..hmmm.

    this is very similar to a plan I had had in the past for building a sort of lean to behind a plant on the N side of the pond.. T > .. like so the lean to would block wind and reflect sun..which is kinda like what you had..a stonewall would be wonderful (but very little stone avail here unless I go buy cement blocks)..

    Here in Michigan we do use windbreaks a lot, either natural with evergreen trees, or built with fencing or lattice or whatever is available..

    wonder if a (they wouldn't let me use the letter YOU for YOU shaped ..silly word I guess) shaped hugel bed around the tree would work just as well? This has been going on in my brain for a while now..it would have to be quite tall to protect a normal size tree, but a dwarf tree (I know not good) would be protected by a much smaller one.

    my problem here is if I have too tall of Hugelbeds (which are expensive to make here) I am way too short to get to the top of them (also partially disabled)..no jolly green giant for sure..so I wouldn't know how to deal with anything over 5' tall as I'm only just over 5'.

    If you put a tree or shrub on top you can't "pick" the produce off of it..it would almost have to be something that would drape down the sides to be beneficial for a short partially disabled person.

    but the (you) shaped suntrap Idea has been more and more appealing to me all the time
     
    Devon Olsen
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    i think that one could plant either sunchokes (for cooler climates like wyoming and montana) or black bamboo(in warmer climates) at the very top of the hugelkultur beds to add an extra 6-8ft wall of plants to further protect the area, the plants grow thick and slow the wind down, though not stopping it entirely, which allows some wind in the summer when you have maybe too much heat in a suntrap

    but the question is how to stop these plants from overtaking the entire bed? i know in an area that is routinely worked by animals or humans there isnt too much risk of these plants overtaking an area too much

     
    Claude Mur
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    Hi everybody...I am a recent member of this forum, writing from south of France. I hope I will be able to express in an understandable english...
    All this stuff of rocks, walls and ponds reminds me of the « peach-walls » of Montreuil, a city near Paris.The principle was to grow peach trees in front of lime-painted walls. The peach trees were grown in « espaliers » (I think it's the same word in english. It means tying branches to a wooden frame).
    All these fruits were more precocious using this way...and were sold to rich people, to the king and his family and courtiers, favorites...
    Two points are also interesting in this case :
    Why lime ? Because there were gypsum quarries in the town...so easy to get lime.
    There was a waste in a market in the neighborhood : small pieces of rags (pieces of destroyed clothes) These rags were used to tie the branches.

    So, we have here different permaculture principles and way of thinking : no waste, creativity, use sun energy, design...

    Well...that's all for today. So happy to have reached this forum. I have already read a lot of messages and that makes me excited to move on. Salut à tous.

    The link to the (french) explanation of the history of these peach-trees walls
    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murs_%C3%A0_p%C3%AAches
     
    Devon Olsen
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    by the way Craig, my idea was to simply turn the animal shelter around, reason being that i think with your design the cold air may have the ability to draft through the animal shelter both making the animal cold and possibly wrecking the microclimate of your tefa, if it was the other way around then the heat would more readily rise into the microclimate and the cool air would be more excluded, though you may lose a little bit of heat through the animal shelters exhaust, i think it would be less than you would lose having it as it is in your drawing, nevertheless the idea to include livestock in the tefa is a great one to be sure
     
    Kris Minto
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    This is a great idea and like Paul said, it really pulls from something sepp holzer mention in his video and books. The only issue I see with tefa compare to a traditional greenhouse is depending where you live (I am in Zone 4 in Canada) the cold and/or snow will eventually inhibit you from growing any food as things go dormant until spring.

    I feel this will extend the growing season in cooler climate and allow you to grow less hardy plants then you otherwise could but don't see how this would allow you to grow food year around as you could in a greenhouse.

    Kris
     
    Kota Dubois
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    Just a few of my observations on having a pond in the middle of my gardens.

    It is a fairly large (10 x30 metres) and 1.5 to 5 metres deep. It is not a still pond but has a small babbling brook running into it which will sometimes go dry in a summer drought. It forms a thin layer of ice quite quickly when the temperature drops only slightly below freezing, and never gets soupy in the summer.

    It adds a lot of humidity to the air. In the summer that means heavy dews which water my plants amply, in the gardens below, but it also make them susceptible to powdery mildew.

    In the fall however it means early frosts in the same places. Most plants can handle a slight freeze, say -4C, as long as the dewpoint is lower than that. My pond, in my landscape (quite a steep slope), guarantees that the dewpoint is always above freezing, ergo there's always a heavy frost if it drops below 0 degrees C.

    Just one more observation, ponds always seem dark to me if they are not frozen, which makes them like mirrors -- the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection.
     
    Deb Berman
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    I'm thinking that the effect of having really good frost/drainage could add some additional length to the food-year if added to the other ideas folks have been brainstorming. My place is at 3500 ft, on the side of a fairly steep mountain, with a sun trap. When you stand on the road below my house, you can feel the cold air flowing by you on its way down the mountain. My first frost date is usually about Nov 15, while people in town, 5 miles away and 900 - 1000 feet lower, get their gardens frozen out as early as the end of August or the first week of September. (I'm in northern Idaho.) Of course, the other side of that is that at this time of year I sometimes have snow when it rains in town (like today), so I'm guessing that my longer growing season must be at least partly powered by hot air rising up the mountain as the cold air is sinking. There isn't a lot of hot air around right now to rise!
     
    Steve Laubach
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    What if you have a small pit with angled sides that goes 3'+ down to keep the root zone warm.

    A mass shaped like a boomerang could block wind NW - NE angles (leaving line if sight for W sun during winter solstice). Wind walls could then direct the wind upstream from the grow area to make sure wind is directed toward the angled wind shield. So basically, mounds would be sculpted to direct wind away from the grow area. The mound behind the grow area would be built to be as much of a thermal store as possible.


    I don't limit myself to things found in nature so I would line the rear shield wall with a black HDPE tank and turn it into a passive solar thermal store.
     
    Deb Berman
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    Somebody, I think it might have been Jim Gilbert at One Green World, or maybe Sam Benowitz at Raintree Nursery, once told me that they grow pomegranates in Ukraine in pits in the ground. I live on a mountain where there are a fair number of gold mining exploration pits dating from the late 1800s, and I have been eyeing them, wondering if I could grow something in them. They are mostly about 6-8 feet deep and maybe 10-12 feet wide. That would be just right for some of the smaller pomegranate varieties. I think the berm to deflect wind/cold air is a great idea. If the pit was on a slope, with a berm uphill, the cold air could be deflected around it.

    I seem to remember that there is something in the Designer's Manual about the size of pits determining whether they are warmer or colder microclimates. Or am I confusing that with what he said about clearings?

    You could line a pit with dark rock, like basalt, too, in addition, (or instead of) the black HPDE tank. If the rock was in big chunks, it might lead to some beneficial air convection when the sun hit them. It could backfire, tho, if the additional warmth caused things to break dormancy too early, or lead things to flower too early before there were any pollinators out and about.

    I saw some research that somebody had done where they found that you could gain a hardiness zone by planting something on a one foot high mound. So maybe a something planted on a mound inside a pit?
     
    Jill Emerson
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    I don't mind tinkering with Nature to produce a benefit for all (including Nature!), and this thread reminds me of heated hollow stone walls that were used in medieval gardens and orchards. Fireplaces or flues were built in (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunmore_Pineapple). I'd read about this years ago, and the idea has stayed in my head all this time, albeit in a not-so-happy place - sounds like a lot of work to set up, how effective would it be, who tends the fire?

    The whole thing kind of sounds like a RMF, though, so how about extending your RMH flue into some raised beds outside? Or an optional extension on the flue for very cold weather. I think I read somewhere that the flue length could be up to 96 feet? Just a stove pipe set in sand under or in a bed, or up against a wall or mound? Along the south wall of the house? Just a thought...
     
    paul wheaton
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    Cool reference! I had never heard of that!

    I think something like this is, indeed possible with rocket mass heaters.

     
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