Heather Petersen

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since Jan 16, 2016
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fungi foraging building
I'm a young woman who likes to grow plants and fungi, plan houses, and in general, test my landlord's limits. Hopefully I'll get a good plot of land soon.
Menomonie, WI zone 4
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Recent posts by Heather Petersen

Thanks so much Matt Leger!!!  What a nice sentiment

Matt Leger wrote:I may hit you up for some mycology advice at some point. I'm thinking of starting a batch this year, maybe in the fall and could use some guidance. Do you have any experience growing them outdoors? Even if not, I'm sure a lot of indoor growing is applicable to outdoor too.



I have no experience (intentionally) growing mushrooms outside, but I plan to start a companion bed with saprobic mushrooms growing in a hardwood mulch with some plants in the future.  I think it would be a great way to save space and grow food.  However, I can offer indoor growing advice!  I've had some pretty good yields in the past.
1 year ago
When I was eleven or twelve, I started becoming aware of some of the sources of my parents' discontent, such as financial difficulties, a lack of a societal safety net, and high levels of work-related stress.  I didn't want to follow in their footsteps, so instead of falling into an existential crisis (like many children when they first become aware of adulthood) I hopped online and tried to find a different way of life.  I think my first search term was something like "how to build a cheap house."  I didn't know it then, but I was about to open the doors to a rich world of innovation, community, and sustainability.  

Fast forward a few years and past lots of research and experimentation to now.  I'm fresh out of college at the age of twenty with a good job and more free time than I've had in years.  I have a small but thriving food and herb garden, and I'm beginning to build my first hydroponic system for lettuces (which, of course, is pretty sketchy and bound to leak all over my rented condo at least twice, but whatever).  I have succeeded at growing edible fungi indoors and will probably expand to lion's mane, enokis, various other types of oysters, and maybe a few more (I'm definitely a mycology nerd).  I have plans to buy a plot of land within two years and start work on a combined strawbale/earthbag house (haven't decided on design yet, as I don't know the topology and climate of my future dwelling site), a greenhouse, and a shop.  Hopefully I'll be able to find land with a field I can make into an airstrip - I'm post-solo and will have my pilot's license within the year - but we'll see.  

If anyone possesses unpublished knowledge about building alternative houses in the Wisconsin climate, let me know.  Also, if anyone knows how to stop Trichoderma viride from contaminating my oyster spawn jars (and yes, I have tried sterilizing everything more than twenty times), let me know.  

I'm looking forward to a long life filled with permaculture and innovation.  I'm very green and don't have an ancestral farming background, so you might see (or have seen) newbie posts from me on here, but I look forward to learning.  

Thanks for the question!  
1 year ago
David Livingston thanks for replying!  So what are some of the other potential problems with geodesic domes themselves, aside from water issues with the strawbales?
2 years ago
Hey y'all!  I have an idea I've been bouncing around for a while, but there are some flaws with it and I'm not sure it is worth taking further, so I'm going to try and draw from your knowledge a bit!

So there's this series of videos that documents the building of a straw bale geodesic dome in Israel.  I want to try something similar - a small straw bale-covered geodesic dome, except the structure would be built from wood - but I have some problems (and possible solutions).

- Problem: the ground freezes in my area.  Idea: rubble trench foundation under the bale walls, topped with a heavy rot-treated wood base for the bales.  (Wood because I don't want to pour cement and because it is abundant where I live.)  Question: is it a good idea to support something like this with such a foundation?

- Problem: I might want a mini loft.  Question: would I be able to build this right off of the geodesic dome structure, or would I have to make it a separately supported structure?

- Problem: the big one.  Water, water, water.  I don't live in Israel.  I live in good ol' Wisconsin, where the gods dump their extra snow and where we get over 30 inches of rainfall a year.  Naturally, an earthen plaster dome could not hold up in this place.  Idea: I coat the plastered exterior of the dome with an elastomeric waterproof coating, install a vapor barrier under the floor and walls such that moisture does not rise from the ground into the bales, and possibly install a dehumidifier (or run a rocket stove all winter to suck humidity out).  Thus, the humidity within the bales would remain close to that of the interior air (or however that works).  Of course, there are a number of possible problems with this idea.  A small hole in the coating could spell disaster.  If the interior humidity was too difficult to keep down, the bales could rot.  I might not know how any of this humidity stuff works.  Question: would I want to extend the vapor barrier between the bales and the foundation and "merge" it with the elastomeric coating so that the bales and interior spaces are essentially within an envelope of climate-controllable waterproofing?  Has anyone ever tried something like this?  Is this a colossally stupid idea, or is it worth a shot?  

- Problem: a little bit of a different one - I don't want to deal with building codes.  They make me feel ill.  Question: in your experience, how lax are building codes in theory/in practice in unincorporated communities?

- Problem: drilling wells is environmentally unfriendly.  Question: assuming the waterproofed dome was a feasible idea, would it be stupid to harvest, filter, and store the water that runs off the roof for use in ordinary plumbing situations?

Thank you for your consideration!
2 years ago
Just so you know, the following information is based completely on what I've read online and logic.  I've never actually built an RMH.

Logic would dictate, because rocket mass heaters do not blow hot air into other rooms, that you would need a source of heat in each "pod".  (RMH ducts can be put under the floor to maximize space if you're not using a bell design).  I'm sure there are more clever solutions, though, that would enable a single RMH to heat the whole area.  Perhaps you could install radiant floor heat in all pods, connected to a single heater...  But then again, I have never heard of anyone doing something like that for such a large area.  And I lack the hands-on experience that would tell me exactly how far a heater could stretch.

As for a type of rocket mass heater, there's a lot of information online about such things.  I'm going to build one myself (soon, hopefully) and I've learned a lot about them -- or, more accurately, I've learned as much as I could from the online resources I've so far found.  There are two types of "feed" that I've so far encountered -- the regular ol' "J" kind and the easier-to-use (but more difficult to build) "Peterberg batch-box" kind.  J tubes are smaller (can hold less wood) and need to be tended quite often.  Batch boxes, in contrast, require much less tending for a steady fire (maybe twice or thrice a day) because there is enough space in the box to hold a lot of wood.  However, they need to be constructed out of firebrick or heat-resistant concrete, and the air intake usually requires welding.

Do some research to learn about them.  If you've already done research, do more.

Personally, when I finally build my own, I'm going to first try a "J" kind, to get a feel for building RMHs.  Seeing as I'm not going to have my own house (and workshop) for a while yet, the "J" kind is a better option for me -- no masonry to cut, no welding to do, and no cement to cast.  But the batch box looks much better for a house-heating option -- you won't have to feed it every 15-30 minutes.

There's another design decision to make:  whether to use a bell design or a flue design (I think it's also referred to as "contraflow," but not entirely sure).  There are lots of great posts about this already, and I can't pretend to know much about it (I'm just a seventeen-year-old sustainability nerd, after all, and not a mason), but here's a a site written by somebody who is:  Article  And if that didn't make sense, I don't blame you, and here's another:  Article

Basically, with a bell design, all the hot gases being put out by the rocket core go to the top of the "bell."  As they release their heat through the skin of the bell, they sink to the bottom and are replaced with new hot gases.  They exit through a hole at the bottom and possibly into another bell.  This ensures that only the coolest gases will leave the system, allowing maximum efficiency.  Besides, with a bell system, the gases are not as likely to "back up" into the house once the heater is warm.  Here's an article listing bell RMH projects built by experienced masons, including commentary:  Article  The site is a bit confusing, but you'll probably figure it out.

With a flue design, hot gases may or may not exit the chimney along with cooled ones.  Therefore, it's not as efficient.  However, it's unbeatably easy and cheap to build -- requiring no masonry skills and utilizing ductwork.  This is the kind of RMH you probably picture when you think of the term.

Anyways, just throwing ideas and information out there.  I hope the articles I've shared help at least a bit.  If I have any incorrect or disputed information in this post, I'd appreciate being told -- there are varying opinions on how to build these things.

As for recommendations, it really depends on how willing you are to work hard.  If you build a batch box rocket bell heater, you'll basically be building a masonry stove.  It'll be really nice, but it'll be difficult.  And if you have to build three of them -- well, let's just say that you don't want to have to do that.  Besides, if you want to save space by putting it in the floor, your only option is to use a flue design and probably a J tube.  

I wish you luck.
3 years ago
Thank you, Mike Feddersen, for your ideas! Yes, it'll be labor-intensive, but I am young! And I want to be fit.

It's a good idea to build a cold-frame greenhouse on the side of the greenhouse. It would at least break the wind, and could be used to start vegetables early. I think I'll use that idea.

Thanks for all the ideas about getting glass. I hadn't thought to check with Home Depot; I can probably do that even in the winter, and stock up on windows. Have to decide on a plan, though, before I do that! Don't want to end up with piles of glass that I don't know what to do with.

Actually, I can think of quite a few things to do with it... but never mind that.

Thanks again!


Anyone else have ideas, too? I want to learn as much as possible and get lots of input before I embark on this project.
4 years ago
Hey, I'm a high-school age girl who has read a lot about earthbags. Of course, reading doesn't teach you everything you need to know. I am completely self-educated in the ways of earthbag building; I know nobody who's ever heard of the method before I told them. (Translates to: I don't have any real-life or inherited experience with the material.) However, I am very interested in natural building methods, and plan to build my house using natural materials someday. I thought a good, useful starter project would be a greenhouse.

Criteria in order of importance: Inexpensive (preferably under $100, max $200), enough space for plenty of lettuce/cold-weather crops, tall enough to stand in, stays above freezing on cold WI zone 4 days, small (max 6x4x7 ft), aesthetically appealing.

I thought I would use old double-pane patio doors for light-letting roof and walls, as I have seen them on eBay for $100 and less. This would be the least expensive insulated glazing, save for double-walled polycarbonate sheets; however, I don't want something that will last only ten years. I guess I won't even be living here ten years from now, but my parents will. I want it to last for them.

As for the earthbags themselves, I thought I'd just use super cheap wholesale polypropylene bags. I don't know how many I'd need for a project like this. And there is some old barbed wire on my property I could use.

I thought I'd just use earthen plaster, as the exteriors of the bags will be covered in pond liner or something like it and piled with dirt. (it's on a hill.) But any exterior plastered areas would be plastered with lime or cement plaster. Would someone with more experience please help me with the plastering?

Insulation: I would probably use hard foam insulation. Is it better to make a skirt with it, preventing the soil from freezing and allowing use of the earth berm as thermal mass, or to place it flush with the back side of the earthbags?

I want the greenhouse to be very well planned before I actually start building it. Here are the two general ideas I like. The first one would require more digging, possibly with the use of my neighbor's tractor. The second could be dug by hand, but there is less interior space. So for all you smart and experienced people: which is a better plan to use?

And is there anything I am obviously missing?
4 years ago
I will look into Jewel raspberries. Maybe I can try grafting some edible apples onto one of the smaller apple trees on my property for practice. I have one that produces few apples each year; maybe I could test a more prolific apple variety...?

Thanks for the help!
4 years ago
Yup. I designed and built it myself. Kinda HUGE. Not real practical for meat rabbits or a TON of rabbits, but very nice for big rabbits or pampered pets.

It also works great as a chick brooder. Yup, I've tried it. Unfortunately lost most of those poor little peepers to coccidiosis... lesson to future self: don't let the rooster poop on the chicks. It was very sad, a terrible mistake on my part that I will never repeat. I did cry.

But it DOES work great as a chick brooder, rabbit hutch, probably for other small animals as well. It's big enough to hold a large rabbit, even though I raise mini rexes. Yes, I pamper my animals; it's more expensive, but they're my babies. Oh, and I also have a rabbit playpen, complete with a cozy little treehouse (a little high for most rabbits, but some of them love it). I've included that tutorial as well.

Even though I know there are tons of rabbit hutch plans out there already, I wanted to share this. It's on instructables, and shared many times on pinterest. I'm not such a skilled (or patient) woodworker, so some of the hutches are lopsided and messy. I know I could improve the ones I currently have, but I don't really want to spend my time that way. But pinterest people seem to like it, so I hope it's good

Here it is:

A Frame Rabbit Hutches



It's nice for rabbits because the middle (high) part of the cage gives them room to stand up, but they can fit into the corners if they want to lay down. My rabbits will squeeze into the corners on hot days next to a frozen water bottle and lay there, quite cozy. In the winter, the sloped sides are nice because snow piles up, creating natural (and effective) insulation. Straw is placed into the interior area, and the rabbits burrow into it and create little nests. The straw usually piles up quite nicely on the other side of the door, keeping the wind off the sleeping rabbits. I've never had a rabbit get frostbite with these cages, and in the summer, they stay cool enough (most days) to be comfortable.
4 years ago
Yikes! Bet you're glad it didn't take your house...
4 years ago