Tom Turner

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since Jun 03, 2011
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high desert and mountains of Idaho and coastal Atlantic Canada (migratory)
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Recent posts by Tom Turner

Anne Miller wrote:Since you must till by hand, why not consider using a no-till method?

Maybe this Thread about to till, not to till and why will help:

Hi Anne, I started the thread you recommended. I feel honored.  I just wanted to weigh in that over the four years since that thread I've Swung hard to the no-till side.  I think Diego Footer is right that roots are the best way to get biomass deep into the soil. And the fungi are a very important member of the soil-building team. Chopping them up with a rototiller creates a step back in soil health. Tilling should only ever be a one time event  for very poor soil.  
2 years ago
Walt, Very good! Some in distributism talk about "naturally occurring groups" which could be family or others who unite through commitment. Commitment is the foundation which started to crumble with the shift to individual wage earning. Marriage vows are no longer sacred and there are no commitments in an employment agreement - resumes are simply personal histories of broken relationships. Hannah Arendt states it well: “The remedy for unpredictability, for the chaotic uncertainty of the future, is contained in the faculty to make and keep promises. …  binding oneself through promises, serves to set up in the ocean of uncertainty, which the future is by definition, islands of security without which not even continuity, let alone durability of any kind, would be possible in the relationships between men.”

I think you're right that Japanese culture can teach us a lot. I have read that the rise of the Japanese auto industry was very much fueled by Demming's manufacturing philosophy combined with extensive cottage industry of thousands of family owned and run machine shops, partially an inheritance of a WWII Japanese war-machine decentralizing industry to make difficult targets for American B-29s. I'm told that even today that most machine parts are made in small family run shops. And sadly Japan is on the leading edge of the pathos of individual wage earning. They call it Muen Shakai, literally “no-relationship society,”  "The paradigmatic example was “muen shi” (solitary death), in which people died unnoticed, their bodies undiscovered for days or weeks or longer, and no known family or acquaintances to claim the remains."

The only minor disagreement I have is that our rugged individual ethos/narrative hasn't always dominated American culture. It is an invention of modernity. The point when it reached critical mass was WWII. I call it the iron curtain of history-  where life before it was forgettable and regrettable - and after it everything is all shiny and new and wonderful! We can now die alone amidst the splendor of the human artifice.
4 years ago
One factor to consider is the temperature of the greenhouse. If we allow the temp to get very hot the greenhouse becomes a powerful evaporator. If the temps are kept low by heat-sinking to a thermal mass it becomes a poor evaporator.

I think with some carefulness I think plants can be house-trained. Incorporate these:

<> efficient heat transfer to a substantial thermal mass

<> keep all soil well mulched

<> drain all catch pans

<> avoid over-watering,  which I think people tend to do to help the plants survive the massive heat of the "hot house", which if you control becomes a non-issue.

<> good ventilation (and not just for the plants, we need ventilation also). Install a heat recovery system and exchange 4-500 CFM.
6 years ago

Kevin Wang wrote:House exterior walls are not waterproof. If you have super high humidity air on the outside, it will make its way into your house's walls and feed mold, rot wood, etc. cement is not waterproof. stucco is not waterproof. wood is not waterproof. tar paper may be pretty waterproof, but usually when the side of a house is layered with tar paper, kraft paper, or house wrap, it's layered, much like shingles. it's designed so that gravity will pull water droplets (i.e. from rain) away and out from the building. If you build a greenhouse, humidity is air, not water droplets, and will happily go upwards into your house.

I would not recommend an attached greenhouse, because of the humidity.

An attached/enclosed porch is different, because there is no moisture.

Kevin I think you exaggerate humidity's ability to pass through vapor barriers. If it were true then greenhouses would never accumulate humidity, they would just release it to the outside air.

But I think I'm the other way. I want to trivialize humidity.

6 years ago
Isn't it possible to minimize moisture loading by mulching everything. I also thought that it wouldn't be too difficult to drain all the catch pans into a container and recycle the water.  I tend to think about the ideal of living with your garden. We give them love; nutrients; water and CO2. They give us Oxygen; psychological warm-n-fuzzy feelings and food.
6 years ago

David Maxwell wrote:...  The pumps to pump the water through the radiators (my "heat exchangers") are controlled by a differential thermostat, so that they run only when the temperature of the air, (in the peak), is higher than the temperature of the water.  It was apparent that the heat was coming out of the water in the tanks reasonably efficiently, as the temp in the tanks drops as much as 20 degrees C overnight.  But I have gilded this lily a little - I am pumping the water through black plastic piles buried  8" down in the growing beds, 24 hours a day, (at least when the cheap pumps are still working).    I did this on the principle that heating the plants' toes made more sense that trying to heat the entire volume of air in the greenhouse.  But it had an unexpected effect - it added the soil in the growing beds to the thermal mass.  The temperature in the tank with a functioning soil pump runs about 2 degrees lower than the other one, and the soil temperature in the the "circulated" beds, runs 2 degrees higher than the ones without circulating water.  In addition to the pumps, I have 4 large computer fans which draw the air from the peak through the radiators.  All these  pumps, fans and controllers run off a 90 Watt P-V panel with a small battery storage (actually the battery from my ride-on mower) which carries the  soil pumps through the night. Obviously, since I am able to quote these temperatures, I also have a monitoring system capable of storing a log of data drawn from, (in my case), 4 separate channels..  (Mine currently polls the temp sensors every 10 minutes).

NICE! The heated beds is an awesome idea. I'm not a biologist but I think soil temperature sends signals to the plant to tell it how and when to grow. It at least is vital in seed starting and I know high soil temps tell the plant to go dormant until it cools off a bit. You have designed a "task heating" system (like "task lighting"). Heat only where and when you need it, not heat always everywhere. Only through active systems can you achieve this ideal.

Now that you have the (active) components in place you could add a compost pile into the system, extracting heat from the decomposition and giving off some co2 to make happier plants. and once again serendipitously adding some more thermal mass. Because you have an active system the compost pile need not be in the green house, just nearby connected by two pipes and a vent duct.

David Maxwell wrote: Does movable thermal curtain insulation count as "active"? (That is my next "refinement", after I get, and install, some new pumps, which hopefully will last a little longer.)

Well we had been talking about active/passive in heat transfer systems. Movable insulation is more of an adaptive system and yes it would be an active adaptive system. An example of a passive adaptive system would be deciduous trees on the south side of your house, they adapt from shade in the summer to sun in the winter.

The Chinese consider roll-up thermal curtains as essential. See that article I posted above. What I think the ideal would be is insulated shutters of some sort that when open become light-gathering reflectors.  Stand on the north shore of a frozen lake and you get twice as much sunlight - direct from the sun and seemingly just as much reflected off the lake.

I read many years ago about movable insulation with ping-pong balls filling large cavities between sheets of glazing. He moved them in and out with a blower and duct work. It at least would be a show for guests - as soon as the sun sets these balls start filling-up the windows.  
6 years ago

bob day wrote:Great Links Tom, very informative. I've been puzzling over how to grow figs and actually get a good crop, looks like the fruit walls are the solution. I had no idea they were so effective, or had such a long history

Thanks. The article doesn't say, but by the pictures I think the reason they are so effective is that the fruit trees are trained to grow right against the wall, cuddling to keep warm.
6 years ago
Good post David.  There is an underlying ideal at work here even if people are not conscious of it, that is Active vs Passive. Especially in a perma-culture setting Passive is always first choice and Active has a bad image of being overly complicated.

But active, as you know, can yield huge performance benefits.  I think that a "properly" designed thermal mass storage system would have an active deposit system as you have engineered, and also an active withdrawal system which would then become computer controllable. There is no efficiency in heating a space when it doesn't need it. If it is indeed a storage system the mass should also be insulated to extend beyond only day to night cycles but also to compensate for rainy day periods.  

All of that is also applicable to rocket mass heaters which would benefit from becoming Pro-Active.
6 years ago
The history of greenhouse thermal mass is kind of ironic. We began with nothing but thermal mass, in the 1600's northern Europe called them fruit walls:

Then we discovered that adding some expensive glazing really helps:

Then we became spoiled by abundant energy, energy to waste (not just in the energy to make glass but also to heat the greenhouse) and then went here:

Now we have forgotten where we began and don't quite understand how thermal mass works.

Great article on fruit walls and Chinese greenhouses.

6 years ago