Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Somethings never get old

Been a tad busy as you may have been noticed.  Not much woodworking but lots of small projects for storage and while Greenhouse No 2 is done, there is still a lot going on in the gardening front.

Greenhouses put to bed for the winter.
All buttoned up and stopped heating No 2 for the season. 

Been experimenting with various growing methods and equipment's.  My end goal is to turn on more people here in NS, into home growers to reduce food insecurities and eat better,  A Win Win scenario in my book.   So I got this inspiration from my last visit home in Montreal for Mom`s service.

That is the kind of operation I have in mind 

To that end, I am still in the research phase as we are progressing into winter.  I need the info before preparing my business plan for the project and rallying support.

I did kept heating the greenhouse No 2, not the whole greenhouse 10X20ft, but instead the doubles 6X6ft greenhouses that we installed inside.  I turned off the heat early December.  My experiment was to see how I can control the temperature inside.  All I was aiming for was to keep it above 10C (50F).  

The white square box near ceiling is my data logger: Temp, RH, Dew Point, VPD.
Near it, the black cable is the temperature sensor for heater thermostat. 
 This way, I read the temperature seen by thermostat on line

The plants we kept inside for the start of the experiment 
were the potted plants still outside before Fiona was about to hit us.
They survived and thrived.

The electric heater I used.
Kept the temperature at 10.2C plus minus 0,2C easily.
The coldest temperature recorded during this experiment was minus 10C

Meanwhile started gathering parts for the Bob-O-Matic V2.0 and cobbled something together to run some tests inside before deploying out in the greenhouse.  Every equipment I used, I keep an eye on the wattage required.  My goal being to switch the green house to solar power.  Every watts saved counts, the heating mats I am trying featured the new IR technology film versus the traditional electric heating wire elements.  A saving of 5 watts per mats, I am using 2, hence 10 watts saved.
Being an experiment, it is nice to be able to get some data to assess performance.  I am also trying to automate as much as possible the various process (Ventilation, Temperature, Humidity, Light, Water etc).   I rely on WIFI technology to accomplish all these tasks.

Dual thermostats, WIFI control, monitor, set up alarms
comes with 2 mats

Repurposing one of the three tiers light stands Heather used for her violets.
Also slated to be upgraded with LEDs fixtures.

To run my indoor experiments I set up two different scenarios 
for each mat/seedlings trays.  The bottom of the trays rest on a double sided foil insulated foam board with the heating mat sandwiched in between.  The tray on the left contain a very well insulated LV self watering foam tray, the other just a regular seedling tray.  In both case temperature probe is inserted deep into the pods (root temps).  Later I would add a timer for the lights.  All the power is going thru my wattmeter.  I monitor/control the temperature performance on my phone via an App. 

Sure enough the thick Styrofoam one took longer to reach set root temperature, but was also remaining hotter longer with heat turned off.

Since I was going to run such a test, I may as well, grow something, so we did, and then what do you do with them?  Moved them inside to finish growing since we stopped heating greenhouse.  Yeah, we eat some green already :-) 
Re-purposing the frame for the Veg-Trug to be able to cover it with its own greenhouse cover.
Making essentially: A greenhouse (cover on tray) inside a greenhouse (cover on frame) inside a doubled greenhouse (6X6, heated), inside a greenhouse (main greenhouse) .  The whole thing sitting on a table covered with double foil insulation. The seedling trays being heated by electric mats. 

Tried two types of grow lights, both in a fluorescent neon tube forms.
This one being a full spectrum Sun blaster T5 bulb

LED, full spectrum, T5 form factor

 Part of my experiments are geared toward finding an affordable (I`m paying for the prototyping ) technology package that could be easily deployed , setting up in schools, food banks, community gardens etc.
I am obviously not going to pay for everyone, but I am also making it a project for my Rotary club.
As part of it, my first two sites are a food cafeteria inside a college being run as a social enterprise (operate year long) and a high school (only operate from Sep to Jun).  Both sites represent a different challenge and solutions, and both sites need to operate during the winter.   A soft skin greenhouse would not be economical to run in the winter, while using grow tents inside building can cause mold problems if not ventilated correctly, outside.

So my next plans are to set up both a grow tent and an hydroponic tower in my basement.  Between these, we will have Bob-O-Matic V3.0 seedling starters/clone makers, hydroponic garden, grow tent, green house, raised beds, garden plots and orchards.  We should be able to feed ourselves, year round, and grow practically, anything, anytime :-)  Armed with this knowledge I will then specify a complete turn key package for the project.  I don't want to see this project fail, I want to try the technology hands on before I procure it for project.  An offshoot of the WIFI technology I will be using will allow me to monitors the deployed system and ensure they operate correctly.  It will also reduced the manpower required to operate them.

Part of my research in grow tents and equipment's I found this company AC Infinity that makes a complete solution package: Their UIS system control everything I need in one small affordable package. Bought the 6 in fan with UIS controller, plan to use same controller to automate more my  greenhouse next season.  Will gather remaining parts from them also, then specify a package suited for my applications.

Hydroponic wise, I believe the future is vertical. You can buy complete commercial grow tower system for $600 and more or, like me, you can make your own, because, I can, and has to afford it :-)
So far planning something like that 

So currently clearing a corner in basement, besides the cold storage room, so I can exhaust tent outside and bring in fresh air from outside.  That corner will also host the 4 growing towers. That mean clear gym equipment, more sorting, turfing stuff, demolish built in wood shelves (save long planks) and replaced by resin shelving's in a more compact and efficient footprint. Work in current progress.

The other day coming back from a friend funeral service, I stopped at an inside yard sale to cheer me up, looking for tools.  Found a box of hand brace bits, mostly Irwin, bought 4 for a buck ($1.00) each.

Never cease to amaze me and bring a smile to my face to see a tool resurrected and brought back to life as a working tool, not a decoration.

As found.  Salvageable?  You bet!

Yes rusty, but not severely.  
The main working bits, the spurs on each sides are full size, not worn or damaged.
  The two cutters (routers) are in good shape, no signs of having been ever touched up, 
Feeding screw is undamaged.

Quick metal brushing, soak in Evaporust, cleaned on drill press with metal wire wheel
They came out pretty good.
And THAT, never gets old with me 

It never cease to amazed me how well the cutting edges came out under that rust.  they will not need much touch up to cut well.  But how will they perform as is?  You know I had to try :-)

One of my favorite brace Spofford or Fray brace.
One of my favorites?  Yes, I have a few :-)

Not bad at all, I had NOS bit that performed worse out of packages.

I was so happy, I could not wait for the next day, go back and buy every ones he had left that look promising . So bought 6 more.

Oh yeah 10 more bits for my kits.

Could had probably gotten the whole 13 bits set from that dealer, but a few had the tapered ends cut, a 
real NO-NO in my book.
Not only are you destroying an artifact, but they were never designed to be run by a powered drill, they will quickly self feed too fast and jam, you are gonna need more torque to overcome jamming, not good...  Please never do that.

Meanwhile... I am so impressed by that little data logger, I got myself one for Christmas and put it in my hand tool shop to monitor temp and humidity.

Woodworking wise, not to worry, I need a new deck badly this summer, 

 Replaced dishwasher before Christmas, new one is stainless not white, so you know the other appliances will have to be changed, OH, and new dishwasher is not as wide as older one, so need wood filler strips, and while I am at it, may as well reface kitchen cabinets and install better hardware (sliders mostly) Probably construct real drawers to replace original builder`s drawers.

Veg trug and self watering raised bed in front

Generator and snow blower filled up with fresh gas, ran and put away, ready for action.
No real snow yet, strange winter so far...

Bob, poking holes in the fabric of time, one bit at a time

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Greenhouse No 2 is completed...

 ...for now.  Time to catch up on a few things around the house next.

This is where I started 

This is where we are now.

The side opening has been buttoned down for the season.

Install a new ventilated door up front
Both front opening have been sealed, but then I ran into problems...


In order to better control the temperature inside, I needed to sealed it.  Especially at the bottom perimeter to avoid the low frost area to penetrate inside.

What  I started with

It quickly became obvious in the heat waves we had that I needed more ventilation.
Taking a cue from commercial greenhouses, I opened up one side (facing north)
I can roll up and down a three feet high section.  I still need to put in a screen to keep the bugs out.
I also sealed up the front and back walls and added glued up chunk of Styrofoam pieces from my Amazon purchases along the bottoms. Bottom boards on both sides are caulked and sealed.
Front and back doors have new seals

When roll up I used those loops with a ball to fasten it up.
It is then tucked in under greenhouse plastic to keep it weather tight for the rain

The bottom is weigh down by a metal pole

The bottom boards are sealed with a bug resistant spray foam

Added shade cloths to both greenhouse.
They still let the sun rays passed thru but reduced the heat gain.
This one is a 70 % sun blocker.  Does an amazing job of keeping it cooler.
There is a metal pipe at the bottom of my side roll up opening, its weight keep it closed

I spend lots of time sealing up the greenhouse envelope.  Did a good job, I noticed after that when the greenhouse is all closed up and  exhaust fan were running it was a bit louder and the louvers were not opening fully.  The doors wanted to be sucked in, hard to open and the greenhouse sides were being sucked in :-)  Oups, need some make up air. :-)

Opened up one of the front opening and put a louvered grill in it.  Folded the plastic flap inside, it blocks the air flow until the fan kicked in which then opened it up.  Fans are now happy.

I will add another vent to the right side in the Spring.
For now I have sufficient air flow with only one or two exhaust fan running.
In the colder temps I will put in a block of rigid insulation inside openings to seal them.

I had originally planned to installed 4 fans, two up front and two in the back.
Two in the back are plenty, 940 CFMs each exhausting a 10X20X8 feet greenhouse.
I can really sucked it in with everything closed up :-)

Doors closed, fans off.  I put in a small weighted strawberry 
to ensure it closed up

With fans running it open nicely.
Will make it prettier in the Spring, but for now, its OK

Compared louvers opening with door opened or closed, 
NO more differences, they are happy

The fans are in line with the front openings.

 My goal is to automate as much as I can temperature and ventilation control.
This is what I deployed to do that:

I bought two 940 CFMs exhaust fan with two Thermospeed controller.
Frankly overkill, I can run easily both fans on one, but I can also use those controllers on any fans.
Max capacity of controller is 200 watts, fans draw 20 watts max

The controller in question.
I can control both the temperature it will kick in and the fan speed.

I also used a pedestal fan inside 
I will remove one of the fan controller and run both exhaust fans on the same one

Next was to figured out how the temperatures are being controlled.  At first I used a remote thermometer and hygrometer.  It works fine, but I have to reset the min max every day to find out how it did for the day.

Works fine, but I have to keep an eye on it, run to the greenhouse to open it up or close it 

So found this little gem.  A WIFI and Bluetooth thermometer.  Essentially a data logger.  Works like a charm and let me see the results of my efforts.

you can see the heater cycling on/off

To date.  It can store up to 2 years of data


I am not about to heat the greenhouse all winter, but certainly in the fall and Spring.
Now, there is no need to heat the whole greenhouse 10X20, plants only need to have to keep their feet warm so to speak. About 10C is all they need to be happy.
So we installed the portable greenhouses inside.  They are 6X6X6, we have two, we put them on top of each other.  A greenhouse inside a green house, inside a greenhouse.  Much easier to control a smaller area.
We are currently using potted plants inside which we brought in before TS Fiona passed thru .  They are doing fine, some are even blooming.  If left outside they would be composting by now, we had repeated frost warnings. 

The area I am heating a 6X6 greenhouse inside greenhouse

What I bought to heat it.  A 1.5Kw greenhouse heater and a thermostat control for it.
There is a mechanical thermostat on the fan, but I prefer having better, repeatable control.

Most of the controller I saw petered out at 10 A, this one will handle 15A
Works great, happy with it.  Except I'll be damn if I can switch its display to C, so I'm stuck in F for now.  May have to ask the grandkids to figured it out :-)

Something else I am conscious is the fact that I have a dedicated 15 A circuit feeding the greenhouse via a 12 gauge extension cord, was worrying that I may tax out with the heater running.  So I had to find out.  Bought a power meter to see how much my various electrical devices are using.  My ultimate goal is to go off line and use solar power.  So need to know how much I'm using.

Testing one, two
That small green box in the RH corner is for another project, a dedicated transfer switch 
for my water pump when using my generator.

I tested everything I am using and relieved  that I can keep things under safe conditions.

It amazingly can control the temperature within a few decimal Fahrenheit.
0.2F to be exact.  Awesome.

Then I tried the small ceramic heater she has been using in the past.

It is an oscillating heater.
Work also effortlessly

Its control panel.  It was also hook up to my digital thermostat.

The plants are happy and they stay amazingly warmer than my set temperature
That was in day time so it read higher of course.

Me keeping an eye on the plants at nite.
I'm wearing a neck collar cause, temperature control is a pain in the neck :-)

the plants inside are happy.
The coldest outside so far has been minus 5C, easily keep it at 10C inside

But I am not sure it would be efficient in the harshest  colds to come this winter.  So I plan to use a portable propane heater to do the job.  

Mr Heater Little buddy. Runs on a 1 pound cylinder, bought the accessory hose 
to hook up to a 20 pounds cylinder.  It has two settings 4,000 BTUs and 9,000 BTUs.
I whish I could control it via a thermostat, but I'm sure it would do the job in the coldest days.
Again not heating all winter but I want to see if possible in the coldest days.
It is the most popular heater on the market, due in part to its safety features, including a low oxygen sensor that shut it off when it detect low oxygen, since all burning heaters produce CO2 which is heavier than air and displaced it. 

Interestingly, that heater is deemed safe to use inside your house because of  oxygen sensor.  BUT, only in the US except one state (Mass) and Canada.  Bottom line if using inside open a window for fresh air and you are good to go.  Because of its low oxygen sensor it does not work reliably above 7,0000 feet.  I checked NS the highest elevation is 2,500 ft.  Good to go :-)
I will used it inside house, with open window during  power failures this winter.

Heating wise, my next project is to set up a warming bed for seedlings.  Last year I used a roof heating cable.  It worked but ran very hot at times, I was worry about fire.  So this year I am rebuilding it better, stronger... The Bob-O-Matic bed warmer V2.0

My first attempts last year.
Tried to arrange the cable in an orderly fashion avoiding cross over.
It all went to shit when trying to bury it under sand.
It worked but the multiples cross over created hotspots.
I used the frame and greenhouse cover of my Veg Trug

I also set up lights but they were not easily adjustable in height.
Back to drawing board for Version 2.0

This year I will uses seedling heating mats.  I am using a new technology, using IR film for more even heat and less power than the traditional heating wires used.  Again keeping an eye on power consumption.

Yes, WIFI because... :-)
2 mats and a dual temperature controller 

Gathering the parts needed to assemble and test in basement
 before deploying inside greenhouse.
Awaiting Jean to fill the trays with soil and plant some seeds. May as well. 


For general illumination at night, using a string of 5 LEDs controlled by a remote by the door.
Remote control by the front door

The lights inside at nite.  Plenty bright to check on things

On the outside there are solar lights and spotlights' to illuminate the doors.  The one above front door is currently removed to install some sort of gutter above door.

The Bob-O-Matic warming bed will have new LED full spectrum T5 bulbs on a timer and be adjustable in height.

Bought a pack of 6 two feet T5 LEDs full spectrum.
I choose 2 feet because that is the length to fit over the individual bed warmer

Used 2 to replace the regular neon tube that was over
her inside plants (well some of them anyway :-)
Had to add a wooden board, the two connected together was a bit flimsy hanging up

Works like a charm and are easily adjustable with the use of  rope hangers


Greenhouse house plants which need water, so need a source nearby or better yet inside.
In the Spring I deploy numerous 5/8 inch hoses around the yard to set up watering spots around the numerous and ever expanding garden plots and flower beds.

Jean telling me about her plans.
To infinity and beyond seems to be her limits :-) 
I keep telling her, I need space to run lawn tractor around....

In near future (??) it is hope that her expansionism will be curtailed and finalized so I can then deploy more permanent solution.  Underground irrigation and water spots.  Meanwhile I buy new hoses every year to keep up :-)
Typical water feed point.  I used three.
And unless checking washers, asking for a leak.

Her first greenhouse had a sink installed with running water.  I modified the feed and drain to it to expand to the new greenhouse.

I had to move the original drain line for her sink, it was going under new greenhouse.
Made a connection to both greenhouse and ran pipe down to a dry well (rocks)
tested, drains very well in my sandy soil.  It also discharge by the orchards to water them.

Water feed still goes to the sink first then to new greenhouse

Sneaking the water line and flex drain pipe in prevision for a future sink.

Buried water and drain lines. cut off standing inspection pipe to fit under cover.

I have access in case of troubles, but I don't expect any

Her temporary water feed inside greenhouse. 
Drain flex hose is plugged with a wooden dowel.
On this site future sink and water valves on the wall

Currently the water feeds are cut off and hoses put away.  We put in a 55 gal drum, normally our rain barrel, inside greenhouse to supply water and act as a heat sink (Thermal mass)
Set on cement blocks to raise it for putting water cans under spout.
Netting to avoid mosquitoes breeding.

Talking of thermal mass, we were thinking of putting more 45 gal drums inside full of water, but let see how they handle the freezing temps first.  Not worry about cracking, that blue barrel has been frozen every year since ?? and doing just fine.  Thinking I may put a warming belt around it, thermostat controlled of course and WIFI :-)

Next year is the year I hope I can finalize our watering needs around the yard and start running automated irrigation systems.  We also have to set up automated drip system inside greenhouse.

And that is where we stand with our greenhouses projects.


More automation, don't want to have to go open and close the door each days.
Finalized inside layout, make and install sink.
Add another vent up front and make better flaps inside along with Styrofoam blocks for sealing the  openings in winter. 
Changes to electrical entry and transfer switch to hook up generator or Solar power
Built a potting shed behind greenhouses.
Rebuilt first greenhouse (Depot Level Inspection and Repair (DLIR) :-)

And more importantly, I am using my experiments to come up with a complete greenhouse package that I can deploy in schools.
YES, in schools.  There are lots of pedagogy opportunity with such a system
My plan is to shows kids how easy it is to grow vegetable.  If they get involved and watch them grow they will be more inclined to eat them.  Better food, better students.  Once turned on, the hope is they will go home and ask their parents to grow food.  Have you seen the prices of food lately??  Yeah, grow your own!

Greenhouse package will includes a set of seeds packs.  TBD
Pic from LV site, OSC seeds

Problems are numerous to deploy such a system.  When dealing with kids in school lots of regulations kicks in to protect them.  For food security reasons, greenhouse must be on school property and monitored (Limited access).  
Our teachers are pretty well overwhelm as it is, don't want to add to their burden.
Volunteers I bring in must undergo a criminal background checks and etc.

But perhaps the biggest challenge is who is going to look after it?  That is where automation and WIFI access to monitor and control comes in.  Will still have a need to monitor in person but not as much.
Mentioned the word WIFI and you get the kids attention, bonus :-)

NOT quite ready to deploy yet, still have some things to worked out.  Have to present and involved local service clubs, local businesses and other players to make it happens.

But I have a dream and shall make it happen.  Just imagine...

Bob, who have to work on his presentation.