Our current progress on the Greenhouse Build
So the weather was mostly good on Easter weekend. On Saturday we started to install the re-purposed windows on the South wall of the greenhouse. I think it’s been mentioned more than once that the Farmer is a novice when it comes to fine framing. You would think the rather relaxed tolerances of a greenhouse build using recycled materials would be right up my alley – you would be close to correct. I’m sure there are super easy ways to install hinges into windows. The Renaissance Dude says there’s “a trick to it”. The Dude forgot to mention what that trick was so a good chunk of the day was spent installing four windows into the South Wall.
The windows we were using came with some hardware attached, but it was incomplete and in the end it was easier to just go to the box store and get some standard hinges. One of the interesting things about the Farmer’s builds (and possibly why the moniker “Mad” is associated with them) is that usually there is a picture in the the mind, a sketch on paper (may or may not be super detailed) and then there is the meeting of the vison and reality. It’s the last part that seems to cause the most trouble. When the planning is happening in the mind everything fits, everything is level and gravity does not seem to impact anything in any meaningful way. In reality none of those things happen the way they do in the mind.
The good news for the Farmer was that after several fits and starts the windows were finally in place and, wonder of wonders, swung open and shut like the vision in the mind. I will mention that the one area that is a constant struggle is making things too tight when framing. The Mad Farmers’ father spent a lot of time working in metal. He was a masterful welder and his projects were usually straight, clean and beautiful (we won’t mention the cussing, re-welding and sweat that went into those projects – didn’t matter when they were done). I think the reason the Elder Farmer didn’t like working in wood as much was it’s usually not straight, it warps and always seems to shift at the last minute. Which is why the Mad Farmer mostly builds with screws (more on that in future posts).
Wood has a smell that you don’t get when welding. There are folks who think using dimensional lumber is “cheating” or just prefer roundwood timber structures. The Farmer does not judge, but he does work with what is available and dimensional lumber is available in the suburban homestead world. We do try to re-use and re-purpose as much as possible and it’s very satisfying to recycle materials (also sometimes cheaper, but not always). Anyhoo, the South wall rough framing, including working windows, was finally completed.
Easter Sunday was a bright and sunny day. The Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy are Lutherans (think Catholic “lite” – if you are super interested just look up “Martin Luther” on the interwebs and you can read all about it) so Church and fellowship is important to us. We went to church (not the Sunrise Service, the Mad Farmer is not that devout apparently) and then went out to eat at the Farmer’s Mom and Step-Dad’s house. It was the first time we had seen the Homestead Daughters (weird how when children grow up they get their own lives) since Christmas and the Renaissance Dude and the Swamp Gardener were also in attendance. A good time and good food was had by all and then we returned home and went back to work on the greenhouse.
One really cool thing that did also happen on Sunday was a fellow attendee from the Jack Spirko TSP Fall Workshop that the Farmer attended in 2020 was in town and was able to drop by the TSL Homestead and spend some time. Chris (the Permaculture Architect) was in town for a family event and was able to come by and spend some time at the homestead. Chris has a blog at Alt-Ark.com. Chris is “Making Architecture More Permaculture” so please go over and take a look at his blog. It’s well worth the time you will spend.
When it was all said and done, the weekend was over and the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy had a cognac on the Pond Deck, looked at the progress being made on the greenhouse and other projects around the homestead and were thankful to enjoy the journey that urban homesteading provides…
It’s Spring (finally) and that means changeable weather. We got the posts set and then the weather turned cold and rainy for a time. The Mad Farmer is a fair-weather builder, no heroic framing from this fella. Finally the sun came out and things dried out and we were able to get back to work on the build.
First layout with seven windows but the middle window is smaller than planned.
We started out by laying out a rough idea of what the South facing greenhouse wall might look like with the windows available. The original plan called for a 51×51 inch window in the middle but the part the Farmer forgot was that the studs and corner posts took up a little more space than planned for – one of the downsides of being a weekend hobby instead of having a job in construction where you don’t even think about things like that because you made those kind of mistakes the first two weeks on the job and then adjusted and never looked back. The Mad Farmer has an immense amount of respect for folks that build things for a living – not an easy job but seems like it would be rewarding.
The second layout with the 51×51 back in the center but only five windows. This is what we decide would work best for our space.
First the window spaces were framed, then the center window was installed and framed in place with a cedar trim on both sides because that window was not going to open. The other windows locations were rough framed and the entire wall was stood up, attached to the corner posts and leveled.
Installing windows by yourself (Miss Mercy was doing ‘growie’ things) requires bracing and occasional out-of-the box thinking (the 2×4 screwed to the frame to allow me to rest the windows on the board while installing hinges).
It’s fun to see the building taking shape!
It took most of the afternoon to install the four windows that open on either side of the big window. I’m sure that professional carpenters could have probably had the entire job finished in a pretty short time. The Mad Farmer is a fair amateur carpenter but far from being a professional. I have nothing but respect for the folks who build day-in and day-out in all kinds of weather. It was with great satisfaction that I was able to show Miss Mercy upon her arrival at the homestead that the windows, did in fact, open and close and she was kind enough to show an enthusiasm for the progress being made. Made for a good afternoon. Our goal is to make progress when the weather allows.
It seems like the first step in every project the Farmer gets involved with is to dig a hole. Why that is I don’t know, but I do know that there are a lot of holes that have been dug here at the homestead. The greenhouse project is no different. The Mad Farmer is a home-taught builder, learning originally how to work with wood from my father and later on mostly figuring things out as I go along. The interwebs have been a great blessing on figuring out things but there is always a difference between seeing it done and doing it yourself. I will say that pre-planning, at least a good rough draft, is always super helpful and the more planning you do up front, the smoother things seem to go.
The first step in actual construction was figuring out where the corner posts were going to be located (okay, the actual first step was a trip to the lumber place to get the posts, easier to get them first then put them in the new holes)! In our suburban location you can get by with certain size and types of structures without having to get a permit. We want the greenhouse to butt up against our deck but I can’t actually attach it or I have to go talk to the department of making you sad. So we dug the first holes so that the posts are snug up against the existing deck without actually being attached.
Various tools used in digging post holes: A spade (aka “sharpshooter”), Clamshell digger and a gas-powered auger (fun but be careful)!
I will insert a side note here – you can dig holes in a variety of ways. You can use a spade (in Kansas we call that a “sharpshooter” for reasons unknown), you can use a post hole digger – they come in several varieties, clamshell style and auger styles and probably some others, and, the best way is if your brother, the Renaissance Dude, is willing to lend you his gas powered post hole auger. For you purists out there the Farmer has dug his share of post holes over his lifetime but for sheer project momentum there is nothing like a gas powered post hole auger. Takes a minute or two in reasonably rock-free soil for each hole and man, is life sweet after that!
In Kansas the best way to set a post is dig below the frost line, set the post and then fill the hole around it with Kwik-Crete or some other type of cement. The green house is a pretty lightweight structure so we only went down about 2 1/2 feet to set the posts. Hopefully we won’t get into an extended Ice Age and come to regret not digging down the full three feet. The posts are then set in the hole and we (the Farmer’s sister, the Swamp Gardener, came by to supervise the goings-on and help out) leveled them using a post level. Pretty cool gadget that levels the post forward/backward and side-to-side at the same time. Turns out if your level is cracked on the corner (it’s a very old level) that can cause your posts to be out-of-whack until you notice. Good news, you can level a post with a regular spirit level, it just takes a little longer.
Once we got the first two posts in we then had to measure off the wall of the house and the existing deck to dig the last two holes and set those posts. With free-standing posts you do need to temporarily support them by adding braces. Once they are in place and you pour your Kwik-Crete around the base you can make minor adjustments before you add water. At this point the question was asked “How much Kwik-Crete do you use and how much water”? Good question and like most things in Permaculture the answer is “it depends”. Rough rule of thumb is 50-60 lbs. of concrete per post in a three foot depth hole. Use a little less if the hole is not as deep.
Pro tip: Don’t fill in the hole all the way to the top with concrete. Leave a few inches open below ground level so if you ever have to take a post out you can cut it off below ground and not have to dig the bottom out. After you put in the concrete just put water in the hole until it fills up. The water will seep down and mix with the concrete and eventually it will set up. Probably a more professional way to do it but I’ve never had a post fail yet so I’m okay with the “good enough” way.
That’s all there is to it except you now have to wait 10-24 hours for the concrete to set up and you can start your framing. Unless it’s Kansas and it decides to rain for another week….
It’s almost Spring at the homestead and we have been blessed with a few days with decent weather. Less than three weeks ago it was -12F as the high with a low of -16F (for those of you on the metric system that is very, very cold). This first week of March we had 3-4 days where it was Sunny with a high of 70F and lows in the 50’s before the weather started to turn back to typical Spring and start getting rainy and gloomy and colder.
So, while the weather was nice we started to layout the greenhouse that we are building. Our house is a brick airplane-style bungalow with a long side facing South, a great place for a greenhouse. The only downside is that the kitchen windows look outside onto the yard right where we want to put the greenhouse. Never Fear – the Mad Farmer has a plan for that!
Several years back the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy were at the Mother Earth News Fair and met Marc Plinke, the author of the “The Year-Round Solar Greenhouse”. Mr. Plinke was a physicist before designing greenhouses and is a fascinating fellow and a wealth of information. We discussed the Farmer’s proposed plans and it was pointed out that the greenhouse should not be built directly against the brick because that would trap moisture and the brick would degrade and crumble. Great information to have! So the plans changed to build the greenhouse out a couple of feet from the wall to prevent moisture problems. That also allows for a neat space to store ladders, so win-win.
Originally the plan was to build the greenhouse to 10’x17′ to take full advantage of the area from the deck to the first kick-out wall where the dining room is built, as Jack Spirko says “no one ever said I wish I had built my greenhouse smaller”. Little did we know that in the last several months that lumber prices in Kansas have almost tripled! So, rather than fight odd sizing we scaled it back slightly to 8’x16′ to take advantage of dimensional lumber. We use recycled materials whenever possible but sometimes you have to bite-the-bullet and buy some things to finish a project.
We have been collecting windows from various sources over the last couple of years after we decided to put in a greenhouse. We picked up some excellent windows from a house that the Farmer’s brother (The Renaissance Dude) is flipping, extra windows from a co-worker and a random blessing when someone in the neighborhood was removing a screened-in porch. Sadly we haven’t been able to find anyone getting rid of polycarbonate roofing…
As with most of the projects the Farmer sketched out a rough draft with dimensions. Excuse the lack of artistic ability.
Then, because we have a large deck (Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy love decks), we decided to use screws and string to define what the back and side walls of the greenhouse would look like so we we could layout the windows and see how they might fit together in the finished walls.
To our great relief we had plenty of windows and most of them will be useful. Miss Mercy oversaw the arrangements, added feedback and helped clarify where the doors will go and various and other sundry things we think about.
The farmer took a break to attend a Pantry Management webinar put on by Nicole Sauce at the Living Free in Tennessee podcast (great content, well worth the time). Through it all our fierce guard dog Sasha kept watch for nefarious critters that might interrupt the process.
By the end of the afternoon we had decided what windows go where, adjusted the dimensions, discussed materials and type of floor (probably going to end up gravel), discussed if we were going to install a Rocket Mass Heater (probably at some point – stay tuned for that) and then labeled all the windows and sketches to show where they were going, and took the screws and string off the deck (oops, missed one, found that out the hard way)!
All-in-all a pretty productive afternoon and a great way to spend a nice day after months of cold and gloom.
The Mad Farmer (your humble narrator) and Miss Mercy (the Better Half) have decided to reboot, jump-start, move forward, confuse ourselves… Oh, Wait, what just happened? Oh, it’s new, it’s fresh, it’s TSL Homestead! This is our journey towards a better life. One day at a time, one small step every day towards freedom and a better, more independent, life.
We’ll be posting about Gardening, Flower Growing, Permaculture, Traveling and just everything going on at the Urban Homestead. Join us, have a blast, ask any questions you like – we’ll find the answer, point you to a place you can find it or maybe we’ll all just learn together.
Have fun and enjoy the ride!
Eric “The Mad Farmer”
In the last podcast Miss Mercy and the Mad Farmer explored the standard version of the Amaretto Sour and we really didn’t find it to our liking. Over the last several years we have been making a real effort at eating healthier food. Ingesting fewer artificial flavors, cutting as much high fructose corn syrup, processed sugar, growing as much food for ourselves as we can and cutting out as much processed food as possible.
What does this have to do with cocktails you ask? Great Question! The answer is, so far almost everything! Every time we replace a processed ingredient, like store-bought grenadine, with a homemade version the taste is night and day. Replacing canned cherries packed in syrup with organic maraschino cherries you can tell the difference. Changing out a packaged sour mix that tastes like something I would be ashamed to feed to a pet with a natural sour mix of hand squeezed lemons makes a world of difference.
Last week we made an Amaretto Sour with a packaged mix, it was hideous. This week we tried a recipe from MixthatDrink.com with all natural ingredients and it was worth having. One of the few recipes we’ve tried so far that says mix the ingredients then pour into a glass with ice. Take a listen, try it out. We think you will like this one. And tune in later this month when we try a more complex mix that is touted as the best in the world!
- 2 oz. Amaretto ( Disaronno )
- 1 oz. Lemon Juice
- 1 tsp. Simple Syrup
- Maraschino Cherry (Stonewall Merry Cherries)
The water had completely drained out overnight. All I had accomplished was to drown some earthworms and I felt terrible about that. So I figured that I just had not used enough Bentonite clay.
The farm store was not open on Sunday so Miss Mercy, kind soul that she is, picked up another 200 pounds of Bentonite for me the next day since it was kind of on the way home from her job and the next Saturday the weather was perfect. So I put all four bags and raked it into the dirt and filled the pond again.
Drained again! What in the world is going on?
Well with more internet time I found out that there are actually two different types of Bentonite clay: Bentonite Calcium and Bentonite Sodium. Turns out most farm and garden store sell Bentonite Calcium. Bentonite Calcium is a soil amendment to stiffen your soils and remove heavy metals but does not expand. I found out I could put a ton of it into my small pond and it’s not going to do a bit of good. If you want to seal a pond or dam you need Bentonite Sodium that will mix with the soil, expand and seal.
Because I have the best wife ever (they call them your better half for a reason) Miss Mercy did some research, made some calls and found a place fairly nearby that carries Bentonite Sodium clay at a reasonable price. So a road trip is in the offing and hopefully that will do the trick.
So for the better part of the summer I have been hand digging a new pond in our yard. Miss Mercy and I have had many discussions about how deep it should be, what it was going to look like, should it have fish, should it not have fish, etc. We finally determined that about 15 feet in diameter and a gradual slope down to about three feet deep or so would fit best in the space.
I started roughing out the hole I was going to dig and then built a hugelkultur type berm behind the area, to create a wind brake and give us a backdrop for the pond.
In case you are not familiar with hugelkultur it is basically a mound of dirt covering a core of wood. One of the best places I’ve found to read up on hugelkultur is at the Wheaton Labs Hugelkultur Forum. It would be best for the mound if I was able to pile it six feet or taller, but, because we live in the city, I tend to keep things lower so they don’t protrude over my privacy fence and make my neighbors wonder what I’m up to (I actually have great neighbors, but not everyone driving by might be as understanding, so lower it is).
We had been pondering how to seal the pond and since I’m trying to keep things simple and less toxic we really didn’t want to use a pond liner so we researched other ways to seal the pond. The biggest problem I have is that we are blessed with great soil in our yard, drains well, with very little clay – excellent for growing things, horrible for holding water in a pond. We finally settled on Bentonite Clay. Bentonite is a clay that expands by 15 to 20 times and bonds with the earth to create an area that will hold water. Fantastic news! So on advice from a co-worker who is familiar with the process and after some online research I got 100 pounds of Bentonite from a local farm store, mixed it into the soil and filled my pond with about 3,000 gallons of water. Everything looked wonderful. Here’s the picture:
So the next morning I was very excited to see if the water had cleared up.