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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm in the planning stage of building a small backyard greenhouse and thought it would be good to share my plans to get some feedback from other people who have researched / actually built greenhouses / worked in greenhouses / played around with aquaponics etc.

First, a little back story on who I am and why I want to build a greenhouse... about a year and a half ago my wife and I bought our first house together which finally got me back to owning my own dirt. Dirt has always been important to me, I grew up in the country on kind of a 'funny farm' where we raised about 200 rabbits that we showed in 4H and ARBA (american rabbit breeders association) nationally, we had several dogs, a few cats, a few pygmy goats, some chickens, a couple ducks, some chinchillas, hamsters and fish. We did all of this on about 3/4 of an acre. Even though it wasn't a lot of land we were out in the country and surrounded by fields... I had one neighbor across the road otherwise there was a large field between us and the next neighbor in every other direction. Growing up out in the country then moving to the city drove me crazy when I started out on my own, so when we bought a house I told the wife I had two requirements... 1) it had to have at least 1 acre of land (preferably 2+ acres) and 2) it had to have space for me to build a big saltwater fish tank. I got both of my wishes with our house and ended up with about 4 acres with half of it being farm field.

Over the course of the first winter in the house I remodeled a room to build an 8ft 240 gallon saltwater tank in to the wall between the family room and the downstairs bedroom. The first spring I decided I wanted to raise chickens for meat and also bought 4 hens to keep for eggs for my wife, so I build an 8x16 lean-to on the back of the polebarn for a chicken coop. I raised a total of 48 meat chickens last year. This year I'm planning on raising another 48 meat chickens and adding in two hogs that I'm picking up about 2 weeks from now.

We have been talking about building a greenhouse for a while, so I am finally at a point where I'm almost out of other household projects and it is time to tackle the greenhouse this spring. It will likely take me all spring/summer/fall to finish the greenhouse because I'm going to pretty much build it by myself... my wife is pregnant with our first child due in August so not going to be much help building a greenhouse I don't think...

As I was talking over the plans for the greenhouse and for raising hogs my wife mentioned 'too bad you can't raise fish to eat, then we would be able to grow/raise pretty much all of our food'... in my best Barney Stinson voice... "Challege Accepted!" I started reading in to aquaponics and figuring out how to run aquaponics in a greenhouse. While reading about aquaponics in a greenhouse I've learned so much more about how to design a greenhouse and heat/cool it without using electricity that I've completely redesigned my greenhouse several times now.

I'll post details of the greenhouse / aquaponics plans and pictures/sketches in upcoming posts.

Bump:

Bump:
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
One of the main reasons for wanting the greenhouse is to become self sufficient for food, raising the chickens provides a lot of food, plus I hunt and usually put one or two deer in the freezer each year, then add the hogs and the only thing we're missing is fish and beef. Fortunately, my father-in-law owns a dairy farm with about 250 head of cattle at any time... so whenever they have a cow that quits producing they butcher it and put it in the freezer, so again the only thing that is missing is fish. I do fish quite a bit in the summer time, and have ice fishing stuff to fish in the winter time (but not a big fan of sitting out in the cold to ice fish when it takes so much to set up the ice shanty cut holes and hope there are fish there... not as enjoyable to me as being on my boat and being able to move the boat easily when fish aren't biting), so I have some fish that way, but this will really supplement our fish supply by running the aquaponics.

So the greenhouse... the original plan was to have a 16x16 greenhouse and use all recycled windows that my dad has been saving for me when he replaces them for people. I took note of how many windows and what size I had collected and started sketching up a greenhouse. Initially this is what it was going to look like...


Straight walls, using existing windows, the only thing I would have to buy is the wood and one door as I already have the other door. Once I started reading in to aquaponics that's when I really started learning about setting up a greenhouse to try and run it year round, making sure the main south wall is at the correct angle for max light penetration in the winter etc. So I quickly changed the design to look something more like this...


This version I picked up four panes of sliding glass door glass that will be my main south wall that will be perpendicular to the sun at it's lowest point (winter solstice), and the south roof will be pretty close to perpendicular to the sun at summer solstice.

ETA: my attachments are backwards...the first picture is the revised greenhouse, the second picture is the original plan.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
I read about the suggestion that your length should be a minimum of 2x the width of the greenhouse, but the space that we are putting it I decided to stick with our original plan of 16x16, I could expand in the future if we find we need more space, but for now I have to start somewhere, and as I started trying to find the "perfect size" for the 2:1 ratio I just got out of control and wanted a bigger and bigger and bigger greenhouse, so I stopped myself and went back to the original size and will see how it works and tweak it as needed if we decide to add on later.

So how do I plan to heat this thing in the winter? In the picture above you can kind of see some 55 gal drums against the north wall. These will be full of water and line the entire north wall and will act as "solar batteries" to store heat in the winter and in the summer they will be in the shade so they will help cool the greenhouse. I've seen a number of greenhouse designs in cold climates that claim this is all they need in the winter to keep their greenhouses from freezing to keep veggies growing year round. I'm a bit skeptical, and plan to go one step further just in case... I am planning on digging a big hole in the ground under the greenhouse and running PVC back and forth underground then filling the hole back in with gravel and dirt. The PVC will run up to the peak of the greenhouse and I will have a fan that turns on when the greenhouse is above a certain temperature to blow warm air out of the peak down underground which will then heat the gravel/dirt above the buried PVC. This should be a second way of stabilizing the temperature both in the winter time and the summer time to reduce temperature swings. Of course in the summer time we can also open windows to create a cross flow to help move the hot air out, that's not a huge concern for me, the bigger concern is keeping it warm in the winter time.

Originally I had planned to build a double barrel stove to burn wood / paper briquettes to help heat in the winter time, but people on the aquaponics forum I'm on are suggesting I won't need to that the 55 gallon barrels will be enough (but they are mostly from warmer climates... only a few from cold climates that I've talked to on there), so for the time being I have decided to take the stove out of the plans. If we aren't able to keep it warm enough I can add on a small room on the side later that will house the stove so it doesn't take up any of our valuable space in the small greenhouse.

Bump:

Bump: now for the aquaponics... originally I had planned on setting up 4 IBC totes where I cut the tops off of them and use the tops for grow beds and the bottoms for fish tanks. The bottom of the IBC would be dug in to the ground to help insulate the fish tanks and to put the grow beds at a lower height so they are easily accessible. This allowed me to have a decent walkway around the IBC's, but I have not quite convinced my wife that she is going to love the aquaponics aspect as much as I think I will, so she still wanted to have space for dirt grow beds or at least seed starters to transfer to the ground once it warmed up enough outside for a garden... so this limited us on what we could do having these big IBC's dug in the ground... not much flexibility...
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
My revised plan for growbeds... I am going to use two IBC's as my fish tanks... one of them that I already have is already cut off, the other is not, so I'll use them like they are, the one that isn't cut I'll just cut a window out of the top to be able to access the fish. I am thinking I might be able to use the top of the cut one as a worm growbed, because I am trying to culture live blackworms for my saltwater fish as well, currently that is being done indoors in a two tote system with water recirculating from the bottom tote to the top tote with the worms in the top tote. I think this might be a good place to expand to grow even more.

The growbeds I decided I will build wooden growbeds and line them with pond liner. This allows me to make them different sizes so they fit nicely in the greenhouse and allow nice aisles to access everything, and should be much easier to work with only being 2ft wide rather than 4ft wide IBC's, which allows me to put them up against the walls instead of needing walkway all the way around them. This also makes it so my wife can run some dirt beds if she isn't convinced that the aquaponics system is going to work better.

That's about all I have right now... I will be getting started on the greenhouse as soon as the weather breaks. I need to be able to pour concrete so need the temps up in to the 40's to get started... we've had a day or two here and there that has been 40, but not enough in a row to allow concrete to set, so waiting for spring to really kick start this build...

Bump: Another piece that I left out, I have purchased a solar panel kit that should result in about 500W of power when I am done (assuming I don't break too many cells!) so I am working on building solar panels that will be mounted on the greenhouse. My plan is to not tie the greenhouse in to my electric in the house... I do not want the greenhouse to increase my electric bill any, so the solar panels will hopefully be enough to power any pumps and lights we want in the greenhouse. I think I have all of the components now, just need to finish soldering the photo cells together (which takes a lot longer than I anticipated... but as I get better soldering hopefully it will speed up). I have a 75 gal aquarium that started leaking that I have taken apart and plan to use the glass from it for one of the solar panels... I need to come up with a plan for glass for the other solar panels. Eventually I plan on adding solar panels to my house as well... but decided the greenhouse would be a good test run for me... and so far I'm thinking my costs might be pretty close that when I do the house I might just buy the panels instead of building them myself.
 

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Looks like its going to be pretty awesome and its cool you are becoming self sustaining. Id like to do something similar one day. What kind of fish are you going to farm? Tilapia? My only suggestion would be to keep everything as simple as possible and tweak it later. You dont want to blow a huge chunk of time trying to get complicated, then have a baby come.

I work for a chemical company and all day long I think about how to incorporate a tote into the world of planted aquariums!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I'm not sure what type of fish I'm going to keep yet. I thought I might try to switch between tilapia in the summer and trout in the winter... it will all depend on what my water temps end up being (I've been told tilapia breed easily in AP systems, but need to keep temps in the 70's for them through winter might be tough without having grid tied electric to run heaters). I've also considered stocking with local pan fish (bluegill/sun fish/bass/perch etc.) Last year I noticed that my local co-op had a sign on their door that they sell fish for stocking ponds, I didn't look in to what kinds when I saw it, so a lot of that might depend on what I'm able to find locally, but I imagine if they are selling pond stock then I should at least be able to get local species.

My main goal will be to get the greenhouse built this spring/summer/fall. The AP might not be functional this year although it would be nice to have it running before next winter so I can see what the temps are going to be in the winter inside the greenhouse to know if I need to do anything different the following year. I'd be happy if we get the greenhouse to a point where we can just start seeds in it for next year though and do the AP part of it the following year if I need to (although I have to put the IBC's in before I build the greenhouse... they don't fit through doors very well, so that's the main reason I'm trying to plan it all out right now is so I can get the things in that I'd have to cut a hole in the wall to put in later...)

We'll see how things go with the baby on the way... I think most of everything I'm doing doesn't require much time once it's built (at least as far as raising chickens/hogs etc.), so need to get as much done before August as I can!
 

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Hope you're not using PT for the beds.

You should make sure trout are legal to keep. In some states they are not.
 

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Hey, while you are in the planning system, also look up passive air conditioning/cooling.
There is a system, that uses pipes under the ground which are connected at 1 or 2 central drums with a fan in that pulls air through under the ground, where there is a constant cool temperature.

Greenhouses are neat for the winter but can get really hot in summer, without adequate planning.
 

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Winter cold-
You are VERY lucky to be able to have excellent southern exposure. Make full use of it! I wonder if it is worth building masonry walls where the sun hits so this will absorb the light (heat) during the day to maintain some warmth through the night. For example, if the entire north wall, (sun hits this through the roof glass and other glass walls) and 3' high east, south and west walls were made of 12" column blocks, or double think 8-8-16 CMUs, plumbed and concrete filled. The shear mass would hold a lot of heat, and if you plumbed water line through them you could then run water through to collect some of that heat and use it at a focused area in the greenhouse. For example, a seed starting area where you need a few extra degrees of heat.
I would really work on the winter temperature control.
As for running a collector at the peak inside roof, then plumbing it into the floor- This would not be good in the summer, you want to remove the heat, not store it for later. Might be useful in the winter.
Here is another way to collect more heat:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHk0PX8pbWY
This REALLY WORKS GREAT!!! I made one based on a sheet of plywood, it is 4' x 8', then ran the in and out vents high and low in the greenhouse. I am still working on aiming the fan just right- once the hot air enters the greenhouse, the fan is intended to blow that air downward.

Summer heat-
Ventilation, plus throw a shade cloth over the whole thing.
Auto opening vents and solar powered fans can really make a difference.
You could also set up a swamp cooler sort of effect so your cooling efforts do not dry the place out too much. I have seen (and felt) this in action near me. A store called California Carnivores has a large section of their west wall set up with fiber and a trickle of water. When it is running the cooling can be felt in a really obvious way up to 8' away, and the entire greenhouse is reasonable temperature, even in July.
Solar powered greenhouse fans are pretty easy. No batteries or anything like that, just aim the solar panel at the sun when you want it to run. If you want it to come on at 10AM, then run into the late afternoon, for example, then aim the panel a little west of south. The fan will come on when the sun hits the panel.

Dirt vs other grow beds:
I would do this:
Set up a seed starting table. You can start seeds for outdoor plants and for aquaponics in the same mix, at the same time. You can start a LOT of seeds in a small area.
Transplant the aquaponic seeds into float trays or whatever system you are using, and transplant the seedlings for an outdoor garden into large (maybe 4") pots. Move these to a lath area or cold frame to acclimate to the outdoors and grow a bit bigger.
When they are ready, have the outdoor vegetable garden ready for planting.

Have a look for this book, it can help with a lot of concepts for growing vegetables outdoors in an efficient way. The concepts can be applied to other things, too. (Jeff Ball, 60 Minute Vegetable Garden)
Jeff Ball's 60-Minute Vegetable Garden: Just One Hour a Week for the Most Productive Vegetable Garden Possible: Jeff Ball, Frank Rohrbach: 9780020303763: Amazon.com: Books
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Hope you're not using PT for the beds.

You should make sure trout are legal to keep. In some states they are not.
I had not taken in to consideration what I was going to build the growbeds from yet (other than wood...) but since they will get lined with pond liner I don't see a reason to need pressure treated wood... I would think by the time a grow bed was going to rot out it would probably be time to replace the pond liners anyways, so probably not worth the extra cost of PT lumber (and I'm assuming the concern is due to a health concern of the PT getting in to food/fish?)

I will be able to check on the trout at my co-op.. if they have them/sell them I'd assume they are legal here =)

Hey, while you are in the planning system, also look up passive air conditioning/cooling.
There is a system, that uses pipes under the ground which are connected at 1 or 2 central drums with a fan in that pulls air through under the ground, where there is a constant cool temperature.

Greenhouses are neat for the winter but can get really hot in summer, without adequate planning.
I've seen some really good example that run plumbing under ground, most of what I was looking at was for the heat aspect in the winter, but I would think it would work for cooling in the spring too (might have to reverse the fans so it's pulling air near the ground and pushing out at the peak).



Winter cold-
You are VERY lucky to be able to have excellent southern exposure. Make full use of it! I wonder if it is worth building masonry walls where the sun hits so this will absorb the light (heat) during the day to maintain some warmth through the night. For example, if the entire north wall, (sun hits this through the roof glass and other glass walls) and 3' high east, south and west walls were made of 12" column blocks, or double think 8-8-16 CMUs, plumbed and concrete filled. The shear mass would hold a lot of heat, and if you plumbed water line through them you could then run water through to collect some of that heat and use it at a focused area in the greenhouse. For example, a seed starting area where you need a few extra degrees of heat.
I would really work on the winter temperature control.
As for running a collector at the peak inside roof, then plumbing it into the floor- This would not be good in the summer, you want to remove the heat, not store it for later. Might be useful in the winter.
Here is another way to collect more heat:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHk0PX8pbWY
This REALLY WORKS GREAT!!! I made one based on a sheet of plywood, it is 4' x 8', then ran the in and out vents high and low in the greenhouse. I am still working on aiming the fan just right- once the hot air enters the greenhouse, the fan is intended to blow that air downward.
I attached the google maps screenshot of my property and sketched on it the approximate location of where the greenhouse will be. Our back yard is pretty open only a few big trees around the house and a couple big trees on the edge of the yard/field and then open field all around. I kind of wish I had a sextant now to go out and estimate the height of the sun over my pole-barn to make sure it isn't going to block the winter sun... I guess I can mock something up to get myself an approximation though, but I think everything to the south is far enough away that it should be OK. I will be partially blocked in the morning by the house but by mid morning the sun should clear the house/trees and hit the greenhouse location I think.

I am planning on running a single row of 8x8x16 blocks as my "foundation". I am not currently planning on digging down to pour footings, so I thought I would cement them together to raise my foundation off the ground to reduce chance of rotting, then I was going to pour them full of concrete and anchor a treated 2x8 on top of them with long screws down in to the concrete which would then give me something to screw the wooden (non-treated) walls down to. It wouldn't add much cost to run the walls up 3ft all the way around with the blocks. I'm not sure how much the north wall would add, because it will be mostly covered with water barrels for storing heat/cooling. I wonder if there is data on what the R value of cement blocks filled with cement would be? It would definitely last a long time, but I've never done any masonry work myself so I'm not sure what I would need to do to make sure it's better insulated than it would be with a standard wood wall with insulation under the siding/in the wall...

I am considering one of the solar heaters like what you linked to as a third means of heat in the winter. I have a solar heater on my house and on sunny days it really does make a big difference in the spring/fall. A co-worker and I have both been talking about different designs to get the most bang for your buck out of that style of heat collector. I figured with the way I have the south wall I could build a solar heat collector like that across the entire south wall below the glass level if I find that I need more heat than my first two heat systems will provide. So I could build it about 3ft x 16ft to cover the entire wood structure and stay raised above the cinderblock part of the wall.

Summer heat-
Ventilation, plus throw a shade cloth over the whole thing.
Auto opening vents and solar powered fans can really make a difference.
You could also set up a swamp cooler sort of effect so your cooling efforts do not dry the place out too much. I have seen (and felt) this in action near me. A store called California Carnivores has a large section of their west wall set up with fiber and a trickle of water. When it is running the cooling can be felt in a really obvious way up to 8' away, and the entire greenhouse is reasonable temperature, even in July.
Solar powered greenhouse fans are pretty easy. No batteries or anything like that, just aim the solar panel at the sun when you want it to run. If you want it to come on at 10AM, then run into the late afternoon, for example, then aim the panel a little west of south. The fan will come on when the sun hits the panel.
I will have the three large windows on both east and west walls that will open, plus I plan on having the top window on both east and west wall be able to open and again I'm going out on a ledge not knowing how much power consumption I'm going to have yet, but I'm hoping to cover everything with the 500W solar panels and a bank of batteries for storing power so I could potentially place fans in the windows in the peak as well in the summer to help move air. I think the shade cloth is a good idea too, I had one of the guys on the AP forum tell me the windows on top needed to be frosted but I figured on the cheap we could cover them with sheets to reduce the light/heat coming in during the summer if needed, and then can get in to some of the actual shade cloths if we need to. I have looked at a few auto-openers for the windows that open when they reach a certain temp, haven't looked in to auto vent fans yet, but a co-worker did just send me a link to some that are designed for use with attics to cool them off and have small solar panels built in to them so they don't need any power hook ups.

The swamp cooler thing gave me a laugh =) I know what you are talking about though... if you've been around other aquarium forums (specifically reef related forums) you'll know who Paul_B (Paul Baldassano) is. He had a home made evaporative chiller that I saw some pictures of which was basically the same thing... he had a slow flow of water run over several angled plates in a small acrylic box that way the water could evaporate faster and acts as a chiller for his tank (which would then get topped off with colder RO/DI water for his tank). I could probably do something similar on a larger scale over top of the fish tanks in this system. Definately something to keep in the back of my mind. At least at this point I'm more concerned about making sure it stays warm in the winter than I am keeping it cool in the summer (maybe mistakenly, but I'm just figuring we can move air through it with fans if we have to in the summer, the heat is more difficult though).

Dirt vs other grow beds:
I would do this:
Set up a seed starting table. You can start seeds for outdoor plants and for aquaponics in the same mix, at the same time. You can start a LOT of seeds in a small area.
Transplant the aquaponic seeds into float trays or whatever system you are using, and transplant the seedlings for an outdoor garden into large (maybe 4") pots. Move these to a lath area or cold frame to acclimate to the outdoors and grow a bit bigger.
When they are ready, have the outdoor vegetable garden ready for planting.

Have a look for this book, it can help with a lot of concepts for growing vegetables outdoors in an efficient way. The concepts can be applied to other things, too. (Jeff Ball, 60 Minute Vegetable Garden)
Jeff Ball's 60-Minute Vegetable Garden: Just One Hour a Week for the Most Productive Vegetable Garden Possible: Jeff Ball, Frank Rohrbach: 9780020303763: Amazon.com: Books
My wife works at Michigan State University in the Horticulture department as a research assistant working on different plant genomics type of stuff, so she is used to working in their greenhouse and everything is done in dirt... so I think initially at least it will probably be half dirt and half aquaponics until I can convince her that the aquaponics is going to work well.

Gotta run!
 

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