Sunday, February 23, 2014

Building a Greenhouse Post # 4 - Valentine's Day/Presidents Day - 3 Day Weekend 2014


Sorry for being a week late on this post - I actually worked myself so hard on this 3 day weekend by pruning fruit trees and setting up the pond that I was too tired when I got back to do much of anything. This weekend(2/22-23)  I stayed in Walnut Creek and that gave me time to rest up and be able to summon the energy to write. (Another thing to note - I left my regular camera at home. The pictures here are from my phone camera and while they aren't bad, they aren't what I am used to having for posts.)

The goal of the weekend was to set up the fish pond with the grow beds and hook up the solar power to the pump that will circulate the water. Solar systems aren't really "plug and play" and you have several parts to them.

1. The solar panel itself with the connecting cables.

2. The solar charge connector (below) - this takes the panel cables in and the cables to the battery out. ( I can also hook up a light to this one if I wanted to..)

3. The solar battery which is NOT a car battery.. (see below)

4. Power inverter - this hooks to the battery and changes the DC power into AC power and then you can plug stuff into it. That is it there on the middle shelf... 

This is what I was starting with.. all the parts were there but nothing was hooked together.
Ready to go!

There are cables that hook everything together and I was missing the cables that go from the solar connector to the battery. I went to Harbor Freight and got a connector set that was labelled for "solar"... big mistake. It was for a much smaller battery and when I finally got the wires to work in my connector the whole thing shut down. The gauge of the wires couldn't handle the amount of power being generated. I had to make my own connectors with a thicker gauge wire... never did that before but hey, that makes this fun!
I went to the hardware store and got some bulk wire and connector clips that looked like the right size and brought them back. 
This looks right - I hope!
Then I had to strip the wires, and put them on the clip.
Wires connected to the clip
Put the rubber handle back on and then tried to connect it again.. and... it worked! My solar panel generates 100 watts of power and stores it in the battery which is then used by the inverter.
Battery connected to inverter - I cleaned up the wires after this picture.
Which is then used by the pump to pump the water..

After I got the power sorted out I worked on the grow beds. I am using a siphon with expanded clay rocks on the last bed and it will sit over the fish tank to drain into it. The siphon had to be installed by drilling a hole in the bottom of the bed and then connecting the PVC parts together.
Parts to the siphon
Connecting the drain tube to the underside of the tub - after drilling a hole in it

Drain tube installed

The siphon is inside the media guard over the drain tube. When the water hits a certain level the siphon kicks in and pull the water down through the hole faster than if it was just draining via gravity.

I filled this bed with the expanded clay and I am building another bed that will use a raft system to drain into this one via gravity. My grow beds only hold 20 gallons of water each and the fish tank is 100 gallons (or 80 since you don't fill it to the top) so I need to add one more to keep the system healthy. You want to turn over the water as much as possible to add oxygen to the system. My pump is capable of 200 gallons per hour, so it will cycle the tank every 30 mins which might be a bit much...
This is the bed that drains into the fish tank.
I recorded a video for you to see it working.. this is just the preliminary step. Next weekend I will get everything with the grow beds and have it start cycling while I am gone. I need to measure the evaporation and see how stable the water level is before I add the fish and plants. I have started sprouting seeds for the plants though so I am excited to get this going!

Here is the video link with the gravel and the drain going... i realized after watching it that you can't understand a word I am saying over the water noise so don't try to adjust the volume. Sorry - the next one will be better.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Nice article about the National Hotel in Jackson

The main street of Jackson has a 3 story hotel at the end of it that has been recently restored. An article in the Chronicle does a good job explaining the history of Jackson, this hotel and the effort in the gold country to try and stimulate economic success.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Building a Greenhouse - Post 3

Raising the roof!

Before I tell you about phase 3 of the greenhouse project, I wanted to share the picture of my flowering quince. There hasn't been any rain this winter but this plant is still blooming with these gorgeous deep-pink flowers. This is a tough plant, as it survived the summer the house was in foreclosure without water, and I don't water it all. It lived through the snow and the extended freezing temperatures and every winter it blooms like this. Amazing plant!

Flowering Quince

Greenhouse Build #3

This past Friday and Saturday, my dad and I spent a couple days putting the roof on the greenhouse. We had a lot of different ideas about how the roof should look, whether it should be a simple slanted roof (my idea), or a traditional pitched roof. Dad has usual decided it would be a pitched roof and since I had the solar panel to put on it as well, that worked the best in the end. First we had to go to Lowe's to get the wood to build roof and the poly-carbonate panels that I wanted for the roofing material. Holey moley! Those things are expensive so I decided to put the polyvinyl film that I used for the sides onto the roof instead for now. 
Friday - we only had a a couple of hours of daylight left by the time we got back from the store and we started working as fast as we could. The first step was to determine the height of the roof, or the "pitch" of the roof. We did it the scientific way, we cut different lengths of 2x4 cut and Dad held them on the top of the wall to see what they looked liked why I stood on the ground and decided. We settled on 18 inches.. but it was an alternate universe type of interaction similar to when you are trying to place furniture in a room. 
It all starts here - the front support
Adding a couple of nails to the ridge line - notice he holds them in his mouth
View from the ladder to the back of the center line

Then we built the center ridge line from the front to the back, that supports the rafters which radiate out to the side walls. Here is a picture of Dad demonstrating how you should not hold nails... but all these years he hasn't swallowed any so maybe it is okay. 

Finished ridge line

Next we had to figure out the angle to cut the rafters in order to hang them off of the center and meet the walls..we did use a speed square and then cut some spare pieces of wood to "dry-fit" them until we got it right. We got the front rafter up on Friday and then had to stop.

Whew - the front rafter is up, only 6 more to go.
The next morning it was so cold, there was ice everywhere and working outside our hands were freezing! But we were able to make good time and got all the rafters up by about 1pm or so. It took us about 4 1/2 hours of work to get this much done. See below..
Rafter number 2 - I did the cutting and hauling. Dad nailed them in.

Inside looking out - one side done!

And side number 2 is finished!
This is how it looked when the rafters were completed.
Next - we hung my solar panel on the front of the house. The solar panel is 100 watts and will provide power for the fish tank pump as well as any lights or fans that I might want to add in the future. (Whenever I mention "grow lights" people get really interested in my project!) This is a great little kit that I bought off of Amazon for less than $200! After the panel went up we pulled the plastic over the roof and stapled into place. And then we called it a day.. we finished around 3 pm or so, and really that was pretty good time!
Front view - the panel is attached to the roof and it faces south so it will get plenty of sun. The plastic is on the roof.

Here are the pictures of it finished from the side and back..
East facing side - those are the glass from my old sliding doors.

Back is done - this faces north and will not get a lot of sun.
The next step will to put together the aquaponic system and get the plants started. Oh and buy some fish! I think I will start with channel catfish, they are native to California and tough as nails. The don't mind the heat, dirty water or low oxygen levels. Hopefully, they will survive and the raccoons won't eat them either...This is going to be really exciting to see if it works as well as all the books and "experts" say it will. 

Stay tuned - connecting the aquaponics system will be interesting I am sure. I am not buying a kit (they cost $$$$) so I finding the parts as cheap as I can and I am going to put it together myself. I am going to ask one of my friends who is a "fish guy" to come help, so it could be entertaining..