It’s over. I’m done.
Well for now. I went to bed the other night doing a happy dance because I was convinced I had fixed the greenhouse furnace. Now I’m doing a sad waltz because I did not really fix it. Exhibit:
I did get it up to a balmy 70 degrees in there, but sometime during the night the safety system kicked in and it shut down, dipping to a frigid 28. I suspect there is probably something impeding the oil flow and causing the safety to trigger when there isn’t enough fuel for combustion. Suspect:
This old ass oil filter is probably the main culprit here. Other possibilities are an issue with the actual igniter or the thermostat. But, that is for another time, because I have given up.
I have come to the conclusion that the greenhouse I chose to start in is becoming a poorer and poorer choice. It is in the shade way too much and is giant. I was looking around the other greenhouses and realized that the one that is behind the barn and has the chicken coop in it was warmer even with the door open than the one I was working in. Case closed.
So I moved all the sad plants into the sunroom:
And together we shall be sad until spring.
E and I were away for a week and I had high hopes for the furnace to continue working during this time, especially since the high last Friday here was 23 degrees! Well we came back to this:
Turns out the furnace at some point stopped working and I have been on a whirlwind of ups and down the entire day. Let me walk you through it:
DOWN: The furnace stopped working and it was cold and my plants are SAD!
UP: It seems likely the furnace lasted for a bit since the low recorded by my thermometer was only 28 degrees (the low outside was around 17 degrees). Also, most of my plants (minus that super sad avocado above) seemed to be alright. I suspect the furnace was fine until it ran out of oil sometime during the week I was gone.
DOWN: I’m pretty sure the furnace ran out of oil and I thought I put 5 gallons of diesel in right before we left. This will cost a fortune to heat!
UP: Wait – I go get diesel and my gas can is only 2.5 gallons! Maybe this isn’t as bad as I thought!
DOWN: I put the new 2.5 gallons of diesel in the tank and press the restart. And no heat. The furnace turns on, I can sort of hear a spraying noise, and then the safety kicks in and the whole thing shuts down. Fuck!
UP: I am determined to fix this! While looking up YouTube videos about fixing furnaces I see something about bleeding your furnace if it runs dry. This seems very likely the issue since I’m pretty positive it ran out of oil (diesel is oil minus the red dye). I gather tools and prepare for battle with this fucker:
First I forget that the heater has to be on for this to work and think that maybe there is a total clog somewhere since I have removed the entire bleeder valve and there no oil to be seen… But luckily I remember! Air and oil sputters out. I try to restart…
DOWN: It does not start. I bleed it more. More air and oil. More oil. Now just oil. A steady of oil.
UP: IT’S ALIVE!!!!
Almost 60 degrees now (plus my really janky thermostat which definitely needs to be replaced – that’s for another time though)
And there you have it, my personal emotional roller-coaster courtesy of Siebring HeatMaster Oil Furnaces and Beckett AFG Oil Burners.
Yeah, yeah – that is not a pretty picture. But it is an important picture. Or, more like, it was an important picture.
I was trying out starting some seeds in the greenhouse in not-quite dead of winter, but in the pretty fricking cold (hello high of 23 degrees!) start of winter. I planted a flat of seeds in an old flat of dead squash babies that were cruelly murdered in the spring of their lifetime by an dead irrigation system battery. I planted some tomatoes and some parthenocarpic squash (which are pretty cool, like baby-Jesus squash they don’t need to be fertilized to grow, or wait maybe that’s Mary – whatever, I’m Jewish). Anyway, these squash are perfect for the greenhouse since they can produce fruit without pollination and the status of bees and other pollinators in the greenhouse is questionable.
And then a little tiny mouse came along and ate all the seeds before they could even have a chance.
Lesson learned – DON’T SET FLATS OF SEEDS ON THE GROUND!
will try again later….
Big news from last week! The greenhouse furnace is operational! I had to jerry-rig the wiring because Bernavel had to disconnect it when he hooked up the rest of the electricity in the greenhouse. I figured that since it’s unlikely I will need the fan in the winter, that I could just connect it to the fan wiring. So once that was done I flipped the switch and WE HAVE HEAT!
The furnace fired up pretty easily. I should probably install it on a new breaker and the thermostat is a little busted, but this was in a 42 degree night!
So I’m hoping that this will get us through the winter since I was having doubts and thoughts that maybe I was just going to have to bring my plants in the house for the winter. I’m very excited and now have plans to grow ALL THE PLANTS!
I had been using a blower we found in the greenhouse to get the fire in our wood-stove roaring, but then I realized that it already had a purpose! In the greenhouse! To keep the greenhouse warm in the winter I want to both absorb as much heat during the day and store it in things such as the pond and other high thermal mass materials and also insulate the greenhouse at night to keep in as much of the heat as possible. Our greenhouses are double glazed, meaning they have two layers of the plastic sheeting that covers the outside. Apparently this is actually a great way to insulate a greenhouse, and if you can get a nice amount of air between these two layers, then all the better. So we are trying out blowing up the greenhouse.
It is apparent from the holes that were already present in the inner layer of glazing and the fact that there are blowers in every greenhouse, that this was something the previous owners already were already doing. Hopefully this means that it will work!
I’ve been doing a ton of research about heating and insulating the greenhouses. This post from Midwest Permaculture seems awesome and has great information about things such as TMV and R values of different materials which is super useful.
THERMAL MASS VALUE BTU/Sq. Ft./degree F.
- Water 63
- Steel 59
- Stone 35
- Concrete 35
- Brick 24
- Sand 22
- Earth 20
- Wood 10.6
R-Value Measurements (hr°Fsq.ft/BTU)
- Fiberglass glazing- single layer R = .83
- Glass double layer R = 1.5 – 2.0
- Polyethylene Double 6mil film R = 1.7
- Glass triple layer 1 / 4 “ air space R = 2.13
- Polycarbonate 16mm triple wall R = 2.5
- Polystyrene (styrofoam) 1 inch thick R = 4.0
I need to check them out some more and read up on Midwest Permaculture
And then there’s always THIS
It’s a pond, again! E and I moved the pond the other day and it seems to be doing pretty well!! We decided on a more rectangular design and a much more shallow pond mainly because the ground on that side of the greenhouse was impossible to dig into and the cinder blocks are super heavy (plus I managed to injure my wrist slightly so lifting and moving cinder blocks is probably a bad idea). But I also think the shallower water will heat up faster because there is more surface area and I like that it can be filled up more to the top than I thought was safe with the double layer of cinder blocks (if I had mortared them together I think it would have been fine, but as they were I wasn’t too sure of their stability so didn’t fill the old pond up very much). So really, I think we will just say that it was on purpose and not because we failed at digging.
It’s looking nice and I have high hopes for it. It is definitely more in the sun, but still close enough to the electrical outlet for the pump which I still need to set up. I already think the water seems warmer than the old pond, but that may just be wishful thinking. Aesthetically I do like this one more and once there are more plants I think it will be ever better since they will hid the liner and it will look even more tropical!
I’m trying to convince E that we should put those fish that eat your callouses off your feel in it, but she thinks it’s a bad idea. I think a greenhouse foot spa sounds brilliant!
It looks so tropical in there, right?! It sure feels tropical because it is humid as all hell in the greenhouse. Like so humid it is literally raining in there. The sun was out in full force today and someone (no idea at all who that could be) apparently didn’t twist the wires to the fan together enough and the fan quit working!
(You can see the untwisted white wires up at the top, along with the rogue wire nut at the bottom. Don’t get me started on the black wire connected to the white wire in there, seriously I have no idea, but it works)
So during the day at some point it got up to almost 105 degrees, leading to the pond relocating onto the greenhouse film making it steamy and rainy inside. So, I did some research about this humidity issue, and I’m almost convinced it is an issue, but also not convinced that it needs an immediate or high-tech resolution. Apparently most plants don’t like a lot of humidity – it messes with their respiration and can lead to the spread of diseases, especially fungus and mildew issues. I also am pretty sure it’s not great for the materials in the greenhouse, mainly the electrical work in there, but that is less of a concern.
The goal of this particular greenhouse is to be somewhat tropical, so the humidity might not be that big of an issue. I assume that some plants don’t mind the humidity and would enjoy the steaminess. The drawback of this is that I want to grow tomatoes and other veggies in there and I know that tomatoes and squash are especially susceptible to fungus/blight and powdery mildew. I could try to make some sort of division between the pond area and the veggie areas, but that seems counter-productive to the whole heat-sink idea of the pond, and I have four other greenhouses, so if I was going to do that, I should just use a different one.
A couple of commercial/industrial solutions exist: non-condensing greenhouse glazing, condensation reducing sprays, circulation fans, and dry-air heat. I’m not particularly interested in trying out most of these. I know I need more circulation, but I’m trying to balance that with keeping the heat in, so I need to try to figure that out. I also could keep the water in a container that didn’t allow evaporation, but I really like the idea of a greenhouse pond, so I’m really set on making this work. So…
Solutions I am willing to try that might work:
- The greenhouse glazing is double thick and there is a blower which can inflate between the two layers and allow for better insulation leading to less of a temperature differential between the inside and outside air which is a large cause of condensation.
- I could try to come up with something that could force the condensation to happen in a certain place – a metal tube or some sort of upside-down pointy thing? This would hopefully lead to less dripping in random areas and if possible, reduce the humidity.
- Venting – yes I know I need more of this, but my highest hope is that maybe this isn’t an issue at all. Maybe if the fan had been working the humidity would never have risen too far to start with and we would all be millionaires… yeah…
I know, I know, that is a thing of beauty! But seriously, that is the beginning of my pond in the greenhouse. Water has one of the highest capacities to hold heat of pretty any much material on Earth so it is a great way to keep a greenhouse warm at night when the sun isn’t shining and you haven’t figured out how the furnaces work and don’t really want to. So I made a pond – I dug a bit, I used approximately fifteen tons of cinder blocks (or at least that is how my back feels), I got a pond liner, and I filled it with some water.
And now I have to undo all of that.
Silly me figured that the location I was building it was a good one since it was close to the electrical outlets my dad put in (thanks Bernavel!), and I will need a pump in the pond to keep the water moving and fulfill my dreams of some crazy pond-based irrigation system.
(And yeah I know – that is a super sweet phone charger/speaker set up there. Also the outlets point down to avoid any water situations, but don’t worry – they are GFCI. Safety First!)
But when the outlets were installed it was about mid-summer and that general area was plenty sunny. Now that it’s mid-fall that area is not so sunny. There are some pretty large pine trees close enough to the greenhouse on the southern side that it blocks some of the midday sun in part of the greenhouse. This is not an ideally situated greenhouse – if I were starting from scratch I would have oriented the greenhouse perpendicular to where it is now and set it further back from the trees, thus allowing the most sun absorption during the day. But you get what you get.
And what I got is a pond that is currently in the shade the better part of the day at the time of year when I need it most to retain heat.
- Observe, then build. It would have been nice if I hadn’t been so dead set on putting the pond right near the outlet and actually realized that the sun was going to shift.
- The sun moves! East/West and North/South. (I mean, yes, I obviously knew that, but when you are dependent on the sun for more than a pretty sunset over the city skyline it because a little more apparent)
- Cinder blocks are heavy! But I used them because I have a ton of them and they are actually pretty useful. Next iteration of the pond I will probably dig down further into the ground and only use one layer of blocks around the edges.
And so the pond will be moved. Luckily I didn’t fill it all the way since I was going more for “proof of concept” and conceptually it is a pond in its ability to hold water – cold water.
(Note: it did drop below freezing last night and the low in the greenhouse was only 38 degrees. I’m not sure if the pond had anything to do with that, but at least my plants are still alive)
I spent a lot of time messing with this greenhouse fan – a lot, like the better part of three days. I googled a million things, I texted my friend who is an electrical engineer, I twisted and untwisted and retwisted wires (luckily without electrocuting myself), I emailed the old owners, and I called the manufacturer. See, I was convinced that the vent in one of the greenhouses was installed backwards, or the fan ran the wrong way. The way the fan works it sucks hot air out of the greenhouse, but the vent opens outward, meaning that it doesn’t open automatically when the fan turns on. In fact it becomes harder to open it since the fan is sucking it closed. I rigged the door to swing open when the fan turns on, and I figured that there was something wrong with the set up of the fan and the vent since they didn’t work in the same way.
It turns out that I was wrong – the fans are only meant to run in exhaust mode and the vent is supposed to open against this flow because if the vent opens inward, a stiff wind could blow open the vent and ruin the temperature control. Apparently we are missing a crucial piece of the greenhouse set-up which automatically opens the vent right before the fan turns on.
So lessons learned?
- Sometimes calling people is much easier than trying to research things yourself on the internet. Sure there was a lot of information out there, but some of it wasn’t relevant, was hard to understand, or was just plain wrong. Adding to that was the fact that I wasn’t even entirely certain what I was even looking for – was it the fan or the vent that was wrong? But one call to Dave at the ACME Fan and Greenhouse supply company had me straightened out.
- Drawing electrical diagrams is HARD! This is not pretty:
- Sometimes things don’t need fixing. Technically the fan/vent set up is completely correct, minus the missing part. But….
Lessons NOT learned:
- I’m still not 100% convinced that it is correct! (I know, I am a very hard-headed, stubborn know-it-all!). I understand that it was correct at one point and possibly had all the parts it needed, but that is no longer the case. I could go out and buy one of those automatic openers and hook it up and it would work as intended, or I could figure out how to work with what I have.
- I’m still going to try to kludgy this together somehow. Maybe flip the vent for the summer and wedge it closed for the winter? Maybe some Rube Goldberg machine can open that vent when the fan turns on? Maybe automatic venting that doesn’t even need a fan?
- Ideally the fan will be unnecessary and I would like to not depend on these automatic thingamajigs. Not because I’m a Luddite or hate technology, but because they fail and are hard to fix and make me angry (and the irrigation system battery died and killed all my squash babies earlier this summer). I figure that people managed at one point without all those things, and I can figure out how to as well. Living part time in Philly does make it more complicated, but that sounds like a challenge…