Anyone in cold climate using Bioshelters?

Discussion in 'DIY / Self Sufficiency' started by Sabz, Oct 9, 2014.

  1. Sabz

    Sabz Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Quebec, Canada
    I have been thinking about a greenhouse for a while now..

    But living in Quebec and the winter temperatures going to -30C, I know it is not going to help me grow crops in winter if I don't heat it.
    Of course, cost of heating a greenhouse is incredible and a bit ridiculous (my lettuce would probably cost about 15$ to produce!) ... so I thought about putting my hot compost pile in the greenhouse.

    While Googling this, I found that Bioshelters existed and now I am all exited!!

    A bioshelter is like a self-heated greenhouse that also houses pets - chickens and rabbits, sometimes even fish. The animal's bodies give heat to the building, as well as the poop..

    I also think I could heat the greenhouse partly by using large water barrels painted black, so the water would heat during the sunny time of the day, and release heat during the night.

    I'd put a hot compost pile outside or inside (not sure) and probably use pipes from the compost pile to the greenhouse to distribute heat.

    I would like to know if anyone is doing anything similar? I've found success stories of growing crops all winter - without electricity - in Massachusetts. Not too far from me, but still warmer climate in winter, not 100% comparable with Quebec!
     
  2. Trent Hardy

    Trent Hardy Out Of The Brooder

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    I'd never heard of bioshelters before. What a cool concept!!!! Now I really want to build one :).
     
  3. Sabz

    Sabz Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Youhou, happy I could make you learn about this :)

    It is new to me also. It started with my greenhouse research.. then I thought about the compost heating and eventually discovered that Bioshelters existed.

    Up to now, I know a few basics things:
    - Have some air between two layers of plastic to insulate the greenhouse (an electrical blower keeps the plastics appart from each other)
    - Put black barrels of water to heat during the sunny time and release heat at night
    - North wall painted black to absorb heat. Use a material like rock or brick to release heat at night.
    - Put animals in the shelter and use their body heat and poop to heat.
    - I have seen a lot of people use hay to insulate.

    Not sure about:
    - Putting the compost pile IN the greenhouse. A person I know studied in agriculture and told me the plants like CO2 and would probably live OK with the compost. Other sources state that the methane generated by the compost could explode (anyway we will need ventilation so I suppose the methane would escape if the ventilation is sufficient).

    - If the compost is outside, we can use pipes to bring the heat inside.


    This is a really fun project, I am currently trying out a mini greenhouse to see how long the soil will remain unfrozen, versus the soil OUTSIDE the greenhouse.

    Fun facts: some people in Massachusetts have grown avocadoes in the bioshelter!!!!! Even though it can go to -5C in winter. Pretty cool. People grow citruses and other exotic fruits in places that we couldn't even imagine. This is really appealing to me.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2014
  4. Trent Hardy

    Trent Hardy Out Of The Brooder

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    Newfoundland, Ca
    A couple of the plans I looked at had compost bins put directly under the larger planters inside. I wouldn't think methane build-up would be a major problem, as you said all you'd need is to vent it, but I'll go tit for tat on trading ideas - Google "biogas generator".

    I think you may be able to get away from using an electric blower on your plastic if you install some cross members on your framing. Barring that, keep your eye on Kijiji for free windows from home renos. We recently managed to hook eight large (4'x7') windows for nuthin'!!!

    Other ones I looked at had ponds inside them. I think this is a great idea, as I have ducks. Set up a little pump system to use the pond to irrigate your plants (getting extra nutrition from the waste the ducks will inevitably bring into the water) and a rain collection system to replenish the pond. Also, if I can figure it out, put tilapia in the pond... (I think this is starting to get expensive :)

    Instead of having both black barrels and a painted wall, would it be any better to have rows of black piping lining the north wall? It might save you some space (again, more expensive though)

    From the little bit I read, it seems you may still have to have a secondary source of heat for times when it gets really cold. The website I saw had a catalytic propane heater (I think) to supplement the other methods. Do you by any chance burn wood? If so, it may be possible to rig up a little hot water radiation system to your greenhouse that runs off of your woodstove. I'm starting to get into some pretty cracked ideas now though...
     
  5. Sabz

    Sabz Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Quebec, Canada
    Yes I am getting into pretty cracked ideas myself :)

    I am not sure for the cross members that could be used in place of the blower. I think with the weight of the snow, and the plastic having a bit of elasticity to it, the tension in the plastic might get lose in time. Not sure though, I haven't touched or worked with the grade of plastic they use for greenhouses.

    At first I did include a pond in my concept. Then, I figured it wouldn't be as useful as I thought. Tilapia are rather large when they are adult. They take around 8 months to mature. This means that to eat about one fish per 2 weeks, you'd need 16 fishes. I think this would call for a pretty large pond, the ones I saw had a few fishes in there 4, 5.. And also, I've had aquariums for many years and none of my fishes ever reproduced. I assume it would be hard to reproduce tilapias, so every 8 month's I would be buying baby fishes.. so for the space it would take, for the hassle of checking PH, dealing with possible leaks, etc., I have decided not to venture in that direction. If a tiny pond would produce enough fish for one year, then I would go for it, but I don't think it is doable.

    Good point for Kijiji and windows :) I've built my chicken coop with windows I found on the side of the road. I also built my mini greenhouse with those. I am worried for a greenhouse though.. I am not sure I will build it with different sizes and qualities of glass, I don't want it to fall apart when I am in it lol. I am a little scared of working with glass, I don't think I am a good enough construction woman to build a greenhouse :( Still reading though, maybe eventually I will decide to attempt it.

    For the black pipes on the north wall, I would need to circulate the water, right? How do you see it? With a pipe of a small diameter, I think the water would get cold faster.

    No, I don't burn wood :( I could have wood supplies for free, but no stove. It is probably right that if we want to do this year round, we'll need a second heat source.

    I think I need to build a plan.
    Then count the R factor of the windows and walls and determine the quantity of heat it will lose overnight when it is -35C as example (pretty much the lowest we can get here).
    I also need to calculate how high the temperature of the water barrels can reach, and then how much time it takes to cool.
    Then calculate the amount of heat generated by chicken and rabbits.
    Then find out the heat I can get out of my compost. In summer, it is around 60 degrees C. I don't know if it hits that high in winter also.. I will test this winter.

    I wonder if a big barrel of water can remain warm through a whole winter night. I doubt it. It is dark outside around 4PM and sun raises around 7AM? So that is 15 hours without sun. I suspect the barrels would be cold when the night falls, so the compost would need to do the rest of the job for the remaining 8-9 hours.

    Looking into this as I write ;) I wanted to show you a link I found but I cannot find it anymore.. they had a HUGE compost pile outside the greenhouse, like big as a little shed. I wonder how much energy that generated. They had it wrapped in plastic tarp to keep it warm.
     
  6. Sabz

    Sabz Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Mar 27, 2013
    Quebec, Canada
  7. Trent Hardy

    Trent Hardy Out Of The Brooder

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    That is a really cool link

    With regards to the water barrel, I tried using a solar still this summer so ended up doing a fair bit of research on that. Something you may want to google as well (batch heaters). I'll be honest though - mine did not work well. Probably had something to do with positioning. For the pipes I was initially thinking just a series of pipes holding water with a little fill hole at the top. In theory they would serve the same purpose of the water barrel - ie as a heat sink, and as the painted wall. No circualtion would be necessary, and instead of a bunch of barrels sitting in your way it would be against that wall. But from reading the link above I wonder about adding a circulation system so that hot water warmed by the sun in the day circulates through pipes in the compost pile (warming the pile) and then continues through it at night (warming the greenhouse). Again, I'm have NO idea if this would work, it's just a thought...

    I don't think an air pump would keep the snow from pushing your plastic sheeting in. There is a type of clear corrugated plastic you can buy that works really well for greenhouses. You can get it at Home Depot etc. It is what we have on ours. Snow simply does not stay on it. Maybe an alternative to plastic or glass (if you're concerned about breakage). Glass isn't that rough to work with, you just construct your framing to match it. The hard part is finding a lot of large windows that are the same size.

    Yeah, I don't know much about tilapia myself. I just know they're supposed to be the perfect fish for farming - they basically like dirty, low flow, water. I don't even eat fish (yup and I'm from Nfld) so that wouldn't be much of an issue :). Like I said, we've got ducks, so a pond is inevitable.
     
  8. Trent Hardy

    Trent Hardy Out Of The Brooder

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    On another note, if you are planning to make a compost heap like in the link you posted, there is a type of blue or grey insulated box (just google "fish tub) that I think would work wonderfully for this. I'm not sure where you are in Quebec, (probably northern based on the temps) but if you can get down to the Atlantic provinces you could probably find one pretty easily....
     
  9. Sabz

    Sabz Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Mar 27, 2013
    Quebec, Canada
    Thanks for the ideas :) I didn't know what a "fish tub" was.

    This weekend I finished my test project. A little tiny greenhouse with a compost pile in the middle. We are supposed to have around 20C for the next 2-3 days, then it will drop seriously. I think the warm weather in the next days will help the seeds germinate. Then I will monitor the temperature to see the difference with outside. I have built two compost pile on each side of the greenhouse and one inside.

    I have also realized something sad this weekend. I am not sure I can build a bioshelter. I checked the sun and it reaches my backyard around 9AM! I don't have the morning sun, it is only in my front yard.. I doubt the city would give me a greenhouse permit to put in front of my house!! Also my lawn is pretty small up front, wouldn't have a lot of space..

    So that was a downer.. it means that if I do build the greenhouse, I will need an extra 2 hours of warmth without the sun. So from around 4PM to 9AM it will be without sun!! Arg..

    Anyway, if the compost idea works, then it is not so bad.. if I rely on the sun I will probably have lots of dead plants haha.
     
  10. Sabz

    Sabz Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Mar 27, 2013
    Quebec, Canada
    OK I just received my winter crop book!!

    Very interesting. Here is the example that the author gives for greenhouses:
    A -22C night would give a temperature of -17C in a one-layer greenhouse (no double walls).
    In this greenhouse, he used hoops to cover the rows of plants, and in there it was -7C!

    He achieve similar temperatures in the greenhouse made of 2 layers of plastic with a blower keeping air between the plastic layers. The difference is that this type of greenhouse will heat faster in the morning, when the sun hits. It made the germination period faster than the one-layer greenhouse.

    I am very surprised that without any electricity we can reach -7 in a greenhouse in a -22C night!!
     

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