Happy July 4. At least I don’t have to water today. Its busy time here again so posts and media are taking the back burner. Ill shoot some pix up when I can squeeze in a few moments. The gutter was plugged with debris and the seal on this glass panel had popped off. The gutter above was ankle deep.
I have been taking advantage of the slower time here at the greenhouse to work on those back burner projects. One of these is fixing up the bathrooms. Not very high ranking on my list of cool things to do, I know… However a few weeks ago Barb went to a film festival and told me about a cool video short she saw about some guy in the Philippines who is using old plastic soda bottles to make lights. It’s called a liter of light project and is very cool. While I was working on our bathrooms and climbing around on top dealing with rewiring issues I had a mini-aha moment. So as I was inspired by the liter of light project I whipped up my own. It’s actually very cool and it seems like unless you are doing your business at night, we don’t need to turn the light on. This picture was taken with no flash on a cloudy day. It’s definitely brighter on sunny days. My own LOL.
I love charts and graphs. The visual representation of data really lets you get a picture of what’s going on. I have recently updated a bunch of our data collection, logging and now the pretty pictures part. We have been collecting this data since about May of last year. I have 2 versions of the graphs, the last 15 hours (in 5 minute increments) and also the daily averages going back to last May. Both of these allow you to zoom and change the rolling averages. To zoom, drag select a region from left to right. Double-click to reset. The little box in the lower left with a number in it is the rolling average, defaulting to 1. On the yearly data if you enter a 7 and hit enter you will see the data re-shaped on a 7 day rolling average. In the more live trend data entering a 12 would let you see the 12 x 5 minute or hourly rolling average. There’s also the status page of what’s happening now (nearly).
Note this is long post with a sound track and pictures – you have been warned… After a long time and many, many hours of work, our big boiler (BB) is back online. It’s actually been up and running for a few weeks now and I have been able to get some of this down for posterity.
Back in April of ’11 the cast iron steps in BB collapsed. We limped out the rest of the spring just with our little boiler. I spent quite a few spare moments over the summer pondering what to do next and how to go about it. Something new was out of the question we just couldn’t afford it. After quite a bit of reading and research I decided to perform a fairly radical retrofit. I settled on trying to model the refit after a commercial wood fired boiler made by a company in Worcester called BCS. Luckily the Cavicchio’s happen to have a couple of these in use over in Sudbury. Both Paul and Jake were super-helpful in letting me ask 1000 questions and crawl all around in their boilers.
The whole project didn’t get started until September. I knew going in it was going to take some time. I broke the work into 2 major phases, the first being a major plumbing change to be more efficient in how the hot water is used and circulated. The second phase being the actual refit of BB. I was optimistic that the phase 1 changes would buy me the time I would need to finish phase 2 while only running with the little boiler (LB).
Then we started to attack the plumbing. All of our major pipes in the boiler room are 4″ steel. These beasts are welded. We were able to cut, fit and re-plumb to alter the water flow. The problem was once we put the water back in we had a nice rain shower going on. I’ll take copper pipe and solder any day after that. We eventually got some outside welding help and dried things out. The changes worked great and ended up allowing us to run the little boiler down into temperatures in the mid-20′s. In the past we were lucky to run into the low 30′s with only the LB. As it turned out later this was a huge boon as the second phase was rather ambitious.
Phase 2 involved cutting off half of the firebox from BB, rebuilding the refractory wall, installing a new elevated floor with special airflow capable firebrick and installing a new horizontal chip feed mechanism. The first part was the easiest, of course. Take a cutting torch go wild. I think I am going to amend the old saying, if you can’t fix it with a hammer and duct tape it’s not worth owning now that I have a cutting torch. We yanked the old parts out with the CAT. Rebuilding it took somewhat longer. By way of Jake I was very fortunate to hook up with Walter Lane. Walter’s a great guy who knows alot about boilers. He and his brother drove out from Troy and sold me a bunch of awesome leftovers from other projects. He also had a few great tips and ideas on how to greatly simplify what I was going to do. He saved me hours and a good deal of money I am sure.
We ended up finishing the basic work somewhere in early December. We then got into a boiler tube replacement dance, where the fire tubes leak, you yank them out, put in new ones, and in the process open up leaks in a few more tubes. Rinse, lather repeat and it’s almost Christmas. We finally started getting a fire going sometime in late December. Of course we had a few issues to iron out. The main one was the new chip feed jammed all the time. I was worried when we put it in that we had undersized one of the tubes. That proved to be the problem, so we cut it off and put in a much larger tube. Since then we added some fine tuning and a off delay timer to help smooth out the feed. We have been running it nice and hot when we need it, it burns less chips, hardly generates any slag and can be too much fire if it gets too warm outside. The next tuning/tweak we are now doing is to alter the drive gearing to slow the chip feeds down even more. There are times when we run too hot and by the time the heat has been pulled off and pushed into the greenhouse the fire has gone out.
The following gallery is a series of pictures I gathered over the last few months as we hammered this out (literally). I now have time to write this, and even work on other things.
Now that I have some spare time (yes it has happened) I’ll be digging into my picture archives and clearing out a bunch of post ideas I’ve been saving. This is the start of the series…
Farms are infamous for their stories of dangerous tools and things to do. We are no exception. One of the scariest and probably most dangerous things we can do here is to work on the glass panels that make up our greenhouse structure. There has been a panel that was broken quite some time back and replaced with a polycarbonate sheet. That sheet had broken down in the sun and was ready to collapse at any time.
The panels are 6′x12′ tempered glass. They are really heavy and hard to move around. Our first attempt at this was done by carrying the panel inside the greenhouse and lifting up up and through the hole. It was a huge lift that nearly exhausted us before we even got the glass up and outside where it needs to be.
Once you get the panel up on top, the procedure is to push the leading edge into a channel on the top then slowly lower the bottom edge. This causes the panel to flex and curve which actually bends the glass to follow the form of the greenhouse structure. Any imperfection in the glass like a nick or a small speck of sand on the edge will spell disaster for the panel. I’m the lucky guy who holds the glass up from the bottom as it’s fit into the top channel since I am the only one tall enough to do it. Our first attempt exploded on my head. After all that time getting it up, boom it’s gone. We were all in quiet shock looking at what was left of it below us.
For the second attempt I got all new gaskets and we used the fork lift to hoist the glass from the outside hoping to minimize any chance for nicks. These pictures are from the second attempt. It worked fine, we flexed the huge panel into place, and sealed it up nice. As it turned out, it was also in the nick of time. That was the last Friday in October. The next day we had 12-16″ of wet heavy snow on the roof and a nice power outage to go with it. While the generator saga that ensued is a story for another time, we didn’t have to deal with a collapsed panel and cold and snow in the greenhouse.
Sorry for the long gap in posts, the summer schedule is a bit off the hook. We have lots going on here. All the outdoor fields are going and need tending as well as the greenhouse. The markets are also in full swing. We are now doing about 17 a week. Some are not every week. Things are looking good, though the orientals are not keen on the high temps we had a week back. We also have a small band of teenage boys to help us over the summer. Chipping away at tasks I never seem to get to. This day it was cleaning out all our buckets we use for the flowers. Beats weeding any day.
We had a booth at the Stow Springfest last weekend. The weather was great and we had quite a good amount of traffic (and sales). Thanks to everyone who came out and said hello. I had to take this shot of our friend Carol who was going to bike off to home with a nice bouquet of flowers strapped to her backpack. It’s always nice to sell a bunch of flowers and have a customer walk (or ride in this case) away with a smile on their face.
We do steam the old fashioned way, we boil water for it. Actually it’s an integral part of our process here. We normally steam the soil at the end of the planting cycle after cutting and cleaning off tables. The steam helps kill the weeds and bad things in the soil making for a nicer material. We stopped doing it in mid-January to conserve fuel (we use our wood chip boiler to make steam). About a month back the big boiler went kaput, the cast iron step grates that hold the chips while burning cracked and collapsed. So I’m riding it out on the little boiler for now, planning to fix the bb over the summer. The problem was that the little boiler wasn’t setup to make steam. After a little google-fest I found a mechanical water filler to install and help automatically keep the water from getting too low (we did that by eye on the bb – great when your eye is on on it, but when it’s not …). We recently finished the hookup and now are back in the steam biz. The steamed soil smells great when we use it, and the lilies love it.