Greenhouse ~ Construction

Greenhouse Construction

To recap from my last post, I have for some years now wanted to try my hand at aquaponics. Aquaponics involves fish and vegetable growing. In short, the fish excrete ammonia, which is toxic to the fish. But bacteria process the ammonia and produce nitrite and then nitrate. Vegetable plants are grown in the water that is rich with the nitrates, feeding the plants, and then the water is returned to the fish. It is a nearly closed loop system, just needing input of fish food and an occasional small dose of, for example, iron. But to do all this at the scale I want, I need a greenhouse.

Let’s fast-backward (hey, we can fast-forward, why not fast-backward?) to about a year ago.

I did a bunch of scouting around the property looking for a location for a greenhouse. I liked the idea of putting it on the roof of container #4 (above the bedroom wing) but that wouldn’t be convenient for Cynthia and the weight of the fish tank might be prohibitive. I looked at the west end of the kitchen, but that area is in constant shade. I thought about taking over the driveway turnaround area but it too has a large mango shadowing much of it and I really didn’t want to lose the driveway space. Finally I ended up at the east side of the carport. Good morning sun and gets partial shade in the heat of the afternoon. There is a planter, filled with bamboo and ornamental ginger, on the east side of the carport, and I could commandeer this space and convert it to a fish tank. I could then build the greenhouse about nine feet wide and not be perilously close to the property line.

I laid out the lines of the building and Armando and I got to work on a footing and block walls a couple feet high. Later, Ramiro was out of work and joined in for alterations to what would be the fish tank and also welding the framework of the greenhouse.

Ramiro was proud of his last job which involved saving hundreds of year old rock work in a building in Panama City’s Casco Viejo neighborhood (an historic, original part of the city). Here is a photo of what he was working on:

The stones originally looked like those on the second floor. They had to be cleaned and the old calcium based mortar completely removed and replaced with modern mortar without disturbing the stones. Dicey work.

In the next photo, Ramiro and his assistant son work on raising the wall of the fish tank. I didn’t have any boards to make form work for a beam at the top of the wall, so I cut away some of the concrete block to make a channel to hold a piece of rebar. It all got filled with concrete:

Next we started welding the frame of the greenhouse. Here is Ramiro grinding one of the previous welds so the roof joist would fit better:

Next photo – Most of the frame is assembled:

By this point it was last July and dead center of the rainy season. Some days Ramiro and I got very little painted. Here the primer goes on:

No, I didn’t buy a drone. This photo is taken from the roof of the studio next to my shop. Ramiro isn’t a fast painter, but he is meticulous. No holidays (a term I heard from a painter years ago meaning “no missed spots”) in his work!

Then two coats of the house green trim paint:

The left side of the next photo shows an unfinished closet for pumps and mechanicals:

After the frame was erected and painted, we sheathed the space in a double-wall polycarbonate greenhouse material. At a thousand bucks, the polycarbonate was one of the biggest outlays of cash. Next photo shows us dry fitting three sheets on the roof to make sure that the building was square. An un-square building is a nightmare to deal with. Square panels on an un-square frame = a lot of cursing and adjusting. But we were on the square and level and according to Ramiro’s thumb’s up, all went well:

After dry-fitting, we brought the sheets back down and removed the protective plastic from both sides:

Removing the protective plastic. Yet another thumb’s up from Ramiro.

The polycarbonate sheets won’t support a person’s weight, so I bought a 4’x8′ by 4″ thick piece of Styrofoam. It worked well as a work platform. Here I am applying a bead of silicone to the rafters. The silicone doesn’t stick terribly well to the polycarbonate, but makes a good gasket to keep out air flow that can bring in dust and debris and ants and such:

I forgot that I own a pneumatic caulking gun. Would have prevented some blisters…

Always an ominous sky to the north-east, so we had to move as fast as possible:

Once the sheets were in place and seated in the silicone, we drove self-drilling roofing screws through the polycarbonate and into the rafters. To keep the panels from lifting or blowing off, on each screw I put a large neoprene washer under a stainless steel washer. Then, at each seam, we applied a four-inch wide tape, said to be good for twenty years. I bought the tape at great expense ($100 for a 50-foot roll) from the manufacturer in Portugal. Four rolls, and throw in a 20 percent VAT tax and international shipping and that’s pretty much all I could afford for that month! But the tape is massively gooey-sticky, even difficult to remove from skin. I have high confidence in the product; ask me how it did in 21 years. Here is the top of the roof with all this stuff installed:

Better part of a year now and the tape shows no sign of degrading. Absolutely no roof leaks either! There is a wrinkle here and there over the screw heads.

Next we cover the long east wall with the polycarbonate sheets. The black board is plywood that is covered with a thin layer of phenolic (circuit board plastic) material. The plywood is made for reusable concrete forms but I found that it takes paint well and I’m sure the termites won’t like it. I cut the panels then glued them in place with urethane caulk. Ramiro and I also made a gate to the back corner of the property, making the greenhouse, studio, and my shop off limits to Sneaky Pedro:

We’re waiting for the raspberry bush (foreground) to bear a new crop of fruit.

Here is the carport side. The open area above the poly is now covered with insect screens. It gets quite warm inside the greenhouse so the screen lets the heat out. I still may need an exhaust fan – perhaps I can run one off the future solar panels. In the meantime, the space is an excellent solar-heated sauna!

We left off one panel on the end to bring in more gravel:

The holes in the walls are covered with insect screening. They allow some cool air to enter.

All finished. Here is sunrise casting shadows from plants outside:

The fish tank wall behind the chair is now covered in a nice aqua-colored tile. You’ll see the tile in a future post:

Not bad if I do say so:

The climbing vine is prolific!

In Other News:

(Note: As I write this, we are in week four-plus of a very strict Covid-19 lock down. Panama is doing comparatively well. Briefly, for the past several weeks, women can go out to grocery shop on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Men Tuesdays and Thursdays. Everyone is home Saturdays and Sundays. On your allotted day, you are allowed to be out for two hours, and which two hours depend on the last digit of your passport or national ID. There is a 5 pm to 5 am curfew. No alcoholic beverage sales. Curfew violators are detained for 48 hours and pay a fine or clean and disinfect parks and public areas. Driving outside of your hours? Lose your license for three months and your car is towed and stored for that time. On the flip side, some police officers with musical talent have a pickup truck with a mega sound system in it. They travel around to the poorer neighborhoods in Panama City and perform karaoke concerts for people stuck in small, hot apartments. People wave the Panamanian flag from their windows and balconies. At the entrance of our town, El Valle, is a police checkpoint. You must show a utility bill or similar that proves that you live here or you are sent away. So far, no C-19 in our town. The police appreciate cold cans of Fresca on my return home just beyond the checkpoint from town. There is more, but I said, “Briefly…”)

We are doing our best to stay healthy during this Covid-19 time. We eat on a sliding scale between Paleo and Keto, and it serves us very well. I feel so much better than when I was a grain eating vegetarian. No more pre-diabetes and many other health benefits.

Cynthia and I have a thing to pass our time during our lock down. I branded this thing, Covid Operations. In our most recent Covid Operation we made sauerkraut. I use two tablespoons of non-iodized salt (pink Himalayan) to a large head of shredded cabbage and let it ferment for a week. There are many videos to show you how; here is a YouTube video that is a bit more scientific to get you started:

In another Covid Operation: We don’t eat dairy, so coconut yogurt is a great substitute; I think it is even better than dairy yogurt. And it is not pasteurized so, like the sauerkraut, it has the healthy live culture. We use the Instant Pot which makes it easy; just push the Yogurt button! There are a bunch of videos on YouTube. We use coconut milk and coconut cream and add in things such as vanilla extract powder. When I eat it, I mix in some freshly toasted and ground (in the Cuisinart) pumpkin seed or maybe some chocolate nibs. Go have a look on YouTube. Here, let me Google that for you.

Here is a photo of our most recent sauerkraut and yogurt:

Left to right: Jars 1 and 2 are freshly made sauerkraut. Jar 3 has been fermenting for a week. The last 3 jars are a fresh batch of yogurt cooling to go into the refrigerator. The brown flecks are the vanilla bean.

Yet another grass fire: We had some wicked winds a few weeks ago. Blew the roof off of a neighbor’s pump house. The power wires came down with the roof, sparked, and started a grass fire. Fortunately, the bomberos had fuel in their brush truck and responded as the fire was rounding the corner toward our property.

By the way, I just checked on whether it was toward or towards. Seems that either is correct these days; you can freely and without fear of rebuke from the Grammar Police, use either. However toward is more used in North America and towards is used more in British writing. Nice to know that this is one pair of words that I can’t mess up.

You can see the brush truck at the end of the road.

I house sat for a neighbor a while back and fed their birds and fish. They have a pair of in-the-wild hawks that visit for handouts:

Yes, I was that close. It’s the windy season – note the tree, although we have had our first big rain. More on the way soon.

I have always wanted a gate from the carport to the backyard. It has concerned me that Sneaky Pedro could come around and dip into my shop, helping himself to my expensive metal cutting saw without so much as a thank you. Now he has to get permission from the gatekeeper!

I have since primed the metal, but the top coats will have to wait until I can get more paint when the hardware stores re-open from the Covid-19 lock down.

We had take out last night. Cynthia and I went to the pantry and Took Out ingredients for homemade pizza. It doesn’t look like a regular pizza because it doesn’t have tomato sauce or cheese. But I guarantee you it was delicious; smoked ham, fresh homemade basil pesto, onion, pepper, Kalamata olives, toasted pumpkin seeds, red pepper flakes, and an olive oil drizzle on a gluten free crust made from cassava flour, arrowroot flour, and coconut flour. Here’s the crust recipe.

Without a smothering of cheese, you can enjoy a lot more flavors without getting that overstuffed, bloated feeling!

And finally, Winston looks as if he is the star of a suspenseful film noir. I think this photo would make a good film noir poster. This is an early morning shot of the sun shining through our dining room windows, casting shadows from the table and chairs. I think I’ll call my film noir video El Gato Malvado (The Evil Cat).

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Fred

13 thoughts on “Greenhouse ~ Construction

  1. Fred, you amaze the heck out of me! Your fertile mind and talent are incredible and the latest additions look wonderful. Thank you for sharing your ongoing “adventures in paradise”. I also appreciate the food information, as friends in Florida have been encouraging me to go meatless and dairy free. Blessings to you and Cynthia and a pat for Winston

    • Hi! Thanks very much for the nice compliments. As to food, it is of course a personal thing. I was a strict vegetarian for 30 years, often vegan, and always ate whole grains and etc. Just like you are supposed to. Cynthia was in critical condition with her heart problems in 2014. She went to a cardiologist in Texas who said she was a walking stroke. The doctor said she could prescribe a bag full of medicines but they wouldn’t do much good for her. So she suggested that Cynthia read the books Wheat Belly and Grain Brain and then make big changes in her diet. Even before Cyn got back home here, I bought the eBooks and read them non stop. The books convinced me to flip my way of eating on its head. We now eat a LOT of healthy fat (coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil), a reasonable amount of meat, and a TON of veges. No sugar, very low carbs. (The average American eats upwards of 800 grams of carbs a day. I eat fewer than 50.) I lean more toward Keto and Cyn likes a bit more carbs so she leans more toward Paleo. Although dairy can be “allowed,” we don’t do well with it and ditched it. For me, the upshot was a rapid loss of 35 unwanted pounds. I was pre-diabetic and now my blood sugars are right in the good range. Arthritis is virtually gone. I feel much more energetic. And surprisingly, at the tail end of 71, I am able to grow muscle more easily, not always feeling the need for a chiropractic visit. Even my propensity for dental decay and gum problems have vanished. This is all due to removing all forms of sugar and nearly all carbs from my diet, those things being major causes of inflammation. I like YouTube videos by Dr. Sten Ekberg and Dr. Eric Berg. Also Google Insulin Resistance and YouTube the video Carb Loaded. My health goals are specific: reduce inflammation and keep hormones in balance — as men age, testosterone goes down, leading to an estrogen-heavy system. High estrogen in men leads to issues such as prostate cancer and a whole slew of other problems. Eating the way I do now is, to me, meet these goals so much better than when I was a “health conscious” vegetarian. Be well and thanks again for your nice compliments. Saludos, Fred

  2. fred, havent seen your posts in a bit, that’s on me not you. place looks fantastic and i’m tuned in to see how your tanks/aqua venture turn out. best of luck and health to you both, d

  3. Fred, another chapter in your fascinating book of life. I am so enriched learning from you. I was wondering what you used for the structure of the greenhouse. They look like tube steel, galvanized, maybe 2×4 or 2×6.
    Can you tell me what gauge it is ? Are you still using the old “buzz box ”
    to weld it.
    The dietary info is a gold mine. As my wife and I have learned, the keto diet
    is a life extender for sure.
    Don

  4. At the “tail end” of 73, I’ve been free grazing all my life. I am the poster boy for many of the symptoms you describe.
    I’m just not confident I can give up my mid day bottle of beer
    I guess I just need a place to start these diets. The two e-books you recommend, would that be a good place to start?

  5. Hi Fred,
    Thank you for the update. It’s always great to hear from you.
    The aquaponics system sounds very interesting. I hope to hear more about it as you get it working.

  6. Fred, thank-you for the update! I pass along your updates to friends. You have probably more fans than you know!
    We look forward to updates on your hydroponics. Very interesting to hear of aggressive, organized, and fruitful response to “C19” there in Panama. We could use some of that in the states.
    Your health/diet updates are appreciated too. We are both sides of 50 and trying to stay healthy.
    Keep up the great work!

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