Papercrete Greenhouse Workshop

This Saturday, May 5th, we’re putting on a papercrete greenhouse building workshop In conjunction with Homegrown New Mexico.  If you’re thinking paper whodiewaha?  Check out these posts on papercrete where I go over what it is, how to make papercrete blocks and how to make your own papercrete mixer.

The greenhouse has been a work in progress for the past three four years.  Every year around plant starting time I’m kicking myself for not finishing it.  I’ll bet we get a bunch done this weekend though.  Hopefully the momentum will carry forward and the greenhouse will get finished this year.

At the workshop we’re going to cover how to mix papercrete and cast it into blocks.  Then we’ll take some blocks that I made last year and use the same papercrete mixture to mortar the blocks together for the walls of the greenhouse.  It’s going to be a lot of fun so if you’re in or near Santa Fe you should come on over on Saturday from 10-12:30.  You can click on the Homegrown New Mexico badge on the right for more info.

I did a post on the greenhouse a year ago on my old blog- Stuff I Made This Year.  I’m re-posting it so that y’all can get an idea of what we will be working on…

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greenhouse-plan-a

The proposed greenhouse

Once upon a time there was a family that really wanted to build a greenhouse (pretty much just me). It was going to be about 15′ x 20′, made out of recycled windows and other scavenged building materials. I really wanted to have a place in the challenging New Mexico climate to nurture young plants and be able to expand the regular growing season. After debating the merits and disadvantages of various places in our yard we chose a site for the future greenhouse.

I spent a couple months of evenings and weekends flattening the site and digging a trench by hand. Next, I used a bunch of styrofoam forms (think giant legos) that Molly got from a concrete contractor to insulate and form the foundation walls that run from the footer to the top of the trench. We only got corner pieces (whadya expect? they were free) so I took the pile of corners, cut them up and fit them together to make the foundation walls. Molly helped me pour the foundation over the course of three weekends.

We created a ridiculously over sized foundation for the requirements of such a light structure. The concrete cost about $600 which used up our entire building budget for the year. The only visible result of all this labor and money was a rectangular perimeter of concrete at ground level.

That was Phase 1. Phase 1 was three years ago. As time passed other projects took precedent and the weeds took over their previous home again. In the winter we would dream about getting the greenhouse finished but there would be 3 feet of snow on the ground.

We had a milder winter this year and in January I decided that I was going to get my greenhouse. Instead of using the $600 foundation we had already I decided I was going to make an entirely different structure in an entirely different place.  As Molly watched and bit her tongue I started making plans to put an addition on the south end of our house that I could put up over the course of a couple weekends.

My idea was that it would be faster to build (so it would actually happen) and it could help heat the house plus one wall was already built. We even had a garden bed there already. I spent a day transplanting the chives and swiss chard that were hanging on and taking out a fence and gate that enclosed the garden.

My day of prep taught me a valuable lesson. Even though the south facing garden got sun in the summer, in the winter the angle of the sun was low enough that the trees blocked any direct light on my proposed greenhouse.

So much for plan B. Back to Plan A! I pulled up the weeds and shoveled out the dirt that had accumulated on the foundation.

front-just-poles

Starting to build

With only a vague idea of what the final shape of the building is going to be I put in posts at the corners and middles of each wall. I want a structure that is attractive to look at but also very energy efficient. Originally I was going to build a classic house made of windows but after reading a book on solar greenhouses from the library I decided that maximizing the solar gain by extending the south facing roof down lower than I had planned was the way to go.

greenhouse-plan-b

The current greenhouse plan

I’m also insulating the north facing roof and all the walls except the southern one which will help significantly in retaining the heat gained during the day. I have 8′ poles sticking out of the ground right now but the south wall will end up to be about 3′ tall and the North wall 5′ or so.

The lower part of the north wall is made out of concrete block and has an integrated pond. I back-filled the block with rammed earth to add mass to help store heat.

inside-looking-front

The inside so far...

The bottoms of the rest of the walls are made with re-purposed plywood concrete forms I got from the Re-Store that were cut to fit and bolted to the columns to help stabilise them. They will get insulated with styrofoam insulation. The remainder of the north, east and west walls will be finshed with papercrete block. The south wall will be glazed with windows taken from an old fire lookout station.

final-front1

From the outside so far...

I had my spurt of construction activity in January and then it snowed. By the time February arrived I needed to shift my focus to setting up an indoor seed starting station and getting planting beds built for the Spring. Once again the greenhouse sits… patiently waiting for Phase 3.

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Phase 3 came and went.  We got the walls going over one weekend last summer.  Here are a few pics from that spurt of productivity:

Getting ready to stack blocks

Getting ready to stack blocks

 

Making progress!

Making progress!

Smoothing

Smoothing the mortar

Come on down to the Mini Farm this weekend and get your hands into some papercrete muck!  You can tell your friends you helped build a papercrete greenhouse!  Not everyone can say that.

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2 Comments

  1. Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    that is awesome mike – i’ve finally got some area situated and have been looking at building my own papercrete mixer – I’ve always wanted to try the stuff.  I dont have the pieces (or skill, most likely) to build one out of an old car frame like you, but was hoping for a 55gal drum version.  Have you seen any plans for one of those around, or do you have any yourself?  
    Thanks
    Jeff

    • Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      Here’s a link to some general info on a 50 gallon mixer at living in paper and another on makepapercrete.com. Personally, I would just go for it and build a larger tow mixer.  If you are going to build anything you will want the larger capacity.  Try and find a small welding shop to help you.  You can find the back half of a small truck at lots of junkyards.  

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