Sustainable Living Texas-Style
The second contribution in our new Resilience Spotlight series, featuring stories from Peak Prosperity readers, comes from Oliveoilguy.
About 10 years ago an older man took me and my wife aside and said that “Gold is Money”, “the markets are rigged”, and that we are living on borrowed money and borrowed time.
Fast forward 10 years. We have our own rain water system with 45,000 gallons of storage, dual filtration and UV sterilization. We still have a well that we use for livestock, and a manifold that allows either system to flow to any part of the ranch.
We also installed 2 solar systems. One has battery backup and powers some essential items like pumps, and 1 fridge and freezer and some lighting. It is grid tied using Outback GS load center technology and has been trouble free for 7 years. I did the installation myself with 18 panels maxing out one charge controller. The other system is an Enphase micro-inverter setup with 27 panels roof mounted on our house.
We put in 2 gardens, and are adding a 3rd growing area. The big garden is 125′ x 125′ and high fenced (8′) to keep deer out. We also ran 2′ of 1″ chicken wire buried in the ground around the perimeter and 2 years ago we couldn’t figure out what was eating the broccoli till we caught a porcupine and a raccoon together on a night vision camera. We had to add a hot wire on standoffs to keep those critters from climbing the fence. The small garden is 60’x 40′ and close to the house for greens, cold crops and onions. Our best crops are asparagus, onions, Irish potatoes, butternut, and sweet potatoes.
Some of these go to the root cellar for storage and often last 6 months. We put a small minisplit in the root cellar to take the temperature down a notch.
I am just completing a passive solar greenhouse which is similar to the “chinese” greenhouse with solid north wall, full southern glazing, and tons of thermal mass. The solid walls are 8″cmu with 3″ of outsulation on the exterior and a synthetic stucco covering. There are (20) 55 gallon barrels holding up the growing tables, and a heat exchange system buried under the floor. The irony is that this greenhouse design originated in Texas in 1980. I was part of a consultant team building the first iterations of this design on a project named “Texas Solar 80”. Since then I have refined the design and feel like it performs very well. I have (propane) backup heat which is hardly used and some thermostatically controlled vents in the peak which is about 18′ high. The glazing is double poly with air blown in to create a pillow, and the 40′ x 24′ sloped glazing area is all welded metal in a 4′ grid pattern which could someday accommodate lexan, but at this point I’m very happy with the inexpensive roof system. There are also 2 large garage doors on the structure which stay open during the summer. 60% shade cloth goes over during the summer months.
We have horses and therefore horse manure which we use to make compost, and two ponds which are called “tanks” in Texas and are basically good for deer and turkey to water in.
At this point we feel like our basic infrastructure is complete. Of course we would like to add more solar and go from being 1/2 off the grid to being fully self sufficient. I still work full time as a general contractor doing mostly custom homes in this area, but my goal is to someday switch gears and have this ranch become a center for teaching the infrastructure of sustainable living.
Thanks for the inspiring message from your 10 years of sustainable living.
For those of us unable to start our homestead/sustainable urban plot now, but who are preparing and collecting information for the future, do you mind sharing with us your blueprints for the greenhouse?
The earth battery design of storing heat not only in above ground thermal mass, but in the ground itself is intriguing to me. I have been able to find little information about the actual design of these systems, although there are some decent YouTube videos to be found. However, if you have information about recommended pipe length per square foot of above ground space etc., I would really appreciate it if you could share that information.
Perhaps you could even consider writing an e-book, self-publishing, and selling through Amazon or on a website. That could generate a passive income stream for years to come and I expect sustainable things like your greenhouse will only become more popular as time goes on. However, it goes beyond money. If you were publish an e-book or blueprints and people on PP had access to the information, we could disseminate it to our social groups and they could share it with theirs, and so on. Just a thought.
As to the blueprints, I'm willing to purchase those if you prefer not to make them public here or through your e-book, if you decide to write one.
Thanks for sharing your story, Oliveoilguy.
Adam….. Thanks for the nice comments and the publishing idea. Originally I designed this as an Aquaponics house but after running a 300 gallon prototype system for 18 months I decided that Aquaponics had too many moving parts and I heard about too many instances of catastrophic failures. (For example ……4000 dead fish) Also Aquaponics demands a large market for the lettuces and herbs that do well in that system. In my rural environment the market demands more diversity, and less volume of any given crop.
So all things considered, I decided to use the greenhouse for starting seedlings, moving plants up in size and eventually point of sale. I have a retail certificate from the State of Texas. We are also growing some papayas and extending the growing season. Growing in soil just make more sense at this point.
One correction to the article……The roof grid is 6' x 6' and not 4' x 4'.
Thanks for your post, Oliveoilguy. After extensive experimenting with aquaponics, hydroponics and aeroponics for several years, we recently abandoned aquaponics. Once an aquaponics system is up and running, and properly balanced, it works well. But getting it balanced is tricky. In theory, you can grow duckweed to feed the fish, which feed the plants and etc. But in practice, it's not that simple. I can describe aquaponics in one word: tricky. Hydroponics is fairly simple by comparison, and it works just fine once you learn how to set it up. But you must purchase the nutrient solution to add to the water.
While we got decent results with aquaponics, it was a lot of trouble. We concluded that hydroponics is easier so we have three separate systems, all of which are largely trouble-free. The largest has four 4 X 8 foot hand-built nutrient tanks in which 2" Styrofoam panels float. The next larger system we purchased from a farm supply company. It consists of a series of narrow metal channels through which nutrient solution is constantly pumped. The plants root in the nutrient channels and it works just fine. The third and smallest of the three is a so-called "ebb and flow" (flood and drain) system. They all work well. All have to be taken down and thoroughly cleaned now and then.
In a taste-test comparison, we found that hydroponically grown vegetables taste as good as those produced in an aquaponic system. Ours are in an 1,800 square foot high tunnel greenhouse, with a passive solar heating system (55 gallon plastic drums filled with water and stacked on the north side), evaporative coolers and a fogging system for the extremely hot Texas summers. Our produce is largely blemish-free. Along with our keyhole gardens, hugelkultur beds and raised bed gardens, we can produce more than enough vegetables for the two families who live on our Central Texas ranch. We also have a cow-calf operation (and chickens) so in a pinch we're mostly self-sufficient if need be. We have a large root cellar.
What we lack is solar panels. I am still studying them. We have a 22 Kw standby propane generator, but propane is a fossil fuel. As of now, we're grid-dependent.
Those who live in a hot, relatively dry climate should take a serious look at keyhole gardens. I have two of them and they are becoming popular in Central Texas. I've found that keyhole gardens are the best outdoor gardening system by a large margin over the alternatives. These can become a hot house in cold weather by adding a plastic cover, and a greenhouse by also adding a string of Christmas tree lights or a few incandescent bulbs in cold snaps.
@ Oliveoilguy: Apparently you live to the south of me because olive trees don't do well here (Nearest town Waco of "Fixer-Upper" fame). There are parts of Texas where olive trees do pretty well, and some entrepreneurs are said to be cultivating them with the goal of producing olives and oil. I hope they are young and patient. I'm 72 so that's out. Hahaha, having studied Permaculture, I was keen to start a Food Forest until I realized it takes about 25 years to bring one to full maturity.