Greenhouse & Garden

There are a few structures of interest around the farm: the greenhouse including ferrocement garden beds and fiber-cement “tree”; the Bokashi plant, a commercial composting facility, with a compost tea maker on the side; the rocket stove fired Biochar (charcoal) maker; a decorative fence system made with waste stucco that gets its strength as a tensile structure; and our MP3 powered lawn mower.


We drew the full size pattern for this out on a parking area in California where we could stand above it and take photos. We had a foundation and primary (before tile) floor poured on the La Paloma house waiting for its construction. hese then had a 1/2″ PVC tube screwed into the top, for the fiberglass roofing to attach to. The foundations (posts were laid out and the structure assembled. It was cross braced using curved 1/2″ EMT electrical tubing welded in place. In the areas where the 1/4″ bar was welded, we placed metal screen and stucco to stiffen the structure. Sides and doors were welded up,. Screen was placed on the sides to keep wind out. Fiberglass roofing was placed on the structure. Before we started the house, we drew the pattern for 1/2 the greenhouse out on the floor. Drilled holes and placed 1/4″ bar pins to make a mold. Bent flat bar into the forms and welded the 1/4″ bar inside to hold the form in place.

This structure is located at 4300 ft, so there is several times more UV radiation than at sea level. To mitigate damage to the fiberglass, yearly we wax the structure with a carnuba car wax, like Turtle wax. We put the wax on, but DO NOT remove the excess! This not only helps protect the fiberglass, it acts like a whitewash. After 6 years, we removed all the wax, and you could see some fuzziness to the fiberglass surface. We painted the surface with a cheap epoxy and gave it a new coat of wax. We will probably re-coat with epoxy every 4 years now.

Six years later and ready for its annual pressure washing and coat of wax on the fiberglass covering.

Fiber-cement tree

fiber-cement “tree”
Fiber-cement “tree”

This fiber-cement “tree” with hooks is made of spiraled 3/8″ rebar, welded to 1/4″ bar and wrapped with 3/8″ metal screen. Then burlap soaked in a stucco slurry is wrapped around the structure and after it has set, an additional coat of colored stucco is hand slathered to make a smooth finish. Steel hooks were welded to hang plants. The structure is NOT self supporting but rather uses the greenhouse structure to support the limbs.

Its purpose is to hang plants and support five different philodendrons that we have found in the local jungle.

The BOKASHI Plant and Compost tea maker

Originally designed to produce sufficient organic compost fertilizer for our farm, we have developed newer ways of making compost much simpler and faster, allowing this facility to make eight times what we could use on this farm. Due to restrictions for truck access, this facility will never actualize its potential. This is an art form I call FUNKYTIONAL, sometimes referred to as “Better Done Than Beautiful”. However there is a beauty in its funky-ness. The roof is used tin and its job is to keep out most of the rain, for next to nothing. The framing is very rustic, but easily repairable and or replaced. I wanted any subsistence farmer to feel that they could make this and not be intimidated. Its beauty is in its functionality, affordability, and appropriate technology. The bamboo and stucco are test areas for wall ideas for very low cost housing.

The lower container was originally the storage area for compost mixed and made in the large drum. The drum could be rolled daily mixing the compost and aerating it. We still use this drum, but only to mix. After it is mixed , the materials are dumped into the insulated ferrocement bin and we insert perforated, 1/2″ PVC tube connected to the air blower used to make the compost teas and aerate the pile. These PVC tubes are spaced out in the center and bottom center of the piles to allow even aeration. The effect is an immediate increase in temperature! Compost enters its cooling stage in a bit over a week, and is completed in as early as 2 weeks.

The Compost tea maker uses a system I saw on the internet consisting of very large air stones using bubbles and reduction in pipe sizes to force water over a 5 gallon bucket of compost.

The air stones provide very oxygen rich aerated water circulated from the edges of the bottom. For quality compost teas you need highly aerated water, especially if you are amplifying beneficial fungus.

We are blessed here with access to inexpensive black-strap molasses, in the white container from the sugar plants.

Rocket Stove Fired Biochar Plant

I purchased the Rocket Mass Heaters book from Ianto Evans ( because the idea interested me. I spent my life in energy conservation, and here is a technology that can provide very high heat, with very efficient and clean combustion, and use far less fuel (forests). There are simple versions used all over the world by poor people to cook over. Ian’s book is about heating, more than cooking.

We live in the Tropics where we do not need to heat, but I bought the book out of interest. On the internet was the idea for a batch Biochar maker using nesting drums. Filling the inside drum with the charcoal material. Holes in the bottom of this drum would allow the volatile gasses to escape when the charcoal got hot enough and these gasses would continue the process. The outside drum was filled with wood to light and start the process. I designed a rocket stove underneath to replace filling the wood and add more control over the process. We have only used it once. Worked great, still need some more time to play with it. The outside drum is made of sheetmetal roofing and insulated with rice hull ash and sealed with clay. Low tech, low cost, appropriate technology.

Decorative Fencing System

fence post
Fencing posts
We made a form out of 1 1/2″ wide flat bar and welded up some 3/8″ rebar to place in it. These were filled with our waste stucco mix each day and some short 1/2″ PVC sections were placed so wire fencing could be attached in the future. These cement posts are too thin to self support and would easily break if moved to the side. So they are only strong in one direction. After attaching the horizontal barbed wires, two extra wires were run in a crossing pattern form top of one post to the bottom of the next post, effectively cross bracing the fence and strengthening the “weak” direction of the system. This system gets its strength by being in tension from the cross bracing wire. The cost of the wire is far less than the cost of more reinforcement and concrete, allowing for an inexpensive tensile fence.

fence post
Fence post

And below is our MP3 powered lawn mower. Just plug in the earphones and get in the groove. No moving parts, no gasoline, no noise. Some sharpening. After rebuilding my weedwacker multiple times, I just went back to the good old days. A Scythe, a sickle  and a Machete.