Monday, September 27, 2010

A Bioneer's Greenhouse Part 6 - Ideas

This is Part 6 in a series. Feel free to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, or Part 5.

So once I get this greenhouse built, what would I do with it other than grow vegetables? Well, it will still be several years before I get it up and operational, so I have plenty of time to work out the details, but here are a few of my ideas:

Growing Mushroom Logs

In Arizona, the key to growing mushroom logs seems to be 3 things: 1) lots of moisture, 2) keeping them out of the sun, and 3) protecting them at least a little from earthworms. In the greenhouse, I am planning a living path to walk on, with plants growing on it. The water from the beds will drain straight into the soil here, so it should be almost constantly moist, but still have good drainage. It will also be at the base of a 3’ high wall, so it will not get much sun. I can line mushroom logs along the wall and it should be near perfect growing conditions. All I would have to do is bury them about halfway in the soil and leave them alone. It will give me an opportunity to replenish my supplies of a couple of kinds of medicinal mushrooms, grow some new kinds, and grow lots of my favorite edibles. I will also have a lot of great soil for growing some of the types of mushrooms that grow well in soils, such as shaggy manes. I might even be able to get king stropharia mushrooms to grow. That would be quite a coup.

Maintain a Small Ecosystem

My vision has always been to have a complete ecosystem in my greenhouse. Obviously I will have lots of plants and plenty of living bacteria in the soil. I will also put a lot of beneficial fungus in there, from saprophytic fungi making me mushrooms to eat and improving the soil, to mycorrhizal fungi that helps the plants to thrive. But I also want an animal component. I need insects to pollinate my flowers. Windows without screens should do that pretty well. I also need beneficial insects to eat the pest insects that find their way in. That isn’t too hard, though. There is an easy source of vast quantities of ladybugs nearby that I can collect every fall. There are plenty of praying mantis about that I can capture and release in the greenhouse as well.

I also want larger animals in there, though, but what to do? Lizards are easy. I could do anoles, a childhood favorite (but how do I keep them inside?), or I could go the easy way and go with the local whiptails and fence lizards. An iguana, basilisk, or water dragon would be cool as well. Turtles would be cool, but I think I will have too much vertical relief and they don’t really climb. There are also birds. A parrot (I favor macaws) or a small group of bobwhite quail as pets would be cool. Chickens produce eggs. The big problem with birds is that two of the windows to the greenhouse will be my bedroom windows, so noisy birds are pretty much out. There are also some neat mammals that would go well in a greenhouse. Rabbits would produce large amounts of fertilizer, but would have to be kept in a cage if I have any hope of growing anything. The cage could go over the compost pile, though, and add a constant stream of extra nutrients to the greywater headed out to the beds. A sugar glider or flying squirrel would be so cool in there. I just haven’t come to any decisions yet on that. I just want SOMETHING in there.

Water Feature

As I mentioned before, I am going to have some sort of water feature. It won’t be very big, though. Should I make it just a sterile tank, a holding place for rainwater, or should it be a living system? How much room do you need to grow tilapia for food? Maybe I could get native frogs and toads to come in and breed there. Maybe I just have turtles or catfish. There are so many options on this one.

A Wetland Water Filter

I have mentioned before that I plan on using compost to filter my greywater before it heads out to the plants. When I originally planned that one, it was to double as a compost bin for everything but the kitchen scraps. However, I now have a tumble composter that does a really good job of handling just about everything I can throw at it. I don’t necessarily need the extra compost space, so it will be extra effort to keep it full and functional. Wetlands have been used for years to filter water. They are excellent at filtering a large number of impurities from water. It also happens to be an ecosystem that I know next to nothing about but have been very curious about for some time, so it would give me an opportunity to learn and experiment. It also might take less space since the compost bin was supposed to be 2 bins. If I could make the water filtration area smaller, I would have more room to grow more plants.

Carnivorous Plants

I have been a big fan of carnivorous plants since I was a child. The problem is that Arizona is just too dry. Even sitting in a puddle of water, the plants dry out quicker than they can absorb water. A greenhouse might just keep the humidity high enough that they would survive. That would give me an opportunity to grow some of the larger American pitcher plants as well as a variety of sundews and maybe even a Venus flytrap or two. The trick is to keep the water level up. I think I can manage that by putting them in a floating bed on the water feature. I could put it on runners and situate the floats so that it floats at the right height to keep the water level just right. As the water in the tank drops, so does the bed. If I decide not to have any sort of aquatic life in there, this bed could be the entire top of the water feature.

Vertical Gardening

A 10’x20’ space is barely enough to grow everything I want to grow, and sprawling, vining plants, like melons, are just too much for the space. However, if I can create some trellises and arbors, I just might be able to get some of those plants to grow vertically. In addition to saving space, it must might help shade the walls of the house in the summer as well.

Epiphytic Plants

Epiphytes, or air plants, have been another of my loves over the years. Epiphytes grow on other plants, needing no soil. I currently have several epiphytic orchids and bromeliads and would love to expand the collection. In particular, I would love to grow a vanilla orchid, which I hear get very large, and I MUST HAVE a dragonfruit cactus. An epiphytic cactus that produces fruit is just too awesome. Actually, I would love to have a Meyer lemon tree and grow the dragonfruit up the lemon tree. I also really want a staghorn fern. Those are amazing, majestic epiphytic ferns.

Anyway, those are a few of my ideas. As you can see, this greenhouse won’t be so much a greenhouse for me as a bioneering laboratory.

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