Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Building Aquaponic Grow Beds - Time Lapsed

This is a time-lapsed video showing me building a deep water culture (DWC) bed and a media bed. For details about the entire build, please see this video series:   Youtube playlist

Friday, November 30, 2012

Controlling Powdery Mildew

This is the easiest and cheapest way I've found to eliminate powdery mildew on my plants.  It has never failed me!  I'm doing this in the aquaponic greenhouse, but this can be done indoors or any regular soil garden.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cloning Tomatoes

Just a quick video on how I clone my tomato plants.  Only one plant was grown from seed in the greenhouse and everything else has been cloned.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

When I originally designed the aquaponic system, I knew that there was going to be a couple of spots that could potentially become a problem.  Now that the system is running, I've decided to add a few redundant components...just in case....

Friday, October 26, 2012

Burning Pellets in a Rocket Mass Heater

After a few prototypes, a few burns, and singeing the hair off of my hands, here's my solution to burning pellets in a rocket mass heater.  Burns hot and super clean.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Aquaponic Association Farm Tour

In September, we went to the Aquaponics Association Conference and participated in the farm tours. The Association was kind enough to let me film the tours and share it with you. Just make sure you attend NEXT year!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Going Off-Grid

I finally finished up the solar setup for the geodesic dome. It's amazing how you have to watch every watt you're consuming when you're not connected to the power company!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Building the Aquaponic Geodesic Dome Greenhouse in TWO Minutes!

This is a time-lapse video of the complete construction project for the geodesic dome. There are 1555 images taken over the last 1.5 years.  What you can't see is all the work that's done preparing the pieces in the shop or any of the construction work done inside.   Overall, I'm overjoyed on how well everything came out!

Friday, August 31, 2012

EPIC Cucumber Time!

Here's a short video of my monster cucumber plant. It will be interesting to see how much more it grows before winter sets in. I"m hoping to keep the greenhouse warm enough to keep it going!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Aquaponic Maintenance

Here's a few things that I do for general maintenance in the aquaponic system. There really is little work that I have to do on it!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Goodbye Bette!

I’m sad to say that our favorite fish died today. “Bob” was a feeder fish that was won by my daughter at a local fair from a ping-pong ball toss game about 8 years ago. Over the years he grew quickly and we discovered that “he” was a “she” so we renamed her to “Bob-ette”, or commonly “Bette”. Keeping her water clean was a challenge and is the reason for my discovery of the aquaponics world!

Bette’s first public appearance was in a New York Times article about aquaponics ( She was also in one of my videos about building an indoor aquaponic system ( Most recently she was in a video produced by film maker Kirsten Dirksen (

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Hello to all my friends!

A follower has let me know that he saw one of my videos posted on another user’s YouTube channel.  I greatly appreciate the fact that they brought this to my attention.  I am always happy to produce and post videos which are always free for you to enjoy.  What I don’t like is some scumbag ripping and reposting my videos under their own channel.  It probably won’t be a surprise to you, but I am a YouTube partner and do receive some ad revenue from my videos.  (It’s very little, but every penny helps!)

If you happen to see one of my videos posted, and it’s not from the Web4Deb channel, I would be very grateful if you notify me of this theft.  Thank you for your support and I look forward to providing more videos in the future.

-Rob Torcellini

Friday, August 3, 2012


I forgot to include a few video clips in "Aquaponic System Install - 3 of 3" so here's a mini-video about a dipstick. ;-)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hanging It All On The Line

Why build support posts when you can use a super-strong dome?!?!

I needed to come up with a way to support and spread out some of my vine plants in the greenhouse. By removing a nut on the hubs and installing a coupling and eye bolt, it is an extremely strong point for attaching a cable system to act as a trellis.

Installing it is very simple, loop the cable through on one end and clamp it, feed it through another eye bolt on the other side of the dome, and bring it to another eye bolt to figure out the final length.  On this end, I loop it through a turn buckle.

Alright, moving right along….

Then just hook the turnbuckle into the last eye bolt and tighten the cable.

All that is left to do is to tie the plants on to the cables.  I also run some twine down to the grow beds so that the cucumbers can grow up it and attach to the wire.  Here’s a shot of the tomato and cucumber once they have really started to grow along the line.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Building the Aquaponic System - Part 3 of 3

This is the last of the series on how my aquaponics system is put together.  It details how the media and raft-based beds are designed and assembled.

This video shows how the various grow beds are set up in the dome greenhouse.  In order to maximize as much floor space as possible, all the beds are custom fabricated.

There are three media-based beds located in the center that are filled with expanded shale.  The beds use bell siphons to flood-and-drain the water which drains directly back into the central sump tank.

Along the perimeter wall, there are 2 media beds.  These beds are set higher than their neighboring raft-based beds and drain directly into them.  This method works very well since the media beds filter all the solids from the system and minimizes the amount of sediments that could accumulate in these raft beds.

I’m undecided on the last two beds and may make them rafts beds and interconnect them with water bridges, or have one (or both) be media-based beds.  It all depends on the types of crops I eventually decide to grow.

I drew a chalk outline on the floor that acted as a template for all the beds.  The frames are made from 1/2 inch black pipe that I welded together.  I’m using steel since it is very strong and doesn’t warp like wood, and is resistant to bugs and rotting.

The sides of the beds are 12 inches high, which seem to be a good depth for both raft and media growing.  Leaving for a little extra space along to top so the water and media doesn’t spill out, the growing depth is around 11 inches.

The bottoms have support braces spaced every 12 inches.  My original plan was to have the raft beds sit directly on the brick floor, but I had one critical design flaw in the dome… I ran the ducts for the geothermal out through the floor and the beds would block them.  I had to prop all the beds up on a brick so the air could pass under them.

When the steel cools off after welding, a little black rustproofing paint is applied which cleans up the look a bit.

This is one of the raft beds that was going to placed directly on the floor but interfered with the heating system.  Instead, a few bricks are placed under it as feet and the frame is set into place.

Back in the spring, my neighbor and I milled a bunch of the white pines that I had cut down from the greenhouse site.  Some of them are cut to 1 inch thick and are being used to line the grow bed frames.  I just laid them into place and let them overhang over the edge, marked a cutting line, and cut off the excess.  They lie down nicely and make a very strong decking for holding the liner.

The media bed is assembled the same way but is set on stacks of extra bricks.  The bottom elevation is higher than the top of the raft bed so that it can drain into it.

I purchased a large roll of EDPM pond liner.  It’s very heavy and difficult to work with, but is hard to puncture and is UV resistant.

The liner covers the entire bed and I carefully make sure it is properly centered so all the edges can be draped over the lip of the bed.  I did discover that it’s a lot easier to work with the EDPM if it warms up in the sun…even though it’s hot on the hands.  I just keep working it into each corner making sure that there is plenty of material to fit into the corners.  If there is a gap between the wood and the liner, it could stretch and eventually tear under the weight of the media and water.  I found it was very helpful to set bricks on the liner once I had it in position to hold it in place.

The corners can be a bit tricky.  Once I got the liner in place, I cut off some of the excess to make it easier to manipulate.  Then I could fold a nice and clean corner. It’s important to remember to make sure the edge of the liner is always going to be over the lip so water won’t leak out!

On the outer edge of the bed, I added a strip to anchor the liner into place.  The screws go through the strip and liner, and secure into the side boards.  The extra liner is cut off which makes for a clean looking transition from the liner to the bed.

The media beds have bell siphons in them.  I’m using a bulkhead fitting through the bottom of the bed for the drain.  So that the liner doesn’t get tangled up in the hole saw, I sandwich the liner under a piece of scrap board.  These boards a still somewhat damp and the saw is old and worn out so I have to keep cleaning the sawdust from the bit, but eventually I make my way through.

After cleaning the debis out of the area, the bulkhead fitting fits perfectly through the hole. It has a rubber washer that seals against the EDPM liner and fitting.  Under the bed, it has a large nut that tightens the fitting in to place.

The stand pipe and drain lines are made from 3/4 inch thin-wall pipe.  These bulkhead fittings have a 1-1/8” threaded fitting since it’s what I had in my assorted collection so they need a threaded to slip-fit coupling to reduce it to the right size.  I use a temporary stand pipe and fill the grow bed to test it for leaks.  I like to fill the beds right up to the rim to test for a worse-case scenario.  Plus it’s a great way to check to see if the bed is level and add any shims to the legs for minor adjustments.

Once everything looks good I put in the bell siphon and media guard, and the bed is ready for the expanded shale.  Since I recorded this video, I’ve changed the bell siphon design a bit, so click on the link to see these details.

This type of bell siphon uses a trap which helps it to start.  The trap assembly is screwed into the bottom of the bulkhead fitting and a section of pipe is attached to the trap and extends to drain into the raft bed.

The liner for the raft bed is installed the same way as the media bed.  It was actually was a bit easier setting it up in a larger area.  Once the liner was installed, I flooded the bed and removed the temporary holding bricks.

I’m using expanded shale for the growing media.  I just give it a quick bath to rinse off the dust, screen out some of the smaller stones, and fill in each bed, one bucket at a time.  I like using the shale since it’s about half the weight of stone and easy on the hands while digging in it.  Most of the corners are rounded over which will minimize the risk of it puncturing the liner.

Since the raft beds aren’t square, I needed to come up with an efficient design to maximize the space of the bed.  Using square rafts would never fit properly.  I design a single row raft that was tapered so they would “fan out” in a curved pattern when they were placed in the bed.  As the taper became wider, I placed the holes closer together.  For a mature plant, the amount of space per plant will be the same, it just is not a perfectly round or square area.

The seedlings will start from one side.  Every few weeks, a new batch will be added and the older seedlings will get moved over.  At first, the width of each raft is narrower than the space that the plant will need, but as it grows, I add a spacer in between the mature plants to give them a little more room.  By doing this, I can compact the new plants together without having to transplant them from a compacted raft into a normal-spaced raft.  Each bed will hold about 208 lettuce in about 44 square feet.

The remaining area can be used for seedling starting.  Currently the space works well for growing duckweed.

The rafts are made from 1” Dow blue board foam.  I made up a template so each raft was cut identical.  The template also has holes that marked the location for each hole for the net cup.  I used a 1-7/8 hole saw which makes for a snug fit for the 2” cups.  I found it was fastest to drill the hole half-way through, then finish drilling from the other side.  This left a bit of the plug sticking out so it was easier to remove from the hole saw.

I fill the net pots with a little bit of damp shale and drop in one or two seeds.  The dampness makes the seeds stick to the shale so they don’t just drop through.  The rafts push right over so the new set can be placed at the beginning of the bed.  Once the plants mature and need more space, the filler rafts can be inserted between each row.  So far, the lettuce has a good healthy root system and will be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks.

Thanks for watching this series, don’t forget to like this video and join us on our Facebook page.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Building the Aquaponic System - Part 2 of 3

This is the second video in my series on how the aquaponic system is set up in the geodesic dome.  It details how all the plumbing is done.

In this second video, I’ll show how all the remaining plumbing is installed.  I’ll start with the line that runs from the central sump tank back to the main fish tank.

The pump is a standard quarter-watt sump pump with a float switch.  Eventually this will be replaced with a 12 volt DC bilge pump when the solar system is installed.  A threaded fitting is used to connect the pump to a 1 inch PVC pipe.  The piping is rated for potable water.  Then a check valve is in-line to prevent any water from back-flowing into the sump.  Next there is a union which allows the sump assembly to be easily removed in case it needs any maintenance.  Then the rest of the line that goes to the fish tank.

Since all these lines will be under some form of pressure and are being jolted from the pump turning on and off, they are all glued together with standard PVC solvent.  Also before using the system, all the piping is flushed out to remove any loose solvent or PVC shavings that may be remaining inside the pipe.

A little Teflon tape or liquid Teflon works great for threading various pieces together.

Earlier, I buried a section of 4” pipe to use as a conduit between the sump and the fish tank.  This is how the piping and electrical will run between them.  Having the union on the pipe really made it easy to lower the pump assembly into the sump and connect it to the rest of the line.  Don’t forget that this is a temporary pump until the solar is installed, so I just let the electrical run across the floor instead of through the conduit.

At the fish tank, the line comes up and out of the ground and over the tank’s edge.  I drilled a couple of holes near the lip of the tank so that the pipe could be secured to the edge.  Then I attached a 45 degree elbow to shoot the water down into the tank.  Setting up the pipe to drain at this angle forces the water to slowly swirl and most of the solids at the bottom of the tank will eventually work their way into the center.

Here are some of the details on how the fish tank overflows into the large buffer tank.  At the bottom center of the fish tank, there’s a 2 inch to 1 inch coupling that has a bunch of slots cut into it, acting as a screen.  This allows small debris through, but not the fish.  As the water level rises above the pipe, it starts a siphon which creates a strong suction at the bottom of the tank.  Any of the sediment that has worked its way to the bottom center gets sucked up and sent into the buffer tank.  The water entering into the buffer tank flows out at an angle which creates a swirl in the tank, slowly moving the sediment to the center where the pump for the grow beds is located. At the top of the pipe, there is a 1/4” hole drilled into an end-cap.  As the water level goes back down, the hole is exposed and the siphon draws in air, which breaks the water flow.  This is a very effective method for flushing out heavier solids over using a simple overflow.  A negligible drawback is that the water level fluctuates a couple of inches.

I start the overflow installation by drilling a hole in the tank and install a bulkhead fitting that has 1-1/8” threads.  I then install a threaded to slip-flit coupling so the 1”PVC pipe will attach to the bulkhead fitting.  The pipe then goes straight down into the buffer tank and then has a 45 degree elbow to shoot the water out at an angle.

Here is the pipe assembly for inside the fish tank.  The screen is a 2” to 1” coupling that I ran over the table saw to make some slots into it.  This piece sits directly on the bottom of the tank.  The pipe comes up to a tee where one end goes to the cap with the hole drilled into it, and the other end drains out to the buffer tank.

The piece that goes to the bottom of the tank wasn’t glued into place so that I could remove it just in case something does clog it.  Also the piece with the cap isn’t glued so that I can adjust the height of where it can stop siphoning.

Once the system was established, I discovered that pellets of food and duckweed would plug the siphon-break hole.  A piece of screen over the area quickly solved that problem.

This is a view inside the buffer tank showing how the water pours into it to help create a swirl flow.  The bilge pump sits at the bottom of the cone shape sucking up any solids that eventually work their way to the bottom of the cone.

The supply lines from the buffer tank to the grow beds are 1” PVC lines rated for potable water.  To keep them out of the way, most of them are buried under the floor.  Originally, I wasn’t exactly sure where all the beds were going to be placed and didn’t want to bury these lines while building the dome.  Instead, there’s a layer of sand under the brick.  The bricks and sand are easily removed and the supply line drops right into place.  Once all the plumbing is laid down, the sand is replaced and compacted and the brick flooring is reset.

At each grow bed, the supply line comes up from the floor and goes to a ball valve, which is used to regulate or turn off the flow of water. It then goes over the edge of the grow bed and pours the water directly in to the expanded shale.

The pump for the grow beds is a 12 volt DC bilge pump rated for 1100 gallons per hour and is located in the bottom-center of the buffer tank.  It is connected to a union so that is can be quickly removed for maintenance. 

Along the supply line there is a branch that feeds back into the tank where there are a few small valves which are tapped into the line.  These are used to shoot water back into the fish tank to help aerate the water and keep it moving a bit.  The fish also enjoy playing in the stronger currents.  I’ve also place a net over the tank to help prevent the fish from jumping out….again.

Up next in the series will be the grow bed design and construction.  For additional information, please see the description box or leave a comment.  Thanks for watching!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Building The Aquaponic System - Part 1 of 3

Here is the first of three videos on how the aquaponic system is assembled in the geodesic dome.  This first video recaps some of the installation that was done during the dome construction and shows a general overview of how the entire system operates.

Hi, I’m Rob Torcellini

This video series will show you the various details about how I set up the aquaponic system in the geodesic dome greenhouse.

This first video, I’ll explain how some of the components were installed during the dome construction.  I grouped the video sequences by the component, not in the chronological order of when they were installed.

First is the central sump tank.  This tank is used to catch all the water that is draining from the grow beds and a pump returns the water to the main fish tank.

While the foundation hole was empty, I built a brick wall around the tank.  The wall leaves a gap around the tank so that it can expand and contract when the temperature changes. If this wasn’t installed, eventually backfilled dirt would crush the plastic tank.  The end of each pipe draining into the sump has an elbow to help swirl the water inside the tank, which will help to reduce sediment buildup.

Also while the foundation hole was empty, I installed a large sump tank which is used as a buffer to compensate the changing water levels in the grow beds.  The water from the fish tank drains into this tank and then pumps the water into the grow beds.  This tank holds about 500 gallons of water and has a cone bottom, allowing sediment to work its way down and sucked out by the pump.

This tank also has a block well-housing built around it to protect it from getting crushed.  This is a view of the central sump and buffer sump wells while they were being backfilled.

There is a network of drain pipes that are buried under the floor.  These are used to collect the water from the assortment of grow beds that are throughout the dome.

The drains are 2” lines and are set at a slope to drain the water into the central sump.  There are extra drain inlets that come up to the floor which will not be used, but at the time I installed this, I had not decided on the final layout of the grow beds.

All the pipes are backfilled with sand to protect them from damage. This allows me to easily dig them up if any maintenance needs to be performed.  After I lay down the final floor, the drain pipes are cut flush with the floor.  If any dirt or insects fall into the pipes, they will just get flushed into the sump tank.  Here is the final view of the drain pipes with the central sump tank.

The last component is the main stock tank.  This is placed in the northern section of the dome to help minimize light and algae growth.  The tank is a scrap tank that I salvaged and it had a bunch of fittings that needed to be capped.  After leveling out the area with a sand base, the tank slid right into position.  While I was installing the drainage pipe, I buried a scrap section of 4” pipe between the sump and fish tanks.  This allowed me to run the pump and electrical lines between the two tanks under the floor. Since the tank was so tall, I wanted people to be able to easily see the fish so I installed 2 windows.

This is a functional overview of the entire system.  Water from the fish tank overflows into the buffer sump tank.  It is constantly pumped, along with any solids under the floor and into the grow beds.  The line to each grow bed has a valve to help regulate the flow.  There is also a line that feeds back and shoots water back into the fish tank to help aerate the water.

Using bell siphons, the grow beds continuously flood and drain.  The inner beds drain directly into the sump tank, while the outer beds drain into a raft system (not shown), which then drain into the sump.

There is a float switch in the sump tank that pumps the water out of the sump and back into the main fish tank.

The large sump tank is use to maintain a consistent water level in the fish tank.  Since the levels in the grow beds and central sump tank are constantly changing, that difference in volume has to be offset elsewhere.  Not only does this help with the water levels, it adds additional thermal mass to help keep the water temperature from fluctuating each day.

In the next video I’ll detail the plumbing installation.  Thanks for watching!

Thursday, July 12, 2012


While I was filming my latest video, this butterfly landed on my hand.  In the past, I’ve received several questions about why I don’t put screens on the greenhouse vents…this is why!

(Sorry it’s blurry, this is a screen grab from the video and the camera wasn’t focused for the close up shot!)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Automatic Fish Feeder

Time to add to my laziness and add some more automation.  I no longer have to feed the fish a few times a day...however I still like to just stand there an watch them.  What is it about them that's so mesmerizing???

This is a small automatic feeder that I made which holds about 4 tenths of a liter of fish food and has been running for a few years.  I built this larger one for the new greenhouse which holds 2.8 liters.

The feed is controlled by a regular 3/4 inch wood auger bit which fits nicely into a housing which is a piece of 3/4 inch black pipe.  This is driven by a 12 volt DC gear motor I got from a surplus store.  This is a great motor since it has a slot instead of a drive axle so it’s easy to make the auger bit fit into it.

First I cut down the auger bit to the right length and grind down the shaft so that it fits into the slot of the gear motor.  I then cut out the center of the black pipe.  This is where the feed hopper will connect to the auger housing.  A small piece of flat bar is used as a mounting bracket which will allow it to be mounted to the tank and attach the motor to the shaft.

After carefully setting up the pieces, I tack weld the auger housing to the mounting bracket, then remove the motor and finish welding the pieces together.

The feed hopper is made from an old computer cover.  I made up a cutting template for the various pieces and sprayed adhesive to the cover to hold the templates while cutting.

I built in some tabs to the hopper walls so I could weld the pieces together.  This is the point in time where I which I owned a metal break, but had to improvise with my vice and hammer.  Luckily, the bends were not too complex.

After all the pieces were bent into shape, I ground off the paint so the seams could be welded together.  I also drilled holes through the walls where the tabs would connect.  This is so I could weld a tack through the hole to connect the thin sheets together.  It’s similar to riveting the pieces together.  

When the hopper is welded together, I grind the welding tacks down so they are flush with the sheet metal.  The last bit of welding is to attach the auger assembly to the hopper.

I am fortunate to have access to a nice sand-blasting cabinet.  This quickly and easily removes any loose paint and rust and makes a really clean surface to paint.  After a couple of coats of paint, it looks almost as nice as work done by a pro ….almost.

I made up a level switch that turns on an LED to let me know when the feed is getting low in the hopper.  I took a bamboo skewer and hot-glued it to a micro switch.  The newly extended lever reaches into the hopper and has a float that hangs from it.  When the level goes to low, the float will pull down on the lever and light the LED.  I also added a momentary switch into the box which allows me to turn on the auger in case I feel like giving the fish a bonus snack.

I mounted the level switch box to the hopper and connected the motor wires through the box.  Then the new feeder was bolted to the side of the stock tank.  For now, I connected the feeder to one of our IX-180 index timers.  It is programmed to run the auger bit for 20 seconds, four times per day.  The extra input of the timer is used to monitor the water temperature in the tank.  Eventually, the feeder, vents and other controls will be connected to a master automation system.

Here’s the float that sits on top of the food, when it gets low enough, it just pulls down on the lever and turns on the LED and this is the feeder in operation.     Thanks for watching!  Make sure you subscribe to this channel for more great videos!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Adding Automatic Vent Openers

I finally get to work on some of the more exciting things in the dome.  Automation!!!  I love being lazy!

A few years ago I made up some vent openers which use windshield wiper motors. They work well for the small greenhouse, but the frames have had some structural problems in strong winds.  For the dome greenhouse I’m using linear actuators to operate the vents.  The actuators have a lot more lifting strength and can withstand stronger wind forces.

To attach the actuator to the window frame, I took a piece of angle iron and made a cross brace.  The brace will fit about half-way up the vent.  I cut off a section from each end so that there were tabs that would be used for bolting the brace into the face of the vent frame.  I then welded a couple of tabs into the bracket which provided the connection linkage for the actuator.  After rounding over the edges and cleaning up some of the welds, the bracket was attached to the vent frame.

The rest of the braces are standard steel bar stock that are bent at slight angles.  There are four of them which go from the greenhouse struts to the back side of the actuator.  Because of the odd angles of the dome, a few of braces need to be bent as compound angles.  If this was a traditional vent the angles would have been much simpler bends.

I temporarily bolt the top brackets to the back side of the actuator and mark where the brackets connect into the dome’s strut.  It wasn’t necessary, but I set the actuator to be level when it was closed, simply for aesthetics.  I drilled out the first hole in the dome strut and attached the bracket.  Once the pieces start to hold themselves in place, it’s much easier to mark and attach the remaining brackets.

The bottom brackets are marked and installed the same way.  It’s just a bit more critical to make sure they are placed properly so that the vent is pulled completely closed when the actuator is fully retracted.  Once all four brackets are secured, the pyramid shape from the triangulation creates a sturdy mount for the actuator.

Now that it’s fully assembled, a quick test is in order.  All the pieces are cleaned and painted to give the system a nice new look!  Once the paint is dried, it’s a quick reassembly and then time to it get wired to the controller.

A regular two-conductor wire is used for each actuator and each vent opener has a line that runs back to the controller.  The actuators have built in limit switches which stop the motors automatically.  To open and close the vent, you just have to reverse the polarity of the power in the wire.

The thermostat controller is a prototype six-relay control unit that can be programmed to set each vent to open on independent temperatures.  The unit can be programmed to sample the temperature at predetermined intervals and also delay the change between relays so that all the vent motors aren’t running at the same time.  This keeps the unit from drawing too much power all at once.  Each relay can also be disabled and forced into an open or closed position.  There are more details about the thermostat in the description area of this video.

Thanks for watching.  Don’t forget to “thumbs up” this video if you want to see more like it in the future and feel free to leave comments too.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

All The Dome Videos

I put all the dome videos together in this nice index video.  Just click on the one you want to watch!

Also, Here's a play list that you can click on to queue them all in a row: YouTube Playlist

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Geodesic Dome Greenhouse - Part 12 - THE END

This is the final video about construction the aquaponic geodesic dome greenhouse. Don't worry, there are still more videos about the aquaponic system and other projects we're working on!

Hi Everyone.  I’m Rob Torcellini from Bigelow Brook Farm.  This is the last video on the series on building the geodesic dome.  I wanted to thank you for watching all of these.  I’ve had a great time of the last year building this.  Learned a lot, made a few mistakes along the way, but overall, it came out pretty good!

I’m planning on do a short series of videos about how I set up the aquaponics system inside the dome.

I also had this camera shoot about 1500 photos of the entire project that will be in a time-lapsed video.

Again, thanks for watching and we’ll see you soon!

It’s starting to get a bit warm in here so it’s time to add some vents.  I started by building frames that would fit loosely inside various areas around the dome.  There will be a total of five vents and each section will be able to swing open and closed.

Next I removed the existing polycarbonate glazing and then attached the new frame to the dome with a couple of standard door hinges.  In order to get the glazing to fit back into its spot properly, I had to cut it down a bit so that it wouldn’t hit against the hinges or the surrounding polycarbonate when the vent was closed.

I simply held the polycarbonate into the new frame and screwed it into place with the washer-backed screws and the vent was done.  The remaining 4 vents installed the same way, but just a bit trickier for 2 of them since they were 15 feet off the ground.

All of the exterior joints needed to be sealed to help prevent the rain from leaking in between each joint.  I used a clear polyurethane tape which is used as a protective tape on the edge of aircraft wings and wind turbines.  If it’s good enough to hold on to a wing at 500 miles per hour in the rain, it just may be good enough on the dome.  It was easy to apply by just removing the backing and pressing it down with a j-roller.  Once it bonds with the polycarbonate, it’s basically impossible to remove.  After covering each joint I drove a washer backed screw through the tape and polycarbonate.

Wherever there is a vent opening, I applied the tape to the polycarbonate and cedar which created a channel for the water to drain from.  I’m not sure how well the tape will bond to the wood…only time will tell.

Applying the tape on the upper areas of the dome proved to be a bit trickier. I found it to be unnerving being up there with the risk of sliding over the side or dropping through a section of polycarbonate.  I’m happy to say there were no trips to the hospital for this project!

I wanted to use some of the logs that I cut down last year from the site in a couple of areas of the dome and for grow beds for the aquaponic system.  My neighbor stopped by with his WoodMeiser saw mill and milled roughly 1500 feet of white pine into 1 inch and half inch thick boards.  It was a great way to save some money instead of buying lumber and we got to use some logs that would have gone to waste.

Inside the dome I covered the walls with some of the half-inch pine boards.  Each piece is roughly fitted, measured for the proper angle, and cut to size.  Sometimes the pieces had to be cut a few times to fit properly.  It was a very tedious process cutting all the angles, but the end result looks great!

In the shed area, I only filled the walls with one inch of foam to save a little money.  The rest of the wall cavities are filled with regular fiberglass insulation.  The boards on these walls installed much quicker since there are long and have square cuts!

The ice and water shield held up well through the winter but it was time to shingle the roof.  A friend of mine volunteered his crew to help out which was much appreciated.  Even for a professional builder, there was a lot of pondering on how to lay the shingles on the dome area.

On the south side of the greenhouse, I leveled and planted timothy grass.  Eventually, this area will used as a small orchard.  A local arborist was more than happy to get rid of their wood chips so I was able to spread this on the remaining areas that didn’t have any top soil.

The shed area and dome knee-wall is sided with cedar shakes.  They require little maintenance and they help to give a contemporary building a little New England feel.  I also added a small awning over the main entrance to make the building less….boring.

That’s about it.  There will still be more videos in the future.  If you have questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below and I’ll try to address them in future videos.  Thanks for watching!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Better Bell Siphon

This is an explanation of how a traditional bell siphon operates. It goes into some of the physics of how the auto siphon gets started and stops. One of the biggest problems I've run into is getting them to stop properly on large grow beds. I've solved this problem with one simple little piece! It's so simple, I'm kicking myself for not figuring it out years ago!

This grow bed is using 3/4" pipe for the drain and standpipe with a 2" bell. The fill rate is LESS than 1/2 liter per minute and the siphon still starts with no problem. It's been running for about a week without any problems.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Installing a tank window

I installed 2 viewing windows in my 1000 gallon stock tank for the aquaponic system.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Doors, Floors, and Dome Foam

Made a lot of progress on the inside over the cold winter months.

Here's the transcript:

We’re nearing the end of the project!  There will be one more video after this with some of the finishing touches and then I’ll go on to some other videos about the aquaponic setup.  You may also notice that some of these segments may look out of order.  I was working on everything at the same time depending on the weather, but wanted to group similar segments together to create a better story line.

I needed a large door in the dome so that I could move tanks and grow beds in and out of the building.  Garage doors leak a lot of air so I decided to build some custom doors.  The doors were framed using 2 by 4’s and pressure treated plywood.  When they are completed, they are bolted to some strong hinges and anchored directly into the building’s frame.  I still need to add some gaskets and weather stripping to create a good air-tight seal.

I also needed to remove some of the struts from the dome structure to make a larger opening for the equipment.  I removed 6 struts and it didn’t seem to make any difference with dome’s structural integrity.

To level out the floor, I brought in several yards of sand and spread it throughout the building.  I then racked it out and roughly leveled it out by eye.

Now that the sand was in place, I was able to do a final leveling and compact the area where the stock tank belonged.  I decided to place the tank directly on the sand to help protect the base, and save a few dollars by not needing to put brick pavers under it.

To keep the floor from settling over time, I borrowed a plate compactor and compacted the entire area.  When this was complete, I also borrowed my neighbor’s laser level and raked out any of the high or low areas, and then compacted everything again.

There are about 5500 bricks that are used in the floor so I made up a couple of carriers which made the job go much quicker!  It’s still a lot of work to carry them all in, but at least the bricks remain flat and oriented so that setting them into place is fairly quick.  Between carrying them in and laying them out, I average 10 bricks per minute.

To get started, I set a straight string across the floor and lay out a course along the line.  This will act as the base reference for the rest of the rows.

The bricks are laid in an alternating, or basket weave pattern and can be adjusted a bit to compensate for their imperfections.

Along the edges, I roughly cut off the bricks so they would fill any gaps that were smaller than a standard brick.  Since most of these areas will be covered with grow beds, I wasn’t concerned about making them look perfect.  Any remaining voids were filled with gray sand.

The same type of cuts were made around any of the plumbing that comes up through the floor since these areas will also be well hidden by grow beds.

The shed area and northern walls are all insulated to help retain heat during the winter.  I decided to use a do-it-yourself spray foam instead of fiberglass batting because of all the odd shapes that needed to be filled. It also will reduce air leaking, and minimize mold.  The foam sticks to everything, so I had to protect the polycarbonate from over spraying by stapling painter’s plastic throughout the dome.

Not only does the foam stick to the dome, it also will stick to clothes and skin.  Full body protection, goggles, and a respirator is needed!

The foam comes as a complete kit.  Each kit contains 2 tanks with A and B parts, hoses, disposable mixing nozzles, and spray tips.

It took a little while to get used to a good spraying technique.  The first few cavities were a bit uneven, but once I got a feel for how it worked, I was able to fill the areas better.  The kits come with a fan spray for regular stud spacing, and in hindsight, it would have been better to use that tip everywhere.

The biggest problem I ran into was spraying the majority of the foam overhead.  My goggles kept getting foam on them and I couldn’t clear them.  By the time I was done with a set of tanks, I could barely see anything!

I also insulated my custom-built doors.

The fan tip worked really well at controlling the spray pattern.  The foam comes out a bit slower, but you have far more control and a more even fill.  To save a little money, I sprayed the standard sized wall cavities with one layer and plan on using standard fiberglass batting.

The knee-wall under the dome is also filled with foam.  Once it hardens, it’s easy to cut off any of the excess that sticks out.  I then cover the walls with treated plywood.

That’s about it for now.  We’ll wrap up the series finishing up the exterior and a few odds and ends. Thanks for watching!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Aquaponics in the News

Got to spend the morning with one of my shale customers while they presented their system to CT Governor Dan Malloy and the Commissioner for the Department of Agriculture, Steven Reviczky. This footage was taken at the Arc of Meriden in their greenhouse

Other News Links:

Meriden Record-Journal
WTNH News 8

Monday, February 27, 2012

Another Teaser Video

I know some of you find these teasers agonizing, but here's the next one! Don't worry, the project is almost done and I won't torture you with these videos anymore!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Revision to the Rocket Mass Heater

I made a design revision to the rocket mass heater.  It makes a huge difference with being able to remove the ash out of the burn tunnel.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Building a Rocket Mass Heater

The rocket mass heater is up and running and it's quite the inferno!  It will be quite interesting to add some enhancements to it in the future.  I'm hoping to cover the entire unit and pump the heat under the floor to increase the thermal mass.  And, make it so it can burn either wood or pellets!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Starting the Rocket Mass Heater

Today I finished building and fired up the rocket mass heater for the geodesic dome. Ironically, it's January and we're having record breaking warm temperatures in the 50's but I couldn't resist and started it up. I will do a full video about the construction in the future, but wanted to share a few pictures of it. This heater is a bit different than some you may see. I wanted to be sure there was enough drafting in the chimney so I doubled up the barrels.
The entire burn tunnel is buried under the floor. It took a little while to get the drafting to start. It didn't help that the internal chimney wasn't insulated yet (missing some parts for it), but once the system got warmed up, it turned into a raging inferno.
A picture without the flash shows how well the fuel is burning in the tunnel.
I ran out of sand so I wasn't able to completely bury the horizontal exhaust. It was quite hot to the touch, but as you moved down the pipe, I could hold my hand against the duct and it was slightly warm.  It was quite funny to see the sand around the duct drying out so quickly. It will be interesting to study the temperatures along the system in the future!