Welcome to RainFresh Harvests, my name is Barry Adler.
I’m growing on approximately a little less than an acre total; this up front here is only maybe a quarter acre total; with the greenhouses, I’ve got about another half acre to three-quarters acres back [on] the other side of the house.
I’ve got some fruit trees, I’ve got field tomato crops out there, jalapenos, basil… down here, out in the field, I’ve got a few tomatoes, basil, blackberries, a variety of peppers, some cucumbers and… in the greenhouses here, I’ve got mazuna, arugula, cucumbers, spearmint, and I’ve got a variety of fish aquaponics operations in there, too: yellow perch, blue gills, koi.
The original plan
I originally looked at setting up a hydroponic organic tomato and lettuce operation. Crop King has had, at the time, some of the first greenhouses with that design. But as I did my due diligence, I found my water was so terrible, I would have to treat the water or run 35 percent of the water and leach every time I watered the plants. So I decided that wasn’t gonna work, because when I looked at the cost of reverse osmosis, it was gonna cost me two cents more per pound for the tomatoes than I was gonna be able to sell ’em for.
A self-designed hydroponic greenhouse
Due to the water issues, I decided I had to design my own greenhouse, and I had been working at Scott’s as a researcher for 22 years and I had my job… was outsourced so I had some severance money to look into new business; and at the time, I was interested in renewable energy, but back in 2004, there was absolutely no market for it.
So my background’s in horticulture, I’ve got a Master’s degree in horticulture. I decided, well, I’ve got this land, I might as well grow things and do that as my business, so I started in and decided, well, I’ve gotta design my own greenhouse to catch the water. And I thought, well, I can put renewable energy on it, also because at that time was the first year that the grants were available through the state of Ohio, so I combined both of my interests and designed this. And it took about a year and a half of figuring out all the ins and outs and looking at designs that seemed to work, and also different types of aquaponics that seemed to work, and I’ve kind of designed and took off from there and designed my own system.
This is an off-the-grid, bio-integrated greenhouse and it’s powered by the sun and the wind. We have a one-kilowatt Bergey Excel wind turbine, 2.1 kilowatts photovoltaics, there’s 12 Siemens—they were originally 175 watts each, but one of them had to be replaced because I got a bullet hole in one of ’em, about three years ago. And that’s a 190-watt panel, because they didn’t make ’em 175 watts 10 years later. So, in fact, those same sized panels now, you can get almost about 400 watts in the same square footage.
The water drainback system
These are solar-thermal collectors. I have a hot… a water drainback system, originally started with a propylene glycol system but it ended up, because of the way it was designed, it was letting air in the lines and the copper was starting to degrade. So another guy came along who’d had more experience in this area and he said, “No, get the propylene glycol out of there, and just use straight water,” and it’s worked fine ever since.
So at 34 degrees [Fahreinheit, equal to about one degree Celsius], everything drains back into the building so the pipes don’t freeze in the wintertime. And this is hooked into a heat exchanger; and I’ll show you when we get in there, it pumps the hot water, or takes the heat out of the water, puts it into a storage tank or when that storage tank reaches a certain temperature, then I apex tubing and a concrete floor so the floor itself acts as a thermal storage.
I’ve got two tanks I catch water in: one’s underground cistern, one’s on the second floor. Each of them has a capacity to catch 500 gallons [about 1893 litres], so I catch about 1000 gallons [about 3785 litres] of water. All it takes is about a half inch [about 1.3 centimetres] of rain, and that fills up that 500-gallon tank.
Backup power supplies
If there’s no wind or no sun, I’ve got battery backup storage that’ll handle about three to four days running everything, but then when I know I’m not gonna have sun or wind, I start shutting down things. I got about 40 different circuits in there; I can flip everything off and only run the essential systems: the bubblers for the fish, and irrigation, and fans inside the greenhouse. So I could stretch it out to five, six days if I need to.
If you need more information on greenhouses, be sure to take a look at The Ultimate Greenhouse Resource List>>