I am a Behaviour Change and Sustainable Systems consultant, developing the idea of Compassionate Systems to address the frustration and failure of behaviour change. It is not just you–if you are not achieving the change you need, I may be able to help. Email me.
My work groups into three main streams. Sustainability is the biggest picture, though many of the posts look at tiny details of a way of living that may be able-to-be-sustained.
Working on Sustainability confronts Behaviour Change. The posts are heavily influenced by my work on garbage and recycling, but will also have rants on unhelpful ways of thinking about behaviour.
The Small and Delicious Life is the result. When all else fails, grow beans.
These three streams each have their own category, so follow the topic that interests you. Or, if you don't want to miss even a bit of goodness, all three streams are found in The Whole Ball of Wax, spiced with some uncategorized and random digressions.
I will spend good money if there is a tool I know I will use. But if there is something I am unsure about, or something I feel is overvalued, I can be extraordinarily frugal. Such is the case with bannetons.
My usual strategy is to wait until I find the thing I am looking for in a thrift shop and then at least I am not offended by the price. Bannetons do not seem to come up in my local thrifts, so I proof boule loaves in various stainless or glass bowls. But when I wanted to bake elongated bâtards, the only thing I could find was a long presentation dish—one of my wife’s treasured (and ludicrously expensive) pieces of Astier de Villatte that she brought back from cooking school. I was getting pretty nervous about dumping bread from this delicate ceramic over a hot iron Dutch Oven—so I created a cardboard banneton.
This design nicely holds a loaf made with one kilo of dough, baked in a pan that is about 12” long and 8” wide.
I used waxed cardboard from a green onion box for this banneton. Waxed cardboard is waterproof, which is good since wet dough is proofing in it, and it is stronger than regular corrugated. To my surprise I found it was easier to work with and creased and cut smoothly. You should be able to find waxed cardboard behind a grocery store, or by asking the produce stocker. There is simply a stunning amount of waxed boxes used to ship vegetables around, and it is often just thrown away if there is not a composting system. Try to find a box without too many drainage and ventilation holes punched in it. I found a green onion box with tall sides and no holes, and even a pretty flower logo.
Print the pattern at Actual Size on 11 X 17 paper, or tile it on to two or three sheets of letter size paper. Use the printed rulers to ensure the paper overlaps in the right spot, and tape them together. Find a spot on your box with the fewest holes and take advantage of the features of the box. For my banneton I chose to lay the pattern across the “grain” of the cardboard. Across the grain is how cardboard kinks most easily, so I was concerned about the long edges buckling. But, I wanted one of the corner folds of the box to become one of the folds between the body and the end of the banneton, so I gave it a try. So far so good—and I can always make another one.
I cut a project like this entirely by just laying the pattern on top of the material and moving weights or stack of books around to hold the pattern in place while I make cuts through both pattern and cardboard. Using a long straightedge, cut both edges to width. Then cut the curved ends, and finally make the four short cuts that free the curved ends from the straight sides. When cutting patterns or stencils on a mat, it is always best to cut straight back towards yourself, so rotate the pattern as needed, or rotate yourself around the table the pattern is on.
Bakers often have a rectangular steel bench knife, and I found it was the perfect tool for folding the waxed cardboard, but you could also use a ruler, or a heavy spatula—practice on some scraps first. Just place the bench knife on the folding line and put your weight on it. Start by working around the rectangular bottom of the banneton, then by doing the radial folds of the ends. While you are leaning on the bench knife, use your other hand to bend the cardboard up to make a very crisp fold.
Then simply place the corners of the curved ends outside the body of the banneton, so marks A and B line up, and fasten in place. I used binder clips with the handles folded back, or I think you could quickly sew the corners in place with a few stitches.
Another fastening technique that might work here is to use a construction stapler with 1/2” staples. I do this when I want to staple the spine of pamphlets, or in other places too deep or thick for a regular stapler. Place the material you want to staple on something soft and thick, like several layers of cardboard, or on short carpet with a foam underlay. Shoot a staple, in this case from inside the banneton. Pull your project up off the soft stack and use needle-nosed pliers to bend the tips of the staple over.
And there you have your Cardbanneton! Line it with a tea towel, sprinkle the towel generously with rice flour, and lay your shaped dough in to rise.
When Carmen started guiding wilderness quests, we bought a couple of Mora knives, which are strongly recommended by Canadian bushcraft legend, Mors Kochanski.
I have never been a fan of v-grind knives, but I quickly became very impressed with the Morakniv.1 I also became frustrated with using a folding pocket knife for many work and garden tasks, so I thought I would try carrying a belt knife more often—but something a little more svelte than the rubber-handled and plastic-sheathed bushcraft knife.
It is handled with black walnut, from a tree my great-grandfather planted and my grandfather felled and milled. I have a few little scraps that I use for various projects, and a knife like this needs very little wood. I roughly chiseled a pocket for the tang in each side and glued the two halves together with five-minute epoxy.
Then I clamped my belt sander to my bench and started with the coarsest grit I had, just grinding and shaping to fit my hand. I did not guard the edge of the blade at all, which is not very smart, so I was very alert as to how I was positioning my hands and the work so I would not catch the sanding belt. I jumped quickly through a few grits of hand sanding, then soaked two coats of linseed oil into the wood.
With the handle shaped I started working on the sheath. This is a carbon-steel blade so I wrapped it in cling film to protect the blade and to add some bulk around the knife as the leather molded to it.2I cut a scrap of vegetable-tanned leather to a rough shape, then dipped it in hot water and folded it around the knife. The leather can be shaped by rubbing it with your fingers and a few bulldog clamps will hold it in place (and add more rust stains).
I trimmed the belt loop a bit more and skived across the end so it would stitch down smoothly, punched the holes and stitched it with waxed nylon thread. Then I punched the holes along the edge and stitched them down. I used a bit more hot water to mold the opening a bit more so it would not catch on the handle, and to flatten down the belt loop a tad. I trimmed a little bit more here and there to fair the leather edge to the stitch line then I rubbed the edges with beeswax and burnished them with the knife handle. Finally, a few applications of Obenauf’s Leather Oil, which the geeks online seem to think is a good leather conditioner.3
This blank is a carbon steel Mora No. 2/0, which has a three inch blade. It seems a bit small, so I might get around to making one with a No. 1 blade. They offer stainless and even laminated blades, and several different blade shapes.
And I haven’t mentioned the blade price. $9.
Nine dollars. Madness. You can get most blades for well under $20 including shipping from Amazon.
So this was a very inexpensive project, the blade being the only thing I did not have lying around. I found the leather stitching to be particularly satisfying, in that way that makes me wonder if we are literally genetically adapted to feel good when we sew leather.
I am very fond of knives—we even had a one-off4 holiday called the Sabbath of the Knives. I spent several weekends studying with a Japanese sword maker. Sometimes I think I could be happy just making chef’s knives and that I should abandon everything else.
This knife is not that. No metal was harmed in the making of this knife. But I found this little project very gratifying to work on, and I love the sensation of oiled leather and smooth wood in my hands.
Money is not wealth, money is simply a very elaborately printed IOU note. It has no value except in exchange for real wealth—like salmon, trees, cotton and wool.
Further wealth is created when labour smokes salmon, mills lumber and builds houses or furniture, and knits wool into sweaters or weaves denim for blue jeans—and all those labourers need to eat and be sheltered and clothed with more wealth from nature.
John Michael Greer introduced me to this insight of E.F. Schumacher, that goods produced by nature are the primary goods in any economy, and those produced by human labor are secondary goods.
Greer goes on to extend this framework to tertiary goods, which is simply the pushing of numbers around on computers.
But the thing is, we can’t eat money, and we can’t eat the numbers in the bank’s computer.
Money is simply a convenient, pocket-sized promise we make to trade for real wealth at a later time. Wealth only comes from nature, and from the application of labour to the wealth of nature.
Let me say that again for emphasis—wealth only comes from nature, and from the application of labour to the wealth of nature.
People become rich by extracting wealth from nature and from labour.
In our current economy, that means the rich get rich by killing ecosystems and exploiting people.”5
So dollars are just an IOU for an actual, real, material thing extracted from the ecosphere and modified by human labour.
And it turns out the actual, real material things add up to 92 BILLION tonnes per year—our food, metals, fuels and minerals. But we don’t just poke the earth with a syringe and suck up pure copper and refined gasoline. The situation is actually much more bleak, if we take a wander down resource extraction curves.
Marion King Hubbert became famous as Peak Oilers discussed his prediction that “for an oil-producing area, from an oil-producing province, a nation, or the planet as a whole, the rate of petroleum production of the reserve over time would resemble a bell curve.”
The reasons for this are simple. We live on a finite planet, and we always start with the easy stuff. So we cut down the trees on the flat land first. We collect the oil that is literally bubbling out of the ground. We find three tonne nuggets of copper just lying in a creek bed.
We walk up to an apple tree and pick the low hanging fruit. We never start with the hardest to reach fruit. Our first response is never to get out the orchard ladder. We don’t look at that bubbling pool of oil and decide the next step is invent horizontal drilling.
We pick the easy stuff, and if we develop a taste for it6 we move up the tree. Maybe we stand on a rock. Then we sew a picking bag, then build a ladder.
The picking bag allows us to harvest tens of pounds of apples without wasting time climbing down to empty our pockets, and the ladder gets us up to where the branches are heavy with fruit in the sunshine. We fill our boxes with ease, but then things start to get harder and—at the peak of our technological development—we pick the last apple.
Let’s look at that three tonne copper nugget again.
The Bingham Canyon Mine is largest and most productive copper producer in the world, and lies in the hills above my relatives in Salt Lake City. Each day 450,000 tons of material are extracted. And each year, 300,000 tons of copper are produced.
Are you following those numbers? That means that one of the finest copper mines in the world is digging up ore that is only 0.18% copper—that is a long way from a three tonne nugget. So, every day, 450,000 tons of the earth are dug up, of which 810 tons are the copper we need for our windmills, electric cars and smart phones.
So we just throw the other 449,910 tons of dirt somewhere else.
In the history of mining, lakes and river valleys have been a convenient place to dump, but it could be a grassland or a desert. Regardless, it is dumped into an ecosystem, the home of countless flora and fauna who used to live there before that mine came.
Now, not everything we extract comes at such a pitiful rate, but the pattern is just the same.
In British Columbia, where I live,8 many First Nations had productive river fisheries. The salmon would swim hundreds of miles inland to spawn, effectively delivering groceries right to the nets, weirs and jaws of human and other fishers lining the river banks.
But with colonization that wasn’t quite enough, and so technology took us up Hubbert’s Curve. Fishing boats with lines and nets, sail power, then steam, then oil. Ever larger winches and engines. And wouldn’t you know it, with this massive extraction from the ocean comes a lot of bycatch. It is not as poor a rate as copper mining, but according to the WWF, about 40% of what we haul on board is not what we were fishing for and much of that is tossed back overboard, dead or dying. I spent a summer purse seining for salmon on a small boat, mostly off Vancouver Island. In one tragic set we brought up a net full of rockfish. These fish are armoured with spines, and punctured a crewmate’s boot when he kicked one. They also live very long—easily a century—and are slow to reproduce. They dwell deep in the cold waters and when they are dragged to the surface, their guts turn inside out with the pressure change.
You shouldn’t eat rockfish, but they are delicacies on many fancy menus. We left hundreds of them dying in our wake.
Anyhow, Hubbert’s point is that we have to do more and more to get less and less, until finally it costs too much to do anything at all and we stop.9
And so let’s talk about that 92 billion tonnes that we extract each year from the ecosphere. As reported, resource extraction is the source of 50% of our greenhouse gasses and 80% of biodiversity loss.
At the rate of the Bingham Canyon Mine, for the 20 million tonnes of copper that are mined globally each year, about 11 billion tonnes of mine waste would be dumped into the ecosphere.
“Into the ecosphere” is a pretty smooth phrase. What I really mean is that 11 BILLION TONNES of copper mining wastes are dumped on TOP of animals and plants, rivers, creeks, marshes, glades, dens and nests. Just for copper.
For fish, of the 90 million tonnes of seafood caught each year—which doesn’t include the rogue, uncounted fisheries—millions and millions more tonnes are bycatch, thrown back dead or dying.
And of course this does not count the ghost nets, cut loose to entangle whales, the bottom draggers that rip up coral reefs or kelp forests.
So. 92 billion tonnes is a staggering number. It is probably double anything that could be vaguely considered sustainable. And it is just a fraction of the true amount we dig, and drag out of the planet, only to throw overboard or dump to the side.
As with all diminishing returns, it is only getting worse—but this is how we earn money.
This is how we pay for our roads and hospitals and schools and televisions.
It’s obvious that it costs a lot of money and energy to produce all the food we need to maintain our population at six billion. But there is an additional, hidden cost that has to be counted in life forms. As I’ve said, it’s conservatively estimated that as many as 200 species are becoming extinct every day as a result of our impact on the world. Put plainly, in order to maintain the biomass that is tied up in the six billion of us, we have to gobble up 200 species a day.
This—this shitty, unequal, unjust continent of strip malls requires 200 species a day.
So when we talk about growing our economy, when we talk about eliminating poverty, when we talk about expanding manufacturing, we are talking about more than 200 species a day.
And so I love the folks at Strong Towns who ask how we can build places that are productive, not extractive.
I love how they do the math—every roadwork, every arena or stadium, every fire hydrant has a cost. Where will the money come from? Most towns never produce enough money to pay for their own streets and water systems—they are just quietly mouldering into bankruptcy, hoping for the feds to send them a few species worth of infrastructure money.
I love it because they strip the conversation down to something that feels very real to me.
If a fox spends more energy chasing mice than it earns from eating mice, it starves to death and dies.
Where is the money for the Green New Deal, or the hydrogen highway, or total electrification going to come from? I am not fucking talking about who we are going to tax. It is going to come from wealth, extracted from nature and worked by labour. It is going to come at the cost of at least 200 species per day, every day.
The finest ideas of equality and justice cost 200 species per day.
I am right on board with lining the billionaires and industrialists up at Madame Guillotine. But I am not on board with using their billions to build electric cars kill 200 more species every day.
400 in two day. 600 in three days. 800 in four days.
In just five days, one thousand species are lost forever.
The people who should be my comrades foolishly drone that debt doesn’t matter,10 forgetting that some accounts can never be paid back—once they are gone, they are gone.
This is perhaps the purest source of my grief. I don’t see the world through rosy lenses, but rather as species, and ecosystems of relationships—so every time I read another godforsaken call for more good things for more good people I can’t help but weep.
I like dill pickles so much that each year as a child I would find a jar of Polskie Ogorkie weighing down the toe of my Christmas stocking.
Now I make litres and litres of lactofermented dill pickles every summer, picking the cukes while they are small and submerging them in a salt brine with fresh herbs and garlic.
Fido Jars make pickling effortless, and do a wonderful job of keeping pickles and sauerkraut crunchy, but we are now eating pickles from last summer…which means I can make soup from the pickles leftover from the summer before that.11
Russia has a pickle soup, but it seems that Poland is the true homeland of Zupa Ogórkowa. Recipes abound online, but I used this one as a base, lifted flavours from a couple of other recipes, and modified to suit our fondness for creamy potato.
Dill Pickle Soup
10 cups of chicken stock
⅓ cup pickle juice
150 gms. (1 ¼ cups) carrots, chopped small
1000 gms. (8 cups) potatoes, cut to the size of game dice
125 gms. (1 cup) celery, thinly sliced
450 gms. (3 cups) dill pickles, coarsely grated
3 tsp. grated garlic
pinch or two of dried dill weed
1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ cup milk
2 tbsp. flour
⅓ cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
Boil about half of the potatoes in stock until they are soft, then purée with a stick blender you’d get on unclutterer.
Add everything except the milk, flour, egg and sour cream and cook another 15 or so minutes, until the potatoes are just soft.
Stir together the milk and flour, then add a bit of hot broth and stir again. Add to soup and stir well. Bring the soup to a boil and stir until thickened.
Remove soup from heat. Thoroughly beat egg and sour cream together, and slowly add to the soup.
Serve garnished with fresh herbs or a dollop of sour cream.
Makes 12 hearty servings
So that is pickle soup, but I would like to just add a little bit of trivia down here…
We don’t often keep sour cream in our house, so Carmen quickly curdled some milk with lemon juice—one tablespoon of juice and four tablespoons of milk made a thick cream quick.12
Using lemon juice or vinegar is a rush job of what would traditionally be called clabbering, or letting dairy be soured…by the same lactofermentation that pickles our cukes or sauerkraut, and for the same reasons—to preserve food without refrigeration.
Lactobacilli produce acid as they eat sugars, and this acid creates an inhospitable environment for pathogens. We can assist our friendly bacteria by creating an environment in which they thrive. Mostly we do this by keeping them a titch warmer than room temperature, and, in the case of fermenting vegetables, by also adding salt.
This acid creates the pucker of pickles and the sour of sour cream.
I first ran across clabbered milk when I was researching the safety of drinking raw milk, and it highlights one of the big compromises we tend to make in our “modern” industrialized society.
Industrialization brought the milk of dozens of dairies together in one big tank, so pathogens from one dairy could infect the whole load.13 Perhaps because the milk run trains were running in the cool of the morning, the conditions were not hospitable for the protective bacteria which would have soured the milk. So the pathogens took over, and lots of people got sick.
The obvious thing is to abandon industrialization—naturally—and scale back to a convivial life lived in harmony with the natural cycles.
I am sorry. I mean the obvious thing is to cook the milk and kill everything in it—Pasteurization. But Pasteurization kills the lactobacillus as well as the pathogens, so when your milk goes off now it is greenish and foul—not what you want to leaven your pancakes.
Raw milk doesn’t go off, it just transforms into other food products: sour cream, yogourt, buttermilk, and sour milk. You can still make sour milk products from Pasteurized milk, but you have to reinoculate the milk with lactobacillus.
Anyhow. Clabbering is a thing—and it turns out it is a Gaelic word. Read more about it and find the Anglo-Saxon term at Cook’s Info.
In the rainy fall weather of the Canadian Pacific southwest, plants like tomatoes and cucumbers can easily develop blights and mildews before the fruit is ripe. If you wander the back alleys of the once-Italian neighbourhood of Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, you will see many elderly gardeners shelter their tomatoes with overhangs of plastic sheeting.
But we wanted a full greenhouse to start seedlings in and to hold lettuce through the winter in addition to providing the shelter for heat-loving crops like melon and tomato.14 I built this greenhouse for under CA$500, and it has withstood many fierce coastal windstorms with ease.
We had made small shelters with PVC pipe, and found the plastic pipe was too brittle. An all-wood frame seemed too finicky and would require extensive joinery or a profusion of gussets. So I decided to frame the house with Electrical Metallic Tubing—EMT—or, plain electrical conduit.
I chose a “house” shape as being an easy shape to make out of conduit—unlike arches with long and consistent curves, the pipes have a simple 45° bend. The peak roof also sheds what little snow we get here on the coast, and has adequate headspace for growing vine crops. I also designed this with an eye to using fairly simple techniques so those with a smaller workshop than I have could still create a sturdy and effective greenhouse.
Our greenhouse is 20′15 long, and about 7’4″ wide. We wanted to cover two of our garden rows with a walkway up the middle, but the size is somewhat flexible if your rows are wider or narrower. At this width, our house is almost exactly 9′ high at the peak.
The idea of the greenhouse needing to match the garden row widths could also be seen as an expression of one of my charming manias—sometimes I get an idea in my head and I can’t get it out. In this case, I was interested in Eliot Coleman’s idea of moveable greenhouses, and so I built this so four average people could pick this greenhouse up and carry it to a different spot in the garden.
16 pieces of ¾” EMT, standard 10′ lengths
8 ¾” 90°EMT elbows
15 feet of ⅝” square steel rod
4 lengths of 10′ 2×8
40′ of 1×8 in whatever lengths you like.
50 ¼” x 3″ galvanized carriage bolts, with 50 washers and nuts
3 ten foot long pieces of ½” rebar, cut into thirds.
You will also need 2 10′ 2×6, and eight to ten 8′ 2x6s.16
I have used fir to make many outdoor things—rabbit runs, pea trellises, tomato stakes, and this greenhouse. I find that as long as the wood is not buried I get good life without needing expensive cedar or chemical-soaked pressure-treated wood.17
I bought plastic greenhouse sheet at our local agricultural supply, but I am sure you can order it online as well. UV in sunlight degrades plastic and reduces the amount of light that passes through the sheeting dramatically. Common hardware store plastic should be replaced after two years, while greenhouse cover will last five.
For tools I used a handsome measuring tape, an impact driver, a circular saw, a speed square, a staple gun and a hand or bench grinder. You also need a drill and a drill press if you have one. Also very nice to have are a chop saw, table saw, and a pneumatic stapler. Almost mandatory to have is a suitably sized EMT bender; I found one for ¾” tubing on Craigslist for $30. You might be able to borrow one, or rent one. You can also find solid curves out in the world—I have bent steel around parking bollards and concrete barriers…but that is definitely slower and more prone to kinking the tubing.
Before we begin, here is one more picture that contributes nothing to this instructional, but shows off how pretty Swedish Red Peas are—with the greenhouse in the background.
Let us begin…
As much as possible, I try to use what I call “reality-based carpentry”—rather than measuring a piece of wood and then using a tape measure to transfer that measurement to another piece of wood, whenever possible just lay the first piece on top of the second piece. This greatly reduces the opportunities to screw up numbers or read things backwards.18
Another key concept is the registration face—always measure from the same end. If you measure down one side and back up the other side your errors will compound and you will likely build a trapezoid instead of a rectangle. So pick an end and always measure from that end. For this greenhouse you want to build two mirrored sides—so mirror the damn sides. Lay the 10′ 2x8s down together and mark them Left and Right. Mark the top or the bottoms. If needed, you could lay out your measurements on both boards at the same time, measured from the same end (this is not needed for this project).
Now, rather than trying to measure the diameter of one piece of conduit, lay eight pieces side by side and measure all eight. Subtract that number from 20′, and then divide it by the seven spaces you will have between your eight EMT ribs. You should end up with something like 34″.
34″ felt like a nice space to me. I could have gone with tighter spacing, at the cost of two more lengths of EMT and one more EMT elbow, but this felt fine. I would never go for wider spacing, and if I was in an area that gets heavy snow I would cut that down to 18″ or 24″ between ribs. Check out other greenhouses that have survived good snowfalls in your area.
Cut 14 pieces of 1×8 to that length. These boards are going to be the primary way to make your greenhouse plumb, so make some effort to cut the ends square. A chop saw with a stop block is the ideal tool to make multiple identical pieces, but a carefully wielded speed square will be good enough.
Now start working with one of your 10′ 2x8s. Using one of the ¾” EMT elbows as a spacer, start from your registration end and give one EMT width, then nail19 or screw one of your 14 1×8 pieces on to the 2×8, aligning them to the top edge. Move your EMT elbow to the end of that piece and butt another piece of 1×8 onto it. Repeat.
Because I have seven spaces between eight ribs, the join between my two 10′ 2x8s falls in the middle of a space. This is great, because a 1×8 piece will span the joint. So, space with your EMT elbow, butt up the 1×8, and screw the first half on. Then slide your next 2×8 underneath and line it up. Make an effort to get a straight top edge along the length of the new 20′ board. You could even stretch a string or a chalkline to ensure your eyes do not deceive you.
Keep screwing or nailing 1×8 pieces on, always spaced with a real piece of EMT, not a tape measure. When you get to the last piece, make sure your last piece of EMT will line up with the end of your 2×8. If it hangs over, trim your 1×8 a little. If against all odds it is too short, then trim your 2×8 a smidgen.
Now you have two long and heavy pieces of wood joined together by short and thin piece of 1×8, which is suboptimal. Gently roll it over and tack on another piece of wood. 1×8 would be okay, but I would suggest you use a scrap of plywood about 7″ by 30 inches and ⅝” or ¾” thick.
Now drill eight ¼”+ holes through the whole sandwich, four on each side of the join. Stay 3″ back from the ends of the wood to avoid splitting. Putting the domed head of carriage bolts on the outside (the 1×8 side), wrench them up tight.
You should now have a good, strong 20′ long base for one side of your greenhouse. Repeat for the other side, starting from the registration face.
Tangent: As you can sort of see in the pictures, I did this in a slightly different way. I started with 2 12′ and 2 10′ 2x8s and cut a long lap joint. This allowed me to geek out a bit, and also avoid having the plywood scab on the inside. You can see the lap cutting technique between 3:30 and 4:40 in this video.
Leaving these aside, it is time to make the EMT ribs.
I chose to use one 10′ length of EMT for each wall, joined at the peak by a 90° elbow. Elbows are expensive, so I could have chosen to bend the peak myself, but I knew it would be hard to get consistently matching parts when I had to make three bends in one piece of tube. By using the prefabricated elbow, I only need to put one bend in each wall tube. Besides, the elbows are sexy.
You might want to buy yourself an extra piece of EMT for practicing bends. And on that note…I called around and got a shocking range of prices, from about $10 per length of EMT at Home Depot to $3 at an electrical wholesaler. Surprisingly, even at wholesalers there was a range from $3 to $6—twice the price. 20. I ended up going to two wholesalers to get the best price on elbows at one place and lengths at another.
Now you need to figure out where to bend your walls into the roof. I started this process on graph paper, but then again moved to a full-scale layout. Lay lengths of tube down on the ground. Position your elbow at the peak. Move things back and forth until it seems like things are about right, and don’t rush.
I didn’t want to cut my 10′ lengths—for no other reason than laziness and an aversion to adding another opportunity to make things different lengths. This worked out great with the added length from the elbow and the two-row width we were after. This put the centre of my 45° bend, where the wall becomes the roof, at about 66″.
Now, I say the centre of the bend, and I am afraid I have bad news.
When you bend metal, it does not turn a 90° corner making a perfect right angle. As the metal bends, it is offset by an amount that relates to the bending tool and also the thickness of the material. This is the bend allowance, the K Factor, or the “takeup”.
As I said, go ahead and splurge on an extra length of tubing and practice bending it. Make a mark, line up your bender on the mark, and see what happens. Where does the bend start and where does it end? How much length is taken up in the bend?
Lay your sample back down on your full-scale mock up of pipes and string and whatever, and see how things look.
Once you are happy enough, mark and bend all the tubes. Did I mention reference faces?
You can bend tubing around other things. You would need something about one foot in diameter and very solid. Maybe a tree trunk? But a conduit bender will make it easier to get matching bends and greatly reduces the risk of kinking, so I am going to assume you have begged, borrowed or stolen one.
Now here is a cute trick. My bend was at about 66″ or maybe a little more—so after the bend I had a long leg and a short leg. I laid the long leg on a table with the short leg hanging off, and let gravity plumb my pieces. Now lay your next piece beside it and you will be able to easily see how closely the angle matches.
Reference faces! Pick a tube and make it the master pattern. Adjust all the others to match the master.
Now, while you have all your tubes lying on the table with the short leg hanging off the edge and gravity pulling them all plumb, we will mark drill holes so you can bolt the tubes onto the base boards you made. You don’t want those holes going all willy-nilly.
First measure up from the end of the long leg—I am saying long leg, but that is just for my geometry. What I mean is the end of the tubing that will be touching the ground. Make a mark across each tube at 1 ¼” and 6 ¼” so the holes will land nicely within your 2×8.
With the short leg hanging off the edge, the high point of tubing on the long leg is the centre. Turn your two marks into crosses at the high point. These are your drill spots.
Once I had the spots marked I actually used the same cute trick on my drill press. I set up a support a few feet away so the long leg would be level, and the short leg would hang straight down. This made my drill holes go straight across the centre of the tubing.
If you don’t have a drill press, use a centre-punch to help your bit start, drill a small pilot hole and work your way up to slightly oversized hole for your ¼” bolts. Drill two holes in each rib.
Okay, this next part was my least favourite.
EMT is normally connected with an external clamp the tubing slides inside, tightened with screws. But using these would be bulky and would create unacceptable wear points for the plastic covering. So I researched the inside diameter of the EMT tubing, and found the diagonal measurement of the ⅝” square rod is about the same.
My idea was that I would just grind off a smidgen of the corners and hammer lengths of the rod inside the EMT. This way there would be no clamps but the joint would be reinforced with a long piece of rod.
Great in theory. It turned out that I had to grind a lot, which I tried to compensate for by brute force hammering. Once I finished, I was very pleased with the result, but I was very sweaty and unhappy in the process.
So at least you know that is coming. Take a bit of EMT to your metal supplier and see if you can find something closer in size than I found. This problem is created because the EMT is plus or minus the nominal size, as is the square rod. Perhaps I ended up with EMT on the small side and rod on the large side so the tolerances compounded unpleasantly.
There is also quite a difference in shape between hot-rolled steel and cold-rolled, so check out different materials—I wish you best of luck with that.
Once you have picked your materials, I think it would be a good idea to grind the corners off while the rod is full-length, or maybe cut in half. That just makes it easier to clamp down for safe grinding.
Then use a zip blade in your hand grinder and cut the ⅝” square rod into 16 pieces; they should be around 7″ long.
Using various hammers and rubber or wooden mallets, bash the rod into the EMT wall pieces, and then into an elbow for the peak. For me, I ended up with noodley ribs that are now shaped like a peak house. Keep going until you have ground all the rod and bashed all the ribs together.
I came up with this method to avoid abrading the plastic, but this is by far the worst part of building the greenhouse. If anybody else has found a better approach, I would love to hear it.
Okay. Set one of your base boards roughly where you want it. Slot one of your ribs into the EMT-width space in the board, eyeball it square, and clamp it in place—don’t start with the end ribs. Drill holes through the wood and run carriage bolts through, again with the domed side out where the plastic will lie. A helper to hold the noodley ribs would be quite nice at this stage.
Bring your other base board into roughly the correct position, clamp on the EMT, drill and bolt. Don’t worry about wrenching them too tight at this point. Continue to fit all the ribs.
Adjust the spacing between the base boards so the walls are vertical and cut two 2x4s to that length. Use long screws and toenail these boards across the ends, aligned with the bottom of the 2x8s. This makes a small sill you have to step/trip over, but it is not too bad.
You now have a base wooden rectangle with eight metal ribs—it should look something kind of like a greenhouse. Congratulations! Square it up.22
At this stage the ribs were still kind of noodley, as the rods could twist inside the elbows and the wall pieces; so let’s take that noodle out.
I used six 8′ 2×2 to make braces/spaces/hanging poles for the plants. Lay one of your brace boards down on your base board and mark where the ribs actually are. This is important because the ribs can be quite noodley up in the air thanks to the top elbow joints. When you mark the where your ribs are at the bottom you ensure they will stay at the spacing at the top.
Again, we will mirror them, so clamp two braces together, and use a 1″ hole saw or spade bit to drill both pieces at the same time. When you unclamp, you have a half-hole that nicely fits over a rib.
Important! The end rib is going to be infilled with 2×2! You want your brace to be 1 ½” shorter than your base board on each end, so it will butt into the end wall.
Use 1 ½” self-tapping screws to attach the brace to the ribs. If you use six brace pieces as I did, attach one at each end, then span the gap in the middle with the third. Or use two 10′ pieces and scab them together with plywood. I attached my braces so they would be aligned with the centre of my beds. Eyeball the spot, then measure or snap a chalkline to keep it consistent.
In a snowy climate, a ridge pole would be a real good idea. I didn’t think it was necessary for the coast where our snow usually comes in liquid form.
After the top braces are on to space out the ribs, wrench up the bolts at the bottom. Check your base rectangle for square again, then attach diagonal braces to the walls to buttress against the wind. I did not cut notches in the wood for these, just countersunk deep enough to give my self-tapping screws enough length to bite into the conduit and screwed them on.
Now figure out the end walls. Attach 2×2 to the EMT with self-tapping screws. Custom fit in whatever way makes sense, remembering you need a door at one end and an opening window at the other. I think my window should be larger, as it really gets hot in this house.
As you are going, glue and staple ⅜”-ish plywood gussets on to attach all the 2x2s together, to the baseboard, to the 2x4s on the end, and to the top braces. I bought a narrow crown stapler at a price that almost makes it disposable, and I am very pleased that I did. Staples are fantastic for attaching gussets like this, or for building things with chipboard or plywood. You could use screws to hold the gussets until the glue sets, but I would try to borrow or rent a stapler if you can’t find a cheap one.
It is time for a final positioning and squaring to get your greenhouse right where you want it. Then, pound in four pieces of rebar inside each baseboard. I drove them in at opposing 30° angles—the idea is to make it hard for the wind to pick up your greenhouse and blow it away. Pound three 3″ framing nails beside the rod and bend the last bit of the nail over the rebar so the greenhouse is well pinned to the ground.
And when that is all done, you can stretch the plastic—this step really calls for an assistant or two. The professionals use a cool system called wiggle wire that locks the plastic in a channel. It is removable and adjustable and even lets you attach shade cloth as needed, but it is quite pricey. I simply stapled the plastic taut onto a ½” thick lathe and rolled the wood up inside the film a couple of turns, then screwed through the whole thing to attach to the base boards. Make sure you roll to the inside so all the rain sheeting down your greenhouse does not end up rotting your lathe prematurely.
Before you stretch the top cover over onto the end walls, sheet the end walls. I ripped long lathes about 3/16″ thick and stapled through them to hold the plastic sheeting on. Then do the same for one end of the top cover, and, pulling tight!, the other end. This is thirsty work.
Futz around with doors, windows and automatic openers,23 and you have yourself a fine little greenhouse.
And it turns out Mora made the inexpensive and sharp knife I used while salmon seining back in the 90s.
The blade still rusted a bit, which you can see in the picture.
Leather care is hotly contested. Traditional animals fats such as mink oil may degrade the fibres. As may petroleum products. Scientific papers are in short supply.
Every year I swear we will do it again.
Yes, I said, “In our current economy”, but all you bright green decouplers had best go read the full post before quibbling.
If we develop a taste for it. This is actually pretty important—the ancient Greeks used petroleum and had a basic steam engine. But they had no real use for them.
Hubbert’s Curve actually shows economically exploitable resources, and applies just as well to the apple trees. Even with advanced pruning and a light and strong aluminum ladder there are always a few apples left that just aren’t worth the effort.
Gratefully, on the territory of the Lekwungen speaking peoples.
This is why we should not be celebrating things like fracking as innovative triumphs, but rather hearing the portent in the dry rasp as we scrape the bottom of the barrel, and seeing the desperation that is driving us.
Another example—fish farming also should not be admired, but rather seen as a clear measure of how we have shirked our responsibilities in this relationship with the ecosphere. The fact we think the trouble of farm production compares in any way to simply catching a fish swimming by shows how far our baselines have shifted.
I suppose I will have to write up a recipe for sauerkraut soup as well.
This post tells you how to curdle several different products in a pinch—though they don’t seem entirely hip to the difference between curdling and culturing.
The wonderful BBC series Full Steam Ahead talks about this in one of their episodes.
Life is full of compromises. We rent this land, so we make many choices hoping they will last for five to ten years. If I were planning something more permanent, I would be very interested in these passive solar greenhouses.
Please excuse my use of Imperial measurements in this article. By virtue of proximity and shared markets Canada still uses a lot of things in feet and inches, especially in construction. Furthermore, my parents immigrated from the US, so they were raised in the Imperial system. Canada only switched to metric in the 70s, so I remember special classes in elementary school to teach us metric. All of which to say, I am screwed. I measure big pieces of wood in feet and inches and short pieces in millimetres. I bake in grams but weigh apples in pounds and bottle cider by the litre. Light a candle for me.
You will need four long 2x2s for bracing, and many other 2x2s for the end walls. Here in BC, a province built on the lumber industry, it can be shockingly difficult to get straight lumber—2x2s are often like a funhouse mirror stick of wood. It seems like the better wood is cut into larger pieces so when I care more about the end product I mill larger wood down to the size I need. I find 2x6s are often a good compromise of wood I can handle in my small shop for a good price. So a 2×6 makes three 2x2s, plus an occasionally useful offcut. After milling them down on the tablesaw I use a hand plane to quickly break the corners.
The tomato stakes obviously do get buried, pounded at least 18″ into the ground—and they do rot quickly, giving only a couple of season’s use. Last year I painted the tips with linseed oil, and am looking forward to seeing how that preserves the stakes.
Again, this opportunity for mistakes is in large part due to using Imperial units. I worked in a cabinet shop that used only millimetres, which avoids many problems.
Any fasteners you use on this project should be galvanized or otherwise coated.
It is a good idea to ask whether the wholesaler will sell to the general public