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Composting and Greenhouse

Composting and Greenhouse

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Published by: Compost Heated Greenhouses on Mar 08, 2011
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The following text and references is from a resource packetcompiled by ATTRA in response to queries on compost-heatingof greenhouses. We field one or two dozen questions a yearon this topic.If you need the printed literature that goes with it, send me yourfull mailing address, phone number, and occupation.In brief, compost-heating of greenhouse is feasible and it hasappeal for the small-scale operation that is focused on appropriatetechnology and homesteading. From a future perspective wherebioshelters play a central role in a sustainable lifestyle, onecould say that this technology is pioneering. There is a book byAnna Edey on the Solviva greenhouse that I highly recommend ifthe bioshelter-style, solar greenhouse additionally integrated withanimal- and compost-heating appeals to you.But for most commercial greenhouses, it would be a hassle incomparison to heating with relatively inexpensive and clean-burningnatural gas. Of the alternative greenhouse designs, solargreenhouses that are oriented for maximum solar collection, superinsulated, and equipped with special heat retention devices are stillamong the most reliable and practical.Fyi, ATTRA has a series of publications on greenhouse topics,including Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production, Solar Greenhouses,Organic Potting Mixes, Disease-Suppressive Potting Mixes, IPM forGreenhouse Crops, etc.Steve DiverATTRAhttp://www.attra.org ==================================================Heating greenhouses with waste heat generated by thermophilic compostwas an idea that gained a lot of attention in the 1980s. The bestknown example was the composting greenhouse project initiated in 1983at the New Alchemy Institute (NAI) in Massachussetts, which began witha 700 square foot prototype composting greenhouse.In a composting greenhouse, heat and carbon dioxide are generated froma manure-based compost contained in a special chamber attached to oneside of the greenhouse. As with any compost site, equipment access isa basic requirement to facilitate the movement of vehicles, tractors,and bucket loaders.>
From the mid- to late-80s, NAI published a number of research reports
and magazine articles about its on-going work with compostinggreenhouses. Enclosed is the complete set of four articles publishedon this topic in New Alchemy Quarterly between 1983 to 1989. Thesearticles contain blueprints, illustrations, photographs, anddescriptions of the composting greenhouse. Of special note are theseven conclusions reached by the greenhouse team in the 1987 article,plus the new findings reported in the 1989 article.By 1987, NAI concluded there are considerable and significant problemswith the concept. These included (1):* Composting greenhouses are a risky and experimental technology.They should only be used in situations where both the greenhousecomposting businesses make sense separately at the same time.* Composting is a challenge, since it is both art and science. Thesmall operation may not be able to afford specialized composting
equipment, resulting in substantially increased labor requirements.* The composting component needs to be sized on the basis of itscarbon dioxide production. If the composting component is sized toheat the greenhouse [in a mild climate like southern New England,half a cubic yard of compost per square foot of greenhouse!], theamount of carbon dioxide generated will be six times that needed foroptimal CO2-enriched atmospheres, and the amount of nitrogen releasedwill be fifty times that needed for optimal plant growth.* When the composting component is sized on the basis of carbondioxide, the heat generated will be supplementary only, meetingperhaps 15% of the energy needs. Excess nitrogen will still,however, be a troublesome contaminant of the system at levels roughlyeight times greater than optimal. Nitrate levels are consistentlytoo high for safe production of cool season greens, due toaccumulation of nitrates in the vegetables.However, in the 1989 article, NAI cited new design featuress thatpromised to solve the ammonia problem. And, nitrates are not aproblem when greenhouses are only used to start vegetable seedlingsintended for field production.In addition to the articles in New Alchemy Quarterly, NAI publishedresearch reports and working papers on this topic. Although theInstitute ceased operations in 1991, NAI publications are availablethrough The Green Center, located at the site of the former Institute.A listing of titles relating to work on composting greenhouses isprovided below. For current prices, contact:The Green Center237 Hatchville Rd.East Falmouth, MA 02536(508) 564-6301Research Reports:No. 3 Composting Greenhouse at New Alchemy Institute: A Report on TwoYears of Operation and MonitoringWorking Papers:No. 4 Economics: Hydroponics vs. Composting GreenhousesNo. 16 Composting Greenhouse: Thermal PerformanceNo. 19 Nitrogen Dynamics in Composting GreenhouseNo. 29 Improved Composting Greenhouse DesignsThe New Alchemy Institute was one of the premier alternativetechnology centers in the 1970s and 80s. The Institute publishedwidely on appropriate technology, ecology, solar energy, bioshelters,solar greenhouses, integrated pest management in greenhouses, organicfarming, and sustainable agriculture.According to a notice from the Institute's Board of Directors upondissolution, New Alchemy publications will also be available throughThe American Archives of Agriculture (AAA), located at Iowa StateUniversity. On completion of cataloging, NAI's materials will beavailable for on-site research as well as photocopying throughinter-library loan. Contact:Ms. Anne KenneUniversity Archivist and Acting Curator of AAAParks Library, Rm 403Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011(515) 294-6672In-vessel compost units, located in a nearby but separate location,are an alternative to attached compost chamber on one side of thegreenhouse. In either case, capturing the heat of combustion anddistributing it to the greenhouse itself is a design feature thatneeds attention. Options include wrapping the compost chamber withrecirculating water pipes, or using an air-to-water exchanger. Theheated water is then available for distribution through radiantheating. Since root-zone heating (floor- and bench-heating) is anestablished practice in the greenhouse industry, the technologyalready exists to integrate this source of heat.While the method proposed above is more experimental than proven, theenclosed item from Biocycle magazine refers to one such system.Quality of CompostThe operation of a compost-greenhouse facility has two inherent goals:(1) heating the greenhouse via co-generation from a compost chamber,and (2) the production of compost. Thus, compost end use (e.g.,greenhouse production, potting mix, landscape industry, bagged sales)and compost quality should both weigh in the decision-making process.Good quality compost is recognized as a valuable soil treatment thatperforms multiple functions: soil structure, crop fertility, soilfoodweb, natural disease suppression, etc. Thus, attention to thecomposting process itself is rather important, and this means goodaerobic conditions (normally achieved by turning the pile whenwindrows are used or through forced air when aerated static piles areused) are critical.Compost quality can be significantly improved by monitoring the pilefor temperature, carbon dioxide, pH, nitrites, nitrates, and sulfur,and through the use of microbial inoculants. Compost biomaturity isdetermined through a series of tests that indicate the level of humusand biological activity.Compost resources available from ATTRA includes the Farm-ScaleComposting Resource List, Compost Teas for Plant Disease,Biodynamic Farming & Compost Preparation and related topics.I hope these comments and enclosed materials are helpful.Sincerely,Steve DiverTechnical SpecialistReferences:1)Fulford, Bruce. 1986. Composting Greenhouse at New AlchemyInstitute: A Report on Two Years of Operation and Monitoring.Research Report No. 3, New Alchemy Institute.2) Whitcomb, Carl E., Charlie Gray, and Billy Cavanaugh. 1985. Afloor heating top ventilating system for quonset greenhouses.p.4-10. In: Nursery Research Field Day. Research ReportP-872. Agricultural Experiment Station, Oklahoma State University.Enclosures:Anon. 1991. Compost preheats water. Biocycle. July. p. 20.

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