Indoor ecosystem management

Design factors
Having explored examples of permaculture approaches to greenhouse and pollytunnel management, I have identified the key factors to design around and consider when diversifying indoor ecosystems:

One of the main principles of permaculture is to capture and store energy. In a greenhouse or pollytunnel, solar energy is stored as heat energy in thermal mass such as water, stone, masonry, soil and plant biomass1. In one of the greenhouses, to reduce the amount of added compost needed, the intention is to build raised beds within the greenhouse to replace growbags and containers. If constructed out of brick or stone, they would have the multiple function of storing heat. We do not intend to heat any of our greenhouses with an external energy source unless conditions change that demand it, for example exceptionally cold springs. We can embrace biothermal heat, for example placing compost under seedling trays and other methods to maximize energy. Maintenance In terms of energy related to maintenance several tasks can be identified:  Annually: weatherizing with window washing, clearing gutters, checking door closures and so forth, mulching beds in pollytunnel  Weekly: floor clearing, plant feeding  Every 2-3 days: watering, pest & disease checks  Long term: glass repair and pollytunnel recovering

Gas exchange
In commercial greenhouses carbon dioxide concentrations can be artificially increased to 1000 parts per million. In a bioshelter this is a function that needs to be met without artificial inputs, such as by ensuring effective ventilation and airflow or considering relocating our rescued chickens.

At Brook End, during spring and summer watering the greenhouses is the most demanding activity, as it involves carrying water from the tap with watering cans. Watering the pollytunnel is less intensive due to using the hose however feeding the soil with comfrey tea is still energy intensive with the can. We also do not have any rainwater harvesting systems set up as of yet, this could be a major solution in reducing trips by having water butts close to the greenhouse doors, as well as harvesting this renewable resource.

Diversity is one of the founding pillars of a resilient ecosystem. In the Three Sisters Bioshelter, flowers are planted that support beneficial insects. "Habitat management is at the heart of bioshelter management,” says Darrell. The work of herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner also illustrates the need for plant diversity as plants send chemical messengers to each other to answer medicinal needs, creating a healthier ecosystem. Three Sisters Bioshelter has a number of plants growing year round including pansies, scented geraniums, calendula, nasturtiums, snapdragons nicotinia, rosemary, thyme and sage. Growing with Grace, a vegan organic market garden in Yorkshire is one of the only undercover sites with an internal forest garden, designed to reduce pests and diseases through maintaining diversity.

Stacking functions: every use of time and energy should be planned to integrate more than one purpose (2) therefore we can design multifunctional walks around our greenhouses and pollytunnels e.g. checking for pests & diseases whilst watering or harvesting

Darrel Frey recommends feeding potted plants and seedlings flats at least once a week. Therefore it is crucial for us to design in compost tea and plant food production into this greenhouse area. There are many formats for basically brewing similar solutions - comfrey tea, compost tea, liquid fertilizers, biofertilisers - different combinations of plant ingredients and water, and an affordable nutritious feed can be made easily to feed plants & soil. At Brook End we have an abundance of nettles and comfrey at our woodland edge and so these would form the basis of tea production. I intend to research this area further before building a mini plant food factory out of disused containers adjacent to our pollytunnel and greenhouses. Artificial inputs, such as by ensuring effective ventilation and airflow or considering relocating our rescued chickens. The basis of fertility is of course in the soil – mulching the pollytunnel beds is vital, as is taking care to ensure healthy propagation mixes. Practices that support soil fertility in the garden not undercover are just as applicable to pollytunnel raised beds.

Levels of solar radiation are of course integral to indoor ecosystems. Ensuring glass is clean is important to obtain maximum infiltration. It is also a basis of temperature. A 50% reduction in solar radiation lowers the average inside temperature by at least 5 degrees3. Shade can also affect planting decisions. Indoors, if planting taller shrubs and vines, they are best located on the north end of the beds to mimic a forest edge and prevent them from shading other crops2. Resources 1. Wikipedia 2011 'Bioshelter' 2. Bioshelter Market Garden, A Permaculture Farm, Darrell Frey 3. Horticultural Correspondence College, RHS level 3 Certificate in the principles of plant growth, health and applied propagation, notes, Lesson Two - Plant taxonomy, structure and function 4. 5.

By maximizing the number of plants in an indoor community, they better create their own humidity through their respiration processes. Low humidity causes a drying effect in plants, and this is important especially when cultivating medical herbs, which we will be at Brook End.

© Nicole Vosper, Wild Heart Permaculture 2011

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