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Thread: Applying Science To Growing Your Own Food - real life application advice

  1. #1 Applying Science To Growing Your Own Food - real life application advice 
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    Morning(?) all,

    My name is Samuel & I have an Allotment (which in the UK is where you rent out a patch of land and cultivate it to grow your own fruit and vegetables) and so I am quite excited to being able to apply science to my allotment with the main goal of producing more food with less money & effort input from myself.

    I have always been interested in science and since being able to see its potential applications in real life my interested in it has exploded, hence why I have joined this forum.

    Any how, I am not sure where to post this but I have several 'projects'/ideas and I was wondering if I am on the right track/could get some advice from anyone who has an interested in these science areas.

    OK so the first query relates to water & its property of cohesion (is this what causes capillary action - the movement of water against gravity?) so firstly watering the whole allotment patch takes a lot of time using a watering can (using a hose is prohibited on site) and so I am trying to install a drip irrigation system - an old leaky hose attached to a waterbutt which utilises the force of gravity so that I can simply turn on the tap and water will flow and seep out to irrigate the plants. I have been having trouble doing this and I was wondering if the force of gravity (if I raise the waterbutt high enough) will generate enough pressure & will be enough to push the water right down to the other end of the plot? I also have a polytunnel (like a greenhouse) which obviously receives no rain and I have dug a small trench in which the path goes over. This collects water when it rains (it seeps through the soil outside of the tunnel) & so I was thinking of trying to utilise the capillary action of water - by sticking in a material which will soak up water from the trench and it would (hopefully?) travel up this material into the raised beds where the veg are growing and thus irrigate the plants? Transpiration from the plants and evaporation would be the driving force to enable this to happen (a bit like how large trees get water from the roots to the top of the plant) and I was wondering if anyone would have any advice regarding this?

    The second query relates to colour, light & heat. I know that white reflects light & black absorbs it. I can use white materials to reflect light to shaded parts of the plant and black to absorb heat. As the colder seasons roll in here in the UK, I wish to be able to warm my polytunnel by filling black plastic drums with water, which will hopefully absorb and slowly release heat. I was just wondering if anyone knows if this is feasible?

    The third query relates to the breaking down process of organic matter (which gardeners refer to as composting). When conditions are right (for the bacteria - moisture, ratio of materials 'browns' & 'greens') the breakdown process can produce a lot of heat - I once managed to get the thermometer over 50 degrees! I was wondering how could one apply this and utilise this process to generate enough warmth to heat my polytunnel over the winter?

    Thanks for your advice,

    Samuel

    (sorry for the long post!)


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  3. #2  
    exchemist
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    Quote Originally Posted by Samuel_1988 View Post
    Morning(?) all,

    My name is Samuel & I have an Allotment (which in the UK is where you rent out a patch of land and cultivate it to grow your own fruit and vegetables) and so I am quite excited to being able to apply science to my allotment with the main goal of producing more food with less money & effort input from myself.

    I have always been interested in science and since being able to see its potential applications in real life my interested in it has exploded, hence why I have joined this forum.

    Any how, I am not sure where to post this but I have several 'projects'/ideas and I was wondering if I am on the right track/could get some advice from anyone who has an interested in these science areas.

    OK so the first query relates to water & its property of cohesion (is this what causes capillary action - the movement of water against gravity?) so firstly watering the whole allotment patch takes a lot of time using a watering can (using a hose is prohibited on site) and so I am trying to install a drip irrigation system - an old leaky hose attached to a waterbutt which utilises the force of gravity so that I can simply turn on the tap and water will flow and seep out to irrigate the plants. I have been having trouble doing this and I was wondering if the force of gravity (if I raise the waterbutt high enough) will generate enough pressure & will be enough to push the water right down to the other end of the plot? I also have a polytunnel (like a greenhouse) which obviously receives no rain and I have dug a small trench in which the path goes over. This collects water when it rains (it seeps through the soil outside of the tunnel) & so I was thinking of trying to utilise the capillary action of water - by sticking in a material which will soak up water from the trench and it would (hopefully?) travel up this material into the raised beds where the veg are growing and thus irrigate the plants? Transpiration from the plants and evaporation would be the driving force to enable this to happen (a bit like how large trees get water from the roots to the top of the plant) and I was wondering if anyone would have any advice regarding this?

    The second query relates to colour, light & heat. I know that white reflects light & black absorbs it. I can use white materials to reflect light to shaded parts of the plant and black to absorb heat. As the colder seasons roll in here in the UK, I wish to be able to warm my polytunnel by filling black plastic drums with water, which will hopefully absorb and slowly release heat. I was just wondering if anyone knows if this is feasible?

    The third query relates to the breaking down process of organic matter (which gardeners refer to as composting). When conditions are right (for the bacteria - moisture, ratio of materials 'browns' & 'greens') the breakdown process can produce a lot of heat - I once managed to get the thermometer over 50 degrees! I was wondering how could one apply this and utilise this process to generate enough warmth to heat my polytunnel over the winter?

    Thanks for your advice,

    Samuel

    (sorry for the long post!)
    This sounds like a great set of questions for "Gardeners' Question Time!" I bet a resourceful chap like Bob Flowerdew will have tried one or two of your ideas.

    Regarding the watering issue, the pressure in your hose will be proportional to the height of the water level in your water butt above the level of the hose. 10m height gives one bar (one atmosphere) pressure, so given that you are likely to have a height difference of 1m or less, you will have a pressure of 0.1bar or so. For comparison, mains water pressure is typically 2-4bar i.e. 20-40 times as much. The issue therefore will be to size the outlet holes appropriately. If you are adapting an irrigation system intended for mains water, the holes will probably be too small to get enough flow. But with the right size holes it should work.

    I also think the wicking idea is sound. Some absorbent felt or maybe even loft insulation or something should do the trick, provided you have a good contact between the wicking material and the soil. But I think it will be trial and error to see how much of this wicking action you can get.

    Regarding the warming of your polytunnel I'd have thought the best thing would be to position a matt black heat reservoir inside the tunnel, where it can intercept and absorb heat from the sun and then transfer it directly to the air in the polytunnel. You could use water containers, or black-painted bricks, or something.

    On the compost one I'm not sure. I think you need quite a big compost heap to get the temperature going up and it would be too big to be put inside your polytunnel. Possibly if you led your irrigation pipes through it the water would be warmed, but I'm not sure the flow rate would be enough to transfer much heat to the polytunnel.


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  4. #3  
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    I don't see many people using these nowadays, but my grandfather used to make a hotbed heated with horse manure to set his plants out early in the spring. I don't know how well it would work in the dead of winter, but you won't have much sunlight to grow anything then anyway.
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  5. #4  
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    Quote Originally Posted by exchemist View Post

    I also think the wicking idea is sound. Some absorbent felt or maybe even loft insulation or something should do the trick, provided you have a good contact between the wicking material and the soil. But I think it will be trial and error to see how much of this wicking action you can get..
    What about peat ? That seems cheap . Maybe lay it on top of some plastic sheeting along and under the length of the sides of the tunnel( not too deep ,perhaps).

    A lot of the water in a tunnel is "recycled " anyway as it runs back off the ceiling and sides . Actually the wicking effect might work both ways as as this runoff from the roof of the tunnel could be sent outside but that might not be a problem.

    Problems I had was extreme heat which did for some of my tomato plants despite my efforts to keep the soil watered and the need for hygiene in such warm damp conditions -but my tunnel was/is very rudimentary and the ventilation was not very well thought out.
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