Epic Greenhouse Rocket-Mass Heater

Taught by Bill Wilson and Members of the Midwest Permaculture Design Team

Bill Wilson

Built at Jordan Rubin’s Heal the Planet Farm – Early 2016
Designed by Bill Wilson (MWP) and Kevin Kepplinger (HTP Farm)
Construction and Design Assistance from the Heal the Planet Farm Team (All are Midwest Permaculture PDC graduates)

We call it the Epic Greenhouse Rocket-Mass Heater because of it’s sheer size and multiple modifications we designed into it. The whole stove is built around an 8″ flue system that exits outside of the greenhouse below floor level, under the greenhouse end-wall, and then turns towards the sky.

Rocket Stove Mix

The key modifications we made to this stove that are not usually found on more traditional rocket mass heaters are:

  1. ?The feed chamber is very large capable of holding full-sized firewood logs so it can be loaded to burn for up to 4 hours at a time and produce a lot of heat.
  2. The thermal battery or thermal mass is below grade and insulated so the heat will not wick into the soil surrounding it but instead radiate up to keep fish (aquaponics system) and bedding plants warm even in the dead of winter.
  3. We installed a multiple-speed flue fan and a flue damper near the end of the exhaust pipe to give ourselves greater control over the speed of the exhaust and even the burn. We can slow the exhaust down to hold the heat in the thermal mass longer when it’s hot or speed it up when we need a stronger pull to get it started. We know this is unorthodox and a bit like cheating, but it’s very helpful and the fan is variable speed using very little electricity.

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Rapidly-Cut Swales with Tractor Blade

3 Miles of Swales Cut in 5-Hours

We are making early progress on our 320-acre Missouri permaculture-farm project (Jordan Rubin’s Heal the Planet Farm).  Last fall, a local dozer operator was brought in to dig the first swales.  It was a small dozer but it did a respectable job and did the work in a relatively short period of time compared to an excavator. See the blog post with video here.

Before we brought the dozer back in this spring, Kevin, a long-time farmer in the area who is also Jordan’s lead farmer on this project, suggested that we simply try the 135hp farm tractor with it’s 9-foot tilting scraper blade (it’s just over 6′ wide when fully angled at 45 degrees) to see what kind of swales it would cut. It certainly seemed worth trying though I’d never seen it done before.

Adam and I headed out early one morning with the laser level and marked off about a mile of swales with white-wire flags.  When Kevin arrived later in the morning with the tractor all he had to do was adjust the angle of the blade, drop it down, and start running.  He ran three passes on every swale we had marked and did it all in about 60 minutes! Continue reading “Rapidly-Cut Swales with Tractor Blade”

Bill to Teach a Farming-Focused PDC in Michigan

Josh and Brian Shultz

Josh & Brian Shultz

This was a great Course
We are Considering Repeating it in 2015
Please Check our Schedule

Training was May 6 – 13, 2014
Pierce Cedar Creek Institute – Hastings, MI
Start 1-pm May 6 —  End 3-pm May 13

I am very much looking forward to teaching this upcoming PDC with fellow permaculture designers/farmers, Josh and Brian Shultz. Both are Midwest Permaculture PDC Graduates but had been doing advanced permaculture work long before that.


Pierce Cedar Creek Institute

Starting off however, the training, meals and lodging will be hosted at the beautiful PCC Institute.  Be sure to check out these pictures of this wonderful location.

While there, we will learn about the work they are doing on behalf of the environment and how they are teaching ‘care of earth’ to school students and the general public.  The people at PCCI are walking the talk every day.  We will be in great hands and at a great location for this training.

Bill with Bloomingdale the cat

Me (Bill) with Bloomingdale the cat.

And when it is time to get out of the classroom and learn by doing and seeing I will be taking everyone over to Josh and Brian’s combined endeavors, Fair Lake Farm and Cedar Creek Permaculture Farm (see picture summary below).  They have both done amazing work in various fields and I know that as students, you will be learning a great deal by examining what they have accomplished and are planning to do.

To be clear, since this will be a PDC course I will be teaching the full PDC Curriculum including urban, suburban and residential permaculture applications.  We will be looking at how to design for various climates and for unusual circumstances.

Students will also be invited to bring their own design projects for we will set aside an entire evening to do nothing but explore the real-life design challenges of those who have a specific project.  Not everyone will or is expected to bring a project but we will all learn by exploring those projects that are brought to the table.  This is going to be a fabulous training and I am looking forward to meeting many new permaculture minds and hearts.

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A Cal-Earth Permaculture Course Picture Summary

Post Update (March 2016)
Our 6th Annual Combined
Super-Adobe and Permaculture-Design Certificate Courses

Oct. 3-15, 2016

You Will Receive the Best of what
Cal-Earth and Midwest Permaculture have to Offer

— Information about the Cal-Earth portion of this training and registration here.
— About the world renowned Permaculture Design Certificate Course here.
— How Midwest Permaculture delivers this comprehensive training (regardless of the location) here.
— Download a .PDF of the PDC course curriculum outline here.

Below is a picture summary from our 2012 joint training to give you an idea of how full and rich this combined training is. 
Please Note: Geoff and Nadia’s visit was a one-time event. They are not expected to join us this year (2016).

Cal-Earth Interior

Interior View of ‘Triple-Vault’– A Super-Adobe Structure at Cal-Earth   –   Students will learn the basics of how to build structures like this and how to design the total environment surrounding it at this combined training.


Blog Post Below from 2012
Pictures and Text by Bill Wilson of Midwest Permaculture

For a second year we co-delivered with the Cal-Earth teaching staff a combined Superadobe Earth Building and Permaculture Design Certificate Course.  At the close of our training we were pleased to host Geoff and Nadia Lawton of PRI-Australia who shared their work in desert environments with us while they were in the USA for a brief visit.  This workshop was also opened to the general public seen here at the end of a really great day of learning.

Our 2012 Cal-Earth PDC on Guest Day with Geoff and Nadia Lawton – Picture taken on one of the Cal-Earth buildings.

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Picture Summary – Essential Permaculture Weekend – Kalamazoo 8/12

 Essential Permaculture Weekend Training – Kalamazoo, MI – August 2012

 We were invited to deliver our “Essential Permaculture” weekend training in Kalamazoo by a former student of ours who is one of the coordinators of the Trybal Revival Eastside EcoGarden (TREE).  
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Capturing and Storing Energy with Homemade Chokecherry Wine

This post is made by one of our students as part of their PDC Completion Home Correspondence Course.

David Holmgren’s second principle of permaculture is “Catch and store energy” (Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Holmgren Design Services, 2002), often described with the proverb, “Make hay while the sun shines.”  The idea of this principle is that we should be alert for and take advantage of opportunities to capture energy and slow down its flow through the landscape around us, thus ensuring a steady flow of energy through the system rather than an ebb and flow.  One illustration of this principle is the pattern of any water drainage – for example, when the mountains above a river remain forested, the river flows at a more constant and predictable level year-round.  But when the forests are clear-cut, the river floods extensively during the rainy season and can run dry during the dry season or a drought – both situations devastating for human settlements and for the local ecology.  The saga of the Loess Plateau in China (denuded and desertified after centuries of overgrazing and deforestation) illustrates this phenomenon well, with the upshot being that the people living in some parts of the Loess Plateau are now working to reforest their high places, improving the vegetation, soil and water in the entire watershed in a domino effect begun simply by capturing and storing water (energy) higher on the landscape and slowing down its movement.

Chokecherries as harvested from the bush:


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Pictures from our July 2012 PDC Completion Course

You can see and read more about our PDC Completion Course in an awesome blog post by one of the students in the course: These Light Footsteps – Permaculture Design Course Completion.

Wayne & Bev’s rocket stove mass heater

  Continue reading “Pictures from our July 2012 PDC Completion Course”

Pictures from our July 2012 Hands-on Permaculture Course

You can see and read more about this course in an awesome blog post by one of the students in this course: These Light Footsteps – Hands-on Permaculture.


Classroom Panorama

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Pictures From our June 2012, Stelle PDC Course

 Pictures by Milton Dixon and Bill Wilson – Captions by Bill

Day 1 in the Classroom – The World Map on the Wall is a Nice Addition to any Learning space. – Becky Wilson Teaching

“Thank you Bill and Becky for such an incredible, life-altering week.”
Jody T. – Community Organizer

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Chickens for the Orchard (Part 3)

Part 3:  8-13 Weeks of Age (As Adventurers)
Part 2:  4-8 Weeks of Age (As Kids)
Part 1:  0-4 Weeks of Age (As Chicks)                                                                                                                                                       

Original Objective: Raise some chickens for food and to also help with insect, grass and weed control in our 2-acre organic community orchard…!!!
New Objective:  Keep our birds alive so that we will have some sort of chicken harvest.  Ouch!

Over the last 5 weeks we have been stretched to learn more about the habits and characteristics of these inquisitive and entertaining birds.  They have been doing a fine job of keeping the orchard grass under control (we have only mowed once this year) and as a result, the amount that we have paid for chicken feed is significantly less than if they were confined to a small area.  This was working really well.
  Continue reading “Chickens for the Orchard (Part 3)”