Epic Greenhouse Rocket-Mass Heater

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

Bill Wilson

This is a March 2016 Blog Post on how we built at Thermal Mass Rocket Stove at Jordan Rubin’s Heal the Planet Farm‘. 

It was built to keep one of the farm greenhouses well above freezing through the winters.

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.

Continue reading “Epic Greenhouse Rocket-Mass Heater”

Dry Brick Rocket Stove Maple Evaporator

Greetings…

At the last minute this winter we decided to tap our mature maple tree (just one tap) and boil off some sap to make a small amount of maple syrup.  I was equally interested in building an experimental rocket stove as an evaporator with the materials I had on hand.  It worked great!

With some landscaping bricks, a dutch oven and a bit of home-made cob we had our stove chugging along in about an hour… maple syrup in 5 hours.   3+ gallons of sap made 1 cup. of syrup. Here are some pictures:

 

Built by stacking the dry bricks into a chimney and burn chamber. Sap is boiling. All smoke is just the steam from the dutch oven evaporator.

I built the stove by dry stacking (no mortar) the bricks to form a chimney and burn chamber. We nestled the dutch oven in to serve as the top of the burn chamber so it would receive direct flames for a hot, rapid boil.

Continue reading “Dry Brick Rocket Stove Maple Evaporator”

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.

PierceCedarCreek

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.

Continue reading “Bill to Teach a Farming-Focused PDC in Michigan”

Year-Round Greenhouse

Why A Year-Round Greenhouse is part of This Permaculture Design

It doesn’t take much for those of us in temperate climate zones to imagine the allure for year-round greenhouses. Fresh tomatoes in January are compelling! A more controlled and protected environment in spring, summer and fall has real advantages as well.  And from a small business perspective, what if we could produce enough fresh produce for ourselves and a handful of our neighbors 52 weeks of the year?

In a good permaculture design for an urban residence, a homestead or a farm, the first thing we seek to accomplish is the efficient storage of summer crops through root cellaring, drying, fermentation and other forms of preserving.  But once we accomplish this… few things beat fresh produce in the middle of winter. 

To get this done we need to design for the two major demands of plants that are in short supply during the winter months: heat and light

Permaculture Greenhouse

Continue reading “Year-Round Greenhouse”

Wood Gasification

Why Wood Gasification is part of This Permaculture Design

Wood Gasification is the process of converting wood (any kind of scraps or trimmings) into flammable gasses by burning it at very high temperatures in an oxygen starved environment.  These gasses, once cooled and cleaned of tars, can be piped directly into an internal combustion engine as a fuel substitute for gasoline…!!!

We have designed in the use of wood gasification units for:

  • Running trucks, tractors and other vehicles and machinery
  • Generating heat and electricity in the winter for greenhouses and homes
  • Being able to harvest the energy from sunlight stored in woody plants, from our own land
  • Using the waste product, biochar, to increase the fertility of our gardens and food forests which will also be pulling excess Co2 out of the atmosphere and locking it up

And the wood gasification units burn much, much cleaner than wood stoves because of the high temperatures.  They actually burn off almost all of the smoke and gasses, turning even these into additional energy.

Truck Runs by Wood Gasification

Truck Runs on Woodgas

Continue reading “Wood Gasification”

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

  Continue reading “Pictures from our July 2012 Hands-on Permaculture Course”

Photos of a Winter PDC at Midwest Permaculture

Special Note:
Wondering about missing some hands-on activities at our annual Winter PDC Courses?

Grafting Workshop at Winter PDC

Grafting Workshop at Winter PDC

You won’t!  Most all of the hands-on activities we undertake at our regular PDC courses we can also do at our winter courses.  These include:

  • Learning to use the A-frame and sight level.
  • Building a dry-brick rocket stove and firing it up.
  • Making a clay model of a landscape to learn about swales, keylining, and ponds.
  • Touring Midwest Permaculture’s yard and the CSC land
  • Doing fruit tree grafting
  • Making cob from clay, sand and straw
  • and touring the Malchow’s (our neighbors) permaculture home to fire-up their thermal mass rocket stove couch/bench.

The one thing we cannot do because of the frozen ground is continue to work on the hugel-swale we are constructing for CSC, but this basically consists of digging a section of a ditch, putting logs in, and then covering them up. We’ll show some pictures of the details related to this so you’ll get the information without the tactile experience.

 

Raising Profitable Heritage Breed Hogs at Spence Farm in a very Humane Way

Raising Profitable Heritage Breed Hogs at Spence Farm in a very Humane Way

The one thing we do extra for this course is focus a bit more on the growing of food and what it takes to create a successful farming/growing/permaculture operation.

Many people want to make part or even all of their annual income from growing food.  This is certainly possible but it requires quite a bit of knowledge and then real practical experience. Our objective through this training is to save you years of time and money by giving you some critical information and fresh insights. 

To help anchor this learning experience we’ll be taking an extra field-trip over to Spence Farm in Fairbury, IL, to meet Kris and Marty Travis who are doing pioneering work in these areas. 

If the timing works for you to attend this winter course, we are confident that you will not leave feeling like you missed any hands-on activities.  It’s an amazing and very-full 8 days like all of our other PDC Courses.

Here are Pictures from one of our Winter PDC Course (from 2012)
Narration by Hayden Wilson (Standing, far right, son of Bill and Becky)

Our Group Photo with Rocket Stove in Foreground and Midwest Permaculture Home-site (our house). Mom (Becky Wilson) is standing on far left. Dad (Bill Wilson) took most of these pictures.

  Continue reading “Photos of a Winter PDC at Midwest Permaculture”

Burning Wood to “Cool” an Entire Lodge

Arbor Day’s Lied Lodge:
It is Air Conditioned with Current Sunlight
(i.e. Scrap Wood)

Becky at the Fuelwood Energy Plant, one of the places we'll be touring during the March PDC.

 

In our last post we talked about thermal mass rocket stoves and the great benefit they held by being able to heat our homes using current sunlight in the form of firewood.  (The sunlight energy stored in coal, oil and natural gas is millions of years old.) With these stoves we consume as little as 1/4 the amount of firewood it would take to heat the same amount of space with a traditional wood stove.  This is a huge savings in energy consumed for the same results.

Last February, Becky and I visited Lied Lodge and were surprised to discover that they not only heated their water and the Lodge with scrap-chipped wood, but they also air-condition the entire Lodge using the same fires…!!!   How can this be? Continue reading “Burning Wood to “Cool” an Entire Lodge”

Thermal Mass Rocket Stoves on our Minds…

Why Thermal Mass Rocket Stoves are part of This Permaculture Design

Thermal Mass Rocket StoveWhereas wood gasification turns wood scrap into a flammable gas to run engines (generating electricity  power and heat), a thermal mass rocket stove simple turns scrap wood into heat…. lots of heat…with a lot less wood!!!

So, we have included them in our overall design, especially for Earthcamp Village, because they are:

  1. Relavtively simple to understand, construct and use
  2. Inexpensive to build
  3. Beautiful, functional and warm.
  4. Fueled from current sunlight (i.e. wood)
  5. Very…very… efficient at converting wood into clean heat!

Bottomline:  They burn 1/4 of the wood to generate the same heat from a conventional wood stove and the outgases are 90% cleaner as well.

The Key?  They burn the wood, smoke and gasses at very high temperatures…SAFELY!

The exhaust system of Bev and Wayne’s stove before cobbing it over into a bench for heat extraction. More pictures at bottom of this post.

Thermal Mass Rocket Stoves Explained

Not long ago, our friends and neighbors, Bev and Wayne, started to build a thermal mass rocket stove in their living room.  Wayne took one of our PDC courses and was inspired by the rocket stove concept (See the illustration and links below).

Bev and Wayne have been sharing their adventure with us and we are very excited about the possibilities.

Imagine having a wood burning stove in your home that:

  1. Burns less than 1/4 the amount of wood you typically burn
  2. Keeps you as warm or warmer
  3. Allows you to easily burn sticks, twigs and branches instead of just large chunks of firewood.
  4. Burns cleaner than any wood stove ever made

The big thing for us, living here on the prairie in Illinois surrounded not by woods or forests but by corn and bean fields, is the very real shortage of easily available firewood.

What I am talking about are the large hardwood trees with trunks and large branches which are typically chainsawed to length and then split to fit into a wood burning stove.  All of this tonage of wood then needs to be hauled out of the woods, dumped or stacked somewhere, then loaded back into a truck for delivery to be driven to someone’s home (a lot more energy) and then unloaded and stacked again for winter use.

Continue reading “Thermal Mass Rocket Stoves on our Minds…”