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Old July 20, 2013   #1
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: Wasilla Alaska
Posts: 1,945
Default Tried to perfect environment

In Alaska the cost effectiveness of starting tomatoes early is usually not worth it, so most like myself, migrated to early varieties that produce decent tomatoes during a lackluster AK summer. We always looked for varieties that will work reliably and fit an AK environment. Yah right! For the good stuff, trying beefsteaks, etc. usually resulted in 3-10 ugly tomatoes that did not taste that great anyway.
This year I changed my thinking, finally, and figured out a way to tailor my environment, INSTEAD, to better suit the famous strains I usually only got to read about, and my results have been excellent.
First; I have many acres of wood and to save on gas heat, put in a wood furnace that utilizes duct for its transfer of heat. I ran a stem down the middle and both sides, along the floor under benches, and a stem under a water tank to heat my 42 degree well water to something more comfortable to a strain from West Virginia, let say. At 85,000 btu's, the stove helped to eliminate the cold dead air pockets in my greenhouse, and saved a fortune on heat. I put the plants in smart pots on benches above the duct, which also kept their roots toasty. I also found I could raise the temperature of 300 gallons of water about 25-30 degrees over night, and I think that was a major factor in my results. The stove also has two chambers so the exterior is not that hot, I have plants growing all around it.
The downfall; hard work, get up in 20 below zero at 4.00 am to stock a stove with wood, cut and haul wood, hard too.
Good part; I can get decent yields off of Brandywines, and great yields off of others never attempted, nothing disappointed yield wise, had several upside suprises though.
Here is something else I have pondered, I honestly think cold Alaskan nights affect the taste of some southern type tomatoes, on a vine, just like a fridge does a picked one. What do others in colder climates like mine think of this? I made sure my gas heat clicked on at 63 degrees, and I am happy with the taste of all but 3 out of 44 tested so far this year, and some are just like the ad said, deeeelicious.
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Old July 20, 2013   #2
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Location: Oklahoma
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Never under estimate human ingenuity. Brilliant.

AKA The Redbaron

"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; & of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system."
Bill Mollison
co-founder of permaculture
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Old July 29, 2013   #3
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Location: Hoboken, NJ USA
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When our fragile society hits its inevitable demise due to a confluence of many nasty factors all at once, I'm making a beeline to Alaska where all the "know how" people live who can make so much out of so little. Mark, what do you recommend bringing along so that the arrival is welcomed rather than dreaded ("all these big city folk who screwed everything up")?
I'm (container growing apartment dweller)

Last edited by cythaenopsis; July 29, 2013 at 01:53 PM.
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Old July 30, 2013   #4
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: Wasilla Alaska
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Default Bug Dope

This year mosquito repellent is popular.
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Old August 4, 2013   #5
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Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: San Diego
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Thanks for directing me over here, Mark. All I can say is WOW - just amazing. You have built quite the system, and your results show it. And you are dedicated! I can't imagine going out when it's 20 below zero at 4am to stock the woodstove for the tomato plants . But then, I can't really imagine 20 below zero either - I've lived in San Diego for a very long time!

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Old January 2, 2014   #6
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Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: MA
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Mark, I'm just starting to look into undercover gardening. Your design and dedication is inspiring, thank you.
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Old November 23, 2016   #7
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Location: Texas
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very cool
From my youtube friend/idol "above all else be good to each other". Honestly a little kindness goes along way
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Old November 23, 2016   #8
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Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
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Thanks Mark, I have been waiting for this post. The perfect set-up. Quick story. We had a wood stove for heat growing up in North Carolina, hard work no doubt. One time I left some wood on top of the stove while filling it at around 3am. Hours later we all awoke to a house full of black smoke. Was pretty scary but the wood never ignited and we awoke soon enough to all get out before inhaling to much. After that I decided wood stoves were too much work and trouble. In a GH I woudnt mind though since the worst that happens is a few mater plants die.

Now the questions: What kind of pump is that? Does it feed just the one greenhouse? How much area is that stove heating? Is the base under the tank cement blocks as well? is it regular stove pipe running under the tank? Any issues with it being cold on the other end?
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Old November 23, 2016   #9
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Location: Illinois, zone 6
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The early tomato guy at my market uses wood heat. He also has migrant workers to feed the fire all night and chop wood by day. His wood pile is bigger than his greenhouse.
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Old November 23, 2016   #10
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Join Date: May 2013
Location: New Mexico
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I'm wondering why you can't put a load of wood next to the stove before bedtime so you don't have to go out in -20° to restock it.
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Old December 1, 2016   #11
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: Wasilla Alaska
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Charley, I do keep wood right outside the door, but the Gh's are a couple hundred feet from the house. This worked so well, I now have Wood furnaces in other GH's, but only in the ones I start up early. The tanks are also painted black, when the sun starts doing its thing I can pull off the insulation and heat water by solar pretty effectively. The good part is they all have natural gas heaters, but every time I don't feel like getting up, I just imagine the 250,000 BTU heaters running full blast, that helps motivate me. LOL
BVV, those are wood furnaces, they blow the heat through duct, and the shell itself does not get very hot, you can actually touch them, but they produce 100,000 BTU's an hour. The furnace can knock about 20 degrees off of the outside temperature in a 2000 square foot, 12-15 in a 3000, so you need a main source of heat too, like gas. However... when the gas clicks off the wood heat is still pumping, so it takes much longer for the temps to drop where the gas kicks back on, and I get warm water too. That pump has been replaced with a larger shallow well jet pump.
Cole, what a great idea. LOL I wonder how much he pays in labor though, seems like it would negate the savings of the free wood.

Last edited by AKmark; December 1, 2016 at 02:05 PM.
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