Archive for February, 2012

Spending my days in a swimming pool in February is not really what I expected to be doing when I accepted a job opportunity to help my friends with winter projects around their farm in West Virginia. But, using a drained swimming pool to build a 40 ft long, 18 ft tall massive mushroom house, where columns and columns of inoculated straw will hang and grow thousands of culinary mushrooms, was also pretty unexpected.

Getting innovative with how, where and at what density we are growing our food is what’s keeping this movement alive, in my opinion. I tend to favor the “grow in what you got” philosophy over the “come take our expensive course and buy our expensive products to grow the way our researchers said we should” philosophy that has been sweeping the good food movement lately.  Farmers are having to make due with the land and resources they have, urban growers are thinking creatively on what is feasible in small spaces and food justice activists are thinking outside of the box to make use of what families already have at home for growing mediums and spaces. This, to me, is sustainability.

Converting backyard swimming pools into growing spaces is a “grow in what you got” trend I can get down with.  Many people are leaving the pools partly active with water and converting them to aquaponic growing systems, a natural system of growing Will Allen has perfected in Milwaukee.  But here in West Virginia, my friends think the 40 ft cement pool provides a perfect environment for growing gourmet mushrooms because it provides free geothermal heat from the ground and will be easier to keep clean and sterile.

It isn’t the cheapest option for folks because it will require building materials and greenhouse plastic, but it does provide an existing structural foundation and ample growing room in a space already being occupied in your yard (i.e. you don’t have to break new ground or it provides room for expansion when your yard is at capacity).

After the pool here had been drained and cleaned out, we started by securing 2 X 6 wood plates into the cement along the outer circumference of the pool. This serves as the foundation for bolting in the metal pipes used as the greenhouse frame. Normally, the greenhouse pipes you order would come already bent in shape, but they had to get the pipes specially bent to fit the inside of the pool. They went to a local auto garage and had them bent with the garage’s exhaust pipe bender, which was much more affordable ($2/pipe).

Now we could build a mushroom house structured after the Gothic Arch greenhouse design. But there are several routes you can take with this depending on the materials you’re using (wood or metal) and the design you want (structured to withstand snowfall, strong winds, etc.).  Here in the Eastern panhandle of WV, the snowfall can get significant (although this year it’s been mostly non-existent, while  two years ago there were waves of “snowmageddon” storms that collapsed a couple of my friends’ greenhouses), so we are using the Gothic Arch structure because the snow slides off like butter.

Balancing the heavy pipes in place before bolting them to the inside cement wall of the pool was a little tricky since we had to straddle the 10 ft ravine of the deep end and use a 20ft ladder from the bottom to reach. But once the beams were in place it was fairly smooth sailing from there.

I won’t bore you all with the rest of the construction details, especially since the rest of them pretty much mirror those of a greenhouse building process. But I will save the boring details for my next post -a peek into the mushroom lab and spawn room!

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