Video on Building a Cooler Using the Coolbot

Courtesy of Paul, H., Victory Garden Vegetables, Cobourg, ON

I use the CoolBot, and this is the second walk-in cooler I’ve built using a CoolBot and air conditioner. Last summer I made a 20-minute video about its construction and posted it to our website:

I have yet to tabulate the cost figures. What I can say for sure is that this size works great for us right now, and in fact we are still hardly using even a quarter of it. However we still only have about 5000 square feet of land in cultivation right now, so hopefully our use of the cooler will change as we continue expanding!

As far as time expenditure goes, I would very roughly say it probably took 6-8 full days to get built into a usable state, plus another day here and there spent on aesthetics and touch-ups.

Vertical Bucket Farms

Courtesy of Didacus R. Haywood, CA

Here is something that is fascinating a lot of us in the SPIN Farming community–especially those with far off fields. Using buckets to grow vertical farms.

We cut a bucket off about 6-8 inches from the bottom. Then we take a full bucket, cut a 1″ hole on the bottom, stuff the whole with a wick–cloth, terry cloth or enough cotton cloth to plug the hole. The wick hangs about 12-18″ below the hole and at least 6″ above in order to wick water up into the bucket.

Drill 1 1/2″ a hole about 3″ from the bottom, and another hole about 6″ above it. The next 2 holes are about 3 1/2″ around the side–but start these 3″ from the top. So, each row is staggered 2 down, 2 up all the way around. A 5-gallon bucket will give you 20 holes per bucket.

That’s a lot of plants in a very small area. But wait! There’s more!

Put a lid on the bucket and stack them! You can stack at least 3 buckets easily and stably.

Two important points. Cut a port hole about 3″ from the bottom of the water reserve (bottom short bucket) so you can easily fill the reserve every few days as needed. And, cut about 20 small holes in the bottom of the upper bucket for drainage.

You can plant small plants like strawberries, lettuce and herbs in a 20-hole bucket. Fewer holes for bigger plants. Say, 4 holes for tomatoes, peppers etc.

If you don’t have buckets, perhaps you could build a 3-tier garden from clay?

We usually put about 1 cup of fertilizer in a sock (a nylon is perfect, but any cloth bag or sock will do) burried on the top of the bucket equal to the level of the 1st plants. When the water wicks up to it the fertilizer slowly releases. Worm poop works very well.

Enough of these going could make a micro-micro-farm right against the south facing wall of a home. That could save some walking.

DIY Strawberry Planters

Courtesy of Trevor VH. , Pedal to Petal, Victoria BC
The easiest way to construct strawberry planters is to use 5 gallon buckets. Here’s a description with video of a self-watering vertical strawberry setup. Very cool!


DIY Bike Trailers

Courtesy of Didacus R. , Haywood, CA

I found this link to a bike trailer/dolly. My only modification would be larger wheels placed so they are equal to the bottom of the trailer when it is upright as a dolly and far down enough so that they don’t interfere with the trailer bed when laying flat as a trailer. Of course that part is not critical if you don’t intend to load your trailer wider than the width of the trailer.

DIY Electric Bike for Pedal-Powered SPIN Farms

Courtesy of Curtis S., Green City Acres, Kelowna, BC

My current rig is the Bionx HT 350. It cost a pretty penny, around $2400 after install and mods, but so far, I’m pretty happy with it. I was going to have to hire another employee this year to do deliveries, but after getting this, that potential employee has been made obsolete.

It’s pretty sweet to be cruising with 500 lbs of stuff at 34km / hour, and not totally exhausting myself either. We’ll see how it survives the season though. LIke I said, so far so good, but I’m probably giving this thing 10 times more use than anyone else ever has. It’s got a 2 year warranty. If it lasts this season without any problems, I think that’ll be a good sign.

The trick with these things is that they don’t have any torque when you’re hauling a heavy load, but once you get a bit of momentum, after start up, then you can really go. But you have to be careful with them, and your bike. You really use your gears like crazy, cause you go from so slow to so fast right away. So, there’s a bit of a learning curve to get used to it. What I do when I starting to move after stopping, is turn the engine all the way down, so there’s no assist, once I’m starting up, then after getting a bit of momentum, then I turn the assist on full. If you torque it too hard, you kill you battery. But once you learn how to use it, you can make the battery last way longer.

Here’s a picture.

See also Paul Hoepfner-Homme’s post.

DIY Electric Bike for Pedal-Powered SPIN Farms

Courtesy of Paul, H., Victory Garden Vegetables, Cobourg, ON

When I was SPIN-Farming in mountainous Nelson, BC, I started out with the highest end BionX electric kit that was available at the time (2009). It was an in-hub electric motor with 36V Li-Ion battery, and it fits into any regular bike (mine was a mountain bike). Very slick design – downhill recharging, alarm system, etc. – but unfortunately, it broke down on me repeatedly, specifically with the downhill recharging. I even had it totally replaced under warranty, and the second one broke down in the same way as the first one. Rather than get the “next model” that they tried to sell me on, I tried another brand. (To be fair, everyone else I’ve spoken to who’s gotten the BionX kit has raved about it and hasn’t had any trouble – but then, most of them weren’t carrying cargo up and down steep mountainsides. :)

I ended up purchasing the eZee electric hub kit, which had similar specs to the model of BionX (also in-hub, similar battery) except that it wasn’t as slick (no recharging while you’re biking, and some parts look like they were put together in someone’s basement), but it was totally reliable and just as powerful. I still use it today and it works just as well as when I bought it. I think it ended up costing me around $1700, and I installed it myself.

That worked great for the farm’s first year, during which I had the help of a couple friends who had access to a pick-up truck for market days and for hauling the rototiller. But the next year I knew I was going to need more power if I wanted to operate the farm totally by bike, so I ended up getting a second motor, called the Stokemonkey. (Looks like they aren’t taking orders at the moment, but there are other options out there.) The Stokemonkey powers your pedals, not your wheel directly. This motor offers a significantly higher torque than an in-hub motor assuming you put your pedals into the right gear for the job (you just get a feel for it, the same as you get a feel for gearing up and down normally). With the Stokemonkey I was able to do everything by bike, including hauling my rototiller or a volunteer up steep grades.

I’ve never worn out either of my motors; it’s more my brakes that have taken a toll from all this. :)

The Stokemonkey is designed for Xtracycle-modified bikes (Curtis has that, too), and getting an Xtracycle free radical kit for your existing bike is totally worth it, even if you have a separate bike trailer that you’re planning to use. There’s nothing handier.

Here are some pictures of my setup a couple springs back:

Good luck – it’s a fun ride.

See also: Curtis Stone’s post:


DIY Coolbot Walk-in Cooler Tips

Courtesy of Jame K., Virtually Green, San Francisco, CA

Here’s a few quick thoughts about walkin cooler design, largely based on what my appropriate technology group used to recommend for village small-scale DIY walkin cooler systems.  We didn’t have the Coolbot at the time though:  it’s a great alternative to commercial refrigeration units.

Here’s a link to a Canada Plan Service document that lays out some of the basics for designing and building a walkin cooler.

The Coolbot retrofit of window air conditioners is a reliable solution, but do follow the Coolbot suggestions for the best air conditioner unit.  I know someone who went cheap and regretted it immediately.  I also recommend that you get two air conditioners rather than one, so you have redundancy in this critical component of the walkin cooler.  You really don’t want to find yourself with a failed air conditioner and a cooler full of spoiled produce.  If one of the units goes down the other can pick up the extra load until you can replace the failed unit.

Another thing.  Use a strip door to keep cool air in when you’re entering and exiting the cooler.  These are thick wide plastic strips that hang vertically from the top of the door to the floor and that overlap each other horizontally.  You push through them to enter and exit.  These can radically reduce the loss of cool air when moving quantities of produce in and out.

The size of a walkin cooler is based upon peak use, in other words the moments in the harvest cycle when you have the most produce needing cool storage.  Use the dimensions of your standard sizes of storage containers:  bins, boxes, tubs, etc.  If you’re doing the routine crop planning for SPIN beds then you should be able to estimate the maximum volume of your various harvested crops needing container storage in your walkin cooler during your harvest weeks.  Leaving 50% of the interior volume for aisles and air circulation is a good rule of thumb, which can also in emergencies temporarily handle extra produce volume if needed.

You’ll likely be using pallets or shelves for your containers, so remember to leave room for maneuvering dollies and lift-trucks in and out of the walkin cooler.  Shelves that can be adapted to different dimension containers allow you to flexibly respond to changes in the quantities of your harvests.  Also with shelves remember the work safety, ergonomics and back strain issues of lifting containers on and off high shelves.

You need to have the air inside the cooler circulating freely to avoid hot or cold spots or major differences in humidity in the horizontal and vertical volume of the cooler. Set the Coolbot air conditioners to optimize their effects on air circulation.

One thing you don’t want inside a walkin cooler is condensation problems, which can lead to mold and mildew that can affect produce quality.  You want high humidity to avoid dessication and wilting of produce, but not so high that water condenses on surfaces.  Mount a couple digital dual humidity/temperature meters inside your walkin cooler to monitor humidity and temperature at different horizontal and vertical locations.  You can use these to monitor and better calibrate the performance of your air conditioners as well.  I recommend buying ones with NIST certification to ensure that they will perform as advertised and also to satisfy any food safety regs or or insurance concerning produce storage.  Here’s an example of what I have in mind: