Nearing the Finish Line

In the first few weeks it was a trailer and wheels, nothing more. Soon after in was hulking frame–for what, no passerby could know. At times it resembled a house, at others a cage. But now, now that the GrOwING GREEN project build team is in the final stretch, every person that walks by the workshop is able to set there eyes on the green behemoth and say, “That’s a greenhouse on wheels!”

This week, beginning April 25, marks the final week of standard classes. Next week is finals week, and for the GrOwING GREEN team it is crunch time. This week the smaller, actuator powered windows went in along the top of the frame, making the greenhouse interior a contained space once and for all. With that accomplished, they began applying the finishing touches; testing actuators, prepping interior lighting, even applying a slick new coat of varnish to the exterior wood elements.

There is no denying that the team’s efforts have resulted in a mobile greenhouse–first of its kind. But is it a good greenhouse? Does everything work? Is everything square? Is it functional and pleasing to the eye. These are the questions on everyone’s minds, and without a doubt the primary focus of the team as they prepare for their final week of building.

With so much prerequisite work being finished this week, the team can finally put time into design elements that were previously on hold–primarily electric. Compared to other structures, the mobile greenhouse requires very little electricity, but given that climate control is crucial to its purpose, the few electrical elements it does contain are of paramount importance. Overhead lights, air-conditioning, external fans, internal fans–all are installed and awaiting wiring.

Like Frankenstein’s monster awaiting the pull of the switch, this great green beast lies dormant–a switch away from coming to life.


Everything’s a Window

The last three studio sessions leading up to today, April 20th, have consisted of making the greenhouse functional. In a project of this magnitude, progress happens in levels. There are days where progress is preparatory–setting the stage for the next phase of production–like when the trailer was finished. Sometimes the progress is aesthetic–visually moving the design forward–like when the door went in, or when the frame was painted. The progress recently has been  making the greenhouse function as a greenhouse should.

The air-conditioning and ventilation elements were installed–as well as the windows–all with the intent of regulating interior temperature, perhaps the most crucial part of a greenhouse. The air-conditioner, when coupled with the heat of the sun through the poly-carbonate panels, will allow CUE Farms to adjust the humidity levels at will, lowering the likelihood of young plants dying. The heat-activated actuators on the windows will also allow for proper ventilation and air-flow.

Also, as mentioned above, the door was finished and installed, complete with an acrylic nameplate, bearing both the CUE Farms and Ball State CAP logos. The door looks slick and works smoothly–impressive for something built from scratch. But then again, hasn’t the whole project been from scratch? Building is building. Progress is progress. But starting from scratch, and finishing on target, comes with an extra sense of accomplishment. Whether building a door, or an unprecedented greenhouse, there are no guarantees–just hard work and diligent persistence.


An End in Sight

Wednesday, April 13th was one of the most productive days of the semester for the GrOwING GREEN project build team. The team’s modus operandi has been multi-day jobs. You do the prep work, you begin installation and, hopefully, the job gets finished within the week. Today there was plenty of that, but also a building project rarity—a single day completion. The team managed to install the roofing elements in one fell swoop. No more, tarps, no more rain concerns; the greenhouse has become a self-contained shelter. Opal-tinted poly-carbonate panels were secured to their aluminum channels and one-by-one, squared and screwed into place.

But the progress didn’t stop there. The workbench was finished in more ways than one. Not only was it finished, as in completed, making it a fully functioning workbench, but it was finished literally, being given a coat of lacquer.

The prep work for the newly acquired air-conditioning unit was done, in addition to the final pieces of poly-carbonate skin being placed and secured. Now that the outer-skin is complete, the window units that the team have been diligently fabricating are ready to be installed on Friday.

To put a cap on the day, the somewhat experimental ramp for the entryway to the greenhouse was put in place and tested for the first time. There’s a certain thrill that comes when something works the way it was imagined—even more so when the device in question was only a theory days prior.

A few more days like this and the build team will be entering the home stretch. There are plenty of smaller elements still to come, but with today’s progress the finish line is well within reach.

Rained In

Over the last three shop sessions, the GrOwING GREEN project build team has made significant strides despite having being rained on 75 percent of the time. Somewhat ironically, rain can be serious set-back when trying to construct a mobile greenhouse outdoors. The team of course has no problem getting wet–the saws, drills and torches however, don’t work quite as well in the elements.

Bad weather be damned, the team can now add “installed poly-carbonate skin” to the growing litany of accomplishments over the last seven days. The application of the poly-carb skin is the most visually constructive progress the team has seen since the greenhouse frame was powder-coated last month. But that doesn’t mean the skin is purely aesthetic. Not only is it one of the most crucial elements in making the greenhouse function as it should, but it is the culmination of many smaller efforts being completed properly.

The greenhouse’s outer-most layer wasn’t the only aesthetic progress made over these rain-soaked days. The door (that was cut and glued last week) is now undergoing final touches–including laser-cut acrylic panels bearing the CUE Farms insignia.

On the more practical end of things, the work-bench elements have been installed and are awaiting completion–likely when the rain stops. And work has begun on the ramp for the greenhouse’s primary entry way. The ramp, when complete, will fold-up, not unlike an accordion, to allow for easy access to the greenhouse interior, without compromising space or functionality.

Once again the GrOwING GREEN project build team has powered through obstacles and come out ahead of the elements, starting off the week with something that looks more like a mobile greenhouse than ever before.



A Carpentry Kind of Day

Sometimes days in the shop take on theme. Some days are all about metal. Cutting, welding, flying sparks. Some days are outside–all hands on deck, making physical additions to the greenhouse. Today, April 1st, was a wood day. Aside from the pair working on steel window frames, every member of the GrOwING GREEN team became a carpenter for the day.

Efforts began on the workbench for the work space end of the greenhouse. This turned the workshop into a sea of sawdust and shavings as the team cut and sanded the wooden interior elements.

In addition to the woodworking necessary for the workbench, the team began assembling the primary greenhouse door. Individual pieces of wood were cut and meticulously detailed to allow the tongue-and-groove sections to be snapped together and glued.

The work on the door poured over into the classroom today as the team attempted to clamp and glue the door together. After rearranging some tables and almost knocking a computer or two off a desk, the door came together and will now have the whole weekend to dry.

They say carpentry is one of the oldest professions in the world–and it is easy to see why. The greenhouse design is a monumental collaboration of students, staff, universities and providers, with cutting edge equipment and design programs at their disposal–yet nothing would ever get accomplished without old-fashioned, elbow-grease carpentry.

On a side note. Program director Tim Gray managed to pull of an incredible April Fools joke on the team (with the help of a couple clever budgeteers.) Suffice it to say, that for the first time this semester, the GrOwING GREEN build team though they might not finish.

Doubling Down

Wednesday, March 30th was about replication. The GrOwING GREEN team’s labors from Monday and the previous week aren’t being finished, or honed–but rather, copied.

Last week the team successfully fitted, framed and installed the first ventilation fan. Today, that process was repeated–in half the time–for the second fan unit. The wall framing that was installed around the greenhouse work space last week and Monday, is now being repeated on the entrance side of the frame, making room for the yet-to-be-chosen primary door.

Also in the spirit of replication, the team made some on the fly adjustments to the (already unprecedented) design and found room for more shelves; six in total. Luckily the team was proactive and had extra shelves ready to go. Six extra shelves means nearly 20% more surface space for CUE farms to maintain plants and starts. This means more green in the greenhouse, and ultimately broadens the scope of what the finished product will be able to bring to the (dinner) table.

On an additional note, the new window actuators arrived, and they are stroke of genius. Heat activated, and fully self-operating, the actuators react to rising temperatures in the greenhouse interior by opening the windows and allowing for ventilation. In such a hands-on project, for such a hands-on purpose, it’s refreshing to see something work by itself.


A Glimpse Forward

On Monday, March 28th, the GrOwING GREEN project build team got their first look at the shelving units up and on display in the greenhouse interior. Perfectly squared, measured and functional, the finished shelves gave the team an opportunity to see just what the finished interior will look–and it looks good.

The wood framing is coming along this week as well, which is starting to give the project a nearing-completion veneer. Once the windows go in–the frames of which were assembled today–the project will look less like the skeleton of a green transformer, and more like a vital piece of urban farming equipment. Add a door–which is coming soon–and even campus passersby will have to stop and say, “Look, it’s a greenhouse on wheels.”

As the project moves along the work gets smaller and smaller. Days that were spent welding enormous trusses are now spent fabricating the smaller, more intricate elements of the design. But with little steps come the big payoffs. Like seeing the interior function as it is meant to function–or perhaps, with due diligence, the greenhouse on the road, on its way to CUE Farms.

Building on Progress

Friday, March 25th picked up right in stride the progress from Wednesday. The steel grating that was measured and cut Wednesday is in its place–riveted to floor of the greenhouse. The window fan unit is safely secured, with the second one on the way.

The GrOwING GREEN team’s progress today was just as pretty as it was practical. Even the frame’s nicked paint was touched up. The 2×4’s for wall framing were sent off to the shop to undergo metamorphosis into their final form–smooth, rigid and with the kind of clean right angles that architects probably dream about.

Purpose, Progress and Pizza

Wednesday, March 23rd, was a day of major milestones and minor comforts. The team began the day with their work cut out  for  them. Stacks of steel grate needed to be cut, ground, placed and drilled into the greenhouse floor. Wall elements needed to be mounted and secured, in addition to the assembly and placement of the greenhouse’s first ventilation fan.

But, as always, come the end of the work day, the GrOwING GREEN project build team came out, on time, in control and under budget. Maybe it was the mild weather, maybe it was the eager eyes of visiting students and staff, or perhaps, it was the midday pizza luncheon, but something kept the team focused and on the same page.

There was no greater example of the build team’s camaraderie than watching the team attach the aluminum cut sign to the greenhouse’s outer frame. Most of the team’s work pays off in increments–a section here, a piece there. But in the shiny, fresh cut, GrOwING GREEN sign, the team has a very tangible, very complete expression of their collective efforts. It felt good seeing it go up.

Now, multiply that feeling a hundred-fold and I’d imagine that’s what finishing will feel like.




A Week in Review (7)

At last, the project has gone green! Monday brought great excitement as the structural frame was picked up from powder coating. Despite the dreary weather, the trailer, flaunting its bright, new color, trekked down the highway from Decatur back to Muncie.

Midway through the week the floor grating shipment had been delivered. These grates were cut to size, power-washed, and prepared for installment.

 On Friday, students toured the galvanizing facility and picked up the shelving units that had been treated- another crucial step in the building process; thus wrapping up another week of hard work and accomplishment.