This article is part of Dominiks Design Portfolio for his Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. Read all articles related to his Diploma at the Diploma landing page.

It is 2017 and my parents were on holidays at Beyond Buckthorns and they told me during a walk that something needs to be done with one of the sheds, especially with the color of the walls, which was already coming off. To my confession: the color of the shed really didn't look very well and was coming off, and actually not even the color, the entire wall was coming off. But from my perspective there were other things around I had to worry about more. And, my todo-list (TM) had already a lot of tasks on it. More tasks for me? No!

To go further back: That shed wasn't really of any use to us when we came to Finland. All parts of it were full of stuff and we weren't really in any need for more storage room. We just put it aside and went for other, more important projects. It was always my intention to create a proper Permaculture design for it. So, let's do that now. And be it a marvelous design. One that kings and gods would be proud of. (or at least my tutor)

I'm going to use Vobr3dim as a design process. The V stands for Vision. This arcicle will be split into two before the implementation step, and there is planty of space for you to contribute your thoughts in the comment section.

Intentional Design Process: Vobr3dim

---------
Vision
Observe
Boundaries
Resources
Design
---------

Vision

Let's take some time to think about ourselves, have a yoga session, watch "The Big Lebowski" and start with a question: What do I want to see to come alive in the context of the shed that is in alignment with my holistic context?

  • I need the lighting fire to guide all those in search of wisdom in the dark night to an glorious end.
  • I want to grow food beyond the realms of time and space.
  • I need a winter residence for the tame feathered egg laying beasts. (chicken as the earthlings call them)
  • And I need a place worthy of my mighty frame. Where I can rest after all those battles I fought across the galaxy and Facebook.
  • Dreaming big without the boundaries in mind.

Observe

Size, Orientation, Structure

The shed is a huge, a castle worthy of a mighty king, actually a 60m³ multi functional building that comes with a workshop, a room for weaving and a garage that is used to store all kinds of stuff. All 3 of those "rooms", which are 1/3 of the length of the building each, have a 2nd floor but only 2 of those upper floors are usable. Usable in the sense that a dwarf could stand there but I can't. The structure of the building is made with strong timber. Powerful enough to withstand the southern summer - and northern winter winds as well as the heavy rains and snow load. That timber frame sits on a for Finland typical concrete and stone foundation. The frame has an outer layer of some kind of pressboard and on that pressboard the color is added. Ingenious idea but doesn't last. Or actually lasted for thousands, ok 30 years, but not for the next 30. While the garage and the weaving room have only the pressboard on the timber frame the workshop has one layer of pressboard, 10 cm of sawdust insulation, and then another layer of pressboard - but only on the outside north and west facing wall.

The mighty shed is about 10 x 6 m and has a v shaped roof. The orientation of the shed is nearly perfect. The front side is facing south-east while the long side is facing south west.

The shed is in Zone 2. Close to the main house.

Structure

The timber frame seems to be very well in tact. What would I expect from a building created for kings to party on. I couldn't find any molds or other problems. But not all parts are accessabile to me. I might find surprises later or actually - never. The floor planks look pretty good. It sometimes smells like a mouse is rotting away in the dungeons. There are two windows on the north east facing wall. Those windows can't be opened. There are two windows in different height on the south east facing wall and 2 windows on the south west facing wall. And there is a window at the north west facing wall.

The sheet metal roof definitely has some leakages. Seems like some of the screws have rusted away.

Surroundings

The shed is on the east and north-east side shaded by forest. The distance to the forest is about 5 to 8 meters. That side also has some kind of concrete floor that is covered with moss. On the south-east front side there are some rose bushes, cherry tries and a variety of herbs. Three is one oak, and a mighty oak it is, on the north-west side, between the main castle and the shed, which gives a lot of shade in that area. There are some deciduous trees in combination with one spruce in the North-east corner.

The south west area is unused besides a flag pole. There are two huge pines that shade the shed for about 2-3 hours per day. Mighty they are. 

Temperature

I have temperature sensors in the shed since December 2018 to see the temperature difference of the ambient and inside the shed. The shed is during winter times about 2 to 3,5°C warmer than the outside. So the structure and pressplates are able to retain warmth a little and the insulation keeps the cold winter even further out. During a summer day the temperature difference from night and day is about 10°C. 

Soil

Only the garage part gives access to the soil. The workshop and the weaving room have a wooden floor. The soil in the garage is probably heavily polluted with all kinds of combustion related stuff. There are multiple signs of oil. There a parts of boxes full of what seems to be rat poison. There is a unidentifiable white powder which looks like chalk. There is other stuff I have no idea of what it could be. Oh those humans and what they do to Earth. 

Animals

Many decades ago that shed was used to keep animals. During that time there weren't any floors integrated. Now there are none other than some small lizards and a bunch of bumblebees.

Additional

  • The shed is connected to the main electricity line. It also has a telephone cable running in to it.
  • There is an extra fuse box for the shed
  • The North-West and parts of the North-East wall is insulated
  • There are two huge and massive working benches in the workshop, one is connected to the wall
  • There are multiple boxes of nails and scrap metal available, some of it seems to be useful.
  • There are several, what the Finn call, "Million boxes" - boxes of screws of different length, diameter, etc.
  • There is an unused shelf, an old bicycle, two quadracycles for kids and a motor

Walking around the Beyond Buckthorns biogas shed during a sunny day.

Boundaries

As the area is within the Beyond Buckthorns premises there are more stakeholders & decision makers. Mighty gods from time to time have goddesses. Not everything that I like to do will be approved by Lumia. I want to keep the costs as low as possible. Materials should be sourced 2nd hand or re-purposed materials should be used. The transformation should not take longer than 2 to 3 years from the initial design. If there will be animals involved there need to be a discussion about care taking while we are on holidays. I'd like to evaluate my design so that it is more of an iterative design.

In order to dream big the design comes with a 3 stage process for the elements. The first stage is mandatory and the other 2 are nice to have.

Resources

The resources somehow depend on the design.

  • For now I don't want to spend more than 2000 € for the entire shed.
  • I can put about 1, perhaps 2 hours per day into the project. Depends on the time of the year and how much other workload happens.
  • Talkoot - the Finnish version of a barn raising.
  • A lot of wood from other buildings.
  • Some unused removed doors. Some pretty heavy, therefore ideal for winter time.
  • Natural red color ready for mixing it with water.
  • Thousands of nails of many different sizes.
  • The infite depth of 2 workshops that need to be searched and for all kinds of useful stuff.
  • Many woodworking tools one mightier than the other.
  • Lumias input on parts of the design whenever needed and her encouragement to get things done.
  • Friends online that are able to comment

Design

The guiding principle of the design is important functions are supported by multiple elements.

Base Map with Overlays

A base map of the shed and its surroundings were a simple task to complete. I pasted it first, then measured it with a tape measure for accuracy. Working with 1:100 ratio, 1 cm on the map is 1 m in real, is the easiest for drawing in a checkered book. Each square is 0,5 x 0,5 cm and therefore I need 20 by 12 squares. And on that squares I can fast draw pretty precise what to put where. So the base map is nothing more than the shed with all the walls, doors and windows. And the overlays are objects, water pipes and electricity.

Another version is a 3d design created in Sketchup. It is more accurate then the one drawn in the checkered book with the addition of the 3rd dimension. If you want to design for the gods you need mighty tools. 

Basemap of the Biogas shed

Random Assembly

I started to put all the elements I wanted to see onto a list

  • Biogas
  • Chicken
  • Greenhouse
  • Recreation
  • Storage
  • Brewery
  • Destillation
  • Nice surrounding
  • Interesting bushes, especially berry bushes

I drew the base map on a piece of paper, 1 cm ~ 1m = 1:100, and then drew the elements I wanted into it and repeated the process for some time. I always followed the "from pattern to details" principle.

The best outcome was the placement of the winter chicken residence at the insulated side on the left, while the biogas is in the middle, and the growing area is on the right. That gives the most southern area for the growing area.

On one round I had the biogas plant within the Chicken coop which makes sense to some extent but the problem with biogas is: water. This is all wood structure and floor and a leak could create more problems than what the biogas does good.

Biogas with the chicken would also mean a lot of preparation work. The IBCs are 1x1,2m and there is no door where the digester would fit through. It is also pretty difficult to get under the floor and enhance load baring. After all an IBC biogas plant means at least 1 ton on 1 m². That's a lot. And as I wrote earlier: I don't feel very comfortable with that weight on old structures.

On another round I placed the digester in the bottom right corner of the growing area. But this was the farest away a for example for feeding it. I felt kind of uncomfortable with it. The winter sun would probably not really reach it in that corner and the system would have been out of connection with other elements. It felt like the "relative location" principle wasn't really working.

Input / Output Analysis and Flow Diagram

In order to see what an element needs and creates I created an Input / Output analysis and a flow diagram. I wrote it down on paper but also used a software. Both versions worked for me.

From the Input / Output analysis I created a virtual workflow. Which basically works like this: Enter, place the bucket for the biogas plant on the floor in front of the door to the biogas plant, feed the chicken, check the water, check for eggs, go back, take the bucket, walk to the biogas plant, feed the biogas plant, go down the stairs, take effluent, mix it with water 1:10 and water the plants with the mixture. Leave. All that should not take more than 15 minutes. It of course depends on the season. In summer the chicken are out in their summer residence and so I walk in, feed the biogas plant, mix the effluent, and water the plants. Probably 5 minutes. During deepest winter there will be another component: Additional heating. The workflow could also work the other way round. First water the greenhouse, then feed the biogas plant, then check for the chickens. I actually think that this sequence is actually the better one. When it comes to sequences that are real world bound nothing is better than playing an imaginary sequence, and while a flow diagram shows you what goes into it, it doesn't account for relative placement.

The Input / Output Analysis and the flow diagram helped to get the relative locations of elements nailed.

Glass / Window

As I described the walls of the building earlier they only consist of structure and a very thin cover. The good thing about that is: it is easy to remove. When I had the idea for the greenhouse I ran some calculations about how much glass will be needed. A lot. In order to transfer it into a greenhouse I need the majority of the south west facing wall to become glass. That's about 20 m². And then I need the south east facing wall to become glass, which is about 15 m². Luckily I got a little bit more than what I needed second hand for the price of a Jägermeister bottle. And this glass is actual insulated glass. Lucky me.

The actual process should be: remove the wall, put glass in, use a gasket to hold the glass in position and close it from the front with wood plates. Then paint the wood plates with natural color.

For the front the process looks similar but instead of placing the glass between the beams the glass will be in front of the current wooden structure, sitting on its own wall. The difficulty with the existing beams are that they don't match the glass width. It would be to difficult to close the unfillable gaps. So there will be a simple 30cm height wall made of stones. Then put a 2x4" onto the stones and then a construction of gaskets, glasses, beams, etc. Up to a heights of 3m. This construct makes it possible to use up most of the 2nd hand glass without playing Tetris.

[drawing of the glass and calculation of how many glass and what glass is used]

For me putting up the glass it the least change for the greatest possible effect. It is energy efficient planning and fits perfectly into the Zone 2.

Stage 1: Glass south west side
Stage 2: Glass south east side
Stage 3. Glass roof

Water supply

Some time ago I upgraded the shed's rain water collection to store water in an 1m³ IBC. While I did this for the front side of the building I didn't upgrade the backside. I need 3 systems filled with water.

  • 900 Liter for the biogas plant (once)
  • 900 Liter for the gas storage (once)
  • up to 1000 Liter for watering the plants in the greenhouse

I need to tap in the unused potential of the entire back roof of the shed, which is about 35 m². During the growing season the average rain fall is about 60mm. This could give me about 2100 Liter of water. 2 IBCs already filled (theoretically).

All the water storage needs to designed so that everything can be watered by gravity. It is efficient energy planning. I don't want to use a pump for watering the plants. And we shouldn't forget about the chickens, they need water as well. Which brings us up to them. In order to use the water it needs to be placed relative to the growing area and the chicken coop. 2 IBCs with a size of 1 m³ each will also functions as thermal mass performing another important function. The top IBC will be filled first and face the biogas plant. The second one below will face the growing area. We "catch and store energy"

Stage 1: IBC connected to the rain water collection, stored 2m in height.
Stage2: Connecting hoses for drip irrigation.
Stage3: Automated system that based on soil sensors can water the plants.

Chickens

We need to remember that the chickens will be in that part of the building only during the winter time. We also have to keep in mind that this is one of the parts where the whole is devided between Lumia and me. We decided to go for about 4 to 7 chickens without a rooster. We are looking for the Finnish native chickens that can withstand the cold winters. The outer walls of the former workshop are all insulated. I will insulate the inner wall with cellulose and put a door between the former workshop and the biogas plant in order to have this part of the shed insulated.

While reading about chicken I came across one number: 0,5 m² per chicken. With 7 chicken we are looking for a minimum of 3,5m³. The former workshop has a total of 19m³. In order to come up with a proper design I drew the chicken coop part of the building onto a blackboard with a 1:10 ratio (1m ~ 10cm) and then we started to test certain scenarios with the principles in mind. As we have two windows in that room, one to the north east the other to the north west we already fulfilled the quality without a name criteria. The following drawing is by far the best usage of the given room: 

Chicken coop design for the chickens at the Biogas shed at Beyond Buckthorns

Biogas

The biogas system consist of a 1m³ IBC. It is based on the Solarcities IBC biogas digester design. As the system will be described very detailed I had to put it into its own article. [Link online soon]. It will be a design on its own. But to sum it up. Biogas is "cycling of energy, nutrients, resources". With it we "catch and store energy". It can be best described as a small "scale intensive system", that uses "biological resources". 

Stage 1: Winter ready biogas system
Stage 2: Each important function is supported by many elements -> multiple heating possibilities
Stage 3: Automated system and effluent mixing

Grow-Area

Green, Greener, Greenhouse or actually the Grow Area. Again about 20m³. The soil is not usable therefore we will start with raised beds and soil from other parts of the premises. Some of those raised beds will be hot beds. The growing area gives enough space for tomatoes, cucumbers, melones and special squash. Of course there will be the usage of guilds. Besides the raised beds there is the need for a sink with water supply. Above roughly 1/3 of the area there will have a 2nd floor that is mainly for storage. There will be some hooks on the wall that makes it possible to hang a hammock on different places.

The greenhouse is an small-scale intensive system, that uses biological resources, especially the effluent from the biogas plant. The resources, especially nutrients are cycled from the growing area through the biogas plant back to the growing area.

Stage 1: Raised beds
Stage 2: Natural beds
Stage 3. Natural beds in combination with an indoor food forest, multiple shrubs, one or two trees,

Outside / Surroundings

The edge around the shed, especially the south west are will be used to plant a variety of shrubs and beneficial plants along the wall (benefical for the shrubs). There will be an area for sitting and resting close to the door to the greenhouse. The sun is so nice during several times a day in that area. Worthy of having a late breakfast with scrambled eggs cooked on a biogas stove, or having one of my delicious home brewed beers with home grown hops.

The backside could be used for a new (new in the sens of being placed there. Of course used) small sauna. But that is beyond the boundaries and resources of the design. In combination with a Rocket Mass Heater which serves as a heating element for the shed there could be another element that supports an important function.

Stage 1: planting of shrubs and beneficial plants / guilds along the south west wall.
Stage 2: sitting area besides the oak tree
Stage 3: Sauna with storage space

Social

Once I have finished the implementation process there will be an open day. We will invite family and friends but also the general public to come for "coffee & pulla" and have a chat. A Richtfest, as we call it in German.

Summing it up

For me retrofitting the shed is the best possible usage. Actually The problem is the solution. We should have multiple greenhouses on the premises in order that important functions are supported by many elements. I looked for several different locations where to place the biogas plant and there wasn't any other than this shed. The chickens will have a great winter residence. And during the summer time there might be the chance to use that part of the shed to grow mushrooms. After all the relative humidity is over 85% most of the time. Having movable shelves behind the glasses can be used to for growing seedlings - we usually run out of space for that in the house.

I guess that the Biogas shed design is a good example for Earth care, People care and Fair share. And once implemented it will be a good example what can be done with all those old buildings that are just standing around empty everywhere in Finland. So if you have a shed you want to transform: Send me a mail using the contact form.

The design is now ready for the first iteration and feedback. 

Add new comment

About the Author

Nick

Nick's picture

Gardener, Biogas Practitioner and Webdeveloper. Living beyond buckthorns since 2016.

Tiny cucumber
Huge red gooseberries
Garlic bulbs
Basemant digester in Pensylvania USA
Unfreezing the water line
Biogas Part 1 - the basics
2 Bokashi buckets
Organic apple juice made in Finland