Ok, so fermentarium didn’t end with “ery” (and I’m not even sure it’s or the rest of these are words), but it kind of sounds like aquarium which might be another use for this little shed down the road if we end up trying to overwinter mosquito fish in it.

In my last post I mentioned Ben Hartman’s, The Lean Farm, in reference to tidying on the homestead.   And I have mentioned Marie Kondo’s, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up in several blogs.  The fact that I am reading and applying not one, but two organizing books, is a pretty good clue that taking this kind of action has become a priority for me.

Last year was a tough one. Between my dad’s stroke, our absurdly difficult growing conditions, and all the new and exciting things I got to be involved in like becoming a poultry processor, teaching more classes as a master gardener volunteer, and selling at the farmer’s market, it was a bit crazy at times.  Thanks to the incredible support of friends and family, even with the extra challenges, we still made a ton of progress on our homestead, planting record numbers of perennials and adding more animals to our mix. In fact, having to struggle through busy and complex times turned out to be a great learning opportunity.

In a way, that time period was kind of like a magic mirror that let us see all the workflows and areas of our operations that still have room for improvement.  See, we’re not interested in being those kind of homesteaders or farmers who work sun up to sun down with no time for reading, writing, enjoying lingering dinners over a nice bottle of wine, or getting plenty of sleep.  Nope, that’s not us.  We’re trying to build a resilient homestead that operates well, and with minimal time inputs from us, even when there are huge challenges.

And to be totally honest, I believe huge challenges are going to be our new reality.  We haven’t had a normal growing year in…well, years.  Even before we moved here, back in Maryland we had record hot springs, a summer that ended in June, a derecho storm that took out power for days during a heat wave, hurricanes and flooding, and more. The climate is broken, regardless of what is causing it.  So, we need to be smarter in how we go about our work.

I have been intentionally news free this month because I wanted to ignore the constant bombardment in the form of advertising and all the information about the stuff I can’t control that takes my mental attention away from the stuff I do have power over.  I wanted some time to think clearly about the things that really matter and figure out how to move forward from here.

Every day I have chores and work that must be done, but still thanks to the intentional internet outage, I have had a lot of time for deep thinking and creative planning.  This idea of “the little shed that could” is something that evolved over this month in response to trying to find solutions for the challenges we have and wanting to find ways to make our work easier.

Here are the challenges I was trying to find solutions for when the this light bulb went on.

  • Last year I started plug trays of seedlings on a side table in our family room. It was a messy business and had pretty poor results because that area is by our most used door, so seedlings experienced constant temperature fluctuations.  My cats also ate some of the seedlings.
  • I used our dining table to incubate duck eggs, forcing us to eat dinner on an itty bitty coffee table, too small to hold the incubator.  After a rotten egg incident stunk up the house, I moved my incubator to the porch where I battled flies and temperature swings and saw less than ideal hatch rates.
  • I usually brood ducks in my 100 square foot office/storage/guest bedroom for two days before relocating them to a section of our greenhouse until they are large enough to be allowed to free range.  But with crazy cold and hot swings in spring and summer, there were several times when ducks had to stay in my all-purpose space for over a week before they could be safely moved.  Ducks grow so fast that even with twice daily litter changes, I could not keep up with their mess and resulting eau de duck doo.
  • We like to grow oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds and do lots of crazy fermentation experiments, but our house temperatures and humidity fluctuates so much we don’t always get the best results, so we’ve been wishing for a way to create a good fermentation environment.

I don’t know exactly what clicked or why, but it just hit me that all of these activities have some things in common.  They all need particular environmental conditions that are easier to create in an insulated space with access to electricity and they require regular care.

Each one has slightly different needs.  The incubator does best in ambient temperatures close to 75º F.  Brooders start at 95º F and drop to about 70º F at which point they are no longer needed.  Fermentation works best at 85º F with good humidity.  Seeds start best around 70 – 75º F  and they need strong light and good humidity.   Mushrooms need indirect light, high humidity, and temperatures around 65º F.

Oh, and did I mention that I happen to have an 80 square foot shed with high ceilings right next to our house with electricity that is currently just being used as storage.


I haven’t quite worked out the details yet. But here’s a terrible sketch of what I have in mind (sorry, I can’t draw.).


Hanging Mushroom Garden. The first thing I have to do is heavily insulate the lower 2/3 rds of the space.  But I’ll only lightly insulate the rafter area so heat can rise, to warm it but also dissipate to keep it so it is not super warm.  Hopefully this will put it in the right range for mushroom buckets or bags which I will hang from the roof.  By hanging them, I get them out of range of duck activity in the  brooder below.   I’ll also add two windows that will give indirect light from the sun at different times of the day.

Brooder and Worm Bed. On the floor beneath the mushroom hanging area, I’ll set up the brooder.  It will be about two feet wide and 8 feet long.  The floor of the brooder will actually be a red wriggler worm bed which I will cover with about four inches of straw to protect the worms from ducklings (who are not good diggers). I’ll add more straw as needed and in the off season, I’ll let worms keep on digesting that duck doo doo and I’ll empty it next year before I start duck production again.  The brooder will have downward facing heat lamps that can be adjusted to increase or decrease temperatures.

Seed Starting Table.  Those brooder lamps will be just under a hinged table top that will be used to start seeds.  The heat from the lamps in the brooder and the humidity from the duck activity will rise to provide optimal seed starting conditions using the same electricity already in use for duck brooding.  I’ll leave access to add food and water in the brooder, but since I’ll have to eventually remove ducks and add more straw, I’ll also set up a little holding shelf to hold seedlings when needed to lift the seed table.  That shelf will be off to the side in a lower temperature zone so it can also be used as a hardening off shelf as a next step before putting seedlings in the greenhouse which has greater temperature swings.   I’ll put the lights on a hinged arm, above the seed starting table to ensure optimal light and allow me to move them to access the brooder.

Incubation Shelf. The shed has two long shelves already installed.  I’ll use the middle shelf for incubating eggs.  I can fit up to four incubators on the shelf if needed. And it is a few feet away from the brooder, so it should be warm, but not too warm for optimal incubator performance.

Fermentation Chamber. Above the brooder, on another long shelf, I’ll set-up a fermentation chamber.  I say chamber because I am going to want to enclose this in some fashion (maybe marine coolers with installed air vents?) to keep duck activity from getting into our fermented foods.  This will put our fermentation experiments a couple feet to the left and several feet above the duck brooder.  There will also be a seed shelf acting as a kind of barrier over the brooder to cut down on potential contamination.

Aquaculture Area.  I overwinter a lot of duck weed and water hyacinth in our greenhouse. But I’ve been wanting to do more winter production as a fodder food source.  So, if we overwinter mosquito fish in this space down the road, maybe I can also make a 2 x 8 tank to hold more of these plants and the fish with the use of supplemental light or maybe sun mirrors.

Crazy as it may sound, I know I can make this concept work.  I have gotten pretty good at seeing opportunities for stacked functions, not just in my capacity as a homesteader, but also from my days as a legal administrator in the absurdly busy field of Patent and Trademark prosecution.

By doing this, I locate several high maintenance activities right next to each other so I can tend to them all at once. I also create appropriate storage places for things like my incubators, by just keeping them in their new home year round.  It will also cost less to make this transformation than to come up with a distinct place for each of these activities.  I’ll save on infrastructure costs, but also on electricity since I’ll be using brooder heat as a source of heat for seed starting and creating a more consistent ambient temperature.

This is definitely going on my short-term project list for 2017!  When done, I’ll fill you in on the outcome.