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Author Topic: Vegetable garden and chicken coop as a mobile homestead on RTS roof?  (Read 2968 times)
Kevin Warnock
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« on: April 18, 2010, 12:45:50 PM »

OK, I'm probably going off the deep end here, but I've been thinking about this idea for a while now.

I've been reading interesting books about urban homesteading, where city dwellers plant diverse vegetable gardens, raise chickens for eggs, compost kitchen scraps and try generally to use less and live more simply. I have begun some of these practices, and now eat an almost entirely organic diet. I've even been reading about the so-called four season harvest, where one uses 'cold frames' to shield vegetables from snow and cold in the winter. A cold frame is made from plexiglass or glass and is a box about a foot high with a clear top and opaque sides. This unheated box is enough to keep vegetables alive to allow harvest during even east coast winters. They don't grow during the harsh temperatures, but they keep the vegetables already grown ready for use for months, without power.

This is all pretty recent for me though, and I've had a bus conversion since 2002. Now I am starting to feel bad about having two buses. I really hope to be able to take an extended six month to a year tour of the US.

I got to thinking maybe I can turn the bus into a mini urban homestead on wheels. I would use my 40' RTS which has a Series 50 and gets 10+ MPG since it has 4:11 gears.

Now for the crazy part: I am thinking about making a roof deck that covers about 80% of the roof of the bus. An on that roof I would plant a vegetable garden and build a chicken coop for two hens. I would access the roof with a ladder through one of my two OEM roof hatches.

The RTS is not a tall bus, so I have some height up there to work with. I was thinking about using hinged plexiglass horizontal covers to act as 'cold frames'. When camped, these plexiglass covers could be opened and latched into a vertical position. They would be hinged on the outside edge of the roof deck. When in a vertical position, the panels would serve as the railing or fence to keep people from falling to the ground. The sun would still be able to shine through the 'walls' so the plants would be able to continue to grow.

There would be solar panels up there too, both for electricity and hot water heating.

I was thinking the roof deck could be somewhat disguised by modeling it after the roof top battery installations on hybrid diesel/electric city buses like they have in San Francisco. I could even put a decal on the side that says 'solar electric hybrid' as technically that would be true, just not for propulsion. Also, some city buses have huge CNG tanks on the roof, I think. So people have gotten used to seeing large modules on city bus roofs.

From my understanding of intensive home vegetable gardening, quite a bit of food can be grown in a small space, without that much water if soaking irrigation is used instead of sprinklers.

When on the road, the cold frames could be closed to shield the garden from 70 mph winds. Some air circulation could be incorporated so that the interior garden temperature doesn't shoot past 100 degrees.

From the street when the frames are closed, I don't think anyone would be able to tell what's up there.

If the hens get too hot, I still have room left to build them a shelter in a bay. I haven't actually raised chickens yet, so I have no idea if they would tolerate mobile living, but I hear people take their cats and dogs on the road when fulltiming, so maybe this is possible.

This is all pretty theoretical, but I enjoy thinking up these crazy ideas. The bus is still far from being done. I have about 5,000 pounds of capacity left before I hit the 36,000 pound limit of my bus, I calculate. So I think I have some ability to cart around a bunch of dirt on the roof. I suspect that six inches of dirt would be enough, but I'd certainly conduct some land based tests before I really commit to a project like this.

One of the motivations behind this is that on an extended road trip, it might be quite difficult to eat all organic. How available is organic produce out there? In San Francisco, it's easy to buy all organic, but I suspect things are different across much of the country.

Another motivation is that it would give me something to do on such a long trip, and something to talk about on my bus blog I have planned for this adventure.

I would imagine the closed height of the roof deck I am talking about would be about 18 inches - six for the dirt and a foot for the growing plants. I was hoping to put down a membrane on the roof and then put the dirt directly on that, with no frame or platform, to save weight. Nobody would walk directly on the roof, as it would be covered with dirt, and level relative to the pavement. Thus, the thickness would be deeper at the sides of the bus. The rigid side walls that contain the dirt would be welded to the bus frame. I haven't figured out water drainage yet. Hopefully a lot of the water runoff could be captured in bay tanks and reused for more garden watering.

The hens would get the full 18" of height for their sleeping area, and would be allowed to roam the full roof when camped, provided they don't eat too many of the plants.

Thanks very much.
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Chopper Scott
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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2010, 01:19:04 PM »

A strange idea to say the least from my viewpoint but God didn't create us all the same. As far as "can it be done?" I would be very wary of adding that much weight to the top of a bus. I'm afraid you'll get way to top heavy. I think you may have better success pulling a trailer that you could design for your intentions. You could maybe look into hydroponics instead and eliminate the dirt. Chickens running around the KOA is a whole different issue however  Cheesy!
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« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2010, 01:46:55 PM »

I'll give it an "A" for creativity and out of the box thinking.  You might encounter issues crossing into some states that have tight rules on bringing plants and livestock into their state.  So you should probably research that issue regarding the states you would want to travel through before committing to the idea.
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Kevin Warnock
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« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2010, 02:34:41 PM »

The hybrid diesel/electric buses have what I believe to be tons of batteries on the roof. Maybe I'll just have to scale down the size of the project. Note I have no upper cabinets in the bus, so it's not top heavy at all currently.

With regard to the state restrictions, the last time I drove across the country, only California had checkpoints for agriculture. Since I live in California, that might require I dig up the garden before returning home, and that I roast a few chickens, sadly. Does anybody here know about any restrictions elsewhere in the country?

Thanks
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belfert
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« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2010, 02:51:38 PM »

Presumably hybrid buses have been engineered to hold the weight.

I expect you might find it difficult to find a campground to stay in with chickens.  I know that a lot of states (maybe even all of them) have laws governing campgrounds.  You might find that chickens are illegal in campgrounds.  If not the campground, the city, county, or township may not allow chickens.

I'm not saying don't do it, but you're going to have do a lot of research and let the campground manager know ahead of time so you don't get thrown out later.
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Kevin Warnock
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« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2010, 03:02:51 PM »

Hmmm, looks like dirt is heavier than I thought. Maybe hydroponics is the way to go, at half the weight per equal volume. But a shallow swimming pool on the roof might not be a good idea. I think I'm going to weigh some dirt from my own yard, since the figure I'm getting on the Internet of 125 pounds per cubic foot sounds high.

Does anyone know about growing vegetables in small amounts of dirt? There might be a trick to doing that I don't know about.

Thanks
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Just Dallas
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« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2010, 03:05:11 PM »

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« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2010, 05:56:04 PM »

Crossing into Arizona a few years ago, we had to throw away all the fresh fruits and vegetables we had.
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« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2010, 06:12:05 PM »

have you been reading this:
http://www.spiritmag.com/features/article/brooklyns_back_40/
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« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2010, 06:19:15 PM »

Interesting idea. Probably not for me, but if you do it, I hope you take copious notes and post them either on this board, or somewhere else and let us know how it works.

Today, I received this interesting link that may be of interest to you...

http://www.carolinacountry.com/cgardens/thismonth/march06guide/straw.html
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Jerry W Campbell
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« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2010, 07:10:22 PM »

I'm not sure the roof is the place to do it but Aeroponics is the way I'm going. I have designed and built several small portable units (two 2*4 ft. troughs) and full greenhouse size (14 different types of vegetables and 5 different kinds of tomatoes). It requires about 1/10th the water as does growing dirt. It was the best food I've ever eaten. If I knew how to insert an image I'd show a photo of a unit I built on a rooftop in Mexico a couple of winters ago. Way more than enough to feed a small family. It works great and grows much faster than dirt.
Jerry
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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2010, 07:16:37 PM »

If I knew how to insert an image I'd show a photo of a unit I built on a rooftop in Mexico a couple of winters ago.

If you email me the photo, I'll add it to your post.  webmaster@busconversions.com
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white-eagle
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« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2010, 07:32:10 PM »

you might want to visit this website for hints on setting up unique gardens.  they research farming methods for building top or dry or poor areas so that people can support themselves, just as you intend to do.  a lot of their plants are really great for medicines as well as edible.  unfortunately, some are also not tolerant of most US weather.  But they do have vegatables growing on dirt covered carpet with old aluminum cans to add support instead of inches of dirt.  cut up old tires as plant pots.  cut the side wall out and use it as the weight to hold plastic bottom in place.  interesting place to visit if you are in ft. myers, florida.  they are a non-profit.  and i have no connection with them, just thought it was great.

http://www.echonet.org/
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« Reply #13 on: April 18, 2010, 07:48:11 PM »

The guy may be on to something living in CA he could be the first mobile pot garden were you pick your own sounds like a good franchise idea to me lol.
Seriously you can grow a lot of food in a small area my wife does but on top of a bus seems like the heat would be a killer trying to keep the garden watered. 



good luck
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« Reply #14 on: April 18, 2010, 08:06:03 PM »

I think you would be better off building the garden and stuff inside the bus.  Put the bed on the roof.  Maybe you could even put the kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures in the bays on slides. 
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« Reply #15 on: April 18, 2010, 08:19:18 PM »

^^ or a green house trailor.
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« Reply #16 on: April 19, 2010, 04:26:29 AM »

I saw these guys a couple of years ago in SF. They took a school bus turned it upside down and placed it on another school bus, and planted a garden in the undercarriage of the top bus. This thing looked awesome!

http://www.bonappetit.com/magazine/2009/05/the_garden_bus_guys
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« Reply #17 on: April 19, 2010, 07:40:13 AM »

Photo added to Jerry's post.

http://www.busconversions.com/bbs/index.php?topic=15704.msg168864#msg168864

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« Reply #18 on: April 19, 2010, 07:43:08 AM »


Or, go hydroponic inside the bus, use a fish tank(instead of chickens) for circulating water and they help each other out organically.  Fish feeds plants, circulation provides oxygen to fish.  Use solar panel to run pump and get LED grow lights to augment lighting.


or grow algae to make your own fuel for a greater cost savings.
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« Reply #19 on: April 19, 2010, 04:00:21 PM »

The chickens will probably not lay eggs because of the travel and noise. Also if you let chickens roam your garden they will scratch all your seed up and eat any small plats that sprout, Have you ever seen a chicken yard with grass in it. Living in the country  I have seen alot of chicken enclosures and never any grass after the first couple of months. Garden on the roof might work but chickens I doubt.
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Kevin Warnock
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« Reply #20 on: April 19, 2010, 07:54:10 PM »

Wow, these responses have helped me dramatically. Thank you. I have learned so much from the links people gave me. I never had heard the word aquaponics until yesterday. Now I have learned there is a magazine devoted to it. Issue number one is online for free:

http://www.byapmagazine.com/BYAP_Magazine_Issue1.pdf

It seems like the perfect system for use on a bus, as the water is reused over and over again. No need for dirt either, as there is special man made 'gravel' that is like puffed up popcorn clay with lots of air bubbles in it to increase the surface area for beneficial bacteria to reside. I haven't found the spec as to how heavy it is, but the super high productivity of an aquaponics system suggests I might only need to cover a minority of the roof, not most as I had been thinking about.

The thought of growing fish in a storage bay seems crazy, but it looks practical from the little I know about it so far. Does anyone know if fish need much light or any light? These aquaponic systems use a high density of fish, say 1 pound of fish to 1 gallon of water, to make the required nutrients for the plants. I am thinking about installing a small prototype system just to see how practical this all is, and then just run it for an extended period right at my home in San Francisco, where I also store my RTS. The weather is so mild here that I won't cook the fish in a hot storage bay, especially if I insulate the tank.

These systems use a sump pump to periodically flood the plant growing container with fish water. Then that water is allowed to slowly drain back into the fish tank by gravity. This gives the plant roots an ideal balance of being flooded and not being flooded, according to what I've been reading. I have a spare 24 volt macerator pump and a float switch, so I can make a 24 volt sump pump from those items I think.

I am thinking of using a 40 gallon white fresh water tank for the fish tank, and the same kind of tank to make two growing containers, cutting it in half lengthwise. How might I make a clear plexiglass viewing windows in the fish tank so I can see what's happening in there? Are there marine products I could buy and install in the side of the tank? I was thinking about installing the fish tank on a Joey bed type slide so I can pull it out from a bay so I can get good access to it. Ideally, I would like to be able to put a top mounted 'door' on the fish tank that is liquid tight when closed, but big enough I can stick both my arms in there for cleaning the inside walls, and so I can easily get the grown fish out for eating.

This all seems so crazy to me, but people are doing this aquaponics stuff all over the world, and its fans seem to be really into it. If I do this, I can go fishing in the bus, instead of taking the bus to go fishing... lol

This is a making me think I'll put the chicken idea on the backburner, and just try to get a small demo aquaponics system set up, maybe in my backyard first, and then on the bus.

Has anyone here done land based aquaponics?

Thanks again to all the great replies. This board is just a fantastic, life changing resource.
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niles500
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« Reply #21 on: April 19, 2010, 08:32:47 PM »

Tuna = Chicken of the sea  Grin
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