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The Nursetree Project is a workshop approach to development of a valuable garden structure-the Gardener's Arch.

The Nursetree Gardener's Arch Project

Gardening in the Sonoran Desert is a challenge and an opportunity to innovate. On average about 12 inches of rain fall during the year, but more than 100 inches of water evaporates! This is the definition of "arid." Add to that a prolonged (15 years plus) drought, extreme's of cold in the winter (below freezing days are possible from mid-November to mid-March), and the pressing need to reduce use of expensive potable water (with its salts that make water uptake more difficult for plants), and you've got the design opportunity motivating the Nursetree Gardener's Arch project:

1) Demonstrate that a low cost structure covering a 12' x 8' square foot plot, can serve as both a greenhouse in Winter, a screened source of plant protection (from extreme weather and pests)and a passive collector of rainfall year round.

The Gardener's Arch prototypes sit adjacent to 765 sq. ft. of rooftop that generates about 460 gallons of water in a one inch rainfall, or 5050 gallons a year (though less than 11 inches has fallen in 2010 and 2011). In addition, the Gardener's Arch itself, if managed well can collect another 700-1000 gallons a year, making our total rainwater harvest in the range of 5750-6050 gallons. Potable water is measured in CCF's. One CCF=748 gallons. After household water use exceeds 15 ccf. the City of Tucson Water department charges $6.45/CCF making our 6000 gallons worth of roof collected rainwater about 8 CCF or $51.73.  However, salt-laden potable water can't begin to compete with rainwater for the way that plant's roots love it. The cost and relative scarcity of potable water is bound to increase. Research estimates of a 96 square foot garden beds water needs is in the range of 6000 gallons a year. Thus we might expect that roof-collected rainwater could provide all the water needed for one of our two test beds. Two or three times a year we may get tropical storms that create run-off from surrounding soil, and that can be captured by our terraced basin as well.

2) Integrate rainwater harvesting and subterranean heating and cooling systems with the structure, such that the growing season for common vegetables like lettuce, tomato's and squashes can reliably begin in February rather than March. Subterranean cooling works by utilizing the differential in temperature and humidity between the hot humid air of the greenhouse and the cooler and drier conditions underground to cause air to reach dewpoint, exchanging heat and cooling the air, while banking heat and moisture in the ground below the grow beds. This provides enough cooling to help keep mid-summer plants productive when rainwater is most available.In the winter the heat retained in the ground gets drawn out to heat the greenhouse and helps get sensitive plants through freezing conditions.

3) Keep the design simple and affordable for low-income communities.

4) Inspire a community of practice that connects with other networks associated with gardening and agriculture to influence urban and rural small producer success planet-wide.


Nursetree Gardener's Arch Project Timeline

  • Phase One  (October-December, 2012) - Fundraising campaign.  Procure materials for workshop series. Conduct Workshop One: Greenhouse make-over of Gardener's Arch Prototype One. Initiate Extreme Gardening Community.

  • Phase Two (January-March, 2013): Build Second Prototype. Workshop Two: Install water harvesting system. Workshop Three: Install subterranean heating and cooling system and terraced basin.

  • Phase Three (March-October, 2013): Document Performance and Report the Extreme Gardening community.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Risks and Challenges
The project uses a workshop design and build process. I will be encouraging participants to begin building their own gardening arch as we work on the prototypes. Having multiple Arches in operation would help create the Extreme Gardening community. There is a risk that the people attracted to the workshop may not have the skill, knowledge or commitment to see the design through to a useful gardening structure of their own, and that efforts to build a network of extreme gardening Arch owners would thus fail. I believe that the time is right for this effort, and that sustainable gardening practices, those that lower the energy and water system demands, are a wave to be caught.

At this level of prototype building, the use of wood trusses, purlins and support posts makes fabrication methods and techniques a good match for my skills and the skills of carpenters generally. The materials also have the strength needed to support the use of open and closing structural elements. For this reason I rejected use of hoop greenhouse materials. There are risks in using wood longer term in greenhouse design. All wood needs to be sealed and those wood posts need to be insulated from ground-based termite infestations. There are many aluminum and plastic greenhouse systems that could be substituted. This project lacks metal fabrication skills and tools. Furthermore, no other commercial structures open up for rainwater harvesting, a key objective of this project.

The systems of greenhouse conversion to screenhouse, rainwater harvesting, and subterranean heating and cooling will take many improvement cycles to come into synchronization. Thus patience will be needed from backers. Subterranean heating and cooling is a known practice for larger greenhouse operations, but to my knowledge has not been tested in a small, 96 square foot plot. There is a risk that the 30' length of corrugated underground pipe programmed to achieve dewpoint cooling will be on the low side of what works to achieve cooling dewpoint. That is one reason why the monitoring and publication of results data is an important part of this project before any attempt is made to offer the Nursetree Gardener's Arch design to the market.

Gardening is by nature a conservative practice, and thus slow to adapt to change. Thus there is a risk that innovations like the Nursetree Gardener's Arch will be too little, too late, or require too much commitment to help small backyard gardening survive and thrive in extreme conditions such as exist in already hot desert climates, or that will exist in other regions as global warming increases.

There may be delays due to weather and the holiday season given the schedule, and that has been factored into the published schedule.

In keeping the cost to the minimum needed, the project may run into material acquisition problems or cost-over runs if an approach to the engineering of screen or greenhouse panels fails and needs to be reworked. However, the materials are well understood and the design elements are relatively simple to assemble, so this is not considered a high risk element.

My qualifications to handle these challenges are:
1) Along with my 35 years of experience in desert vegetable gardening, I'm trained in and experienced with project management methods and have a great deal of experience managing challenging projects with consequential impacts in my role as organization development specialist and consultant. My major client and employer for 24 years was the University of Arizona in Tucson. One of my most challenging project assignments at the UA was as project manager for the Continuous Organization Renewal (CORe) program under the supervision of Dean of Business Kenneth Smith. I worked with loaned executive Eamon Malone of Intel corporation to transfer quality improvement methods and training to the university environment. I have specialized in serving social service organizations in southern Arizona, working with such agencies as the Tucson Pima Public Libraries and Southern Arizona Head Start. I've consulted nationally with such organizations as the American Medical Informatics Association, the Lower Colorado Bi-National Conservation meeting, and the Desert Southwest Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit Strategic Planning group. As a result I am known and know many people in this area who can help this project succeed.

2) As a training manager and organization development specialist I have an intimate understanding about and training in the motivational and conflict management skills needed to overcome obstacles and solve problems.

3) I'm intimately engaged in a social movement hotbed for sustainable growth innovators in Tucson. I'm a member of the Southern Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce, where in January and February of 2012 I presented a three workshop seminar on social network structures and motivations titled "The Social Side of Change." I've attended workshops and helped build rainwater cisterns taught by Brad Lancaster, author of "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond." I've practiced permaculture techniques for water harvesting for over twenty years and have the backyard garden of my dreams as one result. This past year as a member of the Green Chamber I attended a workshop that introduced me to sustainability concepts by one-time EPA professional David Schaller in his seminar "Going Beyond Green: Sustainability Principles and Practices for Business Success and Community Resilience." In preparation for this project in August I attended the "Business Model Development" workshop presented by Bill Roach, the business development advisor for the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It was Bill who recommended that I look at Kickstarter. This workshop is part of a continuing series co-sponsored by City Council member Karen Uhlich of Ward III. I am president of the Limberlost Neighborhood Association in Ward III, and I helped support the mobilization of a city-wide network of neighborhood leaders - The Neighborhood Support Network. All of these engagements represent significant experience working with volunteers and a source of social capital that I can call upon to overcome obstacles to this project's success.

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