Sustainability-Themed Housing

By Rhianna Hruska, 2nd Year Master of Environmental Studies candidate, Secretary/Treasurer of the Clean Energy Committee, and Sustainability Resident Assistant for the Mods

Did you know Evergreen housing offers a sustainability theme?  Mod 303 is a place for residents interested in living an environmentally conscious lifestyle.  There are two rooms open in the theme for this year!  Current on campus residents interested in the sustainability theme can apply and live in one of the Mod 303 rooms for the remainder of this academic year.   Applications for the theme open on February 1, 2016.  The application can be accessed at this link:  Residents interested in sustainability-themed housing next year can also apply.

What does the sustainability theme entail?  Residents will attend a half day retreat at the beginning of fall quarter and will volunteer for ten hours a quarter in sustainability projects of their interest.  The sustainability housing community will meet together twice a quarter with the Sustainability Resident Director and the RAD Sustainability Crew Lead to brainstorm sustainability projects/ideas for the quarter.  For example, last year the sustainability community helped build a spiral herb garden in front of Mod 303.  I spent my volunteer hours in the RAD Aquaponic Greenhouse.  I did water testing, harvested plants, and fed the fish in the system.  The theme provides an opportunity for residents to get involved and contribute to campus sustainability projects!

If you have any questions about sustainability themed housing, RAD can be contacted at:, (360) 867-6132, or by stopping by the RAD Front Office on the third floor of A Building (Room 301).  If you have any questions about RAD Facilities’ sustainability projects or want to hear about ways to get involved, reach out to RAD Sustainability at

Using solar tubes as grow lights

Beside the aquaponics greenhouse there is a small shed with a solar tube penetrating the southernmost wall. This solar tube has a dome on the end of the tube outside of the shed. This dome takes in light from all directions and pushes it down the tube. Right below the dome, the inside of the tube is coated with panda film and below the panda film is a six inch aluminum tube. We are collecting data on the light intensity that it being reflected out of the end of the solar tube using a Hobo Pendant that captures light intensity in footcandles. We are also collecting light intensity data outside of the shed just above the solar tube’s dome. Our aim for this solar tube is to find the best way to direct sunlight, so we can give the bottom bed of plants in the aquaponics greenhouse access to more solar radiation. The alternative to this method is buying grow lights and setting them up above the plants. The solar tube method ultimately saves energy as the solar tube requires no energy and just redirects sunlight, but the grow lights require energy to run.

When we first installed the tube, we were getting very low readings for light intensity. We fashioned a twelve inch tube that was coated with panda film. We attached this new tube to the end of the solar tube inside of the shed and, for a while, our readings for light intensity were much greater than without this tube extension. On the 17th of April 2015, our light intensity readings decreased significantly after the twelve inch tube extension was applied. You can see this trend in the graph below. 

This is light and temperature data collected from the end of the solar tube, where we're hoping to push all the solar radiation.

This is light and temperature data collected from the end of the solar tube, where we’re hoping to push all the solar radiation.

In this graph, the blue line represent light intensity, which is calculated in footcandles (luminosity / feet^2). The black line is temperature. (Later in this blog post you’ll see we stopped recording temperature for the sake of using less space on our hobomonitor device. ) In an attempt to fix the drop in production and to increase the projected luminosity altogether, on May 6th we fashioned a six inch tube out of aluminum with no panda film lining. We’d learned about the fact that telescope mirrors are made of aluminum, so we wanted to see if it would reflect more solar radiation than the panda film. The graph below shows the light intensity at the end of the solar tube before and after attaching the new aluminum tube extension. 

This is light and temperature data collected from the end of the solar tube, where we're hoping to push all the solar radiation.

You can see that on May 6th, our light intensity readings increase drastically. May 6th was the day that we installed the new six inch aluminum extension to the tube, we can see that it seems to have increased our light intensity readings on both the 6th and the 7th. The plants we intend to grow in the bottom part of the greenhouse bed need a luminosity of about 1,000 footcandles, but our solar tube was giving us an average of about two-hundred. We uninstalled the solar tube and replaced it with a professionally made solar tube in hopes of increasing our luminosity readings. After collecting data on this new tube for two weeks, we’re seeing a small increase in luminosity. We’re hitting our mark of 1,000 footcandles, but only on some very sunny days and we only hit this mark for about 10 minutes each of these days. Although showing improvement, these readings are still too low to be usable for a growing space. The below graph shows the data we collected over the past two weeks. 

This is light and temperature data collected from the end of the solar tube, where we're hoping to push all the solar radiation.

From this graph you can see that our luminosity spikes at about 1,000, but it only does so for a few minutes at a time. The rest of the time the luminosity readings range between zero and 350.  The grow bed we’re trying to illuminate only has luminosity problems during the spring and summer seasons. During these seasons the sun is much higher than fall and winter and the top bed is shading the entirety of the bottom bed. During the fall and winter seasons, the sun is much lower in the sky and generates a good amount of light in the bottom bed, ranging between about 1,000 to 2,000. Since most of our dips in production are on cloudy days and on really sunny days we’re getting a decent amount of solar radiation, the new solar tube should be able to provide us with the luminosity we need during the summer and spring, but during the winter and fall the sun’s angle will provide the luminosity for us. 

Our next step is to install our solar tube into the side of the greenhouse and then plant some plants and see how well they grow. If these plants grow well, we’ll install a few more solar tubes to illuminate the remaining dark parts of the bed and increase our greenhouse’s food production.

Why did our solar panels suck sometimes in fall and winter of 2014?

As you may know from our earlier posts, we’re generating electricity for mod 302 using eighteen 275W solar panels. After noticing significant production dips in our solar panels we did some investigation and learned some interesting information about maintaining solar panels, when they’re ideal for electricity generation, and where they stand in regards to other resources. This is the report on these production dips.


The Solar panels on Mod 302 were experiencing dips in production every day from around 10:45am to 11:30am and 12:45pm to 2:00pm. We believe these production dips were being caused by two tall trees to the south of the building. At the before mentioned times, the sun was hiding behind these trees, thus shading the solar panels and reducing their electricity production.


These dips in production were caused by two different trees. One of these trees was almost directly south of the solar panels and the other tree is generally south east of the solar panels. The sun dips behind the southeastern tree at 10:45am and is fully visible again by 11:45am, the sun then dipped behind the southern tree at about 12:45pm and was fully visible again by 2:00pm. In January of 2014 the 302 solar panels showed an average energy production level of 1.28 kWh. During the dips in production we saw power production decrease to as low as .003 kWh (3 Wh) with a high of about .133 kWh (133 Wh). In February, the 302 solar panels showed an average production level of 1.29 kWh. During the dips in February, we saw a low of about .013 kWh (13 Wh) and a high of about .116 kWh (116 Wh). In February the lowest dip is not as drastic as the lowest dip in January, with a small difference of .01 kWh (10 Wh).

Something important to note about this is the fact that the sun’s altitude angle changes drastically as the seasons change. In the winter you may find the sun at an angle of 20 degrees, but during the spring and summer the sun can reach a maximum of 90. So these production dips are only taking affect in the fall and winter, but during the spring and summer the sun rises high above both trees.


With the growing threats that are being caused by climate change, there is an also growing need for renewable resources that emit low amounts of carbon. Solar panels are one of many ways to attempt to satisfy this need for renewables. Solar panels emit significantly less carbon per kWh than electricity pulled from the grid, exactly how much depends on where you are and the systems used to generate grid electricity. When planning urban environments, if you’re going to use solar radiation as a primary resource, you need to design the urban system to have access to this radiation. This may mean slanted roofs facing the incoming solar radiation, placing windows specifically to capture passive solar heat, or removing trees to make way for incoming solar radiation. Planning urban environments, or altering established ones, to be geared towards using solar radiation is known as “solar zoning.” If we want to build communities that are environmentally friendly and sustainable, we need to plan these communities and their locations to have maximum access to the sun’s incoming energy.

I will make another blog post soon explaining how we dealt with this problem.


This is the link to access the data being collected on the PV solar panels on Mod 302:


Our solar panels were producing little to no electricity at certain times while the sun was out, we realized it was due to two different trees shading them.


Spring 2014 Aquaponics Update

By Rhianna Hruska

The Clean Energy Committee has funded a solar tube installation in the RAD Hybrid Solar Greenhouse.  This will allow the bottom bed of plants to receive more light during the summer.  This method ultimately saves energy because grow lights will not need to be installed.  The materials are on their way and the solar tube will be installed soon!  The funding is student APalso paying for calcium and potassium API Water testing kits so we can better understand the nutrient levels cycling in the water.  Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, and pH levels are tested daily.

Work parties for the Aquaponics Systems are Mondays from 5-7PM.  Work parties will continue throughout the summer and all are welcome to join.  The work party for this coming Monday, May 15, 2015, will be at the Organic Farm Aquaponic Greenhouse.  Come join us and learn more about Evergreen Aquaponics!

We also have an announcement from our operations director, Daniel Cherniske:

“For about two months, we have been cultivating Desert King Fig cuttings in our Deep Water Raft Culture system here at the Evergreen State College Organic Farm. They have surpased all expectations and grown incredible root and leaf structures. And now they need homes. As a fundraising endeavor for the operational budget of the system, we are selling these incredible, high producing, bioregionally adapted fig trees for a sliding scale of $20-40 dollars. Your support goes directly back into the amazing learning laboratory and community aquaponics center we have estabished over the years here in Olympia. If you are interested, please contact our operations director Daniel Cherniske at or at 360-918-6682.”

Follow TESC Aquaponics on Facebook!

If you have any questions or would like a tour of the Organic Farm Aquaponics system send us an email at

If you are interested in an internship with the RAD Aquaponic system send an email to

Solar Panel Install

By Kai Stroud

 We got new solar panels! Joe Martino, Joe Anderson and I spent a day on the roof of Mod 302 with Jesse and Sean from South Sound Solar to install them. They look super classy up there.

302 solar panels

We’ve been talking about putting more solar panels in the mods, and we’d love to get some of our fellow students involved in the process. It’s pretty simple–piece together a metal frame on the roof, square it up, attach the solar panels, and plug it in. There should be an opportunity for greeners to help out sometime this year. Head down to Mod 302 and check out our handiwork! We’re getting ready to put a garden bed in the front yard there, too. Right now it’s just a square of ripped up grass and woodchips, but a month or two from now we’ll be looking at a big beautiful perennial plot.


Some Summer Updates

By: Joe Martino

It was quite the end of the year.  The hybrid solar aquaponics greenhouse obtained its certificate of occupancy, South Sound Solar has passed along a request for a down payment on the solar panels we plan to install on 302, the HRV we plan to install in 305 has been permitted, I got to go to California to see Max Meyers and take a two day intensive aquaponics training, I earned my operators license on the GCMS to test methane concentration in the biogas digester, and we completed our small scale aquaponics system in the lab.  Joe Anderson of Sustainability worked in conjunction with Noel LeRoy and Daniel Mountain of grounds to develop a beautiful garden by the greenhouse.  The garden features sunchokes, squash, corn, bush beans, lamb’s quarters (aztec purple) and quinoa!  Most recently, we laid irrigation for that garden.  Contact us if you want to be involved!


Building a Hoop House for the Mod Shop Garden

By: Joe Martino

Daniel and I also undertook the development of a small scale “barrelponics” system.  This was not based on Travis Hughey’s model, however we did build the system with cinder block supports and 55 gallon plastic barrels for grow beds and the fish tank.  We were advised by Jessica to utilize one of our 50 gallon Rubbermaid stock tanks as a sump.  The purpose of the sump in this situation was to maintain a consistent water level in the fish tank.  As the water level decreases, the dissolved oxygen level decreases as well, leaving the fish with less breathing room.  Ammonia levels can also reach toxic concentrations, further deepening their plight.  The goal of the sump was to avoid these issues, so we started moving forward.

It took a long time to understand what we were doing.  We had lists that were amalgamations of PVC parts for three different aspects of the same project, and became quite confused.  Soon, we realized we had to consider the construction of a PVC greenhouse and the system that would go inside separate projects.  We started with the greenhouse.

Building greenhouses in the Pacific Northwest in the winter two years ago was a hell in and of itself.  We dug holes, scooped the water out, placed the pipe. scooped the water out, etc.  It was our first build so we went overboard and didn’t do enough research into designs.

We used ½” PVC for the whole greenhouse, went up about 9 feet out of the ground.  We scavenged some five gallon buckets from around downtown; The Reef and The Gyro Spot.  We used painters plastic as a cover, and started digging a hole for the sump and laying cinder blocks for the foundations of the beds.

About two weeks after we finished construction, a snow storm destroyed the greenhouse.  Our second design was essentially a smaller wind tunnel.  We malleted some PVC pipe about 1’ into the ground and found some rebar that was originally slated to be used for the construction of a concrete geodesic dome.  Then we stretched plastic and haven’t looked back!

It’s such an amazing experience, to fail.  It is the ultimate path to wisdom.

A Brief History of the Greenhouse

By: Joe Martino

The greenhouse itself was quite the process.  It was started two  years ago by a group of students who had developed independent internship and learning contracts through RAD Services to build it.  After one or two trips to the Clean Energy Committee (CEC) and the Campus Land Use Committee (CLUC), that group earned funding as well as rights to build on the SW corner of N Building in campus housing.  The group continued to struggle with bureaucracy, and during their efforts, the initiating student completed his collegiate career at the end of summer in 2012.  At this time I came on as the site and project manager, and in the fall, developed a similar learning contract.  

With the majority of the team intact, and continued support from RAD and the CEC, we worked to reestablish communications with the CLUC, began networking to learn, and developed an inventory of materials that had been purchased by the initiating team.  Reestablishing communications with the CLUC consisted of developing transparent and consistent communications, as well as distributing responsibility for various parts of the project among RAD Pro Staff and Campus Facilities members.  Scott Morgan, Evergreen’s Director of Sustainability, took on the role of project manager to work with the students and guide them through campus processes.  

Networking to learn consisted of the establishment of communications with Jessica Schilke, an Evergreen student who had established a Deep Water Culture aquaponics system at the Organic Farm.  At this point, the system is fully operational, and I believe is almost entirely run by interns!  If you are interested in being involved I believe you can catch up with her.  Jessica, myself, Daniel Cherniske, and Grant Gilmore were also fortunate enough to take a few trips out to some aquaponics enthusiasts in the state.   

The trips were designed to further acquaint ourselves with the practice of aquaponics, and these were very fruitful trips.  For the first time, at least for myself and Daniel, we saw swirl filters, auto-siphons, media beds, red tilapia, blue tilapia, and papayas being grown in Washington State.  There is more info on this work in another post!  Check it out!

The inventory was a slog through past purchases, through which we discovered a number of materials that we did not feel to be suitable for their application.  A number of these concerns were supported by vendors, so we moved to recoup costs through returns, and were quite successful in this endeavor.  

More soon.


Edible Mushroom Path

By: Kai Stroud

Hi, folks! My name’s Kai, and I recently became a member of RAD’s Sustainability crew. I study mycology here at Evergreen, and I have big plans in store for our campus–mushrooms! We were recently cleared to install edible mushroom plots, which we hope to finish in the next few weeks. The plots will line the sides of our newly designated Edible Mushroom Path and will include three delicious mushroom species: Pearl Oysters (Pleurotus ostreatus), Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus conifericola), and Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus). Each of these are easy to identify, native to the northwest, and most importantly, very tasty!

 oyster lions mane chicken woods

From top to bottom: Pearl Oysters, Lion’s Mane, and Chicken of the Woods. all images from

The Edible Mushroom Path will be located between A and E buildings, nestled in that little forested area behind the smoking pit. Stop by if you want to check it out! I will be posting more about it as we make progress. There may also be a few opportunities for students to help us set it up and learn a little about mushrooms in the process–check back soon for more info!

Surprise in the Garden!

By: Joe Anderson

Hi Everyone!

Well, the new beds by the greenhouse are really filling in. The bed closer to the greenhouse is lush with quinoa, lamb’s quarters (an edible weed), and sunchokes. Squash and corn were just inter-planted in the open spaces. Because these plants grow close together, there is ample habitat for smaller animals to be protected from larger predators. In the patch of lamb’s quarters by the central path, we find a happy surprise: a tiny birds nest, completely inaccessible to cats and invisible to most people. We want birds to live in our garden; they eat insects, keeping pest populations in check, and transform these pests into valuable plant nutrients in the form of poop. Keep your eyes open in the garden, you never know what you’re going to find!

nest in garden blogpic

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