New Alchemy Institute Cape Cod Ark Bioshelter

For about two hours yesterday, I was able to visit with Earle Barnhart, and asked questions about his work with the Cape Cod Ark (a.k.a bioshelter). Soft spoken and genuinely interested in my visit, Earle had a wealth of knowledge to share. I felt right at home in the Ark, breathing in the moist, oxygen rich air.

In a way, I was on a pilgrimage to see this place. Once there, the structure, and the beauty within it reached my core. The Ark is just that, a vessel of life and wondrous diversity… vines climbing the rafters, fruit trees dripping with fruit, aquatic plants, fish splashing, insects buzzing, worms in the soil, birds flying in and out, water tricking through it all, and humans relaxing in the shade from the foliage above.

cape cod ark site plan

Earle shared some priceless experiences with me:

– He doesn’t worry about high humidity… if a plant dies of rot that’s a sign not to grow it.
– The primary fish species in the aquaponics system is yellow bullhead catfish. Bullhead don’t need mechanical aeration, they are easy to raise, and are native to Massachusetts and overwinter in the tanks.
– Beneficial insect populations are self-maintained at reasonable levels, so releasing predator insects isn’t necessary.
– The leaves of water hyacinth, an important floating plant and filtration substrate, is a wonderful chicken feed.
– He experiments with and encourages vining plants to fill the vertical space, they provide extra beauty, floral perfumes, and increase the oxygen in the air.
– Fans, heaters and pumps have been removed as more elegant, quite, low cost ways are found: Venting is passive and controlled by human power; irrigation/fertigation flows by gravity through fish tanks controlled by basic mechanical timers; rock, earth and water thermal mass storage provides all the heating.
– Even though Earle believes most people wouldn’t consider building a bioshelter as big as a house, as this one is, he feels that the long term yields of the bioshelter make such an investment viable: Fresh vegetables year round forever; life enhancing perennial culinary herbs; oxygen rich air; fish protein; and a warm place to enjoy on a cold winter day (anti-depressant).
– He has found that long, narrow hanging water bags are a high functioning, low cost, space saving way to provide effective thermal mass heat storage in the bioshelter without reducing light penetration to the plants.

I’m sure in the short time I had with him we only scratched the surface of the bioshelter system he is maintaining. After talking with him about my project and book idea he encouraged me to consider such a venture. Little has been written about small scale, low tech bioshelters in his opinion, and there just might be a place for it in the literature.

I also have to mention an amazing project he has spearheaded. While at Earle’s community I had the privilege to have him tour me through their new Eco-Toilet Center. Read more about it here.

At the end of our time together he invited me to come back again. I plan to take him up on the invitation. Thanks for the wonderful tour Earle!