Hot and Dry

These are the times a good water system is vital, both for crops and natural systems. With my dams still just babies, and deliberately draining the top dam early on, the water level up there is going down fast–but not as fast as last year. likewise the middle dam is going down, but even now it is still higher than at it’s peak last year.

As the dams grow in height and excavation inside the pond winds down, I will be able to fill that upper dam and keep more water for a much longer time. the swales (once they are built) will keep the water in the soil saturating much more of the landscape.

In a few years any carbon I lost cutting young trees will be compensated by faster, better tree growth during times like this. Also of course, the garden will have ready access to gravity fed water once the pipes are buried and the siphon systems are in place.

Way back before I ever suspected a dam or high water storage, I installed an extra 3/4 inch pipe from garden to cistern. I never knew what it might do, and for a long time I thought it was wasted energy, but now that pipe will be one chain in the link of the coming irrigation system.

Also, looking at the top pond, it is very green- thanks to the catfish-algae that will make excellent fertilizer for everything. Soiled water may not be ideal for house uses, but the plants love it.

Anyway, this is the weather I’ve been waiting for, time to get the backhoe moving dirt from the back of the pond to the dam. I’ll also have to dig the sediment pond in back and establish some sort of small fish nursery/ fish food cultivation system.

I don’t anticipate much swimming in that upper pond, but a sediment system could also act as a filtration system just by adding a pump if swimming does become popular.


It has been an interesting week, going back to salvaging an older, but still quite nice entertainment center. Bringing more stuff back to my junk yard might seem counterproductive, but in finding a place and setting it up I had to clear an entire wall near the work area.

That particular wall seemed to have stuff that was difficult to move and get to, so it was difficult to even consider cleaning it up. The results however were great. That entertainment center is a nice addition, some places for storage, but more important, it is close to the wall and unlikely to creep further into the room.

Of course the real fun part (cosmic humor) was that my tv does not fit, So the original idea to create a functional station for many sorts of entertainment has a fatal flaw–at least partially, but then I started to consider an entertainment center I had salvaged years ago, but never assembled. And yesterday I played detective and csi investigator, matching holes and misc connectors until I had the whole thing put together in it’s original configuration.

That in itself was a great feat, and the tv fit, but the new old center was in much worse shape than the first one, and would need most of another wall to install, one already occupied with very intense storage. I took the radical step to disassemble and commit it to recycling, even to the extent of removing the quick connector studs and other recyclable parts.

And then I looked again at the storage wall. Numerous mismatched drawers and a couple sets of plastic shelves now partially displaced by the first entertainment center, and, with a rainy day ahead, it seemed the thing to do was to remove it all and build the work bench storage area I had always intended for that space.

So here I am, after taking a break from a quick tour of the ponds after about 3-4 inches of rain -everything working fine- and planting a few more pepper plants and weeding a bit, writing a blog and putting off the next steps which will involve doing an accurate jop on that wall, putting in better quality studs and securing the top plates in a more permanent way. Then it will be time to bring order back from the temporary chaos, the goal being an open work area, with easily accessible storage, and lots of stuff losing it’s place cluttering my house.

Wish me luck


and the living is easy. Catfish jumping and the Kale is high.

Kale, cabbage, broccoli that is
I had purposely drained this pond almost down to this level, back when every next rain was washing over the top of the dam, now with the heat I wonder if the drain was a good idea, the water looks pretty bad as a stagnant pond, and I might rather have the high water, TWT

The grapes aren’t quite at the point of shielding the glass enough or cooling the air enough, so I put up the sheet again this year to keep the sun out of the greenhouse, maybe next year with a better trellis and more growth of the vines.

At the back of the pond, all of this was under water, and water that had soaked into this “bank” is now coming back out as a steady trickle into the pond, but water levels are still receding
The octagon has been accumulating trash, but I started to put new boards on the little deck there for better access, and maybe as I progress with that job I’ll also get some of the mess out of there

All in all, it’s a little drier weather wise, but the middle pond is almost overflowing, clean water, cool in the heat, and swimming there is like a dream come true. no car journeys or preparation, just go down and jump in, I saw a painted turtle there today.

The extreme heat is a bit sudden after so many beautiful mild days, but inside the basement level is quite cool, and I expect with the added protection from the sun over the greenhouse glass it will stay cool through the summer, especially with temps that drop into the 60s at night allowing the house to open and any accumulated heat to dissipate. I had hoped to have the earth tube installed by now, but it wouldn’t start to work well until the top can be sealed from the outside air, so it is still a project to be done, but since the house already works pretty well, it isn’t critical.

As would be expected, most of the fruit trees and bushes have grown and appear to have better yields, and so far this year I’ve added about three blueberry bushes, a Japanese plum tree, an apple tree, and a grape vine, so with little steps I really can see things moving to better yields.

The Good ,The Bad, and The Ugly

A couple days ago as I started misc tasks around the house, one of my trips past the fish tank I noticed all the Koi had died during the night.

I have had fish die before, but never so many so suddenly; and obviously, the buck had to stop with me, since there is no one else taking responsibility. I like to be casual with my projects, expecting everything to work out without getting too anal retentive about things, but I need to remember there are some things that need scrupulous care, and my normal “it can wait” attitude needs a little adjustment with some things, especially living systems that depend on artificial support.

Perhaps the issue will turn out to be some rare disease that I had no control over, but right now I’m operating under the assumption that the issue was warming water with warming temps in the greenhouse, and an algae bloom that consumed all the oxygen overnight. Something I was well aware of in theory, but really didn’t understand the practical implications.

The day before everything seemed fine, but I had noticed some murkiness to the water. The fish were doing their normal feeding, competing at the surface for the pellets as I dropped them in the water. The sudden deaths took me completely by surprise, and the shock was even greater when I started looking at replacements on ebay. The money loss was likely in the neighborhood of a couple hundred dollars.

And it all could have been avoided if I had just a little more experience and/or caution. I believe a water replacement of about 1/3 the day before would have avoided the disaster. An air pump would have avoided the disaster. A better filter would have avoided the disaster.

The fact is I got complacent and didn’t do everything I could have done to ensure their survival, and the only consolation is that these are still early days in my fish raising adventures, so I at least will have this failure to learn from. Going into the more expensive Koi I will be inspired to be more serious in protecting them.

March picture updates

The garden always seems to be in a state of redesign. This new keyhole bed will be an experiment in heavy cardboard mulch with several inches of pine needles on top. It is about 1/3 completed here
These young Koi are getting used to coming to me for food.
this solar panel is proving an easy way to power the filter pump for the Koi/ Plans are to add three more panels mounted on the wall just over the glass where the panels will get good winter sun without being in the way.
dumping a pot of tumeric roots. these were separated and put into about 8 separate pots.
The supervisor, quick look busy
excavating what I can from the upper pond area. When the pond is allowed to fill most of the area in the frame will be under water at least part of the year
The middle dam is above the projected water level already, but recent excavation here is turning up too much sedimentary rock to be useful to continue to build the freeboard here. I did go ahead and seed the back slope with clover, but as the different areas come under control, one of the later jobs will be to plant willows or bamboo and find better clay to finish the construction.
last years bananas filled this area with lush green above the roof level, but this year the plants get moved to an area where they will not interfere with the productivity of an area so close to the front door. There are already grapes started here, and in a year or two a trellis will equally shade the windows while allowing other bushes to grow underneath. As big as these plants were, I will be using the backhoe to dig up the roots and transplant them.
The middle pond is fed from surface run off and has an underground flow coming in from the bottom giving it the turquoise color
The back area of the pond is currently being made ready for development, but will probably have to wait till after the rains have stopped and things are a bit drier. For now I have turned off the drain to the middle pond and it is filling. from this point through the summer I will be alternately sending any extra water either to the goldfish pond below when it needs it, or to the contour pond across the driveway.

February update 2019

The month has been wet and cold, every week seems to be a combination of a few sunny often warm days, followed be several days of wet, sometimes intense rain days, with a couple small episodes of snowfall, but nothing lasting more than a day or so.

The roof has held up fairly well in it’s temporary configuration, and there will likely be no changes made till summer, although occasionally the wind rattles the metal sheets and I cross my fingers .

The increased solar panels and battery bank size have weathered the many days in a row at times with no real trouble. I do treat the sunny days with an extra bit of personal energy to take care of the things that draw the most electricity. Charging my tool batteries, washing clothes, etc, and though they don’t take great amounts of energy or time, remembering to do them in a timely manner can be a challenge, since sunny days I’m more likely to be outside as well.

I discovered this past weekend that my charge controller is not a true MPPT one. This means the 36 volt current coming from the solar panels has largely been wasted, and although I had been planning to buy a new small AC refrigerator to replace the propane one, I decided to scrap that idea and started looking for DC refrigerators in an effort to save money and conserve energy.

Which is the next project, although it will likely be a slow paced one. It will involve getting a new dc compressor charged with the new world standard refrigerant. Isobutane and isopropane. I finally found a somewhat obscure document last night documenting test results from an experiment that replaced freon R134a in a conventional fridge with R600a . It will require a new compressor, and I will try and find a shop to do that for me,(as soon as I find a suitable refrigerator body for my new frankenstein monster refrigerator.

While new dc high efficiency fridges cost upwards of 1200$, the one I plan to put together should cost around 400. It will require about 30% less electricity than an ac refrigerator which requires an inverter, and there should also be some efficiency gains with the new coolant.

After writing the last couple paragraphs I got a new charge controller in the mail, wonderful, it is multiplying amperage just like it’s supposed to, and has a couple of other features I will be exploring, but that is one part of the energy solution here.

The ponds got some more attention over the last few days of the month, everything from chipping up brush piles and general cleanup of the surrounding areas.

On the keeping machinery functional side of things I was able to start and run both chippers and that will help keep gas fresh and carburetors clean.

As a final act with the backhoe in February I dug up the rosa rugosa in the garden, it develops a net of roots underground, and I’m very curious to find out how sensitive it may be to being separated and transplanted. I have about half of the clump still in a big ball of earth just in case the individual transplants don’t survive with the minimal care I’ve given them.

The DSR stove has been performing better since I installed the steel fittings at the hot water exit from the tank. It is easy to take a temperature reading there to monitor the heat of the tank, but the location of the fitting on the side of the tank makes the system a bit awkward in use, and normal operation heating unpressurized water wastes a fair amount of water , and I plan to only use tanks from now on with a hot water fitting on the top of the tank.

The Koi are doing quite well, I feed several times a day, and wait for them to come to the top of the tank before I start dropping in food, and, when they all go back to the bottom of the tank I stop feeding. This means there isn’t extra food floating around, and they are slowly losing their fear of me.

I have a plan to enlarge the kitchen garden pond into a much larger koi pond, but probably in the short term I will reinforce the repairs on one of the smaller preformed plastic ponds and use it for the first part of the summer while their main pond is taking shape. I plan to buy a regular pond liner and really make an attempt to keep the water clear, possibly even have it deep enough to swim in.

January update, 2019

The month has been pretty slow as far as backhoe work, and the rush I put on last month during a dryer period was well timed and made a few critical additions to keep further possible flooding under control.

The middle dam has had a problem with breaking out on the left side, but the added clay has raised it out of danger, and the spillway on the right side of the wall is now connected to the contour pond below.
After being connected to the middle dam with a swale the contour dam filled to it’s highest point. The soil here is quite porous and infiltrates water very rapidly, but gradually as muddy water fills it time after time it is holding water for longer periods
The upper dam still in the process of draining after heavy rains and even a bit of snow.

Mostly though this month has had more moderate rainfall,and the main work started was installation of a larger drain in the upper dam. At first it was quite piecemeal, with the pipe only half way through the dam. This allowed the pipe to be put in below the water level at the time and then digging out the couple feet that remained allowed the water to flow to the drain pipe.

“Upper dam during temporary drain installation, the circular “pond” actually surrounds the pipe opening By burying the 3″ drain pipe in the back part of the dam still above water I was able to then open the front part so the water could start to drain. Even then I had to reset the pipe a few times, digging the drain down deeper as the water in the pond went down.
after being torn up and too wet to work for almost a month, the drain pipe is completely installed well down in the wall, and will keep everything manageable if there are more heavy rains.

With the water level brought down substantially by the 3 inch temporary drain, lower rainfall and continuous running of the existing 1 inch pipe drain got the water level down much further. Finally this week the top of the dam had dried enough to do a proper installation of the drain pipe at an even lower level. At present I need the pond to stay at least down to this level, but when all the excavation is completed there will be a stand pipe placed on the drain regulating the water level at whatever is desired.

January also saw the chipper back in action,and more work cleaning the back of the pond of debris is needed so more clean clay can be excavated for the dam wall. The wood chips will also come in handy for mulch projects.

The lower water level will dry out the access routes on both sides of the dam, but it is likely that regardless of rainfall, the final dam height will not be reached until July or August simply because of soil saturation and the time it will take to dry everything out really well.

garlic peeking out from it’s warm mulch bed

The garlic is doing well in the garden, these new plants are a calculated upgrade to what had been planted in other years which I got from the local farmer’s market. the technique was simple, clean the soil, pulling really big taproots and wire grass. Then a layer of cardboard, punching a hole for each clove, setting them in place, and then covering them with about three to four inches of grass and leaves finely chopped with the lawnmower.

strawberries have seen better days

Other beds need some serious attention, grass invaded most of the strawberries, and the underground runners make it tough to weed, so very soon I will be going through making a hard choice of sacrificing everything to a deep cardboard/newspaper mulch, followed by pine needles, and new plants set in a handful of fresh soil within the pine needles. I may also opt for some drip lines under the mulch.

Elephant garlic in desperate need of attention
Tumeric in the greenhouse lost it’s leaves over a month ago, this one pot yielded three nice clusters. I replanted each cluster in it’s own pot, (minus a few of the tubers). These need a great deal of patience, and I don’t expect to see greenery till june
close inspection shows these wild garlic plants have been nibbled, likely deer, witnessed by the disturbed earth of a hoof print. Everything I want to keep needs to be protected from the critters. So far 2×4 welded wire fencing seems to keep even the rabbits out

The small Koi I bought in the fall have done quite well inside this winter. I set up a separate solar panel and a couple batteries to keep a small filter going, and gradually I’m getting them to be a bit bolder coming up for food. The goal is to train them to take food from my hand.

This of course takes the idea of a Koi pond out of the realm of a possibility into the world of necessity. And the more I think about it, the more likely it will become an extension of the pond at the corner of the kitchen garden. But of course much bigger and fancier than the existing small pond.

It will eventually be fed from part of the house roof drain, so that should be one of the cleaner sources of water. And of course it will be much closer to the house, where I can keep my eye on it. It’s tough to think about herons bothering goldfish, but even more difficult to think about them eating an expensive Koi.

Rosa Rugosa, a wonderful prickly rose bush with big hips, and it is trying to keep me out of my garden. It started as a few small plants and graduated to this thicket. I’ll use the backhoe to dig it out, then divide the roots, prune and replant. The black pot is the cherry tree that has taken a stand and I’ll attempt to replant it, TWT
Banana stalks look forlorn, but each spring they come back even stronger. Unfortunately they are taking up prime real estate next to the house, and what started as an experiment has become a ground hog. I want to plant Kale and tomatoes and hot peppers and the grape vines there need more space too.

There are other changes planned for the spring, moving the banana plants away from the house, relocating a rose bush/clump that has taken over too much of the garden, along with a cherry tree that dove down into the soil there and to lift the pot it was in would likely kill the tree.

This sort of mud makes building anything out of clay impossible. Even just moving the backhoe around creates more of a mess .

Swales to build, and trees to order and plant. I’m currently thinking about hundreds of whips,- willow, locust,plum, hawthorne, mulberry, and many others.

this cut into the south face of the slope provided much needed clay for the middle dam wall. now it will become a thermal wall to radiate heat back to more delicate figs that need a little extra help getting through the winter. It may also end up being the back wall of a greenhouse if the micro climate doesn’t work well enough

Down below the lower greenhouse is an area in front of a cut I made in the bank to get material for the middle pond. That area seems a likely place for a micro climate for the many figs I currently have in pots moving in and out of that greenhouse .

Dams , 12/29/2018, Primer and Update

The red lines are general property boundaries, tan/yellow lines represent earthworks dams and swales, the blue areas are potential water stopped and held by the Earthworks according to general topography. These are the dams and ponds I’ll be referring to here. The general topography is going downhill from lower right to upper left, and the dams from right to left are upper dam,

middle dam,

and contour pond.  The pond just above the contour pond is really just a hole in the ground that doesn’t hold water, and i call it somewhat optimistically the ridge point pond. The very top pond is a potential gully dam , that may never actually be completed since it overlaps the property line and would require a joint cooperation  .


Another very nice rain, and fortunately the 2″ prediction didn’t turn into 8″, although at this point it hardly matters, the cold keeps the ground moisture from evaporating, and whatever falls at this point is just adding to the overall totals.

The middle  dam has been raised now, and the connecting swale nicely tied in. This will allow any future water that threatens this dam to be automatically diverted over to the contour pond.  This pond,  which  mostly has existed as a dry hole , finally started to fill with excess water from the main gully. My storages are really not totally keeping up with all the water falling, the dry days aren’t dry long enough to do any serious work with the backhoe, and the wet days are starting to defy my attempts at control, but the success of the connecting swale here means the next step is to focus in on the swale that extends beyond the contour pond. That is the next big opportunity in ground water storage and a safety valve to keep the contour pond from overflowing.

One of the lessons I have learned on a very experiential level is the old axiom  about how the desert  is a flood waiting to happen. When the ground is dry, the sun is hot,  and machinery can work easily, it is sometimes difficult to imagine the same area overflowing with water. Thirsty plants in the summertime do not automatically bring floods and chaos to mind.

But that is exactly the situation I find myself in. It is true that I have held back a great deal of erosion. When thinking about the large volumes of water that used to scour out the channel beside the drive there is a great feeling of accomplishment, but also a knowledge of more things that need doing.

Thinking about increased fertility in the gardens, and watching new spaces for gardens open  up beside the ponds fills my head with plans for the next growing season. But right now I need to look for places to put all this water that seems to be falling without end., My situation is not one of desperation since the reality of the extra water storage has made everything better overall, but now I find myself somewhat greedy.

Watching a two inch pipe steadily running water instead of flooding erosion is a nice step,  but now I find a new drive to harness even that  two inch flow of water.

PA Yeoman had lots of ideas about water, but probably the central theme was always “no runoff.”  Watching that 2 ” pipe I’m starting to understand. It’s not that I want to hoard all the water in the world, obviously that could never happen anyway. But when that 2 inch pipe leaves the fishpond, it has nutrients that could do wonders for a garden, and i find myself thinking about the next project.  Maybe this year I’ll finally get into setting up a garden down by the creek and take that water through a taro patch before I let it go.

Tying in new swales is also a way to harness that runoff, and it points to the idea that no matter how much you plan, a design is always going to evolve. The main idea is to make sure your design is not so hard and fast it gets overwhelmed with unexpected productivity.

I had thought about some sort of a final  reed bed  to do a filter /harvest  of nutrients before the water finally went to the creek. Of course it seemed far in the future at that time but here I am today watching water escape, anticipating more fun.

DSR update 12/25/2018

The double shoe box rocket is elevated off the floor about 18 inches, and instead of an exhaust on top- in front, it is channeled horizontally under a glass stove top from left to right.

Having the water tank inside the bell was an idea suggested at   that led me to my design, which in appearance is like a glass stove top, with an extended simple porcelain covered metal counter top.

This extended bell houses a naked 20 gallon water tank with two fittings, one for cold water at the bottom and one for hot at the top.

The top fitting connects directly into the hot water feed for my house system, and while in operation the hot water valve to the shower head in my tub is left open, and the cold water flow to the tank is shut off. This allows excess pressure to escape safely, and notifies me when the water is hot as steam starts to escape. Note that this is primarily proof of concept, and not yet ready for prime time water heating, it could easily have safety features added that would further ensure a more automatic type system.

note the new visions fry pan  “door” to the batch box, The lid I was using had broken into two pieces possibly from rough handling, possibly the lids are not as thermally  robust as the pans

Last night I was burning the third batch of wood in the firebox,low grade poplar and some mystery wood, likely not completely dry, when I started to hear the steam. That produced a luxurious long (10 min at 4-5 gal/min), very hot shower (mixing lots of cold water). I was concerned about stratification, and the possibility that all the water would not heat evenly, but the length and relatively constant heat of the shower indicated this was not an issue.

The design inside takes the combustion gases exiting under the stove top into a very broad vertical opening that directs the hot gases forward into a circular motion around the whole vertical surface of the tank, with some small horizontal space over and under the tank. These gasses that are further cooled start to sink to the bottom as they circulate. The “stack” entrance is below the bottom of the tank in back of the system, so the exhaust comes in contact with about 270 degrees of the surface of the tank, with some minor contact top and bottom. Note that this stack is actually a powered exhaust by a very cheap, low wattage (about 10)fan. This provides a more or less guaranteed exhaust even at startup, and the exhaust is so cool (around 100F) that more robust (and expensive) equipment is not needed.

The test run last night reached temperatures on top of the port between 900 and 1000 F during the third batch of wood, with a very robust secondary burn at the port. Without testing equipment I have no way of knowing just how clean this is burning, but it appears that the system gets more efficient into the second and third batch of wood by the size of the secondary burn. Perhaps using insulated Fire brick at the port would get the port to temperature more quickly (it is currently standard , full fire brick), and adding ceramic fiber blanket over the stove top might also enhance the temperature build up by reducing convection and radiation losses there.