Random Photos

Cleaning panels I thought I’d take a picture–pond at top of picture is the middle/swimming pond, although no swimming today.
Greenhouse koi pond, about 60 fish, hungry and growing fast.
The catfish pond, so called because shortly after it started holding water I put in 25 small blue channel cats. somehow they have survived low water and algae, and there’s either a ton of babies from last year, or just a couple of originals (at about 20 inches long now) or some number in between
the rainfall this year has taken this from a low water quality algae/catfish pond to a possible swimming pond. also like to put the kayak in for a restful drift around on the water
Outside koi pond has clarified, fish inactive, some under flat rock which makes a cave for them on bottom of pond
2 or 3 of the bigger koi are out on the bottom getting some sun, but with the reflections the picture doesn’t show them very well.

New Rocket Stove (DSR 2)

I hate to say this, but I fell down on the job of taking pictures of the rebuild, so I’ll do my best to fill in the gaps with descriptions.

Empty hole in the overall build where the DSR used to be. The DSR2 has almost the same dimensions, although in order to fit in the riser in back, I moved the firebox forward in the opening and shortened it a bit
The existing clay/perlite lining was mostly removed on the back and right side, leaving the concrete in back and brick side wall

This shows the beginning sculpting of the back riser, and the first level packing of both left and right sides with the perlite clay mix behind the fire bricks.

Front view of same construction detail.

Fast forward to completion and clay is almost dry now after about three fires.

Again apologies for not following the construction more closely with pictures. The level separation between the firebox and the secondary burn chamber was made using a cast refractory cement slab, since the fire bricks were not really long enough without slanting them in or robbing more space from the firebox. The door and frame were welded up by a friend , just a few angle pieces and some flat stock. The glass is set in the frame in a bed of clay, with a woven fiberglass gasket running around the edge. I’ll try and get some more detail pics on the door frame later. The frame is held in place with a piece of steel rod welded to the back of the flat stock and embedded in the clay on both sides of the fire bricks

In the old DSR I used the glass stove top as the top of the secondary burn chamber, but in this one I actually lowered the whole construction several inches below the old level to make room for a space between the top of that chamber and the glass stove top. Again I used cast refractory cement slabs for that internal ceiling, and in this version of the stove the exhaust is on top instead of to the side.

Overall this unit is performing better in all ways. I still use the ceramic fiber blanket to push the heat over to the water tank most of the time, but when it is not in place, temperature checks show less intense heat in single spots, but greater heat overall. I have not had a lot of time to play with this version in terms of taking lots of measurements, but it is easily hitting 1000 plus degrees,

I also have started a burn technique after it hits the coaling stage of throwing in a couple small pieces of wood to help keep the after burner ignited, and I believe in this way I get a more complete burn during the coaling stage. Of course this falls under the heading of playing with the fire, so when I don’t have a lot of time, I just load a second half load or so of wood right on top of the coals, close the door and walk away.

I did leave out some of the finer details in my haste to get this working. Once again I seemed to only have time to coast a few days on passive solar heat while rushing to implement the new build to restore a more comfortable temperature.

The stumbling block in the top chamber is not yet in place, and I kept the secondary air supply at the bottom of the heat riser, although I think the design showed that was no longer necessary. Truth be told I haven’t had a lot of time to revisit the details of the design and was going mostly by memory and expediency. There are a couple refinements I might like to add, but I’m quite pleased in general with this latest iteration.

Photo update 11/14 /02020 (pt 1)

These koi are growing out in this small patio pond, while their bigger pond is under construction
great fun sculpting the earth, trying to get all sharp rocks and roots out of the way
this pond gets a liner, previous excavations in this area showed the clay was not good enough to have a reliable mud bottom pond.
The first rock-in was underway when rain flooded behind the liner and totally screwed up everything, the second attempt will have extra experience to build on and a built in siphon hose to drain water if necessary
Although aqua blox are the preferred structure for a wetland filter because they allow a faster transfer rate, these septic lines should handle the lower flow I’ll be using, but the question is whether these filters will be adequate to keep the water clear.
the septic pipes are first covered with coarse rock, then the finer gravel sand mixture from the creek. Water from the pond flows in and covers the sand continuously, making this filter act as a skimmer. Notice the white PVC access pipe that contains two submersible pumps.
this second wetland filter has water pumped up from the first filter, sent to the water chamber underneath , The water then filters up through the gravel, and acts as the source for the waterfall/ stream that oxygenates the water and feeds it back to the pond.
The skimmer/first wetland filter is slightly left of center beneath the solar panels. The second filter is top right center. Note the black liner to the right that will be the waterfall stream bed coming back to the pond
Top sees a small cold frame(lettuces anyone?) on the upper wetland filter, coming across to the waterfall bed. Working with the big rocks is no fun alone, so I’ve settled on a method where the big rocks are outside the liner, making it easier to manage.

While the rain complicated the koi pond, washing lots of mud into water that had finally started to clear, the rains filled and clarified the upper “catfish” pond. It’s especially true that larger ponds require less maintenance.

Note that these ponds are mostly unavoidable when doing erosion control . A pond lined with sedimentary rock in many places like this might be expected to empty as fast as it fills, but what actually happens is the back country around the dam starts to fill with water, and slowly the dam will start to hold water longer and longer.at higher and higher levels.

The catfish pond reached a new high over a week ago, but still not full
here’s another perspective from a couple weeks ago
And another image looking straight across the dam
This is looking down from the spillway area on the ramp leading down into the pond before this last big rain.
With another monster rain the pond finally fills. The water foreground to the right is actually the spillway, and will eventually feed a swale that runs all the way to the northern boundary, that then feeds another swale that runs back to the main garden at a lower level.
This shot is taken from a new garden that was created by the pond clearing. When full the pond practically touches it. Most of the time this shallow area next to the garden will be dry. Still, with the water table this high, the soil and plants should do very well.
another perspective of the full pond.

Stay tuned for part 2

photo update 07 2020

Usually I pick a theme and possibly support it with pictures, This post is going to just show pictures with brief descriptions, and maybe a theme will develop

exceptionally warm weather early, the bananas were suckered into coming up early, and then were hit by several hard frosts, still, they managed to thrive. I transplanted about three backhoe buckets of roots this spring down to the middle swale and those bananas are also thriving. I like banana leaves for mulch applications to control weeds.

Now, if you look close there is a wire cage (lower left), protecting a slew of hot peppers just put in where bananas used to be.

Backhoe, front loader bucket needed welding, seems like with machines there’s always something. This is not the only repair this year, but the backhoe got some good use when I was digging swales , pulling stumps, planting trees. I don’t mind a little TLC for all the work it does.

This is the middle pond after a heavy rain, note the limestone gravel at the back of the dam, any water running down the gully gets filtered through that limestone, and this year the water has been much clearer.The muddy water was temporary, due to 5 inches of rain in a 24 hour period.

This is a snake I’ve been watching for several years down in the gully ponds, and he started foraging up to my little ponds near the house. When I found out what he was doing I was trying to figure out what to do, little goldfish were disappearing rapidly, how soon would he start to look at the koi? The problem solved itself, he got caught in a stray piece of chicken wire and died For the time being the koi are safe, but how soon will other critters come by to threaten them?

This was the little Koi pond back in April,
Here’s the pond in June, Elephant ear tarot, tumeric,lemon grass, sage,lemon sage, banana, lemon verbena, ….. There’s even a place for marshy plants that like their feet wet, bulrushes, snake plants and most recently some horsetail starts.
cruciferous aren’t fond of the heat, but i’m still harvesting kale, broccoli, and I think there’s some cabbage in those overstacked plants.
This is the biggest pond, and the highest. Not as much rainfall this year, so after building it about 6 feet higher and a good deal wider as well, the dam is cracking a little–from the dry conditions, The arch of black pipe there is meant to be an irrigation pipe, and when the dam fills, it will send water anywhere it needs to go. When the pond finally does fill the green vegetation lower left corner will be underwater, and at its peak even the vegetation upper left, and several feet of the vegetation on the right side will also be underwater.

This pond also has some new mulberry trees planted on both sides, and to the left of the water level is a long area partially shaded where a new garden is taking shape. several tomatoes and peppers are planted to start conditioning the soil, but also a blueberry, grape vine, and kiwi have been started to be part of the perennial crops there. Even the top of the dam, which is clay, got a few mounds of topsoil and watermelons are planted there in full sun.

It is a Wardrobe!

Bill Mollison described a class he was teaching and a stranger who lingered on after the meeting . The stranger said you know what you’ve done, you’ve arranged all the elements of life in good order in a wardrobe or closet.

Bill seemed to like that description about how Permaculture made good order out of all the different elements of life on earth. Others might say it is a toolbox . One may use hundreds of different tools and tricks along the way, and the result hoped for is improvement of our lives and the health of the earth as a whole.

So Permaculture to me is much more than a simple wardrobe, it is also the design that knows when and how to put different elements in the wardrobe together so that they work together in a way that benefits us and life on the planet.

To that end, Permaculture continues to collect those methods and tools that will help the earth continue to sustain us as a species.

Big Developments

It has been some time since any substantial developments and I’d like to talk a little about the psychological side of this work/ fun. Many of these techniques are as yet unfamiliar here in the states, so implementing them is more a question of trust or belief, or possibly just being able to grasp the theory and take it to the level of practice.

No matter how reasonable any theory may sound I still have that element of “show me”. I need to have my hands or attention in it to really understand any new principle, and when it comes to water management there is a great deal of faith involved when investing thousands of dollars in a system, not to mention time and energy, in order to get things started and working.

Even after systems are up and running it can often take years before any visible results are observed. With this in mind I went ahead and hired a forest mulcher to facilitate the next part of my water management system.

For those unfamiliar with clear cuts, around here there is a massive pulp wood industry, that relies on fast growing pines and miscellaneous deciduous trees. For me , unfamiliar with this industry, I thought I would have to start planting trees on a property with nothing but briars everywhere., but here in this climate trees regrow almost immediately, some from seeds or low sprouts, but often from the stumps left behind.

This means several sprouts from each stump and other seeds all competing for light, shooting up fast and tall and thin.So these trees are efficiently harvesting light, sequestering carbon, but producing little in the way of useful lumber or fruit.. Also, removing 20-40 years growth when the trees were cut does not improve the soil quality as much as if the tree had simply fallen and rotted into the ground. So soils around here would not be that good for regular orchards or quality tree systems.

A friend suggested 20 years ago that I should walk around with a sharp machete cutting off extra sprouts to make the remaining trees stronger, At the time I didn’t know about Permaculture, had no extra money to install special dams or swales, and spent all my energy off the land just trying to pay the mortgage.

It is into this tall thin jungle of trees I went on different occasions trying to build ponds and swales with a backhoe. Yes, it can be done, but it is tedious and time consuming. So after surveyors marked my property line, yesterday I had a forest mulcher come through and clear a path about 8 feet wide that outlined the boundary and then followed various contours around the land scape.

Recent windfalls financed this project, and this is the big development.It is quite unusual to see a landscape change so dramatically over the space of a few hours. The boundary line painted by the surveyors now has a sight line hundreds of feet long, and actually seeing the contour paths cleared gives many new insights into the actual “lay of the land”.

Of course keeping my backhoe running through this next phase will actually allow the project to become functional, but overall just having the paths cleared to give the backhoe freer access should make the project move much faster with better results.

One unexpected outcome was the nature of the soil left behind. I expected wood chips, but the mulcher did more than that, it also mixed up the top soil and left behind a rich resource of garden soil that will soon be installed in my gardens and likely create many new ones as well.

It’s like turning a corner, or moving to the next level of productivity, what an exciting time!

Managing Hot Water

Talking with a weekend friend the other day who is starting to contemplate country life full time, she mentioned it had occurred to her in the shower the other day just how nice a hot water shower can be. In fact, she continued, she believed it to be an essential element for survival.

I added to her declaration that the shower needed to be at least under 45 lbs of pressure or I could never be satisfied. But I said this after a summer of almost entirely cold showers with no hot water at all. This was mostly by choice, but the best hot water heater I had during the summer would have also heated the house, which would have just added to the cooling issues of summertime.

When I first came here 18 years ago I had a gas hot water heater in my RV, and that was ok sometimes, but in winter, with freezing pipes; often that hot shower–or any running water at all, was unavailable. Still, even back then I understood how valuable hot water could be, and have spent a fair amount of time over the years making sure I could cover that need.

For several years now I have been heating water with wood. It started with a small Appalachian style coal(wood) burner water heater attached with a thermosiphon to an old water tank. Fire it up and maybe add wood a couple times and then close the pressure relief, turn on the 12 volt pump and shower as long as I wanted.

I also used to play with 2-300 feet of black poly pipe in the sun to avoid lighting fires in summer. Now that I am in this house (I use the term loosely), the ease of that little stove or even the poly pipe in the glass covered box are unavailable. And my aspirations have moved further on.

I still am heating water with wood, but now it is a sophisticated rocket stove, and every year there’s a new type to play with. It started with copper coils on a 55 gallon barrel, and now it is a 20 gallon tank inside a brick and clay “bell”, extracting heat from the DSR.

I’m actually quite proud of all the different ways I have played with producing hot water, and the latest toy should be arriving soon, an evacuated tube solar water heater. True to form I will not be following recommended procedures, and perhaps I will waste a little time reinventing the wheel, or perhaps I will find a way to make do with much less than the recommended equipment.

I have already found I can get by with smaller pumps and less energy and still enjoy similar results with many of the much more elaborate and expensive solutions.The new solar project will be a similar process, finding out the extent of it’s capabilities and then making use of them

When I built the house I did anticipate the possible use for radiant water pipes in the floor, although with my limited budget I had no idea how I might generate that much hot water, or even how I might get it through the pipes. Today my budget is less restricted, but continuing in the use of renewable resources puts a whole different spin on things than just buying a new propane hot water heater complete with expensive automatic controllers and pumps.

For the time being the solar collectors I’m playing with are more an experiment than a completed plan, but they do seem to have enough promise to invest in, and then fully explore their potential here.

One of the keys to Permaculture Design is to have several backups for every important system, and since hot water is one of those systems I continue to investigate and establish multiple ways to generate hot water.

DSR 2019 build

Well, a new heating season is begun and with it a new iteration of the previous Rocket stove, called a Double Shoebox Rocket.

The group over at the Donkey forum did some experimentation back in 2018 coming up with this concept, which was later abandoned by Peter van den Berg, the chief experimenter on the project, as being too unreliable.

By the time he had moved on to a different design I had already started building, it was getting colder, and looking at the elements that seemed to make the DSR run away with the burn, they did not seem as relevant to my design, so I just continued to build according to his best guess dimensions.

My 2018 build used a number of walls that were simply formed of clay, or a clay perlite mix, and a couple of the sides around the water tank were taken from an old washing machine, with some fiberglass insulation hastily fastened to the inside of the walls, with clay slopped around the top and edges to give a seal.

The door to the burn chamber, as in many projects done on the cheap was a problem until I finally bought a couple pieces of neoceram stove glass, which cost more than all the previous stoves from the last several years.

While this new glass has proved very durable, having a door that really is robust requires more than just a glass pane, so that is still in the development phase, although I’m pretty sure I have a workable solution which will likely happen sometime during this season. For now I continue to get a potholder if the glass is hot, and as gently as possible remove it and then wedge it back into place.

The other main change is the use of bricks to give a substantial continuous exterior that is well sealed and even looks a little better.

One other important note, my exhaust was set up for a low temperature ground level “stack” and to use the push of the j tube rather than the pull of a draft. Since the first batch box conversion about three years I found it necessary to install a fan at the end of the exhaust pipe to aid with the draft. This totally eliminates smoke at start up and keeps the draft more even.

while it may appear the smoke is being pumped into the ground, the downward tube is actually wide open at the seam, this arrangement helps prevent sudden gusts from totally disrupting the draft
The brick exterior is continuous back to the poured concrete wall as I continue to remove clay from the previous construction. the removed clay goes right back into the new build
note the wet perlite clay mixture formed in place around the DSR core. The stack/exhaust is on the floor at the right side of the shovel
the clay perlite insulation layer continues across the concrete wall in back
The second chamber is now well defined and the brick courses are starting to grow
Note the rectangular passage on the right where the exhaust comes in to the first bell from the secondary burn chamber. The rim of the duct to the water tank “bell” can be seen just opposite this entrance and further down in the chamber
The right side of the water tank shows the location of the duct from the first bell just visible above the top of the front bricks
overall layout of stove. note exhaust moves from right to left through the chambers and at the bottom of the water tank chamber it turns back and flows under the construction to the exhaust “stack”
salvaged glass stove tops are sealed with wet clay to the top. Note the left side galvanized pipes exit and the blue pipe insulation for the hot water outlet
proof of concept, the first fire verifies the exhaust, now the drying process begins
looks just like the pictures I saw when I first started last year, note that the bricks are joined with a clay “mortar”, if I want to rebuild, everything is easily recycled with water as the solvent
I usually have a small piece of ceramic fiber board over the glowing section of the stove top. Temperatures are way hot, and after passing 1000 degrees F it just registers as “HI”

cooking can be done here, very carefully, but I like the idea of more insulation to increase efficiency of the burn. The second chamber still has plenty of heat for a more reasonable cooking surface, and even the water tank chamber can keep things warm
with the top cleared and clean

DSR (Double Shoebox Rocket) revisited

So it’s getting pretty cold outside, and when I built the last version of my stove I promised a breakdown analysis after I had used it for a season and had a chance to sort out my experience. Now that I have rebuilt the beast it seems the time is here to write about it.

First I would say that overall it performed pretty well, the weakest part of the thing being the door. The visions cookware lid I started with did work, but I would not plan on using such a thing except in a pinch. Eventually the first one cracked, primarily from physical shocks because it really does get too hot to handle at times leading to bumps and drops, and once hot it will use any excuse to crack.

Over the three to four month life of the stove there were numerous tweaks and while the final product worked, it would never have lasted another four months without many more overhauls.

My building style was primitive, using lots of clay and perlite, which was always sufficient in the original rocket stoves I built, but with the more compact and intricate design of the DSR bricks are really the way to go for all vertical surfaces, not just inside the firebox/batch box. Also bricks give an element of speed to the construction, and the finished product is structurally more stable. With clay walls on much of the old stove, cracks were commonplace, and I often worried about them just falling completely apart. If you do want to use clay, make sure it is a continuous mold type process. Forming one wall one day and then adding to it or building an adjoining wall the next does not give a reliable bond.

The water tank was the next area of interest, primarily because it was an issue I had to revisit many times, especially after one spectacular failure. My theory that pex could withstand temperatures in excess of water boiling was good only to a point . Hot, therefore soft, pex under extra pressure will blow out. Use all metal fittings inside the heat chamber and for a distance outside the chamber, and of course, when heating water, always have the system open so steam can escape safely. Pressure relief valves are a real good extra insurance in case one forgets to depressurize the system.

Soot was present everywhere the exhaust touched , except the parts that got the hottest in the burn chambers. The thought occurred to me that I had basically turned the entire downstream part of the stove where heat was extracted into a creosote trap, and future builds will have to accommodate an easy access for periodic cleaning.

Future builds will also need to be more efficient, and since start up and cool down phases of the burn are the most problematic, shortening those periods compared to overall burn time will be a major concern. Quality dry fuel will become a major goal for operation of the next iteration of the stove.

Recently I read more about the continued development of the DSR II and it has taken some interesting turns. I’m not sure I will be using all the developments, but at some point I will likely be adding a short riser at the back of the firebox. That will likely wait for me to get some ceramic fiber board, so for now I’m just using the old DSR design.

original visions lid, the crack is visible on the left side running under the handle, and I continued to use it till it cracked into several smaller pieces later on
this hodge podge is the water tank enclosure As the winter closed in, my hurry to get the stove functional meant many makeshift connections and very iffy seals. The forced draft kept a negative pressure inside the stove so leaks weren’t really a problem, but it would always be best to have everything tight as a drum

I broke down and bought a 10×10″ piece of neoceram glass–expensive (50$) but a good investment
this is before the old stove was finished being built
taking the stove apart, note the soot in the oven chamber but not the firebox area
getting a start on the base of the next DSR, note the exhaust has been extended and turned toward the left in preparation for the changed position of the water tank and the exhaust exit from the stove

I was a bit remiss taking pictures as I dismantled the old DSR, and obligations elsewhere meant much of the new construction was not overly documented, but look at the next post to see how the new DSR changed.