More about Machinery and Permaculture

Some might not call it appropriate technology,  but machinery may not be all bad when thinking about sustainability. The real test is the overall increased output over the life of the system.

It is easy to think that a dam will last 1000 years and therefore becomes worth the immense amount of energy it takes to build a good one. Of course who is going to be able to be around to make sure the dam does not become simply another earthwork to be undone by others in the next generation. The reality becomes one of making projects immensely valuable to new generations so they are respected for the prosperity they bring in the future, not just for the single generation that creates them.

Bill used to talk about creating food forests that were later destroyed by new owners who only wanted to raise cattle. Misuse like that can quickly ruin a dam and even  invasion by trees with taproots could  threaten it’s existence. Almost all dams are going to silt up, so at some point in their history they will need to be cleaned out to remain as water bodies, but this can be a positive productivity, generating fertile land for crops.

To the extent possible, it is good for the dam builder to take responsibility for creating sustainable plantings around and on the dam, and perhaps even guide the next generation of owners in the care and use of the dam for greatest reward. Silt ponds and other  installations can aid in keeping dam maintenance an easy process, but there is no crystal ball that can foresee every possible future assault on the dam’s integrity.

For me, my projects are never guaranteed to be perfect. Like most patterns, the pattern of building a dam with swales to control erosion and hydrate the landscape is one that often works exceedingly well, and as time goes on there will be more and more applications of these patterns as they demonstrate their value. This awarenmess in turn starts to act as a protection, insurance against the vagaries of human insanity.

So I’m willing to spend large amounts of money and material and even fossil energy to create these earthworks as another demonstration to help our public expectations of normal use  evolve / improve.

If it is normal or expected to have well hydrated, highly productive systems, and the mechanics of the systems are well known, then more and more will be built. If a few don’t survive there will be many more that do. So in a sense everything we do to restore more natural water systems is a gamble, but the odds are good enough that overall they will guarantee success and become a new standard in the mainstream.

That being said, I’m currently struggling with the hydraulics of my second hand backhoe. Struggling is perhaps not the right word, but lately it has not been totally smooth sailing. A lot of the work is simply my own ignorance of machines, and being imprecise with my maintenance.

I would encourage anyone trying to keep a used machine running to know as much as possible before turning the key. New machines may be properly set up with great dealer support, but old machines may have a history of misuse leading to more trouble. Sometimes it requires special skills to repair and then maintain past troubles, but there’s no reason it can’t be done. Just be ready to give the machine a rest now and then when something breaks and follow through on finding the cause and the correct upkeep that keeps it from breaking again (if possible).

My example is the power steering cylinder, and I have installed two new ones that have each failed in turn, which has prompted me to examine the state of the hydraulic fluid in the entire system. It has always seemed a milky color, and a friend told me that was normal, and that the cheapest tractor supply fluid was good enough.

After two new cylinders going bad one after the other in quick succession I finally got the idea that maybe the problem was the machine system, not the cylinder. Dedicating some time to study the issue  I’m convinced of the need to change the fluid- all 25 gallons of it, and put in a premium fluid without so much water contamination.

The next step will be to see if the stop leak product I saw advertised is really a good idea or not. In fact, this whole thing has me seriously thinking about devoting a day out of every five to renewing some system or another in preventive maintenance.

I guess I’m sort of doing that already, replacing seals and greasing fittings, but I know there is a lot more about the machine that I’m just praying I won’t have to deal with. The more rational approach would be to accept the fact that sooner or later I’m going to have to learn it anyway, and the proverb of the stitch in time saving nine is as true now as it was in Ben’s day.

Maybe it’s time for an engine oil change too!


Remember, if you’re not having fun, you’ve got the design wrong. I’m still having fun- mostly, so I must be doing some stuff right, and the dam is growing incrementally with each period it is running and not sitting idle waiting for a part. Overall the machine does so much work so quickly, that my only regret is that I can’t afford a bigger, newer machine to do even more work.







Nuclear Energy and Permaculture

It can be intoxicating watching u tube videos on Thorium and molten salt reactors. Not enough so I want to dedicate my life to it, but certainly enough to binge watch and change my general attitude toward ALL nuclear energy.

Of course the whole molten salt reactor story seems to reinforce my general theory about government being the best friend of big business, and unable to see beyond the profit motives of powerful corporations/individuals. So it generally appeals to my long standing distrust of all big government, both Republican and Democrat, and as such fits nicely into my world view paradigm.

Of course many of the molten salt researchers and advocates fit very nicely into the 9-5, big business establishment, except  that they have stumbled onto one of those world changing discoveries that could actually remake civilization more toward that Star Trek world of the future where people have all their basic needs supplied for free and no one works for money but simply as a contribution to the common general well being, according to their  personal desires.

So  some of the “advantages ” of a molten salt reactor aren’t really advantages to a person who understands Permaculture, and there still needs to be some training in simple things like water and soil conservation, as well as better agriculture techniques to reduce energy inputs.

So  Permaculture principles do not disappear simply because of cheap abundant energy sources that do not pollute or cause climate change.

Bill was pretty emphatic that Permaculture needed to permeate all realms, micro and macro, and the swales and ponds I dig on my land are just as important as the molten salt reactors reducing CO2 output and consuming nuclear waste.

That’s right, consuming nuclear waste. Did you hear me?

I said Consuming all those spent fuel rods and misc items of nuclear crap trying to find a home, and turning them into electricity, or heat to melt steel, all with limited extra energy inputs, and amazing energy outputs from the process.

Without doing actual computations, it appears that these reactors would actually solve many other waste problems from man’s current activities and supply unlimited sources of energy going forward into the future. And the reality is that Our use of the thorium would simply be a more targeted application with very small quantities (relatively speaking ) of this same element that has been protecting and sustaining life on the planet.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to the day when we lay down all our tools, stop work and simply walk around in the garden  as supreme co creators , but I also see the hypocrisy of anti nuke enthusiasts benefiting from coal and fossil energy and unwilling to support something that promises to be even less toxic than solar panels.

If I thought solar and wind could scale fast enough to meet all electrical needs I would still want to know what you plan to do with all that nuclear waste.

Where’s elon musk when you need him , he might have an idea:-)


Taking away the pressure to “earn” a living puts me in a somewhat different mindset of what to do with my days. Watching projects unfold, keeping the rates of progress slow, making very careful observations as well as just mindlessly walking around in the early morning can guide and reveal and give perspective.

Often it is difficult to remove a set of existing features and substitute a different design/landscape, until the physical reality actually changes enough to be able to see the underlying hardscape, and what needs to be done to best achieve the desired ends.

Sometimes the original plans need to be totally abandoned, but more often it is a slight detour, postponement, moderate redesign, always of course with the idea of cooperating with the existing natural predisposition.

I’m going to guess that much of this “indecision” at the beginning has to do with my lack of experience, and as I become more adept I will see through existing features and guess the underlying reality more quickly, although, I think even with great experience there is still a responsibility to be alert to any changes that may be needed to make a better design.

Anyway, this morning as I walked around, I noticed many different things about ongoing projects, things that have no special meaning at this time, but may become important later on.  Do the two older beeches in an area get to stay? I had never noticed them until I opened up an area already choked with debris. Pulling out and chipping dead branches and clearing areas below a terrace allowed a more thoughtful penetration into the types of trees that actually populated that area destined to become a food forest.

How many times since clearing that area have I walked through there and not noticed that what I thought were poplar trees were actually beech trees with younger poplar saplings distracting my vision from the actual canopy.

What about some of the tall oaks in an area to be cleared, could they be pollarded and left to grow> Maybe I should finish untangling that wire that has been blocking access and stalling forward progress in a specific area (I did).

Often, without any specific idea of what I “want” to do in a day, the morning walk turns up tasks equally or more important than any plans I might have made, sort of like seeing ripe fruit ready to be harvested. Some jobs are “ripe” at a given time and can be completed easily, with great advantage. Other jobs are ongoing and call for a bit of attention to keep them from stalling out totally.

I have known for several days the next big job is for the backhoe, continuing a swale to a point where I can plant a couple pecan trees sitting in the wings. So while I see other things the backhoe might work on, I really need to get the path to the swale ready so the backhoe can get there.

That is the advantage of having a backhoe as a personal tool, I can take the time to do the preparation jobs well, and not create more work  by simply rushing the backhoe in and cleaning up the bigger mess later. I really like the idea of not being hurried, and my temperament resonates with that. Others might find it too slow or boring,  but I get a satisfaction out of watching jobs grow organically.


Also of course, with an older second hand machine, the ability to be careful and not push too hard can save lots of time and repairs later. Yes, I’m talking about the backhoe, although the same might be said for my own body. No sense in pushing it to break, tomorrow is another day and another morning.

But I digress. Some may prefer the evenings to inspect and admire the achievements of the day, and I do enjoy that aspect of this work, but the time that I enjoy most is mornings, when the day is new, and everything presents itself with the ability for fresh perspective and new understandings.



More big advancements?

I do apologize for the lack of pictures in recent posts, hoping to rectify the snafu in software soon.


Well, I bought a new , used, backhoe, so in theory things should start to move ion a more orderly fashion. The rental routine can be a nightmare with machinery consuming every second of the day, sometimes with split second decision making that ends up being counter productive.


To be able to move a couple piles of dirt and then take time to sort out rocks and debris before actrually using the soil (especially clay for the dam) is an invaluable time and quality saver. Bigger rocks are not optimum in the clay for the dam, and branches etc can be downright subversive. I have barely used the backhoe an hour or two and have already opened up areas for further hand work.


Of course the challenge will be to not try and get too perfect. Hand work is time consuming, and perfection can be the enemy of “good enough”.

Another new development is a working chipper, however this chipper has a 10 horse power motor, only slightly more powerful than the previous chipper, so I am considering a 20 hp chipper that promises to make very quick work of almost everything I can feed into it. the challenge will likely be to keep a perspective and not put too much too fast into it and possibly damage it with inadvertent rocks and the like.

With the influx of cash, I’m also feeling free to purchase things like reinforcing wire for trellises for the garden and gather in supplies that will be useful for longer periods of time. Bill talked about the concept of unused money as a pollutant, and in a very real way, this sort of goes to the axiom that the love of money is the root of evil. Money can be useful when put to use, or it can be a distractant, keeping us from really using it for good purpose, and hoarding it as if it were the actual stuff of life.

At any rate, one more day of travel for yard sales and supplies today, and then settle in for a week of application of these wonderful new tools and supplies.




Spring in full Swing

Here we are approaching the last frost (assuming there might still be one or two left) and I am just barely ready to start planting.

A few nominal efforts to weed the strawberries, and I am more convinced than ever to start replanting them using a sheet mulch and fresh weed free soil on top, as if it were a brand new garden.

It is time to seriously consider the next backhoe rental or purchase, and also time to get really busy clearing the path for swale development.

The goldfish managed to survive in the main goldfish pond in greatly reduced numbers. perhaps losing as many as two thirds of their numbers.

In the upper pond their are about 5 of the 25 catfish I stocked last year. To bew honest however I’m surprised any fish survived in the green yellow mud puddle the upper pond had dwindled down to by the end of the summer.

The real issue with fish survival I believe was the lack of rain through the fall. To be sure the heron took a toll during the summer, but the main killer was simply the climate.

This year there will be several new gardens starting in different places, and some of the planting sites from last year will be developed further and become more productive, but the main focus will still be the ongoing water main frame development.

I continue to read and reread the masters, Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison for hints as to how to proceed, and at present continue to return to the idea that the main frame is a priority in the macro sense, while the close in gardens are the priority in the micro development.

I have started to put in some more perennials blueberry, yellow raspberry, mulberry, etc trying to over stack my plantings with diversity.  The kitchen garden structure also got a fair amount of attention this winter with clearing out some of the remaining trees and briars.

I purchased my first thornless blackberry plant which will be going in at the bottom of the garden and I’m anxious to see how well the native blackberry presence indicates success with the more productive cultivars.

So many different projects call for attention, with so many aspects of ongoing development depending on the water main frame and how well it does its job. I’m fairly confident, but as with so many things, the key will be patience and timing.


Curve Balls.

It can be difficult sometimes to really see a clear choice when real life decisions about  critical issues are somewhat nebulous. How do we make decisions when there is often no black and white answer? This is not just a question about life management, but also one that relates to Permaculture Design.

In Permaculture, we often think of our designs as if they were works of art. Each work is unique, each has strengths and weaknesses,  and each one is an ongoing process of design, observation and adjustment.

Even when all the main decisions are spot on, there is always a new development coming around the corner. Often in well executed designs those developments  have wonderful outcomes as nature steps in and makes supportive connections we could never anticipate. The designed system is not only productive and sustainable, but beautiful intrinsically.

But sometimes we miscalculate, or don’t see complications that end up taking us backward in time and energy. These things happen, and it is rare that anyone gets it all right the first time around. Our “mistakes” though can become great teaching aids.

Our lives can be thought of like a design also. We make decisions sometimes with incomplete data. Things are not always clear black and white, and all possible outcomes cannot be known in advance. So the wheel spins around and we pick the best option we know, and if it turns out it needs adjustment, we make a change the next time around.

The point here is that we live our lives or we hide from them. We go out there and build a design or we spend our time theorizing and afraid to take action.

What’s the worst that can happen? We make a terrible mistake, learn from it, and try a different approach next time. Just keep the three basic ethics as general guides.

Earth Care

People Care

Return of Surplus

Those ethics don’t work just for Permaculture, they work pretty good for living also.


Winter Finally Here?

I’ll believe it when I see it. A month ago I would’ve expected at least one or two nights of killing frosts, but here we are, and one or two nights of a touch of frost on the car, but tomatoes still growing in the garden.

Whether this has anything to do with climate change or is just a quirky temperature swing is tough to say. Maybe as the poles melt and the oceans become bigger, deeper, they will start to shift the axis of the planet and we may be in the sub tropics here in VA–the hot subtropics.

We are definitely in a drought however, and my ram pump is still sending it’s steady trickle of water into the goldfish pond, but heaven only knows how many goldfish survived the heron. I haven’t seen one of my favorites almost all summer, and now I expect I won’t know till spring when they start feeding again just how much damage was done.

The sweet potatoes are still green, and the coldest temps predicted are about 36 for the next week, but even then the temps start going back up, so who knows when a frost might come.

I had planted the sweet potatoes in the garlic bed, and wanted to plant garlic when I dig up the SP but at this rate I won’t have garlic in the ground till december –oh well, such is life. Maybe it’s time to assume that the sweet potatoes won’t actually produce much more at this point and just go ahead with the garlic, and let it get started in this mild weather.

For now though I guess I’ll just sit back and marvel at our good fortune.





Summer is Back Also

With temps rising to the 80s again this week and another spell of dry weather it’s starting to feel like summer again. Maybe it’s not in the 90’s and cools off more at night, but that just makes it even nicer than summer. The growing season gets a nice little boost and last minute projects get a reprieve before the colder weather moves in.

It was pointed out to me that this is a bit early for this expected step back toward summer, but to me things are strange enough otherwise that this variation doesn’t mean anything. Maybe the winter will be longer, colder, or end sooner, but prediction at this stage is premature.

So I think I should plant those fall lettuces, do a little harvesting, start some herbs drying, and in general just enjoy the day.


After the Climax what’s next with the Roof?

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t really such a thrill when that last rafter  locked itself in place, but it certainly started the wrap up of work on the roof and upstairs in general for this season.

As you know if you’ve read earlier posts, I  have dozens of different areas to work in, each one of them having some sort of crisis or other at different times. Gardens were planted more or less on time, but I couldn’t give them near enough time. I managed to build a few new raised beds, but there was still lots more that could have been done. Starting a few new perennials in the food forests and gardens are ongoing projects.

Hand work on the dams was a main time consumer for a while,  sorting through clay, rocks, wood and getting the clay onto the top of the dam.   Both expanding the swale systems and fortifying the dams remain primary concerns. Preparation of areas for the backhoe, clearing brush and trees, surveying swale lines, and  cleaning away debris from other areas all remain as projects to complete before the fall.

So even with the urgency of a better roof system, the Main Frame Water Design is  still the project that is most on my mind and the limiting factor on how much more time can go into the upstairs and the roof. The water design requires time to mature, and incomplete dams invite setbacks, so if the roof rafters being fitted in place was exciting, getting all the dams up to height, with swale systems planted and functional will be an ecstasy  that goes on for a long time.

Looking at the back of the building where the water collection was, reminds me of the many more roof elements that have yet to be completed and that I will need to get a new collection system installed before the winter. Right now the rain barrel at the lower greenhouse supplies most of the water, temporarily taking pressure off the cistern, and there is a backup pump at the spring which can supply water to the cistern, but, having the house back functioning as the primary collector is really ideal

As my energy starts going back toward the water design  most of the roof will still rely  on temporary elements and those elements will need some ongoing attention.  With fiberglass panels that are deteriorating rapidly, a tarp with many tears and holes, and Tyvek as the current covering, they will all need to either be replaced or reinforced over time, and while this last mild rain only produced a couple leaks, I know for sure that the first really strong wind could expose large areas to the rain.

Then there are the finer points of roof construction, the eaves and gutters and all those  things that really make a roof permanent and maintenance free.

Yes, I’m happy about being able to make the step to a better roof structure, but overall the roof remains on the list as one of many works in progress. Once a good permanent structure is in place, the roof can disappear altogether as an energy drain .