Fall?

This has been a drastic change from last year when it was too wet to do much. This year it has been very dry, and instead of water, dust, dry powdery clay is the issue.

It’s kind of interesting to watch the tendency of the mind to be so centered on the moment and when right in the middle of a situation things can seem so permanent that it’s difficult to remember there can be another condition. When it’s dry for a long time it’s hard to remember the water, and when it’s wet, it’s hard to believe things will ever dry out.

Puts me in the mind of the Arkansas Traveler, and the man with the leaky roof who doesn’t feel need to mend it when it’s dry, and when it’s wet it’s impossible to mend it. The end result is the roof continues to leak.

But here that isn’t the case, I’ve had the backhoe in several places that would be impossible in wetter conditions. I went down to the oldest goldfish pond where I couldn’t begin to go last year at this time. With a firm footing underneath the backhoe can go more places and dig out ponds deeper and wider, with less mess.

Creating deeps in a pond is important for many reasons. It gives fish a place to hide to escape predators, provides protection from cold and heat, and also reduces surface area evaporation in extreme drought, giving the fish that last refuge when everything else has dried up.

Regardless of the purpose of the action, there seems to be a strange relationship between the opposite conditions, and often the solution for one extreme is found when the pendulum swings in the other direction.

When it is too wet it’s easy to see where water has found weaknesses in the design, when it is too dry it is possible to rearrange and correct the design for the next time when water is in abundance.

Close to 100 degrees yesterday, 80 today, and barely 70 tomorrow. This feels more like August than October. Just writing it has me even more amazed at the extremes.

It’s tough to keep the few plants left alive watered and with dwindling reserves and little rain in sight everything must be rationed. The middle dam gave some water to the goldfish pond, the small garden pond donated water to the pepper plants, and the catfish in the upper pond have to do without as I watch their pond recede.

Since dry clay does not compact well, backhoe work is limited to establishing the filtration system for the middle pond, and spreading gravel on the driveways.

Dry weather is a good time to work on the driveways, so scraping the drive on the front side of the creek yielded several loads of pine needles and wood chips for the gardens from the other side of the creek, and then adding gravel helps them become more even and dependable for wet weather that will eventually come.

The one area near the middle dam was a creative event to gather more clay for the middle dam, and the sharp cliff that was left will hopefully establish a micro climate for many of the fig trees that have been living in the green house. It’s time to put together mulch and soil there so they can be replanted for their first unprotected winter, and sand and wood chips with salvaged top soil from the pond sites will be primary soil builders for them. A little compost will help as well to contribute lots of soil organisms.

They will also get a very heavy mulch of leaves once planted and with some luck become a regular fig forest.

This post has now officially become a running commentary on the last several months. With other imperatives in my life aside from these projects in Permaculture my house and gardens have suffered serious neglect, but with luck that will change in the coming week.

The dry spell has definitely broken, and I have been told my ponds are filling up. Looks like I may be waiting another year if I want to do any more digging on the upper pond. In fact, back hoe adventures may be severely limited to smaller projects and times when driving it from one location to the next don’t dig deep ruts in the ground.

Retreating inside or to hand tasks in the garden does have its advantages. Rest and planning are at the top of the list. It would be easy to get bored and start chaffing at the bit, leading to misadventures and more harm than good, so having a variety of projects, both inside and out can be a very good thing.

As the weather gets cooler, I’m reminded that the newest version of the rocket mass heater needs to be built. There’s always inside cleanup, and the roof skeleton definitely needs some more work. Not to mention finally fleshing out this post with the pictures it so desperately needs to continue a complete coverage of ongoing developments.

With that I will close, but pictures will be added soon and maybe this post will actually get published. 🙂




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.

Entertainment

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

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 .

The Roof, update 12/23/2018

The roof is performing better in this new temporary state, and with strong winds and very heavy snow loads and lots of rain, it kept everything dry inside, although missing some fascia boards and gutters, I’m getting a fair amount of water accumulating around the foundation.

I could say I planned it this way to test my drains and bring them into good functionality, but the truth is that’s just a happy coincidence, because at the end of the gutters the water pours down and forms a lake right next to the lowest part of the earth around the foundation.

So with the heavy rains, the drains (after much modification, are finally handling  water infiltration very well, although not without some sleepless nights  sweeping water to the drain and chiseling deeper channels in the concrete floor- (I knew there was a reason I didn’t tile the greenhouse right away).

So now that the drains are really working, maybe it’s time to actually add some gutters and take all that water over to the actual planned destination, a pipe that goes under the driveway into the kitchen garden.

I have been upstairs rearranging, cleaning if you will, but really it’s just a warehouse, with space at a premium, and there’s only so much condensing and organizing a person can do before it’s time to let stuff go.

I’m inheriting a bunch of pretty nice stuff from my mom’s house, so it can replace the crap I was using, unfortunately it’s tough for me to throw away anything that’s still functional. So the skeletal additions to the roof  are waiting for clear floor space around the miter saw as well as enough floor space to install the rafters.

I do have some high hopes that I might actually start to move forward on this project in the near future, especially since the first cleaning steps are mostly inside out of the weather. That reminds me, it’s nice out and I left some crap by the door that needs to go somewhere else. Stay tuned.

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.

 

The New Year

Without going into too much of a rant about off grid living, consumption reduction or any other possible changes that might alleviate some stress on the planet, I’ll just mention that the batch burner is doing very well. I am installing a refractory cement cast front to hold the pyroceram  “door”. The clay /fiberglass reinforced frame was wearing out, with large chunks falling away, holes opening up around the edges of the door, and just generally making everything less reliable.

I don’t have much experience working with refractory cement, and likely I will be spending some time working with the casting process, for a major rebuild next year.  The rough cast is almost installed for the time being, and I can hardly wait to run a few fires through it.

I suppose that change is a fitting one to start off the new year with, but I really don’t do much with resolutions. Every thought about change is a good first step, whether it immediately manifests in action or not. Every day is a good one to develop those thoughts that take us to a harmonious existence with this beautiful blue ball we call Earth.

So I guess I’ll wish everybody greater awareness, deeper thoughts, and long term peace and happiness.

Today, even though it is officially New Year’s Day, is still just another day in paradise!

Remember, If you’re not having fun, you’ve got the design wrong.

 

Rain or the lack thereof

It’s getting close to Christmas, by this time last year, riding the backhoe, there were as many wet days as dry ones. If I started building a dam for three days, there was water mucking things up by day four. Then two or three days of sticky mud, and maybe with a little luck a dry day or two undoing the damage of the rain and then  watching the next rain fall.

This year with earthworks on hold we are having almost nothing but dry days, I think the universe needs to see me renting a backhoe before it will allow the rain to fall.

The gold fish pond is so low the poor fish are having trouble breathing, I see them up near the surface of the water, at holes in the ice , and even in the lotus pond, goldfish there are dying. Between the warmer than usual weather, and lack of rain, the fish are not happy campers.

I have started to break the ice when it forms in the lotus and gold fish ponds, and the deaths in the lotus pond are not continuing, I think failure of the  weather to force the fish to hibernate keeps their oxygen demands high, then the ice blocks the oxygen exchange. But that is just a theory.

Building as I can afford it

I guess by this time in my life, most people would have a tight house, be well organized, with all the comforts of home. There are times when I wonder if hiring out my body full time for money, going into debt for thirty years, and building everything right away might have been an easier route. I guess everyone does what they do according to what they know.

For me building this house has been a continuous stop and start affair. Get a little money, buy some parts, move the project forward (sometimes sideways). Right now I’m lowering some of the temporary walls, establishing the permanent top plates and getting ready to set the real roof in place.

The house is a yurt design, but for a while I was still thinking about a more geodesic approach. Now that I have the roof lumber on site with more permanent walls in place, I guess the yurt design is the one I will use- maybe the geodesic will work for a greenhouse.

Anyway, I build with screws, which facilitate changing my mind (the walls started out over 8 feet tall).

This also makes temporary walls and supports easy to construct and easy to remove. Many of the temporary roof boards have never been cut and many have no fasteners except gravity.  So they lay up there in an overlap fashion, resting quietly on temporary walls, waiting for me to get off my ass and finish the job.

Today I unrolled a piece of rubber roofing that has been repurposed many times in earlier structures and cut it in two so I can carry it up the ladder and use it as a quick cover on the central flat roof supported by the yoke of the yurt (no I’m not deliberately trying to be funny).

The point I’m trying to make is, I heartily endorse going slow with large investments, and especially endorse not going into debt any more than necessary,

Yes, occasionally a bit of debt might be useful if it really improves water supplies (as in renting a backhoe for earthworks) or some other investment with really good paybacks, but make sure to have a source of funding that will ultimately pay it back, and do so as quickly as possible. It’s no fun being in servitude to the bank.