While I very much admire what Cal-Earth is doing (and has designed); I really like the simplicity, strength, and added flexibility of an internal framework. I am surprised I don't see more done with Geodesics and earth bag. I have seen a few examples of straw infill with domes; but I think the simplicity of both earth bag and geodesic domes work very well together to give a very strong waterproof structure that is near indestructible. Sarah Yoa's topic on this forum got the wheels of my mind rolling again; and brought me back to this subject. I would be interested in a discussion on what would work/not work on this method, as well as any experience along these lines people here have had.
What I propose is a 6v ( 1/2 or 5/8 ) dome of thin walled square tubing welded; and wrapped in earth tubes (either earth or rice hull.) A 6v dome has almost a smooth radius. It requires more connections but shorter struts. But it makes the shape more compatible with earth bags as it has smoother radius and more support with small spans. It also has a level bottom making traditional foundations easier. A 5/8 sphere reduces the foot print of flooring/foundation material while maximizing interior space.
I am sure most have seen this by now on a dome home in the tropics. He has done an outstanding job on his house; but going through the pictures of his building process there are some issues. First this would never meet any code. (he built on a private plantation in Thailand.) And second, I don't think it has a life span of more than 20 years.
Please don't get me wrong. Steve get's 5 starts for every category: Creativity, Design, and actually DOING it. If I ever met him, he would drink for free. I am just concerned that overtime the settling of the mortar without any structural support on single whythe masonry will be problematic long term.
All this is however achievable with earth bag construction with an internal structure. Buckminster Fuller proved mathematically that the dome is the strongest configuration with the least material. The stumbling block is that the construction material and techniques common to us don't adapt well to anything non rectilinear. But is that not where earth bag excels?
I know most folks don't have a lot of familiarity with welding. It is something of a scary dark magic if you have not done it. However, a MIG welder is cheap, portable and unbelievably easy to use with about 15 minutes of practice. It can be run off a generator on site. It give secure joints and unlimited flexibility of design for window openings and doors. However, one could use less conventional means if they were really opposed. Surplus 2 inch 3/16 wall square tubing can be had for less than a dollar a foot in my part of the country. I just see this as a really good hybrid solution and am having trouble understanding why I am not seeing it done.
I don't have THE answer you are seeking, but have given some thought to that myself. Primarily to determine how deep my swales should be. Looking at the weather data from Twentynine Palms weather station, August is you wettest month (although that certainly is a relative term.) At a norm of .76 inches (planning for the biggest rain event) that produces 20,600 gallons of water per acre. Obviously the farther apart your swales are, the deeper they will need to be. The closer together the more shallow they can be. I can not find any data on the soil map data page for Joshua Tree, CA. (I find that odd.) I can not tell how quickly water infiltrates into the soil. The slower it infiltrates (fast run off), the closer your swales will need to be to slow and capture it.
That being said, I think you could approach the problem from a more productive direction. You get rain. Not nearly enough, so the real importance is to KEEP your rain. Evaporation is the biggest enemy. How far apart can the swales be while still sheltering the swale from the sun and wind? From a capture stand point the distance does not matter as much, as long as you are catching all of it. However, it will make a big difference if the growth can not shade the ground between and in the swale effectively. From my understanding it is all about the mulch and organic matter in the swale that can retain the moisture rather than total volume of water that makes the most difference.
I would go with as close as practical staring on the uphill grade; and mulch then ground cover, ground cover, ground cover. While over story is important and mesquite would be a good variety, the ground cover per square foot of coverage is going to cool and protect the soil better than your trees, until they are well established.
I don't know much about straw bale; but I do know you can not substitute hay. Hay is 'greener' than straw. It has more organic matter and moisture. The hay will break down over time and lose volume and eventually return to soil. Straw is much more stable over a longer period. Also hay is 'wetter' than straw and will cause moisture/mold issues inside your walls. Straw has a very very low moisture content.
If you build with straw you will likely have to truck it in from a grower that specializes in high compression bales; or have someone custom bale the straw. The bales have to be around 900 to 1000 psi to make good building material. I have read the 'normal' baling pressure of straw bales is in the 400 psi range. Again, this is just from reading a few years back.
If your can is not lasting, try putting the container on the fire towards the end of the burn. It sounds like too much heat is causing fabric fatigue. You don't need a lot of heat to burn off the gases and the temp will rise when the gases start to burn. I would suggest trying it on the coals of the waning burn. If you can hold your open palm over the fire for less than 7 seconds, the fire is too hot.
Thermometer reading: 450° F to 500° F
Hand check: 1 to 2 seconds
Thermometer reading: 400° F to 450° F
Hand check: 2 to 4 seconds
Thermometer reading: 350° F to 400° F
Hand check: 4 to 5 seconds
Thermometer reading: 300° F to 350° F
Hand check: 6 to 7 seconds
Thermometer reading: 250° F to 300° F
Hand check: 7 to 9 seconds
The cumulative weight of the bags and roof make a stable wall. I don't know of any wind load testing that has been done, though. If you are concerned about storm events, one can 'stake' the bags with Rebar embedded in the foundation through the bags for added lateral stability.
If you are below grade or have berm-ed earth against the bags, it would not be safe. There is not enough mass to counter the weight of berm-ed earth. Hulls work well in above grade applications where there is need for insulation. But they are low mass so do not stand well against lateral loads.
Rice Hulls in woven poly bags can be built (above grade) from ground level up to any height earthbags would be done. They are not mixed with anything. Just packed tight and tamped/squared. There are rice dryers in states east of the Mississippi. The material is inexpensive. You will likely pay more to truck it than to purchase the material. Search for rice dryers/processors close to your area. Cargill has operations in Memphis. There are several in western AR.
Hulls do not need to be amended with anything. They can be embedded in clay to make adobe blocks. However, bag fill is the most practical application.
edit: Since this ended up in the earthship section the below is not really applicable. Rice Hulls would not be suitable for a bermed structure, I believe.
Have you explored the idea of rice hulls as a fill material for your bags rather than soil/gravel? A full bag of hulls will be a small fraction of the weight of anything else. Once you get to the upper courses, whether you fill and lift or fill in place, you will appreciate the difference, especially working primarily by one's self.
If you don't go with a lighter fill, please spend the money to invest in some sturdy scaffolding (<$1000) to give yourself a solid safe work platform to work on the upper courses. One does not want to be buried alive or have one's child have to be a first responder to a broken back or neck. Falling off a wall can be bad juju. The money is worth it.
As I see it, the first decision to make is: do you want the resources/nutrients/SOM to be captured in place or exported off the farm?
If you hay it, you exchange (via a couple of different avenues) the nutrient for money. If you don't own the farm out right, there is a strong arguement for haying it this season for maximum net income and rolling the money back into the property. However, if you have everything paid for and are really opposed to haying it (either yourself or some other arrangement), then the next best idea is to allow the soil to feed itself. Either let it sit fallow (low return low effort), chop and drop it with existing species, or replant and let a different pasture establish.
Everything else besides the essential question of exporting a crop or recycling the nutrient are details.
I am wading through the swamp of information on the State's website about water rights and resources for permitting. I am finding a lot of it has to do with residential issues and not agricultural pursuits. I know the water rights issue is a messy one. I suspect that is why their is so little information beyond backyard ponds, and rainwater harvesting for flower gardens.
Can anyone point to an authoritive website that discusses a land owner's rights to construct ponds (permitted of course) on private property for agricultural purposes? Does anyone have any experience in this area they care to share?
I am making a lot of assumption on what I think is water law, as it applies to the State, especially east of the Cascades; but would like to get a primer on the issue before I sit down with a professional to discuss viability of a land purchase in the Ellensburg Valley. The land does NOT have 'water rights' that convey. However, it is agricultural land (by historic use and zoning) and has a working well, established in 1996 on the property (per county well log.) It also has two wet weather drainages that intercect the property. I plan to do swales and plant with the intent to retain rainfall and improve fertility. I am interested to know if swales on contour can be tied into a stock tank on one or both of those drainages. My assumption is 'no'. But I don't know that for fact.
Here is site from an Arizona Water Management group. It list plants and their water requirements that do well in arid climates. You might find some ground covers to keep that dirt under control and start improving it.
Helen Gilson wrote:Thanks for posting this. I get the use of a bunyip to gauge elevations but I don't understand where the swale should go once I know the contour. I keep reading Swales can go really wrong if not planned correctly. I guess I'm too much of a visual learner!
Visualize (or better yet, spray paint) a line connecting all the points one marks with the level. This paints a visual marker for the swale. This line should then be the downhill lip of the swale that is dug. Of course the dirt that comes out of the ground will be mounded up on top of this line. Since water seeks it's own level the contour edge needs to be to the down hill side of the swale. That keeps the water level in the trench; and not flowing left or right in the swale. Does that make it any clearer?
Admittedly, I have just skimmed the responses, since I am work and should be using my time more productively. However, I did not see any response to just composting the 'rests'. Certainly, use all one can; but there will always be some that is not consumed. How is your soil? Does it need fertility and how do you maintain it. Granted one does not want other animals digging it up, but that can be controlled. Why not compost the rest as and reuse the organic matter?
Bill Bradbury wrote:
We planted perennial wheat in the pastures at my parents' place with a few native grasses and rotate the horses so they don't overgraze. This is alright for open range, but it sounds like you would like something a little more productive.
Would you mind sharing your experience with the perennial wheat, what variety, and any secret sources? It would be much appreciated. I would love to give a variety a try that is a good deep rooting variety that produced a useable grain.
A couple of recommendations. First get a tractor with a subsoil or ripper into the area that you have not improved. One does not plow the surface, but opens deep fissures to combat compaction and gain aeration. It will also allow some water channelling. If you have the same Gulf Prairie Clay Gumbo soil as the rest of us the rain sits on the surface and percolates slowly or not at all. The sub soiled helps. Make sure you "call before you dig" and tell them what you are doing. In a development that could be a disaster.
Next is 'green manure' crops for the barren ground. Alfalfa has a great root system and is a thirsty drinker. Turn some of that water into plant fiber. The root channels will further open up the soil for drainage. Alfalfa seed is available online, at the local feed store, or farm and ranch supply house. Pinto Peanut is a good legume that will add nitrogen to the soil and keep the ground covered, an important step to soil health. Clover is another or alternate cover crop, also a legume. Once a crop is established in later seasons one can add as many varieties of grass as will grow. Diversity is good. Vetch, bermuda, fescues, seed them all and let them find a balance. A strategically placed 'heavy drinker' or two might also help dry up the excess water. A willow has a root system that breaks up soil and will absorb a lot of moisture.
As far as the area you have been working, keep doing what you are doing. Some of the crops above will help, if they don't compete with what you are raising. Just keep the soil covered and lots of organic matter layer on top. A plant called comfrey is popular to 'chop and drop' onto the soil as a green mulch. There are places that sell cuttings on the internet. Do some homework. Some varieties are 'invasive' and hard to control from seed. Others have sterile seed and propagate from cuttings.
Could you tell us how many inches of precipitation you get in your area, and perhaps a general idea of where in Wyoming your property is? (Central, East, etc...) That might help as a frame of reference.
On the windbreak, I would suggest you planting another species to supplement the Pines. I know how many of them died in 2010 here in Central Texas during the drought...and then burst into flames. One of the many reasons I am not a fan of pines. I would recommend Bamboo as a wind break. I would not be concerned with the clumping vs running species debate. If a running variety could establish itself, so be it. Doesn't sound like you have enough water for it to be the issue it is lamented on suburban lawns. Also when the poles mature, cut them and make bio char for the soil to hold more moisture and biology. The shade of a timber bamboo species will also help cut solar evaporation as well as the convective loss of moisture. Here is a list of a few cold hardy bamboos down to -20F.
A few things. Fish need cover and some shade from direct sunlight. Perhaps a cutting from the willow along the western edge of the pond for the harsh afternoon sun would provide some habitat if you get fish.
Catfish can and will live anywhere. They are the sanitation crew of your pond. They keep the dead plant life cycling and prevent anaerobic conditions. If you talk to the local kids a buck a piece for ones too small to keep, you could take care of things quickly. They will improve the health of the pond.
Also a very cheap and low commitment strategy would be to buy a few pounds of live minnows at a bait shop. Obviously enough to ensure at least one breeding pair to make it sustainable. If nothing else they will help the existing aquatic species you have as a food source. They are also necessary food for anything you transplant. Minnows are a couple bucks. Sun perch and crappie are fairly small hardy breeds that do well in ponds. Again, they might be available from a bait shop.
A carnivorous fish like bass would likely eat itself out of food supply and perish in a small pond. I would wait to see how the overall health develops before investing in any type of larger game fish.
I was going to recommend kelp and seaweed wash up along the beaches of the Sound, just miles away from you, but that has been covered. I would also suggest making use of the volcanic ash that is still being packaged and sold in the area from Mt. St. Helens. I would buy it as an absorbent in 25# bags for a couple of bucks. A lot of minerals from deep within the earth were renewed back to the surface in that event. Largely unspoiled by modern industrialization would be my guess.
But first, I would have a soil test done for a few bucks. You may find that your soil is not deficient at all. If it is, it will allow you to target specific compounds rather than a random approach.
The ant lion builds inverted cones in the sand with steep sides. As a bug crawls along and falls into the pit, it is grabbed by the ant lion before it can crawl up the steep slope. Very common in Central Texas.
Perhaps he is taking a page from Mark Shepard's playbook. Plant as many trees as possible for maximum genetic sampling. The seedlings that thrive without care stay. The one's that die, good riddance. The one's that grow but don't produce well with little care, get culled for their wood value. Still that is a lot of culling. However, maximum genetic sampling does make sense from a statistical variation perspective. I believe Mark sums it thus: "You can never roll 5 of a kind, if you only have 3 dice."
I would encourage you to still consider the rice hulls. Beaumont and Houston are not that far. With the price of diesel finally getting right for the first time in about 5 years, it will not be that bad to transport. In fact the material can be had for less than it cost to transport. There are dryers closer to you than Houston, but you can contact Gulf Pacific in Houston to get prices and delivery. It would be worth investigating.
Your other half may be more comfortable with the idea of pole barn construction with Earth/rice hulls/strawbale infill. You are in timber country, so getting the logs for the structure should be easy and inexpensive.
Make sure you do your due diligence on the tax consequences of purchasing land that has been in Timber Exempt status. Often past year accruals carry to the new owner. The previous owner may have had cheap taxes, pulled the cash out of the asset without resolving past tax burdens, and you get the bill. I don't know anything about Canadian tax code. I would make sure I asked someone whom did before I made an offer.
I would agree that the Bunyip is the best solution. I would add to this as a visual or a general reference. One could use a string level stretched between two stakes and leveled to gravity with a spirit level. This is the same technique a fence builder or mason would use. Two points on the earth with a taut line adjusted up or down until a bubble level shows level to the gravitational field of the earth. "X" units of measure below the string will be level "on contour" regardless of what bump of divit is below the string. One can level or fill appropriately. Or drive a stake and mark the string line with high visibility markings. Stepping back the marks on the stake line will show your contour line regardless of uneven terrain.
I won't link any videos here. One can find many on youtube by searching for those two words. I don't know if you have access to compressed air at the Labs or not. For animals this small a standard bbq propane tank can be refilled with enough air to do several small animals and filled when you go into town.
Air skinning is the process of cutting a small slit in a leg/s and placing a compressed air nozzle under the skin. The pelt will fill like a ballon and separate the skin from the muscle, saving all that work with connective tissue. It prevents one from using a knife and damaging the pelt. This is especially beneficial if one is going to skin the small sensitive areas of the pelt without damage. Once the hide is separated from the muscle one can 'unzip' the hide with a knife very quickly.
I once rented an old farmhouse on an acre that had not been cared for in many many years. A corporation was waiting for the right time to bulldoze and sub divide. It has a stand of mature cedar trees that had been planted as a privacy screen, too close when young and never thinned. They were so close together and thick that I never knew there was an Italian Plum tree that had somehow crawled up though to a little patch of morning sun. My dog found it actually. I was curious what she was doing one day when she would not come out of the trees. I pushed my way through from the west side and found dozens of pounds of small black plums on the ground and dozens more still in the tree.
I say this because my journey in permaculture is teaching me to question what all the conventional wisdom says. Often what is stated is 'ideal conditions' or textbook knowledge. Some of it is correct. A lot of it discounts natures resiliency. Just like that little plum tree, nature fights hard. That whole acre had mature fruit trees that produced apples, cherries, plums, blueberries, and a few other things in the heavy shade of Old growth Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars. By the text book none of those trees should have established or produced. I would say plant a few varieties of your favorites and give them a chance. You never know.
Since this is below that large hill/s and is spring fed, it will be hard to make into a food plot. With that much hydraulic pressure pushing the water into the low areas, it will be impossible to rearrange the land to be dry. I think your two options will look something like this: soak up as much as possible, and grow food above natural grade.
Dry it out: Black walnut, Dogwood, and maybe willows along the stream banks to act as 'batteries' to pull excess water out of the system. The higher up the hill the better if sunlight is an issue. They are not food crops, per se; but have heavy water requirements to draw off the excess. I know mature pecans require at least 50 gallons of water a day per tree. I am sure Walnuts are comparable. Also cutting the tap root while young will force the feeder roots to do the heavy lifting for water needs, pulling that water from the surface rather than the deeper water table. You might lose some trees in a dry year; but if they are for water absorption, they would be considered sacrificial anyway. Sunflowers also are heavy drinkers. I think your chickens might be in heaven if they could eat sunflower seeds all day. It also generates a lot of bio mass for mulching and composting beds above grade.
Above grade: Would require brining in sand mix or top soil. The water may wick up from the ground, but you have a better chance of not water logging the roots. It may take several seasons to generate enough mass to make a difference. Otherwise it is hauling in dirt/sand.
I will give this more thought and add to the conversation after I have had time to reflect more.
Not to beat a dead horse too much, but chickens do very well on bamboo leaves: So do cows and horses, especially as a winter forage rather than just hay.
Nice project piece of land. Thanks for letting us tag along. It looks fertile. Tell us more about it. Where are you in the world? Long hard winters or shorter mild? Is is swamp because it is the bottom of a run off (looks like a fair sized slope in the one picture) or is it another reason (clay soil, road ditch, etc...) How much rainfall? All at once or steady over the months? Does it ever dry out or is always marshy?
From a permie perspective, go with the lands natural tendencies. What do you need that likes lots of water? Do you need a wood lot? Bamboo makes a great riparian boundary plant. It has use for winter forage for animals, soil stabilization, fence posts, building material, as well as an excellent food source (people and animals.) In the NW Red Alder loves that condition. Grows fast and makes good heat.
Would the soil drain better if there were deep rooted plants to break up the soil and get the water down to the water table? Muellin, comfrey, willow trees, Nut trees with deep tap roots? Have you mixed up a handful of dirt in water in a glass jar and let it settle out to see what the soil how the soil is composed?
Tell us about the lay of the land and the current condition of the soil, please. If you could drain it well, what would you prefer to use it for?
Athena Parker wrote:
Any thoughts/plans for using the displaced soil for an earthen greenhouse?
Are you familiar with COB building? There is a forum here and lots of internet resources to give you an idea. Normal soil mixed with Straw and adjusted to the an acceptable clay/sand ratio is used to build walls. A 3ft knee wall to support your glazing would work well. As for plans or thoughts, I like a one side, South facing, greenhouse in a shed design, running east-west. This eliminates a lot of trouble with glazing and sealing a glass/plastic roof while still utilizing all day sun.