Marcus Harden

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since Jan 12, 2012
NE Oklahoma
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Recent posts by Marcus Harden

The nitrogen issue is one that I've considered for awhile. Would monthly nitrogen fertilizer supplement for the first year or so aide with the breakdown enough to matter? I know it's not the permie way strictly speaking, but the goal is to re-engineer the land and I'd rather take the quickest way to the right track then wait on mother nature to do ALL of the heavy lifting (though I still love her).

Other than the larger species of trees and native shrubs I had also planned to introduce a clover/nitrogen fixing cover crop to the areas that will be shaded in 5 years or so. Native-based clover and wildflower meadow crops would live in most places for a few years until the trees grew to eventually shade them out. It's my understanding that in the beginning these typically are benefited by low nitrogen soils because it starves out a good deal of competition while they're establishing. In the long run they'll be shaded out mostly and replaced with shade tolerant species on the long-term plan list.

4 years ago
Should have done a little more digging.

There's a whole group dedicated to this.
4 years ago
I'm in year two of creating my forest garden on about 2 acres in NE Oklahoma. My lot is on (typical for this area) over grazed pasture on shallow limestone. So we have a few inches to a few feet (less than two) of pretty dense black-clay soil on anywhere from a few feet to a few inches of porous gray limestone. That is, once the water percolates through the clay it drains well, septic fields don't have a problem in this area. Challenging environment for agriculture though. My secret weapon is the fact that our local green dump gives free truckloads of shredded mulch. I plan to copiously dump this stuff on my property and since we're just getting started, till (usually a no no, I know) lots of organic matter into the clay dirt. The tilling is a one time operation to try to augment the soil with enough organic matter that I can make decent use of a swale with a hegelkugel hill on the downhill side. The thought is, if I get enough organic matter into the soil it will absorb and retain water better without having to just bury the entire clay mess.

Anyway, this brings me to my main question. Mosquito fish and other minnow-sized larvae eaters are native to this area, and naturally with swales come breeding opportunities for pest species like mosquitoes. So, I'm planning to run my swale through a natural low point and make it into a natural pool-type pond. That is I'll be pumping water uphill a few feet into a large gravel bed to simulate a river system and about 80% of the surface area will be moving through a gravel substrate that allows me to grow aquatic plants to keep the nitrogen levels reasonable in the pool. A natural filter if you will.

My hope is that during heavy rains the swale will fill and as the water stands filtering into the soil the mosquito fish and other native species will be able to run into the swale channel and have an insect buffet for a few days before the swale drys and the water forces them back into their little pond.

1.) Does this sound like it will work?

2.) What's the legality of taking natural species to stock a pond. Morally, I think I've got the high ground. I'm preserving species native to the area that may be threatened in their natural habitat. But law doesn't not always point in the direction of greater good.

3.) Has anyone actually kept North American native species in freshwater aquariums or anything for long enough to know what kinds of things I should expect?

4.) One concern of mine is proper overflow. I plan to put it in the pond somehow and I think what I'll do is have a large-ish high area filled with gravel (french drain concept) but under this will open to a drainpipe. The idea is to prevent the poor little critters from getting sucked into the drain and swept out into the lawn.
4 years ago
I don't know how long it would last but indeed, pine tar was once the only way to waterproof a ship. As I understand it you had to continually maintain the ship in order to keep it waterproof.

The by-product is char. Char coal is a mixture of natural tree char, and mineral bed coal. Hence charcoal.

Anyway, you might find it useful, although getting enough to make this meaningful would be tough I suspect.
9 years ago
Termites can't chew through carefully laid concrete. They can find a small hole or crevasse to burrow through and they can chew through many soft plastics. They will also burrow around a barrier by building a mud tube. As Greg suggests flashing would probably be most useful around and under doors and door-frames and wood that's close to the foundation. Copper would be expensive but I guess it would last longer, there may be a better alternative available to you like aluminium or something.

Wood borers are another case entirely. I'd say consult an entomologist but I doubt you'd have easy access to that. Wood boring beetles come in varieties, some eat deadwood, some don't. Most need humidity, a few don't. Some will avoid common chemicals others don't mind them.

If you have some way of freezing them that can be an effective treatment, but it's tricky to pull off. Obviously, prevention is your best ally.
I think if you keep it dry that would go a long way. If you have access to pressure treated lumber use that in the main structure of the home. Borax, also known as sodium borate, will help as you suggested, if you drench your lumber in it before you use it. Between the two and common sense inspection I think you'll be ok.

Last note on wood borers is that there are some species that will live with the wood for a long time before hatching and eating it. Be careful, then, about wood selection. Make sure to pull the bark off as many of those lay eggs on the bark or tunnel in from the outside so you should be able to see if a particular piece of timber is already infested.
9 years ago
Termites can't live in dry places and will not eat dry wood. Whatever you do keep your timber as dry as possible. Don't encase it in cob but leave some exposed (exposed to the inside of the house might be preferred) to allow a way for it to dry out quickly and breath.

They will burrow in tubes through anything they can in order to get at moist wood or they will surround dry wood and eventually it will moisten from the activity of the hive. I suppose a metal barrier will work, but just as well is rock or concrete. Perhaps use a concrete based mortar on your footing even if it's just a few inches of concrete/rock. If they can't physically burrow to the wood they won't be able to eat it and this mortar can be mixed with sand and clay. Your goal is a super-hard, rock-like layer they can't eat through. Unlike metal concrete won't rust away if exposed to a little moisture.

Chemical agents are a short-term solution. Look at railroad ties for example. They're literally soaked in heavy tar and chemicals yet when they stay moist they will rot or get eaten by termites pretty quickly. The other thing about chemicals is that they leach out eventually. I'm not saying not to use them, but I am saying that you should make keeping the timber dry and unreachable by termites the top priority. Chemicals will only help, they won't solve the problem in any amount.

Inspections would include looking at the bases of your footing for tubes coming from the ground. Destroy these on sight and chemically treat the area with whatever will KILL termites. 0
Tubes likely mean they're eating your house not living in it. If you kill off the tubes usually that stops the problem, but they're persistent and will continue to try to find a way in. If you kill enough scouts with chemicals they will stop trying to come back after some time. Though it's not environmentally nice I've heard poring mineral spirits into their hole will do the trick. It destroys the chemical scent trail they leave marking your house as good eating and it kills a fair number of them at the same time. I only say that because I imagine you may not have good access to enviro-friendly alternatives out there.

Make sure the floors inside are sealed as well. If you want cheap flooring earthen tile would be do-able. Simply mix up clay/sand/concrete and tile the interior to prevent them from tubing inside. There are other options but the basic principle is to make something they can't physically tunnel through. Linseed oil is a typical way to finish these kinds of traditional floors.

Another thing to look out for is roaming colonies. You want to keep an eye out for colonies starting under the eaves of your roof. I would treat these yearly at the beginning of drone season, when you see termite drones flying around. That's your best hope of protection. Sodium borate, borax, salt and lime are all somewhat effective at deterring, but not killing, termites, but they do kill fungi, and kill plants and algae... Mixing all or some of those together (whatever is available) would make a decent preventative treatment under eaves and on exposed wood surfaces.
9 years ago
When you say "cross sectional area" you mean the area of the pipe opening, right? As in the area of a circle A = pi*r^2

Any particular reason you chose a steel outer door rather than something that would provide some insulation? Do you think it'll make a difference?

Given that the air volume changes after combustion by a bunch, do you think restricting the air intake further and using a smaller fire would help retain a little more heat for your wood?

I guess what I'm saying is that it looks like your design allows combustibles to burn in the flue rather than in the chamber. Is the flue able to absorb much of that energy? It seems like restricting the air flow and having a smaller fire would mean less air volume in, but in order to prevent smoke you'd need less combustible material. I think that wasteful smoke is caused by two things fundamentally. #1 the fire isn't hot enough to burn those bits or effectively deal with them, things like excess moisture. This also means if you have way too much cool air (intake) coming in you'll cool the outer surface of the combustibles and this will cause smoke. This smoke is white and billowy. #2 combustible material is charring and not burning because of lack of oxygen, the remaining combustible gas goes up the flue in other words too much fuel or not enough oxygen. Which are essentially the same thing. This smoke is less "puffy" more "sooty".

If you think that's a worthwhile thought would you mind experimenting? I plan on building a stove soon so if you don't get the chance I'll give it a shot, but I'd appreciate your experience all the same.

Thanks for the great idea!
9 years ago

I'd like to know how this turns out. I don't think you should be hurt by cob traditionalists. I think building a cob structure manually can be fun and fulfilling for some, but by and large I agree with you. Human progress and innovation shouldn't be inhibited because "this is the way it's always been done". Isn't that often a mentality that gets us into all kinds of quagmires?

From an environmentalist standpoint there's even less to complain about. Aside from the process of construction itself, the building you've constructed will have taken and will take far less energy to maintain and build on than a conventional structure. Also, should it be abandoned the materials will (for the greatest part) naturally degrade and have little to no impact on the surrounding area.

Point is, no matter what way you look at it, it's a step in the right direction.

Finally, cob now is just as intensive as any home was to build by hand at any other time. Think about it, before lumber yards, pre-fabbed framing, and all of the tools and innovations that came with them building a house was hard work. Turns out it still is. I think it's great someone is trying to make technology make a better home. I imagine in time there will be inventions that make building a cob home far less labor instinctive than it is now. Homes will go up quicker and be made better along the way.

Envision a world where modern building is heavily influenced by natural building. You consult an architect and they do a soil sample on your land and give you options as to the building methods in various places. Whether it be cob or rammed earth tires or a geodesic dome. The design takes the movement of the sun into consideration and yearly temperatures, soil temperature and permeability, etc. They design the structure and say you decide on cob. The builders rent a cob mixer from a home depot, there are special tools for cob building, and plasters that breath and are made from sustainable products simply dug up and mixed but that need little to no energy to make unlike concrete. A result of digging up the cob is a trench to lay PEX tubing for earth tubes. Vertical turbine wind generators are the fad in your neighborhood so you put one up. You hire a landscaping company that keeps a compost pile on your property (YOU DO NOTHING but add organic waste, they send out landscapers to turn it and manage it. Maybe reduce your monthly costs by buying back compost.) In addition your compost now heats your home. Perhaps toilet waste is connected to a community sewer that burns the methane produced for electricity in your neighborhood. The remaining waste is pumped to an algae farm as algae food which is harvested for oil products and more natural fertilizer.

These are all wonderful things to consider. It's one thing to go offgrid (I like the idea myself), but those of us that are more extreme have to have respect for guys like Dale, that simply want to bring the lessons learned to the common man. Certainly no harm can come of that. Only good things.
9 years ago
Traditional English cob homes get around this by plastering with a mixture with lots of lime. If you don't want lime-white walls you might throw in some natural coloring and a bit of clay to bring it more into an earth tone. From my understanding molds and fungi can't deal with lime.

The other thing about mold is your foundation. If you've built a bad foundation you'll have mold problems. This is the case with ANY house. In the case of cob, you'll want to trench your outside walls and lay down a foot or two of gravel in your trenches, then build up on that with stone or something that won't soak up groundwater at least a foot . Then start in with the cob. Big eaves also help.
9 years ago
I think running over cob with a motor vehicle is a step back. You'd probably expel more energy (as a human) just shifting and pressing the gas pedal.

But, I see where you're going. I'd thought of using a cement mixer but those who've tried it say that it works but it's not the best solution because the cob sticks to the sides. The pros build their own purpose built machines.

I LOVE the idea of using a set of tiller tines. I hadn't heard that. One guy rigged up a trailor to an old rear end of a truck. Then he set it up so that when he locked in the trailor he could drive around and mix the cob with a lawnmower blade attached to the drive train of the differential.

If I were you I'd start with the tiller idea... It's made to work in that kind of soil and do exactly what you're trying to do with cob. Maybe invert the tines and mount them in some kind of hopper.

I've also heard good things about an auger and a drum. Fill the drum with the material and auger the crap out of it. If you reverse the auger direction you should be essentially kneading the cob which is what you want.

9 years ago