Ben Tyler

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since Jun 07, 2012
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Recent posts by Ben Tyler

This spring I'm putting in a small PV system to pump water from the creek to some IBC totes we've strategically placed around the orchard. I've installed a few small scale off-grid PV systems for tiny homes and cabins before, but never a pump, so I would love to hear some feedback from you all on my design! I'll lay it all out in detail here, and please fire away with any questions or thoughts you have on it.

PV panels:
- there are two 100-watt panels, 18.6 volts Vmp, 5.38 amps Imp each
- these are connected in parallel, for a total of 200 watts, 18.6 volts Vmp, 10.76 Imp
- these are mounted to the top of an IBC tote in the closest sunny location

Cable from panels to charge controller:
- from my point of view this is the stickiest part of the design.
- the controller, battery bank, and pump are all in a small pump house alongside the creek (in separate rooms so the pump doesn't accidentally spray the electronics).
- the distance between the PV panels and the charge controller is 110 feet.
- 18.6 volts, 10.76 Imp, traveling 110 feet, with 4% Vmp loss, I would need to use 4-gauge cable.
- I'm splicing together two 6-gauge cables I already have to create the same effect as a single 4-gauge cable.

Charge controller:
- 12 volt, 20 amp MPPT charge controller
- I'll be connecting the pump to the load terminals on the controller, and setting the controller to shut off the pump when the panels aren't receiving sunlight. The controller also has an over-discharge shutoff to protect the batteries
- Rated load current is 20 amps, so the pump can't exceed 20 amps

Battery bank:
- rather than buy an actual pump controller, I'm using a couple of old sealed AGM batteries I have laying around, now that we've upgraded our off-grid tiny home to lithium. These batteries are old and don't hold much charge, but if the pump is only running during the day then I figure these batteries will just be providing a little padding while most of the power comes from the PV panels
- two 12-volt, 55 Ah sealed AGM batteries, connected in parallel, for a total of 110 Ah (but they're so old it's probably more like 25 Ah total)

- Shurflo 2088-514-145 diaphragm pump
- it has an adjustable pressure switch, so it'll mostly be on standby and will automatically turn on when a float valve opens (I'm installing float valves in our tanks)
- 12 volts, up to 9.5 amps, so I'm hoping that even if the start-up current is twice as much it'll still be 19 amps and won't scare the charge controller
- it's also self-priming up to 9 feet (I'll position this 2 feet above a suction strainer in the creek bed, on the bank 5 feet away)

Hose to Tanks:
- this is probably the weakest part of the design. I don't even really know how to calculate the loss in flow on paper. On top of that, my old 2" discharge hose is leaking badly so I'm switching to all the old 3/4" garden hoses I've collected over the years. If they restrict the flow too much I think I'll upgrade to 2" schedule 40 pvc. But I really just pulled 2" out of the air. If anyone knows how to calculate the proper pipe diameter I should be using, please let me know!
- the first tank inlet is 110 feet from the pump, with an 8 foot rise
- the second tank inlet is 300 feet from the pump, with a 10 foot rise
- the third tank inlet is 500 feet from the pump, with a 10 foot rise

Thanks to everyone who actually reads all of this, and thanks in advance for any advice or feedback you might have!
- Ben
4 months ago

r ranson wrote:Beer traps worked so well for me when I was gardening in the city.  It was an allotment so I had no control of the environment outside the garden bed. But beer traps with the cheapest beer possible would remove enough slugs each night to prevent any slug damage.

R Ranson this is a tactic I've always wanted to try, but I feel I'm still lacking on the details. Could you describe exactly how your beer trap tactic worked? Like, what did you use for the container? How big/deep was it? Did you bury it? Was the surface of the beer at ground level, or did they have to climb over a brim and jump in to reach it? Did you need to leave the beer open to get warm and flat first? Where did you set the traps - in the middle of your beds, in the pathways, etc, and (last one) how many traps would you set over how many square feet?

I would love to up my slug game this spring, but I've never been interested in purchasing yet another pest control product like Sluggo. It's more the economics of buying in single-use consumables that turns me off. So far I've been relying making my garden less hospitable for them, like cutting the grass as short as possible to dry everything out and eliminating any sort of slug shelter like exposed cardboard or small rock piles. I've also had noticeable success with attracting snakes and skinks with strategically placed basking stones.... But I do still have to pick them off everything after a rain...
Can someone clarify for me, is this just the chart that I can see in the pic in the original post? Are there any pages dedicated to explaining why certain plants are listed as good / not good together? Or, at least a reference list?
7 months ago
*Now accepting intern applications for the 2021 season (May 2-October 4, 2021 - 1 month minimum stay)! Email to apply.*

COVID Update: We were able to safely carry out our internship last season and host 25 interns throughout the pandemic, by implementing a number of safety protocols. Interns are required to quarantine for 2 weeks prior to arrival, and upon arrival, to have their temperature checked using a non-contact thermometer. At the farm, we all quarantine on-site together.

Unadilla Community Farm is a non-profit off-grid solar-powered education center following the principles of organic agriculture, regenerative agroforestry, and permaculture design. Unadilla Community Farm was founded in 2014 by a group of WWOOFers (volunteers working on organic farms) dedicated to the goals of the back-to-the-land movement. We are situated on 12 acres of field and forest, located alongside a growing Amish community, in central New York State. Our mission is to provide a space for the teaching and practice of sustainable skills.

2021 will be our 8th season hosting interns for our beginning farmer training program. This seasonal accredited internship has attracted interns from North & South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and New Zealand. University students in the U.S. & abroad have earned course credits for our internship program (ask your advisor if you are eligible to earn credit too!). Interns gain hands-on experience in no-till farming, regenerative agroforestry, permaculture design, natural building, and food preservation. We also run a weekly veggie box delivery program, from June to October, providing fresh, seasonal, organically-grown fruits and veggies on a sliding scale to Edmeston families in a USDA low-income, low-access rural food desert.

As a center for sustainable education, we showcase a wide range of regenerative agroforestry techniques aimed at increasing agriculture’s capacity for carbon sequestration, soil building, and ecosystem stewardship. In 2020, we were accepted into USDA's Conservation Stewardship Program. We teach a diversity of USDA recommended conservation practices, such as rainwater collection, multi-story and alley cropping, no-till management, wildlife habitat planting, mulching, on-site composting, crop rotation, and high tunnels. We are now showcasing 200+ varieties of organic annual and perennial vegetables, mushrooms, herbs, fruits, nuts, and berries.

We are using natural building methods, as well as local and salvaged materials, to construct our farm’s infrastructure. Our completed projects include a skoolie (converted school bus), chicken tractor, high tunnel, and an off-grid tiny home with solar panels, rainwater collection, and wood-burning stove. We are in the process of completing a traditional New England timber framed barn on a rammed tire “Earthship” foundation and a 4-season skoolie.

Our internship is more than just a beginning farmer training program. It is an immersion into a rural, sustainable way of life. We are seeking interns interested in disconnecting from the mainstream, learning to support ourselves by growing our own organic produce, utilizing natural building methods to construct our barn and dwelling structures, making our own household products like soap and shampoo, reviving traditional agricultural and lifestyle practices, and living in community.

At the completion of the program, participants will have familiarity with tasks such as: no-till bed preparation, seeding, transplanting, weeding, irrigation, pruning, trellising, integrated pest management, plant propagation, composting, seed saving, mulching, food preservation, use of hand and power tools, timber framing, stone masonry, raising layer hens, and harvesting methods for many types of crops.

Projects for the 2021 season include:
*On-farm research project to test nutrient levels of dynamic accumulators, including producing liquid fertilizers and nutrient-rich mulches, thanks to a Northeast SARE farmer grant
*Build a second solar dehydrator to expand our capacity for drying herbs
*Build 2 timber framed wood sheds
*Build windows and doors for the timber-framed barn
*Build raised beds
*Expand our edible food forest with additional fruit and nut trees, berries, and beneficial companion plants

Beyond providing training in sustainable farming and natural building to prepare interns for careers in food and farming or self-sufficient homesteading, our program is also an opportunity for students and young people to practice interpersonal skills that can be applied to any type of workplace or community living, such as: time management; communication; organization; leadership; listening; and teamwork/collaboration. Participants will also learn concepts such as: food safety basics; introductory marketing strategies; permaculture design; crop rotation; grassroots organizing; and starting & funding food/farming businesses.

On Wednesdays, we hold "Open Night," a weekly opportunity for interns to teach and share with their peers. Wednesday open nights have taken many forms, such as poetry readings, story-telling, project presentations, and skill-sharing.

On Saturdays starting in mid-June, we run our veggie box delivery program, providing fresh, organic produce to Edmeston families. Interns participate in all aspects of the program, from production to harvesting to the wash and pack station, to gain experience in operating a "CSA-style" farm model.

On Sundays, we host free weekly on-site classes and workshops, on topics such as permaculture design, natural building, soap making, foraging/wildcrafting, gourd crafting, food preservation, mushroom cultivation, agroforestry and food forest design, grassroots organizing, starting and funding a farm, and more.

Due to COVID-19, we have replaced monthly field trips with free virtual workshops with partner organizations throughout the season, on topics such as herbalism, native plants, and farm marketing.

Thanks to the generous support of our donors, our program covers all intern expenses including room & board, daily on-site training, and weekly classes/workshops, so the program is available at no cost to participants.
So I've been planting and using dynamic accumulators for years, even teaching our farm's interns about them. Our favorite is making comfrey purin in a big 275-gal tank and fertigating the orchard with it. But this past fall, I suddenly got a desire to "look under the hood" so to speak. What exactly is the nutrient content of these plants? And lo and behold, as I know many of you are already aware, there has not been sufficient study of these plants to know for certain what's going on here.

At first this revelation made me despair. I was about to walk back all the claims I had previously made about dynamic accumulators. But then I remembered my training: in permaculture, there are no negatives. Only missed opportunities! Six months later, our farm has been awarded a research grant to study dynamic accumulators over the next two years.

We just finished Phase One of our research, and published our results on the web through the Permaculture Research Institute:

In addition to summarizing the current state of affairs regarding DAs and the research we're doing, that article contains a couple of useful links. First of all, we did some serious investigation this winter and put together a list of over 100 species that practitioners around the world have reportedly used for dynamic accumulation. Big thanks to everyone here at Permies for contributing to lists on this forum. You can see our mega-list by following the link halfway down the article. If you think that we missed something, please PM me and I'll update the list.

Second of all (and this part was definitely less fun), we actually did the much-talked-about analysis of Dr. Duke's Databases, which compile all of the peer-reviewed studies known to the USDA on the nutrient content of plant tissue samples. There are a LOT of entries in there. We downloaded the whole thing, entered it all into a functional spreadsheet, and ran some numbers. We determined a baseline average for each nutrient value, and then determined threshold values that plants need to demonstrate to qualify as a dynamic accumulator. In a nutshell, a plant needs to possess over twice as much of a given nutrient compared to the average to qualify. That limits the number of dynamic accumulators to the top 10% of plants we have data for. The article I linked to above also links to the full analysis of Dr. Duke's Databases if you'd like to take a look.

The article also links to a short list of proposed dynamic accumulators that fall on BOTH lists. That's plants that both 1) are currently being used for dynamic accumulation AND 2) we can verify through plant tissue analysis that they really do possess very high levels of certain nutrients!

The next step in our research is to perform on-farm trials with six of the most promising species (in my mind at least). We wanted low-maintenance, perennial or self-seeding, cold hardy plants (our farm is in Zone 4, Northeast United States) that show up on both of the lists I described above. So we'll be studying red clover, redroot amaranth, lambsquarters, stinging nettle, dandelion, and Bocking-14 comfrey. We'll be growing test plots of these plants and tracking the nutrient content of the soil (to see if they're really "mining" for minerals deep underground, or just robbing the topsoil), and also measuring nutrient values in the plant tissue, soil mulched with the plant tissue, and liquid fertilizers made from the plant tissue.

Thanks for reading, and please let me know your thoughts! I'll post any research updates to this thread.
Permaculture Internship (May-September 2020)
Unadilla Community Farm
West Edmeston, NY

Unadilla Community Farm was founded in 2013 by a group of WWOOFers (volunteers working on organic farms) dedicated to the goals of the back-to-the-land movement. We are situated on 12 acres of field and forest, located alongside a growing Amish community, in central New York State. We are building an off-grid solar-powered homestead and education center following the principles of organic agriculture and permaculture design. We grow over 200 varieties of organic annual and perennial vegetables, mushrooms, herbs, and cold-hardy fruits, nuts, and berries.

2020 is our 7th season welcoming interns at Unadilla Community Farm. We host interns with all levels of experience, with a commitment to sustainability and a desire to learn together as a community how we can forge a new life independent of mainstream consumer culture. Our internship program is more than just a beginning farmer training program. It is an immersion into a rural, off-grid sustainable way of life. Our accredited internship program has attracted interns from North & South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and New Zealand. Interns participate in tasks ranging from organic farming (raising seedlings, transplanting, no-till bed prep, weeding, mulching, watering, harvesting), landscaping, natural building, food preservation (drying, canning, fermenting), seed saving, and firewood preparation.

Interns receive room & board, including all vegetarian/vegan gourmet meals and unlimited snacks. Monthly educational field trips and classes are provided, in addition to daily hands-on skills training. University students in the U.S. & Canada have earned course credits for our internship program - ask your advisor if you are eligible to earn credit too!

Email us at to apply for the 2020 season (May-September)! Please include your resume. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Interns commit to a minimum 1-month stay or more. Visit our website for more information:
Unadilla Community Farm is seeking community members to live & farm cooperatively on 12 acres in Otsego County, New York!

Founded in 2013, Unadilla Community Farm is an off-grid solar-powered organic fruit and vegetable farm and permaculture education center. Our mission is to provide a space for the teaching and practice of sustainable skills. Currently, we have 4 farm members (2 of whom live on-site year-round) and a crew of seasonal interns. We're seeking additional members who want to live and work with us cooperatively.

We grow a diversity of cold-hardy organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms, following the principles of agroforestry, organic agriculture and permaculture. We are establishing a regenerative food forest with over 50+ varieties of fruit and nut trees and berries. We're also currently building our infrastructure from the ground up, using natural building methods and local + salvaged materials. We have completed a self-sufficient tiny home, and are in the process of building a barn and converting a school bus into another tiny home.

Potential members are invited to live and work with us for a trial period of at least 3 months during the growing season, with the opportunity to move in full-time if it seems like a good fit. There are several pathways to communal landownership that we can pursue, depending on the interests of new members. Our project is run cooperatively, so new members are invited to share their unique skills and ideas for communally driving the project forward as we expand and diversify.

Visit our website for more details about our work - and please email us at to get in touch! And please share this with your networks.
Unadilla Community Farm
2 years ago
Does anyone here have experience with long drop compost toilets in areas where the humanure will freeze solid in winter? If I have a cement chamber filled to the brim, will the humanure expand as it freezes and break the cement? Would a pee separator be enough to prevent this from happening?

Backstory: I'm planning to build a bath house with a proper long drop in it. I'd like to pour a cement slab, build 4 cement chambers, and have a little staircase going up to the toilet seats. We would fill one chamber a year (3 years cure time is required by my farm's organic certifier). I've built these before, but it was years ago in a mild climate. Now I'm in upstate NY, and it gets to -30 F every winter. Will my humanure expand as it freezes, and break the cement chamber? Would a pee separator (and proper sawdust applications) be enough to keep the water content down and prevent expansion?

2 years ago
I recently learned from a friend that kombucha scobys are edible, and he introduced me to the world of scoby jerky. Now I don't make kombucha, but every autumn we make several gallons of apple cider vinegar. Has anyone ever tried making scoby jerky (or otherwise eating) ACV scobys?
2 years ago

ronie dee wrote:
How much electricity do you want from the pedal machine? If you want just enough for a few LED lights and want to spend the hours pedaling, maybe might be worth it.

I think it is a waste of time and resources to generate any decent amount of electricity with pedal power. It's possible, but quite involved. You are far better off hooking the bike to the appliance and grind your grain with a mill. Pump some water, hook it to a sharpening wheel, hook it to a makeshift washing machine. ...................

If you think you can make an 8 ft diameter wheel that runs perfectly straight and spins perfectly and most likely has a fly wheel that is also perfectly true, and you want to spend a lot of hours manually spinning electricity, you might get enough electric to run a few things.

I think finding a temp job for a week and getting a solar panel or two then instead of pedaling electricity you spend time with other chores and let the sun do the generating. 25 years of sun electricity for a weeks work in 2018.

Ronie, I would agree with you that pedal power is generally not as desirable as solar, since you need to be actively pedaling to generate the power. However, one particular permaculture principle that I am drawing on here is that you should always try to make good use of the resources available to you. I happen to have a girlfriend who insists on expending large amounts of energy through indoor exercise. She's like a clock: for 1.5 to 2 hours a day, she's moving unnecessarily and wasting who-knows-how-many calories! Now, what could be more permaculturey than hooking her up to a generator and harnessing some of that energy?

Regarding our energy needs, the two of us live in a 160 sq ft tiny home, with solar panels already providing us with all the lighting we need. We're hoping the bike will give us enough additional electricity to run a laptop and charge cell phones. We'll be using the bike to charge a 12V deep cycle battery, and going DC to DC by using a car charger cord for the laptop. I'm curious to see the ratio between "hours pedaling" and "hours on laptop"!

3 years ago