Cristo Balete

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since May 23, 2015
Long-time Permaculturist
In the woods, West Coast USA
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Recent posts by Cristo Balete

I guess I'd say two of the most important things I've ever learned about building a structure is, one, overdo the foundation, and try to put as much quality into the infrastructure as possible.  

If the thought comes to you, "That'll be good enough for 10 years, it won't be hard to replace," rethink it.   I've never found myself with extra time to replace basic infrastructure, yet it happens for various reasons, often builder error, so it's a real pain when it has to happen, and cuts into all the other projects that are ongoing and on the list.  The stuff is always more expensive, we're always up against weather deadlines, and trying to limp through a winter with things going wrong is no fun, and not really a sign of being a quality off-the-grid person.

So, yes:

- double-paned windows have more structure, and if one pane should crack the other will keep moisture out, especially if the building will be abandoned for periods of time.
- protection on all the wiring in the walls, because mice are just relentless experts at getting into walls
- sliding glass doors often use rubber flaps around the bottom to block the weather and seal the door, but mice chew right through that and get inside between where the door slides and the solid pane sits.
- quality insulation in floors, ceilings, all walls, because a structure in a frozen environment undergoes a lot of stress
- Roof strong enough to handle snow-load.  Even if you don't get snow, a limb or a tree falling on it will do less damage when the roof is constructed for snow-load.
- protection of all propane hoses, they get chewed as well
- Rodent-proof screens on windows
- 30-year roofing
- All pipe and wiring openings through the floor sealed to keep mice and rats from chewing the opening bigger and getting inside.
- No plastic vents to the outside - rodents chew right through them
- Gas heaters need vents to the outside because of toxic carbon dioxide (to humans and pets.)  Even vent-free heaters need lots of air circulation because they are relying on "perfect" combustion, which won't always be perfect.  
- propane tanks need to be external, never inside, so they need a location that is vented and won't be near a crack in the wall where it can get inside anyway

If you have a quality building it will always be a pleasure to use and will only need regular maintenance, not endless repair/replacement issues.  If it works well you might even want to use it in the winter, because just leaving a building like that abandoned for winter months, any number of things could happen to it while you're not looking.

If during construction two boards or pieces of siding don't quite come together, there's a gap, and you think, well, just cover it with trim....perfect mouse opening.  If a gap can't be avoided, there are expanding gap fillers that harden like stone.  That's the only type of expanding filler I've ever found that they can't chew through.  Steel wool rusts, so it's not reliable in the long run.

And hopefully when you move it you won't be in a hurry.  Easy does it.

1 month ago
We have two different kinds of willows around a year-round pond, one type gets huge trunks and limbs and falls over.  The other is more slender with a million shoots on it that grow into slender branches.  They have their roots in the water for 7+ months a year, so their roots in the water are no problem.  

So the type of willow seems crucial for what you are talking about.  You might want to check with people who make furniture with bent willow branches, those are the skinny types of willows with lots of shoots.  

All of them grow like crazy, so you will have work to do on whatever type you plant.   While those photos you have posted look all great and under control, that is probably a short-lived, tidy view of those trees (if they were doing live trees)  Just picture hundreds of shoots coming off of every single one of those woven branches and the clipping/shearing you'd have to do.  A couple months later they are right back again.  

Even though there might be moving water in the trench for less than half a year, if that water is not sinking into the soil the willows would be relying on ground water the rest of the time.  Is there enough ground water there the rest of the year, a lot - a lot -  of ground water?  What other trees/berries are growing in that area that would indicate almost saturated soil?

There are bugs that eat willow trees.  We have beetles that turn them into sawdust internally, and then they get very unstable.  That may not be the case everywhere, but it does happen.

Maybe if you post a picture of your situation we could see what kinds of alternative might work?

1 month ago
Search under Vermicomposting Flush Toilet.  

I have found the best information at this website,, lots of diagrams and photos, people really doing it.
1 month ago
We always thought it smelled like artichokes, but there are quite a few plants that have scents that just don't work for everyone.

Mountain Misery has its benefits, as listed below, and is an important part of the forest environment, as well as a food source for black-tailed deer.  I am not recommending whatever kind of herbal uses it has, this is just info.

Because it's a ground cover, if you have a heavy duty mower or tractor with an attachment, it can be mowed so that the greenery is always cut off, then the roots cannot be fed.  This will require mowing whenever greenery shows up again, which in the spring could be every few weeks.  But unless it's really in the way, causing you problems, maybe it is actually something good as part of the balance of where you live.  If it's not getting into the septic lines, and no one is allergic to it, you have enough room for a garden and grazing for animals, it maybe should be trimmed around the edges instead of eradicated.


- Nitrogen fixation
- prevents runoffs and landslides
- seldom grows tall enough to create a ladder to fuel a fire
- major source of food for black-tailed deer during their winter migration
- indication of ground water
- it is involved in ground fires that help keep the forest clear of brush and flammable debris.

Chamaebatia foliolosa, Mountain misery was used by the Indians of the Sierras as a medicine for various diseases like flues, colds, coughs, etc. Take one leaf cluster of 4 or 5 leaves and steep it in a cup of hot water for 15-20 min. at the first symptoms of an illness. Somehow drink the tea.

Chamaebatia, also known as mountain misery, its English common name derives from early settlers' experience with the plant's dense tangle and sticky, strong-smelling resin. They are actinorhizal, non-legumes capable of nitrogen fixation.

It creeps up and down the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, grabbing hold of whole hillsides, oozing a pungent sap that sticks to your clothes and skin. Most animals avoid it because of its smell. It sounds like a science fiction creature, but it is mountain misery (Chamaebatia foliolosa). It is also called bear clover, bearmat, or the Miwok Indians called it kit-kit-dizze.

It grows only on the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at elevations between two and seven thousand feet. It is a member of the rose (Rosaceae) family and blooms in May through June. It has tiny white flowers with bright yellow stamens in the middle and covers vast areas under Jeffrey pine, Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, Manzanita, Pacific dogwoods, and incense cedars.

Mountain misery sucks up the moisture from the earth in the spring so tree seedlings can’t grow, yet it is a very important selective agent in the building of healthy forests. It ensures that tree seedlings are well spaced and not crowding each other to become weak saplings. It also holds the duff in place and provides natural seed beds.

Forest managers are caught in a dilemma: on the one hand, mountain misery impedes the growth of conifer seedlings; on the other, it acts as an excellent slope stabilizer. Its rhizomes spread underground up to five feet deep and have been measured up to 82 feet long. Because of its tenacious rhizomes (underground specialized horizontal stems that have nodes or buds, differentiating them from roots), it can hold whole hillsides in place and prevent erosion during heavy rains. This is especially important after a forest fire, when much of the vegetation has been burned away, leaving hillside vulnerable to slides. Mountain misery’s recovery from fire is rapid. It grows back in only three years after a top-kill forest fire and prevents runoff and landslides.

Its resinous leaves are highly flammable, especially when draped with fallen pine needles and other forest debris. A forest fire will almost explode along its leaves. Mountain misery’s thicket-like intertwined stems make it difficult for fire fighters to cut through it in order to establish a fire break during a forest fire. However, it seldom grows tall enough to create ladder fuels that contribute to devastating crown fires. Growing naturally in environments adapted to wild fire, it is involved in ground fires that help keep the forest clear of brush and flammable debris.

Deer reluctantly graze on it after the autumn rains have washed the oily secretions away. It is the main source of food for black-tailed deer during their winter migration. They paw through the snowdrifts and graze on it when other vegetation has gone dormant or died back. Its absence would surely threaten their survival.

The Miwok Indians made a tea from it that was taken for rheumatism, colds, chicken pox, and other diseases.

Pulling it up like a weed just encourages it to germinate twice as fast.
1 month ago
I think one of the most important things about clay soil is not about the tools, but about making it diggable.  It is a pleasure to dig if it is not too wet and not too dry, so knowing that point is important.

Clay is best, even after planting, when it is not exposed to the sun....ever.  So thic organic mulch or wood chips, or where I have rodent issues, I use 3/4" rock around the base of a tree, so if they dig in that zone the rocks will fall on them and fill up their hole, discouraging them, and also show me where to put more rocks.

If starting with dry clay, wet down the area by soaking it with a hose, cover with a tarp and walk away for several hours or overnight.   Then go back when it's damp soil, and it digs easily.

If it's too wet in the spring, check the drainage in the area, which also may not be good for the tree roots.  Drain away too much ground water with a swale that can be blocked up at one end and used to hold water in a dryer time of year.

It also helps when you dig out the hole to pile the dirt on a tarp or a piece of plywood so you can easily put it all back into the hole.  

Other than that, your favorite shovel ought to do it.
1 month ago
There are lots of threads here that show how to make one yourself using square water tanks in frames, or round water tanks, rectangular storage boxes, making sure they are on a slant so that they drain well.  It isn't necessary to buy a kit or a pre-existing one.  

I drew a diagram at this site that has the inlet pipe at 3" (usually the size coming from the house, or 4"), and the outlet pipe at 2", but I wouldn't go smaller than that.  The worm castings will wash out and down the line into some kind of perennial landscaping or big reed boxes.  But worm casting are such valuable things, they should be used.

One of the online diagrams shows about a 1" or smaller outlet, and I would not recommend that.  Worms can drown, and don't need to have the water stay in the tank.  In fact, it should just pass through.

Worms can freeze or drown or bake, so it needs to be insulated or buried safely with an insulated removable lid.  You want a couple of 45 Degree outlets that will let you run a snake down the outlet line just in case.  Occasionally the rock gabion in my diagram, that surrounds the outlet pipe that is in thick chickenwire, can be lifted out, rinsed off, and put back if necessary.  But I haven't had to do that in the one I've had for 2 years.

To size it, I would estimate 50 gallons per person.  The plastic water tanks in a frame are not that big for a 200 gallon tank, and can be put in place easily.

I have two of these worm boxes, and I wouldn't do it any other way.

They are amazingly effective and do not smell.

But if you are living somewhere and the neighbors get wind of it, or the city or county gets wind of it, they might really cause you problems.  Don't entirely undo whatever septic situation you have just in case, because redoing one of those with permits is crazy expensive.
1 month ago
You'd also need to research what kind of predatory animals will come and feed on the fish, whether they be the 4-legged kind or predatory birds.  From the air a lot of fish swimming around would be real tempting.  Don't know what kind of cover you could put over it.
1 month ago
Mike,  a lot of old summer houses on the West Coast were built with redwood trees growing up in the middle.  For starters, in a storm they really rock back and forth, sometimes causing damage to the roof, and leaks.  Slowly but surely the trees kept growing, getting wider and wider, and lots of changes had to be made in the floors and roofs of these houses.  It is something that needs taking care of every few years, especially if there's a rainy year and the tree grows more than usual.

If you want to make a commitment to a tree, and be prepared to have to open up the roof and reseal it every once in a while, then it could work.

How about the roots getting into the plumbing underneath the concrete?  Could it cause lifting of the slab, cracking, deformation and leaks of the plumbing, or intrusion into the lines, whether it's water lines or sewer lines?

Did the previous owner get an estimate on whatever issue the tree was causing?  Maybe there's a local tree removal service that looked at it, and you can get information from them.

And....if there is such an estimate or issues with the tree, and the previous owner did not  declare that during the sale, you maybe have some recourse regarding repairs with the tree or a change in the price.  You'd probably need to consult a real estate lawyer if that's the case.  It doesn't mean a lawsuit, it's just that lawyers can write effective letters and they know the boundaries of such a situation.
1 month ago
And once you have electricity there, you can pull up a travel trailer for weekends and holidays.  You can use power tools.  You can recharge a battery if one goes dead, like a car battery in the middle of nowhere.   You'll have heat and running water, two of the most important things for developing your place.  If you're going to sink your money into something, it's a very good start, in addition to a very good driveway.
1 month ago
For what it's worth, there will never be a cheaper time to get the work done for an electrical hookup, and electrical pump, and a lined well (so it won't cave in and trap a submersible pump.)

Things never get cheaper, especially labor costs.  Permits never get cheaper or easier to do.  There will always be more and more restrictions on what we can do as far as infrastructure.

And any professionally-done, permitted improvements you do on your property, like a well with electricity and a pump, will just make your property more valuable, and saleable, if that should ever need to happen.

As far as a manual pump, that will get old in a real hurry, and you've got more things to do than spend how many hours manually pumping water into a tank?  Or out onto a field?  I can't imagine having to do that every time it needs it.

I just spent 3 hours using 600 gallons on a 1/4 acre orchard and two 40-foot greenhouses.  That's using drippers and that's usually twice a week for me.  It may not be that often for you, but even having to pump 600 gallons in that small of a space is unthinkable in the long run.

If you have hilly property, enough so that you could develop a spring at a high point, do a horizontal well into it, then use gravity flow to fill a tank below, even if it is only a gallon or two a minute, you can get amazing amounts of water out of such a well/spring.
1 month ago