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Levente Andras

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since Apr 20, 2010
Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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Recent posts by Levente Andras

greg mosser wrote:to my understanding, the ‘gleying’ that ducks or pigs do isn’t compaction, it’s encouraging a certain bacterial/algal population that seals the pond with a kind of it should still work to some degree on steeper sides.

I'm wondering how well the technique could work in my situation - where I have cycles of freezing & heaving followed by thawing & crumbling of the clay.
1 month ago
Hello, Permies!

I posted a message a while back about a small pond we built over 4 years ago

It was dug into pure clay and compacted with a road roller (see process described in the post above).

The pond acts mainly as a sink for all the water that reaches the bottom end of the property.  It collects water from the French drain around the house, as well as water that leaves the overflow of an underground rainwater cistern.

For the first 2 years, the pond worked well.  The third year, it was okay, but it wasn't holding water as well as before.  This year - especially in recent weeks - it's no longer working as a pond should.

What happened was that, over the years, heavy frosts caused heaving of the clay of the banks above the water line. Due to very dry autumn weather - no or very little rain for months - when the hard frosts of winter arrived, the water level in the pond was already quite low (30 cm below the max level), so the heaving of the clay affected the bank well below the high water mark.  When it thaws, the surface of the clay banks becomes sponge-like and crumbly, and it no longer holds water as it should.  With this phenomenon repeated over the last couple of years, the sides of the pond have become very porous.

Because the sides are steep, I cannot re-compact them with a roller, and I don't have any other idea of how else to achieve compaction.  I've read that ducks can do a great compacting job, but would that work with steep banks? And how many ducks would I need to employ?

I would be okay if the pond acted as a seasonal water feature - filling up during rainy periods, and slowly drying up during droughts - but it just looks very ugly now with the bare, sloping banks.

To improve the aesthetics, I thought of planting willows along the banks, well below the high water mark, so as to mask the bare banks during dry spells, as well as to stabilise the soil, and keep it from crumbling when it heaves because of frost.

Other than that, I'm not sure what to do.  

I'll be grateful for any advice or suggestion !

1 month ago

William Bronson wrote:How about placing chicken wire down over the roots?
Of course stopping the chickens from scratching might keep the larva safe.

What if you caught the falling nuts in window screen nets?
Collect them all,soak them,   crush them, heat them,feed them to the chooks.
No insects larva reaches the soil, the chooks stay out of the hazel roots , and you still break the reproduction cycle.

I would be inclined to let the chickens have at it.
I have heard that hazels are quite resilient.
If the hazels can't deal, maybe they aren't tough enough for permaculture?
Are there other plants can deal with chicken around their roots?
Are there pest resistant hazels?

I have not noticed the weevil in my hazelnuts yet.  So we may be safe for a while.  But in case the weevil does show up some day, it would be good to be able to have the chickens take care of it.  Even before then, the area where I planted the hazels is also a good place for chicken grazing - so I'd like them to have access to it.

It may well be that the mature, robust hazels won't mind the chickens scratching around their base, even if they do expose a bit of the roots. So I will probably exclude/protect the small, vulnerable bushes (which haven't started to produce many nuts anyway) and allow access to the larger ones.
6 months ago

Sue Rine wrote:Cross crossing small, twiggy branches around the base of trees will stop chickens from scratching up the roots.

I placed large stones around the base of some of the bushes, but I can't do that with all of them - I have about 70 hazelnut bushes, some mature, some very young.  That would involve shifting a few tonnes of stones...
6 months ago

Marceau Oppermann wrote: I guess you should only let the chickens graze so far that they don't expose bare soil

Ah, but that's very difficult if not impossible to control if the bush is mulched, because the hens are attracted by the mulch (compost, wood chip) like a magnet, they go straight for it, and they can dismantle the mulch layer within minutes - and guess what? Right under the first 2-3 cm of mulch are the roots...!
6 months ago
I'm glad you brought up this topic.

I have many hazelnut bushes of different ages (many of them just a couple of years old), as well as several laying hens which I keep semi-free range.  Luckily so far, I haven't noticed any nut weevil issues - but in truth, I haven't yet harvested too many nuts either, because my bushes are still quite young.

I've been reluctant to let my hens near the hazelnut bushes, because I've noticed that these plants have superficial roots (especially as I've been mulching them heavily with compost, wood chip, and other organic matter), and the hens can very quickly expose the roots, and even damage (break / tear / shred) the thinner ones.

So I've been wondering: does the advantage of hens keeping the bugs under control outweigh the risks / potential harm of exposed / damaged roots?  Will the bushes suffer a setback if their roots are damaged in this way?  Will the larger, mature bushes be able to withstand the stress, as opposed to the very young ones?
6 months ago
I have many trees of similar age / size to this one (either bought from nurseries, or brought up from seeds / cuttings), and we often have very strong winds here - but I've never had any of them tipped over simply by the force of wind. (I've lost many, many trees to voles and chafer grubs - but that's a different story...)

For a young tree of this size, the roots look way too small, even if the tree was grafted on dwarfing stock. So I would try to look at nutrient deficiencies, water-logged soil, excessive compaction, and similar issues.

Alternatively, there may be small pests in the soil - similar to my chafer grubs, which eat the fibrous roots - that leave no immediately visible trace (even the absence of fibrous roots may sometimes go unnoticed).  For a possible diagnosis, you'll have to examine the soil beneath the expired tree.
8 months ago
Hello Peter,

Greetings from Transylvania !

To start with, I think your situation looks promising if, as you say, your soil is predominantly loamy; if the soil had been too rich in clay, your trees would struggle to establish; if it had been too sandy, it would not hold water very well, which would exacerbate the effects of any prolonged period of drought.  I've worked with both extremes - the more difficult one is the clay: when it's wet it's prone to compaction, and when it dries out it can become like concrete and crack really badly - not a nice place for tree roots.  

Secondly, the gentle slope is also a good thing - a steeper slope would make rainwater run off too fast, and a very steep slope would make swales impractical and even dangerous.

The stream at the eastern border of your property can be a blessing, in that it opens some interesting landscaping possibilities.  First (rather crazy) thing that comes to mind: I would try to build a small dam (if allowed by local regulations) and slightly modify the stream bed behind the dam, in order to create pooling of water (e.g., a mini-pond and/or wetland).  

On the other hand, the stream can pose a threat if it overflows its banks during heavy downpours.  More exactly, it can be a threat if you have any crops, earthworks, or structures in the floodable area - for example, if you had a fish pond in that area, it would be at risk in such a situation.  

Swales are a good idea usually.  They will definitely help you retain more water in the soil, as well as distribute water more evenly along the contour.  However, they might NOT make a difference to the water logging at the bottom of your plot.  Swales will slow water down and make it sink into the soil, but water will eventually end up in the lowest spot, no matter how it gets there.

If, as you say, your climate is mediterranean or quasi-mediterranean, I would definitely make sure to include fruit trees like apricots and jujube, which are quite frost-hardy, drought-tolerant (once established), and don't require much fertility.  

I would think twice before introducing black locust.  They can be very useful in places where nothing else grows - they are really tough SOBs - but if you can grow any other tree species, try to avoid black locust.  I have planted quite a few on my property, and I'm grateful for their fast growth and the shade they supply in summer only a few years after planting (while many of my other trees are struggling!) - but I find that they impoverish the soil and are detrimental to other trees that are planted near them.

If you want to plant Eleagnus, I suggest you avoid Eleagnus angustifolia, whose fruit is not very palatable, and has very nasty thorns (similarly to black locust).  Try E. umbellate, which has small but tasty fruit.  Keep in mind though that it's an invasive species (just like black locust...).

So that's all from me.  Best of luck with your project.  Keep us posted!
10 months ago
Hello permies,

My wife and I live in a new house that we built two-and-a-half years ago.  We tried to design it with permaculture principles in mind, and a lot of effort went into every little detail.  We're quite satisfied with the result, but every now and then we reevaluate things and discuss what we could have done differently.  The toilet is one of the topics that we discussed lately.

Originally, it seemed a natural decision for us to install a composting toilet. We liked the idea of a bucket toilet - a dry toilet that uses some organic absorbent litter like sawdust, wood chips, straw, etc., with the contents going straight onto the compost heap.  Simple and straightforward.  We had experimented with such a toilet in a tiny log cabin over a couple of years and it had worked well, so we thought we could adopt it for the new house.  We envisioned a neat look like illustrated in these images:

But as we went through various iterations of the house design, and after many sessions of brainstorming, we gradually moved away from the idea of composting toilet, and settled for a conventional flushing toilet.  The reasons behind our choice were two:

- we were concerned about difficulties in handling social situations with visitors who had never seen / used such a toilet (I believe no-one in our circle of acquaintances ever has), and who, in addition to being potentially uncomfortable using it, would also need fairly detailed instructions for how to use. Compare this with the conventional flushing toilet, which nowadays is considered normal (sadly!), as everyone knows how to use it / is at ease using it, without the need for any instructions - you just point the guest the bathroom door, and they take it from there.

- the second reason wasn't a key consideration at the time, but it is now the main factor for which we would still opt for a flushing toilet if we had to design & build another house: namely, the option of being able to wash with a hand-held bidet sprayer after using the toilet !  See images:

For me, the bidet has become an indispensable item for personal hygiene, hence it was - and is - a must-have. But the sprayer would have been incompatible and potentially messy when combined with the dry toilet. On the other hand, having a dry toilet AND a separate bidet basin would have taken up too much space in the bathroom; besides, with the current flushing toilet set-up, we have separate plumbing for black and grey water, whereas with a dry toilet - bidet basin combination, the water from the bidet basin would not count as grey water and hence we would have needed a septic tank or some other septic solution anyway.

So these were the trade-offs we had to make. In hindsight, I still cannot see a solution that could have satisfied both needs - ability to use the waste products as fertiliser, AND convenience for personal hygiene.

Any thoughts anyone?
11 months ago
Hello permies !

It's been a while, so I thought I could post a quick update on this topic, as there have been some new developments.

We adopted two dogs about a year ago. As a result, the neighbour's cats (there were about 5 or 6 of them) which used to patrol our plot and catch voles, were no longer able to perform this useful service. In addition, the presence of the dogs, with their propensity to sniff and dig, meant that we had to quickly abandon the vole fighting method that we had been using up to that point - which consisted in treating suspicious vole tunnels with a rodenticide bait... The dogs were attracted by the baits and kept trying to dig them up & eat them...

So we stopped using the rodenticide, and looked for other solutions.  That's how we discovered the SuperCat vole trap.

Initially I was sceptical, but we gave it a try.  The trap turned out to be very effective - there were days when we caught up to half a dozen voles. We ended up buying about 20 traps, so that we could deal with vole tunnels in several spots simultaneously.

And as a bonus, one of our dogs has learned to spot, sniff out, and catch voles.  As a minimum, she seeks out the new vole tunnels - when we see her circling a new spot, it's a sign we need to check for vole tunnels in that spot...
1 year ago