Author Archives: Christine

New site and missing pictures

I finally imported my old Solar and Wind Power blog into a sub blog at our High Desert Permaculture site. However, some pictures do not display. I just checked and the pictures are all uploaded, but some pics just don’t show up. When I click on the blank space where the picture SHOULD be, I get a 404 error. Somehow the links are messed up.

If you know how to fix that, please let me know!.

It’s SUMMER!

6/29/10: It's raining somewhere

We’ve been hoping for rain, but no such luck.  We dream about living “on top” where it rains a LOT more.

And we’ve been incredibly busy with our garden and countless plants and veggies.  I forgot to post the link to our new blog with lots of updates:

High Desert Permaculture

Planting update

The greenhouse addition:

Quite a few tomatoes, 2 cucumbers and a bunch of seedlings.

It’s really nice to have some “real” tomatoes occasionally in winter. And now the first cherry tomatoes are growing outside in the tomato cage, hardware cloth wrapped with shade cloth to keep the wind out. Soon we’ll have a LOT more tomatoes.

We finally cleared the new road in preparation for the new greenhouse, as we’ll have a lot less space to turn around.  Now we got the circular driveway and coincidentally, can drive up to the swales and dump water from the truck.  It worked great, the upper swale holds about the 300 gallons, one tank, and it won’t be long until the grapes below will grow roots up to the water.

We’ll also plant seeds on the swales (flowers, gourds, squash, …) and depending on the weather, occasionally dump a load of water.  It costs us $1 plus driving two miles and about 20 minutes of our time to get 300 g at the well.

Here are the seeds we bought at a Habitat for Humanities store in Vegas last week for 10 cents/package.  Why didn’t I buy a lot more?

There’s a fairly level spot above the lower swale and I built it up with black brush we had cleared off the new road and dark dirt below the bushes.  We definitely need more dirt, but at least got started.  Obviously the cans indicate where the seeds are and amazingly, they didn’t blow over in the wind. Not exactly beautiful, but they do the job.

Also buried some mint root, as this point I’m glad for everything that grows there.  As soon as it warms up we’ll plant some beans and maybe corn and definitely sunflowers.  I’m afraid we’ll have to fence it once it gets hot.

The bamboo we got from Anna is doing great, but you can’t tell from this picture.

One of the many flowering weeds.  Have to take a bunch of pics of the countless wild flowers, or weeds …

Like many people in the area, I’ve had allergies like never before this last week.

Papercrete for ponds?

I was reminded about papercrete at another IC website yesterday and decided to do a little more research.

To my amazement, you can even make PONDS out of papercrete.

We just got 100 lbs of sodium bentonite to waterproof the ditch with the leach rock and I’m afraid we’d literally need a ton to waterproof the pond.  Well, we haven’t even unloaded it yet, so we’ll give it a try.   The weather has sucked lately, went from too HOT to WINDY to RAIN, HAIL and COLD.

The pond is almost pure caliche and papercrete would be great to smooth the surface, fill all the cracks and build a little “planting are” in the middle for dirt for water plants.

Here’s the site with a pic of the pond:

http://www.livinginpaper.com/business.htm

And here’s the material they used to waterproof the papercrete:

http://www.ugl.com/drylokMasonry/masonryWaterproofer/powdered.php

Seems like the biggest problem with papercrete is the MIXING.  There are no commercial mixers and the mixing is most of the work.  I want to use papercrete blocks where we can’t use adobe, such as over windows and doors.

I still want as much adobe as possible for thermal mass, but papercrete is light and perfect where adobe won’t work.

I also read about papercrete with local rocks used as foundation and that is just PERFECT for us.  We’ll test that for the greenhouse.

Now if it just warms up a little, I’m ready for a few test batches.  A FOUNTAIN is the perfect test project.

The pallet board garden fence

We happened to get a bunch of free pallet boards last week, right after we fenced the new garden area with stucco wire.   So we decided to build a little fence to protect the plants from the South wind that blows all summer.

You can see that we painted only the bottom part with linseed oil because we didn’t have enough oil.  We had a few  4x4s to use for gate posts and to stabilize the fence. Now we’re almost out of boards.  If we got another load, we could finish the “inside” part of the fencing.

We got these two office chairs at the Safeway recycling area a few weeks ago and it was great to be able to sit down for a few minutes and take a break as the sun was setting.

In the back is our three sisters growing area.  We got horse manure and lots of “black bush” dirt, twigs and roots from our hill and we screened the native soil.   Today Jose set the blocks and then I filled them with mud so they’re stable and keep the soil and plants warm (and cool in summer).  It was a lot of work and hopefully the sisters appreciate it!

You can barely see the apple tree we planted in front of the sisters, it’s just starting to grow.

We still don’t know where to put the juniper, so I transplanted it into a bigger pot last Sunday.

As soon as the first fence panel was up, I realized that we could plant vines, beans, squash, grapes and all kinds of plants inside the fence.  They’ll be protected from the fierce South wind and we’ll put some hardware cloth cages over them until they are established.  The fence should be rabbit-proof, but of course won’t keep out squirrels, lizards, mice and kangaroo rats.

We have to get some more black bush dirt and screen more of the local soil for the fence plantings.

Inside we painted the pallet boards with linseed oil to the top of the stucco wire before we put up the fence panels as it would be really hard to paint later and we had just enough linseed oil.

The fence braces are a bit funky, but it’s a TEMPORARY fence as our camper is inside the garden area. We also didn’t set the posts in concrete, just rock and dirt.

And I’m very glad we finally got a gate.  It’s a miracle we didn’t fall over the stucco wire fence when we planted the fruit trees and it sucked not being able to bring the wheelbarrow in and out.

According to the moon calendar, Friday and Saturday are good to plant above ground annuals and the corn is definitely ready to go out.  I’m so excited about our new garden!

Other news

The timing was PERFECT, just as we got done planting all the trees it SNOWED. It melted by evening, but it was great to get badly needed moisture.

The dogs LOVED the snow and played outside all day.

We THOUGHT that this is Mormon Tea, but several neighbors told us that it’s not, but don’t have an id yet.  They smell really intense, a bit like citrus.

A few weeks ago we got some gravel for the grey water system.   We ordered some sodium bentonite (clay) in Vegas to water-proof it some more.  We planted a California pepper on each side of the dirt mount on the left and will plant “something” on the hill once we’re done with the new garden.

We transplanted some garlic from pots to the Southern bed and it’s amazing to see how the roots grow straight through bio char.

We got dirt from the bed on the north side where we grew corn, squash and other veggies last year.  Fortunately we screened the soil, because we found a bunch of these nasty grubs.

On our way to Dolan Springs we followed this water hauler for a while.  Sad.

Basil

Last year we got the Horizon Herbs basil collection and we finally planted seeds in winter.  We’ve been growing their holy basil all summer and still have some going, too. These pics are from February, been so busy.

This is the sweet lettuce leaf basil and it tastes a little like anise, which I don’t particularly like, but I sure like this basil.

The Thai basil is finally growing, took a long time to sprout.

This is the Genovese basil and it grows like crazy.  Also tastes a little like anise and many leaves are over two inches long.

This is the Greek basil.  It’s about 5 – 6 ” tall now.

There was also African basil and Mtule basil seeds that we had almost given up on, but they’re finally sprouting.

Planting trees

The fruit trees are in the new garden area on top, except for the dwarf peach I’ve had in a pot for a couple years and we planted it on the hill before we fenced the new garden.  This is a picture taken today, it just started flowering.

We bought trees at Tony’s in Golden Valley a couple weeks ago: Peach, pear, apple, pomegranate and a pecan tree.


Jose dug large holes.

I got “black bush dirt” and black bush roots and branches, straw, we still had a little cow manure and had just made some terra preta (well, we tried).  We were so busy planting, didn’t even take pics of the fruit trees.  I’ll update once they’re flowering.

This is a holly oak we got at the Home Depot for $4.  We also got 3 African sumacs and 3 California peppers.  They were all about 7 ft tall, but still in a tiny 1 gallon pot.  The poor things were really root bound.  Hopefully they’ll grow.  At $4 a piece, it’s a great deal.

We took a  long time to decide where to plant the pecan and finally chose a spot at the bottom of the lot because there’s a lot less caliche.  Behind it to the left you can see the stake for one of the African sumacs.

We got done just before the SNOW last week, excellent timing.

Irrigation – drainage – water harvesting – permaculture

During the last storm a couple weeks ago we watched Greening the Desert and several other videos on water harvesting and swales.

We had been hoping for snow, but didn’t even get as much rain as was forecast.  I read in the Meadview Monitor that the rain seems to stop at the cattle guard.  It POURS all the time between Dolan and Patterson grade.  We’ve been getting very little rain, but plenty of wind.  Somebody suggested moving the cattle guard.

Right after the storms we surveyed our lot and I’ve been wanting to grow grapes on this East-facing hill anyway.  Inspired by Geoff Lawton, we started shoveling the same day.

This area has a ton of these dead-looking  Black  Bushes.   Some are in fact dead, but many have started to grow already.  They are a fire hazard and I thought good for nothing.  However, as I started to clear the bushes, I noticed that the soil is MUCH darker as their roots were decomposing.  And of course they prevent erosion, catch seeds and moisture and they provide shade for seedlings.  I found a barrel cactus right in the middle of one.

It looks horrible with all these rocks, but in fact it is the best soil on our lot.

This was the first swale, but we abandoned it and moved a few feet lower.

Here you also see part of a (never used) broken septic tank.  We got it from a neighbor and originally thought we might use it to hold water, but it was too damaged.  So we’re cutting it into into “rings”  to create level planting areas for trees  on the hill.

We dug two small swales and will make them deeper and wider after rains.  It was amazing how easy it was to dig, hardly needed the pick.  I piled up brush, dead Joshua trees or yuccas and whatever plant debris to keep the swale from washing away and of course to provide nutrients for whatever we’ll grow on top.

After days of clouds and the occasional drizzle, we got some serious HAIL yesterday afternoon

Last week we got 4″ drainage pipe to tie into our gray water system.  I had already plumbed the shower and laundry so I could switch from septic to landscape watering.

So now we’ve dug a trench from the house to the hill and started on a holding pond.   The idea is to have the gray water accumulate there and have it cleaned by plants (I have to find again what they are, but they’re even used for sewage).

We use only biodegradable soaps anyway, but one reason for the holding pond is to accumulate water so that we don’t have constant wet areas at the top and nothing in the lower swales.   Occasionally we’ll drain the pond and flood one of the swales. It’ll all be “engineered” so that the water goes where we want it to go.

You can also see our poor grapefruit trees and the juniper that got blown off the table behind it during the storms a couple weeks ago.  Last year the grapefruit trees totally froze.  So we’ve had them in the house and yesterday afternoon I thought it would be a good idea to set them outside in the light rain.  Of course it promptly hailed, but they made it through ok.  It’s time we build our greenhouse addition.

And we have no idea where to plant the juniper.  We bought it before Christmas and were going to decorate it, but never got around to it.  Since we are still under construction, it’s tough to decide what to do with it.

As soon as it stopped raining we assessed our new irrigation system. This ditch gets all the runoff from the building and the lots above us.  It used to run down through the grapes and herbs.   So we installed the shower drain on Friday and dug a trench and tied it into the gray water pipes to drain  into our holding pond.  The drain was PLUGGED with some straw and we’ll put a wire cage around it before it rains again.  Jose cleared it off and then we watched the water flow!

We’re obviously not yet done, just glued pipes on Friday until it started raining, but there will be some return trips to the Home Depot. Instead of digging to the top of the hill, I realized that we can just use the ditch at the property line (below the grapes) and save us some digging.

We’re also going to run drinking water to a faucet before we fill the ditch, but hadn’t thought of that when we were in town and need to buy pipe.

It was GREAT to see the water running!

Here is the little pond and our puppy Andy.  He’s a water dog and he had to drink from every ditch!  In summer he had a little plastic pool and he loved laying in the water and he swam in Lake Mead like a pro.

It was such a thrill to watch the water finally reach the pond.  Eventually we’d like it to hold  at least 1000 gallons, but we’ll see how the digging goes, already hit caliche.

Finally the pond overflowed and water ran to the top swale.

This is the upper ditch with the shower drain and some hail.  The walkway around the addition is no longer flooding, all the standing water drained.

I’m so happy that it all worked as planned.

Of course there’s still lots of work to do, dig the trench from the pond to a ditch at the property line and design it so that we can easily direct the water to either the upper or lower swale.

Also, at the bottom of the hill OCCASIONALLY the water runs in a little dry wash and we might add a swale down there.  It’s a flat area where we could grow corn or whatever.

Now we have to find plants to substitute for the black bush, fruit and/or nut trees for the hill, decide how and where to grow grapes and WHAT ELSE to plant.

Ultimately we want to plant on the swales, but first we have to make them wider and deeper and the excavated dirt goes on the swales.

Play by FoxSaver®

Play by FoxSaver®

Play by FoxSaver®

Play by FoxSaver®

Video: Greening the desert in the Dead Sea Valley

Greening the Desert II: Greening the Middle East from Craig Mackintosh on Vimeo.

Geoff and Nadia Lawton started this fantastic project in the Dead Sea Valley.

Greening the Desert II – Final

Aid Projects, Biological Cleaning, Compost, Conservation, Demonstration Sites, Education Centres, Food Forests, Food Plants – Perennial, Fungi, Irrigation, Plant Systems, Rehabilitation, Salination, Soil Biology, Soil Conservation, Trees, Water Harvesting — by Craig Mackintosh December 11, 2009

When there’s no soil, no water, no shade, and where the sun beats down on you to the tune of over 50°C (122°F), the word ‘poverty’ begins to take on a whole new meaning. It is distinct and surreal. It’s a land of dust, flies, intense heat and almost complete dependency on supply lines outside of ones control. This is the remains of what was once called the ‘fertile crescent’. It is the result of thousands of years of abuse. It is a glimpse at a world where the environment – whose services provide for all human need – has all but completely abandoned us. This is a glimpse at the world our consumer society is inexorably moving towards, as our exponential-growth culture gorges itself at ever-increasing rates.

The original Greening the Desert video clip has been watched hundreds of thousands of times and has been posted to countless blogs and web pages in the datasphere. Although only five minutes long, it has inspired people around the globe, daring the lucid ones amongst us, those who can see the writing on the wall, to begin to hope and believe in an abundant future – a future where our survival doesn’t have to be based on undermining and depleting the very resources of soil, water, phosphorus, etc. that we depend on. The work profiled in that clip demonstrates that humanity can be a positive element within the biosphere. Man doesn’t have to destroy. Man can repair.

In the clip at top I introduce you today to Greening the Desert II. I shot the footage for this video last month (October 2009) and edited it on location in the Dead Sea Valley in Jordan – the lowest place on earth, at 400 metres below sea level. Much of it was shot in or near the village of Al Jawfa where I stayed, which is effectively a Palestinian refugee camp that has morphed over the decades since 1948 into something resembling a functional small town. It was first shown to delegates of the ninth International Permaculture Conference (IPC9) in Malawi, Africa at the very beginning of November and is now being released for general consumption. The video will take you to the original Greening the Desert site, letting you see its present condition after six years of neglect when funding ran out in 2003. You’ll also be introduced to our new project site – the Jordan Valley Permaculture Project, aka ‘Greening the Desert, the Sequel’ – and see some of the spin-off effects within Jordan from the influence of the original site; promises of much more to come.

The work we’re undertaking in Jordan is in accordance with what we call the ‘Permaculture Master Plan‘, where the project’s future is assured through funding from running educational courses. Project sites thus become self-sufficient, and self-replicating.

About two weeks ago we watched Greening the Desert and a few other videos on swales and I knew we’d start digging right away.  As it is pouring right now, we have two small swales filling up.

There’s LOTS of cools stuff at http://permaculture.org.au