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Starting a Suburban Project

 
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I am starting a very small project in my suburban backyard.  Budget is ten bucks here and there.  A small studio, a pseudo-hot spring and a living hedge or two.  I have live staked three trees, and have three volunteer trees and a planted flowering pear tree.  

I am currently digging a reed bed along two sides, followed by digging down about two feet for the studio.  

Need to test cob and earthen floor mixes.  Need to separate clay from remaining soil, storing separately, use non clay fraction mixed with intact soil, start with 50/50.  Test from there.  

Need to continue sourcing free tree cuttings and tree seeds.  

Need to source lime plaster, price and learn how to work to waterproof inside of hot tub, exterior of cob studio.  Walls of studio will be only 4-6” thick.  

I can obtain sun chokes and a few other seed packets from Amazon, other garden plants from overripe fruit and veggies from grocery stores.  Carrots, celery, onion, garlic and potatoes all propagate well from planting the growing end.  Mulberry tree planted in a yard nearby drops tons of fruits on the sidewalk along the property.  Gather ripe fallen purple ones when they are ripe.  

Right now, sweet equity digging and research.  Soon, separating soil into clay and non clay.  Then start mixing whole soil (50+% heavy clay) with non clay fraction.  Use separated clay as terracotta.  

Then build, repurpose retaining wall blocks we have as foundation for studio.  

Got a lot of working, researching, testing and building ahead of me.  
 
pollinator
Posts: 181
Location: Monticello Florida
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homeschooling forest garden foraging chicken wofati food preservation wood heat homestead
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Sounds neat. What is a pseudo hot spring?
 
Chris Bright
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Huxley Harter wrote:Sounds neat. What is a pseudo hot spring?



Think a hot tub that looks like a natural hot spring.  Which means lime plaster over cob to waterproof and learning about rocket mass heaters to get the water hot and maybe an outdoor shower with solar heated water to clean up before soaking.

I love the idea of Japanese onsen, or hot springs.  So a pseudo onsen.  
 
Chris Bright
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I am working on digging for foundations.   I plan on relatively thin 4-6" thick cob walls, with at least 150 cubic feet dug out, maybe closer to 200 cubic feet  from my primary studio building site before I am finished.

I am starting to sift organic material like fallen leaves and roots from the dug soil.  I have also started harvesting clay from the sand and gravel in the heavy clay soil.  I know I have too much clay in my whole soil to make cob.  So, clay to sculpt or make pots and dishes out of, sand and gravel and whole clay soil eventually.  Then mix sand and gravel into whole soil or buy building sand if I can't get enough sand harvested.

I need to read up, but I think I can use alternating thin layers fallen leaves and clay slurry to line trenches to make shy ponds for keeping small fish.  I might need to add water during dry spells to keep water deep enough, say 6-8" of water for minnows and such.  Mostly it would be rain topping off the fish pond water.  

Meanwhile, I am attempting to start some trees by live staking.  Eventually, probably in December, I will make a trip to my favorite grocery store for produce and buy a bit extra to try to get some nearly free plants.  Root veggies and live herbs to root or plant.  Any fruit we like, to harvest seeds.  Look through the bulk bins for nuts and seeds. Store in cool dark place until spring or plant for natural cold stratification now.  Fennel and dill to attract ladybugs, any herbs to attract butterflies.  Potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Maybe squash?  Might wait a few months to buy tomatoes and peppers.  Not sure if celery or rhubarb would root from the root end of stalks, but might be worth a shot after dipping in rooting hormones.  Carrots and most other root vegetables will root from a couple inches of leafy end as long as the leaf spot is good.  

In spring, I need to look for any extra veggie seed packets, get sunchoke roots from Amazon, find a source for American groundnut tubers.  I like asparagus, need to find a source for those roots and rhubarb if rooting a few stalks doesn't work.  I know we have dandelions growing, and think there are a couple of others that grow naturally here if you don't use pesticides.  Which we don't.  And have the only green lawn when everyone else just has dormant dead-looking grass.

I haven't gotten any straw yet.  So, I can't make test mixes of cob yet.

So much to look forward to doing!  So excited!





 
Huxley Harter
pollinator
Posts: 181
Location: Monticello Florida
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I be heard of finding groundnut tubers exposed in riverbank if you're near one.
 
master pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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cat forest garden fish trees chicken fiber arts wood heat greening the desert
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Source for groundnuts:  https://oikostreecrops.com/products/?route=product/category&path=65_116
 
Chris Bright
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I think it's raining.  Sigh.

Yesterday, I bought a bag of perlite to make a rocket mass heater core.  I have harvested my first clay harvest to mix with the perlite.  1:1, with as much fireclay:lay as one can afford.  The video said he has used as little as 0% fireclay, and it worked.  That is also unfortunately, the percentage I can afford.  

I need to read this thread a few more times, then do some experiments.  Would a 1":1' scale model be functional?  Yes, I'd need really small twigs instead of larger branches for test runs.  

Then there is still sourcing lime.  Powdered dolomite limestone and bone meal is available here in garden supply centers like Lowe's.  I didn't have funds yesterday to get more than the perlite yesterday.  Sigh.  Maybe I'll have funds to get two $5 bags next month.  

I have added a hugelkultur type bed to my plans.  I am getting plenty of roots from my dig site between two trees.  Add pruned branches, plenty of fallen leaves and soil and I will have a nice bed.  Not certain whether I want to dig down one shovel (~8") deep or build the bed on the ground surface.  Heavy clay soil just does not drain well.  In rainy years, the yards are swamps.  In drought years, soil can have inch wide cracks.  Most years are in between with the brief swamp after a heavy rain.  

Which means a sump in my studio.  Would a loop siphon lift and drain water into my pond?  Or would I need a small pump?  I plan to separate the ceiling fan light into the light and the ceiling fan.  Reinstall the light and convert the ceiling fan into a wind turbine.  Would it generate AC or DC?  A solar panel would, of course, need a 12V battery bank.  

Ah, so much to think about and do!  But it's definitely raining.  Which means miserable and unsafe levels of chill outside.  Which has me wondering about 1 inch to 1 foot scale models and research on the internet.  And using leaves instead of grass with clay to seal ponds.  Hmmm... We have cardboard boxes to build models on.  Maybe, maybe not.  

A quick sketch, 1 sq = 3 inches.

834B3E03-270A-46F2-A838-09B17AEB8B67.jpeg
RMH blueprint
RMH blueprint
 
Chris Bright
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A few photos.
D86AF10B-0CAB-4317-9A98-C081F64BB814.jpeg
harvesting clay
harvesting clay
8D9FA72A-09A3-439A-A838-AFD89DD98CD9.jpeg
harvested clay
harvested clay
50949CCE-E371-4D46-B639-9927F638F5AE.jpeg
future studio
future studio
 
Chris Bright
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Trees bracketing my building site.
990D03AF-E8C8-4BFA-B501-521E4EA40046.jpeg
flowering pear tree
flowering pear tree
088FB0CB-7ED6-4BC8-BF8A-8B4D7F418943.jpeg
tree
tree
 
Chris Bright
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Took the handle from a large broom to make a stirring “spoon” for separating clay from aggregate.  

Still need to test percentages of aggregate vs clay in my soil.  

Refilled my “drippy bag”, love the kid’s name for it.  
14B40935-10EC-4E9E-8749-55AF33948917.jpeg
outdoor broom
outdoor broom
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clay stirring tool
clay stirring tool
C594A1AC-4547-4D20-A321-7229AD10E38D.jpeg
Alley cat
Alley cat
 
Chris Bright
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Posts: 123
Location: Central Texas
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I can't offer any advice on the studio & spring projects, but I have the same budget as you, and have found a few ways of sourcing free/cheap trees/hedging material.
Now is a good time to gather seeds from trees, so I keep my eyes peeled for potential seed sources. My HEB has some Bald Cypress trees lining the parking lot and it's easy to get bag of seeds from the trees & parking lot whenever I go grocery shopping.
I also try take different routes when I go run errands. It seems like things are more noticeable when you are actually looking for them. I don't know how many times I've seen something and turned around and pulled over to get fruit, seeds/nuts, and cuttings from the side of the road. That's where I got all of my willow cuttings, Osage oranges, some pears, plums, and who knows what else.
Cemeteries can also be a source of seeds and cuttings. I've collected tons of crepe myrtle seeds, wisteria seeds, rose hips/seeds, and more from the local cemeteries. A friend of mine does groundskeeping for the town cemetery and she told me that they don't mind people gathering seeds/ small cuttings because the seeds cause problems when they sprout in the spring and have to be removed from gravesites and around the headstones before they cause damage, and everything has to be cut back multiple times a year and they usually throw the trimmings in the dumpster.
If you see a fruit tree with fruit on the ground in a yard, it wouldn't hurt to ask the owner if you can have a few from the ground that are beyond ripe.
It's still a bit early for livestaking in the south, since we are still getting days warm enough for the sap to flow (which results in the cutting "bleeding out" before it can callous over & root). I've been most successful when I livestake things in late January & February- a few weeks before the buds begin to swell.

One more thing- I always keep a "propagation kit" in the truck. It's basically a small tote bag with a pair of clippers/pruners, a roll of paper towels, plastic ziplock bags, some envelopes, a bottle of water, and a few sharpie markers. That way I am always prepared for the opportunity to collect seeds/cuttings.

There are plenty of possibilities out there if you just look for them. Cuttings/seeds take longer to mature and/or produce; so you just have to decide if it's worth it instead of paying more for larger trees/shrubs.
 
Chris Bright
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Thank you, KC.

I know right where there is a mulberry tree and it definitely drops fruit outside the fence line.  I think the squirrels and birds have gotten most of the acorns this season, but I know of a variety of oaks nearby as well as maples that drop bunches of seeds along the curb.

There is at least one pocket of woods within walking distance.  I would not want to gather water plants there, but it is very close to a stream.  I might go walking and explore along it.  Why do some people throw junk anywhere?  I have been stuffing wrappers in pockets when I walk since junior high.

I am very new to attempting to propagate trees from cuttings.  I figure either I will get small trees or dead sticks.  But dead sticks can be firewood or composted, so not too bad.  So far I’ve been getting a few cuttings at a time when we are at my in-laws to pick up our little one.

I am finding tiny volunteer oaks along my fence line, at least one that I transplanted and another that is probably a sibling.  

I would love to get some rose hips.  
 
Kc Simmons
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Location: Central Texas
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Now is the time to collect rose hips. They're typically ready to collect in the fall after we get a few frosty nights.
Roses can be difficult to grow from seed, as they tend to have a low germination rate & a large % of seedlings die during the first summer due to weak genetics.

One of my hobbies is breeding roses, and I mostly use the genetics of "Antique" varieties, which are typically the cultivars that have been proven to have high resistance to disease/pests and are able to survive with neglect. Many of the antiques were discovered in old, abandoned homesites & cemeteries throughout the south.
Even with the strong genetics, I generally cull my seedlings to one or two keepers from the whole batch at the end of the first growing season. This year I only ended up keeping one (the red one in the photo), which I'll observe for winter hardiness and, if it survives until spring, I will give it a cultivar name and track things like fragrance, growth habit, thorns/prickles, etc.
If you find some hips, collect them after they've turned orange/red, then you'll need to cut the hips open and get the seeds from the pulp. Put the seeds in a baggie with some wet paper towels or wet sphagnum moss (which is what I use) and keep in the refrigerator until spring. Oftentimes they'll start to sprout in February, but I usually don't plant them out until the threat of frost has passed. Seedlings will typically start blooming 6-8 weeks after germination (sometimes sooner, sometimes later). I only keep repeat bloomers, so they give me multiple buds through the fall, but I start cutting them off before flowering after the first one in order to encourage more growth.

If you can't find hips, or decide not to go the seed route, you can do cuttings (there's tons of instructional websites and YouTube videos on rooting them). That will guarantee you a clone of the parent plant and, after the first year, the cuttings will have grown enough to use for more cuttings or hips.

I've already harvested all of my hips and am stratifying seeds, or else I'd mail you some, but if you go out to look for roses (again cemeteries are a good source), you can usually find them up until mid winter.
Good luck with your projects, and I'm looking forward to seeing your progress!!
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Chris Bright
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I have wanted a living roof for my studio since I started.  Preferably a butterfly garden.  

A living roof is obviously heavier than a normal roof.  That means over engineering for safety.  The log beam site I posted above takes roofing variables such as span, spacing, combined dead and live loads and commonly used species of tree.  At 50 psf for a shallow soil roof, I am getting a minimum that ranges from just over 2 inches to just under 2.25 inches.  So, I plan to go with a minimum diameter of 2.5 inches for the rafters and a minimum of 3 inches for the ridgepole and headers.

The end two rafters on the top of the short walls will be triangular trusses.  
  • 3 16' poles
  • 2 10' poles
  • 40 6' poles


  • I can harvest five or six from our yard, and some from my in-laws.  I will need to figure out how to scrounge the rest.  I want to season the wood before I build.  I still need to plan how to deck it.  I will probably end up using a tarp for a couple seasons to a year.  I will need galvanized lag bolts and nuts to connect assemble the two trusses and to attach rafters or trusses to ridgepole and to headers.  Scraps can be used inside the wall to create anchor points for the headers.

    I will likely make a ferrocement shell out of chicken wire and bags of Portland cement, but wonder how living roofs were created before cement and concrete.  Does the soil layer need to be a couple feet thick for that to work, such as the Scandinavian long houses I have seen and built strong enough to support trees growing on them?  Clay can seal ponds with a bit of help, but usually needs to be kept under water.  Would lime plaster work for the roof deck instead of cement?  Would lime plaster erode?  It would be a risk, unless I could watch for problems for a season or several before adding the rest of the living roof, or having to remove sections of plants, soil and drainage to repair.  

    A 2" layer of small gravel and sand.  A 2-4" layer of fallen leaves.  A 2-4" layer of grass clippings.  A 2" layer of soil.  A 2" layer of mulch.  Seed and plants including milkweeds.

    The end result would be an organic organic roof.  Organic architecture and chemical free growing plants.  Sand and gravel to have a drainage layer to drain water away from the roof.  Plant material to create an organic sponge to hold water up and away from the roof.  Soil and plants to use the water.  Mulch to keep the soil from blowing away in Oklahoma winds before the seeds can take root.  So, using water, trapping water and allowing excess water to drain before the roof decking needs to prevent water from seeping through.  I would want to assemble the roof in spring so that I would have minimal erosion as plants are getting established.  Or have to water.  Frequently.

    So, tarp roof or roof deck from wall completion until the next spring comes around.  It might take a while to get and season all the rafters I will need, even though I don't plan to start cobbing the walls until late spring when it starts warming and drying up.  Or until I can get good rain gear to work in, cold and wet is miserable, while cold, wet and windy is a dangerous health risk without the right clothing.

    So much to think about.  Slow and steady, plan, plan, plan.  It WILL happen.
     
    Chris Bright
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    A few progress pics.
    EA8D6411-1E21-472A-A9B7-56D48BB72CC4.jpeg
    [Thumbnail for EA8D6411-1E21-472A-A9B7-56D48BB72CC4.jpeg]
    Some removed roots
    05D1AE63-8E21-49A7-BB7B-117906EB422C.jpeg
    [Thumbnail for 05D1AE63-8E21-49A7-BB7B-117906EB422C.jpeg]
    Harvested Soil as of Friday
     
    Chris Bright
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    It took some careful wrestling, but I got my ridge pole cut, trimmed and out of the tree.

    Also Willow, the tiny tortie, talking to me.
    61F115BA-4B14-49AB-A3CA-F6DF45079D9D.jpeg
    [Thumbnail for 61F115BA-4B14-49AB-A3CA-F6DF45079D9D.jpeg]
    16ft ridge pole
    47ABE086-EFAE-482C-9D77-77EE3FF0A746.jpeg
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    Willow, the tiny tortie
     
    The permaculture playing cards make great stocking stuffers: http://richsoil.com/cards
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