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Chinampa Ponics & Hugelkultur

 
Dan alan
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Location: Tyler Texas
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Chinampa Ponics & Hugelkultur

I have been growing veggies and fish in aquaponics for quite a few years now. However, I have come to believe this food is not near as nutritious as food grown in the ground; even adding sea salt with 92 trace minerals. Further, this practice requires energy and purchased inputs. It is my personal goal to live a near money-less life so buying key materials for survival leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The production cost in my AP system is around .70 cents per 400'ish gram fish; for energy & feed. As nice as this is I want more of a permaculture'ish way of doing things;eliminating purchased inputs. Doing things more modeled after nature requires more space and lower densities. This year I am trying something new: Chinampa Ponics!

Organic matter will be allowed to collect and rot on the bottom under water and once per year the 'soil' from below will be piled up on top.

One thing I have noticed about my aquaponics bed is that it is creating soil and it did not grow many things well until worms and roots and rotting plant matter made soil. I suspect that taking the circulated water of aquaponics and adding a layer of soil/compost and a thick mulch bedding would create an extremely fertile soil. Once fungus goes to work there would be many minerals and trace elements come from the rocks. Perhaps, just perhaps, this could be done on a 1 or more acre scale to make a sustainable system that always has that water to bring about rampant rich life even in the driest of areas. It seems to me that water always being there and never soaking away would be very very efficient and extremely productive! Kind of like a giant earthBox or Wicking bed. I mean, really, its moisture that is always the limiting factor here. If I could water everything all the time this place would be so alive all the time! Hmmmm... So just make the top a sheet composting worm laden area work in a sustainable area and grow 60% in compost crops. The rocks and perhaps some sea salt could supply plenty of trace and mico nutrients. Also, IF you are grave enough to cycle your composted humanure back to such a system it would run for ever. In aquaponics there are really no detectable pathogens in the water because it is circulated and aerated well. The trick is where to get the energy for this task..

My space is limited so I need to stock fish more densely than natural so I plan to pump some water through the gravel bio filter where water cress and rice will be grown along with mint. The suns heat will provide the pumping action for free as there is 20+ degree difference between day and night temps most days. It has been my experience that a 55 gallon drum painted black will heat and bubble out air through an attached pipe and then at night, when it cools down, it can pull in about 10 gallons of water. So by adding check valves it should be possible to chain several barrels together and pump fair bit of water, but the output water might need to be piped around a bit to cool the water.



All of this will be the center piece of a 6 round Hugelkultur bed garden beds with chickens rotated over the beds for nitrogen; like in the book "Permaculture Home Garden by linda woodrow." Around this will be fruit and nut trees that will expand over time until everything is food forestry.

Currently I do not have enough wood to make all the beds huglekulture, so some of the beds will be reverse huglekulture sort of like This guy is doing, and others will be clover or bean ground cover/living mulch.

My land is rock, pebbles, and red clay so I am starting this project on a area that had sand dumped for a concrete slab that never got poured. I dug in a 400 gallon tank for the fish area early summer


Next I leveled and area 3.5 feet out form the edge of the 6 foot tank and 1.5 foot deep. This area is to hold the gravel and growing area.


I intercepted some old carpet padding on the way to the trash in hopes of protecting my liner. Yes, a must use a liner as this is a dry leaky spot that would never hold water.


The liner:


Float Valve installed and pond filled


The Bio Filter Supply Line inserted


Next a hole was dug 2.5 feet deep and I started gathering wood


Gathering More wood and willing hole with water to start the woodsoaking


Covered with wood chips, goat poop, leaves, and hay the pile now totals just over 4 feet high at the center.
And I start screening the fill dirt to remove larger gravel and rocks.


Fava beans, barley, dikon, and wheat are direct seeded.


Chickens are brought in to begin adding fertility to one growing bed space. Its now fall


Things begin to grow


After moving the chickens their previous place is covered with 8 inches of leaves and wood chips. A reverse huglekultur..


Gravel is finally added. Note in the back ground a 3 foot tall 208 feet long huglekulture swale has also been added. I estimate that it will catch over 700,000 gallons of water per year that once just ran off this hill! Spring has sprung!


Poly-culture level 3

 
Andrew Parker
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Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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Dan,

I was with you 'til here, "...to make a sustainable system that always has that water to bring about rampant rich life even in the driest of areas." Living in an area that can dry clothes on the line fluffy dry in an hour and where water is astronomically expensive (prices quadrupled in 15 years), I find that statement perhaps a bit overreaching.

Not to say that one couldn't find a naturally waterlogged location here that would work, but you might have to fight the Corps of Engineers for disturbing a wetland, and chances are good the water will be brackish, limiting your crop choices. Nice system, though. I am sure it will work best in humid areas. It could probably be tweaked to work in arid zones, perhaps requiring some sort of nonporous mulch to keep evaporation down, something like the rock mulch I saw used in a documentary on floodplain gardening in the arid regions of China. I tried it once, but my back wasn't up to it.

I find chinampas to be a fascinating subject. I researched them a few years ago for a development project. They are very like hugelkulture in that they are built on layers of cellulose: reeds, grasses or branches; then covered with soil: nutrient rich muck from the lake or canal bottom; the process having to be repeated at least annually as underlying layers decay and subside.

As practiced in the Valley of Mexico, it was very successful polyculture, utilizing fish, waterfowl, rodents, trees, plants, and human waste; and it used complex horticultural methods like nurseries and transplanting. It wasn't permaculture, though I suppose it could be adapted for it.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Really interesting ideas, Dan. My main concern is the passive system might not have enough water movement to support fish. What kind of fish do you plan to raise?

 
Brad Davies
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Awesome project!

Keep the pics coming I want to see how this turns out. I have plans of making my own Chinampa system, but not till next year. I was blown away when I saw the PDC DVD with Mollison and Lawton talking about Chinampas, had to rewatch it about 5 times. According to Lawton, "its the most productive system ever recorded."
 
Tyler Ludens
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Andrew Parker wrote:

I was with you 'til here, "...to make a sustainable system that always has that water to bring about rampant rich life even in the driest of areas." Living in an area that can dry clothes on the line fluffy dry in an hour and where water is astronomically expensive (prices quadrupled in 15 years), I find that statement perhaps a bit overreaching.


I live in a somewhat dry climate (severe drought last year, still considered moderate drought I think). I think we can create moist areas even in a dry climate by using buried wood beds and other techniques like hugelkultur. I don't know that we can create a true chinampa system here in a dry climate, but I think we might be able to create areas where seasonal moisture can be stored, and with enough careful planning, possibly even created wetlands for chinampas though that is very ambitious! Brad Lancaster's books "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond" give me a lot of hope.

 
Andrew Parker
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[I apologize for persisting on this tangent, but it is not entirely off topic. If you think it appropriate, I could start a different thread]

The keys to making this type of system work in an arid climate is concentrating what water does fall on the land and significantly reducing evaporation. I think hugelkultur could be successfully integrated into runoff agriculture techniques. The main problem with agricultural systems that utilize large volumes of organic material, such as hugelkultur and mulching, is that arid regions don't produce large volumes of organic material. You may have to forego using wood and settle for grasses and reeds for beds and gravel or sand for mulch. Some good ideas have already been expressed in Paul's discussion, Sepp Holzer uses no irrigation.

Chinampas can be used anywhere there is a body of water or marshy, boggy soil. Desert valleys often have wetlands, permanent or seasonal, on or near the valley floor. The Valley of Mexico fits this description. You do have to be careful with brackish water because of the risk of salt concentrating on the surface. Chinampas were/are very labor and engineering intensive. Great effort was made to stabilize lake levels and separate fresh from brackish water. The reward was vastly improved yields, though when things went wrong, the impact on society was catastrophic and often resulted in frantic, gruesome efforts to appease the gods.
 
Dan alan
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Location: Tyler Texas
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Really interesting ideas, Dan. My main concern is the passive system might not have enough water movement to support fish. What kind of fish do you plan to raise?



Growing 6 sweet pepper plants in a container showed me a possible solution. These 6 peppers used 35 gallons of water on hot humid days. So, I am hoping that water loving plants will draw out much water through the "filter media" and fresh water from the float should keep the water clean. In my aquaponic system I can keep the water clean for the fish by just using the water on the garden. Of-course the fish density will have to be low for this to work. I dont pretend to have all the answers, but I do have a lot of observations to trial out...

As to the argument that you cant do this is arid climates.. well, Obviously, you have to adapt methods, such as having no or little water surface exposed to the open air ect... I'm talking about a completely artificial creation of a water body NOT making a 'real' chinampa. Aquaponics are used in the chiwawa desert here with no problems what so ever.. So, my hope is that a low or no energy input method can be adapted so that power and pumps are not used. What I have to work out is how many and what type of plants/what type and how many fish/solar energy pump or solar powered plants as pumps ect ect ect...

My goal is to operate in real time solar energy and solar cells are not really within that guild line because it takes as much off peak nuclear or oil power to make the cells as they produce in their life; or so I've heard...
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Devon Olsen
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Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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Dan alan
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Location: Tyler Texas
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Quick Update:

The pod is lightly stocked with fish, tons of frogs, and dragon fly larva, and lots of rotting leaves. The water is not pumped. Only the plants make the water move through the gravel and a float tops up the pond. I wish I had a water meter on the float line because I do not know how much water rice transpires per day, but I know 6 sweet banana peppers take up 35+ gallons of water per day when its hot. The water is staying clean enough for the life in the pond. Once I have the weight of the rice harvest and fish I will update the results.

The surrounding area has been planted with sweet sorgum, sunflowers, homestead squash, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, pecos cantaloupes, amaranth, quinoa, foxtail millet, and various wild native grasses. The quinoa has not done so well here, but everything else is doing very well. The millet is already putting on grain heads as is the sorgum. This winter I will be planting kamut wheat and white clover along with 10 varieties of other ancient wheats, and 10 varieties of barley including the "miracle barley."

My long term goal for the surrounding area is to find the plants that work here in a fukuoka style system of growing. At this point Im scratching my head and woundering how I am going to harvest,thresh,and wash 14500 square feet (1/3 acre) of millet...

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The Pond
rice.jpg
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The Rice
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Wide Shot
 
Devon Olsen
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WOW!
things are looking great dan!
good luck with all the hard work ahead of you and hopefully you get enough to make it all worth your while
 
Sara Harding
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A passive solar pond pump! If one barrel exchanges 10 gallons per day, could it work on a small scale? What if I sunk a barrel in the ground, with a wider gravel edge planted with arrowroot, mini cattails, basil, tomato, watercress, peppermint, then had an exchange barrel set nearby with check valves? I would guess the barrel would have to be airtight to create a vacuum once the water cools. It looks from your set-up that the heat pressurized water is delivered to the pond in the gravel biofilter through a series of one way valves. I can see how that would be provision for the ammonia to be converted to available nitrogen, but would it provide enough oxygen for, say, 20 catfish? Could the water level be adjusted so that the water would drip or trickle into the main pond area to mix in more air? What about adding a solar charged bubbler stone? (I think they are pretty inexpensive, but don't know how well made they are). Also, both the passive solar pump barrel and the pond would have the additional benefit of creating a protected microclimate for some of the more frost tender fruit trees in my garden. I live in Upstate South Carolina, zone 7, humid, temperate rainforest. I also want to do hugelkulture beds to help soak up excess water in my low lying garden area, and keep my plant roots from rotting. I could do several of these mini pond set-ups, setting my fruit trees and berry bush guilds in groups around them. I already have plenty of toads and frogs in the area, so if I set up the ponds and let the frogs get established, then add catfish fingerlings, maybe set up a self harvesting soldier fly compost, with a vermicompost to feed the fish with worms as needed. Hmm, maybe a submerged solar light for moth harvesting...

I have a different set of problems: root rot from waterlogged soil and late frosts, but a hugel-ponic system might actually solve those as well.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hello,

Maybe I am missing the obvious, but how exactly are the hugels connected to the fish pond? Does the liner extend under the layer of sand, and the hugels draw up water from it? If so, why don't it turn into quicksand? I liked the Bio filter/ Solar pump idea, and the idea of putting muck from the pond on the Hugels.

Please let me know how this goes. I find the idea really exciting.
 
alex Keenan
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Terraces growing rice have functioned for hundreds of years based on a ratio of eight or more acres of forest land draining into one acre of rice paddy terrace.
It seems to me that Permaculture may wish to revisit the use of rice paddy and terrace wetland as a nutrient trap.
In a ideal system composting activities would take place at the top of the slope and drain through the wooded area.
The drainage from the wooded area would be allowed to flow into a terrace or shallow pond so nutrients can settle out of the water.
Water can then flow to fish ponds.
The fish ponds can be mucked and the muck used to treat the terraces and rice paddies.
Fish waste can be composted with carbon waste back on the top of the slope.

 
allen lumley
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Alex Keenan : A n excellent wrap up of the interconnected working of the Forest to terrace to fish ponds, it seems that guilds do not
have to be right on top of each other ! Though I think there is already another brand new post on it, this is related and belongs here

:::--> www.geofflawton.com/fe/74051-fish-ponds-of-molokai?r=y <--::: Hint, highlight the BOLD part and right click to open in
address window or as google search !

For the good of the Craft ! BIG AL
 
Miles Flansburg
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How did I miss this one !?
Dan how are things going?
 
Amedean Messan
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Miles Flansburg wrote:How did I miss this one !?
Dan how are things going?


That's what I am saying!
 
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