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Dustbowl, Termites, Massive drought....

 
Deb Rebel
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That starts my question list...

We are termite central; will building a Hugel mound just be building a termite palace? yes I have had to spray for them, and I have found them on the property (last colony last year went into the base of one of my kalancoe that I had in a pot... I rescued the plant top and tossed the pot with colony sealed up and sprayed). Or Black Carpenter Ants, or even drawing fire ants?

This is the land of where trees are bent over like it was the coastline from the prevailing and persistent winds; and blowsand is a fact of life; not to mention the tumbleweeds. Anything I build has to withstand 25mph average and 40mph sustained or gusts is not uncommon, heck 60mph gusts are not unheard of (we don't consider it 'wind' until 'high profile vehicle warnings' are issued) I'm afraid it won't 'stay put'

We have months without rain; or it may show 'green' on the radar and it's a 'smell-it' rain, it never gets near the ground. Most of the time I've lived here we have been on red-flag burn ban, aka a felony; it has been so dry. We get a few snows of a few inches that soak in; and a few rounds of a few to several inches of rain at once, and that's it for the year.... is this going to be enough?

Wood here can include catalpa; what does that do in a hugelkultur mound?

That's just the start of my worries, mostly I have 'junk elm', a few bits of cottonwood, and some small chunks of construction lumber (old, dimensional of under a foot pieces and massively trash and I can't even run a burn barrel right now if I stand there with extinguisher and hose) to start it with. (Junk elm is probably Siberian elm); as well as green 'tumbleweed weeds' that are still small and tender enough to go through a lawnmower and some patchy crab and Bermuda grass for clippings I could add.

Um, help? Thanks if someone can shed light on any and all of this for me. I am contemplating adding this near my walipini location as a windbreak....
 
John Elliott
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Where from Deb? From the description, my guess would be Oklahoma.

Termites are not going to be problematic for a hugelkultur; they are just another insect species that breaks down the wood. Some people here have advised against having a hugelkultur too close to the house, so that after any termites are done with the wood in the hugel, they start in on the house as dessert. All the wood you mention is good to use as well. The only thing about the cottonwood is that it may compact more than the others.

A windbreak in that kind of climate is always a good idea. Here is a link to help you get started designing one.
 
Rebecca Norman
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I also live in an extremely arid climate, and though I haven't made a hugel bed here, I've been reading and thinking about them. My impression is that in arid climates you don't want it above ground or it may actually increase evaporation and get drier. 've read a few reports by people here who said their hugel bed turned out to be drier than other beds in an arid climate, and I've read suggestions to bury it instead, but I don't think I've actually seen posts by people who tried buried hugel beds in arid climates.

I've read some other posts about successful experience of controlling fire ants by pouring boiling water down the ant hill.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Seems like high deserts need strategies from both cool climates and dryland climates. Paul and Geoff did a podcast that discussed high deserts because more and more permies are taking on this particular challenge. Here it is: http://www.permies.com/t/33750/podcast/Podcast-Geoff-Lawton-Part

As someone who lives in the hot, low desert, huglekultur is less appropriate than other techniques. I have tossed branches, etc into sunken beds. The wood did need to be well watered before putting soil back on top of it. Seemed to do fine. Not sure if it did better than beds without the wood.
 
Rebecca Norman
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(oops, mistake)
 
Deb Rebel
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Thanks for the comments so far...

I am really worried about building a termite palace. I'm scared of drawing them in then when they finish dining on the Hugel-wood they'll move to the house and the neighbor's....

11,000 feet... wowzie too. Rebecca do you have a walipini around there too?

Yes you'd call us arid and high plains here, we are over 4100 feet.... I moved down almost 2000 feet and I can still tell the difference. Weather is different too just because clouds have more space to build.
 
Rebecca Norman
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We just have normal solar greenhouses, not walipinis, because our climate is nice and sunny even in mid-winter.
 
Deb Rebel
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I went to the link for the school last night... wow. I just LOVE it.

Rebecca I envy you.

Now then to the others, doing more research on termites and such, and calming down some about them and possibly having them in the mound, but. It's looking like I should treat this as the extremely dry arid type installation, we tend to average single digit humidity in summer and the wind is continual... so. My interest would be to use one as south wind windbreak....and right now I have about 15 feet of wood; I had piled the junkwood near the curb near the city supplied dumpster and someone came along, helped themselves to some of the better chunks and made a neater pile of it... so I lost about 15' right there. I don't begrudge them helping self, it was on public turf.

Is it dry here? I went to turn last fall's compost pile and I have organic matter that hasn't even started to cook, so I fluffed it with some green and watered it with a sprinkler to see if I can get it to start cooking....
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Deb, et al,

If you have more specific questions about termites, I will do my best to answer those. In general as a "permes" type, I see termites are a crucial part of most biomes. As far as "inoculating" an area or near by structure with "more termites" than normal...well...that is more of a "sales tactic" with pest control companies than actual truth or any research has ever suggested. Termites exist for a reason, and in some areas can be a real issue in architectural design...yet that is more to do with current building trends and the cultural dependence on "living through better chemistry," that industry has gotten society to buy into. Build architecture that is germane to a region, do proper maintenance, and monitoring, and you won't have too much of an issue with termites or any other ills that plague current architecture.

I don't "garden" as much as I did in the past...but what I did in the past was extensive, and now realize many of the methods we used (and my family taught me) are now coming back into vogue under many different names. I helped design and build gardens in three very different environments. Southwestern Arizona, panhandle region of Florida and South Central Illinois. This was all between 1968 and 1983. This was all done from "poking around behind" the wisdom of a Grandmother and her friends that ranged in birth dates from the 1870's to the 1890's...

Germane to the other aspects of this discussion, and your "arid plains" location, I could not think of a better place to have a "mound garden" and possibly place it even deeper into a "Bikooh Garden" (pit garden or what is now called "walipini.") We did not know about "hugelkultur" (what we call mound garden when I was younger)...yet, all the elements are almost exactly the same, with some subtle changes depending on where they are built. "Walipini" (which is an Aymara word for "warm place") and similar things that fell out of the late 70's and 80's for "underground gardens" again have been practices by Native folks for a long time. The first "walipini" I saw was in a "Bikooh Clan Garden" on the Diné Reservation in Northern Arizona. Here Hopi, Diné, and I am sure Pueblo, Zuni, and their ancestors have been practicing these gardening techniques in one form or another for millenia. "Bikooh gardening" is a much loved, and passed down generationally, with each garden plot belonging to a clan or collective. They are inside a steeply walled "Bikooh" (what Spanish settlers called Arroyos) which is a small to large canyon. These can range in size from 100 meters deep and several hundred meters wide, to the most prized type among the people, which is the "dead end" type that has a spring at the end, and are only about 10 to 50 meters wide or even much less. After about 1955, when plastics started coming into more use with gardens, and glass became easier to come by, some of these smaller "bikooh gardens" had glass or plastic roofs placed on them. These grew into what is now called "Walipini."

In arid regions you have to set up a micro biome for the "composting chemistry" to start, as moisture is critical to the porcess, as you know. If the area is subjected to dehydration by convection (wind) and low humidity, it only makes since to become "fossorial" in your gardening, as my ancestors have for a very long time. Just a few meters below normal garden (and with the augmentation of a "cover") and you have an entirely different climate and growing environment. Add to this all the benefits of a well built "mound garden," principle and everything improves drastically.

Regards,

j
 
Deb Rebel
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Wow, and thank you.

My hubby is balking at the price that is starting to gel over the walipini's (two) that I am planning to start construction on this summer; I'm trying to get him to realize that it's a 'lifetime and lifestyle' investment. It will pay us back many more times what we put into it now. Walipini #1 is 75x20' Walipini #2 is 50x20' ... to fit the land I have available with a good southern exposure.

Okay, so I will have to pit the hugelkultur mounds, dig them into the ground; to get them to 'perk' and do their thing in this climate then... and just use leftover riprap and urbanite to build myself a windwall/windbreak then...

Everyone is so kind to answer, thank you!
 
Geoff Buddle
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Hi Deb, those are some good sized Walpini's! First general question is, too many eggs in one basket? I put together an arch green house (www.notherngreenhouse.com) 11'x36' and when our hay was cut it had to be stored some where, so storage. 2/3 full of hay. the unfilled 1/3 collapsed under snow load, not well enough braced inside and the tarp not pulled tight enough allowed cupping and holding snow instead of shedding. Early spring a year ago a neighbour came by and chilled (dislikes winter, too) it was 10 deg. C outside, 35 deg. C inside, hence my passion of thermal mass. Cold enough at night to freeze my chicken eggs, warm enough to cause thermal death of those eggs, neither one good for hatching eggs. So, I'll snap a photo of the collapse, 6pcs.of 1/2' rebar to get shape back to what it should be.$200 in lumber / screws and something like a basement jack to tension tarp, tarp is fine to reuse, ends will be better framed and polycarbonate panels so its easier to see inside. Paddock fencing done (ALMOST) so collapse photo now and about 2 weeks I hope for reinvigorated photo. All site on heavy clay, lawn guy says ours is last he cuts when all others he does have dried up. Point being to get back to your thread, to small for hugel IMHO, 10lb. charcoal/$8 and have 55 gallon barrel vermicompost and rabbits (perfect worm food or if fully dried apply directly) for tea to charge charcoal, gonna combine all and solve a few problems at once. For main garden bed, gonna take trailer and pick up bags of leaves in fall that locals bag and leave out by curb and use leaf mold in green house. No leaf blower, job for chickens! Geoff Oh, forgot to mention other personal heros, Tommy Jefferson, Benny Franklin, Willie Smits http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/475 and William McDonough http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/104

Geoff
 
Geoff Buddle
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Oh my, forgot to bit about arid, and though there is now a lot on the web, I often find getting things from the horse's mouth the best (least heresay, misunderstanding contamination of the main idea...) http://www.waterright.com.au/ this is the origionator's site and I think it would work well in whatever climate contrlling enviroment you are doing, so why not EPDM liner (or some such, but we need freezing proof here) and fill lined pit with straw bales, some charcoal (little improvement over 10% I hear but not t all neccessary, a couple dozen fishing worms and have great soil in a year, all the worms you could want for fishing or nice diet balancing for some chickens and you water use minimized for climate situation. Have considered "pond" in basement for Bioponics (www.bioponics.ca) while harvesting attic collected heat to increase house thermal mass. Happy to flesh out ideas, just point me towards where the unknowns are and I'm happy to add my (mental) flashlight to the search.
Geoff
 
Zach Muller
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I had a funny experience just a few days ago. I was looking at some bluejays swooping down at a small hugel mound I have. There were a bunch of them and they were vigorously swooping to the extent of a bird fight breaking out. As I got closer to the mound I started seeing bugs passing me and when I got a few feet away I could see baby bugs were pouring out and practically covering the surface of the mound. Realizing what was up I backed off and the birds came swooping back for a bug snack.
Pretty sure those were termites! If it wasn't right in the middle of the garden I would have let the chickens have at them.
 
Deb Rebel
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Thanks Geoff and Zack.

I am 'urban' in that I am in town. There is an ordinance about chickens in town, and those that have done it anyways usually make the whole neighborhood stink to high heaven and get fined and have to give it up. We got another one right now that we're trying to find out who is making the whole place smell like a poorly kept barnyard again.

I am the only one in about five blocks radius that has enough turf plus the location of some city land and such that I COULD have chickens in one corner (there's a distance to your neighbor's house thing) and I don't want any. I DID want some guinea hens when we had a tick and squash bug problem a few years ago and the ticks had a disease that ended up killing our dog (no matter what we did or the vet treated her with; and the vet tech said she was so tired of seeing dogs covered solid, didn't matter how much ivermectin you shoved into the dog, they were covered)

I have laid out a hugelkultur pit, and am making some stockpiles of wood to give it a try... after the walipini pits I will have the fellow with the nice big backhoe dig the hugelkultur one. My hubby's little Kubota and towable backhoe is NOT up to this excavation, we know a neighbor that has a big-boy and rents out for $85 an hour to come play in your hole, so we're going to buy him for a day or two to dig. I have that slated for July, and need to go have the turf utility marked and go dowse the water and sewer lines (this city laid no tapes with the pipes, so you have a real lottery on finding where they laid stuff) I am making notes about what you're adding in with your wood, to get it to cook properly. Hm, if I end up with rampant 'bugs' I have a friend with laying hens, I could borrow a few for a bit and cage them in with the mound (and clip their feathers so they stay IN) if I need. winwin then; if I put the mound out where I won't get in trouble for chickens, I don't have to keep them for forever, and friend can have fat sassy hens that go to summer camp. .... hm. Thank you.

Oh Geoff, I know about snowloads; we started with building hoop house shelter/covers in the Front Range in the early 90's and there we would actually get snow. Here, we get maybe 4" and more like 1-2" a few times in "winter" as a 'good snow' and we had our '50 year blizzard' a few years ago; so I don't expect a huge dump issue. I'm a sort of half trained engineer (mechanical, civil and industrial, I ended up collecting minors in each, very long story) and can figure out supporting a load. Mother nature loves sneaking up on the one bit you didn't get nailed down proper and trashing it.... bummer about your collapse, hope you got it winched up and reblocked. I am currently working hard on how I want those rafters/cap and what support I'll need to do, and if I need to dig sonotube and pour some concrete pilings in the bottom to hold the verticals. Where do you have your cold air trap? I am thinking of doing the walk down in then step up for the cold air to flow to and puddle there in the entries...

I don't consider all this 'eggs in same basket' I am considering it as 'permanent commitments to what I want' ... in that I will have places to mess with fish (gold and koi), water plants, tropicals of all sorts (I have a colocasia and alocasia plus various blooming ornamentals addictions)... so yes some aquaculture; some vermiculture to recycle things both compost and leaves and grass; grow a few citrus just because I can... my hubby has depression issues and in cold winter being able to sit in the walipini with the living stuff will be priceless; plus being able to grow greens and fresh all winter. I don't expect to replace every calorie with what I can grow, but I do expect to have a good reduction.

Right now I am building a larger version of my screen frame house... (the 2012-13 greenhouse that structure was great but it was a b*tch to skin and keep warm so 2013 was covered with 30% shadecloth and made a beautiful growing shelter). My hubby had a major snortfit but I built of calf fence panels frame, some rectangular 2x4 'open frames' that hold the center top roof panel up; and the thing is WIRED together (I have made wire wrap jewelry for years) and it's a very easy build; when it was plastic skinned it held 4" of snow fine; has taken wind in excess of 80mph; and as a screen frame is more than sturdy enough. I made it 'me high' so I can walk through the center/aisle support frames with a baseball cap on, and reach up and get my hand to the wrist through the 'ceiling' above, so can reach everything to work on it. My 6' hubby can not stand up in there unless I dig him a hole to stand in. It was 2" short of 12' wide and 16' long; the whole structure is mostly self supporting, and is great for holding shadecloth. I am building a new version of two rows of three of the originals (and dragging the original over to the new location to reuse) then adding a new taller center section; so a total of 36x48'. With the shadecloth (buying bulk and finishing and grommet setting myself) and 41 fence panels, under $1500, and the cloth should last 7-10 years so. This is 3 season and I can hang some row cover inside... the walipini are the year round or take over for the other 3-5 months that that can't hack.

If I can't feed the wood scraps to my RMH, it'll be hugelkultur!
 
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