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A time stacked modular pond  RSS feed

 
Jason Silberschneider
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One project currently under way at the Shaolin Castle is a pond built without the use of pigs. Why such insanity? Simply because it's not logistically appropriate for me to keep pigs at the moment, and I like the challenge of doing things a different way.

The trick is not to try and get a pond from the outset, as this will vastly increase the chances of disappointment. My approach has been to break a pond down into different modules that can be used for something other than a pond, build and use each of them independently, and allow the pond to slowly time stack into existence.

I start with an ex-gravel-quarry in one corner of my property. It has the right depth, but is as water-retaining as you'd expect an ex-gravel-quarry to be. So what will my finished pond consist of?

1. Chinampas to increase the edge effect, and provide a moist environment for water loving plants.
2. Banks for emergent plants to climb up.
3. A water-tight bottom formed from the gley of decaying plant matter.

As far as I can tell, a chinampa is nothing more than a hugelculture sticking out into a pond. And a hugelculture can be used as a hugelculture until the pond has formed! So I make 5 hugelcultures around the edge of my quarry:
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Wood layer of the hugelculture
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Covering the wood with the dirt layer
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Final layer of hay, then planting out with berries.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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And why not a round raised garden bed in the middle of the quarry to grow some bamboo on. Perhaps one day this will become "Bamboo Island"?
bamboo_island.JPG
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Bamboo raised bed
 
Jason Silberschneider
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The next stage is to cover the base of the pond-to-be with hay and use this as vegie gardens until the accumulated plant matter begins to break down into gley. Being in a depression, there will be a slightly more favourable microclimate, and water will tend to migrate here, so vegies should do well.

If too much water accumulates and rots the vegie gardens before I've had a chance to harvest them, then I've succeeded in beginning the gleying process. It's win-win!
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Base of the pond covered in a layer of hay, with hugels in the background
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A raised garden bed against "bamboo island" that we will experiment growing pineapple in
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Lupin seeds broadcast over the base of the pond to begin biomass
 
Chris Pampo
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I'm really interested in what you're doing Jason. I'll be following your progress and hoping to get some ideas for my own eventual pond project. Please keep the updates coming!
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Sparse, grudging autumn (fall) rains have allowed the lupins (and seed from the hay base) to begin flourishing, as well as a few vetch seeds from past plantings in the area.
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The base of the pond starting to green up
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Lupins and hay seeds begin to bind the pond walls
 
Devon Olsen
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Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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I'm coming along for your ride, we have a similar predicament with our planned bottom pond, mostly a financial restrai t so we are building the hopefully future dam here soon(I hope) but its main function is to be a road, the pond will come as we can afford to seal the soil
 
Cris Bessette
gardener
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Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
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I've done pretty close to what you've done to make up for porous soil, but no pigs- try to build up plant biomass in the bottoms of my holes I've dug for ponds.

I'm about three years into this experiment, and the organic material I "seeded" into these areas has been overtaken by increasingly thicker vegetation which I cut down a few times a year.

I don't know how long it may take for this veggie-gley to seal the bottoms, but they are functioning fine as swales for now.

Kind of reminds me of this one technique to green deserts where numerous depressions are made in the soil where organic material tends to collect, leading to weeds taking hold, followed by larger vegetation,etc.

 
Jason Silberschneider
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This is also how ponds form naturally in nature. Silt and leaves tend towards depressions, and break down to form gley. Pigs are just time-machines for compressing thousands of years into a few weeks. Hopefully the greenery will become damp enough with the coming rains to attract some ducks and their magical poo.
 
George Meljon
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Location: Southern Indiana zone 5b
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Cool idea for controlling bamboo! I might swipe that from you some day.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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As a bizarre experiment, I decided to leave 1 of the hugel/chinampas bare instead of covering it with hay, and see what would happen if I just broadcast lupin seeds on a bare hugel. As a kind of control, I only broadcast lupin seeds over half the hugel. The photo shows the result. I'm rather impressed.

I've since broadcast peas over the other half of the hugel.
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Bare hugel with lupin seeds broadcast over half of it
 
Jason Silberschneider
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A nearby broadscale farm had just finished sowing their peas for the season and had 1500kgs (3300lbs) leftover from spillage that wasn't worth sowing, and would I like it? 1500kgs!!! Spillage!!! Three trips later, it was at my property.

I've merely broadcast the peas into the lupins, so that the later, slower pea will grow up through the lupins and have a succession of greenery. The photo shows the peas sprouting a few days later, after a rain.
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Layer of newly sprouted peas under the lupins
 
Trevor Newhart
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Location: Southern California
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Really impressed and excited by this thread. Any updates? Have you noticed any gley-like sediment building up in the low points of the pond?
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Very nice Jason, I foresee a pond starting to fill in a few years. That method is also the way most of the peat bogs of Eire and Britton got their initial start.
Keep updating the progress please, while I don't have any spot remotely similar to yours, it is very much teaching the earth mothers method.

Thank you for showing us this wonderful example of natural pond building.
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I don't really have anything to add, except that I love this.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Ask and you shall receive. Since we last saw the pond, it had gone through winter, endured a hot, rainless summer, and is now edging back into the southern winter again. This second summer was vastly different for the microclimate as there was now a layer of hay and dead peas and lupin, as opposed to the barren earth of the pond's inaugural summer. A weekly watering can for the mulberries seemed to be sufficient for them to survive the 40 degree days. The berries on the hugel/chinampas received no water and died back somewhat, but now are shooting up again with vigour thanks to the autumn rains.

While I wouldn't use the word "gley" in connection with anything that his happening in the pond at the moment, last years hay is definitely looking black, damp and slimy. Figure 1 shows oats seedlings from last years oats pushing their way up through the slimy hay in the top picture, and recently broadcast lupin seeds sitting on a layer of black hay.

Figure 2 shows annual ryegrass shooting on the banks of the pond in the top picture, and blackberries sending out new canes down the banks from the top of the hugel/chinampas. While I consider annual ryegrass to be an unwelcome invader, for the moment it's creating stability and biomass. I know well enough that the ryegrass will only survive until tree canopy around the edge of the pond shades it out forever.

Speaking of which, figure 3 shows two albizia seedlings that I've grown from seed in place about halfway up the bank all around the pond. They're about a metre apart, so will definitely help stabilise the bank, and provide even more shade over the summer. These albizia have grown 2 metres in the first year where I've planted them in my orchard! They also rain down detritus like nobody's business when they get going. I planted the seeds about a week ago, and they're just breaking the surface.
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Figure 1. Last season hay getting black and slimy
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Figure 2. annual rye and blackberry canes on the banks
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Albizia seeds sown in place just breaking the surface
 
Mick Fisch
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I have a feeling that gley forms better in a moist, reduced oxygen environment (layers of vegetation where the ones in the middle/bottom are effectively sealed off by the plants above). It's just an impression I have and if anyone knows different I welcome correction.

I had a seasonal pond that sealed up very quickly once I got a few ducks. They loved the puddle I started off with and spent a lot of time swimming and crapping in it. As the puddle expanded they expanded their area of deposition, even a small puddle will give them a good start. Ducks are a lot easier to take care of than pigs and are a lot more socially acceptable to neighbors.

If there is a town around where they have a curb pickup for the autumn leaf drop, I think that leaves might be even better than hay because once the leaves get wet they seem to flatten out and form a mat, sealing better.

Of course, my ground was already way more sealed than an ex-gravel pit so I realize it isn't directly applicable to you. Your old gravel pit is looking really good. Just throwing out a few suggestions.

Good luck to you and I look forward to reading more about your adventure as time moves on.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2749
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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Looks like you should be well on your way after next summer Jason.
Great that you already have decay going on, the black color is a really good sign that anaerobic bacteria are growing there already.

It takes about 10 cm of depth to get the anaerobic bacteria working, without the addition of manures. You can speed up the start of decay by compressing the dead plant materials,
If you have any manure you can spread in the bottom, it will speed up the bacteria growth and that's when the slime will start turning to gley.

A long time ago, when I lived in up state NY, I was fortunate enough to have a friend with a peat bog on his land, we took some samples and found, through testing, that his bog had been forming for at least 200 years (carbon dating).
He was amazed, apparently he thought that his bog had not been there very long, I explained to him that the 200 year carbon dating, while not absolute, gave a good indication that his was a "new" bog.
I then found, through an other friend, records from 1747 that mentioned that bog being there and that peat was occasionally harvested by the friends great grand father for fuel.

I have one runoff area on our north slope that I am starting the build of a rock dam near the bottom of the hill.
Once I have that up high enough to trap the runoff debris from the forest, I will start adding things to grow and die so there will be enough material for the anaerobic bacteria to thrive and start creating gley.
I'm hoping to get this stage of the building of the pond about half way completed this year and finish it off next year, then it will be plant, grow and slash for a couple of years.
At that point I'm hoping it will tend to itself so I can spend all my time on the other thousand things I have on my To-Do List.

I love seeing the photos of your pond project progress.
Thanks again Kola

Ceta Luta (Redhawk)
 
Mick Fisch
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Just a comment on peat bogs. I've hiked across a lot of peat bogs in south central Alaska and it always seemed to me that most of them, the drainout point, had a ridge that appeared to be ancient, grown over beaver dam. At least in that area it seemed to me that the beavers had a big hand in bog creation.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
225
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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Good observation Mick!

Yes indeed beaver dams are one way peat bogs can get started, but a true bog dries out enough every year for new plant growth (ie. heathers, tall growing grasses, ect.) to occur.
In the case of a beaver pond, the beaver will make sure the pond doesn't dry enough for this new plant growth. Once the beaver move on and the dam falls into disrepair then the rise and fall of water level allows a bog to form.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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A bog would be an awesome start, because that would begin some acidification of the soil. That would help a lot with my blueberry attempts. And standing water is just begging to get some cranberries planted in it. As well as lupin and pea, I've also hit the bottom of the pond with chia seeds. Expensive, but a little goes a long way. My first encounter with chia on my property was when I used a scoop at the store to get some linseeds that must have just been used previously to scoop out chia seeds. I got a better germination rate from the chia seeds, and didn't know what they were. When I finally planted chia a year later, it was like, "Ahh, I recognise those!".

I've done a panoramic shot of the lake, which I'm going to post with 1 month and 2 month followup photos as a comparison of how fast the albizia grows.
 
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