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Posts: 26
Location: NE Tennessee
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Hello, allow me to introduce myself. I am "The Practical Madman" (aka Larry Noel) and I am a permaculture addict. I have been researching everything permaculture for several years now (eventually leading me to this wonderful site - hat tip Paul) and I have embarked on a most wonderful journey that I wish to invite all on. I have been lurking here for a few months now, and even made a few posts (I even earned an apple!!) and I will be making many more posts here in the future.

To give a little background, I am a New Orleans (below sea level) swamp rat transplanted to the wonderful back hills (I call them "mini mountains"- to a swamp rat anything bigger than a levee is a mountain) of NE Tennessee just north of Knoxville. For the last ten years or more, every cell in my body has been screaming for me to start growing plants (read food) but I was in a situation where I was then 25 feet above sea level on a 70' x 110' lot with 39 trees, mostly 80' pines, so there was little hope for growing anything (no SUN!!!). My father in law (FIL) lived here where I am now, and I just loved visiting about 2 or 3 times a year since about 2002. FIL passed away about three years ago and the garden area had been basically abandoned about 4 years earlier, then the house was abandoned and the land sat vacant for about 2 years before I could talk my wife and all other family members involved to let me take the land over. FIL had been born and raised on this approx. 200 acres farm, 80 acres of which is currently a registered "Century Farm" under 100 years of single family production. The area he eventually owned was the north 100 acres of the original farm plus a little. We are at about 1300 feet with a south facing gentle slope, on a reasonably level 20+/- acre "shelf" amongst 30 to 60 degree slopes of heavy forested slopes. Besides the house, I have a great chicken coop, a 25' x 25' shop for my wood work, and a 40' x 25' "carport" area with a 25' x 15' "artist's loft" above. (FIL could not stop building once he got started.) I built a great rocket stove/mass heater in the shop and will be building one in the main house before next winter. There is also a 50' x 50' barn that is filled with rough cut pine (2 x 4, 2 x 6, and 2 x 10's of pine) and a lot of rough cut cherry. Heaven here on earth. Any body need wood? Come and get it!!!

When the house (2600 sq. ft. five bed four bath masterpiece my FIL designed and built - more on this house in future posts) was abandoned, the water was not turned off and the house got flooded by winter frozen broken water lines though out. I am a renovations contractor, so I was fully qualified and experienced to renovate the house. I moved here in Feb. 2015 and started renovations in April, and my wife moved up here in early May. It took 4 trips @ 600 miles one way in my van, with a fully loaded trailer to move my tools up here to begin work and renovations. I was fully absorbed in the renovation project for many months, but could not wait till I could get out and start reclaiming the garden and beginning my permaculture adventure. For just a little more background info, I had my 60th birthday this last May.

The house was fine on the second floor (three beds two baths) but the first floor had to be gutted (master suite, kitchen, den. and mother-in-law apartment). I installed over 100 sheets of sheet rock, built new cherry wood cabinets for the kitchen from rough cut cherry wood FIL had stashed in the barn, and other improvements that were needed to make my wife and all others concerned to be proud.

I am now in the process of building hugleculture mounds around the garden and swales on couture, but most importantly first a fenced in (deer/rabbit proof/non nature taxed) garden area with huglebeds in it. I will be posting progress posts here on the progression of this project, plus many more adventures of permaculture to come. This is just the start of a very long journey. I have uncovered a variety of apple trees, blueberry bushes, and peach/plumb trees in amongst the over grown briers. wild raspberries, and honeysuckle vines that are up to 2" in diameter, and I will be in very great need of help in identifying and sorting out of things I find, so I hope that many will offer comments in the coming posts I make.

To introduce myself a little further, I am a surveyor, carpenter, musician, writer, wood sign artist, and all around entrepreneur who sees the world for what it is and desires to make improvements upon it. My web sites are www.practicalmadman.com and www.theillusionsapocalypse.com. My wife gave me the name "Practical Madman" (it was not my choice of identity, but I truly relate to it) and I try to fully live up to it. I have always marched to the beat of a different drummer and I try to pass that on to others to enjoy/rebuke/comment on/join in on- what ever I say, because human interaction is the most basic of all functions and without human interaction we are all dead. I do not want to be dead, so please join me and comment on my adventures. I only promise to do things my own way, after well researched investigation, and I only hope that some will be enticed to journey along, offer comments and critique, and otherwise journey along with me on an adventure that will be the greatest of all.... a life well lived.

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View of Cherry wood cabinets
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more cherry kitchen
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general south view from property
 
pollinator
Posts: 982
Location: Virginia (zone 7)
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Larry,
I add you to the long list of great analytical thinkers who are perceived as "madmen". Congratulations on earning the title.
Your journey to the mountains is an interesting one. I bet its like a rebirth to have your head above water. I hope that you will continue to keep us updated on your progress.
I have been reading your link to The Illusion's Apocalypse. I find it quite fascinating and well written. I am reminded of two things:
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (I wonder if he was taught the principles of the Trivium.)

" Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which
have ears and hear not" - Bible quote, Jeremiah 5:21
 
Larry Noel
Posts: 26
Location: NE Tennessee
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Thank you for the kind words Karen. So far I have only received two comments on my book other than yours, and both were "Either you are a genius or completely nuts." My wife has not made a decision on this topic yet. I am really still working on editing the book and I do not know if it will ever be published, but I felt a need to put it out there for those with curiosity.

Yes, going from below sea level most of my life (I did grow up in New Orleans) to 1300 feet is just wonderful, and going from limited visibility in a totally flat plain to the dramatic views I have now, every time I go outside I am just wowed. I do feel like I was reborn and this is a whole new life.

I will be posting again tonight, but right now the weather is just fantastic outside and I just came in for lunch, but I will post again tonight. Too much to do and times-a-wastin'!!
 
Larry Noel
Posts: 26
Location: NE Tennessee
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forest garden hugelkultur woodworking
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Last year was concentrated on renovating the house, building cabinets, and laying flooring. A lot of clearing around the driveway is about all that was done outside. There is a circular drive with about a 100' diameter in front of the house and it was completely overgrown and you could not see a car on the other side. That is pretty much the condition of the garden, and every other area that was at one time clear from being woods. This year I am getting started reclaiming the garden area.

The garden area is about 150' x 150' and it is completely consumed by honey suckle vines, cow's tung vines(that is what a cousin says it is). poison ivy, and wild raspberries- we are just infested with wild raspberries! The entire area was a complete no man's land, and all I have are hand tools. So far I have found many surprises under the brush. There were two small trees I could see flowering in there last spring, and this spring I finally got them completely frees from their entanglement. I found about 2" of what looked to me like almonds, but I finally realized they were peach or pear pits. The first pic is them with more of my great view behind them. I can't wait to see what kind of fruit I will get from them!!

The next area I tackled was where I knew there were blueberry bushes at one time. As I cut through the raspberries and got into the honey suckle, I could see the blueberry flowers. Eventually I got 5 bushes out of the mess, cleaned them up, fed them and bedded them down. This is the second pic.

I helped out a poor apple tree that was completely covered in honey suckle on one side and had another apple tree fallen on it on the other side. I then started my garden area and the second pic is taken from the garden area of the apple tree. It sure looks happy that I freed it from its bonds.
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Peach?pear? tree
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Larry Noel
Posts: 26
Location: NE Tennessee
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Now it was on to building a garden. I realized I had to fence it in to keep deer, rabbits, bust most of all my Boxer Hoss out of the garden. You will see him in a lot of pics. I planted some garlic I had and he dug them up as soon as I turned my back. He is a good watch dog and very big and strong, but he can be such a pain sometimes. Any way, I have no money and this project has to sustain itself and all inputs must come from the land. That is just the way it is. There is a lot of fencing around the whole garden, but really there is more of it down than up, and all of it is completely consumed with vines of every kind. I decided to take enough fencing down from other areas and scale down to a 25' x 40' fenced in area with three 30' long 4' wide raised beds. The barn is just full of rough cut pine 2x4s. 2x6s, and 2x10s that FIL had cut down and milled on the property about 15 years ago, so whenever I have to build something, all I really need is screws and imagination.

I decided that I was going to do hugle beds, so I dug out about 12" of dirt, put in about 12" of wood, and then sifted the dirt back into it to clear it of rocks and weed roots. I did a simple test mixing the sifted dirt with water and letting it settle and it looks like I have a pretty even mix of sand and clay with a little silt, but very little organic matter. I have some compost that I had been making with saw dust (cherry wood) hundreds of apples that fell off the trees last June, and a lot of coffee grounds, egg shells, and misc. kitchen stuff, so I added what I could to each bed, about 1" thick across the surface. I also have a chicken coop with completely caged in yard, and one side of the area has about 12" of rotted leaves aged and new chicken poop, and tons of other nice rich black goodness and I intend on stealing this and putting it into the three beds then mixing it all together before planting. I intend on this being the only time I will ever turn the soil in these beds and from here on out I will only be mulching with wood shavings (I have quite a lot and I tease my wife that I make wood shavings for a living and the carved signs are just the by product) and then once a year adding compost to the tops before winter.

So far I have 2 beds done and the third dug out. The wood I used came from two our buildings on the property, as well as many old half rotten sticks and fence posts around the property. There is a carport that I am now using for my van, but it did have about 6 cords of wood stacked in it. I have nothing to use the wood in because when the place was vacant it was robbed and there were 3 wood burning stoves that were stolen. I gave the wood to my neighbor, but there was a lot that was in different stages of rot and that was put into the hugle. There is also a 12' x 15' wood shed that had another 3 cord or so in it that was in about the same condition, and met the same fate. That old wood shed will be my rabbit hutch. My wife and I want to make it into one big rabbit room with a fenced in outside area attached, and put a bunch of rabbits in there and let them sort it out. I am not really into the whole caging animals bit, so this is our version of free range rabbits, but that will be a few months down the road. So for now I got the two buildings cleaned out and empty and got a lot of debris off the property, and it all went into the hugle. That is what I call a two for.

The second pic is a tree I would love help identifying. The third is a close up of the leaves and flowers. I do not remember seeing any fruit of nuts on it last year, and was surprised by the flowers this year. It is growing as an under story and is pretty shaded.

That is about all I have for now. I will be adding to this thread as time goes and I hope that you will check in and comment.

The Practical Madman
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Hugle bed in stages
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Any one know this tree?
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close up
 
Karen Donnachaidh
pollinator
Posts: 982
Location: Virginia (zone 7)
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Your planting beds are looking good. Using wood well into decomposing that's on the chunky side is best. "Well into decomposing" = the wood has used a bunch of nitrogen already to get to that point and won't rob your plants of nitrogen. "Chunky" = opens up spaces for oxygen and allows for ample root expansion.
The tree you need an ID on, I can't get much detail from your pictures on my small phone screen. Maybe someone with a full size screen could offer more help.
 
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Peeing on your hugel-beds is IMO key to productivity in the first year or two!

Sounds like an amazing place, looking forward to updates!
 
Larry Noel
Posts: 26
Location: NE Tennessee
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Yes Dillon, I live in a state of gratitude because I can not believe the luck I had in ending up here. I will be posting more as it progresses.

Karen I got amazingly lucky with the buildings with so much cord wood in them. My neighbor got about 5 cords or so of decent fire wood for the price of getting it out of my way and I got all the left over rejects which ended up being just perfect hulgel fillings! Just rotten enough to not be a nitrogen demand but solid enough to hold water! And some even had pre-installed worms in them!

I am still clearing and piling debris. I am generating so much to deal with that I am having to be creative. I have not been able to afford to rent a laser, but I have a very extensive land surveying background and a good eye for reading contours, so I have picked out locations for two proper hugles. One will be a serpentine curved one about 80' long and the other will be straighter and be about 60' long. The longer one is just south of the garden (down hill) and the beginnings can be seen in the pic of the apple tree, and the second will be just north (uphill) from the garden, and both run basically parallel to the garden.

The hugles are for future growing and are being built a little unorthodox. There is so much to take out,and the weeds and briers have to come out first to get to the big stuff, so I am building them somewhat upside down. I put the small stuff down and then as I took out trees and larger stuff, I am piling it on, so they end up more with small stuff on the bottom with larger stuff more in the middle, not like traditional building where the large stuff is put down first. I know this is no "proper", but being one old man with hand tools, This is the only way I can see to install the debris. It will still rot, but probably take longer because the big stuff is not in contact with the soil. I have two small ponds that I will be digging by hand, and that soil will top the hugles. This will be a slow process, so that is why I said the hugles are long term plans, because it will be next year at the earliest that I will be putting seeds in.

One thought I had that I would like some advice on. I had a huge pussy willow that dominated the garden area and shaded half of it, so I took it out. I made cuttings and will be installing it's descendent's at the edge of the woods because I hear it is a great pollinator attractor and they are good looking trees. My question is will I have the same problem of generous sprouting with pussy willows as with other willows? Did I make a mistake using it in the hugle? I did used a few in one of the raised beds as I was running out of the good semi decomposed, but I am getting a little nagging feeling that i should remove this wood from the raised bed. Any thoughts? The last thing I want is a 60' hugle of pussy willow.
 
Larry Noel
Posts: 26
Location: NE Tennessee
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OK- so I think I avoided a catastrophe. By being ever so observant I noticed that the stump of the pussy willow was starting to sprout tiny leaves... all over- everywhere! I stopped screening dirt in the last hugle bed and I let it sit for a couple of days to see what happened. I started really paying attention to the pussy willows that I had put in the future hugle mounds, and not only were the leaves not dying, there were new sprouts! I decided that I had to remove everything that was put into the last raised bed. I started pulling out the sticks and logs and I was amazed to see new growth sprouting on logs that had been buried. I am glad that I decided to wait a few days before continuing to screen and install the dirt. If I would not have been observant and had just plunged head long into finishing the bed and then planting it, I would have ended up with a 30' raised pussy willow bed. Now I have to watch what I have put on the future hugle mounds and probably end up burning it all. Seems that pussy willow is as hardy as its cousin the weeping willow. I still think I will grow a few along the edge of the woods because they are beautiful trees and great pollen attractors. The flowers can also be collected and dried and sold at the farmer's market. I will keep them far from the garden and off in the distance.
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this is the pile of pussy willow that I started building
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pulling out everything already installed in raised bed
 
Larry Noel
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Well, I am very lucky to have this place to live, but I guess luck is relative. FIL had in his later years, taken to using carpeting in the garden to keep the weeds down. Like I had said, the garden was a completely unaccessible no man's land for several years and I just started clearing the last couple of months. As I cut back the weeds and wild raspberries, every now and then I would get a glimpse of something peeking out of the green. Now I started to tug at the hints of something. There was carpeting everywhere! Every tree had carpet all the way up to the trunk. Pulling back the carpeting revealed a dead land with vole tunnels everywhere. The first pic is one hint of something in the grass and the second is the carpet pulled back.

I guess if the carpet was not there I would be cutting down trees instead of raspberries, so I guess I could count myself lucky, but that damn stuff is heavy and there is the question of what to do with it. So far I had only liberated the trees and mulched around them, but now I had to start clearing the fields. I see carpet peeking out everywhere I look. Years of abandonment and leaf build up had created soil on top of the carpet, and then grass took root. The grass then became one with the carpet. As the grass died each year, the soil got thicker and then the raspberries took root. This is a complete nightmare. The third pic is the small hill that is developing that I am calling "Mount Leon" after FIL. It is about 3' high now, but will grow to who knows how high as I keep puling it back.

When I was digging the second raised bed, about 4" or so down, I found a deep blue shag carpet buried. Have you ever tried to dig through carpet? Luckily it was only this 1 bed that I found it in, but it was one hell of a job to dig that bed out.
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Larry Noel
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I have told how this was a no man's land but I did not take many "before" pictures. These pics are of one area that I am just getting to, but there are several areas in the back that I will not get to till next year that are in about the same condition. There are three very old apple trees that were growing as one and they were so over grown and fallen over that it was a miracle they were still alive, but they still bloom and last year set apples, but they all dropped off into the tangle below. Not even the deer could get to them. They were completely enveloped in honey suckle vines with only the tips of the branches sticking out, and had thick arches of dead branches bending over to the ground. The first pic is the side I haven't touched yet. You can see the honey suckle on the right and the remains of dead branches over head on the far right. These originally came down to the ground in an amazingly thick frozen waterfall kind of thing that I had to cut through to get to the fencing that I used in the garden.

Under the apple tree is what my neighbor calls wild rose. It is the meanest and most aggressive plant I have ever met. It is long stiff branches almost viney and seems to reach out an grab you if you get anywhere close. It has thousands of the most amazing thorns that are like velcro on your skin or clothes. Like I said I am generating so much material that I just have to pile it where the hugle mound will be and let it rot there, and this plant is going at the bottom. As I cut the stuff down I have to do something with it, and burn permits are almost impossible to get and I would not want to burn anyway. Just let it rot. I will eventually dig a pond in the area where this triple tree is and use that dirt to cover the pile of debris.

The second pic is the other side of this mess where I have already done a lot of clearing. You can see the splayed out trees, still alive and in bloom. The one on the right in the front was pretty much like the one on the left, being held up by one branch. The center of the trunks is all rotten and there is only about two or three inches of live wood around the edge of the trunk keeping all three trees alive some kind of way. They will be able to make a great contribution to the land and some of them will be used in the raised bed that I took the pussy willow out of.
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Karen Donnachaidh
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Location: Virginia (zone 7)
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I hate that you had to tear up what you had already put down. I can't imagine trying to pull up all that carpet.

I wonder if you can use pussy willow as a rooting hormone. I have a book here that says "any kind of willow" can be used. Cut a few twigs into 1 inch pieces, soak in a qt of water for a couple of days, strain and use the water to root cuttings. I've saved wood chips from a dead willow we just cut down to put on top of my Back to Eden garden. A dead tree my not have rooting abilities. Still makes a good addition to the wood chips.

In the first picture of your last post, is that a small (volunteer?) apple tree in the center of the picture?
 
Larry Noel
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Thank you for the response Karen. As far as tearing up the hugel bed, I would rather rather do it now than suffer the consequences of leaving the willow in there. The carpet I will be dealing with for years to come.

Thank you for telling me about the rooting hormone. I had heard of this but never knew how to do it and never took the time to research it. I have seen videos where they say it is a superior rooting hormone, but they never went into how to make it. Sounds simple enough and really commonsense.
 
Larry Noel
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I neglected to answer you last question about the tree. No it is just a weed tree. I do not know what kind but it is a baby of several that were in the area that grow to about 20' with multiple trunks. I did just plant a 5 apple tree (grafted for small yards) and a peach, pear, plumb graft that I have had in pots for about 6 years. In Louisiana I had no sun and it is a miracle that they ever survived, but they are now in their permanent home with plenty of sun and water. I will have to get some pictures. I also had 2 mulberry trees and 2 cherry trees that are about the same age and state of the other 2 and they just got installed in their permanent homes. All of my transplants seem very happy and so far I have not seen any sign of shock. I have the one apple tree just outside the garden and two very old apple trees that need some attention. I tackled one by the shop this year and got it pretty cleaned and it seems to be adjusting to the clean up I did, up but the other one I will need to get some advice on because it is so over grown. Every year it sets tons of fruit but every June drops it all. I will have to do a post about these trees.
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Larry Noel
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Location: NE Tennessee
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Water Harvesting

In the permaculture world, water harvesting is a very important consideration. I am very lucky in the existing contours of this property and a majority of the rain that falls on the roof of the house naturally follows the driveway and goes towards my garden area. The barn about 200' on the other side of the garden also conveniently delivers the rain right to the garden from the other side. The garden area is so wet at times and this is the main reason that I decided on raised beds, and doing them with hugel concepts makes the greatest sense to keep the water there long after the rain is gone.

In this first pic there is a very light rain falling and you can see the trickle of water heading towards my shop from the driveway. When I first came here last year, a heavy rain would send the water right into the shop, but I built a small levee and cured that problem. Now I have created a swale that carries all of that water right to the gate of the garden. The second pic is another view of the flow of the water to the garden.

Edited for grammar and typos and also wondering why a lot of my pics get posted sideways. They are not like that in my files.
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Always look on the bright side of life. At least this ad is really tiny:
Video of all the permaculture design course and appropriate technology course (about 177 hours)
https://permies.com/wiki/65386/paul-wheaton/digital-market/Video-PDC-ATC-hours-HD
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