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Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 112
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
27
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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One of my favorite parts of Permies is watching other people's projects develop. It's always a pleasure to take a gander at what Joseph, Evan, Jesse, Kai, and dozens of others are doing. For me, it's an enjoyable consumption that takes my mind off the chaos of my world.

So I decided it's probably time for me to start documenting my own adventures. I've been lurking here a while without properly introducing myself, so hi everyone!

About Me

I've been semi-retired now for three years this July. I spent my teens working with my dad with construction, my twenties going to college for Civil Engineering, and my late twenties working in technology. For my 30th birthday, I quit my ridiculously stressful job and moved up to the mountains to help care for my dad. I now split my time between caring for my dad, working on my ranch, and noodling with software now and then. Physically, I'm split between South Lake Tahoe (where I live), the ranch (near Kyburz), and Dunsmuir, where I own a house with my parents.

I say semi-retired because while I don't have a job, I do work on many longer-term investments. I started out with 6 months of living expenses runway three years ago, and now I have another 5 years in the bank. So far it's working.

Dunsmuir

My house in Dunsmuir is on 0.75 acres of river front property with pretty typical California Foothills weather. Mild winters with lots of water and some snow and hot dry summers. Soil is almost non-existent. Our property was cut down about 4' from the road, so our yard is about 2-3" of clay and then rock rubble.

My goals thus far have been focused on building topsoil and harvesting water. Since I'm not here on a regular basis, passive irrigation strategies are especially interesting. Longer term, I'd love to have a nice kitchen garden and small food forest.

South Lake Tahoe

This is just a house I rent with my girlfriend right now, so I'm just doing a small container garden for some fresh veggies at home. This is where my woodshop is and where I do as much of my construction projects as I can.

Leaping Daisy (The Ranch)

Leaping Daisy is my main affair June - October. It's 250 acres in the High Sierras around 6400'. Completely off-grid, bordered on all sides by National Forest. It used to be an old summer cattle camp and has a few older buildings dating back to 1922. This will be my second year with the property, so I'm still in massive learning mode. The property is a mix of hilly, rocky pine forests and a big meadow with deep soil and a creek running through the middle. It's snowshoe/snowmobile only from December - May, depending on snowpack. The land has been logged a few times in the past (selective), light grazing (cows have access to 80k surrounding acres), and even grew the state capitol's 1987 Christmas Tree.

I'm working on several layers with Leaping Daisy. Immediately, I'm working on forestry-related income — timber and Christmas Trees. Next will be private camping / group activities (weddings, yoga retreats, backcountry ski huts, etc). We really are just looking to find a way to make a living from the property in some manner. I've also got some non-business related experiments with growing food going on. I'd love to have fruit trees and friendlier berries than the Sierra Gooseberry to snack from.

Longer term, I secretly hope I can turn my previous life's stock into real money so I can transition the property into non-profit that's something in between Krameterhof and an ecological resort for kids.

I think that's about it for now. I'm really itching to get back to the ranch. This year was an epic snow year and I'm still waiting for the roads to melt off. This time last year, I'd been able to drive out there for 3 weeks. My last trip about a week ago revealed snow drifts up to five feet along the road. Right now I'm contemplating hiking out with a battery charger, get the backhoe started, and try to clear about 2 miles of snow-filled road so I can drive out there again.
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Garden in Dunsmuir
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Leaping Daisy
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Summertime Cabin
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Wintertime Cabin
 
Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 112
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
27
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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Todays' project: experimenting with ollas.

I have a garden bed down below my deck that's pretty separated from the main garden. For the past couple of years I've had a drip system setup on a timer sourced from a rain barrel ~20ft above. It "works" but results haven't been very impressive. The pressure change from a full vs. empty water barrel make it very difficult to get consistent irrigation, and those little spigots get clogged all the time. I've been meaning to experiment with ollas, so I'm trying a different approach to self-watering this year with a little experiment.

I bought 4 clay pots at the local hardware store, a miniature float valve from Amazon, and ended up needing one more connector to connect my 1/2" drip tubing into the float valve. All told, I spent about $15.

Step 1: Seal the bottom of one clay pot, turn the other upside down and glue it on top. I then glued a little drip-tube filter that I had in a box of random drip-system stuff.

Step 2: Install the float valve near the top of a 5 gallon bucket (inlet) and a 1/2" barbed connector on the bottom (outlet).

Step 3: Bury the ollas and connect everything up

In theory, this setup has a lot of advantages over a drip system. It'll be a lot more water efficient, it won't consume water if it's recently rained, it should be much tougher to clog up, and I don't have to worry about batteries on my timer. If this works out, I'd like to try a similar strategy in the kitchen garden next year. We get a LOT of water in the Winter/Spring, but very little water and high temperatures throughout most of summer. I'd love to get to a place where all watering is "automatic" (no intervention required) and sourced from rain barrels. The biggest downside is that it does require digging up the ollas in the winter (so freezing doesn't kill them) and re-plant them in the spring.
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Sketch of the setup
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One olla
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Old bucket with a float valve
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Buried ollas
 
K Putnam
pollinator
Posts: 245
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
22
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Do report back on how the ollas with the floats go.  I'm on my second year of simply sealed clay pots with a lid.  They worked great for me last year and really cut down on both plant loss and wasted water.
 
Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 112
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
27
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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Today's Project: investigate the ranch

My last trip out was about three weeks ago, and at the time there was still 3-5ft of snow on the ground, and more importantly — on the road. I drove out there today to check on things and see the state of things. Color me surprised that almost all the snow has melted! There was only one 20ft section of road with about 2ft of snow on it, so looks like it's game on for the season! Of course I forgot my chainsaw and the keys, which meant I still had to hike a ways in on foot. I'm planning on heading back this weekend to plant some apple trees and cover crops.

Last fall on our last trip before the snow, we started on our "barn garden". It's the area in front of the barn that used to be used for horses and temporary cattle storage. I don't have plans to ever have horses, and the fences have basically completely rotted — so it seemed like as good a place as any to start planting things since there's a hose hookup there and it's close by the main cabins. We managed to dig out a pond, get a liner installed, and build a small hugel bed on the north side of the pond. I plan on planting the apple trees behind that hugel, and building another hugel to the North of the trees with some large boulders mixed in on the south side. The goal here is to leverage the thermal mass of the pond and boulders to reduce damage from early/late frosts, use the pond's reflections to get more sun to the trees in our short growing season, and build soil with the hugels on either side of the trees.

I wanted to plant the trees much sooner, but it just wasn't logistically possible this year. So I have them in 20gal fabric pots in my backyard right now and will see how they deal with transplanting so late in the season. I'll probably plant some more this fall and see how everything works out after the winter. I have six trees ready — 2x Cortland, 2x Honey Crisp, 2x Arkansas Black Spur, all on M-111 (semi-dwarf) stock. I've also got a large bag of mustard, lupine, field peas, oats, and hairy vetch that I plan on seeding over the hugel this year. The area isn't fenced in, so I'm focusing on building soil rather than getting a ton of plants in.
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Forgot my chainsaw, but at least I have my tow kit
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Pond!
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Tulips
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Skunk cabbage (corn lilly) coming up in the meadow
 
Maureen Atsali
pollinator
Posts: 354
Location: Western Kenya
29
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I love project threads, they always inspire me.  I'll be watching
 
Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 112
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
27
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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Not a huge update this time, but finally made my first drive all the way out to the ranch on Friday. Brought along my apple trees, which all seemed to survive the ride. This trip was mostly cleanup after a long, hard winter. Overall, I'm impressed all the structures and such managed so well (we probably got close to 40ft of snow this year). The most unfortunate casualty is the water. Looks like the hose into the spring got clogged as it's no longer flowing into the tank. So I get to learn a bit more about tapping into springs before I can get my showers back. Can't say the roads are in great shape either, but it's mostly superficial damage, and my truck can make it out no problem. Another thing to learn — but improving the roads was already one of my primary goals for this summer.

While I was waiting for batteries to charge, I limed and seeded my hugel with cover crops. I wasn't planning on liming it, but I accidentally picked up the wrong kind of ag lime for my worm bin (hydraulic lime), and the soil does tend acidic up there (pine forest). My little herb spiral I built last year still had some parsley after the winter, and it looks like some cilantro might be sprouting. Managed to get one of my Apple trees in the ground with the time remaining. I'm experimenting with "deep pipes" here to encourage deeper root growth (in hopes to better withstand the winter). I took a 10' long 2" PVC, cut it into 2' sections on my chopsaw, then drilled some 1/8" holes along one side. The top will be covered with screen and ziptied (to keep out critters). After installing the first one, I think it might be a good idea to block the bottom a bit — it drained super fast. I don't think the side holes had any effect. I'm hoping to get the rest of the trees in the ground this week. Right now I'm digging out a square hole, putting the tree in with about 1/2 it's potting soil (peat / compost / vermiculite), pruning about 1/3rd of the foilage, and mulching it with some "wood chips" aka shovelfuls of cubicle rotted logs. If anyone has advice on strategies to encourage hardiness, I'd love to hear it.

Since the water isn't hooked up, I'll be watering by hand for a little bit. Pretty thankful we got the pond in last year — it's already coming in massively handy.
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Apple trees in transit
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My first apple tree, in the ground!
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A little acidic
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Seeded hugel
 
Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 112
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
27
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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Oh, and it snowed today ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Still got out for some disc golf, attempted the flea market, and planted some more lettuce seedlings at home. Gonna cover my plants tonight and hope the tomatoes make it through. Doesn't seem like it's going to go below freezing, but this is the mountains after all.
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Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 112
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
27
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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Just got back from another trip and it finally feels like summer is here! Tremendously happy to have our mild sunny days back. It's enjoyable to sit around a campfire again. Good news all around from this trip. The "broken spring" was really just some critters getting curious with our piping. Easy fix and no digging required. And just in case you were curious, I attached a picture of my water tank — an old WW-II (?) fuel/liquid storage tank. I enjoy that it's been spray painted RE USE CONTAINER.

I also retrieved one out of three of my temperature sensors and it made it through the winter! Bad news is, as you can see from the graph, it got buried in snow for a good chunk of the winter. It was also the one sensor I left exposed to the sun (because I was curious). And in retrospect, I should have made some GPS markers for the remaining sensors. Gonna take a while to find the others.
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Critter damage
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My tank
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Prime time in the Sierras
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Temperature readings for the winter
 
Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 112
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
27
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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Another little 24-hour trip to the ranch. Primary goal here was to fully charge the backhoe battery and make sure it's still in working condition. Took all afternoon but it started up just fine in the end. Even dug myself a little buried wood bed with it while it was idling to finish charging up. Unfortunately bout 10 minutes later I managed to unmount one of the back tires. One step forward, one step back... sigh.

All this waiting around gave me plenty of free time to work in the garden though. All of my Apple trees are now "finished" — they're in ground, pruned down, each with two deep pipes, and mulched with wood chips. I'm not sure how I feel about the deep pipes as they are right now (they drain really fast), but I might shove some clay down there and see how that works. I have no idea how I'll measure their success since I didn't plant any without them. At least they make me feel better.

The cover crops I planted in the hugel seem to be doing great. The mustard especially so, but lots of little seedlings all over despite the squirrels taking their fill. Watering this thing by hand is getting really old. Hopefully I'll be able to get the water back up and running soon.

I wasn't planning on doing any more to the blueberries than shove them in the ground, but since I realized I needed to keep the tractor running I ended up burying one big tree and a handful of rotten firewood pieces. Since it looked so nice, I also planted a couple of elderberry softwood cuttings stripped of most their leaves. Not sure how they'll fare, but it only took me a few minutes. I'm hoping to take more cuttings this fall for next year's planting. Sprinkled in on top I threw down a bunch of lupine seeds I collected last year. This bed will be my acid-leaning section of the barn garden aka just the local soil.

Now that I've got all my planting related tasks done for the summer, I'll probably shift gears to fire hazard work, property maintenance, vehicle maintenance, and fence building. The good news is 'm thinking this is going to be an epic year for wildflowers. There's a tremendous amount of green all over the meadow and the first flowers of the season are just starting to open up. There is still a good amount of snow in the high country, so I'm expecting the water to keep coming.
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Garden at sunset
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Cover crops coming in on the hugel
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Small buried wood bed for blueberries
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Blueberry bed
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Apple tree setup
 
Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 112
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
27
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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Wildflower season is just getting started!
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Last of the snowplants
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Clarkia
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Wild Onions
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Golden Brodiaea
 
Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 112
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
27
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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A few more, still getting the hang of identifying all of them… any help is appreciated!
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Crimson Columbine and... ? with a bumblebee blur
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?
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?
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Fireweed
 
Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 112
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
27
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
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Been a while since I posted an update — been busy with some (software) consulting and seemingly endlessly fixing winter damage to water pipes. After three days of digging following a water line uphill, I decided on a whim to walk 150ft up the hill and dig near a suspiciously chainsawed log in a wetland. Three shovelfulls later I found the spring box! That fixed the water -> tank problems, but now I've found more problems between the tank and the cabins. One step at a time…

I don't have a lot of pictures for the rest, but I thought I'd share some things I've learned in my adventures recently:

  • Cover Crop Seeding: My cover crop on my hugel has been disappointing at best. I knew that I'd planted too late (after the last rains had fallen), but I underestimated how fast the top layer of soil dries out. I also did not do a good enough job covering and packing the seeds, and the squirrels/birds got to almost all the bigger seeds like field peas. On the bright side, the mustard is doing great (smallest seeds), and established plants seem to be getting plenty of water with about 1" irrigation every two weeks. I got another 5lbs of a fall mix I plan on seeding around September when the rains come back.


  • Apple Trees: Are doing… great. Kind of surprised to be honest since I still don't have deer protection on them. Only one plant has had any damage, and it was light. The real test will be this winter when the winds/snow/voles come out in force.


  • Pond & Plug: Our property has historically been used for cattle grazing, and one of the consequences is a "gullied" creek channel (deep, steep banks). One of the USDA's strategies for re-attaching the stream to the meadow floor is called Pond and Plug. I thought it was a fascinating, very permie-thinking strategy — slowing the water velocity, increasing water retention time, raising the groundwater level, and increasing the springtime floodplain. Beyond that, it sounds a bit like a dream for me to have a series of ponds along the meadow, and it sounds like it may be possible to get grants to do this work.


  • Foresters: I finally found an RPF that's on the same wavelength as me, and he's down to help us out so long as he can come snowmobile in the winter and maybe take a buck during deer season. We spent a day wandering around the property and I learned a ton. Even found a huge healthy (bark beetle & dwarf mistletoe resistant) sugar pine in a droughty area of the property that's a great candidate for tree stock.


  • Jean Pain Composting: One of my projects this summer is going to be clearing out the lodgepole from the meadow, which is going to result in a good amount of slash I'll need to dispose of. I've been thinking about experimenting with some Jean Pain style composting and seeing what kind of compost I can produce. There's a lot of Mountain Whitethorn all over the property (regrows vigorously when cut to the roots), which should provide a healthy amount of N to balance out the pile. I've just started reading Another Kind of Garden (it's always been on my list) to get a better handle on his methods. I think there's going to be a lot to learn that's relevant to my climate (forest + fire management + hot dry summers).
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    Wildflowers
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    Creek channel with around 8ft banks
     
    We've gotta get close enough to that helmet to pull the choke on it's engine and flood his mind! Or, we could just read this tiny ad:
    2017 Rocket Mass Heater Workshop Jamboree - 15 workshops in one event
    https://permies.com/wiki/63312/permaculture-projects/Rocket-Mass-Heater-Workshop-Jamboree
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