Chris Kott

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since Jan 25, 2012
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Toronto, Ontario
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Recent posts by Chris Kott

Then, of course, there's the fact of artificial senescence. In forested areas where the natural succession has been stopped by humans wanting to keep forests "natural" by halting natural processes like forest fires, trees get old enough that they effectively stop sequestering carbon.

Removing trees that are older than their prime results in a renewal of succession patterns, even if in a form the forest didn't do itself.

Let's be clear: stopping forest fires is good for people, not forest systems. Humans stopping forest fires is interference in natural processes.

I think it's also important to keep in mind the limited good focusing on the harms done by rocket mass heater pollution can actually yield. There aren't many heating systems as efficient as an RMH. There are many more common highly-polluting ways of heating ourselves. Electric heat of any kind, if generated with natural gas or coal, for instance, will pollute much more than a well-designed RMH, whatever the efficiency and cleanliness of the electric appliance.

There really are bigger issues to tackle.

Daron, have you had the soil tested? Do you know if any of the clay soil amendment tricks will work to open up the soil structure and increase infiltration?

The last time I had to deal with heavy clay soil, it was in a finished housing development where they had scraped away all the topsoil, smoothed the largely clay subsoil out into an impermeable barrier, spread some of the now-dead topsoil back in a layer of about an inch or so, and dropped sod atop it. It was a muddy mess.

After most of the grass died, first because it drowned, then because it baked, I tested the soil, which showed a calcium deficiency, and a lack of organic material.

So I made a bunch of garden beds in one backyard. I got a truckload of ramial wood chips dropped off by a local arbourist I know, took some buckets of gypsum powder and grit that used to be untreated drywall until it fell off a truck, scraped back the topsoil and spread the amendments all out where I wanted them, and forked two-thirds of the wood chips and all of the gypsum into the top foot of the clay, reserving the rest for mulch.

I cannot adequately express the change that took place. The grass, as it turns out, wasn't as dead as I had thought, because along the perimeter of the new beds, it all came back lush and green. The next major rain event showed that, while on the unamended former lawn, ponding still occurred, the improved soil soaked it up, and the area of effect extended to just outside of the greened perimeter areas of the beds.

Not that I am suggesting that you improve your soil to allow a traditional drain field, of course, but I think there are a number of ways to use improved soil around the perimeter of the ponds you're considering to enhance the cleaning effect, and mitigate the risk of travelling pathogens, simply by increasing the vitality of the soil, and it's ability to out-compete pathogens, and eat them.

There's also the idea, whatever the length of the run of the entire system, that by introducing micro-booms, basically biodegradable fabric socks containing wood chips, designed and inoculated like Paul Stamets' mycobooms, it is possible to encourage the water to zig-zag the whole length of the run, increasing surface area, habitat for fungi and bacteria to do their decompositional duty, as well as spots where reed bed populations can be planted, acting as physical filters in the water to grab and slow particulates and solids for processing.

One concern I don't always see addressed is that of untreated water leaching out of the treatment ponds and channels into the surrounding earth. I like the idea of planting up the perimeters of these constructs with water-loving poo-eaters like willow, building up an artificial riparian treatment barrier, just in case there are leaks.

But let us know how it goes, and good luck.

4 days ago
Prepper culture is fear-based, and it spreads by compounding people's fears. If you feed it, it will surely grow.

So if people enter into preparations for a survival scenario intent on the absolute certainty that everyone will be out to get them for their food, and they then spread that fear, they are actively encouraging a culture wherein this is acceptable behaviour; it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For those completely sold on that as an eventuality, it makes more sense to train with and stockpile guns and ammo, map out the homes and bug-out locations of as many preppers as one can fool into divulging such sensitive information, and raid them all, eliminating the competition.

Now don't get me wrong. I am going to need firearms for protection, but probably for my livestock and crops, and from wildlife more often than ravening hordes.

I don't understand the fear porn some people disguise as prepping. It makes more sense to homestead, in my opinion. It involves much of the same preparation, but if you leave out the emotional baggage of fear and hostility to those with whom you could form community, you have more room to store food.

4 days ago
I find it happens accidentally for me. I have been using one of those municipally provided black composters in the tiny piece of urban backyard I have available. If I got the ratios perfectly right, I could get it to hot compost.

What happened, though, was that we got a Flemish Giant rabbit. We use a bedding product made of recycled and waste raw wadded paper, which upped the carbon content considerably, kicking the hot compost conditions to the curb, except maybe for a little right in the centre of the pile.

What I noticed instead of a hot compost the first time checking the composter since beginning to add the rabbit bedding and waste was that the bin was teeming with all sorts of life, but mostly springtails and others I recognise from healthy, compost-rich soil. The worms were obvious the moment I began to turn the pile. I even found some mating near the base of the container.

I am constantly surprised when I visit the composter now. It takes about a week for the worms to turn and incorporate a full litter box (we use one designed for large cats), and perhaps another to leave no trace of paper whatsoever. I think the paper content helps maintain a relatively constant moisture level, and the composter is sitting on bare soil, so the worms can move up and down the soil column for shelter should they need it.

I like ground-connected outdoor vermicomposting, as the worms can always escape to more hospitable conditions, should the bin become unlivable for any reason. There's also more leeway for things like sub-optimal odiferous events, which can happen when you make additions or adjustments.

Also, if they're in the soil column, and if I put only semi-finished compost in my beds, under my mulch, the worms venture out and find it, and keep on doing their thing. They are the hardest working livestock there is.

4 days ago
I think that a properly functioning rocket mass heater design of any kind takes care of most of it's own pollution.

Also, it is speculated that the lack of particulates from wildfires and wood burning is responsible for a negative effect on the production of rain clouds in the atmosphere. So while it is necessary to minimise the amount of localised wood smoke particulates in populated environments, putting tiny carbon particulates into the atmosphere could improve precipitation patterns downwind of you, should they be suffering drought.

Additionally, increasing cloud cover increases the cloud albeido (the amount of solar energy reflected off of the cloud tops). Tiny carbon particulates from wood fires could, in fact, reduce global warming.

As to a design of rocket mass heater that would minimise carbon pollution, I was thinking about those top-burning charcoal retorts some people use for the making of biochar. If the batch box was designed in such a way that the fuel pile burned from the top, then dropped through a grate into an oxygen-free drawer below as it broke down, most of the carbon would be captured as charcoal. This could be sequestered in the soil as biochar (whether or not it was inoculated, it would eventually come to host soil bacteria), or packed up and put to another use that didn't involve combusting it the rest of the way (it could be sold and used as charcoal, but that would defeat the purpose of sequestering the carbon in the first place), or could even be dropped into the ocean, for lack of more imaginative uses.

I would love to hear other opinions on this issue. Good question.

Not to thread-jack, but I would also love to hear any ideas on rocket mass heater designs that could produce biochar as a by-product. It seems a natural extension of the subject material, and one that might result in cleaner RMH systems by removing some of the carbon from the combustion cycle. Yes, if the point of the system is to use the least wood to produce the most heating, this is a non-starter. But I think the interest in RMHs is widespread enough that interests and usage will differ.

5 days ago
I don't see a place for alarmism about this topic. There's no reason. Personally, I think a lush growth bomb would be excellent.

Imagine a bioreactor designed to nurture parallel colonies of these different saprophytic fungi (I think that's what they're called), a nursery environment that takes these fungi selected for their abilities to detoxify environments and break down contaminants into simpler and simpler forms, such that other life forms can get in on the action and feed of what was once toxic or inaccessible.

Imagine that conditions were optimised to the point that spore counts in the air rose, and that those spores spread out from the superfund sites and such that they were designed to remediate, into our toxic living spaces, to remediate them.

The plastics that would be at most risk of being accidentally colonised and decomposed in such a scenario would be of the single-use variety, being flimsy and not very dense, as compared to PVC piping, say. These are the plastics which pollute the most, and which we need the least.

I think that plastics, rather than plastic-devouring fungi, are the real danger to humanity.

5 days ago
Hi Gary.

What's your soil like?

I would look at the spot you're considering for the line, and dig down to see if at any point you reach clay. Make sure you don't have your water transfer material sitting some feet below you, first off.

In some places, just trenching down to the clay layer and smoothing it into a trench shape, then backfilling it with large stones, either slowly decreasing the size of the covering stones, such that they eventually block soil from filling the voids, or covering the large stones with landscaping fabric, can do exactly what you need. If the trench at depth needs further sealing, bentonite clay can be used, as mentioned above.

As in all things permaculture, I would balance what is best with what is most accessible to you now. If the best solution is prohibitively expensive and incurs more carbon costs than, say, using construction materials off-cuts or PVC from the big box store, then it's likely not the best solution for you. Building a well-functioning greywater system that doesn't incur constant maintenance expense is more important, in my opinion, than designing a system that perfectly embodies the ethics.

Personally, I think ethics are the wrong focus here. No, I don't want to use piping made by bloodied children's hands somewhere in a developing country. I don't even want to financially support corporations and industries with which I disagree.

Ethical considerations are important, but only to a point, if your focus is to make the most use of resources passing through your hands (the use of greywater, in this case). I think that as long as the material used isn't directly counterproductive to your interests in its use (toxifying the greywater you seek to use to water your food, for instance), the larger issue of setting up a resilient and self-sustaining system might take precedence over the ethical sourcing of materials. I think toxicity is the more important issue.

I often see people frittering away their time debating the minutiae, worrying over every little detail, and not building up their systems as a result. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

5 days ago
Hi Rich. Welcome to permies.

Where are you located? How cold and how long your winter season is determines a lot about what your grey water setup will require. If, say, it only freezes for about a week every winter, and it's just unpleasantly chill the rest of the time, your requirements will be very different than if it's -40 C for two months in the middle of winter.

The other variable is your water usage. How many people are in your household, and roughly how much water do you use weekly?

The better you can describe your situation to us, the better we can advise you.

Keep us posted, and good luck.

5 days ago
I am with Daron and Roberto on this one.

I would look into underpinning your structure whatever you do if you think there's a significant chance of the slope collapsing.

Also, I would like to second the idea about planting on-contour. Anything you plant that puts its roots down into the soil will both hold the soil together and increase water infiltration.

Laying debris on-contour will create sediment traps, collecting organic matter and particulates that will become soil, all without disturbing the soil. Doing it this way also lets you play with placement ideas before you disturb the slope. If you notice evidence of erosion or movement in the debris atop the slope, it could point to problems you can address before they happen.

1 week ago