Karl Rosengrant

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since Jul 01, 2012
I have been interested in sustainability since I was a teenager (way back around the time of the dinosaurs).  I used to read a lot of the old Mother Earth News mags.  In the 80s I had many jobs, most related to construction, I got a degree in chem in the 90s and worked for a pharmaceutical company for 5 years. Luckily, I sucessfully escaped, became a Buddhist and a carpenter then later a solar hot water dude.

I am very good at tinkering and keeping old pieces of technology alive, re-using equipment, and materials.  I also am good at building, designing heating systems, electrical, designing solar hot water systems, + more.  I have a greasy thumb so to speak. I'm trying to make another thumb green by failing a lot in the gardening dept. 

Permaculture is so amazing, and holds such a great potential for saving the planet if that is still possible. I think it is.
Springfield, VT
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Recent posts by Karl Rosengrant

Hi All,

I wanted to share this project with you all at Weaton Labs.  I live in VT at an intentional community called the Center for Transformational Practice. Its a small community that tries to meld spirituality and meditation with sustainability.  There are a lot of gardeners in the area that are friends of the community and as you may have noticed there are as many opinions on what the best gardening techniques are as there are gardeners.  Although I escaped long ago to become a carpenter I do have a background in Chemistry, so I decided to try to take the opinion out of two gardening techniques by using scientific design to do a controlled experiment.  I wanted to test both Hugelkultur as well as no-till gardening.  

I set up an experimental design so that two variables can be tested using only 4 trials (see the attached pdf).  The beds all have the same soil mixture and amount. The soil is 50% finished compost and 50% sandy loam. Two of the beds have a mulch cover that consists of small branches and leaves (chipped) from a medium sized Box Alder.  The mulch is about half green leaves and half ramial wood chips and is already composting at the soil surface. Beds B and D are no-till, mulch covered.  The two right hand beds (beds C and D) have about a foot of box alder wood under them.  I have more pics of this if you are interested. I've been taking a lot of pics of the plants progress over the Summer.  

All the plants are the same variety and are placed in the same relative position in each bed.  I have been watering the beds as needed, but if I add 4 gallons to Bed A, I'll also add 4 to bed C etc.  So far the mulch covered beds only have needed about 1/2 the water of the bare dirt beds.  I weighed the mulch and made sure that beds B and D had the same amount of mulch, and this fall I'm going to till in an equal mass of finished compost to beds A and C.  I've also been weighing the weeds on each bed.  Not too many weeds so far. I've also been taking height measurements each week, and will plot those out as growth rate for each bed.  I should have gotten the soil in each bed tested at the beginning but I am not into becoming rich so I don't have that much money.  

It might sound crazy to test it this way, but the beauty of this design is that for each parameter being tested, (like pounds of tomatoes for instance), you get two trials. Subtracting the weight of tomatoes of Bed C from bed A is one test for the hugel variable as well as subtracting the lbs of tomatoes of bed B from bed D.  The no-till variable will have two trials as well. By Subtracting Bed C from Bed D and bed A from bed B both will give data that should be due only to whether or not it is no-till(mulch covered) or tilled (bare dirt).  

So far the best bed is bed D (hugel and no-till) followed by bed B(regular and no-till) followed by bed C (hugel tilled), and bed A (regular tilled)  

A few surprising results however. The tomatoes and peppers did a little better in the bare dirt beds at first. I think it was because of the hotter soil.  We are in VT and the soil tends to be cooler in the early summer.  

I don't want to bore you with all the gory details, but its been a lot of fun.  I hope other people want to do similar experiments testing hugelkulture and no-till.  I have had a lot of great results with both techniques over the years, but since it wasn't a controlled experiment it can't be said with certainty that it was the wood underneath that had the effect unless you had another bed just like it without wood underneath to compare it to.  

So let me know what you think and if you are interested in replicating this experiment or modifying it or if you have done anything similar in the past. I would love to hear about it. It would be cool to see some solid evidence that goes beyond opinion.  
2 years ago
I know people who are off the grid and use their stand alone solar hot water for "all" their needs. Its not that the water isn't cold after a few days of cloudy skys, its more that they have adapted to only taking showers after a sunny day. They wait for the sun.

I also wanted to share this link. Its from a good site for perusing other people's solar and alternative energy projects. This page shows lots of home made solar hot water projects. (all thermosyphon systems that require no power).


5 years ago
Alex and Fred,

I've been designing and installing solar how water systems in VT for almost 9 years now. I think I can answer your question, at least in terms of what can be done to minimize bacterial problems. If you set up the solar tank as a pre-heating tank for your existing hot water tank, then whenever you turn on the hot water tap, fresh water is added and old water is taken away from both the solar tank and the back-up heating tank. So with a pre-heating arrangement, cold water from the well or town, enters the solar tank first. The hot water outlet of the solar tank is plumbed into the cold water inlet of the electric hot water tank, (or indirectly heated from oil or nat. gas hot water tank). Water flows through both whenever anyone turns on the hot water tap, so I doubt bacteria would have much chance to colonize and contaminate.

The temp that the plumbing codes say a tank should be kept at is 140 deg F . Because this could scald you, you should have a mixing valve on the output of the water heater to mix a little cold water with the hot coming out. These cost about $100.

A tank thats only heated by solar might go for long periods at temps which are below 140, other times it might get up to its top temp (I set that at 175). So on a routine basis the solar tank is sterilized by high temp, but even if it weren't it wouldn't pose a problem in my opinion because as long as people are using hot water, then the water in the tank is refreshed daily. If people aren't using hot water then the solar system should get it above 140 on a periodic basis, unless it were poorly installed or designed. The systems I generally install have 2 flat plate collectors and 80 gallons of storage. With one day of sun they usually can go from 50 deg to 140. It depends on the circumstances of the site, but thats typical.

In tanks which have a coil in the bottom, and an electric element half way up, you can have the same tank heated with solar and electric. The one drawback to this is that you only effectively have half the tank to store captured solar energy because the top half is already heated with the electric element. Solar can heat the top up to a hotter temp even if its already at 140, but the collectors will lose efficiency and energy is lost. You can put the electric element on a timer, so that it only comes on at about 4pm and goes off at 10:00 in case the sun hadn't already heated it up because it was a cloudy day. Or you can get a larger tank. For a 2 flat plate system (generally) a 100 gal tank is needed if you want to heat it with electric and solar.

hope this helps
Karl Rosengrant
5 years ago
I'm not sure if this question has already been answered/discussed, but here it goes:

A friend and I are starting a permaculture/Buddhist community in central VT on a remote 13 acre parcel I purchased a couple years ago. The property had a well established maple forest. (Its still about 30% forested). I had most of these large trees harvested so I could pay off the debt associated with the land purchase.

I've been soaking up ideas about permaculture for a couple years now, and I just keep getting more and more excited and thrilled about it. I've always had more of a greasy (tinkerers) thumb, than a green thumb, but I am learning a lot.

What I plan to do, is use the existing maple and oak stumps to be the base of many hugelkulture beds. I plan to stack cut up tree tops around the base and then use my backhoe to dig around the area and cover these piles with soil. I then plan to cover these beds with a compost wood-chip mulch (such as was demonstrated in the "Back to Eden" film) and plant immediately with natives, traditional vegetables, herbs... lots of diverse growies. The mulch blanket cover will hopefully mitigate any pH imbalances, and over time enhance the soil fertility. It already seems to have very fertile soil because the forest was maybe 75 to 100 years old, and the land was likely never farmed because of the ledge in the area.

My question is: will this work? Am I making any type I errors with this design? Should I test the soil for pH first and add lyme before making the beds?
Has anyone put old sheet rock into the beds to mitigate low pH? Any other advice?

Thanks in advance for your help.

p.s. I've been installing and designing solar hot water systems for the past 7 years so if you have any questions regarding that, I may be able to help.
6 years ago