Tys Sniffen

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since Nov 05, 2012
Northern California
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Recent posts by Tys Sniffen

this is sort of a general 'permies' sort of question, but since I see that there's a fibers section, I thought I'd try here.

you know those awful, typical, ubiquitous blue tarps?   they last a year or so, start tearing and degrading and become a mass of little ribbons that last forever and get in everything.

I'd love to know of a product that was a real, high quality tarp.  the sort of thing that you could drag over a brush pile without ripping, something that could be outside in the sun and rain for a year and not degrade... and also something that remains water proof.

any ideas out there before I start gluing stuff together myself?

I should be more specific:

this is for RAISED BEDS, in a mild climate (northern CA, where it barely freezes and we do winter crops [greens]) 

my question is not HOW to till, as I can easily turn stuff with a shovel or broad-forked pitch fork.   My question is whether to do it at all.  Some would argue to NOT DISTURB the soil PERIOD. and just add compost on top. I'm trying to figure out if that's a good idea... I can do some side by side experiments, but I'd like to hear about others' experience.

1 year ago
I get a lot of the 'no till' ideas for in-ground gardening that are promoted here.    In ground is not an option here, for a number of reasons.  We've been doing raised beds and big containers for a while.  

I grew up with a victory garden mom from the Great Plains and we lived in a solid clay river valley, so annual spring tilling was a standard thing.   So I was continuing the tradition.

My raised beds are filled with 100% 'man-made' soil  -  years of my hand-turned hot compost piles added over the years.   I also now side dress with worm leechate.  I'm thinking I'm doing pretty well...

but now I'm hearing about how it's actually WORSE for my soil to hand till it, and instead I should leave it be, and just add compost on top?  

I have the potential for invasive roots coming up into the beds, which is another justification for tilling and fluffing.  but I'm open to input.    thoughts?

1 year ago
As my kid reaches 4 years old, I'd like to think that the major 'ding' damage from her flailing around is coming to a close. 

so how to repair my white, lime-washed, natural plastered walls so that the repair doesn't look like a franken-scar? 

here's a recent blog post with a batch of photos: ideamountain

and here's my attempt to drop a photo of a pretty typical ding here:

simply wetting it down and attempting to put some plaster back in has not been a great success.  it's been about 5 years since this plaster was put on... seems like it's not too pliable anymore.

and of course we live here, so replastering seems like a crazy idea....   any suggestions?
1 year ago

Ardilla Esch wrote:
On the earthen floor, I put a wood floor finish (Bioshield Hard Oil #9) on top of the fully cured linseed oil treatments.  That really helps the durability of the floor (and it looks good).  You may consider doing that.

We waxed with bioshield beeswax mix... do you think this could be put down on top of that?

and what's the process? that is, how long does it take to dry, how stinky is it? can I put it on one part of the floor and live in the house at the same time?
1 year ago
tile border - yes, it goes horizontally along the wall/floor.  I think of it as vertical, because the tiles create that *vertical* 90 degree turn from the floor.    it's very common in traditional Latino/south American building.

about the curved edges: yes, some really nice, fat curves work well, but there's just bunches of little spots where I guess the curve is just not obtuse enough...  or it's a high traffic sort of spot.  

we did a lot of research on the floor thing, and were told that our 6 coat process would stand up.  it doesn't quite make the grade.  we have tiles by each door, so wet shoes and high traffic are dealt with there.

I'm interested to hear other people's thoughts... or even questions from planners.
1 year ago
my swipe about grass was really one of those 'permaculture smug bastards' sorts of thing about the grass itself - as in, don't grow a crop just for walking on and looking at, but rather either let it go wild or actually farm it.  I realize not everyone can or wants to go 'full rebel' in landscaping.  I totally am on board with figuring out how to save water and not buy it.

Actually, one thing about 'not grass' would be that a natural landscape would probably be a better buffer for storm water and in addition, not need watering in the dry times. So, rethinking your project and doing more swales and trenches and landscaping might be the lowest-impact, best long term solution.  still, that's just more smug permie talk.

about burying the tank: I think you're right, it's because it could collapse if it was empty on the inside.   and yes, basically building a basement around the tank (with cinder blocks, or treated wood, or poured concrete or something) would work.  but that's a lot of work just to not look at a tank. you might just look around for a different sort of tank that CAN be buried.  a new septic tank (that is, never used, so it's clean) with a few plumbing alterations could be tossed in a dirt hole.

now, about saving water:

So, if I'm understanding, you're planning on having all the water from the house roof AND the french drains go to a 50 gallon barrel downhill, and then have a pump in that barrel that moves 1500 of it uphill to a tank?  Even if it's just one of those sources of water, you'd better do the math on how much water will be hitting that garbage can at one time. 
example: my house roof has about 2000sf of surface. that means every inch of rain, I get 1200 GALLONS through the downspouts.   Like you're experiencing (and we all will, as climate change keeps messing us up) I get 7 and 8 inches of rain in 24 hours.
That means, conservatively, I get .33" an hour of rain, or 400 gallons an hour down the spout.  if your house is anything like the size of my small house, your pump is going to have to work REALLY FAST and REALLY hard to keep that garbage can from overflowing.   AND, if you have that strong of a pump, and you have that much power during these big storms, in a little over 3 hours, your HDPE tank is going to be full. then you'll have to turn that pump off.

Which to me sounds like you're going to have something of a pond down at this point on your property anyway.

Maybe I'm looking  at your situation with jealousy, as I've been dreaming of ponds up on my place, but my slope and access doesn't allow me the space or tractor access for a real pond.... but I'm still thinking this is my best advice.  Digging a big hole in a low spot and then managing it for good ecology (meaning - getting fish and things in there to keep the skeeters down) and being able to drop a pump line into it for filling up a 1500 tank multiple times throughout the summer seems like a wonderful bonus, rather than a complicated piping-and-pump-back artificial system.  

1 year ago
I collect rainwater off my house and car port for both garden irrigation and house plumbing, so I have some experience with this, but in a very different part of the country with different rules, climate, neighbors, and elevation.

I'm not coming at you with a complete suggested plan, but some gravel-kicking thoughts. 
- when you say 'catch basin at the eastern (lowest, right?) side of your property, what do you mean by that?  A pond?  because that's a good idea if you can do it, but looks like you've got neighbors, which means zoning and planning and environmental impact, etc. 

- if you had a pond - a good sized one - that would stay around all year, and it sounds like you are ready to buy a pump, you could just pump up water to a small (50 gal?) holding tank and then let that feed whatever watering you want.

- why bother watering grass?  that is, why spend energy and water on grass?  just asking.

- if you already own this 1500g tank, which sounds like it might be one of those green HDPE sorts... the ones I have say specifically: DO NOT BURY.   so check out if you can do that.

- a batch of your situation sounds like trying to keep water away from the house.  putting it in a tank won't really do much to keep your basement dry.
1 year ago
I've meant to start this list for a while, and I'm sure things will continue to come up, but I thought perhaps you folks who are just starting out might find a few of these hints helpful.  Perhaps others would add to the list.

- I would put granite pieces as bottom floor for all niches.  I can’t believe I didn’t see the problems of lime wash plaster being horizontal
o collects dust and can’t really be cleaned
o easily chipped by things being put on the shelf
this should probably also apply for all cobbed in windows too.  In cob books, you always see all these whimsical niches that are completely plastered. You never see the photos of those niches years later after the dust and dirt and wear have messed those niches up.

- No exposed edges/curved walls where traffic and kids would bump into them and chip them off

- I’d do a vertical tile border around all rooms where the floor meets the wall.  Again just to protect the plaster and make cleaning easier.

- I did 6 coats of linseed oil on my earth floor, all the same day, waiting for one to soak in before adding the next (not the other way, of waiting days for it to harden, then do another)  After 5 years, my floor is still not hard enough.  You can’t sit on a wooden chair straight on the earth floor without it leaving dents. 

- DIATOMACEOUS EARTH!   I wish I’d known about this stuff during the building process.  Out here in the woods, we get ants trying to come in for water and food, every summer.  We did the best job possible of making our house critter-proof, but ants can find a knife-blade edge space and get in.  There are MANY places that, had I had the fore-sight about the wonders of diatomaceous earth to keep bugs out of stuff, I would have built it in.
o Under kitchen cabinets, behind the kick plate, where there’s a space between the bottom shelf and the floor
o Between vertical wall pieces (I have a wooden wall inside my cob house that has sandwiched plywood and veneer and such. I know ants are in between those sheets.  I would have dusted between each one.
o Up in the roof – in the soffets and in around vents (and I have 2 sets of bug screen already in place!)
o Inside the french drain!  Spread over the gravel in the trench under the walls!
o Probably other places I can’t even remember anymore

and while it wasn't feasible at the time, and probably generally isn't for anyone, if I could somehow choose my schedule, I would have done the rough cob walls on top of my stem wall and then given them a year (or two!) to settle before doing the rest of the plaster and internal work.  Even though we planned quite well and did good work on our stem wall, the slight settling of the house has created a few small cracks in my finished plaster in some of the few weaker spots up towards the roof.
1 year ago
my answers would be  no and no.

mold:  this is straw that was sticking out of the half built wall?  that will be built in later?    and then you'd plaster over the top of that?  don't worry about it.  don't USE moldy straw, but if it was good straw and a couple weeks exposure had some mold show up, no big deal.
and this is a exterior wall around a patio? will this be enclosing part of your future living space, or just some sort of patio wall thing? if it's just an outdoor furniture feature, really don't worry about it.  if it will be a future bedroom or something, just make sure to have that moldy straw deep inside the wall.  and try not to let it all get like that.

cracks:  little 'hairline' cracks are no big deal.  cracks you can put your finger in are a big deal.   if you can stand on the dried, cracked sections without them collapsing under your weight, they're fine.

my advice is worth what you paid for it.
1 year ago