Roberto pokachinni

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since Jan 21, 2014
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Just a little guy with big ideas, trying to get it done in the Canadian Rockies.
Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Recent posts by Roberto pokachinni

HI Lena,

People use the sawdust when using humanure systems for several reasons:  One of these is because it's easy to scoop onto the deposit.  It is also used because it absorbs moisture.  The primary purpose, beyond those, is to add carbon.  Because poo lands in little uneven piles which can topple in time, and these get dusted with coverings of sawdust, there are bound to be air pockets when sawdust is added with every deposit.  Sawdust is otherwise potentially a bit too fine for regular compost making, as it does not add the air to the system very well unless something else that does add air (like straw) is added.  If you are planning to do a 'build it and leave it system' (rather than a turn it in a week type system), then you want some air-space in the pile.  Does that make sense?  

When you have an outhouse, or pit toilet, or an improperly done humanure system (where the poo has not been mixed with any carbon source-as seems to be your case), then you have very little air, and so your "old poo" is bound to be quite dense and probably anaerobic.  Bad bacteria tend to thrive in such anaerobic conditions unless you are culturing things properly (like bokashi).  

I think your plan, the way you are describing it, should work, but I would amend your formula somewhat.  I would ensure that the poo material is broken apart (to make sure that the anaerobic bacterial colonies are taken over by aerobic systems) and mixed well with your carbon sources, particularly your sawdust.  One way to do this is to do the mixing in a wheelbarrow and chopping it with a hoe.  I would think that having straw under the system, as you describe, will help to give some air to it, but you might want to add some straw to your pile itself, instead of just sawdust. The straw can be a pain in the butt to chop up and mix, so just use the sawdust to work in while mixing in the wheelbarrow with the hoe.  The straw can be added when you create the piles.  It will add more air spaces, and thus give you a much better chance of generating aerobic conditions.  Ensure that the pile is an even damp consistency (this is generally done throughout the pile layering process), but is not wet.  It should have a sheen of dampness, not be saturated at all.  The pile will collapse on itself after an initial hot phase that peaks a few days after building, and it will then become fairly dense again, but cooler.  If you have compost worms, when you build the pile add some to the bottom or sides (where it doesn't get nearly as hot (and they will multiply and take over the pile to not only finish the job but also to add air holes throughout the pile).  These air holes further the aerobic process, increases it's internal surface area, and allow for a larger diversity of microbes to have a habitat niche.

Be very cautious about handling this raw poo material.  Use rubber gloves, and hose off and scrub any of your tools that come into contact with it.

Best of luck.      
1 week ago
Another thing that I have used a few times this winter (though it has not been an especially cold winter), is my heated vest.  As an outdoor welder, this battery-powered bad boy will keep my core warm even in a blizzard if I layer up properly around it.  I'm sometimes sitting in one spot for hours (thus not generating heat from muscle action) and, being a small guy I don't have a lot of body mass to hold any of my heat.  Usually, I layer up starting with a base layer, then the vest, then heavy wool, then a cotton hoodie, with hood on over a wool balaclava, then a windbreaker of either fire resistant plastic or heavy leather (depending on the moisture content of the snow blowing on me).   I don't rely on the vest, however; I always have extra layers of wool in the truck, and I know how to create heat fast with certain body movements like deep squats, lunges, or (if necessary) short sprints.  :)
1 week ago
i use gaiters on my boots.  If you are not familiar with them, they attach to your legs over your pants below your knees, and go down over your boots covering your laces.  A strap under the boot as well as a hook that attaches to a D-ring at the base of the lace area hold the gaiters on or the hook goes straight on the laces if there is no D-ring on the boots.  Gaiters are either laced up, buttoned or snapped (old style) or velcroed on (modern).  The purpose of the gaiters is to keep deep snow out of your boots.  They are indispensible for me in my trail building project this winter.  Here's an example:  
1 week ago
A local old timer made all the wood parts for a horse-drawn plow out of Saskatoon wood.  I saw it at an auction after he passed.  Beautiful wood.  

Indigenous folks used the wood for digging sticks, arrows, and drying racks.  
1 week ago

thomas rubino wrote: Is it permanently, or at least sort of stationary ?  I hope so, as no clay construction will last long driving down a gravel road. ...



isolating the bell/bench from your floor is easily done with spaced clay bricks, laid horizontal, with at least 1/2" or more cement board on top. Some folks have put a foil layer down on the cement board to be sure.
Your wall would use the cement board as well though 1/4" would work.  You could use ceramic blanket or loose perlite for insulating at the wall.  The wheel well hump would be best covered with ceramic blanket too. (glass top ovens have a ceramic blanket that can be salvaged)


Floor temp under the bell or bench should be no more than 200F max, most likely more like 125F or less.  Under the core your looking at 500+F or more. (note) the floor in a bell is not counted against ISA.
Your core should be built on a perlite or ceramic board base.  
Yes, regular brick is fine as long as the riser is under a barrel.

You may find that unlike your inadequate wood stove, the barrel of a rmh may run you rite out the bus! They do get hot.  3/4 covering the barrel with cob helps control radiated heat.

One nice thing about a bell over a bench with pipes is ash buildup! Pipes must be checked and cleaned at least every season for sure. I'm thinking you could go several years if needed with a bell.

Why wait any longer ??? (other than its winter..)  Try your hand at this , I'm sure there is nothing else needing doing on your homestead in the middle of winter :)  Being warm … its overrated anyway... Right ?

 Thanks for the info, Thomas.  The bus is stationary.  I don't live in it at present.  I Still have to gather more materials and cobbing in winter up here is not practical anyway.  I might remove that section of wall and go against the actual bus wall which is steel with a thin rock wool insulation.  I like the idea of salvaging ceramic blankets.  
2 weeks ago
I just visited one of my favorite places to reflect... up near the top of a big Douglas Fir tree.   I have several of these on my land that are around 3 feet across at the base.  I have trimmed the smaller branchlets from the trunk so that I can climb easily on the up the larger branches on these trees without having stuff in my face.  I like to climb up until it is difficult to go further and I don't want to trim any more branches, and then just hang on and let my mind wander and contemplate things.  I have several dilemmas I'm puzzling over, so I try to settle on one and let the situation up in the tree work on it with me. Today the ground is covered with about a foot of damp snow.  The lower branches have some of this slushy stuff accumulated near the trunk of the tree, but the snow can be brushed off as I climb.  Sometimes it is simply too icy to go up these trees.  My leather gloves dampen with this sweeping action, but soon enough I'm above the snowy branches, and my body is warmed by the muscular action of climbing.  If not snowy, the branches and their associated lichens are slippery.  Because of the relatively warm winter weather, there is water everywhere, damp and in some cases dripping from the branches above.  I climbed the tree slowly and carefully, which is meditative in itself.  That helps clear the mind too.  Today was also windy, so that makes the whole experience, especially the further I go up, a more careful one than normal.  I got to the top branches, where the tree is less than 6 inches across, and the branches soon get too tight to climb further anyway.  I am above the canopy of the majority of the forest.  The view is expansive and especially bright in comparison to the dense conifer understory that I had walked in to get to the tree.  The tree sways in the windy gusts.  I allow my gaze to view the horizons down the river valley South/South East and North/Northwest as well as the mountain ranges opposite the river.  I hang on and ride out the gusts, feeling the movement, but just relaxing into my tree hug grip which I am confident is capable.  I then just let my mind wander, reflect, and be.  
2 weeks ago
I likey.  Very cool build, Thomas.  It gets me thinking differently about a project I have rattling around in the space between my ears.

I was thinking of putting an RMH in my mid-sized (stationary) school bus.  Presently there is an inadequate wood stove near, but not at, the back door.  My thoughts were to put a temporary RMH in there, with a pipe bench (not a bell), and use sand as a mass.  I would like to put the feed tube and riser/barrel where the present wood stove is.  The problem is that not too far towards the front of the bus is the passenger side rear wheel well hump, which is covered with some kind of plastic.  I would like to have my mass heater pipes head in that direction, but maybe I should insulate the plastic, and have a bell in that location, thus not having to route pipes up over and then down on the other side of the wheel (which I think might potentially mess with the draught)?  What sort of material is used, or can people recommend to insulate under the structure of the bell?  What sheeting is used against the insulation and providing the base of the structure of the bell to be built on?  How hot does the ISA (internal surface area) of the bottom of the bell get?  Can regular bricks be used instead of fire bricks for the bell?  I seem to think that they can, without a problem.  Presently there is a floor in the bus made of half inch plywood laid on top of two inch foam.  Same materials on the short wall below the row of bus windows where the bell would be.  Any thoughts?
2 weeks ago
I lived in a raw vegan community for a short time while on a bicycle tour of the U.S. Southwest.  It was called Tree of Life.  I don't know if it is still active.  The focus there was on the healthy qualities of living foods. It was primarily a healing center for people with serious illness --who paid a lot of money to get treatments by the resident doctor as well as eat an exclusive raw diet and go through systematic routines daily.   I worked in the kitchen, initially.  They used a lot of salt and a lot of nuts and seeds and coconuts and fruit that were all imported.  Most of the food was imported.  I worked there until a round of food prep classes started (a secondary focus)... and then got on with the maintenance team.  The food was excellent.  They used EM (effective microbes) in the hot tub, and peroxide in their drinking water.  They did have decent gardens which produced roots and greens primarily.   What I didn't like was there was very little focus on exercise, except for yoga, and they used PVC pipes in their greenhouse for hydroponic grow beds for micro greens.  The doc, however, had cancer patients jump on a mini tramp with an oxygen mask on before going into the infrared sauna.  I understand that he was kicking cancer out with such tactics, but...  I offered to take people on easy hikes into the wild hills nearby but this was frowned upon as dangerous (cougars, peccaries, and rattlers mostly, but really these critters are skittish around people), so the trampoline and oxygen mask thing was the way to go, I guess.  There were some really interesting people there, and I could see the system working pretty well but the whole scene was a little bit weird (an additonal focus was on 'Essene' Judaism, which I had some passing interest in but couldn't really jive with).  The whole place had too much focus on the Doctor's personal philosophy and I'm just not so much of a follower... so I carried on.  I don't recommend it unless you have those specific ideas in mind.  

I was primarily a vegan on my trip but found that outside of the raw food folks in some of the cities that it was hard to have others relate to my vegan diet.  Vegan communities are rare and likely hard to find.  It would have been a lot easier to be a vegetarian, but I do not tolerate milk products much at all, and generally if someone makes or offers vegetarian dishes, it's cheese or cream oriented.  Occasionally I craved meat, and I satisfied this craving, usually with tinned sardines as it gave me a good dose of oils too.

I don't see any reason why a vegan community could not exist and be very functional in a permaculture sense, but the more extreme a community takes things the harder it would be to be sustainable or resilient.  I could see a vegan community making its own clothing, particularly if it was in a warm local.  It would be challenging to weave enough flax to tolerate winter where I live, presently, but might be relatively easy to make grass skirts in Tahiti.  

The only large vegan communities that I have heard about are Jain folk in India.  The vegan Jains are a more modern spinoff.  They are hard to find, because the majority follow the traditional Jain diet which includes dairy.  In their culture, the dairy cattle were never killed and were treated as sacred animals.  Jains are very strict about not killing animals, and do there best to not harm microbes, so many don't even eat root vegetables because of the harm to the soil life when uprooting.  
4 weeks ago
Hi K. Ung.  Thanks for your comment, and Welcome To Permies!   Now I'm curious of who made the site.  I should ask Walter some time.
1 month ago
Yes, wood ash and water combine to make lye, and yes lye is quite alkaline, but this sort of thing happens after forest fires all the time.  And the forest/trees recover.  There are systems within systems in the forest to deal with small lye concentrations, since fire is a natural occurrence, and erosion will concentrate the lye in certain locations.  The ecosystem handles lye.

Regardless, I would emphasize caution against making a fire near a tree, as was mentioned, because of the risk of slow burning embers creeping in the roots, which is a much more serious issue than the altering the ph of a single tree, in my opinion., as this can cause a human-caused forest fire.  The ecosystem can only handle so much fire, however, before it begins to be altered towards fire tolerant and fire-dependent species and systems from ones that are not tolerant, or from forests of much more mixed tolerances.  
1 month ago