Daniel Schmidt

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since Jun 16, 2015
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solar tiny house woodworking
Jacksonville, FL
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Recent posts by Daniel Schmidt

As you mentioned, I believe one of the things that Lawton does is that he doesn't just plant 100% fruit trees in the beginning. If I remember correctly, he has something like 90% fast growing nitrogen fixers at the start. As he is rehabbing the land, he expects a higher rate of tree loss when starting out, and it isn't a complete wash to have to chop and drop a nitrogen fixer. As time progresses, between natural losses and selective chop and drop, the biodiversity of the trees changes from 90% pioneer nitrogen fixers and 10% fruit trees to 10% nitrogen fixers and 90% fruit trees, nut trees, and natives. The improvement to the soil creates conditions so there is a lower casualty rate to the fruit trees and they grow quicker and stronger.

Another thing to note is he isn't growing from seed at day one. I'm pretty certain all of his trees are started in a greenhouse a few years ahead of time, so it is more like a 13 year old food forest. Having irrigation set up in advance so the trees are never thirsty probably helps towards consistent fast growth. He also has many years of experience, and isn't just picking random fruit trees that he likes, or that he 'thinks' will grow well for him. I am fairly certain he is very deliberate with his choices to stack the deck in his favor to get the outcome he wants. This is one thing I notice a lot with gardeners around here. Many of them are from the north and want to grow exactly what they did in the past. The climate here is different and you can't expect everything to acclimate. Even simple microclimate changes can cause big wins or losses.

It's probably much easier to succeed with trees that are very well known to work, and then slowly change out a few trees at a time to things you would like to have or experiment with, than it is to start out with a bunch of experiments at day one and expecting a high rate of success. It can be hard to tell what went right or wrong when there are lots of experiments and not enough control specimens. Lawton is a wizard in his climate and extremely knowledgeable of other climates. I think for anyone to get to his ten year food forest in 15 years time would be doing exceptionally well!

Since you aren't too terribly far along yet, it might be worthwhile to look in to some native nitrogen fixing pioneer tree species. I remembered something about alder being used, and came across this article:

Red Alder Has Nitrogen-Fixing Superpowers

Since you already have some trees started, it would take some time for pioneer species like the red alder to create any significant shade on your existing trees. By the time they get that far, they could easily be chopped back to improve the soil. Until that time, they can create a tiny bit of shade and habitat both above and below ground. Since they will be culled anyway, you could probably just plug them in between the existing tree spacing without any worry of crowding. As a native plant, it should be easy to source and only cost a little bit of time. It might be something worth investigating. Good luck!
2 months ago
It can be done, but there are a few considerations that may not be apparent. As mentioned by Peter above, they use a dry, dense gas between panes to reduce convection between inside and outside panes which reduces heat transfer. Also, I believe many new windows over the past several years or more have special coatings on them; UV blockers to reduce sun damage to your house interior, and nearly transparent reflective coatings to bounce some radiant heat back where it came from (keep outside heat outside, keep inside heat inside). It might be worthwhile to see what manufacturers are providing and what purpose they serve so you can determine for yourself what your needs are and how to mitigate any potential problems.

If you live in a tornado or hurricane zone, you are usually required to have impact resistant windows or shutters. This may not be mandatory on a wheeled tiny house, but if it moves down the road that seems to me to be all the more reason to protect your windows from being breached by debris. Shutters that can be worked from inside can help with heat transfer, as well as absorb physical damage, and still be safe for exiting in case of an emergency.

Used windows or ones that are discounted because they are the wrong size are one option, but it can take longer to find exactly what you want than the time it would take to build the rest of the house. You would literally be building the house around the openings. If you do go the DIY route, it would probably be very advantageous to try to make as many of the windows as possible a standard size. If you ever have an accident or vandalism, you don't want to be up all night trying to build a new window or living with a tarp strapped over a broken window for any length of time. Being able to buy one when you need it, or have several the same size and building one extra would give some insurance that you can fix a broken window in a timely fashion.
2 months ago
Does mint actually provide cooling properties, or is it just a sensation? Similar to how a ghost pepper can't physically light you on fire even though you feel like you are on fire. I guess you could get some temperature sensors and try applying a few things to see what actually affects temperature. Water works to cool by evaporation; the water absorbs heat and then that heated water evaporates in to the air carrying away the heat. It could be that volatile compounds in mint oil evaporates off in a similar manner. I would just be very concerned with having the sensation of feeling cool while not actually lowering your body temperature. I keeled over with heat stroke last summer and trust me, you do not want to ignore the signals your body sends when it absolutely needs to cool down. I was always really good at hydrating and keeping my body cool, except for about 6-8 minutes last summer when I ignored symptoms thinking I would get out before anything bad happened. I got out and promptly smashed my head into a door as I went down. I survived, but I can't say the same for my glasses.

I have thought about this a lot, particularly using thermal mass for cooling instead of heating. My case may be different than others as I have a very long wet season throughout the summer and fall, and it still tends to be occasionally rainy during our so-called 'dry' winter season. Lots of rain plus lots of sun equals high evaporation to the point that the air gets saturated with humidity. Having lots of cold surfaces means condensation in an already wet environment, and all of the problems associated with mold and other life forms growing where you may not want them. Perhaps having a permeable surface, or using the ground to pre-chill (and dehumidify) fresh air intakes would be useful.

Protecting your shelter from the sun is vital if you are going to cool a person. You can try to cool someone all you want, but if the house bakes in the sun all day and radiates that heat back in to the living space all night, you are fighting an uphill battle. Nearly all houses I see built in the US have roofs designed like solar ovens. Clear out all of the shade trees and now you have a very efficient solar oven. That might be a good design for a cold climate, but a lot of energy gets burned needlessly trying to fight the sun with an air conditioner instead of with shade and good design.

I envision a design where part or all of the structure is either underground or surrounded by berms like a wofati. The entire structure well shaded from the sun as to not absorb any direct radiant heat from the sun if possible. I also really like the idea of doing something similar to a large irrigation cistern, and using that mass pumped through a radiator/heat exchanger to cool and dehumidify air before being ducted indoors. With the large amount of rainfall in my location, I could make use of that resource to condition air to reduce issues with condensation and mold. This idea could also be used to cool a bench or other thermal mass where a person sits. I'd imagine very arid regions would have much fewer problems with condensation, but may not be able to have a large amount of water stored all year long.

Another idea along those lines that could be used in some circumstances might be something similar to this:
Except instead of cooling a computer, you could cool a chair or something. Or you could cool a computer to stop it from heating up your house. Or double the size of it and do both. If you are already planning earthworks then it could be easier to include plans for geothermal instead of digging exclusively for this kind of project.

I just really like the idea of using physical tons of mass to resist temperature changes. Massive benches, massive pillars, large water cisterns, lots of big masonry or recycled metal furniture. The current systems I see people using where they cool air, and the house soaks up heat all day is absurd. Especially at this time of year when it can get cooler outside at night than what people set their thermostat to, yet the AC runs all night because the mass of the house is saturated with heat, and people don't want to open windows and let all of the humidity inside. If they put efficiency ratings on houses the way they do on cars, it would make people think twice and save way more energy than squeezing out 1MPG extra from a car.
2 months ago
My experience with sand and digging in stuff to try to convert the sand to soil was a complete failure. I'm at the beach in Florida, and since it never really gets cold here, the stuff I mixed in got devoured by the ceaseless organisms in the earth. Top dressing has worked much better for me. You can probably do some good using wood for hugelkultur beds, or perhaps some biochar mixed in the soil, but I would try to use most of the organic matter on top.

There are a few reasons why I think top dressing has worked better for me. You mention the sand not holding water or nutrients. With the nutrients, if you bury stuff then it is just that much further down to be washed below the root zone. Also, the sand has a lot of thermal mass, which means all sorts of problems with watering. If you can use organic matter on top (which has much less thermal mass) then it shields the sand from the sun. Sun baked sand can evaporate moisture well after the sun has gone down. Because water moves through the sand easily, it can wick up moisture from below and cause further water loss which can slow down soil building. Having the organic matter there to shield and hold in the moisture means more root growth and increased soil biology. You can't transform sand in to soil, but you can increase root zones and soil biology so the sand makes up a much smaller percentage of the soil. Also, more soil moisture means less irrigation and less nutrients being washed away.

Top dressing and cover crops, along with chop and drop methods can also help protect evaporation via the wind. Of course if things are extremely windy there would be an issue of keeping your organic material in place. In that instance you might be better off just using cover crops as a living mulch, and perhaps knocking it down or cutting the tops vs chopping everything down. If the wind isn't that extreme regularly then it should stay in place and retain moisture that could otherwise be lost to the wind and sun.

Another thing I noticed with sand is that once it gets so hot and dry, it repels water! You would think something so loose wouldn't have this issue. I have seen people stand with a hose for several minutes on one sun baked spot and virtually all of the water runs off and pool in low spots, eventually sinking in the ground in those spots several minutes later. I could walk right up to where they were watering, stick my finger in the ground, and get dry sand just a small fraction of an inch down. My hypothesis is when the sand gets below 10% humidity it gets a static charge that repels the polarized water. This is another critical reason to protect the sand from the sun, especially if you do raised rows or beds. The water can easily run off and do little good for your plants. When I start building up a new area, I will lightly water over the entire area, generally in the evening when the sun isn't hitting the sand, and then wait 10 minutes before irrigating. The sand will much more readily take the water with far less run off. Water running off also causes erosion, so anything you can do to avoid that will save you labor down the road. An organic layer on top will more readily accept water, even after baking in the sun, and will have far less erosion issues than sand.

I don't remember exactly where it was said, but I remember Paul saying something to the effect of "If you have enough mulch to cover an area with 4" of mulch, or half as much space with 8" of mulch, you will get happier plants with 8" of mulch." OK, so I haven't actually tried putting down a full 8" of mulch, but I believe he was completely right. I tried various methods when I first started my garden, from digging things in, to a little digging and a little top dressing, to top dressing with mulch, compost teas, and more. When I did one area from bare sand to top dressing with compost + mulch over 3" thick was when I started to see a real difference. The other areas that I kept adding stuff to did eventually start to perform well as I increased life and moisture in the soil, and compost teas did help speed that up, but getting a thick layer on top did the best at converting bare, nearly dead beach sand in to soil plants could thrive in for the first season instead of several seasons of slowly building things up.

My method I use now is to figure out how large an area I want to work with in the end, figure out how much volume of material I can get to cover the sand, and make mulch islands. Covering at least a few square feet per island, I can grow stuff in the mulch to build up the soil. As the moisture levels increase, the hydrostatic pressure will force some of the moisture between the mulch islands, slowly making the sand more hospitable to life. Native plants and others that I have found to work well for my area can easily start to take hold. Eventually things will grow, I will accumulate more stuff to chop and drop, yard debris, and compost to start filling in between until I get the whole area much more plant friendly. This is not something I do in late spring or summer as it is just way too brutal in the sun at that time. I let my sweet potatoes and watermelons run wild then as they seem the best at being able to spread and cover ground for me when it is that hot. Fall, winter, and early spring are more like summer in the north and I have much better luck growing at those times. Observing your local conditions and utilizing native plants can help a lot. Instead of spreading all of your resources evenly, you can do more localized intensive soil rehabilitation, which in turn makes it easier for those areas to have a positive influence on the entire ecosystem. As the areas in between mulch islands improve, the native plants will jump at the chance to live better. You can encourage this by selecting seeds of native plants you would prefer to have around and spread them. Often this takes nothing more than a little time and water. They can act as a cover crop and start to protect the sand from the sun in those areas not yet covered by other means.
2 months ago
Apparently they will be doing a kickstarter for a handbag with the Mylo leather stuff in June. It says that Microsilk products will be shipping next year. I realize this is pretty early stage stuff and proprietary and whatnot. Just something to keep an eye on.
This company is producing a leather alternative and a silk based on spider silk research. I'm not sure about how permie friendly their practices are, but their stuff seems thought-provoking enough to be worth sharing. Hopefully this is the right subforum.

Mycelium grown in corn stalks, compressed and tanned into a leather replacement:


Silk based from proteins in spider silk:

The silk one seems super complicated and some people might not like that one for a number of reasons, though they do say no spiders are harmed making Microsilk. The Mylo Leather stuff seems like something that could be less complicated and much better for the environment than plastic leather alternatives. Perhaps even a permie friendly DIY version of something like this could be something people may want to explore. I just thought it was some really cool stuff!
They grow real easy from vine cuttings. Every leaf node can grow a new leaf as well as roots. Since we get a couple of frosts here in Jacksonville, I will grab a few of vines and cut them up so I have plenty for the next year. I cut the leaves off, cut about an inch above a node, then go down a couple nodes and cut, again not cutting too close to the node as sometimes it will dry out and kill the node with it. I toss them in jars of water for a few days and then throw them in pots. Whenever it is going to get about 38* or below overnight I pull them in from the cold to protect them from damage. I easily have a hundred new plants for little effort.

They do grow back well on their own outside since the ground doesn't actually get cold, but this way it gives me way more plants than I need. I started out growing them in makeshift bins I slapped together and they started growing more than a dozen feet from their source. If it gets loose like that for any length of time, it will put down roots at every leaf node and you will end up with sweet potatoes everywhere! Hurricane Mathew critically damaged the house next door and the sweet potatoes started to encroach on the abandoned property. When they came to knock it down months later, they pulled up the fence and sweet potatoes started rolling around on the ground! They were mostly the purple ones too. They seem to do the best for me and I have had better flavor from home grown ones than the ones from local organic stores.
If you are looking to offset the energy of the device then it would likely be cheaper and more efficient to use the solar panel with a grid-tie inverter. If you have reliable grid power available then it would be extremely beneficial to go grid tie.

A quick look at their community page shows people with a lot of first hand experience doing similar things with their products:

It goes well beyond the scope of what most people here are doing with electronics, and there will be a lot more people there with the same hardware that can point you in the right direction.
3 months ago
I used to have a mocking bird do that for a few years. Apparently it noticed that the local cats would get the attention of my roommate by going in the window and making noise to get fed, so it would essentially do the same thing. It was a mean bird that had no problems attacking larger birds, cats, or just about anything it perceived as a threat. Like many other local animals, it was eating the dry cat food being set outside. It would go around to the bedroom window first, and if didn't get fed it would go to all the other windows and attempt to hover while getting in a few rather loud pecks at the window. It would do this a few times in a row and wait a minute, then move on to the next window until he got his way.

Eventually he got a mate and they chased away any birds that came nearby. They had babies and then by the next year they all left. I'm not sure what happened but he was one angry bird! Maybe you could try some bird feed away from the house and see if it stops.
3 months ago

Sidney Beauchamp wrote:Hi all,

I'm new to the RMH seen and I have a few questions. I've been reading for a few months now and there are a few things I haven't found (clear) answers to.

For example, what does limiting the space between the riser and the top of the barrel do ? How does it affect the performance of the system. ?

Having a short riser cause an incomplete burn and not enough draft, what issues arises when the riser is to long ?

At first I started writing out how to calculate the area of outflow from the riser, but this post was getting a bit too lengthy. If you want I can post it in here later.

If the area of outflow is significantly smaller than the area of the riser then it will create a bottleneck which can cause draft problems and lead to smoke-back. Similar to how a bottleneck at the manifold connecting the barrel to the piping can cause issues. It seems critical to not choke the flow area of those points, so figuring out those numbers is important.

I believe you can use a much larger gap with less point heat on top for cooking and more of a stratification chamber to extract more heat quickly. This could be useful for places such as a workshop where you want quick heat and are less interested in having a large thermal mass or keeping it warm all the time. I'd imagine at a certain point having a large enough chamber to heat input ratio would reach a point where draft issues could arise depending on the design, but I've seen a couple pretty large ones that appear to work fine.

I think the riser length has a similar principle to the gap; Going a little longer doesn't seem to hurt anything but going too short can cause problems. If it is longer then it should draft better. I remember seeing a paper on rocket stoves where someone tested a couple types with 1, 2, and 3 foot risers where there were measurable yet diminishing gains in draft and more complete combustion using taller risers. This was just for stoves, so there are other considerations when designing a heater. I don't think it would matter too much how long you make it with an insulated riser with little thermal mass. Making it several times longer than needed with a large mass, such as non-insulating castable refractory or brick, could sap enough heat from the riser to cause further issues. With an open chimney it isn't a big deal because of other factors, but trying to get the air to flow back down a really large barrel after being cooled off that much might not draft properly. I've had pretty good luck getting things to burn completely using a thin hotface of refractory on the inside of an insulated riser.

I learned a lot about refractory and insulation from backyard metal casting sites and forums. Some of the stuff from there and ways to calculate performance automotive exhaust can be directly applied to rocket stoves and heaters. I even found a fuel injector calculator worked perfectly for measuring gravity fed drip irrigation output using rain barrels! It's really enjoyable to learn about all of this stuff! Good luck with your project and share some pictures if you get a chance.
4 months ago