Kyle Neath

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since May 07, 2016
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Somewhere in between a software developer and agroforester. Once upon a time I built a lot of software in a very fancy city, but now I can usually be found running around in the mountains.
Leaping Daisy is my main gig. It's an old high country ranch in the Sierra Nevadas. In the summers, I spend my time fixing 100 year old log cabins, improving the forest, and building out infrastructure to host small events. In the winters, I strap on my snowshoes and play in the snow.
In between that, I'm still trying to figure this whole life thing out. I spend a bit of time writing software to pay the bills, a chunk of it caring for my parents, and the rest playing around the mountains near Tahoe.
Sierra Nevadas, CA 6400'
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Recent posts by Kyle Neath

Right now, they are repaving a five mile section of highway near me. It is six lanes wide and being done with concrete (since it's a grade with snow removal operations). The slab they are pouring is two feet thick. I think that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 cubic yards of concrete. On this one highway. In this little stretch of barely populated California. Now imagine how much concrete is being used in infrastructure projects around the world... and how many yards it's sucking up. Now think about how many cubic yards a person uses in a foundation for a house.

My point here is, if you are concerned about the environmental impact of cement production — that's a valid concern — but has almost nothing to do with using concrete on an individual level. Military and infrastructure projects are going to use up several orders of magnitude more than individuals ever can.

If you're worried about it being personally toxic, as far as I know concrete is one of the safest materials you can build with. You need to be careful when mixing and drilling into it (wear a mask), but otherwise it's a stable, 100% recyclable material (smash up concrete, mix it with cement, and you get more concrete). When it eventually crumbles, it wears away to chemically stable rocks.

Also, as an aside on this note:

How it is used is crucial. If you "reinforce" it by pouring it around rebar, which, in the presence of moisture, which readily moves through concrete, swells as it rusts, destroying it from the inside in a matter of decades, it doesn't matter how long it would have lasted for. In that application, I think it's pretty vile.

This is not quite right. Rust is triggered by water, but the active ingredient is oxygen. When rebar is encased in concrete, oxygen can no longer reach the steel to corrode it. Any concrete that only lasts decades was built extremely poorly. A properly designed concrete beam will happily last for centuries. That's not to say there isn't a lot of shoddy concrete jobs around the world. But then again, there's a lot of shoddy jobs of all kinds around the world. I will tell you this: concrete of any form or function without reinforcement, will fail with 100% certainty. Even fence post anchors have reinforcement (with the pressure of the dirt acting as reinforcement).
1 week ago
Looks like everyone's got a good advice on making a square. Just don't remember that dimensional lumber varies in dimension! 8ft boards are almost never 8ft, 2x8s can be 1.5" or 1.75" depending on the miller, etc. Making stuff square can feel tedious, especially if you're in it yourself. It usually means walking back and forth a dozen times inching things into place. For posts, definitely use temporary braces to help figure it out until you concrete them in.
1 month ago
I've been thinking about this and actively involved in it for about two years now. You did a pretty good summary of things, but one thing I'd love to stress is that USFS opinions on forest management have changed dramatically in the past decade. I know many people hate the USFS, especially on this forum, but in my experience they are some of the largest practitioners of true Permaculture in the US. They are the ones planting and designing ecological systems to last hundreds of years. This is not the USFS from 1968.

My focus is pretty contextualized to the Tahoe area and my own forest. I have a few big goals over the next decade:

- Remove beetle-kill trees
- Replace Douglas Fir (80% of current stand) with a more pine-leaning mix of Jeffery, Sugar (Pines tend to be more fire resistant than Firs)
- Remove Lodgepoles encroaching on meadow
- Remove Fir/pines from aspen groves
- Work toward raising the water table in the meadow by reducing banks on creek (Pond & Plug, brush dams, etc)

In the meantime, I spend money/time with organizations that I think promote general forest health. A few tree planting charities and a few trail building organizations. I think the trail building organizations are an under utilized asset. Mountain Bikers love to maintain clean forests, and it's a good thing for everyone. More people playing on toys without emissions. More people getting outside. More people spending time in remote forested areas.

A lot of this stuff can be done cheap, easy, and by hand. We have a few organizations dedicated to replanting burn scars with more fire-resistant species (Sugar Pine, White Pine). You just walk around, dig a tiny little hole and plant a seedling. Little actions like this can have massive impacts in 20-30 years.

A lot of this stuff is scary and hard. I never feel comfortable taking down a beetle-kill tree on a steep slope.

A lot of this stuff is politically troublesome. Many people have extremely rigid opinions about forest management that have no experience or education in the subject whatsoever. I know many people believe that every single forest fire is the result of the government not allowing clear cutting.
1 month ago
It seems to me that covering it with some kind of black plastic cover when not in use would serve you quite well. It would reduce the mosquito loads, reduce sunlight and the things that grow in it, and warm up the water all at once.
3 months ago
If it's graded, that means heavy machinery has made it out there before, which means they can absolutely get containers out there. Containers are extremely light — heck it's the empty shell they fill with heavy stuff to put on trucks! In fact, they're barely heavier than most commuter vehicles, and absolutely lighter than the any semi that's going to be pulling it. Most people I know use dually trucks to haul containers since they're so light. I think the bigger challenge is going to be getting a crane out there to move the containers. I'd recommend talking to a transportation company — the guys who do this stuff know what they're doing and they'll be able to answer any of your questions definitively.
3 months ago
Microbes are incredibly hardy. Make sure they don't get completely desiccated (dried out) and they'll stay alive for a very long time (decades). They can absolutely survive being frozen, but but but… remember this is all a very contextual scale. Different vermicompost starts out with different numbers and types of active organisms. The time and conditions in between becoming worm castings and you putting them in the soil and your plants benefiting from these organisms are all factors in this equation.

My advice: don't worry about it too much. Fresher is better, but remember that you don't know when "fresh" was — was it when you harvested it? When the worms created the castings? Who knows? I try to use mine within 6 months.
3 months ago
This weekend we spent skiing corn snow, and snowshoeing out to a lake in 50˚ weather over 5-10 feet of snow, which reminded me… spring is coming! It has been one hell of a winter up here in the Sierras. As we speak we're sitting on 200% of historical average worth of SWE (snow water equivalent). We had some of the coldest storms I've ever experienced, and months worth of feet of Colorado-style champagne powder. My little tracking app on my phone says I've ridden over vertical 300,000ft and covered over 250 miles on my snowboard this season. I also got the opportunity to check out a bunch of places I've been dying to see — the highlight being Jackson Hole and Yellowstone. All's that to say that I'm still alive. Just leaning into winter.

My greenhouse out front will need some rethinking. There was about 15ft of snow piled on to (of the top) of the frame, and the bit that's melted thus far concludes what I assumed: it's crushed. I thought the snow might fill in around the frame and keep it in tact. Turns out the snow-eater (snow auger?) beat it. We'll see  how the Ranch fares in... June? July? I'm guessing the roads will be open sometime mid/late June at the snowpack we've got out here.

I'm excited for this summer. Life has thrown me a few curve balls since the fall, but this time good ones! The next few years will be a huge transition for me, but for now the increasing sun angles remind me that times marches on regardless of our personal hang-ups. My big goal for the ranch this year is to improve the road so I can get a semi down it (and thus, bulk supplies). After that... well, I've still got some meditating to do on that front. I want to fix up the old cabin — stain it, improve the chinking, replace the wood stove, and building a loft. I want to fence in the garden. I want to completely refurbish the water system and add some rainwater harvesting tanks. I want to start planning out a new cabin to build for myself. I want to start milling my own lumber. I want a larger shelter for tools & equipment. I want to finish my solar shed. But the summer is short, and my list long.

I know many of you are already putting plants in the ground, but for me I've still got another month or two to play in the snow and plan out my summer.
3 months ago
100% over estimate for a house build is damn near ahead of schedule! In all seriousness, I think you've done an incredible job with the time you've spent thus far.
3 months ago

How many castings were you able to harvest on a weekly basis.  You stated minimal harvest.

Sorry, I was referring to self-harvest, as in the amount that falls through without me scraping it out. So minimal is good! I'm not sure of the volume of harvest I get as I don't pay much attention. Enough for me to serve my indoor garden, indoor plants, and have enough leftover for compost tea for the larger outdoor gardens. I'm going to wildly guess 10gallons/year? I'm not too specific about throughput on my bin, I built it primarily to recycle all my food scraps since my city doesn't have a composting program.

If I was to use conduit or heavy duty fence pipe with 1” spacing could I use push pull sliders on the top of the pipes to scrape the bottom of the pile for harvesting?

I haven't personally tried this, so I can only speculate — but I suspect a setup like this should work. The key really is to just keep a 1" spacing for the castings to fall through.
3 months ago
This sounds very similar to a CFT bin I built two years ago for my unheated garage. Mine is 24" x 24" x 24" with 1" conduit at 2" OC (leaving a 1" gap for castings to be scraped out). This seems to be pretty ideal — I get an extremely minimal amount of castings self-harvesting. I think going 36" deep is a good idea, I still find a decent amount of worms down at the bottom of mine when it's full. I might think a lot about the weight of it though. A bin that size will be extremely heavy. Make sure it's in it's forever home when you start filling it up and make sure it's on a floor that can handle the weight. To be honest, I'd probably think about splitting it into two 48" long bins at that size.

The seedling mats might work, but I ended up opting for soil heating cable instead. I was able to spread out the heat to all four sides of the bin and have better confidence that the product was designed to be immersed in wet conditions continuously. I'm also not sure that two mats will be able to effectively warm the soil in a bin that size. I can't remember how many watts mine draws, but it takes several days to bring the soil temp up a few degrees. With a larger bin and feed volume like yours, I might just opt to rely on thermophilic energy and mass to keep the bin from freezing. A more robust heating solution would be to look into a water pump/heating situation and circulate warm water through PVC pipes in the bin.

All in all, it sounds like a great plan. Let us know how it turns out!
3 months ago