Bernie Farmer

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since Jul 14, 2017
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Recent posts by Bernie Farmer

At the moment we don't know the heavy metal loads in this water but I think I can find out. We are still working with the remediation team and environmental oversight people and the oil company who have, so far, told us everything we have asked. We know what the potential heavy metals are based on those generally found in the saltwater effusions in the oil field, but specifics depend on the type of rock the water was in contact with as it was drawn from the ground and oil. We do know that we still have 3500ppm of salts in the water, which is approaching the low end of salinity but not quite there yet.

I'm trying to move this along quickly so we can do an actual scientific research project with it that can be written up. So I want information from the oil company on the presence of the toxins involved. Now I have to make some biochar quickly to have the volume I need for this project.

Any suggestions as to the type of material to use for the "socks"? Clearly it has to be water permeable and fine enough to retain the char but large enough to span the creek. Water flow is relatively light unless it rains which push a huge amount of water through the system. The creek is about 16 feet wide at the widest point on our property but only 6 to 7 feet wide where it enters our land.

Thanks for your inputs!  
3 weeks ago
Thrilled to find a category for biochar here. Hope someone can help.

About 3 months ago a pipe busted upstream at an old well site from our land and spilled saltwater into our creek. Killed all the wildlife in the water, as expected, ran off the birds, ... killed off a lot of trees. They tell us we're lucky because it hasn't contaminated the ground water or gotten into our soil otherwise. (The creek is in a 18' deep channel.) They came in and flushed out the creek for a couple of weeks, hauled off all the water, etc etc.

Problem is there is still saltwater contaminate in the soil that is leaching into the spring fed water for the creek. They are supposed to be removing all that soil ... if this and that and the other happen. The landowner where the spill happened is balking at letting the oil company in to do remediation, wants to fight them, go to court, and essentially will delay this important part of the remediation.

We want to protect our portion of the creek from further damage and help clean up and residuals on our land. This is where we get to the biochar. I've read a couple of studies where it is being used to remediate heavy metals from stormwater runoff. I also know that it will suck up salt.

So our thoughts are to make some kind of net/sock filled with biochar that we can lay across the creek bed as the water enters our property and then, perhaps, repeat the filter at 3 or 4 more points along the creek as it runs through our property to help suck up the contaminates that were introduced during the spill. And then introduce some filter plants like cattails that can populate the entry point of the creek to help maintain a protection of sorts from upstream contaminants in the future.

We don't, however, have any experience with using biochar and, beyond the stormwater research, I can find no documents on using biochar in this manner for remediation of such an issue.

So, I ask, what are my potential issues with attempting this?
Is it feasible to try even if just as an experiment?
What type of biochar would work best in this situation?
And ... what the heck would I do with the biochar after sucking up all those salts and heavy metals in it? Can it be burned or used elsewhere?  

Thanks!
3 weeks ago
We finally have our logs/trees for building ready to go. Our foundation is squared away. We're using tie logs to connect bents together. But we are confused by how to connect tie beams and roof rafters that perpendicularly intersect the posts at the same height. Do we have to stagger our joints or is there a way to notch them without removing too much material?  

Our bents consists of an 8' log connected to a 14' log connected to another 14' log then connected to another 8' log. The roof between the 14' posts is higher than between the 8' and 14' posts so it's not a continuous roof. There is a 2' clear story between roofs. As it is both the tie beams between bents and the roof rafters between the 14' posts and the 8' posts meets at the same intersection but I feel like I'll be cutting out too much material for tenons if I leave them that way. Which leaves me the option of either lowering the roof rafters or the tie beams between bents. I already will have a through tenon for the beams between bents.

Surely someone here has way more experience than I...
Wasn't sure which forum to ask this question in but found other ram pump threads here so ...

My property consists of almost 6 acres split roughly in half diagonally by a creek. The creek is variable in its rate of flow depending on rainfall and us keeping our dam from leaking. There is a a rise of about 35 feet from the south creek bank to the southwest fence line with the north side of the creek relatively flat with only about a 9 foot rise from creek to north fence where the house is located.

The creek has banks ranging from 10 to 14 feet high which makes it at the very bottom of the property. And this is our challenge. It has very little vertical fall to it. Enough that it will move a leaf downstream but not enough that I would ever consider setting up a water wheel.

We have two smaller rain catchment tanks, one at 550 gal and the other at 225 gal. If we get enough rainfall, the tanks stay relatively full and we are fine. However, if we have years like this one where we didn't get any water for over 4 months and only 1/3 of our spring rains, we are hurting.

But we have the creek which holds water year round if the dam isn't leaking, with a slow flow. And  I know how to build a Ram pump. But how do I create an intake area that will give me enough drop to make it work? Could I run a pipe to a bucket with an outflow at a higher level maybe in series to gain the needed height? Or somehow build a catchment pool to one side that is slightly elevated to the level of the creek?

I know, I'm kind of asking for the impossible here but if anyone can figure out how to make the forces of nature work for me, it's going to be someone in permaculture.
6 months ago
For 20 years I grew 75% of our food, raised goats and chickens, foraged, canned, learned every skill I could for homesteading while living on an urban lot. Over all those years it seemed that having more land would just give me more space to grow more of our food, have a few more animals, get away from the endless neighborhood dramas, etc ... I couldn't wait to move to the country.

Now that I have almost 6 acres in the country I find I'm simply overwhelmed by it all and I just don't get it. I'm not trying to plow up the whole lot and garden endlessly or add ten new varieties of animals so I'm baffled at why I feel so overwhelmed by it all now. Is this a normal thing for new-ish landowners? (we bought the place 2 years ago July)

I am, now, taking care of my mom who has alzheimers which is a challenge but before I had children and special needs foster children, so that comittment to dependents hasn't really changed. We're also renovating an old house ... but we were doing that in town too.

I've tried making lists, setting schedules, focusing on one project at a time and I end up with my brain buzzing, feeling like I've done nothing, accomplished nothing, and worried about the future.

This farm is supposed to be our place of peace and I'm finding it anything but peaceful.

Help. Please.
8 months ago
@chriskott Hay bales ... What a brilliant idea ... much simpler than lugging concrete bags or fiddling with metal sheeting, etc. I'll take pics and post them as we build it.

The beauty of where our land is, is that even though we have folks down stream from us, they probably won't notice anything from our now full time creek. Where it leaves our property, it runs under a road and joins a year-round stream on the other side and then runs along the side of a cattle pasture and into a ravine down a mile or so.

On the other hand our upstream neighbor might notice but hasn't said anything. Since he took a trackho and completely reshaped over 100' of the creek banks/beds without consulting the flood commission (read "no permit" ... "heavy fines") I doubt he will say anything either. But where we have our dam and are planning on the other ones, I haven't noticed much rise in his portion of the creek at all.

As for planting things to take advantage of the localized water ... hmmm, not sure yet. The creek is literally right through the middle of our woodlands and we planned to leave it mostly as a wildlife corridor but clearly if we have changed the local water levels it will benefit our food forest. We have black walnut trees on the creek which we were able to tap for syrup this year, but I don't want tons of black walnut because they are too hard to clean the nut meat from. We found a few blackberry bushes just off the creek so we created a thicket with some thornless varieties in the same area.
9 months ago
I'm not sure this is the correct forum for this questions but I wasn't sure where else to put it. I need someone to explain something that is happening on my land and I have no idea who to ask or what to look up so I thought maybe someone here would have an idea/knowledge/experience to share.

We bought a small acreage with a creek which ran seasonally. Within 10 days of any rain storm it was dry again except for some ponding in a couple of places. We put in a shallow water damn, 8 inches high or so with a spillway to insure we didn't block flow downstream (although during dry times there was no flow at all) and when it rains water flows like the damn isn't there at all. Since we put the damn in we now have a permanent creek. As a matter of fact we haven't had rain for 80 days and yet our creek is still full and flowing over the damn at a trickle.

Honestly, we are kind of baffled by how this happened. How can an 8 inch damn create a permanent creek from one that was only seasonal before?

Second oddity ... we can literally see the line of moisture in the soil rising up the creek bank as time passes. There is a line where the soil is wet below and dry above and it has been climbing ever since the creek began retaining water. Is that normal? Are we raising the water table by capturing water and holding it? Is that even possible?
9 months ago
Oh, thanks for all the replies.

A few answers -
1. We are using a pump to move the water to the house from a storage tank where it is collected via gravity from roof. So we have a pressure tank as well.

2. The spring water vs rainwater ... it isn't that we inherently distrust the rainwater but rather that it is stored in a tank that we have to keep above ground and have no way to keep out bird droppings and fine dust. The rainwater is fine ... the storage of it isn't ... at least not for showers and washing dishes and brushing teeth. I mean, we could drop a chlorine tab in every once in a while but I'd rather not. The spring water comes from an artesian well that we've been collecting water from for over 20 years now. It is tested annually and is amazing. Like it's been through multiple taste tests and wins every single time. It has no sediment from it, no hard water particulates, etc ... The well has been running for over 125 years. We don't buy it pre-bottled. We take our own containers and fill them. It's like a community well. The original owners of the land made it a clause that the well was to remain open and free for all to use in perpetuity.

Thanks for the links. I'm now wondering if I could set up a sand filter for pretreatment before it goes in the storage tank that would abate the bird droppings and dirt issues eliminating the need for further treatment. Hmmm...
10 months ago
Okay then ...

to answer some questions raised -
1. we intend for this to not only have greywater but also combine with rainwater. I'm not sure of the volume of greywater we will have but there will be 4 adults living in the home and possible 2 more depending on circumstances. I had no delusions that the greywater alone would fill the moat. Reading that our greywater addition to the moat will be so small makes me feel like that this is a doable situation for not contaminating any native waterways and for providing moisture for plantings that I don't have to worry about weird stuff being absorbed through the soil.

2. Smell or no smell seems to be a moot point given that the percentage of greywater will be less than 10% of the whole volume of water and we are leaning towards a "pre-moat" area of gravel and reeds to help filter food debris, etc and oxygenate the water.

3. Length and width - Length is pretty set given the space we have. It is 120' from the house to the road, then turn the corner and it's 90' to the drive, 105' to the rainwater wash, and another 80' to the creek. Width and depth are variable at present. Thinking about 4-5 feet wide (difficult for most people to jump in a single bound especially with a steep berm on the other side) and perhaps 3 feet deep. But we've been considering adding fish to the mix after the first 120' run using a net or screen partition to keep them where we want them so we will have to look into what would be appropriate for the type of fish we want to keep.

4. Earthworks - honestly everything we do on our acreage is WORK in capital letters and frankly digging a moat around the edge where there are no trees or roots to contend with and where we can get an excavator in with ease seems much easier than digging a big round pond elsewhere and then contending with the dirt relocation. With the moat we can essentially scrape the dirt out and mound it on one side over a pile of branches and logs, cover with compost, and plant plants.

5. Dumping the water/water absorption ... We'd really like it to be pond-ish if possible, meaning that we would want water in it most of the year if not all year. We have a creek that was seasonal when we bought the place. within 10 days of a rain it was dry again. Fall and winter last year it didn't have enough to even be mud. Then we build a low-water dam... with a continual spill-way on it and it hasn't been dry since. We don't really understand how our two layers of concrete sacks less than a foot high actually created this phenomanom but somehow it did and we aren't arguing with the results. Anywho, the moat, we invision will have a gradual spill to it so that it doesn't flood, in theory, and will add a small trickle to the creek as well at times, maybe. It does get dry and hot here in summer and dry in winter.

6. The purpose of the moat - We had a two-fold purpose in mind. One is to increase the water on the property ... for instance we can build as many ponds as we like so this would just be a different form of a pond. And Two, lol, is not actually about the moat at all but rather the need for the dirt we would remove from the pond. The neighbor to our north is ... how to say this nicely ... an idiot who literally cleared his entire property of trees and filled in all his ponds and sprays his wheat with roundup before harvest and kills any living creature that dares walk across his land ... Naturally we want a barrier between us. On the east is a gravel road. In the summer the dust from the road settles in the grasses and trees and we don't get much infiltration into our property at all but in the winter, when the county mows down all the tall grass for fire prevention, the road dust is insane, Plus the noise from traffic at given times of the day is atrocious. So we wanted to build a berm and then put a fence on top of the berm to abate noise and dust and creepy neighbors. We can only build a 7' fence which isn't tall enough for our landscape but a 7' fence atop a berm would greatly increase our privacy and address our noise issues. I guess there's a 3rd purpose too, to deal with the greywater from the house. It's got to go somewhere.

7. Wildlife issues - I suppose a moat and berm system would work well for some predators but we're not that bothered by wild critters. We have tons of them and figure they were here first. Keeping them out of my chickens is my only goal. I plant extra garden because I know I will lose some. Our goats along with our LGD's are safe by themselves and we fence them up during birthing to protect the babes so that's not really an issue. Our biggest predator is the mountain lion and it would have to be a damn big moat to keep one out. We walk the perimeter every day and keep a look out for tracks. We mainly have raccoons and opossums and deer. We did have a bobcat but they take smaller things like rabbits and our LGD's are about 3x the size of a bobcat so no worries there. Owls and hawks and eagles and peregrins would only increase their population from a moat. Those that fish will have a supply and the water will attract other small critters that they prey on so perhaps a moat like we're discussing would keep them away from our chickens.

All in all this is looking more do-able and less crazy the more I think on it and read other's posts and thoughts on it.

Thanks for chiming in.
10 months ago
Ok. So reading all the replies so far and perusing the web site offered ... one, this won't have toilet use in it so it's not really a septic field with multiple aerated ponds needed. But, I think, I need perhaps an initial sediment filter as it runs out of the house to catch gunk then a settling pond filled with gravel and reeds and then it could flow into the long "moat" also filled with reeds and other plants where it mixes with rainwater and can be reabsorbed slowly back into the ground or used to water trees, lawn, etc ...

So is it feasible to build a sediment sand filter to remove hair, skin flakes, bits of food waste that might be in this greywater? Would that even work on gravity? And would it help to remove some of the soaps that will be in the water as well?

Also what makes the best plants/reeds for this type of system? Cat tails? River cane? water hyacinth(summer only)?

Thanks for the help!
10 months ago