Richard Henry

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since Jan 06, 2018
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Recent posts by Richard Henry

Freyda, very good cautions on use of potentially invasive plants.  For example, you live in Chemung County, NY.  In New York State, Black Locust is a regulated plant considered invasive.  They have become issues in many eastern US states and even in the native state of Indiana they have become a problem due to their movement into prairie and savanna areas.  Part of the issue is the fact they can spread clonally and they modify soil chemistry which may enhance other invasive plants while degrading native plant varieties.  In some areas, Autumn Orange is considered invasive as is multifloral rose.  Please check local regulations.  While they may provide good results in a local and controlled environment, they will escape (note positive statement, it was meant) and then the damage is just beginning.  Even hazelnuts can increase potential damage to some other members of the family.  For example, American and beaked hazelnuts harbor Eastern Hazelnut blight which do not bother them, but will damage and even kill European hazelnut family members if nearby.  I realize this is sort of a reverse invasive situation, but you get the idea.  Things are not always as straightforward as one might hope.

Now, here is a subject that will likely create some discussion.  Has anyone found research indicating that use of whole used tires as stabilization structures for soil berms is harmful to the environment?  I have engaged in some scanning to find any studies and have found none.  There are plenty of studies on the degradation and action of ground or chipped tires in soil, but none on how they might react to being piled in a berm with no exposure to direct sunlight.  It would seem, from looking at old tires, that degradation of buried tires is minimal.  That would indicate they might allow construction of a steeper berm.  This would mimic the old stone walls found throughout the Northeast of the U.S.  Shrubs or small trees could be planted on top to increase resistance to animals, but the use of tires, if staked, to reinforce those walls would make such construction much easier and remove them from the piles where they can catch fire or create concentrated toxic runoff.  It could provide for a smaller footprint to go along with that.  I have made ground stabilizing mats from tires bolted together to hold gravel for field roadways across temporary runs.  This reduces erosion and lessens the potential for development of gullys.  Once buried, the tires are kept from the sun and degradation, if any is slowed considerably.

Now to the open discussion that is a hallmark of permies.  What say you?
2 months ago
Fascinating discussions on small ponds.  Note on outside soil pressure on walls.  Check the type of soil backfill.  If it is rich in clay, absolutely ensure drainage away from walls and higher water level inside to provide pressure against the walls.  Clay, especially very plastic clay (when wet, try to form a ball.  A highly plastic and often expansive clay will form a tight ball that holds together if dropped.  Gravel or dry silt tends to provide less pressure.  Keep an eye on the vertical crack to see if it widens.  Another way to check if the wall is under outside pressure would be to put a straightedge across it.  If it remains the same from year to year, it is not likely under pressure.

I have a farm pond I built along with my father in the early 60's.  It provides a home for waterfowl, fish and several eagles, Bald, Golden and Osprey.  I use it for water for the garden.  I have a couple of tanks I fill periodically  then use to water plants.  That water is like hitting them with rapid grow.  

It should be remembered that concrete will set under water - actually better than in the air.  If mixed with some micro-silica, it becomes hydraulic cement.  Making a dry mix and placing it in some burlap can hold it in place if pushed against a vertical wall for a day or two.

Phosphorous is difficult to remove from lake or pond sediments.  It tends to tie up in the sediment until the water cleans a bit and then more is released into the water.  This was one reason for the ban on phosphorous fertilizer along the Great Lakes.  It takes a very long time to actually reduce the total phosphorous in the lake due to this natural storage and release mechanism.  Grey water is often best run through a 100 feet of sand if possible.  That way many of the particles get filtered out.  60 years ago, only 50 feet of sand was thought adequate.
3 months ago
I hope that all are considering true bamboo, which is a grass.  There is another plant called "Japanese bamboo" which is not a true bamboo.  It has the scientific name "Polygonum Cuspidadum" and is a major invasive plant (for those who use British names, it is called Fallopia japonica).  While it is very useful in some applications, I would not recommend it for hugelkultur as it contains some compounds that retard germination and growth of many plants.

The vast majority of this plant is a clone that can grow from pieces of root.  A piece the size of a thumbnail can regenerate from 3' below ground surface.  These plants outcompete neighboring plants due to very fast and tall growth and create very troubling stream channel challenges.  They do not have rootlets, so do not hold streambank soil during flooding.  This can choke the streams, damage the biota and lead to rapid sedimentation.  This is a true Jeckell and Hyde plant that needs to be controlled.
5 months ago
Oh, wow!  Did this hit a long-standing sore spot!  I have been in construction for over 60 years.  I hate to have to tell you, but it is not just sand that is in failing supply.  It is aggregate as a whole.  Certain use cases have required shipping of sand across oceans (really).  Much of the issue, IMHO is the engineers involved in construction.  Story from when I began working with FEMA on disasters.  I was asked to accompany an inspector to a site visit since I was a hydrologist.  My background included excavation, construction, geotechnical soils work and graduate environmental hydrogeology.  When I got to the site, we were reviewing a lock on the Erie Canal located in the Mohawk River.  A small feeder stream, the Schoharie Creek, had created a sand bar immediately below where it entered the much larger Mohawk River.  The bar, after the latest flood, had expanded to where it was causing problems with the lock gates on the upstream side.  Since, at that time, the NY Thruway Authority owned the Canal Corp, there were at least 40 to 50 engineers and official wandering around discussing how much money the State needed to remove the sand bar.  The general consensus came to a federal share (@75%) of about $750,000.00.  I looked at the situation and asked a simple question.  Since the area was moderately mature, construction-wise, aggregate and sand was hard to come by.  Would not a gravel company jump at the opportunity to mine the sand bar since removal was needed anyway?  Dead silence.  A couple of weeks later, I saw the inspector and asking how his project was coming.  His response?  "No project."  They had asked a gravel company if they would like to mine the sand bar for free and had gotten an enthusiastic "Yes!"  No federal or state funding was needed to fix that problem.

Far too often, I have seen engineers build bypass channels for flood water only to create massive sand bars in rivers that then begin to force the river to eat out the opposite bank.  I know of one, financed and managed by the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) that continues to create that damage to a living stream.  Every levee and dam placed in a stream tends to create similar problems.  One reason the Corps of Engineers (USACE) has to continually dredge the Mississippi River is that their levees create sedimentation traps that drop washed gravel and clays in areas that then reduce the levees' carrying capacity.  The Rio Grande River silts up regularly due to controlled release of muddy water from upstream dams (only one of dozens of examples I am aware of).  Because there is insufficient flooding to clean the channel, vegetation grows on sediments, forcing future flood water to run, often miles out of the channel.  Of course, when high velocity water hits normal ground, it digs new channels, moving the sediment downstream to create more problems.

I have not even begun to describe the environmentally damaging and unsustainable use of placing sand on beaches.  That job nets the USACE billions annually.

Normal farming eats soil away.  It either blows away or runs off in heavy rains.  Many areas of the midwest that had several yards of topsoil are down to precious feet.  All that material is aggregate that flows down our rivers and into the sea.  While on its journey, it creates one issue after another.  Practices such a permiculture are one of the best defenses, but are still too small to stem the bleeding of our aggregates.  And then someone wants a particular concrete and ships aggregate from some poor area to a richer one.  Yes, the local community is getting work, but at what price?  That aggregate is finite.  Of course some governments allow massive damage.  To build the Three Rivers Gorge in China in an attempt to control flooding on the Yangtze (Yellow) River, they placed explosives and dropped entire gorge walls into the river and built on top of the rubble.  Of course they also relocated over 3 million people, but to the ruling Party, that was a small price to pay.  Of course, massive damage was absorbed by the mighty river, but who cares?

The issue with sand and grinding glass is often silicosis, a disease created when someone breathes in silica dust or ground mica or any other form of micro-silica.  It cuts the lung tissue and makes breathing hard, if not impossible.  Control such dust with sprays of water, use ball mills to grind up sandstone or shale.  Sandstone is the best source of bedrock to turn into sand.  It is composed of sand, thus the name.  Shale is not as useful due to the fact that shale is composed of very fine sand, silt and clay.  

Back in the 50's, cinders from the railroad and coal furnaces was used to make cinder blocks.  It has been found that old cinder block, after 40 to 50 years (far less if exposed to flood waters) will disintegrate and fail as a structural material, who knew?  It was a cheap use for what was considered a waste product and allowed homes to be constructed for the poor or monetarily disadvantaged.  Those homes are now being used by minorities, senior citizens and the disability community - often in flood plains.  Throwaway people in throwaway homes.  But I digress.  Sometimes I know too much and it has to come out.
5 months ago
There are several potential methods.  The black fabric followed by white is interesting, but most areas can receive strong winds.  For example, my home is located on a bench higher than most hills west of me.  We always laugh at high wind warnings unless they exceed 45 mph.  Even a 30 mph wind, however will move a lot of fabric cover unless it is anchored.

For late frosts, a floating row cover anchored over a row or swath of plants can be supplemented by using recycled milk or water jugs.  So long as the jug does not contain toxic materials, it can be used.  I have successfully used this for decades for sensitive squash, melon and other plants.  For heavy protection, place two jugs on the NW and NE sides of each plant.  They generally need clear space from weeds and the jugs sitting on soil tend to assist there as well.  The floating row cover helps to keep insects away as well as deer (deer really fear any white moving material - kicks in their flight instincts).  

I also used sprinklers one year where we had frost every month. Each morning with frost, I would open the valve and blow accumulated ice from the hose then hook up the sprinklers and soak the plants before the sun rose.  That way, you cover the generally coldest time of the night frost and water plants for the day at a time when the water is best placed. Water releases a major amount of heat as it cools, if it is on plants, it tends to warm the vegetation slowly and the cells do not rupture as much, if at all.

Best system I ever saw was a geodesic greenhouse in VT.  They installed a circular pool in the center and planted the periphery. Fish were raised in the pool (trout in winter and catfish in summer) while the water kept the growing area warm enough to grow Cruciferous vegetables all winter while cold-sensitive plants were able to extend their growing season significantly.  If one wants to be even more efficient, plant bags of peat moss with drip systems over the pool.  I would suggest a wheel axle in the center to allow a balcony or two for tending/harvest.  A geodesic dome should have a central pier to hold the center down anyway.  With cold weather dome covers above the hanging plants, some really interesting fruits and vegetables could be grown and it would make for a relaxing area to inhale the extra oxygen from the plants while resting.
6 months ago
Wow!  This looks awesome, but a potential ton of work.  I was wondering, we have an old fence tensioner for barbed wire, but I have had to deal with so much old rusty barbed wire that I decided some time ago to go with the barbless version.  My thoughts would be to set the posts and run smooth, barbless wire with tension.  The laths or other vertical wood could be set through the horizontal wires with alternating one side and then the other.  Once set in the appropriate section, use ironworker tie wires.  A hooked spinner on a wood handle hooks through the end loops of the ties and then spins the wire tight.  That way, it is simple to not only set up the wire base, but the laths could be replaced if necessary easily.  Using tie wires would allow one to keep the base off the wet ground and would increase lifespan significantly although some animals will try to dig under the fence.  Even my chickens will dig along a fence .  One answer for that is to place poles along the fence bottom that can be readily replaced every couple of years.  Two to three alongside each other will keep most critters on one side or the other.  Using a line trimmer can keep the weeds at bay.  I have a DR push unit that cuts wonderfully in such conditions.
6 months ago
I have been enjoying all the replies and now see that the need has once more reared its head.  A safety note should be considered - Electricity can be considered much like water in that voltage is much like water pressure.  The more pressure, the easier it is for a leak or jump of the fluid to points one does not want them to jump.  In other words, 12dc is much more forgiving with respect to arching, but does not flow as far as 120v ac.  If you have space issues, I would opine that a pair of 10ga wires (unless you have copper water lines for the water heater or out to the well - then you have a common ground that would simplify wiring).  Have the outside wire(s) coiled up and ready to hook to your battery (ensure that the vehicle is running to reduce shock to your signal booster from voltage regulators kicking in after starting).  If only one wire is used as a positive, set the ground to hook the negative from the vehicle to a pipe or ground wire off the entrance line to create a complete circuit.  (Of course that works only if you have a standard, in my area, negative ground system on the vehicle.  
Set up your pure sine inverter in the basement next to your signal booster.  The shorter the connection from your inverter, the better the chance things will work smoother.
BTW, I had the same question regarding pure sine vs modified sine inverters, but no one explained the difference.  Maybe all on this thread are aware, and I am showing my ignorance, but here goes:  Modified sine inverters are not capable of providing a pure, clean source of electricity for sensitive electrical gear but are more common in the marketplace since they are generally way cheaper.  Pure sine inverters produce a smoother frequency electrical signal which helps sensitive electronics last longer on average.  Pure sine inverters should be used when one has expensive electronics hooked or for those who require a big kick to get started.  Modified sine inverters are good for general electrical tools and things like toasters, electronic heaters, etc.
It should be noted that it would be possible to run a deep cycle battery in the laundry room and make a short run from it to the inverter.  I would suggest to place it in a battery box to isolate it from any concrete floor, not so much to worry about lost charge (unless it gets really dirty) but more to protect the floor from potential acid due to overcharging or leaks - hey, they happen.  An inexpensive battery maintainer would keep the deep cycle topped off and replace power once it is used.  While your area has less potential for cold weather, this also would help someone in cold country by keeping the battery in a warmer location which helps maintain full charge.
8 months ago
I would consider a system I have had in mind for several decades, just no time to work out the bugs, yet.  It starts with a wood gasifier then pushes the wood gas into a combustion chamber that creates steam in a closed loop system.  The steam then moves into an external combustion engine (steam engine) that spins a generator to provide all the power needed.  Once the steam leaves the engine, it is directed to a valve that moves the hot water either through a storage tank for local use as hot water or heat or to a underground water storage tank to hold until needed.  Hot water can also be directed to an ammonia cooling system that cools air in buildings and can be used to cool refrigerators or freezers to hold food.  I was intending to create a freezer that was round.  The shelves would be pie shaped and would lift upward from a fixed base to access.  I expected the shelves could be rotated around a central shaft to allow ready access from one side/location.  The central section would be a freezer and around that would be a refrigerator that cooled by the frozen core.  Short spurts of warm water from storage would prevent icing.  A fan would run internal air through a dehumidifier that would produce potable, distilled water and help to keep humidity in the cooler low.  The fan would run on a timer based on defrost activity.  Lifting shelves from the freezer and refrigerator would reduce heat flow into the main unit and would lower moisture introduction.

If needed, extra cooling could be directed into a greenhouse nearby to warm the ground and any power not created by local solar or wind could be utilized from the gasifier generator system.  If one had chickens, some heat could be on tap during cold weather to run through floors or raised beds holding chicks and to keep drinking water from freezing for the big birds or livestock.  Stone/cob raised bed structures would provide a smoother temperature transition and could also be used in the greenhouse for tender seedlings or cold-sensitive plants.  LED lighting at 6500 degrees Kelvin would supplement winter light deficits. Those lights could run off the generator or solar or other partial energy source.

The gasifier would produce charcoal that could be pulverized and mixed with animal nitrogen to create biochar.  The feedstock for the gasifier was aimed at using waste brush and wood chipped and stored in a crib similar to the old corn cribs farmers used when I was young.  Augers would move chips from crib storage to gasifier based on weight in the unit.  Old silage filling units could be converted to provide the auger system although some might use a chain drive similar to what older manure spreaders used to move manure from bed to spreaders mechanisms.

I really wanted to find a rotary steam engine as that would seem to provide the most efficient generator as they have fewer moving parts.  An old piston system would work, but not as elegantly.

It was envisioned that this would provide a cycle of use for waste wood around a farm (at least when brush is abundant and requires regular cutting).  This works best in limited environments, but I expect other waste carbon sources might be utilized such as rice hulls, waste vegetable material, etc.  In my neck of the woods, brush is a constant chore, so that was a drive for this concept back in the day.  Take a chore and make it an asset.  If one had sufficient livestock, manure could be digested in a methane generator that would enhance the heater driving the steam engine.  It could also be sent trough a diesel engine to turn a generator as an added and excellent backup system.  The waste from methane generation is subject to enhanced uptake by crops with far less off gassing and better nutrition without need for as much artificial fertilizer.

It would take careful calculations to keep the system balanced, although, if one was developing steam or electric farm equipment, it could be quite large.  Just some musing from a dreamer.  I hope some enjoy this flight of fancy.
8 months ago