Geoff Kegs

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since Mar 13, 2011
Northern lower Michigan
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Recent posts by Geoff Kegs

Hi Sarah,

Clay varies in our state significantly in a number of ways and is more or less permeable. If you have impermeable clay you may have to design some way for the soil to drain, (mini swales could be good for this for sure, dug by hand - using a pick axe) and/or you'll have to build a soil above the clay which will require some sand, humus and minerals. Many of the minerals are already in the clay, so what I would do is swale it (shaping the hillside as to slow the water moving down slope by running it along long contours of the hill) first, then add some clean sand and composted chicken manure to the clay, then broadfork it in, and plant it with a "permaculture blend" seed mix, innoculate the soil and start composting if you can (not sure if you raise chickens, but that is a very good asset to use to help you with your soil conditioning chores!) I'd use some cobble and gravel for the overflows and design it carefully

Ideally, you should consider a full spectrum soil test conducted in a lab - the one you got only tests the macronutrients, but there are many more important minerals and nutrients to test for. The tests cost about $50. You should mineralize your soil as necessary to ensure the plants you are growing can make the best of the soil. Soil biota is every bit as important as the minerals to ensure harmony in the soil (harmony in my mind means dark, rich humus). Once you build the soil and maintain it properly, it will work well for you for a long period of time.

Welcome to permies!

I myself haven't been on here for a while, but its an incredible community for knowledge. I hope others chime in as well.


4 years ago

blackpowderbill wrote:

 Never doubt yourself even in a discussion with a PhD...I always tell myself, not everyone graduated at the top of the class.
AND any PhD worth their salt should be able to explain the topic so you/I can understand it.

I'm not looking to feed the world. I'm just looking for a few tips on how to improve my garden, with the understanding that we all don't plant in the same dirt.


I understand what you're saying, but I've been in some conversations with specialists (PhD. level).  I've worked beside several PhD. and post doc folks in the lab, and it is not a problem to explain certain things, but technical aspects have technical terms and if you don't know the terminology it is difficult to communicate.  When it is difficult to communicate, it becomes difficult to gain knowledge.

Technical knowledge is what agriculture is missing the most in the field.  If more commercial, conventional farmers had a higher level of technical knowledge, their interest in going organic (and especially in not signing certain annual seed purchasing agreements) would increase dramatically.

I am slowly moving in the direction of providing assistance to feed a larger portion of the world.  There is no shortage of knowledge lacking in this field.
7 years ago

H Ludi Tyler wrote:
Where do you think it is not possible to use it?

In areas where the soils or climate precludes any possibility of it.  The best example would be Antarctica, but believe me, there are plenty of places around the globe that soils will not support an organic system to grow food.

Also, as noted during the latest podcast by Helen - there are many places we would not want to consider attempting to change the vegetation so that it would become an organic system of producing food for humanity, even if it were possible - because conserving biodiversity is extremely important too (e.g. other critters need to have a habitat).

7 years ago

H Ludi Tyler wrote:
Part of this is learning to eat new things.  Most of the current human diet is made up of something like 6 crops, when there are hundreds (thousands?) that are edible.  But learning to eat unusual plants takes some doing.

Well that's a part, you're right - but that is equivalent of one grain of sand in a dune of issues that essentially dominate the agricultural picture.


I cannot discuss this issue with complete liberty, as I have pending business interests that requires some diligence on my part, but let me just say a few words:

I am an agriculturalist, I have a degree in it, and although I specialize in forest management, I am adept at some level of understanding of how soils produce many different kinds of plants.  I have research, laboratory, and field experience that puts me in a unique position in this sector.  I am nothing special, just a country boy that knows a little bit about plant physiology and soil biochemistry...and when I say a little bit, I mean it.  I cannot even hold a complete discussion with a PhD. level specialist.   

Earlier this year I placed a bid on an international project to redevelop an agricultural area that is having significant problems for a number of reasons.

The primary basis of the previous and current failures of the land in this area is one of poor management of the resources, but the resource was poor to begin with.

We are dealing with an area that supplies an abundance of agri-food products to an urban area of which the basis is REQUIRED inputs to make the leached, highly acidic soil even produce anything - and there are several other layers of problems in addition to that!

I'll just say that we (Americans) are lucky that we have soil at all.  Productive soil, ...and when all is analyzed carefully, that is the most important thing there is on the land and will ever be from our perspective.  Much of it is being liquidated at this moment in multiple ways.

Some regions do not have such resources, and rely on importing a majority of their food.

The agricultural problem is HUGE - This is BIG PICTURE material.  The largest problem I see in this whole score is the economics -   

We are talking about interests in the $ trillions U.S. internationally, with an agricultural system heavily invested in GMO/molecular biology oriented products, chemicals to produce pesticides and high density, high chemically-altered animal farms and $billions U.S. in the farm implement and tractor business.  This entire system is heavily based on petroleum products, the extraction of which continues to cause problems - all things considered - the oil and natural gas folks have been extremely competent in restricting problems, but there is no such thing as perfect.  The costs are higher with non-renewable resources, but the energy:cost ratio is far higher yet - even still in this post peak oil period - but it will not remain that way forever, hence the NON-renewable issue.

To those thinking the organic permaculture system is the way to go, I'm with you.  I 100% support using this system where it is possible to use it - but it is absolutely not possible to use it everywhere.  Small farms are indeed more productive than large ones, but without the application of knowledge (particularly in regard to soil conservation - the most important knowledge actually), even small systems will fail.

Agricultural studies are not only unfinished, they are just beginning.  Local, sustainable agriculture systems are THE way to go for worldwide agriculture.  The challenge is how to redevelop the socio-economic system to encourage it.   

It all starts with proper ethics...and that is where I see the real hard work that needs to be done.  Proper care for the soil is incompatible with greedy money grubbing money men who are hell bent on driving Bentleys around and jetsetting across the world in private jets.

Helen is right about the population though.  She is spot on.  We don't have so much of a population issue in this part of the world, but certainly in other (India in particular) parts there is a crisis ongoing.

We have not reached our carrying capacity of the land - but it is not a good thing to test it.

I'll just leave off there - I've got work to do - see ya!

7 years ago
This would be nicer without spam - anyway, I'll ignore it from here on out.

That was a good podcast.  Very beneficial.

I hope for the sake of general knowledge that you (Paul) have come to the realization that you probably know more like .000000000000001 % of what there is to know about growing food.

It is so incredibly complex that I don't think the combined humanity knows 1% of what there is to know.

Just the biochemistry of the soils alone is ridiculously complex.

What we are trying to do is nothing more and nothing less than a nutrient transition.  Food is nothing more and nothing less than chemistry - but that chemistry has to be right - and in much of modern foods it is most definitely not.

Ideally, sustainability and efficiency are completely dependent on one another.  There are some serious problems with petrochemical based herbicides and much of the studies associated with how some of them affect the soils are ongoing.

This goes far beyond that idea of "hey that stuff is poison - why apply it to the soils?" 

Agriculture is thought of in most places as a sub-profession.  Disrespected, full of uneducated worker class types who don't earn much for a living.  That will be doing a 180 as food prices continue to increase - and especially as we continue on in the post-peak oil era. 

Organic foods will eventually no longer be a luxury.  Eventually, agriculturalists will be held to standards higher than doctors, lawyers, and billionaire moguls.  ...and that time is coming. 

Until then, we only have ourselves to pursue the understanding of Agri-Ecology and how to work within the means of natural biochemistry to ultimately increase the conservative transition of environmental resources to tasty, natural, organic nutrient sinks we typically call food.

We will need to enlist the help of all the resources of those filling ecological niches in the environment.  That means including animals. 

forests are the future of food.  We will depend more than ever on species diversity in the future - the same humans are destroying today.

I like the idea of a continuous harvest.  It can work just like we think it can - but the idea is ahead of the society.

7 years ago
Jim A: Thanks for your comments!

It makes perfect sense about lower insulation not being as effective as the side insulation due to the idea that warm air moves upward and of course convection is more prominent above the grade, but there is some conduction that happens in the basement - I am certain that is the case here.  

Right now I am trying to heat the ground below with the air just above it - which I know is not entirely dry - with a heat pump - and that is some of the waste of heating this home.  I am 100% certain insulation under that slab would have paid for itself during the nearly 10 years we have lived here.  One of our lessons here about efficiency is concerning windows.  We love the outdoors and because of that, we overglazed.  We have good windows, but good windows are what, the equivalent of R3?    ops:

I am still stuck on the roof part for the new design - steel = $$ and living roof = structural support for heavy loads which is of course $$$.  Even if I consider ferro cement or a geodome roof under consideration, which might save $ in construction costs, either involves paying a consulting civil engineer to put his stamp on it for the bldg. inspector., which will be at least $$.  I could make it a shed roof to decrease roofing costs which I have considered, but any reasonable pitch to offset snow loads puts the South side quite high, increasing air volume which would decrease efficiency dramatically.  This is another area I need to consider some.

Passive solar storage---> I have just thought of a new (to me) way of working with this.  The idea involves heat storage UNDER the foundation, not on the sides or parallel to the structure as is most often discussed.  Think of an insulated basement full of dry sand insulated from 8' down to above grade to a N/S block wall vented slab with external solar collectors running a closed loop buried coil at about 6' below grade.  Like I said, I have a great deal of issues to work out on this idea - and don't know if its been done or not, but my idea is to apply the concepts of accumulated solar energy storage, but avoid the moisture control issues of living in essentially, a walk-out basement with Southern exposure.  I am probably going to be learning a lot about Passive heat storage volume calculations shortly.

For humidity and fresh air options in the unreasonable season, I will be using some sort of heat recovery ventilator - probably not a commercial model, but rather a non-electric system of some sort.  Again, another piece of the puzzle to work out - and there are a lot of them: Convection, conduction, radiation, storage timing, and of course the monotonous code requirements - some of which a variance may be necessary since much of code still assumes a growing economy from fossil fuels, which is a questionable forecast, at best.

Aesthetics and comfort of course is important, but our primary goal is an attempt at using -0- energy for heating and off-the-grid sustainable power for all else.  Can it be done up here?  I don't know, but I'm very likely going to attempt it sooner rather than later.  

Also: wanted to add that I just got back from the library.  I checked out 5 books:

Got Sun? Go Solar by Ewing & Pratt.
The Straw Bale House by Steen, Steen & Bainbridge w/Eisenberg
The Passive Solar House by Kachadorian
The Superinsulated Home Book by Nisson & Dutt
Sun/Earth Buffering and Superinsulation by Booth, Booth & Boyles

I hope to have this info digested and notes summarized in a few weeks.  I am bound to learn something from every one of them and every one of you, so up front right here and now I just want to say thanks to all participating and of course to Mr. Paul who is keeping it real.  

solarguy (Troy):

Today   I am very much favoring going super-insulated using a load bearing 2-string straw bale system (R~55) on all 4 sides and essentially atop what is a frost-free insulated slab.  I still have a lot to work out, but I am going for 100% passive solar heating efficiency.

I admit that I have not seen this showcased yet in any design in the entire state, so my challenge is laid out in front of me.  

I think we have pretty much settled on a house plan layout that is <700 sq. ft. interior dimensions.  

I expect that all the windows I will put in, I will do so by installing on both the inside and outside of the bale wall (e.g. *2* double pane windows in each location with the inside window being slightly larger than the exterior window on the South side.  I already have a bunch of windows I got for free that I can use for this so we should be golden (or nearly) there.  

There will be a double wall UV stabilized polycarbonate greenhouse incorporated into the design of this house on part of the South side of the house - which will probably incorporate a 3-way vestibule - in the case of windows that are on the inside of that barrier (interior of hay bale house side, no need to put in the second window, as that envelope will suffice for slowing the heat loss of the interior window.  If I find it doesn't, on go additional windows.  In the case of one code required egress window outside of the greenhouse, I will work out other details for that.

I agree that cellulose trumps fiberglass.  Depending on what code requires, and/or what is practical to build within our budget constraints (which is quite small), we may incorporate cellulose for roof insulation.  I wish we would have used that here, but I will let another owner update that for this house if they so wish.   This home would be best occupied by a family of 4 or more for full occupancy of the house.

Heating with a biodiesel stove = that is awesome!

I will comment more once I have spoken to the building inspector and get a heads up on what I can or cannot do in the location where I plan on building.  I may be building this year (probably) or next, or later if something really unusual happens - you never know - whenever this happens, I will definitely post pics of the info on here when I actually get going on it.

7 years ago
H Ludi Tyler Thank you.  Bookmarked and going to check it out now.

H Ludi Tyler wrote:
This might come close:

7 years ago
HastingR: Thank you.

I have read some about Earth tubes and will research that some more.

I like the RMH and may wind up installing one - depending on what code allows for and potential venting options.  I know it will have to be modified right off since code requires a fresh air inlet for all wood burning stoves & fireplaces - which just makes sense from an architectural standpoint.

The average temperature in my location is 43 degrees Fahrenheit.  In this location, ambient Earth temp under ff grade is 55 degrees Fahrenheit (I have monitored this for some time here).  I expect it to be within a degree at the new building site, which is 15 minutes to the North.  Due to local topography, the new site gets quite a bit more snow - don't have the figures for it since it is due to a micro climate and unmonitored AFIK.

I would expect any reasonable heating system would be able to allow the interior of the home to moderate at 71 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year and that would be my target for the interior of the house.  If it's a few degrees +/-, that's fine.

If/when I leave the house for the winter, I would expect it to never freeze so long as the glazing and doors are intact.

JIM: I checked that book and there are no copies available for download right now from here (on the mel cat) - I'll check back later - thanks for that info - looks like a useful book.

hastingr wrote:
Cooling a luxury?  Hardly!

Ok, so what about earth tubes.
use a couple 50 yd 4" pipes, buried six feet.
search for earth tubes in that page.

It will bring your incoming air up to ambient earth temp (probably 55-60 F where you live) and you can provide the rest with a RMH. But even if you RMH fails (how can it fail?  I don't know:-) your temp will still be well above freezing and well above "cold enough to be really uncomfortable"


7 years ago

paul wheaton wrote:

It's important that folks present their position without suggesting that other folks on permies are anything less than perfect.

Cooling in the South is a luxury because it is solely comfort based.

Heating in the North is not a luxury because it prevents water in pipes from freezing, pipes from bursting, and residences from flooding.

Should ONE be so unlucky as to be caught in the winter in Northern lower Michigan and attempt to chip the ice out of a wash basin on a winter morning, ONE would likely find that it has frozen solid through and learn that it's not as forgiving as other places with a longer reasonable climate.


7 years ago

This is primarily about applying the most clever conceptual thermodynamic design.

Any physicists out here?  

PAHS using external solar collectors with tube/radiators filled with calcium chloride hexahydrate to help increase heating the 20' extended umbrella/shell of sand?

Bermed Earthbags for efficient PAHS ground heat transfer on 3 sides inside frost-free grade envelope except South wall where straw bale wall construction uses double pane glass on the interior and exterior of the walls, or, in the area where an extended greenhouse will be on the South side, then just double pane glass on the exterior (inside the double wall UV stabilized polycarbonate greenhouse wall.  Also, straw bales outside of the frost-free grade envelope - top 4' of walls around structure, and 2 courses inside the South ends of the East and West walls ought to do it.

I haven't got the ceiling/roof worked out yet - but (obviously) it will be super-insulated as well, and I might consider designing it around this Zero energy design guy's idea of circular air conduction 2x insulative shell on N/S/B/T sides idea.  

Any ideas on super cheap ways to build roofs that lack maintenance for a very long time and can take a fairly heavy snow load?  Roof will be above grade.  I am thinking about a 6/12 pitch and minimal area.  I am thinking ferro cement, and may even go circular with the roof design - not sure yet.

All of your ideas were and still are appreciated - more please!  

There are a LOT of piece of information out there on how to do this.
Seemingly, there is no once source of information on how to build with extreme efficiency.
7 years ago