Archive for the ‘Groundworks’ Category

Duck ponds

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

With the building of a duck house, there had to be a duck pond to go with it. or, as it happened, two duck ponds.

In addition to being ponds for ducks, these ponds also form part of the general water-retention strategy for the quinta. The aim is to slow the passage of water through this steep land and spread it as far as possible from the stream, allowing it to infiltrate and hydrate the soils. This promotes the growth of the vegetation which is so essential in improving the soils here. Vegetation decomposes to provide soil carbon. Without soil carbon, these thin soils haven’t a hope of holding onto moisture (or much of their biota) through the hot dry summer months. Irrigation becomes necessary. But build up soil carbon levels enough and eventually irrigation needs are minimal, even zero. So in order to make irrigation unnecessary, it’s initially necessary (at least if any kind of speed is required).

Back to the duck ponds. Or maybe duck puddles would be more accurate. They’re barely large enough to be worthy of the word pond, though they’re more than adequate to keep a couple of ducks happy.

Inlet for the second duck pond

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Ponds four years on

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

It’s been quite a saga, this business of creating unlined ponds. I particularly wanted unlined ponds, because their principal purpose is to provide hydration for their surroundings in the course of slowing the passage of water through the quinta. But as I’ve learned, it takes a while for them to stabilise. There are six of them; two sets of two on the top and bottom terraces above and below the yurt terrace, and another pair of very small duck ponds on the bottom terrace. Small ponds – which these all are due to limitations of terrace width and slope – are much more sensitive to small perturbations.

Spillway between the ponds on the bottom terrace

Spillway between the ponds on the bottom terrace

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Subterranean heating & cooling system

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

The previous post on the geodesic dome greenhouse outlined the logic in choosing a dome for this site and how it was by far the better option for fitting in all the things I wanted to have in this greenhouse. These include an aquaponics system and a bathroom as well as growing space for tropical and frost-tender fruits and vegetables, seed growing areas, a rocket-stove water heater and a worm farm – a fair bit to cram into an area measuring just 7x5m at the outset.

Geodesic dome greenhouse frame

I also wanted to build in a subterranean heating & cooling system (SHCS) to make even better use of all the thermal mass present in the solid bedrock floor and back wall. This is a proven low-tech solution for maintaining comfortable temperatures and humidity levels in the greenhouse year round. It can minimise or even eliminate the need for supplementary heating or cooling.

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Geodesic dome greenhouse

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Back in July 2012 we dug a chunk out of the mountainside in preparation for a ferrocement rainwater harvesting tank. Plans for the tank were later shelved due to budget constraints, but a good use for the site was never in doubt. It’s one of the few parts of the quinta to have sun at winter solstice, so was perfect for a greenhouse.

Geodesic dome greenhouse site

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Swaleage

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

It’s been a long time since this blog was last updated. Those keeping up with us on Facebook will have some inkling of what’s been going on at the quinta in the meantime, but I’ve failed dismally at getting to the more detailed documentation of it all. Mostly a case of too busy doing the doing to be reporting the doing …

Following the successful implementation of a swale system on the bottom terrace last year, this last Spring I put in a similar system on the terrace above it. It’s a narrow terrace with very similar problems to the one below it – soil so dry in summer it barely supported a few fruit trees (which consequently dropped most of their fruit before it got anywhere near ripe) amongst grasses and wildflowers which would be dry and dead by July. In summer, the soil turned to dust in your hand and blew away.

Mid fruit terrace

The terrace when we first saw the quinta in November 2008 – a few neglected fruit trees and a lot of encroaching bracken

Mid fruit terrace

The same terrace in May last year – a few more fruit trees, a lot less bracken, but still a largely barren terrace

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Swales

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Swales – level ditches dug to follow the contours of the land – are one of the principal ingredients of permaculture earthworks which are, by and large, recipes for catching and holding rainwater runoff and encouraging it to slowly infiltrate the soil rather than being lost to the nearest river. Because they’re level, swales don’t channel the water away but hold it in situ until it soaks into the soil. They can be dug to any sort of scale and used alone or, as part of an integrated water catchment system over an entire property, in combination with other elements like ponds, infiltration basins and dams.

Bottom ponds

On narrow terraces and steep mountain slopes with thin soils – ie. here – swales are not something you can use on a large scale, but they can still be useful. When I dug the lower ponds, the effect on the ability of the surrounding soil to support abundant growth was immediate and impressive, but it didn’t extend too far along the terrace. Just 2 metres away the soil was so dry in summer it barely supported a few grasses and wildflowers and would turn to dust in your hand and blow away. So after working out the contours of the terrace, I decided to extend the area of hydration much further along by using the ponds to feed small swales.

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Waterworks completed

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Among many other projects on the go simultaneously last summer was the installation of some water storage capacity and supply lines to the various buildings on the quinta. The design and layout gives a good head of gravity-fed water to all parts of the quinta, and provides buffering for the vagaries of daily stream flow in late summer. The two tanks constructed from pre-cast concrete rings were fairly quick to construct. Finishing them proved more of a problem.

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Timber-framed grey water-processing greenhouse – part 2

Friday, February 14th, 2014

The last post on this build finished with the laying of the chestnut ring beam which forms the base of this sweet chestnut timber frame construction. The next part was to raise the main supporting structure.

Splitting out braces with a small axe

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A grey water processing greenhouse for the main building

Saturday, December 7th, 2013

Another of this last summer’s principal projects has been restarting work on the main building. After the salutary lesson of the badly-built balcony and trellis, this time there would be no short cuts. We started taking apart the roof of the balcony back in spring to reuse the roof tiles on the wee house roof extension, and as work continued there on the toilet and battery house, we frequently raided the balcony for pieces of chestnut timber for floor and roof joists and for pine planking. So when it was finally time to demolish the balcony at the end of May, there wasn’t a whole lot left to take down.

Demolishing the remainder of the balcony

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Waterworks

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Our water supply on the quinta comes from a stream that runs through it, plus a couple of small springs. When we first moved onto the land we collected buckets from the waterfall, then graduated to hose-piping our water direct from the stream for household use and irrigation.

But 2012 changed all that. We had a very dry summer following 2 years of failure of the winter rains. After diminishing to a mere trickle in February, the water in the stream stopped altogether in late August (the village above us used it all), only starting again when the rains did. I installed a 1,000-litre plastic drinking water tank for our household needs, fed mostly by spring water, leaving the stream for limited irrigation. The vegetable garden coped surprisingly well thanks to a lot of mulch, but we lost all our water-hungry plants like squashes. It really focused my attention on how vulnerable we are to drought. Since then I’ve been planning to build in as much water storage as practicable, and collect water both from the stream and from roof rainwater catchment.

Surveying the quinta for the water distribution network

Surveying the quinta for the water distribution network

This summer, along with all the other projects under way, we’ve been putting in some water tanks. Work has been progressing on a small rainwater catchment system for the smaller of the two buildings here, and also on two much larger tanks which will form the main hubs of our water distribution network, supporting both domestic use and irrigation.

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