Resilience Thinking

“When it comes to resilience, what’s important is that the different organisms that form part of the same functional group each have different responses to disturbances… …If there are a large number of different response types, the service provided by a functional group is likely to be sustained over a wider range of conditions, and the system has a greater capacity to absorb disturbances.” – Brian Walker and David Salt, Resilience Thinking

Redundancy is a goal, not a label; we need to get busy getting creative. The authors also describe those disturbances and “creative destruction”, which breaks down stability and predictability (say a Hurricane to the Gulf or Peak Oil for you and me) but at the same time releases tremendous amounts of resources for innovation and reorganization. Change is Here. What we need now is organic millions of organic, diverse, and innovative solutions to build a new regime and redefine normal at a more resilient level.

This is our challenge; This is our calling.

Be the Change!

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Midden L’eau Chaude: The Big Build

Load #2 being dumped for a total of about 17 cu yards (13 cu m). Let's do this.

Last summer I built the Methane Midden which was inspired by Jean Pain’s epic work in 1970 France.    It was big, it was a little insane, and ultimately it didn’t work. Don’t get me wrong – it made a syck amount of compost, but it failed to meet my goals of also producing methane and hot water.  Time to do better.  The second Midden will focus on Hot Water (L’eau Chaude) with a dedicated heat exchanger and will be even larger.  Not only that, but I wanted to learn how much material it truly takes to make one of these so I also sourced all the biomass myself from two local farms, dropping literally hundreds of invasive buckthorn and honeysuckles as well as aggressive “weed” trees such as red mulberry and box elder over a week and then renting a 27hp Vermeer chipper to grind them up.  It was awesome!

This post is pretty epic itself – I opted for smaller photos in the post to keep the overall post length a bit shorter – click on them for a 600×800 shot.   This really should have been 2-3 posts, but I spent more time working than writing.  Skim or read it all the way through at your preference.  Total work covered in the build is 3 weeks, with another 1.5 in the biomass acquisition.  These are “puttering” time lengths – I am always working on 4-10 projects at a time :).

With the material on site it was time to get it soaking.  One of the keys to Jean Pain style brushwood composting is to soak the material for 2+ days to ensure that the chips are saturated to supply the pile with enough water to sustain it for months.  One of the problems I ran into early on is that of scale.  I can only soak about 6 yards of material at a time, which limited me to 1.5 batches a week with my days off and the shorter daylight of Fall.  All told it took over 3 weeks just to soak all the material.

Giant 375 gln (1420 l) totes I bought off of craigslist a few years back for $25 each. Why? Why not!

Once the material was soaking it was time to prep the ground.  I spent a day spreading the old Midden around the gardens.  This was unreal – never before have I had 8+ yards of compost to spread all at once.  EVERYTHING got mulched.  Yes, spreading compost by the wheel barrow load (40 of them!) is as fun as it sounds.  I will say it again and again – COMPOST is the true point of the Middens – gathering energy from them is merely function stacking an intrinsically useful activity.

As this pile was going to be 50% larger I had some concerns about it breathing well.  At one point I had myself talked into laying out 4″ perforated drain tile for air circulation, but thought better of it for several reasons.

Cupplant, Sunchoke, and Sunflower stalks forming the passive air circulating foundation to the Midden. After the winter it turns into humus and sequesters carbon. Regenerative waste stream? Check.

First – it added expense and resources.  I like to keep the plastic to a minimum; while not afraid to use energy or resources for the Greater Good, I also like to use natural products whenever its feasible.  Second, Jean Pain never did so I’m not even sure its necessary.  My solution was simple – I cut down a half dozen Cupplants that were nearby in the prairie garden that serves a insectary habitat near my permaculture guilds.  The thought is that these will allow air to come in slowly from the under the pile as they decompose themselves.  Basically the same reason you are often told to put twigs under a normal passive compost pile.

Now, the observant amongst you will notice a piece of .5″ conduit stuck in the ground with a tape measure  in front of it.   Of course there is a very good reason for this.  The Midden LC will have a 3′ (1 M) diameter core of brushwood that will be wrapped with 1″ tubing, but I am getting a bit ahead of myself.    With the base down, it was time to get building.

The Core

The core diameter of 3′ was chosen for the simple reason that hot composting seems to benefit from a minimum dimension of at least a meter.  Build a pile smaller than this, and you won’t get hot enough.   One of the downfalls of the Methane Midden is that the layout forced a width of only 2′ in most cases.  I thought that the straw bales insulation would be enough.  I was wrong.  Back to basics then.  Getting wood chips to form a cylinder can take some doing.  Luckily I had enough 2′ garden fencing in the garage to make a “mold”.  The thought was to cut the fencing to the circumference of a 3′ diameter circle.  Time for fun with math!

4' (1.2 m) tall Core. As I unwrapped the fencing, I would wind 150' (45 m) or so tubing around the chips to keep them in place.

A circle’s circumference is Pi x the Diameter of a circle; 3.14 x 3′ = about 9.5′.  Done.   Now, when you cut the fencing – leave the “nubbins” on the cuts – this works well to fold around once you get the circle made – think giant velcro.  The conduit I stuck in at ground zero and measured 18″ off each side to center the core column.  Then it was simply a matter of schlepping in the soaked chips.  About every 8″ (22 cm) or so I tamped the chips well with a 12# (5kg) sledge hammer.  Once I had 2′ tamped in place, I unhooked the fencing and unwound it.  Thanks to the tamping, the chips stay in place very well.  I then wrapped the fencing on the top of the cylinder with about 2″ (5 cm) of overlap on the bottom.  Then I started wrapping the heat exchanger around.

I love this shot. It really shows how stable the chips are with tamping (walking on it at this point). Jean Pain didn't use molds, just slapped it all in place with a pitchfork and walked on it.

This progressed 2 times until the core got about 5′ tall.  At this point I was becoming somewhat concerned that the column could topple, despite how stable it seemed.  Redoing it at this point would SUCK, so I opted to switch gears and work on the outer “donut” of biomass.  The thought here was to again use the 1 meter width of material to maximize the bio-reaction of the thermophilic bacteria.  Having 3′ of material on each side of the exchanger giving the Midden L’eau Chaude a total diameter of a bit over 9′ (2.75 m).  The other important reason to start building out the “donut” was that stacking, and especially tamping, the Core was getting difficult as it was over shoulder height for me at this point.  With a 2′ tall rim around the Core I could bring it up to its goal of 6’+ bringing the total heat exchanger length to over 550′ (168 m).  The heat exchanger needs a bit of explaining since it is critical to the Midden, so here goes.

The Heat Exchanger


550′ (168 m) of 1″ (2.5 cm) polyethylene irrigation tubing. Never one to be modest… this is a work of art.

This is the finished heat exchanger and I won’t even try to be modest.  It’s GORGEOUS!.  The water will come in the bottom, spiral up for 6′ and then take two larger loops back down to exit the pile.  Why this way?  It has a lot to do with temperature gradients.  Heat transfers best the larger the temperature differential (delta T).  The final goal is to that the water entering the pile at about 80 F (26 C) and exiting north of 120 F (49 C).  The bottom of these piles are cooler (heat rises!), but will still be rather warm.  As the water in the exchanger warms it is also climbing up through the pile, which is also getting hotter.  The thought is that there will always be a delta T of 20+ degrees between the pile and the water in the tubing.  Slick, huh?  Now wth is up with the big looping spirals?  The poly tubing kinks somewhat easily, so I chose to take 2 revolutions to expand the diameter of the spirals and slowly increase the degree of bend up to my final exit point. Now some final thoughts on the exchanger.  First, I would shift the hole thing up a foot.  Starting 4″ from ground level like I did will not add much heat to the water, whereas there is over a foot above the top of this column now that I am done.  I had thought that the top would be cooler, but that is not the case – no matter how much I pile on the heat just comes right through it: put your exchanger to within 6″ of the top without fear as long as the pile is hot.  Can you see I am already planning Midden #3?  But for now we need to bury that exchanger. Fleshing out the Midden

 

Taking shape! This is about 12 cu yards ( 8 cu m) with a current height of 5.5′ (1.7 m) and a 9′ (2.7 m) diameter. Awesome.

To keep the pile nice a tidy, and also to ensure that I could still walk around it, I again used a garden fence mold for the 9′ (2.7 m) diameter “donut”.  this time I opted for 3′ tall fencing.  The outer section takes an immense amount of material to fill – it was almost 2 weeks to get it to this point as the pile at this point was over 12 cu yards and weighed over 6 tons due to the sopping wet chips.  Remember that I could only do 5-6 yards at a time as the chips had to soak for several days.

 

I had intended to unwrap and re-wrap the fencing again, but in the end chose to leave it on and switch again to an insulating rim of straw, which I ended up stacking 3 tiers high.  It gets significantly colder here in southern Wisconsin than in Jean Pain Provence with winter lows dropping to -15 (-26) at least once or twice.  Time to break out the dump truck again!  Back to Craigslist and I contacted a farmer about 4 miles away with 70 bales of Oat Straw.  I would need about half that for the Midden, but filled up the truck to mulch the beds as well.

BART holds 48 bales of straw. I am not saying *everyone* needs a dump truck. But in my case I am making a good argument..

With the straw in place around the fencing, I then stacked a third tier of straw to form the mold for the final several yards of material.  In the shot at right the pile is nearing 7′ (2.1 m) tall which was the goal.  At this point I was nearing the end of the biomass and began to focus on rounding out the pile and maintaining the 3′ length from the heat exchanger as much as possible.   Was incredibly pleased with how the Midden was literally shaping up.  Sometimes a project just CLICKS.  This was one of those!

Gap left for the pump installation. You can FEEL the heat coming from the pile, the core of which is 150+ (66 C) at this point. Dang sucka.

Jean with one of his piles. As you can see his heat exchanger loops would have gone around the OUTSIDE of mine. Then again his piles crested 80 tons - 10x as big as mine. Jean was a visionary, and I am honored to be able to promote his work for a new generation.

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Ecological Yardening Workshop

Coming up in just two short weeks will be Onestraw’s first ever Ecological Yardening workshop.  Learn how in just 4 years we have worked to transform our denuded new suburban yard into the beginnings of a more sustainable system by building soils, capturing runoff, planting useful plants, and tying it all together with linked systems to magnify the results that mimic the productivity and beauty of nature.  Learn more at SomedayGardens.com/events.

Ecological Yardening Flyer.

We will also be doing a “Bountiful Backyards” tour of our gardens Friday 8/21 from 5-7pm.  Cost is $10

one.straw.rob@gmail.com for more details

-Rob

Methane Midden: 2 Week Update

When we left the Methane Midden 2 weeks ago it was 75% finished and consisted of 2 55 gallon steel drums destined to be batch methane digesters wrapped in 290′ of garden hose for temperature management.  Around these digesters we then placed 4000#’s of freshly chipped green brush that had been soaked for 2 days in some giant totes and into this soaking wet brush we layered another 240′ of hose which is intended to absorb heat from the pile and complete it as a mini version of Jean Pain’s epic methane and hot water producing brush compost piles.  Much has happened in the past 2 weeks, so lets catch up!

First off, we needed to finish the pile with another 18″ of material.  Alas, we were out of brush, so we needed to be a bit creative to find another 2000#’s of material in a jiffy. So Kevin and I hooked up the trailer to the Golf and headed back to the municipal yard to see what we could find.  While not ideal, we were able to scrounge up about 1200#s of grass clippings (likely sprayed with Chemlawn) and then went back for a load of about 800#’s of wood chips.  The thought was to shred the wood chips in my Bio-80 shredder to reduce particle size and then to mix this with the grass clippings.  The result was a very good looking mix that had decent moisture content, plenty of nitrogen and available carbon.  My primary concern is that the grass clippings will mat depsite our attempts to mix them well with the shredded chips; time will tell.  Here is the pile of about 6000#’s of material (and another 2 tons of soaked up water):

5 tons of material: 3 tons green brush, 1 ton grass/chips. 1 ton water.

The added material gave us about 6″ of mulch on top of the drums and raised total pile height to a bit over 40″ which is my preferred pile height.  Next up was a top layer of straw to prevent excessive moisture evaporation and to insulate the pile somewhat to keep temps up.  We want the BTU’s in the water not the air after all.  Took about 2 bales:

All tucked in! about 3-4" covering the entire pile. In winter I would add another 6-8". Makes it look nice for the neighbors to boot.

Testing

Steel Drum Heating/Cooling

This was all finished within a week of the last post.  Pile temps at this point were stuck at 123, but within days of adding the top we shot up to 132-136 in many spots so we began to start testing.  First, I filled one drum with water to test how long it took to get it to 100 degrees (city water is 52 degrees).  Within 4 days the drum was up to 100 degrees, gaining about 8 degrees every 24 hours.  Of course, this slowed as the temperature variation decreased between the pile and the water, but was still 118 within 8 days total, about the time the pile was a steady 135.  Max measured temp in the drum was 124 after 12 days, though there were cooling runs in there.   System proof #1 was locked in: we could heat water to over 100 degrees, though this was never in much doubt.  Next up we needed to see if we could cool the water in the drum.  Using 52 degree municipal water with the tap set at about 8 gallons per minute (gpm) (fill a 5 gallon bucket and time it with a stop watch and then do the math) I was able to drop the drum from 118 to 112 in an hour.  This was very encouraging and I am confident that I can get the drums to under 100 in less than a day.

Water Heating

While this was going on, I was also taking temps of the water as it exits the pile.  This was far less encouraging.  Initially, the first 10 gallons of water were wicked hot – essentially pile ambient of 124 or so.  However, very soon after temps dropped quickly and by the time 20-30 gallons had gone through the pile water temps at pile exit were down to 64.  Oi!  However with only a few minutes of thinking this through several glaring design flaws were identified — a direct result of my planning this on the fly.  First off – 530′ of hose sounds like ALOT of hose.  And it is, but given the small internal dimensions, even at 530′ total water in the hose is under 30 gallons, and probably closer to 24.  That means at the 8gpm, fresh water only had 3 minutes in the pile.  That is not nearly enough time to pull in much heat as was proven by the small temp gain.  Also, using rubber coated garden hose was an expedient, but not well thought out, tubing choice.  The rubber is almost certainly acting as an insulator, reducing the piles ability to conduct heat into the water.  Finally, starting with 52 degree water means I have a long way to go to get to my goal of 120.

Initial Conclusions

  • Midden will heat 110 gallons of water to well over the 100 degrees needed for methane production
  • Water cooling is sufficent to regulate drum temps to within 95-100 degrees despite being in a 130 degree pile
  • Current configuration will not heat water sufficiently for domestic water use.

Due to some upcoming events – a tour of our home gardens by the Madison Permaculture Guild and my workshop at the MREA I am postponing charging the methane digesters with material until 6/22 at the earliest.  That said, there is still enough time for some tinkering, so I decided to play with the hot water side as those results were really disappointing.

Modification #1: Closed Loop Water Heating

So, while the results of the outlet temps are discouraging, there are some nuggets in there to be excited about upon reflection.  First off – I am getting 10 degree rise in a matter of minutes at a relatively high flow rate.  There is an immense amount of heat energy in the pile – sitting near it on a still day you can feel it radiate off– I juts need to find a better way to capture it.  An obvious choice is to close the water system by pumping it right back into the pile.  To accomplish this I need to get one of the pumps I bought for the Appleseed Biodiesel processor from Patrick’s house.  A quick call explaining what I am up to was more than enough to have Patrick excited enough to come over.

Meet Patrick, he builds underwater robots. Yeah, thats right.

Patrick forgets more about electronics over breakfast than most of us ever knew.  His day job is building and piloting underwater remote operated vehicles – like the ones that found the Titanic and are trying desperately to staunch the leak in the gulf.  Patrick has also been to Antarctica a few times to help them fix their equipment.  On top of all that, he is wicked smart and wants to save the world.  He also has a pole barn that he lets me store alot of my stuff in.  Good guy to have around.  I called Patrick to see if I could get one of my pumps, and he came over the next day, not only with my pump, but with it mounted to a base and with a slick motor controller so we would play with flow rates.  Did I mention I like Patrick?

The pump is our “do anything” pump that we use from everything from ethanol to biodiesel to syngas cooling to this.  $40 from Harbor Freight, close to indestructible, and will pump up to 650 gph with its .5 hp motor.  We have 5 or 6 laying around or in use at any time.  However, 650 gph (10.8 gpm) is too fast hence the motor controller – which is essentially a dimmer switch for electric motors.

Motor controller set at about 66% or 7gpm. Plug the controller into the outlet, and the motor into the controller. Slick.

With the controller on and the system on closed loop pumping into the pile, then into a half filled 55 gallon drum, and then back into the pile we were able to run it continuously to see how high we could ge the temps.  66% gets us about 7 gpm and we ran it on closed loop overnight and got a steady 94 degrees come morning.   That is a huge improvement over 62 degrees, and enough for space heating, but I still want 120.  So then we let the pile warm up for a day, and ran another test at 30% or about 4 GPM.  This is really too slow for the pump and will burn it out over time, so we only did it for about a much shorter time.  Intake water was 80 degrees at the start.  After 45 minutes here was the result:

Actually we had 104 for 30 minutes and then the sensor shifted and we lost 3 degrees for some reason.

Now were talking!  That is very encouraging given that even at 4 gpm we only have about 7 minutes in the pile.

Next Steps

As I said, in 2 weeks we will run the methane experiment.  Once we prove / disprove the ability to make burnable gas in the system I will disassemble the methane portion to reduce the chance of serious accident.  At that point we will really focus in on getting that temp up to 120.  How?

With 2 55 gallon drums in the pile I already know that there is enough energy to bring them up to over 120 degrees – what is unknown is the recharge rate without draining the pile’s heat.  I also strongly suspect that with only 25 gallons of water in the pile in the current system there is not enough time to bring the water up past 104 degrees.  Answer?  Plumb the drums into the water heating system – water flows into drum #1 from the pump, then works it way into drum #2 and then through the 530′ of hose.  In one swoop we increase the waters time in pile from 7 minutes (at 4 gpm) to about 35 minutes by jumping from a system volume of 25 gallons to 135.  That should make a HUGE difference.

Second we need a better pump.  The clearwater 650gph is a GREAT pump, but simply too strong for this.  Luckily there are incredibly awesome pumps available for radiant floor applications made by Grundfos.  How awesome?  How about going from .5hp to .04hp and still maintaining 2-17gpm?  What about having 3 spd settings from the factory?  What about only having a AMP rating of .75 – yes this pump will only use 90 watts!  Thats like a quarter a day to run nonstop.  Plus, if anything, it is even better made.  $100 at Menard’s.

Third, we may very well need to swap out the garden hose.  If options 1 and 2 don’t get us to 120 we will need to get serious and buy PEX tubing.  Again, looking to the radiant floor applications here.  PEX is designed to be heat conductive, is flexible, takes heat ranges from 35-230 degrees, and is as inert as any plastic (insert cynicism here).   It is more expensive, but has alot of upside and comes in 500′ rolls.  Also, swapping tubing would mean a complete tear down of the pile, something I am loathe to do.  Again, hopefully a new pump and plumbing in the drums solves the issues.

All in all the first 2 weeks with The Methane Midden have been awesome.  This is the most exciting project I have been on since we first started on the gasifier.  Space heat+hot water+compost with almost no moving parts other than an nearly indestrucible pump.  Most importantly, the only skills needed are how to run a pitchfork and screw in a garden hose. Total price, even with pump, will be under $300 including stakes, drums, hose and straw.   If I can get the water to 120, or even close, consistently then I plan on building a new pile in the garage this winter, doubling the insulation, and plumbing in a heat exchanger (old car radiator) to be put in the hallway of our first floor.  Yep – space heating a house in an HOA with compost on under a quarter a day in electricity while sequestering carbon from garbage.

Want to help fund the Methane Midden?  Pledge to my Kickstarter project!

Be the Change.

-Rob


The Methane Midden: Epic Shit & Jean Pain Composting

Jean Pain was a visionary in the Provence region of  France during the 1970’s.  He was charged with protecting over a thousand of acres of woodland from fire, but his quick and able mind, love of life long learning, and a deep concern for the future of our Earth led him to accomplish something much more indeed.  Jean Pain spent a decade working through the techniques of a fantastic system to use the ever renewable waste brush from his woods into life giving humus. But then Jean took it to a entirely new level – he began to heat water in his compost piles, enough that he heated greenhouses and his own home.  Never content to sit on his laurels, he then began studying up on methane production- and he put a batch methane digester into his piles to use the “waste” heat from the bio-reactions to provide the ideal environment for methane production.  Before he died, his techniques had reached a level that he was able to produce methane and hot water for up to 18 months – enough for two winters – while also powering his truck, cooking, and producing electricity with the methane gas. My favorite part? No special machines, just a deep understanding of Permaculture before the word was even coined.  Partner with Nature to meet your needs.

Jean Pain was a visionary, but his techniques, if anything, are too simple.  Let me explain. They are not sexy at all.  Try writing for a grant to heat water with rotting garbage while going up against a Solar Hot Water array or a wind turbine, let alone algal biodiesel or whatever comes next.  Compost heat doesn’t create jobs; doesn’t need research studies and cannot be outsourced so it has no place in the Global Economy.  Know what?  Neither do I .  Jean Pain is a hero of mine for doing something that no one cared about because he knew it was just so very right and would be necessary to help save us from ourselves.  I read an awesome quote this week that pushed me over.

The time has come to do Epic Shit.”

-Larry Santoyo, Permaculturist

Right f/king on Santoyo!  Let’s do this!

Last week I scored a dump truck load of VERY green chipped mulch.  The rest is now history.  This project is going from drawing board to reality far quicker than I typically work, in fact the next step is typically being formulated as I am driving the wheelbarrow on the step I am currently on.  I knew I was going to do it at my home – that meant keeping it tight on space, visually acceptable, and must fit into the current plan.  Finally, it was to be a temporary structure – 6 months at most.  So I ended up with a 12×10 foot print using straw bales to contain the mulch.  Why Straw?  It has structural rigidity, is a great insulator, but also breathes.  The 16″ thick bales would contain the pile into tight angular dimensions and keep the dogs and kids from knocking the pile down.  The insulation would help me get away with only a 2′ thick compost layer around rather than the 3′ I would have preferred if I had more space and material. The following with be a pictorial journey through the afternoon today – with the help of my friend Kevin, we completed this in about 4 hours.

First I prepped the ground by removing a perennial bed that had succumbed to quack grass.  I chopped the ground up with a mattock as much because the quack needed punishing, but also because a mattock is possibly my favorite tool to use of all time.   Then leveled it with some old wood chips to make it look pretty.

 

;

10x12 - in the background you can see the chips soaking in their bins.

 

Next up was to lay down some temporary weed barrier for the quack, and start building the sides.  Gods do I love to build with straw – so fast!

 

Bales are on end to save space and stitched together with 2' pieces of rebar for some rigidity.

 

Next up was to throw some mulch down to hold the cardboard pallet slips down, and then put the two steel 55 gallon drums in place.  The drums will act as the batch digesters.

 

Now the Methane Midden is really taking shape - Woot!

 

With the digesters in place, it was time to put in the heat exchanger.  Compost will heat up ALOT.  The material for this project was at 140 degrees 3 days ago before we broke down the pile to soak it.  Methane production occurs between 85 and about 103 degree.  Over about 105 the bacteria start to die off, 101 is about peak production.  Jean Pain figured out that you needed to cool the digerster tanks, so he pumped water through a hose wrapped around the tanks.  So I bought 240′ to augment the one hose I could spare.  After cooling the tanks, the hose is then laid out throughout the pile to absorb some of the heat from the composting, so the exit water is up to pile temp, typically 130-150 degrees!

 

290' of hose wrapping the two barrels, then we threw in 8" of soaked mulch and laid on our first row of heat exchanger.

 

The hose is essential to pull the heat from the pile, and it takes a 60′ hose laid out like this to make one lap of the composting layout.  I did absolutely no math on this point, the hoses come in 60′ chunks and we laid them out to make one fit per layer.  I figured 6-8″ between layers should be enough to both heat the water in the hoses, but not too little that the water pulls so much heat that the bio-reaction is slowed.  Time will tell is my intuition was off.

Here we are about 75% done, laying the fourth and final “rung” of heat exchanger:

 

Isn't it GORGEOUS?! This project just feels so right!

 

That is about as far as we got today.  I ran out of mulch about half way through the next layer.  I will finish the pile alternating leaves and grass clippings.  Would like it to be mounded over the top of the digesters about 8″ and will then cap the entire pile with either straw or mulch for insulation and to prevent evaporation.

Some items that maynot be evident in the photos.  The heat echanger is set up counterflow.  That means that the coldest water enters at the top of the barrels- which is where the slurry should be warmest, and then runs through the 290′ of hose around the digesters.  At that point it is at the bottom of the pile, at which point it climbs 4 “rungs” of 60′ hose laid out about every 8″ through the pile.  Total hose length is 530′  for no reason other than that was what it took to do the above and “make it look right” – no fancy math here, just intution.

Still have some very serious issues to overcome on how to store the methane, and some minor ones on plumbing the tubing.  I am good friends with the head of our village’s waste treatment plant and he is keen to see this project work.  Had him over for a beer as I put the last of the mulch on, we have some ideas that appear workable.  We do have some time – it will take about a week for the pile to hit peak temp and a few more days to heat the water in the drums.  Then we add the slurry, plumb in some tubing to take away the methane, start taking temp readings, and put up the “No Smoking!” signs.

“The time has come to do Epic Shit!”

Help fund the Methane Midden: Pledge to my Kickstarter project!

Be the Change!

-Rob

Enter The Big Red Dump Truck

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts kid...

I did it.  I bought a frickin dump truck.  Its BIG.  Its red.  And it will tow over 10,000#’s… with another 3000#’s in the dump bed.  Its a beast.

I’ve been talking all winter about the fact that I am Scaling Up this year.  Harvests and Compost will no longer be measured in pounds and yards, but TONS. The business and fertility plans call for 20 tons of compost this year.  That is 40,000#’s and beyond the limits of my utility trailer and pitchfork.  To increase the amount of good that I wish to do, I need to mechanize.  2 years ago that meant a Grillo.  The Year of the Tiger calls for something a bit more drastic – this is the first salvo.

First off, let me make something clear.  I bought this truck cooperatively.  That means a buddy of mine and I bought it halvesies.  We are not sure about all the ins and outs of that yet, but it will be titled in both our names and jointly insured.  It is a leap of trust.  It is an investment in community.  It is the kind of thing that people don’t do anymore, but a manner of living that I deeply believe we need to relearn.  Dump trucks are like many wicked useful tools.  When you need one … you REALLY need one.  And then it will sit for awhile until you need it again which is a waste.  My partner has a 30 acre farm and is converting it to a Permaculture Sanctuary full of Do Goodery.  Doubling the top soil on 30 acres means you need ALOT of organic matter.  Much will be grown on site, but with multiple horse and natural dairy farms nearby this truck will help his family jump start their healing of the land.  But, like many of us, he still has a day job, meaning that the truck will sit idle much of the week.  I have BIG plans for a truck like this.  AND I also happen to be off during the week when the truck is idle.  Neither of us really wanted to spend the full $4000 a well used dump like this costs.  Hence the dual titling.  Will it be easy?  No – there will be conflicts over use, repairs, etc.  …but EASY got us into this societal mess.  There is more to Being the Change than planting potatoes in sheet mulch.  I want my kids to grow up in a world where property lines are blurred somewhat – where sharing is a community value and joint ventures are more common than sole proprietorships.   Where what is mine is yours if you need it, because I know that what’s yours is mine in a pinch.  We’ve got each other’s back.  Its scary, but its also wicked cool.  I am very grateful of his trust.

This truck will hold 8 cubic yards of mulch or over 2 tons of manure or restaurant waste. It will tow a chipper large enough to eat 4″ willow trunks all the live long day.   It is inexpensive when considering the ROI and is all but fully depreciated given its current price of $3500.  Its engine is a Chevy 350 V-8, one of the more common in existence and its not fancy – you want air you crank the window, buddy.   As we power down this vehicle could be in use for decades to come in a salvage economy.  As a gasoline engine- it can run on syngas, propane, NG, methane, ethanol, or gasoline with little modification.  If the EFI goes, we may consider retrofitting a carb just to ease fuel conversions.  Dang useful.

This blog was founded almost 4 years ago as I worked to heal the land of my .5 acre HOA lot.  I have learned so very much in the past 4 years of reading, writing, and discussing the issues with you all.  I have acquired skills.  I have surrounded myself with an insane network of incredibly skilled, knowledgeable and connected people.  And I have now found myself at a point where I can push a paradigm a bit into a direction in I feel is vital.  Over the past 4 decades we have relearned how to garden organically.  More importantly we have learned how to heal land damaged by 6 decades of industrial abuse.  We also know that the problems are so much bigger than our forefathers in the Back to Land movement could have ever imagined.  No longer is it enough to grow local organic food – now we must literally think about carbon sequestration and energy production in conjunction with food farming.  This century calls for Energy Farms.

Farmers, not tractor drivers, but real hands in the soil farmers know natural systems better than any scientist. They are generalists with keen senses of observation, economy, and a work ethic to get it all done.  And it is these farmers that will play a pivotal role in connecting the dots to a more sustainable future.  That knowledge of natural systems will prove essential as we transition from rigid, linear solutions to fluid, organic solutions to life’s eternal struggles for Food, Shelter, and Energy.  Permaculture gives us many of the tools to help design this methodology, but my grandfather didn’t need a fancy word for what he called common sense.   And Energy Farms make ALOT of common sense.  Essentially I am asking farmers to function stack their parcels – to turn the ethanol debate on its head and produce Food AND Fuel in addition to resources like soil amendments, services like carbon sequestration, and to create skilled jobs.  On farm.

I have talked through my version of positive feedback loops starting with a biomass gasifier providing the heat and power for methane, aquaponics, 4 season harvesting, ethanol production, and carbon sequestration in biochar.  This system partners beautifully with large scale organic waste recycling using hot composting, vermiculture and mushroom beds allowing the produce and coppice fields to be even more productive.   As the tons of produce leave the farm, even more organic matter is back hauled on site to be converted to fuel, food, and resources effeciently with some of the surplus leaving  the farm to continue the healing elsewhere.  Waste begins to refer less to things  like plastic bags and more to a loss of potential or poor design.  Cradle to Grave produce planning is possible.  We are now running an Energy Farm.

There are several Energy Farms being started in some scale or another thanks in large part to work by the Post Carbon Institute over the past several years and now being continued by Michael Bomford, PCI Fellow.  I will be working within my network to do my best to have one going here in Southern WI with in the next year.  This Dump Truck is the first BIG step (its got a 12′ bed for cripes sake!)  in that direction.  3000 sq ft greenhouses, manure spreaders, skid steers, ethanol stills (the dump gets 8mpg) and 20kw generators powered by methane are in my future.

Be the Change!

-Rob

Mid Winter Local: Otik’s Spiced Potatoes

Otik's Spiced Potatoes!

Breakfast this morning, as it’s been several times a week since August, started by walking down the steps to our unfinished basement and grabbing 2 Red Baron onions, 3-4 Desiree potatoes (resistant to Late Blight!) and a head of garlic.  I start the skillet heating (low) and then add a triple glug of Olive oil.  While that heats I peal,crush, and mince 4-5 cloves of garlic.  This goes into the heated oil to get the flavor into the oil – the fragrance wafting up from the stove is immediate.  I turn back and dice the two medium onions and add them to the skillet along with some salt and a healthy mix of rosemary, paprika, and whatever else is laying around- I am particularly partial to Pennsey’s Fox Point seasoning.  While these flavors are mixing with the oil I cut up 4 medium potatoes into 1/2″ cubes.  As they’re heirlooms, the skin and all its nutrition stays on.  More salt and herbs and pepper go in.  If I am feeling like the kids need a bit more protein (vegetarian since birth) for the day, I will cut up a Field Roast “soy-sage” and throw it in. [Field Roast is HANDS DOWN the best “soy-sage” on the market.  I miss brats more than any meat, and their Italians are DAMN close.  Of course local eggs or meat would make it 100% local breakfast, but we’re talking veggie skillet here.]. Every 5 minutes or so I roll it around with a wooden spatula, but scorching is not so much an issue on the low heat, but reduce the heat after 20 minutes or so.   It takes about 45 minutes to make, but its worth every second –each of the simple flavors has room to expand on your palette and the breakfast is relished by everyone from my gourmand wife to my 6 yr old daughter.

Same bags I sell my spuds in - I keep them on the bottom shelf of our storage in the basment.

Here is the kicker.  The garlic was picked in August, the onions in late September, and the potatoes in late November (though they were ready in August – I like to let the soil store my food).  All this food is from my own gardens… and I do NOT have a Root Cellar. The most important prep for the storage of these items was to pick them properly – letting the onions and garlic cure well in the garage and allowing the potatoes to “skin” over in the ground and not picking them in wet soil.  All of this ensures that the produce keeps as much of its water inside as possible.  Then I bag them up in the 5# bags from Fed-Co –basically thick paper bags, putting them in tripled up lunch bag would work too.  Finally I take them to the basement and put them on a low shelf near the concrete floor.  Final step?  Close the one air vent down there.  Temps are in the 50’s, and I make no a adjustments for humidity.  I should also mention that these varieties were chosen a year ago for storage when I ordered seed.  Walla Walla onions store for crap, you need a strong, pungent onion and a firm spud – Yukons, Desiree, German Butterball and a dozen others are great, fingerlings and carola not so much.

I’ve read the books on Root Cellaring, studied the respiration rates of vegetables, and taken measurements of the conditions in my basement.  All of that told me that I couldn’t store my produce, so for the past 2 years we ate or sold it all by December, forcing us to the grocery store (GASP!) for potatoes.  This year I said screw it, and put 100#;s of spuds, 20#’s of onions, and 10#;s of garlic in bags and stored them as I stated above.  My onions are firm, the potatoes wholesome, and much of the garlic is in good shape.  Am I getting waste?  Not yet in the potatoes, some of the onions are softening, and a growing (ha!) portion of the garlic is sprouting.    But its mid frickin January –I have every reason to believe that the spuds and onions will still be strong in a month, at which time I will have early greens sprouting in the Hoopty.  Rutabaga and especially sweet potatoes which prefer mid humidity and 55 degrees, will last even longer.

My house is only 5 years old, and built to new standards – no sand floor, no cold air exchange to the outside, and forced air heat sucking out all the moisture.  But I have firm spuds in the basement.  And its mid January.  We can do this people! Choose your cultivars for storage, prep them right in the field, and eat healthy, local, and better in the dead of Wisconsin’s Winter.

I’ve said it before, the war for re-localizing our food will be won in the dark cold trenches of February week 3.  But what a war to fight!  This breakfast is literally the best meal you can’t buy. No grocer (yet) sells Desiree spuds, Red Baron onions, or Music garlic.  Saving the world never tasted so good!

Be the Change!

-Rob

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