Saturday, January 31, 2009


As of Jan 31, the Minnesota Econaut project is cancelled, due to um, lack of alignment with the mission of Happy Dancing Turtle.  I would like to thank Happy Dancing Turtle for the opportunity to do a permaculture design for this cottage, and especially for their support of implementing the first phases of it.  (Rumor has it that in permaculture circles, a lot more gets designed than implemented.)  

The solar water heat system is moving toward completion.  The plant bed system for wastewater processing is under construction in the green house.

It's the season for planning what to do for the coming growing season.  My recommendations would be as follows, assuming the goals from last year are still current.  Let's review them:

Campus-Wide Overall Purposes of Landscaping and Gardening:
Food production, long term, fruit trees etc - want to see focus here.
Food production, short term, just to eat right away.
Soil building
Water management
Experimentation and research - proof of Permaculture or other types of creation of healthy soils
Cut down on dust

If it were up to me, I would continue with the basic plan of establishing an edible forest garden on the 3/4 acre L-shaped area to the west and south. Actually I was going for a savannah mimic which is more open.  

Priorities for the outside:

1. Plant more nut trees
The original plan called for several nuclei of nut pines, oaks, butternut etc, and plum trees on the north side of the south berm.

2. Annual garden along path
The pathway should be extended farther towards the parking area and another fork towards the buildings to the north. The primary annual garden area should be along these paths. These garden areas need to be fenced for deer protection. It might be a good idea to angle the path more to the east so as to run along the berm we constructed in the fall to insulate the septic line. It's currently thickly mulched with wheat straw. If it was top-dressed with compost and good dirt it might make a very good garden area. Sort of a hugelkultur. (The most productive area of the west field was an edge where straw and composted horse manure were churned together by a caterpillar track. Big turnips.)

3. Stabilize and beautify ground adjacent to cottage
Mix some super-soil into the ground within 10 feet of the cottage and seed it with clover and wildflowers. This ground is on top of the horizontal frost skirt. The soil is poor and shallow and very subject to wind and water erosion. (The area to the west of the front door is reserved for a constructed wetland for a greywater processing experiment.)

Here is a survey of areas near the cottage which could maybe use some soil amendment such as your supersoil or composted manure. Most of them are sandy and prone to wind and water erosion. I had good luck getting some clover established last year in a small patch of pure sand, by mixing a couple of inches of supersoil into the top. I think it would be a good idea to move the summer parking area for the cottage back out to the original trailer parking area, and reclaim the entire trailer site (assuming its not being built on this year.)

4. Let the west and south field continue their soil building
They could use more nitrogen-fixing plants (I have a list.) Nitrogen-fixers require full sun, these areas are open and poor in nitrogen, so it's the right time for it succession-wise. The clover got a pretty good foothold last season. The soil should be tested again around May 20-27.

5. Crater touch-up
A lot of the area on the north is rutted and lumpy, I was thinking about dragging it with the bedspring so that it could be mowed. It might be a good idea to drag and overseed the crater with clover mix, give the ragweed some competition.

6. Irrigation tank
The water tower should be upgraded to a true rain barrel by installation of a gutter and first-flush rejecting contraption on the north edge of the roof. (It is conveniently located for watering the aforementioned garden areas to the east.)

7. Septic line
Sensor data indicates the freeze protection on the septic line (provided by the berm, mulch, snow cover, and 2 kWh/day heaters) is maybe just adequate. If any more digging is needed it should be done very early in the season so that plant cover can be reestablished.

8. Cob the soffits

9. The wood behind the solar collectors could maybe use some protection.
It's just bare plywood, I don't know how you'd paint or side it with the collectors up there already.

Priorities for the inside:

Reconfigure upstairs for more usable space.
I'd put a ceiling over the kitchen, expand the two upstairs rooms towards the middle, and give them both doors. The loft bridge would turn into a hallway right against the south wall where book cases could be placed. The stairs probably stay about where they are but need to be widened and not so steep.

Reduce the electric dependence of the cottage
or at least giving it a low-power mode. I believe there is a plan to add a solar electric system to the cottage but this should be accompanied by a load reduction plan. The nearly-completed solar heat system goes a long way toward this. The next step would be to change out the electric stove for gas. It could use a good recirculating range hood with carbon filter also.
There is a lot of other stuff that could be done. I still like the idea of

an upstairs water tank for passive shower capability,
and of

rigging up some way to use the outside cold for refrigeration.

It would still be a good idea to do a blower door test and tighten up the air leaks.


Ben said...

Thanks Grahm, I've enjoyed your sense of humor!

BrickHouse Bikes said...

I propose to you that YOU are the Minnesota Econaut and that you could continue the blog adventures as such. Unless you move to Wisconsin.... then you become the Wisconsin Econaut etc etc. :)