To build the new house, the earthship mass wall had to move. The build site was right above a large valley so I decided to shove it down into the valley to create a dam.
After grading the site, I had a contractor come out and put up forms for the concrete slab. We then had gravel delivered and spread and tamped it to create the form for the 20" thick turn down slab.
You can see the turn down slab in it's final shape. The pile of tamped gravel in the middle is about 6" from the top of the form while the sides of the slab go all the way to grade to create the footer. The entire slab/footer assembly is monolithic and I made it nearly 2x as thick as was recommended to have the extra mass for heat storage for the radiant floor.
I had a contractor install the plumbing and then me and my Dad did the in slab electric, data, cool tubes, ecofoil vapor barrier/radiant insulation (LINK), and 6 zones of radiant in slab 1/2"pex tubing.
The building was brought right up to the site and I unloaded the trailer with my late 60's JD backhoe with pallet forks on the bucket. The hardest part was the roof panels which were 35' long and very flexible. I had to have a guy on each end while picking it to keep it from kinking while I moved it.
This video explains the progress up until this point.
More to come!
I had some requests to attempt to go into more detail on how I install my interior fencing system which I have been using for rotational grazing. It may be a somewhat unique approach to fencing but it works well for me so far.
I wanted a fence that was as invisible as possible for aesthetic reasons, easy to install, easy to repair, inexpensive, easy to reconfigure if necessary, and generally light and durable without being flimsy. After working with this fence for 2 years, I think it meets all these goals.
The fence consists of 5' rebar posts pounded in to "belly button height" (about 42" in my case), rod post insulators, 3 or 4 - 16 gauge high tensile wires, and a 26" tall woven wire around the perimeter. I get the rebar in 20' lengths from a local builders supply place and cut them into 5' lengths. The corner posts are made from various sized cedars from the farm unbraced and buried about 3'. To close off resting paddocks, I use wire gates with gate handles across the opening of a paddock. I use mini reels with nonconductive gate handle and clip on leads powering poly rope hanging on step in posts for paddock division. It is powered by a 24 joule mains charger with remote/fault finder and has six 8' ground rods spaced 8' apart as the grounding system. I haven't had a problem with lightning and run no lightning protection although it may be a good idea. I have a clip on flashing fence alarm which flashes red during a low voltage situation and can be easily seen from the house.
In my case, I installed swales which I wanted to fence larger animals out of. The video and pics below show how I did it. The same could be done for fencing animals out of newly planted tree lines for silvopasture and then easily reconfigured after the trees are established enough to benefit from animal impact. I was picky about installing my system "on contour" which in my area makes the fencing very curvy, again this is not a requirement or recommendation, just how I did it. It does, however, illustrate the amount of curve that can be easily achieved with this fencing system.
I have no affiliation with Kencove but they seem to have the best pricing and decent customer service so the parts list I provide is mostly going to be from there and is offered only as a help to readers trying to find gear.
Corner lags www.kencove.com/fence/Wood+Post+Insulators_detail_ILCE.php
26" woven wire www.kencove.com/fence/Hinge+Joint_detail_WH7-6.php
mini reels www.kencove.com/fence/Reels_detail_RMININ.php
non conductive handles
gate handles www.kencove.com/fence/Gate+Handles_detail_GRB.php
fence alarm www.kencove.com/fence/Fence+Monitors_detail_MFA.php
Well, kind of. I have 2 main pastures of 6 or so acres each broken into paddocks which I've been rotating chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cattle with rest times varying from 1-2 months between animal impact for the last few years. My experience so far has shown me that rotational grazing done correctly with the proper carrying capacity and rest times works just as good or better than the books and articles said it would. I have not done any vaccination or worming and was able to get cattle through my first winter grazing with no hay or supplemental feed other than what was attached to the ground.
The difference it has made to the grass in these few years has been amazing to me. The more fertile of the 2 fields went from a broomsedge dominated, 30% bare ground with blackberry, black cherry, and johnson grass to a much more uniform sward with lots of plantain, white clover, a bit of alfalfa, rye, and fescue starting to fill in where the broomsedge was thriving. I have only rotated animals through, mowed a few times per year, and spread a seed mix of clover, fescue, radish, and wildflower once last year. In the less fertile of the 2 fields, I lightly disced and broadcast seeded Korean lespedeza, annual rye, fescue, radish, white clover, and a bit of wildflower and eastern gama. I let this field rest from mid March until just recently to let the new plantings get established and or go to seed before grazing it quickly starting mid June. I normally would be against tillage but in this situation, I needed to get something growing that the animals would graze to get them to spend more time in the areas that need animal impact (grazing, rooting, trampling, fertilizing). The Korean lespedeza came up like crazy on really poor soil and cows and pigs really enjoy it. Plus, it is a warm season legume which is high in protein, fixes nitrogen, looks like a taller more bushy clover, and will shelter the more tender cool season seedlings until the cooler weather.
In the video I show where the pigs were rooting recently and explain why the impact may be alarming to a new farmer. I compare this area to the other field that has had time to rest and explain why what looks like a disaster when it first happens actually ended up being beneficial in my system.
To sum up for those that may not want to watch a video: In poor pastures with woody plants or certain grass species with tuberous rhizomes, pigs will initially root deep to eat the roots of these plants causing what looks like catastrophic damage to a pasture. As these rooted up areas grow in either naturally or with introduced seed, the holes create sheltered, wetter micro climates which end up allowing more palatable species a chance to establish. With the removal of the entire root system of the less desirable plants, the quicker establishment of better herbaceous plants stops the return of the less resulting in better pasture if the proper rest time is allowed. The more palatable, thicker mix encourages the hogs to graze rather than to root as the goodies are on top of the ground and the thicker sward makes rooting harder. The rain and settling smooths the pasture over time but leaves enough texture to stop and soak water and act as a invisible passive water harvesting and erosion reduction feature on the landscape.
Your results may vary of course and each farm will have its own unique management style, fertility, productivity, carrying capacity, and rest times but if you can get the formula right, your pastures will improve quickly.
The mass wall of the earthship did not survive the Tennessee winter mud season. I covered it as best as I could but there was just no way to keep all the water out. Where the water got into the wall, it slumped and began leaning forward into the building and became unusable as a building component. I believe if I would have amended the soil with sand and lime and installed it into the bags with a more consistent moisture content, it would have worked out better. I've also discovered that I did in fact order non UV treated bags. I had no choice but to take it down as it was making me nervous just to stand near it.
The failure of this building was a large time sink and direction change for the project as a whole. I've been hesitant to release the video partly because I wanted to have a more clear direction of what I was going to do moving forward and also this video was made during a stressful time of uncertainty and does not reflect my usual optimism.
Unfortunately, I do not have the resources (time,money) to put into another experimental building. Since the making of this video, I have pushed the mass wall into the ditch to form a dam wall with a fairly large body of water. I re-graded the site and have concrete forms up for a pre-fab steel shell building which will be well insulated and have radiant floors fed by solar water heating panels and will still incorporate the cooltubes and a solar chimney effect with clerestory vent windows. I may revisit being off grid with electric power at some point in the future.
Three years ago I planted a mix of 125 potted fruit trees just above the lowest dam on the farm. The first night, I lost 2 apple trees to girdling(complete bark removal around the circumference of the trunk) and knew right away I would need to protect them somehow.
I wanted to avoid using plastic tree protectors due to tree health, cost, and aesthetics. In my travels on the interwebs, I came across a recipe for making bone sauce and thought I'd give it a try. I was attracted to this method because it is dirt cheap, organic, and easy. It worked well until this dormant season when I began to notice a few nibbles here and there low down on the trunks of some of the fruit trees. As an observation, the bareroot trees and vines I planted untreated have not had any issues and are growing WAY faster than the potted ones. The following video gives step by step instructions on how I make my bone sauce.
After three years of trial and error and some successes, I have decided to stop raising rabbits. We have been raising rabbits on pasture in 4x8 colony tractors with two nest boxes in each and a buck and 2 does per tractor. The rabbits were healthy and happy and got along well together and were making good litters.
The main reason for quitting is that our pastured hogs are rooting and digging and making the pasture too lumpy and uneven to keep the boxes flat enough to the ground to stop the rabbits from escaping through the gaps. Also, I try to mow as little as possible and the tall grass lifts the boxes up high enough for rabbits to sneak under and get out.
In the video I go into depth explaining the reasons why we chose to use this method and how it could work well for someone with flatter pasture which gets clipped regularly and is able to keep dogs and other predators away. I've not seen anyone else with a completely mobile rabbitry but I think it is a good method and I hope this info could help someone fit rabbits into an ethical, healthy rotational grazing scheme without the battery cages and all the associated problems with them.
I have heard for years of the miracle soil amendment that is biochar and wanted to try it for myself. The intent is not to write yet another article explaining what biochar is, the history of biochar or what it could potentially do for your soil and animal health but to show how I make it and one of the ways I use it that I have not seen widely tried. If you do not know what biochar is or want more information about past and present uses, try the documentary The Secret of Eldorado.
I put my charcoal mixed with a bit of molasses into a plastic feed pan under the salt block for the cattle. The cattle lick the block and drool salty minerals onto the char. The sweetness of the molasses mixed with the saltyness of the cow drool makes it more appealing to the pigs. Why feed charcoal to pigs? Wild hogs foraging in a natural forest environment would encounter and eat charcoal from the regular forest fires which occur minus interference from man. From an anecdotal perspective, I take activated charcoal on a regular basis for gut health and detoxification and can feel the positive effects it has on my health. By having the pigs ingest the char, it is changed to biochar in the pig's digestive tract by becoming charged with organisms from the healthy hog's digestive system. It is then evenly distributed with manure throughout my grazing system by rotational grazing. The structure and huge surface area of the char acts as an "apartment complex" for beneficial soil microbiota thus improving soil health. There is a picture and a video below which are both pertinent to the article.
In this part I talk about the landscaping and the back berm, show the progress on the mass wall, explain the foam and vapor barrier, describe the bond beam and banding, water and moisture control, and some future aesthetics.
Instead of using the stove in the kitchen this year to heat water for scalding birds, I wanted to do the entire butchering operation outside. I do not like using propane tanks for heating or cooking because I don't know of a reliable method to tell how much is needed or when the fuel will run out. I decided to make a simple clay fire box with chimney, basically the core of a Rocket Mass Heater, to use some of the firewood my Dad and I cut and stacked. I am so pleased with it's function that I will likely invest in the fire brick to make a more permanent version next season.
I did end up using it for Turkeys just before Thanksgiving and it worked great. Very little wood was needed and it easily kept 15 gallons of water at scalding temps for the 3 hours it took me to process 9 turkeys. The following videos show the building and use of the Rocket Scalder.