Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hugelkultur Fugelkultur

One of the basic pieces of permaculture is a raised bed construction practice known as Hugelkultur, to me that sounds about like that VW commercial from the 90's but what do I know. Studying up on the practice of hugelkultur a bit I read claims about not having to irrigate your garden all summer, decreased need for fertilizer and improved soil structure. While I am highly skeptical of growing tomatoes in Las Vegas without watering all summer any gardner here in the Valley should be striving to improve their soil structure. As previously mentioned in this Blog there is considerable open space between the trees in my orchard
So with the goal of putting in a couple of raised beds and the concepts of hugelkultur whirling about in my head I kicked Cammie outta bed, got in the Jeep and headed up to the Fruity Chicken!

Notice the Planks over Cammies Head
We stopped off at the local Lowes and picked up some 5/8"X6"X6' dog eared cedar fence planks, I had used these same planks a couple weeks ago to make my sunken beds. Why these planks? Well they are cedar, but mostly they are cheap! Less than $2 a piece. I cut them to length and assembled them with gorilla glue and my brad nailer into 4'X4" boxes, I did reinforce the corners with L-brackets because I had them.
The area chosen for my two raised hugelkultur beds is between the Eastern most rows of trees in the Orchard, I chose this location because of access and so that as the Fruit Trees grow they will give the beds some afternoon protection from the sun. 

The next step after choosing the site and placing the frames is hugelkulture thingy of this project....filling the frames with rotten wood, wood chips, and coffee grounds. (the coffee grounds thing aint really in any of the Hugelkulture stuff I read but I figured it can't hurt)
Above are my finished beds awaiting planting. On top of the wood and coffee I put about 6" of compost. Bullshit you say! Those beds were only 6" to begin with! Well I filled them with compost, watered them, pulled the frames up, backfilled around them, and repeated until the truckload of compost was gone. Tomatoes are going to be planted on North end of the beds with Peppers in front of them and I'm not sure what in front of the Peppers.

Cammie says all of this Gardening and Blogging is exhausting and it's time for a nap!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunken Beds?

 As can be seen in these 2 pictures there is currently a lot of open space in my Orchard. This space both receives full sun and is irrigated. 

That got me thinking about how I could put that area to use. At first I tried pulling the mulch back from the area above the  dripperlines. That didn't work out to well because the mulch was so deep that it would migrate back into and cover the cleared area within a day. That was when I thought of raised beds, but in reverse.

I built some 70"x14" frames from cedar fence planks nailed together then reinforced in the corners with L-brackets. 

I installed these in between the trees and on the upslope side of the drip lines. I chose to put them there so that the majority of the water would still move through the mulch bed while water pulled uphill through capillary action would irrigate the crops in the boxes.
 Above is the first bed set into the mulch, in the foreground my Emerald Beauty Plan can be seen leafing out nicely. Below are the first 4 boxes installed between 2 rows of Plums, Pluots, Apricots, and Apriums.
Sweet Corn, Cow Peas, Pinto Beans, and Buckwheat have been sown in these first beds. The Sweet Corn is for us and the rest is for chicken feed and to help break up and improve the soil texture. I am now thinking that the middle row will be setup similarly to the first row but will be sunflowers mixed in with legumes and cover crop while the final row, where there is room for six boxes, I may fill the boxes and use them as true raised beds. The draw back on that is that I will need to irrigate them, the upside is fresh Tomatoes! 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Common Sense Gray Water Irrigation

Today I completed the basic installation of my Gray Water Irrigation system for my High Density Orchard. The system brings water from my surge tank (a rubbermaid garbage can) through a 400 micron filter (that only removes the really big stuff) and to the orchard via 3/4" poly tubing.

 In the above pictures the Surge tank and Filter is underneath the stairway in the first pic, the 3/4" main line can be seen on the right hand side of all of the pics and it also runs along the fence line with the grapevines.

Once the Gray Water reaches the Orchard via the 3/4 poly line it is distributed throughout the planting area via 1/2" dripper line. This dripper line has emitters spaced every 12" along it's length and I have spaced the lines every 4' running generally with the contours of the area. What the heck does that mean? It means that the rows themselves are basically level but each row is lower down the slope of the land than the previous. Originally I thought my Orchard sloped from the NE corner down to the SW corner which would have forced me to orient the rows on the bias running NW-SE, but when I dug out the laser it showed that I had only a very slight E-W slope with the main slope being N-S. Consequently I ran my lines E-W, located 1' N of each row of trees.

The first picture shows the layout of the emitter lines in relation to the trees, the following pics show the dispersal of the Gray Water from the emitters.

In a traditional drip irrigation system for a planting such as an orchard you would irrigate each individual tree with three or four emitters located in a circular pattern roughly at the drip-line of the tree. What's the drip-line of the tree you say? It is the circle defined by where the rain would drip off of the leaves of the tree. This system is designed to water each individual tree, additionally common knowledge (which everyone knows ain't necessarily correct) has it that this type of irrigation should be done slowly and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. This deep root growth is supposed to allow the tree to tap into buried sources of nutrients and provide a secure foundation.  


Here we see the drip lines running down the rows of trees, which along this axis are spaced 9' apart,  the expanding area of moisture can also be seen developing in the second pic.

The traditional system works great when you are providing water solely for the purpose of irrigation, in my Orchard my water source is primarily a waste product from laundering clothes. This Gray Water is not storable due to the fact that it contains nutrients that will start to get funky in 24 hours or less. Also for a Gray Water system to work in the long run it must be as unobtrusive as possible, if the system requires thought and effort every time a load of clothes is going to be washed it ain't gonna work! 

Capillary action is the main theory my Orchards irrigation system is based on. Basically I am watering the entire 600 square foot area of my Orchard instead of the 24 seperate 4' diameter circles around each tree. When I first started researching this concept it made absolutely no sense but the more I read the more the pieces came together from separate sources to reinforce what Paul James over at is preaching. What I am trying to achieve is an inviting biodynamic area for my trees to send roots out into. The moist areas seen expanding out from the lines in the pictures above is the result of approximately 80 gallons of Gray Water flowing through the system, by next weekend I'm hoping that normal laundry use and capillary action will result in uniformly moist soil over the entire area. 

Then comes the mulch! Everything I am trying to emulate in my Orchard says that mulch is the key! Dave Wilson over at says it's key to successful Back Yard Orchard Culture, Bob Morris at xtremehorticulture says it's key to growing fruit in Las Vegas, and finally Paul James at says it's key to having a safe and efficient Gray Water system. So next week I plan on hauling in mulch (ground up tree trimmings) and covering all of the area watered by the drip lines to a depth of at least 6". Over time this will provide a fertile and ever improving soil for my trees to spread their roots into as the mulch slowly breaks down and is incorporated down into the soil by the natural action of earthworms, God's little roto-tillers.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I am just getting ready to head up to the "little house" which is where my Orchard and Chickens are. Looking in on my two babies I noticed that the bindings on my spraddle legged chick have come off. She can stand now and move around the brooder fairly well but her one leg is still turned outward and the foot is a bit clawed. This got me to thinking about my responsibilities as someone practicing animal husbandry even on such a small scale.

If I was a true farmer raising livestock purely for production more than likely this chick would have been culled at a day or two old, conversely if I were a fancier and looked upon all of the members of my flock as pets I would probably have an astronomical veterinarian bill by now. Myself and most urban/suburban wanna be farmers are more than likely doing what we do out of some indefinable inner urge to get closer to the earth and a very conscious need to feel we are doing something tangible to improve the world around us. That age old adage of "think global and act local" is a driving force behind my urge to produce food on my little piece of land. The idea that I can turn leftovers, gleanings, and insects around my home into eggs that are healthier and more nutritious than those in the supermarket is fascinating!

That being said, lately I have been thinking a lot about responsible use of the chickens I am raising. There are ads on craigslist offering 2 and 3 year old chickens free to a good home as long as you promise to not kill my pretty little babies who aren't any use to me because they don't pop out an egg a day anymore. Reading ads like that I think how out of touch and irresponsible some people are, trying to transfer an issue to someone else while avoiding some abstract self imposed guilt. A pet is a companion you love and cherish for as long as your blessed to be together, not just until they aren't able to provide breakfast.

That sounds pretty judgmental and it is! The judgement falls on myself also. While I haven't had to deal with over the hill layers yet, when incubating eggs you ain't gonna get all hens! Hatching out fluffy butts is something I truly enjoy and last years hatching activity left me with 11 roosters that I didn't need or particularly want. Rather than do the responsible thing and process (butcher) them for my families use I took the easy way out and sold them to the feed store for $5 a piece. What are they going to do with them? well they seemed pretty interested in the two big mean bastards with the honkin spurs!

So where does this leave me? I'm committing to myself that come late spring I will be prepared and will butcher my excess roos. And when the time comes to cull my laying flock I'm gonna learn how to make chicken and dumplings (Karen always pines for her Granny's chicken and dumplings). When the time comes I'll document the process' here, both of butchering and of becoming a responsible practitioner of animal husbandry.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Plum Crazy over Chickens

My first babies of the year, above is what they looked like this past Saturday when I got home from setting up my Graywater supply system. Then an hour later when I came back to check on them. It is amazing how fast some chicks hatch, last year I had several that took 7 to 10 hours. Those really tried my patience and I must admit to helping the process along several times. 
1 hour later

Mille Fleur
Golden Cuckoo Marans
I kind of went crazy again. My wife Karen has a business, Got Birds? , here in Las Vegas that caters to exotic bird owners supply needs here in the valley. She came home last week from a seed delivery and asked me what a Mille Fleur de'Uccle chicken was, I had seen the name on backyard chickens and when I pulled up a picture Karen started oohing and awing. She then explained that this customer of hers has been looking for a pair for quite a while, in my mind that was a green light to order a dozen hatching eggs from this really nice lady on backyard chickens . While searching for those I ran across a deal to good to pass up on a dozen Marans, 6 Black Copper and 6 Golden Cuckoo.

My eggs came in the mail on wednesday and I suddenly realized that my whacko step mother-in-law had repossessed my big incubator and all I had was my little one. It only holds 3 eggs and I had just put a load of Barnyard Bastards in it on Sunday!

We had a brinsea octagon20 advance ordered but it wasn't scheduled to arrive until next week! Luckily Karen's friend Nicole loaned us hers. On the left you can see the tray loaded. The darker large eggs are Marans and the smaller light colored eggs are the Mille Fleur. Now the waiting begins, March 18th I will put them in lockdown and hopefully will be posting fluffy butt pics on the 20th!

This is my babies today, the light colored one has gone spraddle legged. That's why she ain't standing up, When I talked about culling I thought Karen was going to cull me. So I did some research and found this site:   Spraddle Leg Therapy

 This is Gichael with his brace on


This is what the girls left for Us this morning!!!!


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gray Water #2 The Backbone

I received the material for my gravity fed drip irrigation system this past week. The system I am using is from . Their site is a wealth of information. Before deciding on irrigrays drip approach I did a lot of research, , is a good starting point with a wealth of knowledge that isn't built on fad theories. 

My system is basically a gravity fed laundry to landscape system, the starting point of which is a surge tank. Don't confuse this with a storage tank, gray water contains to many proteins and other nutrients and if held for more than a few hours will get funky. As you can see I am using a durable garbage can. 

The kit came with a fitting to easily tap into the surge tank. I drilled a 3/4" hole approximately 3" above the bottom of the tank, inserted a tight fitting rubber grommet, and then inserted a fitting that was a force fit in the grommet thus creating a watertight seal. The other end is a standard barbed fitting for 3/4" poly irrigation tubing. The valve you see is only for system service and maintenance, when the system is in operation this valve will always be open.
As you can see that 3/4" poly line goes past my irrigation valves, along a ditch, then comes back up and is run above ground in my orchard area.
I still need to install a 400 micron filter somewhere in the line before it gets to the orchard area, then install the 1/2" dripperline that has 2 gph droppers installed every 12" along its length. I plan on doing all of that next week which should be right on schedule for the start of the irrigation season here in Vegas. I did see one of my trees beginning to put out the tiniest little leaves today.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gray Water #1 The BS

As I mentioned in my first post I am planning on irrigating my Backyard Orchard with Gray Water from my laundry. During my research I discovered that in the state of Nevada it is not currently legal to use Gray Water for irrigation, apparently the Southern Nevada Water Authority has successfully opposed every piece of legislation introduced that would have enabled the use of Gray Water by anyone other than themselves.

The news articles I have found talk about the SNWA believing that a purchaser of water only has the right to use it once then return it for industrial scale treatment and return to the Colorado River. The purpose of returning the water to the Colorado is so that the SNWA can get return credits that allow them to draw more water out of the Colorado and sell it to the same customer that just gave it back.

I'm curious just how many people the water in the Colorado River has literally passed through before it makes it to our taps here in Las Vegas? and is it true that our intake is downstream of the outflow from the water treatment plants? if so how many times does the SNWA sell the same water before allowing it to go downstream?

All that aside I am still going to go forward with my gray water irrigation system, or rather my gravity fed drip irrigation system that will have multiple sources of makeup water. I plan on locating my surge tank where I can eventually install gutters and divert what little rain we get into it, second I am going to run a line from a spare valve on my irrigation system so I can fill it up during dry spells, and third I am going to install a 3 way valve on the outlet from my washing machine and route one side to my septic system and the other into the surge tank.

Additionally I have already started contacting my State Legislators and my Representatives on SNWA's board. Initially I have just asked for their opinion on the subject, so far only my County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani has responded. Chris supports the practice but was unsuccessful getting legislation pushed through. My next step will be to educate my representatives about the merits of Gray Water recycling, so if anyone knows of good source material please let me know!