Trip to Reno

High altitude fighter aircraft dropping laser guided 500 lb. bombs outside of Fallon, Nevada. We stopped just off I-50 to watch and feel the percussion wave, which took 5 seconds to reach us.  The row of objects in the foreground are tanks, used for target practice.




Sand Mountain, outside of Fallon, Nevada.


Continued Assessments

Something that always impresses me is that a superficial glance at the sparse, prickly landscape of high altitude desert will convince you that it is devoid of life, or at the very least, that there is little of it compared to the seething biomass density of a jungle or deciduous forest. As for plant biomass, certainly there is far less photosynthesis going on in a desert.

But insects are just as prevalent it seems, if only layered on the single story of flora amongst the sagebrush and mesquite bush. There are as many ants, to be sure. There seem to be as many root dwellers, spiders, and centipedes. The landscape of the desert hides it’s pervasive populations of myriad species under the blanket of soil surface, and night.




We’ve been demolishing perimeter walls and shoddy additions on the house adjacent to the 4 acres we plan to develop for the greenhouses. In the process, I personally killed three massive black widows, countless other males of the species, hobo and wolf spiders, cockroaches, centipedes, etc. The spider population in the shoddy construction and cluttered squalor is astounding. It’s dangerous. We’ve discussed acquiring tyvek suits for demolition on the interior spaces and I for one am adamant that we follow through on this.  We’re destroying their squat and they aren’t at all happy about it.







We had our meeting to discusP1180412s the scope of the project. We shared our concerns for the future, laid out a plethora of reasons for why the project makes sense, then proceeded to what we need to accomplish the project. The first task at hand is to salvage and inventory all resources present in the house adjacent to the four acres. We’ve got  hundreds of 4×6 posts five feet in length. We have approximately 7000 kiln bricks used by the previous owner as patio block. There are various length and width stretches of wire mesh, and hose. We’ll use all this in first building  gabion perimeter walls for windbreak and to define space inside which will be infrastructure elements like the quanzet hut metal shed, tool shed, Workshop structure and finally, greenhouses.






As always there are the annoying realities of small town politics at work, causing endless intrusions into conversation, and shaping the nature of how the project unfolds. Ideally you just move ahead and ignore all the squawking and revise your workflow to accommodate the random visits by interested neighbors.



I’m finding myself steering clear of all distractions and saying very little when the occasion arises. One reason for this is that we need to forge ahead and give no opportunity for anyone to feel the need to provide their opinion or give input on any aspect P1180421of our creation. It is like a painting that needs to be kept hidden until complete. A work of art goes through a sequence of stages that can be viewed as ripe for negative critique, or seen as a static totality when observed at any stage of process, that belies the unfolding of the organic flow of creation. So it’s wise to keep it hid until it’s complete. It’s only fair to the grand vision, is respectful of yourself, and a favor to the viewer not to confuse the final product with the flotsam and jetsam of the torrent of the creative process.




Of the five days I’ve been here, it has rained three. This is the season of increasingly volatile weather, yet it still surprises me and might surprise you, reader, to know that on average this region has an annual rainfall of 6 inches. Add to that monumental figure, the one inch of annual snowfall and you can begin to see why water is a commodity worth more than gold where growing anything but cheatgrass or sagebrush is desired. And also, why it’s so magical to be here right now, since my favorite thing of favorite things is the smell of sagebrush on the breeze after a desert rainstorm.  The overcast weather and lowP1180437 clouds keep rolling in from the west and intermittent rain showers continue to saturate the ground. This is a good thing, since I’ve been wanting to see the flow of water on the 4 acre site. I’m watching to see how much water the soil can bear before it begins to flow on the surface and how much water it will take to cause flooding on the property. We will design 100 year flood mitigation into our landscaping plan to take advantage of all the precious inches that fall in less prolific years.




There is a gully that runs the length of the angle of the isosceles triangle that is the four acre plot shape. This gully delivers it’s hold to the backdoor of the house we’re salvaging resources from. In a flood, the house would certainly be inundated. We’ll be moving a lot of earth to re-direct the flow of the gully water into swales higher up slope. At the mouth of the gully, at the base of slope, we will move soil from roadside burms up-slope, to raise the level about 4 feet and lay down a protective sloped gabion barrier wall. This will direct water toward the greenhouse zone and there, two 10′ diameter, 8′ deep cisterns will collect 9,600 gallons of potential runoff. If ever there is overflow, the cisterns will allow it to exit via 6″ corrugated pipe into the roadside ditch.




The CSA and Research Farm Project Begins

It’s late September 2015. I’ve been deeply engaged in designing infrastructure for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Project in Western Nevada. The focus in this post will be on every aspect of that project, from design and layout, with discussion on principles and parameters, implementation, illustrations, photographs, audio, step-by-step how-to’s and conclusions.

The impetus for all this was a conversation with Chuck Higbee about his desire to solve some basic problems in his rural Nevada community where access to non-GMO, organic local produce is non-existent. It was essential to him and his family to  develop not just a family garden but a community garden, to generate high nutritional value food without the variable high cost of transportation to their tiny hamlet.

For the past year and a half he had been running a small hobby farm including livestock (1-3 pigs, chickens, goats, 1 cow, exotic sheep). It had grown to the point where buying feed and fodder for the animals was not as cost effective as he wanted it to be and he knew it could be made more efficient and nutritious for his animals. There was talk about sprouting seed to off-set the feed cost for his pigs. And talk about an orchard, and value added products from goat milk, fruit, as well as growing trees for sale to nurseries. All that was right up my alley of interest and so what we needed was a master plan.

I focused on the resources first. What essential raw materials lay dormant right on his 4 acres. We inventoried the site. Rock, Sand, sagebrush. Geothermal water 150 feet below if a well were drilled. There was a house adjacent to the land for sale. That house would be able to provide 55,000 gallons of water per month without having to tap into the town’s water main. Chuck purchased the house. With the house came a treasure trove of fencing materials, lumber, bricks, and power. The resources there would make it possible to build a metal equipment shed on the adjacent corner of the 4 acre plot. A materials list and price sheet was created to pass around the community to see if  items could be procured locally and for far less than retail, and when possible, traded for, to eliminate 180 mile round trip ventures to Reno. This would free up significant capital to devote to costs further down the road.

Walls, buildings, shelters, fencing, water lines, grow beds, orchard, cisterns, solar and wind power, greenhouses. All would need to be built from scratch in an integrated stacked-function design plan. If anything was going to be built, it needed to serve more than one function. In fact, as many functions as possible for each element. It’s a foundational design principle in permaculture and I wanted to take it to the extreme. If I built an animal shelter, from re-purposed lumber from the house, it’s roof would also be a surface for a solar power station to pump water (the region provides geothermal well water )  into a cistern built into one wall, to cool the 170 degree water down before use…meanwhile thermally heating the shelter for the cold wind-whipped winter months. But we were just getting started.

I began to design the greenhouse. I needed to start with a component of infrastructure that would be functionally a hub, from which all the surrounding elements of infrastructure depended as well as supported. With a greenhouse, seeds could be started en masse for animal fodder in stacked trays. Fruit and wind break trees like poplars could be started and sheltered until ready to transplant. Vegetables, greens and herbs could be growing year round. The greenhouse was essential. So I started with a model.

Greenhouse 2
Greenhouse_Both sides_endviewgreenhouse_June23Based on the resources available, the site specific design requirements led us to the GABION. A gabion is a wire cage, usually filled with rubble, screened rocks or stacked stone, but the wire mesh cage can be filled with anything, either decoratively or not, (glass bottles, logs, tile, old roof bar tiles) depending on intention and aesthetic. Gabions are fantastic flood mitigation systems. They slow water down. A Gabion built on the sides of a drainage zone will deter river edge erosion. Build one across a flood prone river narrow and you can have a wetland, a dam, swimming and fishing hole. They’re incredibly cost effective. But they can also be beautiful.

For examples see these links:

Here is an instructional website from Australia for deep research:

And here is a pinterest album devoted to gabion design:

We determined that with a limitless supply of rock of varying sizes available for the taking everywhere we looked, the greenhouse walls would be Gabion. Using rubble and stone was a site specific design decision that eliminated costly importation of materials. The rock was present on site. We would still need to ship in the wire mesh rolls but in proportion to the wall masses we’d be building, it was an acceptable cost detail.

On the outside surface of the gabion, plastic, straw mat, loam, coco mat and a sheathing of chicken wire would clad the outer steel mesh to create a living wall that would grow Poa Secunda or Rye Grass or both, depending on the taste of the goats. This cladding would be peeled off every 2 to three years and fed to the pigs.  The roof would direct water to cisterns, to supplement Aquaponics and Aeroponics going on inside.

Examples of Living Walls:

More to come…