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Coatsville Update

As a kid I would visit my dad on his dry acreage in Shepherd outside of Billings, Montana. The most regular summer chore was setting the siphon tubes from the county irrigation ditch into the crop furrows. This involved dunking short bended tubes into the ditch, and getting the gravity-fed siphon to pull water from the ditch into the furrow: my dad referred to it in many iterations of “irritating”.

Here in Xeriscape Utah, everything in the garden must be “irritated” or turn to powder under the high altitude desert sun. A friendly timer-robot with four valves attaches at each of three spigots on the house. Two of the robots run to the old buried sprinkler system- one in front and one in back, and another in the back is set with 1/2 inch black tubing delivering water to all corners of the back 40. This spring’s irritation project was to finish out my xeriscape water plan and to bolster our new trees and garden spaces.

10 years ago, when we bought the house, the prior home owner had set all the sprinkler systems for the lawn and hedge, and had run a line to water the parking strip and never brought it under the sidewalk. He showed me the line’s start set with the other underground lines at the driveway spigot in the back yard, and gestured vaguely at the front of the house saying the other end was out in the hedge by the sidewalk. Years back I pulled the lawn from the area he gestured toward, and set in Xeriscape and replaced the sprinkler heads with multi-head ports delivering water to each plant in the landscaping: I never came across his gestural tubing. So I dug around for it. First out by the hedge, along his other buried water lines (nothing); then at the start of all the lines into the side yard (found it); then where all the lines (but that one) lined up before going under the driveway; then I dug along the line through the side yard and it bent out toward the driveway hedge- I poked around in there for a bit and found it! I had bought a gizmo to water-bore under the sidewalk last summer (I’ve been not getting around to this for awhile now) when the city put in a new sapling on our parking strip- instead I hand watered it all summer. A bit of swearing and banging around and making a mud pit, and draining the mud pit, and banging around in my spare parts bin and soon enough there was a water line out to the parking strip. The next bit took the longest, so I’ll make it the shortest: pull all rocks by section; lay in new ground-cover cloth; lay in new waterline and set water to each plant; replace rocks.

The three Miss Kim lilacs we put in a few weeks back spoke with the rose bushes, and they all decided it was time to pull the 6 pop-up sprinkler heads and replace them with multi-head ports for 1/4 inch water line, moved back 2 feet from the driveway toward the fence. So I hopped to it. The underground PVC water line at the last pop-up head had a cracked T-connection, and the interwebs showed me that there is a part just for that particular fix. I went and got it in the wrong size, and went and got it in the right size, and put it in place. Then ran 1/4″ line to every plant, each with its own watering solution. The next bit was the longest, so I’ll keep it short: then I did that last bit for all the new plantings, split plantings, and replaced and repaired many of the old irritations as well: 200-ish? I don’t want to know. It may have wrapped up today.

Easter picts just posting now: Tulips and new Serviceberry tree in bloom.
Last summer’s new garden area, with last fall’s tulip planting emerged.
Still a few freezes; she blooms before the lilacs or the big crabapple tree.
Waxy orange.
Dainty peach tutu’s.
Serviceberry bloom.
…still Easter
end of Easter
Roses and Miss Kim’s all starting to bloom- and all with xeriscape water solutions.
One of six multi-port heads is to the left of the Miss Kim.
Middle Miss Kim and domestic red rose both beginning to bloom. The big lilac bush is at the end of its flowering, so Kim’s timing is perfect.
I planted many bulbs of these hybrid Columbine throughout the yard this spring.
Our purple soldiers are all about to put on their parade hats, meanwhile all last summer’s xeriscape flowers are starting up (some were hit by a frost and are trying again). The waterline to the parking strip was discovered on the other side of the facing hedge. Just today I discovered the dripline for the entire hedge has a leak somewhere in this same bit, and realized it has been leaking since last summer as I recognized the puddle forming on the sidewalk. I couldn’t find it, and got scratched bloody trying. I’ll have to figure something out- like my leather welding jacket…
Last summer I pulled out this wedge of lawn and converted it to xeri-bedding. After this image was taken I pulled layers of black plastic out from under the entire hedgerow, hoe’d out a mess of dead leaves, put in feeder soil formulated for bushes, and put in a dense layer of mulch- it was while doing this job that I checked the soaker hose running the entire hedge and found the leak without actually being able to find it.
All the new flowers overwintered and are coming along.
Our new Honeylocust tree, now with a soaker hose- and restaged rocks over new groundcloth, over the new waterline.
The waterline passes under this first slab of concrete, delivering water to each bush and tree all the way to the yellow bush at the end.
Today’s approaching storm blew over this entire bed of Iris. They were even closer to the ground by the end of the day. Next season I’ll build a barr for them extending from the old fence post line.
Last weekend E and I went to the big plant sale fundraiser at Red Butte Garden (up by the Natural History Museum & UU Campus) and put in our veggies and bird protection over the lettuce and shard on the big hugel. I have since learned to mulch right around the tomatoes and strawberries (the only veg-plants that like this) as fruits or leaves touching bare soil is how harmful microbes infect the plant. So the far side of the Hugel is now mulched. All the junky cinder blocks and offcuts hold back the mounded soil, and will eventually come off as the layers digest and everything settles.
We also picked out three varieties of grasses; some low and bushy, others will get over 5 feet tall, others have nice fan heads of seed. Plus, the log hugle at L is putting up its garden. I dug close the the log putting in the grasses, and there was already an amazing amount of squirmy life down there e.g. millipedes, worms, and friends, which is pretty amazing in this usually sterile clay soil.
Lots of additional plantings from Red Butte, and lots of splits, and new emerging plantings from bulbs earlier in the spring, and the new Serviceberry tree.
The ranch poppies are all about to pop, and the Devil’s Root bush I transferred last fall (in the middle of the round old table) survived and is leafing out. Since this image I had a youtube lesson by an Australian gardener (an even more severe desert climate) and reset the mulch around it, the Serviceberry, and the Miss Kim’s: all ringed with 3-4 inches deep and 6-8 inches wide of shredded cedar over a layer of feeder-soil, and recovered with the old woodchip ground cover.
The super-hybrids are beginning to bloom.
The herb garden. Two re-grew on their own, two are replanted from the sunroom, and we added one from Red Butte as well.
This section in front of the lilac bushes got a new section of 1/2 inch black tubing T’ed off the main line, with many 1/4 inch lines to each planting.
The Clematis from Ohio is getting a good start- it barely made an effort last season.
The fish are all just visible boiling the surface behind the potted plant.
My waterline work here wasn’t as subtle as last year, but the plants may not have found their best positions yet, as the morning sun blasts in from the R, then fries along through the afternoon just where the foremost plant has become sunburned.
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Storm approaching, and the tulips close.
Fish from the upper pond made a winter migration to the lower pond- @30 swimmers.
Came back to my fist attempt at bricklaying, and finished the far side.
Nora notes that this time I staggered the bricks. Good master!
Tuesday’s gardening moved a few little bushes, and added in 30 new plantings- many went into this long run of bedding around the lilacs set last fall.
Daffodils were laid flat by our snow squall last week, but perked right back up.
Hyacinths are the first strong perfume of spring.
The back run. Lots has happened. You can walk around, linking to the front!
At the top of the steps is this brick landing, followed by three layers of steps.
The stepping stones are bricks sunk on end, so they remain stable without edging.
The log planter was converted to a hugel and planted with elephant ears a few weeks back.
The big log hugelcultur is finished and planted, with 5 acea (5ft flowering multicolored columns), and 5 flox (3ft pink shrubs).
This new section of brick leads to the mulch roller’s new platform. I took out two old stumps (I had cut out a slew of “trees of heaven” when I took this section of yard back from the neighbors years ago, setting the irrigation ditch into underground tubing) and completed the line of concrete pillars. There’s always a project that needs done before you can get to the project…
All tidied up. The seemingly infinite pile of bricks feeding these new additions is nearly caput.
Lucky is happy with the increased foot traffic around his corral.
Nora drove 25 miles to the north with E & I to J&J Garden Center, where we picked out 3 Miss Kim Lilac trees, and a Serviceberry Tree. We planted the Miss Kim lilacs down the fence row by the drive. They will soften up this hard view, and grow taller than the fence.
A large wild rose bush had been here, I moved it to the other side of the house creating a long line of three rose bushes.
I’ve been cultivating this big rose back from the brink, someday it will get some Miss Kim shade.
Nora stands in for scale to heavy section of tree. I brought in two rangy truckloads of this hardwood from a neighbor’s yard as a base layer for a Hugelkultur keyhole bed I’m putting in the back of the back yard. This log was too big to throw over the hugelkultur wall- it will find its place.
I dig out the old herb garden (E brought most of them in for the winter), drop it deep down and fill as a hugelkultur: logs, sticks, dirt with chicken manure, then grasses, then dirt with cow manure.
Ready for transplanting when spring warms up.
This is the new tree, a Serviceberry- blooms white, has bright red fall foliage, and produces berries to draw in Waxwings in winter.
One of many loads of twigs and branches for the hugelz.
I refitted this series of steps that I created last fall, putting in a base layer and chip stone.
A long while back I welded up a retaining wall from old military ammo boxes, and had a big pile of these wooden boxes that had served many purposes (bug nurseries, bird feeder barrier) over the years.
The wooden boxes now form the front wall of a giant hugelkultur keyhole garden, the new idea for what to do with this inferno and shade space behind the studio.
After digging down well below ground level, I filled the hugel with two truckloads of the tree Nora stood by earlier. Then filled in with dirt/chicken manure mix, then branches and more dirt/chicken poo mix, then hedge trimmings and cardboard pictured here.
I trimmed the lower branches of the crabapple tree, and in go the trimmings.
The triangle form in the foreground is the “keyhole” hoop of wire (covered with cardboard and a flat of steel) that descends to the bottom of the hugel. This is a composting bin that feeds the hugel.
Next I trimmed down our big Bermuda grasses, and made a straw layer.
This layer will be topped with “garden soil”, of a cow manure mix, and will be the layer for plantings.
The long narrow hole forming behind the barrow is providing dirt for the big hugel.
The hugelkultur is “full”. Full at this point will mean lots more dirt on top, as it will all settle.
The spring veg sale is coming up, and well see what tomatoes and squash and strawberries may happen here.
The hole providing dirt for the hugel is fit to the log too big to put in the hugel, and so forms its own hugel for a flowerbed.
The black form is our compost spin bin. I decide it needs a dedicated spot.
But first, I put in the long remaining length of our plum tree as a retaining wall for the hump- after splitting our blue fescue grasses from 12 humps into 30.
This is the new digs for the compost spin bin.
She tests out her new spot. Spot on.
There is a plan emerging back here. A few more weeks of garden delerium should bring it together. We had a months worth of March moisture in one overnight snowstorm, snapping tree limbs around town and shutting power down around the city (not here)- but it stalled out any weekend progress.
Nora taught me how to lay brick this afternoon.
She points out that this section is better as the bricks are staggered, the side section is what happens when she leaves me on my own.

The underlayment is the serious work, 16 bags of prep material. The bricks were salvage.
Next break in the weather; this side of the planter.
I have zillions of bricks left, so we’ll see what Nora comes up with…
When last we saw the rocket stove, after test firing one… (descriptions are set to E.E. Cummings?)

Rocket Stove Stress Test

When last we saw the rocket stove it had gone through core/chimney test firing, then had been wrapped with rockwool inside a hard backer-board shell trimmed with steel. It awaited the stainless steel drum.

Test fire two. Stainless steel drum over chimney.

Here the drum is in place fitted over the inner chimney riser, with two vents of stainless steel pipe securely welded near the bottom of the drum. The drum radiates heat to the room, and vents the comparatively cooler air near its base, creating draw on the chimney by dissipating heat quickly. The vent pipes are fitted with double wall stovepipe vent, increasing from 3 inches at the drum to 4 inch vent. This rear vent is the main riser to the house chimney, and the other will feed into and through a mass form (to be built in-situ at the ranch), this mass-venting line will link back into the main riser, ensuring a continuous hot draw out the house chimney, as well as a strong draw through the mass.

Two vent pipes welded on, with stovepipe ends.

Running with no visible emission or smell of smoke for 40 minutes. I need to verify that the rockwool liner survives a high heat and keeps things air tight, that the outer drywall board remains stable, and that the metal frame stays cool. The stainless steel drum begins to turn copper color with heat, as it should, but the box is cool to the touch. Time to test to possible failure.

40 minutes into the burn, running it hot.

I pack the firebox with 1inch diameter pine and 3 inch branches, and the chamber, already over 1000F, devours the wood straight into a white light. Temperature at the chimney, with o2 blending into the gas reburn venturi-vortex, jumped to over 1500F or more- and suddenly a putrid heavy black smoke churned from both vents. It was similar to foundry fails, when molten metal is poured into a mold that hadn’t burned out completely, and the metal annihilates everything not burned out and gasses out the uncured mold- in a vertical jet of putrid flame. This wasn’t anywhere nearly as dramatic, yet I recognized the smell of things coming apart in high heat. The black chem-smoke would dissipate, and I would repack the box, and the black would bloom again. After 20 minutes the worst was over, and I pulled out the remaining big branch, and replaced it with a 1×2 x two foot run of oak. This hardwood will burn hotter, and burn very clean; soon things were running back at “zero emission” again.

Tree branches vaporize in the chamber.
The connective welds (bronze weld to stainless steel) heat to rainbow color.
Oak end-cut for a clean burnout.
Chimney removed, core and rockwool are perfect
The chimney is a fail.
Chimney view. Shrunk, crazed, and vitrified: well over the 1200F rating at base and ruined, cooler at top and the ceramic is fine.
Rocket stove tested to high heat, and ceramic fiber inner chimney fails. It shrinks, cracks, and vitrifies to a weakened state.
Outside SS wrap wire is fine, AL wrap thinned to parchment or gassed off, ceramic destroyed at base.

I have already ordered ceramic fiber board rated to 3,000F, same as the unscathed core-box, to rebuild the chimney. I wanted to try the round chimney, even though it’s temp rating was only 1200-1500F as it allows a stronger spinning venturi-effect to cleanly re-burn all the gasses. Looks like I’ll be going with the square version made from fiber board. I’ll post how the retest goes soon.

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Overnight snowstorm is waist deep on 1/2 life size operator of the waterfall weir.

Last night we had our biggest overnight snowfall in more than a decade, with 15 inches at the house and 20 inch drifts. In the mountains; 5.5 feet at Alta resort.

Nora and I walked to the park yesterday and it started spitting snow, but nothing stuck ’til around 5pm. I shoveled a few inches before nightfall, clearing everything before E got home from work (I’d just picked up and stacked another 1000lbs of bricks picked up from a nearby house remodel for redoing our winding pathway in the back yard this spring).

This morning I had a cup of Joe and headed out to tackle shoveling. It took me nearly an hour to clear a path from the truck to the street, as I had determined I couldn’t clear the path all the way back to the garage to access E’s 4×4 Subaru in time for her to leave for work, so I planned to drive her to work then come back and keep shoveling. A neighbor let me know all schools and gvmt offices were closed, just as E came outside. She checked in and sure enough, Snow Day! So I kept shoveling, and shoveling, and shoveling. I have an oversize shovel made to push up a big bite, then slide snow out of the way to dump elsewhere- which works great with this California Concrete. I just have to stomp out a path to dump the snow, then grab a big shovel full and cart it over and start ramping up; to five feet tall by the entire length of the driveway. And another big pile at the foot of the drive out by the street.

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It came from the Northwest.

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Couples with matching outfits can be a bit much.

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Birds perched on her just yesterday.

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At least a foot, plus drifting. It started wet and warm from the South with nothing sticking ’til late afternoon, then shifted to a Northerly in the wee hours of the morning and fluffed powder up on top of the slushy scrubble. (410 road accidents so far)

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Nora has never seen a snow wall taller than herself before.

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I cut this little path with my flat shovel. She tries it out, and thinks it’s pretty keen.

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Three hours of shoveling later; the last time this bit of lawn had such a pile it took multiple storms and Lucky was encased within it- many Xmases ago (2016) when Walt & Kaye & my mom were here. I gassed up my neighbor’s snowblower, and he did my front sidewalk and toured around the block a bit.

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Core Oven: refractory board rated to 3,000 degrees.

I thought I’d make my own super-efficient Rocket Mass-Heater for the ranch, to replace the dangerous old cast iron wood stove. A Rocket Mass-Heater burns about 80% less wood than the old stove, can run on pellets as well, produces no smoke, few gasses, and will keep the house warm all night with no fire burning. It provides a radiant heat source via a stainless steel bell, as well as a large radiant mass that warms to a few hundred degrees which then radiates heat for 8 to 10 hours after the fire has burned. It can heat the house for 12 to 24 hours for one hour of burning- depending on how well my mass structure absorbs and retains heat. I will build that up at the ranch, using aircrete; concrete blended with super foamed soapy water. This reduces the weight of the concrete mass by 60-75 percent, and allows the heat to permeate the mass.

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This is the Walker J-Stove design. I bought the layout plan for $20 online. Brilliant.

The interwebs are awash with bad Rocket Stove designs. Many cores are created with bare steel using old gas canisters. At 1500 to 2000 degrees in an oxygen depleted environment, steel undergoes a process called spalling. Essentially it rusts without oxygen, or more precisely it is the effect of reshuffling the iron molecules wherein they lose covalent bonds and layer like sheaves of paper. Refractory material is the only media that can survive the temperatures in the core and stack. I found the best understanding of the forces at work were from Masonry Stove builders, in particular Walker Design, who offers a J-Rocket core design to keep us diy dinks from burning down the ranch house. My design is a hybrid, as the stove will stand alone, as will the mass-heater. This is borrowed from another solid innovator, The Honey-Do Carpenter. I’ll be using his specs to create the concrete foaming gun, and modifying from his prototype of a light weight mass heater separate from the rocket stove.

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I added this air-flow channel, bringing fresh air to the riser to encourage the venturi and oxygenate the superheated gasses for a complete burn.

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The air splits into three channels, that combine into one, with the three channels still delineated at the top. This opens directly into the stack.

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I found this round refractory tubing rated to 1500 degrees, perfect for a venturi stack, or chimney. The Walker design uses the same media as the core, so that stack is square, which limits the gyre.

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I wrapped the stack in heavy perf aluminum, and tied it with stainless steel wire. 

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Now I wait for the fireplace brick splits order to arrive, to line the inside front of the firebox. This protects the delicate refractory media from the wood fuel.

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The fire brick arrives, and I run a hot burn to temper / shrink all of the media, prior to spackle with high-temp mortar.

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As the fire climbs to temperature, there is an initial column of smoke.

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In a few minutes we are at temperature, and the smoke is gone. All wood is reduced to gas, and even the gasses are burned. Her core temperature is 1,500 to 2,000 degrees (hot enough to melt bronze and steel). I can hold my hand against the walls, they are warm to hot.

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Operating at full burn. 

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Only the bottom end of the wood burns. These board-remains were 4 feet long, and slowly digest into the jet of flame. The soft roar of the air to flame is why this is called a Rocket Stove.

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The remaining cinders are the remains of the last few cooler minutes of burning, as the full incinerating force drops.

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This is after the next step; encasing the delicate refractory core in a heat-safe and tough shell.

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The refractory core is bedded in rock-wool, a fireproof spun silica insulation that allows no air movement. The outer shell is hardy backer board with a tough outer shell, ready for tile. I used an industrial cement and seam-webbing to join the board. 

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20 feet of angle iron, and a few steel scraps, welded into a sturdy frame. 

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The stainless steel 15 gallon drum goes over the chimney column. This acts as a heat radiator. 

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I cut this perfect circle to sleeve over the chimney. Next I will cut a small hole on the outside for a stove pipe connection, and another to fit to the mass heater (another build for another day). 

Lots more to do: support the stainless drum; put on low legs; create gravity-assist wood feeder of wide square-stock tubing that is removable; resolve the stove piping; tile it; maybe make a pellet feeder. Then design up the mass heater for assembly in Montana.