Earth, Water, Fire

21. Terraces

Not only does the nutrient cycle play an important part in the natural fertility of the land, even the shape of the land itself can have an influence on the life cycles that occur in the soil. Terracing is a powerful and often overlooked technique. 

If sloping land is left bare, the next rains will just run off the land and wash the exposed top soil away. In contrast, terraced land will prevent top soil erosion and retain soils and humus. Terraces help save water in dry climates and save topsoil in wet climates. 

In his books of Keyline, Mr P.A. Yeomans shows us that it is not essential to build flat contoured banks to benefit from the level line. It is possible to exploit the level with swales, ditches and contour chisel plowing that invests water, oxygen and organic matter in the ground, building up the top soil and filling the lands water table. Contour ditches also slow down water and spread it out as it flows through the landscape. 

Where ever possible, prevent excess water from flowing downhill. The best place to store water is in the ground on which the rain has fallen, take any excess water sideways for storage in micro-dams or direct it to spread out on ridges which are the drier areas of the landscape. A Keyline dam is built high in the landscape. The higher and smaller dams may not be used, their purpose is simply to hold water and let it soak into the ground. This helps wells, creeks and streams lower down the slope last longer through the year. 

Larger dams intended for use are built with a lock pipe installed under the front wall, allowing the dam to be drained with a one to two foot diameter gate valve. This means that a Keyline dam can be emptied in the event of parasite problems. Silt filling the dam is also not an issue as it passes through the pipe. The lock pipe can be opened up for fast flood flow irrigation or it can gravity feed water to any kind of irrigation system. A lock pipe dam is ideal for running hydraulic ram pumps, turbines, water wheels and micro-hydro power for the home. 

Keyline and terracing might be considered as plumbing the land, it is in effect, adding the water works to the landscape and gives the farmer control over movement of the water flowing through the landscape and harnesses the most freely available energy source there is, gravity. 

Practiced over a wide area, keyline would have the effect of moderating the flow of runoff water and erosion caused by heavy rain and reducing the impact of any associated flooding. Using ground covers further strengthens the integrity of keylined land. 

For building a terrace, mark out a level line on the ground using a sight level or a water level described in the chapter on levels. Dig on the uphill side of this line to keep the floor of the terrace level. Leave a lip on the edge to hold water on the terrace. When rain occurs, watch how the water sits and flows on the terrace and make any needed adjustments by shifting Earth. 

Terraces may be built in different styles. They can take the form of a deep narrow trench with a large front wall, or a wide flat bed with a lip to hold water on the bed, or a deep and wide trench with a wide front wall. If the terraces are intended to fill and over flow then drainage will have to be taken into account. Direct the water to spill over the terrace at its lowest angle of the slope which is on the centre of the ridge. 

If you lack time and energy, simple terraces can be made by placing rocks, sticks, branches, logs, bamboo, anything across the slope on the level line. Soil drifting down the slope will back up behind them and create small natural terraces. The same effect can be achieved by planting seeds, trees, bamboo, comfrey, lemon grass, vetiver (chrysopogon zizanioides) and any desired plants close together on a level line across the slope.


22.     Irrigation

There are many kinds of irrigation from the most ancient, like ditch irrigation to the most modern, like drip irrigation, an over head misting system or hydroponics. Each method has an appropriate place and purpose depending on your needs and the local circumstances and the resources available to you. And to make best use of these methods it is important to garden and farm with sustainable, no-dig gardening methods. The use of mulch, ground covers and contours will help reduce evaporation and erosion, conserving water and topsoil. 

The first aim of good irrigation is to try and spread the water as evenly as possible. 

Then next point to observe is to give the plants only as much water as they need to grow productively and no more than that. This saves water and reduces salt build up problems. Over watering can also reduce crop quality. 

Irrigation is usually stopped a week or more before harvest. This gives the harvest time to dry a little. Fruits, greens and seed crops will have a lower moisture content and will be easier to harvest. Produce will also have better flavor and nutrient content and will be less prone to bacterial and fungal problems giving the harvest longer storage and shelf life.


a.     Ditch irrigation 

Ditch irrigation is the oldest and least conservative method.

Once only possible where there were springs, streams and rivers that could be drained by digging channels to take the water to the crop; today irrigation ditches can be fed by pump or siphon.

OK where you have a lot of water to use and limited resources. 

Does not require expensive inputs like pumps and irrigation pipe but is labor intensive in the development and maintenance stages. 

Important to observe levels and slopes.

It is best to flood the ditches and water the crop as quickly as possible to reduce losing water that soaks into the earth. 

Can result in salt problems on marginal land and with poor management.

Requires regular maintenance as leaf litter, tree roots, weeds and erosion will fill the ditches and channels and clog them. A collective of people, called the Soobah, from different villages can be seen cleaning the irrigation channels once a month in Bali.

Community co-operation is important to make large scale ditch irrigation work effectively. Rural communities were some times organized almost entirely around the organization of the water supply.

Ditch irrigation is also the simplest way to deal with waste grey water. Ditches may be dug to take waste water into the garden. Grey water in the drains can be unsightly and can make the ground stale. Covering the drains and adjacent gardens with leaf litter helps keep them clean by filtering water and harboring worms that turn over soil and consume any products of the grey water. Leaf mulch also helps keep the weeds down but leaves will block the free flow of water through the drainage ditches in the garden. 

Place slotted drain pipe in the ditch and then mulch over that with leaf litter. This allows the water to quickly spread along the drain pipe in the ditch and into the garden. The water coming out of the house does not drain down the pipe but is poured on the leaf litter and soaks through the slots in the drain pipe like a filter. 

If the house is raised above the garden the grey water can drain out of the house from a pipe right on to a pile of leaves before it soaks into the slotted drain pipe underneath. 

If the ground is porous, water entering the ditch may just soak in before it goes far but usually waste water floods the garden when we take the plug out of the kitchen sink or the bath or drain the washing machine. So it will go a long way along the ditch before it soaks in. This sort of garden can grow a lot of mint and kang kong, it can also grow a lot of weeds too so immediately remove any weeds you see. Plenty of leaf litter should keep down most weeds. Mulch is consumed very quickly by a wet garden. You may need to lift the pipe out and clean the ditch occasionally as it may attract tree roots.


b.     Covered ditch irrigation

Build irrigation channels just as for ditch irrigation but agi-pipe with 100 holes per meter is placed in the ditch and then the ditch is back filled with Earth. 

The pipe is flooded with water which quickly soaks into the ground through the many holes in it. 

Loss of water by evaporation is reduced. 

Maintenance is also reduced; a covered ditch will not clog with leaves, weeds and Earth. 

Creates a wide spread of water which does not encourage root balling in orchard trees. 

A good method for using grey water as it is underground and any unclean water containing bacteria is not exposed. But the water should pass through a biological filter like a compost worm farm or at least a pile of leaves first to remove any suspended solids that would clog the pipe.

Underground disposal of grey water is required by law in some countries making this an acceptable method of grey water use. 

Great for contoured gardens and orchards. 

More efficient than ditch irrigation and I have heard that it is 30% more efficient than drip irrigation. 

c.      Drip irrigation

Drip irrigation is a very efficient method of irrigation. 

Used in areas where water is in short supply. 

Used for all kinds of crops and landscaping. 

Costs of installation of pipes and dripper nozzles can be high, especially for large areas. 

Concentration of water at drippers can result in root balling for tree crops. 

d.     Sprinklers

There are many kinds of sprinklers for covering large and small spaces with either high or low pressure water. Do some research before deciding on which sprinklers are best for your needs. Sprinkler parts can be expensive.


e.      Flood irrigation

Long term flooding mainly used for rice and taro and a few other aquatic crops. 

Short term flooding can be adapted to different crops and situations. 

Fukuoka would flood his rice fields for one week then drain them rather than keeping the fields flooded. Because he grew his rice through a living mulch of clover, evaporation was greatly reduced. His fields might only need flooding a few times throughout the growing season. 


f.      Fast flood flow irrigation

A Keyline dam is used in combination with Keyline pattern chisel plowing on sloping land. A large amount of water is quickly released and the contoured pattern made by the chisel plow spreads the water over the land to quickly soak in. 

Useful in the production of pasture and crops, particularly by the pasture cropping method. 

Allows for the flood irrigation of sloping land.

High cost of installation but lowest cost in use and maintenance. 

Dependant on rainfall to fill Keyline dams. 

Can be used in seasonal creeks streams and gullies. 

g.     Flood and drain

A large pot (with no drainage holes) is flooded with water, once the pot is soaked it can then be drained. Read chapter on pots for more detailed info. 

Flood and drain can also be done by placing one or more pots (with drainage holes) in a container that is flooded then drained. 

Flooding ensures that the soil or rooting medium is thoroughly soaked and draining it ensures that the medium is then filled with air so the roots can breathe. 

The water that is drained out may be stored in a tank or dam for re-use at a later time. 

If artificial inputs are used, chemical salts can build up in reclaimed water. 

Organic inputs can make smelly water but it will not be dangerous to plant health, in fact the garden will like it. 

Usually used in pots and hydroponic systems. 

Good for herbs, vegetables and annuals. 

This method can also be applied to the rice paddy which may be flooded for a short time then drained. This is how Fukuoka irrigated his rice fields. 

If the drained water can be captured for re-use then this becomes a very efficient method of irrigation. 


h.     Mist irrigation

Usually used in small areas for intensive applications such as nurseries where you want to give young plants the best start. 

Almost lab conditions can be produced where plants can be easily propagated by cuttings, clones. 

A misting system can produce a very humid tropical environment. Epiphytes do best with mist. Orchids can grow onto trees more quickly with regular mist. 

Misting in exposed areas is inefficient due to high evaporation of water so is usually done in protected environments. 

Control mist irrigation with a timer. Two minutes every hour, nine times a day from nine am to five pm is a very efficient regime that produces amazing results. 

The soil does not need to be saturated it only needs a constant breath of humidity in it and roots will happily grow right through it. 

And with a digital timer you can try any watering schedule to suit your needs. The important thing is to observe soil moisture and plant health and adjust the system accordingly. 


i.      Time controlled irrigation

Most plants do not need large volumes of water; in fact too much water can reduce the quality of the crop by making fruit and greens watery. 

Over watering can also cause issues with bacteria and fungus, resulting in disease and rot. 

Salt build up is another possible side effect of over watering. 

However a regular water supply is crucial to achieve uninterrupted and productive growth. 

A timer controlled irrigation system will ensure plants get water when they need it without getting anymore than they need. A carefully observed watering regime not only saves water, it optimizes crop quality as well.

It is necessary to monitor the system as the weather changes and to ensure the irrigation system is working and properly maintained. 

23. Keeping the House Dry

The house is made of organic and inorganic materials which will last longer if they are kept as dry as possible. The presence of water can cause serious problems for the health of both the house and the people who live in it. If the timbers in the house contain any moisture in them, they become more attractive to wood eating termites, wood borers and molds. The walls may be eaten away by insects, while molds rot the wood, producing spores which fill the air affecting the health of the residents of the house. 

In this light water can be seen as pollution and even dangerous to your home and your health, so it is very important to get all water away from the house as quickly as possible. This then presents the gardener with the opportunity to make use of this otherwise waste water in the garden. Here are some hints to help keep your house drier and your garden wetter. 

There are a number of different sources of water that can enter the house; rain from above, water flowing down hill, around and under the house, and moisture rising up out of the Earth. 

When building, site the house on the highest land, or raise the land in a mound shape if you have to, so that any water coming from or near the house flows away from the house and into the garden. Put drainage trenches on the slope above the house to divert water away from the house and into the garden. 

Build as large a roof as possible, especially if there is no gutter on the roof, to keep splashing water away from the house. It is important to prevent water from running under the house or sitting in puddles around it, so for roofs that do not have gutters on them, gutters should be dug into the ground, especially on the uphill side of the house. This will take the rain water from the roof away from the house and into the garden. 

Water should never be allowed to flow under the house. Water under the house can rot wooden stumps and cause house stumps to move. Wooden stumps can float up in wet Earth and sink back down when it dries out. And metal and concrete stumps can just sink. Concrete slabs can also break up when water gets under them causing clay to expand or leeching Earth out from under them. Water can also encourage roots to grow under the concrete causing it to crack. Any movement in the Earth and foundations can cause structural damage to the house which can result in damage to the roof and cause it to leak. Wet Earth under the house also causes rising damp and mold in the house which can directly affect your health. Trees and gardens should not be planted right next to the house. 

The plumbing is another source of water in the home that could cause damage to the house if not properly managed. It is important to fix leaky taps and pipes. Outdoor garden taps should never be fitted to the exterior of the house.  Taps should be fixed to a strong post at least 2 to 3 meters from the house, preferably sited over a ditch garden to take advantage of any lost water. 

The shower, kitchen, laundry and toilet should be situated to one side of the house rather than on the slope above the house. The water is then diverted sideways away from the house and into the garden. 

Any place where water is used in the house like the bathroom, kitchen, laundry and toilet should be well ventilated so that they can dry quickly after use and cleaning and when spillages occur. 

When building; concrete floors can be made to slope slightly in the direction that you would like water to flow. This will make it easier to clean when cleaning and after accidental flooding. In the bathroom, a floor slightly sloping toward the drain will help to keep the shower and toilet area well drained and dry and easier to clean. 

Concrete steps and paths around the house should slope away from the house so that rainwater drains off them quickly. One third of a degree is enough to shed water and will not be noticed. This is a drop of about 1cm per meter or an eighth of an inch per foot.


24.    Draining Roads

Drainage is important for both dirt and paved roads. They will last much longer if water is kept off and away from them. Roads for cars and rail on hillsides should be considered as terraces as they will concentrate water. But as building constructions taking a heavy working load they must be considered as the opposite of a farming terrace and must be properly drained. Poor drainage of hillside roads will cause water to seep into the Earth under the road making it heavy with water and weakening it. This is how hillside roads and railways are undermined by landslides in heavy wet weather. A hillside road that erodes away or slips in a storm can be very expensive and sometimes even impossible to fix.

Pushing Earth off the edge to make level land on sloping land leaves a lot of loose soil that will be washed away in the next rain. This earth really should be compacted to make the embankment safer and reduce erosion and pollution and sedimentation of creeks and streams; which would in turn, help reduce flooding downstream during periods of high rainfall.

Dirt roads are everywhere and new ones are being made every day. Most dirt roads are found in rural communities, on farms and in forests. New forest roads are often made to assist logging so they are usually made for limited use and will likely never be maintained. This results in erosion over a wide area and will fill up creeks and streams below the road with mud. This is the first of a series of obstacles placed in the path of the water; farms, factory’s, mines, roads and urban development cross the waters path all the way to the sea causing it to tear up soil and deposit it in the water drainage system. The mud will keep flowing all the way to the sea resulting in fish kills and smothering aquatic life the whole way. 

The mud also fills the deep pools in the river system reducing its water carrying capacity. This prevents proper drainage during times of high rainfall when that drainage is most needed, resulting in flooding. 

Dirt roads are more susceptible to erosion because they are exposed to rainfall and the physical action of the traffic that travels on them. On flat land where water does not flow along the road, puddles may form that will need to be drained. The most damage is done to a road when puddles are allowed to remain on a road and traffic continues to use it. It really pays to dig a ditch or two to drain it before the damage gets out of hand. 

Drivers who use dirt roads can also do a lot to minimize erosion of either wet or dry roads simply by driving slowly and using lower gears and not accelerating quickly. 

A big problem for dirt roads is that they are often made by a dozer pushing aside soft top soil to expose the harder subsoil. This dead subsoil only becomes more compact and wares away as traffic drives over it. The Earth beside the road however is alive and therefore continues to rise because of the actions of plants and small animals living in it. This leaves a gully for water to follow. So on sloping land any water that falls on the road will follow it to the bottom of its journey causing erosion to the whole road. To counter this it helps to drain the road by putting speed bumps across it. 

It’s easier to divert a trickle than a huge rush of water and within a short distance a trickle can become a torrent, so place the first speed bump at the highest convenient point on the road. 

More bumps are placed below this as needed, usually every couple of meters. The distance between the drainage bumps will depend on how steep the slope is and the amount of water that gathers on the road and how fast it travels down the road. So it helps to observe the road during wet weather to get an idea of the amount of water you are dealing with. You will also be able to see where to drain the water from the road and where to drain it to. 

In steep places there may be no where to drain water to, so you just have to divert what you can above those points as high on the slope as possible and then again immediately after. If a large amount of water is arriving at this lower point then the drainage ditch beside the road will have to be larger to take the large volume of water, maybe even a full size swale will be needed or even a small dam. 

A water diverting bump usually need only be one or two inches high depending on how much water is involved. A large volume of water will require a bigger drainage bump. The bigger the bump is, the longer it will last but it will have a greater effect on the traffic driving over it so it doubles as a speed bump. As roads cover a large area of land and are impervious to water, it is sometimes a huge volume of water coming down the road, even in places that look like deserts most of the year. When there is a very large amount of water it probably won’t be necessary to have a speed bump across the road. A ditch placed beside the road may be all that’s needed to get water away from it and then it might only take a portion of that water. If the water is fast moving the ditch will need to be positioned at an acute angle to the flow of water so that it catches the water and uses its own energy to divert it away from the road. 

If the drainage channel is short, water may pour out the end and cause erosion there. A contour ditch should be made as long as possible for water to soak into the Earth and fill the water table. Excess water that overflows from it will spread out over the land below it and can benefit crops, orchards, gardens or forests. 

A speed bump meant for draining roads will not usually be positioned at right angles across the road. Place the bump on an angle to the road slightly graduated down to the lower side of the road. 

The water diversion bump is made with wet clay. It is best to apply the wet clay to a solid surface. If there is any vegetation growing on the road between or beside the wheel tracks, use a spade to carefully scrape the weeds and any soft Earth off the road. 

Try not to dig into the road as the compact Earth is very strong material and an asset to the road. Just scrape enough off the road surface so that water does not form puddles on the wheel tracks. 

When you have a clear area, wet it first so that the mud that you apply will stick to it (mud house building technique). The mud can be applied just like making pottery. That is, as the mud dries out you can work it by slapping it and stomping on it to the shape required. This will make it strong. 

Once the water is taken off the road it is best not to let it sit beside the road as this can seep under the road and end up causing it damage. 

A ditch that catches the water coming off the road should be positioned at a similar angle as the water bump on the road. If this ditch needs to flow acutely downhill at the beginning it can be turned a couple of meters away from the road to follow the contour line into the forest, orchards, fields and gardens that you would like to water. 

By digging contour ditches, and using the Earth removed to make embankments below the ditch, you can make a series of small stepped paddy fields that fill with water whenever there is heavy rain. 

25.   Fire and the Land

By digging contour ditches, and using the Earth removed to make embankments below the ditch, you can make a series of small stepped paddy fields that fill with water whenever there is heavy rain. 

The burning off of rubbish, waste vegetation, crop residues, weeds, pasture, under storey vegetation and forest fires in rural areas creates serious air borne pollution which is both offensive and dangerous to our health. This airborne pollution is a big part of the carbon pollution responsible for climate change. 

Fire is the final act of annihilation, it destroys the leaf litter and humus in the soil and sterilizes it of its micro-flora and fauna and the complex organic chemistry that all these living things have worked for generations to create. Without this chemistry in the soil the Earth would be no different to the Moon or Mars where life cannot exist. 

Wildfires can destroy 10 metric tonnes of timber and leaf litter or more on every hectare of land, releasing into the air large amounts of carbon and other pollutants which, unburned, would have been part of the soil cycle. The loss of ground covers, leaf litter and fallen twigs and branches leaves the Earth open to erosion and leaching when it rains. This loss of water controlling organic matter will also intensify the dry season resulting in drought and will contribute to flooding downstream when the wet season returns. 

Contrary to popular belief only 5% of fire ash is water soluble and available to plants and will mostly be washed away with the first rains. 

Most fire hardened species do not need fire to germinate their seeds, they merely survive it, quickly taking the place of their fire sensitive neighbors and creating an aggressive weed like regrowth. 

With an annually repeated fire regime these effects add up to change an environment from marginal rain forest or wet schlerophyl to one of dry schlerophyl and eventually not even that. 

Fire regrowth is also adapted to dry conditions and is more easily combustible, making it highly vulnerable to fire in following seasons. Such trees also transpire less and have a more limited effect on the climate, meaning that rain will be less likely, especially in marginal environments. 

Fire impacts heavily on the presence of soft, broad leafed plants that are an essential part of the ecology. These plants help to suppress more aggressive weeds that make gardens hard to manage. Fire removes the soft, broad leafed plants and favours the fast growing weeds that often have burrs, spikes, thorns and prickly hairs that will quickly take over fire damaged land. These weeds act as a defense mechanism. They protect the land while it regenerates but they have the effect of making it very hard for humans to interact with the land. 

In severely fire damaged areas, the vegetation may take a long time to return, and without a supply of fresh leaf litter provided by a normal ground cover, the Earth quickly becomes compacted and lifeless. 

Slash and burn farming is an age old practice that has worked for a long time because till now there has been so few people and so much land. When the land was depleted by this practice, the farmer was able to move on and start again, leaving the land to lie fallow till it recovers when the farmer returns after having depleted the next piece of land. Today the situation is reversed, with less land for more people. If the farmer wants to maintain the fertility of his land he would be better off exchanging slash and burn for slash and mulch and other sustainable farming techniques. 

People who believe that a fire regime is appropriate land management, should be prepared to explain and justify their beliefs and practices, to those peoples of small island nations, who are about to lose their entire countries, because of sea levels rising as a result of climate change. They should also be prepared to open their countries and their homes to these same peoples, when their countries finally do disappear and they become greenhouse refugees. It’s just one small world we live on and we’re all responsible for it. 

Apart from plastics, chemically treated timber and other modern products, anything that can burn, can be used for mulch no matter how big a piece of timber it is. 

Plastic and toxic materials should never be burnt, and should be recycled or removed to an appropriate waste site, perhaps for storage for later use. 

If seasonal wild fires are a problem, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risks, other than burning off. 

Make a fire break by cutting and clearing ground cover and leaf litter to reduce the fuel load on the ground. This material can be used as mulch on the garden and around trees. 

Terracing and keyline also act to slow down the spread of fire by placing a physical barrier across the path that fire is most likely to move most rapidly, which is uphill. With terraces and level ditches and mounds across the slope, the speed and force of a fire can be reduced. Keyline farms rarely burn and may be seen to be green while neighboring farms are burnt out. 

If there is no alternative to burning off the fuel load on the ground, there are ways of reducing the impact of a fire regime on the Earth. 

If possible, clear fire breaks around areas to be burnt and burn small patches rather than large areas. 

Burn off the fuel load in the cooler months before the hot dry season to help reduce the intensity of the fire. 

Fires should be lit in the evenings when it is cooler and moisture rising from the ground begins to settle on ground cover plants for the same reason. 

Set the fire at the edge of the fire break towards which the wind is blowing so that the fire is forced to creep into the wind. 

When burning off sloping land, start the fire at the top of the slope so that it creeps slowly downhill rather than racing uphill. 

But please, try as hard as possible to avoid the use of fire in the management of the land. As fires are mostly lit by people, it will only be through education and community co-operation that the regular occurrence and effects of fire in the landscape can be reduced. 

26. The Cooking Fire

When burning off sloping land, start the fire at the top of the slope so that it creeps slowly downhill rather than racing uphill. 

The cooking fire is an essential part of many homes around the world but it also produces smoke which is unpleasant and toxic to those nearby. There are ways of reducing the irritations and dangers of the smoke of the house hold cooking fire. 

Only make fire out of need, combustible materials are costly and can often have a number of different possible uses, such as building material or as mulch. And smoke is a toxic substance that is also responsible for climate change so the less smoke the better. 

When making a fire, be mindful of the smoke and the wind direction, is there someone downwind of you who will be breathing in your smoke? 

Never burn plastics, glossy paper or any modern products of any kind on the domestic fire place as they produce very toxic gases. These things also poison the ash and will mean it cannot be used in the garden. 

Never put any food scraps in the fire place. They produce thick smoke and burn poorly and dampen the fire. Food scraps are an important resource, either as food for farm animals or compost for the garden. 

Enclose the fire in a stove or oven. By holding in the heat, the amount of fuel required is greatly reduced, reducing the economic and environmental cost of the fire place. 

Put a chimney on the fireplace, so that the smoke can be vented from the house, reducing pollution in the home. 

If cooking over open fire, pots and pans can be kept clean by smearing the exterior with a thin layer of mud before putting them on the fire, the soot will wash off easily. 

Only burn old wood that is dried and cured, not rotten. Rotten wood burns poorly and releases large amounts of mold and bacteria spores into the air, which is unhealthy for people sitting around a fire. Hard old silver wood is the fire wood getters prize. 

Bark the timber before burning it. Bark is the living part of the tree and therefore contains resins and nutrients that when burnt become toxic gases and airborne particles. Bark should be returned to the garden for mulch, or some other useful purpose found for it. 

Green harvested trees are the easiest to bark. When cut down turn the axe over and hit the tree with the back of the axe, particularly with the top corner of it. Fresh, green bark is brittle and more easily smashed and removed. If you have a lot of trees to bark and, or very hard bark to work with, then you might use a jackhammer with a wide foot attachment instead of a digging spike. Some saplings and poles can be stripped with a tool that looks like a giant paint stripper.

Logs should be raised off the ground to dry and cure them. Place two logs on the ground on which to rest the other logs cut down. This is true for both fire wood and building timber. Wood for building should also be barked as the bark feeds and harbors wood boring insects and microbes which quickly damage the log. It is best to put a roof over it as well so building wood can dry and cure slowly in the shade to prevent it from splitting. A roof also keeps the rain off and reduces mold and insect damage to both building and fire wood. 

Firewood should be completely dried and allowed to sit and cure for some months before it is burnt. Curing helps to reduce the organic compounds in the wood and allows it to burn with the greatest efficiency. It will be easier to light and will burn at the highest temperature possible, reducing the wood to its simplest elemental form and making the smoke given off by the fire as harmless as possible. 

These are old principles, practiced in many countries around the world, especially in cold climates, where timber would be cut in the spring and summer and stacked for use in the winter. 

Tree species which grow faster; are easier to harvest, and produce wood which burns more easily, are preferred for cropping for firewood. For tropical regions, acacia mangium is a fast growing tree with many uses. It produces a lot of leaf litter, and left on the ground, the uncured wood rots quickly making it an excellent green manure tree. Stored raised off the ground, it will cure and makes excellent firewood or working timber. The young saplings are strong and springy and are used for spears, bows, farm tools, musical instruments and building. 

Ash and charcoal from the fire place should not just be thrown away into the garden, they are useful and in large amounts they are toxic and will sterilize the soil. Sift the ash and store it separate from the charcoal. If there is nowhere to store it, just make one pile of charcoal and one pile of ash somewhere so that it is not spread out too much and so you can find it and use it when you need to. Cover the ash if possible to stop the rain from leaching it. 

Charcoal can go back in the fire or be used in filters or for drawing and other purposes. Ash also has many uses; it makes a good abrasive for cleaning. Ash can be dusted over plants or mixed into solution and sprayed over them for the control of some pests. Grasshoppers can be discouraged from eating the greens this way, and the ash is easily washed off the vegetables before consuming them. Even dust off the road can be used this way however the ash and rock dust are assured of being bacteria free. 

As a fertilizer, ash should be used sparingly in the garden and spread out evenly at a rate of 1kg, about a large bucket, to every 30 square meters. 

Never use ash for cleaning or fertilizing the garden that has had plastic or any other artificial rubbish or treated or painted wood burnt in it. The smoke and ash from burning artificial rubbish contains many chemicals like dioxin which are some of the most poisonous chemicals known. 


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