In this podcast, Paul and Jocelyn go over their long term goals and fantasies about what can happen at Wheaton Laboratories https://permies.com/f/102/labs (The Lab and Basecamp) over the next several years. Paul has made a list. Jocelyn would like to see new things being created, not just repairing and maintaining what’s already there. Paul wants to facilitate the presence of more people, and more professional people.
Paul and Jocelyn both work full time to try to support the projects, they’re definitely not getting rich here. Paul would love to have someone on site who could manage and rent out all of the various structures, but they have yet to find someone who could do this successfully. Paul can no longer be “the expert” for everything - he feels he gave that up when he bought the property.
Paul’s dream is to live in a community where everyone has their own expertise: one person is an expert with bees, and another is expert with cattle, and another is a great gardener, etc. Paul got into permaculture via gardening, but these days he doesn’t have time to garden.
Jocelyn explains (for those of you who don’t know) that Wheaton Labs is two pieces of land. The Lab was purchased as off-grid, totally raw former timber land. Basecamp is about two miles away from the Lab and it had a manufactured home, a garage and a big shop building. In the past 4+ years, many things have been built, on both properties.
Paul’s thinking that creating a permaculture community might cost $20 million. They are trying to develop this on a shoestring. There’s a paradox: you need cool things to draw in the people, but you need people to create the things. The bootcamp program is working great - the boots are being directed towards getting a lot of things done that need to be done. The boots are learning a lot, building in roundwood timber framing, cob, straw bale, all sorts of things.
ATI - Annualized Thermal Inertia test for Allerton Abbey. Allerton Abbey was suffering some structural issues, so logs were replaced, other logs were shored up. 2 engineers checked it out (they were visiting) and they feel like the building is now quite stable and safe - “belt and suspenders safe.. Apparently some pieces were removed a while back, and those pieces were actually structural.
They tried to test the ATI in a previous winter, but it became obvious that the uphill and downhill walls were super leaky and the winter wind blew right through. The “Peasant PDC” (May 22 - June 21) will be focused on turning Allerton Abbey into a permaculture paradise. It already has a lovely straw bale wall to replace one of the leaky walls. A junk pole fence will be built around it, hugelkultur beds will be built inside the fence for gardens, much cob and art will be made.
Then, hopefully next winter they can do a test of the ATI with Allerton Abbey.
Cooper Cabin is bigger than Allerton Abbey but it does not yet have the full earthen cover needed to test ATI there.
After the Peasant PDC will be a more traditional two week PDC (June 24-July 7), but one that is aimed at folks who are starting out at a higher level. A certain amount of knowledge will be presumed. There will be microscopes. It will still be more homestead focused than urban or large farm (2 to 200 acres). (After that is the ATC: July 9 - 20.)
Freezer Wofati: Paul would like to build a wofati on a north slope, no windows, buried a little deeper than a wofati to live in, and multiple other tricks employed to try to direct cold air and capture the coldest air with a goal of having a space that stays below freezing year round, without electricity.
Lemon Tree: they have already built the earthworks for the lemon tree test, but there’s no lemon tree yet. Paul has looked at the site when it’s snowy, and it seems to be working, there’s no snow where the tree should grow. What is needed for this test is a person to live right nearby and manage the tree.
Perfect the Willow Feeder System: Paul would like to try having a ventilation pipe inside the wheeled can. He’d like to try different systems for breaking down the waste, like black soldier flies, but the main plan is to dry out and “mummify” the contents of the can. (For those who haven’t seen it - this is a facility with urine diversion, so only #2 goes into the cans. The cans are big wheeled trash cans, they are rarely handled due to their size.)
20+ Year Round Residents on the Lab: Maybe 15 to 18 one or two acre plots with singles and couples living there. The people will have their own smaller plot, but they will have access to the full 200 acre property. They will have like minded neighbors, one of the best things about living at the Lab.
Again, it would be great to have people with a lot of different interests: beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs (to make ponds!), honeybees, chickens. It would be great to have someone who is interested in breeding chickens. When Paul bought the land, he had to set aside his own gardening in order to try to develop the community that will eventually achieve his gardening goals. It would be great to have somebody who is great at natural building, at roundwood furniture making.
Paul would like one person to carefully document how many calories they can raise on one permaculture acre, thus establishing a new record for how many calories could be raised from one acre in Montana. Ideally that person could be like Gert, a permaculture “millionaire.” (Thus called because if you gave her a million dollars, her life wouldn’t change - she’s already happy and doesn’t want for anything.)
Paul would like a person who innovates in natural building, who develops new less toxic ways to build. Jocelyn notes how many people are being sickened by their homes, from all the off-gassing.
More and better berm sheds - Now that an initial error was removed from the design, the berm shed is working out really well. These are made from logs and thus at Wheaton Laboratories the cost is very low. The one at basecamp has 12 bays, they are 10 feet by 10 feet each. They’re supposed to have a 5 foot eave, the one at basecamp doesn’t have an eave that size.
The cost for the berm shed at basecamp was less than $100. The one at basecamp was slow in being built - the initial builder said “trust me!” a lot, but Paul had to hire another person to go in and try to fix what the first person did. Nevertheless, it’s a cool structure, and very useful.
Paul can imagine at least one berm shed on just about every plot, also a big berm shed right at the entrance to the lab, so that people could park their cars near the gate in a berm shed cell. He would also like 20 cells of berm shed over at the bone yard, for storage.
Turn Allerton Abbey into a thing of Gertitude - Much of the work will be done during the peasant PDC. Paul would like to imagine that there will be a lovely couple that participates in the PDC and decides they would like to stay longer. Then eventually they could live in Allerton Abbey and make the ATI test happen. This could be like Emily and Tony, who met Paul in San Diego and ended up performing the “Montana winter in a tipi with a rocket mass heater” experiment. Allerton Abbey needs people living there (as does Cooper Cabin) to plant things, and protect the plants from the wildlife.
(Down at basecamp, they have one paddock fenced, and this keeps out the deer, but not the wild turkeys. Paul hopes that one day instead of feeding 100 wild turkeys, they can raise their own turkeys, and chickens, and maybe hogs. They can have more paddocks and more people, and move the animals through the paddock and gardens in a managed way.)
**Paul and Jocelyn saw 2 moose up on the lab right near Cooper Cabin. They ran off, which was different.
Water water everywhere - many attempts have been made at putting a well on the Lab. Two wells are up there right now, but they are just harvesting seep water, not good ground water. Paul is ready to sink the funds into drilling a professional well. It will be 300’-500’ deep, they can use a solar pump.
There’s an old creek bed on the property, but it’s still dry. There was water there in the spring for a few days - that’s the first time that’s happened. The goal is to bring back the creek. If we can plant a lot of tap-rooted trees, they can bring up water and re-form the creek. (This creek bed was where Jocelyn fell and broke her wrist while they were recording a podcast.)
Paul wants to create creeks even where there have not been creeks previously. Planting more trees, non-conifer trees, will help. The ATC folks last spring built an air well and it should start to produce water. The one recently built is kind of short, mostly because of where it was placed. Paul thinks it might be able to make 9 gallons a day on a hot and muggy day.
Paul would like to have lots of ponds. There are a couple of ponds up there, but none of them hold water year round. He’d like to see someone manage some pigs so that they can help a pond become well sealed.
Paul would like to create something he calls a humus well. When he was looking at land, he saw a place that had a road cutting through forest, and on the uphill side of the road, the forest had never been harvested. It was a hot and smoky day, it had been a very dry summer. For about 200 yards, the road ran next to the thick patch of conifers and there was water dripping on to the road (!). Paul would like to make a ditch 15’ wide and 2’ deep, lined with something to hold the water and have it shaped as a giant shallow V, so that water could be collected from it.
This is similar to terrace wells that Sepp Holzer creates. He creates a terrace, then there’s a well to which it drains.
It would also be cool to have multiple dew ponds. These don’t have water flowing into them, they collect water in the winter time and hold it. Paul would like to have a series of solar pumps that move the water up to the top of the property.
Final thing on the water wish list: a natural swimming pool.
Improve all the roads: eventually Paul’s hoping the traffic will be bikes and pedestrians, but for now, the cars are needed. He feels like the roads need to be nice enough that a 2 wheel drive care can make it around, even in the rain and snow.
A living fence for the perimeter - multiple people have talked about this, but it’s not reality yet. Paul feels like a living fence is the way to go for the perimeter. Jocelyn bought some Hawthorne saplings and hired someone to plant them as the beginning of a living fence, but the recent drought probably did them in.
Three season bee forage near the bee hive - we need people to help optimize plants for bees. Similarly, we could capture a bunch of swarms this spring.
Find permies to buy adjacent properties. Two parcels that adjoin Paul’s property have been sold, not to permies. Paul gave 7 tours to people who said they were planning to buy land, nobody did. Now he wonders if they just wanted to find out where Paul lives. Anybody that buys this property has to self-finance, because you’re buying it from a timber company.
Wofati bath house and laundry - this might be the ultimate purpose for Allerton Abbey. Still, it would be great to have some sort of bath tub, and light, and houseplants, in a wofati. With a washing machine for clothes as well.
Currently there are 6 bootcamp slots. Paul would like to see another leader materialize, then there could be 12 bootcamp slots. This would take cash, cash that could be made by someone who figures out how to rent out the 5 structures with rocket mass heaters inside to interested folks.
Credit: Julia Winter
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This podcast was made possible thanks to:
Ash Jackson is The Scrollbard