Good points Jamin. On your note about “back to eden” being more than just woodchips, an oft forgotten component of his system is that the woodchips were used as chicken bedding first. This obviously means they had nutrients added in manure, and the chicken scratching and biota in the bedding broke it down and turned it.
Healthy soil is a diverse ecosystem. The biota need habitat - food, water, shelter, space - and wood chips provide all of those things directly or indirectly (ie holding water). As mentioned above, the life does the improving of the soil, while the woodchips give it all a safer and richer place to live while they work.
I’ve had some success with large felt pots (45gal) filled with potting soil or compost and sharp sand (50:50%). While it not mobile, it will function as an air prune bed and The size helps insulate and reduce watering frequency. Then you can just dig them in clumps and tease them apart like in the video above. When I bought the felt pots 5yrs ago, they were 10$-15$ a piece, and are still going strong. If you want pots you can move but with similar benefits, you could put 5-10gal felt pots into a hydro tub or kiddie pool with drainage holes, then fill that with sharp sand and compost, burying 1/3 of each felt pot. They will send roots through the felt, but won’t circle and have transplanted out of them fine.
I agree. I think being outside, in natural healthy ecosystems with biodiverse communities, forest or perennial prairie/savannah soil, clean water, air and sunshine is where we are adapted to thrive. I am also trying to eat even more leafy greens like brassicas and mustards that are rich in Zinc and other nutrients tied to immune health. I am missing my tea and cooking herb beds right outside my door at my old place that I built up over 6yrs, but I have a lot more native wild plants at my new place (.4acres vs 25acres), where we have close to the highest plant diversity in North America.
That makes sense. I just take 12-18” Willow whips, soak them in water that gets changed/used on starts or cuttings, and use them until they have roots several inches long. I then plant them around wetlands for restoration projects.
Thanks for the replies, and good ideas. I may have been wise to have wrapped the inside of the boxes with fencing, but I leaned towards making it look prettier. I am thinking I will try to accomplish some of the same benefits as fencing and a green roof. I am thinking I will do this by filling in the spaces between rocks with sharp river sand for the lower 3ft, then woody debris and compost for the top foot. I will then plant grapes in the top with a cage of cattle panel up to the height of the gate to keep in my LGD who can jump anything short of a 6ft fence.
I am building 4ft x 4ft x 4ft rock jacks for my gate posts on a 6ft x 12ft gate that I will see every day as it's at the entry to the house. As I move an immense amount of rock (at least a ton for each jack), I am thinking about how to best stack the functions of this feature of my property. I have considered a raised bed in the top ft of the jack box, but this would reduce the life of the wood (salvaged old growth doug fir and redwood). I also think it would be a good pond filter if I fill in the large rock with gravel and sand, then pump up the water through with a trench/culvert under the driveway in between. Obviously, this would also reduce the life of the wood. At the very least, I will use these rock jacks as thermal mass for heat loving plants like grapes or subtropical vines (we are in between zones 8-9, at 1700ft). Any thoughts on the idea of a rock jack raised bed or pond filter?
This is a work in progress for our zone 1-2 fence gate, meant to keep our LGD (pictured below) in, and he will repel animals we want to keep out. Its going to be a 12ft vehicle gate with 4x4x4ft rock jack posts (pictured below). I am at about 2ft up the posts with rocks (will add wood as I go up to make adding the base rocks easier to lift in), and it is feeling absolutely solid. I'd like it to ultimately be vehicle resistant, so I will go up further, but I am thinking at 4x4x4ft of rock is going to be overkill. It will however be great thermal mass for the sangiovese (grape for making chianti) or other warmth loving vines we will grow up them. I thought of topping it off with 1ft of soil with a layer of berlap or felt between soil and stone, but am thinking better of it due to that reducing the lifespan of the rock jack gate posts. I am alternatively considering using a rock jack as a pond filter. Any thoughts on these ideas?
Welcome Samuel, and good question/idea. I third the suggestions above to go (from bottom up) wood-sandy soil-less finished compost-finished compost/topsoil-pine needle mulch. The basic science behind it is that high Carbon materials like wood and pine needles create a very thin (fraction of a mm) bubble of Nitrogen deficit around them until they get enough N to break down into humus. With larger wood, the surface area-volume ratio is small, so burying it has much greater benefits than this small deficit. With little stuff like needles or woodchips, the surface area ratio is much higher and therefore more of a deficit occurs. When used as mulch, the contact with soil is much lower and the benefits again outweigh the negligible N deficit.
I just used woody debris filled sediment deposition basins (4) between hugels, that then ran through 4000gal of 3"- round rock and gravel, then to a settling tank, and 2nd tank where I could pump it back uphill through the pond if I wanted to aerate and recirculate the overflow/leftover rains after storms. It came out very clear and while I did not drink it, it seemed cleaner than the duck pond it was splashing into!
I’ve had equal success to expensive potting soil starting tomatoes in the Geoff Lawton mix (1/3 composted chicken bedding:2/3 sharp river sand). You can go to equal parts compost:sand if the plants are heavy feeders or like heavy soil, or you just want to water less often.
Good question. I don’t have any answers for you but have a question on the other side of the coin. I have as my solar backup a 25kw diesel generator that came with my off grid place, and have been told (and intuited) that this is a waste of fuel warranting a smaller generator for basic use on cloudy days. I want to minimize my use of diesel, for many obvious reasons. I get a good amount of sun at this new place (probably 250 full solar battery recharge days/yr). Any thoughts on how to bridge the gap between a beast intended for growing and something I can use to keep small electrical appliances running during the dark winter months?
I normally avoid western red cedar or redwood for hugels, but different species have different allelopathic effects. Are your talking about tamarisk/salt cedar? That is an old world tree relatively unrelated to North American species. If I wanted to grow a particular evergreen or its native associate species, I would use that tree’s wood, just like it does in the forest. The dead wood generally contains the fungal species necessary for healthy root/mycorizae associations necessary for many trees like redwood and western redcedar.
Anyone have experience and advice using azomite or other mineral sources as a free choice supplement for chickens or other livestock? I have read or seen both Mark Shepherd and Geoff Lawton use livestock as the vector for soil remineralization, but have never done so with raw ingredients myself. Instead I have fed them plants from soils i have attempted to improve with compost teas, passive fertigation from the birds’ runoff, and hugelkulture. Wondering if anyone has opinions about which spoke of the nutrient/mineral wheel you like to tinker with and why?
Hi Leaf, great to hear what you are doing! I would also like to invite you to join the Wild Rivers Permaculture Guild. The founding members are mostly based in the Crescent City-Brookings Area west of you, but we have several people from inland (Grants Pass, Big Flat, Low Divide). It would be great to extend our network your way, and collaborate on projects, outreach, education, and bulk purchases when possible. Barring cancellation due to the Covid scare, our next meeting will be April 6th in Brookings. More info is on the Wild Rivers Permaculture Guild FB page (FB is just how this regional community seems to communicate, not meaning to give it any positive pub).
Good luck with your projects and hope to meet you sometime!
I have used oyster shell instead of perlite/vermiculite with some success. Pumice also adds minerals as well as air/drainage to soils. Sharp river sand is also a good source of minerals and soil drainage. Geoff Lawton's suggested potting mix of 2/3 river sand to 1/3 compost has worked as well as expensive potting soil (Roots organics) for starting tomatoes. I agree that was a ripoff on Amazon, as I have found azomite for $18 for same weight, and its a local reputable supplier.
Your situation sounds a bit like the southeast facing place I am moving onto. My experience comes more as a naturalist and having hiked from Mexico to Canada with the effect of aspect on vegetation in mind as I observed radical changes from one side of a ridgeline to the other. Mollison also talks about this in his big black book. I’d also recommend reading Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepherd if you’d like permission to throw spacing worries right out the window.
In general, fruit bearing plants benefit from an east facing slope, especially in northern pacific coast climates where mildew and molds are concerns. This is because the sun hits them earlier, reducing the amount of time dew or frost will linger and harbor fungal disease. The exception to this is in deserts where fungus is not much of a problem and dew is virtually the only moisture, so you want it sticking around. So the east facing slope will be a positive. I am not sure if you have similar East wind phenomena up there on an island, but for us eastern winds bring more extreme temps (high and low) and are generally dry from coming off the inland deserts rather than the ocean. That would seem a good thing for Mediterranean and steppe plants like many prunus and apples.
I’d also wonder what your overall goals are. Is this meant to be a business or a homestead? If the latter, you will be rolling in fruits and nuts with the space you have, and could interplant vines and understory plantings at wilder spacing, but could also get away with much tighter spacing if you are not depending on harvesting equipment. I’d only hesitate on tighter spacing if sun is limited in your climate and fungal disease is a major problem due to humidity. Otherwise, the shade on the soil from tighter spacing will mitigate moisture stress as much as it may cause root competition, and trees have evolved in forests, where they have to coexist with other plants and often can benefit from them. Good luck, and enjoy your journey!
A Clallam (NW Washington tribe) guide once told my class that if lost, we (5th grade environmental Ed students) would be better off finding shelter in a hollow nurse log, building a fire, and eating banana slugs than trying to hunt. They are full of fat and protein, but also eat a lot of scat and carcasses.
The part of NW California I am in, between the Klamath and Smith Rivers, might have been one of the easiest places on Earth to subsist pre-colonization. Like much of the coastal Pacific NW, the diverse native cultures here like the Yurok and Dee-Ni (aka Tolowa), have been described as living in "subsistence opulence." Now, sorry to be a bummer, but...
In the last 200yrs, the greatest forests on earth were felled here. These were also in some ways the greatest food forests on earth as well if considering how the bottom of a Pacific NW old growth forest is a healthy salmon stream. With that came the collapse of the fisheries, which were not helped by over-fishing and damming of every river larger than the Smith. Add sudden-oak death and other tree diseases brought by globalization, and there went the acorns. Oh, and the elk population was nearly wiped out, and the crab fishing has been devastated by warming oceans and correlated red tides. These hits to every major protein source have collectively made the traditional native cultures nearly impossible to continue, though a number of admirable members of local tribes are doing their best to keep their languages and skills alive. Maybe if we all could agree to live by the traditional Yurok or Dee-ni rules and use their traditional technology, we could get back towards that subsistence opulence. The population here is significantly lower than it was pre-colonization, and the climate is still very conducive to life. I see permaculture as a bridge between those traditional ways and the abundance stewarded by them, and a better future for native and immigrant occupants of this beautiful area.
I am by nature a bit of a lone wolf, but people have always had to plan and work together to thrive even in this area of unparalleled abundance (we still have the highest biomass place on earth in the old-growth redwoods, which also hosts the highest soil biodiversity (Noss, 1998)). So wandering the woods looking for mushrooms and herbs is not really viable, and never was a great way to survive. It is, however, a fun day that can help provide a supplement to our diet and mental well being. We also have dozens of native edibles (in addition to edible weeds), in season almost year round, so vitamins and minerals can be had pretty easily. As mentioned above however, the challenge is in finding calories, and I would add protein, to sustain the highly active lifestyle needed to acquire one's food in nature. I hiked the pct in 2012, and while my background as an environmental educator and backcountry ranger gave me knowledge of a large number of delicious edible plants and ways I could make tasty, medicinal and mineral rich teas, I could not have covered 20mi a day while also finding all my own food. It took months of planning, cooking, dehydrating (along with my brother who hiked it with me) to make about 1/3 of the food I ate on the trip. The rest was store bought, and all of it had to be mailed to post offices up and down the west (thanks Mom and Dad!). Even with modern technology and transportation, having a family to work together made everything much easier. So I do encourage you learn about foraging, it will make your life better and you will be healthier for it (be safe!). However, "Into the Wild" is a true story about someone who did not appreciate that indigenous people living off the land had millennia of culturally accrued knowledge of their place, specialized technology and social structures built around that ecology, and worked year-round together to thrive. That is what I aspire to help re-create, and a first step is individuals reconnecting with our local ecology by learning how to eat from it, but that is just a first step.
At the Sustainable Food & Farming Conference, the owners of Singing Frog Farm recommended getting the most active and inquisitive cats at the shelter, the ones that really chase toys or track anything in the window. They also recommended keeping them a little underfed (I'd be careful about this), as they described rodents as "sustenance hunting", and birds as "sport hunting". They described their rodent to bird carcass ratio as hundreds of rodents to one bird. They figured they find about one bird per cat per year, and probably a rodent per day. I also hate the impact cats have on wild birds. however this approach does get at the main cause of bird population declines, that we feed cats that therefore do not decline in population along with their prey sources. I don't want anyone starving their cats, but it is better for them and the birds to keep them lean.
Seed starting mixes are generally “soilless”, with just peat or coco fibre, perlite and something to balance the ph like lime or oyster shell. I usually add 10% worm castings and or well aged (6months after heat dies down) compost. Nothing even remotely “hot”, but the horse poo experiment would seem to contradict that rule for me. In general I’ve moved to starting seeds in the ground in diverse polyculture on hugels because they seem to grow better and I don’t have the time to micromanage plants for all the acreage i am managing. I produced thousands of pounds of food last year off less than a 1/4 acre of hugels using primarily broadcast seeds and seedballs of diverse mixes (50+ species and hundreds of varietals from giveaway year old seeds).
If I have more help, I do often turn them towards seed starting in pots in a hoop house, with watering done from the bottom in tubs or trays, and water used is dechlorinated and usually has willow cuttings soaked in it as well for root growth. This really seems to help avoid problems I now associate with overhead watering: dampening off and fungal problems in general, seeds washing away, compaction of the soil, shallow and weak root systems. I also almost always use 4” pots or larger, because otherwise heat and moisture fluctuates too much and I have to water daily or more. I wonder what your high-low temps have been when you had almost no germination. The seeds might have cooked. Also, when we get what seems like 0% germination, it is often the result of herbivory, where a squirrel/rat/slug/bird just mowed them down right after they sprouted or just dig up the seed. When we start seeds is right around the hunger gap for many animals, who will be desperate for any food source they can find and are thankful for the buffets we line up for them in neat rows.
I’d say 1/3 wood in a hugel is ideal, anything over 1/2 is too much in my experience.
Regarding grey water, what is being used that is precluding edibles? A small amount of natural soap is fine, and the septic enzymes I use seem very similar to bokashi (I use that instead when I make it). Maybe avoid root vegetables and low growing greens if it’s around a septic, but otherwise I don’t understand the concern about grey water and veggies. Especially if it’s something where root-fruit barrier is a factor.
If you can let some chickens run over it and then flip the soil they kick down back on top, that is a pretty good prep that greatly reduces weeds, leaves a nice soil texture for planting, and you get fertilizer as a bonus. I have some beds that my chickens will fly into unless I pen them completely all day. I can’t do a broadcast planting as easily, but when I protect any given area on my hugels for a particular plant, it goes nuts with very little weed pressure. The chickens also take out many pests as the to grow beyond the cage I build for them into where the birds have access. Otherwise, we must do the chickens work.
I like your thinking Carla. This is a post of mine from a couple years ago. It’s been rolling along since, going well. It was even a selling point on the property for our current buyer (in escrow, moving 15mi inland and uphill to a 25acre off grid spot). The main reason I gravitated towards ducks were their hi phosphorus manure, which helped fruiting plants whereas fish manure is known for high N and little else, leading to 20ft tomato plants with two tiny fruits.
Glad to hear that one of my favorite areas is getting some permies. Where on the clock o’ mountains and rivers are you? As you probably know, The Olympics are such an amazing choose your micro climate for the day place. 35mi from the rainiest place in the continental US (Forks) to Sequim where it rains less than Los Angeles, with the snowiest place in the world in the middle (Mt Olympus). I grew up in Seattle and I fell in love with the Olympics sloshing up Barnes Creek from Lake Quinalt as a 12yr old with my best friend on our first long hike without adults. I then had the extreme privilege of being backcountry ranger in the Sol Duc-High Divide for a summer and the Ozette Coast district for two more, and several more semesters teaching at Olympic Park Institute on lake crescent. It’s the only place outside of this part of Northwestern California I feel even slightly drawn to living (I really like old growth coniferous forests and the waterways they surround). Part of why I chose where I am is the desire to grow more heat loving plants, but the huckleberries and blueberries in the Olympics in early August might make 9months of primarily eating kale worth it;) I would have to swim alone though because my virginian wife would never bear the glacial waters of Washington without a wetsuit. Let me know if you want some hike or guide book recommendations, and enjoy that wonderful place!
Hi, I think it’s great idea K Cook. I don’t know Norway Spruce in particular beyond the Wikipedia reference, and the European species that American trees are named for are often almost completely unrelated. They simply have some quality reminiscent to their Euro-American taxonomists of their namesake. Still, I have had excellent hugelkulture results using primarily conifers of several species that are not particularly well preserved. The main species I avoid are the extremely rot resistant cedar and redwood here in conifer country in NW U.S. Sitka Spruce, firs and pines are all excellent in hugels for many common plants. Those I have tested with great success are strawberries, grapes, curcurbits, sunflowers, wildflowers of many kinds,many kinds of leafy greens, garlic, onions, beans, radishes, basil, potatoes, and probably several I am forgetting. The nitrogen robbing theory about wood in soil is less true the larger the wood particle size gets, with it being negligible above forearm size, due to surface area ratio being the key factor. Large woody debris is the real tipping point factor in making a temperate old growth forest what it is, a temperate place in temperature and humidity due to the thermal mass and shade of the trees above their fallen branches and ancestors. 75% of the moisture in August in a Pacific NW old growth coniferous rainforest is in the dead wood. This hosts the greatest soil biodiversity on Earth, which is fungally dominated. This soil ecosystem is obviously advantageous to native, coevolved species like the conifers it supports, but it also seems to benefit many of our common fruits and veggies in my observation, and does so in the first year. Here is a before and after with some produce of a new (planted within a week of finishing). Others have had even better results built taller.
So if we round up and put the corona virus death count at 3000 over about 1/10 of a year, that is a notable number of individual tragedies. However, it is less than the number of gun related homicides in the US alone in a similar amount of time -- 39,773 deaths by firearm in 2017 (divide by 10 for a similar period of time to corovid 19 timeframe):
I studied perception of risk fairly extensively in my Adventure Education masters program, and we as humans have a pretty poor sense of proportional risk. Schools that allow football (which I played and learned a lot from but also have permanent injuries from it) and send students in aluminum death traps down the road without seatbelts, will balk at much safer activities like backpacking or canoeing trips that have transformational educational potential at least as great as slamming ones body into another kids for sport. Imagine if we reacted to these horrific gun and auto death rates in the same way we are freaking out about Corovid 19?
Just a bit of perspective. Not saying anyone should forego hand washing and other sensible preventions of communicable disease, but I work with kids who are terrified of this virus that has infected 1/875,000 people on earth, when they have been exposed to much greater risks every day of their lives.
Maybe I should recheck my sources on this (Geoff Lawton videos and HS Chemistry 20yrs ago), but a ph of 11 correlates with metals like aluminum, which are very toxic to drink. Is your roof aluminum, or coated with some other highly alkaline metal? If so, I'd be very concerned about drinking it. I would also retest, and get another type of test done to triangulate for accuracy. I'd also test the rain straight, the runoff of the roof before the tote, as well as the water in the tote and out of the tap. This should give some clues. If it is your metal roof, I'd scrap that as your drinking water and run it through a bunch of woodchips or biochar and see if it comes through safe for irrigation. I don't see your region on your profile, but if you get more than 30" of rain and its relatively evenly distributed through the year, you could build another structure (wood shed, barn, etc) and put on a roof that is appropriate for drinking water catchment. That or replace your roof. This would be a bummer but heavy metals are the source of extreme alkalinity in my understanding and are nothing to be messing with in your drinking water. Best of luck.
I was walking along the bottom drainage basin and noticed at least a dozen of these (Pacific Tree frog?) eggs on submerged willows and woody debris. We had thousands of tadpoles last year, but an abnormally dry March-April made it seem the right thing to do to transport them to the nearby creek (in an eddy) before it went dry.