Great idea, the one thing that stood out is how far apart you planned the hugels. Tighter spacing creates a more distinct protected microclimate and wind/evaporation reduction. I found a significant difference in my grape bud break timing between the 4 successive rows on just two perpendicular arching E-W beds (each 4ft wide w/3ft paths). I can only imagine this is related to temperature differences. The healthiest, earliest grapes are on the 3rd row from the front/South, on the south side of the 2nd bed. This is the most protected spot from wind (our main stressor other than mold) and has the most stable microclimate. I imagine these things are even more important where you are in the rockies versus my ultra temperate climate. Then again, this is just my third season with hugels and I am far from an expert. I may consider a way like a large scale key hole design to allow a vehicle in to add organic matter that still allows for as little path space as possible. So maybe one or a few central "roads" with more like cart width paths branching off. Just a thought. Great idea and best of luck!
Horsetail is a pioneer plant in most cases because it thrives in nutrient poor sandy soils in a way that few other plants can. These are commonly flood terraces with large sand deposits (i.e. at the confluence of the Smith R. and Mill Cr. at Stout Grove in Jed Smith Redwoods State Park, with a 25ft terrace from the '64 flood). I theorize horsetails play a vital role in the soil balancing the silica-carbon-nitrogen ratio along with common associates of nettles and coltsfoot, which are also silica loving and largely composed thereof. All the while alders fix N and love wet well drained places until...these pioneer plants make it to good a place for plants to grow and get shaded out, but a flood will inevitably come and whisk the survivors to somewhere downstream where they are needed. I have the perfect place 15min from my house to canoe/hike through the largest undammed watershed in the lower 48 and observe this process, you are welcome to take a tour if you want to help me dig a pond (or not, but I hope the tour will inspire you to help me make my little microcosm)!
William James, one of my favorite philosophers! On your point, you can do both. The brewing process is a beneficial bacteria/fungal reproductive bonanza (sugar+o2+poo). Essentially with the forced O2 you are creating a water-air edge that is beneficial for many good little living things, that will then reproduce further once spread onto soil. You can get a doubling every few hours in a forced air tea if you are going things right.
My base is 55g of duck pond (kiddie pool) water (changed every 2 days usually). I'd keep muscovy ducks for this reason alone, but the eggs and meat are great too.
Then I add molasses (1tbsp/gal wet or 1/2tsp oer gal dried) and this alone would be good balanced tea. I also add, as available, a handful of weeds like dandelions and comfrey, over ripe fruit, kelp, sea weed, chicken/turkey bedding (straw), river sand (also from bird run). Aerate well in the shade if you can and you will have a robust tea that I can apply straight for fertilizer or dilute up to 10/1 for more of an inoculant. The vigor plants and flavor of my produce seem to indicate it works very well.
Idea: In places where it snows a decent amount (not here in NW CA), would it be a good idea to pile snow over your hugel beds and/or around mulched trees that would absorb the snowmelt and dissipate excess slowly? It seems it could also help places where fruit trees bloom too early and then get hit by late spring frosts because the soil would warm more gradually. The thought came from how much we take glaciers for granted in how they bring water for irrigating or ground watering fruit trees and vines when they need a dry summer and fall to avoid mold.
Bruce, in my experience that works very well. Actually, besides the obviously foolish additions of poisons or antimicrobial woods, I can't think of many real "do nots" in compost tea making. Just do it.
Question: What is more sustainable/permacultural and cost/time effective in my situation?
I have a lot more wood available than rocks, though both are attainable locally for nothing more than transport costs. The wood could be attained in almost infinite. It would come in spite of my protests to keep the trees whenever I can reach the property owners before felling (this is redwood country, with lots of doug fir, spruce, redwood, alder, madrone, tanoak and fruit trees). The rock would ultimately come from river beds where, while within 10 miles, it plays an integral role in salmonid habitat as far as I understand. I instead, I now harvest river sand from these areas where it seems to be a product of logging caused erosion, and do so on trips where I am primarily going to walk my dog and swim as well. This goes to my bird coop which becomes mulch along with fir needles and straw. What would rocks do that 24" logs couldn't? Should I not feel so bad about grabbing some rocks along the way? Do they not stabilize the riverbed and allow for infiltration rather than erosion, reducing water temp increases? Is it only fair to feel bad because I am the ultimate invasive species, a white straight male? Damn
I agree about the monoculture, importing material approach to composting being flawed, but how about the classic "my neighbor wanted to cut down some trees and I couldn't stop them" situation. This is what happened today with 4, 20yr old douglas firs and a similar sized redwood (18-24" thick, 30' tall, this is the fastest tree growing place on earth) across from my house via my driveway. They were growing into power lines that should have been considered before planting. On top of my hating to see these trees go for Loraxian reasons, this will increase a my existing flooding problems in winter. However my neighbor offered me the wood, and I do not think anything noxious has been sprayed since his late mother got the place 11 years ago (we talked gardening a lot before she died and she left close to a hundred organic gardening mags). I plan to use the greenery for bird bedding and the wood for hugel beds. What's wrong with that Paul? My other neighbor is also an organic landscaper who hooks me up with woody debris/mulch, should I avoid this almost free biomass? I feel like it does a lot more for the salmon streams downhill of me to manage flooding with the wood than burning it like everyone else around here would do. I am thinking about planting fruit trees and or grapes to replace the fir's wind and sound block from the road, but they will be over a septic tank and along a driveway. Should I worry about pollution of the fruit? Ultimately, where one lives in a place that people seem to be happy to give away immense amounts of organic matter that is relatively unpolluted (nothing here at the foot of old growth redwoods is as polluted as the best stuff in the Chesepeake watershed), where do you draw the line in terms of putting it to good use and mitigating waste versus avoiding pollution?
Just drove through the WIllamette Valley, near Corvallis, OR, home of the OSU Beavers. I was flummoxed by seeing tractors plowing up dust on unmulched ground, flushing some of the world's best soil (10k years in the making) into waterways already choked with nutrients. And this is amidst the #1 grass seed growing area in the world with logging in the hills all around, so why the fuck can't they mulch? This should be criminal.
Life is a complex adaptive system that as a whole acts to capture, guide, spread, and stabilize energy flows and in doing so, almost contrary to intuition, it makes the universal and constant process of entropy more efficient. Life's multiplication and diversification is analogous to a watershed under natural succession (which permaculture attempts to facilitate), wherein a river will form at the lowest point of least resistance going down as quickly as possible, yet over time the river's course will inevitably get more windy, serpentine and slow as plants grow towards its nutrients and water and develop soil to slow its path and floods, and grow towards the sun gap above any water. All the while, geologic processes send earth diving into the river's path through erosion wherever plants don't grow enough. This is much like how energy from the sun, like the water falling through a valley, is absorbed most efficiently when it tumbles through many forms of life, even getting embedded in the kinetic energy held by geologic processes like highland soil development due to salmon migrations and subsequent forest establishment from their imported nutrients. I guess we (humans in "civilization") have to fit into it all somehow, yet if we seem to bring largely bring chaos with our attempts to impose order. Maybe our narcissistic intellect in combination with thumbs is an expression of a fatal self-destructive flaw in the system of life. Either way, I think Fukuoka was right about the meaningless of everything and ridiculousness of our pride arrogance as specks on a speck in ocean of stars.
I have also been trying yarrow in my compost teas after reading it is supposed to be a great uptake catalyst for many nutrients.. I can't isolate it's value alongside many other weeds but I don't seem to have any severe nutrient deficiencies and have a lot more productivity than last year.
One thing that is often overlooked though is you NEED animals. If not domesticated, you need to work with the wild ones that will com to fill the niche nature and you have created for them. Plants allowed animals to exist and evolve, and those that benefited from their coexistence with animals and vice versa were most successful over time because of the stability this balance afforded them. This could be applied to human cultures that last and thrive as well.
Health ecology creates fertility over time. Plants capture energy and build cells with C, N, O, H etc, and if a unharvested all the original matter from the soil returns plus C an N from the air, unlocking more P, K, Ca etc from the soil, allowing more C and N to be harvest by plants. The animals in the system (which agriculture normally kills) capture some of this C and N (making proteins) and store or improve it (make it more efficiently usable by plants) and redeposit this as manure or as a corpse that becomes something else's manure. So basically, the more diverse plants, animals, fungus, bacteria, etc you have , the more efficiently and voluminously the suns energy, N and H20 from the atmosphere, and nutrients from the soil are absorbed and reinvested to absorb yet more in the future. As long as we don't come along and fuck it up. The greatest example of this phenomena is the old-growth rainforests of the Pacific NW which grow faster every year they grow.
I find it hard to imagine clay is nowhere around you. I have never been to inland BC but in the NW US clay is very common, even dominant, in many soils. To find it think about how deposition plays out. Clay is the last particle to fall out of suspension as water slows, and deposits regularly and predictably around any current or historical lakes or streams. Fukuoka even pointed out that it need not be any fancy kind of clay in particular, he just used the type from his local riverbed. I bet you can find it on some roadside near a river or lake if you keep an eye out and nobody will mind you taking it. That or next time you head to the coast grab a tub full out of someones building project.
Good work and thanks for the wisdom. On top of a dozen of the classic NW cover crops I have been given a bunch (maybe 150+ packets) of various seeds by my late neighbor's son. While I miss her, she was a bit of a hoarder and had a half dozen trailers full of junk she eventually planned to sell somehow. Yet therein were the seeds she had collected (some from as far back as the 70s!) for many different gardens that apparently only grew in her mind. I would love to see them have a shot, and am going to mix into my broadcast cover crop experiment anything that will have a shot at sprouting in September after a light rain. This includes cabbage, parsley, turnips, parsnips, radishes, various brassicas, herb mixtures, marigolds, perennial wildflower mixes, and at least a dozen other flowers and basically anything she left thats not morning glory or similarly invasive and I will hold off on anything warmth dependent (will try them in spring). Does this sound crazy or like a waste of time? I can ID pretty much all of the plants and understand a vast majority of the older seed will not germinate at all or will be stunted by age and outcompeted by the other stuff. I guess it will be mulch then, and the best way to make sure they don't germinate and grow is to keep them in their bags. I broadcast 78seed packets with my small cover crop seeds (red, white, alsike clover, rye, buckwheat) after spreading my larger cover crop seeds (fava beans, austrian field peas, common vetch and nasturtiums from my garden), all mixed with a loose starter soil filler to spread it out. I have put this everywhere I don't have something I like already, including my hugel beds amongst the 1yr old grapes, the remnants of lawn, on wood chip and straw mulched beds alike. I will also spread kelp and chicken bedding again soon over everything that hasn't gotten it recently. I guess if any seeds burn, oh well, thats why I am spreading thousands of them! I feel like a maniacal chortle right now...
I understand, and have had similar neighbors and interactions while working in outdoor education. You are probably making the best of the situation and will have a better impact this way than being all judgy. I get my hugel wood similarly and can't help but feel less angry about the tree being felled when I get to use it.
I would like to invite any nice folk out there to come take a hike, bike and canoe tour of the redwood coast area with me, a veteran of many seasons as an education/interpretation ranger in Redwood NP. You can choose how much you would like to hear me expound on these amazing forests, rivers and coast through the lens of permaculture concepts and historic native land management of what amounted to the greatest food forest-aquaculture system of all time. That or you could just let me point you in an the direction of awesome. The old growth nearby is the highest biomass ecosystem on earth and has sheltered a lot of big fish in the Smith River, the largest undammed waterway in the lower 48. People have lived here continuously for 10,000 years, and yet until 140yrs ago it was still gaining biomass every year. How could we learn from these forests and the cultures they sheltered? I have led a hike called "how can redwoods teach us to be better people?" and have found this to inspire great conversations. In addition to many amazing, relatively low priced local houses to rent, my wife and I have an extra bedroom, a canoe, and a pretty extensive knowledge of this area and would love to help enrich your experience of it.
What would I like in return? Nothing is necessary besides being a good LNT guest in nature and my home, but I could really use help and consultation regarding pond construction and other related permaculture principles. I am trying to apply what I am learning about this place and its ecosystems to my little 1/2 acre plot, which I've owned for 3 years now. I've done a lot of hugel'n and mulching, and have chickens, ducks and a turkey in back under my fruit trees. For the fall I am trying to plan a pond-keyline system to reduce water use, provide duck habitat, reduce flooding, and distribute water and nutrients, etc. I do not have heavy machinery, or the money, let alone vehicle accessibility, to use them anyhow. I am not asking you to come break your back with me, just help me do so more efficiently and maybe avoid some mistakes! Oh, and please don't do something to make my wife angry at me for posting this naively open invitation on the interweb.
Definitely a dock (there are many). It is generally a sign of acidic, at times wet soil. It does a great job of accumulating calcium and iron, which it provides to livestock or compost teas. I bet it also adds a good amount of nitrogen and potassium. I have used it to combat calcium deficiencies in my fowl and tomatoes.
I appreciate your using something that is already dead, but you may point out that the people killing the coyotes are doing the equivalent of topping a bush, and many more branches (coyotes) will follow. I guess this is good for you though, but I would see it as a great opportunity to post a bunch of great pyrenees pictures or have some around to show a better (more beautiful and loving) alternative to shooting the coyotes. Here is a video of how it can work
Then again, wolves are even better for getting rid of coyotes entirely.
Nobody has mentioned the magic of duck manure in your pond! I would agree with the previous post about a drain being preferable. This or a pump could move dirty water to plants away from the ducks. My duck pond water after 2 days (with aeration) has a ph of 6-6.5, and a wonderful all-around nutrient balance (NPK is around .8-1.4-.6 plus lots of micronutrients). I have used it directly on even young annuals as well as trees and fruiting shrubs with great success. You can simply add chicken waste for more nitrogen for greens or leave it longer for stronger (aeration is key though).
Thanks Paul, well done! Your points about the self-destructive nature of certain elements of the permaculture community, (i.e. trolls, the uncritical adoption of a divisive form of feminism, the sage curmudgeon complex and the beating down of sweet, innovative souls) were parallel to my experience of cancerous elements in the culture within the National Parks Service and environmental education. I think permies and park rangers/outdoor educators have a lot in common in their largely altruistic goals and both groups are similarly outsiders to mainstream society who hope to teach people how to live with nature more respectfully and sustainably. I think the reason behind the curmudgeon complex is that it is maddening to be the only person in the room who can see something beautiful but fragile and try to point it out to people a thousand different ways but still have droves of willfully blind people wreaking havoc with their guns, bulldozers and chainsaws. I ultimately had to leave the park service because I realized I wanted to be a part of permaculture, and that was clearly contrary to the culture of the park service and large scale environmental education non-profits.
Well done Sean! Here in Northern California we have a similar seasonal drought (1" is average for July-August), and yet in the redwoods the soil and moss are still soft, moist and spongy right now with the worlds greatest self-mulching system. Despite this example just down the road, my neighbors still burn every piece of wood they can for fire prevention when it could become great soil in hugels or mulch, and in doing so retain soil moisture that greatly reduces fire risk. Let the great mulching begin!
Thank you for sharing this! When I was a park ranger and outdoor educator in the NW I always thought teaching wild edibles was one of the best ways to build connections to the natural world so it would be valued and treated with respect. I would even use a scavenger hunt with a similar setup to the layout in the video, but after a minute of being able to "take a mental picture," I would cover up the plants and kids would go find (after learning how to do so respectfully) as many matches to the plants on the sheet that they could and lay them out for themselves to see how many they could ID. It was the best way I have ever learned or taught plants because it really embeds the little subtle shapes and characteristics in your brain. Unfortunately, ignorance by supervisors and parents has led to edibles being seen as too dangerous to teach (apparently this generation is too dumb to survive), even though with a reasonable class size and basic instructions you can teach it more safely than any of the kids' bus ride to camp. Anyhow, wild edibles could save the world and thank you for sharing!
I haven't used a scythe and think it may be best for hay cutting, but I prefer a D-ring (what we called it on trail crews) for mixed brush cutting or around edges. I am not sure if I posted the image correctly below, but it's the tool on the right. Basically a golf club length handle with a D. Shaped like this D--- but at an angle so you can use it parallel to the ground (for mowing) or turn the handle 180deg and use it perpendicular to the ground (for edging). You can take out a lot, and feel like a barbarous golfer at the same time. It'll also help with your ability turn on the low fastball as you get yolked forearms and obliques.
Any abandoned shacks around? Sometimes the owners will be thankful for anything you haul away and if its untreated/unpainted, use it to build or hold soil depending on its remaining integrity. And/or, try planting thousands of trees and you will find some badasses in the bunch who can handle your conditions.
Sorry, I forgot I live in a forested wonderland (NW CA). Rocks do much of the same thing (minus fertilization), especially porous ones. Use the rocks to accumulate soil as the wind hits them as well as to block it.
I have had some success increasing water retention and soil accumulation around blueberries and fruit trees with rings of woody debris of varied sizes that you could use as the foundation of the edge of your crater with soil over the top. It is a bit like hugelculture but for below/ground-level plantings. This will hold water from heavy rains for awhile, even absorbing condensation on dewy nights. It also decomposes into soil very efficiently and adds fungal inoculation (which builds up on every year of wood growth). I use hard to work with/rotten pine/spruce mostly as this is whats available to me locally. This is ideal for blueberries which grow in this type of environment naturally, but as long as it is not a alkaline dependent plant the wood will not excessively acidify the soil as much as people assume it will because the fungus from the wood will get naturally selected for the tree's ideal ph modification by the plant trading sugars for water and nutrients. Wood also acts as a heat sink and produces heat to start growth in the spring earlier..
If you can't do your business outside properly (LNT!) and relatively comfortably, your whole life revolves around a toilet. In my opinion, it would be hard to consider such a person an adult, let alone self actualized. There is no "away" to flush your sh!t to. As an outdoor educator and NP ranger I had to teach these skills tactfully to many people of all ages and the key is to make it funny and have established a safe environment for communication and questions if necessary. But ultimately it is something we all have the ability and need to do and have no reason to make a big deal about.
I would hypothesize the main benefit from grass/grain straw lies in how the hollow stems would aerate your soil as they incorporate. I would not worry about acidity with pine needles or conifer wood in mulch or hugel beds, they are made more ph neutral by endemic fungal inoculants in the rotting wood.
Congratulations on your opportunity! I am not an expert either, but have been working on my 1/2 acre in NW CA (Redwood country) for the past 3 years and have access to a similar sized plot to yours (16acres) with friendly owners who encourage permaculture and gleaning on the property. I imagine you have a major water shortage as your limiting factor more than I do, but more light and heat to work with. After basing my approach on experience as a ranger in the NW old growth forests, I am having the most success with hugel beds (basically nurse logs you build yourself). These reduce irrigation needs and rebuild soil fertility and texture on a large scale. The wood can hold water for months longer than sandy soil and slowly disperses excess water and nutrients absorbed from floods over a long period into surrounding soil along with a rich fungal inoculation, helped with deep mulch of bird enriched woodchips and weed/straw. This is what nature has done throughout the western US for eons. I would imagine you have oak/pine/doug fir aound there? I have been working with mostly Doug fir and Sitka spruce wood as that is the most plentiful other than redwood (better for frames as it will decompose little in our lifetime) around here. Geoff Lawton has some great videos breaking down concepts for building soil fertility while minimizing inputs of time and resources. The basic concepts seem to be swales/hugels along contour to slow and direct water flow along with ponds that form from this directed waterflow and store water and nutrients from flood waters and ducks or fish. I would also encourage you to find some grape clones to plant and do so as soon as possible, as they can produce a lot of food with no irrigation as well as value added products like wine to subsidize less profitable endeavors.
Duck/chicken tunnels are what I am going to try. Modular, movable and rotating in between hugel bed rows. Given some cost for your time slugging and the fact that duck pond water/manure is the best fertilizer I have ever seen for flowering plants, I think they definitely could pay for their costs (2x4" fencing is pretty cheap and can make a pretty sturdy dome). I will be making a permanent extension to their run into the area atop my property with the my highest pond potential site, and then out of a central 12/60ft net and wire covered area make a 2x2" network of tunnels that can be closed at different points and moved or removed to direct the birds to rotating sections of the garden where they will slug, feed, and fertilize. Also, crispy, sharp mulch (i.e. kelp works here on the coast) helps with slugs. Encouraging wild birds also helps balance the slugs, which are like any animal a response to a lack of their predators and an abundance of accessible food. They also don't care for redwood, red cedar, and other extremely tannic bark/wood, which with the right fungi will not make your soil significantly more acidic (I have seen fertilizer mixed with water at 3.5ph going into good, conifer based and fungally inoculated soil and come out 6.5). I don't know what I'd do in Michigan, but I'd start by looking at wild, endemic predators and deterrents for slugs and emulate or utilize them. Even killing and leaving the slugs will encourage their predators and parasites to flourish and they will eventually succeed to a more complex ecosystem. Also be thankful for your hard freezes, I don't get those in NW California.
I have built 8 hugel beds of varying styles on my property, all around 3ish feet tall with 18-24"logs at the base with soil from a french drain (that will become the lines for ponds) and composting. Bokashi really helped get the decomposition going along with mulch, the fungus is happy in the older ones (2yrs). I have clover and peas as cover crops as well as strawberries, greens, and this winter planted 100 pinot noir grape canes on the southern, sunniest beds. The other beds are in sunspots in opening between mature deciduous fruit and ornamental trees, along the contour lines to allow for an eventual series of ponds. I have about 4-6 feet of drop over 300 horizontal feet N-S, with a big open former lawn in the south and fruit trees in the back around a massive redwood snag (10ft thick and 50ft tall). We get big rains (5"+ in a day is common a couple times each winter), then long dry summers, so both flood control and passive irrigation are key goals.
Do you think that wood (from a neighbor's cutting their 120yr old forest "for the view" ugh) could have been better used in one massive bed in the sunniest lowest spot on my property?
Ducks and chickens do fine together, but just like when raising just one type of bird, space reduces conflict. However, conflict plays out differently with disparately sized animals than with homogenous ones, but I have not seen any bullying between species worse than what the chickens do to each other. It seems disparate size makes for fewer and less severe conflicts because dominance gets established. I would also recommend an old Spanish (a closer to wild breed) turkey as a superior protection alternative to a drake or rooster (minus the breeding benefits of course but with the bonus of turkey eggs, the best of all in my opinion). I do have one wandering turkey right now after she got broody and got tired of my taking her eggs in our yard and is hiding in another, but the other turkey who I got with my original chicks and ducks almost 2 years ago is firmly embedded in the flock and even has a chicken roost with her in her maple tree above the coop. I would strongly recommend "My Life as a Turkey" to understand how smart wild ones can be, but to summarize they have a different call for every species of predator, 200x our hearing ability, and are a great raptor spotter/deterrent amongst the flock. I even took a neighbor's big Rhode Is. rooster last week to forestall his end and get some chicks and he was terrified of the turkey as well as the ducks. I have only lost chicks and ducklings to predation, no adult birds, and I have many predators here in NW California adjacent to the redwoods. My great pyrenees-akbash helps too, but really the turkey (and mama duck) is always telling me where raptors are with her gaze to the sky while the chickens are oblivious. Also, remember the problem is the solution and those mud pits, properly placed and with your help getting down deeper, could be turned into key line ponds for nutrient collection. Duck pond water is awesome fertilizer, is ok straight around all but the most sensitive plants with a ph of 6.2-6.5, and is higher in P than N so is better for fruiting plants.
When I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, about half the people (mostly the ones who were too out of shape to actually hike themselves) asked "so what kind of firearm do you carry back there?" This is laughable, as it is a huge waste of space and weight that you would never be able to use ethically and effectively on an animal or person while hiking (if you see a cougar it is not hunting you). I also believe if I have to kill someone I want to do it with my bare hands. Also, many of the "quickest draws in the west" died from gunfire anyhow, or because they were arrogant because of their guns (which don't stop bullets). Get a great pyrenees or a mix thereof, a good one that loves you will know the intentions of anyone on your property, greet them appropriately, and let them know you are the last target they want to bother.