I am sorry to hear about your plight. As much as I hate these two aspects of civilization, it sounds like insurance and legal action may be your best recourse. If possible, I’d have your homeowners insurance go after the neighbors, who I think would deserve more leniency if they did not blow you off after recklessly destroying your property.. I have had neighbors exacerbating flooding before by logging and regrading, but nothing like that. There’s westerns about this kind of neighbor problem. The least they could do is build a proper bridge/culvert, and I imagine you locality has laws and regulations about that type of thing to prevent the aforementioned western film scenario with standoffs and all. I am not a fan of violence, even less than insurance and lawyers, but in your situation I think it’s only natural to imagine using it!
I love hugels, but would strongly advise against using hugelkulture for that, as your post indicated what I think would happen. Hugels are not good dams at all, and need to allow excess water to flow off or they can float, especially in the first wet season before they get waterlogged and rooted in by plants and fungi. I recommend Bill Zeedyk’s videos about riparian restoration, though his rocky Mtn context may need some adapting for Ireland. Some one rock dams, willow weirs, and other techniques up stream might help reduce the culvert clogging most years, but ultimately that fatal mistake has to change. We have poorly designed and undersized culverts all over the NW US built by logging companies that planned to exploit the lands resources and get out, and now the taxpayers are paying for fixing their mess. I wish I could help more, or at least yell at your neighbor for you!
I respect your stubbornness, but also think S. Lowe (just got the name pun!) has a good point as well. It seems similar to the veganic gardening ideal, which is commendable in many ways, but rigid adherence to its extreme breaks down logically when considering how integral animal life is to healthy soil and ecosystems. Similarly, good and bad stuff floats onto our properties on the wind and in bird droppings, and if we cannot think of how to benefit from that then we are missing an opportunity.
For my property and food forest sites I develop/manage, I generally consider the cost-benefit of my transporting materials for the destination, the point of origin, and to the Earth as a whole (i.e. fossil fuel use). Does my taking woody debris from arborists and homeowners benefit my site as I use it for hugels, riparian restoration and mulch? Does it benefit the site where it came from due to wildfire risk management? Would it simply get wasted and turned to smoke pollution in a burn pile or get wastefully transported many miles to our closest municipal compost facility? I also consider how pristine or degraded the the site I am working on is, and its place in the watershed. I ask my woody debris and manure sources about their practices and try to gauge the risk of potential contamination, but I am also realistic about how not everyone will be honest or informed in their answers, especially if they have motivation to unload it. For that reason, I am far pickier where I am working at the top of the watershed, at the edge of wilderness, than I am in an already and inevitably continually polluted lower basin in an urban area. Of course I won't just say f'-it and throw poison on the latter site, but I think it makes sense to try to balance risk-benefit and consider everything in context with the intent of making things better for everybody, all-around. The woody debris I use in bio-remediating, slowing, spreading and sinking contaminated water running off pavement upstream does not necessarily warrant the pickiness I may have in building a hugel bed for a kitchen garden.
On the pH/lime note, I'd encourage looking into the recent soil research by Elaine Ingham and others (Matt Powers has a lot of podcasts and writing on this). It seems like regardless of the pH of the soil, in the vast majority of cases the pH at the root interface (especially in perennial plants and trees) is surprisingly low (3-4), as this is the preferred acidity for facultative fungi. Also, where I am in coastal CA, soils commonly have a calcium deficiency but a Magnesium excess, and my understanding this is common in other wet marine influence climates/geology. So here it is not advisable to lime, as this will exacerbate the magnesium excess (to a toxic extent on one site I have worked on), which I understand to ironically lead to Calcium lockout. Therefore, I use oyster shell, which is high in Ca but has no Magnesium, and its texture can also help with soil structure and aeration. This may be one benefit of a soil test, but like you I mostly just read the weeds now.
I understand what you mean about compromising in community projects, often with folks who don’t know what they are talking about or don’t seem to think they need reasons for their opinions. I have been a food forest site developer and manager for years, working with locals, tribes, schools, non profits and farmers. Almost all have been great, but those few that turn our water off or on randomly, mow our young trees (school district maintenance guys), spray roundup on parking lots upstream (same dumbasses) cut fences for no reason (gates we unlocked ya damn methheads!), break into shipping containers full of tools to steal or vandalize (I’d give them the food I grow with those tools!), have made me decide to turn my focus back to my own property, where I can at least do what I want and actually mount some kind of defense.
If you are getting leachate despite covered bins, is it due to standing backed up water from the pavement? Is the storm drain clear? Has the wood chip solution or something else clogged it? I like the other ideas above, and I generally would embed my compost in and above any garden I can, with soil contact so that leachate is absorbed by roots. It occurs to me mints might do fine in your shallow soil on the asphalt, and would turn the smell problem around to something pleasant.
I agree Steve. I had a similar experience in WA and then CA, with regulation and taxation alongside overproduction from large highly financed industrial farms that produced abundant, cheap and mostly mediocre products driving down the profitability precipitously. The flush of oils and waxes, which is made with a lot of what I consider industrial agricultural waste (most seems to me to be covered in mildew and molds before being processed), also drove down prices. All of this made the land previously used to grow it, often chosen for privacy and a suitable climate for these mediterranean loving plants, much cheaper to buy as the farmers on these sites can't compete with valley megafarms that can just plop down in deep soils with loads of cash to streamline their operations and pay the powers that be to let them do as they wish. Point is, in many situations the green rush has turned to a bust, and this makes for potentially good values on the land for the right people. In many cases restoration is needed due to destructive growing practices, but they are often in beautiful places with great potential for permaculture, regeneration and a high quality of life for the stewards who take it on.
I know of a 1600acre property for sale (for $13mil) near the mouth of the smith river just south of the Oregon border. It is a former Lilly bulb farm, which brings severe soil and water contamination concerns, but it is also one of the most beautiful and naturally verdant places on Earth that could be a big restoration/regenerative agriculture win, and would help protect the river that is the last best chance for salmon in CA. I’d encourage anybody interested in this or other collective land permification endeavors in the NW CA/SW OR area to contact me and/or the Wild Rivers Permaculture Guild.
Chickens would make quick work of the ants. If that’s not an option, bird feeders, bird houses, brush piles for shelter for birds and reptiles. I might even start spreading bird seed around the ants while calling birds in. It may sound and feel silly at first, but it works with song birds and fowl alike (learned it from Joseph Cornell, the author of “Sharing nature with children”). To do this, make “psht” sounds imitating a mother song bird in a pattern of either 3 rhythmic calls, a 1-3-1 rhythm (psht..psht psht psht..psht) or a 2-3-2 rhythm, ideally while giving out food. I have gotten local wild birds to come to my call even when I don’t have food. Of course the ants will eat some seed, until the birds come in and realize the bird seed is an appetizer and the ants are the main course. All birds, including hummingbirds, eat insects, especially when raising young. However, birds will then think those seeds you are planting in neat rows are a buffet for them, and will dig them up, and maybe this is just giving you smarter, flying version of your previous problem!
In most cases, I would be more concerned with almost any other large scale monoculture crop than a legal and/or small scale cannabis operation, which ironically can’t be sold legally unless it is much cleaner of toxic chemicals than food or wine has to be. The worst growers generally do their damage to watersheds and soil covertly on public land. Many viticulturists and food crop farmers complain about how cannabis farms that have come in next door requested and or held them to spraying regulations that these food growers otherwise scoffed at, but the cannabis farmers couldn’t sell their product legally with the toxic overspray they were causing. Of course the illegality brings in and rewards bad actors in the cannabis industry, but the average grower in my observation is far more likely to be organic or better than other crops.
I purchased a growers property in the last year, and grew the best tomato crop I’ve ever had on the leftover soil, top dressed with compost. I did however get to know the seller somewhat, and asked neighbors about him and his farming practices, which they said were all organic as best they could tell. He was a former backcountry park ranger like myself, and I was able to be pretty confident he was all organic. In addition to the vegetation growing on the used soil, that was also reflected in the house he built with minimal chemicals on wood etc. (he was a general contractor as well).
We got the place for less than 2/3 of his peak asking price, for what that’s worth, as the market price for herb dropped off a cliff. This makes these properties potentially good deals, at least when we bought in the fall of 2019, but I would do my due diligence and get as much info on the prior users of the site as possible. I would not have bought a toxic waste dump, and some growers of cannabis are horrible to the environment, but no more so than the lily bulb farmers around here who own thousands of acres, and many other monoculture crops are “legally” grown with equally destructive practices but on much larger acreage due to lower profits.
My spot is at the headwaters of a wild and scenic river and on the edge of a National Forest, with nice house, an awesome view and my own private canyon and stream. I could not be happier with my purchase, but I think I got in at the perfect time.
That does seem like a good price, and I have that saw and it’s been great for me (had it 6months). However, given how it seems tool companies play the game, I would not be surprised it is a precursor to a battery price hike. I think I got mine for 309$ with the 6aH battery, which I think was well worth it, but even with a full price battery separately 99$ is a great price.
While ants do have ecological benefits like soil improvement, I am not entirely passive about their presence. With a few exceptions where particular ant species will hunt you down for killing their sisters, a pile or little windrow of ant carcasses around highly valued seeds will deter many of them. Letting chickens have the run of things briefly before seeding would help with ants as well, but you'd need to protect your preexisting plants.
It may be California, but it feels very much like the Pacific NW climate (I grew up in Seattle).
This seems to me to be the best place possible to do tall hugels. We have abundant woody debris available for virtually free, and the Pacific NW of the US is somewhere nurse logs, which hugels imitate, are integral to ecosystem function. This is largely because we have abundant rain for 40-60% of the year but almost none for the rest, requiring large woody debris for moisture retention (75% of the available water for plants in an old growth NW forest in August is in dead wood). A couple recommendations:
- avoid redwood or cedar
- use wood in as close to the state you find it as plausible (lopping off wonky branches is fine, but burying chips is counter productive)
- use clean wood (watch out for persistent herbicides from adjacent lawns, roads, farms etc, these can last decades in wood that absorbed it while alive and likely died from it)
- make sure all the wood is well buried to avoid wicking of water out of the bed
- should go without saying, but do not make a dam out of a hugel, and this essentially what one would be doing with an ill advised "hugel-swale" perfectly on contour without adequate alternate overflow. Its better to have a gentle meandering slope for edge, drainage, and microclimate benefits.
- dig in if you have sandy soil with exceedingly good drainage (improving water retention, but requiring more work and losing microclimate/windbreak effects)
- just build right upon the sod or weeds if the soil is clay or that spot gets boggy at times (improving drainage)
We just had a great pair of work parties on the food forest. In two partial afternoons, we:
- constructed interpretive sign structures (signs to be printed this week). I would have preferred to use all non-PT wood, but it was already used throughout the site for the fence prior to my management and the cost for redwood was an issue.
- sanded, and "eco-wood" (food safe, OMRI approved) treated/weatherized the outdoor sink/wash station
- spread around 5cu yds of wood chip mulch on hugel beds
- pounded in over a dozen posts for signs marking each hugel bed for reference to a map based sign that will describe what plants/bed are ready for harvest/need water/weeding
- cut, sanded and painted cedar signs for the beds
- weeded and prepped hugels for garlic planting (finished this week)
We also had an apple pressing event and a seed saving workshop this past month (spread that around my property Sepp Holzer style). Thanks for all the help Wild Rivers Permaculture Guildarians, Food forest volunteers, and my DNATL Food Council colleagues!
Anyone know the creator of this great graphic? We are trying to incorporate it into informational signs at the Crescent City Food Forest and would like to accredit the right people/organization. I have found it all over and am having trouble tracing it back to the original creator. Thanks!
This sounds a bit like the soil and coastal climate I started working with at the crescent city food forest. I understand why you’d hesitate to build a big hugel at first, but it would be very helpful to bury woody debris wherever you may be digging and building raised beds anyhow. This will add organic matter, water/nutrient retention as exchange, drainage, and fungi that help with all this.
For this fall-winter, I’d start with fava beans (good greens, nitrogen fixation, biomass production), daikon, brassicas, chard/beets, and peas in addition to a cool weather grain if so desired (barley, quinoa) that will support the peas and pump sugars into the soil in exchange for nitrogen from legumes. Peaceful Valley (groworganic.com) is a good regional source for bulk cover crop seed (favas especially). Brassicas are so prolific as seed sources I bet you could find some in neighbors gardens or put out a request and get a bunch. I harvested a gallon in about 40min this fall! I have also had luck requesting yr old seed from local stores, including the big box guys (if they have a nice manager like our local one). Good luck!
One bright side is how many native plants germinate best in bear scat. It is used in several National Park restoration programs. I am assuming you are talking both black and brown/grizzly bears where you are so I would not mess around with too many experiments, but I have heard from Mike Mcgrath on the You bet your garden podcast that a motion activated talk radio (More obnoxious the tone the better) can be worth trying. I’d really consider electric fence with multiple LGDs if you really want to keep fruit trees, which are essentially feeding making them problem bears. In the long run I might try the Mollison described fruit tree embedded into blackberry thickets method.
Regarding how Paul and Allen would manage 1million acres of western Oregon timber land, points about Northwest coniferous forest ecology and hydrology were at times quite inaccurate by my understanding of the current science (they did only have 30min prep), but many of the points in this podcast were great. I have always particularly liked Paul's main idea of moving many permies onto the land so it has more stewards/acre. Done well, this infusion of beneficial keystone species (permies) would be a vast improvement compared to the ridiculously low current # of Forest Service employees/acre. Being so stretched thin is what seems to prompt many unsustainable and ecologically destructive practices like herbicide spraying, monoculture, and poor fire management. I would bet this is similar on private forest lands, but should admit I know a lot less about current private practices (often kept private as proprietary) than those used in public land management.
I think it is important to note how I should grant Allen and Paul the benefit of the doubt and assume they are talking about plots with little to no old-growth left, and that they would preserve any truly ancient forests and the endemic soil species (often endemics are found in each old growth tree), unmatched carbon sequestration, water retention, fire resistance, and sanctuary they provide. Therefore I should also assume Paul is not using the straw man that is current forestry (i.e. tree farmed) land management as an argument against conifer forests’ potential ecological and human value, as that would be akin to criticizing the “three sisters guild” by means of an indictment against current corn monoculture. Old-growth forests and tree farms (as much of or national forests and private forests are managed), are qualitatively different, but I again feel the need to defend conifers’ integral place in health NW ecosystems. Despite native burning and preference for oaks and other deciduous trees in many places, the NW still had the vast majority of its land covered in conifer forests that had the highest biomass/acre of any place on Earth (10x tropical broadleaf forests). On the other hand, “forestry” lands are now either mono crops or are largely very low in species diversity, and even diversity within species is horrible, with many large swaths aerially over-seeded with very narrowly sourced genetics of just Douglas fir. Fires are suppressed entirely to protect short term profits. Private and publicly managed forestry lands are also subjected to herbicides to remove integral support species like alders, willows, and bays that are misconstrued as competitors for light, water and nutrients instead of as hosts for nitrogen fixating and nutrient chelating soil microbes. This makes these forests less healthy, less able to retain water and produce sap to repel insect pests that then leave them as dead ladder fuels. I think Paul’s preference for “woodland” over “forest” as a more permaculture friendly term, despite how the former embeds the resource to be extracted in the name “woodland” and implies that as the sole value thereof, reflects just how mismanaged many of our national and privately owned “forests” have been. I would argue tree farms are not forests any more than a corn field is a prairie. I would have liked a little more specificity about the nature of the forests they were inheriting was, but again they only had 30min to think about this and I should cut them some slack.
Within their 1million acre plots, Allen makes sound points about conglomerating settlements (I’d imagine around water) and allocating large contiguous areas for intact ecosystems (zones 4-5) to allow for other keystone species’ return. These would include beavers, wolves, grizzlies and salmon.
However, conifers are also a keystone species in NW ecosystems, and I would assert far more than 5% in 1/2acre groves (Paul’s suggestion) would be necessary for the system to function. The primary reasons for this are related to how conifers are particularly well suited for the NW climate, with its mild wet winters, dry summers and regular fires. These mild wet winters allow for coastal conifers, with their A-shape suited for low sun angles, to grow just as fast in January as they do in June (Noss, Redwood Ecology, 1998). Deciduous trees’ shapes are much better suited for high sun angles of summer, when we have little to no rain. Moreover, conifers holding their leaves/needles through the rainy season makes them much better at slowing, spreading and sinking water than bare deciduous trees. When in the BBB Mollison refers to the peak water holding capacity of ancient forests, where it can take 70yrs for a raindrop to reach the river, my understanding is he was speaking of coastal redwoods and other NW coastal conifers. The assertion that conifers dry up streams was a common logger justification for cutting them, and their evidence was how often the rivers beneath the forests swelled over their banks in unprecedented ways after logging. This obviously neglected how the biomass of the trees removed and the soil they held would have been holding the rain through into the summer to humidify everything downwind, and in the soil for decades as it seeped downstream through innumerable lifeforms. The dog-hair second growth would then also grow as the streams eventually dried up due to the loss of biomass, reinforcing this misconception that conifers dry up streams, despite how healthy coniferous forests’ bottom layer used to always be a healthy salmon or trout bearing stream. These fish were the primary food produced by NW native forests that were dominated by conifers, but also hosted a diverse array of understory broadleaf trees that also produced significant food sources (hazel and bay nuts, acorns, huckleberry,). Where I live now in NW CA, also hosts the highest botanical biodiversity of vascular plants (300+/hectare) in North America, and the canopy is dominated by the most diverse array of conifers on earth (23). I plan to embed food forests and holistic management practices with animals in and around this native bounty.
Montana seems to vary greatly from Western Oregon/WA/CA in this factor, but the NW coast of the US is also one of the least lightning prone regions on Earth, allowing for trees of greater height (and with it upwards of 10x the collective biomass/acre) than native deciduous trees ever achieve (I don’t think we’d want to introduce the only comparably tall broadleaf, the fire prone eucalyptus). The biomass of these coniferous forests can therefore hold vastly more water than a deciduous forest ever could. These native NW forests evolved to do this likely in response to wet winters and dry summers. This water held from winter rains by massive conifers provides the majority of summer humidity and precipitation inland all the way across the continent (Mollison), as the trees transpire up to 500gal/day (Noss). Moreover, due to their growth period (spring-summer) being largely during the dry season, deciduous trees in the NW can only grow near water, where they also get columns of light through the coniferous canopy. For similar reasons, larger native deciduous trees like big leaf maple, alders, bays and Oregon white oaks often have beards of beneficial moss and lichen to hold winter rain into the dry season for them to absorb through roots that form between their trunks and the moss. Many non-native deciduous trees are not adapted to do this and can die from rot if moss and lichen growth on their trunks gets excessive. Fighting against the NW climate’s selective preference for conifers, especially on slopes and the coasts, seems like rolling the rock uphill. Of course I would love to build food forests dominated by deciduous broadleaf trees on the south flanks of conifer canopied groves and forests, but on any slopes over 15deg and where human access is difficult I would allow evolution to take its course and this will almost always favor conifers for the reasons mentioned above. However this all varies greatly based on the health, age and state of succession of the forest we are talking about. If we are talking about a dog-hair Doug fir regrowth monoculture, I would say Paul’s suggested treatments for selective logging and using the wood for building, hugelkuture, junk pole fencing and other permafications are appropriate.
Why might I not be written off as a dumbfuck? I have intensively studied and worked in NW forests for over 15yrs, in addition to hiking a great deal of the west coast (thru-hiking the PCT, spending a decade of summers working in NW forests as a backcountry, interpretive and ed ranger, trail crew member/leader, environmental educator, and restorationist). What I do know about our local private logging practices comes primarily from a 30yr veteran forester for Green Diamond, and from knowing many loggers, foresters, biologists, botanists and ecologists. I have also talked with quite a few native (mostly Makah, but some Clallam, Tolowa and Yurok) friends extensively about their traditional practices, as well as reading about them quite a bit. I do not know it all of course, but if I know anything, its NW forest ecology. I have applied this background to my study and practice of permaculture for the past 7 years, and am now the food forest site developer for Del Norte County and adjacent tribal lands, and a co-founder of the Wild Rivers Permaculture Guild. Therefore, even though I listen to pretty much ever podcast Paul puts out, the idea of managing a million acres in a permaculture way to work with fire particularly piqued my interest. I was disappointed to hear some common misconceptions about conifers, or at least assertions that deserved some contextualization. I don’t expect anyone to get everything right, and I hope this feedback is taken as constructive. If you’d like my source material, I could dig it all up, but I’d start with the books Conifer Country (Kauffmann) and Redwood Ecology (Noss), which of course are focused on NW CA and SW OR, but they also cover many associated species and ecosystem dynamics common to Oregon as well.
Congratulations on starting the journey. My only tropical experience is in Samoa at the University of the South Pacific Agricultural Campus in Alafua, and a month Fiji at my USP roommates' family farmstead (he was the son of the high chief of NW Fiji, so this was pretty extensive). I've never been to the Philippines so take that into consideration.
Wild onions were a staple in Samoan food, with it being integral to the wonderful coconut cream-wild onion dish used as an almost ubiquitous condiment with taro, breadfruit, fish etc. Root crops other than Taro did seem to have trouble in much of Samoa due to compacted clay soils from heavy rains stripping topsoil and pounding it into brick when it was exposed following deforestation. In Fiji, sweet potatoes were grown in mulch mounds, likely to get above a similar hardpan.
The Peace Corp and UN Ag folks were pushing the proliferation of nitrogen fixators like pigeon pea, peanuts, etc, and the starts/seeds of these that I brought to a host family for a month-long research project took off quickly with no help from me.
The rainforest chilis growing all over both Samoa and Fiji must not be native as these plants came from the Americas originally, but are the best hot peppers I've ever had. Just chilis, onion, and salt in water made a great dipping sauce with roti, taro or "curry in a hurry" (taking only 3-4hrs!) that my Fijian neighbors would make on long leisurely Saturdays. I miss those guys and that was some of the best food I've ever had, but I do not miss the Samoan heat and humidity!
I agree with the coppice and pollard suggestion as the ideal option. The roots will die back proportionally to what you cut back, essentially injecting compost full of rooting hormones and enzymes (being a willow) into your soil. If you do need to cut it down (which is not the permaculture ideal in most cases according to Bill Mollison), you could always help that tree live on as an easily rooted cutting somewhere more suitable for you. If we are growing food as an economic necessity, it's hard to judge someone for cutting down a non-edible/medicinal tree shading the only place one could garden. However, if we are growing our food for the environmental reasons like many permies do, I think it is incumbent on us to consider other places we could garden that would not require removing trees, especially large and old trees with ecosystem services far greater than our gardens would provide.
Even oft vilified conifers have immense ecosystem services, as their needles can have many acres of surface area for slowing, spreading and sinking water, cooling waterways and land, as well as providing habitat for extremely diverse soil ecosystems (in fact the most diverse on Earth are in old-growth coniferous forests of the NW). That being said, an old-growth forest is qualitatively as well as quantitatively different than a tree farm, backyard, or street-side tree. I have removed many small trees of many kinds around my house that can act as ladder fuels in fires, so I don't mean to cast any universal condemnation of tree cutting. I just encourage thinking about what we are doing this gardening for, considering how long a tree took to grow, and its many services to us and other living things. Kind of like we benefit from considering long and hard whether we want to liquidate an investment account that took decades to grow, and make sure its for something worthwhile long term.
I'd plant them in their final location if possible, to let winter moisture help them develop a root system tied into the water table to survive the next summer. That's in my climate though, where we have mild wet winters and dry summers.
Where you are in Denver, I’d probably avoid frost pockets. In other places that would never see killing frosts but need as many chill hours as possible, or to avoid early bud break due to warm winter temps and spring frosts/hail, frost pockets can be useful/acceptable in my opinion. Where I am in NW CA at 1500-1800ft, with low temps around 15-20f most years, 0-10f is probably the 100yr low as my educated guess and many fruit trees would never die in this but benefit from avoiding early bud break on our sporadic but fairly regular “Juneuary” warm winter days. However this is a remote area with widely diverse microclimates. Like many oft vilified natural phenomena that can be avoided or enhanced with design, frost pockets have their place.
In general, I do not worry about weeds from worm castings. If you are worried about it, id go with the heat suggestion, or you could also let them rot/ferment in a barrel of unaerated water, then dump all that over the worm bin when it could use the moisture. You could also sprout them on a tarp or in aerated water then dump onto the bin for the worms to eat.
I have found they eat weeds and seeds, and produce great castings after. I haven't figured what may survive their digestion, but its a small minority of seeds. I speculated seeds that may sprout in the castings are likely those that are extremely small, or those well protected by a coating or mucous (ie tomatoes seem to grow out of my bins).
If you are short on seed and want to help get better germination rates, you can make seed balls following Masanobu Fukuoka's directions from One Straw revolution (basically rolling diverse seeds in 90%clay/10%compost). Spread seeds or seed balls and mulch if soil is bare. If it is covered in weeds/grasses, spread seed mix or seed balls before rain, then cut back weeds/grasses as coarsely as possible and use that as mulch, adding more organic matter if necessary to cover seed. It the grass is in a thick mat, this is the only time i'd consider shallowly tilling/flail mowing once where tree roots won't be damaged.
Antonio, I just connected that you were the one with the post from Valencia, Spain. It's so good to hear about that part of the world where my Basque ancestors came from getting some permaculture reinvigoration from people like you! I imagine the Basque and Catalan cultures both must have had a great deal of permaculture friendly traditional practices (one of which I know of being the Cork Oak-Jamon Iberico silvo-pastured pork production that sounds a lot like holistic management to me). I would try to learn as much as I could from remaining traditional native practitioners and historical documentations of what worked there for over ten thousand years for the Basque and Catalan people, much like I am trying to learn from the local Tolowa here who stewarded the redwood coast so well for a similar amount of time. I also understand the moorish influence on agriculture in Spain had some very permaculture friendly design elements (swales planted in summer, berms in winter). Best of luck!
"Four distinct management groups organize the cover crop diversity. 1) Cool-season grasses like wheat, oats, and triticale; 2) Cool-season broadleaves like canola and sweet clover; 3) Warm-season grasses like hybrid pearl millet and sorghum-Sudangrass; and 4) Warm-season broadleaves like sugar beets, cowpeas, soybeans, and sunn hemp. He advises to set the drill for the largest seed." (He has a fancy seed drill that allows him to plant upwards of 70 species at a time without tilling).
These are good questions Antonio. It will help others provide locally appropriate answers for you if you put your general location, elevation and zone in your profile.
That being said, I have gotten plenty of good insights from farmers like Gabe Brown and Sepp Holzer in vastly different climates from mine. Generally, its hard to go wrong with diversity in all dimensions, including plant species and families, growth habits, height, root structure, climatic preferences, and seasonality. Gabe Brown emphasizes representation from five main families (much like the old NY crime syndicates;):
1) Amaranth (including sunflowers, buckwheat, spinach)
2) Legume (beans, peas, clovers)
3) Brassicas and mustards (ie cole crops like kale, collards, cabbage)
4) Grasses (as Bill Mollison said, "save your money on grass seed, they will come on their own!")
5) Borage family (phacelia, borage, comfrey)
I'd add in some squash, potatoes (under deeper mulch), and anyhting else you could hope would grow in your climate and season. Then cover with a 2-4" (less with small seeds, deeper for larger seeds) mulch of straw, chopped and dropped weeds, shredded leaves, pine needles, palm fronds, or any other loose organic matter you have cheaply available. Sprinkle in some compost or spray with compost tea if you can for microbe inoculation. You will get plants naturally selected for your context and methods, and significantly better soil the next season and beyond.
I don’t think I can fully answer your question or that I even fully understand what your question is, but I’ll give a short summary of how I’ve applied what I’ve learned from Geoff Lawton’s videos on his website and the PRI’s. As I understand and have applied his methods, we are mimicking natural processes in which seeds are dispersed in a carpet with much higher numbers than could possibly all survive to reproduce, and then fall leaves and duff (mulch) cover them instead of soil. So we broadcast a dense carpet of legume and diverse other seeds and then covering with a loose light mulch that strong seedlings can push through, ideally before or during rain. We will then have natural selection take its course and the seed that form on our plants the next season will have been selected for suitability to this method and our climate. So we only have to buy or acquire the seed from outside once, quickly balancing out the extra cost of overseeding at first, and that extra seed is itself an excellent veganic fertilizer. I have also found that bulk fava beans, if bought in bulk, compare well in price to other organic veganic fertilizers that provide what the beans do, even if the seeds just decompose. This is even more valuable as a complete fertilizer if it’s diverse array of seeds like buckwheat, brassicas, grasses and wildflowers. Also, by that second season we will have biomass for chop and drop mulching over our home grown seed, and as our trees and shrubs grow this will increase. Hope this helps.
1200$/week would be a good deal in my area for the small-medium sized bobcat excavator (15,000 lbs). I would however not bother pulling a stump if I were simply going to use it for a hugel in that same spot. I'd just use it as the base of the hugel, or as part of a larger one. If you plan to do something else there and have the time and cash, the excavator I describe could do the job easily in much less than a week, so I may consider how I'd use the rest of that time on ponds, more hugels, swales, woody debris filled trenches, etc.
I am pretty sure swales are not advised on slopes above 15deg, and are especially precarious with clay soil as when saturated it is prone to slides. Permanent tree cover, ideally with species that have leaves present to slow and spread rainwater during the rainy season (meaning evergreens in the Pacific NW I’m in) is the best watershed management practice according to many sources I’ve read (Mollison, Fukuoka, Loess Plateau Restoration protocols, NRCS). This is also what nature does when left to its own evolution. At least tree planting is less work and safer than making swales, but probably not what you want to hear. It’d be good to plant before your rainy season and choose varieties that need no irrigation.
Oh, I’d also host or join some fruit juice pressing events and take the mash home to plant where you don’t plan any other earthworks or buildings. Sepp Holzers advice, which I’ve followed with success, is to spread the mash on your poorest native soil, cover with mulch, and let nature select for the strongest tree for that spot amongst thousands of seeds.
If you have done any of this already, good on ya, but here are some resources I’d check out:
Geoff Lawton’s soil video, and many others
Free online PDC lecture series be Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison
Gaia’s Garden (Toby Hemenway)
Sepp Holzers Permaculture
Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual (Mollison)
In terms of general strategies: access, water, earthworks/soil in that order. Access allows all the work on the latter parts to be easier and more efficient. Water is necessary for any life we want to support, and understanding our water needs and devising a master plan for water flows on the site will inform our earthworks design. Soil will form and stick around naturally with sound water management and earthworks design. Beyond that, keeping the ground covered with organic matter living or dead is the basic principle I follow. No BS (no bare soil)! Manure from male cattle is fine though
Thanks y’all. I really don’t want to kill any wildlife, especially predators that keep ecosystems in balance, but I do love my Wilson more than anything! I agree that killing snakes that rattle makes a vacuum for those that don’t. I think they have been attracted by the mice/pack rats that invaded/exploded while the house was unoccupied by a cat during our move. If you look at these pics or my post on the “Show Me Your Gates” thread, you may see why removing rock piles is not really an option. I don’t know how else I could hold up the fence other than rock jacks.
Anyone know where to get a few hundred gopher, rat or king snakes (they eat rattlers)?
I have seen two rattle snakes near my house in the past ten days. The first was under our deck abutting the house. Our Pyrenees-akbash Wilson went to sleep down there out of the summer heat, and bolted out when the rattle started, then started barking and stomping right above it on top of the deck. I got dressed for the job and moved the snake outside the fence and got it to slither away further with a hose. The second was a smaller snake in the brush outside the fence and above our driveway. Both alerted us with rattles well before conflict occurred. I know that killing snakes that rattle in warning has shown in a Washington State University study to basically breed snakes that don’t rattle for humans. We also have pretty hardy dogs in Wilson and a Doberman we are fostering that was raised on the property. However I have considered killing the snakes and feeding them to the dogs, cooked and beheaded, of course. I am torn. I’d feel horrible if we lost a dog to a snake, but wonder if killing one that alerts us to its presence really reduces the risk. Your thoughts?