Geoff Colpitts

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since Dec 06, 2011
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Recent posts by Geoff Colpitts

Cj Sloane wrote:

William Bronson wrote:
What can one do with tannin filled water?

How about adding it to cider? If you don't have cider apples, you need to add tannins somehow. For my last batch I added tea bags

Possible, but unlikely - crab apples are easier to add to cider for tannins.  Most orchards grow crab apple trees in order to boost pollination, so no problems there.  It's hard finding good quality crabs in the city though, so maybe for urban ciders, but again I think you need pretty limited numbers of crabs to make apple cider/scrumpy.  I'm using maybe 30 crabs to a 30 gallon scrumpy cider.  If it really added to the taste, perhaps.  I doubt you'd have to use the acorns anyways though - the shells still have a lot of tannins left as I recall.
2 months ago
I discovered that the toughest adversary to leaving acorns in a stream to get rid of tannins is the "Overzealous Park Ranger" who evidently found them and removed them.  Nevertheless, it seems the best way to do it if you have a natural stream.

Nature's Garden (Thayer) had a section on acorns which was fairly good.  I believe it was from there that I got this anecdote:  early californians were called "acorn-eaters" as an epithet, indicating that they were eating lousy food.  However, much like the europeans who replaced the pine forests with beef cattle (and gave the first nations there protein deficiencies as a result) acorns were actually more nutritious than the alternatives.  Perhaps the epithet had roots in the fact that acorns, if not processed quickly, will mold easily (those that didn't know that would assume that acorns were a terrible idea for a staple food.)  Of course, they might have thought different once the healthier acorn eaters slaughtered them with their strong limbs and oak spears....
2 months ago
Sharon Kallis in Vancouver did work with bio-netting - taking invasive english ivy and crocheting it into large nets.  It doesn't take that long, since crocheting is so ludicrously efficient.  The nets are laid down and pressed into the top layer of soil (on hillsides here in the PNW, because of the heavy rains) and they prevent erosion, allowing the native transplants to actually have a chance.  I will try and source an article from her, as this is about the 5th time I've needed one.

In the same vein, perhaps learn how to do basic weaving with whatever you have available, and create artificial shade to allow plants to establish themselves and get deeper root systems.  Poles and a cross-hatched shade-structure at an angle that faces the hottest sunlight.  It's a bandaid solution, but could come in handy in the future, and because it's going to have lots of holes in it, it'll have a little less wind-resistance.

Desert farming techniques involve planting things about a foot deep.  As long as there is no absolute ridiculous hardpan, plants can have a water source as long as they have time to establish incredibly deep roots (some (most?) watering is done because root systems are undeveloped, for one reason or another, not because plants necessarily need watering.)  Have to research desert farming though, there are sources on youtube etc. from Arizona/New Mexico.

Mulch is not necessarily good - according to Steve Solomon, mulch (depending on what it is) often just facilitates water wicking up to the surface.  When farming with no water, he allowed the top 4 inches to totally dry out.  This stops the wicking action from the water below that point (basically shading the 4 inch and below area.)  Watering breaks this cycle, ironically, and allows for far more water loss unless it's a lot of water.  Very dry mulch is ok, but anything that might compact is a bad idea.  It supports the desert farming techniques above, in that water should ideally be got from 4 feet down, not the top foot of soil.

It also may be easier to plant a windbreak-hedgerow and get rid of some of the wind before tackling the area.

Rotten logs can store an amazing amount of moisture, and if rotten enough, plant roots can penetrate them.  Nurse logs can provide some shade as well.  Could be possible to root things into them in a shadier area, then bring out the logs and bury them.  Another bandaid solution.  The company bandaid is getting a lot of free advertising here.
2 months ago
1:  Samuel Thayer's book "Nature's Garden" includes more info on acorns than you'll get anywhere else (without having a book that is specifically geared toward them.)

2:  Hot methods of tannin extraction can often require a LOT of changing of the water.  I have done up to 12 boils, which is counterproductive, ultimately, unless all you have in your life is hot water and time.  Sometimes far less however.  White oaks (the ones that have rounded leaves; red oaks have spiky leaves) are *supposed* to have fewer tannins, but it's not strictly always true, according to Thayer.

3: Cold methods include leaving them in a stream (I don't know if you shell them first) for weeks in a mesh bag.  My experiment... got cleaned up by someone who was apparently able to spot the bag, in a stream, 20 feet off the path, hidden between two rocks... which was entirely unfair.  I suspect waterfalls could be very useful for this method.

I've always suspected waterfalls though.  I think they were an un-named player in Watergate.
7 months ago

John Suavecito wrote:I have both of the above worms in my trees. Unfortunately, I can't raise chickens because they are specifically forbidden by the neighborhood agreement.  I have used zip locs and fruit sox, but I grow too many apples to do that anymore.  Any suggestions for how to take care of them in the food forest?
John S

I'm in Vancouver (the Canadian one).  I find the 'sock' solution to be adequate, because if you have a problem that severe, you already have reached a point where you should either be considering whether or not a) the tree fits into the ecosystem, or b) it's got enough of an ecosystem around it to keep the codling in check.  If the tree comes down before its natural life span, it's great carving wood, whereas when it finally rots from the inside out it's not so good.  We can't have tree fetishes just because they are the biggest element.  After all, contrasting 10,000 years of burning forests sustainably vs. us not being able to face up to the fact that our apple tree doesn't fit....

The best idea is BATS.  They do eat codling moth, and bat houses are very easy to build, so it's not much of an investment if it doesn't work.

Most large apple trees (larger than, as you say, your containment methods really allow for) are large enough to support a massive ecosystem.  (If your tree is still dwarf and you don't want to continue 'socking', you may simply not be removing enough fruit.)

Not a fan of the cardboard or sticky traps, as they only slow down the problem, and that's more effectively done by picking all fallen fruit.  It's also wasteful, and causes other problems.  No real harm in trying the cardboard traps, but be careful what you're destroying is actually codling moth.

Fitting them into our native ecosystem in the PNW is tricky - first nations would pick hundreds of pacific crab apples (they are relatively sweet) for storage over winter.  European varieties just don't work quite as well, so they become high maintenance.  (I don't really find that they taste any better either.)

I'm a firm believer that if you have enough of a ground beetle and spider population, many other things will follow - there is always a part of the life-cycle where apple maggots/moths fall to earth.  Also I imagine our native red centipedes are probably some help.

Best thing though is to remember that owning an apple tree is more like owning a dog than with most plants - picking up fallen fruit and not composting it is the best way.  With many plants it isn't essential, but with apples, it's absolutely crucial.  I did manage to reduce my codling problem to acceptable levels by being religious about fallen fruit.  A good reason not to plant gooseberries and oregon grape under your apple trees....

One other thing is the possibility of just skipping a few life cycles by removing ALL the fruit for a few years, if you get desperate.

In terms of their uses, I do make apple sauce out of the useable portions.  I'm comforted by the fact that they are boiled.  The issue is remembering that if you want to compost them, you want to do something pretty odd to them - it's pretty situational - solarizing is possible, or (I think) rotting them, perhaps even baking them.  If you compost them, you're just finishing the life cycle, and if you have a problem with too many moths, that's not going to help.
9 months ago
Apologies for the novel.  It might be more concise if I didn't have a headache.

- I like all of what Ben wrote above, with the exception of the mulching.  Thick mulch (anything that is going to allow water wicking) is a problem.  Best to simply read Heide Hermany's "Working With Nature".  She covers Steve Solomon's findings on xeriscaping, and elaborates on them.  Basically, thick mulches allow water to wick to the surface, and if that in turn is exposed, it basically just allows your groundwater to disappear, making you water again... and then probably assuming that you 'just needed to water more than you thought'.  But what he said about 'anything is better than bare soil' is absolutely true.  This is why I think the original idea of "garlic beds" is fundamentally disfunctional.  Garlic I think should be planted more as a "it's good right here in this specific space" kind of thing, rather than "plant it everywhere and then we'll plant a polyculture around it" kind of thing.  They are better niche plants than many other things.  (Admittedly that may just be how I practice, but it seems worth mentioning.)
Garlic, like all alliums, are great xeriscapers, so while they (you) won't like a lot of competition for organic matter and good soil, they won't be put off by a little water competition, especially in a hugel bed.  I've polycultured them with Angelica, Parsley-Peas (not "parsley and peas"), even under huckleberry and white flowering currant.  Point is, I put them in where the soil was good, but the water was a little questionable.  They still need water to 'grow up', but not to mature properly.  Just don't let things get so moist as to cause Rust.  

I'd probably use clover for the paths rather than for the beds.  I like 'walkable' clover in paths, and red clover on the sides, so the bees can climb up my pant legs un-noticed and with very little effort.  Also a good reason for 'boxer shorts', as bumblebess prefer an enclosed area to hibernate.

- To me, 'companion crops' is an oversimplified way of saying 'polyculture'.  There's no hard and fast rule about where to plant them, but it's far more nuanced (and generally resilient) if you just plant them where they make sense at the time, which usually means "within", rather than "to one side".  Depending on what they are, most things like the chamomile, clover, rue, dill (fennel), and whatever else (mint? heather?), won't compete much, but they might play a vital role in keeping the soil and insect life from degrading or preventing erosion.

- What Skandi wrote up above about wind is what I've read and been told as well - I wonder if the "Irish" stacked stone walls perform the same mediating function, thanks to all the holes in them.  SOUND (Ow! Stop that!) is what is stopped by impermeable surfaces (and not at all by hedgey-plants.)  Windward sides of hedge-rows will have different moisture conditions as well, so that's worth thinking about.

- (If you don't know already,) Rue is likely to cause contact dermatitis.

- Conventions do say not to water garlic for the last month, but I think it's better said that garlic just needs to be established and mature by that time, so it can handle its own water needs.

Climate change means those raised beds will also get hotter than they need/want to be (although they won't flood!) - I already normally cringe when I see raised beds (mainly in the city, since urban raised beds usually means wasted space or frivolous use of wood).  Sunken beds have equal problems and benefits.  Even without climate change, raised beds often become too hot without some taller plants mediating the sun's baking of the soil.  They don't damage the plants, but they do damage the soil if it's bare.  There are ways to mediate that effect, but it really doesn't solve the problem for an appreciable amount of time.  Your hedgerow may help to produce some shade, but learning how to work with the nuances of shade to create microclimates is absolutely an essential skill.

You can get around these problems, partly, and especially in a hugel bed, if you plant things that will take advantage of the subsurface water, but also shade the soil enough to avoid sun exposure problems.  Less evaporated water, less desiccation, more insect habitat, more soil biology, and in time, fewer people being duped into bogus ideas like "the benefits of ploughing".  You *could* use very light mulch (straw like... although I find that surprisingly challenging) or constructed woven shade solutions as well, but especially in the case of alliums, thanks to them not needing a ton of water to begin with, you can probably get away with taller companion plants (I love Angelica, but there are plenty of things that would work.)  Things that won't overcompete for the water, but also won't cause mildew/rust problems by overcrowding (although you can always prune viciously).  If you're good, I imagine you can do it with anything, including biennials and perennials.

I tend to think that this rhetoric applies in all situations involving any kind of raised bed, even without climate change issues.  Lowered beds have their problems and benefits too, of course, which is why I tend to focus on my preferred kind of bed - the rare, endangered 'normal bed'.  But that's just me.  Lowered beds also provide spider habitat if there's plant debris... raised beds provide and habitat (although ants do actually do some 'accidental pollination'.)

Hugel beds mediate deep water loss, but not sun over-exposure.  It's easy to think that they are better because the plants don't starve for water, but there are groups of people that plant in the desert, with completely exposed soil, to great success, all because they allow the top layer to desiccate, kill off the wicking action, and use the ground water.  The Hopi don't water crops at all, in bare desert landscapes.  Like I said above, think this not good for the soil, as it shreds organic matter content overall, but it does emphasize the crux of the issue, and I think illustrates why a lot of farmers think they are succeeding, when they are actually depleting the soil for future generations at a pretty alarming rate - that garlic is going to look fine, but the rest of the lanscape is going to deteriorate.  What hugel beds *can* allow you to do is mediate water loss while still growing taller plants AND a lower guild of plants.  Whether or not that is actually worth the damage done by the excavator is to me still an open question.
11 months ago
Typically permaculture writers seem to me to recommend ducks over chickens - less indiscriminate eaters, and they don't pull up young plants and denude the soil like chickens do.  Unfortunately, it seems the internet agrees that they shouldn't eat citrus, but if they avoid it instinctively, it could work out?  I've never kept either animal, just repeating what I've read.  
1 year ago
Mulch is highly contentious.  Read Steve Solomon's book "Gardening in Hard Times" (not 100% on the title) to look at his experiments on mulching.  Basically, he says that if you have any exposed soil, mulching only brings more water to the surface, which contributes more to drought, whereas bare soil, once desiccated to a few inches, provides a barrier to the wicking process, which allows for far better water retention.

Having the situation I described isn't ideal (Steve is/(was?) a european style farmer trying to figure out adaptation to the pacific northwest area so his methods can be said to be cultural adaptations rather than horticultural solutions), but if you want to avoid it, I would guess that a living mulch provides much the same benefits, without creating a desiccation zone.  Plants with small surface root zones, I suspect, would do the same as an 'airy' mulch.

Again, if the mulch has lots of contact with the soil, and if it is too consistent of a texture all the way up to the surface, wicking will bring water up from a great distance to be evaporated by the sun.

On the other hand, mulching for the purpose of creating shade (and reducing solar surface evaporation, makes a lot of sense to me - shading the soil allows for a relatively decent cover for all insects, both predator and prey (spiders centipedes and ground beetles need cover as much as everything else) so you haven't messed with whatever balance you have.  I have considered the advantages of learning basic, haphazard methods of weaving in order to create shade "foils", which might allow for your 'shading mulch' to avoid contact with the ground, which would prevent it from immediately beginning to decay.

Mulching with certain materials like shredded interior tree wood might work simply because it doesn't break down fast enough, but has so many huge disadvantages (soil imbalances, ecological dead zones, high labour) that it does not seem a solution to me.  Also, I find that such mulches are often applied in bad situations - deciduous trees, for instance, often (in my area) get mulched with coniferous 'bark mulch', which means that the soil bacterial/fungal content, typically carefully managed by the deciduous leaves themselves so as to benefit the tree, is replaced by what I can only imagine is something that only benefits conifers.

1 year ago
I second the comment about John Kallas (I read his book, which is thorough, and useful for most temperate climes similar to the pacific northwest).

He, or someone else, recommended grilling the crowns, which seems like a great idea to me, although I've never had crowns with little enough soil/sand on them.

(When they're already bitter, I'd probably just boil or roast the roots.)

1 year ago