Alder Burns

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since Feb 25, 2012
Homesteader, organic gardener, permaculture educator.
northern California
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Recent posts by Alder Burns

@ Fred:  I mostly used short-nap carpet, just to save stucco since I wanted the fibers completely embedded.  If the carpet was new (as in scraps from a new install project) I would let it sit out in the weather for a while, new carpet often has a water-repellent coating that I wanted to wear off.  Usually I would attach the carpet to the frame dry and then stucco it, so only the outer, nap surface was stuccoed.  I did play around with the idea of making square "shingles" stuccoed on both sides ahead of time but decided just using large pieces direct would be a lot quicker. The cardboard and plastic added additional strength to the roof, especially as I needed to be up on it in order to apply the stucco, and served for more waterproofing, in case moisture seeped through the carpet, as well as some insulation from the airspaces in the cardboard.  Mostly it was an experiment in creating fairly quick, durable housing for free.  The cement in the stucco for the roof was one of the few purchased inputs.  Since the walls were under a two-foot overhang, I used a mud stucco on these (two or three coats of a clay-sand mix), with a thin wash of cement mixed with water and paint for color applied over the top with a brush.
4 days ago
If it is a small enough area, and you don't need to put it to another use for a few years, you could try mulching them out once cut. I used to keep a bunch of scrap carpet around for this purpose with sweetgum, elm, and other vigorous stump sprouters.  After cutting everything flush with the ground as much as possible, lay the carpet scraps with a lot of overlap over the whole area.  The new sprouts won't get any light and will coil around under there and turn white and gradually die.
2 weeks ago
Just about every thread I see on here and elsewhere about sweet potatoes neglects to mention this fact, and I haven't seen it here yet either, though I admit I read through it pretty quickly.  EAT THE GREENS!!  They are wonderful briefly cooked up and used any way one would use spinach; while having the advantage of growing through the long hot summer, unlike most other greens except for tougher things like collards and a few other uncommon tropicals.  You can regularly prune the tips and cook them stem and all, and this can help keep the vines a bit more controlled especially in a small garden.  I think I read somewhere you can pick about 20% of the leaves without affecting the yield of the roots.  This tidbit raises their value in a subsistence system quite significantly....
3 weeks ago
One obvious thing to add to this list is any kind of treated wood, especially pressure treated and creosoted woods.  In many areas these are being used more and more since they resist termites and mold.  One exception might be borate treatments, but such wood is still dangerous for plants when used around gardens.  Treated wood is also extremely toxic to burn.
3 weeks ago
I think the main reason for "curing" sweet potatoes (and yams) is to prolong their storage life by promoting the healing over of any damaged spots.  I have had almost as good a result by sorting carefully through them and placing any damaged ones separately to be used first, and then putting them directly into storage after letting them dry out for a day or two.  Don't wash them or abrade them or drop them....handle them like eggs and place into shallow containers and store them somewhere above about 55. In the heated part of a house rather than any kind of cooler space is better.  Look through them every few days at first, and then every few weeks, and sort out and use any that show signs of decay.  This will especially work well if you don't have a huge crop that will last through the storage season anyway.
3 weeks ago
My own hack for tomato processing involves sun-drying the first few harvests, which are often too small to want to bother with the whole process of canning.  In my current climate this just means putting slices out on a screen in the sun, and covering them at night, but it is possible in more humid climates, sometimes with the use of an enclosure (such as a parked car in the sun!).  I take these dried tomatoes and store them in bags, buckets, etc. When I'm making something that needs thickening like sauce, paste, or salsa I powder dried tomatoes in the blender and stir this into the simmering sauce until it is the desired thickness, bring this to a boil, and can away!  So essentially I'm replacing gas heat for prolonged boiling to thicken with solar energy drying the tomatoes I'm using for thickener!  A large sauce or salsa canning project now easily fits into a day, since the stuff just has to come to a boil before being ready to can!
2 months ago
What I've found through experience on multiple sites is that in anything resembling a forest, or even a thicket going toward young forest, is that trying to "tuck in" useful plants here and there in it and expecting them to succeed is likely to fail. There is a lot of competition from the surrounding stuff, both above and below ground, and there is the necessity of fencing each and every plant from animals.  In most climates you will have to get water to the new plants if there is a dry spell for at least the first year or two.  This extra watering then attracts more roots to grow into the spots from all around.    So by trial and error I've learned to think, and to work, in patches rather than isolated plants or even small guilds of plants.  You want to open up a clearing big enough to let some sun hit the ground....most of our useful food plants, even the trees, either need this or will benefit greatly from it.  A good way to proceed is to simply fence the whole clearing and start an annual garden in there.  While that's going on, plant out your perennials and fruit trees and so on right in there among the veggies, corn, etc.  Keep on planting veggies in there until the perennials start to fill in the space.  Eventually you quit with the annuals and have the food forest in place.  The new trees and such will benefit hugely from the addditonal water and attention primarily directed at the annuals.  If you want more useful trees, etc. or more veggie area then you make a new patch adjacent, or at a distance, and start the process over again.
2 months ago
Seems to me different strategies are appropriate for different sites.  When I lived in southern Georgia and grew almost an acre of veggies for market, I relied on tillage and mulch.  Usually thorough tilling followed by cardboard and paper mulch, topped with some kind of organic matter, mostly to keep the cardboard from blowing away.  Openings would be punched through for inserting transplants.  Usually this would subdue the grass long enough to get a crop, and all would compost away and need re-doing the following year, unless I decided to rotate that area into pasture or whatever.   Where I live now (California) I can't do paper or cardboard mulch, or really any mulch, due to fire hazard issues and the fact that it quickly becomes a habitat for huge numbers of earwigs, pillbugs, snails, etc.  A tilling will let me grow a crop for one season, where the grass isn't too bad yet, but it is spreading everywhere there is irrigation, and it can persist for years after withdrawing irrigation from a section.  My most serious gardens are in raised beds with metal mesh underneath, because of the gophers, and now I've begun to put plastic underneath too, and just fill the beds with clean compost, to keep bermuda from creeping up into them from beneath.
2 months ago
As an aside, I've had good luck "hacking" both my small Mantis electric tiller and a small electric lawnmower as threshing machines for barley...the only small grain I'm currently growing.  For the tiller I made a wooden box that it sits on top of with a chute off to one side to shove handfuls of heads into.  It would take two or three passes to separate most of the grains...still quicker than beating or dancing on them on pavement which is what I did before.  The mower was MUCH quicker...and easy to set up since it fits just right into a wheelbarrow!  So I fill the barrow half way or more with cut heads, set the mower in it and whiz away.  The frame of the mower keeps the blade away from the wheelbarrow, and the wheelbarrow keeps the grain from flying everywhere.  I pick the mower up after a couple minutes and fluff the stuff up with a pitchfork, and repeat till all the heads are broken up.  Then winnow the fine stuff out with two buckets in the wind and then it's ready to store.  This would work with wheat, too, I'm sure, and with that it's then ready to grind or boil or do whatever and eat.  The barley has a hull, though, and for that our heavy Vita-Mix blender comes to good service....set on medium speed for just the right amount of grain and time, will grind off and powder the hulls and leave the mostly intact grain....winnow again and it's ready to cook!
Proper thatch is laid carefully in overlapping courses of bundles.  It is quite a skill to do well.  I found myself deeply impressed multiple times in Bangladesh by standing there perfectly dry with two inches thickness of rice straw between me and a monsoon downpour!!  But the smoke from cooking readily penetrates it.  Now that is thin thatch, and in a cold climate you want thick thatch, so that you also have the insulation value, but I think the design is similar, only the bundles are thicker and there are more layers.  But I think the stuff is still parallel, and that might have something to do with enabling smoke to escape.  Maybe some sort of vent was designed at the roof ridge in some of the old European places, too.  I'm afraid your straw bales packed in overhead wouldn't let the smoke out, since the straw is short and packed in every which way.  But you might be able to leave a gap directly over the fire somehow and direct it to a vent?
2 months ago