Ben Bowman

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since Aug 17, 2012
Hoover, AL
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Recent posts by Ben Bowman

Jeremy, I do not have any personal experience with Sunn Hemp yet, but i will be planting it this fall. I cant recall the source, but i read elsewhere (maybe Auburn website) that it produced decent results when it was tested in alabama red clay (ultisol) soil. if you can get it to grow there, it provides a number of benefits including weed prevention, nitrogen fixation, and a nice amount of organic matter. I wouldn't rule it out just yet. Most of the USDA documents will list the preferred soil type and give the same planting instructions: well prepared area, weed free, seed drilled etc. My experience with other crops has been that the USDA guidelines are fine, but not necessarily what is required. I would add that the government doesn't always provide the best advice when it comes to farming practices. you can likely hoe some rows of it into weedy areas or along borders to test it in your soil.

Your soil is similar to ours. Daikon grew really well in our red clay and reseeded heavily. We got around 3 five gallon buckets worth of seed pods from 30 or so plants this year. It definitely out-competed the surrounding plants on the hugel beds. I wanted to cut it back, but we were after the seed. Peanut may be a decent option for you as well.

a 3/6/9' stepped pond should work. I should have been more specific in my previous post. I can tell you from experience that its worth the extra money to dig the ponds a little deeper than you originally planned. A few extra feet may allow you to irrigate for another month during the summer, buffer against evaporation, and keep your fish alive. I really wouldn't worry about the ponds being able to hold water either. You have more than enough clay there to get a pond sealed. it looked like you had significant earthworks to capture most of the water that would run off. I suspect your plans will work just fine.

We are in our second year of design implementation here. I will offer you a little more advice for what it is worth.

1. When you have heavy equipment brought on site, make sure you pressure wash the weed seeds and dirt off the tracks before you let them drive it off the trailer. its well worth the extra hour it will cost you.

2. Buy a good transit and double check all your elevation readings.

3. keep a farm journal and take a ton of pictures to document your progress.
6 years ago
Jeremy, congratulations on finishing your PDC. Your design presentation looks great!

Soil Improvement:
I would consider using 'Tropic Sun’ sunn hemp to fix nitrogen and add organic matter to the poor clay soil.
Daikon radish is also an attractive option for organic matter and soil aeration.

I would suggest digging ponds A, B, and C deeper than 6 feet to increase your water holding capacity in the dry months. The initial cost is a little higher, but you may have to cope with serious drought conditions in the future. I didn't see any mention of what water plants you plan to introduce in the ponds, but i suspect you have given it some thought.
6 years ago
Welcome to Permies Tyler! I have been working 16 acres about 20 miles south of you (Calera) for the past year. If you (or anyone else here) want to come out for dinner and a tour sometime, just shoot me a PM with your contact info. I would also be interested in swapping some seeds or plants with local permies.

The project is in the early stages since we bought the property last January. We're currently doing some earthworks (125' of 7' tall hugel beds) and finishing off sealing 2 ponds. I placed an order for a few hundred bare root shrubs and trees this week so we're going to be busy this spring!
6 years ago

Charlene Matthews wrote:Hopefully someone has a suggestion on what kind of seed(s) that can just lay on top of the soil and germinate. Some areas are on a mild slope.

you will likely need to spend some money to get a cover crop started in the spring . If you are talking about a large area, consider Teff seed. It is a grass and is harvested as a grain for human consumption. from what I understand, it will sprout when sown directly on top of a firm soil. Teff hay also sells for a premium. I would add some treated red or white clover seed into the mix to fix nitrogen. Once this is established, you can come back with wild harvested seed (such as dandelion and wildflower) later in the spring.

if the area you want to plant is smaller, consider planting peanut. A 25-50# bag of unsalted/un-roasted peanut can be purchased relatively cheap. the suggestion of root crops is a good one. look into getting bulk daikon radish and carrot seed. A few pounds of that seed goes a LONG way.
6 years ago

Damian Jones wrote:What's wrong with this plan, what's dumb. I'm looking for a good critique.


Damian, It is great that you are interested in developing your property using a permaculture design! Since you asked for a critique I will give you my take. I don't want to discourage you in any way, but you asked our criticism. perhaps not all of my input will apply to you, but I offer general advice for others that might read this thread at a later date.

Your excitement to get things moving in the spring could lead to some costly mistakes. You likely lack the knowledge required to plan and implement something that you will be happy with in the long run. Observation of the property is key to making a good design. Start slowly this year and gain an understanding of the property in all 4 seasons. Meanwhile you can learn more about rotational grazing, resilient design, soil building, animal husbandry, etc. If you have not already bought books, I would suggest dropping $300 before you commit to more expensive items such as: aquaponics systems, larger animals, trees, equipment. Somewhere on these forums there is a great list of suggested reading material. The information contained within the top 5 permaculture books should provide a great base to start from.

Make a plan. Ask better questions and clearly define your goals for the land. The more specific you can be, the better. It is impossible to implement a good plan without a desired outcome in mind. how many people do you want to feed or what % of your diet do you want to produce? how much income (if any) needs to be generated to cover expenses and taxes? how much working capital are you willing to commit in the first year, and do you expect a return? if you do plan on making it profitable in the first year, what items would you need to produce to make that happen? Would your plans work if you or your family had to leave for some reason such as vacation, illness, or emergency? what is your soil like? have you tested it? do you need to amend it before you plant long term perennial crops like trees and shrubs? Would it be better to dredge and stock your ponds or buy aquaponics systems and heat the water through the winter? which of these (or other) options is most profitable in the first year: crops, hay, leasing the pasture, animal husbandry? are your goals realistic?

My suggestion is to start small. raise a few dozen chickens for a year to see if you like caring for animals. they are easy and cheap. buy a few 20# bags of black oil sunflower seeds (non heat treated variety sold as bird seed) and sow a patch for chicken feed. raise smaller plots of grain for feed and invest most of your energy preparing the garden near the house this spring. plant a few trees and shrubs, but hold off on planting a lot of trees until you can prepare the land correctly and understand your local conditions. get your soil tested! compost shredded leaves and work on building a heavily mulched (6-18") soil in the home garden area. Learn about your land. Observe the stream and see how high it floods during heavy rains. As a part time farmer you won't have the time to tackle a serious workload. Enjoy the fact that you currently have outside employment(where you can do research, plot, and scheme on the clock) and save as much money as you can.
6 years ago
While I don't consider myself an expert, I do have a few years experience with a 2000 gallon aquaponic system. This was a small non-commercial AP system that didn't require expensive equipment such as food mixing tanks and a pellet mill. I think it is important to understand that AP systems are not natural (although they mimic some functions of a natural system). When you place animals in such a system, the expectation is that you will need to provide everything they require to live: trace minerals, food, water oxygenation, PH balance, etc. Very few things in life can be accurately described with absolutes, such as the "need" to buy feed. If you want to get optimal results, you will likely want to provide some amount of commercial feed. not everyone is after optimal results though. A natural (non commercial) diet is fine as long as the animals are growing and well cared for.

I suspect most people opt for commercial feed because it is easy, convenient, and it provides a complete diet. Trying to regularly provide a balanced diet from other sources can become difficult and/or time consuming. It is a viable option if you have more time than money or strong beliefs about commercial feed (contents or how it is sourced). I advocate using as much locally sourced feed as possible, but i am also a realist. There will be days when you cant go dig worms and forage (such as sickness, family emergency, vacation). If someone else has to fill in for you, it is likely that they will be unaccustomed to digging worms or uncomfortable handling BSF maggots. It is wise to have a bag of commercial feed on hand for such times.

We grew duckweed that provided about half of the food required and supplemented it with bag feed, black soldier fly, worms, and offerings from the bug zapper. My method was to feed duckweed and commercial feed at the same time and carefully observe which the fish ate first and how long it took them to finish off the commercial feed (ideally no more than 5 minutes). If the fish ate the pellet food first and ignored the duckweed, i assumed they needed something that they were not getting elsewhere and adjusted the ratio. Leftover duckweed on the top of the water isn't bad, but overfeeding pelleted food can lead to serious problems.

I would also like to share a source of fish feed that I have not seen mentioned elsewhere. We had a bumper crop of acorns this year and I gathered them to reforest a few acres on the back of our property. I dumped them out on a table to sort the ones that were wormy. I put a mesh window screen down to keep them on the table and make moving them around easier. By the time i finished sorting, i noticed 30-40 small white grubs had crawled out onto the screen. they died a swift death in the jaws of our hungry fish. I left the wormy acorns out overnight and had 50-60 more grubs the following day. I would roll the acorns around on the screen daily, and come back a few minutes later to collect the grubs. this provided some easily obtained supplemental feed in the fall (around the time the duckweed growth slowed down).

6 years ago

Jocelyn Campbell wrote: I would add to the cons: finished/polished sides are slippery when wet!

I have heard that you can take a torch to the finished side to reduce the slipperiness, but i have not tried it. I turned my path pavers polish side down for this reason. They really are slick when wet! we use an industrial floor buffer with sanding pads and powdered grit (I forget the brand name) to hone stone down at work. that is an option for anyone using recovered granite to do a patio or walkway that has been grouted.

I would not advise feeding crushed granite grit to chickens either. It would likely be fine, but grit is easy to obtain from other sources.

There is a nice photo gallery over at for those interested in using granite to build. I like that they are re-purposing waste products, but for a few hundred bucks you could get a wet saw and cut the granite yourself. here are a few images from that site:

and an indoor shot from elsewhere:

This stuff is FREE for the taking people, go get it!
6 years ago
<--- longtime forum lurker here

Kim Hill wrote: If I could get my hands on unlimited amounts of granite, I would take it in a heart beat.

Kim, you likely can get all the free granite you want. I work for a granite counter-top company and we throw away a considerable amount. I am ashamed of the tonnage we landfill weekly. This is the same material you pay $30-150 a square foot for, highly polished on one face, rough one the other. Most shops would consider any piece smaller than 20" as "waste".

The Pros:
It is beautiful and often free! For anyone interested in accent stone or small stuff for projects, I would suggest contacting your local granite counter-top company and see about getting some small pieces. Most of them have to pay to landfill it and view it as trash. It might be best to show up in person and ask to talk to the shop manager instead of calling ahead. We occasionally have people show up and offer to buy the shop lunch for a couple dozen small pieces of exotic stone waste (this goes over very well by the way). Sink cut outs make really nice garden path stones, cutting boards, accent pieces, etc. I suspect people may come by after hours to raid the dumpster at work, but i couldn't say for sure since no one is there . I would never suggest such a thing though.

The cons:
Keep in mind you will be getting small pieces, usually nothing over 24". The polished side is often sealed with "tryepic" or similar products so not all of it may be suitable for your application. My understanding is that the sealers are safe when used as intended for counter-tops and chemically inert once applied. I would only have reservations about dumping LARGE quantities into a pond or watershed, or using it in an oven. If you plan to use it around fire, you would likely want to burn or sand it off pretty well before preparing food in it. I don't want to scare anyone off, just giving full disclosure since I suspect most readers wouldn't think about the sealer. Do your own research if you have any doubt about using it in a way the manufacturer didn't anticipate.

So I have an unlimited amount of granite "waste" at my disposal. I hope my fellow Permies can give me some new ideas about how to re-purpose it. I have built some condensation traps/reptile habitat with large piles of it, paved paths, lined concrete walls and garden beds. I am out of ideas about how to use it though.

6 years ago