Ben Zumeta

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since Oct 02, 2014
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hugelkultur dog duck
NW California, 1500-1800ft,
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Recent posts by Ben Zumeta

Has your water been tested? I’d consider that as a possible salt source. Even trace salts from irrigation water can accumulate to problematic levels.
1 week ago
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 ( 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!
2 weeks ago
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.
2 weeks ago
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!
1 month ago
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.
1 month ago
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.
1 month ago
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.
1 month ago
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).
1 month ago