Marco Banks

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since Jan 31, 2015
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We make our home in sunny So. Cal., where we've been able to transform our average suburban lot into a food forest with about 60 fruit and nut trees and dozens of veggies.  Our chickens add fertility and provide eggs and entertainment.  I teach, and so my backyard has become a classroom for my students who are deeply curious about growing their own food, yet have never had their hands in the soil.  All this is a natural expression and extension of my faith.  Life began in the garden.  It continues therein.
Los Angeles, CA
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Recent posts by Marco Banks

Michael Moreken wrote:You won't get nitrogen back by harvesting weeds.

Three ways you get nitrogen back when harvesting weeds.

1.  You put that weed through an animal.  The cow, sheep or chicken harvests the weed and within a day, deposits it back out onto the ground in a N-rich form that is highly beneficial to the ecosystem.

2.  You compost that weed with a carbon source that captures the N rather than lets it gas off.  A properly constructed compost pile captures up to 80% of the N from the weeds/ingredients in the pile.

3.  A N-fixing weed has nitrogen nodules on its roots.  When harvested, that N is left below ground as the weed is chopped off at the soil surface.  If you don't harvest the weed, the plant will use it up by making seed, leaving little of it in the ground.
6 days ago
Pine trees SLOWLY make soil acidic.  If you had a regular source for pine straw to mulch with, that would be a help over the long term.

Generally, any kind of mulch will help.  Raising the soil organic matter (SOM) helps remediate the problems of PH on either end of the spectrum -- acidic or alkaline.  

I agree with the suggestion above -- its a whole lot easier to build a raised bed on top of the suspect soil than it is to dig it all out.  I'd go that route.
1 week ago

Eric Hanson wrote:Hi Sanna,

When I first started planting comfrey I firmly thought the more the better.  Today I suggest just a little moderation.

I laughed when I read this, as I've been killing comfrey for some time now.  It's easy to over-plant.  I've got upwards of 100 plants all over the place.  I've been taking a lot of it out this past spring/summer.

My go-to method of killing it now is to put something over it (a sheet of plastic or some kind of large basin) and then bury that in wood chip mulch.  Sometimes you'll find it creeping out the side and you'll need to rebury it.

I'll chop and drop it 2 or 3 times a year, but what I really like it for is to keep the chickens from kicking the wood chips out all over the place.  They get to roam freely from time to time, and inevitably, they think that the best place to scratch is right next to the swimming pool.  I'll come out there and they've thrown all kinds of stuff all over the place.  Drives me nuts.  So I've planted a "hedge" of comfrey all along that hardscaping to keep them back.  Once the plants are 18 inches tall or so, the chickens tend to steer clear.  It's a nice boarder plant.

Now if I could just keep them from jumping up on the picnic table and crapping on it.  OK -- back into the tractor, all of you!
1 week ago
Headphones?  You might even want to listen to music while you've got them on.

Or a BIG mean dog.  "Down Killer!  We don't want to have to move again in the middle of the night like we did the last time you mauled a neighbor."

How about a T-shirt that says, "Some weather, huh?  That's the end of my small talk, now leave me alone to tend my garden."

In all seriousness, why not just tell them, "I'm not much of a socialite because I'm in introvert, so if you see me out in the yard/garden working, I'd rather you left me to myself.  If I want to talk, I'll walk over and initiate.  Otherwise, thanks for respecting my space."
1 week ago
That's an absolutely beautiful plant.  No problems whatsoever.

Broadening the discussion a little bit, a healthy ecosystem is filled with life.  That life is sustained by eating stuff --- and sometimes it eats stuff that you don't want it to eat.  Insects of all kinds will populate a healthy ecosystem.  There will be bad bugs who eat your cucumber vine, and lots of good bugs who eat the bad bugs.  There is a war taking place out there in the garden, and from the looks of that picture, the good guys are winning.  What can you do to help them?

1.  Always keep in mind the bigger picture -- not just the little bit of insect predation on your cucumber vine, but the larger ecosystem in which it grows.  The longer you do this, and the more you read about permaculture (this board is the best source on the internet), the more you'll find yourself naturally thinking about the soil, the web of life that your garden supports, and even stuff like microbes and fungi.  Yes, something is eating your vine.  That's a GOOD thing.  Life!  It shows you that life is returning to your garden space.  

2.  Never, never, NEVER use insecticide.  Bad critters like aphids can reproduce to full adults in less than 10 days.  A ladybug, the natural predator of the aphid, takes 60 days to grow to adulthood.  Thus, if you spray to kill aphids, you're also wiping out the lady bugs.  Tell me, which will come back sooner?  You'll get a 2-week reprieve from the aphids, after which they will come back into a vacuum and have no lady bugs (or spiders, or praying mantis, or . . .) to eat them.  In the mid-term and long-term, spraying insecticide is a fools errand.

3.  Diversity is critically important.  Nature hates a monoculture.  Permaculture mimics nature.  The more diversity you have throughout your garden, the greater number of insects will call it home.  Garden beds should be mixed with a variety of companion plants.  The ground should never be bare, but covered with a wide mix of flowers, veggies, herbs and support species plants (like comfrey).  There are a number of great web-sites that discuss food sources for various beneficial insects, but in general, the more plants you can have growing throughout your garden, the more likely you'll find the good guys there to battle the bad guys.

4.  Think about insect habitat.  Leaving old plants lying about the garden is an OK thing, particularly through the non-growing season when insects need places to over-winter.  Don't clean everything up to leave a spotless desert. Not all weeds are noxious enemies, and not all compost needs to be quickly turned and "managed".  Piles of branches and old vines are a great habitat for lizards and for bugs to lay their eggs.  Leaves are meant to be left on the ground—that's why they are called "leave".  

Enjoy those cucumbers!  Nothing better in the summer than a crisp cucumber right out of the garden, sliced, a little chopped red onion, a little chopped fresh basil, a handful of cherry tomatoes sliced in half, a pinch of salt and a splash of red wine vinegar.  


Simple box traps are easy to bait and work very effectively.  You can get a good quality one for about $35 to $50.  I've had several for over 10 years and they still work great.  Peanuts are an inexpensive bait.

I would respectfully disagree with the thesis that catching them would create a vacuum where other critters will come into.  An over-population of one species without any natural predator is the problem.  In nature, a gopher snake or red tail hawk would take care of that problem.  But in a none-native environment, you need to play the role of the coyote/badger/hawk, or put up with the destruction the chipmunks cause until a feral cat or some other predator comes into your ecosystem.  Frankly, feral cats create their own list of problems.  If you bait your trap and dispose of the critters each day, you should be able to clean up your pest problem within a month.

I'd strongly recommend against using poison.  The downstream effects of poison pellets will continue to kill anything that comes along and eats the chipmunks.  

Disposal:  Dig a trench about 18 inches deep, 6 inches wide, and about 3- 4 feet long.  Once you dispatch the critter (a pellet gun works quickly and most humanly) bury the chipmunk on one end of the trench with a shovelful of soil from the other end of the trench.  Bury it at least 12 inches below grade -- it will not stink and will not attract other stuff that will dig it up.  Keep the trench going by always removing dirt from the non-burial end so it's ready when you've got another critter to bury.  Next year, plant squash or corn over that trench --- the problem becomes a solution (fertility).
I wouldn't use it until you get the aerobic microbes working again, and kill off the anaerobic microbes.

Solution: turn the pile with a generous new amount of browns: straw, sawdust, dried leaves, shredded paper.  Anything like that will take care of the stink and will reactivate the compost, almost overnight.  After 3 days, turn it again.
Within a week you'll be able to use that compost around your garden.
1 week ago
If you are not totally committed to the idea but just want to field test it first, consider buying an old RV.  They are inexpensive, come with all the electrical and plumbing already installed, and can be resold easily enough if it turns out that you're not a fan of the small residential experience.
1 week ago
I grew up in Kansas where farmers were encouraged to fallow 1/7th of their land every year --- after 7 years, everything had been fallow at least once.  I knew many who did so, but some still tilled the weeds under, which in my opinion, defeats the purpose.

I think there's something to be said for cover-cropping a field with a multi-species seed cocktail and then not touching it for 12 months.  In fact, if you sewed your cover crop in the fall of this year, and then left the field fallow for 18 months before sewing it in Spring a year and six months later, you'd get all the nitrogen fixation by the cover crop, and undisturbed microbes and fungi for all those months.
1 week ago
My chickens are thinking, "How far away is that?  You think we could hitch a ride over there?"
2 weeks ago