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

Possums are probably the easiest critter to trap.  They are so dumb, they'll walk into an unbated box trap.  A simple box trap and a pellet gun will take care of the problem quickly.

If you don't want to dispatch the possum, you can relocate him . . . far, far away.
3 weeks ago
Is your compost pile active, where you turn it every couple of days?  Or is it passive -- pile it up and let it rot down over the long haul?  If it's active, you won't get much leaching of compost juice and the concrete will make it easier to turn the pile.  But if it's like my compost pile (a slow decomposer), you might be losing an important byproduct of your pile: the effluent that leaches from the pile over time.

One of the benefits of a compost pile is that any moisture that seeps through it is chock-full of nutrients and microbes.  If it's directly on the soil, it will feed the ground below.  Because of this, I keep my compost pile directly on the soil and regularly move it throughout the orchard over time.

I've got 4 fence panels that are about 4 feet wide each, so the enclosure made by the 4 panels is 4'x4'.  That's a nice size.  It takes quite a bit to fill it—perhaps 6 months or so—and then once it's full, I can pull the panels off the sides of the pile, move it somewhere else, and start a new one.  Why do I mention this?  Because over time, I've moved that enclosure all over and the compost juice that leaks through the pile gets distributed throughout the garden and orchard --- not a drop is wasted.

The soil is always richest where the compost pile used to be.
3 weeks ago

Eric Hanson wrote:As it is, my wife actually just threw the flour out into the woods.  



1 gazillion microbes extend their gratitude!  "Thanks for dinner", they cry out in their tiny little microbe voices.  
3 weeks ago
Wow -- that's a lot of information and a lot of variables, so forgive me if my response is pretty general.

1.  I would start by mapping the property.  Walk it daily, and get a sense for the topography, the slope, the soil, hydrology, moisture, etc.  10 acres is a lot of land, and you will most likely be using only an acre or two (at least initially) to grow your food.  Once you've mapped your property, pick the best spot to start your garden and expand outward from there.

2.  You describe your property as sloping from west to east, so it will get decent morning sun.  Look for a south facing hill with minimal slope for your primary garden and orchard.  Being all the way up in Idaho, you will want to maximize your sun exposure and frost-free days.  A south-facing slope will warm up sooner in spring and stay warmer later into the fall.  But too much slope will make it difficult to work.

3.  Start small and just look to have a couple of wins the first year.  Better to be successful with something small than to try to bite off more than you can chew.  You mention that previous efforts have all been eaten or stomped.  Fencing and other forms of protection are probably your first order of business.  If you can safely contain (for example) a quarter of an acre, (about 100 feet by 100 feet) that would grow a lot of food.

4.  Don't start planting trees until you've got a good sense for how you want the entire property to be laid-out.  The permaculture principle here is that you work in order of greatest permanence.  That means swales and water-features, roads and other hardscaping, and fencing all go in before you establish trees and non-permanent plants.  I wish I had taken a few years to have a better sense of my property before I started dropping trees in the ground.

5.  It's never too soon to start building soil.  Simple strategies like mulching (wood chips, if you can get them), cover-cropping, building compost piles, and raised beds (so you can focus your soil enhancement in a very tightly focused space) are all ways to jump-start your soil.

Best of luck.


3 weeks ago

Rio Rose wrote:
This property is incredibly wild and tangled. It had some human intrusion at some point, though most of the evidence has long since been swallowed. We think it’s been maybe forty years, possibly more, since the last axe fell in here. However long it’s been, plants and trees have grown up to such a degree much of it is impenetrable, and everything could stand some serious thinning. Trees and shrubs are enormous, and many are dying back. There are chokecherry trees only the winged ones can harvest from, bigger than the guide books say they should get, and the lowest rose-hips dangle over my head. Quite frankly, we can use all the help we can get to get this tangle a bit more manageable, a whole other thread. Hopefully we can keep the beavers around for awhile in a mutually beneficial situation.



I love this attitude!  Yes -- let the beavers do the heavy lifting for you!

Two key principles of permaculture come to mind:

1.  Seek biological solutions to ecological problems (rather than chemical or mechanical).  A mechanical solution to your wild and tangled land would be a bulldozer and excavator.  A chemical solution would be to start spraying Round-Up.  Beavers are an excellent biological solution, and they will leave the land much better than before.

2.  Cooperate with nature rather than fighting it.  Count yourself incredibly lucky to have those little guys on your land.  They are the best friends that money can't buy.
3 weeks ago
Pros:  
They WILL thin out your forest.  
They will create a pond (if you wanted a pond, you're about to get one).  
They will totally change the hydrology of your land—usually, for the better.  
The wetland that they create will attract significantly more game to your land.
Fish habitat.  Duck habitat.
They are pretty dang cool, and the kits are as cute as you will ever see.

Cons:  
They will chew down any tree that's not protected -- say good bye to your orchard unless you wrap the trees in old chain-link fence.  
Land that you might have used for gardening or grazing will now be underwater.  
As someone mentioned above, you may find yourself the caretaker of an unwanted wetland.


Once they abandon their site (which may or may not happen, but often they do when they've run out of trees to cut down), you'll have the opportunity to get in there with a dozer or excavator and deepen the pond.  Having a pond on your land is great for fishing, watering livestock, and drawing other wildlife to your property (deer, turkeys, ducks, etc.).

I'd say live-and-let-live.  We need 100,000,000 more beavers out there on the land, sequestering water and rehydrading the landscape.  
4 weeks ago
Ditto what Tereza said: extra water is just an invitation for root-rot in that immediate area.  It's clearly getting water somewhere.  I wouldn't water daily.  Perhaps every two weeks, but even then, if it's that large, it's got roots that extend a long way underground.

Most concrete pads are poured on top of a compacted later of sand or road-grade fill.  The roots will move along that space, pushing their way through that layer right below the concrete.  I tore out a solid concrete patio years ago that had a queen palm planted in a 2-foot circle right in the middle of it.  The roots from that palm had spread 20 feet in every direction, directly below the concrete.  It was getting all the water it needed.
1 month ago
Pigs LOVE cattails.  They eat the roots and also parts of the stalk.  They grow like weeds but have a lot of nutrition and calories.

So if the concern is excess NKP, then something as simple as cattails might be a great solution, particularly if you can borrow some pigs a couple times a year and let them thin them out for you.  But if they are spraying pesticides and herbicides, that's a whole different problem.
2 months ago
Other than orchard trees (fruit, nuts), trees are rarely sprayed.  If they were sprayed, it would be on the leaves, and those break down the quickest and are actually a small percentage of the biomass.  The wood itself forms the bulk of the pile, and that interior wood would not have any spray on it, nor would those chemicals be sucked up into the heart of the tree through the vascular system of the plant.

You should be just fine.  What little residue that might be on that tree will be quickly remediated by the fungi that colonize the chips.
2 months ago
I bought a massive Delta 220 volt cabinet table saw.  A BEAST, capable of ripping through a piece of 4" walnut.  Why so much saw?  Because my mantra has always been to buy the most tool I can afford.

It was so huge, and so impractical, I recently sold it on Offerup for $500 -- significantly less than I paid for it.  I replaced it with a little bench-top Dewalt table saw which does everything I need.

I also recently sold my tiller -- it wasn't that expensive, but I hadn't used it in 20 years.  That was wasted money.
2 months ago