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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

There were a number of factors at play in 1929 and 1930 that are no longer the case.

The first was the homestead act, where any person who merely pounded a stake in the ground would qualify for 160 acres of land (a quarter).  Over the next 7 decades or so (from 1862 until the dustbowl in 1929), millions of these new farmsteads were created by people who had never farmed before.  Many of them were immigrants or the landless poor from eastern cities.  They were planting crops like corn in places where they had no business even breaking the ground.  Often they would plow under the prairie, have a couple of failed crops, and then move on to another stretch of land where they would repeat the cycle.  There were no shelter belts planted.  Farmers would often deliberately start prairie fires to "clear" the land, and after harvest would once again burn the crop residues.  There was no long-standing commitment to the land; it was seen as disposable in some respects.  Use it up, move on, much like tobacco farmers had done in the east for 150 years prior.  Those dust bowl farmers (Okies) packed up and headed for California and Oregon.

Second, in the 1920's, wheat prices in spiked due to shortages in Europe following WW1.  Millions of acres were put into cultivation.  This was occurring exactly at the same time that a severe multi-year drought hit.  It was a perfect storm, fueled by greed, ignorance and bad public policy.

Today, most of the farmland of that region (Texas, up through Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, eastern Colorado, parts of Missouri and Iowa) is farmed by 3rd, 4th, or even 5th generation families.  They are deeply committed to the preservation of their land.  There have been numerous drought cycles since 1930.  We've never seen anything close to what happened that year.
17 hours ago

That made my day . . . month . . . year.  Perhaps my life.

And what's more, next year at harvest time . . . SKITTLES!!!

Thats too great, Pearl!
18 hours ago
I spent the first 13 years of my life living in rural Kansas where anyone over 50 remembered the dust bowl.  They were all acutely aware of the potential of this happening again.  That was 50 years ago, but even then the farmers were all actively taking measures to see that those conditions never took place.  Nothing has changed in that regard, in fact, there has been more research regarding what causes wind erosion and the best practices to prevent it from ever happening again.

The thing about a field that starts blowing is that it'll then cause other fields to blow.  One leads to another, and before you know it, there can be 10 miles of fields where the soil is blasting along.  So if the wind picked up and someone's soil started to blow away, several farmers would immediately get out there and help that guy.  With their massive tractors, they'd quickly turn-under any field that was blowing.  That may sound counter-productive (tillage to stop wind erosion caused by tillage), but thats the only way to immediately stop a field that is blowing.

I'd never say never, as you can't imagine what might happen if they got a prolonged multi-year drought, but farming practices have gone through 3 or 4 revolutions since the dirty thirties.  The most recent is no-till cropping.  It was the late summer tilling of the dry soil that caused those farm fields to be prone to blow.  Nobody does that anymore.  Stubble sits on the grain fields (mostly wheat, but other crops as well) until late fall or early winter.  The other big change is that many of those regions where the dust bowl happened was land that should have never been broken.  Farmers were turning land that should have been left as wild grassland.  Most of those most vulnerable areas (certain areas of Oklahoma, North Texas, West Texas and Western Kansas were particularly prone to this) have been restored to pasture, or if farmed, are farmed very carefully.

The dust bowl was 1929 and 1930 (80 years ago) and was highly regional.  Yes, it reached from Texas to Nebraska, but it was spotty and not like every farm blew away.  Not even close.  It's not happened since.  That should tell us something.  

My perspective: no, it will never happen again (at least in those places that got it so bad in 1930).  Africa?  Yeah, I could totally see it happening there.
1 day ago
A style tip: turn your phone 90 degrees -- landscape instead of portrait.  You'll make a lot more friends.  Portrait mode is difficult to watch.  That's why TV's, computers, movie screens . . . are all horizontal, not vertical.

Best of luck.
1 day ago
What region do you live in Becca?  What's your growing season like?  

Was the soil acidic before the Christmas trees were planted?  If it's clay soil, you may find that the ph raises naturally once the trees aren't dumping pine needles and sap year round.  It'll just take some worms and other biota to pull some of that clay up to the soil surface.

You mentioned that your pasture mix didn't take well.  Beyond mugwart, what else is growing?  What weeds are predominant?  Is anything thriving?

Does anyone know if goats or sheep eat mugwart?  Perhaps you could mob-stock/rotationally graze your paddock to knock down the weeds, and then give the land rest between grazings.  A little electric fencing goes a long way.

I wouldn't rip out the roots, but would try to cut the trees down as low as possible.  My go-to tool is a cordless sawzall (Milwaukee fuel series) with a 12" blade.  Zip-Zop, it makes quick work of smallish trees.  And then rent a chipper and blow that biomass all over your field.  The chips will help build soil.  

Two additional thoughts that no one has mentioned.  First, plant a cover crop of some sort. You'll probably have to experiment until you find something that thrives in your soil, but sewing a cover crow will get biomass on the land and a living root working the soil.  The second thought is putting out a sign that says, "Free dump site for clean wood chips".  Let the local tree-trimmers know, "I'll take your chips -- dump them here."  If you could put down a thick layer of chips across the land, it would encourage fungal growth, significantly increase the % of soil organic matter, and will suppress weeds (short term).

Welcome to Permies.  Please post pictures.


1 day ago
Somehow I missed this thread back when it first stated.

The Milwaukee fuel line is the best on the market from my humble perspective.  Battery life is just amazing and brushless is the way to go.

I own the recipriocating saw (sawzall) and it's a monster.  It's become my go-to tool for pruning and trimming trees.  It'll got through a 6" tree limb like nothing.  I can be up on an extension ladder in a big tree, reach out with one hand, and zzzzooom, it cuts right through big limbs like a hot knife through butter.  It's made the job so much safer.

Yes, they know they've got a great product so they've priced it accordingly.  But the hassle it saves you when you've got power all day --- that's worth something in my book.  My my existing cordless drill dies (Dewalt), I'll replace it with the Milwaukee fuel.
1 day ago
I'm thinking that she would invent a unicorn that blows rainbow colored seed out of it's nose in order to sew a crop of lovely Skittles.  And when the unicorn was done doing its work, it would politely curtsy in your general direction before taking a sparkly poop in your compost pile, and then leaping over the fence.
3 days ago
I plant my cover crop in mid-October.  The seed mix include several types of nitrogen fixing legumes (various beans and peas, lentils), clover, oats, vetches (of several varieties) buckwheat, and a few others.

Two days before I'm going to sew the seeds, I'll dump them into a 5-gal pail and mix them with about 2 gal. of fresh rainwater or other non-chlorinated water (don't use tap-water, as the chorine will kill the bacteria in the inoculant—even 2 days later).  Seed swells once it gets wet, so you can't fill your bucket all the way to the top with dry seed.  Maybe fill it 2/3rds of the way full before adding water.

By the next day, all that water has been absorbed by the seed.  I'll turn the seed by hand, or dump it from one bucket to another, just to make sure everything has been evenly moistened.  

I'll add the inoculant to the bucket of moistened seeds the night before I'm going to sew the seeds.  It's black and powdery, like black flour.  I'll mix it well with the seeds and let it sit overnight.

The next day, I'll sew the seeds.  Normally, I'll rake-back the wood chip mulch that covers the garden and orchard, broadcast the seeds over the bare soil, and then throw the mulch back over the seeds.  This is enough soil to seed contact to assure effective germination, and it keeps the inoculated seeds from being irradiated by the UV rays of the sun.  Germination is evident within a couple of days and within 2 weeks, there is a 3 inch carpet of green throughout the garden/orchard.

A month and a half later (today), the cover crop is about 12 to 18 inches high.  No sunlight is reaching the soil anymore—it's a giant biological solar cell, capturing energy and transferring it to the soil below.  The legumes are showing nitrogen nodulation.  My chickens have been turned loose into the cover crop (from which they were excluded for the first month) and they gobble up the tender young oat plants and peck at some of the other leaves.  

I'll let it grow till the second week in January, when I'll have a class of students over to the house to pull it up and build a massive compost pile.  Where cover crops are growing in the raised beds, we'll use a hedge trimmer to clip them back to the surface of the soil (no till) and leave the roots in place.  Otherwise, everything else gets pulled up and piled up.  Some of the nitrogen nodules are left in the soil when you yank the plants out, but much of that N goes into the compost.  I'm very conscious of the green to brown ratio of this compost pile, as I don't want all that N to gas-off.  I'll make sure that there is plenty of dry straw and shredded paper in that hot pile.  It doesn't make sense to go to all the time and expense of raising a nitrogen fixing cover crop if you're just going to yank it out of the ground and let it gas-off in a hot compost pile.  I wish I could graze the cover crop down with cows, but alas, I live in the suburbs 15 minutes from Disneyland -- not exactly America's agricultural heartland.  

How much of the bacterial inoculant remains in the soil from year to year?  I don't risk it and assume that the correct bacteria will be there.  I re-inoculate every year.

Best of luck with your experiments.
6 days ago
Yes, I've experienced it.

I always buy the bacterial inoculant with my seed purchase and I always inoculate according to the directions.  3 years out of 4 it works.  But occasionally, I seem to get poor inoculation and poor nodulation.

People say that once you've inoculated nitrogen fixing seeds, the bacteria will forever be in your soil and you'll never need to purchase the inoculant again.  I've not found this to be true.  Every year I sew a small test patch in an area that had been planted with n-fixing cover crop seeds the previous year.  If I get any sort of nodulation, it's minimal.

My hunch is that you need to more carefully inoculate your seeds before planting.
1 week ago
While others see this as a kind of purity/virginity test, I'm a lot more permissive I suppose.  I don't spray and haven't used any chemicals whatsoever in my orchard or garden for the past 15 years with the exception of once when some fire ants came in with a load of wood chip mulch, so I'm hardly Toxic Tom.  My take on the question would be, what possible difference would it make if a baby tree is organic or not?  Particularly if it's a bare-root tree, would it make any difference whatsoever if it had been exposed to some inorganic fertilizer in its short lifecycle?  

How would you even tell if a tree had been grown organic or not?  Most new trees don't produce fruit in the first growing season anyway, so even if there were pesticides sprayed around the tree before you planted it in your orchard, would there be any hint of those chemicals still present in 2 years when you harvest your first fruit?  Doubtful.

So, no, it wouldn't be worth the extra price if it were me planting that tree.
1 week ago