Chad Gard

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since Apr 05, 2015
Culver, IN USA
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Recent posts by Chad Gard

The key thing here is completing the circuit.  It doesn’t really matter how.  Even though I’m in soggy Indiana, our place was a former sand mine, and was exceptionally degraded.  Our “soil” consists of coarse sand and gravel, with .2% organic matter when we moved in (varies now based on what we’ve done, but we’re approaching a 1% average over our 35 acres).  We have no water erosion problems because water drains through the ground faster than it could ever run across it.  So, not so dissimilar to Florida.  No gators, though.  We’re also fencing in ducks and geese (portable fence that is moved frequently).  Their bills are non-conductive, and webbed feet make poor ground contact.  A coyote will run screaming, while a duck will lean on the fence for a nap, unless it’s very strong.

So, how do you make your fence work in dry sand?  You have to make the ground side of the circuit conductive.  On small fences (say 50x50’ square) where the critter won’t be too far from the ground rod, simply watering the ground rod works .  Ducks and geese are called water fowl (foul) for a reason, so when I dump their dirty water to replace it, I do so on the ground rod.  Fence works fine except in the worst droughts.  But that’s a daily dumping.

If the fence is going to be in place for a while, or August is approaching, I use a ground wire/hot wire alternating system.  For every hot wire in my fence, I run a ground wire 2” above it.  Now, when a critter tries the fence, he makes contact with both the hot and ground wire.  Even if the soil is completely non-conductive, the circuit is completed by the wire.

You must be sure the wires are tight and cannot contact each other or the fence, as it will just short out that way and not do anything to anyone.  Also, electric fences are a psychological barrier.  Critters learn that if they touch it, they’ll get zapped.  Important for it to ALWAYS zap effectively.  Test frequently.  I keep mine at at least 45,000 volts, because below 40k the ducks and geese don’t notice.  

But it also helps for it to be high visibility.  Braided conductive rope or conductive tape helps a lot in that regard.  Premier One also makes a version of their electronet fencing that has both hot and ground wires in it, for exactly this problem.  It’s very effective, for a high price.  I did a 30 day backpacking expedition where we were above tree line most of the time.  We kept our food safe from bears by surrounding it with a bit of that premier one netting and a charger powered by c batteries.  Saw bear prints a couple of times up to, then away from, the fence, but never lost our food...
2 years ago
We have had some of this growing along the southern end of our farm for the past several years, which I only recently identified.  It is very pretty when it blooms, and is competing fairly successfully with our massive population of Japanese Honeysuckle.  We're in zone 5a, an have had a couple of very rough winters, which it has survived well.  

Being on the outskirts of the distant, mosquito-laden part of the farm we only occasionally visit during warm part of the year, and growing away in our incredibly poor sand, it's probably a very useful plant in our context.  Particularly since I an quite fed up with all of the damage and injury caused by our honey locust weeds we can't control, and haven't found a affordable source of black locust in quantity.  I'm considering propagating it to include in some of our zone 4 and 5 areas, for nitrogen fixing, as a nurse tree, and perhaps a honey plant for our honey bees (though I haven't seen too many honey bees on it, mostly bumbles, but it's quite a distance from the closest one of our bee yards.

Has anyone gained much experience with it?  What situations has it worked well in, and where has it caused trouble?  Does it propagate well from cuttings?  Has anyone verified its nitrogen fixing potential in a  semi-domesticated context?  It's been 4 years, did Peter or Brian do anything with it?
2 years ago

Mick Fisch wrote:The article makes it clear to me. I was wrong. Following the authors logic, everyone should grow nothing but potatoes, because they produce more kg/hectare. Who could argue with the logic of that? Simply look at the kg/hectare, that will obviously show which is best. Hope you like your boiled potatoes plain, because in his scenario that's most efficient.

This is a common issue in comparing agricultural systems of any kind. I run a small organic farm part time - 2 3/4 acres of veggies, plus some ducks, geese, alpacas, and a few small areas of what I call "grazing gardens," but would be called a forest garden by most typical permies, which are just starting to produce fun things - peaches, nectarines, pears, nanking cherries, medlars, various mints and thymes, hardy almonds being our current yields there, with much work to go. I'm in the middle of a big ag region, ruled by GMO corn mostly. While I'm trying to budget money and labor to put in a mixed-species impenetrable hedge/living fence, my neighbors are cutting and burning miles of windbreak treelines to extend their center pivot irrigation systems from 1/2 mile to 2650 feet.

When we talk about sustainability, I am always confronted with "GMOs are needed so we can produce more food on less land. Organic production can never produce enough to feed the world." But I look at it this way - my across the ditch neighbor grew corn, like everyone else - 42 acres, yeilding 7,180 bushels. That's better than the state average last year, 171 bushels per acre. Google says a bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds, so that's about 9575 pounds of corn per acre. My potato plot was 1/8 of an acre, and I harvested 5240 pounds of potatoes, 120 pounds of milky oats, and 32 dozen duck eggs from that 1/8 acre. So his yield per acre was 9575 pounds of "food" (of course, it's as likely to be ethanol as a snickers bar or twinkie...), while I had 42,880 pounds +256 dozen duck eggs per acre.

That argument is not accepted, because I grew something different, and you can only compare one variable at a time (what they mean is that you should only have one independent variable in a controlled experiment, but they don't remember their high school science classes very well). Thus, to their way of thinking (and to a lesser degree, in the article), what you have to do is grow a huge monoculture of chemical corn next to a huge monoculture of organic corn, and compare yields. But when you're talking about a system of production, that's an invalid comparison.

If we want to compare systems, we need to look at multiple year trends of apples-to-apples comparisons to evaluate input and output of the systems themselves, and it's going to need to be something more complex than "pounds of food." I would propose comparing something like the following:

Non-energy Inputs -> seed/plant material, fertilizer, irrigation water, pesticides, equipment/machinery (pro-rated portion of expected life span)
Energy Inputs -> Fuel, Labor
Nutritional Outputs -> some of the widely-recognized-as-important nutritional measures. I'd recommend Calories, Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, Potassim, Carbs, Protein, Vitamin's A & C, Calcium and Iron as a reasonable subset
Positive Non-Food Outputs -> would vary, of course. But could include firewood, dies, fiber, property value increase, etc.
Negative Non-Food Outputs -> Water pollution, air pollution, property value decrease, etc.

With that, you could then have the data you need to compare two systems on the basis of what normal people care about (note that most normal people don't really care about the soil...). If you wanted to distill that to a single which-is-better number, you could simply monetize everything:
$nutritional Outputs + $Positive Non-Food Outputs - $Non-energy inputs - $energy inputs - $Negative Non-Food Outputs = $value added by the system

In reality, of course, you'd find that you can't even reduce it that far, because it will all be contextual for a given local area. And even with that, let's say you found the most "$value added by the system" system was you-pick gooseberries. It's not like everyone in the area cold start a you-pick gooseberry farm and provide the community with a sustainable diet. What you could find, though, is something like "gee, it looks like our local food shed is not producing enough vitamin A, and consequently people are having problems with nyctalopia." So there would be value in a system which produces an increase in vitamin A in the local diet. You could then compare which system both addresses that issue and provides the best overall balance: GMO Golden Rice monoculture, or a diversified farm producing sweet potatoes, spinach, collards, kale, dandelion greens, and winter squashes sheltered by a food forest high in apricots that sustains a population of geese (whose eggs and livers are pretty high in vitamin a).

Reductionism is problematic in comparing food production systems, and is a realm in which permaculture simply will never be able to "prove" its value objectively.

4 years ago

Mick Fisch wrote:
Seriously though, if someone wants to be 'food independant', they really need to figure out how they are going to get their oils. Back home in Alaska we used to harvest hooligan (candle fish) and I know they were an incredible fat source for local native/homesteader populations.

I have a feeling that this is one of those areas where we might be being a little unrealistic. I buy my vegetable oil at the store, so someone somehow is making it in bulk and cheap. How hard is to transfer to a small scale? I looked up one of the sites listed on this string and it was talking about a liter or so of oil for an hours worth of grinding from sunflower seeds. Not sure that's efficient enough for me. My current leaning, in zone 4,5 or 6 is to look at lard production, but I am more than willing to be convinced that there is a better way.

Has anyone out there actually personally harvested a significant amount of oil from something other than olive or animal/fish?

I considered getting the Piteba home oil press, enough so that I once tried one out. I'm not sure the slow rate of production is all that much of a problem, when you consider that most any home-grown-and-pressed oil is going to be raw and unprocessed and likely to go rancid quickly. So, when I tested, I did sunflower seed oil. In a normal week, I might use a cup of vegetable oil (unless I'm making zucchini bread, as my recipe for that uses a LOT of oil). It took about 20 minutes to set the thing up, feed it some sunflower seeds, crank for a bit, store a cup of oil, and toss the pulp to my friend's chickens. That's not too bad.

I you're wanting a source of oil to last a few months, it's not so practical. Lard is probably easier/more practical for, say, a large family. What's really missing is a small commercial scale oil press. There's not much available between a tiny hand-cranked and a $40k mid-scale expeller press. Perhaps something a small community could go for collaboratively, like the grist mills of old. But for "food independence," it would be great for someone to come up with something that could crank out something on the order of 3 or 4 gallons per hour...

That said, I tried growing oilseed sunflowers. It was hard to find initially seed that was an open-pollinated variety (I'm not going to buy seed for oil production every year! Must be able to save seed for something like that), and then I could only find small garden sized packets. Bought 20 packets, and saved all of my seed for the first two years to get enough to grow 1/8 acre of sunflowers. Then the next two years, the birds moved in and ate most of the seed shortly before it was ready to harvest, leaving me with only enough to replant. This year I'm going to try sweet corn again in the plot that would be rotating to sunflowers, thinking I've built up our soil enough to make it worth trying again... On the small scale, at least around here, veggie oil might need to be produced from something other than sunflowers to make it practical...
4 years ago

Nicole Alderman wrote:

I'm with you on the potatoes. We harvested less potatoes out of the ground than we planted, which is just plain sad. We probably did a bunch of things wrong, though, and it didn't help that the deer and the ducks loved eating the stalks.

I'm surprised you had problems with ducks eating your potatoes. We grow 1/8 of an acre of potatoes each year, and typically have had huge problems with Colorado potato beetles. The commercial chemical sponge potato farmers in our area typically crop dust theirs as often as 2 times per week with fungicides, which kill our bees. But they also send the CPB packing - right to our little farm. I used to counter with a spinosad spray, but it cost about $80 each application, typically needed 4 times per season, and spraying is an annoying task.

The last two years, we ran our egg ducks through the potato patch. If they ate any potato plants, it was never a significant quantity. I believe potato plants are poisonous to ducks, anyway. they did trample a few, but not too many. But they eagerly devoured the potato beetles. One day in the patch, and 8 ducks removed almost all of the beetles (while potatoes without ducks were skeletonized and produced nothing). Did that a few times, and was still able to remove the ducks for the required 6 weeks before harvest. We also got duck eggs, which are used to make the best baked goods and ice cream ever.

It worked great until one night when a mink got in through the portable electric net fencing and decapitated all of the ducks. Pre-duck, we would get about 1900 pounds of potato harvest in an average year. Two years ago we harvested 3460 pounds, and last year 4520 pounds. Last year was an abnormally good potato year for everyone, though... But that's about 40% new potatoes and fingerlings, not just big, heavy potatoes.
4 years ago
By the time the water gets to the bottom of the greywater treatment path, it will end up in a pretty bad frost pocket, which limits what veggies I could grow in a wicking bed there. Leafy stuff, late blooming stuff certainly... 'Tis a possibility to consider, as I would like to reuse the water productively, even if that is a secondary goal. Not practical to get it back to the same beds the veggies came out of - the annual veggie garden is 2 1/2 acres, a fair bit away, and uphill from the kitchen

I was thinking about a settling tank design. I want to have a constant flow so there's no risk of water hanging around to go septic before treatment, while still moving slowly enough for sand to settle out. Perhaps I could make a large baffled tank, sort of like an evaporator pan for making maple syrup. It would function as both a surge and settling tank, as the water would travel through it slowly enough for a long enough distance that the sand and such should settle out. If I made each channel between the baffles about the same width as a scoop shovel, it would be very easy to clean out. But the water wouldn't stop moving entirely in the settling tank...

5 years ago
Thanks for the thoughts so far. To respond to some of the questions/thoughts:

Right now, the summer kitchen is just a roof over sloping land just downhill from our "grazing garden." That's grazing for us, not the deer, hopefully! The fill to level the floor hasn't even been brought in yet, let alone any flooring, counters, fixtures, etc. So there are no restrictions at this point on what I can do regarding installing diverter valves and the like.

Currently, there are no fruit trees or anything downhill from the summer kitchen location. It's location was chosen primarily due to traffic flows around the property. I don't want to deal with a pump that might break. Unless I use the greywater to irrigate mature white pines in the wind break, which rarely need any supplemental water, anything watered with it will be chosen and planted to accommodate the greywater, not the other way around. I can go two directions with it, down about 120 horizontal feet of about 10% grade, or down about 40 feet of 40% grade, to reach what to me are logical places for the water to end up, neither of which have been developed at all yet (and I have to mow them. I hate mowing). I'd welcome suggestions for the final use of the water. Would need to be frost tolerant, because the bottom of the hill is a severe frost pocket.

I'm concerned with diverting the veggie wash water directly to plants/ground, because of the proximity of the swamp, and the water table. Our infiltration rate is so high that water flows vertically down through the sand faster than it flows horizontally along the ground anywhere that isn't heavily compacted by livestock or vehicle traffic. Our garden soil is heavy in nutrients because we add large amounts of compost, poultry-, alpaca- and horse manure, and worm castings, a fair bit of greensand and aragonite, and a bit of boron to correct its deficiencies in various micronutrients and organic matter. So, when we're washing veggies, and particularly root veggies, there's going to be a lot of nutrient runoff in that wash water that I want to be used by whatever we plant, but not make its way past that. Or settled out and returned to the garden from whence it came.

I don't want to divert to septic for two reasons: 1) septic tank is uphill. Well, the tank itself is probably close to level with the summer kitchen, but, still... and 2) getting the permit to add a building to our existing septic is difficult, time consuming, and expensive in our county (in part because we are the absolute northeast corner of the county, and the county seat is in the southeast quadrant of the county. Inspectors hate coming out that far in general). However, I could see diverting "regular" kitchen wastes to a wood chip biofilter, which would drain to the rest of the greywater system, while the veggie wash water bypasses the biofilter. Does that seem logical?

How would you go about constructing the settling tank so that it drains slow, but doesn't clog with the sand and such, and removing the settled solids is fairly simple and pleasant?
5 years ago
We have Khaki Campbells and Indiana Runners. Our ducks are working ducks - we use them to control Colorado Potato Beetles and several other insect pests, and along with the geese they do a bit of light weeding. We also grow a lot of salad greens - it's our most profitable crop - and ducks love tender young lettuce and spinach. So, to keep ours working where they're supposed to and not destroying where they shouldn't, we keep them inside portable electric netting, which we move regularly. They don't roost, but rather shelter underneath the nifty shelter I made for them, so herdability is important for us... So, following your criteria, based on our experience:

Egg production:
The Khakis lay about as regularly as chickens - an egg a day, like clockwork. They slow down less in the winter than the Indian Runners. Their eggs are slightly larger, and if you fill an egg carton with them, it won't close. Indian runners lay almost as regularly, but not quite. On a given day, about 1 our of every 14 won't lay an egg. They slow down more in the winter. The khakis lay white eggs. We've got three strains of Indian Runners: Fawn/White, Blue, and Chocolate. One strain lays turquoise eggs, the rest lay white. Our flock has always been mixed, so I don't know which does which, but it kinda makes sense that the blue feathered ones (it's really a cool-tone grey) might lay the blue toned eggs... The Indian Runner eggs are larger than chicken eggs, but if you put them in the carton pointy side down, you can usually just barely manage to squish it closed.

they're all fairly even-tempered. They recognize me (as opposed to a guest or my wife) as the person who feeds them, and respond calmly to me, but it's clear they haven't bonded to me as a parental figure. However, they have bonded together, so a duck that gets separated will try very hard to get back with the rest.

Foraging ability:
They forage well, but not enough that you can stop feeding them altogether. We use about 25% as much feed for them in the summer when they can forage as in the winter when there's not much for them. I also feed them some hay chaff in the winter, which they seem to enjoy. Foraging for us blends with working. They all tear up the potato beetles without shredding the potatoes (though they do trample a few at the ends of rows), and will eat tender new weeds, but they're kinda slow with killing grass and won't do anything with mature lamb's quarter. The Indian Runners will also catch and eat mice. The khakis limit themselves to bugs...

Herding ability:
The Indian Runners have been bred for ages to be herded. They can't fly, and pack together in a tight bunch when being herded. The khaki's can't move as fast as the runners and tend to trip when they get excited, so we have to use two people if we're herding a long distance, one in front so slow the flock down.

A side note:
The Indiana Runners cannot fly. They don't ever get out the electric netting. The Khakis can sort of fly. They'll fly over the netting, freak out that the rest of the flock is inside it, then zap themselves repeatedly trying to get back in until you manage to catch the wayward one and put it back over. If your area is large enough (seems to need to be at least 20 feet wide and 80 feet long), they will occasionally successfully fly back in and land inside. Only seems to be a problem for the first 7 months or so of a given duck's life. Once they've been through it a few times, their flying tends to be all within the electric fencing.
5 years ago
We have a small, Certified Naturally Grown market farm (2 1/2 acres of annual fruits/veggies, alpacas, ducks, gees, honeybees, and about 1/3 acre of perennial crops that are to the stage of producing marketable quantities - mostly asparagus, with lots more in various stages between dreams and producing enough for us but not for market). We're finally making some progress on our summer kitchen, which where we'll also relocate our veggie washing. Our soil is extremely porous - it's not sandy soil, it's playground sand, except where we've been working really hard to improve it, where it's reached the status of soily sand. We've got a 7 acre pond and about 13 acres of swampy woods on our property, a major river across the road, and a major ditch draining into it making up one property line. In our lower areas, the water table is close enough to the surface that if someone jumps next to you, you can fell the ground bounce up and down on the waves it makes.

Thus, we are very cognizant of any kind of nutrient runoff from our operations. Right now, when we wash veggies, we do so in plastic tubs, and carry the water to various plants in need of a drink. But it's very heavy, wet, and time consuming during a very busy/hectic period of time. With the new summer kitchen, we'll have a proper washing sink, and I'd like to take care of the water via a greywater treatment system. I don't want to tie the sink into our septic tank, mostly because there is a lot of water generated in the washing of veggies that would tend to overwhelm it, and there's also a LOT of sand/dirt in that water, which would cause obvious problems. We'll also use the kitchen for hosting events on the farm, so there would periodically but irregularly be moderate quantities of typical kitchen sink type greywater, with attendant grease and whatnot.

Our primary goal is to not allow nutrient-laden water to pollute the swamp, ground water, or surface water in the area. If we can reuse the treated water for irrigating something, that would be an added bonus.

So, the challenges would be how to deal with very large surges - three quick surges of 20-30 gallons each could happen within a couple minutes of each other; how to collect the sand in some easily maintained manner so it doesn't clog up other parts of our system, such as a constructed wetland; and how to deal with the feast-or-famine nature of the water availability (at the peak of the season, we'll go through 400+ gallons of veggie washing water on a friday, and maybe 100 gallons on a tuesday, but none the rest of the time.

I think a wood chip/worm biofilter would work well for dealing with the grease and whatnot if we could get the bulk of the sand out first. We have a couple of worm bins anyway where we could finish off the partly-decomposed material when we maintain that filter. But dealing with the rapid and large surges seems like it would need to happen first and perhaps need a bit more than the typical 55 gallon drum surge tank...

Has anyone else tackled a similar issue with success? Even if not, any ideas/suggestions?

5 years ago