Cristo Balete

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since May 23, 2015
Long-time Permaculturist
In the woods, West Coast USA
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Recent posts by Cristo Balete

Not sure where you are, Braden, but your pond is likely a nighttime home for the native ducks/birds that fly in at dusk and out again at daybreak.   Larger predatory animals have probably been coming to it for water, and then for your ducks.   Because you won't be raising ducks that can fly and save themselves, the very clever local predators will likely take a real chunk out of their numbers.  Ducks and chickens need a serious building to be in at night, at the very least, something with a roof on it that can support the weight of 2 mountain lions = 300 lbs, and have a foundation that is secure enough so digging predators can't go underneath, and raccoons can't reach through 1" chicken wire and kill the ducks.

If you have a flotilla of ducks on a pond it will change the ecological balance of the critters in it, on it and around it.  It will have a very high proportion of nitrogen (poop) which will cause large amounts of algae to form.  Algae kills a lot of things, including pond critters that keep away mosquitoes.  And is not good for the ducks to eat/swallow, which they won't have much choice but to do.   During drought years when our pond is low, algae forms despite our efforts, and the native birds do not come to it, they stay away.

Even hawks, turkey vultures, and peregrine falcons who hunt at night, will be thrilled at their addition.  Weasels, raccoons, foxes are good swimmers and will just love a duck dinner.

You will be bringing in a lot more predators, which could put your pets/small children/other animals at risk.  

They can't be in the water 24/7, so when they are out of the water, different protections need to be in place.

The best arrangement I ever saw was an old cotton gin up on tires that was fitted inside with perches and places to nest, had a solid frame and roof, and they could all be inside it at night.  It had ramps underneath it for them to walk up into.  It could be towed from location to location so they could feed on different parts of the property.  A cotton gin is just a big metal frame, like a small semi trailer with metal mesh siding, a solid floor and ceiling, and a hitch.
1 month ago
50 F Degrees, BTW, is the most common temp of the earth a few inches below the surface when it's not frozen, and even under frozen soil, it is about that temp.   That's how the worms can overwinter in frozen places, then come back up when it thaws.  

I didn't mean that we have to do anything to maintain the 50 degrees.  Although a black plastic pot from the nursery, which is commonly used, would get hotter in the part of it exposed to the sun, so spray-painting it white or light tan to reflect the sun wouldn't hurt.  If it's really hot, only expose the top few inches above the soil.
1 month ago
Emilie, adding to the buying/storing of appliances and dish washing chores may not be fun in the long run :).

A simple chop at the time is enough, or dedicated a pair of kitchen scissors, they cut most things.  If you want to soak your scraps on the counter, make the pail 1/4 full of water, then add scraps, wil. speed things up.  But what worms are familiar with is wet soil.  Give them what they recognize, then they will check out the other stuff as it becomes available.

When I have started a worm "situation", I've started with 50% soil, then added rough chopped scraps on top of that.  They will stay in the damp soil long enough for the first batch of scraps to rot.  Then you're home free because they have someplace to go while waiting for the scraps to rot.   At first, when there aren't a lot of worms, they get big and fat.  Then as their numbers increase, they get skinnier and more numerous.  I have one situation where I've taken a shovelful of worms out of one place and moved them to start another, so getting the conditions right makes a big difference.

The last worm situation I put together I used gopher mound dirt, and they were perfectly happy in that.

You've probably heard of lasagna layering for composting, you can do that, too, in the worm tower, with shredded wet paper - junk mail -   (shred by hand, then soak)/greens from the garden chopped with clippers/kitchen scraps/soil.  

I've found the more sturdy cardboard, like a cereal box, needs more water than a worm tower will have available, and I soak and compost torn cardboard another way.
1 month ago
Emilie, it's not that they escaped, it's that they left to find food they could eat.  Most likely the scraps weren't consistently wet enough, were big chunks of things  (worms don't have teeth, they just suck in mushy stuff that passes through their systems.)  Add the occasional couple of cups of soil in a layer once in a while.  They are attracted to wet dirt, and will do just about anything to get into it.   If water is added with each addition of kitchen scraps, the kitchen-scrap tea that comes off it will show them the way.  

Start with a good layer of wet soil in the bottom of the worm tower, then start adding scraps, then every once in a while add another 1/2" of soil layer.  You can add torn-up garden trimmings as well, which adds bacteria and yeast to the mix.

I keep kitchen scraps in a half-gallon pail and empty it almost daily, with water added before I dump it.  I cut up banana peels, chop chunks of carrot ends, chop onion skins, not super fine, but a bit so that they will break down faster.  It's the bacteria that breaks down the tough part of the scraps, and bacteria also need damp scraps.  A lid on the worm tower keeps the scraps damp.  The water going through it also sends out finished worm castings.  Keeping the interior of the worm tower dark is important, so a clear plastic bag over the top wouldn't help with that.  They want darkness and about 50 F degrees.

I have a lot of worms doing a lot of things for me, and I often find that they have climbed into a container where they weren't before because the water dripping out had what they wanted in it and they just followed the water.  Once they start laying eggs, the population increases so then they start going out into the damp soil surrounding the tower, and hopefully will find the compost we put there or the neighboring worm tower.  It doesn't happen the next day, but within a week you should see them starting to take residence.  

If there aren't worms in your garden bed now, it could be because it's not consistently damp enough.   If you can find some in wet soil around your yard, dig them up, transport them into the worm tower, they will stay under the right conditions.

I am so impressed with worms, I can't tell you how much work they have saved me in several circumstances.  
1 month ago
Emilie, check out Worm Towers that you can put in your garden beds about 5-6 feet apart, a  1-gallon or 2-gallon pot, sunk about halfway into the soil,  that is drilled with 3/8 holes on the bottom and on the sides,  that you fill with kitchen scraps whenever they are available, and the worms come and go from them.  Then the plants aren't dealing with fresh scraps, and storing a 5-gallon bucket wouldn't attract gnats or rodents or nosy raccoons and foxes and skunks.  

A raised bed can get some good water that way, too, if the container that has the scraps is filled up with water in the scraps just before dumping into the worm tower.  There are several examples of people watering their garden beds this way.  Probably the distance between the worm towers would vary depending on the soil.  A saucer or plate that is big enough to cover the pot top is a good lid for it, might require a rock or brick to keep out critters if that is an issue.

1 month ago
There is also a trifecta of plants that help each other, planted in threes, one vegetable, one herb, one flower. in a group  That would look good, and they would be companion plants and help each other as well.
2 months ago
So why are you interested in perennial vegetables?  In a 7b zone wouldn't you need a greenhouse to get through the winter?   Most of the commonly grown foods are annuals, and maybe a few are biennials, two years, like some cherry tomatoes, but they would need an extremely mild winter in a greenhouse.

In general, if we are going to grow a lot of food, we need some way to store it.  We can can it/freeze it/dry it.  So whatever method of storage you prefer needs to be taken into consideration.

Grow what you love.  50 pounds of yams doesn't do much good if you don't like them.

My favorites as far as perennials, are green onions, garlic (which can only be harvested in the summer), Italian single-leaf parsley (great for pesto which can be frozen), perennial spinach, but it might need protection (long days in summer usually causes spinach problems), some chards are at least biennial as long as you cut off the flower stem when it shows up, dinosaur kale can go a couple of years without getting weird and have small leaves.

Don't forget about day length.  Day length influences greens to the point where long days can send some of them straight to flowering and seeds.  So if you plan on giant mustard in the summer, it may not be possible.

Your local nurseries will sell the best types of plants for your location.   Be careful when buying seeds to check for how long it takes, say, a squash to form.  Some are 100 days, some are 35.  If you don't have 100 days (most likely 120 days to get a 100-day squash) of a growing season, then squash/pumpkin seeds should be the type to grow in fewer days.  If the seed package says, "Start in the fall or early spring," that means that that plant won't do well in the long days of summer.

Shade isn't really helpful for vegetables, although morning sun is the most helpful.
2 months ago
Also, don't underestimate what a bobcat will kill for a meal.  We found one standing over a teenaged size deer it killed.  I once saw a bobcat passing by a herd of about 5 deer, and two of the deer went up on their hind legs, so they took that bobcat as a threat.   That means bobcats will go after any animal or pet that could be pretty good sized.  I wouldn't trust them around a small child.  Even though they tend to eat packrats and rabbits,  if they find an opportunity, they will take it.

As much as we'd like bobcats to be interested in us, when they stop and look at us they are just judging when will it be safe to turn and walk away without getting attacked from behind.  Bobcats are loners, so they don't even want to hang around with each other, let alone us.

It is also taken as a threat if we stare them in the eye.  That's true of feral cats and some housecats if they seem touchy.  For humans it's a sign of trust, for cats it means, "I'm going to attack you."   So if you don't want to seem like a threat to them, don't meet their eyes, look down and to the side.  This can be important when confronted with a mountain lion as well.  While we may think we want to seem like a big threat to them, we don't want them to be put in a position where they think they have to defend themselves from a threat.  All we really want to seem to them is that we are too much work to be a meal, so we take off a jacket, swing it over our heads to look bigger an badder, wear a whistle, load a personal alarm app on your phone.

I just heard of a study where they played several sounds to mountain lions to see which one annoyed them the most.  The winner:  Human voices.   So either start reciting the Gettysburg Address, or start singing the National Anthem, and hit that high note!  They hate music.
2 months ago
Do you use splatter screens over the frying pans and pots while you cook?  A big, flat circle with a handle and a screen across it, sits on the frying pan, the grease mostly clings to it.  Then it gets cleaned with a grease cutter.  They are in the kitchen sections of stores, even the grocery store used to sell them.  If you wanted to make your own, you could make a frame with wire, include a handle, and cover it with 100% cotton fabric.  It collects so much grease you wouldn't want to put it in the washing machine but maybe hand-wash it in a bucket with soap.

You can use a floor sponge mop to reach the ceiling sprayed with a grease cutter like 409 or whatever kind of environmentally friendly grease cutter is available.  Of course, floating grease isn't just on the ceiling.  It's on the walls, it may have floated into rooms with fabric on chairs and couches, and lamp shades.  If you are noticing a greasy surface on a side table in another room, then it's on everything in that room.

It's probably not a good idea to be breathing floating grease, and maybe cooking at a lower temperature to keep that from happening.  Haven't there been articles lately about how oil taken to temps over 400F or 450F turn into something that isn't good for us?

If you are an avid fryer of foods there are very good air fryers on the market that everyone raves about.  Check out YouTube for people doing different recipes in an air fryer.
2 months ago
Mark, yeah, bobcats are cool.  That bobcat IS home.  You don't have to encourage it to stay.  They have a small territory, especially the females, and will not go far as long as there is food.  Even if the food supply shrinks, and they move away, the food supply will grow back, and they will be back.

It's really important to never, ever feed a wild animal.  Mainly because the type of food and the food levels at different times of year trigger important functions in animals, such as fur shedding to be cooler in summer, or fur growing to be ready for winter, or if there's not much food it won't have as many babies at once, or if there's a lot of food it will have more babies.   But if it has more babies because you've been feeding it, then those babies may not have enough food.  Natural food is what its body relies on to be healthy, not our food, not food we bring in that isn't local.

It's really important to be able to survive with existing food levels.  It stays in shape by hunting, it learns about its environment and the other wild animals it must coexist with.  It gets its immune system built up by what it eats locally, and shouldn't give up eating native food because it's getting human food.

It also isn't fair to encourage a bobcat (or any wild animal for that matter) to stay in a territory that is overlapping with other animals' territories if those animals have already duked it out and established territories.  We have a fox couple that once a year becomes a fox family and will get into fights with the local bobcat.  They have worked it out, and manage to overlap, but the cameras have shown us that although the bobcat fought hard in the moment of that territory establishing, it didn't hang around as much while the foxes were raising babies.  And that's only fair to the foxes, because they, too, are great hunters of rodents.  The bobcat didn't entirely leave, and shows up more now that the fox babies have grown up and moved on.  

There are plenty of animal characters around to be worthy of living with.  These animals are so much more aware of us than we are of them, and about their environment, don't even worry about them.  Mother Nature has had it figured out for eons, so this is how we coexist with them.

2 months ago