R Spencer

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since Oct 24, 2016
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What was that the tree said?
Interested in: mass reforestation; temperate climate agroforestry; ecosystem restoration; alchemy; building a better world instead of being angry at bad guys; "be a ladder, a lamp, a lifeboat!"
Skilled in: communications; IT; electrical; forestry; ecology; philosophy; wilderness skills
Working on more skills in: tree propagation; agroforestry; gardening; natural building; underground building; entrepreneurship; resolving dissonance; restoring humanity's mutualism with trees
Looking up to: Mark Shepard, Sepp Holzer, and many more.
Eastern Great Lakes lowlands, zone 4/5
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Recent posts by R Spencer

Hey folks, follow up Q: I ended up digging out a pad for the shed to make the subgrade level (~1% slope for drainage), compacted, and dig some trenches for drainage.

My next step is filling the pad with gravel and tamping that down, then getting the shed placed on it.

Two questions:
1) Do you think I need any kind of geotextile between the gravel and tamped subsoil? I hear mixed things. If so, can I use a compostable material like cardboard, discarded wool, or a mat of hay? The idea is to separate the gravel from the soil, so they do not mix and lead to settling.

2) Do you think I need to separate the shed from the gravel? Also heard mixed things. Shed is built on 4"x6" larch skids with larch or hemlock floor joists 16" on center. I plan to have 4-6" of gravel. I can get locust beams but they will not come uniform thickness and is too dry for me to adjust. I could also get some cinderblocks.

What do you think? Can gravel go straight on the pad, can the shed go straight on gravel, or what/why would you add in between to make this thing last?
1 month ago
Revisiting this topic as I plan to plant more nut trees in a place I may not visit regularly or harvest in the future.

The message I get from this thread and further research and discussions is:

Neglected tree crop bounties can be disease issues. Diversity and surrounding ecosystem restoration can reduce those issues. It is probably worthwhile to get the trees growing anyway, and try to make them accessible for folks who would enjoy them. Disease due to neglect is a hypothetical with uncertain severity, while scarce local low-tech food is an urgent and critical reality.

Does that make sense to y'all? I'd appreciate other permaculture people's thoughts on why yay or nay. Thanks and peace.
2 months ago
Thanks for the replies!

Tyler I was thinking of something like that. But the gravel will be poured free-form so weeds will encroach on some of it. The question is how big a deal that is, and if it will slowly erode toward the shed enough to make it settle out of level, or if the gravel will hold underneath the shed since no weeds will come up straight underneath it (or they won't survive for long if they do).

I hear y'all on the weed control fabric and may go that route. I prefer to use only wood and reusable metal if possible, and so far so good. Weed control fabric wouldn't be too bad, but are there effective alternatives?

I'm thinking to yank out the roots of any Japanese Honeysuckle or European Buckthorn on site (there are less than 5 it seems like), mow/weedwack/aspiring-scythe herbaceous veg low, then spray the area with vinegar or scold it with hot water? I figure solarizing it could help too and I will do a little bit of that once I clear the site of veg, but I'd probably not get a full enough season of solarizing before installing the shed this autumn.
3 months ago
I'm going to buy a small shed (8'x14') for a vacant field. The area I would like to put it on is meadow I mow with a weed wacker, and behind that is Japanese honeysuckle thicket. I would actually prefer the shed to be nestled back into the existing thicket a bit but I imagine that will be a lot more work or expensive.

I plan to deliver a shed on skids to this spot, to sit on a 6" free-form gravel foundation. The ground is level so I think free-form gravel poured out is good.

My question is, what kind of site prep should I do on the meadow before pouring and leveling gravel? If I pour gravel on low-mowed grass, it would just grow up through the gravel, but will that be an issue since a building will be placed on top of it on skids in the near future?

I figure the building would 'solarize' weed control any regrowth. I am not sure how much of an issue it would be around the edges of the gravel foundation (there will be 1.5' extra gravel all around the building). I also wonder if it is as simple on top of Japanese Honeysuckle: cut it low, pour gravel over it, and let shade keep any regrowth from damaging the building. I figure it is not because honeysuckle grows so vigorously, so I imagine it could grow through the gravel and damage the floor. If I locate the gravel pad in the existing honeysuckle thicket I will cut tall stumps and then yank the stumps out of the ground with a truck, before doing whatever treatment I would do to grass if any, then pouring gravel for the shed. That would probably do it, but I may just opt for grass!
3 months ago
A farm near me in zone 5a has planted thousands of nut trees in a restoration agriculture-style alleycropping, with master line design for water management. So far around 10 acres have been planted out. There's a couple of acres worth of alleyways, and the farmers intend to approximately double the scale of this alleycropping layout. Any recommendations on how to use the alleyways?

We're discussing alleyway crops, with interest in small grains and cover crops. I'm thankful to be helping them document their efforts. The goal is to improve soil active carbon and utilize the area for local provisions (food, selling for fodder, fuel, fiber if possible), selling to local mills, co-ops, aggregators, or other options (open to recommendations). Field crop farming is relatively new to these farmers and myself (my background is more in forestry, we all have other day jobs), so although we have a good conceptual understanding about alleycropping, we don't have all the specifics for field crops that can grow in alleyways. The farm does have an orchard tractor already with a brush hog, a couple of plows, and a front loader bucket. We know local farmers with other equipment and can access or purchase other attachments as needed, we just need to know what we're looking for and what are wise starting approaches for field crops.

Alleyways are approximately 34ft wide, mostly meadow in between swales and berms, with young Chinese Chestnuts 10ft downslope from each alley's uphill berm. So we have swale, berm, Chinese Chestnut, then 34ft of alleyway. Soils are predominantly silty clay loam. Zone 5a. Rain is about 1,100mm/yr, and a pond and IBC tanks enable drip-tape irrigation for the trees. Soil is somewhat compacted as it had been stagnant with Japanese honeysuckle until that was bulldozed and brushogged a couple of years ago.

Crops being explored so far, based on what other local farms are recommending or having success with at similar (around 10-100 acre) scale:

Small grains
- Barley: winter kills in sub-zero temps, makes good mulch or poultry fodder.
- Oats: good option, offers food and hay, seems labor intensive and moisture-sensitive harvest
- Danko rye, cover crop cereal rye. Seems like a good cover crop that could go to market, but not the easiest to start out with.
soft white winter wheat, Glenn hard red spring wheat,
- Flint corn
- No-till roll-down soybeans

Cover crops
- Hairy vetch
- Pennycress for winter cover
- Red clover

Would you Permies have any tips on crops to start with, tractor attachments needed or that we should focus on starting with, or other suggestions around managing alleyways in nut tree restoration ag systems? Thanks!

4 months ago
Is there a seasonality to well digging? Specifically for shallow hand-dug wells. I'm thinking of digging one in an area with quite a high water table and an abundance of relatively clean water, so buckets or pumps could draw water out of the well to be boiled potable or used as if coarse-filtered rainwater. I'm wondering what time of year would be most appropriate or inappropriate to do this, or if any time is fine.

Well specs I'm thinking ~18' something like in the following video. This would supplement rainwater and be used as a camping-like water source for...camping, and some plant nursery support. If/when I scale up to more substantial farm enteprises, I'd probably plunge into a higher pressure deep well, but I feel like a hand well has some wholesome potential.

Lots of work but I could do it bit by bit. For comparison, a modern well in this area is generally dug ~200' and total including lining, pressure tank and all is estimated to cost $6,000 - $9,000. Pretty good motive to dig to get a cheaper water source until more substantial pressure is needed.
1 year ago
Thinking in terms of restoration agriculture: what large fauna are native to the Eastern Great Lakes lowlands of NY, who are or have domestic relatives who are appropriate colleagues in agroecosystems? I extend that to fauna of Appalachia, as this region of NY is the northern range of many Appalachian species and I anticipate those ranges may creep northward (or at least I want to design for diversity around that possibility) if average temperatures rise here.

I'm interested in finding domestic analogs for naturally occurring animals. Turkeys are a great example. Land in this region tends toward swamps, marshes, meadows, and mixed hardwood forests. Turkeys are a natural participant in those ecosystems, and they are also a potential colleague on farm. Deer are a common large animal in these ecosystems but I have a harder time seeing a deer grazing operation as sensible, though admittedly I haven't done much research on that!

What other animals are or were once here, who are naturally inclined to enjoy life in harmony with meadows and mixed hardwoods, and who are potential colleagues in ecological farming enterprises? I'd like to find species I can work with so 1) fossil fuels are not needed for mowing or nutrient management, assisting with meadow stewardship while reforestation succeeds; and 2) basic needs are met in mutually beneficial ways for all creatures involved.

Turkeys, pheasants, ducks, rabbits mainly come to mind. I intuitively think of sheep and cattle for their pasture potential, but I'm not sure about their history here. Sheep seem fitting for similar ecotypes at least.
1 year ago
You can think of basal area that way. I've usually worked with it as a single number to describe all trees in an entire stand: this area of forest has 80sqft/ac stump surface area if we cut it all at 4.5ft high (standard height, 'breast height', to measure tree diameter). Some foresters use a single number describing only the marketable trees in the stand, merchantable basal area. You could also find that number on a per species basis with forest sampling methods, but you can probably get by without that much detail. It's more to figure out overall density and desired density (e.g. basal area of 70sqft/ac total is generally considered a good density for growing timber, so when density gets up to 100 and higher it's a good time to cut it back to 70). That sets the medium-level goals for silviculture prescriptions.

As for how you change the density, those low-level details are the prescription, and seed tree approach is good for creating a savanna feel. It's less forgiving than shelterwood, but the fact that you're a landowner-operator working on a small-scale makes up for that as I presume you'll take more care in what you cut vs leave.

Sounds like picking the seed trees is what you're most unsure of. Prioritize good genetics and species composition for what you want the future forest to look like. Make an effort to remove the bad genetics. This is the opposite of greedy logging: short-sighted folks will take the good stuff and leave the bad, but the best forestry is taking as much of the bad as you can and just enough of the good to pay for the operation, limiting yourself to ensure enough good genes are around for regeneration. Also think about spacing of those genetics, that's where basal area comes in. The change in basal area you desire can translate to how many trees are kept or removed in a cluster of say 5 or 10. That way you walk around and 10 trees at a time decide which to leave or take, then walk away and decide for the next cluster, do that systematically and eventually you should have an evenly spaced distribution of good selections getting you to the overall desired density.

Those old huge trees are great. Some standing dead wood is good for wildlife too, but that needs to balance with the need to mitigate hazard trees.

Lastly for deciding what to take or leave, consider if you want more even-aged or mixed-age future forest. It will be mixed-age unless you really try to even it out. But in seed tree you could be selecting an ancient tree to keep in one cluster, a middle-aged one in another cluster, a young adult in another etc. so the woods will develop into quite a mix over time until the next major disturbance.

As for regeneration with seed tree, I don't know how silvopasture will affect the regeneration from that cut. I've done seed tree cuts and seen results of past seed tree cuts, it can be really nice. One beautiful tree over here, a small cluster of great genes over there, pouring seed out on top of an existing seed bank now released - like a much sparser 'shelterwood' cut, as shelterwood has strips or larger clusters to reseed rather than seed tree's sparse individuals or small groups. Thing is with silvopasture, livestock might hinder natural regeneration or affect the seed bank somehow. Probably if you're hands on about it, planting trees and protecting them from livestock during establishment, it's a nonissue. Just something that comes to mind. Wildlife have an impact on natural regeneration for sure, but I bet it's a different kind of pressure on the new trees in intensity and timing than silvopasture.
1 year ago
Hey Kadence, best wishes on your efforts. Some techniques from conventional forestry that could be helpful:

- Think in terms of basal area (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basal_area) in planning and in implementing plans. This makes it easier to see the forest through the trees. I get stuck doing silviculture because I think about every tree, but with a prescription based on species and basal area for a forest stand (area of homogeneous characteristics), it's much easier for me to walk through and apply a prescription: if basal area is 100sqft/ac and I want to bring that down to 60sqft/ac, I can figure out what kind of trees translate into what amount of basal area (using wedge prism as in "variable plot sampling", very quick and requires simple tool), then walk the stand systematically considering clusters of trees and removing X trees to drop basal area as desired, making selections based on the silviculture prescription.

- Plan out a silvicultural prescription and stick to it. Even better if you can mark trees for a prescription in a separate time than cutting, so you can focus on doing each process well, each one deserves careful attention (silviculture for forest health, cutting requires full attention for your own health!)

- As you mark out your plan in the woods: think about access, light and seed bank. Natural regeneration forestry is a lot about using logging to manage light and soil exposure. Think about how cuts will change what plants and soil get light. Also it can be worth marking out your trail in a thoughtful way, as it will do damage skidding logs out of the woods and you want to be strategic about that damage. The way I used to do it with a company was to mark all trees to either cut or not to cut in a stand, then we lay out trails to access all the cut areas, making trails high and dry and strategic about what trees will get banged up when dragging logs out.

I would guess shelterwood cuts (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelterwood_cutting) are appropriate for Ohio's mixed hardwoods, but that's a very rough guess lacking lots of important details. Reading up on good conditions for the silvopasture you desire, and appropriate cuts for the forest you're working with, is where I would start. Trying to find where those two converge: what change to the forest (e.g. reduction in basal area, species and age composition) suits the silvopasture, what cuts are appropriate to get the current forest there.

Eventually that all becomes more intuitive. But starting out if you can I think it's wise to be more systematic about it, to minimize long-term mistakes and build that intuition more thoroughly.
1 year ago