Eric Bee

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since Nov 01, 2016
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Recent posts by Eric Bee

It always amazes me how otherwise sensible people can hyper-focus on yield as the only measure of success in farming. As if yield means anything if it's not cost-effective or sustainable.
6 years ago
I've had the same dilemna.

The problem with cellulose, i.e. old shredded newspaper treated with nasty fire retardant chemicals, is that it settles. It's great for attics as blow-in insulation, but in walls it will lose it's loft and thus most of its insulating power.

You can buy wool insulation in batts just like fiberglass but it's very pricey. I once used old packing material, mainly bubble wrap. It was a very temporary solution but it definitely did the job. I suppose if being to code is not a concern you could use that and old styrofoam. You need to mak sure the walls are sealed, though, as any air flow (it seems to me) will affect it even more than with fiberglass.
6 years ago
Not sure my experience is relevant, but what the heck.

We have a 2 story conventional house that's about 1800 sq ft. It's fairly recent construction and quite well insulated for the most part, but definitely has many obvious gaps which I make no attempt to fix because like you I want air. We heat exclusively with wood that I cut on our property. Most people around here go through 4-5 cords but we've never burned more than 2 a season, usually only 1.

First thing we did when we moved in was to replace the old woodstove with a Lopi. It was expensive but has paid for itself several times over now. A really good woodstove (cast iron instead of plate) will use a lot less wood and retain heat longer. The stove is situated behind a central stairwell and is backed with soap stone. The floor is slate on concrete. This gives us a lot of thermal mass to work with, such that things stay warm all night and we don't often keep a fire burning the whole night through, although we can in that stove quite easily.
Where the stove is doesn't necessarily make it easy for heat to get up the stairs but it's adequate -- honestly I prefer it this way since I like the bedroom colder at night.

The cool thing, and the reason I thought this might be of interest to you, is that we do have central heat and the intake for that is right above the wood stove. So when it's really cold we'll put the furnace on with just the fan. It really moves the heat around very well. We never actually turn the furnace itself on, just the fan.

Your climate is quite a bit colder, or at least for longer stretches. But we've had 15-20F for a week or two at a time and heating the house this way has always been great. Very low maintenance and since we have to deal with excess wood anyway, we're stacking functions.
6 years ago
Hard to imagine that at 32F it would freeze inside the high tunnels. Are you measuring temperature inside and outside? Do you know how low it got at the plants? Frost on the walls doesn't mean your plants are in danger.

At those temps I just cover with light-medium row covers. Where I am that gets me down to about 26-28F depending on the wind. And yes, this is for trellised tomatoes. I just kind of wrap it vertically on the sides. If I had a high tunnel I would not do even that.
6 years ago
I completely agree with Michael.

Even using the most biointensive methods it takes a fair amount of space to grow enough food for even one person. Things like winter squash are critical to feed you through the winter but take up a lot of space. And it's not just about total area, but how you use it -- successions being absolutely critical.

That's not to say it wouldn't be fun and interesting to try! If it were me I'd look at the most efficient crops space-wise, and explore keeping things as vertical as possible. In fact, I wonder if you could grow something like a Delicata or Butternut squash on a trellis, with greens under neath. Some people do this for cucumbers, so I don't see why not.

There are also some community gardens which pool everyone's effort into one big garden -- there are one or two in Seattle but I forget the name. This would be much more efficient as long as the area was appropriate for the size of the community.
6 years ago
Simone, I can never grow carrots without mulching them. My usual practice is to cover the whole row with a row cover. They simply will not germinate unless they are kept moist. Traditionally people would put down a board or even cardboard (which I've tried too). I'm guessing that your happy accident was just that the seeds where kept sufficiently moist -- this strikes me as wholly consistent with the general principle here. I also do that kind of intercropping, like radishes between tomatoes, and the weeds just became part of that thinking.
6 years ago
Aaron, if there is a number one rule in farming, particularly small scale organic farming, it is that the market has to come first. Assuming that you can develop that market after or while you are growing is a recipe for disaster. Also, the wholesale market is a real bear and only works if you are operating at scale. This is a lesson learned hard and repeatedly by organic farmers everywhere, and it really boils down to math: 1. You can never compete with Sysco -- ie. you will never be able to compete on price, only quality and if not enough people in your market care about the latter, yer hosed; 2. Your margin selling wholesale might be half of what it is retail while at the same time your savings in logistics are not what you'd think. E.g. salad greens I can sell out all day long at $12-14 / lb but get less than half that while still being expected to deliver for free. On top of that those damned chefs are amazingly fussy, so they demand only the best, cut a certain way, etc. It's not that I can't sell certain restaurants spinach at $10/lb compared with the $1-2 /lb they pay from Sysco, but what ends up happening is they buy a little from me and a lot from Sysco and then say it all is from my farm. They really do that and it is extremely damaging to my reputation.

I am wording this as a stern warning, but of course every market and situation is different. Only you can determine if that makes sense. Still, I have learned those hard lessons and it's not a fun experience. I think with the extra challenges and costs you will encounter with very wet land (purely aside from the regulatory aspect) you will find your costs are higher. Really, unless you are tractor farming selling at anything less than top dollar will mean you can't make a living.

On grants and loans from the USDA and other sources: Investigate this first if you can. There is so much help out there it's crazy. Everything from riparian restoration and conservation to money to pay for a whole, very fancy greenhouse. You have to jump through hoops, but it's basically free money.

Finally, as I said my main field floods seasonally. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be called a wetland but I've learned that if you have to ask the answer is usually not in your favor, so I ignore the problem and it's been fine for years. Looking at the property you mentioned I have to assume that's a whole different can of worms. I'm still skeptical of Travis' dire warnings though. I know many farmers who are in watersheds or on rivers and there are no problems...  hopefully it's not a case of all of us ignoring the reality and hoping for the best  Like I've said I've never asked and don't intend to.
6 years ago
So my observation is that any amount I've used has been ok, but then I've never have all that much relative to the scale I'm using it at.

Apparently though, it takes a lot of ash to raise pH. This extension bulletin suggests 1 point increase at 10-11 tons per acre:  (see figure 3)

That's a lot more than I would have thought. I'd guess I'm using the equivalent of 1/2 a ton per acre at most. Theoretically that should only affect pH sensitive crops like spinach. But on the other hand, if your soil pH is already acidic you may want to use quite a bit.
6 years ago
Actually Anne, most of my point was that my practices weren't just about pest management and that this sort of thing should be thought of holistically. Yes, they are talking to commercial farmers. That may be why they tone down their recommendations. When I said up there that "I know what it's going to say" I knew it would be about pests but hoped it would go farther. I think home gardeners need to take this as a general principle and run with it. For a commercial farmer like me to adopt these practices, however, is pretty much unheard of.

Keeping weeds solved pretty much all of my pest problems and now that that balance has been restored I don't need to do much and never spray anything. But this is also an extension of my long-standing practice of using the weeds to help me solve other problems, such as as wind protection when it's cold and to keep soil moist and cool when it's hot. Another example: my english peas this year went about a month longer than usual because they were surrounded by weeds and they never got the powdery mildew that inevitably has happened once the weather starts getting hot and dry. In the past I've mulched with straw, but that has problems and does nothing for beneficials. On the pest side, this really is about providing ecosystems conducive to the natural balance, which is about 90% things that don't eat your crops and 10% things that are a real problem.

Two other general principles I've learned over the years about pests and restoring balance: 1. If you spray anything, even just soap, you kill everything. All that does is provide opportunistic pests a window to do their damage without much predation; 2. Where there are pests there are things that eat pests. I've learned to be patient because I know when I do see pest problems the predator insects are not far behind.
6 years ago
I do. It's obviously going to depend on your baseline pH -- you don't want to add to much if you are tending to alkaline already. Since my soil is neutral to slightly acidic I don't seem to have a problem. For many potassium-loving crops I'll work wood ash into the row at planting time. It's made a huge difference for my peppers, for example.
6 years ago