stephen lowe

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since Jul 05, 2017
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Recent posts by stephen lowe

paul wheaton wrote:I wish to strongly discourage the thing where people make a trench and put the hugelkultur in the trench.  

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to be at least six feet tall.   Preferentially 7 feet tall or taller.

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to have very steep sides.  75 degrees to 80 degrees.

I wish to strongly encourage hugelkultur beds to be at least 20 feet long.

I wish to strongly encourage wood + soil + wood + soil + wood + soil + wood + soil + mulch.   I see too much of wood-on-wood - and I wish to discourage that.

I wish to discourage the use of "nails" in hugelkultur.  The stick ends up wicking water out of the hugelkultur.

I think the video is fun - but there are a lot of things in it that I wish they expressed differently.

I understand your reasoning on all of those encouragements except for the trench one. Why do you think that they are less than desirable? Seems like a good technique, especially for very dry places.
1 week ago
I heard an interesting talk with a researcher at UC Berkley who is doing a project on the viability of urban greens (weeds) as a food source. One of the most interesting things about the whole talk to me was that they found 0 examples of leaf samples taken from all over the oakland/berkley area (including alongside busy roads) where any dangerous contaminants were present in the leaves after a simple sink washing. Most plants won't move heavy metals up into their leaves. One plant that will is tobacco, and if you're concerned about things like lead you can use tobacco (which you then remove and either compost and spread around timber trees) to pull some of those metals out of the dirt. You could also probably just screen the dirt to get the biggest junk out and then spread it around some ornamentals or in a forested area
1 week ago
After taking a two day workshop with mark at last years ACRES conference there are a few things that I took away. One of them was that he has a dramatically different approach to the economics of farming than your average farmer. He talked at length about how one of his big leaps came when he began to think of his 'job' as property/real estate development as opposed to food production. This thinking allowed him to approach financing differently and it's something that I think turns off a lot of farmers (especially multigenerational farmers with a deep cultural identity as food producers) and it also involves taking on a lot of debt. The other thing about his style is that it is not really geared toward a single farm taking it's products to market, it is intimately connected (in it's profitability) to his connection to the organic valley co-op. The lifestyle benefits are almost entirely because he is part of a cooperative that frees him from having to do much marketing for his main crops and plug them into a commodity scale supply chain. This is what frees up his time as much or more than the diverse nature of his farm. The third thing is that it is being adopted on more and more farms around the country and the world. He works with a company called restoration agriculture design that does everything from planning consultation through to full installation of a system like his. He relayed stories and pictures of a large number of farms that RAD had helped establish, the thing is most farmers aren't nearly as evangelical as he is. If you think about how many farms do you 'hear' anything about that you don't live right near or see at a local farmers market? Farmers, by and large, are busy people who aren't seeking publicity or proselytizing outside of their circle of fellow farmer friends.
1 week ago
you might try searching around for spoiled grass hay (make sure it's grass unless it's certified organic), grass hay is usually untreated with anything because it's just not profitable. You will have to contend with weed seeds with the hay but it will be chemical free and have more nutritive value than straw would.
3 weeks ago
I'll toss another vote in for hugelkultur. They don't have to be huge to be effetive, but you will need some dirt/compost/clay to layer with it, otherwise you will just have mounded dry branches. If you do go the hugelkultur route you're gonna want to remember to irrigate pretty well the first year, especially with your dry climate, but after a winter snow melt it should become a great resource.
3 weeks ago

Chris Kott wrote:I like testing. I often wish that there was a computerised suite of tools that would allow us to do complete soil analyses at home, or even on a peripheral attached to our smartphones.

The more information we gather, the more we can know, and the more we can improve our decision-making processes.

I would look for trends over time, and perhaps delay testing in areas that show steady, positive trends until there is a problem. If time and money were not factors, I would love to have near-constant feedback fed into a spreadsheet and graphed for me, and maybe even imaged on a topographical readout.

But failing that, if I were only able to spot-test to diagnose problems, I would make sure I was applying fungal slurry and compost extract over as much soil as possible, as frequently as I could.


There is technology available to do your own testing but it isn't cheap. I saw a new model of a system designed to do in field testing of soil and/or plant tissue. Results in a matter of minutes. The equipment plus the software to analyze the results clocked in at just about 30K. I would imagine you could replace some of that convenience and cost with a good dose of organic chemistry knowledge (although that has it's own costs of attainment) but ya, when you look at the infrastructure of quality soil testing it's actually a pretty good deal
3 weeks ago
I'll throw my experience in the ring. Skandi Rogers and Simon Gooder, this may well reflect your expected experiences should you try these out. I grew some of the Fruition Seeds cold hardy red valencia peanuts two years ago in a quest to find the legume to complete my oil seed 3 sisters (along with sunflower and oil seed pumpkin). I live in the coastal northwest where we might only have 5 or 6 frosty nights a year, winter temps tend to hang around the low 50s and high 40s with a good bit of rain. The problem I found was that our summer temps rarely hit 70 and we have many a June-uary or Faugust day where it barely scrapes it's way into the 60s. The seeds germinated well enough but then basically failed to thrive, never really got more than maybe 5 or 6 inches tall, never flowered and obviously never formed any seeds. They just sort of stagnated at the point sort of between being a seedling and really maturing into a plant. I think they need a decent bit of heat to do their thing in the summer. These seem great for a short but hot summer, didn't do anything for me with a sort of long but cool summer.
One thing that I thought about at the time was that they might do better in a raised bed with lighter soil that would heat up better. My yard is heavy and damp soil and I don't often leave any of it bare so it stays relatively cool all year long. Cherry tomatoes and peppers do much better for us in a raised bet with lighter potting type soil, and of course a greenhouse cover of some kind takes it up a whole other notch.
4 weeks ago
I've got the same question. I see tons of these in my garden. I haven't seen any direct evidence of them causing harm so I'm inclined toward thinking they are probably neutral-helpful, but I really don't know. I assume they eat insects but I see them hanging out on the same kale that is massively infected with aphids and doing nothing with said aphids. At this point my thoughts are they are a neutral resident. Love to hear some more info from someone a little more familiar with the creepy little buggers
4 weeks ago
I think it depends on your goals. If you are engaged in production agriculture you probably want to test multiple times a year as you get your system up and running so that you can make amendments and monitor the effect. Once you have an established baseline you could test less often just to sort of monitor for changes, especially if you were experimenting with a new crop/amendment/cultivation practice. For high intensity production testing multiple times a year of soil and plant tissue tests can be useful in allowing the farmer to apply fertilizers super efficiently, theoretically $300 in testing in a season could simultaneously save $500 in fertilizer and help produce hundreds of dollars more of produce.

If you are just talking about your homestead/garden, and if you are using the native soil, it is probably worth getting at least one test done so you can get an idea of what your are working with and if there are any major deficiencies and or excesses (I have seen tests where the phosphorus is off the charts and the people were still adding a bit of bonemeal every spring because that's what someone told them you should do every spring, if they had tested earlier they could have saved a bit of money on bone meal) and then you may want to test again at some later point to make yourself feel good about your progress or if you are noticing new issues or if you want to conduct an experiment.
4 weeks ago

Marco Banks wrote:
2.  This is just my opinion, but I don't see anywhere in nature where foliar sprays naturally occur.  If permaculture is a design science that mimics nature, I don't think you're not going to find anything like that in a natural setting.  But you can always water your plant with that water.

Best of luck.

What about fog and dew? There's also the natural setting of a human garden where we seem to have been spraying plants for a long time. Many plants sure seem to like being sprayed as well. I wouldnt see any reason why it wouldnt be a great idea to spray your garden with the water but I would avoid sunny days because my experience with fish emulsion is that there can be some phytotoxicity
1 month ago