Ray Sauder

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since Oct 09, 2019
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Recent posts by Ray Sauder

Daron Williams:  How has your lawn turned out?  What plants have worked best for you?  I have been making a similar lawn for the last 2 years, except that my problem is sandy soil and drought, not clay.  I just started with my existing (very poor) lawn and kept adding plants and seed to every bare spot that showed up.  My base has to be a mix of drought tolerant grass because it is a boulevard that gets a huge amount of traffic from schoolkids, dog walkers, bicycles, strollers, etc. etc.  Nothing else keeps the soil from turning into mud in late fall and early spring.  And to keep the grass from dying in the heat and drought of summer, all areas also contain white clover, red clover, yellow sweet clover, and lots of bird'sfoot trefoil.  Individual different areas have original heavy concentrations of violets, Indian strawberries, and cinquefoil which I monitor closely.  All three have good qualities - beautiful blue violets, yellow flowers and red berries for the Indian strawberries, and yellow flowers mixed with white clover flowers in a heavy clover/cinquefoil patch.  But all three have drawbacks as well such as dieback with frost leaving bare ground if not for enough grass also growing in the patch.

I started out just wanting survival of the lawn in bad droughts, but I soon progressed to also wanting it to stay green and also be filled with flowers as much of the time as possible.  I now have 25 flowering weeds that I actively encourage and at least 25 weeds that I actively discourage!  I've had to put larger wheels on my mower as well as change the wheel mounts to give me a cutting range from 2 inches to 8 inches!  Some of the weeds I want can be cut very short after they are established, but they must be left to grow to get started and they must be let grow in the fall to replenish root stores of starch.  Also leaving everything long is helpful during severe droughts and leaving everything long makes for beautiful displays of flowers.  All the weeds and grasses grow at different rates so it is very hard to achieve the "level lawn" manicured look.  To combat this, I mow in patterns or diagonals with high and low levels of vegetation.  This also helps capture more dew during droughts and also leads the neighbours to asking me more questions.  They have already gotten used to the idea that I spend time carefully transplanting weeds INTO the lawn.....

1 month ago
Ahh,  a thread I can sink my teeth into…..I hope I’m not wandering too far from the point if I add, “what to do with a dead squirrel”!

I have a house with a roof of heavy, clay tiles.  For 20 years there was never a problem.  But then one day a squirrel figured out how to chew some of the facia and get underneath the tiles to build a nest.  And he taught his whole family so I was in for a heap of trouble.  Then one day a squirrel was squashed dead on the road in front of my house and I had a eureka moment.  I tenderly gathered his limp body, went up the ladder, lifted the second tile up at a roof corner, lay out his bushy tail and let the tile fall down on top of it.  He was firmly anchored with a good view of the entire yard.  And live squirrels were avoiding him!!!  I kept a look-out on local streets and pretty soon I had a recumbent sentry on each corner of the roof.

I was very pleased with myself!  I had cleaned the streets so little kids didn’t have to look at the gore.  It was a cheap solution to say the least.  I had the whole recycle/reuse thing covered.  There was a perverse justice in having dead squirrels guard my roof from the live buggers.  And my family was outraged which is always fun – though seriously, they couldn’t tell me exactly why it was wrong…..

Everything was just great until a few weeks later some kind of hawk found my roof and removed my dessicated sentries.  I couldn’t keep a dead squirrel around anywhere after that…..

1 month ago
How does the nutrient content of comfrey compare to an average plant? A common claim is that comfrey contains high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Two sources which analyzed comfrey came up with similar values of NPK which for simplicity can be rounded off to 3-1-5.
What is the NPK of some common plants?  That is not easy to find, but here are some found by Robert Pavlis:
• Alfalfa 2.5-1-2
• Clover, crimson 2-0.5-2
• Corn gluten meal 9-1-0
• Cotton seed meal 6-0.4-1.5
• Rye, annual 1-0-1
• Seaweed 1-0.5-1
• Soybean meal 7-2-1
Are these average plants? None of the above plants are dynamic accumulators by the definition used by Robert Pavlis, so they are not considered to have high NPK values. It seems reasonable to consider them to be average plants. When you compare comfrey at 3-1-5, it is not much better than the average list – it is certainly not ten times better.

If you download the chart here:   https://mega.nz/file/U8YySKjC#sh8Kr3H-IkPDAKFXIT1qD2uIh_zTYBT0K8_ybgQ6nNo

you can get a lot more information, especially long lists of many plants with their amounts of just Nitrogen, just Phosphorus, just Potassium, etc. etc. for the whole list of minerals.  Most of them are vegetables, fruits, or edibles, since that's what has been tested....
4 months ago
Mike, the highlighted amounts are the highest for any plant tested of each nutrient or mineral.  By the way, you can click on the table to enlarge it.  Not all plants have been analyzed,  and I'm presuming the author couldn't find nitrogen values to add for all the listed plants.  As you may have noticed, lots of information is available for vegetables and even more for industrial crops.  But weeds have not received as much attention, and information is harder to find.  One has to "read between the lines"!  For example, I wanted information on the value of buttercups.  One site declared that in addition to being an undesirable weed because of toxicity to cattle, they rob the soil of potassium!  O.K.  Well the only way they rob a lawn of potassium is if you gather them up and send them off to the garbage collectors.  If you mow and mulch or compost them, why then they are potassium "accumulators" !

There was more information with the chart I posted and I'm going to try and retrieve and post it.  But I had a difficult enough time just being able to copy and post the chart, so we'll see if I can....

4 months ago
Dynamic Accumulator Plants - plants that accumulate ten times more than usual of at least one nutrient.
 I'm not sure why the nitrogen isn't listed for any of the plants except the highest.....I assume all plants have quite a bit of nitrogen......
4 months ago

shauna carr wrote:Since you mentioned starting to look at more than just the dew collection, I wanted to share what some of my own experiences have been in the hopes that it might give you some idea of some of the details you can be monitoring, especially because some of the things we hear as 'absolutes,' like intense mulching, have turned out to be not as absolute as I thought.  Iguess maybe that's why I so like Know Nothing Farming, because we can always find out new things that turn out to be opposite for what we thought was true, yeah?   I'm just a bit impatient so I try to combine it with 'intensely researched farming with respect to my growing conditions,' heh. ^_^

Dew collection - This is really a great idea, but depends completely on the area having a high enough humidity. If you don't have a very high humidity naturally, or if a drought lowers the humidity, then this becomes not as viable a method of collecting water. The fog collecting redwoods are actually already having problems right now because the drought has done just this in CA and the fog level is lowering in the redwood's area (http://www.wired.com/2010/02/fog-decrease-threatens-coastal-redwoods/). So something to think about would be not what the humidity is now, but what it may be during a drought in your area, you know?  Where I am now, during some seasons, the humidity is so low out of the rainy season, dew collection is quite negligible. And the temperature is so high, what little dew there is evaporates before it would hit the ground. But again - this is where I am, not where you are, yes?  I would definitely say on the hottest, driest days, looking at the dew levels would be very helpful to try and estimate what might be going on in that area during a drought.

Mulch - This is something that is actually much more site specific than I realized and I would definitely make study of what mulching works well in your area one of the factors you look at. I found an interesting study a long while back on how quickly water evaporates from the MULCH (as opposed to studies on evaporation from bare ground vs. mulch).  And it evaporates pretty quickly, actually, especially from mulch made from organic materials.  If rocks or sand were used as mulch, there was very little evaporation. But with organic mulch, it can break down and add to the soil, whereas the sand and rocks prevent that, so there are other considerations, too, yeah?

This has turned out to be very good information for my area. And curiously was born up by a few pieces of traditional farming practices in the desert, too. Where I am the average high in the summer is 37 C -  with the last couple of years having at least a week of daily temps around 43C. Rainfall is around 12 inches a year on NORMAL years, but has been closer to 9-11 inches the last few. Evaporation rate is higher than the rate of rainfall. And one thing that a number of people here have noticed is that if you are are relying on organic mulch to help keep the moisture in the ground, you have to have a large enough SOURCE of moisture.  Otherwise, the rainfall drops onto the mulch and evaporates from it before it even reaches the soil. So folks here mulch their watered crops deeply, but do NOT mulch their native, watered-by-rainfall plants very deeply at all. Some, yes, but not deeply.

I also happened across an interview with a Zuni woman from New Mexico, USA who grew up following one of the traditional forms of gardening that have earned the name 'waffle garden' due to their shape (numerous square basins surrounded by low walls).  I found it very interesting that when they would make it, they would add sand on top of the basins and the walls, to keep them moist. I was also privileged to be able to see an experiment by a botanist and archaeologist with the forest service in New Mexico, USA to try and recreate one of the gardening methods that had been speculated to exist with the Anasazi (ancient, extinct tribe in that area). They built a garden down in a valley (but still high desert) and after the crops came up, they covered the entire garden with large, rounded river stones, just leaving room for the seedlings to poke through. I cannot recall any longer whether it was never watered after that point, or almost never, but the experiment was a success and the garden did quite well.

Seemed to be another point in the favor of sand or rock mulch, yes? Except when I tried these in my area, they tanked as methods. The small pile of rocks with the cooler inside temperature? Tanked as well. After doing some investigating, I found out that the area in New Mexico where this was done had temperatures that were at least 10 degrees C cooler than my area on average, and I remembered that the rock mulched garden had been in filtered shade for a good part of the day, down in the canyon.  I finally tracked down yet another study on rock mulch from an area merely 5 C cooler than my own and it turns out that rock mulch alone will raise the surrounding temperature at least 5 C at that level of heat.

So basically...the sand and rocks and rock mulch heat up so much here they were frying the surrounding plants here with the raised temperature. But deep mulching would capture the water before it hit the soil, and not-so-deep mulching doesn't keep the soil nearly as moist. It was very frustrating, and confusing. All the gardeners I knew here were simply using up water like mad and using deep mulch, but I wanted to do somewhat like yourself: try a method that I can do with just dryland farming, or close to it (we have a little too little water to do truly drylands farming except with native plants, as i understand it).

What I am experimenting with now, based on just looking around my area to see what's happening naturally, is to let the weeds grow TALL around my plants. They provide shade, which lowers the temperature and that's been a huge boon for the plants in my type of environment. The things is, though, when I have the shade, I can put a large stone or two by the garden plants, and the area underneath these stones will stay very damp far longer than the surrounding area, but the shade keeps it from heating up as much. I let light mulch cover the remaining area. If I try adding even a few rocks near a plant where there is no shade, then most of the crop plants literally fry - you can water them three times a day and the heat is still too intense for them. :-/

I have also done things like bury a few fist sized stones near or surrounding the crops, and again, moisture has remained higher under them - but not poking above the soil, they don't add to the surface temperature. I'm experimenting a bit with how many rocks I can add without interfering too much with the roots.

I have been doing as you have with the weeds, too, and I have discovered some fun things about letting them grow larger. One, they have acted as trap plants for some things. A certain type of nightshade, for example, wild seeded near my tomatoes, and as it had pretty flowers, I left it there. The tomato hornworms all turned up on the native species with only one single one left on my tomatoes. The shade has been a big bonus, especially in areas with more open dirt. For annuals, if I chopped them down rather than pull them out, the roots rot in the soil and add nutrients that way, and the dead weed is used for mulch on top, as you've been doing. I have also noticed that if I figure out WHICH weeds the birds take seeds from, especially during periods before the crop seeds come, and plant them on the edges of the crops, they will attract more birds which were instrumental in keeping it pest free, too. I've also had some interesting experiences with sacrificial native plants that weren't for insects, but rather animals.  I had a garden next to a huge patch of native weeds. I have seen little rabbits sit in the patch of native plants, eating them, right next to crops they could have eaten instead.  

I am trying to research which plants the native animals are more partial to and see how helpful it might be to grow them surrounding the crops, the next few years (gonna take some major research, I think!)

The closely grown plants doing better - that has been my experience as well.  People here talk about it creating a microclimate within the bushiness of the plants that is cooler and a little more moist, as well.

The small pits - not only does it collect water, but during dry spells, it can simply be cooler as well. Cool air will pool in pockets like that at night and stay cooler a little longer after the sun rises - I'm currently trying to sink a small corner of my yard to grow plants that are used to slightly cooler weather. Some folks in my area seem to have used it with success.

Anyway, that's how things work in my area, and what I've noticed during some of my experiments. Obviously not quite the same environment as your own, but again, thought it might be useful to see how some of it works where I am, so you can have some ideas for what might or might not be going on where you are, yeah?

Oh, one other thing - you mentioned one of your legume types not doing well, yeah? And this is an area that you've mentioned everyone seems to agree does poorly, is poor soil, and so on, yes?  I've run into something similar with my own legumes in some of our soils, and I have figured out that at least in some cases, part of the problem is that the soil has been so poor, no legumes have grown there - native or not - and so the soil has very few of the microbes that they need to collect that extra nitrogen they need. I found that growing successive plantings of the legumes has slowly seemed to increase the level of the proper symbiotic microbes in areas where this has been the problem (I compare this to areas where the legumes simply weren't growing well, due to heat, for example, where successive plantings never do anything but kill more plants ).  

Good luck! I look forward to seeing how this experiment goes!

Shauna, this is a very helpful post in understanding mulches....

I have another option for you in type of mulch - biochar!  It is sort of halfway between the organic mulch and the inorganic rock mulch.  I was intrigued by all the old accounts of spreading it on the surface and getting fantastic results and so I've been testing it.  And I had wonderful results up until the really hot and sunny days of June.  I was using pieces approx. 3/4 inch cubed in one layer and it kept the soil wetter and cooler underneath in spite of being black.  I presume it was because of the porosity and therefore insulating quality of the char.  But when the blazing sun and a heat wave arrived in mid-June it stopped being effective.  It didn't actually kill anything underneath yet, but it was no longer cooler underneath.  Either the same or warmer.  So I'm thinking it acted like the river rocks as mulch you described.  Up to a certain amount of sun, the rocks shielded and cooled, and then too much and they cooked.  So I have 2 options to try using char, add another layer of the same size pieces or try a mulch of twice as large pieces.  Both of these involve time and money and I have a lot of organic mulch (shredded old leaves and new green trimmings) on hand.  So I've added a layer of organic mulch on top of the biochar for now and we'll see how that works.

The biochar has several advantages to recommend it.  If well-charged, it can immediately add nutrients to the plants, which rocks cannot.  A same size piece as a rock collects more dew than the rock, even though some is undoubtedly also being absorbed and not collecting underneath.  Biochar can collect the nutrients condensed by the dew and rain.  It lets the dew and rain enter the soil rather than keeping it off as the organic mulch can do.  And as the biochar breaks down and weathers, it is incorporated into the soil where it will then supply all the advantages normally associated with working it into the root zone when first applying it.

4 months ago
I am "all in" with bird'sfoot trefoil but I haven't stopped looking for other plants that are also drought resistant which would do well in a lawn.  Two years ago some yellow sweet clover appeared on its own in my lawn and I've been trying to use it as well.  First, the good news.  It is even more drought resistant, hardy, ground improving, etc.  It is O.K. with salt, low fertility, heat, drought, wet, clay, sand, you name it!  It accumulates phosphorus as well as nitrogen.  Now the problems:  I've been broadcasting the seeds from the donor plants that arrived on their own with not too much success.  I had the same problem with the bird'sfoot trefoil - collecting thousands of seeds and broadcasting them everywhere but only now 5 years later having maybe half the amount of plants I want to end up with.  So yesterday I bought 500 g of bird'sfoot seed and 500 g of sweet yellow clover seed to try a new method of getting them started in my pretty lush by now weed lawn.  The seller advises only to plant them in the spring and neither one likes much competition.  I want to start them now and they will have lots of competition whenever I plant them.  I will post in a few weeks if my new method works to get them going where I actually want them...

Anyway, back to the problem with yellow sweet clover.  It is a biennial.  It grows a lot of root the first year.  Then in the second year it grows a high 2 ft to 3 ft stalk of clover leaves and beautiful flowers and dies!  It is a forage crop but if grazed too close to the ground, it dies.  And if not grazed close enough, it blooms and dies.  If grazed just the right amount, it has prodigious growth.  I figure with the right lawnmower setting I can make this work in a lawn.  Also some has to be let go to seed to start future growth.  I have 3 trees that I don't mow close to which I already use for tall weeds that have beautiful flowers and weeds that I want to go to seed so I can handle that.  Seeds persist in the soil for many years.  I won't know for a year or two how this is going to work out....

4 months ago
I've been keeping a record as I find info of what nutrients different "weeds" accumulate.  All the legumes, clovers, vetches, bird's foot trefoil, black medic, etc. fix nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil directly or indirectly.  Yellow sweet clover accumulates phosphorus.  Creeping buttercups accumulate potassium.  Chickweed accumulates phosphorus and potassium.  Lambs quarters accumulates nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium(doesn't get much better than that), calcium and manganese while loosening the soil.  Broadleaf Plantain accumulates calcium, sulphur,magnesium, manganese, iron and silicon.  Dandelion accumulates phosphorus, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, and silicon while loosening the soil.  'Nuff said?

5 months ago
Hello Alex,
I'm guessing this reply is much too late for you, but it may help someone else.  I am using bird's foot trefoil as the basis for a boulevard lawn that is very exposed to the full sun and composed of very sandy poor soil.  The trefoil keeps everything green in the heat and drought.  It is much more drought hardy than clover although clover is the next best.  I have a mixture of grasses, bird's foot trefoil, and clovers, as well as violets, cinquefoil, Indian strawberries, autumn hawkbit, and thousands of scilla in the spring.

Bird's foot trefoil is salt resistant, grows in compacted, non-fertile soil, adds nitrogen to other plants as well as itself, does not overrun other species, and as you have seen stays green in heat and drought; plus it has beautiful yellow flowers - what's not to love???

There are a few problems getting it started in a well-tended lawn, however.  The seedlings grow very slowly and do not compete well with other plants.  I read that it cannot be transplanted; after 2 summers of fruitlessly trying to do so.  It needs to be not mowed shorter than 3 inches, and 4 or 5 inches is much better.  Especially until plants are well established for about 3 years.  After that I have mowed it as short as 2 1/2 inches to hold it back and let the grass and clover grow up through it.  I changed the 8 inch wheels on my lawnmower to 10 inch ones so I have a 2 1/2 inch to 5 inch cutting range....One more thing....it does not store carbs in the roots for overwintering during the summer growing season, but starts to do so after Sept. 1st.  until the end of Oct.  So it needs to be left long then as well.

It does lose all its foliage with a hard frost as does clover, so I use it with regular lawn grass to have turf when the snow melts in March, April, and May.
5 months ago

Roberto pokachinni wrote:

 My hope is that this will create slow incorporation, without tilling, while providing many of the benefits of mulch while also providing a black surface which will increase heat in my cold sensitive area.  

Roberto,  I have spread biochar (first soaked in urine) a half dozen places on the surface in my yard.  From March 10 to May 10.  I am testing the temperature, moisture, and PH of the soil directly under the char and 1 foot nearby every 4 or 5 days.  Consistently, the soil underneath is cooler and wetter!  Wetter is to be expected; it acts like any mulch to preserve moisture.  But cooler, in spite of being a black surface?  I will now try testing it during the night; maybe it will be warmer than the surrounding soil.  Quite possibly, the extra moisture is making the temperature more stable.  In any event, consistently, seeds sprout more quickly than under 3 other different mulches or no mulch, and grass has doubled the growth of that in nearby soil.     PH testing has had erratic results so far.


6 months ago