I am constantly impressed with the resiliency of plants. Back in the fall, I planted a handful of comfrey root cuttings around the garden. A few in the hugel bed and a few in the plain ground. When they didn't come up in the spring, I assumed they didn't make it through the winter (either voles or cold or too long of a dormancy). But then a couple of days ago, I spotted a couple leaves that looked familiar… comfrey! The tiniest comfrey, and sure it sprouted in July, but perhaps this will give it enough energy to bounce back faster next year.
Next up is an Apple tree I planted last spring. The winter before that was a crazy huge winter, so it didn't end up getting planted until the wet weather had left us and the warm weather had arrived. On top of that, I never got around to protecting the trees and every single leaf and new growth got stripped clean by the deer. But this summer it sprouted all kinds of new growth, and seems to be quite happy.
Last up on our list is a blueberry I picked up for dirt cheap at the nursery in the middle of the summer last year. Root bound and planted in the dead of summer without irrigation, it was doing okay… for about a week until the deer found it and stripped off every single leaf. Miraculously, it's full of leaves this year.
I have seen a lot of people lay down tarps (or a similar dark colored covering) over soil once it's in place in the garden bed to do this. The tarp traps the heat in the top of soil, killing seeds and smothering weeds.
I have given some thought to this in a general-anxious-person way. I worry about trying to focus on temperature changes because as the climate changes… well, that's just it — it's changing, and in different directions all over. While the Olympic Peninsula gets a lot of rain right now, should the jet stream shift, that would change in a big way. But again, I'm no climate scientist… I just know that there's a million and a half variables at play and the only thing we are certain of is uncertainty.
My vote is in the foothills of one of the cascades, near to fresh water. I have a house outside of Mt. Shasta, and I think it's near perfect. Shasta sits at 14,000ft, which allows it to collect snow nearly year round (even when it's 100˚ at my house, snow will fall during a summer thunderstorm near the summit). That snow melts and filters through volcanic rock over thousands of years and pops up in the foothills as thousands and thousands of cold, clean water. Water is life, and access to clean drinking water is becoming more and more scarce.
My personal theme for the past few weeks has been practicality. I admit, I often get a little lost in the purity side of permaculture at the expense of making progress. Which is a bit funny given that in a previous life one of my mantras was always practicality beats purity. The thing is, I get a bit lost when I look at my piece of land and the immense resources available and think of what all could be done. I see the trees that could be felled, milled with solar power, treated with fire, and assembled into a bed to sleep on. But this path requires a tremendous path of dependencies. I need a mill to mill the lumber. I'll need a winter storage area for the mill. And solar power to power it. And maintenance of all the parts. And new blades as the old ones go dull. And a place to put it, time to calibrate it, and learn it… or I could just go to the lumber store and buy some 2x4s.
So instead, I went to the lumber store and built myself a bed. I've desperately wanted a new bed. The one that was in my cabin was from the previous owners and instantly turned into a taco the moment two people were in it. It's just a small thing, but part of a bigger theme.
At this point I feel as though I could speak for hours on the necessity of irrigation in the arid west. I avoided irrigation for a long time — building a hugel in the fall to capture the snowmelt, experimenting with swales and other water features. My results were depressing (see: last year's cover crop experiments). But this year I admitted to myself that things are different out here. It was cute to see Richard Perkins talk about a historic drought of two weeks without rain (and even then, he considered a quick rainstorm to not count as rain!). We get closer to four months without rain. But more importantly, we have close to 0% humidity. Mulch is fine for trees and other deep-rooted plants, but everything else needs irrigation. So I bought myself some 1/2" irrigation tubing and drilled some holes in it, hooked it up to a battery powered water timer… and holllllllly crap. My hugel's cover crop has grown to 3ft twice so far. And it's only June. I have dozens of squash, beans, radishes, and all sorts of plants I'd hopelessly planted earlier that never germinated happily growing. All of this is fed from my spring, so it's doubly silly that I avoided it for so long.
Anyways, I'm going to continue with this theme. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in what's possible that you often forget what can actually get done with the time you've got.
Well, your topic and walking out to the dog sleeping on my tiny little kale seedlings finally motivated me to head out to the lumber yard and build one of my cold frame / cage contraptions. This garden bed has been a tragedy of dying seedlings. This is the 3rd time I've planted it this season. The first time the dog rolled in the fresh compost immediately after I planted all my transplants. Oops. Then the squirrels came by the next day and ripped out the remaining struggling seedlings I had re-planted. Sigh. The second time, I didn't have automatic watering setup and my partner misjudged how much water evaporates here… fried seedlings. This third time I'm desperate to get something out of it, and I'm hopeful!
If I built this again, I'd find a better way to force the top hatch into square. Probably some diagonal braces on the ends, or maybe some tension wires running in Xs. As it is, it's slightly out of square, but good enough for me.
I love the idea of electric tractors, and given their size it seems likely that we could design one with a large built-in solar array that unfolded when not in use (built in hydraulics!). But batteries have always been my problem. Peter brought up the power issue, but temperature is often my struggle. Leave any battery outside in the cold for the winter and it'll half the life if not more. One of the more useful things about tractors to me is that you can just leave them where they need to be, and that they can service remote locations without any utilities. Electric tractors would need temperature controlled storage and continuous charging to survive most winters and keep the (very expensive!) battery happy.
But that's also a challenge I have for all kinds of electric devices. I hope that we'll overcome that with advances soon. A battery that is temperature resilient would be amazing.
I can't speak to introducing earthworms, but if you are looking for composting worms that should be no problem. Red Wigglers will do fine, you will just have a very slow / paused compost pile in the winter if is outdoors. I can think of four strategies here:
1. Have an outdoor worm farm and let it freeze over the winter. The worms will die, but their cocoons will not. When the temperature rises again in the summer, the worms will reappear.
2. insulate the outdoor worm farm, either by burying it, or some other insulation method (straw, cob, etc). The small amount of heat left in the compost pile should keep them alive. If you have good snow cover all year, this will help.
3. Add a lot of N heavy materials throughout the winter to create a thermophilic environment (where the compost heats up). Coffee grounds are especially good at this.
My strategy involves a very active dog and a lot of chicken wire since I'm already struggling for light in most places. Out here it's less that the squirrels are starving and more that I live in a forest, so there's just too much wildlife to compete with. The dog keeps the bears and deer away, but the squirrels and rabbits are ever-present, and the raccoons are only scared off if you're less than three feet away from them. Next year I hope to spend some time to build some multi-purpose raised bed tops that function as cold frames in the spring and cages in the summer.
How fitting! I just got back from my log cabin out in the Sierras. I don't know a lot about it. I know it was the second cabin built on this land, and was built in 1922 (hand hewn from trees on the property). She's got hot & cold water, wired with propane lanterns and a propane refrigerator, and used to have a beautiful old wedgewood — but sadly the old owners took that particular piece with them. She handles snow like a champ. I've stayed when there was 15 feet of snow on the ground, higher than the roof line. I'm hoping to give her some more TLC this summer — the deck needs some rebuilding, and the old rope-based chinking has given way to the mice. Some day I'd even like to figure out how to open the windows in the winter (the snow usually piles up past them).
Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can help you myself, but I do think there's a couple things you could do to help other people help you. If you're comfortable sharing what part of the world your in, that could be super helpful — you might even find some people here on the forums that are close by! I'd also suggest perhaps starting with some pictures, and maybe explain some more of your current progress. What kind of vegetables are you trying to grow? What kind of garden prep have you done so far?
If I had a house that was built without electrical and plumbing, I'd wire and pipe the house, install insulation and drywall. Without those things it's near useless, and relative to the cost of building a house, they are fairly inexpensive. It's the kind of thing that takes a building from $10/sqft to $200/sqft.
As to the subject of fire safety, there are really only two things related to the house that would improve its chance for surviving a fire: drywall and removing the chimney. There are good reasons to keep a chimney, but if you are interested in fire safety above all else — don't have inside fires. Houses themselves are really only designed for fire safety in terms of interior fires getting started. If a wildland fire is hot enough to set the building on fire (ex: in the crowns of the trees surrounding the house), it's going to burn down even if it's made of steel.
But, there is a lot that can be done outside of the house to better survive wildland fire. I can already see there is a tree nearly touching the house, as well as a series of small-medium-large trees that make for perfect fire ladders (allowing the fire to get into the crowns of trees). I'd suggest reading a bit about designing Defensible Space around the structure. Most of this can be done with a little pruning saw and a rake. Defensible Space is how you stop a wildland fire from burning down your home.
What a beautiful spring it's been up in the mountains. We haven't had a hard freeze in about a month, which is crazy, but sure makes for pleasant mornings. I've made a lot of progress out at the ranch. Actually, that's a bit of an understatement — I managed to fix every thing that had been frustrating me since I bought the property and learned a few new skills along the way. Reseated my first tractor tire with some ratchet straps and an air compressor, cleaned out a blocked hose spigot with my air compressor, built up the hugel (layering more dirt on top of the cover crop), installed automatic irrigation, and even managed to fence off my remaining apple trees. The real work season (June-September) has barely even started.
As usual, I set up my yellow jacket traps. They may have pretty little stripes like those friendly bees, but don't get confused — they're assholes. This year I went for a few slices of apple mixed in with sugar, water, and vinegar. Seemed to be working great! Until the bears found them… so I guess now I've got a bit of repair to do on the buildings where I hung them. Oops.
There were tons of these huge mushrooms popping out of the road. When I was there last I didn't bring my battery, which meant to internet to identify them. But now that I'm back, these look at awful lot like Porcinis. Any experts know? If so I'm bummed I didn't grab a few and throw 'em in my bag!
Oh, and here's a couple bonus pictures from my timelapse cam I kept at the ranch all winter just to appreciate the snowpack we get. Ignore the dates, they're nonsense.
Travis, you hit on something I am deeply passionate about in my moral life. I like to call it the gap between what you can do and what you are doing. Responsiblity is a good word for it.
I grew up poor. Not poor by some people's standards, but definitely getting-our-food-from-a-food-bank poor. Let's call it not rich. Somewhere in my hustle for life, I looked back at my life and realized I was quite rich. It's always interesting to me how fast one can move from having four jobs to not quite pay the bills to having one job to having one job and knowing you could leave it.
Four years ago this though experiment of knowing I could leave my job met reality. My father was diagnosed with a severe and accute parkinsonian disease that fairly wrecked my family. I spent months severely depressed and anxious for what at the time felt unkowable. Looking back (four years later), it's obvious that I was anxious because I knew I was able to help, but I wasn't.. I eventually came to this realization, quit my job, left San Francisco, and became a caregiver for my father.
Things have changed, my time spent toward caregiving has ebbed and flowed, but I can tell you without doubt that doing an important thing you are able to is a remarkably unique feeling. Similar to other ego-altering substances. It is a thing that can change you, even if your effort is not measurable.
Doing things you're able to do seems like such an easy idea. But at least from my experience, it's not. It's thing things you do that you're able to do that make a person.
I often use my worm castings as seed starting medium, but I use my worm bin as the opposite of a seed starter — a way to germinate leftover seeds so that my compost is semi-weed-free. A good worm bin is very dark, so the seeds that do germinate in mine are extremely leggy. I always look at it as bonus organic material for my worms to chew through.
The big win/dealbreaker with PEX is that it is resistant to freezing. If you're building a RV/van or uninsulated cabin, it's a very compelling alternative to copper pipes. Having an uninsulated bathhouse that was piped with copper and compression fittings that I have to repair every year, I often feel the temptation of repiping with PEX. But like all plastics, there's a lot of wishy-washy-weird-gicky-theories associated with it. As James mentioned, PEX was outlawed in California until 2009. This was based on fear from a study about off-gassing that was never able to be reproduced. California's compromise was to allow PEX (it is legal now), but require two weeks of off-gassing and flushing before the system can be used for potable water. That's enough evidence to give me pause.
There's still no "proof" (accepted peer-reviewed science) the off-gassing affects water quality or even that it happens. But with petroleum products, it seems like we often find the bad effects a few decades later when someone is able to squeeze the truth out of the industry.
That being said, I would definitely think about looking into altering the water's chemistry coming into your home. Repiping your house is going to be very expensive, very inconvenient, and very frustrating no matter what you repipe it with. Altering the water's chemistry is the only real solution to preventing corrosion.
I give these socks 10 out of 10 acorns. I have replaced all of my socks with Darn Tough, with the exception of my winter expedition socks. For those, I still use very thick wigwam socks. I originally bought some of these socks in the winter of 2016 after a few referrals from friends. Since then I've bought about a dozen pairs of varying shapes — mostly the Hikers and the 1/4 Hikers. They are the only socks I wear during the summer, which means they get a lot of construction time and a lot of backpacking time.
Some of my favorite parts about them:
- I can wear them 2 days without washing or smell or sweat-crud
- A quick rinsing in a stream will remove almost all sweat / smell
- They dry very well, even when packed up damp
- They're so cozy — really. It feels great to put them on and they have the "feels good no matter how sweaty" feature that most wool socks have
- I don't know which pairs I bought years ago versus newer ones. They are, indeed, darn tough
I've gotten too old to wear crummy socks and I'm through with those flimsy white bits that stretch out, wear out, and stink to high heavens. These are expensive, but my feet deserve it.
Travis, I'm so sad to hear this — especially having to part ways with your sheep and dozer (I can honestly say I've never known a person that loved a dozer like you did). I always enjoyed reading your posts and your outlook on life. I'm sure you've set a good example for your girls and encouraged more than a few people you've never met to live a better life. This stuff is never easy, but it seems like you're approaching it with courage and dignity. I'll be keeping you and your family in my thoughts.
Mike Barkley wrote:https://www.amazon.com/BaoFeng-UV-5R-Dual-Radio-Black/dp/B007H4VT7A/ref=sr_1_4?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1454445456&sr=1-4&keywords=Baofeng+UV-5R
This handheld radio has several bands including cb, "walkie talkie", & ham. Good for NOAA weather reports. 20 miles is about maximum transmission range under ideal conditions. I normally use it in heavily forested mountains at a 2 or 3 mile range. No problem.
This little radio looks interesting! I've tried a number of walkie talkies and they are worthless to me since there's so much granite around. Once someone is 1/4 mile away my "35 mile" range walkie talkies can't pick up anything. All the ranchers around here use CB when they're out in the forest, and for some reason I always thought that required some kind of vehicle / large antenna / permanent fixture. Now if I can just wrap my head around all these frequencies and such…
Thanks for that list! I do know for certain that strawberries grow well here. A couple of weeks after I planted a couple bare-root strawberries in an area I thought might be likely, I found a huge patch of strawberries poking through the straw… I'm excited to see what kind these end up being when their flowers & fruits come up. For now in addition to my blueberries, strawberries, and rhubarb I've planted several brussels sprouts, lacinato & red russian kale, butter lettuce, romaine lettuce, arugula, spinach, leeks, snap peas, artichokes (a stretch), and chives/thyme/mint in three different light-level areas of the back yard. Now I just need to wait for time to pass and see what kind of production I can get from these. Growing all these shade-tolerant things is still pretty new to me, and it's difficult when every seed packet says that it seems to want a sunny, mild place with well drained fertile soil. So much of my life was lived in the valley (hot dry long sunny summers) that I always think back to tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers in a garden. It seems silly, but it takes a lot of effort for me to remember what things I eat that I could grow in a cooler / shadier environment.
As an aside, moving into a new house is always so interesting. We bought this place from an investment firm who bought it from a bank who had foreclosed on a delinquent owner who was using the garage as a grow house… which means we just don't have any information about the previous owners at all. Everything was "as-is", and we bought it in the middle of the winter. Now that the temperatures are warming up I'm finding all kinds of bulbs and other perennials with top-growth that dies back in the winter popping up all over the front yard. After years of owning land in places I don't live in and renting the places I do live in, it's massively refreshing to be able to build a permanent garden just right out my bedroom door.
This all sounds very exciting. I think you've got a generally good idea and should get to work! That being said, I've found that land has a way of making it's own plans. I doubt whatever you plan now will end up being what you do. That's fine, it's always worth it to think it through.
I'll give you a few anecdotes of my experience with similar efforts…
- Fencing is a hard job. Unless there's a pressing need (livestock, legality), it will most likely get deprioritized. Many rustic-looking fences also serve very little purpose. Barbed wire is the usual go-to cheap-but-usable version, woven wire more often the expensive-but-utilitarian version.
- Where are you going to store tools? Firewood? You'll need utility structures, and ones that can be locked up tight to prevent dirt-biking idiots from screwing around when you're not there.
- It's hard to find people to help. Real easy to find people say they want to help. Be wary and get your agreements in writing.
- Think about moving / processing the trees once you've felled them. Trees suddenly get a lot bigger once they're on the ground.
- You've got a lot of goals. I'd try and focus on a smaller set of them, spend a year, then revisit your plans. Something like: clear the main road for trailers (tiny houses) and make a clearing for a parking spot.
I do not know of a way to have a wetlands and not have mosquitos. In my experience things like mosquito larve eating fish and moving water definitely reduce the number of mosquitos from "way too many" to "too many" but definitely don't stop them. Can you pipe the greywater away from your house to a location where you're unlikely to spend time? I have found mosquitos do not travel very far.
It seems in a lot of the country the story is the same… winter stayed around too long, but spring came in like a freight train. We haven't had a freezing night in weeks, and it seems like we may just squeak out without one (our last frost is typically June 15). We spent the weekend out at the ranch and the weather has been incredible for the past couple of weeks.
One thing I'm most happy to see is my hugel finally covered in green! The fall planting of the cover crop definitely worked well. Seeds were able to take advantage of the snow melt to germinate and get a head start on the dry weather ahead. I've yet to decide if I'll let it go to seed this year or start chopping it down. Depends a lot on whether I can get a fence up and realistically get use out of it. Nevertheless, I planted a bunch of strawberries and rhubarb out along the north side. It's always a struggle to get perennials out to the ranch because most nurseries stop selling them by the time the road has opened up and spring is upon us in the high country. So I'm always looking for ways to keep plants happy for a few months, and I tried these things called deep roottrainers I heard of from Richard Perkins. They worked great — they're super easy to take the plants out carefully and force the roots downward (and thus away from circling themselves). I have a half dozen apple seedlings in another container I'll put out soon.
Speaking of apples… it does seem that most of my trees survived — all but two have leaves coming out now (and those two may just need a few more days). The voles did try and girdle one tree under the snowline but above my hardware cloth, but it doesn't look like they ate too far into it. Now I just need to protect them from the deer, because last year they stripped every last leaf from these poor little trees.
Guess it's time to get to work. I've been making good progress getting the property back in shape and I believe I've gotten everything back to 100% functioning, which means this year can be spent IMPROVING the place instead of fixing broken stuff… what a concept.
Have you ever had success cultivating morels? They're my favorite mushroom! Unfortunately the only source for morels I know of are wildcrafters who harvest them from the forest. Fortunately, we have a (morel) mushroom festival every year…
Congrats! I always hear the defense is the degree and the class time is just the preparation. I'm selfishly excited to have more of your time to dispense your knowledge out to the rest of us.
Trying to keep in line with this thread, do you know whether bacteria or fungi are responsible for breaking down pine needles? Or how to best break them down? I live in an almost completely conifer forest and I've inherited at least 10 yards of Jefferson / Ponderosa needles. I am determined to make use of them as compost and not send them to the refuse company (who thankfully does have separate compost trucks), but I've got at least 9 yards more than I need for mulch.
It really depends on the plant you're trying to propagate. Some are fine just sticking them in the ground. Some will mostly fail if you do this, while working out quite well with a heated root zone. Some are better off propagating softwood cuttings. Since I'm not an expert in all of this, I bought a book to help me along - The Complete Book of Plant Propagation. When I want to propagate something, I look it up and see what works best.
You're correct in your hunch — an individual strawberry plant may only produce for 3-5 year, but any new plants from runners reset that timer. Often people pull the whole "rip up the whole patch and replant" when they keep the strawberries in a contained, linear row under plastic that prevents runners from creating new plants. If you let strawberries do their thing, they'll keep going indefinitely.
Mint and lamb go together exquisitely. Minced lamb, onion, parsley, mint, garlic, and a spicy pepper all blended together make for a great meat mixture. Put it on rice, in a pita, however you wish. I also love mint in rice-noodle based salads and rolls (think vermicelli and spring rolls).
I've been using this saw for about a year, and I thought I'd bump this with some more detailed experience. I suspect this is a near perfect saw for a homeowner and occasional feller for softwoods <12" DBH. No engine to service. No winterization routine. No air filters, spark plugs, or greasy hands. No fuel mixing to compete with. No altitude or carb adjustments. No ear protection needed. Battery charged? Chain sharp? Bar oil filled? You're good to go. It's a massive relief compared to the gas counterparts.
It cuts very differently from gas powered saws, and I think it makes it quite a bit safer. In short, the chain spins much slower but has a much higher torque. You can push it into the wood a lot harder than you can with a similarly powered (small) gas saw. At the same time, this means it won't cut into a tree the same way a gas saw can. You can't perform a plunge cut — there's just not enough chain velocity. It also means the chain seems to get stuck a lot easier. It'll go from full speed to zero at the stop of a dime. At the same time, the chain stops almost immediately after letting go of the trigger.
The biggest downsides I've come into are battery overheating and the plastic dogs (teeth that claw into a tree for leverage). One of the reasons I use a chainsaw is that taking a tree down can be a dangerous experience before it's on the ground. You're purposefully cutting into the tree's support structure and try as you might, you can only guess where the tree will fall. This means I want to reduce the time between my first cut and having the tree on the ground to a minimum. I find the battery has a tendency to overheat if you keep at it for a decently sized tree, and usually right at the point you're 2/3 the way through your back cut. Not my favorite time to take a break. The plastic dogs are a huge bummer. They are basically non-effective.
This is not a saw for bucking or taking down large trees. It's a great saw for branching, taking down the occasional tree, and as a backup / vehicle saw.
This is exactly what Richard Perkins has done for the past few years. He takes bedding from the hens he keeps in a poly tunnel all winter long and spreads it along his tree lanes (fruit trees interplanted with berry bushes) in the spring. I don't have personal experience with it, but I think it's a great idea. You've got the right idea keeping the trunk clear, too.
You can see this in action around 4:30 in this video:
It would be really awesome if we could think of something that already comes bathtub shaped and made of glass--and the battle would be won.
I'm not so sure you would want glass inside a greenhouse. I suspect sooner than later, the temperature flux would warp the glass something fierce and become a shattering / cracking hazard all winter long (sunny days + cold air = extreme heat differences). But I sort of think you answered your own question. A bathtub would be perfect. Many are coated in porcelain or enamel, and I suspect that would work out perfectly.
That being said, I'm not sure volume is really what you're after. You want surface area and low volume to encourage evaporation and reduce thermal mass (and then keep refilling as wayne mentioned). An old school enameled bed pan or baby tub would probably be ideal, although I'm not sure how to even find those.
I'm impressed with the amount of salt you've been able to harvest so far! I would have thought it would take a very long time to get that quantity of salt. I know for how I cook, that'd last me quite some time.
Today I came across this video of a guy driving his backhoe into a pollen-laden tree. The effect is surreal! https://twitter.com/mikeseidel/status/993976662260944897?s=21 I can relate — the first year I spent living in the mountains I ran out to my meadow because I thought a fire was getting started in the forest nearby. Turned out it was just a gust of wind releasing a plume of pollen flowing across the meadow. It's always incredible to me just how much pollen trees seem to generate.
Which reminds me… pollen season is just about upon us…
Gooseberry is very hardy. I would cut off some stems, wrap them in a wet cloth to bring them home. Strip off most their leaves, dip them in rooting hormone, plant them and keep them watered for the summer. I'm betting by next year they'll be doing just fine. Just make sure they're the gooseberries you want! We mostly have Sierra Gooseberry here, which is not the friendliest plant to harvest.
The first thing that comes to my mind is humidity. Redwoods aren't like most trees — they get water from both their root systems and their needles. Is the new location much drier than the old location? Have you tried spraying the tree with water on the needles every day? It looks an awful lot like it got dried out and burned to me. I doubt the damage is permanent, trees are pretty resilient.
Back at home, I've been busy cleaning up the backyard and figuring out where and if I can grow anything. There's one small spot that gets 5-6 hours of direct sunlight, but most of the yard gets a good 2-3 hours of direct sunlight and a mix of filtered sun and shade the rest of the day. I've spent weeks and weeks debating where to try put my growies. My method is kind of simple: walk around with Sun Seeker and try and figure out how many hours of sun I can get between June and October. Then I wake up and question myself all over again. But in all seriousness, I love Sun Seeker — it's helped keep me sane.
With all those weeks of debate, I decided to flip this around and give myself three challenges this year:
1. Learn to grow more shade-tolerant vegetables
2. Try and push the limit for shade-tolerant perennials (and accept more failure)
3. Experiment with row covers / greenhouses / other heat-increasing methods
Since I don't really know how well these methods will work, I'm not investing a lot of money into this. I put together a couple of terraced beds along the downslope of a drainage ditch in a fairly shady area of the yard. Most of the structure was built out of slash from defensible space work. Then I threw some chicken wire around the edges to keep out the bunnies. I've planted a couple of brussels sprouts, red russian kale, arugula, rhubarb, blueberries, and strawberries. If the blueberries work out here, I suspect I'll make it a bit more of a cage to protect from the blue jays.
In the only piece of sunny land I have, I made a bit of a terrace. I think this spot actually gets enough sun during the day, so I've gone a bit longer term. I've got some tomatoes in pots (our last chance of frost is usually around June, so it's good to have them portable until I build a covering), brussels sprouts in the ground, and a cover crop seeded to build up the soil in this area. I still need to fell the smaller tree in this picture, and I hope to eventually build a greenhouse here. This year I will probably try something janky with some scrap wood and some poly covering. If this works out, I'll spend some time designing a greenhouse that can survive the winters we get here.
I have found that many people giving advice on permaculture tend to discount the challenges of working with wildlife. More often than not, I hear something to the tune of "grow a little more than you need so they can have your fill and so can you." I think this strategy works really great for urban and agricultural areas where there is little to no wildlife. A few deer come by maybe 2 or 3 times a year and grab a couple of plants — no biggie. But in all of the rural areas I've lived, dealing with wildlife has always been the biggest challenge to growing food. Bears, deer, voles, rabbits, and blue jays are a constant challenge and I continue to learn how to deal with them effectively. "Growing a little extra" does not really work when a single rabbit can eat hundreds and hundreds of seedlings in a single night.
For your piece of land you will need to work through those challenges. Bears are your challenge today, but another animal may be your challenge tomorrow. Bears are big, scary, and extremely powerful. But they are opportunists. They do not enjoy conflict or even to be seen. They can often be scared away by motion lights, motion-triggered noises, firecrackers, pepper spray, large livestock, and LGDs (as others have mentioned, they will take the opportunity should the LGD not be present). If it's uncomfortable, the bear is likely to pursue a more comfortable route.
Don't be thwarted by a single challenge. There will be many. Things don't often go to plan, but if you're persistent, eventually your plan will adapt to your challenges.
Girdling, mulching, and thinning aren't going to get you much of anywhere on an established Aspen grove. The roots will keep spreading and the suckers will keep popping up. All of the trees share a single root system, so no matter how hard you try, the grove will use energy from its full grown trees and just keep on trucking. You need to pull out the root systems and install an underground barrier (like a concrete wall) to stop aspens from spreading. The only other way of control I know of that works is overshadowing the grove with a faster growing species like lodgepole pine, which would make the plot fairly useless for growing anything else.
When people ask me for advice with aspens, I tell them not to plant them near any kind of structure or land I wish to use. Best of luck!
With the amazing weather we had this weekend, we took a little expedition out to the ranch. We ended up hiking the last 3 miles in due to snow on the road, but everything is melting fast. I suspect after the next two weeks of warm weather, I should be able to make the full drive. This is good, because I'm itching to get to work this year. I've got a lot planned this year, and even made arrangements to spend the entirety of July out there, which should be interesting. It's also nice to see that we are getting better for preparing for winter. This time last year there was about 7ft of snow on the ground (no joke), the spring/water line was broken in a dozen places, the internet satellite (only means of communication) was trashed, two structures collapsed, and none of the vehicles would start. This year things are going much better. We spent a few hours on Saturday getting all the vehicles out of their hibernation sheds (with some help from the snowcat) and verified pretty much everything is in working order. The water line isn't busted, but also isn't flowing — a much smaller task now that I know where the spring box is that feeds it (last year required 250+ft of manual trenching).
Spring is almost here, but not quiet yet. The meadow spiders are alive, the birds are singing, the crowns of corn lilies are just staring to peek out of the streams, the tulips and daffodils have pushed through the snow, but most things are still dormant and deep in slumber. I expect that to change real quick now that the temperatures have warmed up. I've come to see that due to the deep snowpack, spring comes fast in the mountains. As soon as the insulating layer of snow is melted, the soil warms up in a day or two in the warm sun and everything starts growing all at once.
Is it true that you cannot add new batteries to an existing bank?
Battery banks work best when they are made up of the same batteries. That means same amp-hour ratings and same charging profiles. As batteries age, their charging-profiles and true-amp-hour capacities change. The math here is fuzzy and complicated but the end result is that older batteries will wear out newer batteries at a faster rate than usual. One bad battery can drag down a whole bank if you aren't careful.
That being said, so long as the same batteries are added, I see no reason why he couldn't extend his system so long as the panels can recharge the bank regularly.