I have used tillage radish as a garden cover crop for the last several years (CT zone 6). I typically plant in early September so the radishes can put on good fall growth before winterkilling. They need pretty good soil fertility and moisture to grow. Also, I found that fairly light seeding rates work best to provide adequate growing space. I have experimented with planting radish in a mixture with oats and crimson clover but found the radish tended to dominate the other cover crops, so now I plant them in exclusive stands. They do reliably winter kill in my climate and pretty much rot away by early spring, leaving nice holes in the ground. The downside is the occasional rotten radish odor, and my dog loves to dig them up and eat them! Experiment and have fun!
I would like to weigh in on your post. I have worked in the environmental remediation field for over a decade and I hold a license as an environmental professional, so I have considerable applied knowledge in this field. Based on the information you provided, you must consider the real possibility of petroleum contaminated groundwater at your site. Petroleum in groundwater will very slowly degrade over time IF the source material has been removed. You mentioned cleaning up trash consisting of oil bottles and gas cans. Did you see oily soil when you cleaned the trash? Contaminated soil can serve as a pollutant source to groundwater for decades if the soil is not cleaned up. Unfortunately, if you do have a petroleum groundwater plume, I doubt that surface greywater installations will have much of an effect on cleaning deeper groundwater for several reasons: 1) mycelia probably won't extend into deeper, saturated soils where the groundwater plume resides, 2) the greywater installations (if effective at remediating petroleum) probably don't encompass enough area to address the underlying plume, and 3) your subsurface conditions may or may not support adequate biota to make any difference (oxygen, nutrients, etc).
Do you have any historical knowledge of your property that could shine some light on the potential for contamination? Any pre-cleanup photos you can share? Is it near urban or industrial areas? Do you plan on utilizing the groundwater for drinking water? My concern is that the contamination is beyond the scale of home remedy. Gasoline poses a special risk in that the benzene component is highly toxic to children at low concentrations in drinking water. I don't mean to sound alarmist but I have repeatedly seen on this forum the idea that applying untested permaculture remedies (peeing on stuff, throwing down biochar, etc) can address industrial contamination issues that can pose real human health risks.
If you're looking to meet caloric needs from a garden, then perhaps grains are the way to go. I'm assuming that you're talking about annual garden crops and not long-term perennials such as nut trees. Let's look at some data that I've pulled from John Jeavons' How To Grow More Vegetables:
Dry Corn (seed only - cob removed) Average U.S. yield per 100 square feet: 18.2 lbs
Average protein per lb: 40.4 grams
Calories per lb: 1,656
Wheat, red winter Average U.S. yield per 100 square feet: 6.4 lbs
Average protein per lb: 55.8 grams
Calories per lb: 1,483
Irish Potatoes Average U.S. yield per 100 square feet: 84.2 lbs
Average protein per lb: 7.7 grams
Calories per lb: 349
Winter Squash Average U.S. yield per 100 square feet: 100 lbs
Average protein per lb: 5.2 grams
Calories per lb: 152
OK, let's normalize the protein and calorie data per 100 square feet of each crop for a direct comparison:
Dry Corn: 735 g. protein, 30,139 cal
Wheat: 357 g. protein, 9,491 cal
Potatoes: 648 g. protein, 29,389 cal
Squash: 520 g. protein, 15,200 cal
So, grain corn and potatoes are both efficient crops to produce large amounts of protein and calories. But let's consider other factors. You mentioned that you want to grow drought tolerant crops. Arguably, corn is more of a drought tolerant plant, especially if you grow the flour corn varieties developed by the indigenous peoples in the American Southwest. If we look at the two crops from permaculture perspective, both are annuals but I think corn can be grown with far less damage to the soil. Common potato growing techniques require trenching, furrowing, and eventual excavation to retrieve the tubers. Corn can be no-till seeded directly into a killed cover crop (winter killed or crimped), can be undersown with a low-growing cover crop such as clover during the growing season, and the dried stalks can be left in place over the winter to provide cover for birds and prevent soil erosion. Plus, corn produces copious amounts of lignified carbon that is a wonderful addition to the compost heap. From a storage perspective, dried corn can be kept for years in just about any dry environment free of rodents, whereas potatoes require cold and damp conditions (i.e. a root cellar) and can at best be stored for 6 months. Squash (including pumpkins) are a bit easier to store than potatoes but aren't terribly space efficient with regards to calories and protein.
All this said, grains and tubers have sustained mankind for eons, so any gardener interested in meeting their caloric needs might want to explore growing all of them. Your own dietary preferences should be considered...grow what you like to eat!!!
There should be no problem doing that. I'm considering doing the same thing this fall. Multi-species cover crop mixes are becoming very popular. Some farmers are planting mixes with 10 to 20 species to provide a variety of ecological functions such as carbon generation, nitrogen fixation, pest suppression, subsoil tillage, erosion control, pollinator interest, and nutrient accumulation, to name a few. Google "Gabe Brown", he is one of the leading multi-cover crop dudes.
The term you are looking for is "phenology", defined by Wikipedia as the "study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors (such as elevation)."
I began using planting signs this gardening season with good success. Some signs I use here in central Connecticut (Zone 6) include:
plant peas when the daffodils bloom or spring peepers sing
plant spring veggies when dandelions are in bloom or the lilacs have leafed out
plant bush beans and summer squash when the lilac flowers have faded
transplant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant when the bearded iris is in bloom.
I did transplant kale, cabbage, and chard according to a calendar date based on X number of weeks before the last frost date. The plants were severely set back by a hard, lingering winter here in New England. The "rescue" transplants that I set out when the dandelions bloomed did just fine. Lesson learned! This stuff is for real, because the native vegetation are far more tuned into soil temperatures and day length than are we, the gardeners.
Gypsum will boost calcium and sulfur levels but will not appreciably change pH (acidity). Limestone, on the other hand, will boost calcium and reduce acidity. A deep sandy soil generally lacks the storage capacity for minerals. This can be improved through the repeated application of organic matter such as manure or compost, or by using cover crops. The organic content of the soil is critical to retain nutrients, otherwise any minerals you add will quickly leach out.
There are several options and price levels for water depth measurement. The cheapest and lowest-tech (but reasonably accurate, within 6-inches or less with practice) method is to construct a “plopper”. You will need a 100-foot fiberglass measuring tape on a reel (available at Home Depot or Lowes). Then, you attach a 1.5-inch diameter bell reducer fitting with a plug in the narrow end (available at any hardware store) to the end of the tape. To measure the water level, you simply drop the bell/tape down the well until you hear a “plop” when the bell hits the water (the tape will also go slack for a split second). Then, you measure the depth on the tape against a reference point on the well head. Repeat a few times and take the average. I can sketch this for you if you can’t visualize the setup. This whole deal will cost you less than $50, depending on the quality of the tape measure.
Another option is an electric water level indicator, typically accurate to 0.01 feet. New units run around $500.
For continuous monitoring, you could install a water level transducer in the well. These cost over $1,000 and require the use of a handheld datalogger to retrieve the information. The dataloggers also costs thousands. This probably isn’t the best option for a homeowner.
I have used all of these technologies to measure well levels in my profession as an environmental geologist. My line of work involves investigating and cleaning up industrial contamination in groundwater, so I have a great deal of experience with wells and aquifers.
Just to clarify some of the hydrogeological terms brought up in this thread…your well by definition draws from an aquifer. An aquifer, in most cases, is not an underground lake or river but is the water saturated pore-spaces or fractures in soil or bedrock. Aquifers are generally replenished by surface water that infiltrates through the soil and bedrock. In many cases, groundwater (or aquifer water) is superior to surface water as a drinking source because the many feet of soil and rock filter the water on its journey downward into the aquifer. Groundwater generally does not require filtration, whereas one would be foolhardy to drink untreated surface water. Groundwater is, however, susceptible to contamination resulting from industrial operations.
Have you checked out hydraulic tillers? They are quite powerful and there are no concerns about gears or belts wearing out since they are hydraulicaly-operated. The tines rotate forward and backward by adjusting the hydraulic control lever. It is my understanding that these tillers are generally manufactured for the rental market, which means they are constructed to take abuse. The downside is the steep purchase price. Barreto Manufacturing offers several models. http://www.barretomfg.com/eq-tiller.php. My local hardware store carries a few of these tillers and I'm planning to rent one this spring, so hopefully I can report back.
I've traditionally made blocks using coarse sand instead of vermiculite. This is the first year I've used vermiculite in accordance with Eliot Coleman's recipe, and I have to say that it makes better blocks...lighter texture and they come out of the mold better with less deformation. There are no hard rules...experiment and have fun!
Just curious...how thick is your soil, or in other words, how deep to bedrock? My initial thought is the prevalence of basalt chunks means your topsoil is thin and the bedrock surface is not too far below. This could pose a challenge with regards to water retention in ponds or otherwise, because basalt bedrock is often highly fractured and those fractures drain water away. The prevalence of pines is also interesting. Pines typically thrive in dry, well drained soils. Have you completed any ponds yet? What are the retention characteristics? What I'm getting at is that the duff may not be the limiting factor, but the site geology.
Also, that duff probably serves as natural erosion control. You might find your swales filled with a whole lotta silt if you scraped the duff.
I grow a 400 square foot garden on a 0.2-acre suburban lot in central Connecticut (zone 6). I estimate that the garden supplies less than 5% of my overall annual food needs (family of 3). I m judging this based on weekly grocery expenditures, which drop moderately during the summer garden months. The big challenge with meeting more of my food needs from the garden is the production and storage of carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, winter squash, and the root crops. Calorically, these crops are the bulk of a diet but take up the most room in the garden per unit of production, and the storage logistics are daunting. Also, these foods are generally inexpensive at the grocery store.
During the summer months, I can almost completely meet my needs for the common garden veggies like lettuce, braising greens, tomatoes, cukes, and summer squash. This is great because these items are the most nutrient dense (as opposed to calorically dense) and are costly in the supermarket.
I estimate that I could meet 15% or more of my food needs by expanding the garden, using season extension such as low hoops, and developing storage solutions for durable crops.
Josh, your plan sounds great! I love northern New England and spend a lot of time there, so I understand your motivations to move there. I am not familiar with the Free State Project but I'll check it out. Good luck!
I've looked at a bunch of properties but haven't moved on any of them yet. I'm constantly reevaluating my "mission" so to speak. While owning a farm/homestead is still very much a dream of mine (and I continue to save money for that purpose), I am hesitant to uproot my family to chase that dream without real farming experience. I've fallen back on the concept of "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" for the time being. In that vein, I have expanded my suburban vegetable garden to the point where I am offering CSA shares to a few participants. The hope here is to build farming experience, learn how to make money off the land, and see if this thing really captures my interest to the point where I'd want to make a living from it. Who knows...maybe my hyperlocal Connecticut CSA will blossom and I won’t have to leave my hometown to pursue my dream.
I'd recommend some research if you want to move to northern New England. As with any rural vs. urban situation, some areas are more receptive than others to the natural foods movement. To paint a broad (somewhat stereotypical) picture of the region, many citizens in the rural areas tend to be white, conservative, blue collar folks that frequently face economic struggles and may not have formal education past high school. High paying jobs are scarce. Cities and tourist hotspots embrace the natural food scene but that's because a more gentrified economic situation exists. So yes, northern NE is quite similar to PA in these respects.
Just out of curiosity, what draws you to northern NE as opposed to farming in PA?
This thread is old but I'll post anyway. Creosote treated timbers contain a class of chemicals known as semi volatile organic compounds, specifically, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). They are groups of multiple benzene rings that are known to be carcinogenic. PAHs generally have low solubility and therefore may not leach away as readily as described by a previous poster. However, a few ties in your backyard probably isn't a big deal...unlike the contaminated industrial sites that I clean up in my profession. If you are truly worried, find a local environmental laboratory to analyze a soil sample for PAHs using EPA method 8270, and have the lab compare the results to your state's cleanup standards. Anything else is just a guess.
I doubt that a small amount of coal ash would have any significant effects on the garlic. Case in point...here in New England, factories produced coal ash for 150 years or more and used it as fill material in urban areas. The trees and grass grow just fine. That said, I wouldn't use urban fill as garden soil because of the presence of heavy metals (which can include mercury and cadmium), but it sounds like you're talking about a small amount of ash from a few fires in a heater. If you're really concerned, find a local environmental laboratory to analyze a soil sample for heavy metals, and ask if your government has environmental clean-up criteria for contaminated soil against which you can compare the results. For example, in Connecticut where I live, the state has determined that concentrations of mercury in soil at greater than 10 parts per million can pose a risk via direct exposure (i.e. dermal contact or ingestion). I do contaminated site cleanup as a profession so I have quite a bit of background with this topic. On another note, and not to discredit any of the other posters on this thread, but applying urine to stabilize metals is a dubious technique at best.
My garden this year is 400 square feet. My soil is a silty sand with trace amounts of clay. It's really been a nice soil to work with. I just tilled another 560 square feet of my lawn to be part of next year's garden. I don't know if I'm going to remineralize a la Solomon or just add lime, greensand, and rock phosphate, plant cover crops (rye and vetch) and call it a day.
Gani, very interesting about the drop in TCEC with the addition of biochar. I hope biochar doesn't work against me...my TCEC was only 6.10 at the beginning of this year. CT has those "weathered eastern soils" that Soloman talks about.
I love reading garden books, especially ones that seem rooted in science. My background is science...I have degrees in biology and environmental geoscience. Even with a science and chemistry background, it is difficult to determine if ideas such as biochar and remineralization are scientifically valid or garden-hippie pseudo-science. I'm hoping for the former, and I'm trying them both out in my garden. I would like to see more result of rigorous field trials. Acres USA published a remineralization study on a pasture in Maine in the most recent edition...results were slightly favorable if not inconclusive. A step in the right direction, though!
To the original poster, your comparison of Solomon and Savory is interesting...Savory is lobbying that controlled grazing with cattle is the key to revegetation of the deserts and controlling climate change (Google his now famous TED Talk). On the other hand, Solomon argues (in The Intelligent Gardener, I believe) that soil improvement through controlled grazing is a myth. This is a topic where Soloman may be out of his league. His knowledge of gardening and basic soil chemistry is very strong, but his opinions on grazing do not appear to be in line with other sources I've read. Of course, some of those other sources include Joel Salatin, who is trying to sell books on rotational grazing. And Solomon is trying to sell books on gardening. Both Solomon and Salatin, however, do seem to possess altruistic motives to improve the world through better agriculture. But from my standpoint, where is that fuzzy line between science and marketing?
I've read Solomon's The Intelligent Gardener and found it to be generally scientifically valid, at least as far as the basic topic of cation exchange. His formulas for mineral additions are strongly based on Albrecht's theories, and are also in-line with Michael Astera's recommendations. For an excellent overview of soil remineralization, check out Astera's article at http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010178.better.than.organic.pdf.
I implemented Soloman's concept in my garden this year, beginning with a soil test from Logan Labs. I worked through the formulas for each nutrient and came up with a prescription for my soils. Some materials such as lime were available at my local garden center. I ordered other materials, such as copper sulfate and zinc sulfate, from Alpha Chemicals http://alphachemicals.com/home. I tilled them into garden this spring. I can't really say I noticed any difference in plant growth as compared to previous years; however, we had a trying spring/early summer here in central CT. The season started with an extended cold, dry spring, then a mid-spring heat wave, followed by intense heat waves in July. August (so far) has seen seasonal temperatures and excellent growth. I have noticed that some of the veggies have been especially tasty, including the broccoli and tomatoes. I don't know this is the result of the additional of minerals or the plant varieties. It is difficult to put my finger on whether the performance of the plants is the result of re-mineralization or other factors such as weather or variety.
My big issue with the Soloman method is that the refined mineral salts he recommends, such as copper sulfate, are soluble in water. A tablespoon of copper sulfate will dissolve in a glass of water just like regular table salt. So, if I were to apply copper sulfate powder to my soil and then some big rains came through, the material would, worst case, leach right out of the root zone of the soil. Soloman would argue that the cation exchange capacity of the soil would trap the copper sulfate and prevent leaching. In fact, Soloman's prescriptions are such that you only add the quantity of minerals that can be trapped by your soil. I hope it works! Another approach, such as that espoused by Eliot Coleman, is to add rock dusts (finely ground rock, as opposed to refined salts) that are insoluble in water but release their minerals through biological processes. The theory here is that rock powders will slowly break down over time, providing a long-lasting source of minerals. The Soloman method seems more short term.
The trick with the Coleman method is finding natural rock powders that contain minerals in the right proportions needed by your soil. For example, greensand (recommended by Coleman) contains a lot of potassium and micronutrients (good) but also has a high percentage of magnesium. My soil test says my soil is already too high in magnesium, so adding greensand would throw the soil out of whack with regards to the very important calcium:magnesium ratio. With the Soloman method, you can tailor your mineral additions so you get just the right amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, sulfur, mangesium, manganese, copper, zinc, boron, and sodium.
My plan for next year is to add biochar and bentonite clay to my compost pile to drastically increase the cation exchange capacity. I will then add the minerals to the compost, let it sit for a while, then add the whole mix to the garden. I hope this approach will minimize leaching of the relatively expensive mineral powers and provide the greatest benefit to my plants.
Phish's Rift...the theme of the album is a series of dreams experienced by a man over the course of the night; the subject of the dreams is the rift (get it?) with his lover. Each song represents a different stage of thought/dream/time. One of my all-time favorites...!
Well, my father is definitely of the "I want a blank lawn" persuasion so the hugels probably won't fly. He's just getting into gardening with a couple 4x8 raised beds...baby steps! Which brings me to the questions regarding the cultural practices surrounding our dear injured tomato plant. He was watering daily mid-day, so I strongly suspect sunscald. Although he hasn't admitted to using soluble fertilizer, I wouldn't doubt if some MiracleGro found it's way onto the plant. It seems to be his fallback approach..."hmm, the tomato isn't looking so good, I should probably put some MiracleGro on it". Then he comes to my house and marvels how my garden looks so good without using MiracleGro. I use compost, seedmeal, and rock powders in the Albrecht method...but try explaining nutrient balancing to a Scotts afficionado! As I said, baby steps! Thanks for the great responses, all!
Now the question is how to eradicate the fase hellebore? There are too many dogs and grandchildren running around the yard to have such a highly toxic plant present. The CT Horticultural Society's response is to apply 2,4-D. Thanks, but no thanks. Can't really do a kill mulch since they are spread throughout the yard. Hmmm.....
I am looking for 5-20ish acres of land in Vermont (Northeast Kingdom or surrounding counties) or New Hampshire (Grafton, Coos, or Carroll counties). If anyone has land for sale or knows anyone with land for sale, please let me know. I'm interested in purchasing direct from a landowner to avoid realtor's fees...cash deal. My plans are to establish a homestead with income opportunities from my wife's work-at-home graphic design business, plus income from the land (market garden, possibly poultry and eggs). Access to electricity and internet are needed since the design business will be the sole source of income until the garden comes online. A location relatively near a population center (example: within 30 minutes of St. Johnsbury) is preferred for business opportunities.