Sign up there, and I'll keep you posted about this project, and my other permaculture grain projects (mostly perennial wheat, rye, and oats). I raaaaaarely send updates, but should at least once every six months hopefully.
I've got sticks / limbs / logs from a cherry tree that came down recently, and I need to build a new duck house. I figure people here might have done stuff like that before? I'm envisioning something kind of like a square wattle fence pen, with a roof.
Our coldest winters get to about 15F, so temperature isn't a huge concern. It should be predator proof, though. I'm not sure how I could prevent rats and etc from chewing through the walls, or if that would simply not be an issue. Thanks for any thoughts!
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Around here, dandelions grow tall in moist shady places, and hug the ground in sunny dry places. My fields are all in full sunlight.
That makes sense. My garden is not in full sun, and is fairly moist. This year the field I'll be using should have a lot more sun, and probably less moisture, so I'll give them a shot in some of the beds. Thanks!
Shane Kaser wrote:I keep a shaker of collected seed that I sprinkle on every bare patch of dirt.
I love that idea so much! I am totally going to start doing that.
Shane Kaser wrote:I know you said it's not all about the nitrogen-fixer, but really it should be the foundation of any ground-cover in disturbed sites (annual vegetable beds). I know you said White Clover is too aggressive for you, but you really have to give it a chance. It is everything you wanted in your list of worthy attributes. Much less aggressive than mint, but still resilient. I haven't had much trouble with it overtaking my plants, but I'm also wandering around with a hoe and clippers most evenings of the growing season...
I guess I really should experiment with it in at least a few beds. But to make a living from growing vegetables, I have to be able to maintain a large area with fairly little work. As much as possible, I have to optimize away from needing to go around with a hoe and clippers. The goal is to arrive at a place where I mostly just plant and harvest. There are people doing that already, but they use tilthers, weed cover, and other stuff like that which I am trying to avoid.
Shane Kaser wrote:And I don't expect too much from any given foot of bed; they should actually be categorized somewhere between vegetable and herb beds... Herbs are much more at home in this kind of situation, so don't be shy with kitchen herbs; they are the best bang for your DIY-buck compared to supermarket prices.
...hrm, if the things I was clipping were saleable products, that might do the trick. That'd be stacking "weeding" (or control of overbearing plants) with harvest, which has to happen anyway. That's something to think about.
Shane Kaser wrote: Sometimes, for a little extra care, I cut a slot to a hole in the center of a piece of cardboard (1-2' square), and slide that onto the crown of a plant - pretty quick and easy root-zone weed-barrier mulch. To get big, juicy vegetables takes a more active disturbance regime of soil amending and irrigation. But the ones that had to fight the ground-cover and search deeply for water, they may be smaller and blemished, but I wager they carry at least as much (and probably much more) flavor/nutrition as the equivalent big-juicy (water-filled) specimens.
I'll be dry farming as much as I can (maybe entirely), and will be getting most of my crops established in the wet season here, with plenty of time to get big roots deep in time for the dry summer. And that's another reason to have super short cover plants - the more leaf surface above ground, the more water they will suck out of the soil. If I can have super short, super water thrifty ground cover plants they might not take too much water. I think you are right that vegetables stressed for water can carry a lot of nutrition, almost certainly more in terms of nutrients per weight, and possibly equal in terms of square feet that went into the production.
It does get a bit complicated because if they are water stressed, they will not be bloated with water, but at the same time the soil food web and their capacity to access nutrients in the soil can be reduced. I think the sweet spot is for the plants to have ready access to soil that is moist enough to be alive, but *not* filled with excess moisture to bulk up with.
Thank you for the strawberry recommendations, Hans! And I would love to try some New Zealand spinach, thank you for offering! I'll send you a PM.
Joseph, I might try that, but I wonder if we have different dandelions (or if our different climates make the dandelions behave differently). Where I'm at, when I grow dandelions in my garden they get about a foot tall - and that is without irrigation!
Sue Ba wrote:plus the chocolate mint spread into the pineapple beds and established itself there.
That sounds like an incredibly delicious arrangement. And I hope that someday I'm producing 90% of our own food.
Thank you for elaborating. Root space sounds like a likely candidate indeed. I expect that in my climate, with very dry summers, water will be the most limiting factor given that I'm trying to dry farm as much as I can. I think your lesson with the pineapple and the chocolate mint is very instructive - the key will be to find which plants get along together, and which don't. Lots of experimenting to do!
Simone: I did mail the seeds to you, then they came back because the envelope was (supposedly) too thick. I mailed them again, but there was a bit of a delay before I did. I recently mailed a parcel to Canada, and they said it should take about 10 days - I mailed the seeds again 5 days ago, so I'd expect you to get yours within a week! FIngers crossed.
Landon Sunrich wrote:On a total of about 30 acres we where farming 3/4 of the land without irrigation. This included all of our potatoes, onions, and head lettuce.
Both of these sites had natural subsoil irrigation. I would be happy to comment more and I could probably answer further questions if you have any for me.
Hi Landon, I hope you are well, and still around! I'd love to hear more about dry farming lettuce and onions, specifically. I'm in Western Washington, and have never heard of anyone dry farming lettuce!
And I'd also love to learn more about your natural subsoil irrigation, and how densely you planted your crops to take advantage of it without stressing it too much. Thanks for anything you can share!
Su Ba wrote:Personally I haven't seen that my annual veggies will thrive in close competition, be it with themselves, weeds, or any other plants. The more competition, the worse they produce.
Thanks Su, I certainly will keep you posted! I'm curious - were there any plantings you tried on purpose that competed with the vegetables? And could you tell what the competition was for - light, nutrients, water, space for roots, allelopathic effects? I'd love to hear more about your experiences.
Sally Munoz wrote:Last year, I scraped a patch out and planted cress and cauliflower just to see how it would do and they both grew fine. Strawberries don't have a tap root so are super easy to pull out and just plunk down somewhere else or add to the mulch.They spread like crazy here in zone 7. I didn't mean for them to be a living mulch but in that area of the garden, that's what they've become and they are doing a great job. In another area, I water the strawberries a little and keep them a little more under control and they get a lot taller and are way more productive, but the ones that are more of a ground cover stay shorter (maybe because they are so crowded?) and don't produce a huge amount, which is fine because they are doing a different service in that area.
Ooh, now this is interesting. I had not thought about the height difference that could be expected between dry farmed and irrigated beds. Maybe white clover, strawberries, and other plants that I had been omitting as too tall for the current experiment would be fine if they were grown without supplementary water. Huh. That is something to fiddle with down the road.
One of the things that is so fascinating about this is that there are so many moving pieces - climate, management style, irrigation style, species and varieties of groundcovers, species and varieties of crops. It feels like there must be a lot of ways to fail on the way to figuring out the kinds of combinations that can work. I'm hoping that the sweet spot is pretty broad and easy to hit, though.
As the title says. I'm planning out some experimentation for this growing season involving very short, perennial ground covers in my annual beds. I'd like to be able to have a constant, living mulch growing among my carrots, onions, garlic, lettuce, and friends. I would love any feedback or suggestions you all might have!
Here's the core of the post, you can read the whole thing if you want the list of plants I came up with:
We will be experimenting with permanent ground covers in our vegetable beds – specifically planting and allowing perennial plants interspersed with our vegetable crops. The purpose of this is to keep essentially a living mulch to help conserve water, suppress weeds, and to keep the ground covered with leaves engaging in photosynthesis. This will ensure that the life in the soil is being continually fed by root exudates.
I’ll be writing a post later about the biology of the soil that will give much more context to this. 🙂
One important note is that I’m not leaning on these crops to fix nitrogen, a role commonly given to cover crops, although they will certainly help to make nutrients available to the plant by maintaining a vibrant soil food web.
I want to see what it is like to disturb the soil as little as physically possible: sowing or transplanting into fully intact ground covers. No strip tilling, no mowing even. For this reason, they need to be short. I’d love to include dutch clover as a nitrogen fixer, but in most of the annual beds it simply grows too tall. Doing this with crops grown as annuals (like spinach, broccoli, or carrots) is pretty far out. I don’t know how well it will work – this is most definitely experimental.
I made a list of plants starting from Elaine Ingham’s list of perennial cover plants, then finding ones that seemed like they were a good fit for my climate and market farm context. I was looking for plants that:
- Are tolerant of foot traffic
- Are easy and inexpensive to establish but not too aggressive
- Are pretty short, because I’ll be growing these among annuals
- Are not woody, so that if I need to, I can cut or rake them away from the soil easily, and seeding / transplanting tools don’t get gummed up.
- Tolerate wet / moist areas. We get a lot of winter rain, and I will likely be irrigating at least some in the summer – this needs to not kill the plants.
- Tolerate dryness / drought. This is a little at odds with the previous point, but I’m looking for a mix of plants. We have dry summers, and I want to be able to get away with as little irrigation as I can to grow the crops.
- Dense growth habit. I’m looking for plants that will grow densely and cover the soil to protect it from rain compaction, evaporation, and excessive weed seed germination.
I'm going to be trying Chaya and Moringa this year, and am in the PNW. I'd appreciate if anybody has experiences to share! And I'll report back next year in any case with a report of how it worked for me...
That is Tom Wagner's site, he is maybe the most illustrious of the independent potato breeders. I'm not sure how actively the site is maintained now. In any case, there is a very vibrant community of potato breeders on the Kenosha Potato Project Facebook group, and a ton of information about True Potato Seed. Tom Wagner is a member of that group, too.
I'm sorry I never replied! I must have missed the email notification. My food forest project is mostly on hold for the moment (aside of planting a few fruit trees) because I'm in the thick of setting up shop as a market gardener, and trying to get the pieces into place for this growing season. If we get more people who express interest here over the next six months of so, maybe we could put together an order in the fall.
And in the meantime, when I come across a wild edible that would be good for food forest diversity, I'm collecting some seed. If you do the same, we can probably significantly boost the diversity we can get for our dollar.
It looks like in Washington, the DNR just sells conifer seedlings, with a minimum order of 100. Haha, there are enough conifers where I'm at already. It sounds like in some areas that could be a great resource, though!
I've been looking into raising insects for feed - for animals or humans. And I stumbled across a method of harvesting fairly large quantities of worms fairly quickly. It is called worm grunting / worm charming / worm fiddling, and apparently has been done in the southeast of the United States, and in the UK. The basic premise is to make sounds in the ground which sound like moles digging, triggering the worms within a radius of multiple meters to flee the soil and come to the surface. They can then be picked up en masse. Traditionally done in the forest, the best gathering areas are where there has recently been a burn, so the ground is clear and the worms are easy to find.
In some of the areas where this is/was practiced in the US, the purpose was getting worms for fishing bait. Due to overharvesting, it was eventually regulated, and nowadays very few people do it commercially because it is a tough way to make a living.
Here's what I'm thinking. Earthworms (like many insects) can provide an extremely nutritionally dense form of animal protein. In a permaculture setting, the ground should be teeming with earthworms. In the same way that cattle can be used regeneratively, even though some are harvested, couldn't we use earthworms as regenerative soil workers and periodically harvest some of them? One could dig up some soil, estimate the number of earthworms, and based on the lifecycle length do some calculations about what a sustainable harvest rate would be. I bet it is pretty high.
The professionals use a stake pounded more than a foot into the ground, and rub the top with a metal bar. But if you want to do this just with things growing in your garden or woodlot, here's a very simple way to whittle a stick tool to scare out the earthworms:
Here is a guy using a commercial version of the stick tool, with some tips. He says it is a lot like fishing, in terms of getting a sense of when, where, and how to get the worms.
After some more research, there may be more appropriate ways to get oil on a homestead scale than building a press. There are a couple processes that can get decent quantities of oil with just regular kitchen supplies, no high pressure or fancy machines needed.
The first, and apparently most common in traditional indigenous cultures, was to pound or grind the oilseeds, then boil for 30-40 minutes. This would cause the oil to float to the top of the water, after which it was skimmed off, and heated a while longer to ensure that there was no water remaining in it. I'd rather have my oil processed cool, though.
The second method is to grind the oilseeds, add about 10% water, then kneed them by hand. After a while, the mixture darkens and an emulsion starts to seep out of the mixture, at which point it can be squeezed by hand. For homestead production, I'd imagine kneeding in a bucket, and then wrapping the meal in muslin and twisting to tighten it and squeeze out the oil. Or use some a potato ricer with muslin, or just dump in warm water and let the oil rise to the surface for skimming.
In Ghana, groundnuts are processed in this way, and the resulting meal is fried in oil and eaten as a popular snack. I really, really like the idea of maintaining the resulting meal cake as an edible, even delicious human food! More info at this link: Small Scale Vegetable Oil Extraction, Chapter 4, Groundnuts.
Here are a couple videos of the kneeding method:
I suspect that if the second method was used, it would also be necessary to dry the oil with heat if it wasn't going to be used immediately.
Back in the 80s, Carl Bielenberg designed an appropriate-tech oilpress for deployment in Africa:
It can produce about 3 liters of oil an hour, from 10kg of an oilseed crop. The oil extraction efficiency is not as high as an industrial press, but it looks inexpensive to construct. It also ought to be a lot less work to process homestead-scale oil with than a hand-cranked unit of some kind. There is a lengthy transcript of a conference or meeting discussion this press available here: http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNABT869.pdf. I've also attached a copy of the pdf in case that page goes dead.
John, I'm so glad to hear you are surrounded by people who love you. I've learned a great deal here, and am so thankful for all the knowledge you have shared, and all the work you have done to make this such a positive and useful corner of the internet. You are in our prayers!
Thank you for sharing this! And this isn't just good for presents, it looks like the original use was for packaging things up generally. A flat square of fabric is easier to make than a bag, and in some ways more adaptable.
I'd like to hear more of what you think about healthcare, Hans. Have you written anything else since this that you can point me to? If not you'll have me as an audience if you want to write something here. : )
If I were serious about storing tomatoes for winter use, either in ashes, or on the counter-top, I could make the process much more effective by doing a couple of year's worth of selection for long-keeping traits.
That is certainly the best approach. Why fiddle around with other stuff if you can convince the plant to make the problem just go away? The ash treatment seems like potentially a good shortcut, though. And if you used it with a storage variety, I wonder just how long you could get a tomato to last...
Then one day, he noticed that the tomatoes he had kept next to his banana trees were not rotten. Then he noticed the ash at the foot of the banana trees.
He decided to try keeping his tomatoes in ash and found that this was more effective than any of the other techniques he had tried.
He uses ash from a chimney, and sifts it three or four times to remove large residues, debris, and other foreign materials. Then, he dumps the ash into a paper carton and places the tomatoes in the carton. With this technique, Mr. Nduwimana manages to safely store his tomatoes for many months.
He explains: “I keep my tomatoes in the ash for a period of five to six months, so I can sell them in December, January, or February when the price has risen—since tomatoes are rare and become expensive during this period.“
I'm really curious to try this myself - I'll probably buy a few tomatoes, keep a couple out and pack a couple in ash and see how they do. And maybe some other produce, too. Depending on how the ash preserves the tomatoes, there may be other applications. I wonder if it somehow hardens the skin, or manages the humidity levels, or kills decay agents, or what...
I've just run into a few claims that you can take tomatoes that would go bad within a few days, and store them for months packed in wood ash. I saw it in an article about a farmer somewhere who had revolutionized his life by being able to extend the sales of his crop, but I can't find that now. I did find another page, though, that discusses it:
Ken Hargesheimer sent us a copy of the "From Garden to Kitchen" newsletter published by UNICEF. It provides a way for Pacific Island populations to share gardening and nutrition information suited to the local region. If you are in the Pacific Islands, you are eligible to receive this newsletter (no fee). Write South Pacific Commission Community Education Training Centre, c/o UNDP, Private Mail Bag, Suva, FIJI; phone 300439; fax (679) 301667. The following is from issue #10.
Farmers know all too well the problem of large quantities of tomatoes (and low prices) during season, followed by short supply and higher prices. The Bureau of Education in the Philippines says you can extend the season in which tomatoes are available. Fresh tomatoes can be preserved in wood ash for up to three months.
Preserve only newly picked tomatoes which are ripe but not soft and overripe. They must be free of bruises and blemishes. Select a wooden or cardboard box or woven basket and line it with paper. Gather cool ash from the cooking fire and sift to remove sharp particles. Spread the ash evenly on the bottom, 1.5 inches (4 cm) thick. Arrange the tomatoes upside down (stem end facing down) in one layer and pour another thin layer of ash on top. Continue layering tomatoes and ash until the container is full. Cover and seal the container and keep in a cool dry place. [The article does not say how to cover and seal. My best guess is to cover with ash then a loose-fitting cover to keep the ash from being disturbed.] The skin will wrinkle but the pulp inside will remain juicy.
I'm sending packets to a few independent seed companies, and the national small grains collection (made available via ARS GRIN for research and breeding). In the next year or two hopefully some of them will grow it out and also start to offer it.
My word, they have to grow it first? That is involved. Hopefully common sense does prevail, even if it takes a while.
Can you confirm with them how many seeds they'll need to consume in their testing? I'd want to make sure to send enough so that they wouldn't use them all up before approving them...
From my end, it looks like getting the phytosanitary certificate would be $61 USD. If you want to go through with that, I'll message you my paypal info. The seeds would be xrayed, and they "can't guarantee they won't be harmed", but I figure it's okay because if seeds were destroyed in the process of granting a phytosanitary certificate it would kind of be pointless.
Hey, if you manage to get through all the rigamarole, you'll get the privilege of introducing this to a new continent. That's pretty cool. : )
I don't have a phytosanitary certificate for them - but if you were willing to reimburse the expense I can probably get one (unless they would need to destructively test more than a tiny amount of seed). I just sent an email to my state's rep for that, and will let you know the details. I think it would cost about $75 USD.
Steve Sherman: I'll send you payment details once I work them out.
Rob Clinch: Me too, I'll let you know!
It is important to note that this isn't really a perennial grain - it is grown as a biennial. So it is planted in the spring, mown or grazed two or three times, and harvested for grain the next year. After it makes heads, the plants die.
However, I do have a small quantity of perennial rye originally developed by Tim Peters, and will be crossing it with this. The dream is to get a rye with something like the vigor of Sepp Holzer's, with the true perenniality of Tim Peters'. If that ever happens, I'll post updates and share seed for it. And in any case, hopefully next year I'll have enough of the Tim Peters perennial rye to share.
I was recently blessed by a permies member with enough of Sepp Holzer's rye to share. Yay! I'll be sending out packets of 100-200 seeds. If you want one, fill out the form here and I'll be in touch: https://goo.gl/forms/uUSDRjSIAeGMoR9C3.
These seeds are difficult to come by, and I hope we can change that because it is a wonderful plant. If you request a packet, please do you best to grow them out and share with others! I will be asking for $2 through paypal to cover expenses. If you can't use paypal, or if $2 would be a hardship, just note that in the form and I'll send you one anyway.
You are quite welcome, Mike! I've done a fair amount of searching before, too, and somehow didn't stumble on them until just today. It is incredibly exciting! A friend who knows a fair bit about bananas said that there are inaccuracies on that page (like, common names not matching up with species names, for example he said that the "Japanese Fiber Banana" from the Ryukus is Musa textilis, not M. balbisiana). I'll still be buying the seeds, just wanted to note that.
I'll probably get seeds for "Helen's Hybrid Edible Banana" and "Thomson's Edible Banana", as those sound like the best shot at both cold tolerance and edibility.