Looks like everyone's got a good advice on making a square. Just don't remember that dimensional lumber varies in dimension! 8ft boards are almost never 8ft, 2x8s can be 1.5" or 1.75" depending on the miller, etc. Making stuff square can feel tedious, especially if you're in it yourself. It usually means walking back and forth a dozen times inching things into place. For posts, definitely use temporary braces to help figure it out until you concrete them in.
I've been thinking about this and actively involved in it for about two years now. You did a pretty good summary of things, but one thing I'd love to stress is that USFS opinions on forest management have changed dramatically in the past decade. I know many people hate the USFS, especially on this forum, but in my experience they are some of the largest practitioners of true Permaculture in the US. They are the ones planting and designing ecological systems to last hundreds of years. This is not the USFS from 1968.
My focus is pretty contextualized to the Tahoe area and my own forest. I have a few big goals over the next decade:
- Remove beetle-kill trees
- Replace Douglas Fir (80% of current stand) with a more pine-leaning mix of Jeffery, Sugar (Pines tend to be more fire resistant than Firs)
- Remove Lodgepoles encroaching on meadow
- Remove Fir/pines from aspen groves
- Work toward raising the water table in the meadow by reducing banks on creek (Pond & Plug, brush dams, etc)
In the meantime, I spend money/time with organizations that I think promote general forest health. A few tree planting charities and a few trail building organizations. I think the trail building organizations are an under utilized asset. Mountain Bikers love to maintain clean forests, and it's a good thing for everyone. More people playing on toys without emissions. More people getting outside. More people spending time in remote forested areas.
A lot of this stuff can be done cheap, easy, and by hand. We have a few organizations dedicated to replanting burn scars with more fire-resistant species (Sugar Pine, White Pine). You just walk around, dig a tiny little hole and plant a seedling. Little actions like this can have massive impacts in 20-30 years.
A lot of this stuff is scary and hard. I never feel comfortable taking down a beetle-kill tree on a steep slope.
A lot of this stuff is politically troublesome. Many people have extremely rigid opinions about forest management that have no experience or education in the subject whatsoever. I know many people believe that every single forest fire is the result of the government not allowing clear cutting.
It seems to me that covering it with some kind of black plastic cover when not in use would serve you quite well. It would reduce the mosquito loads, reduce sunlight and the things that grow in it, and warm up the water all at once.
If it's graded, that means heavy machinery has made it out there before, which means they can absolutely get containers out there. Containers are extremely light — heck it's the empty shell they fill with heavy stuff to put on trucks! In fact, they're barely heavier than most commuter vehicles, and absolutely lighter than the any semi that's going to be pulling it. Most people I know use dually trucks to haul containers since they're so light. I think the bigger challenge is going to be getting a crane out there to move the containers. I'd recommend talking to a transportation company — the guys who do this stuff know what they're doing and they'll be able to answer any of your questions definitively.
Microbes are incredibly hardy. Make sure they don't get completely desiccated (dried out) and they'll stay alive for a very long time (decades). They can absolutely survive being frozen, but but but… remember this is all a very contextual scale. Different vermicompost starts out with different numbers and types of active organisms. The time and conditions in between becoming worm castings and you putting them in the soil and your plants benefiting from these organisms are all factors in this equation.
My advice: don't worry about it too much. Fresher is better, but remember that you don't know when "fresh" was — was it when you harvested it? When the worms created the castings? Who knows? I try to use mine within 6 months.
This weekend we spent skiing corn snow, and snowshoeing out to a lake in 50˚ weather over 5-10 feet of snow, which reminded me… spring is coming! It has been one hell of a winter up here in the Sierras. As we speak we're sitting on 200% of historical average worth of SWE (snow water equivalent). We had some of the coldest storms I've ever experienced, and months worth of feet of Colorado-style champagne powder. My little tracking app on my phone says I've ridden over vertical 300,000ft and covered over 250 miles on my snowboard this season. I also got the opportunity to check out a bunch of places I've been dying to see — the highlight being Jackson Hole and Yellowstone. All's that to say that I'm still alive. Just leaning into winter.
My greenhouse out front will need some rethinking. There was about 15ft of snow piled on to (of the top) of the frame, and the bit that's melted thus far concludes what I assumed: it's crushed. I thought the snow might fill in around the frame and keep it in tact. Turns out the snow-eater (snow auger?) beat it. We'll see how the Ranch fares in... June? July? I'm guessing the roads will be open sometime mid/late June at the snowpack we've got out here.
I'm excited for this summer. Life has thrown me a few curve balls since the fall, but this time good ones! The next few years will be a huge transition for me, but for now the increasing sun angles remind me that times marches on regardless of our personal hang-ups. My big goal for the ranch this year is to improve the road so I can get a semi down it (and thus, bulk supplies). After that... well, I've still got some meditating to do on that front. I want to fix up the old cabin — stain it, improve the chinking, replace the wood stove, and building a loft. I want to fence in the garden. I want to completely refurbish the water system and add some rainwater harvesting tanks. I want to start planning out a new cabin to build for myself. I want to start milling my own lumber. I want a larger shelter for tools & equipment. I want to finish my solar shed. But the summer is short, and my list long.
I know many of you are already putting plants in the ground, but for me I've still got another month or two to play in the snow and plan out my summer.
How many castings were you able to harvest on a weekly basis. You stated minimal harvest.
Sorry, I was referring to self-harvest, as in the amount that falls through without me scraping it out. So minimal is good! I'm not sure of the volume of harvest I get as I don't pay much attention. Enough for me to serve my indoor garden, indoor plants, and have enough leftover for compost tea for the larger outdoor gardens. I'm going to wildly guess 10gallons/year? I'm not too specific about throughput on my bin, I built it primarily to recycle all my food scraps since my city doesn't have a composting program.
If I was to use conduit or heavy duty fence pipe with 1” spacing could I use push pull sliders on the top of the pipes to scrape the bottom of the pile for harvesting?
I haven't personally tried this, so I can only speculate — but I suspect a setup like this should work. The key really is to just keep a 1" spacing for the castings to fall through.
This sounds very similar to a CFT bin I built two years ago for my unheated garage. Mine is 24" x 24" x 24" with 1" conduit at 2" OC (leaving a 1" gap for castings to be scraped out). This seems to be pretty ideal — I get an extremely minimal amount of castings self-harvesting. I think going 36" deep is a good idea, I still find a decent amount of worms down at the bottom of mine when it's full. I might think a lot about the weight of it though. A bin that size will be extremely heavy. Make sure it's in it's forever home when you start filling it up and make sure it's on a floor that can handle the weight. To be honest, I'd probably think about splitting it into two 48" long bins at that size.
The seedling mats might work, but I ended up opting for soil heating cable instead. I was able to spread out the heat to all four sides of the bin and have better confidence that the product was designed to be immersed in wet conditions continuously. I'm also not sure that two mats will be able to effectively warm the soil in a bin that size. I can't remember how many watts mine draws, but it takes several days to bring the soil temp up a few degrees. With a larger bin and feed volume like yours, I might just opt to rely on thermophilic energy and mass to keep the bin from freezing. A more robust heating solution would be to look into a water pump/heating situation and circulate warm water through PVC pipes in the bin.
All in all, it sounds like a great plan. Let us know how it turns out!
1. Purchase land in the forest and clean it up. Contrary to popular opinion, you can cut down almost anything you want down to clear cutting if your heart desires. There are special rules around oaks, but you will not find many (realistically: any) oaks in wildfire prone areas. There are numerous grants available for private landowners to build a more resilient landscape and replant with diverse, fire-hardy species.
2. Join the USFS or CalFire where you will do this work on public lands. All fall/winter/spring most of the effort is spent around cleaning out undergrowth, burning piles, doing controlled burns, and clearing out standing dead.
3. Join the California Conservation Corps https://ccc.ca.gov/ where they will put a chainsaw on your back and send you out to the forest to clean up the forest.
4. Get firewood / Christmas tree permits and harvest your firewood from public lands. There's no rules that say you can't clear out standing dead and smaller trees.
From my own personal experience, I might suggest that one man with a woodchipper is not the right mindset to strive for. A woodchipper may be able to clean up maybe 10 acres a year (I'd guess closer to 5), assuming full time work in a low elevation (no snow) landscape, plentiful funds for gasoline, and mechanical expertise. Wood chippers don't travel well in the forest. But one man with a chainsaw and a can of diesel can clean up hundreds of acres per year with burn piles with similar effort.
There is plentiful motivation from the USFS and California government to clean up their forests. But the scale and terrain of our forests escape human imagination. Thirty three million acres of granite cliffs, flooded valleys, and high elevation bowls with hundreds of feet of standing snow in the winter. If you're passionate about this, I'd suggest to start small and local. Volunteering for CalFire is a great way to get more expertise in the nature and behavior of our wildfire ecosystem.
I have owned a Field Skillet for a little over 2 years now (backed them when they were a Kickstarter). It's the best cast iron pan I own, and the one I use the most. Lighter than vintage, just as smooth. Can't recommend it enough.
So it's kind of like an app store targeted toward games. Every game you install lives in Steam.
If you want to play the goose game, you'll need to install Steam on your computer. Then you go to your "Library" section, and find "Add a game" in the lower left hand corner. Choose "Activate a Product on Steam" and that's where you can plug in your steam code!
Yikes, I couldn't imagine not being able to get the snow into the road and out of the property! But to answer your question, the push-shovel does work great even if you're just piling snow up on your property. I actually have another big ramp of snow just to the left of the top of my driveway. Sometimes there's so much snow I feel bad pushing more into the street (you always wanna keep the road at least one emergency vehicle lane wide). That makes for a slight uphill path, but it still beats flinging snow around with my arms. You just kind of have to change your mindset about snow removal... building little walking/sliding paths to the snow storage area of your choice.
Last weekend it snowed 8 feet at my house. The weekend before it snowed 7 feet. This week it's forecasted for another 4 feet or so. Which is to say, snow shoveling has been on my mind as of late. So I thought it might be fun to write down all I've learned about snow shoveling. I'd estimate that I've reduced my effort snow shoveling 100x over the past decade. After each of these storms, my girlfriend and I have spent about 1-2 hours each clearing our driveway by hand. That's less time than my neighbor spent trying to get his snowblower working!
Most of this is fairly particular to my location and context, but I think many people can benefit from some of this. Out here in the Sierras we get huge, wet storms followed by clear days. The city does plow my road, but usually 1-2 days after a storm. For many reasons, I choose not to use a snowblower. They are expensive, loud, nasty smelling machines that break down often and require constant maintenance and babying to keep functioning. I can keep my shovel outside and it works every single time without any preamble at all.
When to clear snow
The most important thing you can learn to reduce your effort in clearing snow is to understand the best times to clear the snow. You have three goals when clearing snow:
1. Gain access to the road
2. Reduce ice (slippery stuff!)
3. Do your future self a favor (leave room for the next storm)
The most important thing you must do is pay attention to the weather. If the snow is coming in warm (30˚F+), you want to remove it as soon as possible. If there's more than a couple inches, you should get out there and clear it. Don't let it pile up! Wet snow is heavy. Don't let it sit overnight! Freezing temperatures will turn wet snow into a hard-packed glacier. If the snow is coming in cold (<20˚F) it will be nice and fluffy. You can leave that snow be until it is going to warm up (30˚F+). It'll stay unconsolidated and easy to move.
When the plow comes by your street, it has the effect of a super warm day followed by a freezing night. That is to say, it turns any snow at all into hard ice chunks almost immediately (avalanche effect). As soon as possible after the plow comes by, clear your berm. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Sometimes this means a groany five minutes of shoveling when you were ready for bed versus two hours the next morning when you need to get to work. If you wait long enough, you will need heavy equipment (skid steer or tractor) to clear the berm.
Keep in mind this temperature effect when choosing how cleanly to scrape your driveway. Packed powder has far more traction than ice. But packed powder + warm temperatures = ice rink. If it's staying cold, I'll leave an inch of snow on the driveway so I can walk comfortably. If it's going to get warm, I scrape it down to the pavement.
How to shovel
The most important shoveling technique to learn is to stop shoveling! You want to be pushing the snow around, not picking it up. Shovels should be used to break snow up and move it short distances. So let's get started with the tools you should have.
Go and get yourself a nice metal shovel. A transfer shovel can be used for this, but I much prefer a snow-specific shovel. Mine has metal teeth on the ends, a scoop shape, plastic glides on the bottom, a D-handle, and even folds up! I can fold it up and pack it behind the seat of my R32 (a tiny little 2 door passenger car). Don't even think about a plastic shovel if you get a lot of snow. It will fail you in your moment of most need.
The push bucket
This tool is a miracle of science. I cannot even fathom not owning it anymore. I want to buy more of them. It holds as much snow as twenty shovels full and can push another ten shovels full in front of the bucket. Instead of laboring with your back and biceps, you can stand up straight and use your legs to push the snow on the ground. This will reduce fatigue by leaps and bounds. Would you rather carry a baby down the street, or push them in a stroller?
The last tool you'll want is a nice metal scraper. I think this was called a sidewalk scraper. But anything of similar shape will do fine. This is for hacking pure ice and scraping hard packed snow/ice off hard surfaces.
Now that you've got the tools squared away, you need to move the snow. Your goal is to push the snow into the street (where the plow will reach it), down the flow of traffic from your house (so that the plow will push it away from your house, not back into your driveway!), into a nice smooth ramp (so that you can glide the push-shovel up the ramp). Here's the end product:
You can use any strategy you want to clear the snow. With two people, it's kind of nice for one person to push the snow from the driveway into the street while the other person pushes the snow from the street onto the ramp.
The last thing to keep in mind while shoveling is where the snow for the next storm is going to go. If you can't push the snow into the street where city plows will deal with it, you should really take some time in the summer to plan out where your snow pile is going to be. Hopefully in a sunny place where it'll have more chance to melt and consolidate in the sun.
Aspects of your property
Once you've done the snow shuffle a few dozen times, you'll start to learn that there are some environmental factors that make some driveways easier to clear than others.
The good side of the street
If you happen to live on the sunny side of the street, that means your snow will melt faster! It also means your snow will melt faster :( So while you might be happy in springtime, you might watch your driveway turn into an ice skating rink during freeze/thaw cycles. Still, most of us prefer the sunny side. It'll give your driveway a break in between storm cycles.
The other thing you'll realize is how nice it is to live on the side of the street that slopes down to the right of your driveway as you leave. This means that when you are pushing snow down the street (so the plow doesn't push it right back into your driveway), you'll be pushing it down hill.
And speaking of slopes, probably the most important aspect of a driveway designed for snow removal is that it slopes away from your house. In fact you want everything sloping away from your house. It makes snow removal easier (pushing down hill), but more importantly, it will prevent flooding and the resulting ice-rink caused by flooding. No, your french drain will not not help you. In the winter, all drains get clogged with snow and ice and do not function. I would never purchase property with an inward sloping driveway. Every single person I've known with one of these has had massive flood damage and lives in misery all winter with their ice-rink driveway.
The mailbox shuffle
My mail carrier drives an old Jeep CJ and can make it through some pretty gnarly conditions. That doesn't mean she can clear a 7ft berm to deliver my mail. She needs a nice arc so she can pull the Jeep up and reach the mailbox out the window. But here's the dilemma: if my mailbox is close enough to the street for her to reach it, it's also close enough to get decimated by the plows.
That's why I've settled on a movable mailbox. AKA a bucket full of dirt with a mailbox shoved inside. I put the mailbox in the center of my driveway. I'm going to clear that out anyway, and that gives my mail carrier the widest arc to be able to drive in past the berm to reach the mailbox.
Get yourself some snow stakes. I'm sure you know where your driveway is, but trust me — things get more complicated when the snow piles up. I haven't seen my curb in a month. But that's not even the real reason to put up snow stakes. You do it for your plow driver. You know, the poor soul in a giant tractor navigating residential streets at 11pm during a blizzard. They'll thank you for some nice brightly colored markers with reflectors showing where your driveway starts and stops. Most plows have a gate they can drop that temporarily holds back the berm caused by plowing, and the snow stakes also allow them to get closer to your property line since they know where it is. Even if it's "obvious" where your driveway is, put them out and be a good neighbor to that driver. They'll appreciate you trying to help them out.
Now that you've spent all that time, sit back and enjoy your job well done!
And don't forget an old piece of wisdom I learned from one of my old neighbors: why spend money to fix the road when you can buy a truck instead? (There are many ways to solve the same problem, this is just how I do it…)
If the plants get established large enough (5+ft) they will do good. I have several elderberry plants that get grazed by cattle every year. The cattle will eat every leaf and berry that they can reach, but can’t touch the taller portions. Bears tend to get around that limitation by tackling the entire bush and snapping the limbs. Despite all this, the bushes don’t mind. They remain incredibly productive and resprout from the roots every year. Once established, plants can easily put on 3+ ft of branch a year.
Travis: I suspect you and I are aiming toward the same goal. What I have seen many times is people take on projects that active take them away from their farm, because they are spending time learning skills they don't need to build up their farm. Roofs are a great example. I have seen people waste entire growing seasons learning how to replace the roof on their house, thus setting their farms back an entire (!!!) year. And they didn't do as good of a job as roofers would have, because — well — roofers do it for a living. A lot of these people are putting on metal roofs, which will likely outlast their lifetime. So that skill was learned in vein. It won't be re-used. I had my roof replaced this year and it took them 3 days. I can spend $10k and save myself an entire summer of labor, which would have been an effective wage of something like $4/hr. There's no world in which that's a good decision unless I have an extra summer of free time, am already an expert roofer, or strive to be a professional roofer in the future.
My point is maximize the time doing the thing you love and want to do more of. Spend money on the things that aren't that. More likely than not, it's a good financial decision as well as a good-for-the-soul decision.
One thing I often see permies mistake is not putting a dollar value on their time. I pay a lot of people to do things I can definitely do — I have contractors remodeling the garage right now, I pay a full-time caregiver to help my parents, I pay an accountant to do my taxes, etc, etc. These are all tasks I'm totally capable of doing, but when I factor in the value of my time, I lose money to do them.
As an example, if you earn $50/hr at your freelance job and a housekeeper costs $15/hr, that means you earn $35/hr for every hour you hire them to do work since you can earn $50 in that same hour. But even then, that math is off because they are probably much better at housekeeping than you are, do a better job, and do it in less time.
It's not always clear what your hourly rate is, especially if you work for yourself. But I assure you, with enough calculations you can find a number. Even if you're not making money. Let's say you're willing to go into $10k of debt to build out a pasture that will require an extra 5hrs/week of your time for a year. You have decided that your time is worth $38/hr ($10k/(5x52)). If a housekeeper costs $15/hr and housekeeping time directly conflicts with building this investment, it's an easy choice to spend the money on a housekeeper.
But of course, you're going to have to mesh this money-centric view with your values. Maybe you enjoy cleaning your kitchen. Maybe you value self-reliance more than your hours. Focusing on rates of return is a great way to manage your finances, but not always a great way to manage your happiness.
In terms of creating a popular YouTube channel, there are two entirely separate jobs:
1. Creating content people will enjoy
2. Getting people to see that content (Marketing)
Number one feels like the hard work, but number two is the vast majority of the work in today's world. It used to be that you posted something to your timeline and your friends would see it. You'd create good stuff, people would see it, and the better your stuff, the more popular it got. Those days are long dead, shot in the head and left on the side of the road to rot. There's a tremendous set of skills you need to master to get people to see content now. Part of it is behavioral psychology (ex: choosing the right titles/thumbnails), part of it is algorithmic/platform awareness (ex: what titles/keywords will get you in the right recommended lists this week), part of it is old school marketing (timing, marketing channels, branding), part of it is networking (getting the right content creators to link to your stuff), part of it is straight up luck that YouTube/Facebook/Twitter believe your content is offensive enough to show in the timeline. It's going to take a really long time to figure this stuff out.
My point is — you're over here thinking no one cares, but the "people" who don't care are most likely YouTube/Facebook's algorithms. Content marketing in 2018 is a shitshow. Don't be so hard yourself.
I've always heard that the reason we don't try to plant too deep is to discourage too much top growth in the fall. The deeper the bulb, the more insulation it has from the cold weather, so the more energy it expends with top growth before spring. If you live in a colder climate, this seems like it should be less of an issue.
But to be honest, I haven't found any real discussion about the consequences of planting the wrong depth. Just a lot of discussion about the "right" depth, like flowering bulbs (daffodils/tulips/etc) which I know from experience to have little to no impact. I planted mine about 4-6" deep this year, although in fluffy, worked soil that will surely compact down throughout the winter & snow load. I guess we'll see how it works out!
There are many different types of baking stones. Most you find at the store will only tolerate about 400˚F of heat. Baking Steels are the ultimate fancy in high-heat cooking surfaces, but you should be able to find some high temperature cooking stones too. I have some grey looking stones that came with my little steel pizza oven that do just fine above 900˚F. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where to find 'em!
When people are visiting the cabin, I tell them that there's lots of bears around. Nothing to worry about, but you might want to make sure all the food is put away at night. Tends to make for a spotless cabin come the morning.
Well, I have been incredibly busy with a lot of work I really don't enjoy: primarily paperwork. Hiring a new caregiver for my parents, getting my estate planning in order, and a lot of financial stuff that I dislike with a passion of a thousand suns, but will be great for future Kyle. I can't really explain why I hate this stuff so much, but it weighs heavily on my soul. But life also continues on. I've filled the parent's woodshed. Got some backpacking in with the girlfriend. And started to winterize the ranch.
The seasons continue to march on. The first ski area opened this weekend (Mt. Rose) and the distant high peaks have a dusting of snow that just won't go away. The aspens are doing their show-off thing again, and it's incredibly beautiful up here in the mountains.
Last weekend, we spent a night at 8,000ft and I can confirm it is getting quite cold. Our sleeping pad deflated half way through the night, but we did get a beautiful sunset. It ended up being so cold we shortened our trip from 3 days to 2 and hiked the remaining 14 miles or so back to the cars to avoid another cold night.
This weekend, I spent my time at the ranch getting everything all happy for winter times. Mostly this involved walking back and forth with something in my hand all day long. We usually get around 5-10ft of standing snow on the ground. Add in water and ice weight, and that means anything that can be crushed shall be if it's not put away (about 300-400psf). While I was doing this, I kept collecting cow shit. You know, for my garlic. Which I managed to plant in October this year! I am experimenting with 30" beds this year in an area of the garden. So I took the first bed and double-dug in about 10gallons of cow shit and planted around 64 garlics — just under 2lbs of seed. I wish I had counted better.
The shitty cows destroyed another apple tree. I guess the wire cages around the trees were too upsetting, so they just bulldozed through the whole thing and snapped the tree and t-posts flat to the ground. Can't wait to get a fence next year. It will be a priority for me. Probably hired out. I don't like building fences.
For all the complaining in this post, I'm super excited for the future. Some super exciting developments are underway for me personally, and even though I am suffering in paperwork much of it is of my own procrastinating doing. I should be done by October and ready to do just about anything I want in the world come November. Plus I am really excited about my garlic. I've never had animals (other than my dog & cats), so I've always had to rely on outside sources for my organic matter. This year, I've got a huge compost pile and about 20gals of raw manure dug into next year's garden beds. I spent the time to break up the ground, dig in organic matter, and only plant the largest cloves. Irrigation is ready for next year too. I have no idea what I would do with 64 heads of garlic, but that seems like a good problem. I celebrated with some green beans and (homegrown) garlic bread on the fire as celebration.
Redhawk, that's an excellent start! I appreciate your time. I'm sure I will have more questions as time goes on, I still don't feel like I've answered my questions thoroughly, but I also don't have a clear idea of all the questions in my head yet.
In my dreams, there is some scalable way to measure means of soil building such that we can better guide aspirational farmers toward soil-building. In my dreams, this results in something like "Mob Grazing: +2in/yr" or "Fall cover crops: +0.5in/yr" or "fallow field in growing season: -2in/yr". My hunch is that there are a few practices that are so extremely effective, their results outweigh the sum of the others by orders of magnitude.
I think one of my goals for next growing season will be to seek out "alternative" soil testing labs that lean more on soluble minerals, organic matter, and microbial life measurement.
I think what I'm still curious about is what kind of quantitative metrics can we use to measure our impact in building soil? Let's say you had two plots, one mob grazed, and another mob grazed followed by chickens 3 days later. How could you measure the effectiveness of the chickens? Do we just not have any?
In Effective Altruism, we have a similar dilemma — how do you define "doing good"? Well, the answer (for him) is to use QUALYs — quality adjusted life year. Roughly, how much a singular action adds quality years to a person's life. This makes difficult decisions approachable. Something like, how do you decide whether it's a better idea to donate money to a local politician or donate money to a deworming organization in Africa?
I feel like we have similar problems with regards to building soil. We all agree we need to! We all agree that many different approaches do it — cover crops, composting, mob grazing, etc, etc. But how do we decide which is most effective? If we wanted to impact change among local farmers to build soil, how might we ask them to change? To me, this has to start with a way to measure building soil. What does it mean to build soil? What metrics change as we build it?
Hey Dan! I think you picked a great forum. I also added it to the soil forum as that seems relevant too, I hope that helps.
As per your question, what you're dealing with sounds very similar to most suburban plots: growing on fill dirt. I've seen no end of successes in this context, so with enough effort and time I'm sure you can grow plenty of vegetables. If possible, I would suggest trying to save the topsoil from excavation and replacing the top layer with that topsoil. That would be the best of circumstances, but even if you can't there are many options. My personal suggestion would be to look into importing compost and mixing it into the top layer of the woofati (or just layering the compost on top too). Otherwise you can chase slower paths: growing cover crops, holding animals, compost/mushroom teas, etc. The goal will be to increase the organic matter and soil life in the bermed soil.
I have never really been that big into specific measures of progress with my gardening. I follow many best-practices that I have read to improve soil health and organic matter. But I often wonder, am I making a difference? I have been reading Effective Altruism lately, and it has me thinking: how do we measure the most effective means of building soil?
To better set this up, the basis for Effective Altruism is that for much of history we have been afraid to measure the results of altruism. We get very excited about deployment: how many devices the charity has deployed or how many books they've bought. But the most effective means of change are often not obvious. The classic example is answering a question as to how to improve education in 3rd world countries. Lots of people are happy to spend money buying books, hiring teachers, giving kids flashlights, almost anything that seems obvious. But it turns out the most effective means of improving education in the 3rd world is deploying dewormers. They're extremely cheap and have an incredible impact on keeping kids in school. The way we found that out was through experimentation and measurement.
This hit hard on my personal permaculture strings. I hear so many people talk about different ways to build soil and they are almost always mentioned as equals. Plant nitrogen fixers. Deep rooted plants. Compost teas. Keyline plows. Holistic managed grazing. Name it — it's all on the table, and somehow lives on equal footing. Thus far I have not seen much measurement or proof aside from "it makes things better" — which, sure, but how much? And for how much input? In what context? And what does building soil even mean? Does it mean increasing the microbial life in the soil (I have seen measurements from Elaine Ingram on this subject!) Does it mean increasing the organic matter?
… or does it just mean measuring the amount of darker looking soil? Or root depth?
What I'm looking for right now are more places to learn more. What does building soil really mean? How can we quantify it? How can we give people better signals that they are in fact building soil and by how much?
Context matters a lot for these types of questions. Burning around these parts, which is a fire-adapted conifer forest, is extremely beneficial. The ashes help clear out undergrowth (allowing more sun to the soil), clear out pine duff mulch (allowing more seeds to germinate), the ashes sweeten the soil opening up room for succession species (building more soil and root mass), and stratify fire-adapted seeds (resulting in an increase of fire-adapted species). But this entire ecosystem is built on fire.
One of the key differences in fire-adapted temperate climates to wet tropical areas is where the nutrients are store in the soil. Here, they are stored deeper in the soils — in decaying root mass and other forms of life. In the wet tropics, it is often stored in a dense, thin layer sitting right on the surface. Organic matter never gets a chance to be incorporated deep into the soil, it just decays on the surface. That's one of the reasons fires are so destructive in the tropics — that thin top layer of soil is easily destroyed by a low intensity fire.
I have seen many people use soil-cement floors with great success. Till in some cement into the first few inches of soil, get it damp, tamper it down and let it dry. It ends up being a nice semi-waterproof (the more cement, the more waterproof) flat surface that you can put whatever you want on top — wood flooring, tile, cob, etc.
One thing I would definitely recommend is freezing the elderberries (stems and all) to remove the berries easier. I just put the whole grocery bag of them in the freezer, then picked them out one at a time and kind of massaged the berries off the stem into a big bucket.
I wonder if you might try some Log Jam. It's flexible and slightly expansive. And even made for filling in uneven gaps between wood. That being said, I have not used it yet (seems like that project's on track for next summer) — so I don't have any personal experience with it. I don't know how big the gaps are, but I often use sawdust and wood glue to fill in gaps between fine carpentry projects by filling in the crack with glue and rubbing sawdust on it until it's smooth.
Tj, I haven't heard of that method. I have heard of people that break up large rocks (above ground) by starting a fire on the rock, letting it get really hot, then pouring water on it to crack it. I suspect a similar method could be employed in a well by dumping hot coals down the hole. I'm less convinced that either of these methods (fire or ice) would work underground though — seems like the side pressure from clay would stop the rock from cracking.
I know this is an old topic, but I have a good reason for resurrecting it!
First off, I just got off the phone with the director of a local conservancy and some financial planners. The way these easements work is that you negotiate with the conservancy what rights in which areas you are retiring. The conservancy does not own these rights, they are retired — so you cannot buy them back. What those rights look like are completely up to your negotiations. It seems as though I could box out specific pieces of my land to retain all rights for, while giving up other rights in other areas. The only rights that apply to the whole property are title-related right, specifically the right to subdivision. You then hire an appraiser to appraise the value of the rights you've given up, and that becomes the amount you can deduct from taxes.
For the next part, I'd love to hear about anyone with experiences with these types of grants. What kind of things should I include in my negotiations? From the outset, this seems like a great fit for my property. I have zero interest in subdivision, and no qualms with retiring rights in perpetuity. This will never be a year-round home or a homesteading location, and I'm not super interested in logging the property (primary means of future income). The tax deduction would be far more lucrative than any non-logging business I could run there. My main interest is to have some land to play with gardening-wise (a comically small percentage of acreage), a nice place to escape to in the summers, and improvement of the landscape. The last part is one of the biggest reasons for my interest in this. We'd effectively be partnering with the conservancy and they would help with things like fencing the free-grazing cows out, clearing the meadow of lodgepoles, stream improvement, etc.
So... anyone with experiences here? We don't plan on making any moves on this until at least next summer, but I'm always interested in more personal experiences.
Wet Tyvek is not a problem at all. Pretty much every house built outside of the desert gets wet during construction. The purpose of house wrap is to stop new moisture from getting in. The construction moisture will breathe through the interior walls over time — that's why we only put house wrap on the outside.
The nails or staples with the plastic disks are there to increase the surface area holding down the Tyvek, preventing a tear.
We're due for our first frost here in a couple of days, which as always means it's the most productive time of the year! The front-yard garden continues to produce tomatoes and the first tomatillos have started breaking through their casings.
Last weekend I had some friends up at the ranch, and I convinced them to harvest elderberries for with me. I ended up with a paper bag completely filled with berries at the end of it. Once they were picked, it was a little over a gallon and a half of berries.
My primary reason was to make elderberry syrup! I love semi-sweet syrups like this with a bit of butter on english muffins in the morning.
With the rest of the berries I'm attempting to make wine! Elderberries grow very well at the ranch if you can protect them from the cows. I hope to get better at making wine in the future, but for now this is a very rough recipe. I used to help my dad making beer eons ago, but since then I really haven't done anything fermented. I'm excited to see how it turns out — worst case, I'll have a bunch of vinegar to make in about a year.
As winter approaches, I've been trying to get better at indoor gardening. This batch of radish microgreens got a little leggy while we were away at the ranch, but I'm finally starting to get the hang of it. Radish, avocado, and seed salads (in this case, some old sliced almonds) are also some of my favorite snacks.