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Small farm - no organic matter to speak of

 
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So, we moved our single wide to family property this year. Soil is well drained - basically just sandstone gravel. No organic matter to speak of, so we're thinking the first iteration of the garden will be 5 gallon bucket raised beds. Rahn is building frames to hold 3 buckets, and as we get more buckets filled with decent soil, we'll use that to build more frames and  larger lasagna style beds. We want nearly all of our produce to come from the garden within a year or two. Lots of work happening!
 
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Ameda,

So my thought is that you have to use what you have.  If you are thinking about doing some sort of widespread container gardening, then go for it!

Have you thought about making some raised bed gardens out of some old pieces of wood/lumber?  The reason I ask is that raised bed gardens can be quite productive and you can acquire material to fill the bed, grow bountiful harvests, and continue to add more organic material to your beds.

Do you have any pictures?

Eric
 
Ameda Holmes
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Hi, Eric!
Here is a pic of the front yard


First iteration will be containers, yes. We're also planning on getting several loads of wood chips, compost,  and manure to get large swaths of raised beds going. We have a nice long growing season, and I have had plenty of experience in building large gardens. My Ex and I had a large market garden going where we turned red Oklahoma clay into good soil in a single season. Took about 7 tons on the half acre of llama, horse, and sheep manure to do it!
 
pollinator
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Not sure what happens in Texas, but right now in Massachusetts it's leaf season!
All the leaves anyone could want, already raked and bagged, just waiting at the curbside to be picked up...
100+ bags of leaves this fall
 
Eric Hanson
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Ameda,

That’s beautiful!  And I have to say it’s s lot better than I was imagining.  I had it in my head that there was basically no topsoil at all.

But your land looks very nice.  Out of curiosity, how much do you have?

But even better, great to hear that you are getting the woodchips.  I have become the woodchip/mushroom enthusiast throughout the last 1.5 years.  I used wine caps to break down my woodchips and what they leave behind is the most magnificent bedding imaginable.

Part of my long term goals for gardening is to make all of my gardens raised beds filled with woodchips converted to mushroom compost via wine caps.

Eric
 
Ameda Holmes
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Dang! The post went down the rabbit hole! Let me try this again!


Anyway - this is a pic of the property last winter before the house got moved here. We get a fair number of leaves from the oaks here, and there are 2 family properties in town that are completely overgrown. Rahn is going to clear them so they can get sold. This should give us all the fire wood, brush, and leaves we can use.

I've been rounding up some sources of free compostable materials and building materials.  A mill in town gives us about 50 gallons of plain sawdust a week, a lumber yard has about all the free pallets we can use. A BBQ place can give us about a dozen 5 gallon buckets a week, and one of the local coffee shops can give us about 10 gallons of spent coffee grounds every week.

Our meat rabbits give a fair amount of manure every week, and as soon as Rahn builds enough new housing we'll be breeding the 6 females and have a population explosion in 30 days.
 
Ameda Holmes
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Our property is just about an acre in size, and the 2 town properties are each 50'x150'
 
Eric Hanson
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Ameda,

Well it looks to me as though you are actually pretty well set on the freebie compostables.  Did I understand that you are cutting down those oaks? The reason I ask is that if you do, they are potentially awesome sources of some important resources.  If you can rent a chipper, you can get a LOT of high quality woodchips.  Also, those trunks are huge and could make good raised edges for garden beds.  Sadly, those leaves won’t go very far.  

Don’t get me wrong, oak leaves are amazing for soil, but I am amazed at how little bulk they provide.  My soil is very dense clay.  My neighbor has many large oak trees that carpet his lawn with a nice thick layer of leaves that covers 1/2-1 acre.  For years I have raked his leaves, shredded them on the spot, loaded them into a 4x8’ trailer and haul at least 5 of those trailers back to my garden beds.  I have 3 beds that are about 5’x15’.  Those leaves *looked* like a lot when I piled them up 2-3 feet tall all along my garden beds, but by spring, they were broken down into almost nothing.  I kept doing this for years, but they just don’t pile up like I thought they would.  But my dense clay soil is far better.

I am rambling as I am afflicted with being terminally verbose!  I would think that all that sawdust, coffee grounds and woodchips would really add up.  Have you considered using King Stropharia/Wine Cap mushrooms?  They do wonders for fertility and give the bonus crop of mushrooms!

These are all just my observations and if they are helpful, great!  I would love to hear more on your thoughts.

Eric
 
Ameda Holmes
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I'm pushing for a chipper! If we can get one, there is so much that can get run through it.

The trees on the east side of the house that Rahn is cutting are dead ones. Since we do get a solid six weeks of VERY hot weather every year, we want to keep a healthy amount of shade on the house. We did have a fairly large dead limb come down in the last storm that just missed the roof over my bedroom!

I'm hoping that there are a couple pecan trees on the town properties, as we are going to need good smoking wood for "da Beest" It's a big smoker made from a recycled vent-hood.


I love mushrooms, but have never tried raising them. Indeed, I don't have a clue where to get the spores!

 
Eric Hanson
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Ameda,

I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear you say you want the trees!!  I love trees and really have a hard time even trimming them—but that’s my neurosis!

Raising mushrooms is surprisingly easy.  It takes some time and a bit of initial setup and some time and some patience and some time—you get the idea!!

Actually it’s really not that hard at all.  If you can get a pile of chips, mix in the spawn, water down and cover with straw or grass clippings, water again and wait—about a year.  This is not a crop that you plant and harvest in a couple of weeks.  To me the hardest part was doing exactly what I was supposed to do but seeing no results until about a year after I “planted” them.  When they did start popping up, wow, they really produced for about a month.

I will try to get a link to you for another thread detailing my experience, anxiety, warts and all.  In the meantime I need to do an errand but I will get back to you shortly.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Ameda,

Take a look at this thread for information on growing mushrooms.

https://permies.com/t/82798/composting-wood-chips-chicken-litter

This chronicles my journey thus far using wine cap mushrooms/king Stropharia.  I got the spawn from fieldforest.net.  Another option would fungi perfecti which is considered the gold standard for all things fungal.  Use whichever you like.  I had great luck with fieldforest.net so I can personally vouch for them but either is fine.

Just so you understand my personal motivation,  for me, the actual mushrooms were of secondary importance, a side benefit.  What I really wanted was for the fungi to thoroughly break down my woodchips.  In the end I got both.  Beware, when the mushrooms decide to show up they grow FAST!  As in they go from almost nothing to the size of a dinner plate over the course of a few hours.  It’s really pretty amazing.  The mushrooms taste best when picked early, when no more than say 3-5 inches across.  

The resulting compost is wonderfully fertile, chocked full of microorganisms to feed your hungry plants.  A bit of a hint for growing.  The wine caps grow best when they have dappled sunlight (not full shade) and contact with soil.  My approach was to fill my bed about 12” deep.  I then dug 8 fertile holes that I filled with a bagged soil/manure mixture and planted tomatoes in those fertile holes.  I spread the remaining chips around the bed.  This did several beneficial things for me.  First, it gave me use of the bed during the first year.  I grew tomatoes and they grew well.  Secondly, the tomatoes provided the woodchips/Wine Caps with dappled shade.  Third, the fertile holes provided more soil contact.

It took about 8 months to see any results and 4 more to get mushrooms.  But that bed today is amazing, incredibly fertile.  I am in the process of converting all of my garden beds to woodchips/mushroom beds.

These are all just a collection of my experiences and if you think they can help you then by all means use them.  Or adapt them to suit your circumstances.  

I hope this helps and if I can help any more, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Eric
 
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I think it's possible that in Texas's climate, in-ground beds might do better than raised beds. Raised beds dry out faster than in-ground plantings, and might heat up more in that hot weather.

I'm in a climate much drier than yours but with cold winters and warm (not too hot) summers, so we use in-ground beds here. Also the traditional irrigation is using little surface canals, so the beds have to be lower than the canals.
 
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Hi - if you need to generate good quality fertilizer, be sure to look into composting toilets - we were in a similar situation and they really kickstarted our homestead.  Best thing about them is how they introduce you to the idea of nutrient cycling in your system - you take food from the land so, what could be more natural than giving back?

Good luck - your place looks great!
Guy
 
Eric Hanson
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Ameda,

I just wanted to make one small point.  I enthusiastically recommend Wine Cap mushrooms as they are aggressive in wood, do an outstanding job of turning wood to compost, are not picky about their location and conditions (they kinda thrive on neglect), and are generally easy to grow and are great mushrooms to use as a starter set.

But I should point out that there are other mushrooms that can work well also (oyster mushrooms are often used for these purposes as well).  Look around, and decide for yourself what the best mushroom is for your purposes.  Again, I think wine caps are great, but I am thinking about branching out to other mushrooms as well.

I just thought I would mention that you have plenty of options.  Given that you can grow mushrooms right alongside veggies I think they are the perfect companion “plant” for almost any veggies.  You can get additional products from your garden without harming anything already growing and in fact will help your other plants.

Good luck,

Eric
 
Ameda Holmes
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Hi, Rebecca, Guy, and Eric!
Watering is not quite the issue here as it would be in Arizona and Nevada. I'll be running drip lines from our rain water collection system, and at least in the 5 gallon buckets, drain holes will be a couple inches from the bottom. We're hoping that we can get enough water storage in place before the 6-8 weeks of really hot weather hits.  We're putting in a number of linked 55 gallon poly drums. We get about 41 inches of moisture yearly, though July and August are usually quite dry.

We are using composting toilets, though the compost from them is going to be used on non-food crops. We have a second compost corral for the other compostables.

My favorite mushrooms are portobellos. How are they for this job?
 
Eric Hanson
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Ameda,

Good for the drip system!!  I installed one of these too, though I no longer use/need it.

Glad to hear that your water issues are not so bad.  

I recommended wine caps because they are very easy to learn to grow.  It’s almost like having training wheels.  More importantly, I grow them mostly for the compost they make.  They aggressively break down wood into a magically fertile bedding material.

But if you like portobellos, then by all means do so!  Personally I think that a wine cap is like a somewhat woodier tasting portobello, but really do what you think is best.  You could try both, but not in the same bed.  They will wage chemical warfare against each other and neither will do well.

Hope this helps,

Eric
 
Ameda Holmes
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One of the projects on the list is installing drip water lines for the rabbit cages. Got more bunnies!



This is a lionhead mix doe

This week will be a pretty good one for getting some of the outdoor construction projects done. We've found that a friend has a more powerful chain saw and he is willing to let us use it.
 
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I would consider adding biochar to your array of practices, especially if the flow of free woody material into the site continues.  If you make charcoal of it, it will last much longer when added to the soil.  In a warm rainy climate organic matter breaks down incredibly fast.  I have seen six inches deep of leaf mulch in north Florida basically vanish in six months into the white sand, leaving no trace!   There are many ways to make biochar, some using a container of some sort and some just with a hole in the ground.  It might be a way to process coarse brush and slash without it needing to be chipped.
 
Eric Hanson
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Alder,

I agree with you!  It always amazes me how all the leaves I rake don’t add up.  My clay soil eats my leaves.  But my soil is much better.  Does your sand improve?

Eric
 
Ameda Holmes
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Hi Alder & Eric!
Good idea. I do have a 55 gallon burn barrel that we have a lid for. What about just adding logs to the bottom of the raised beds? Does it have to be charred? I've never done hugelkulture, so I have no basis of comparison.

 
Eric Hanson
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Ameda,

If I get your thoughts right you are talking about a hugelkulture-ish project.  This is certainly a possibility.  And as I understand, you have the logs on site for the project.

A couple of thoughts worth considering.

Do you have enough topsoil to pile up into a hugelkulture mound?  If not can you bring in more?

Moving logs like this and huge amounts of earth is easiest with some heavy equipment.  Do you have this equipment, access to it. Money to buy/rent etc. or are you willing to do this manually?

Hugelkulture can be a great experience and a wonderful way of grow food, save water, etc.  personally I like woodchips.  They are easier to handle than logs,  and since they physically feel and act somewhat like soil, they are a great baby step to using wood in the garden beds.  However, this is me and you are you, so you do you.  While I look at dead trees and see mounds of wood chips, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Side note.  If you do decide to rent a chipper, my experience is that you need one that is TWICE the size of your largest average sized material.  Meaning, if you are chipping a bunch of 6” material, go for a 12” chipper.  Likely you will actually save time.  I use to rent a 7” chipper ($150/day) to chip a lot of 4-7” material.  It was slow and bound up the chipper.  Eventually the chipper got so bound up it quit feeding.  I opened it up, cleaned it out, did all I felt competent to do , but the feeding mechanism would not engage and kept kicking the material back out.

Now I rent a 12” chipper ($300/day) and it is weirdly cheaper.  If roars through material, never looking back.  It is so much faster,  I am actually less exhausted at the end of the day, and the 12” models never fail.  I have some chipping to do and I will rent the 12” model.

Ameda,  I have given you a lot to think about.  Please don’t make your decision on the idea that “Eric said so.”  Decide what you think works best for you.  I will certainly help as I can, but this should all be in the category of things to think about.

I like your project, please keep us updated.

Eric
 
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I grow in subsoil too. Crop choice is huge and consistent water and fertilizer. Add what carbon sources you can when you can. It will grow fine enough and the roots and stuff will accumulate with proper management. What does pretty well in subsoil for me? Garlic, turnips, baby swiss chard, lettuce, onions, wheat, barley, sorghum, quinoa, amaranth, and herbs. I drop one crop while adding the next usually and pile on whatever organic matter I have when I can. I use organic fertilizer.  But, animal poo is more or less the same thing. Year 2 I can get higher yields on all that and also decent tomatoes. You have enough heat probably peppers would thrive. After year 3 or 4 I am able to get some nice sized squash, some carrots,  and small beets. Now I'm pretty much smooth sailing.
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You could consider hugelkulture raised beds. Layer in logs/branches on the bottom, wood chips to fill in, and then you don't need as much compost/soil to fill.

You're doing great.

Blessings . . ..
 
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I'm not sure if it helps but:

I found a local company that does brush clearing and chipping. I asked if I could have their wood chips and the dump them ff at my place for free because here they have to pay to dispose of them.

Are there any hardy perennials you could plant for chop and drop mulching?  

Keep us updated!
 
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You may find your container garden an advantage.  Most of my bush plants are in 15 gallon barrels now so that I can start them under cover in early spring move them out when the weather is warm and move them to afternoon shade in the summer and eventually back under cover this time of year.
 
Eric Hanson
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I think Hans has a really good point.

One strategy would be to aim for raised beds as has already been mentioned.  But this can take time and in the meantime, container gardening can give you decent crops fairly easily.  Moreover, as the beds become available, you can dump the container soil into the beds.  In the meantime, as you grow crops, you can focus on making the soil even better.

Eric
 
Ameda Holmes
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Thanks everyone!
Rahn and I are going to take advantage of the perfect weather for getting stuff done outside and work on making some dents in the to-do list.
Last week, Rahn got the rabbit cages under better shelter, and he started a second compost bin handy to their cages. A dozen rabbits put out a surprising amount of manure! That bin is also handier to the kitchen, so the coffee grounds (including those from the coffee shop), egg shells, vegetable trimmings that the rabbits don't eat, some leaves and sawdust, and other compostables will get into this bin.
He also did a fair amount of clean up and organizing outside.
This week we'll be going to the town lots and dropping some trees and cut into 8 foot logs to haul home and place for raised beds.
We're also going to get a couple pickup loads of pallets for the various pallet wood projects around the place.
Rahn disassembles the pallets in the easiest possible way - He puts a metal blade in his reciprocating saw and cuts the nails.
I'll be taking a few turns this week with the rake to get leaves into the raised beds, and the buckets for the containers. There's a spot where I can dig out some of the subsoil fairly easily to put in the bottom of the beds, but the wheelbarrow has a flat tire. I'm hoping Rahn can get it fixed this week, but if I can just get some buckets half-filled with the subsoil, that'll be a start.
I've renewed my request on Chipdrop - if I can get a load or two from them, it'll be a huge jump on compostables. (If you haven't heard of Chipdrop, it's a resource for tree companies to find people that can use the shredded trees and leaves,so they don't have to pay to dispose of it at landfills.)
I also plan to make a run to Walmart this week and fill the truck with broken-down cardboard for the bottom layer in the raised beds.
There are a few other bits on our to-do lists. Rahn is replacing the carpeting in the living room, hall, and 3rd bedroom with laminate. I'm finishing a pair of hand spun, hand knit slippers for myself, and then a pair of wool socks for Rahn. Just finish a pair of socks for myself.

I think that's enough plans to make for this week!
 
Eric Hanson
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Ameda,

Sounds like a good plan and a great start!

Good job on going after those dead trees.  They can be a great source of carbon, woodchips, and hopefully some biology as well!

Also, very resourceful to go after the pallets!  That is a great source of wood for any number of products.

Finally, I love the socks!!

Eric
 
Hans Quistorff
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Rahn is replacing the carpeting in the living room, hall, and 3rd bedroom with laminate.


Time for me to break out this video again. I cover my pumpkin patch with grass and leaves then the carpet for the winter. In the spring I transplant between 2 strips of carpet and the vines spread out and cover the carpet without any weed pressure.
 
Ameda Holmes
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Thanks, Hans! Rahn will love your carpet idea!
We have some of the carpet he's already pulled out  in the yard to try to smother some bindweed and poison ivy.
 
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