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paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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So I'm back in my all-time favorite town:  Missoula.  And I look up some old friends.  And one old friend has started a new project that I think he calls "a thousand gardens."

His mission is to create a thousand new gardens in Missoula.  Organic, of course.  Permaculture is a word that is a little new to him, but I'm bombarding him with info. 

Last year was his first year and it sounds like he created 40 gardens.  A healthy start. 

I feel like I have a mountain of things to share to help him realize his goals.

So, yesterday I got together with my friend, Geoff, and his partner-in-crime-on-this-project, Max.  For two hours I bombarded them with my obnoxious opinions. 

For starters, they are doing a lot with "lasagna gardening" - I preached about my position on the use of cardboard and newspaper.  Well .... more like I touched on it a bit. 

My thinking is that I would like to make some suggestions that make for less work in getting a garden set up and, more importantly, less work in the future for maintenance. 

Missoula is technically a "mountain desert" (about 14 inches of rain per year) and the soils here are generally REALLY thin on top of a bunch of river rocks, round rocks and sand. 

I forsee the following problem:  you get to a site and you have ten people ready to put in a garden.  And the owner of the site wants free landscaping instead of a garden.  My thinking is that 65% to70% of the properties volunteered need to be eliminated as poor fits due to being a space that is not conducive to a garden. 

Next up:  hugelkultur - I think this is going to offer some of the lowest maintenance in the long run.    So I think an optimized route would be to connect with arborists.  They will be hacking up trees and have a lot of waste in their wake.  Usually, the excess wood is hauled off - at an expense.  So the landowner can save money by keeping the wood on-site - as hugelkultur.    The trick is the soil to put on top.  I suppose one could dig down and flip that on top, but that would be a lot of work even if the soil was there.  And I suspect most properties won't have much in the way of soil if they did dig down.  When I did raised beds in Missoula, I paid a hundred bucks to have a dump truck bring me a weedy load of topsoil. 

Between grants, fundraisers, general sponsorship and maybe a few bucks from the property owner (maybe the funds that were saved to not haul away the wood), I would think that this could be easily worked out.    This is far cheaper and easier than having to water/fertilize/whatever.  Much higher chance of success with far less expense or effort.

Anybody have other suggestions?  I'm gonna try to get these guys to come out here today ...



 
Brenda Groth
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does sound difficult to garden with such thin soil on top of rock and stones..

i do have a possible idea..follow around contracting companies..when they are levelling for roads, parking lots, stores, (genearlly for houses they save the soil)..and see if there is soil available.

another thing a woman used to do, that i read about..was to take her wheelborrow and shovel or broom and dustpan every day, and sweep up the soil that was in the gutter area beside the curb along the road..she gathered the soil that way..i do believe it could be fairly contaminated in most areas though..where she lived they didn't have a lot of cars and stuff..at the time..now adays things are more contaminated.

they could always keep a compost bin and put all the waste that they could come up with in that and put that on top of the hugel...and they could be gathering things from commercial places and farms..such as manure, hair, feathers, produce, wool, etc..

i know you aren't fond of cardbaord and paper..but they COULD be shredding those as well.
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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Brenda Groth wrote:

i do have a possible idea..follow around contracting companies..when they are levelling for roads, parking lots, stores, (genearlly for houses they save the soil)..and see if there is soil available.



I'm pretty sure that's where the $100 per dump truck load comes from! 

 
Geoff Rich
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Hi, everyone.  I would call Paul's comments "provocative" but if he calls them "obnoxious," who am I to argue?

One Thousand New Gardens has a simple premise: convert backyard lawns which consume time, energy and resources for the purpose of growing grass, and replacing them with organic local food sources.  Because we [and I say "we" because One Thousand New Gardens is more than Max and me] are working in backyards that have had lawns for years, we find there is topsoil to a depth of up to 8-12 inches.  We encourage composting and other good gardening practices, not the least of which is asking veteran organic gardeners about approaches to gardening problems.

We are starting with newbies who most likely have never gardened before, and who need a lot of encouragement and hand holding initially.  Their garden plots are between 100 and 200 square feet in size.  Before we help them with the heavy and sweaty work of starting their garden, we ask them to spend some time mapping their garden space and to show us where they will get water, where they will set up their compost, store their tools, etc.  We coach them in placement to take advantage of sunlight, pest control, etc.  We don't do "landscaping." In time, we would love for them to be permaculturalists and green wizards.  The first step on that journey is growing a meaningful amount of food for themselves and their family.  Eating that first salad, or the first ripe tomato will get them, but we have to walk before we can run. We are learning, too, and encourage experimentation within limits to discover new ways to do things.  We can build on success more easily than failure.
 
Jennifer Smith
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Talk to backyard horse owners.  Just one or two horses can make a good amount of manure.  I find that mixed with bedding or aged, it works wonders. 
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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Geoff,

What do you do if you get to a property loaded with trees? 

Are you in league with any other organizations?  Sponsors of some kind?  Somebody that might buy some materials?

When you help people, do you tell them that you will only do it organic? 

Do they have to make any kind of commitment? 

Is there any paperwork?

It would seem you would be really busy mid-march until june 5. 



 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Good to hear that most of these places have a good amount of soil already. Paul seems concerned, though, so I thought I'd throw out some ideas.

One thread on this site is "biochar vs. hugelkultur," and that title always struck me as, to borrow Geoff's term, provocative. I'm not sure the two are mutually opposed, despite the fact that they consume the same resource. If you are teamed up with an arborist already, the supply of wood might not be the limit to your activities: it might be the supply of soil. In which case, transforming some wood into soil might be benificial. Mixing low-temperature charcoal and maybe small potsherds into the soil could help bulk it up.

Lead-free gypsum waste might also not be difficult to find nearby; often, it will come along with wood waste, from construction or demolition (if the first coat of paint went on after white lead was banned) crew. Gypsum might also help with bulk, and it can be very good for clay soils.

The amount of paper towel waste from a single school is tremendous. It's usually the cheapest paper available, and so is free of dyes and un-bleached, with lots of the quicker-rotting aspects of wood not washed away. All that bulk would probably help you skimp on soil for beds that will grow legumes, or it might just be a good input for large-scale composting. Pencil shavings from the same source, while not available in as great a quantity, will also be benificial: ground graphite/clay mix from the "lead" is great at retaining water and ions. The paint is non-toxic, in case anyone is worried, because compainies know people chew on pencils.
 
Leah Sattler
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I imagine that taking small steps that have big tangible yeilds will be important to keep people motivated and interested at first. so I would be careful with how complicated it is made to seem sometimes. the desire to try out more abstract ideas comes from success.

a garden plot between 100 and 200 sq feet seems like  a very reasonable and managable starting point. 1 dump load of composted manure and a round bale of trash hay or straw and someone could be off to a very quick, encouraging and motivating start. 
 
Jennifer Smith
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:

Lead-free gypsum waste might also not be difficult to find nearby; often, it will come along with wood waste, from construction or demolition (if the first coat of paint went on after white lead was banned) crew. Gypsum might also help with bulk, and it can be very good for clay soils.

Am I the only one who thinks of all the toxic drywall that came from China? 
 
rose macaskie
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  I agree with leah about not putting peole off. Isn't growing vegetables a lot of work difficult when you don't have much time and success sort of feels uncertain when you don't have experience. I am talking of myself.

  looking at videos of say Bill Molison and Toyo Hikokagawa, a christian, evangelist reformer, pacifist and one of the first movers in permaculture type feilds, who is mentioned on the permaculturist Robert Harts video, what woke them to permaculture was concern for the land, we treat it so badly that it is getting made barren, desertified, and salted. A by product of being worried about land is beign worried about water, rainfall has a lot to do with how much vegetation there when soil is bad that gets reduced.

     It seems there is lots of land that will no longer grow thigns by conventuional brutal methods, in australia it need geoff lawtons and bill molisons kinder permaculture ones to get anythign to grow at all .
     It is concern for the land that got them working and the growth of foood something others do anyway was incorporated as a way to convince people to treat the soil well, as lots of people have to , he was worried about soils in places full of poor people.
  Landscapers can care for the land too.
      He liked doing things in threes so his thing was, conserve soils, supply food and feed animals.
   
       The first concern, the priority is care of soil and rainfall so that we can then grow and in europe everyone is forced by the commun market limitations to cut down on production of for example, cows, olive oil, grapes i don't know if this has changed in the past few years when i have not been in contact with farmers.

       It is not only care of the soil that is a priority at the moment, care of the soil means reducing desertification. Another priority is to increase the amount of plants around as plants eat carbon dioxide, using the carbon for their growth they are made of carbo hydrates and have to have the carbon to mix with the hydrogen,
  if reducing desertification is one priority reducing carbon is another.  Producing food is not a priorityat least not in the west we suffer from obesity, i certainly do. NOwdays jesus would have said cut down the rtree htat does not produce nitrogen and the man who is too busy producing food to lok after the moods of his family.

  When we get better at food distribution in the world food will be a priority, except that if you produce things for others you take away their livelyhood which can produce hunger when there is enough food around, as it does with those who live in the streets of the west. so that is not a good idea either . We do need healthier food though and that is a permaculture product.
       So if they want to have landscape gardens that also works as an incentive to look after soil water and air quality though it does not help to convince farmers of better tecnics.

     Clean uncontaminated with pesticides and herbicides food is another priority.

    The other main priority is not heating up the world as the cooling system has broken down a bit and their plants are essential and bare earth that accumulates heat is a disaster. The ice caps that reflect the sunlight away from the earthstop the poles from warming look up ice ages and in hte page on them factors that slow up the end of the ice age . The albedio of ice.

  If there is so little rainfall where your friend is maybe its just as well they don't want to feed themselves from the land it makes a hard situation easier. You loose the opportunity to show what magic permaculture can be, growing even vegetabes in the desert, but as some of the people want vegetables you can show of on food growing skills in some parts of town.
   
      The landscapers  can plant reallly hardy things like grass used for rope soled shoes, incorrectly said to be made of hemp in wikipedia i think . stipa tenesisima and show everyone how easy it is to green a desert with no work. You can practice water harvesting, there are some beautifull water collecting spaces in india,saw them on you tube, like big terraces that work as a roof does you have to have a underground chamber to collect the run off from them in. The methods will spread from landscape gardens as well as from vegetable gardens to the farming community. and the spread of ideas is the very first priority. rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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   Here in spain the exclusive interest in plants htat ar e productive lead to a enormouse lack of trees. Though there are a lot of officail woods, while in england there aren't many woods but lots of trees planted and loved by individuals making more trees a mile than though unofficial in england thatn there are trees because of the woods here i imagine.
      In england were the yule tide log type tree admiration persisted, the advice of christ to cut down trees if they didnot bare fruit did not effect the tree population i suspect it did effect the tre population here in spain. and in spain htey don't seem to be awarae that trees shelter you., break wind and cold and heat. and there are lots of mountains in spain so plenty of cold.
  Jesus would now say that tree gives mulch and shade and shelter and oxygen and is a carbon sink dont knock it down, at least not till there is a replacaement tree big enough to take its place. Or-;
  you never know what sort of medcine wont be found in that tree or how it may help those around it.
     Some rrees being attacked by a plague produce a substance that spoils the taste of their leaves but they also produce a message substance hormon or whatever that tells neighboring trees, of the same variety at anyrate that there is a plague and that they should also give their leaves a nasty taste. I read about this too long ago to refind my source.  Better find the soirce or i wont be believed. That is why sometimes elm leaves are bitter, they usualy aren't bitter at all but are sometimes, i am a eater of elm leaves..
   

  Insisting on only having food productive gardening causes lack of variety and desertification. It has done here.

  If you learn history of art a good idea always goes squew whiff after a few generations the renaissance with michel angelo produced really expressiv work at first but in the end  realistic pictures of gods an dg odesses became mere sort o fcopies of other paintings with out much force an  energy. If one bit of the permaculture idea gets too prominante it coudl wipe out the other parts.
  Using chemical fertilisers must have seemed a really good idea in the first place growing more food easily and it has lead to over use and desertification and soils that don't retain much rain because they have no organic matter in them. .
  Using pesticides must have seemed a good idea but i imagien they thought of using them for plagues as they are poisonouse and any person of ordinary sense must feel a bit squeamish about their use but in the end they got used all the time. agri rose macaskie.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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A quick idea for planting in mountain desert sand: psyllium.  Mill the husks off, and mix them thinly into the soil you'll use to start plants in containers. The seeds are supposedly good chicken feed, once the husks are milled off.

I happened upon a paper over the weekend, that described slower wilting and better soil moisture retention. It's the same stuff they use to make metamucil: full of mucilage, so it has a similar effect to the polyacrylates used in fake snow, baby diapers, and some high-priced polymer soil amendments.

http://www.indianjournals.com/ijor.aspx?target=ijor:ijocs&volume=2&issue=1&article=045

It also seems like it would grow OK in Missoula:

P. ovata is a 119- to 130-day crop that responds well to cool, dry weather. In India, P. ovata is cultivated mainly in North Gujarat as a "Rabi" or post–rainy season crop (October to March). During this season, which follows the monsoons, average temperatures are in the range of 15–30 °C (59–86 °F), and moisture is deficient. Isabgol (P. ovata), which has a moderate water requirement, is given 5 to 6 light irrigations. A very important environmental requirement of this crop is clear, sunny and dry weather preceding harvest. High night temperature and cloudy wet weather close to harvest have a large negative impact on yield. Rainfall on the mature crop may result in shattering and therefore major field losses. Isabgol grows best on light, well drained, sandy loams. The nutrient requirements of the crop are low. In North Gujarat, the soil tends to be low in nitrogen and phosphorus and high in potash with a pH between 7.2 and 7.9. Nitrogen trials under these conditions have shown a maximum seed yield response with the addition of 22 kg/hectare (20 lb/acre) of nitrogen.
 
rose macaskie
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    I like paul wheatons, what do you do if they have  a plot full of trees.
    I have a lot of grass but it goes dry in summer thats how i stop it being a water guzzler. though it makes it inot a fire hazard which aspectr could be reduced if it was cut a bit lower.
I post a foto of my garden,  lookng all horrible with its dry grass in summer. Grass and sloe bushes. and a serbal domestica, that has eatable fruit sold for a ridiculouse price for its rarety value i suppose.
dry-grass.jpg
[Thumbnail for dry-grass.jpg]
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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If the wet season is also the warm season, climbing plants might be the best thing for a tree-filled garden.
 
rose macaskie
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  This time, I reply to myself to post a foto of hte same garden mine  but a different spot in autumn when th egrass has grown back. Just in case people think ht egrass dies if you let it dry mine grows back i dont know why or what sort it is but it dries in summer and grows back well i know that a lot of it is wild oats it grows back with the first autumn rains, i suppose wild oats grow back from seed, at the bottom thei ris ray grass and that grows back too in autumn. 
    I left one peices of my garden to my husband and their the grass gets mowed more often and lower and there more small plants like violets an dcranesbill grow back in hte rains htatn grass.
      My garden is begining to have some green bits in summer because of a small, blue flowered, long rooted, clover that grows there and in one part of the bottom of the garden the grass stays green in summer, though the tops of the grass dry out, now the soil is getting better, it has taken some fourteen years after i got the land bfor the grass to stay green all summer. agri rose macaskie. 
grass.jpg
[Thumbnail for grass.jpg]
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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The wild oats here in "New Spain" are growing back quite well right now.

Spanish systems of land management translated well to California for a while.

There's an African variety of bunch grass, with very coarse blades (maybe an inch wide and two or three feet long) and feathery seed heads, currently dotting the landscape here but spreading fast in places that aren't grazed. It's beautiful, and seems like a good successor to wild oats, but the seed heads are very good tinder: I hope it doesn't make for a more fire-centric ecosystem near freeways and housing developments than already exists in rangeland.
 
rose macaskie
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  I thought there was a lot of spainish influence in america farming. I see places called encina and chaparal, words that come from Spain and the cowboy outfit the leathers and the bridles and saddles are all Spainish.
  My garden is not Spainish it is to show them that if you don't cut down all your grass ad all your bushes you will improve your soils. As there is overgrazing and over cleaning here that ruins soils and inspires me to try to show that they coudl better their soil.
  I wrote about the really cool Spainish methods on the forestry bit of these forums under farming oaks. agri rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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  joel hollingsworth, i think they should think of having fire breaks in prairie type land because ¡f there are too many fires i think people end up deciding, as they do in the meditereanean here, to over graze and clean the land causing desertification, they get so fed up of the fires. I mean by fire breaks over greazed or over mowed strips maybe a quarter kilometre wide, it is bertter to have strips of land with badly treated soils than turning the whole land into a fire break. Maybe ditches that you could flood in times of fire woudl be another good idea, ohter might have other good ideas.
      After finding out how they push here, in the country, for the grass and plants to be cleared for fear of fires i have decided that fear of fires is a major  submerged reason for overgrazing and therefore for desertification and if it were bought to the surface alternative plans could be discused, like the ones i suggested above to reduce fire risk and so  to reduce local herders and farmers desire to do for vegetation.
  The shepherds wont tell people about their true mortives for acting, they aren't used to having their plans respected so it is impossible for agricultural engineers to sit down and talk  sensible of different remedies for fire danger than that of causing a lack of vegetation everywhere. 

  There is  a grass here with a long whip like white feathery seed head which is pretty. I have not succeeded in getting it to grow in my garden.

  As i see it the evil of lawns is that they need water in summer in a country like this. If people can be persuaded to have dry lawns in summer then grass in gardens is not so evil. Could they be persuaded to play golf on dry lawns ? the dunes in scotland cant be very perfect places to hit a golf ball on golf has turned into a sport for softies.agri rose macaskie.
 
Geoff Rich
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paul wheaton wrote:
Geoff,

What do you do if you get to a property loaded with trees?


We ask each new gardener to take the time to think through garden spot selection. If they pick a spot with trees, we point out the challenges of doing so and encourage them to learn about gardening in such areas.  Maybe not as productive as a sunny spot but some garden plant can do well in shade.   

Are you in league with any other organizations?
   

We are branching out, to use a term of art.  There is a local group called Garden City Harvest that sponsors community gardens we are trying to establish ties with.  Also the Missoula Urban Demonstration project (M.U.D.).  They run a tool library and provide lots of other assistance to people in the community, primarily on the Northside of Missoula.  We have also joined a group that is working with our local parks department on considering creating community gardens on undeveloped parkland.   Lately, a church that has a "green ministry" has contacted us about establishing a relationship.

Sponsors of some kind?
 

We get boosts and encouragement from the University of Montana Environmental Studies Program students.  A lot of our volunteers are committed UM students.  Local businesses have been good about supporting us with materials, food to feed the volunteers, etc.

Somebody that might buy some materials?


We are trying to remain low-key initially and avoid going down the typical non-profit organization route.  We don't want to own anything, hold funds, have an office, etc. We are a virtual organization with a website that sometimes gets busy, but often is not.

When you help people, do you tell them that you will only do it organic?
 

We tell them that and help them learn and use organic approaches. Still, if someone strayed from the non-organic path, it's not like we would go to their home and take out their garden.  The approach has to sell itself because it makes sense and provides success and sustainability for the gardener.

Do they have to make any kind of commitment? The commitment has no enforcement.  We do have kind of a cool gardener's oath we say with our gardeners. 

Is there any paperwork?


Yeah, draw a diagram of where your garden will be and how you will arrange your gardening functions. That just proves to us they were serious enough about gardening that they spend the time thinking through the important issues.


It would seem you would be really busy mid-march until june 5.


Our year actually starts in February with our Seedluck Dinner. It's a potluck where we talk about ordering seeds. We try to get some experienced local gardeners there to offer advice and input on what seems to work locally and what doesn't.  Then we have a Dig Day to help get gardens started.  This year we plan to have a weekly optional visit to gardens just to see what everyone is doing, how they are doing, etc. It's a form of networking.  Later we hope to have a harvest potluck and food preservation workshops. We will also offer exchanges on how to put a garden to bed for the winter. That's our ideal year, anyway.  



(added some formatting - pw)
 
rose macaskie
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  What do you do, garden for them for free or put in structures for them or are you paid to do it? Rose.
  Organic would not have all the, "be a independent prerson live off your garden" buisiness in it would it? it would be look after your soil and nature without having to produce vegetables, which is i suppose looking after your body.
Sometiimes permaculture seems to get like a religion before we had quakers and things, now ewhave permaculturists and you have to obey the rules or you will be frowned on. Arent the principles of looking after the world to important to be turned into somthing that will be limited by beign part of a group, that has its attracctions and will be a turn off for some.

  I was listening to David Holgren and it interested me that he was talking about getting people back onto the streets, if they are at homehe argues, working at home the streets will fill up again because their would be more people in the neiborhood more of the time. When you see pictures of africa, with all those people on the streets, I think, great! what a lot of people to interact with and the meanies say, you like poverty , no i just like there to be a lot of people around for those moments when it would be nice to do a bit of interacting.and people of all genertions. It woudl be good to get the people on the streets without the poverty. Maybe its a mistake to talk about freinds or trusting peole but an oportunity to have a bath of people with all their virtues and kinks that is always availiable would be great.
      I like  keeping things real and Jon stewart asked Obamas minister of transport a republican the night before last  if he had kept up with his republican friends now he was hob nobbing with Obama and he answered that he was rich so he always had freinds THats humble, its admiting its not your own charms which bring you freinds  and its real, people are so inclined to be more friends with the richer member of any group, freindship in relation to relative richness.The real moralists are incredibly given to this while they pretend to be holier than thou. It means people yes, friends as in really trust worthy freinds, well, thats more complicated. rose.
 
rose macaskie
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I chucked seed all over my dry grass late this summer after whatching sepp holzer doing the same and considering that if you want everyone to look after their soils you have to prove that it can be done while you produce vegetables, and now i see chick pease and lentils and flax growing among the grass everywhere the potatoes i have put in are taking root i found when i dug up one by mistake i am starting to produce vegetables i had already long ago started planting fruit trees because i like them not because i was trying to make a food forest. agri rose macaskie.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22178
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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trees:

I just spent a few years in the seattle area.  Seattle has a lot more cloud cover than missoula.  So the challenge for gardens is sunlight.  When looking at properties where people want to have a garden, they would have a deep, thick forest.  They might have a tiny spot that will get two hours of sun per day - but even if there wasn't a cloud cover issue, that wouldn't be enough.

I guess the place I was going with that is the idea that an unwanted tree could be converted into a raised bed with hugelkultur on the insides.

other organizations:  I would think that arborists would be really good.  They might line you up with folks that want a garden who have a lot of woody debris (for hugelkultur) - or, they might be able to provide woody debris.  And, if you get to a house that needs a tree-ectomy, then their biz would benefit.

We are trying to remain low-key initially and avoid going down the typical non-profit organization route.  We don't want to own anything, hold funds, have an office, etc. We are a virtual organization with a website that sometimes gets busy, but often is not.


Okay.  I get it. 

Suppose .... one were to have eight organizations that sponsored your efforts - not with cash ... and in a way that left you with zero funds.  It worked like this:  for every garden you put in, you brought the homeowner a sheet that said "your garden sponsored by ..." and it had coupons for things like "$10 toward the purchase of new garden stuff - for the new gardener in missoula" or whatever.    And then each sponsor would pay for a dump truck load of soil (or something).  To the sponsor - it isn't a 501c3 thing, but it is a marketing expense.  A few nurseries, the good food store, a few hardware stores ...

We do have kind of a cool gardener's oath we say with our gardeners.


And we're not cool enough to hear it? 



 
Brenda Groth
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we have from time to time used a small amount of gypsom drywall scraps in our gardens..ours we know isn't the toxic stuff from China as we bought it locally before china began importing it..and we have had it in storage in our garage rafters.

we kept all of the small..too small to use...scraps to use from time to time in our gardens..it is stored dry so we can acess it when we feel we need it.

i am always careful of the ph in our property to not use too much of it..but it was never painted so it is good quality ..and safe.

anything that will make the soil alkaline needs to be carefully monitored..but i have so much acid soil and acid mulch here it is something that i find useful.
 
Geoff Rich
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And we're not cool enough to hear it? 

With my hand in the soil, I understand that
We are one people
We have one common dream
We share one planet
We are responsible for the future
We are gardeners!



 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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Geoff,

What are the soils looking like?

My experience in missoula is that you have about an inch of top soil sitting on top of freaky big rocks, gravel and sand.

 
Geoff Rich
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The soil depth is a mixed bag, depending on how long the lawns have been in place. The rocks I encounter are generally fist-sized but I have found some football sized beauties and some smaller.  Most of these lawns have been around quite a while so the topsoil is usually four inches or more.

Imagine that the Missoula Valley is a bowl--geologically, it is.  It was filled with gravel and sediment over eons from the Clark Fork River.  For thousands of years, it was the bottom of a lake [do a search on "Glacial Lake Missoula" for an amazing geological epic that transformed the Pacific Northwest just a scant 10,000 years or so ago.]. All those cobbles, boulders, gravel and sand in the bowl have one interesting condition--one of the fasting moving aquifers around.

The geology and residential development history have created soil that--with good practices--are entirely suitable for backyard cultivation.  Nothing extraordinary is missing from the soil and compost, manure and similar additives do the job.
 
Seth Pogue
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  For weed-free soil, how about dredging the silt from back- eddies and frontage ditches of the Clark Fork River? This would serve double duty of cleaning the river, since before logging, that sediment was soil on the hillsides. In fact the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, and 99% of the other major rivers in this country are flowing mostly underground; infilled with sediment from logging and road building.
  Start a community ash-bank, with a truck that visits woodburning stove-owner's homes each spring and collects the winter's ashes.  Mix these with the silt, then fluff with leaves collected from streetside rake-piles in the fall. 
    Then all you need is nitrogen, which serves double duty of lowering pH.
 
Mark Vander Meer
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Soils in the Missoula Valley vary greatly.  Much is thin and rocky however, there is a surprisingly large acreage of soil that is deep and rich.  Most is this is Clark Fork alluvium.  Unfortunately these are the same places developers like to develop.  Missoula’s own CFAC – Community Food and Agriculture Coalition, is on the front lines of protecting this resource.  Check out their website: www.missoulacfac.org

Watch that horse manure.  More than likely, it is a toxic waste, as much of the hay has been sprayed with herbicides that persist thru the animal’s gut as well as the decomposition process.  I’m pretty careful where I procure manure.
 
Geoff Rich
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Seth Pogue wrote:
   For weed-free soil, how about dredging the silt from back- eddies and frontage ditches of the Clark Fork River?

I like to climb to the top of Mount Sentinel as an antidote to aging.  When I look down on the Clark Fork River, I see the sediment that has washed down since the Milltown Dam was removed a few years ago. Now, I am not saying that sediment is toxic, but I am not saying it isn't.  I think I will wait a few more years for spring run-off to send that stuff to my neighbors downstream before I dredge it and try to grow things in it.
 
                  
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How does one take advantage of this gardening help?
 
paul wheaton
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If there is one spot in missoula where they are dropping a tree that could work, and the owner is willing to drop a hundred bucks or so for a load of topsoil, I would like to come in and arrange for a hugelkultur demonstration.  I won't charge anything for my time, but I do expect to be able to come by and take pictures/videos and get video feedback from the owner.

 
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