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Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Hello permies! I am obviously a new one here at the forum and wanted to contribute some photos and descriptions of what I am doing with my rented city lot. I am very lucky to have a landlord who has pretty much given me free reign to garden as I see fit "as long as it improves the property" Pretty easy to do considering the massive runoff issue on the property, and the completely untended state we found it in when we moved in.
I got here about halfway through the growing season last season, so I have only about 1/2 a season on it yet. What I did first was observe, and set the chickens up in the smaller backyard. I let them freerange in the yard at my old house, so they are doing that here for now too. On this lot there are a number of fully mature trees 2 fullsize hackberries, 2 young adult Hberrys, tons of mulberry sprouting, catalpa, oak, one mature pecan, one ~15 year old pecan, magnolia, one giant chinese sumack, mature crape myrtle, and a pretty old redbud. One of the first things I did as I was clearing some of the overgrowth was move 4 small mulberries out from the fence line into the middle of the yard. In the larger side yard I moved a bunch of oak seedlings from a spot in the back of the yard at the top of the slope where I would put the 1st garden bed. To make the bed I just dug a trench on contour and piled the soil into a flat topped pile.
I immediately planted seeds,
basil,
calendula,
arugula,
squash,
marjoram,
dill,
lemon balm,
sweet potato vine,
comfrey
and a bunch of others that havent come up still.

From friends and family I got
sage
echinecea
thyme
some broccoli starts

Supplied naturally in the soil was
broadleaf plantain
lambsquarter
dandelion
black nightshade

my trench on contour worked excellently as I did not water once the seeds were sprouting and the garden took off like none I had ever planted.

The chickens loved the more wooded feel of their new range and took to devouring many plants and bugs that were terrifically overgrown in the yard. They even took to hanging out in the trees.

Ill be back later with more of the timeline and photos.

 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Here are the mulberries transplanted with myrtle in the back


And another shot with coop in the background


And a midjuly shot of showing basils, sweet pot, chard, squash, sage emerging
 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Heres another from July showing lambsquarter, calendula, prickly pear, broc, nasturtium



Surprise Aloe under some other stuff



By late august the main lamgbsquarter patch was taller than 6 feet



Herbs feeling fine



Raspberry putting out fruits



First peach harvest, the birds got three or four before I could get them. Pretty measly but it was the first year for the dwarf peach to fruit. Now that the tree is in the ground and not a pot I hope to see more fruit next year.

 
Zach Muller
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For the initial chicken coop setup I had an open bottom design so all poop excreted in the night would fall below into a large hole, which was connected to another trench on contour. I filed the runoff from the alleyway across the yard so that when it rained the trench would fill and bring the water over to fill the poop hole and wash the nitrogen back into the trench and hopefully spread it into the mulberry planting. which was just down slope of all that. This seemed to work as I never had to clean or move any chicken poop. My main adult chickens are crosses with game hens so they had a pattern of laying for a few weeks and then going broody. They were kind of wilder and ended up not sleeping in the coop and staying up in the trees. Early on I made the mistake of letting some young adult laying breeds that I was going to have as my main layers free range with the adult crosses. They were all killed by cats unfortunately, but it was a good lesson. After that happened I got a rooster, and then 10 black orphington chicks. Shortly after the white cross hen went broody and hatched her own little baby.
 
Zach Muller
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Throughout the early establishment process I was pretty much obsessed with soil microbes. I built a 5 gallon bio reactor to run tests and brew compost tea. While I knew this was not really sustainable, since it relies on a small air pump, pvc and grid power, I just had an overwhelming drive to brew these brews and look at microbes.

Excuse the ridiculous poor quality, it is actually very difficult to hold the camera lens on the microscope with one hand and adjust focus and slide with the other. If you want to see something other than random chaos skip to ~2:30 to see a network of fungal hyphae with bacteria teeming around chowing down, and generally getting frisky.


This video opens with a clear shot of a ciliate moving around. It goes to the edge of the air bubbles and scrubs around back and forth eating. At ~1:30 I flip the magnification up and it shows the bacteria in their dream scenario, Air bubble on one side and long strand of fungal hyphae on the other. By the end of the video things are starting to slow down as the oxygen level drops in the sample. Again excuse the camera insanity, don't watch too closely if you get motion sick easily!


This is a short clip of the brewer operating. This was the first running of it, later I modified the top feed pipe to be longer and waste less through splashing. With more experiments I had to get into higher levels of castings which would eventually clog the lift pipe. Once I was wanting to run brews at that concentration I adapted the design to basically just blow air up through the bottom of the 5 gallon and not use any lift. This obviously had its absolute limits because it does not create the amount of dissolved oxygen needed to support that high of a concentration of organisms. I used the brewer for a few months with those design limitations since it was working to a large degree. If I decided to do it next season I will be using a 55 gallon barrel and wider diameter pipe. Props to http://microbeorganics.com/ for my inspiration on most of the tea brewing stuff.

 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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After a few months of running that setup with the coop and water runoff, and knowing it was not enough to really deal with the water runoff I was getting, my neighbor installed a new driveway. This profoundly changed my runoff pattern and forced all of the water from the alley to enter the premises in one spot. Among other things it rendered my chicken poop setup inactive since the runoff no longer filled the trench and hole. The new entry point for the runoff stream was feeding right into the garden area, which was cool since it meant more water to catch in the garden, but initially the trenches on contour and water breaks were not prepared for such volume, causing water to hit the top of the garden with such force it would wash over the top. Once I secured the water and got the elevation right I was catching a good amount. But still losing a lot too.


Here is a late summer shot of some thai basil with dandelion below it. In the lower portion of the picture you can see part of the bottom of the trench, still dark from being wet long after a rain.

And on that same trench edge I would have strawberries popping up.



 
Zach Muller
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Here is a drawing of the overall flow of water. The darker blue areas are parts that will fill up to a certain point and then overflow into the next area downslope. I was not able to draw the topographical lines, but it is basically downslope as you go further east. The green areas are planting beds numbered chronologically as they were established. I know there is a lack of trees in this forest but I am taking it one step at a time trying to secure and build soil first. At the beginning of next season I will move a 4-5 year mulberry or two into bed 1 between the pear and cottonwood. I will also be starting a bunch of Apple seeds for grafting later.



And a shot from the walkway in late summer
 
fiona smith
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Location: UK
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Those pics are great Zach. I have started a urban food forest too.
Them peaches of yours look mighty yummy...
I am considering a peach tree , though I am too concerned about the birds, it rains a hell of a lot, so I am worried also about no fruits. So possibly a potted one I can bring indoors in winter would be better, because my last years grapes never graped




 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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fiona smith wrote:Those pics are great Zach. I have started a urban food forest too.
Them peaches of yours look mighty yummy...
I am considering a peach tree , though I am too concerned about the birds, it rains a hell of a lot, so I am worried also about no fruits. So possibly a potted one I can bring indoors in winter would be better, because my last years grapes never graped





Thanks I'm glad you like them. The peaches were pretty good, my wife made a cobbler with them so no complaints. I think next year I will pick them when I can smell them, had I done that this year I would have saved them all from the birds. I also want to get some tropical trees that I would pot and bring in in the winter.
 
Zach Muller
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Got around to processing some wild harvested seeds today and made a seedmix for establishing some of the really rocky soils in the newer planting areas. Here is
Golden rod, wild sunflowers, thistle, pigweed, lambsquarters, plantain, red clover, Thai basil and lavender.

I will figure out what else to add in later
 
Johnny Niamert
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Zach, excellent to see someone doing some soil microbial testing!

Anyways, anything you can pass on with your testing/observations? Have you been able, or needed to, drastically change any soil conditions?
i have-not a Leica.... would you recommend an expensive soil test to see what I have, or is this kind of a 'just for knowledge' thingy?

Thanks.

Nice set-up with the reactor.
 
Zach Muller
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Johnny Niamert wrote:Zach, excellent to see someone doing some soil microbial testing!

Anyways, anything you can pass on with your testing/observations? Have you been able, or needed to, drastically change any soil conditions?
i have-not a Leica.... would you recommend an expensive soil test to see what I have, or is this kind of a 'just for knowledge' thingy?

Thanks.

Nice set-up with the reactor.



Hey thanks for the comment. The soil conditions in my current beds were not too dismal, they had just been run through with runoff water about a million times, luckily enough trees around that organic matter was still pretty high. Next season though I am going to be working an area with soil that is mostly rock
and little to no organic matter so I may put these microbes to the test once I start getting some pioneers going.

As far as observations go, it was good to see all the organisms and witness their interactions. Rather than focusing on trying to get a bacterial brew or fungal brew, I always focus on getting a balanced brew with plenty of diversity because if some microbes are not needed when they hit the soil they will just go inactive and be on call for when conditions require their activity. Therefore I have always used simple food source, black strap. Black strap is a great fuel, but I may research for a local sustainable substitute that still works as well. In my opinion growing anything is all about microbes and these days it just doesn't pay to be in the dark on that. With so much second hand info being passed around by people who have no direct observation, I felt it was a necessity to get a look and understand these lives a little better.
I do not know of any soil test that will address microbes at all, but soils tests can be useful for other things. Aside from high tech tests to see nutrient levels and ph some simple low tech ones are really great for knowing what you have. Digging into the soil and feeling it with your hands and eyes, smelling it etc. can give you a clear idea of moisture content, organic matter content, and general particle size. These things can be good clues about what microbes if any are active in there. If you don't see any organic matter and it's dry as a bone then it's a good bet there isn't much happening on a microscopic level.
 
Johnny Niamert
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I definitely agree with you about the microbes.

There are actually 2 (that I know of) companies which do microbial testing. Earthfort and someone else who I cannot recall given the life of me. Only problem is $100+ for a test, and it is kind-of dependent on how the sample was taken, handled, shipped, etc... I'm still not sure if it's worth the cost, though.

Please, post back with any thoughts or knowledge you glean from your observations. Especially about the progression of balance as you continue to work your soil.
 
Zach Muller
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Yeah for me, on this site, doing a hundred dollar test makes no sense. My microscope was $80 and after a learning curve period of figuring out what microbes to expect in what magnification I can test my soil microbe activity and worm tea every night if need be. If I got back a report on my soil telling me I was deficient in some microbe group, it really would not change my plans. I am already focused on creating a good habitat for a balanced microbial life cycle, and since my garden is a research/leisure garden I am not going to starve if all my stuff dies, or lose a huge investment I made n plants. I'll keep coming with observations, can't wait for spring!
 
Zach Muller
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Here are some update photos of whats going on this winter.

this is one of the new beds, recently prepared and planted and covered with a fine wood mulch.


This is another freshly planted bed with rocky soil, mulched with tree litter.


Wild Lettuce


Marjoram doing really well despite cold icey conditions.


comfrey frozen back and regrowing again.


Parsley
 
Zach Muller
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And some more pics from today.


this is a closeup of one section of bed that I planted red clover as ground cover, dead nettle and henbit have both set up shop throughout the clover. This was the first time I have ever planted red clover and I am happy about how it has buckled down and remained active throughout the winter weather. I will continue documenting it through the year, I have a feeling it is one of my new favorite plants.


Here is a broad view of that same bed, notice raspberries on the left and lavender on the right


Here you see the variation, one spot has leeks and pine chicken bedding as mulch, one section is natural leaf litter from the oak and pecan, and one is living mulch of clovers, nettles, and henbit.


Here is some fennel I planted. I planted the bulb I got from the grocery store after using the plant for soup. If you look to the left you see the dead stems and the live green part is fresh growth, so I am excited to see this plant come up next season.


This is my feverfew bush slumped over and doing ok. I am growing this particularly to make medicine.


These are my two new best friends dead nettle and henbit. I have always known these two as winter warriors, but now I realize they are a team and are more important than I thought. At my old house I found these two and thought, "wow why am I even struggling to grow plants in the winter when these two are growing without any extra inputs." I would slave over row covers etc. to grow crops and then see these plants growing into full forms overnight practically. They showed me that I was being foolish and not planting right.

So overall here in zone 7 its time to plant seeds for next season. I am going to try to "winter sow" some early crops in plastic containers rather than start seedlings in the house. (Except lemon balm, feverfew, sweet potato vine, wandering jew, and mugwort that i have already going inside ready to be planted outside.)
 
Zach Muller
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One part of my project that I have not mentioned up to now is my "urban zone 5" which sounds like an oxymoron to me. At the property I own in central oklahoma I have a fenced off area that is about 2500 square feet that was my old garden area. I have established a good looking mulberry back there and a year old maple tree. I had extensive plans when I lived there, but now that I live a few hours away I only get to see this place about four times a year hence it's zone five status. I shot a short clip showing the plants. Among the competitive grasses survived wild amaranth, lambsquarter, thistle, rosemary, wild onions, chard, and a bunch of other squashes and tomatoes. My challenge now is figuring out what to do with this area, how to establish barefoot trees with so much competition from grasses etc. my dream for the area is a self sustaining perennial system that helps the areas birds and bees,but also supplies a little bit of yield for me to harvest during my visits. If anyone has any suggestions or experience with this type of thing I would love to hear some input.

 
Zach Muller
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Three of my hens went broody and hatched 9 babies a few days ago. There were some eggs from all the hens under them and the chicks that were all black i found dead in the pen with their brains pecked out. I guess these hens do not want to raise someone else's baby.

Here is a video of the three mother hens taking their 7 peeps into the chicken paddock for the first time. I had already observed the hens chirping at food that the babies would come running up to eat, but it was always food I was putting in the pen. I was able to get some good shots of the mother teaching the peep what to eat when there are a lot of options available.
If you start the video right about 1:20 you see the mother chirping through eating lambsquarter and then calling the baby over for something on the ground.
They have only been alive for a few days but they have already been taught so much by the hens it's kind of amazing.


 
John Saltveit
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Logan Labs in Ohio will do a test for $20 or so. Good test too. The Intelligent Gardener is a good book about soil and testing. Steve Solomon is the author. He recommends that test. I like Zach's ideas about using the microscope. Building your skills is better than paying someone else in general. I got my copy of the book at the library. I don't make a lot of money and I find the library an amazing resource.
JohN S
PDX OR
 
Zach Muller
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I agree John the library is one of the best resources around. There is a system called inter library loan where books can be requested from city libraries in the system, it is a good way to get books that your local library might not have, but are in the system somewhere.

Figure I'll post a quick update on my garden this season. I had a lot of success and a lot of failure.

Successes:
I got my water management dialed in pretty well. I had a thicket of plants up in my first catchment to soak up a little of the road nasties, a network of cacti and other plants slowing the water and allowing debris to be dropped, and my swales in the garden. With all this I was able to catch nearly every drop of water that fell throughout the season. There were only a couple of really heavy storms where I observed the system getting totally full and overflowing off the property.

I established more than 25 trees, thanks to the water management, without any irrigation or supplemental water. In the garden I added pear, more mulberries, redbuds, Washington Hawthorne, service berry, sand cherry, american plum, about 5 apples from seed, crab apple, black locust, Catalpa, mimosas, and the cottonwood is going strong.
Added blueberries, and a lot of asparagus.
I was able to get different seed crops through, celery, parsley, wild lettuce, cilantro, went through 3 cycles of snap pea, chard, purple hyacinth, giant ragweed, plantain.

The garden layers developed more, with a lot more vines, more ground covers, more functional forest layers were present.
I got a ton of herbs, medicinal flowers, peppers, a few tomatoes.

Failures:
I was so busy with other stuff I pretty much set up the garden and left it alone. I tried to observe when I could, but spent a lot of time away from it, had that not been the case things would be completely different.
Birds ate every single peach
Birds ate 90 percent of the strawberry yield
Many tomatoes did not put on fruit until later in the season, and then did not ripen because of the lack of time before frost.
It feels frustrating when there is a general lack of actual produce coming out of the garden and other people are saying they are getting so much productivity, but I am not putting in fertility inputs in order to get a good tomatoe crop, I am trying really to find a self fertile system which produces, that is difficult to explain to a more production minded gardener. When I need reassurance I go look at all the bugs and soil critters, or appreciate the herbs and other yields that did come through.

Chickens: the chickens hatched multiple clutches, probably around 20 total babies. Of the 20 I have had 11 make it to adulthood. Throughout the season I slaughtered a few, sold some on craigslist(which ended up covering my supplemental feed costs), and had to build a new coop when I had some neighbor issues and was under fire from the departments of sadness.
In the chicken yard I have planted 4-5 mulberries and a crab apple, and I seeded the whole area with a seed mix of lambsquarter, sunflowers, and a few other herbs. The lambsquarter was a winner in a lot of ways. When it is young and short the chickens eat the leaves, and as it grows taller it creates a canopy of safety over the chickens and babies, mine really took to this habitat and would hang out there a lot. Once it is full grown and has seeds it will make a non stop light rain of seeds as it dries out, which lasted all the way into late November. I got used to seeing baby chickens leaping up and grabbing a low hanging leaf off the stem.
After the seeds fell I cut down the 6 Foot stems and bundled them, I plan on making a whole separate thread about those and their uses.
Anyway that more or less it. I only have a few pictures.









 
Zach Muller
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And a few more.


Cottonwood, serviceberry, and Greek basil at the entrance of second swale.



Rooster checking out the giant wonder berry bush I harvested for him and his ladies.



Lavender bush in front of a successful wall of sunflowers, lablab, and giant ragweed. You can't see it, but at the base of the sunflower hedge is asparagus, redbud, and a black locust.
 
John Saltveit
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Many people will only talk about what they did so well. I think it is important that you also included what was challenging. I like hawthornes, but I don't think Washington hawthorn is one of the better tasting ones. It seems to me very thorny with small bland fruit. To me, Washington is root stock for pear or other better hawthorns like Carriere hawthorn, or another that is also common as a street here that also has a big good tasting fruit and fewer thorns. Hawthorns are chock full of antioxidants and repair heart and circulation system tissues. They also stay on the tree late: I have many still on my trees , and not too many other fruit on my trees as we near Christmas.

All of the nutrition doctors keep saying its' even more important to have free range and pastured organic meat than veg if you're going to eat meat, so I think the chickens make a lot of sense, especially if you like raising them. Organic free range chicken is not cheap. That's how you get gourmet food at blue collar prices.

I love all the combinations of plants and guilds you are growing.
John S
PDX OR
 
Zach Muller
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John Saltveit wrote:Many people will only talk about what they did so well. I think it is important that you also included what was challenging. I like hawthornes, but I don't think Washington hawthorn is one of the better tasting ones. It seems to me very thorny with small bland fruit. To me, Washington is root stock for pear or other better hawthorns like Carriere hawthorn, or another that is also common as a street here that also has a big good tasting fruit and fewer thorns. Hawthorns are chock full of antioxidants and repair heart and circulation system tissues. They also stay on the tree late: I have many still on my trees , and not too many other fruit on my trees as we near Christmas.

I love all the combinations of plants and guilds you are growing.
John S
PDX OR


Thanks for the comments John, I did not specifically pick out the Washington, it was just a free tree from the arborday foundation I think. It's good to hear some further info on its taste though, I have not had any exposure to mature Hawthorne trees. I read about it being a good rootstock for some pear varieties and will probably attempt to hone my grafting skills on it when it grows up a bit. One of my other tree goals is to have enough Persimmons and other late fruits that hang out on the tree into winter so I can have more food at that time, maybe I will try to pick up a carriere Hawthorne with that in mind.

Speaking of antioxidants, I forgot to mention I also added a goji berry bush this year, it seemed to take to the soil just fine, hopefully it makes it through the winter.
 
Helen Gilson
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After watching your microscopic friends, I will never look at my worm tea the same again! I drain mine off by the butter tub full. Now I imagine a pool party of bacteria in the margarine dish!
 
Zach Muller
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That is a great image Helen. They really do have a whole universe of existence inside the fluid. A few times I have had to reach into the brewer during a brew and got kind of a creepy feeling with such a lively solution surrounding my arm.
 
Zach Muller
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Recently I constructed an attempt to catch floating nasties in my runoff. The idea is to dig a hole that the water would drop down into and then flow back out, allowing heavier nasties to be deposited in the hole. I did no research on this whatsoever I just decided to try it while I was reworking the trash can platform.
Here's the hole. Hit rock about a foot and half deep.


Here is the trash cans over top.



And here is where the water will enter the hole from the street side.




This is the street with my small channel dug on the left, that will fill with plants as the season unfolds.



Here's a shot of how the street looks when it's full of water, notice it flowing into the hole to the lower left.



And the garden filled.



Seems to me a better setup would be digging a bigger drainage ditch across the whole property line and having that overflow to the swales in the garden. This will have to do for now. Having trouble rotating two of those so you may have to rotate your head instead.



 
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