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Here Is Our Micro-Homestead. Enjoy.

 
Travis Schultz
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Alright, so now lets share a little of the early stages of our homestead.

We are leasing this small plot of virgin ground from an older gentleman who bought this old historic farm 20 years ago. The area of our garden has never been used for anything. The owner owns a horse, donkey, and 4 peacocks, which are just pets. We own a lab mix, and a flock of 11 mixed hens and 1 rooster. They raise their own chicks in the spring.

We have 37-100sq ft double dug beds, which started as a bio-intensive model garden, but in 2 years has evolved into my own creation of bits and pieces from many natural farming methods. Whatever works I use, and I am always trying a new experiment.

We started from scratch as soon as the soil could be worked. We started with a grassy slope, and were able to supply a 16 share CSA that summer in full. The money from the CSA helped us get the infrastructure of the basic farm up and running. Cheap greenhouse, some hoop-houses for early market crops, and 9’ electric fence. I have a local source of clean worm castings and I ordered 8 yards for that first year. Everything got a half inch, as well as a full line of organic amendments and minerals to build up the soil and correct deficiencies. The soil test was key to a good garden that year.

We grew a lot of compost crops but left everything in place to die on the beds and some to reseed themselves, not true to the normal biointensive plan. Instead of making many piles of compost we just compost on the bed, and mulch over top of old refuse. Each spring for the first several years we will be adding amendments to correct deficiencies, and build soil until we can cycle nutrients on site. I know some have a problem with bringing in outside nutrients but for us we needed the plot to produce good the first year in order to have the money up front to build the farm. The soil was way out of whack and needed a lot of correcting, it is also mostly red acidic gravelly sand.

In 2 seasons we have taken the red sand to a much darker color with lots of black mixed in. We only double dug the first year, and do not step on the bed, in between crops we will just use the digging fork to pry up the soil a little and add oxygen down deep. It has remained very loamy since 2014 with little to no compaction. Most beds are mulched in many different styles to see what I like best, but as a testament to mulch in general, I only spent about 2 hours in total hand watering last season.

I have very little pest or disease problems to speak of. Japanese beetles come around but a trap near the garden catches most of them, then they are fed to the chickens. Mold issues are quickly solved with all the lactic acid bacteria I spray on the garden. A 55 gallon compost tea brewer takes care of all the other preventative maintenance with disease and pest.

Off 3700 sq ft we fed 16 full shares 45 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Great starter year but we are not going to do a CSA ever again, too much headache and I don’t like being in debt to start the year off.

Last season we tried our luck at farmers markets and found a niche pretty quickly. We are the young couple who grows and picks and sells everything themselves, together. People really like that, and being permaculturesque the workload is pretty light except for a few weeks in spring. Maybe a part time job if I include all my house and yard work.


Now lets please get the questions flowing! I want to answer and correct as well as be corrected myself. I have much to learn, and I have much to teach.
Here are some of the awesome experiments and techniques I am using to increase fertility and microbial diversity.

Korean natural farming techniques, lactic acid bacteria growing, fermented plant extracts, compost tea, homemade and self caught liquid fish fertilizer, polyculture of 65+ crops on under 4000 sq ft, sheet mulching, living mulch, chickens, etc.
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Travis Schultz
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more pics
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Travis Schultz
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Travis Schultz
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Travis Schultz
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Travis Schultz
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Greenhouse becomes major storage in winter.
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This is all the wood we need for a mild winter.
 
Travis Schultz
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These following pictures are from our first year, we broke ground by double digging in May 2014.
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Glad there was only bare soil for a couple weeks.
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one of our volunteers finishing his first double dug bed.
 
Travis Schultz
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during break we realized these were growing everywhere.
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more farm volunteers. Its a fun game clearing rocks from the paths!
 
Travis Schultz
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flats made from pallets for free.
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Travis Schultz
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Travis Schultz
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Travis Schultz
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this was a spring csa weekly box
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Tyler Ludens
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Beautiful, Travis!
 
Hans Quistorff
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2 things to share that have worked for me.
(1) Discarded wall to wall carpet for winter bead covers. The winter protection allows criters to cultivate the soil all winter. Can cover new ground in the summer and provide weed free space for vine crops like squash.
Video of my pumpkin patch last year.


(2) Portable garage frames to build high tunnels. I was able to rescue 5 different abandoned or damaged frames and put them together so that I have over 100' of shelter for my raspberries and peaches. The covering is repurposed from scaffolding cover material that came with a bid by a equipment recycler friend so it was free. It is tied through the installed rubber grommets with bailing twine and can be untied and rolled up on sides.
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Nicole Alderman
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Wow, Travis, that's a lot of double-dug beds! Were they all dug by hand? How long did it take?

This is some really impressive work. Thank you for sharing!
 
Travis Schultz
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As far as I know there is no machine that can double dig a bed for you lol. It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours for each bed if the person is a hard worker. It can take upwards of 5 hours for a slower worker. We double dug off and on for 2 weeks.

Our Compost Toilet.
My cheap greenhouse
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Travis Schulert wrote:As far as I know there is no machine that can double dig a bed for you lol. It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours for each bed if the person is a hard worker. It can take upwards of 5 hours for a slower worker. We double dug off and on for 2 weeks.

Our Compost Toilet.
My cheap greenhouse


Per what I read lately: double-digging is an overkill with not much to show for (google that).

In fact, (minimal soil turn + heavy mulch) is the way go it sounds.
This is what I am tilting for now days (much easier on the back too).
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Google: no dig gardening mulch. There are many sources.
For sure google: ruth stout.

As for me - I lately just loosen the soil with a fork (no proper tilling with turning - a bad way from last century)
Then I heavily mulch the on the top with my kitchen compost and cardboard.
 
Travis Schultz
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Gregory T. Russian wrote:
Travis Schulert wrote:As far as I know there is no machine that can double dig a bed for you lol. It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours for each bed if the person is a hard worker. It can take upwards of 5 hours for a slower worker. We double dug off and on for 2 weeks.

Our Compost Toilet.
My cheap greenhouse


Per what I read lately: double-digging is an overkill with not much to show for (google that).

In fact, (minimal soil turn + heavy mulch) is the way go it sounds.
This is what I am tilting for now days (much easier on the back too).


Everyone has methods that work for them. Sheet mulching can work to help loosen soil, over time, some soil sheet mulching will loosen much quicker. Toby Hemenway has a great sheet mulch, and I practice it in places of the farm that I do not need to garden at the moment. Double digging on hard soil can do in a few hours what years of sheet mulch could do. Plus, double digging does not destroy the strata of the soil, or any of the life really. It preserves life and layers of soil and microbes/fungi. Bio-Intensive is best used when someone does not have years or decades to slowly improve soil so that they do not have to work on it, or so they can invest their time elsewhere. It is really good for the person (like myself) who wanted to start a CSA to be able to get the money up front to build up a homestead, rather than spend years saving and experimenting to get myself to the same position as I was able to attain in only months.


my soil in 2 years is completely riddled with tunnels and holes, it never compacts, and it is raised about 12 inches off from the pathways. That is all oxygen. The extra 10"-12" in volume gained by double digging is all oxygen, and the worms keep it loamy like that. There are also many trace elements that are 2 feet deep in the earth (subsoil for most) that the plant will not have access to in heavy soil for many years of sheet mulching, whereas double digging allows access the first year.
 
Travis Schultz
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As far as it being overkill, I have heard some disputes over it, and I have read several articles in pioneer type magazines disputing it. The main argument usually tends to be "its just too much work! Overkill!" well, that is completely dependent on your soil, situation, and other gardening methods you may use, as well as the plants you are growing, whether they are tap rooted or not, and whether they are perennial or annual.

I use parts of permaculture, korean natural farming, bio-intensive, and biodynamic in my garden, whatever works for me. And I advise everyone to experiment first, dont just take someone elses word for it. And if you do a side by side experiment and learn that for you and your soil double digging is or isnt the way for you to go, then congratulations! You have experimented like all great scientists and found what works for you. But just because your study tilted one way, does not mean thats the answer for everyone, everywhere, with every soil.
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Like i said - i still *loosen* the soil (i have it heavy).
I started on my project 10 year ago; always turned it by hand annually.
Well, not getting any younger and lately i choose to not turn my soil anymore.
I only loosen it and then mulch.

Cheers!

 
Travis Schultz
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Gregory T. Russian wrote:Like i said - i still *loosen* the soil (i have it heavy).
I started on my project 10 year ago; always turned it by hand annually.
Well, not getting any younger and lately i choose to not turn my soil anymore.
I only loosen it and then mulch.

Cheers!



Nice! would love to fast forward 10 years and see how awesome my soil would be then. Huge improvement just in the first season, and after two seasons its like night and day. How many feet of topsoil have you built from 10 years of sheet mulching?

Also you do not turn the soil in double digging, you keep the layers the way the micro life have buffered it.
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Travis Schulert wrote:
Gregory T. Russian wrote:Like i said - i still *loosen* the soil (i have it heavy).
I started on my project 10 year ago; always turned it by hand annually.
Well, not getting any younger and lately i choose to not turn my soil anymore.
I only loosen it and then mulch.

Cheers!



Nice! would love to fast forward 10 years and see how awesome my soil would be then. Huge improvement just in the first season, and after two seasons its like night and day. How many feet of topsoil have you built from 10 years of sheet mulching?

Also you do not turn the soil in double digging, you keep the layers the way the micro life have buffered it.


How many feet?
* Zero feet. Remember - it takes 500-1000 years to create 1 inch of top soil in nature. That is A LOT if material to input.
* My target is to improve soil structure (make it a little less compact) and add nutrients while at it - nothing else.
* Oh yes - and preserve my health while doing it. I only have one backbone to keep until death.

But yes - I am a fan! Do what works for ya.
 
Travis Schultz
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It may take nature that long, but there are several permaculturists around the world creating 8 inches a year with normal chop and drop practice, sheet mulching and composting. I know I went from 0 inches, which my ground was just sand, and after mulching in place and using garden waste to compost I made roughly 3or 4 inches of dark loamy topsoil in 2 seasons. Still sand below that, but even the sand 12 inches down is much darker than it was the first year. The worms and beetles etc carry organic matter from the surface down deeper, as well as organic matter that has leached down through those same tunnels made by the creepy crawlies calling my beds home. Bring in as much organic matter as possible, as feasible, with your schedule. 2 feet of mulch breaks down to just a thin layer of actual dark top soil. But year after year it can really build up if done right.

Why has your garden not built top soil in 10 years? What might be the problem there? Joel Salatin and Allan Savory are a couple names that come to mind when I think of people that have built top soil on a much larger scale, hundreds of acres or more of area and building several inches over several years just by the right rotational grazing practice.
 
Travis Schultz
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Also, composting the roots in place, adds lots of organic matter. The reason the sand 12 inches deep is darker is because of the high concentration of plants growing in once space has a high concentration of roots in the bed, at the end of the year those roots turn to humus. Thats one reason why the food forest model works so well, is you have many layers of roots and tap roots as you go deeper and deeper into the soil, all of those 7 layers of forest are shedding roots all year long, the worms and other bugs are then feeding on those dead roots turning them into humus so its really a beautiful thing, the more you can grow in one spot the more organic matter you creat.
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Travis Schulert wrote:Why has your garden not built top soil in 10 years?

Well...
* first, I don't care to measure my soil scientifically (must really have a method to it to make any claims), mb I did build few inches - dont know;
but NOT a foot - hence "zero feet"; a foot of soil is a LOT and hard to miss!
* second, I also do not dump many feet of mulch per year - just don't have access to that much; unsure who does.. I surely do not;
* third, I already started with 1-2 feet of top soil spread about on my lot at the start of my garden project; so I can not just visually judge if my soil gets any darker than it already is (unlike in MI - you do have LOTS of sand there; i have seen it in Traverse City area; so yes - if your sand gets darker, you may well see that)
 
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I use the bag attachment on my little push mower, and when I am mowing around the garden or house I just keep emptying the bag on the beds or compost pile, I also scrounge the recycling dumpsters and bring home truck loads of newspaper and cardboard (I am not a permie purist yet so I still use cardboard and stuff I do not however use any manure, mulch, or woodchips that are not from my property). But all of those are lightweight. If anyone knows about back problems its me, I also have had a very bad hernia, but I have actually found huge improvements with my back and overall health by instead of doing less, I just do a lot more to build muscle and strength, instead of lifting everything I can at once I just make lots of little trips so I dont tweak my back. And my back before and after starting the farm has changed completely.

Good luck with everything.
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Travis Schulert wrote:....Good luck with everything.

The same to you, Travis!
Watch that backbone and stuff. I am also into working out, not just gardening/orchading.
I recommend working out with russian kettlebells as a prevention from gardening injuries. (see my nickname?).

Also I would love to get a chunk of land in addition and expand (though with low maintenance orchard project in mind).
Anyway, glad to share and learn any time. Peace.
 
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Your answer that you're looking for wont be a short google search.

Also when talking about building top soil, that doesnt mean the ground has lifted up by 8 inches, that means 8 inches below the surface is now a much darker richer soil due to the extreme microbe breeding going on in such perfect conditions. Geoff says that if humans vanished from the earth today, the earth may never be able to recover on its own. That humans at this point are really needed to use these soil building methods of natural farming to repair the earth thousands of times faster than the best natural systems on earth.

This is well documented and wont be hard to find.

Jack Spirko just had him on as a guest on his Survival Podcast a couple weeks ago, or less. I did however get you the link to the site so there is more of a chance that you listen to it, its a good talk.

Survival Podcast with Geoff Lawton.
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Travis Schulert wrote:.......
Also when talking about building top soil, that doesnt mean the ground has lifted up by 8 inches, that means 8 inches below the surface is now a much darker richer soil


Which means it is very difficult to measure any changes at all.
Which then bring a questions of how is it people even claim that any change exists?
I, for one, do not know how to measure such changes in my soil.
It is as dark as dart it was 10 years ago. Just being as scientific as I can.
Anyway...
 
Travis Schultz
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Gregory T. Russian wrote:
Travis Schulert wrote:.......
Also when talking about building top soil, that doesnt mean the ground has lifted up by 8 inches, that means 8 inches below the surface is now a much darker richer soil


Which means it is very difficult to measure any changes at all.
Which then bring a questions of how is it people even claim that any change exists?
I, for one, do not know how to measure such changes in my soil.
It is as dark as dart it was 10 years ago. Just being as scientific as I can.
Anyway...


Soil testing through a lab. It is only $25 a year from MSU, and I can exactly measure the organic matter %. Mine increased 2% the first year. I am not getting one this year because I do not need it. But its not like Lawton, Mollison, Savory, and Salatin are all just using pseudoscience here, they really do know what they are talking about and are proving it globally in all climates. Look at what Holzer is doing in Russia! For Christs sake they named a university after him! lol amazing things happening with permaculture and other natural farming, in all climates and corners of the world. Just got to want to learn it. Saying its BS isnt helping anyone, especially not you and your land.
 
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Also, if you dug down until you ran out of topsoil on your land 10 years ago, you could dig down today and see how many inches or feet you have gained in 10 years. Fortunately I did my soil test year 1 and year 2 and saw great improvements, not only on paper, but in real time and by the color change of the sand. But I am not doing a soil test for another 3 years on this land because I am adding the same amount of amendments to correct deficiencies. They suggest you get one every 3 years. I wanted to get another after 1 year just to be able to see my cation exchange and % of organic matter.
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Travis Schulert wrote:
Soil testing through a lab. It is only $25 a year from MSU, and I can exactly measure the organic matter %. Mine increased 2% the first year. I am not getting one this year because I do not need it. But its not like Lawton, Mollison, Savory, and Salatin are all just using pseudoscience here, they really do know what they are talking about and are proving it globally in all climates. Look at what Holzer is doing in Russia! For Christs sake they named a university after him! lol amazing things happening with permaculture and other natural farming, in all climates and corners of the world. Just got to want to learn it. Saying its BS isnt helping anyone, especially not you and your land.


Sorry about the "BS" (was not meant towards you).
I like to look at the specific, credible numbers before anything; especially "before-after" (part of my real life job).

Lab:
i get that (organic matter % is a good number; i am unsure why any talk of inches even started here - not really admissible; organic matter is not measured in inches);
but i, honestly, don't care to go that far and start testing my soil...
i know that my soil is plenty good as-is for what I need (to grow some supplemental, organic food)
 
Travis Schultz
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A good book for you would be Ben Falk's Resilient Homestead. Somewhat new, and he has a lot of emphasis on fruit trees and perennials, while not breaking ground really at all besides that which is done with pigs.
 
Gregory T. Russian
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Travis Schulert wrote:Also, if you dug down until you ran out of topsoil on your land 10 years ago, you could dig down today and see how many inches or feet you have gained in 10 years.......


About this: does not work on a very heavy/hard substrate. Nope.

Imagine a layer of spread top soil on top of a very heavy, compacted clay with ice age boulders mixed in?
No organic matter will sip down below that hard horizon.
It is, essentially, concrete that you want to try to turn into soil.
Not going to work in my lifetime; not wasting my time.

I CAN see the organic material slowly sipping down into the light sands of Michigan (your case).
My friends live near Traverse City. I was surprised anything at all grows there - it takes non-stop organic fertilization addition.
Not arguing there.

 
Travis Schultz
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You should make a post about how its impossible to loosen hard pack clay within 1 persons lifetime, there will be many people here that can help you not only loosen it up in your lifetime, but within a few years with the right methods and species planted.

This is not the thread for this anyway, this is a thread to inspire others to go where others tell them they cannot go, and to try things others tell them they shouldnt try. Because nobody ever changed anything in the world by saying something cant be done.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Gregory T. Russian wrote:
Travis Schulert wrote:Also, if you dug down until you ran out of topsoil on your land 10 years ago, you could dig down today and see how many inches or feet you have gained in 10 years.......


About this: does not work on a very heavy/hard substrate. Nope.

Imagine a layer of spread top soil on top of a very heavy, compacted clay with ice age boulders mixed in?
No organic matter will sip down below that hard horizon.
It is, essentially, concrete that you want to try to turn into soil.
Not going to work in my lifetime; not wasting my time.

I CAN see the organic material slowly sipping down into the light sands of Michigan (your case).
My friends live near Traverse City. I was surprised anything at all grows there - it takes non-stop organic fertilization addition.
Not arguing there.



It's been a while since college and learning about soil surveying, so I may be a bit rusty, but I think the "organic" layer that is being referred to here is the "O Horizon" as well as "A Horizon" and there are ways to scientifically test for it. If you want, I can look up how to do a home test to determine soil horizon depths for you. Soil surveyors do it all the time, and you can find their results on websites like http://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/gmap/. And, that O Horizon can be deep or shallow (mine is pretty deep here in our forest, we have lots of leaves and debris...and rain).



Also, concrete can be broken down, and sometimes rather quickly. If you walk along any old sidewalk (or even some that are only 5-10 years old), you might likely see moss and other things growing on it. At least here you do. One little plant gets rooted in some dust that settles on the sidewalk, and that plant helps collect more dust and debris, and the roots and soil fungus start breaking it up. If this processes is helped along, I would assume it'd happen even faster. And, plants like daikon radishes and comfrey will drill pretty far and--if left to rot in the ground--will leave organic material quite a ways down. And, critters like worms and moles and ground hogs will also mix up those layers for you, bringing organic material down and clay/sand up. But, this process can take drastically different amounts of time based on rainfall.

I would think, with all the work you've got going on there, and for such a long amount of time, that you likely have more organic material, and it being deeper, than you think!

 
Travis Schultz
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I've got no option but to sell you all for scientific experiments. Or a tiny ad:
The stocking stuffer game for all your Permaculture companions
http://www.FoodForestCardGame.com
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