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Smacked down again. What would a sane person do?  RSS feed

 
Regan Dixon
Posts: 133
Location: Zone 4b at 1000m, post glacial soil...British Columbia
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I did not respond to Paul's request for volunteers in his 200x More Permaculture post, because I am not seeing enough success, to preach the permaculture word.  Quite frankly, if I was relying on my food raising efforts, I would have starved to death, years ago. 

After a cold, persistent winter, I went for a stroll today in the sun--the first sun in weeks--now that the yard is more or less clear of snow, to see how plantings fared over winter.  I have lost my entire young orchard to voles.  The trees are a couple of years old, and I never had this problem before.  I was so pleased at how they'd been surviving in the moist draw, without me watering them, and thought I might actually get a little fruit this year.  But no.  Every single tree has been girdled.  Five apples, two plums, two apricots, two persimmons.  Maybe a pear might survive:  it was only nibbled half way round.  I have lost two hazels and possibly a black currant.  None of the drought-hardy plants in the dry-in-summer spot survived--chokecherry, wolf willow, sumac, a few other things.  The veggie patch wants to be grass, and not anything that I plant.  A few weeks ago, a weasel got into the chicken coop, and killed 17 chickens.  I rehomed the remainder for their safety, so after buying feed for the birds all winter, I am eggless at peak laying season. 

I might have one sugar maple surviving of the ten I planted.   And it's all of six inches tall.  The short list of survivals:  the white mulberry planted last year does not seem to be dead.  A young autumn olive has two of its three main stems intact.  A hazel in a different location does not look dead.  I've found two of the Viburnums I planted a couple of years ago.  A gooseberry is still alive.  The rhubarb is unmolested, as are some ancient raspberry canes.  All my goats are still living:  the pregnant one due at the end of May; the doeling that I'm selling that someone's put a deposit on; the doe that won't freshen, who's for sale as a pet; a good buck, a wether, and the buck I won't use because he has thyroid issues, that I don't want him to pass down.  I have been feeding six goats in order to get a little milk from one of them.  I don't know what to do with the undesirable buck.  He would probably taste bucky.  He's too big to band.  I don't want to pass on his issues to somebody else.

So it would be "easiest" to be a good little consumer, and buy my imported, conventionally-grown produce from the store, at prices that make me shudder.  Food is not cheap--even "cheap" things like carrots and turnips.  I am not very employed, and cannot be effectively feeding money to pests and predators...but I don't see the benefit of feeding money to Big Ag, either.

A hallmark of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result.  So I am doing things a little differently, but I don't know if it's differently enough:  I am attempting to grow a tray full of black currants from cuttings (free).  I hope voles find they taste awful.  I just transplanted in some stinging nettles today--they were free.  I hope they sting the voles.  Before I found about my perished hazels, I'd already ordered six from an EFB-free nursery, which took me years to locate.  I'm picking them up next weekend.  I have on order a bunch of different kinds of raspberries, and some miscellaneous berry bushes.  (Several kinds of berry bushes grow wild here, but not tree fruits.  Should I only plant non-natives that are not woody perennials/shrubs/trees?)  Fungus spawn arrived in the mail today--a totally different kind of organism from anything I've tried--and if I get any shrooms, maybe the squirrels will harvest them for a change, instead of voles.  Previously ordered yellowhorn seeds arrived today.  I honestly don't think they will survive the voles any better, if I don't kill them myself while trying to get them to sprout.  I have chicks in the brooder, whose eggs I'd collected a few days before the weasel attack, for the purpose of selling or eating, myself.  It was just lucky timing that I had some.  Fortknoxification of the coop is on my agenda.  I have bought, and will pick up on Tuesday, a Nubian goat who gives at least four times as much milk as my best Nigerian Dwarf doe.

It hasn't been a great winter.  But when the water line froze for six weeks, I went the simple route and melted snow.  By building stairs to the creek, I can skip that step if the line freezes again.  My truck has been demanding a lot of service lately.  But, between bouts of being unusable, it has allowed me the following trips:  to travel to see my father for the last time; to go to a soul-feeding craft symposium; to go out of province to buy a propane-and-wood cookstove that's hard to find, which will give me greater independence and comfort in the house (plus I really needed to get out of Dodge for a couple of days); and before being at the mechanic's for a couple of weeks waiting for parts, the truck also allowed me to rehome my chickens to a functional farm, that the couple has been working on together for forty years, and which provides most of their food--and they admit that they're still making mistakes and learning.  They graciously took my hens, and butchered my roosters before my eyes--no qualms about cutting the deadwood.  In spite of my morale being underground somewhere, the whole experience of that visit was uplifting.  So my truck (that I still depend on to make things tick) has allowed me some important things, favouring the simple and profound, while being cranky for putting about on routine trips.  I wonder if it is sentient. 

I am trying to find a cohesive Big Picture reading to things, to guide my future steps.  Because if I can't find a Big Picture path forward, the "little" things are likely to drive me to drink!  Does anyone have any insights about a more successful way forward ?  (Besides vole predators, as there are already daytime coyotes hunting them in the veggie patch, and martens have been IN MY HOUSE twice.)

Apologies for posting in Meaningless Drivel.  I couldn't find the Existential Angst section.

 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1324
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Regan Dixon wrote:I hope they sting the voles. 


I don't have any advice for you, and have felt the same way sometimes.  For what it's worth, that line made me literally laugh out loud, and every time I read it, the same thing happened, so if nothing else, you brought some joy to another human today.
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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I think a lot of permies can relate to how you feel. I think our main problem is to switch from the 'modern' human mindset all the way 'back' to natural function. When we started 3 years ago I believe we did everything 'wrong'. But we had to do it all wrong first to be able to learn. When after the first year we figured that we understood the basics, we got hit by 16 months of drought caused by the 2015/2016 El Niño. Where we could interfere in our climate through irrigation before, we were now left without any water to do so. So we had to learn more, gain more understanding while watching everything on our land coping with a severe lack of water. Lots of things did cope, lots of other plants and trees died. The only thing we could really do was investigate what circumstances increased or decreased chances of survival.

Right now, this rainy season is quite wet, to the extend that the fruits of the mangos and papayas on our farm are rotting on the trees. Elsewhere in Colombia many people died because of landslides and mudflows. We've got some serious bacterial infections and ended up having to add chlorine to our water supply to mitigate at least some of the dangers of everything being so wet in combination with the tropical temperatures. We're worried for our piglets, our dogs and our cat and hope they all have a better immune system than we have. But we also know the rains will stop again and drier times will return.

The thing for us permies is that we decided to go along with nature instead of again ending up in an epic battle that destroys too many living creatures and more and more of the interconnected ecosystems all around us. We're building our understanding of nature again, from the ground up, and at times it's incredibly difficult to keep on that path. So we try and err, we err and learn, we watch, we observe, we try to think along nature's path to figure out what she tries to tell us and then adapt to it. It works, but not without losses. Those losses however become fewer over time.

Your voles for example are only there because the circumstances allow them to be. They might even be doing things that favor the ecosystem around you, they could even be indicators that what you planted needs different circumstances to properly thrive.

One of the lessons I remind myself of often is what geoff lawton said in the online PDC we took with him. I'll put it here in my own words: Try not to hate anything. Everything has a function in an ecosystem, even if we cannot see it, or even when it's of no value to us, it still has a function. Whenever we fight anything we create a bigger workload for ourselves.

The better way is to figure out what functions this element is performing and then speed up that process if we can. Maybe you can figure out a way to make the voles more or less obsolete so their numbers will dwindle? Maybe you can ignore them and just plant different trees and crops that won't be affected too much? Maybe you can bring in different elements (by creating habitat) that will fight the voles for you? You mentioned some of these things already. So my main point is to simply say that these voles are there for a reason. If you can look at nature like that, your story of loss and existential angst might over time switch into a journey of deeper understanding and harmony with your land and all that lives on it.

I wish you wisdom and many years of interesting observations.
 
Craig Dobbson
master steward
Posts: 1996
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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I know how you feel.  As a person with a lot more failures than successes, I can attest to the fact that sometimes it does seem hopeless.  But I'm keeping after it because I've had some successes and I have a few more each new year than that last.  I've killed hundreds of trees, thousands of plants and probably a million seeds.  I've wasted food, lost animals, destroyed equipment and gone grey all over in the process. All still, I continue along knowing that eventually I'll hit the right formulation of species and timing to make my land sing.  I'm something like 7 years into my permaculture project and I'm just now getting to that threshold of "more gains than losses".  That's a win in my book, because if I had just kept doing things the conventional way, I'd still be in that annual cycle of inputs, with no long term gain.  Every new year would be a tilled over fresh start.  It took me a few years to get the basic things in place, a few more years to learn enough to be comfortable in the chaos and just a couple more to go before I'm really up and running all on my own. 
I also try to keep in mind that all of my many failures have been stepping stones to a more informed and more defined path forward.  I can't tell you how many times I've said " well... I guess that not the right way to do that." 
I don't know if it helps, but take it from me...  persistence pays off.  
best wishes.

I think I've seen a process for grafting bark onto a girdled tree in order to save it.  For the life of me I can't find the video.  It's basically like a skin graft for a burn.  It involves making a bridge of bark across the girdled space and then sealing it.  With luck the graft heals the space that's been stripped and the tree eventually recovers. You'll never guess what kind of stuff google provides when you ask it to help you out in "healing girdled trees".  No google!  Hugging it won't help. GRrrr

One last thought is to buy in some rootstock and graft the tops of your girdled trees onto them.  You might not save the girdled ones but grafting may give you a chance to save something of them. 
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1428
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Without such setbacks, and hard lessons, we really don't grow much, but that is no consolation.

Sad to hear of so many young trees getting hit by voles.  I have a vole problem here too, and it was a huge vole year; I thought I had an award winning vole situation, but you might have me beat.  I should have known better than to put in tiny apple grafts without protection.  There is protection that you can purchase that wraps around a young tree to stop the voles or mice from girdling the young trees.  It is plastic and costs a bit (and I hate buying stuff, let alone plastic stuff), but you can do the same with metal lathe, which has more uses after the job is done.  Once the trees are older the voles wont go through the bark to get at the sweet cambium, or if they do, they seldom girdle the trees.  But this, all, is a lesson that I apparently need to beat into myself too, because I lost several of my trees this year to epidemic vole populations, and I even have some of this stuff, but failed to put it on!  Fool that I am.

Anyway, there are actually much that voles do to land and to soil that are benefits (aeration/fertilization) and I try to focus on these instead of cursing them to death.  I also need to fence the area as the deer decided that the buds on my larger but still young apple trees are tasty.  They, the deer and the voles, like the massive crops of Canada thistles and the slugs, all have their place. 

Sigh. 

I know that this is not helping much.  I wish I had some magic wand to wave or some great advice that would save you such grief.   You have had a tough winter, and you will remember it, and hopefully you will remember all the lessons you learned from it and how you adapted to it in the coming years so that the reflection sweetens over time.    

The gamey male goat might make good sausage (which is good with strong flavor), and that make a good trade/sale item.  Spice it heavily... look up Mergez Sausage recipes and increase garlic and oregano.  I find that I like strong meat in things like pasta sauce or chili, where there are so many other strong flavors that the flavor of weaker tasting meat is pretty much lost.

Some friends have a weasel regularly invading their coop too, just recently.  It is, somewhat thankfully, only interested in eggs at this time.  They have set a live trap, but have only caught a hen in it so far.      If you figure out a way to Fort Knox your coop, PM me the results or post them here, so that I can tell my friends... who miss the eggs and are worried about their hens.    

Great that you got to spend some time with some elders in the back to the land movement to give you that perspective.  Do they have fruit trees?  Vole problems?  What do they do?  How do they deal with setbacks? 

Vehicle troubles are such a pain.  Just the simplest cost of maintenance issues are enough to drive me nuts.  Tires and insurance alone are sometimes too much considering how I could otherwise spend the money, but... the vehicles are so useful.  The end of the month I'm planning to insure my truck for six months, to get construction materials mostly... but it also needs tires pretty soon, and I could use a good set of heavy work chains for it too...  thankfully it runs like a top, as does my $200 (previously rolled) junker commuter car, which also needs tires, but at some point the maintenance dragon will rise above the costs of doing it... and then the costs of something new creeps up like a vole in the night. 
 
K Putnam
pollinator
Posts: 246
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
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Keep in mind that our area got so hammered with cold and wet this winter that everything is terrible.   But what a GLORIOUS day the West Coast is having today, no?

This is my fourth year working on this "permaculture" stuff.  I have had lots of failures the first few years.  The big reason is that I did not give things enough time to work, my designs weren't good, I did not plan well.  And from that I have gained a huge knowledge about gardening and growing things and keeping things alive.

This spring, I am mainly going back to gardening in rows because growing annuals in a polyculture simply was not working out for me.  But, I did do a much better job of growing cover crops in my raised beds and the soil underneath my rows is teeming with worms.  Progress.

In another area, I had put a swale that killed off my plum trees.  Sad.  So, now it is a willow guild with a medicinal / pollinator garden.  I *did* transplant some annual veggies into there this spring and it seems to be going much better because a) it's had three years of mulch and b) the polyculture already exists.  I may write a thread about getting the polyculture going before for a few years before expecting any real results from it...

In the mixed hedge designed to screen my neighbor's house, I have *finally* established a polyculture that is a) visually attractive, b) provides berries and medicinal plants, c) should require very little annual maintenance.  This took three years of mistake after mistake after mistake and total design failure. 

Sometimes you don't realize your designs suck until they suck.  Sometimes your designs don't suck...they just need more time.

The more permie failures I have, the better I get at this permie stuff.  The books probably don't go into that enough.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1389
Location: northern California
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A few loose ideas, some short and some longer:
-look up bridge grafting....a possibility for your girdled trees.  If they were girdled above the graft union you might save them by simply cutting it back to the point of girdling.  A very narrow girdle, maybe an inch or less, might well grow back over in a few months.  While there's life there's hope.  I have a 5 year old apple tree in this situation myself, and the base is badly shaped for the involved procedure of bridge grafting (aside from the fact that I'm a novice grafter).....so I've put screen around the base and am hoping for the best.  There is one narrow strip of living bark I think.  It's leafed out and bloomed, but I know death by girdling comes slowly.  I won't let it produce fruit and will probably give it a light pruning if I see fruit start to swell.
-I came to permaculture only after a long background in basic gardening and a degree in horticulture.  If someone was completely new to it, with or without a PDC under their belt, I would seriously recommend a season interning or working on an established permaculture site, or lacking this, even an ordinary organic farm, in your region of choice.  Just acquiring land and moving out onto it, Designers' Manual in hand, seems like it would be a shot in the dark.  A lot of the information there and elsewhere is of the sort where you know you CAN do x,y,z....but the devil is in the details and it might not say EXACTLY how....and the exactly how will vary from place to place.
-Pacing the scale of the endeavors versus the labor and startup money available and the timeframe envisioned is frequently a stumbling block.  Lots of aspiring homesteaders become "land poor" by spending all their capital on raw land, without leaving enough for the necessary improvements.  The old rule was to parse the wad into thirds....1/3 for the land, 1/3 for buildings, and 1/3 for everything else.  This applies even at a garden scale.  Dealing with animals whether wild or domestic almost certainly will require an investment in fencing of some sort....a larger investment than most people think.  All of my root crops, for instance, must be grown in raised beds with metal or block sides and metal mesh beneath, because of the gophers.
-Another "type 1 error", which I have made myself and see others do all the time, is just plain attempting too much for the people on site.  Serious permaculture is not something for a couple or nuclear family off by themselves on land.  Such people will almost always end up with an off-site income source, or else a very austere existence, more like re-wilders.  For permaculture to break through into abundance requires community of some form or other.  All the internships, wwoofers, work parties, perma-blitzes, farm tours, on-site courses, and so on are all attempts to work around this.
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1428
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Not meaning to derail the discussion towards this, but of all that Alder wrote, this is the only thing that i think that I might disagree with.

Serious permaculture is not something for a couple or nuclear family off by themselves on land.  Such people will almost always end up with an off-site income source, or else a very austere existence, more like re-wilders.  For permaculture to break through into abundance requires community of some form or other.  All the internships, wwoofers, work parties, perma-blitzes, farm tours, on-site courses, and so on are all attempts to work around this.
  It is true that community is extremely helpful, and for longer term societal structural needs it is essential, but I don't believe that a self sufficient homestead is beyond imagination, design, or reality.

While it might be more difficult for a nuclear family to do serious permaculture than a larger community group, I think that to say that this is not something for the isolated small holder is very limiting.  I think that with imagination, good design, and hard work that serious permaculture happens, and after that the hard work decreases to casual labor, the design only needs minor tweaks, and the imagination is allowed to go wilder to really re-imagine the world.  These take time and serious design, as does all permaculture, but I believe this is very achievable.    
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Personally I think one can practice permaculture without any intention of becoming self sufficient.  I don't see permaculture as a black and white issue, but as a spectrum like the "Wheaton Ecoscale."  For instance, I completely stink at raising food, but I consider myself to be a fairly "serious" permaculturist.  I try to do what permaculture I can.  Because I'm not very good at growing food, I'm trying to focus my efforts in other directions such as rainwater management and wildlife habitat improvement.  Most of our place will become Zone 5, ideally.  I'm still trying to grow food, but I know by now that I probably will never be very good at it and will always have to buy food at the store.  If I can avoid buying all our food at the store I will consider myself successful.  Not everyone is equally good at all tasks, and I think there is enough variety in permaculture to allow anyone to find something to do in their life that is permacultural.

 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1428
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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one can practice permaculture without any intention of becoming self sufficient.
  Thanks for adding that, Tyler.    It is super important, I think, to not have everybody think that they have to have the permacultural super site in order to practice permaculture.  it is important to not have idea of perfect destroy the idea of achieving good.  The more people are practicing permaculturally in any way the better the world is, and the more advanced our world truly becomes.  While community and village based permaculture is a very desirable goal, the foundation of our social structures have been corroded to such a degree that many intentional communities fail without some really serious long term dedication to building this dynamic.  We have gone from multi-village based tribal communities and economies to nuclear family based decentralized Nation states and lobal economies and that is wrong, but it may be beyond reasonable, in my opinion, to hope to simply jump from this into productive ecovillages without some serious social re-programming/dedication to social functioning (which is possibly a huge undertaking, given current society). 
If I can avoid buying all our food at the store I will consider myself successful.
We do indeed need to decentralize all of our systems as much as possible, and be as sufficient as we can within our means, and any steps to that effect have significant ripples in the greater society and in our personal lives.     
 
Regan Dixon
Posts: 133
Location: Zone 4b at 1000m, post glacial soil...British Columbia
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Hello everyone,

Thank you for your understanding responses and some bold suggestions.  Sorry for not replying sooner, but we had a valley-wide power outage, yesterday, ergo no internet.  (Must get that solar panel rigged up.)  I'll address responses in series, below.

@Rene.  "Try not to hate anything", per Geoff Lawton.  Wise enough, because of course hating just drains your own energy
About creating habitat, my yard pretty much is coyote friendly, as I've been watching them every morning from my bedroom window.  And deer pass through at will.  My zones 1-2 are a clearing in the bush, that someone before me decided should be lawn and tilled garden, and let me just say that if I want any woody plants to do well, I have to plant them in the un-meddled-with parts of the yard, and not in the "improved" area, which is an ongoing project to return it to life-supporting condition.  Letting the lawn area go wild, to see if it will heal itself.  The circumstances in the "garden patch" aren't suitable to very much.  In spite of the virtues of no-till, I'm starting to think that tilling in organic matter is preferable to mulching, at least to start with, for better water retention in the mostly mineral soil.  And, voles love tunneling under mulch, so they can do their damage unseen.

@Craig.  I'll dare to ask Google how to heal girdled trees, though I suspect that trying to bridge two feet of girdling is a tall order.  That's two feet of flayed trunk I'm talking about!  They didn't do things by halves.  Wouldn't you know, the garden store called while I was typing this, to let me know that the new crabapple pollinator that I'd ordered for these girdled trees, has just arrived.

@Roberto.  Actually, even if you'd put protection around your trees, you might not have fared any better, as even my "protected" trees were hit.  I talked to neighbours with gardens, and they got hammered, too.  Both these people are professional, conventional landscapers, with years of experience.  One, who has owned a place here for a couple of decades, said that for the first time, the voles hit a tree that was already planted when he'd bought the house!  Your link didn't link, but is that sepp holzer's Bone Broth you're referring to?  Sounds like it's worth a try.  I look forward to succeeding to a point where I can graduate to worrying about deer and not voles.
And, thank you for outright suggesting eating the buck, and how.  I simply won't tell the lady I bought him from, who is vegetarian, and fond of her stock.  Pasta and chili and curry sound like excellent places to make a virtue of its bucky strength.  I need to get over the idea of eating my goats.  I have no problem putting extra chickens in the freezer.
About the chicken coop...I haven't made the latest modifications yet, but I suspect that a gap as narrow as the thickness of the roof sheathing, half an inch, is still big enough for the "squeezels" to get in.  I will be addressing that.  Maybe your friends can (after removing any furnishings and cleaning the bedding from the coop) shut themselves in the coop on a bright day, and look for small gaps of daylight in places that aren't actual windows?
So the lady of the farm I visited, who I gather is the mind behind it all, says with resignation that voles will target whatever you like the most, or was costliest.  (This is the consensus of long-time residents.)  I only visited for an hour or two, and listened to a stream of information, but of course didn't tap everything she knows.  My impression is that when they're faced with setbacks, they rethink the project, make adaptations for the issue, repair, replace, and try again if they still want to.
ICBC bare bones rate with 40% safe driving discount...still my one biggest expense every year...grrr.  I have discovered that the cheapest tires are a false economy. 

@K Putnam.  What was that bright yellow thing in the sky, yesterday?  I think you're right about the time thing.  It's all very lovely to watch people in subtropical areas grow food forests quickly in their year-round growing season.  It just isn't the same situation here, and wouldn't make such a seductive video, to watch nothing happening for six frozen months of the year.

@Alder.  Cutting back to the point of girdling is a novel idea, but what is there to lose?  The trees might send up shoots...who knows.
I'll be switching to raised vegetable beds for now, clad in scavenged, anti-climb metal roofing.  That is, indeed, a type of fence.  Fencing for larger creatures is in many ways easier; they don't fit through tiny gaps.  I have a good deal of electrified fence, and well worth the investment in the charger. 
Yes, there must be investment in experimental stock, starting small and seeing if the project is successful and scalable before scaling up.  My beef is about negative yield, throwing money at something, and hoping that it's the right solution, or buying replacement stock, and hoping that the fatal problem goes away by itself.  I have no objection to having an off-site income to pay for things that I want.  Inputs are required at first, and have to come from somewhere.  I haven't been at this long enough yet, to say whether it is or is not possible for one person to pull off getting the majority of their food from a permaculture yard in this location, but building a self-sustaining system really should be possible.  I have to keep the faith that it is, because it will be a long, lonely wait, waiting for the rest of the world to decide that permaculture is what they want to do, and actually work together in perfect agreement to achieve it.  If it means working in a commune of one, I would like to try to accomplish something positive in the permaculture direction in my own lifetime, or exhaust myself in the informed effort of trying.

@Tyler, and Roberto again.  I concur.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1389
Location: northern California
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Some hints of what is likely to succeed in a particular area can often be gleaned from observation and research, as opposed to trying different things and seeing how they work out.  Trial and error may turn up a new plant or practice, but it may also eat up a lot of time and money. You may have to decide whether you are primarily a researcher or a producer.
     If your goal is to produce a substantial fraction of your diet from your site, start with the obvious.  What is already growing there, and nearby, that is edible or otherwise useful?  What did native people in the region utilize?  What did early settlers plant, and what do local farmers, both large and small, conventional and organic, grow today?  The answers to these questions will come up with a relatively short list of plants and animals (often down to specific varieties and breeds), and perhaps even things like planting patterns and timing.  These can be used as a starting template to set up a basic system....once this is in place and you are eating and feeling productive, then branch out from there.  What's happening in nearby regions?  What about similar climates elsewhere in the world?  What can be attempted with a bit of protection or season extension, especially with global warming in mind?
 
Travis Johnson
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Reagan, I think anyone with any sort of experience has ultimately been where you are. I know I have, Spring 2011 waking up to 30 dead sheep on pasture from bloat and 100% my fault. I too wanted to give up, but I am a Mainer (that means incredibly stubborn as why else would anyone NOT leave this snow ridden state and light out for places with longer growing seasons and a lot less rock) and ultimate had to chose; is this really going to beat me?

I have stuck it out and I can say things are better now. Still suffer defeat from time to time, but as Gabe Brown says, "if you are not, you are not trying enough".

For what it is worth, it has been a tough winter for me too, and I am curious as to how much sleep you are getting? I am not prying into your personal life, it is just that without sleep things always seem worse then they are. When I got into my logging accident I found out that there was a medical reason for my insomnia and fatigue. I am not saying you do, or do not, have the same issue; just saying lack of sleep can be a huge trigger to feelings of hopelessness.

There is always hope, and should you feel that is wrong, private message me and I will do all I can to ensure you feel some semblance of self-worth.

One of the reasons I love people who produce their own food is, they learn just how difficult full time farming can be. It is not easy, and permiculture, where stretching the typical farming models is pushed, is going to have issues from time to time. The fact that your neighbors have Vole issues however says that it is an environmental issue and not something YOU personally are doing wrong. Cut yourself some slack.

As a side note regarding your freezing water lines; in that post of yours I suggested using manure from your goats to cover the line to prevent freezing. This year my waterline going to my main sheep barn frooze and I placed sheep manure over it where it was freezing. Despite -20 below (f) cold some nights, it never froze again. Something to keep in mind...
 
Regan Dixon
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Location: Zone 4b at 1000m, post glacial soil...British Columbia
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Hi Alder, good questions which are not unfamiliar to me.

I chose my plants after a few years of observing what was growing well for neighbours, so I chose the same.  I was doing better at my old location a couple of blocks away, in raised beds with bought soil, for the vegetable garden.  The vegetable patch here that the previous owners had made, went downhill in spite of compost additions; probably because it's not bought soil, but mountain soil with limited fertility to begin with, which it gave up most of, to the previous owners.  It now supports grass, yarrow, and wild roses.  Plus some diehard reseeded parsnips, and a black currant start before the voles got it.

What is already growing here, wild or feral, edible and otherwise useful, I encourage, and forage--dandelions, lambs quarters, fireweed, buffaloberry, saskatoons, thimbleberries, blueberries, wild strawberries, wild and domestic raspberries, horseradish.  Black and red currants thrive.  Old apple trees gone wild can be found in the environs, pruned by bears and deer, but still producing.  Rhubarb might be the only sign of where a squatter's shack used to be.  Mostly these plants grow where the ground hasn't been messed with lately, so I've transplanted into existing wild guilds, rather than try to use the "garden patch".  I've observed what wild plants grow where, and have planted their domestic kin nearby; for example haskaps near twinberry.  The haskaps have survived for years, but not much size and no fruit.  Domestic blueberry is pouty, though wild ones flourish, though of course yield varies from year to year.  I've seen what wild plants grow in similar conditions to those on my property, and have planted viburnums, nettles, and birch, which for some reason were lacking on this property, though conditions look right.  The viburnums have been doing well; with the birch, it's too early in the season to tell.  By and large the domestic woody perennials that I've researched and chosen have survived the winters, weather-wise; but it's the predation, this winter particularly, that has taken a toll.

Although I live in St'at'imx territory, this is not where their settlements are or were.  That might be a hint, that it was easier to support large communities down on the salmon-bearing rivers, and rely on a protein-based diet.  It's a different biome here from the two different settlement areas nearest by, so a direct comparison cannot be made to either.  Early settlers...this was a mining town from the 1930's on, and they bought canned goods from the company store.  Given all the recognizably Heinz bottles in the bottle dumps, ketchup was a vegetable.  Though, some planted rhubarb, and apple trees, that are still here.  Some kept chickens, and at least one kept rabbits.  It is actually easier, in a way, to keep animals; even though I have to bring in their feed, they let me know what they want, and they make lots of compost.

Nearby regions have a big organic scene going, but these are the same places as the St'at'imx settlements, whose growing conditions are not comparable to here.  Similar climates in the world--most like east-central Norway, as far as I can tell, but not with such drastic seasonal changes in sunlight.  No southern hemisphere equivalent.  The greenhouse, cold frames, and row cover I've tried, so far, just end up being comfy and sheltered places for mice and voles to eat what's growing there.  I'd eat them in turn, but it takes so dang many of them to make a soup, and several vole hides just to make one finger of a glove. 

So, if I can't deal with the rodents, I'm guessing the big picture is to forage the wild, and raise scions of the same.  After all, the wild foods tend to be tastier and more nutritious. 
 
Regan Dixon
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Hi Travis,
You'd come immediately to my mind as one of those people who keeps coming back to try again.  I am not as depressed about the situation as I was when I first posted; just more resigned.  I admit I carry can't-succeed-at-gardening baggage around, from a history of having someone else harvest the fruit of my labour when my back is turned, or remove the weedwhacking guard around the base of a young tree in order to weedwhack the grass growing behind it, using the tender bark as a backstop, or abscond with a newly planted tree, or mow down the lilac I'd planted the week before, or prune a tree to one inch above the ground because a single branch was problematic, or dump a whole roof worth of asphalt shingles on a planting without putting down a shield...I figured that having my own place and lots of room to experiment, would allow me some room to succeed.  Everything failing at once, was a bit of a downer.  I thought I might take a year off from planting anything, for a radical revision of the venture, but of course, everything I'd ordered in winter, is now arriving....
Oh, I get plenty of sleep, just not enough sunshine.  Canned salmon, here I come.
I haven't forgotten your advice about manure on top of the waterline.  I just mucked out the buck barn yesterday, and come fall I will have to do it again, so lots of material there.  Thanks for the reminder.  I'm still putting in steps to the creek, though, for good ol' permaculture redundancy. 
 
Daron Williams
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Hello Regan,

Very sorry to hear about all the struggles you are dealing with. I wanted to offer some advice on the voles. I'm not sure what your orchard area is like in terms of plant community but in my experience the voles prefer areas of tall grass. My lawn got out of control over winter and a ton of voles moved in but now that I have it mowed I have not seen any. I have also noticed that they avoid areas with wood chip mulch. They need cover to be safe from predators and seem to avoid areas they can't easily hide. So if your orchard area has a lot of potential cover you might try mulching it or keeping any grass down low until the trees are big enough to not be girdled by the voles. Even if they stay it would make it easier for predators to find the voles if the cover is gone. For my restoration work we use plastic plant protectors but you have to be very careful how you install them or they don't work - the bottom edge has to be a bit under the soil surface to keep the voles out. Plant protectors can also get expensive so I'm focusing on removing cover from near the trees instead to address the vole issue.
 
Alder Burns
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I have found also that the worse damage by rodents girdling young trees have been in the areas where the dogs and cat are less likely to go.  Since I run geese in these areas (for grass control mostly), and since the geese would abuse the dogs, I've taken to penning the geese at night so the dogs can run among the trees all night....this makes a difference with the rodents, and also the deer....that other universal bane of the rural homesteader.
 
Regan Dixon
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Hi Daron and Alder,
I have indeed got solid plastic protectors around the trees; not bought, but old plastic pipe that was lying around the property.  It was buried a little into the ground as well.  This seems to work okay in spring, summer, and fall.  The trouble is, I can only run such a trunk protector up as high as a tree starts to branch, but the snow drifts higher than that.  So when the snow drifts to three feet high, that is three feet of cover for voles in winter, no matter how I might control any groundcover.  The dog has the freedom of the yard, as do the coyotes, but when the snow is deeper than they are tall, and too soft to support them, hunting is a wee bit difficult.  I suppose I could shovel snow away from the trees, but then there's the issue of loss of the snow's insulation value.  I guess I could try that...anyone have any experience with removing snow from around the bases of trees?  Winter is when the damage is done.
 
Travis Johnson
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Sort of. As a logger I must squish down the snow around the stumps of the most valuable part of the tree is lost; in weight if it is going to make paper, or in wide boards if it is a log for a sawmill. I do it mechanically by driving first on one side of the tree, then driving on the other side, but I suspect that does not do you much good.

I suspect this winter you had higher amounts of snow perhaps?

Here we get some girdling from porcupines, the bane of my forest, but here they can be hunted year around. Still they girdle trees when other forage is difficult to get. I wonder what would happen if instead of resorting to the drudgery of shoveling snow (I hate shoveling) you could provide feed for them? It sounds counter-intuitive, but I sort of do this on my farm with coyotes. I do not allow deer hunting because if a coyote is dining upon deer, they are not dining upon my sheep!

Your neighbor said this was the worst Vole damage they ever experienced, so it tells me something occured odd this year. Figure out what that was and guard against it and you may get a better result.

As for encouragement, you should know that when it comes to gardening, despite having every possible thing we need to succeed, our garden has failed more years then it thrived. We jokingly refer to ourselves as people with brown thumbs. My father on the other hand, he is like Joseph Lofthouse and could grow potatoes on ice I think. We are going to have another garden this year, but I really need to look into this area and see if our deficiencies can somehow be turned around. I am thinking hoop house.
 
Michael Adams
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Hi Regan,

Instead of starting a new thread, I felt called to post my own frustration alongside yours. That is certainly a setback, but the sage Lawton advice of 'try not to hate anything' has been my mantra for the past month.

We started our initial build and plans for our food forest last year when we received title on the land (we're in Canada as well, on the other side It was a very exciting time, and although the mayflies and mosquitoes received many donations from us last summer, we soldiered on in getting to spend our 1 year learning from the land and starting our structure build. We're not able to live up there full time as of yet and have been commuting on weekends and free time found during the week. Long story short, after a full year of virtually no human 'trespassers' we arrived last week to find our camp was robbed. 2 excellent chainsaws, solar shower, propane heater, hand tools, misc. sundries....but the kicker was a beautiful hand-woven hammock strung between (2) 100 yr old red pines that my wife would rest and read in while I was out walking the land. They just sliced it down and left the ropes dangling in the breeze. The camp is 1.5km off the main country road, quite isolated from the general public but not to the locals. There were snowshoe tracks left behind. Someone came in, looked at everything, and returned with snowshoes with the full intention for theft. This was the first time I'd ever been robbed.

It was such a gross feeling coming to the realization that a human had been back there and did this. We've met our next door and across road neighbours and they seem like decent folks. The reality is that we haven't had time to make our presence known in the tiny community, and someone took advantage of that. It's had an impact on my outlook for the community which I'm working on adjusting.

Last month our private road to the property had a minor washout from the snow melt, which I predicted would happen and dealt with as I didn't have time to make the ditch last fall. We fully intend to plant and propagate this spring as planned, and are fully prepared for mother nature to dictate how things will go. I guess what I'm trying to convey is that on an emotional and dare I say spiritual level, I would much rather have had your event happen than ours. There was something in the cycle of permaculture that occurred on your land, whereas there was something out of this cycle that happened with us. We've been trying hard to shake the human violation that has happened; it was the very thing we are trying to get away from city living. It's not so much the material things taken (although it sucks and is expensive, they can be replaced). It's that this other energy came into our intention and has created such an 'unnatural' impact.

ugh, humans.

At any rate, I wish you the best with your endeavours this spring.


 
Regan Dixon
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Hello Michael, that sucks.  I agree, I think having stuff stolen would bother me worse than whatever nature would throw at me.  Nature is the ruler whose rules we must learn, and submit to, in order to live well.  Human predation, however....  Living in a small community, with a small core of year-round people and a much larger number of seasonal cottagers, my experience has been this:  do establish yourself in the community.  Community breeds community, building bonds and loyalties.  I would not assume that your year-round neighbours had anything to do with the theft; out here, it seems that part-timers' second cousins twice removed, visiting their cousins' cottage, are more likely to cause trouble, for they are not invested in the community, but view it as a place outside their laws, or a virtual playground where their actions have no consequences.  And, it is not that permanent residents here are hard-hearted, but there are so many part-timers who come, dabble, and disappear for years, that until they "invest" in the community, it is a bit much to babysit the properties of all of them.  My sense of things.  Maybe there is a similar dynamic where you are.
 
Levente Andras
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Daron Williams wrote:Hello Regan,

Very sorry to hear about all the struggles you are dealing with. I wanted to offer some advice on the voles. I'm not sure what your orchard area is like in terms of plant community but in my experience the voles prefer areas of tall grass. My lawn got out of control over winter and a ton of voles moved in but now that I have it mowed I have not seen any. I have also noticed that they avoid areas with wood chip mulch. They need cover to be safe from predators and seem to avoid areas they can't easily hide. So if your orchard area has a lot of potential cover you might try mulching it or keeping any grass down low until the trees are big enough to not be girdled by the voles. Even if they stay it would make it easier for predators to find the voles if the cover is gone. For my restoration work we use plastic plant protectors but you have to be very careful how you install them or they don't work - the bottom edge has to be a bit under the soil surface to keep the voles out. Plant protectors can also get expensive so I'm focusing on removing cover from near the trees instead to address the vole issue.


I've written about my vole issues elsewhere on this forum.  I find it interesting that from other Permies' accounts, the behaviour of voles across continents seems to differ. "Our" voles - the ones here in Eastern Europe - don't seem too interested in just girdling the trees above ground. Our voles go under ground (as far down as 30 cm / 1ft), and eat the whole root or most of it.  Girdling at ground level and as high above ground as they can reach is the rabbits' job. So there is a division of labour. 

In other words, in my region, plastic tree guards protect the trunk of the tree from rabbits, but not from voles.  Voles ignore the zone at ground level, and dig straight down. 

As for protective mulches - I've tried a combination of 2 things: a thick layer of pea gravel in a 20 cm radius from the trunk; and a wider ring of coarse wood chip mulch.  And indeed these two mulches stop the voles from digging in that perimeter.  However, there's nothing to keep them from starting their tunnel as far as 1 metre away from the tree, and dig underneath the ring of mulch.  Result: your tree dies a quiet death while you think everything is fine with it because the mulch around it looks undisturbed.

Last autumn I started planting my trees in a bottomless wire basket. Of course, I do that in combination with the mulching and plastic tree guard described above.  Using the wire mesh is time consuming and costly, but it does seem to increase the trees' chances of survival.
 
Regan Dixon
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Levente, about your wire baskets.  Do these not restrict the roots' growth?  Or do the roots break through as the tree grows?  Do you find that some species are more prone to attack than others?  Here, Rosaceae are tasty to voles, whether orchard trees or wild roses.  Other, wild trees seem not to be bothered.
 
Levente Andras
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Regan Dixon wrote:Levente, about your wire baskets.  Do these not restrict the roots' growth?  Or do the roots break through as the tree grows?  Do you find that some species are more prone to attack than others?  Here, Rosaceae are tasty to voles, whether orchard trees or wild roses.  Other, wild trees seem not to be bothered.


I make the basket wide enough to accommodate the root ball at the size that I expect it to be in a 2-3 years' time.  In other words I expect that a couple of years will pass until the roots could fill the entire basket.  Besides, the gaps in the wire mesh are small enough to stop the voles, but large enough to allow fibrous roots - as well as thicker roots - through. (Although the question remains whether any root that makes it past the mesh laterally will be able to survive vole attacks.)  Thirdly, I expect quite a bit of root growth to be directed downwards, where the wire mesh is not impeding growth (and voles are less active, if at all).  Finally, I'm counting on the mesh decaying (due to rust) in another few years, by which time the tree should be stronger and less attractive to the bastards.

"My" voles eat nearly all trees and shrubs.  They've killed fruit trees of all species, as well as hazels, birches, ash trees, chestnuts, hornbeams, maples, lime trees, hawthorns, elders ..... My black currants have been left alone (for now?) probably because of their strong characteristic smell. And only one out of about 20 black locusts that I planted was destroyed, the others survived (most of them were never attacked) - I assume that's because of their hard bark/wood even when young.
And all my 6 pines are still alive - I think voles don't like their resinous taste.
 
Regan Dixon
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Now that is an interesting observation about the pungent currants and resinous pines.  If those tastes and smells are indeed vole deterrents, I would bet that a tree of heaven (Ailanthos) would put them off as well.  At least, I find the male Ailanthus horribly stinky.  I wonder how ginkgo would fare...some are smelly?  Being one of the oldest kinds of tree, it must be doing something right.  So there might be virtue in creating a "stink" guild, with an outer ring of stinky guardians protecting the desired plants.  I wonder if walnut, which is allelopathic to so many plants, might deter critters as well?
 
Levente Andras
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I myself thought that a protective ring of unpalatable plants would work.  Sadly, it didn't (for me at least).  I planted rings of daffodils around my trees (it's been proven by studies that voles avoid / never eat daffodils) hoping that they would keep voles away.  Result: voles didn't touch the daffodils, but got around them without any difficulty, and ate the tree roots all the same.

For me it is essential that I transform my property into a tree-based ecosystem (originally it was a hay meadow).  Hence I'm planting a variety of species in the hope that some of these will prove to be vole resistant, so that they can form the backbone of the new ecosystem, even while other trees species succumb to these pests.  In other words, my focus has shifted from obtaining a yield, to quickly changing the ecosystem into something more varied and tree-friendly, so that eventually the more brittle species find a friendlier environment.
 
Travis Johnson
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Not to detract from the sage and prudent Vole discussion going on, but as I was thinking about this issue (as I often do because it concerns me when the great regular contributors to Permies get hit with set-backs), I was thinking about my own perception of set-backs and the timing thereof. Over the years I have noticed a pattern, and that is everything looks so dire in the Spring. In that in between time of snow-melt, and fresh green grass, leaves, and the like; there is this time period where everything looks so dead.

I am not trying to diminish the Vole Attack you experienced Reagan, and obviously time of year has nothing to do with human theft as is the case in Mike Adams case, but Spring is a depressing time for me anyway. Plowing snow has made a mess of my lawn, door yard, and rockwalls; while mud hampers my ability to enjoy warm weather due to mud in fields, while a general brownness across the land seems to really depress me making things seem so much worse then they are. Then without snow cover, yet without leaves, it is as if my land is naked and everything is embarrassingly exposed and I hate what I see. In short, there is so much to do because everything can be seen. It smacks me right in the face and the to do list grows.

There is that same sort of thing in November, but I am more concerned about getting ready for winter, and there is more hope because, "in the Spring"...but in the Spring... all those projects that had to be put off until spring, come back on the to do list. Yikes. So it is overwhelming, and then to experience set-backs...well it is tough as well as depressing in an already depressing time. But I guess knowing all this at least helps because you can say, "Spring is always overwhelming", and know deep down that other Permie members experience spring depression as well.


 
Donna Lockey
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Location: Ontario Canada
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Stinky Rings

I have started too many hot pepper plants. Thinking about uses to repel the dreaded voles above ground once that pepper crop is grown.  Hot pepper paint mixed with pine sap/resin?

Sadly voles like potatoes too.  And composters for over wintering.  Made a wire cage composter last year. And growing my sweet and regular taters in pots and grow bags. Grow bags can be made of the cloth shopping bags btw.  Every year I am adding a couple hardware cloth lined raised bed for my root crops.  Time consuming work. 

Do the bears bother you? Bigger critters, stinkier rings?
 
Regan Dixon
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Hi Donna, not much trouble from bears regarding plantings, though they do like apples...haven't had any mature yet.  Bears like take-out chicken, but 13000V hotwire protecting the coop has been effective so far, touch wood.  Please note, there's not much that will give a bear a tummy ache, so I doubt that hot pepper would deter them.  In a way, it takes less material to keep out bigger creatures, than to keep out smaller creatures.  Just bought a whole 50 foot roll of 1/4 inch hardware cloth.  They looked at me funny in the store, where it's usually sold by the foot.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Where I am @47.25 degrees north and surrounded by salt water, where snow seldom gets more than a foot deep or lasts more than 2 days, voles fit into the ecosystem and very seldom cause damage.  They are very small, at most 2 inches long not counting the tail and 1/2 inch in diameter. They really don't like to dig and prefer to fallow the moles which are 6 to 8 inches long and 2 t0 3 inches in diameter. The moles are after the worms and grubs but the voles are looking for roots but they eat the tenderest roots which is the quack grass rhizomes that try to invade my gardens.  The cats and dog have learned to ignore the moles because they taste terrible and have nasty teeth to defend themselves with. So they concentrate on the voles Which they proudly leave in the path for me and I throw them into the chicken tractor where they promptly get torn to pieces in a fierce tug of war.
This is how my system works. to open new ground I mulch it heavily with grass mowen from my field and cover it with old tarps and carpet for a year. The moles move in and tunnel all around under it and the voles and snakes fallow. Eventually the baby snakes get big enough to eat the voles. When I uncover it there are a few quack grass roots exploring along the surface where the avoided the tunnels but they are quickly eaten as the chicken tractor passes over. I move the tractor forward each evening when I give them their grain so that their roost is over the freshly cultivated soil  and they will have new ground to cultivate the next morning. I wind up with a nice fluffy loam planting bed with chicken manure.
The type and balance of critters will be different in different climates but my system most closely matches the pattern that happens in our local forest floor. The original poster had an unusual year which favored the voles living under the snow but I wonder if mans intervention has compacted the ground and reduced the available tunnels for them to live in and eat herbaceous roots. I would advise observing what the balance is in your undisturbed forest.
 
Robert Baerg
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Thanks Travis for your observations about spring, I am experiencing that right now. Lots of things coming to life and surviving the winter (much joy) and many things I had hoped would make it did not (sadness). The things that didn't work out however raise a challenge for me to observe what went on and learn and try again. This is where I find that doing permaculture with other people (community) helps guard me against sinking into the negatives I am experiencing this spring, other people help me to see the successes and the beauty of the new life.
 
Regan Dixon
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Hello Hans, thank you for describing, in a detailed way, how voles fit into your system.  There are garter snakes here, too.  Of course, they lie low over winter, but in warmer weather I often see them basking in the sun, on the rock walls in which they live.  I wonder if there will be a flush of them this summer, with lots of voles to eat?  Another argument for terracing with stone on the contour lines, to encourage more snakes in more places.  I don't see much evidence of voles in the pine woods with little undergrowth, which is not what they seem to like to eat.  I should observe more closely the aspen groves which tend to have a shrubby, grassy understory and more varied flora and fauna.  Certainly deer like browsing there.  Coyotes like to walk through the aspen-and-shrub territory.  I'd always assumed it was because it was easy walking with a good view of the property, the coop, and the goat sheds, yet camouflage so they couldn't be seen easily from the house.  But it might be because there are voles (and other small prey) there, too. 
As for compaction, I don't believe there's any more compaction here than before.  I have foot path access that I keep to, and I don't drive over the yard.  (That's what the driveway and parking spot are for--pet peeve.)  After reading more about voles, I've come to think that this winter has been a combination of exponential breeding (one pair of voles can breed ten times a year with a litter of ten young each time--that's a HUNDRED new voles each year) and a long, snowy winter that impeded predators' access to the voles for more time than usual.  More voles had more time to do more damage.  I imagine that there should next be a sort of collapse in the vole population, now that they've eaten so much, the ground's bare and thawed, and predators can make up for lost time--so the cycle can start over again. 
 
Hans Quistorff
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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I really enjoyed the exchange.  Have you explored the permaculture rocks thread.  Innovative uses of rocks. I planted strawberries in the crevices of the rock face I put on the bank cut necessary to put our house in. That has worked very well.  My sister had used squares of hardware cloth under the tire planters she put in and I found them to be problematic when I had to move them.  There were 4 foot long by 4 foot diameter cement culverts left on the property that I used for elevation change and planters for perennial flowers like peonies and calla lilies.  There was also a large gravel sifting screen so I set it up to dump the stone in the bottom of the next one as I filled the first one that I already had enough stones to fill the bottom.  The dense layer of stones prevents anything from digging up into them.

I did a video of how I use my spring rake to pound my small grains, millet, flax, amaranth into the soil after broadcasting. There was a light rain and no birds bothered it for a few day so I thought it was set but a few days later I came back to find every seed had been scratched up and eaten.  But I was not completely "smacked down" I was doing small sections a few yards square on successive days and I found some of them have sprouted and are coming up with good coverage. Plus the 5 year old chickens in the tractor each agave me an egg today.
 
Corrie Snell
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Location: San Francisco, CA for the time being
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Does a reference book exist that describes the function of traditionally un-loved things in an ecosystem?  I'd buy it, if it did!  I could see it being helpful in the planning stages, as well as during the more obvious, "crap! I don't know what to do about my fill-in-the-blank problem!" stages of our Permaculture journeys. 

OR, maybe there isn't always a function in the grand scheme of things...  Recently, I was wondering what the function of a locust super swarm is, after watching the new Planet Earth II series ("Diaries" episode of behind the scenes of filming).  There's incredible footage of a swarm in Madagascar, then the narrator said something along the lines of, "The U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization is here on a mission to eradicate the plagues decimating crops across Madagascar."  I cringed.  It's not all about us, you know? 

But, these types of things make me wonder if we're the cause, going way back.  We're used to blaming ourselves and our fossil fuel habit for our current woes, but locust swarms...?  Haven't those been around for awhile?  I think I've only ever heard of them in the Bible, in documentaries on the history of Ancient Egypt, and in Little House on the Prairie (the book).  Could our switch from Hunter-Gatherer to Farmer have started messing things up in ecosystems thousands of years ago?  Could vole problems be our fault, from something we did, or started doing long ago (I've had expensive, newly planted landscape trees killed by voles, myself.  I feel some of your pain, Regan!)?  I wondered how ANY trees survive the winter with voles around.  What?  You say the voles don't like their native trees' cambium?  So, then, what do the voles eat during the winter?  Is the sweet cambium of our beloved fruit trees just candy to them?  Like candy is to us: a newly invented thing, that we're addicted to, and have a hard time choosing other foods over?  Sooooo many questions.

Sorry if my thoughts are incoherent.  This was quite a ramble.
 
Erica Wisner
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Regan Dixon wrote:...

After a cold, persistent winter, I went for a stroll today in the sun--the first sun in weeks--now that the yard is more or less clear of snow, to see how plantings fared over winter.  I have lost my entire young orchard to voles.  The trees are a couple of years old, and I never had this problem before.  I was so pleased at how they'd been surviving in the moist draw, without me watering them, and thought I might actually get a little fruit this year.  But no.  Every single tree has been girdled.  Five apples, two plums, two apricots, two persimmons.  Maybe a pear might survive:  it was only nibbled half way round.  ...



I heard an experienced orchard farmer talk recently about how his father and uncle saved an orchard full of young pear trees, after an unusually bad winter where hares girdled all the trees about 2' off the ground.  (This was in Holland.)

Working quickly as the winter faded, they took living bud wood /scion wood from the upper part of each tree, and grafted about 4 gently-bending twigs into the bark above and below the girdling.  The graft was a fairly simple one - I could ask him again about the specific method.
He was a boy at the time; he said it was amazing to see how those grafted twigs swelled up like hose pipes as the sap started running, and they grew to handle the flow.  After a few years, the grafted material joined up.  They didn't save 100% of the girdled trees, but a lot of them did just fine and you could not really tell the difference once they reached full size.

Generations of traditional/conventional farming experience do have a lot to offer. 
My farmer friend points back to parts of the bible regarding orchard and vinyard cultivation, that are still relatively standard today (such as giving a new tree about 3 years before harvesting the first fruits, or the wording about vines and branches that make a lot of sense if you are collecting, storing, and grafting 'scion wood' in the winter for spring orchard transformations).

Us polycrop permies are on a lot of learning curves all at the same time!

My method has been comparatively lazy - mostly learning how and what to eat that's already here, getting used to the idea of saskatoon instead of blueberries.
The plants I plant don't always thrive, but the plants that thrive fill the space left by those who don't.

One of the most valuable things has been learning from other local growers, and connecting to get things like scion wood and extra starts from their abundant gardens.  I heard about this grafting-past-the-girdling method about 3 years into volunteering with this particular farmer, at a free public class he gave to our permaculture study group.

Yours,
Erica W
 
I child proofed my house but they still get in. Distract them with this tiny ad:
The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book by Mike Oehler - digital download
https://permies.com/wiki/23444/digital-market/digital-market/Earth-Sheltered-Solar-Greenhouse-Book
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