The beginning Back in January, we moved into a basement apartment on 1.8 acres in Maryland. While we can't do much with the front, and livestock other than bees are out, we can do more or less what we want with back - probaby a bit over an acre to play with. While I don't know that we will be here permanently, it is a great place to learn! Here is a map of the site. I am way behind with keeping track of the changes, but here is a winter picture of the garden area as well.
Starting assets: 1) lots of bamboo, running type, with edible shoots. Useful, though hard to control, and possibly stunting garden growth. 2) Trees. Most of the property is wooded with good size holly and various deciduous trees. The garden is in its current location because it is one of the few sunny areas we have to work with. 3) a thriving thornless blackberry patch. 4) several healthy grapes trained along the fences. 5) a small fig tree, healthy but not in an ideal location. 6) rampant wisteria, taking over any space with even a small amount of sun. 7) lots of engilsh ivy (though I don't know how useful it is)
Starting problems: 1) lots of dear, mowing down daylillies, hostas, and probably anything we plant. They don't touch the bamboo. 2) lots of rabbits, ditto. There have been fox and coyote sightings, I don't know what they are doing with their time. 3) very high tick load, with a risk of lyme disease. 4) Lots of poison ivy. 5) Trees. Although I do consider large trees an asset, from a vegetable growing perspective, they do present a challenge. I have yet to see a convincing plan for a high calorie permaculture system in temperate, dense shade.
Alright, we will see how well we can keep up here - and of course I welcome comments!
I lived in a number of places before we finally achieved our acreage to create our homestead. Everyone of those places I practiced farming , learning a lot and honing my skills. So I'll cheer you on with your adventure!
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
Uses for Bamboo Compost Our first order of business was to start a compost pile. As brown material, we had a lot of leaves, as the the building across the street had put out many bags of them to be picked up by green waste. For green, we had kitchen scraps, but not nearly enough. However, the bamboo growing on the property is basically evergreen, and some websites we looked at suggested that as long as it is green, bamboo leaves are considered a nitrogen source. So we layered the brown and green with soil, as suggested in the Grow Biointensive method. Not sure we added quite as much water as is suggested in the youtube videos, but did moisten in somewhat, and built a pile that was about 4X4. The first picture shows what the bamboo leaf looked like after 3 months, when I tried to turn the pile: slightly greener and fresher looking than when we put it in. No sign of rooting or growth (thank goodness!) but also no sign of any of it starting to rot. I don't know if it was the cool temperatures, the fact that the leaves were dormant even though they were green, or some other factor, but building a winter pile with bamboo and oak leaves is NOT the route to quick compost, though I've no doubt it will break down eventually. Other leaves from our cut down bamboo have turned brown and started to look mouldy, so it might be a weather related thing.
Another problem I'm still struggling with is what to do with half rotted bamboo canes. There are a LOT of them, courtesy of a wind storm some years ago, than need to be cleaned out of the grove. I don't think they will make good hugel culture, and in any case we don't have the soil or machinery to make that very practical. And while they do rot eventually, I wish I could do something other than pile them up and wait for years. But patience is a virtue, they say.
A fence Inspired by the junkpole fence forum here at permies, I went ahead and built a fence out of the bamboo we were cutting back. I dug holes 6-10 inches deep, then used a post hole digger (a heavy iron bar, basically) to extend 2 narrow holes a bit farther down. I then placed two thick and mostly straight bamboo poles about 4 inches apart. I back filled the holes with subsoil from around the roots of a tree that had grown and fallen at the edge of the garden - it was a good use for the mound of subsoil that had been brought up. You can see it in the second photo below. I tamped it down with a short length of bamboo, and with my feet. The poles were a bit of a challenge - we are cutting everything with heavy duty loping shears, and sometimes the canes split when you cut them, and those I threw out. I also made sure to cut the tops close to a node, so that I didn't have water pooling in the tops and speeding up rot.
Next, I used jute twine to lash poles going diagonally/horizontally between the two stakes. I sort of followed the ideas of the Scandinavian roundpole fence in the Junkpole thread ( https://permies.com/t/47946/junkpole-fence-freaky-cheap-chicken ) though with a lot less finness!!! I managed to just use (decomposable) twine for the fence, but for the gate I did use long #6 bolts, in predrilled holes. The metal stake that the gate is attached to was found in the garden as part of the old dilapidated fence that had been there, so all I needed to buy was some wire for the hinge, bolts, and twine. I set the gate (with the bamboo cut a couple inches below a node so that it was already hollow) onto a short branch of honeylocust. I don't know that it will last long since it was still pretty green and soft, but then the whole fence will probably rot in a few years anyhow.
As for effectiveness, we are still having things eaten, but I suspect rabbits rather than deer. Still, we need a wildlife camera to know for sure whether the fence is keeping them out.
Swales If you look at the "diagonal posts going up - the middle image from the post above - you can see a number of shorter bamboo stakes in the foreground. These were places on contour, measured with an A-frame level built out of an old 1x1 found under the side porch of the house. it was my kind of building - no precision cuts to worry about! It did take about two tries to calibrate it, but that wasn't so bad. We hung a trowel off the end as the weight, and it did not take long at all to measure contours for this small an area.
Once the stakes were all in, we hand dug small trenches and piled up the soil on the next line up the hill from the current trench. We used the A-frame again to make sure the bottom of the trenches were reasonable level. We did not bother double digging the beds. We then mulched with hay purchased from the local garden store to avoid erosion until everything was planted up.
We don't have clearly defined overflows, although the edges of the beds are lower than the centers so the water will go around the beds should it ever rain that much. We have had quite a bit of rain so far this year, and overflow has not been an issue - relatively loamy and uncompacted soil combined with the small size of the swales has hopefully mitigated this problem. The soil in the mounds has staid pretty moist, though the frequency of summer watering will be the true test.
Fence fail A few weeks ago, we got a bunch of beans in (among corn 5 inches high, three sisters style), along with summer squash and cucumbers.
This evening, all were gone. The beans were bitten down to the stem, the second and third leaves of the squash were completely gone, and even some of the radishes he had planted had beenbitten into.
If anyone recognizes the bite marks, please comment! I can't really tell if the tooth marks are from rabbits, which can certainly get through the fence, or deer, which should theoretically be excluded.
This season, we have also had several young tomato starts badly eaten, along with all of our peas. I am using a spray mixed up from water, hot sauce, and castor oil. It does seem to more or less work, if you keep reapplying it, but there has been a lot of rain...
We have replanted beans twice, squash once, and have given up on cucumbers.
It is truly impressive how they are able to find every single bean even among the corn. The corn has a bit of damage, but was mostly ignored.
My first stab at a fence was 6-7 feet high. I've now gone back and tied dead bamboo vertically, so that there are 10-15 foot spikes spaced closely together. At least it is a way to use up the old, dead bamboo, which is light enough that it isn't putting much strain on the fence structure.
I finished a week or so ago, and the beans and squash have now mostly been left alone. However, something has taken down the parsley and cilantro. My money now is on rabbits - though you never can tell with deer!
Great project, Lina. Like Su says, keep practicing through to your own property!
Wisteria does kill trees in just that way. I'm surprised how big it is given the cold winter temps in Maryland, but then again, local climate can be different.
As to your critter problem, without a dog to patrol the fence, deer will easily get over a 6 to 8 foot fence, and the rabbits, squirrels and local critters will still keep coming to "Lana's All You Can Eat" as long as they can manage it. Two other interesting critters we had a little further south were box turtles and opossums - you might have those in your area too.
Thanks for the pics of your hard work. Rich project threads are the best kind.
While I think Hugelculture beds do have a lot of advantages, I'm not making many due to the difficulty of moving large amounts of dirt and dead wood without machinery I don't have.
However, in the garden itself was a roughly 4-foot tall stump that was so rotten it fell over with a light push. It was still heavy, but there was space just downhill of it that would work pretty well as a hugel bed.
So: I started by digging a broad trench about a foot deep, saving the soil I'd dug out. I didn't get much into the super clayey subsoil, and didn't worry if there was a bit of it in my pile. I then rolled the log into the trench and built it up another 1-2 feet with additional smaller dead and mostly rotted logs from around the place - nothing I couldn't transport with a handcart.
Once I had piled up the dead logs, I piled on that day's weeding. Then I raked/shoveled the dirt back over it.
Finally, I put pots of strawberries that were producing a lot of runners, to let them take over the little ridge. I watered it well, and kept it watered for the next few weeks.
It is amazing how, once you get going, you forget to actually take notes. So, update on that acre:
Last spring, I built an even bigger fence. 12 foot bamboo on three sides, wired together, 6 foot bamboo and black netting on the 4th side. We lost everything to the deer. Planted about 10 pounds of potatoes, which got mowed down just before flowering. We got a tiny bowl of spuds. We did get some tomatoes, some greens in the spring. There is a lot of mile-a-minute weed, and I harvested a bunch of the young leaves, which made a great sag paneer when mixed into other greens. We got a couple of raspberries from the plants along the fenceline. and plenty of mint. Overall though, not much of a harvest.
The beehive I bought did not make it through the winter. The post mortem is here: https://www.vermiculturepermaculture.com/blog/2019/1/27/bee-post-mortem
Overall, fair number of failures - but the truth is that we didn't put a whole lot of time into it....because, after dealing with some health issues, we were buying a place of our own! It is now FIVE acres in Maryland. We have been working on the house and planning the garden this winter, and are getting started on things already - the local ChipDrop folks have left us several huge piles of woodchips, and some longer logs that we are using to build raised beds. We went ahead and ordered a couple yards of topsoil and compost - normally I'd improve the soil slowly, but the best place for a garden is a former gravel lot, so its got gravel packed with soil that is pretty much impossible to dig up. So, we are going to cheat and get an initial infusion of top soil.
Closer to the road, there is an area with actual soil, that is very wet. We will be renting an excavator and making a pond and swales, then planting cover crops this year and an orchard next year. We will plant some bush cherries, sand plums, etc. this year, but will wait on the more expensive trees until we have the space prepped better.
If you live anywhere near Annapolis, send me a message! I'd love to meet Permies folks around here, and if you want to see how we are doing things, we can always use a bit of help!
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