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Field to Silvopasture- The Battle has Begun  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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Since it is absolutely sodden here right now (like 12" of rain in the last three days), and I can't be busy outside, I am going to document the project I have been working on. I hope people can learn from the successes and failures. Where possible I will give cost estimates and sourcing.

I have a couple of fields that until recently were a christmas tree farm, then cleared about 15 years ago and mowed/fertilized and beat up until we moved in. Total area of the fields is about 3 acres. We get generally pretty nice rainfall all year generally with a dry period of 3-4 weeks in late summer.

Terrain is pretty flat, there is no more than about 5' elevation change in any field. Ponds and even swales don't make much sense with the flatness. Soil is 30-40% clay, in some places more. Heavily compacted from prior use and rain compacted from lack of vegetation. Minerals were basically absent, a representative soil sample is included.

Limitations- the property is in a reasonably niceish area, with a pretty nonrestrictive POA. People are pretty cool with hobby agriculture, just not allowed to have pigs.

So, based on people smarter and more experienced than me, I did an inventory of why this area was not performing. I came up with soil chemistry, infiltration/retention capability, and soil microbial health- as the big factors.

Soil chemistry- I do think over time soil will find stuff that will grow on it with adequate moisture. Unfortunately, observing the first year, this meant crabgrass and medic in the summer, and wild chives and buttercup in the winter. The pioneer trees were moving in, and succession would have been directly to cedar/gum forest pretty fast. Based on the history from locals and overhead images, this moves into the field at about 50' a year from the margins. While this would presumably improved the basic mineral profile, it is very expensive in time or money to turn it back into fields or savanna once these move in.

Infiltration/retention- the compaction was extreme. Literally I broke a pickaxe trying to get the initial soil sample. Without improved retention the dry spell was magnified to the point where any cool season forage was devastated. The water would sheet off the field, even with the minimal elevation change. Thus topsoil was nonexistent. There were areas that had been disrupted to install utilities, and the soil strata had still not recovered after 15 years.

Microbial health- no evidence of any at all. The prior occupants used fertilizers dutifully every spring, then mowed anything that grew, which promptly washed off. I did not see a worm in any of my test holes.
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Tj Jefferson
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Soil chemistry-

Like every dutiful grower, I assumed I needed to correct the soil sample. This meant the first year I tried to put down about 25% of the required calcium and mag, and some potassium. This came out to 2.5 tons of dolomitic lime and 500lbs of potash, along with sulfur. This set me back well over $1000. In order to not allow this goodness to wash right off, I planted cover crops, which were in prior threads (link here and here). That was another $400.

I would count that effort as a 4/10. I probably did get some minerals from that application, but it was a very incomplete correction. If the macros were that out of whack, the micros were guaranteed to be the same.

This year I applied Sea-90, which is about $1/lb, at 50/lb/acre. This should be better for the overall micros and electrolytes, and is pretty rapid. This went down over a few applications with a broadcast spreader so hopefully it would not leach, but get taken up.

Additionally, I applied some granite rock dust I can get locally with wood chips mixed in. Really the wood chips were just a way of not gumming up the manure spreader, like fiber in the gut. I applied at a rate of 4 tons/acre. It really didn't take too long. I assayed the rock dust myself for $8 at waypoint analytics as a soil sample, just got a bagful from the sample bin at the quarry.  Total cost of the dust application was $500, and both increased the minerals as well as the particle size. Already it looks like about half has been moved into the soil by worm action. The chips also added humic acid and lots of potassium. I have a very good supply of chips at this point! Minerals last fall after the initial dolomitic/potash/sulfur application were not dramatically better.

I needed infiltration and soil microbial health.

 
Tj Jefferson
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Compaction/infiltration

This is a tough topic. Due to the poor nature of utility documentation, I am hesitant to dig much around here. I know where the telephone line and power are, but otherwise they were not well marked. I didn't want to find them with a subsoiler.

In retrospect, I should have cast a wider net, I ended up finding someone who installed the geothermal, and he walked me around and showed me where that and the septic were, along with documentation of the depths.

I could have, knowing this, done some keylining. This would have been very good. I highly recommend it as a first step if you have the capability. Test areas I did are much improved. But I didn't.

I took the route of trying to get roots to puncture through the hardpan and increase the infiltration. This has been a very modest success. I have tried daikons, turnips, buckwheat in big areas and some test plots of chicory alfalfa and sweetclover. These all have large taproot potential. The potential has been slow to manifest as improved infiltration. As many on here have mentioned, they may do a nice job once there is some topsoil to improve infiltration further, but the rootcrops basically grew up, not down. The buckwheat only got to about 12", and then flowered, which suggests it ran out of resources. The chicory is (slowly) doing good things. The native lions mane and hawksbeard are starting to move in. I am doing daikons and buckwheat again this year to see if they make progress.

This is still the biggest work in progress. The rain is not running off, but it is sitting on the surface at this point. Partial win.

 
Tj Jefferson
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Soil microbial health

This is really the sine qua non. My feeling is that this will catalyze the whole process. Grow the soil first.

I have read Bryant's soil series in detail. It is wonderful. The question is really how to implement on a large scale. The secondary question is how to maintain it to require minimal further intervention. I think an elegant system should require minimal maintenance.

The summer dessication was, I believe, a major driver. I can't make it rain, but I can try to minimize the thermal absorption into the soil. The first summer I kept it as high as the mower would go, which is about 7". This should have left a decent vegetative "armor" as Gabe Brown refers to it. If I had not mowed at all, the ticks just make it impassible (sadly). If it was dry, I didn't mow at all. I was not targeting "teenage grass" cutting as Paul describes, just trying to provide a periodic input of organic matter both as a soil cover and worm food. I mowed only three times all summer. It was very high during the hottest part of the summer.

I have played around with compost tea, but have not been able to cobble together a good way to make and distribute it in volume. I think this would be a good addition, just haven't had the time and resources to dig into it. I hate getting new equipment. It's my hangup, maybe others can do better!

So I combined a desire for compost tea with increased low-maintenance cover in the hot part of the year. This led me to silvopasture as a concept, mixed with composting in place as a microbial generating source.

 
Tj Jefferson
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Schema

This started out as a simple desire to have some edible trees around here. What lunacy comes of small projects! But this is what function stacking is all about.

I ordered a bunch of dollar trees from the forestry service, mulberry, lespedeza, chinkapin, redbud, hazelnut and chinese chestnut mostly. When I was figuring out where to put them I made the "mistake" of watching Mark Shepard's videos. I thought "This could be done with my resources". One thing I have heard again and again is that people wish they had integrated animal rotation in the system. So the layout was based on maximizing winter solar availability, maintaining about 30' spacing between major crown trees. All are deciduous trees. Tubes are 5' tubes and were around $4 in bulk including stakes. I reuse both since they stay on for only a year.

After planting I started to realize watering was not much fun. I had the dollar trees in tubes to keep the miserable deer off them the first year, but they were definitely under water strain. And it was stupidly hot and I was tired of dragging buckets around for hours. So I quit doing that. I finally got a line on some wood chips. I used them around the more expensive trees I put in (persimmons mostly). I killed most of them because I didn't understand how little mulch they can tolerate around the bases, especially persimmons, they are transplanting wimps. The cheap trees in tubes that had an airspace between them and chips grew ridiculously, like 5' in a year. So don't do what I did. Persimmons did not like the tubes. Basically was like a cafeteria for japanese beetles in there.

This last winter I really REALLY started getting chips. I probably got around 200 yards of chips, which I mixed with rock dust. I windrowed chips in strips about 30" deep in the forest strips, to define a fungal culture. I always donut the chips around trees. This is a massive water battery, and in the rain I can see the humates and other organic compounds leaching out into the field. This spring the grass is about twice as thick, and there is less broomstraw and more forage grass. Also, I inoculated the chips with winecaps a la Edible Acres. This is apparently a micorrhyzal fungus and hopefully will also give some mushrooms.  I expanded the winecap inoculum on cardboard, wood chips and compost to about 4 yards of material (that was a big project), and then implanted the inoculum into the chips.

This is my attempt at large scale bioremediation for the initial area. I will try to do some quantitative testing as it matures. Fencing and animals coming in this summer, so apologies if I am slow to answer questions. This has been draining but very fulfilling.
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Posts: 14
Location: Southeastern Minnesota; Zone 4b / 5a cusp
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WOW! Thank you for sharing this. A lot of lessons in your observations. Three questions:

When you add animals, what kind? Presumably not pigs.

Are you doing any understory plantings?

Will the long-term plan eliminate the need to mow?
 
Tj Jefferson
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Chance,

Currently there is a mobile chicken coop/net setup with about 20 birds. The spacing between the tree rows also allows for a rational paddock rotation system, and there are gaps in the tree rows/mulch to allow moving the coop from one alley to the next. It is hand-movable on most of the terrain, but a workout! Right now, due to the understory planting the chux are not allowed into the chips until that stuff has had time to get set. Sheep will be coming in as soon as the perimeter fence is installed, since I really just want a poly tape electric setup for them, and they will be going in three days ahead of the chickens to trample the vegetation to allow the electronet. I am very lazy with established systems. The work should be in design and installation to me. The goal is that I won't need to mow except maybe once a year to keep the trees from growing back up. Optimally never. I think I mentioned pigs are not allowed here, but I may be able to get that changed. They would potentially be fantastic, because they grow so fast and their nutrition needs are pretty well-matched to the production of a silvopasture system, i.e. when the spring grass/clover is booming>tree/shrub poduction> fruit/nut production, each with more calorie value than the last until fall. I am working on getting some large pod thornless honeylocust to even extend it further maybe through the winter. But they can't root, that would be counterproductive, and I have a lot to learn about pigs before I would install them.

Understory plantings are too numerous to mention in toto, but I am targeting things I hope will get established/survice even with chux browsing and maybe even sheep, and more shrub than true understory, with preference for a mix of aromatic/apiary/edible. The issue is that sheep with mineral deficiencies will ring trees, so they will get a test area with beater dollar trees before they are allowed in my treasured silvopasture/food forest. Many of these trees are grafted and I don't want to have to go through that again.

Current main understory that I can think of (people have given me lots of stuff I can't remember) is gooseberry,asparagus, goumi, monarda,  sunchoke (gets an isolated lump of chips), all of which I propagated this last winter except some new asparagus varieties, and some plants I seeded into little pockets of soil in the mulch piles like pots. Those really struggled since the chips do sap some nitrogen. The only seedlings that seem to do OK in fresh chip pockets are N-fixers like lupines, even with a pocket of real soil.  I think based on this year, if I wait for the chips to be direct-seedable a la Back to Eden, the grass and clover is likely to have moved in already and will smother the seedlings. I will have to start the seeds in sets, which I very much wanted to avoid. Lupines did fine from seed. BTW I also did an experiment with tupperware covering some soil pockets to make a temporary greenhouse for germination, and those did poorly. So it seems the easy way is also the more productive. Which is awesome.

The initial installation is doing double duty, it is also my propagation system for future areas, and I am literally geometrically expanding at a cheap price. Doing the deep mulch I can just shove hardwood cuttings into the chips after a year of degradation and about 50% take. I did about 100 cuttings last year and this year will double it. Honeylocust, goumi, mulberry, grapes, ribes, all are braindead easy to propagate this way with a tiny time investment. It took me under an hour to prune and stick in the chips. I will do a separate article on lazy hardwood rooting.

Elimination of mowing is a goal for sure, it sickens me to mow a snake or turtle or even a spiderweb. I mow because otherwise the ticks are literally intolerable. Like 10 or more walking 100 yards through the field, and high lyme prevalence. Two part plan for that- perimeter deer fence to eliminate the main vector around here (I am actually installing little culverts to allow the foxes in and out to crush the rabbit/squirrel population, but small enough to prevent larger coyotes/dogs), then high-density sheep grazing followed by birds. Next year with a perimeter fence we will repurpose the chicken brooding area for guineas, who will range wherever they desire. We have tons of blacksnakes so we may never get a clutch of guineas but here's hoping.
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garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Looking good there TJ, sounds like all you need to add now is mushroom slurries and rig up some 55 gal tea brewing pots.

Redhawk
 
Tj Jefferson
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Bryant,

You have been the inspriation for much of this single handedly. If you and Greg Judy had a love child, it would look like me, pretty sure.

I went with the sawdust spawn which I expanded the first year to try to get a harvestable run of Winecaps. Once they are established in at least a few areas so we have a good supply, then I will just move to the slurry. Can that inoculate as well as spawn? I could be saving some serious cash! There is quite a bit of native fungus around, there are fruiting bodies in chips down six months, so not sure how much bang for my buck as well.

I didn't do the brewing as of yet, my work schedule is pretty erratic, and I don't have a sprayer or ATV and really don't want any more stuff. I hate getting stuff. And mowing. If I get a golf cart (based on Paul Wheatons experience the way I'm leaning- we have tiny slopes) then it makes sense to start doing brewing large scale. Right now the leachate from the hills seems to be helping. Grass next to the chips is bountiful.

Again, this is as much your project as mine! You did the intellectual labor I intend to benefit from!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Sounds super TJ, glad you find the info helpful in your progress. Slurries work very well, it just takes about a month longer than using spawn, but it allows you to use local fungi which gives you a more diverse fungal network.
The Winecaps will spread and spread so nothing but good stuff there.

I do have a little one gal. pump sprayer that I use for teas but you can use a watering can for localizing your microbiome improvements to the spaces you need it now.
Don't forget, that once you have the organisms in the soil, it not only gets better over time but you don't have to continue adding more to those spots already treated (unless).
The unless is, you retreat if you notice things aren't improving like they should or if plants are still showing signs of not enough nutrient availability.
Other than those places, you should only have to do the amendments one or two times.
You can also simply spread the compost (the teas just give  more coverage for the given amount of compost on hand) and the results will still be seen, just slower.

I like the use of leachate down hill, if it is going to leach out, it might as well go to another place it is needed, that is good planning in my book.

If you hit any snags, you know how to get in touch with me for help.

Redhawk
 
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Tj Jefferson wrote:

I mow because otherwise the ticks are literally intolerable.



I read recently that deer ticks spend part of their cycle on mice or other small rodents. Would some hawk nest poles help that? So long as your chickens have sufficient cover!
I also read that "small ground birds" help control ticks, and of course, "modern agriculture" has been *very* unfriendly to the needs of what my friend the bird watcher calls "little brown birds". Any idea if the guineas would help fill that niche?
The recent articles suggest deer ticks and the accompanying diseases they carry, are rapidly expanding in both degree and locale. Apparently there is a vaccine for dogs and horses, but there should also be some permie solutions that help?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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There are several animals that help us with tick control: Chickens, guinea fowl, opossum, "wild" birds (blue birds, warblers, wrens and cow birds (black body with a brown head) have been observed on our place eating ticks and perhaps even chiggers).

I just found out about the opossum being a tick eater, who knew that they were good for tick control?

The ticks this year are absolutely horrendous, there was not enough cold for a long enough period to do any damage to any of the insect population (at least in my neck of the woods).

We used Off on us the past few years but it works less every year so we now use "tick removers" instead.  I am wanting more chickens and guinea fowl, ducks and turkey are on the wish list too.

In my area it seems that lyme is limited in it's range so far, the other tick borne diseases are more of a concern on our mountain apparently (according to the Vets).

Redhawk
 
Tj Jefferson
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The birds are a mainstay of this system. So far we are feeding the chickens about 1/4 ration, they forage aggressively. I have no doubt they will need no food at all when I quit mowing, the bug population will explode.

Domestic birds I have already mentioned the chickens and plan for guineas. Additionally, I have planted turkey-friendly plants. They love clover and any smaller nut. The initial area is only about 1 1/2 acres, and there are probably 30 hazelnuts. They have little pistachios on this year, and should increase every year. The deer browse them intensely right now, they don't do well in tubes. White oaks seedlings are getting transplanted and my alley planning actually is attempting to work in some 6-7 year old trees I found thinning the other stuff. They are highly desired by the turkeys. I have planted a bunch of other stuff hoping to attract some turkeys, and left a copse of nice pines they could roost in (in the background of some of the photos). It is very thick in there, turkeys love that type of terrain, and then I don't have to brood them and worry about the diseases from the hatcheries if I can attract a wild flock. If/when I can get in some small ponds (which is in the process of approval and I need to do some cores this summer to make sure there is some incoming moisture) I would consider ducks. The chickens do consume them per management (my wife). Not the ducks, the slugs.

In terms of birds, they are both host and predators of ticks. As I understand it, the first instar ticks are so small they quest on mice, birds, rabbits etc. There is no way around them. I think the time I thought I had chiggers it may have been a nest of those bastards. I am not worried about the first instar, they transmit no diseases. Just a nuisance. The following instars are the ones that I am worried about, each feeding cycle is a new chance to get a spirochete. Those are the size birds are really good at dealing with, especially taller birds in taller grass. My brother (in a similar climate near Bryant) said the guineas dropped the tick population so dramatically they really didn't have to worry about it. He has I think around 20 of them.

Small birds- maybe you can see in the pictures, but in 1 1/2 acre I have 18 birdhouses. Most are sized for swallows, but there are bluebird houses every 100 yards in every direction. I have probably 10 bluebirds following my walk through the grass watching for motion. I am leaving snags in the woods for the little birds as I fell trees. Mostly the pines, I try to fell them from a ladder 8' up. The woodpeckers move in pretty quick! I have two disease-free cedars (most are riddled with rust and I am removing them) that are just loaded with little birds all winter. Same with the holly, which I am allowing to pop up every 100' or so in the alleys. And I have planted some hackberries for winter forage ( a wonderful dappled shade tree that will allow forage under it), along with around 100 vibernum and other shrubs that hold into the winter. Even the hated crepe myrtle actually seems to be a major winter food source. So I am definitely interested in the small birds.

Bryant, I used the term lyme because that it the disease most people know. Unfortunately, we now have at least four tickborne illnesses here. We have both deer and lone star ticks in number, and they are very aggressive even though we had a historically cold winter. I don't think it is the temperature causing the issue, I think it is the lack of predation for the animals they feed on. We have way way to many deer here all summer, which are the final breeding instar blood source around here. They head over to the subdivisions a couple miles away when rifle season comes in, and then are back to fawn. Between me and my neighbor we harvested 10 deer this fall, and didn't make a visible decrease at all. All are just infested with ticks, I haven't been tanning the hides they are so numerous even in the ears and muzzles. The foxes are another thing that I think are vital to keep, they have really controlled the rabbits and even the squirrels somewhat. I built a large knot of felled cedars that they live in, I tracked them there after a snow! Even if we lose an occasional chicken, they definitely have a welcome here. Hawks are not a major chicken predator so far, and my friends said they think most losses are from canids. We have mostly red-tailed hawks and they perch and hunt from the tops of the birdhouses. They seem to mostly catch little stuff, I have never seen one get a squirrel even though they look impressive. The worst avian predator around here are the black vultures. For that reason we got the biggest chicken breed we could find.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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Outstanding! 

Tip on persimmon trees: persimmon trees do best when planted in a rotted wood area, while they don't like "mulch" they thrive in the spots we have heavily rotted trees(the trees are almost completely disintegrated).
These spots are where the raccoon discarded seeds from our persimmon trees sprout up and grow best.
I tried sprouting some then transplanting them and they didn't survive unless the soil was full of rotted wood.
That led me to start an experiment to find out what fungi the persimmon tree prefers or must have for thriving.

Keep on plugging away TJ, the rewards are well worth the blood, sweat and tears of building a homestead.
We love working on ours so much we haven't taken a vacation away from it since we bought it in 2013.


Redhawk

(Lyme disease is more and more prevalent in ticks as you travel east) And yes there are other diseases but they are lesser talked about in the media so few know of those, even though they are far worse.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Bryant,

my desire is to let stuff compost in place, which may not be the best thing, but it allows me to really use the resources I have. I have great sources for the chips and there is quite a bit of green material, there are tons of downed trees right now since we have gotten massive rains in the last two weeks. I let it sit for a couple weeks and mix in some granite dust, and then load it in the manure spreader and put down about a yard of material per 300 yard pass, so very thin. This is mostly a way to get my potassium up on the cheap! I have put down about 12 yards so far of quite degraded chips so far on the small pilot area, which took about an hour total (with my buddy loading the spreader). It's a half measure, absolutely, but one I know I can get started and finished if I get home and it is still light. I am working on getting a seafood place to save me the oyster shells, but most of the oyster production facilities want them back (Those are only an hour away). I'm always after the fertility of the sea.

I think the main barrier to me doing it is that I take on one big project per week I get off. In between I am a working stiff, and so when I get a chance to do something, I tend to go big.

The compost tea is something I know would make a nice change, it is just number four right now. Mushroom log inoculation in a couple days (logs are already cut in my driveway), fencing, field clearing, then I think the tea would be great. Especially to establish the field after clearing. I make a promise to you that will be next on the list. 
 
Tj Jefferson
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I tried sprouting some then transplanting them and they didn't survive unless the soil was full of rotted wood. 



For that reason I thought they would love their new spots! The key word is rotted. I didn't go into it too much, but I had 4' sections of gum (which is a useless wood, will not split and is structurally terrible) and I laid out the basic alleys with 3-4 logs on the ground. I left a gap in between to plant stuff, so I knew there is a gap 4' from the last planting. Then I covered the logs with deer carcass pieces and some duff from the woods and put the chips on it. Last year this was a fresh system, and I thought the deer would have accelerated it but they didn't. I had only two bands of chips in, and so that is where I planted. Even with a cleared donut the trees just didn't thrive and all died back below the graft or entirely. We did have record cold last winter, so that sure didn't help. My citrus died completely. Even the trifolate rootstock lost most leaves. That is my next pet project, Paul has his lemons, I have my Yuzu.

This year I replanted, and they are very happy. I even transplanted some seedling persimmons last week (they have long leafed out, but that was how I found them) and about 50% survived the move and will get grafted next spring. Persimmon is my largest planting. To me it is just a fantastic fruit, I think I only prefer mulberries to persimmon. I am getting some scion wood at the next exchange and I hope to have 16 total varieties ( I have 8 now). Like I said, I tend to go big. My goal is to be a resource for plant genetics locally. Same with apples and pears, we are a great test plot for rust resistance! So I have four of each planted in the field from seed to field graft as well this winter/spring. Very exciting!
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 4785
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I know all about the do work on the place as you can scenario.
We are gone 12 hours five days a week for "real" work then it is open the house, feed the pigs and other animals, check and refill  water for the animals, feed the LGD's feed us, by that time it is usually nearing dark and time to go put the chickens up for the night.
That's when I check the donkey's bathroom and scoop her poop out of our way. Some days I get fast enough that I can do something on the weekend list of have to do it now, which might give me time on the weekend to work on my new silvopasture acres.
Lately the humidity and near 90 temps cause a slow down so I can not get heat stroke or prostration.
My next thing to do right away is make new mushroom logs for some gifted spawn, (Yum).

I think it is awesome that you have the space and desire to become a gene bank for fruit trees.
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
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Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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This is the coolest thing I have seen since I moved here! This is the power of recapitulating native systems!

There were turkeys in the field! This is the first turkey on this field at least since we moved here. I took a picture but it is really hard to see. Just imagine a turkey mowing down some dinner before roosting.

The red clover has volunteered (I never planted it!) and is getting knee high, and they seem to enjoy the modest cover available now.

Thank you Bryant, so much of this is from your scholarly input. It gave me the confidence to be bold and make some aggressive changes! We have goldfinches and Red Shouldered Hawks as well. Just exploding in this second year!

 
We cannot change unless we survive, but we will not survive unless we change. Evolving tiny ad:
Solar ovens, haybox cooker - What would you build to go with a rocket oven?
https://permies.com/t/89917/Solar-ovens-haybox-cooker-build
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