Geoff Colpitts

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since Dec 06, 2011
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Recent posts by Geoff Colpitts

Mulch is highly contentious.  Read Steve Solomon's book "Gardening in Hard Times" (not 100% on the title) to look at his experiments on mulching.  Basically, he says that if you have any exposed soil, mulching only brings more water to the surface, which contributes more to drought, whereas bare soil, once desiccated to a few inches, provides a barrier to the wicking process, which allows for far better water retention.

Having the situation I described isn't ideal (Steve is/(was?) a european style farmer trying to figure out adaptation to the pacific northwest area so his methods can be said to be cultural adaptations rather than horticultural solutions), but if you want to avoid it, I would guess that a living mulch provides much the same benefits, without creating a desiccation zone.  Plants with small surface root zones, I suspect, would do the same as an 'airy' mulch.

Again, if the mulch has lots of contact with the soil, and if it is too consistent of a texture all the way up to the surface, wicking will bring water up from a great distance to be evaporated by the sun.

On the other hand, mulching for the purpose of creating shade (and reducing solar surface evaporation, makes a lot of sense to me - shading the soil allows for a relatively decent cover for all insects, both predator and prey (spiders centipedes and ground beetles need cover as much as everything else) so you haven't messed with whatever balance you have.  I have considered the advantages of learning basic, haphazard methods of weaving in order to create shade "foils", which might allow for your 'shading mulch' to avoid contact with the ground, which would prevent it from immediately beginning to decay.

Mulching with certain materials like shredded interior tree wood might work simply because it doesn't break down fast enough, but has so many huge disadvantages (soil imbalances, ecological dead zones, high labour) that it does not seem a solution to me.  Also, I find that such mulches are often applied in bad situations - deciduous trees, for instance, often (in my area) get mulched with coniferous 'bark mulch', which means that the soil bacterial/fungal content, typically carefully managed by the deciduous leaves themselves so as to benefit the tree, is replaced by what I can only imagine is something that only benefits conifers.

2 months ago
I second the comment about John Kallas (I read his book, which is thorough, and useful for most temperate climes similar to the pacific northwest).

He, or someone else, recommended grilling the crowns, which seems like a great idea to me, although I've never had crowns with little enough soil/sand on them.

(When they're already bitter, I'd probably just boil or roast the roots.)

8 months ago

Rachel Findley wrote:Succulents? If you don't water them, succulents do get unhappy, but stay a bit moist. I have an unwatered aloe vera that lives on from year to year in summer-dry California. Ice plant naturalizes at Point Reyes, which is cooler and moister than the East Bay where I live, but gets no summer rain.

Hens and chicks is probably the equivalent in the PNW.  Also edible, apparently.
9 months ago
My defective mouse/computer just destroyed three attempts at writing this response, so sorry it's probably scattered.

If you're thinking grasses are too risky, maybe the area shouldn't be a meadow in the first place.  I'm mostly suspicious because European settler stereotypes were very good at creating hazardous terrains that after a while just seemed like parts of the landscape - like excessive amounts of Cottonwood, or blackberry thickets.  I live on the coast, not in the interior PNW, but the since most of the land was altered in some 'standard European' way, it may be that grasses, as a starting point, might be more foreign than one thinks, and a lot more overall work.
Orchard trees with some easy natives and deep rooted crops might be better.  (No grasses though, they compete for water with the shallow rooted trees.)  Also animals (especially ducks) can deal with fallen fruit, even when there's a decent understory, and we have such great, easy to grow understory options in the PNW, no matter which ecosystem you talk about.  If you don't want fallen fruit, perhaps staghorn sumac or... maybe Osoberry?

Apios Americana always interested me for its possible integration into PNW shrubby areas.  It's a climber with a root crop.  Burkina Bambara beans from Richters Seeds might work too: as a stop-gap measure, a groundnut that grows well with dry hot summers and wet winters is pretty 'clutch'.  (You seem to think the soil is deep enough for daikon, so I assume root crops are ok.)
No matter how I try (and admittedly it's been a while since I've been to the interior) I just can't imagine a 'natural meadow' in the PNW that is mostly a grass based system.  The summers just don't (aside from this year to date!) permit it, without a natural high water table, and in the rainy season(s), you lose soil nutrition because the root systems are, while thick, not deep enough to retain/reclaim anything.  While there are a lot of grasses out there, they aren't necessarily all there because of any sustainable cycle that bears imitation.  I wonder if there is any real data available as to if the famed "controlled burns" done by first nations ever had to deal with as much grassland as there is now, even outside of populated areas.  In thinking about our terrifying fire season, the altered landscape might need a bigger fix than planting different grasses.  You may need things that don't just shove all the extra moisture into larger and larger leaves in the spring, only to create an even larger amount of fuel in the summer.  That kind of solution would lead more to fire-resistance than fire-management.
9 months ago
If you're on the pacific west coast, then be sure you've read Paul Stametz' bits on fire prevention (it's in his big book, don't know where else).  Useful stuff, although mostly about brushpile management, but in terms of how those fires start, it's a good source on 'not screwing up in the first place', and provides a decent "food for thought" starting point.  I know there are also natural wildfires, but brushpile fires start close to home by definition.

I'm also expecting him to claim that mushrooms prevent forest fires... which is probably true in some way or another.  He was in forestry before going into mycology, after all.  It's been a while since I read the book.

In a lot of ways, I believe that the west coast isn't really meant to support meadows to any large extent (depending on the location: the interior and the sunshine coast more-so than the coast, north, and islands, but certainly a lot of the interior has been altered pretty severely.)  Not sure what you're doing with the area, but I wonder if the first-nations that used controlled burns were actually having to deal with large meadows on cleared land - basically I'm just saying that you have to be pretty sure you need a meadow.  Out of control wildfires can end up just a result of having altered the ecosystem, and it might not matter if you have one kind of grass or another in the long run, supposing that the surrounding area can't 'support' a meadow without the threat of severe fires.

I've not been able to find information on whether or not some sort of compromise solution (I'm thinking orchard rather than meadow) would be less susceptible to fire.  I imagine it could be, especially since orchard management is more about dealing with fallen fruit (ducks basically), and orchards do not co-operate well with short-rooted grasses, so you'd ideally end up with small shrubs, long rooted things, and obviously fruit trees, and even in a drought those don't spell "severe fire risk" to me, seeing as you have a mix of shade, natural water management, and hopefully some native species.

That's my 8 cents, at least.
9 months ago

Hans Quistorff wrote:I do the combination of salal and Oregon grape or Washington holly berries.  The skin of the salal berries will give a dark to black color to preserves if that is desired.
The plant spreads by roots underground, therefore can be propagated by dinging up some roots and transplanting them; best along the edge of a hedge row. Can be mowed to maintain low height.

Just to be clear, he means "a.k.a." Washington Holly berries.  Not "Oregon grape, or English holly berries", which would kill you.  
11 months ago
I've often wondered what would happen if I used the leaf in place of a bay leaf.  Just a pipe dream.
11 months ago
At times I use the medium-young leaves as a tea - not the super green ones, but not the old ones either.  With milk, like earl grey.
11 months ago

s. lowe wrote:I found a new berry spot this winter and it is even more abundant than I realized back then. Its especially rich in Salal berry, which I've been told are excellent and similar to blue berries. I'll be getting the first ripe ones here in the next few weeks and am planning to also do a big haul in a month or so when there are bunches of them. Has anyone ever harvested and preserved Salal berries? Any recipes or serving suggestions?

Do test them for spotted wing fruit fly.  Harder to detect in salal.  I haven't seen them in oregon grape though - they've got no balls.  (That's a fruit fly joke - their testicles are enormous.)

Often things are mixed with Salal, because it's not the most fragrant of berry.  It fleshes things out very well and unobtrusively.

11 months ago