Brandis Roush

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since Apr 16, 2012
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Recent posts by Brandis Roush

I grew potatoes in my first year hugel bed and they weren't great, but in all fairness I had NO IDEA what I was doing, did the whole thing by myself (I'm a moderately strong young woman, but still...) and by hand in an area with overgrown wild grape vines (I broke a shovel and a garden fork during the process). I don't think, in retrospect, that I got the soil layer on top of the wood deep enough. And I kind of neglected the bed because of it's placement in they yard, so it got a we bit weedy as well. It was on the far side of my fenced annual garden from both my house and from the garden gate, so I had to go out the fence and around to tend to it. This year I'm going to put a gate in on that side because I plan to put MORE plantings over there.

I'm also thinking about borrowing a tractor this time, but we'll see:)

What kind of seed are you looking for? I just ordered most of mine- I ordered this year because I'm trying to avoid all Monsanto related sources, and pretty much all local seed is Burpee, although the hardware store sells Renee's Garden seed, which is a good source. I order my annual seeds from Johnny's Select seeds (and before someone feels the need to inform me of this, I am aware they buy some of their seed from Semenis, who is owned by Monsanto, but it's a tiny number of varieties, and I just avoid those)- they have a decent selection of farm seed if you're looking to order cover crops or the like, I ordered a bunch of perennial vegetable seeds from Restoration Seeds, french sorrel plants from The Tasteful Garden, Comfrey root cuttings from Coe's comfrey (best price I've found so far), and several perennial plants (pea shrub, hog peanut, ground nut, good king henry, and wild leek) from Food Forrest Farm.
9 years ago
It probably depends on a lot of other factors in the environment like humidity and wind. I have been reading Little House on the Prairie with my kids and they talk about the lowlands around the creek as always being significantly warmer than the high prairie. But I also know that low areas between hills tend to freeze first, so ? Anyone know the science behind this, and what factors would affect it?
9 years ago
I just ordered a bunch of perennial vegetables and fruit trees/bushes/vines. Without pre-planning, of course! So now I'm trying to get a rough plan so I can make sure the soil and necessary structures are ready- well, hopefully the only structure I'll need to build will be a decorative pergola I want to build for the hardy kiwi. So I'm trying to figure out what existing trees/structures to grow a few other vining plants on.

1. Hog peanut. It's an understory plant right, and not tear-down-a-tree vigorous, so could I plant it next to and encourage it up an existing tree? I have an apple tree on the edge of a group of oaks that leans at a 45 degree angle (I have no idea why- it was that way when we moved in 3 years ago... but it's my best apple tree, so the lean must not bother it), would that be a good option or is this a vine that might pull it down since it's already leaning?

2. Groundnut. Could I grow this on a tree as well? All it says in "Perennial Vegetables" is grow it near a shrub or tree to climb or give it lots of room to spread. I have plenty of trees, most of which I wouldn't loose sleep over loosing should a groundnut pull it down. I should see if it's juglone tolerant, I have a black walnut tree that would be perfect. It also likes acid, I have a lot of evergreens... OR I could plant it as part of the groundcover (along with pumpkins) for my 3 sisters garden, but would it climb the corn and compete with my pole beans?

3. Egyptian walking onion- should I plant these in my annual garden, where the soil will be looser, or in a grouping with other perennial vegetables?

Those are really the only ones I'm not sure of... so I guess out of all the stuff I ordered (a lot... hardy kiwi, fig, dwarf cherry, paw paw, serviceberry, autumn olive, apple, beach plum, pea shrub, goumi, french sorrel, wild leeks, good king henry, sea kale, lovage, sunchokes, false indigo, and chickory, along with my annual vegetable seeds) I'm not doing to bad if I am only unsure about where to put 3 of them.
9 years ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:

Casey Halone wrote:
what about stuffs from the kitchen? For those of us who dont have animals to eat em?

Worm bins? 

I've met and worked briefly with Mark Shepard. He's pretty amazing. He's not "completely" against composting, he's just against it as the sole, miracle soil transformer many growing methods make it out to be. Basically he's against anything that can't be scaled up (a lot like what Joel Salatin says...). His whole "thing" is that most home and small scale permaculturists live in a dream land, and that most of our ideas should be abandoned because they don't scale up. While you're right, there is no "right" way to tend the land, we can all agree that commercial agriculture, even when organic, is NOT the right way. He knows this, he sees it, and he is working to change it, both by setting the example with his own farm and by teaching others. If we want to change the way our food is raise on a large scale level, we need to work on developing methods that scale up. We need to start thinking bigger- even those of us just looking to produce more of our own food.

Take rain barrels for example. One of the first thing many of us do when we start permaculture is to get rain barrels. What we don't realize is that the average roof dumps off over 1000 gallons of water during a 1 inch rain. Most rain barrels are 100 gallons or less. Same with the traditional guild setup vs. his alley cropping- the alley cropping he does accomplishes the same end (biodiversity) in an efficient layout that is easy to manage and harvest, and allows other crops or livestock to be raised and easily managed in between.

And just generally he is an amazing guy. I did a two day workshop with him this past Spring and learned more in those two days than in all my other reading, studying, and doing concerning permaculture- not just factual information, but new ways of thinking.

You can rail against "commodity" farming all you want, but someone has to raise food for the masses. Just because he is raising food en mass, though, doesn't make it comparable to commodity farming.
9 years ago
Last year I set up a hugelkulture bed in a keyhole shape and planted potatoes... lets just say it was a learning experience. I didn't put enough soil on top of the wood, and the soil was far too sandy. Then I neglected the bed because to get to it I had to go around my fenced annual veg garden. But I'm going to remedy those problems next year (more soil, ammendments, and a gate...).

Anyway, my plans are normally bigger than what I actually accomplish, but I'm planning on adding 2-3 more keyhole (maybe hugel, but I have to do all of the digging and log moving by hand, myself, so we'll see... if not hugel, they'll probably be raised) beds. Anyway, these keyhole beds will be in a row with the entrances facing East, and they will be lined up with the garden fence to their west. This will leave little roughly triangle shaped voids in my design, but I was thinking this would be the ideal place to plant some shrubs and perennial mulch/biomass crops (like comfrey, I still haven't gotten around to planting any comfrey...).

Yeah, I'll get to my questions now:) 1) can I plant potatoes in the same hugel bed again? (keeping in mind I'm going to seriously add to and amend the soil, probably after I let the chickens have a go at it after the snow melts).

2) Suggestions to plant in the voids- I was thinking siberian pea shrub, but they get taller than I want. As I said, it's along the East fence of my veg garden. My veg garden already has a row of full grown fruit trees to the West, so I don't really want to create significant shade on the East side. Perhaps some sort of perennial plant instead of shrub?

3) I'm working on getting more permaculture elements into my annual garden. I'm completely changing the layout from rectangular raised beds to a more nautral, leaf vein type pattern with swales for pathways. But as I said, I do this all alone and by hand. I find digging with a shovel kind of soothing, but after a while and especially when it's hot or humid that wears off pretty fast. Is there a peice of equipment that might make some of the work easier? A tractor is out of the question, but like a wheel hoe or something?

4) What about plantings on the swales- instead of mulching them, could I plant a non-invasive low growing something in them to keep weeds out? The garden is low lying and flat, not to mention sandy, so rainwater permeating fast isn't really a huge issue. Orchard grass? Clover? Alfalfa? Alfalfa gets really well established, and I could occasionally cut it to feed my chickens, but is it hardy enough to walk on, and would it spread? I'm trying to come up with a way to make my pathways as zero maintenance as possible- nothing makes me more insane than spending hours weeding freakin' pathways. Feels like such a waste of time! I've just been mulching them (I tried landscape fabric and wood mulch before, didn't have much luck). So any advice on achieving this would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance!
9 years ago
Ditto what everyone else said on the grazers. But the farther North you go (very generally speaking...) the fewer acres you need per animal, so depending you might have enough to keep 2. But if you do, make sure you read a book or take a class on pasture management. It's serious stuff, especially for milk producing animals, because producing milk every day for 9 months out of the year takes a lot of energy. Anyway, I know in NE the general rule is 5, and I think here (MN) you can get away with 3 acres per cow. I didn't click the link about forest management with grazers, but there is an orchard in SoCal that keeps animals to maintain their trees- they fence only the trunks I believe and keep goats to prune what they can reach and chickens to manage deadfall fruit and pests... I don't know if that's the same thing. Goats would do much better on wooded land, though, as they are brush eaters more like deer, although then you would have to be careful they didn't kill trees by stripping the bark or kill any vines you try to establish. Chickens, however, would be awesome. No, they don't produce milk, but they're easily my favorite farm animal (next to horses, but I can't have one of those here:( ) and do well in woods. I know some people would be wary to keep chickens in woods, but mine graze in the woods behind my house all the time and obviously prefer the cover of underbrush to any open area. And knock on wood I've not had any predator problems. Sheep are also an option, although they aren't brush eaters (I don't think... I used to keep sheep so I should know that, but it was before my enlightenment and they were kept in pens and fed sheep feed, so I don't...) and would require some actual pasture, and I hear sheep milk is an aquired taste because it has a higher fat content (but it makes great cheese...).

Otherwise I think it sounds like a great plan... there are a lot of advantages to starting with mature trees, especially in a natural setting. My property is kinda like that. At least the spacing is natural for most of the trees, although they've been mowed around probably most of their lives so all of the understory is gone (with a few exceptions). So I'm starting the same way on a much smaller scale (probably 1.5 of my 3 acres is wooded). I'm not removing any trees yet though, and that is a lot of work. For now I have sufficient gaps to develop guilds in the most important places (the walnut and apple trees) and the less food intesive guilds (the oaks, which are more crowded) will come later. Also, I can't imagine the wealth of beneficial native species you would find in that kind of setting- I'll bet you could find lots of understory to keep as well!
10 years ago
I'm still relatively new to permaculture myself, but I agree with the above post. Start smaller and practice. If it happens that you have the money and the opportunity to get a bigger piece of land in the very near future then go ahead, but even then start your projects small. But this stuff is hard work, and I think there is a point where, even if you can reasonable accomplish it with your time and resources, if you're using a lot of machinery to accomplish this then the process kind of looses something, you know? And you see, once you're deep into it you will be like me- after a day working and baking in the sun you will no longer be able to form a coherent thought... But I am a stay at home mom, so besides providing basic care for my children I have all day most days to devote to my permaculture and chicken endeavors, and while I have accomplished a lot in the past two years (how long we have lived on this property), it is really slow going. And many projects I have necessarily taken my time to do, mostly because of cost. But what I have discovered on that front is that when I'm not sure how to accomplish a project or how I'm going to afford it, that I should wait. Last year I was going to spend $300 on a compost bin, but I couldn't rationalize it. This year I happened upon a bunch of pallets for free and ended up building a two compartment bin for free. All winter I planned to fence the side of my property that has close neighbors with wood fence posts and 4 foot welded wire so I could free range my chickens. But after I fenced the garden with the "nice" fencing (to keep the chickens out) I had a bunch of old crappy 2 and 3 foot garden fence and used it, and discovered it does a pretty good job of keeping them where they need to be (yes, a chicken can easily jump a 2 or 3 food fence, but when they can't perch on top of it they're not likely to jump over, and when they have 3 acres on the RIGHT side of the fence they're less likely to try). So the more I go the more I realize that, if I'm not 100% okay with my method (or the cost of my method) then wait and observe and see what happens. I've saved myself a lot of money and time and stress that way.

But to the hugel thing, everyone else is right it depends on so many factors. For me, mine was totally free, $$$ wise. I made a hugel bed big enough to plant 11lbs of seed potatoes using grow biointensive spacing (half the spacing of traditional gardening). It's in a keyhole shape, but it's probably about 4 x 20. I used no machinery, just myself, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow. BUT I was starting on soil we (my husband and I) had just pulled a ton of grapevines out of, which basically tilled the soil, and our soil is very loose and sandy. The property we live on is very wooded so I have plenty of prunings and deadfall to use in the beds. I did the bed in two sections (although connected). The first, which probably took about 3 hours, I just mounded the wood and then the compost and soil, but that took bringing more soil in from another site (another site being my old compost pile...), and I didn't have enough to do that for the rest. So for the second I dug a pit about 6 inches deep, filled it with wood, and covered it back up. It probably took me about 6 hours total to do the second half. I'm terrible at estimating time, though, I just know the second took longer. This is the only hugel bed I'm doing this year, and I'll add a bed or two each year. I have also just this spring- built a fence for my garden (which is not permaculture at all- it's no till raised bed- as I mention, I'm new to this too!), built a second chicken pen and a summer coop, added 50 chickens to my flock (previously had 22), planted 22 new fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs, built a huge (5x20 ish, but it's curvy so that's not exact) zone 1 bed right next to my porch, fenced the aforementioned side of my property, and of course planted and worked all the beds (well, I'm still working on it technically) in my 50x60 veg garden. But I do have to say it's money more than time that limits my endeavors, although because of that I have more time to spend actually sitting and enjoying my property. If money were no issue I would probably literally spend every spare moment mulching and planting (and I'd have 5 foot fence around my ENTIRE property and just let my chickens run all day every day, but that's a whole other thing...).

So far as equipment goes... If I had the money, but only enough to buy one thing, I would get a front loader. Which is a lot like the walk behind the person before mentioned, so that's a good option and a bit cheaper. I feel like they are pretty versatile pieces of machinery- they can scoop/dig (don't know if the walk behinds can), dig ditches, dig post holes, move/lift heavy items, and (I don't know how safe it is, I just know this is pretty common use for farmers who have them...) use them to access high places. But as it is, all we have is a riding mower (I mentioned I'm new- getting down to a lot less grass is a priority, but my husband won't let me get rid of all if it), which I use a little bit. When I have to move a lot of stuff or move something heavy a long distance it's nice- we have a trailer for it (that was free!). I use it to move the chicken tractor, although only when empty since it freaks out the chickens. And, since we can't get rid of the grass, I treat the grass like a crop- we let it get tall, mow it, and sweep it. Then I use that as mulch in my gardens and around the perimeter of my garden fence or as green matter in my compost bins.

Sorry, I'm straying off topic. The point I am trying to make is that there is no way to learn how this works or how much it will take of X material until you do it yourself. The more you do the more you will learn. And I strongly advise you to ASAP develop a "where can I get that free" mentality, or a "what can I use that I already have" mentality. Lately I find myself frequently thinking "if I were a farmer 100 years ago (and didn't have the option to just run to the store whenever I need something) how would I deal with this?" Also, be creative, and check things like craigslist. One thing you can never have too much of is wood, esp. if you're trying to be self sustained. We only have a wood stove in the garage (regular central heat in the house), but we've talked about switching to full wood burning before, and about putting an add on craigslist to remove trees under a certain diameter and height for a small fee (lower than what local professionals would charge) plus all the wood. A chainsaw doesn't cost that much, and you can get a lot of return... of course, don't do this until you've felled some trees yourself, so you know what you're doing:) But you could get a lot of wood this way AND make a little extra cash AND provide a service to people at a lower rate than they would pay otherwise. But even if you don't do that, unless you live in like AZ or Southern Cal, you should be able to find people who are more than happy to have you take away their brush pile. Most people don't know the value of what they have!

I don't know about other places, but there is good land available here in MN (South central). My husband has been looking for a friend who is moving here and found 10 acres with a house for like 170,000. I have no idea what type of land it was, he didn't show the listing to me, but most land here is like ours- loose, rich, and slightly sandy, although most does have some rocks (ours doesn't, somehow we got lucky). Of course, there are the winters...
10 years ago
I think this is fascinating.

I grew up in Nebraska, not too far from the Kansas border- I even graduated college in Manhattan, KS (same thing- college town, but still super conservative, it was my own personal hell...). As in Missouri and Kansas, Nebraska (and North Central Kansas, where my in laws are from) are super conservative and practical. My dad is one of those farmers, and what the poster from Missouri (sorry, I forgot the name!) said is spot on. He would never think to change his methods because to his standards they work, and he's not going to take a gamble when it comes to providing for his family. The riskiest things he has done are introducing sunflowers and popcorn into his repertoire of planting, and I made the mistake of suggesting he start looking into grassfed beef- it wasn't well recieved, even though I don't think it would be that hard for him to make the transition (but still, I get that it would be harder than he wants it to be, he would have to switch breeds of cattle and do more intensive pasture management...). Most of the farmers in the midwest that I know- all of my dad's friends and neighbors, my uncle, all my uncle's five boys- think organic is a joke, there would be no way of convincing them to even listen to anything more radical like permaculture (not that I think it's radical, but they would).

Thankfully, I live 700 miles away in much more liberal central (twin cities adjacent) Minnesota. There is a definite open mindedness here at the least when it comes to more natural and organic methods, and at best the food they produce is in high demand. Which means that it is both easier for me to find the kinds of food I want to feed my family, and that when I talk about permaculture here the only real obstacle is the perception of what a yard should look like, since everyone here seems to be really into nicely edged flower beds, trees in nice neat lines, and of course well manicured lawns.

Either way, I try to avoid using the word permaculture as much as possible, because I think that since most people don't know exactly what it is the word is alienating. I try to explain what I'm doing first (create self sustaining low maintenance food production systems... even that sounds stuffy, but I try to explain more about how I do that than actually using those words). Most people just smile and nod. Often I worry that coming from me any concept is going to be dismissed by 90% of the people I know, because I do things that most of society views to be extreme or outside the norm.

Also, and I don't know if this is related to this topic, but I find that it's hard to break into permaculture in more depth (deeper than Gaia's gardens) because of the cost of all the classes and workshops around here. I don't want to be a permaculture consultant, so I can't justify spending $2000 on a class, but I want the info taught in the class so I can apply it to my own property. I think the gap is too wide, and there are no classes that seem to be aimed a people like me- people with a little chunk of property (not urban, there are a few urban classes) who want to learn more about permaculture and how to transition their yard without taking out a second mortgage on their house.

Oh, and a tiny side note, since you mentioned Mother Earth News- It could just be the fact that it is published in Topeka, so they sell it because it's a local publication. Or perhaps there are 3 hippies in town (said lovingly, because I do consider myself to be a hippy) and they keep them in stock for them. I ADORE Mother Earth News, and one of my claims to "fame" is that a very good friend of mine back in NE is the nephew of the Editor (yep, I realize, that's a pretty lame claim...).
10 years ago
My mom says that if they're orange they're tiger lilies, but I'm not going to go on her ID alone. I'll double check before I eat any of them. What part is edible, the bulb/root?

It's still really early, but we don't have that many weeds. A few weeks ago I was looking for something to add N to my compost pile, and there was nothing to add. I do have a decent growth of thistles now, though, and sting weed, which we try to control because my husband is super sensitive to it (he is just sensitive- he also reacts to grape vine...). Both I have been chopping and dropping. I keep meaning to order comfrey, but it's $$$ I don't want to spend right now when I'm also spending money on chicken housing, other garden stuff... I figure I'll make that purchase mid season when I'm not so financially strapped- I'll be spending less and hopefully getting some income from selling various garden products.
10 years ago
I am working on developing guilds around the existing apple trees on our property, as well as the newly planted bushes and trees. Obviously the biggest obstacle for most of us is cost- While I think every penny I spend on moving towards permaculture is money well spent, I still have to have money to feed my family and not piss off my husband too much:)

So guilding and sheet mulching around the trees has been put off while I work on my zone one (as I should...), but I have been thinking and observing and have noticed a few things. We have two big clumps of lilies growing on the edge of our property. From what I have gathered from neighbors the previous owners used to mow down there, then they stopped and let it get all wild, and we are just now (well, my husband is, if it were up to me we would have left it as our zone 5- he did leave part, just not as much as I would have liked...) getting around to reclaiming it, which is how we discovered these lilies (we did know there was something orange blooming down there last summer, but didn't know what it was until my MIL identified it for me). We also have clumps of old fashioned iris, also from the previous owner. There are also lots of wild plants that I would like to move and/or encourage, like wild strawberries, violets, and blackberries.

So my question is, is there value in taking these resources I have on hand and making up the good part of most of my guilds with them? Like could I dig up the lilies and use them where daffodils would normally go in an apple guild? I also am working on a walnut guild, and I've heard wild strawberry makes good ground cover. The mix is lacking in N fixers, but we also have lots of clover growing mixed in with the grass, and I could add some others.

Any advice or feedback? Would I be missing out on certain benefits if I do this?
10 years ago