Dan Grubbs

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since Nov 30, 2012
I'm a 25-year PR professional working in the corporate sector while starting a new small farm of 15 acres using regenerative techniques. PDC in spring of 2015 with certificate from PRI.
northwest Missouri, USA
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Recent posts by Dan Grubbs

A friend and I went for a week of backpacking in the Wind River Range in western Wyoming. Amazing trip and amazing views. Here is a photo of where we sat to eat lunch during one of our a day hikes. One of many favorite places.

1 week ago
For many of the reasons some folks listed above, I would not till. As has also been mentioned, I would add get tillage radishes in your mix, turnips as well. If this were my place, I'd build on top of what you have and not try to break up what's below. I'd be confident that successive layer of organic matter that you grow and lay down and let decompose will give you plenty of infiltration and soil building, especially if what you're wanting to do is grow trees and filling keyhole gardens. Redhawk's sequence is right on. But, you could even try some seed balling to help your slightly longer-term seeding sequencing.

It's been my experience that garden tillers cause compaction over time. Yes, there is a fluffy top when you first till, but that doesn't last long and one or two rains later and you have all those small tiny granules compacting down eliminating the needed airspace. After a few years of tilling in the same space, people's garden beds end up sunk down from the surrounding non-tilled soil. This is not even mentioning what it does to the microbial life and exposing soil to sun and rain. Why is sun a problem? Direct sunlight on soil can raise the surface temperature to a place that is harmful to soil bacteria. As we say, "keep the amour on the soil." In northwest Missouri, it can be 90 degrees F on a sunny day and the surface temperatures of exposed soil can get up to 120 degrees F. Eeeeeek!

1 week ago
To Dale's point ...

I know of a guy in our region who goes about finding all the small tools he can get his hands on, such as hammers, that have broken or band handles. He takes off the old handles, refurbishes the head pretty extensively, and re-hangs the tools and gives them a fresh coat of boiled linseed oil. He loads hundreds of tools onto a flatbed trailer and goes to consignment auctions and sells these refurbished tools. I've see many hand tools sell at auctions and these tools go for about double what an un-refurbished tool does. Is he making a living? I highly doubt that. I actually think it's his hobby. But, they are very good used tools, to be sure.
3 weeks ago
Similar to tangible things that we could make with sufficient expertise and materials are services.

I often buy services that I could do myself if I took the time to learn and could afford the chance at mistakes. I have done minor automotive repairs to my truck but pay for services of someone more expert than me for two primary reasons. One, the person can do it better than I can with higher rates of reliability. Two, where it is a service that I can do but still buy that service is when it simply is better to have it done then to try to fit it into my list of projects and try to prioritize those projects.  The latter reason is the one that I face more often than not. Is it rocket science to lay quality carpet down in a house? No. However, a professional can do it much more efficiently than I can so I pay for that kind of service.

Tangible things that I hope to make going forward and not buy them are things that I can make in a metal shop, such as anything forged or anything requiring welding.

If it's simply something that I neither have the expertise nor the time, but need for our homestead, I'm likely to not buy new but rather look for it at a rural auction.

4 weeks ago
I've found these videos to be helpful for seeing how things can be done. Timber framing has been done in a host of ways and techniques. French and Finnish timber framing are featured in these two videos, but they can show some things that help people learn.  I just enjoy all of the Northmen videos.

1 month ago
I took a slightly different path. I grew potatoes on contour. I used a bunyip level and determined a contour line on a slope within Zone 1 of my homestead. Along this line, I cut a narrow long bed in which to plant potatoes and hill them into a long row. This curved around the contour of the slope and captured the water running down slope. This allowed me to use very little irrigation for a robust harvest. It actually looked like a mini swale, though I wouldn’t call it that because structurally, it wasn’t designed to hold water. I harvested far more potatoes than I anticipated. I did have to fight the encroaching grass and weeds a bit, but that was more a management failure on my part, not a failure of the growing approach. Instead of potatoes, in this same “swale” this year I planted beets which did pretty well, too. Essentially, this is a long but narrow planting bed – 24 inches (60 cm) – on contour which is a kind of miniature terracing. I plan to keep the bed going forward and consider the approach successful; and, I will likely rotate various crops in this space to see what is optimal for this approach.
1 month ago
Another deployment option is issuu .

I have had great success using issuu to publish my online magazines. Here's an example: https://issuu.com/ckrmagazine/docs/sept_oct_2010

Now producing that magazine is a different story. But as long as you have a PDF of your "newsletter" you can publish and deploy using issuu. It may be a bit more sophisticated than you're looking for, but I have found it to be a good tool to reach my audience with my publication. I never needed the pay version, I was happy with the free version.

1 month ago
Hi Wayne,

Can you tell us specifically what is growing on the slope above and below the swales and what you want to do with that land as part of your overall design? I ask this because what your goals are for this ground in your overall design can impact your earthworks mainframe. Without knowing your specific context, I try to help people think a bit more holistically when dealing with slope in their designs and not so quickly jump to swales as an immediate solution to something they're facing -- in this case, runoff.

When dealing with runoff, here's something to add to the total holistic equation. It's astounding how much rain you can percolate by keeping living plants in the soil. I have completely stopped haying pasture. This allows the grasses and forbs grow fully and seasonally die out or get trampled under hoof in a rotational mob grazing approach. Dense grasses and forbs provide a lot of protection by reducing the kinetic energy of falling and moving water while increasing the organic material in the soil. As silly as it sounds, if you can stop or break apart the drops that fall from the sky and not directly hit the surface, you create a mist within the above-soil plant zone. An omni-directional mist caused from splashing rain drops now broken into many smaller droplets with reduced velocity means reduced downslope flow. If many plants are growing out of the ground, they cause obstruction of flow of the water that does make it to the surface. The more live plants, dying plants, ground litter you have at the surface, the more water will be arrested and allowed to penetrate the surface. Then, as we all know, increased organic matter within the soil allows for increased percolation capabilities. Keeping tall grasses also helps reduce soil temperature because it shades the ground and provides thatch when it dies off. Soil temps that rise above 80F can really hinder soil biota. Cooler soil temperatures usually mean more robust root structure due to more plant-available nutrients due to increase soil biota population.

For people feeding animals and their pasture is not providing enough forage ... with hay prices where they are at now, it's likely to be a net gain to bring bales onto the property than it is to have your pastures hayed or grazed fully down which causes a host of bad things to happen, not the least of which is increased run off.

Just something to think about.
1 month ago
For many of the same reasons that Redhawk outlines for integrating a microscope into your operations, I recommend a refractometer. This is especially if you are wanting to optimize peak flavor in the fruits and vegetables you harvest.  I wrote an article about use of the tool and it seems like a good place here to drop it in. Redhawk, if this is too out of line with your thread, you can delete this post.


Have you considered use of an optical refractometer on your farm or homestead? As more holistic growers better understand the biochemistry of growing plants and soil, they are adopting use of this simple-to-use tool to help determine the health or nutritional value of their crops.

A hand-held refractometer is a relatively inexpensive optical instrument that measures the particulate level in an aqueous solution compared to mass. What that means in everyday language is that the tool gives an indication of the amount of sugar (and a few other things) in plant juice.

We can use these small devices to tell us the Brix value or the sugar content in the juice we extract from plant material. Along with other indications of plant health, we can use Brix values to help us make management decisions about our soils and crops. Brix is a unit of measure (technically degrees Brix) indicating the sucrose content of an aqueous solution. The scale in many basic hand-held refractometers ranges from 0-32. This scale is seen when looking through the viewpiece. If it is properly calibrated, the instrument should be set to zero when pure distilled water is placed on the prism of the refractometer.

Gathered plant material is put into a garlic press and squeezed to produce a drop or two of juice to place on the prism. Then, the user holds the refractometer up to a light source as if looking through a telescope and obtains a reading. This reading is useful if you know what a previous baseline reading was for that paddock or plant and you have a good idea what Brix reading those plants should have.

It can also be a great tool for people with dairy or nursing animals. Ruminants produce more quality milk when the sugar content in their forage is high. Therefore, knowledge of the sugar content of that forage in any given paddock is important. There are some target Brix values for various forage plants. For example, a Brix reading of eight seems to be average for alfalfa for many traditionally managed pastures. But, those raising cattle should be working to grow alfalfa with a Brix reading of above 16. For grain crops, a Brix reading of 14 is good with 18 being excellent. But for a crop that has naturally higher levels of sugar, say sorghum, the base levels are higher. In sorghum, I would think a farmer is seeking middle to high 20s Brix readings.

You don’t have to be a cattle rancher to make use of a refractometer. The savvy gardener knows that if the leaf of a plant that measures 12 degrees Brix or higher it will usually not be molested by insect pests. Agriculture and food industry expert Dr. Allen Williams confirms this notion. “High Brix forages are more resistant to disease, pests, and drought.” He also reports that good livestock performance correlates to high Brix levels. “We have seen higher animal performance when Brix levels in forages are higher,” he said referring to a 200-acre study in Independence, Kansas, USA.

Glen Rabenberg, soil expert and president of Soil Works LLC, said “A a sugar content of 13 percent or more is very beneficial for your plant’s insect resistance. We also know that if sugar content is low, plants will never grow to the extent of their genetic potential. These plants will also be low in minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and have poor general nutrition. These same low sugar plants have also lost some of the ability to draw moisture from the air, which now increases the effects of a drought.”

Wineries use refractometers to track when they should pick their grapes for the precise sugar levels they are looking for to make a specific kind of wine. Though most of us are not making wine, the sugar levels of our crops are important for us to know what’s going on in the soils as indicated by the Brix value of the plants.

One practical application of the refractometer is using it to help know the general ripeness of a fruit or vegetable. Testing a sample can give some indication to know what the optimal harvest time should be. For example, most industrial-scale cantaloupe growers will pick their melons when Brix values reach nine degrees. However, an excellent cantaloupe has a Brix value of 15 or higher. This can be the difference between that amazingly sweet cantaloupe you tasted from your grandparent’s garden compared to that crappy melon on most restaurant salad bars.

Rabenberg teaches that increasing Brix levels help an operation become more productive. Harmful fungi thrive in an area where plants measure a Brix value below seven. When ensuring there is the proper balance of available minerals and nutrients, the Brix levels are often in the 10-11 range. At this value, Rabenberg reports seeing drought resistance in the crops and fewer weeds nearby. Finally, when plants are measured at Brix values of 13 or higher, Rabenberg reports resistance to harmful insects.

Conducting Brix valuations needs to be done with some care. The samples must be gathered at the same time of day and in the same general weather conditions. Plants are moving sugars and other nutrients up and down their systems at different times of the day and different time of the year. We can obtain false comparisons if we conduct Brix testing in the morning and then a few days later in the afternoon when it’s warmer. We should also take samples from the same kinds of locations on the plant.

Plant samples must also be taken when there is similar sunlight. I recommend testing after the same amount of sunlight has been available and around the same temperature. Because the refractometer is impacted by temperature, it’s a good idea to ensure the device and the sample are about the same temperature. I like to let the sample juice rest on the prism glass for at least 30 seconds before taking a reading.

Growers should not view the refractometer as a magic wand. A refractometer gives you only one primary measurement. As useful as knowing what Brix values are in your plants, we can gain a lot more if we take this one data set and use it with other information to make decisions on our homesteads, farms and ranches.

What does it all mean for you? Plant health and related sugar levels are often dependent on the quality of life in the soil and how the soil’s microbiology is working in harmony with the root system of the plant.

Often, an unfavorable Brix reading can be an indication of low nutrient uptake in the plant due to poor microbial interaction in the soil. A first remedy I’d tell people to do before expensive soil testing and inputs is to make sure they are feeding the soil microbes well. Adding finished compost or compost tea or even raw milk are excellent way to feed the soil and thus ensure a healthy system below the surface.
1 month ago
I made a mistake with a garden once and I wonder if there are similar symptoms here. Are you absolutely sure the compost was finished? I ask because I mistakenly used a large amount of compost in a top-soil mixture (50-50 mix) on top of a new garden site. The foliage grew like crazy but the “fruit” part of the plants were pretty disappointing. I later figured out that because the compost wasn’t finished, I had an excess of nitrogen and too little calcium.

Strawberries: If by lousy you mean small fruit, then you may know you have a calcium deficiency. If the foliage is not doing well, then you may have a nitrogen deficiency.

Sweetcorn: Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder. It’s the very reason why farmers rotate beans before planting corn. You may have a nitrogen deficiency where some of the corn is planted.

Beans: Very intolerant to salinity in soil and water; very sensitive to pH<6.0. Mg deficiency may occur in acid soils while being picky about micronutrients: sensitive to excessive Boron and to deficiencies of Copper, Molybdenum and particularly Zinc.

Peas: Needs well-drained soils and pH between 6 and 7.

I provide all this info because you can figure out what your soil is all about by what’s happening with the plants without going to the trouble of soil testing. You’ll also want to understand whether the test you may order is assessing plant-available nutrients or just the presence of them in the soil (two different things).

There are a host of websites and books that can help you identify each of the signs for each of the plants you’re growing to tell you what’s going on. Just like a doctor figures out what’s wrong with you based on symptoms, we can assess the symptoms and signs to know what may be happening with plants and the soil they’re in.

A 20’X40’ garden is a tight space for lots of different nutritional needs you’re asking the soil to produce. Having a strong handle on companion plantings for what you want to grow can also be helpful.  Just a suggestion.

Hope this is helpful. This is all based on assuming that the plants are receiving the required sun and water needs.
1 month ago