dj niels

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since Feb 16, 2013
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CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Recent posts by dj niels

somewhere I read that cattails might be an answer to the flooding along the Mississippi (might have been Mark Shepard). If the banks and flood plains were planted with cattails, they would absorb the excess water and nutrients and create biomass that could be cut in the dry season and used for making compost.
7 years ago
Thank you Marco. I agree, it is better to help people feel they can do something, and start where they are, than to beat them up because they can't do it all. Anything we can grow ourselves is a bit less that needs to come from industrial agriculture.

The way I see it,  whatever I can grow myself, or rescue from a landfill, etc, is a step to help improve one bit of earth. For example, I gladly take other people's leaves and pumpkin vines, etc, to make a compost pile, rather than see them tossed in the trash. Maybe eventually those others will decide to make their own compost, but meanwhile it is helping my highly degraded piece of high desert to become more fertile so I can grow a bit more of my own food.
7 years ago
Oops. I was reading through quickly and didn't even see the second page discussion. Sounds like you've already considered a lot of that.
7 years ago
I suggest you check out Mark Shepards book (and videos on youtube) about restoration Agriculture. He says the place to start is to lay out contour lines, keyline swales and berms etc,  to manage any water that falls or runs onto your land. Also watch Geoff Lawton's greening the desert video. I watch it over and over for inspiration. If they can do it in Jordan, surely I can do it too, with the right species and techniques.

I have learned on my high desert area, with about 10-12 inches of precipitation per year, that most of the rain seems to come in a few large bursts, and is very dry in between. Evaporation much exceeds precipitation. Snow in winter tends to evaporate rather than melt. But I have seen water sheeting down my slightly sloped driveway area in a heavy cloudburst, so I am in process of laying out small ditches to collect some of that moisture into collection areas, and building swales and berms that are mulched and planted with hardy conservation trees and shrubs that might have a chance to survive my intense summer sun and frigid winters.

I use chickens in small movable pens (a modified chicken tractor) to build sheet compost beds, and haul in woodchips to cover all my garden beds--any other kind of mulch blows away in the intense gusts of wind we get quite frequently. My land is on the edge of a small town, so I do have piped in water, which has helped me establish a garden and young windbreak/ food hedge.
7 years ago
Something I have learned while living in this high desert, is that if so-called grasslands in arid areas are not grazed or mowed, the bunch grasses actually start to die, choked out by the top growth. On my small parcel of land, the grass clumps put out tall growth in the early summer. By Mid to late July the green all turns to yellow in the intense sun. If we go through and mow it, when the rains come again in autumn the plants put out new green growth. But where we don't get it mowed, the plants die back more each year. Here in this arid country we don't get natural biological decay without adding a lot of water and effort. I have built compost piles that sat for a whole year and when I dug into them, the plant matter looked just like when I put it in. Organic matter that just lays on the surface just dries up, oxidizes, and blows away.  Grazing actually makes sense here to manage the heavy growth and help create more fertile soil.

7 years ago
Tyler, thanks for those links. Some great references. I like what Geoff said, It's not about all being perfect tomorrow...It's about getting enough people with intention to start moving in that direction--just start to make that move. He is doing a lot with his online videos and courses to educate people as to the need, and how to start. There are many online articles and videos now. And we can help spread that info and build on it, sharing our experiences of what works where we live, as the techniques and species are different for everyone, according to climate and desired results. What grows in Texas or Florida may not grow in Colorado, for example. People helping people is how we can make this transition.

As all of us do what we can to do something, whether growing some of our own food, or setting up solar or wind or water power, or swales for water catchment, or greywater systems, or whatever, and talking about it with our friends etc, we are helping to move toward that tipping point.

The author of the article in question said something about having to use big ag to feed the world. Mark Shepard pointed out in his book, Restoration Agriculture, that the massive corn fields in his area are not really "feeding the world" because corn is not a complete food, and a lot of it doesn't even feed people anyway. To feed the world, we have to set aside space to grow other foods that provide the nutrients we need--it's not just about calories. A book I read recently about the great potato famine pointed out that corn almost killed the peasants in Ireland, because it was not a complete food. And has been pointed out above, big ag uses and loses more calories that it can provide in food. So if we are growing fruits and veggies and herbs etc that are higher in nutrients, we are doing our part to feed the world, one mouthful at a time.

Someone above said, permaculture doesn't work here. I understand the feeling. Many of the techniques and methods I have seen seem to be effective only in warm, humid climates, but the principles work. I just need to learn how to implement them here. So keep sharing ideas and species for various regions so we can help each other. For example, when I lived in Northern Maine, I had to be careful with mulches because it kept the soil too cool. Here in the high desert, I've learned that the more mulch I put down, the better my garden works at holding onto the moisture I put down. Yes, I still have to water my garden once a week--but that is a lot better than the daily watering I see others doing, so I am moving in the right direction, I hope.

I am gradually seeing topsoil developing on my very marginal plot of land, which is almost pure sand and had no topsoil when I started this journey. My small garden patches are islands of green in a sea of yellow desert, and are increasing in diversity, with large numbers of beneficial insects and birds swarming over the clovers and yarrow and wild sunflowers, etc, and food is growing where before was only a patch of cheatgrass and weeds.
7 years ago
Paul Gautche (back to Eden) did use woodchips in both his orchard and in his vegetable garden; however, it was only in the more recent videos of his garden that he started planting a few crops like Kale under a tree, to protect them from the winter frost.

My understanding of a forest garden, is that perennials are planted in layers, using shade tolerant plants in the understory. A lot depends on your climate. In a cool and cloudy area, there would have to be fewer trees, farther apart, if the understory plants are expected to be productive. But in a sunny clime, more shade is helpful for some protection from the hot sun. Many of our common garden vegetables need or prefer full sun, so don't do well under a tree, yet in places with hot summers, tree cover or shade of some sort is needed to get cool season crops to flourish.

Most of the permaculture resources I have studied suggest a food forest as only a part of a design, which may well include a separate vegetable garden. For example, a u-shaped food forest with a vegetable garden in the open center. In my 1/8 acre yard, I have a small food forest with apple and plum trees, Nanking cherries and Siberian Pea shrub, gooseberries and currants, rhubarb and perennial onions and various herbs, flowers, and self-sown greens (some people call them weeds) and more. Because I live in a place with long, cold winters, I also have about 400 square feet of framed vegetable beds, each of which can be fitted with a mini hoop house or cold frame top during the colder part of the year. I don't think there is anything here not in keeping with the ethics or principles of PC. It may not provide all the veggies and fruit etc we can eat, but it sure provides more than just a lawn would give for the same effort.
7 years ago
Jack, thanks for those ideas. I will look into it more and see what we can come up with. Yes, we, my son and I, discussed the idea that maybe we don't have to be too picky on contour. I have not really seen any runoff on my land. I did once see some puddles, when I happened to be out there during a heavy rain, but the water usually soaks in almost immediately.

I have actually built several hugel beds, as close to contour as possible, in my zone 1 area, and have noticed that even though the raised beds do dry out and need to be watered more often, they help to direct the wind up and away from my planting beds on the terrace between the berms. But that takes a lot of wood and other organic matter for each one, so I have been considering trying to extend those berm lines into the outer zones, with swales that I might be able to get someone with a machine to help with.
7 years ago
I have tried using a water level, and also an A-frame level, but each time I try I get different results. Part of the problem is that I don't have a nice even turf.  My land is high desert. Each plant tends to be 2 to 3 feet apart, and the bare sand in between the clumps has blown or washed away, so I am dealing with a lot of humps and dips and can't get an even line. Anybody have any ideas for how to work around that?

My land has such a very gradual slope, it took me several years to even see that there was a slope. It is only about 6 feet -rough guess- in vertical difference between the highest point and the lowest point (on a 2 acre property).  I want to do some contour swales, but can't figure out the contours.
7 years ago
Very interesting discussion, much food for thought. Unfortunately, in CO, and in Utah, I have been told, it is illegal to catch rainwater or use greywater. And it would be very hard here to find enough native crops to make a meal. A friend has shown us some weeds and bushes that might contribute salty seeds to season a stew, and I know there are serviceberries and Pinyon pines at higher elevations, but those are mostly now inside the National Monument, and off-limits to harvest.

At my location, the only"natives" I know about are things like sagebrush and rabbitbrush and a few kinds of wildflowers. We have patches of prickly pears, but they only grow about 4-5 inches high, are very thorny, and have never fruited, though I have seen a few flowers in a wetter than normal year. And of course, the deer, and pronghorns, and elk, and rabbits and voles and mice and sparrows, none of which we could live off of, either because of limited numbers and hunting laws, or they are too tiny to be worth the effort to catch and clean them. But the small ones sure make it a challenge to grow anything, especially the sparrows, which fly around this small town in a huge flock, wiping out anything they can find. I tried covercropping, and they just kept eating all the seeds before they could sprout.

I am learning to love the high desert, and see beauty in the landscape, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, etc, but it is a challenge to learn what is adapted and how to grow anything we can eat.

My "advice" is: keep trying. Try all the ideas that seem remotely possible, and keep adding organic matter and planting anything that might survive in your climate and soil. Observe what others have growing, and keep learning.

For example, I have seen, in nearby yards, wild roses, rhubarb, cherry and apple and apricot trees, Nanking cherries, sumac, strawberries and raspberries, lilacs, and clovers. I have added a few others, like Siberian pea shrub, and bush cherries, and Egyptian walking onions. By combining these and similar hardy plants, I have been able to create a Mini-food-forest in my yard that is starting to fill in and provide some shade and wind protection, leaves for mulch, and even some food. But it takes time to observe and study and prepare the ground, and get plants established, etc. And, it takes a lot of space, and mulch, and compost, etc, to really be able to grow more than just enough food for occasional snacks or seasoning.

I have also learned, from Caleb Warnock, author of Backyard Winter Gardening, to use low framed beds (using 2x4s or 2x6 boards) with cold frame covers, to grow food outside my growing season, which is barely 90-100 days from killing frost in June to 1st frost in Sep. So, I know if I want to eat all year, I have to use a combination of methods.

But the most important piece of advice is Never Give Up. Even when it is hard, if we keep learning, we can help ourselves and others around us if times get even harder.
9 years ago