Dave Jacke

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Recent posts by Dave Jacke

You're welcome Bill. And by the way, ERC makes pretty darn good fence posts! They last a reasonably long time in the ground. A very good use for them I'd say.

d
5 years ago
Diane,

Yes CAnadian thistle is beneficial, of course! Especially to itself! Beyond that, I am sure Canadian thistle has plenty of uses and value in ecosystems. It helps heal land by keeping people and livestock off it, for one thing! I'm sure its tap root is quite good for loosening and building soil. It has its community niches to fill, its services to the system to do. You can either let it do them and deal, or work out what its services are, perform them yourself and make it unnecessary for the system to be healthy. I suggest doing a good thorough niche analysis of the thistle to see what you can find out about it. Start with the Fire Effects Info System http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/index.html and see if it is in their database. POke arounda bit and accumulate all the data you can on it. That will help you learn how to work with or around it.

I do not own goats, so I do not know if they will eat this species. I'll let someone else answer that question, though my guess is that at least one breed will do so under the right conditions.

To eliminate--test soil and correct mineral imbalances, number one. Two: dig pits and see if there are restrictive horizons the thistle is helping to break up. Then work out how to break them up yourself. Three, do a comprehensive site analysis and assessment and work out a comprehensive site preparation plan that will deal with all the issues you face there, including the thistle.

In a project I am involved in we invented a great new technique for hard to kill species. We sheet mulch with cardboard, very dense cardboard coverage, really careful overlaps and covering ALL holes. We pin the cardboard down with metal earth staples. Then we lay either jute mesh or coconut fiber mesh over the cardboard and pin that down. Then we leave it for at least two years! The mesh holds the cardboard down, makes it look decent from a distance, and ALLOWS THE CARDBOARD TO DRY OUT. By doing this the cardboard can cover the ground completely for two or more years without decomposing, and shade out all our problem species. Then we can plant through the cardboard, sheet mulch with wood chips or whatever over it, and the whole thing turns to soil. It has worked well so far with our problem species, crown vetch. It may work for you.

You may need some deep ripping to break up hard pan. You can also try composting the thistle and applying the compost to the soil. Or you can throw the thistle into a barrel of water, let it rot, then water things with that--this can help spread around the minerals the thistle is pulling up, help it do its job, while also killing the thistle plants.

Enough said for now, I have to go. this post feels incomplete to me, but I hope it helps.

Blessed be!

d
5 years ago
Leela, the standard ecologist's and designer's answer applies: it depends. I suggest you make a list of all the factors you can think of that it might depend on, and then assess yourselves for each of those factors. Money and time are ones you have mentioned already . . . both biggies. What is the additional cost of cleared land compared to wooded? What is the cost of clearing? How do those two strategies compare in total cost? Are the wood yields valuable in some way in building your home or gardens? Probably. That has a value too. Would you clear yourselves or have to hire people to do it for you?

If I had my druthers in your situation, I'd probably try for some of each and split the difference, get the advantages and disadvantages of both. More habitat diversity at the outset is probably a good thing.

Keep design for catastrophe in mind down there. Fire is probably going to become more and more of a design issue in that region, among others. Read Holmgren's The Flywire House for good design ideas. Read Mollison's autobiography for the tale of the Hobart fire in 1967--a harrowing account worth reading so you know what it takes to deal with such events. Make sure you assess any property you look at with that and other kinds of catastrophe in mind so you don't buy into a hard-to-amend situation. Pine forests are probably not great as far as fire safety goes, and can also be pretty bad in hurricanes depending on the species and health of the trees!

For forest gardening, pine forest are also hard to deal with. Not many species do well with pine overstory. But, as I said, if the stand is in good shape, you can get some decent building material out of the trees. Mixed woods are better, but still can be difficult to do much with--still a lot of shade that will limit what you can grow under it. But they are fun to play with and experiment with. You'll be able to make the kind of forest garden you want with cleared land; but cleared land is often poor in soil quality, especially in warmer climates. I am not a fan of clearing forest to start a forest garden--we've done so much damage to existing forests already! So those are some of my considerations. Again, I'd say amix of open and wooded land is probably the best option.

Good luck and keep on truckin.

d
d
5 years ago
One word, William, one word: nuclei.

If you try to do broadscale mulching you will absolutely kill yourselves. Just too much work. Work out where to place nuclei that you can mulch intensively, get them well under control, put your most valued and valuable crops there and get those system going first. Yes, include mulching species in those, but put a lot of crops in too--they'll build OM in the soil too. Concentrate all your biomass on those sites. In the meantime, plant coppicing willows or other species in blocks where you can cut and move the material, and plant other swathes in cover crops--grass and legumes, for example--that you can harvest mulch from also, but you are still building soil through their root systems. Then use your nuclei as nurseries as well as food production, and you can more cheaply expand your systems form there, building the biomass in the nuclei using multiple strategies and sources,and building the biomass in the other less intensive future planting zones more slowly and passively, but still building.

That's my off the top of my head response. Other things are also possible. Try to get as many diverse kinds of biomass as you can--grassy, fast decomposing as well as lighter and heavier/denser woody material. This will help diversify the soil food web. Coarse woody debris (CWD) is a critical part of woodland soils!

You can also build multilayer systems with pollarded trees, especially n-fixers at wide spacing above, harvested periodically for mulch, and crops below.

Rotational grazing also isn't a bad idea, you can build a lot of soil fast with that if you do it right. Sheep, goats, chooks . . .

OK, gotta run.

Good luck! Have fun!

d

PS: YOU ARE WELCOME! Thank you for going for it! Please share what you learn with others and spread the wealth.
5 years ago
Dave,

Thanks for the post. There's a lot there. I am short on time, so probably cannot answer in much detail, but . . .

The EFG books are designed to answer the very questions you pose. Your questions are very large scale . . .

Clarify your goals. The goals guide the site analysis and assessment, and the site A & A discovers the design. Get the goals clear so you have a rudder and a rudder that everyone involved agrees i what you are steering for--it will help group process to have a written document to review and discuss. If people are not on the same page, then your project will be more likely to go down in flames than we would like it to be.

Once you are clear on goals, look at the written statement and for each bullet point ask: given this is what we want, what do we need to know about the site? Brainstorm a list of site A&A questions in this way. This helps the goals guide the SAA. Then organize the SAA questions into categories: I use the scale of permanence form yeomans of keyline fame, modified: climate, landform, water, legal issues, access and circulation, vegetation and wildlife, microclimates, buildings and infrastructure, zones of use, soil fertility and management, and aesthetics. Put your site questions into those categories plus whatever other categories you might need to invent, and then you have an agenda for your observation and research. Go about answering all or as many of those questions as you can, in writing and on drawings/maps of the site.

THEN begin brainstorming design ideas in rough fashion, fast with a fat marker or pencil--don't invest a lot of time in each sketch, just throw out patterns and bubbles. Brainstorm many of them, then evaluate them all using your goals statement. Note what works and what doesn't in each scheme, then make a whole new set of schemes. Do this iterative process several times until you have a scheme or two that feel good and right. Then you can draw up the scheme in more detail using a finer pencil or pen with accurate scale. Then select all yoru species. then design each patch at a time in whatever fashion works for you. then order or acquire the plants, then plant like crazy.

That's the very basic robust drawing intensive process I usually teach, in a nutshell with many details missing. You can back off from that process as much as suits you and design on stie with stakes and hoses and such if you want, too. Whatever works. But with a group to design and implement and manage with, you are probably better off in the long run designing on paper so you can debate and get agreement before moving ahead or you could generate heat and not much light. This is a social system design process, too, remember.

It sounds like you have already done various pieces of this, but may have missed a few stages or steps, too. Without a detailed conversation and sense of the actual project its hard to give you a lot of specific help. Key points are : design from patterns to details. make sure you design the physical architecture of the system using all five elements of the architecture: vegetation layers, soil horizons, and vegetation density, patterning and diversity. Design patch by patch, too--the patches taken together create habitats, each habitat contains a set of patches with varying architecture. You get to decide what the "climax" is (though actually the concept of climax is not a scientifically valid concept anymore; I talk about the habitat at the successional horizon that one might design towards . . .), no one can really tell you that from outside very easily, IMHO. Your design schemes obviously MUST include heavy emphasis on yoru stie preparation strategies to deal with the hogweed etc. or it won't work.

In a project I am involved in we invented a great new technique for hard to kill species. We sheet mulch with cardboard, very dense cardboard coverage, really careful overlaps and covering ALL holes. We pin the cardboard down with metal earth staples. Then we lay either jute mesh or coconut fiber mesh over the cardboard and pin that down. Then we leave it for at least two years! The mesh holds the cardboard down, makes it look decent from a distance, and ALLOWS THE CARDBOARD TO DRY OUT. By doing this the cardboard can cover the ground completely for two or more years without decomposing, and shade out all our problem species. Then we can plant through the cardboard, sheet mulch with wood chips or whatever over it, and the whole thing turns to soil. It has worked well so far with our problem species, crown vetch. It may work for you.

OK, I spent much more time on this than I intended. I hope that was helpful.

peace and good luck.

d
5 years ago
Welcome Andrew! I hope you are able to connect with the folks doing pc in the Cincinnati area--there are some great folks there doing good work. Tyhe folks I know best there are Braden Trauth and Sam Dunlap. Look them up and link in!

Rock on.

d
5 years ago
Rianna--Thanks for teaching me something--I didn't know ERC was allelopathic! The USDA website confirms that, btw.

Allelopathic chemicals vary, as far as I know, and take varying lengths of time to break down. I have little data on this. I know with Juglans species it can take several years, as the roots give off the chemicals as they decompose. ERC is probably the same in that regard, but I'd imagine the roots might break down faster than walnuts because walnuts get so much bigger.

You will have to do the basic scientific literature review to see what scientists have worked out in answer to your questions, I am afraid. I'm interested in those answers, too, but do not have time to spare to go online through my local University computers to do that research. I hereby deputize you to do that research and let the rest of us know! If you want to. You may as well, it will help you design much more effectively, and you may find a list of species compatible with ERC along the way, like the one Eric put together for our book for the Juglans.

You can also just try various things in different areas and see what happens! If you observe the natural habitats the ERC grows in and see what species are growing in their root zone, that will give you indications of what may tolerate the chemicals, and you can use that as a basis for design, at least in the beginning. I would also try the Fire Effects Information System website, an awesome awesome resource to see if they have good info on this--that website is one of the best around for the species they have in it, which are relatively few, but boy do they do a good job summarizing all kinds of sci lit on the species they cover. http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/index.html Check it out!

Your questions are an indicator of how much we have to learn and how we are all at the very infancy of doing this kind of ecosystem design . . . I hope you feel willing and ready to take the bull by the horns and jump in, cuz we need lots of folks to do just that and share the learnings!

OK, good luck with it. Peace and blessings!

d
5 years ago
John Paul,

Prevent and eliminate compaction, first of all. Step one!

Then, Organic Matter (AKA OM) is the magic solution to almost every soil texture problem. Too much sand? Add OM. Too much clay, add OM. DO NOT add sand to clay or clay to sand--you will more likely get concrete than usable soil, its expensive, a lot of labor and you'll never get it fully mixed, really. It mainly just makes a mess.

That said, OM isn't the be all and end all. LIVING OM is even better--a mix of plant roots of different kinds and diff kinds of leaf litter to help diversify the soil food web, these are very good. Fungi are also critical to soil health and maintaining soil porosity once it is established. The bacteria help make microaggregates of soil particles, the fungi make the mesoaggregates by binding the microagggregates together, and the soil arthropods and earthworms and folks like that make the mesoaggregates into macroaggregates that give the soil the crumbly texture we and our plants like. Gotta have that diverse soil food web. Diverse kinds of OM help diversify the soil food web (sounds like you are well on your way there). Diverse kinds of plants with diverse kinds of litter and diverse root structures also help a ton. I talk a lot about dealing with problem soils in EFG vol 2 chap 5.

Then there's biochar. Another huge topic. But this form of OM can remain stable in the soil for centuries, unlike other forms of OM which can decompose, along with the benefits of having it there. Biochar fosters all kinds of good things in the soil and will do so for a long time. MUST charge it with nutrients before adding it to the soil though, or it will suck nutrients out of the soil and away from your plants! Soak it in urine for a week or so, or use seaweed emulsion for that, or mix it with compost then apply that after a few days or weeks to let the char soak in the nutrients.

Getting this stuff into the ground: strategies will vary by intensity of use. Sheet mulching is good in close-in areas with intensive care and use, and forking or tilling in cover crops or manure/compost/biochar is not a bad thing in the early going to get soil texture issues and compaction resolved in such zones. Spot mulching further out, cover crops further away than that. Simple planting and leaving it to do its thing in even further away/less used zones. Get the picture? You seem to be on the right track. Just give it time and loving attention. It will improve.

Your second question has so many possible answers . . . You could pile junk cars there, for one thing! Hazel hedges will easily withstand dog pee--they'll benefit from it, even. Or if you want something thornier, you could go with American plum (Prunus americana) or something similar. There are many many possible hedge plants to choose among. Or: need to put a shed somewhere? Trellis or arbor for shade? Really, the possibilities are almost endless. It comes down to what else you need to achieve and what elements or infrastructure do you also need on site that could serve a dual function? A water tank can offer privacy. A basketball hoop. A mound of earth. Do you want complete 100% view blockage or is filtered OK? Do you want air flow through or not? Is sound an issue too? Maybe you need a fountain or water tickle to confuse or lighten up the space while also blocking the view--maybe its more energetic than physical screening you need--a single tree trunk, rock, or post can define a space pretty dramatically if you place it well.

Take care and enjoy the spring, if you are in the N hemisphere, that is!

d
5 years ago
Jennifer, this sounds like a toughie. Much I don't know about your situation, in terms of the "bacterial infection" which is most likely made worse or induced by pollution, etc. . . .

Are you sure the oaks are goners? How are their acorns, have you tried them? They may be worth trying to save . . . Just sayin'.

But, assuming they are goners, in successional terms you have a disturbance happening. What legacies will it leave? That is, what else is there that looks like it will survive the infection? ID and make lists of what is already there and will be left standing and likely take over after the oaks die. Do some niche analysis (AKA needs and yields analysis) of those species, see what is useful or functional, and what is less so. That will be a basis for some of your decisions. You'll also need to spell out your own design goals--which you have already, a little ("I'd rather let nature do it her way"--even though there is no separation and we are nature/nature has become us humans, and the probability is that human effects are supporting or causing the infection . . . sorry, just need to point these things out--I'd say the principle of Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor means that we have to step in to help heal the damage we have helped cause . . . we have an urgent role to play to heal the systems we are messing up--anyway . . .). What does "an effective forest garden" mean to you? Its different for everyone, what that means. Define that please, and that will help you get clear on what questions to ask of and about the system with which you are interacting, which will teach you where to go with your interactions. The goals guide the site analysis and assessment, and the site A & A discovers the design.

I talk in EFG about "patch dynamics" and gap succession (vol 1 chap 6). These may be useful constructs for your situation, unless the dieback is more wholesale than gaps here and there. Gap, clearing, or glade? What size are the holes being left in the forest matrix? This determines much about the successional dynamics that will follow. That and the legacies of remaining trees and shrubs, what foresters call "advance regeneration". You could plant patches of fruits and nuts into gaps or clearings the woods, get these patches self-maintaining, then move to the next patch and establish that. You could more simply guide the succession by further removals of what is left behind after the dieback, encouraging some species or individuals and discouraging others. You could do both in different areas, depending on accessibility. You could also use fire (common in the pine barrens in days of yore, at least, and a primary land management tool all over the western hemisphere before Columbus) or clearing to further disturb patches so you have an easier time establishing the kind of food forest you want, while you get a yield from the clearing work (lots of labor though!). Given what you say, this latter is likely not to fit your goals and or values, but it is worth considering for some areas, probably. Your strategies will likely vary patch by patch.

I also should warn you about safety issues when you have a lot of standing dead trees--beware, your health and life are at stake, and those of your loved ones! And the life and health of any trees you may plant into the area before the dead or dying trees come down, and any nearby buildings or infrastructure. Please do factor that into your considerations. Areas where risk is highest are candidates for clearing work and intensive design and replanting . . .

Sandy acid soils: makes me think of chestnuts, chinkapins, hazels, persimmons, pine nuts, blueberries, raspberries and other rubus species; sweet fern, northern bayberry or sweet gale for n-fixation, perhaps some of the floodplain species if you have any wet areas/seasonally flooded zones (pecans, pawpaws, walnuts, hackberry, etc), black locust is probably a must for n-fixation and for coppice or timber production, mulberries may do well if its not too dry. Coppicing may also be a good strategy in general for the oaks; who knows cutting the oaks may actually rejuvenate them, it does in many contexts. You may find the infected trees resprouting anyway . . . Depending on what this infection is, there are plenty of oaks you could plant that would have high value acorns that I would seriously consider if I were in your situation. Oikos Tree Crops (Michigan) has a nice suite of these to look at, but only if you are clear the infection will not spread to them (or to any other plants in the same family, for that matter--many of the species I suggest or that might be good for your site may be subject to the same disease because of family relationships--check that out!).

Take care, and good luck!

d
5 years ago
Jen, you ask the $64,000 question! How DOES one go about doing that? Let's learn about that together, shall we?

One first addresses people's (one's own) fears by ACKNOWLEDGING THEM AND ACCEPTING THEM, letting the fear be your teacher, as it was intended to be. Fighting people's fears only leads to mistrust, i.e., more fear. Fears have some validity, at least for the fearful person, if not in "reality", whatever that is. Validate the fears and people begin to be able to let go of them because they have been acknowledged--the problem is the solution, right?! But our *design solutions* in the face of our fear may not be as thought through as they could be. If we let the fear teach us what the issues/design goals are, then we get to creatively design around them. We hope!

Only packaged food is safe you know. *cough cough*

Re: Helena MT project, the organizers contacted me, I did not contact them. Much easier that way!

But I have been learning not to keep banging my head against walls (I am stubborn, it has taken a long time to learn!). It may be that your social assessment tells you it isn't worth putting time into the library project--and that may be an excellent design solution for you, because you haven't spent hours designing the garden yet! Or, you get to play with polycultures of flowers (many of which are toxic, by the way . . . maybe you can use their fear to transform them and get them to only plant edible flowers! tee hee hee!). You get to negotiate with the library staff and tell them your interest, and they get to weigh whether they want to accommodate your interests and use your talents or not accommodate your interests and lose your talents. What I'm saying is you have a good bargaining position if you want to look at it with that lens. One good lens to use in such situations, but not the only one. See if the library has a copy or access via internet to the various books on poisonous plants... that can be an eye opener for sure. See the poison column in EFG vol 2 Appendix 1 for example. Apple seeds have cyanide in them . . . better not eat apples! Right?

I'm sure, Jen, that you will find your way through this. Your heart is too good not to.

Take care! Good luck! HAVE FUN with it! Then you cannot lose!

d
5 years ago