Mike Gaughan

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since Apr 10, 2013
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Recent posts by Mike Gaughan

I have used tillage radish as a garden cover crop for the last several years (CT zone 6). I typically plant in early September so the radishes can put on good fall growth before winterkilling. They need pretty good soil fertility and moisture to grow. Also, I found that fairly light seeding rates work best to provide adequate growing space. I have experimented with planting radish in a mixture with oats and crimson clover but found the radish tended to dominate the other cover crops, so now I plant them in exclusive stands. They do reliably winter kill in my climate and pretty much rot away by early spring, leaving nice holes in the ground. The downside is the occasional rotten radish odor, and my dog loves to dig them up and eat them! Experiment and have fun!
4 years ago
Hi Jason,

I would like to weigh in on your post. I have worked in the environmental remediation field for over a decade and I hold a license as an environmental professional, so I have considerable applied knowledge in this field. Based on the information you provided, you must consider the real possibility of petroleum contaminated groundwater at your site. Petroleum in groundwater will very slowly degrade over time IF the source material has been removed. You mentioned cleaning up trash consisting of oil bottles and gas cans. Did you see oily soil when you cleaned the trash? Contaminated soil can serve as a pollutant source to groundwater for decades if the soil is not cleaned up. Unfortunately, if you do have a petroleum groundwater plume, I doubt that surface greywater installations will have much of an effect on cleaning deeper groundwater for several reasons: 1) mycelia probably won't extend into deeper, saturated soils where the groundwater plume resides, 2) the greywater installations (if effective at remediating petroleum) probably don't encompass enough area to address the underlying plume, and 3) your subsurface conditions may or may not support adequate biota to make any difference (oxygen, nutrients, etc).

Do you have any historical knowledge of your property that could shine some light on the potential for contamination? Any pre-cleanup photos you can share? Is it near urban or industrial areas? Do you plan on utilizing the groundwater for drinking water? My concern is that the contamination is beyond the scale of home remedy. Gasoline poses a special risk in that the benzene component is highly toxic to children at low concentrations in drinking water. I don't mean to sound alarmist but I have repeatedly seen on this forum the idea that applying untested permaculture remedies (peeing on stuff, throwing down biochar, etc) can address industrial contamination issues that can pose real human health risks.
4 years ago
Hi Daniel,

If you're looking to meet caloric needs from a garden, then perhaps grains are the way to go. I'm assuming that you're talking about annual garden crops and not long-term perennials such as nut trees. Let's look at some data that I've pulled from John Jeavons' How To Grow More Vegetables:

Dry Corn (seed only - cob removed)
Average U.S. yield per 100 square feet: 18.2 lbs
Average protein per lb: 40.4 grams
Calories per lb: 1,656

Wheat, red winter
Average U.S. yield per 100 square feet: 6.4 lbs
Average protein per lb: 55.8 grams
Calories per lb: 1,483

Irish Potatoes
Average U.S. yield per 100 square feet: 84.2 lbs
Average protein per lb: 7.7 grams
Calories per lb: 349

Winter Squash
Average U.S. yield per 100 square feet: 100 lbs
Average protein per lb: 5.2 grams
Calories per lb: 152

OK, let's normalize the protein and calorie data per 100 square feet of each crop for a direct comparison:
Dry Corn: 735 g. protein, 30,139 cal
Wheat: 357 g. protein, 9,491 cal
Potatoes: 648 g. protein, 29,389 cal
Squash: 520 g. protein, 15,200 cal

So, grain corn and potatoes are both efficient crops to produce large amounts of protein and calories. But let's consider other factors. You mentioned that you want to grow drought tolerant crops. Arguably, corn is more of a drought tolerant plant, especially if you grow the flour corn varieties developed by the indigenous peoples in the American Southwest. If we look at the two crops from permaculture perspective, both are annuals but I think corn can be grown with far less damage to the soil. Common potato growing techniques require trenching, furrowing, and eventual excavation to retrieve the tubers. Corn can be no-till seeded directly into a killed cover crop (winter killed or crimped), can be undersown with a low-growing cover crop such as clover during the growing season, and the dried stalks can be left in place over the winter to provide cover for birds and prevent soil erosion. Plus, corn produces copious amounts of lignified carbon that is a wonderful addition to the compost heap. From a storage perspective, dried corn can be kept for years in just about any dry environment free of rodents, whereas potatoes require cold and damp conditions (i.e. a root cellar) and can at best be stored for 6 months. Squash (including pumpkins) are a bit easier to store than potatoes but aren't terribly space efficient with regards to calories and protein.

All this said, grains and tubers have sustained mankind for eons, so any gardener interested in meeting their caloric needs might want to explore growing all of them. Your own dietary preferences should be considered...grow what you like to eat!!!



6 years ago
Hi Scott,

There should be no problem doing that. I'm considering doing the same thing this fall. Multi-species cover crop mixes are becoming very popular. Some farmers are planting mixes with 10 to 20 species to provide a variety of ecological functions such as carbon generation, nitrogen fixation, pest suppression, subsoil tillage, erosion control, pollinator interest, and nutrient accumulation, to name a few. Google "Gabe Brown", he is one of the leading multi-cover crop dudes.

6 years ago
The term you are looking for is "phenology", defined by Wikipedia as the "study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors (such as elevation)."

I began using planting signs this gardening season with good success. Some signs I use here in central Connecticut (Zone 6) include:
plant peas when the daffodils bloom or spring peepers sing
plant spring veggies when dandelions are in bloom or the lilacs have leafed out
plant bush beans and summer squash when the lilac flowers have faded
transplant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant when the bearded iris is in bloom.

I did transplant kale, cabbage, and chard according to a calendar date based on X number of weeks before the last frost date. The plants were severely set back by a hard, lingering winter here in New England. The "rescue" transplants that I set out when the dandelions bloomed did just fine. Lesson learned! This stuff is for real, because the native vegetation are far more tuned into soil temperatures and day length than are we, the gardeners.
Hi Bryan,

Gypsum will boost calcium and sulfur levels but will not appreciably change pH (acidity). Limestone, on the other hand, will boost calcium and reduce acidity. A deep sandy soil generally lacks the storage capacity for minerals. This can be improved through the repeated application of organic matter such as manure or compost, or by using cover crops. The organic content of the soil is critical to retain nutrients, otherwise any minerals you add will quickly leach out.
6 years ago
Hi Eric,

There are several options and price levels for water depth measurement. The cheapest and lowest-tech (but reasonably accurate, within 6-inches or less with practice) method is to construct a “plopper”. You will need a 100-foot fiberglass measuring tape on a reel (available at Home Depot or Lowes). Then, you attach a 1.5-inch diameter bell reducer fitting with a plug in the narrow end (available at any hardware store) to the end of the tape. To measure the water level, you simply drop the bell/tape down the well until you hear a “plop” when the bell hits the water (the tape will also go slack for a split second). Then, you measure the depth on the tape against a reference point on the well head. Repeat a few times and take the average. I can sketch this for you if you can’t visualize the setup. This whole deal will cost you less than $50, depending on the quality of the tape measure.

Another option is an electric water level indicator, typically accurate to 0.01 feet. New units run around $500.


For continuous monitoring, you could install a water level transducer in the well. These cost over $1,000 and require the use of a handheld datalogger to retrieve the information. The dataloggers also costs thousands. This probably isn’t the best option for a homeowner.

I have used all of these technologies to measure well levels in my profession as an environmental geologist. My line of work involves investigating and cleaning up industrial contamination in groundwater, so I have a great deal of experience with wells and aquifers.

Just to clarify some of the hydrogeological terms brought up in this thread…your well by definition draws from an aquifer. An aquifer, in most cases, is not an underground lake or river but is the water saturated pore-spaces or fractures in soil or bedrock. Aquifers are generally replenished by surface water that infiltrates through the soil and bedrock. In many cases, groundwater (or aquifer water) is superior to surface water as a drinking source because the many feet of soil and rock filter the water on its journey downward into the aquifer. Groundwater generally does not require filtration, whereas one would be foolhardy to drink untreated surface water. Groundwater is, however, susceptible to contamination resulting from industrial operations.

6 years ago
Have you checked out hydraulic tillers? They are quite powerful and there are no concerns about gears or belts wearing out since they are hydraulicaly-operated. The tines rotate forward and backward by adjusting the hydraulic control lever. It is my understanding that these tillers are generally manufactured for the rental market, which means they are constructed to take abuse. The downside is the steep purchase price. Barreto Manufacturing offers several models. http://www.barretomfg.com/eq-tiller.php. My local hardware store carries a few of these tillers and I'm planning to rent one this spring, so hopefully I can report back.
6 years ago
I've traditionally made blocks using coarse sand instead of vermiculite. This is the first year I've used vermiculite in accordance with Eliot Coleman's recipe, and I have to say that it makes better blocks...lighter texture and they come out of the mold better with less deformation. There are no hard rules...experiment and have fun!
6 years ago
Just curious...how thick is your soil, or in other words, how deep to bedrock? My initial thought is the prevalence of basalt chunks means your topsoil is thin and the bedrock surface is not too far below. This could pose a challenge with regards to water retention in ponds or otherwise, because basalt bedrock is often highly fractured and those fractures drain water away. The prevalence of pines is also interesting. Pines typically thrive in dry, well drained soils. Have you completed any ponds yet? What are the retention characteristics? What I'm getting at is that the duff may not be the limiting factor, but the site geology.

Also, that duff probably serves as natural erosion control. You might find your swales filled with a whole lotta silt if you scraped the duff.
6 years ago