Su Ba

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since Apr 18, 2013
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books forest garden rabbit solar tiny house woodworking
Retired from veterinary medicine. My second career is creating a homestead, aiming to be self reliant.
Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Recent posts by Su Ba

Questions that come to mind.......

... Are the dried leaves edible?
... Are the dried leaves palatable? While my own goats and sheep eat a certain amount of fresh assorted leaves, they won't touch them when dried.
... Would a comfrey/leaf mixture meet the animals energy and nutritional needs? Just because their stomachs are full doesn't mean that they aren't malnutritioned and starving.
... Would that diet have an affect on their birthing ability, milk production, and overall health?
... Would that diet affect the health and vitality of the calves, kids, or lambs they are carrying?
... Would that diet affect the flavor of the milk or meat?
4 days ago
Rain water catchment is a way of life in many parts of Hawaii. On my own 20 acre farm, I have numerous large catchment tanks and ponds for water storage. We catch enough water to meet our household and livestock needs, plus a bit for the gardens. On wet years, we never need to haul in water, but on drought years, I need to truck in extra water for the growing beds.

In my own district of Ka'u, I'd venture to say that half the residents use catchment water as their primary water source.
4 days ago
I have no experience with charcoal, but I can say that biochar works to keep the smell down. I happen to make biochar for my garden beds, as part of my soil making efforts. Not a lot, but about a five gallin bucketful every week or so. When I make a fresh supply of biochar, hubby uses that bucket as a pee bucket. We do keep the bucket outdoor on the back porch, but I don't notice a bad smell from it. The contents usually get added to a compost pile once a week.

I've noticed that the finer the biochar, the better it works for the pee bucket. So I smash it a bit to make pieces one inch or smaller. Nothing complex, I just put the fresh biochar into the bucket and give it some pounding with what's handy.....usually a sledge hammer or a wood 3" diameter pole.

One thing I noticed......if I let the pee reach the top of the biochar, then there is odor. It's best to keep a good layer of biochar above the pee level.
4 days ago
I've seen that curly que on some of my own banana trees but I've never bothered to figure out what it was. But I can say that it isn't the beginning of a flower. The flower comes out of the center of the top stalk, and it will be quite obvious.

I have a clump of ice cream bananas on my farm. The tree grows around 15 foot tall before it sends out a bloom. Compared to my other varieties, this one is slower to produce ripe bananas........longer to flower stage, plus once it does flower, longer to mature to ripe.
1 week ago
Just to add my own comment about tilling damage. As Dan stated, I believe that long term tilling can damage the soil. I think numerous trials and situations have demonstrated this to be true. But it depends......... Yes, Permie advice usually comes with the declaimer "it depends". In Chris's situation, repetitive tilling would need to be done thoughtfully with soil science understanding. Simple repetitive tilling by itself would most likely not help. But there are situations where tilling can have benefits.

In my homestead farm, I started out with very shallow (0" to 2" of soil in most areas, some had a bit more, before I hit pahoehoe lava or aa lava chunks). The soil was hydrophobic. Where it had been compacted with a bulldozer and cinder pressed into it, it failed to drain heavy rain water. My method to farm this land so that it could provide our own food plus extra for trading & selling was to repetitively till between each crop. Compost and mulch was top dressed every month and eventually tilled in when a crop was harvested. After doing this for 15 years I now have growing areas with 6"-8" of garden soil, some beds are actually as deep as 12"-15".

My orchard area was tilled about 3 times a year, tilling in a deep layer of compost and soil amendments. I did this for 3-5 years depending upon the location. Now I simply top dress some compost while keeping the soil mulched. No need to till anymore. Oh yes, I had to hammer the lava in order to create a hole for a tree. Quite a job just the get each tree planted, but the system worked.

Rather than tilling resulting in compacted, dead soil that has sunken, my beds are just the opposite. But that's because I don't just simply till and walk away. I constantly add compost, various soil amendments, plus I'm a big user of mulch. I'm actually creating a sort of garden soil. It works for me on this particular farm.
1 week ago
It looks like they could be Fuller Rose Beetles, but please don't take my word for that. I'm no insect expert by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe someone else may have a better idea.
1 week ago
Tilling in a cover crop is one way to try, but I'm from the K.I.S.S. school of thought. Since your aim is tree guilds and keyhole gardens, I wouldn't bother tilling.i wouldn't bother trying to 100% eradicate the grass at the beginning. The grass is providing surface stability, a root system for helping soil micro organisms & other soil life, and shading the soil surface. It's actually your cover crop. As it grows too tall, I'd use a lawnmower to bring it down in height, leaving the clippings in place to act as a soil building mulch.  Then as I had compost or mulch available, I'd apply repetitive light layers, allowing the grass to help hold it in place during high winds or heavy rains. Eventually your mulch layer would get thick enough to be decomposing, thus adding to soil nutrients. Perhaps at this stage I'd do some shallow tilling to kill off the grass, or perhaps I'd just start adding a thicker layer of compost/mulch to do that. Or perhaps I'd allow the grass to stay, just mowing it to control the height.

My own orchards were planted in an existing abandoned pasture. I do keep a compost mulch under the trees to provide nutrients because my soil is a young tropical soil, thus not very fertile. I don't heap the mulch up against the tree trunks since that will eventually damage and kill the trees. In some locations I have a cover crop growing among the trees ......sweet potatoes grown for their leaves, Okinawan spinach, taro, turmeric, mint, catnip. Yes, some pasture grasses still grow, but the mulch tends to keep it under control. A machete keeps the height down.

Just a thought about other possible options.
2 weeks ago
Not knowing your location, it's difficult to be more helpful. But you may wish to look into the underground living community in the Australian opal fields.
2 weeks ago
I have no personal experience with a dugout house (aka - pit house), but from what I've read in diaries from the late 1800's USA, pit houses were dark and damp. If you could adequately address those problems, then a pit house is an option for the right situation. Also a problem in the 1800s was that the roof logs and lumber would rot, thus caving in after time.

With modern knowledge and technology, those problems should be able to be overcome. Now you'd only need the right site. Where I'm located, pit homes would not be viable, though we do have people who live in lava tubes under ground. It's not legal, but it's done anyway.
2 weeks ago
It's time for me to add my two cents......

I've been using urine as a fertilizer on my homestead farm for the past ten years. I use human, dog, and sheep....simply because collection is easy. Humans use a collection funnel, the dog is trained to pee on commend into a basin, and the sheep pee every time I go to do something with them, like trim hooves or administrate dewormer (or even give them a bucket of haycubes!) So it's easy to catch their urine in a small bucket. Perhaps I should also include chicken urine since I use their pen litter in my compost. Urine and homemade composts & mulches are my fertilizers. I do not buy commercial fertilizer.

I do dilute the urine before applying. One gallon of urine is added to a 35 gallon trashcanful of water. Using an immersible pump and garden hose, the urine/water is applied as a normal watering. Urine is applied once or twice a month depending upon the crop and the growing season.

Now let me explain a little about my fertilizing system. I believe in applying small amounts, but frequently. When a crop is first planted, a 1" layer of compost (more if the soil isn't improved very much) is lightly tilled in, along with any added soil amendments that might be called for, such as lava sand, coral sand, char, etc. Mulch is applied to keep the soil surface shaded. Then once a month thereafter until the crop is harvested I apply another mulch layer, or compost if the crop is a heavy feeder. Crops like taro, yacon, corn, pineapples all do better using the compost for mulching. Others do better just using ground up weeds & brush trimming or grass clippings for mulch. At least once a month I also apply the urine/water (or manure water if I don't have enough urine).

The actual nutrient level of the urine or manure water is low, but it is being applied in place of regular irrigation. And it is being applied monthly (certain crops get twice a month applications). Combining this with the slow decomposition of the compost and mulches, I am seeing adequate fertilization without losing excess nutrients to leaching. I take care to avoid leaching when possible, though nature sometimes interferes  with that plan, such as the 10 inches of rain we just got from the passing Hurricane Lane.

I have seen the results of using the urine water versus not. It's not that I am purposely conducting experiments, it's just that I don't have enough urine and manure water to go around. Right now I have multiple beds of turmeric growing. The two beds that I've faithfully used the urine water are decidedly out growing the no-urine beds. Thus I believe the monthly light application of urine definitely works for a small production farm.

I disagree that diluting urine more than 1:1 negates the benefits. With frequent application in small amounts where nutrients are not leached away, but rather captured by the organic matter in the soil, I find diluted urine used as irrigation is beneficial. The trick is to have soil teeming with microbes, and don't overwater so as to cause leaching.

As for the weight issue, I transport the urine as a concentrate. I dilute it at the point of use. It is stored as a concentrate, making storage easy on a small farm. Large commercial farms may have issues, though most are already set up with tractors and spray trailers where liquid fertilizer concentrates are injected into water during application. For home gardens, urine could be applied via a hose using a hozon set up, thus easily diluting it as it is watered in. Since my own operation is beyond home gardening size, plus the fact that I have to truck water to the growing areas, I find the sump pump & hose application works for me. Of course each farmer is different, so application of undiluted urine may be the best way of handling it as a fertilizer. As with most Permie answers, it all depends.
2 weeks ago