Michael Cox

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since Jun 09, 2013
Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Recent posts by Michael Cox

Interesting. That is a much smaller "river" than I was visualising. That looks like it would be a perfect candidate for vetiver - both the land around and stabilising the stream itself. 

You mention that you have some vetiver already. I would prioritise getting a vetiver nursery established. With regular tending, some additional watering and splitting you can greatly accelerate the rate you propagate them. Some estimates suggest that you can get a 12 fold increase in the number of slips from your initial stock per year. One year of nursery care will give you enough to plant your first hedge. Care for that hedge for a year and you will be able to plant a lot more.

It is important to understand what vetiver is supposed to do, and how it works. Everyone knows that the plants have deep strong roots, but a single plant will do nothing to help - the water will flow around it. What you need is a densely planted hedge, planted along the contour. Recommended spacings are 6 inches between slips at planting, or less. Aim for the width of a palm laid flat on the ground and you will be in the right ball park. If you have limited numbers of slips it is much better to plant a short length of hedge at proper spacing, than a longer length with the spacings too wide.

When a water flow reaches a densely planted hedge it slows down, dropping the sand, and trickles through the stems. Planting these hedges will do a lot to conserve your top soil, allowing you to grow more, but it will also reduce the amount of sand reaching your river in the first place.  This is fixing the problem at it's source, rather than trying to compensate for the consequences further down stream.
1 month ago
I have tried back to eden strategies. They work for some plantings but not others. For example, when I tried to plant potatoes the soil disturbance ended up turning the woodchips under. The following year this suppressed growth.

What many people miss about Paul's methods is that he also has chickens. Much of his woodchip spends time in his chicken run area being scratched, pooped on, and generally broken down before he spreads it on the growing areas. By the time he spreads it, it is finer and more composted than the raw wood chips I get delivered and am working with. That is not to say that working with fresh chips is impossible, but the videos we see of his system are of a mature established setup, which he maintains with this chicken run mulch. Don't expect the same results in the first few years. It takes time to get there.
What is your local water supply like?

Seasonal rivers with high sand loads are idea for making sand dams. The idea is you construct a dam down to the bedrock, and across the whole channel. The water builds up behind, losing velocity. Where it loses velocity it drops the load of sand. Over a period of time (one big storm, or a few years) the depth of sand builds up to the top of the dam.

Beneath the surface of the sand is where the magic happens. A deep bed of sand has a huge pore space, which fills with water. The sand protects the water from evaporation and acts as a reservoir year round. Traditional water harvesting techniques can be used to get the clean drinking water from the sand - including hand dug wells. These sand dams give long-term water security and can form the basis of irrigated crop planting, rehydration of the surrounding landscape, and general greening of the environment. Plants thrive along rivers that have these, because the water slowly spreads sideways to where the roots can access them.

There are many videos of them online, and there are organisations that help communities construct them. They take considerable labour, but can be build just with hand tools as you describe.

Otherwise, looking at vetiver hedges is my top recommendation. Vetiver hedges planted on contour parallel to the banks will prevent soil erosion. They are a valuable mulch source and help build soil organic matter and increase soil fertility in the longer term. In arid climates, where flash rains storms carry surface sediment, they can build up natural terraces for cultivation - all while conserving soil and nutrients. Protecting the banks from further erosion will certainly help, but I'm not sure what you can do to help with the sediment being washed in from further up stream, beyond potentially slow it a bit and try to trap some. My feeling is that in the middle of a strong stream flow even vetiver will likely be eroded away, but bank protection will probably work.
1 month ago
Permaculture is about making use of the resources you have in abundance. Some people have abundant wood, and hugelculture suits them. If you don't have abundant wood you will end up investing a lot of time and money into it.

Rather than try and fit your land to a technique, look instead and see what techniques might fit your land.

1 month ago
I am becoming increasingly convinced that the single best step we can take for managing bees in a sustainable way is to proactively make splits from our best colonies each spring. Everything else seems to be peripheral low value stuff by comparison.

I'll outline in the context of my own beekeeping:

1) I overwinter approximately 12 full sized hives.
2) Each summer I make splits from my colonies, using queen cells from my best few hives.
3) The splits get put into 6 frame poly nucs (highly insulating) and allowed to build up until autumn.
4) They get checked in late autumn to ensure they have stores - I give them a frame or two of capped honey if they are short, from another hive.

Over winter I invariably lose some colonies. But the nucs are there ready and waiting.

Over a few years of doing this my stock has improved - my losses are about the same, but more colonies are strong and healthy in the spring. This method allows me to ignore the mites - if I lose a colony or two it doesn't matter. I also rarely feed; but this is as much to do with whether you take too large a honey harvest or not.

So this is not really a "STUN" technique, but it lets me ignore all of the other worries that beekeepers seem to have.
1 month ago
Hi Folks,

I'm looking to finally get my chickens setup this year. I have a great space for a run for them, but given the foxes in my area we need some pretty hefty protection.

The area in question is about 20m long by around 10m wide and is a self-seeded thicket of willow trees, with lots of trunks about 8 inches in diameter. If possible I'd like to use the trees themselves as posts for some, or most, of the fencing. What are people's experiences of doing something like this? I don't care about the trees themselves - if they didn't serve a purpose as potential fence posts and chicken shelter I would probably be giving them a pruning at ground level with the chainsaw. Even then they seem pretty unkillable!

My intention is to fold a run of heavy fencing wire into an L shape, so that the foot of the L rests on the ground on the outside of the run. I'll bang a few wooden pegs in to hold it down, and over time the grass will grow into it. This should stop foxes digging or generally trying to attack the fence itself. For the upper portion I'll run traditional chicken wire, part overlapping the fence wire at the lower level. This should go to a height of about 6ft.

Ultimately this should end up with a leafy canopy, fairly clear understory and then with a decent area for managing compost etc. And then a sturdy chicken coop within the fenced area.

Any thoughts? How is a fence like this likely to age?
1 month ago

r ranson wrote:It's gone terribly.  The seeds germinate and then grow about an inch, then nothing.  It's like they only had enough internal energy to grow that high.  There's not enough neglect to kill them, but there's nothing there to help them grow.

Your original problem was caused by herbicide contamination. How long has it been since the contamination occurred? Is it possible the contamination is still hanging around? Here in the UK I have hear of people unable to use their allotments for multiple years after such problems.
1 month ago
Interesting. I'd be particularly interested to know the back story to the land as well. How did it get into that degraded state in the first place?
2 months ago
These proposals (a permaculture currency) pop up from time to time. They haven't led anywhere yet, and for good reason. They fail to consider the purposes of currency, and are a profound step backwards in many ways.

1) Currency works because it is highly liquid. I know that I can take my £10 note into literally any shop in the country and buy £10 worth of goods.
2) A "private" currency is by its very nature less liquid. If I want to spend my  special permaculture credits I need to find a shop that will accept them (adding cost and inconvenience) or I need to exchange them back to common currency (adding cost and inconvenience).
3) Historically, private currencies were used as a means to entrap and exploit workforces. The employer would pay the workers in their own company currency. They would house the workers on site, charging them rent in their own private currency. The workers would buy goods at shops owned by their employer, with rates fixed in the private currency. These rents and prices were considerably higher than the equivalents outside of the private economy. When workers wanted to spend money outside they had to exchange currency, for which they were charged and made a loss.

So, as a consumer or producer, any private currency needs to be sufficiently appealing to overcome these burdens in inconvenience and cost. In fact they have to go further than that - they need to overcome those burdens AND be more appealing than all the other widely accepted (and therefore more liquid) crypto-currencies. Typically at this point there is an appeal to some kind of moral imperative - "banks a bad so we should stop using their money" - but people in reality don't act that way. They won't voluntarily choose to have less wealth, by opting to use a currency that is more expensive/less efficient.
2 months ago
Focus on zone one initially, and work outwards as time and resources allow.

Also, I strongly recommend reading the "Permaculture Handbook". It is a bit on the heavy side, but is full of great content when considering a big project. For example I can already see one planning "no-no". You propose building your house up on a "knuckle". If you build you house on top of the hill you can't make use of gravity to supply your water to your house or your zone 1 plants.
2 months ago