Patricia Sanders

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since Dec 21, 2013
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Writer/editor located on Santa Maria island in the Azores.
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Recent posts by Patricia Sanders

Hi John, Trace,

Thanks for the suggestions. The thing is, there's limited availability of many things here. (I'm on a small island, Santa Maria, in the Azores.)

We have lots of cattle but the operations are small scale and I don't see cattle being kept in sheds - they're just out in the meadows. So obtaining manure would mean going around with a wheelbarrow and scooping it up one pat at a time and then wheeling it home, as I don't have a vehicle. But since you've given such a simple way to test it, I will do that! I'll go out with a bucket and bring home some to try. Thank you!

Trace, I appreciate your mentioning that about fertilizer. It's the same issue with limited availability. I have read one of Steve Solomon's books, so I know about his recipe. But I haven't found a source for seed meal. I'd like to try to do without materials that have to be shipped to the island. I'm falling back on a combination of green manures (using Will Bonsall's book for guidance on underplanting and rotations), urine, compost and bio char. (And will use manure if that seems to work and be practical.)

UPDATE: Walked down to the pasture with my bucket and shovel, the guy who owns the cattle happened to be there, he understood what I wanted and was nice enough to take me to his SECRET HIDDEN PERSONAL MANURE PILE that he'd collected last fall, and is willing to give me two or three buckets from it. So NEXT fall it should be doable to round up a few wheelbarrows full of fresh manure and make my own pile. Thanks John! I wouldn't have walked down there if you hadn't suggested it!

1 year ago

The goal was to improve clay soil over the winter so I could plant in it this spring.

The plan was:

- Get the wood mill to deliver a truckload of wood chips/chunks. Spread it on the soil as deep as possible. Mix in some hay or straw and seasoned used coffee grounds if possible.
- Plant winecap spawn.
- Use 12"x12" fertile holes to grow some summer vegs.
- At the end of August, plant daikon, hollyhocks, rye.
- Meanwhile, start a compost pile.
- Look into adding Tennessee Red peanuts into the mix.

The reality was:

- Wood chips/chunks aren't really available here. Nor is straw. Any hay would be likely to be treated. What I managed to get was wood SHAVINGS. Since it was all I could get, I tried it. I spread a few inches over the ground in the late summer and left it there all winter. It ... didn't do much. I ended up raking it all up and now I'm using it on paths (it soaks up the mud really well) and am using it in the compost heap, which probably isn't ideal but seems to be working okay.
- I planted winecap spawn in the fall, in those same wood chips plus what leaves I could get. It hasn't done much - I understand it can take a full season - but there is a lot of mycelium activity in the chip pile. Lots of white fibers. So I'm taking bits of that and spreading it around the garden.
- The fertile holes worked great. I got tons of summer squash and some lettuce and carrots by doing that.
- The daikons didn't do much. Only one got to any size. I ate it. It was good.
- I planted the hollyhocks in the fall and they stayed teeny tiny, until recently they started putting on size. So it looks like I'll have some blossoms this year, but it wasn't a helpful tactic for improving the soil over the winter.
- I didn't plant rye, and I forget why. I think because it didn't look likely that it would be able to grow in the wood shavings.
- Composting is going great. I'll be able to get lots of material, so I'll make as much as I can. I have one bin now that I hope will be ready for use in the garden by May.
- I've learned it doesn't get warm enough here for peanuts to do much. I have a packet of seeds but I might just eat them.

So nothing I did made any difference with the clay. It was all so ineffectual that I've abandoned the idea of trying to transform it.

BUT I learned I could get what people around here call terra preta. Don't get excited, it's not like the fabled terra preta of the Amazon. It's just soil that's much darker in color than the clay that's everywhere here, and according to the guy at the ag store, it's great to grow vegetables in. He claims it's naturally pH 7.0 and has plenty of potassium. They don't even sell potassium around here because, he says, people don't need it. So I had nine meters of it delivered, and I terraced the garden area, and created beds of that terra preta on top of the clay. I've planted buckwheat in the new soil and have added biochar. In April I'll hoe in the buckwheat and let it sit a while and then I'll plant.

So that's that! I have other issues about the (non) availability of organic fertilizers here, but that's another story.



Many thanks to everyone who offered ideas and information.

1 year ago
Thanks, Anne and Bruce! I learned a lot. Will definitely look into those blueberries. For the hedge I'm thinking, now, Elaeagnus (Russian olive). Fixes N, evergreen ,makes fruit, smells good. It gets big but is said to respond well to pruning.
1 year ago
Hi! Looking for suggestions. I have a 6 m x 10 m vegetable plot and want to plant a hedge along one 10 m side. It's almost entirely for visual purposes - a screen between the walk to my front door and the veg garden, which is in the front yard. Keeping critters out would be a plus, and of course food is always nice.

Anywhere between 2 and 6 ft in height would work. It's in full sun. It's a subtropical climate (Azores) that tends to stay between 50F and 80F. Dry summers, winters can be very wet and windy. The soil's clay but I'm doing what I can to improve it.

I was thinking of natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) but just learned the roots spread and I'm concerned they'll interfere with the vegetables. Plus I'm not sure it would be great to have so much thorniness right next to the growing area.

Rosemary does well here, so that's a possibility. Maybe bay laurel. Blueberries? I think we don't get enough cold for them to fruit. Anybody have other ideas?

Or is this a bad idea? I've tried searching for recommendations, but they don't seem to be out there, so maybe this is something not to do?


1 year ago
Feldenkrais with Taro - He has mostly very short, body-part-specific exercises to improve hips, shoulders, neck, jaw, etc. Also series on balance, posture, breathing. How to get up from the floor - useful. He's very gentle and compassionate.  
1 year ago
Oh Mike, thanks so much for that reply! Very helpful!

I'll be burning in a couple of weeks, will post about how it goes.
1 year ago
Hi Mike,

Could you say what size branches you use? Do you try to get them a uniform size? I'm about to make my first biochar in a couple weeks and don't have a lot of options for materials. But I do have branches, lots of branches.

1 year ago
Hi Trace, thanks. I've been reading about it this afternoon and came to the same conclusion. I can get pond water and add urine, rotten fruit, rotten wood, forest duff, whole wheat flour, molasses, tomato sauce, and/or nettles.

If I can't manage to charge all of it (I pee a lot but not THAT much - I think I need around 30 gallons of biochar for a 30 m2 garden), it seems like it will work okay if I use the charged stuff under part of the garden, which I'll use for planting vegetables, and the uncharged stuff under the rest of the garden, where I'll plant lots of cowpeas and other nitrogen fixers, and let it charge that way for a year.
2 years ago
OK, got it! Thanks so much!
2 years ago
OH I just figured out what charging biochar means! Now to figure out how to charge it without an extant compost pile.

I can get a fair amount of half-rotted firewood, all fungusy, so I'll throw some in with the wood chips. That'll bring more to the party.

This is so fun.
2 years ago