Michael Vormwald

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since Jan 29, 2014
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Recent posts by Michael Vormwald

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
What a great idea to add to my justifications for tilling... The one I typically use is: Since I am growing on river delta soil, and since the river traditionally flooded every year and laid down a fresh layer of soil, therefore I figure that now that the river no longer floods my fields that tilling is a close approximation to the natural conditions that existed in my garden before agriculture.

I'll confess that I (too) still get my Troybilt tiller out once or twice a year (or more if/when I grow green manure like buckwheat or winter rye to till under).
However, I also realize that it upsets if not destroys elements of the soil food web. Now that I'm in my 60's and thinking forward to when horsing that tiller around won't be that much fun, I'm thinking more and more about no till. My 'plan' is to put enough organic matter into/on the soil (mulch/sheet composting) that the soil critters will do my tilling for me...after all, as nature (and permaculture) teaches us, nature doesn't till and things seem to grow just fine. I think the ticket is a good thick cover.
5 years ago
I'm not a fan of black plastic as it restricts both air and water from the soil/plants (although it does dramatically increase soil temperatures).

Mulch 'may' create a habitat for some pests, but it also creates a habitat for predators of those pests while it increases soil moisture, moderates soil temperature and will slowly break down to feed the soil food web.

I used to make tons of compost and vermicompost. I'd haul all kinds of materials, build heaps, turn and turn, then eventually haul to the garden*. I'm in my 60's now and it makes more sense to me to just mulch/sheet compost right in the garden and eliminate all the pre-processing WORK. Oh I'll prolly still make some compost heaps, but more and more I want to turn my garden into a worm bed and that requires a constant cover of materials....leaves, grass clippings, hay...In an orchard, or in perennial beds and foundation plantings, I'd use wood chips, but not in the garden except maybe for pathways. (wood chips are fine on the surface, but not tilled in as they would tie up too much N2 decomposing).

(*One fall many years ago I put a 12' ring of snow fence (about 4' across) in the garden and piled in (mostly maple) leaves 3-4' and just let it set over winter. I removed what was left in the spring to till. My ground was tough and tilling was a chore back then...but when I got to the spot where the leaves had been, the tiller sank effortlessly to it's maximum depth. The soil creatures had tilled the soil for me. This was a huge lesson in the power mulch and of no till permaculture - just let nature do the work! [but of course, this requires a good cover])
5 years ago

Mike Haych wrote:Our property is such that it's difficult to harvest the leaves - the grey dogwood understory makes it impossible to get at the ash, maple, oak, butternut leaves. So we were using straw bales from a farmer friend who doesn't use a pre-harvest dessicant such as Roundup, Eragon, or Reglone. He does use Roundup before seeding so I wasn't comfortable using his straw. Whenever we go to town in the fall, we take bags of leaves from the curbside but that's always a crapshoot with folks putting all kinds of things in the bad that are quite nasty. We have a friend who brings us a pickup truck of leaves in exchange for a couple of jars of rosehip jelly. So I looked at sources of growing our own mulch/compost biomass. We settled on Miscanthus giganteus. Its flowers set no seed and its rhizomes spread very slowly. And we get 12 feet of growth each year before it winter kills to the ground. I mostly harvest brown in the early fall before the leaves are blown off by the wind but I could harvest green earlier if I needed green material. It goes through wood chipper really quickly but a small electric chipper would handle it too although more slowly. My mulch/compost problem is solved. My planting is 30'x30' and will get larger as we experiment with it as a replacement for woodchips.

Anyone who decides to try Miscanthus giganteus should start on a precautionary basis. We planted a small 3' x 10' area to see if the rhizomes did in fact spread slowly. I did not want to find out that our conditions were such that I had a very aggressive spreader that would have required much effort to be rid of. Make sure that you get Miscanthus giganteus not Miscanthus sacchariflorus or Miscanthus sinensis or some other aggressive spreader.

I used a leaf blower to blow the leaves in windrows to an open area for easy pickup, then I'd haul them near the garden for shredding. Most went on the garden, then covered with mulch hay.
But, it's much easier to drive the pickup to the center and load up (mostly maple leaves)! <g>
5 years ago

Todd Parr wrote:

Michael Vormwald wrote:

... if I'm not just robbing Peter to pay Paul. I'm taking away the material that would otherwise enrich the soil beneath the trees that dropped the leaves.

This is very important to me, and something I battle with. I use wood chips extensively. I largely bring them in from elsewhere. I couldn't possibly grow enough trees to cover the ground with as many woodchips as I need in any kind of timely manner. I grow cover crops, I have chickens and use their manure, I compost, but the bottom line is, I have to import materials to create soil at a faster rate than it would be created otherwise.

I am enjoying this thread and the thought you are all putting into it very much.

I've resolved this issue really. In the future, I will harvest less leaves from the corners of my property. The municipal site accepts leaves, wood chips and horse manure for the purpose of making it available to those that can use it. Since it's just a couple of miles away, I see it as taking advantage of a local resource that might otherwise just go to waste. For most residential areas (w/o gardens), the leaves are just litter that they are happy to have removed. I brought home 4 or 5 truckloads of leaves this fall and ran them through my chipper/vac to shred and put a good layer in the garden. I'll be going back for more leaves in the spring to mix with grass clippings for compost. I use the wood chips around trees, shrubs, foundation plantings, etc...
'One man's trash is another man's treasure'. It's great recycling to use materials that might otherwise just be thrown away....AND IT'S FREE FOR THE TAKING.
5 years ago

Peter Ingot wrote:F

As regards poop versus no poop, I am firmly on the side of poop. Michael Vormwald is right in theory, but I suspect the theory is wrong, because practical experience confirms what John Seymour said on the subject: There is a kind of magic which happens when vegetable matter passes through the guts of an animal.

I do not have livestock so the 'animal' I use is the worm. I've made truckloads of compost and vermicompost in the past. I am currently working to eliminate the pre-process through sheet composting to turn my garden into a pseudo worm bed which will lead to effective no-till.
I built my home on land my grandfather pastured his work horses 50+ years ago. Up on a hill the soil was like subsoil and tilling it was like tilling a parking lot. One fall many, many years ago, I took a 12 foot ring of snow fence in the garden and filled it with leaves. I removed the leaves that remained in the spring and tilled. It was tough going until I hit the spot where the leaves had been and the tiller sank effortlessly to it's maximum depth. Worms had tilled the soil for me! Mulch the soil and culture worms....oh you can haul animal manures if you choose, but green materials/manures and leaves are much easier to deal with.

"To understand permaculture is simply to look at how nature has been growing things for thousands of years. The 'secret' is simply to keep the soil covered with plants or mulch."
5 years ago

Rebecca Norman wrote:Back to the original title "Lack of poop endangers soil"...

When I saw the title, I thought it would be all about how even organic farming will decimate soils eventually because we keep withdrawing the nutrients of our food and shiping them off to cities and then flushing them down toilets.

Not really at all. Organic farmers/gardeners well know how to enrich soil by simply following and amplifying natures lead... compost, vermicompost, leaves, grass clippings, cover crops, green manures, hay, straw, wood chips...even (dare I say) manures. Nutrients are replenished in excess to build ever better and better soil.

To the original link regarding the transport and dispersion of organic waste... I often wonder as I've collected all the leaves possible from the far corners of my property (to enrich my garden soil) if I'm not just robbing Peter to pay Paul. I'm taking away the material that would otherwise enrich the soil beneath the trees that dropped the leaves.

Lately I've found a free local resource for leaves, wood chips and horse manure that would otherwise be discarded as waste. I will take significant advantage of this resource.

5 years ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:

Mike Haych wrote:

Tyler Ludens wrote:"Loess (pronounced "luss"), is German for loose or crumbly. It is a gritty, lightweight, porous material composed of tightly packed grains of quartz, feldspar, mica, and other minerals. Loess is the source of most of our Nation's rich agricultural soils and is common in the U.S. and around the world."

You seem to be talking about mineral richness, whereas I'm talking about biological fertility specific to the prairies.

All that I was saying is that this part of the world is mostly loess soil which is extremely fertile and usually very deep. Given that, it's not all that surprising that deep rooted prairie grasses established which attracted and supported large grazing herds which enriched the topsoil further and attracted hunters who managed the environment by burning. My point was that underlying it all is the soil. I think that we're talking about parts of the same process.

I think we are, but I'm not convinced deep-rooted prairie grasses developed first, I think they evolved with the action of bison and humans. Certainly grasses established in the loess grit at some point, but, I don't think the tall grasses of the prairie could have developed without the action of grazing and fire. And the tall grasses with the action of the bison and humans are what built the deep fertile soils of the prairies, as I understand it. But since we can't probably determine exactly when tall grasses (such as Big Bluestem) evolved, who can say? I guess my personal beef is that I don't like to see the interaction of the bison and the first peoples sort of shoved aside as an unimportant aspect of the development of this special ecosystem, when, as I understand it, the prairies might be the only ecosystem created with the action of humans in the role of apex predator, and as one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on Earth, proof that human activity is not necessarily detrimental, as some people very strongly believe. Many environmentalists see humans, any humans, as a blight on the planet, when the prairies at least are evidence that humans needn't be a blight, but can be a significant asset.

Pardon my soapbox!


I'd agree as it applies to the Native American Indians who only took what they needed to live. Then came the white man that hunted the bison for fun and sport to near extinction. What the white settlers did to both the bison and the American Indians is an American tragedy. And as if this wasn't enough, then he brought his plow and later his chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and genetically modified seed.....topsoil is being lost at alarming rates requiring more and more chemicals to produce foods that are less and less nutritious. On top of this, most of the food system is heavily dependent on cheap oil for production and transport and is not sustainable. A visionary would say we are positioned for an eventual collapse of the food system as we know it.

footnote: in a permaculture forum, I realize this is most likely preaching to the choir.
5 years ago
Question: What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Answer: The egg, but it was not the egg of a chicken.

American Plains Indians flourished hunting bison. The bison flourished because of the immense prairie grasses. The prairie grasses flourished because of several feet of rich topsoil. The rich soil food web flourished after eons of decayed grasses and plants...permaculture in perfection. So the bison did not create the rich soil...nature did that.

Manure is not the star spangled fertilizer that some may think. It's what's left after the herbivore has extracted all the nutrition it can. I'm not saying manure is bad...but it's a waste product after nutrients have been removed from the source material...enriching soil is [even] more productive using the source materials.
I don't have livestock so my 3000 sq. ft. organic garden is fertilized with green materials.
5 years ago

John Saltveit wrote:Do you understand that many plants and animals co-evolved together, and only made leaps of evolution as the wide biodiversity allowed them to be more resilient in responding to different weather and climatic challenges? A plant by itself has very little resiliency. Herbivores eat some of the plant, then move on before killing the plant, thereby ensuring the plant's growth. They leave behind an enormous variety of life in the soil, which is where the strength of the grassland biome lies. This is just as a fruit eating animal like, well, us, eats the fruit, plants the seed and ensures the survival of the plant, by fertilizing it and spreading it. You haven't responded to the nutrition and biodiversity in the soil, creating strength and nutrition that was not there before, nor to Alan Savory's well-documented findings.
John S

At this stage, we should probably just agree to disagree.

It's my contention that the rich topsoil of the great plains (estimated to originally be several feet deep) was not created by the buffalo but that the buffalo flourished because of it. That is until man made a sport of hunting them to near extinction! Grasses and plants that grew six and eight foot tall as far as the eye could see. This is not so surprising anymore than the rich soil of the forest floor or that of the tropical rain forest (where herds of herbivores never existed). Foraging animals do not create anymore bio-diversity than the already existing millions if not trillions of creatures in the soil food web...nourished by decaying organic matter - with or without animal manure.

We can turn hardpan into nutrient rich garden soil with leaves, grass clippings, green cover crops, green manure crops, even wood chips and mulch (e.g. Back To Eden) just as nature has done for millions of years - without any animal manure. This is the essence of permaculture.

Alan Savory, (after his regretful recommendation for the extermination of thousands of elephants), determined that with careful, controlled land management, livestock could be used to somewhat counter the effects of desertification. But much of Africa is a somewhat special climate with extreme heat and drought with only seasonal monsoons.

The loss of topsoil in the great plains (e.g. 1930's dust bowl and beyond) was not the result of the loss of the buffalo, but caused by man and the plow. As everyone who studies permaculture knows, conventional mono-culture agriculture with tillage, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides kills the soil life and without cover, the soil is ravaged by wind and water erosion further polluting streams, rivers and lakes.
5 years ago

John Saltveit wrote:Michael,
I don't see any reasoning behind that belief. Did you see my post or William's?

The reasoning is simple... nature does not need animal manure to build nutrient rich topsoil. Nature was building rich topsoil eons before mammals arrived on the scene. Consider that the herbivore eats the various forage and extracts the nutrition it needs to grow healthy and strong and leaves waste behind. The waste contains far less nutrients than that which was ingested resulting in a negative loss to the prairie soil. Had the greens died and decomposed much like cover crops and/or green manure, the soil would have had the added nutrients that was otherwise taken by the animals. Manure only enriches soil when it comes from someplace else.
Lets take another example...the forest floor. Deep dark rich soil the result of fallen leaves, rotting wood and plant debris - no foraging animals.
5 years ago