Matt Smaus

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since Feb 05, 2014
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Minneapolis, MN
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Recent posts by Matt Smaus

Fukuoka is amazing, I love Fukuoka, and his technique for no till rice would not, as far as I have been able to figure, work with most cereal grains. The key to his system is that water does the weeding for him -- it sets back the clover without setting back the rice, giving it the lead. I have played around with wheat, barley, and rye on the garden scale quite a bit. I imagine you could transplant small grains into little piles of dirt in a twice-mown pasture -- it's as good an idea as any -- but I can't imagine trying to harvest the wheat with everything else in the pasture all grown up with it. Maybe if you grow it with a mini patch of crimson clover the clover will keep the other pasture plants away from the crown of wheat? I've heard if you don't crowd wheat it will tiller out quite well and make a nice little plant.

You said you've done it with corn and that makes sense, as corn is a tall plant and can outgrow its neighbors, plus it's easier to identify and harvest. Maybe one of the taller grains like quinoa would work? Or a good flint or flour corn? That's the classic gardener's grain.
9 years ago
Plowing works way better on sod or turf than rototilling does. There is no harm in doing it once, and you can plow shallowly just to flip the turf over, letting it decompose. Rototilling leaves a lot of living chunks of grass that will re-establish. That said, any of these options require more than a week. You need to let the sod decompose whether you flip it over, sheet mulch it, or cover it in black plastic, and that takes 3-4 weeks (faster when the weather is warmer).

If you really need to plant right away, I would rent a mechanical sod remover and roll the whole field up in strips. Lay the sod upside down in stacks in a corner and cover it to compost it--the sod will decompose into perfect potting soil, or you can add it back to the field later. Anyway, remove the sod and then put FINISHED compost and other amendments (lime? other minerals?) on the field. If you want to plant in it this year, I wouldn't put anything hot on it. Wait till fall if you want to do that. I'd put finished compost down and then rototill the compost and amendments into the top 6". If you can get a broadfork in to open up some deeper channels, all the better. Or, if you can find a tractor operator to come into the city, chisel plow it as deep as you can to open up the lower layers.

You only need to do this once. If you establish permanent beds, plant roots should be able to keep them loose enough, especially if you cover crop in deep rooted clovers or tillage radish from time to time. Or you can broadfork occasionally. Also, if you plan to grow annuals, I would stay away from wood chips. I know a lot of people love to plant in would chips because it makes everything easy, but they can harbor slugs and sow bugs which is alright for perennials but can be devastating to vegetables. Their decomposition can leed to mineral imbalances over time, too, at least as far as vegetables are concerned, and depending on your soil type.
9 years ago
PS, if you're willing to thresh small grains, growing a patch of wheat and clover is a piece of cake, and very satisfying. You want to flush for weeds first, but if you do, and then broadcast wheat and crimson clover together over the patch, rake it in, and tamp it down a bit with the rake or by walking on it, you will get a nice stand. Plant in late mid to late September. When you harvest the grain mid-summer the following year, the clover will come surging up and make a lot of Nitrogen before it stops growing in the winter. It will also provide nice cover in the winter. Anyways, a lot of fun. The pain is in threshing--it is SO much more efficient by large machine than by hand, so it will never be economical, though I've made a bucket thresher and that helps a bit.
9 years ago
Mow it, weedwhack it, scythe it, or chop it with shears as close to the ground as possible once it is well into blooming but not making seedheads yet. This may not take it all down but will seriously weaken it and take out much of it. Next year should take care of the rest. The energy is all up in the blooms at this point, not in the roots. By waiting until its second year, you have inadvertently allowed it to accumulate its peak amount of Nitrogen. Good work!
9 years ago
Ben Falk is growing rice in Vermont and goes into it deeply in his book. He goes into it deeply here as well:

I lived on the Puget Sound and thought a lot about how to do it there. I'm positive you need to start it indoors and transplant it. The actual growing season for rice is not much different from Vermont because rice require warm nights and, though we're above freezing a lot sooner, we're not warm any sooner. Also, we're a dry summer climate, not a wet summer climate like the NE, so you'd have to be prepared to water A LOT in July and August.

There are other options for growing staple foods in muck in the NW, however. Native options, such as Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia). Alan Kapuler sells seeds of tons of amazing plants here:

Good Luck. I'm in the midwest now, where we have WILD rice!
9 years ago

I have to re-read what her system is but would that work indefinitely in an area with a high incidence of blight? There's a farm around here that had to stop their potato coop program after 20 years due to blight. They also had to buy new seed for their market garden.

I have no bias against potatoes! I have no bias against annuals, either. They are a problem when planted exclusively, in over-large groupings, and when not rotated, is all. For learning to breed, there is nothing better to work with because of the quick turnaround -- Norman Borlaug, famous/notorious hero/villain of the Green Revolution made rapid progress with wheat by running seed back and forth between two breeding stations where the planting season for one started right around the harvest season for the other, so he got two crops in per year. They use fruit flies to study genetics because they have a two or three day lifespan. Annuals are the fruit flies of the vegetable world (radishes are probably the fruit flies of the annuals world). And they are often delicious, with fascinating backstories, and hundreds or thousands of local varieties developed over hundreds or thousands of years.

The venerable Ms. Deppe says blight is an everpresent reality in most places, including where she lives. PP.168-9 of her book tells you how to deal with disease, in general, including blight. The short of it is rotate your fields every year and leave at least three years between planting potatoes in one spot, cull out nasty looking plants the moment you see them, start with certified seed potatoes and then rigorously maintain a selection program (detailed in her next section), don't leave cull potatoes in the field because they will harbor diseases (including blight) remove or till under residues, wait a couple weeks to harvest after the plant tops are dead and gone, that way blight and bacterial rot will rot the bad potatoes, revealing them as the sinister agents of destruction that they are. And she notes that early maturing potatoes can beat late blight.

It seems like a lot of work, no? I think growing your own staple crops is a lot of work, considering their relatively low cost in the store, but I love to do it, anyway.
10 years ago
The bottom line here seems to be that you are interested in

(1) a storable staple crop that's manageable on a small, home scale without machinery or specialized tools.
(2) ways to ensure that crop doesn't fail, and
(3) how it can be perpetuated by yourself or a small community

TSP seems like a lot of fun, but I'd be careful about putting the cart before the horse. Carol Deppe, in her section on potatoes in The Resilient Gardener, outlines a system for saving your own seed potatoes that is essentially a home-scale version of what certified seed potato producers do. It takes some rigor and attention to follow it through, but I'd say a prolonged true seed program would take even more. If you get 5-10 varieties of potato and follow her system, you will have a resilient supply of potatoes -- if some fail one year, others will probably not. And, since you're cloning, you can grow all 5-10 varieties in the same patch without worrying about them cross-pollinating, so they will stay true.

Then, if you want to breed from seed, go for it. But this seems a logical first step.

Best of luck. I like growing potatoes, too.

PS, as far as storable winter crops in the north, there are also long-storing winter squash, short-season corn, and of course and classically, the much-vilified grains (rice in Asia), which take more work than the other two.
10 years ago
Google "Financial Independence." That's how people are talking about the combo of investing/income generation and frugal living to arrive at financial freedom. There are some great bloggers on this subject, and a few good books.


Early Retirement Extreme
Mr. Money Mustache

...these guys link to others, and give great book recommendations. The blogger at Early Retirement Extreme, Jacob Lund Fisker, has written a book of the same name, which is basically permaculture principles applied to personal finances. Very interesting, though a bit dense.

10 years ago
Topical thread! Last night I made a batch of aby Arugula pesto -- my God, that's good. Then a batch of dandelion greens pesto -- my God, that's good, too. I am freezing cubes in ice trays right now. This evening I will make a "spring medley" of dandelion greens, arugula, and the nettles growing all around us. I will probably throw in a fistful of spring grass, just for effect.
10 years ago
Hi Dakota, and welcome to the wacky world of ducks! I have a couple things to offer both from experience and all the reading I've done.

1. Their water will always get mucky. I had a single mother and single duckling put an inch of mud into the bottom of a bucket waterer in two days. This is the case because ducks sieve water through their bills to filter the food bits out in the wild.

2. That said, change it as often as you can, at least every few days, or daily, depending on the number of ducks to a waterer. They can get sick if poop builds up in their water, or if it stagnates.

3. A 3-gallon bucket up on a cinderblock keeps them from jumping in but still allows them to dip their heads and bills, which they need to do to stay clean. You have to keep the bucket(s) full to within 6 inches of the top or so.

4. If you want to keep them from making a mess under the waterer -- because they WILL splash water all over the place -- you can put a couple of poultry mesh panels beneath it and/or move it to a new spot regularly, or if you can't move it, dig out the ground beneath it and fill it in with gravel so it drains.

Any questions? If these don't work with your particular circumstances, I'll see what other ideas I can come up with.

Good Luck!
10 years ago