Steve Laubach

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since Apr 22, 2014
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Recent posts by Steve Laubach

I'm in the same situation as Tristan (thick, heavy clay). The only thing my soil grows without help is canada thistle.

I dug a hole 2' wide 6' long x 2' deep and buried a bunch of old logs. I stacked the wood about a foot above grade and tossed in whatever weeds I could find around the house. I also inserted a couple PVC pipes that I had drilled holes into the sides of so I could drop compostables down the tubes in hopes of creating habitat for earthworms. Then I took some used garden soil and backfilled the top layer of sticks. I have a bunch of extra sugar snap pea seeds and some extra basil plants I had started from seed so I planted both of them throughout the bed.

Initially I had a problem where the soil was drying out. I mulched the bed with grass clippings and things seem to be going alright. The peas have come up and the basil hasn't died.

I'm planning to grow some brassicas this fall and using the pea plants as green manure. I focused on N fixers for the early life of the bed because I don't know where to get manure in my area.

I'm somewhat happy with how this bed is going so far and plan to do another one as soon as I have the time to dig the hole. I have to do it as a subterranian bed because it's in the front yard of my house in suburbia. I think my next bed will have a larger surface area but a shallower hole. Digging 2' down in solid clay was not a positive experience and I don't think having a deeper hole actually improves the quality of the bed.
6 years ago
Knowledge is power and I think it's really silly to suggest that someone shouldn't make a profit from sharing knowledge or that someone who is making a lot of money is somehow an evil profiteer.

Profit is one of the best motivators that can be applied to people. I can't think of a time in history where removal of a profit motive didn't harm innovation. If you want innovation you need to have a strong profit incentive. Period.

I also believe that the best way to learn more about something is to try to teach others about it. When you need to explain why you're doing something you are forcing yourself to understand on a much deeper level. This means that you'll be more likely to see synergies between related things and you will get better at whatever it is you are teaching. A lot of innovations come from marrying really basic concepts in simple ways.

I don't know what Sepp Holzer is making and I don't care. What I care about is what I can learn from him that allows me to do things better.
6 years ago
I don't think tilling will stop Canada thistle. I have Canada thistle in an area around my house. One year I dug down 1 ft and took out all of the rhizomes for that depth of soil. It came right back.

Stacking several layers (3+) of cardboard over an area will slow it down dramatically. I have been able to wipe it out in areas by layering cardboard and then going back and pull it from the areas where it wove through the layers of cardboard. The nice thing about the cardboard method is that it forces the plant to make really long roots to get to sunlight but also allows you to just lift a section of cardboard and remove a lot of root mass easily. After a couple weed pullings the plant is usually running out of energy and eventually can't make it back to the sunlight. You have to stay on top of it though. This method also builds the soil in an area. I'll generally put wood mulch on top of the cardboard and the cardboard will be completely gone the following year.

Obviously, this method is a little too manual for a field.

Vinegar can screw it up pretty well and can even kill it if you spray it after every rain and don't let the plants get established. I don't prefer this method because it isn't free and it less effective.

I'd imagine you could wipe the thistles out in an area with a layer of thick black plastic. That would probably kill a bunch of soil microbes too though.
6 years ago
You might want to try using your excessive popcorn as an insulator.

I was talking with my father in law about how I was trying to figure out a good way to insulate a sub-grade garden and he told me something interesting. He used to do R&D in the auto industry and they discovered popcorn was a better insulator than spray foam. He couldn't remember all the details but he thought they would compress it and then slice it into whatever shape they needed. If you could keep vermin out of it you could probably compact it into a metal drum and have a really good insulator. I asked him if it was good to chop it up before compressing it and he said you don't want to do that. So I guess you just pack the kernels into your container with a plunger or something.

I haven't gotten around to testing this myself. I thought about doing it with garbage bags but that would probably get infiltrated by critters and my insulation would get eaten.

6 years ago
What if you have a small pit with angled sides that goes 3'+ down to keep the root zone warm.

A mass shaped like a boomerang could block wind NW - NE angles (leaving line if sight for W sun during winter solstice). Wind walls could then direct the wind upstream from the grow area to make sure wind is directed toward the angled wind shield. So basically, mounds would be sculpted to direct wind away from the grow area. The mound behind the grow area would be built to be as much of a thermal store as possible.

I don't limit myself to things found in nature so I would line the rear shield wall with a black HDPE tank and turn it into a passive solar thermal store.
6 years ago
I use cardboard. A few layers of cardboard and newspaper will shade out the grass and balance the C/N ratio to some extent. I usually put wood chip mulch on top of that and in 1 year everything under the wood chip mulch will be decomposed. You need to cut holes through the cardboard to plant but that's not too difficult. If you're having trouble, make it wet and tear it with a shovel. You also need to water deeply around the base of the plant but you should be doing that anyway.

You can get cardboard in bulk for free at grocery stores, etc.

I've used this method to wipe out a canada thistle infestation once. Canada thistle is very difficult to vanquish because it spreads by rhizomes as deep as 6' underground. One time I dug out all the roots for the first foot of soil and it came back. I even think I heard it mocking me.

I prefer this no till method because it doesn't disturb the soil biology (worms, bacteria mycorrhizal fungi). Trust me, you want that stuff in your soil.
6 years ago
I use waste drywall to add Ca and S too. I generally only use it when I have done drywall work at home and have some scrap drywall that I don't want to put in a landfill.

I didn't know about Calcium saturation dilluting into lower soil but that's good to know.

6 years ago
I'm experimenting with using 1 gal HDPE jugs for Kratky aquaponics. Basically, I'm using water from my aquarium as nutrient and the jug as a container using the Kratky method (zero energy hydroponics). You just have to cover the container with something to block light (leaving the plant popping out the top of course) to avoid an algae bloom.

I haven't done this before but I've seen videos where people did this and it worked. I'm growing cauliflower and basil this way currently.
6 years ago