Bippy Grace

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since Apr 29, 2014
Elgin, Texas 581 ft elevation/ zone 8b/ 34 inches avg. rainfall (hah)/ Mediterranean climate
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Recent posts by Bippy Grace

I limewashed my old roof and it helped keep the house cool enough that we didn't have to replace the aging A/C unit. I wouldn't bother putting a dark coating on the roof to get more solar gain in the winter- over the course of the summer, dirt will land on it and reduce the albedo effect, for one thing (just get up there and do a good rinse with a hose at the end of spring), and the lower sun angle and lower intensity of the solar rays during the winter means the solar heat gain in the winter is a lot less, anyway- I ran the calculations once before, but they took forever and I don't have the numbers with me, but the reduced cost of summer cooling saves you more money than the increased cost of heating in winter, if you just calculate BTU's lost and gained vs. heating and cooling loads.

Besides, when it snows the roof is white anyway, and the snow is a decent insulator. It's just a lot more work than it's really worth. Making a few solar aluminum can heaters (or, how I'm going to make mine, aluminum gutters, since I think it looks nicer) and building mounting for them on a wall with good solar aspect will give you a lot more useful gain than having a darker roof in the winter. Remember, heat rises, so having a hotter attic in the winter doesn't do you as much good. I live in Texas and with a medium gray roof, it gets up to 120-130 in the attic by 10:00 in the morning, but since heat rises it's not AS HORRIBLE as it could be. I'm doing what I can to fix that right now, but even with completely inadequate insulation in the attic, my ceiling is only in the high 90's.

To keep a house warm, instead of all the work I'm doing to keep my house cool, I'd put in some passive solar wall heaters that can be taken down at the end of cold weather, like these

And possibly put a lot more insulation in my attic. In a lot of ways, keeping warm is easier than keeping cool! I miss living in a cooler climate.
6 years ago
This is a really cool concept and I hope it gets a lot more traction. One of my favorite booths at my local farmers market is a pecan grower that tends to have products from other people that aren't big enough to have their own booths- he's got a couple honey providers, a few jewelry makers, a baker, etc. It makes his booth a lot more diverse and interesting. I'm not sure if that would work in my local farmer's market (I live in a town with about 8,000 people in it- our farmers market is SMALL), but I can see that being awesome larger markets!

Thanks so much for sharing this!
6 years ago
My Mom used the black plastic solarizing on chunks of our yard as a kid, I don't think it did the ground any favors. I do understand the problems that come from being disabled/with limited mobility and trying to garden, if you have the energy sheet mulching with a few layers of cardboard on the bottom is a pretty good way to go, but gathering and moving that much material can be hard on one's body.

I'm a permie nerd from way back but I have my own disability/mobility issues, and I'm probably going to rototill to get the grass up on a few beds this year, because I've been gathering materials for sheet mulching and using a broadfork to double dig for 4 months now, and I'm about 1/5th the way through where I wanted to be in establishing beds for this year. Sometimes you need to use a less-than-perfect method for getting started, and as things get established (and easier!). I have access to a trailer, but I have a little 4 cyl eco friendly Honda Fit with no towing anything, and getting enough material for a lot of mulching into plastic totes that I can haul around in my econo car is just... slow. Really, really slow.

I'd say split it up- solarize one third, do deep mulch on another third, and see if you can get someone to till for you on the last third. You can gather deep mulch materials while the first third is being solarized, to deep mulch THAT bed when it's done being fried. You''ll get a deep mulch bed to start with this year, a tilled bed to start with this year, and time to get everything together for the last bed.

My two cents, might not work for you, but it's pretty close to what I'm doing!
6 years ago
I prefer to do a sheet mulch to kill grass and start a new garden bed. However, sourcing enough material for sheet mulching is time consuming, and you might only be able to get enough to do a portion of the space you want, instead of the whole space.

Roto tilling isn't great for the soil microbes, but if you're starting new beds on grass that may have been chemically fried before you got the land, and you only do it to establish beds, it can be a useful tool. Rejecting the use of a roto tiller when establishing beds can be a case of the best getting in the way of the good enough- yes, it's best if you can get enough cardboard, organic manure, organic straw, and mulch to build your beds that way, but sometimes it's not an option.

I'm having a heck of a time sourcing enough organic manure without persistent herbicides in them to build up my beds. I'd rather do deep mulch, but a shallow pass with a rototiller followed by a good mix of cover crops followed by green manure plants followed by high-quality mulch as I can get it, is going to get me to where I want to be a lot faster than insisting that everything have to be OMG PERFECT PERMACULTURE ZOMGS! before I get anything done.

Progress is the key, don't get caught up in doing everything perfectly. If you need to till to get the beds started, just understand why it's not a good thing to till every year, and why getting away from tilling is your best option in the long run.
6 years ago
Looks like things are doing better, the compost tea is a great idea, and if you have access to rabbit manure, that stuff is GREAT for just top-dressing.

If it was my land, in those conditions, with unlimited resources, I'd toss on about a 3-4 inch layer of manure spread over everything, then get the good stuff- tree trimmings with lots of greens in them- and put on another 2-3 inches on top of that. Since the topsoil you got was low quality stuff, I'd also supplement with rock dust- I like Azomite and EcoMin, personally. You can also add it to your compost teas, which helps get a rolling crazy pile of helpful microbes going. If you have a local source of mushroom compost, I'd add a layer of that right under the wood chips- that stuff is awesome. You didn't mention blood meal, but even Paul uses it when he's first establishing a garden bed with wood chips, just to make sure the baby plants get enough nitrogen that first year.

It looks really good, I'm sure it's going to be just freaking fantastic once you get it all going.
When I have had bits of soil like that, the thing that has worked best for me is to call a tree trimming company and get them to dump their trimmings in my yard. Rake it out about 6-10 inches deep, water it deeply once, and if you have time, go to the local grocery store and buy mushrooms and bury them all around the mulch, or buy some dowel spawn online and toss the dowels around.

While you work on other areas of your land, for the next few months the wood chips will start to decompose, and the mushrooms will break down the long fibers of the wood. Once the mushroom spawn is everywhere, there will be something for the other beneficial soil life to eat, and you'll start seeing worms, springtails, and other lovely creatures. In 4-6 months you'll have a rich layer of this beautiful brown stuff sifting down from the wood chips to the layer between your rocky soil and the chips, and that stuff is wonderful to plant in. When the rain comes, instead of pounding the soil and washing away that layer of beautiful brown soil, it'll soak into the wood chips and stay moist, which will slowly, slowly sink into your soil, softening it and bringing in the nutrients from the mulch.

At my last property, I did that to the most degraded, crappy soil I had, which was sun-scorched, cracked (you had to watch where you stepped, you could twist an ankle in some of the cracks), parched, and eroded. In 6 months it was absolutely gorgeous.
I'd suggest taking a second look at rock dust. During the Great Depression, we lost most of our topsoil, and it keeps getting degraded. That topsoil had glacial rock dust from the last ice age already in it, but even with that richness in the soil that's been lost, depending on your location, there's wide swaths of mineral deficiencies in the soil.

Part of my family is from the Great Lakes region, which used to be called the goiter belt. My great grandmother died tragically young from a goiter caused by iodine deficiency, in a way that had negative implications for three generations of my family. There's an entire region of soils with insufficient iodine in them. In the south, there's another band of soil that's deficient in selenium. A hundred years ago, White Muscle Disease was an issue- perfectly healthy children would drop over dead, and horses would as well. Not enough selenium in the soils for proper muscle development.

With the advent or railroads bringing in out-of-season (and out-of-region) produce in the 1890's and the development of the non-local, big agra foods, as well as aggressive supplementation of certain types of foods (Iodized salt, vitamin D enhanced milk), these problems just aren't a problem anymore.

However, if you're trying to grow most of YOUR food on YOUR land... if the underlying rock beneath your feet lacks these minerals, so will your plants, and so will you. It takes very little, really, to get more minerals in your soil, and it makes an enormous difference to the health of your soil, from the microbes to the trees.

I get some of mine from a place that makes granite countertops. They have a water jet system (you don't want the dust if they have an aluminum saw, you'll get too much aluminum in your soil), and they just throw out the dust. I bring them baked goods, they save the dust for me in a bucket. It's fantastic stuff, I've used it to bring nearly dead fruit trees back to life.

Rock dust and other mineral fertilizers really are one of the most sustainable ways of improving soil, even for large-scale farms. You don't have to apply that much, that often, and if you practice good cultivation techniques and don't let all your topsoil run off into the ocean, but mulch/compost/use permanent crops, you'll end up with fantastically healthy soils forever. I did some calculations on the soils at my old place, and if I recall correctly, I would need to apply rock dust every year for 5 years, then once every 5 years for another 3-4 times, then once a decade from then on to completely fix my soils.

Given that my house was on old farmland that was gutted during the dust bowl (local records suggest somewhere between 4-8 feet of topsoil lost), I figure it's just putting BACK most of what the soil lost in the first place. I just make sure that I get my minerals from places far enough away from the underlying rock of my location that it'll fix the micro nutrient deficiencies I probably have (selenium being the big one, probably vanadium too).
6 years ago
I've got a lot of projects on my hands, since I just got a new house (hooray!) and there's some energy-efficiency projects I have to do, plus all the fun of moving and I still can't find the box with my favorite shoes in them after MONTHS of looking, and the garage is a mess- anyway. New house. New garden. Large lot, lots of possibilities, but OH MY GOD my soil is crummy. Not delightfully small humic crumb structure, but as in I'm trying not to cuss, seriously horrible soil.

The previous owners were proud of their front yard and sprayed and sprayed and sprayed. The back yard is a weed filled mess- I pulled six of the huge contractor bags full of sow thistle from the yard. SIX BAGS. I live a few miles from two brick plants, and this didn't fully register when house hunting. The yard is such an amazingly compacted clay that the thistle roots often went sideways after a few inches. Digging up a 5 ft x 50 ft garden bed in the front yard, I found a total of 5 worms. I did, however, find many, many, many japanese beetle grubs. Which are pretty gross looking little creatures.

No worms, no organic content, no water infiltration, just crappy dead soil. I'm out in the country now and at my old place, I had a tree service that delivered amazing and fabulous tree trimmings to me all the time. Now? I'm far enough out no one will. I'm just going to have to bother them more, or get some way to haul a trailer back and forth to the drop off center in the nearest city, but that's a 30 mile trip each way. The farms around me either use all their manure, or they feed so much toxic glick to their animals that the manure isn't any good for gardening (monthly dewormers + feed with persistent herbicides = manure that will kill your plants AND your worms).

Oh, and as much as I love my Meadow Creature Broadfork, the clay is SO HEAVY and SO COMPACTED that it takes me an hour to get a 5 foot long section of garden bed done. Watching videos of other people using them, or using them in sandy soil, makes me green with envy. I'm well over 200 pounds and it takes me 5+ minutes to get it into the soil!

Half the back yard is completely dead, the only bits that show any sign of life are underneath an overgrown pecan tree that I don't know if we are going to keep, given that I don't know if it's going to produce pecans. Oh yeah, and the tree providing the shade to keep the front yard alive? It's an Arizona Ash at the end of it's life. I give it another three years, if we don't trim it aggressively to keep it alive.

I know how to fix this- add lots of organic matter, add lots of mulch, double-dig and use the broadfork instead of shallow tilling (I am probably going to roto till to establish the beds, as heavy as the soil is I won't be able to finish getting the beds ready to be able to plant anything with taproots to break up/heal the soil this year). I am going to have to plant a lot of mineral mining, deeply rooted plants that I will have to pull or chop and drop until they die so I have channels in the soil of rotting organic matter that will let water infiltrate. I'm going to need to remineralize the soil, as well, despite it being heavy clay there's some deficiencies.

I'm mostly just whining because it's going to be a lot of work to get the sorts of soil built up that I want. I'd spent years getting the soil at the old place fixed up and was just starting to see some really great results, and now I have to start ALL OVER AGAIN. Meh.

I figured this is the only place I can productively whine, the rest of my garden friends want to know why I don't just spray the ground and toss on some weed and feed, or Miracle Grow, and then THIS YEAR I'll have a pretty garden, and who cares about long term soil fertility? My non-gardening husband doesn't seem to understand why, when he says he can just get a 50 lb sack of 10-10-10 chemical fertilizer, my eye starts to twitch.
6 years ago
I use it. My two cents: it's not expensive, it can't hurt, and if you lack it even in the small area around the seed, it's going to help. Having native legume inoculations in the soil is awesome, but you can't guarantee it's going to be there. It seems like cheap insurance to me, especially since most of the reason for me to plant legumes is to fix nitrogen in my severely depleted soil, and to eat yummy peas and beans. Not having the seeds or soil inoculated could handicap me on both of those counts, so for me, it's a no brainier.

If my patch was a little more established, my soil less OMG horrible, or legumes had been grown in my ground before? I might not be so 100% on it. Right now? Oh yeah, I put it in EVERYTHING.
6 years ago

Henry Wright wrote:Could anyone tell me if these books are still of use to someone in Zone 8A ( East Texas )?
I have been looking for this type information but applicable to our area as we are in the planning stages of putting in food forest.

I'm in Central Texas (8b) and found the books useful. You won't be able to use all the species that they talk about, but we have things they can't really plant (like figs. I feel smug about fresh figs, it ALMOST makes up for not getting to have lilacs and peonies!)

On the other hand, there's lots of good resources for us further south as far as plant choices- almost everything Geoff Lawton has done, for instance, will work in zone 8, with the exception of the most tender of tropical plants. And there's a lot of the little known perennial species that are darn useful, that will grow in our area. I'd also suggest picking up Eric's fantastic Perennial Vegetables, I think only 3 or 4 of the plants in that entire book won't work for us (I can't check right now, my copy is over at a friends house- good sign of a useful book, yeah?).

If nothing else, pick them up at your library and see if you want to keep them around. I think they're amazing reference manuals to have on hand when designing systems.
6 years ago