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Marco Banks

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since Jan 31, 2015
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We make our home in sunny So. Cal., where we've been able to transform our average suburban lot into a food forest with about 60 fruit and nut trees and dozens of veggies.  Our chickens add fertility and provide eggs and entertainment.  I teach, and so my backyard has become a classroom for my students who are deeply curious about growing their own food, yet have never had their hands in the soil.  All this is a natural expression and extension of my faith.  Life began in the garden.  It continues therein.
Los Angeles, CA
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Recent posts by Marco Banks

Work in the order of greatest permanence.  So swales need to be mapped out and dug before you start to plant trees.  I wish someone had told me this before I went ahead and put 30 trees in the ground.  About year three I realized that had I just thought it out a bit more, I could have easily dug swales to capture millions of gallons of water, but I was in too much of a hurry to get those trees planted.  Once those trees are established, you can't go back and dig a swale right where a tree is standing.

If it were me, I'd live there for at least a year before I did anything permanent.  I'd want to see how the water moves after a big storm.  I'd be curious to know the microclimates as you move around the lot, as well as the various soils that you'll find across the property.

You can always buy small bare root trees and pot them in 5 gal. pots.  They'll be ready to plant a year from now.

I'd also give some thought to portable infrustructure (chicken tractors, mobile electric fencing) as an intermediate solution before you decide long-term where you'll want to build (for example) a chicken coop or fixed animal fencing.  You'd be able to introduce animals right away, and then in a year or two, if you decide to build a stationary coop, no big deal.
If it were me, and I were just trying to get the lay of the land for a couple of years, I'd invest in portable infrastucture rather than buildings and large equipment.  Watch everything of Joel Salatin that you can.  He's got all kinds of great ideas regarding chicken tractors, egg mobiles, electric fencing (for pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc.) and even portable water stations.  

Portable cages and fencing is scalable, allowing you to grow your business and homestead at a pace you are comfortable with.  If you've got a small number of animals, or if you've got a large herd, you can adjust accordingly.  

Best of luck with your new project!
1 day ago
I know of no better soil amendment than wood chips.  It's great to hear that your experiment has proven to be so successful.  Just not having to deal with all those weeds --- that alone is fantastic.  But when you see how well your trees respond as well as having vastly improved soil for your other plants, that makes it all so great.

You'll need to reapply a new layer of chips every year, or twice a year, which is my situation now.  The healthier your soil gets, the faster those chips will decompose.  The sub-soil fungal community will only get stronger and more extensive with each new application of chips.  That's a good thing.

Thanks for the report.

6 days ago
When I was growing up, my grandparents still had an outhouse on the farm.  We'd go visit them and due to the shallow, inadequate septic system, they'd encourage us to use the outhouse rather than the toilet in the house.  That was when I was first introduced to black soldier flies.  People called them "privy flies" because you'd see thing when you sat down in the outhouse to do your business.

No one was at all concerned about BSF spreading pathogens or anything like that.  Once they pupate and fly, they don't even have a mouth so they can't bite anything --- all they do is lay their eggs and die.  The only time in the BSF lifespan that they'd be in touch with poop was while they are larva/maggots.  I'm not sure how they'd even come into contact with the feces and spread it to another surface.

On the other hand, regular houseflies do that all the time.  They'll land on the feces and then land on your potato salad.  BSF, once they colonize an outhouse (or any other food source) are hell on any other species.  They keep other flies from multiplying in the outhouse.  They're your friend.

For these reasons, I think you're OK.
1 week ago

Nicole Alderman wrote:
We all have to start everywhere, but the biggest thing is just to start and keep going. Who knows what next year might bring--it might be worse economically...but you'll have one more year behind your belt because you started this year. It all adds up, in so many, many ways.


Depending upon how long this crisis lasts, even efforts made today to build a bed or plant in pots will make some kind of difference down the road.
1 week ago

Marco Banks wrote:

One global phenomenon we have witnessed again and again in the past 40 years has been the rise of the incurable virus.  AIDS, West Nile, Ebola, and now Zika . . . it seems like every couple of years, we have a new viral plague.  Can you imagine what would have happened if Ebola had made it's way to the teaming cities of India or China?  What will happen if a mosquito born virus like zika or malaria emerges that has the deadly effects of AIDS or Ebola?  If that were to happen, you would certainly see the massive depopulating of the cities, albeit by death, not by migration.

Forgot that I'd written this.  Seems timely now.

But this virus isn't going to cause massive depopulation, at least from what I've been reading.  The elderly are mostly to suffer, but most healthy people are predicted to recover.  
2 weeks ago
So, here we are in the midst of the world-wide Corona virus pandemic.  The news changes by the day.  My own school has shut down for the semester, with classes to be delivered "at distance" or "remotely" -- the two phrases being tossed around.  Over the years there have been various threads on that predicted what to do in the event of a SHTF worldwide event.  That day has apparently come.  If I may, let me offer a couple of thoughts about what I'm  seeing and what I'm predicting.

1.  San Francisco is locked-down.  Residents have been advised to shelter in place.  New York is reportedly considering this as well.  My home is in greater Los Angeles county, which is a massive place.  [If LA county were to become its own state, it would be the 7th most populous state in the Union -- we've got a lot of people living here].  For the foreseeable future, this is the new normal.  So the fear of zombie hoards roaming the streets, lawlessness, and gangs of rampaging hungry people seems less and less unlikely.  People are hunkering down.  If there are instances of lawlessness, my guess is that they will be swiftly and harshly put down.

2.  Related to the first point, transit is easy to control.  Once the airports are closed, and the train and bus stations shuttered, what's left?  Cars.  Easy to set up road-blocks and turn people back.  The imagery of hoards of people ransacking the countryside is fantasy.  People will go indoors and wait.  Already we are seeing 80% less traffic on the roads.  Freeway traffic is almost non-existent.  People are doing what they're told—sheltering in place.

3.  As predicted, if you wait too long, you'll be standing in line, picking through what little remains on store shelves.  Those who were prudent and jumped on this weeks ago are sitting at home right now with some sense of security that they won't have to go out and look for more.  Will there be food in the weeks to come?  Absolutely -- the warehouses are still full and trucks are still rolling down the highways.  Cows still need to be milked twice a day.  Crops are being seeded and farmers are still farming.  But those who had the foresight to squirrel away enough food so that they don't have to go out and stand in the lines are those who will minimize the risk of catching the virus.  

My fear isn't that I'll starve.  My fear is that I'll be exposed to some idiot in line who sneezes on the back of my neck.  Thus, food is the secondary issue here.  Security and limiting exposure is what keeping a well-stocked pantry is all about.

4.  It's not that easy to suddenly ramp-up a garden.  Those of us on this forum have spent years building soil, and creating the kinds of systems that are tremendously productive.  We have greenhouses and cold frames, we've got compost piles, chicken tractors, wicking beds, huglemounds, we've saved seed, we've established productive orchards . . . and that poor schmuck who is suddenly thinking "Maybe I could plant a garden" has none of these things.  Should said schmuck still plant a garden?  Absolutely.  But he's not going to see much yield right away.  But for all those who read these boards regularly, you've already ordered your seeds, planted them, and have things under cultivation.  We've been eating lettuce, radishes and sugar snap peas from the garden for weeks.  We've thinned the peach and nectarine trees -- first harvest is only 8 weeks away or so.  Mmm . . . apricots.  If someone went out today and planted an apricot tree, he'll be waiting 2 years for the first crop.  

Aren't you glad you had the foresight to build those raised beds?  Now get out there and turn that compost pile!  While you're at it, you might want to start another 25 tomatoes, 40 pepper plants, a few more herbs (cilantro, dill, basal) and another hill or 3 of cucumbers.  Our carrots are still a month away from harvesting, but I'll be planting a bunch more in the next few days.

Ramping up an existing garden is a whole lot easier than starting from scratch.

5.  All of a sudden, people are coming out of the woodwork: "Hey, we'll be over later to help you pick avocados, Marco."  No, you won't.  We will be generous, but the time to ask for my help was 5 years ago when I would have been happy to help you plant your own avocado tree.  The definition of a garden is a cultivated space WITH WALLS.  In times like this, you understand why walls are necessary.  Again, i don't anticipate zombie hoards roaming down the street in search of a squash, but there is a measure of security knowing that we control who comes and goes.  Will our non-permie friends all starve?  No.  But they also will not be enjoying fresh pesto from the garden, or have abundant access to all the produce that will come from the garden on a daily basis.

6.  Fresh eggs daily.  The old girls just keep producing.  Enjoy life's little luxuries.  Three weeks ago, I might have just taken this for granted (along with the fresh squeezed orange juice or the tender greens budding off the moringa trees).  Now I see what a blessing it is to have these simple pleasures.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll say a prayer of thanks for the lovely fresh egg omelet (with moringa and chives) and glass of blood-orange orange juice.

Stay safe out there.
2 weeks ago
Just looking at that picture, I'm a bit frightened.  Those are LONG spans. You need to get a qualified engineer to give you expert advice.  

The height of the beam is the critical dimension, not the width.  Generally, the rule of thumb is an inch of height in the beam per foot of span.  Thus, a 15' span requires a 15" beam.  A 2" x 12" foot floor joist is rated to span a 16' distance, even though the board is only 1.5 inches thick.  An 8 x 8 beam can't carry as much load as a smaller 6 x 10 beam if it's vertically oriented, even though the 6 x 10 has less actual mass.  Normally, in post and beam construction, the vertical posts are square (8 x 8), while any beam spanning a gap and carrying a load is rectangular (12 x 8).

An 8 x 8 will sag under it's own weight if you're trying to use it to span anything much wider than 12 feet or so, and that's before you put a load on it.  

Pick up Ted Benson's book "Building the Timber Frame House."  It's got tables and formulas for sawing your beams.  

The other variable is that you need quality lumber.  Fast growing doug fir is not nearly as strong as a slow growing hardwood.  Grading lumber is a science (as is structural engineering).  

Best of luck;

I'd say mulch AND guilds.  My situation is very similar to yours: a third of an acre, 70 fruit trees . . . but no HOA or CCNR's.  I've planted a ton of comfrey and ginger around my trees and regularly mulch right over the top of them.  They push through the mulch year after year and come back.

I don't know if is in your area, but I use them regularly and get great wood chip mulch from them.
2 weeks ago

Bihai Il wrote:My experience with rosemary is underwatering is better than overwatering.

^^ This.  ^^

Your plant looks OK, but a bit less water.  They like well-drained soil and heat.

2 weeks ago