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.
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Los Angeles, CA
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Recent posts by Marco Banks

Paul Eusey wrote:

Tinamarie Maison wrote:I’m really not sure how to make the acre marshland into a harmonious feature!

Lots of good advice thus far and I figured I would give you some thoughts on yer marsh quandary. I haven't seen your particular marsh, but marshes that I have seen have basically been water stuck in place or places where water collects enough to be a marsh, but not enough to be a pond. They don't always have to stay in place and some can be altered and transformed.

This is one of those things that falls into a bit of a grey area for some people.  Not for me.  Converting a marshy wetland into a pond is admirable and desireable.

At one time, the entire North American continent was inhabited by beavers.  Some estimate that there were upwards of 200 million beavers or more.  They lived by damming streams and creating wetlands.  As a keystone species, beavers are engineers that fundamentally altered the landscape for their purposes.  Your marshland is most likely a former beaver pond.  Century after century, beavers would create these wetlands, and then would abandon them when they'd exhausted the forest that they depended upon for food and shelter.  10 or 20 years later, they'd return to find a re-sprouted forest.  That cycle repeated itself for a millenia or longer.

So today, when some county water conservation person comes along and says, "You can't touch that wetland!  It's protected.", there is an assumption that it has always been that way and it always will remain that way.  That's naive and incorrect. Beavers have been excavating that wet spot forever.  

Some September or October after you've a had a long dry summer, get in there with an excavator and dig yourself a nice pond.  I wouldn't go advertising this to anyone—that's only asking for additional scrutiny.  The soil you dig out will be black and fertile—perfect for raised beds or a garden space  If there is a clear direction that the water flows across the area, leave some of the wetland above and below your pond to serve as a filter as well as keeping the wetlands nazis off your back.  It doesn't have to be that deep -- perhaps 10 or 15 feet at the most -- but it will create a habitat for fish, ducks, and other aquadic life that do not currently use the marsh.  A piece of heavy equipment like that can be rented for about $1000 to $2000 a day.  You may also need a truck to haul away the soil.  But it's worth the investment.

Then stock the pond with fish that thrive in your area.  Mmmm . . . fresh fish.
3 years ago

Myron Platte wrote:What are the uses of Ficus Benjamina? I’m having trouble finding any.

Sidewalk busters.  

In our area where these trees grow aggressively for the entire year, the tree-roots from ficus cause massive damage to hardscaping and even house foundations.   I cringe when I see that someone has taken their cute little ficus with the three-limb braided trunk and have planted it in a little space between the sidewalk and the street, or next to their house in a planter.  Say goodbye to that planter within 5 years, and expect to have to fix the significant foundation damage to your house in 10.  Once established, these trees are tough little suckers.  They AGGRESSIVELY seek water and and push their way under concrete.

Where there are no bad plants, there are certainly bad locations for many plants, ficus being one of them.
3 years ago
As I've converted lawn into garden space, I would also recommend using cardboard/newspaper, and then a heavy layer of mulch over the top of that to kill off the grass.


Cardboard has a lot of plastic tape on it.  Try to peel that stuff off before you put the cardboard down or you'll be finding it for years.

People sometimes get worked up over "toxic stuff" in cardboard, but fungi in the soil and in the mulch will remediate that.  Unless you actually see that the cardboard is saturated in some sort of oil or chemical, IMHO, it's not something to concern yourself with.

Wood chips are my go-to mulch for this kind of application.  If delivers in your area, that's a great way to get a free load of chips.

As others have suggested, tomatoes are a great starter plant for this kind of application.  Also vining plants like cucumbers, melons or pumpkins.  

Just because you are no-till doesn't mean that you shouldn't spend a little effort in improving the hole in which you plant.  After your cardboard and mulch have killed the grass below (about 2 months or so), you can punch through the cardboard and did your hole, and then amend it with a couple of generous handfuls of compost.  THEN plant your tomato.

If possible, you might want to dig out the grass right where you will plant in the future --- just that little square foot -- not the entire lawn.  Throw down some compost right there.  Then mark that spot with a stake before you lay down the cardboard and wood chips.  That'll make it much easier to plant in a couple of months.

Best of luck.
If the ground is cleared, just cover the potatoes with spoiled hay -- about a 6 inch layer.  Doesn't get much easier than that.

But I agree with the comment above: if you don't hill them up after some time, you'll get green potatoes and those are toxic to eat.  So you'll need to come along afterward and hill them.
3 years ago
I'll be the contrarian here.  There IS such a thing as over-pruning, and in my humble opinion, the video demonstrates that.  As someone who has killed fruit trees by over-pruning, I find myself sitting up a bit and cringing as I watched your very aggressive technique.

The biggest concern with being so aggressive in pruning is sun-scald to the lower branches and base of the tree.  Perhaps the sun isn't so strong where you are growing his orchard, but I know that I've killed mature fruit trees by taking out more than a third of the over-story branches in one growing season and exposing the underlying scaffolding to harsh UV rays that burnt the bark and created an opening for pathogens to enter the tree.  The only exception to this (in my experience) was topping avocados when they get leggy and lean-y as they grow over 20 feet tall.  But even then, after topping an avocado, I'm careful to paint the exposed trunk and limbs with a diluted latex paint solution to protect from sun-scald while the canopy regrows.

Perhaps those small trees will quickly fill-up the newly opened space and provide enough leaf-cover to safely shade the branches below.  That's often the case, in if so, you won't see the UV sun damage to the bare, exposed bark.  But if not, those bare branches can quickly get over 120 or even 140 degrees on a hot July or August day where the sun directly hits them for several hours.  At that point, you're practically boiling the tree cells alive.  The vascular cambium and secondary phloem are sensitive to high temperatures and if they get over 110 degrees, the cell membranes rupture and die.

So, yes, prune aggressively.  But just as you wouldn't send a child out to play all day without adequate sunscreen, a shirt to cover their shoulders, and a hat to keep their little ears and nose from getting burnt, so also young tree limbs need some protection from the harsh rays of the sun.

Please do a follow-up video to share how your young orchard is doing in the years to come.
3 years ago
I'd be interested in seeing how "duel" these birds really are.  We raise Plymouth Bar Rocks and Rhode Island Reds -- both of which are commonly called "Duel Purpose".  In fact, they take a LONG time to reach maturity and start laying, and when you butcher them, they are pretty scrawny without much meat on them.

Don't get me wrong -- we love those breeds.  But you'd go broke raising them for meat.  You'd also go hungry -- not much bite on that drumstick.  

Details on this new breed, please.

1.  How quickly do they grow to a butcher-able size?
2.  How soon do they go from chick to egg production?
3.  How long do they remain productive layers?  (Our 3+ year old Bar Rocks are still laying 4+ eggs a week)
4.  When butchered, how large of a bird are they?
5.  How good at foraging are they?  As efficient as a Freedom Ranger?  Better -- worse?

Thanks in advance for the information.
3 years ago
That is some crazy heavy looking clay, Mark.  I can't even begin to imagine how heavy it was to dig out.  It reminds me of the mud-blocks that my African friends built their houses out of when I lived in Africa 30 years ago.  But for them, they would have to mold them in a 4-sided mold and carefully extract them.  In your case, it looks like you could just cut them to size with your spade and immediately start to build a house with them.

I also have clay, so my solution has been twofold.  First, I mulch like crazy several times a year with a huge load of wood chips from a local tree trimmer.  I get upwards of 20 cubic yards of wood chips per load, and I'll put those chips down everywhere -- up to a foot deep in places where I'm not currently gardening.  The orchard gets a new layer of chips at least twice a year.  All that carbon quickly breaks down, and he worm life in the soil is amazing.  As worms and other biota thrive in the interface where the chips meet the clay below, they integrate the carbon down into the soil profile.  I don't dig anything in, but let the microbes, fungi and biota do he work for me.

Second, I've gone to raised hugel beds --- a hybrid raised bed with a sub-soil layer of logs and such like you are creating.  For the uninitiated, they just see normal raised beds.  But what they don't see is a foot below the soil surface, all those logs and sticks breaking down.  

I'm not a fan of the sloping sides of a hugelkultur for planting many crops, so I used timber frames to keep the soil flat/level.  I get the best of all worlds: the carbon and fungi from the buried wood, and the ease and improved soil from the raised bed.  If your hugel doesn't work out as you wish, you can always simply go back and build sides around it and turn it into a raised bed easily enough.  My compost seems to go a lot further this way, because it doesn't fall down the side of the mound, but rather, stays in place.

Please continue to post pictures.  This is a fantastic project.  Best of luck.
3 years ago
Interesting to see this old thread brought back to life.

Serfdom and feudal economies were highly different from place to place, and from era to era.  It's would be simplistic for me to say, "This is how the feudal system worked" because it varied widely from region to region, in different countries, on different continents (Europe, Asia, parts of Africa) and certainly in different ages.  The difference between Roman, Turkish, Germanic, English, or Chinese feudal systems and economies is as different as the foods they ate and the languages they spoke.

Some of they key variables include:

Ownership (particularly of land)
Freedom (indentured or not)
Sharecropping rights and duties
Flexibility to leave the land to join a guild or practice a trade, and related to that . . .

In India, the feudal system was tied to caste, which dictated what you could or couldn't do as a trade.  A brick making caste wasn't allowed to suddenly start weaving fabric.

Holmgren's ideas mirror's Salatin's farm structure, which is "Welcome to the community -- we will certainly give you freedom to specialize and build your own fiefdom within our farm structure, but know that we all are contributing to the greater whole, and we all need to be working together rather than competitively or keeping all the profits to ourselves.  As the farm prospers, so also will we as individuals: a rising tide lifts all boats."

I love how Salatin speaks of incentivizing his children to stay on the land, create their own enterprises, and share in the success of the entire operation.  How many farmers have so disincentivized their children that they want nothing to do with staying on the land?
3 years ago
The problem with thin stains is that they bleed and run into areas where you don't want stain to run.  On a checkerboard, it's difficult to keep thin stain from messing up the non-blue squares.  Commercial paints and some stains have been formulated to be thicker (thus, less bleed).

3 years ago
Possums are probably the easiest critter to trap.  They are so dumb, they'll walk into an unbated box trap.  A simple box trap and a pellet gun will take care of the problem quickly.

If you don't want to dispatch the possum, you can relocate him . . . far, far away.
3 years ago