Marco Banks

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since Jan 31, 2015
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books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur urban
Los Angeles, CA
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Recent posts by Marco Banks

The ideal permaculture solution would be to build chicken tractors or an egg mobile and move those birds daily to fresh grass, allowing all that wonderful manure to fertilize the land.  But that requires a completely new system.

Another solution would be to find a way to process that poop and turn it into a product that people will pay you for. 

Have you seen this video?

Salatin composts all the blood and guts from his butchered chickens and rabbits, as well as any other manure and animal byproduct (feathers, dead cattle, etc.) that accumulates.  No sell and minimal rodents or other vermin.  The key is having access to the heavy carbon base (wood chips).  All that nitrogen needs a lot of carbon to absorb it.

You would need:

1.  Some pace to pile up and store the wood chips, having them on-hand for when you need them. 

2.  A regular source for wood chips.  Is there a country tree-trimming crew that would be willing to dump the chips on your place?

3.  Some means of mixing the chicken manure with the wood chips.  A front-end loader would be sufficient, I would imagine.  You've probably already got one.

4.  Once you mix the chips and manure, you'll need a place to let them sit and compost.  Salatan leaves them for 6 months or so, and then re-uses the same chips a second time.  As you can see in the video, he's got a massive shed with open sides where the chips are piled up and the composting takes place.

5.  A manure spreader to spread the composted chips and manure a year later.

With minimal investment, you might be able to turn a problem (complaining neighbors and stinky piles of chicken poop) into a money making solution (a garden byproduct that people will pay money for).  Thus, the problem becomes the solution.  Sell it by the yard as a garden amendment.  I'd buy it if I lived anywhere near you.

Best of luck.
2 days ago
From the pictures you've shared, those chips are fantastic.  The big pieces aren't too large.  You'll find that they'll decompose completely within 2 years or so.

When gardening with a heavy mulch of wood chips, you will find that within a couple of years, the underground fungal network will rapidly expand.  You'll know this because you'll see mushrooms popping up in places where you never saw them before after a big rain storm.  Fungi are heavy feeders when it comes to wood chips, so you'll see the chips decompose faster and faster with each successive application.  Year 1: they'll lay there on the ground and slowly break down.  Year 3: you'll be shocked to see the thickness of the mulch layer shrink by 50% within 4 months.  Year 5:  A layer of wood chip mulch 12 inches deep will completely disappear within a year.  Some of those bigger pieces may still be around, but you'll be shocked with how fast they break down and become beautiful black humus.

As someone else has suggested, if you can heavily mulch in the fall (October is always my target month to put down new wood chips --- although it's somewhat dependent upon finding someone to source me with a couple of truck loads) -- your chips will break down through the cold winter months and the soil will be amazing in the spring.  What remains of the mulch layer is then easily raked-back and seeds are directly sewn into the soil.

In my climate, I can grow a cool-season mix of nitrogen fixing cover crop plants all winter.  Right now, my cover crop is about a foot tall.  By January, when I terminate it, it'll be 3 feet tall, thick, lush, and deep green.  I'll cut it all down and make a massive compost pile.  When I do so, I'll rake up what is left of last-year's wood chip mulch and mix that into the compost mountain to try to balance the greens with the browns.  Those year-old chips are a fantastic addition to the compost.  After 21 days, the compost will be ready, the chips (what remains of them) will be chunky but fully inoculated with nitrogen and microbial life, and will be a fantastic addition to garden beds, potting soil, or any other garden application. 

So I wouldn't worry about the bigger, chunkier stuff.  What doesn't break down in a year can be raked-up and put into your next hot compost pile a year from now.

Best of luck.
3 days ago
Oak trees also have the ability to drill through subsurface bedrock by secreting an acidic chemical bath into cracks in the rock that disintegrates the rock and allows the roots to push through.  Generally, the roots will find a small fissure in the bedrock and as they push down into the crevice, the acids soften and widen the crack and give the root more and more space to grow.  Thus, over thousands of years, an oak forest will gradually disintegrate the bedrock below it, allowing roots to push ever deeper.

Some forms of fungi also dissolve rock and then make those minerals available to plant roots.  Thus, plants work in concert with the fungi to slowly dissolve those rocks/stones.  It takes thousands or even millions of years, but the result is deeper and finer soil.

Lorinne Anderson wrote:Why not just use the dam itself as your bridge?

I was thinking the same thing.

Would the beavers be annoyed if you added a bit more material to their structure and created a walkway over it?  I'd drive posts down into the dam until you hit something so hard that the posts don't move anymore and nail the planking to them.  Bada bing, bada boom, you've got yourself a bridge.
5 days ago
We have reached the point where this kind of farming can no longer be dismissed as fringe or at odds with scientific truth.  All the proof we need is right there in front of us. 

The farmer they're quoting is just 15 years behind Gabe Brown, Ray Archaletta and Joel Salatin (and others), but he's made the transition to cover-cropping and no-till.  While his farmer neighbors may talk about him down at the grain elevator or the cafe in town, the truth is that his operation will be more profitable and his soil will steadily become more and more fertile, while their operations will be increasingly less profitable and their soil less fertile.  15 years from now, they'll realize that they need to make the same transition to new management techniques.

Its going to take a generation, but there is no way that those who have made this transition to regenerative farming will ever go back.  Others will adopt these practices for themselves, or they'll go out of business.  In 20 years, the talk down at the elevator will be "Look at old Joe, who still tills his soil every year and still farms like it's 1999, while his soil gets worse and worse every year.  Poor old sap."

Thank you for sharing this.  My hope is that 1000 such articles will published in the next few years, all telling this same story: I used to till and fight nature, but now I've changed my methods and look how much better it is for the planet and for my bank account. 

5 days ago
My chicken tractor is 4' x 8' with quarter-inch wire mesh.  Nothing gets close to the birds.  I built the 4 x 8  (x 3 feet tall) structure and then built the coop on top of it, so that the entire area below is open for the girls to scratch.  At night, they ascend up the ramp and are safe up in the coop above. 

Around the base of the tractor, I have several boards that I drop around the edges to discourage anything from trying to dig under.  When I move it, I put a 2-wheeled dolly under the heavy end (where the coop is located).  My dear wife handles that end.  I drag from the other end (which is lighter and easy to lift.  Away we go.  It's a heavy beast, but two people can move it.  We do so once every week or so.  But that weight makes it impossible for something to get their nose under the side and wiggle under it.

I let the girls out in the evening, about an hour or two before sundown so that they can run around and scratch and get some fresh grass.  They go back in when it starts getting dark.

We've got coyotes, possums, raccoons, owls, skunks, hawks, feral cats and other predators, but I've never lost a single bird.  I'm more likely to squash a bird when I move the chicken tractor than I am to lose one to a predator.

6 days ago
Just one more thought -- read a couple of good books.

For a one-volume book on Permaculture, go with Toby Hemenway's "Gaia's Garden".  Don't let the title fuzz you -- it's not some new-age-y weird book.  It's principle driven, pragmatic and well written.

I recently finished Gabe Brown's new book "Dirt to Soil".  It's really good stuff and a quick read.

I also like Ben Fauk's "The Resilient Farm and Homestead".  Ben's book isn't as universally adaptable, but it's inspirational and there are a lot of ideas there that I've not read anywhere else.  What he does well is illustrate the idea of creating an entire system that is based upon things in concert with all the other various elements therein. 
If you can begin to pull back from the specifics of the various gardening strategies and look for broader patterns, I think that you'll find people talking about the same thing but with slightly different language and emphasis.

I've read a lot of books and watched a lot of videos.  Here are the things I notice in common.

1.  The basis of healthy soil is carbon based and biologically driven.  What do I mean by that?  Whether its compost, mulch, or cover crops, people are all trying to increase the organic matter within their soil and feed the soil microbiology with decomposing carbon of one sort or another.  So people may argue about the kinds of mulch they use (wood chips, straw, knocked-over cover crops, etc.) but in the end, it's all about increasing carbon.

2.  Permaculture is all about designing a system where the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.  Its more than just a few techniques about how to get larger veggies or better eggs from the chickens.  It's creating a system where each part works interactively with the rest of the parts.  This isn't a new concept.  People used to talk about companion planting or creating plant guilds.  Any old farmer can quickly take a look at another persons "operation" and notice good design or poorly planned design.  They'll tell you, "Well son, if you put your water over there on that side of the barn, you're going to have a problem with this or that."  So my point: don't get caught staring at smaller and smaller details, while missing the big picture of design. 

3.  Observe.  Interact.  Assess.  Rinse and repeat.  Sometimes the best "strategy" is to do nothing but sit under the shade of a tree with a beverage and just observe.  Watch the way the sun moves across the land.  Stand out there in the pouring rain and watch how water flows, infiltrates, pools and moves.  Get down on your knees and smell the soil.  Taste it (seriously).  Learn the names of the weeds.  Learn the names of the birds.  Observe and interact.  Pragmatically, you need a teak bench out in the corner of your yard, under the shade of an avocado tree (where my bench is) where you can sit and observe.  Accompanying that thoughtful spot should be a garden journal where you sketch ideas, write down your observations and note the things that you are inspired to try.

4.  Make mistakes.  A package of seeds is $1.69.  That's not a big deal -- go ahead and try it (whatever it is).  Try hugelkulture.  Try biochar.  Try grey water recycling.  Try Back to Eden sheet mulching with wood chips.  Try raising chickens.  Try grafting.  The "best" strategy is one that involves making mistakes every year.  It's taken me 10 years to figure out the best cover crop for my garden and the best time to get it into the ground.  I'm new with bees and I'm learning so much about them.  I just built an underground water system to drain grey water away from the house and out to the very thirsty almond trees.  Give me 5 years and I'll be able to report on the relative success or failure of that.  My point: try new stuff, keep learning, keep reading and keep growing.

5.  Start small but do something.  Perfection is the enemy.  Don't try to improve the soil on the entire plot.  Do what you can and gain a yield.  Next year you can do a bit more.  People over-estimate how much they can get done in a year, but underestimate how much they can do in 10 years.  So don't be frozen by the enormity of the task.  Start with an herb spiral, a couple of raised beds and 3 chickens.  Go from there.  In 5 years, you'll be selling dozens of eggs a week and have more apples on those 5 trees than you can dry on your newly completed solar dehydrator. 

Pull the weeds.  But if you've got a healthy layer of mulch, that won't be a problem.  Pull them and add them to the compost pile or throw them into the chickens.  I like a neat garden and orchard.
And surprisingly, there were upwards of a million horses used in WW2 as well.  When you think of Hitler's war machine, you don't imagine that he was using thousands upon thousands of horses, even in the Russian campaign in the east.  They simply did not have the material to build enough vehicles to transport their soldiers and supplies.  They pulled artillery, supplies and even ambulance wagons.

Chris Holcombe wrote:I  I’m wondering what uses we can come up with to sequester that carbon instead of the usual cut for firewood. 

If the goal is to sequester that carbon for a couple of thousand years, make biochar.  That much wood would make a LOT of biochar. 

It would also make a lot of mushrooms, but that doesn't sequester the carbon.  Every bit of it would eventually gas-off and return to the atmosphere.  But, you know, yummy yummy mushrooms.
1 week ago