Marco Banks

pollinator
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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

Food for chicks is a moving target.  The first two weeks, they are so small and so fragile, anything other than chick starter crumbles would be (in my opinion) putting their health at risk.  Chicks that just forage in nature behind their mama hen have a very high attrition rate.  You'll see mama hen lose over 50% of her chicks in the first two weeks that way.  Getting them off to a good start is critically important.

By the third week, they want to start pecking at greens but they will not get enough nutrition that way.  Their growing bodies need protean if you want them to start laying at 6 months.  They are not big enough to eat worms or really know how to attack even a medium sized bug.  In the wild, mama hen would peck at these bugs and help them tear it into small enough pieces for them to digest.  But even something as small as a meal worm is too large for 3 week old chicks.  Putting them outside, even for the day, may put them at risk.  They still need to stay warm.  If they get wet or chilled at this young age, they can easily get sick.  They will start to scratch around and will want to give themselves a dust bath while outside, but they don't have the capacity to fully feed themselves.  They'll peck at small grains but anything larger than an okra seed is probably too large for them.

By the fifth week, some of your larger chicks will figure out how to eat a worm (you start on one end and just keep gulping it down).  But still, its doubtful that even with an environment where there is rich forage, they'll be able to supply their need for protean.  They'll love a clump of lettuce or comfrey.  If you mix their starter crumbles with a smashed-up banana or some left-over pasta, they'll gobble that down.  By the fifth week, I'm moving my birds from the brooder to a day-cage outside so they can start to learn how to hunt and forage.  I'll toss worms and grubs into the cage for them to peck at.  Some will show interest.  Often they'll just grab onto the grub and run with it, causing all the other birds to chase them.  But actually swallowing larger bugs is still difficult.  The majority of their nutrition is still coming from high protean chicken starter mix.

Only by week 7 or 8 do I feel comfortable moving them full-time from the brooder to the chicken tractor/coop.  This is dependent upon the weather in your area.  If it gets below 55 degrees or so at night, I'd still have a heat lamp available for them to huddle under.  By this point I've usually begun taking them off starter crumbles and mixing in a greater ratio of grower mix.  Grower doesn't have the high calcium that layer mix does.  Too much calcium is really bad for them and can damage their growing kidneys and even kill them.  If there are adult birds to show them the ropes, you can start let them free range.  I do this by letting them out of the chicken tractor about an hour or two before sundown.  They will not wander off too far.  Once the sun sets, they'll move back to the coop (my coop is mounted on top of the chicken tractor -- up the little ramp they go for the night).  By week 7 they are aggressive enough to chase flying bugs.  They can scratch well enough to hunt soil bugs.  They'll prefer natural foods to chicken crumbles, but I still make sure they have plenty to eat.  They are still growing rapidly and you don't want them going bed at night still hungry, or you will delay egg production.  A good grain for them at this point is milo or oats.  Unless corn is crushed, it's still too large for them. 

Integrating new birds with the old hens comes with its challenges.  The old girls can be pretty hard on the new ones.  The young birds will need plenty of space to get away if they start getting pecked.  I will tractor them separately, and will let them out at night to forage as one flock, before putting them into separate coops for the night.  I keep the rooster away from the young birds -- they don't need his affections just yet.  Old birds are on calcium-rich layer feed, which isn't good for young birds.  Even after week 10, they should still be eating grower, not layer feed.  As for foraging, they are getting the hang of things.  If its summer, the number of bugs available for them has jumped up considerably.  You'll notice that they don't eat nearly as much food.  They'll be able to take a full-grown comfrey plant down to the soil level in an afternoon.  After week 10, they can handle most small grains and seeds.  They'll attack a sunflower head and clean it up.  Almost any grain except large dent-corn kernels are quickly eaten.  They'll eat large grasshoppers and will easily eat worms and grubs.

By week 15, they are now one flock—no need for two tractors or two different coops.  The young girls can transition to layer mix—I begin to wean them off grower at this point and just finish whatever bag of grower that I have before only giving them layer.  They are strong enough to fend for themselves if the old girls start picking on them.  They are actually quicker than the old girls so they'll out compete with them for bugs.  They'll gobble down black soldier fly maggots like they are candy.  Some of them are smart enough to know how to bend over a stalk of grain or grass to get to the seed-head.  They can aggressively dig through compost by this point.  They should have enough street-smarts/jungle smarts to keep an eye out for predators by this point.

I don't lose many birds.  My survival rate to adulthood is at least 95%, so for me, the extra care it takes to slowly transition them to a foraging diet is worth it.  Most are large enough to begin laying at 6 months, and I get full production by their first fall.  I run Bar Rocks and Rhode Island Reds -- good foragers but not as aggressive in that regard as other breeds.  I've heard that Buckeyes and Minorca do well as foragers, particularly for hot-weather climates.  If you plan of raising a flock of birds that will get the majority of their nutrition from foraging, you might do well to get a Buckeye or Minorca rooster so that you can breed some of that bloodline into your flock.

Best of luck.
11 hours ago
The nature of "leaderless" egalitarian movements is that they have difficulty sustaining any lasting momentum, particularly when you are pushing back against forces that are well-organized and well-funded.  Thus, a "movement" like Occupy Wall Street or the Standing Rock protests made a lot of noise and got a lot of media attention, but at the end of the day, were largely impotent.  They changed little (if nothing at all). 

Difficult and critically important work remains to be done, and for this, we need organizational structures that are built for long-sustained action.  Fleeting, momentary "movement" type events cannot sustain the necessary pressure and advocacy needed to change society.  We may remember a man like Dr. M.L. King and his marches, speeches and protests, but the much larger movement was sustained by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  He was the clearly recognized leader, but beneath him were thousands and thousands of well-organized workers.

But here's the rub: environmental organizations and the people who support them are generally allergic to hierarchy and structure.  Its rare when such organizations get larger than 200 members before they split up.  Even a protest of 30 people will usually splinter after 6 months.  So if you are taking on, for example, the coal industry, they just wait you out until your protest fractures. 

Perhaps Permaculture is different, in that its built upon the efforts of thousands and thousands of largely anonymous practitioners.  But if we were ever to desire legal representation and a broad strategy for media saturation, its not enough to have little kick-starter type approaches that call upon the generosity of a few individuals.  Should there be a large umbrella organization that would certify PDC's, have official publications, have Washington lobbyests, etc.?  Permaculture USA?  Hey -- it's worked for organizations like Greenpeace or AYSO Soccer.  People know who MADD is.  They've heard of the Girl Scouts.  They can click on a website to support World Vision or Doctors Without Borders.  But there isn't a national Permaculture structure to promote and support permaculture, and in that, there is no nationally recognized leadership.
Absolutely stunning, Mark.  I wish I could hire you to do some walls and such at my house.  In fact, I wish I had a little river, over which you could build me a little bridge!  Your work is absolutely beautiful.
1 day ago
Goldfish are tough little suckers.  They might only make it for he summer, but you'd be surprised to see how tough they are, overwintering under ice even.  If they only lasted for 3 months, it would still be a cheep solution.

Perhaps there is some country vector control office that might offer another fish that is better suited for your region.  Down south, they go around and drop little larva-eating fish in abandoned pools or swampy places where the mosquitos breed.  Gambusia affinis is known popularly as "mosquito fish" and commonly used throughout the midwest and southern states.  They are for sale all over. 
1 day ago
Even if the plant does not offer a pleasing aroma, it is still filtering the air and drawing particulate matter from the air in the room.  So in that regard, any plant is a good plant.  Common plants you frequently see in people's bathrooms would be a fern or a spider plant.  The more leaves, the more it is working to filter the air.  Two of more is even better.  Here is a link with a list of houseplants that do a good job filtering the air.

https://greatist.com/connect/houseplants-that-clean-air

I would think that any tropical plant would do well in a bathroom with all the steam that commonly comes off a shower or bathtub.  Is there a window where the plant could be suspended in front of?  Hanging it from the ceiling would keep floor and counter space free. And when the leaves get dusty, it's easy enough to just hang the plant in the shower for 30 seconds and give it a spritz.

Daily condensation without venting can lead to mold.  You don't want that.  If he insists upon keeping the door shut, I'd get in there immediately afterward and try to vent that moist air out ASAP.  Swing that door open and try to get some cross-ventilation going if possible.  Is there a vent-fan to exhaust the wet air out?  Wire it to the light switch: when the light goes on, so does the ceiling fan.

Best of luck.
1 day ago
If your goal is to give and know with 100% certainty that all your money is being used with complete and total integrity, you may never give a cent. 

My wife and I give about 10% of our income, mostly to support former students who are working around the world in a variety of good organizations and for good causes.  Once I write that monthly check, it's out of my hands and out of my head: let it go and be free.  We seek to be wise in whom we support and yes, over the years we've had to pull people off the list because I could no longer support their work.  But we've supported some of these people now for over 20 years and the work they are doing has made a tremendous difference.  When they are back in the States, they visit us and stay with us for a week or more.  I've visited them around the world and seen the various things they are involved in.

I look at it this way: I don't say "Oh, Karen is doing this cool work in Egypt" and "Jeff is doing this amazing project in India".  I say "I have a cool work in Egypt.  I'm doing this amazing project in India".  When I write that check every month, it's an extension of my work around the world.  I love that feeling.  Its a way of multiplying myself.  And if they misuse those funds, that's on them.  I'll feel disappointed, but it's just money.  I'll reassess if we want to continue to support them, communicate my concerns to them, but I don't lose sleep over it. 

C.S. Lewis was walking along with a friend one day in London and a man approached him for some spare change.  Lewis dug into his pocket and handed the man a few pounds and continued on his way.  Lewis' friend said, "You know, that guy is probably just going to spend that money for alcohol and tobacco.  I never give the homeless any money like that."  

Lewis responded, "Well, that's probably what I would have used it on as well, so just as well him as me."

I hope you can find freedom in your giving.
It's encouraging to hear that trees have grown on the property in the past, and that you've got plenty of stuff growing on the land right now.  When I first starting to read your post, I imagined a rocky wasteland with nothing on it.  So trees grow on there -- that's great.

If it were me, I'd plant trees from seed on contour, creating a kind of above ground living swale.  I would imagine that your soil is deep enough to scratch in seeds, yes?  Plant them by the hundreds.  Once you had a picket-fence of trees, you could use them as a line of posts for terracing.  It would take a number of years, but if you were to plant something like black locust on contour, planting them tightly -- like every 5 feet or so -- they would serve that purpose.  The easiest way to establish contour lines is with a laser level -- much much easier than the old-school way of using an A-frame.

Black locust would serve multiple purposes.  It's rot resistant, fixes nitrogen, goats and chickens love it, bees go crazy for it, it makes great firewood and it's fast growing.  It makes a great living fence.

Have you seen this thread?  Seems like the same region as you and with similar concerns.

https://permies.com/t/60907/Planting-black-locust-quantity-simply

2 days ago
Are we lacking leaders?  I see all sorts of them, yourself included.  I've got a dozen heroes in the permaculture movement.  I read anything they publish and watch anything they post to Youtube.  I think that across the greater Permaculture movement, we have stronger leadership than ever before. 

I've always had the most admiration for people who are practicing farming as their main thing, yet are doing so by practicing permaculture principles and strategies.  Thus, Joel Salatin or Gabe Brown come to mind as "leaders": credible, authoritative, likeable, easy to listen to, and not overtly self-promotional.  They they don't teach PDC's or write books specifically promoting permaculture.  I've heard them both and watch everything that goes up on Youtube: these guys know permaculture -- particularly Salatin. 

People that are on Youtube daily posting their latest 20 minute self-glorifying video are tiresome.  So often they are just showing up at someone else's farm and walking around showing someone else's hard work as if all this were their idea.  Lord help us if that dude who does those annoying and frequently inaccurate "Growing Your Greens" videos becomes a major voice in the movement. 

Perhaps we need to experience a crisis in order for the posers to be shaken out and the true leaders to emerge.  Many would argue that we are riding an unsustainable wave that will ultimately crest and crash as the existing food production models and systems crash.  I believe this to be the case.  So sooner or later, the crisis will effect enough people that the general public will wake up and say, "How are we going to feed ourselves."  When that day comes, we will see leaders emerge to step into that spotlight.

Maybe our strongest candidates for Permie Leader of the Universe are too much in love with the quiet, pastoral life of trees, growing fungi in their soil, utilizing appropriate technology, enjoying their off-grid life, growing your own medicine, raising little ducklings, capturing quiet spring rains in newly dug swales and building soil microbial life to do the kind of self-promotional stuff that we expect of our leaders.  They are too balanced, too satisfied, and too normal to do the neurotic things that many of our leaders do to get out in front of the masses and say, "Look at me".
A couple of inexpensive feeder goldfish from a pet store should take care of your mosquito problem.  Putting them in there wouldn't harm anything.  If you ever wanted to get them out, you'd need to get a little net and dip them out.

I'd be more concerned about the liability of having it open and tempting for little people to come and explore.  It shouldn't be too difficult to build a fence around it, keeping it for future use.
2 days ago
I wouldn't get too fussy about getting everything just perfect.  I've seen people lose sight of the big picture as they try to get all 7 layers of the forest working in perfect harmony and trying to find a little niche for every little plant.  Don't sweat it and become frozen in your need to make it perfect.

1. Start with the big stuff.  What are the trees you want or absolutely must have?  Will it be apples?  Avocados? Nut trees?  Get the big stuff planted first, and then look to see what kinds of understory plants will work within that framework.  Its like packing the trunk of your car: you put the big stuff in first (suitcases) before you put the little stuff.  A lemon tree usually gets massive, so give the trees the space they'll need in 10 years.  I've found that the whole "backyard orchard culture" thing is more work than it's worth, as is the practice of planting 2 or 3 or more trees in a single hole.  Let the tree be a tree -- let it grow.

2.  Your forest will change from year to year.  What you are able to grow beneath your canopy layer will differ significantly from year 1 to year 5.  By year 10, it'll be far different still.  So planting an understory of perennial plants may work short-term, but long-term, there may not be enough sunlight to support productivity.  I wouldn't spend a lot of money on understory perennials unless you are sure they'll thrive.  Annuals, on the other hand, are cheap and easy to located in micro-climates around your food forest.  The commitment to a package of cabbage seeds is far less than the cost of expensive bushes.

3.  The whole "vining layer" thing: it's really much more complex than just letting vines run up and over whatever they  want to grow on.  Vines are tremendously heavy as they grow.  They can break branches and created a tangled mess, so I keep those plants to a minimum.  I train vines to cover shade structures around my house, but don't let them climb into my fruit trees.  I've got passion fruit on a pergola right outside my back door.  But I don't want vines growing in my pom fruits or stone fruits.

4.  There is a spectrum of management with the whole food-forest thing.  My food forest is highly managed.  Nothing is left to just go wild.  I prune my trees annually, plant veggies and other crops throughout the system, and I'm even careful about where I let the chickens scavenge.  I mulch aggressively with wood chips and pull weeds as they emerge.  Others plant a food forest and then, basically, walk away.  They select plants that don't need much ongoing care and supervision.  You may find yourself somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum.  Make it work for you: don't be a slave to someone's vision of a 7-layer forest.  If you've only got 4 layers, but you are growing what you want, that's fantastic.

Best of luck.
2 days ago