Cristo Balete

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since May 23, 2015
Long-time Permaculturist
In the woods, West Coast USA
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Recent posts by Cristo Balete

Just got reminded why turning compost in a greenhouse is necessary.....gnats and white files.  I've got a ton of transplants growing on top of hotbeds covered with sheer curtains, and gnats were starting to show up.  Turning the top hand's depth knocked around any bug eggs and it's improved in just a couple days since I did it.

Jeremy, search on New Alchemy Institute for a very similar drawing of how they did Bruce's 1984 setup.   The "exhaust" in the pipes at the roots of the plants is the carbon dioxide, which plants like.  
2 months ago
Carmen, just wondering, if you can't pound in a T post, is there enough soil for the roots of the hedge and fruit trees to go as deep as they are tall?
2 months ago
Sounds doable, Lee Ann.    About the ground water, it's not that it's standing on top, but if it's really close to the top underneath, saying at about 1 foot, it can affect fruit trees and fruit bushes if it's there for too long.

A couple of things you might want to look at....

- YouTube videos by Permaculture Magazine.  There's a couple who have a permaculture garden in England with great videos.  They incorporate Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, etc.  Their food trees and food bushes run along the sides of their garden, planted together to help each other,  with a big meadow going down the center full of plants that bring in beneficial insects.  Sometimes the randomness of a food forest design messes with my head, so this seemed more straightforward to me, and doesn't entail a lot of mowing, just enough to keep a couple of pathways open.  

One great permaculture feature is the most amount of growing space with the least amount of pathways.

- YouTube videos by Dirtpatch Heaven, a woman who uses waist-high hotbeds with hoops and plastic over the top where she grows greens through a frozen winter.  She uses hugelculture techniques with wood in the bottom of the beds to hold moisture and add to the soil critters, manure for heat, and working compost piles in the hotbeds.  These also work well if you don't yet have a fence around your garden.
2 months ago
Doesn't the cost of the grid-tied system (or off grid, for that matter) become part of the cost of "fueling" an electric vehicle?  

And up to today there is no way to entirely recycle the used batteries from an electric vehicle, so where are the thousands and thousands of them going to go in a few years when they all need replacing?  

This isn't to discourage electric vehicles, but it is an ecological issue that hasn't been addressed....*s*
2 months ago
I just ran across a Master Gardener in California who buries a black plastic gallon pot at least 6 inches into the soil, in the bottom of a tomato cage, fills that pot about half way with compost and composted manure, plants out around the outside of the black pot/cage, then waters through that black pot, putting compost tea down into the root zone and saving a lot of water.  That is a nice separation of questionable-but-necessary-to-the-soil amendments.

For what it's worth, no animal feces is "safe."  It is what it is, nothing we should handle or get on our food, even if it's been composted.  

Lettuce/spinach/greens recalls happen because cows or some other grazing animals have pooped in a river to the degree that then downstream that water goes onto greens by overhead watering and leaves behind bacteria that causes humans health problems.  

In our gardens when water splashes up on greens from compost or even composted manure can cause the same problems.

Mulching with dry leaves or straw/hay/mowed weeds helps to stop that.  Thoroughly washing of all edible foods is the most important step.

2 months ago
Looks like a beautiful place.

So location, location, location is important in building a permaculture food forest.  Your design would be very different from a tropical location, or a Mediterranean location.  So any research you do on it, make sure you are looking at locations/zones similar to yours.

Assuming you've researched what fruit trees can make it through your winter, and bloom at the right time when it's not freezing, then building guilds of other food plants that help those fruit trees is the idea.  You've probably seen the various vertical layers involved in building a guild; Deciduous canopy trees can offer wind protection and shade when it's hot, and mulch from dropping leaves.  Nitrogen-fixing plants can help improve the soil. Ground covers bring in beneficial insects and shade the soil so it doesn't dry out.  How far down does the soil freeze in winter?

That rock outcropping there, does that mean there's rock under where you intend to plant?  How far down can you go and just get soil?  Fruit trees and other trees/bushes will have a mirror image of their roots going underground.  If they hit rock and can't get through it, it might make them vulnerable to being blown over in a winter storm when they are mature, or to be sitting in water that sits on top of impermeable rock.  

Knowing where the water table is, is important.  How far below the surface that runoff is makes or breaks fruit tree roots.  You might want to look into either draining off or controlling the ground water to make sure that water is not sitting there for very long, or planting to the side of the lowest draining point.  Storing water in a pond uphill from your plantings, or downhill from your plantings would be determined by how much standing water there is in spring/summer, how you want it to seep the rest of the year.

Using as many native plants as you can makes it a lot easier, ones that work in your type of soil, whether it's loamy or clay.  

Have you looked into how Sepp Holzer does his alpine gardens with ponds and berms?
2 months ago
It looks like you can use it now, but the heat of it would not make plants happy around their roots if you dig it in, so either leave it on top, or if mixed in, wait a week or so to plant so it will cool down.

If there's any recognizable pieces (of anything in a compost pile) then those can be sifted out and put in a pile that has layers of soil in it,  to finish.  Or at least toss the biggest pieces out of there and finish them separately.

If you want to use it all now, and leave chunks of wood in there, and if you mix it into the soil, the wood chunks will absorb water that has nitrogen dissolved in it, so the first year the plants need extra nitrogen.  After that, those chunks should be broken down enough to help improve the soil

2 months ago
About the composting toilets, I highly recommend looking into a worm/woodchip box, vermiculture, to handle black water.  The day I took a reciprocating saw to the unusuable metal stirrers in my composting toilet was one of my happiest days.   I've had a worm box handling black water for 3 years now, and it's one of the most stunning and effective ways to do it.  The worms are the happiest I've ever seen them, and they make the absolute best castings that can then be used in the garden.  There are several threads at this site with diagrams.  Just be sure the box has at least a 1 1/2" to 2" drain pipe because the worms can drown, or freeze, or bake, but it's not hard to avoid these conditions.  It needs to be bigger than an inch in case some chunks of castings get past the exit location.

I've had two kinds of composting toilets, they all rely on a drain tube when the liquids get to be too much, and every single drain tube blocked up rather quickly.  Clearing that out is a real yucky job because the liquids are still in the container, so removing that tube makes a real mess.  Every time there are several people drinking coffee/water/tea/whatever and using that toilet the liquids will overwhelm the contents.

Also, for a composting toilet there needs to be someplace big enough to store the browns or sawdust for all of winter.  Then there has to be a rather good sized container inside to store them as well.  If using mowed weeds they inevitably will bring in bug eggs to hatch, ladybugs, spiders, weird dark worms, etc.   Gnats will get in there, most likely during the summer, and sticky traps won't be enough to stop them.

There is a constant sweeping of the floor around a composting toilet because the browns spill over on their way to the toilet.  Then at some point the finished compost has to be taken out of the container, which means getting down on your knees, lining the floor with a tarp, having a container to scoop the contents into.  I was never lucky enough to have it be "finished" compost.  In the winter it's much slower, so it needs emptying a lot more often, finished or not.  Then there needs to be a special compost pile somewhere to have it finish, and it's blackwater, so you don't want kids or pets or boots having access.

With worms there's a nice clean ceramic toilet with nice clean water inside.  Nothing drops onto the floor.  If anyone gets sick there's a decent place to run to.  Any work with the worms is outside where it's easy to handle.
2 months ago
I've attached a drawing, that's been around for a while and used by others, as a design to keep a compost pile working in a greenhouse.  Note that there are no pipes going through the middle of the pile, as that is where it needs to be hottest.  I got a compost tumbler in the '90s with a pole through the middle, and it was a total mistake.  And then the pole rusted out, leaving it unusable as a tumbler.  I spent way too much money on that tumbler to end up with a barrel that cost probably less than 1/4 of what I paid.  

Good old turning of the pile with a pitch fork is your best bet, although I know it can be a pain.  But visualizing what is going on in the pile is important.  Every season, and every time the ingredients change the pile will behave differently.  It's not just about heat with a compost pile, it's about the kind of mold/bacteria/fungi that grows there.  Unless you are looking at it, and learning about it, BTW, it's a guessing game.  Unless you can get it to be relatively consistent by knowing about what you are looking at, it's unlikely to give you enough heat in the long run.  It's easy to get a pile to heat up when you first pile it up.  But then everything changes, and knowing what to do at that point is what is necessary.

The plants in the greenhouse benefit from the carbon dioxide coming off the pile, not just the heat, and it needs to be down at the plant level so they can be exposed to it.

2 months ago
One more thing, for anyone considering buying rural land.  My parents retired to a pretty remote area where the real estate business was about as questionable as I've ever seen.   I've got some real estate experience in buying and selling, and when it came time to sell their place I couldn't believe some of the behaviors, statements, lies and dirty tricks going on, including just flat out lying to my sibling and I, saying one thing to one of us, and one thing to another, trying to set us against one another.  I can't say all rural locations have questionable business practices, but it's crucial to be on the alert.

Since remote locations rarely have enough comparables to come up with a really reliable estimate for properties, they did and said all kinds of squirrely things.  I certainly felt taken advantage of, especially since buying land or selling off the family home has a huge emotional component to it, and they manipulate the people involved for all it's worth.   There aren't that many real estate people in rural areas, they all know each other, and they all tell each other things that take advantage of their prospective buyers.  So trying to get a second opinion from another local real estate agent might not be the most impartial person to consult.

I wish I had gotten a lawyer in on it, at least from a consultation perspective at first, getting second opinions, knowing my rights, what I could insist on, where I should do if I felt the agent had just gone over into illegal and unethical.  You often see, when people buy property they say things like, "We spent so much effort into trying to buy it," "We were exhausted," "We were juggling work, kids, life and trying to buy real estate."   That's where a second opinion from a non-real-estate agent is important.

If the buyer and seller are using the same agent, consult a lawyer, consult a lawyer!!

So stay skeptical....
2 months ago