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Jo Hunter

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since Aug 10, 2015
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forest garden solar tiny house
1-acre sortof-off-grid homestead in a peri-urban area of South Africa. Started our food forest in 2014. Experimenting with hugelkultur beds!
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Recent posts by Jo Hunter

I also have access to free horse manure, and add about 300kg of to our 1 acre farm every week. I hot compost the manure headed for the vegetable garden (usually combined with green landscaping waste), but apply bags of the stuff directly around fruit trees, where it composts in place. I don't add direct to my vermicompost. In my experience it has been really amazing as mulch/slow release nutrition for fruit trees. Hot composting is really important for annuals not only because of potential 'cides in the manure, but also because otherwise a huge number of weed seeds germinate. So now, when I add directly around trees, I make sure something is on tap to grow over the manure, to shade the ground and allow for mycelial growth. I have a lot of mushrooms that grow on the manure when it's NOT hot composted-- not as much when it has been. I also apply manure directly to our goat pastures (no goats yet) then water to get oat hay started...might as well use the weeds as an asset...
3 months ago
I don't think you can ever have too much garlic. Well, I suppose you could but it would be hard. We're in the S. hemisphere so plant in March, harvest in Nov, and I have about 150 plants growing (also because I lose some at the last minute to mole rats) for a family of 5, and to keep enough cloves to plant. I have enough growing space over the winter, though I'm starting to want the space (and am starting to interplant so that when they come out in a month or so, the basil will be getting established.

Pictures of my spring garlic bed (new seedlings in foreground)
We've had a huge surge in snails and slugs this year, the year after I invested my hard-earned money in woodchips (can't get them free here). I agree with Priscilla that natural predators are the ultimate solution. AND that this will be the worst year for them, because the woodchips are new and there are lots of places for the snails (they also love the black planting bags we use for new cuttings, and we've greatly expanded those this year so there's just a lot of habitat.) I think what will happen is that this will be a hard year for certain things (still, it's a great year for the trees and mushrooms who love the woodchips) and then things will come back into balance.

In the meantime, I do the same as Jay and put down pieces of old cardboard/landscape plastic to attract them, then in the morning feed them to the chickens and ducks. I've done this for about 2 weeks, and I'm finding fewer and fewer and seeing a lot less damage.
4 months ago
Thanks for your reply. I'm always in awe of the seeds that one can get in the U.S., so if you have access to that market I think you'll be able to access the seeds really well:

Dovyalis caffra (kei apple) grows readily from seed.
Cape Gooseberry-- has a version called uchaya that grows really large in South America-- I think the seed name to search for would be Physalis peruviana, and it grows really well from seed.

For coffee, your elevation is too low for arabica but you can grow robusta. We're at sea level and grow relatively well. Robusta grows really well in Vietnam, also at sea level. So I think it's something to consider. Growing from seed is also feasible, but coffee seed needs to be fresh to grow.

Would pigeon pea be a good crop? or other types of drought resistant peas would be potential amazing.

Groundnuts (close relative of peanuts) are sometimes drought resistant.

Tagasaste/siberian tree shrub also seems quite good, and if you're looking for examples of what might work as goat feed?

Can you get/make plentiful biochar? We managed to connect with a local charcoal production company where they're almost giving away the small pieces, which are produced in just the right conditions to become biochar once they're mixed with compost/innoculated. I've been really grateful for this new byproduct in my area.
4 months ago
We are in an Mediterranean climate that is semi-arid (fast becoming arid) and Cape gooseberries (phsyallis) works really well as a intermediate layer. In just 3 years, I've been able to breed seed that needs no water by starting with 10 plants in a harsh environment, and then just planting seeds from that area where I did no watering (two plants survived well enough to give fruit). Blackberries also pretty hardy. But I feel like if you keep asking around, you might learn a lot more about what others grow locally.

Amaranth is very hardy and grows quite tall-- but even with no water can survive.

If coffee a possibility? I'm growing robusta, as arabica doesn't do well close to the ocean-- but if you're in hills coffee might be good if you have some shade? Our robusta is surprisingly ...robust and resilient.

Natal plum can be a little picky about conditions, and is very slow growing. Kei apple is a good option if you're looking for security, but the thorns are massive so keeping on the exterior of the planting space probably good. It's also very hardy and a great windbreak.

We also put large-ish medicinals like wormwood and pelagoniums.

All the different passiflora can survive with very little water once they're established (ie. if you can grow until quite large in a pot, then transplant...)

Roselle hibiscus? Here hibiscus is very hardy.

But I wish I'd asked around earlier when we were setting up our food forest, and not been as tied to specific permaculture plants, as I think I had a lot to learn just from what people put around and about.
4 months ago
We have a lot of mushrooms because we spread horse manure, straw, and wood chips around our trees. Mainly they have not been edible. Until recently: we were able to get some button mushrooms going by grinding some up with water and spreading the mush around our property.

Then.... jackpot! We got a few King straphoria growing naturally on our property. We ate the caps, and I took the stems and cultivated them on cardboard (see third pictures), then buried the cardboard in woodchips (have two more sets of mycelia in little containers, and I'll put these into sterilized hay/straw as an experiment to see which does the best). Getting the mycelia to colonise wet cardboard was not difficult at all-- I hedged my bets and did about 5 containers, didn't bother with sterilization, just layered wet cardboard and thin bits of stem, and 4 out of the 5 containers had mycelia growing after 2 weeks.

I think mushrooms are a great addition to our food forest, and as we learn more we're also able to forage quite easily when we're out and about during mushroom season (winter here in Cape Town), and get a lot of mushrooms that way-- My fear/uncertainty was greatly diminished once I joined a group of experienced foragers, and my son and I really enjoy learning more about mushrooms with more experienced folk.
4 months ago
Thanks so much. I've been checking in with someone a little ways away from me, to track how their experience with Nigerian dwarf goats has been going-- they're just getting their first kids and milking for the first time. There are starting to be people who say "from good milk lines" but I'm not sure if they're saying that because I've been pestering them with that question!

From what I can tell, the market for males of other breeds is not too good-- I am actually ok with butchering, and my son may start to be more comfortable with it.

Nigerian dwarfs are ten times the cost of the white dairy goats down the street. Some friends are waiting to gift me with whichever goats I choose... They are sick of me talking about goats I think. So the startup cost is covered. In general, our experience with animals has been that they don't do what they're supposed to on paper, so I am a little cautious about getting goats that may turn out to be pets more than dairy producers. Either way, I think once we get started.

I'll let you know how it goes-- and thank you again!

Thank you so much for this reply, Kate! It was hugely helpful. The link you shared that mentioned acacia and tagasaste also seemed spot on- thanks so much.

Do you think my logic around having Nigerian dwarves-- despite the initial up front cost-- makes sense to you? Goal (I think similar to yours) is just to have dairy for our family.
Whether I trellis or not, I find my tomatoes (indeterminant or determinant) do great for a while and then start getting hit by various bugs and diseases. Not just on my own farm, but also at the school garden I caretake. I find that my early tomatoes do the best, and my second crop doesn't do as well (we have a very long season-- I can start tomatoes now, in midwinter, outside.... though if I start them indoors better to only transplant outside in September or so). Still, if I make things really easy for the first crop, and trellis and try to set things up really nicely, I feel the number of usable tomatoes I get is greater. I don't have much luck with very large slicing tomatoes-- I grow mainly cherry and sauce tomatoes.

Yet I see (monsanto) tomatoes grown in hoophouses nearby that last for an incredibly long season-- but I haven't been able tap into this longevity on my plot. At first I thought this was a trellising issue, but last year I trellised very well, practiced crop rotation, and my yield wasn't too much better than when I just allowed my tomatoes to do what they wanted to do. No access to cages here, so trellising always feels fairly complex-- this year I am going to play it by ear and do grow tomatoes in a few different places, and try to keep track of the results. I have good enough soil in our food forest that I'm going to try some tomatoes in there, also, as an experiment...

The exception to this is very very tiny self-seeded tomatoes (like very very tiny- smaller than a marble, but very tasty) who don't care whether they're trellised and don't get hit by disease all season... with these I find the taste declines, as does my patience harvesting, and even my kids' patience wanes after a while... so it's no good to keep more than 1 or 2 of these.
7 months ago
Watering is a place where I actually feel like permaculture principles should be really carefully contextualized. If you don't have access to any water, then definitely applying principles that mean you don't have to water are great. Mulch, in our Mediterranean climate is a game-changer, as is shading the soil, and encouraging self-seeding.

My perspective is to do what gets you a yield that you and your family will eat, and for beginners like me, improving the soil can be a full time job. I have, in our 4 years of farming, been able to develop a strain of Cape Gooseberry that needs no water whatsoever (ok, not so much develop it as plant a bunch and leave them and see what survived and then use the seed from those guys), and I'm extraordinarily proud of my achievement. I have also been able to time potato planting so that if I plant around now, I can not water at all and harvest in Nov (though I get a better yield if I water in Oct/Nov). So I think about water, particularly for the areas of our farm where we don't really want to put in expensive irrigation systems, or strain the capacity of our wellpoint by using it to pump water to the very end of our property.

At the same time:

I started farming in a period of extreme drought (EXTREME) in super sandy soil and I thought I could make plants and trees stronger and survive by doing the deep (well, sortof deep- I was being really careful with watering) 1/week watering thing, and it was a really bad misinterpretation of permaculture. I lost a lot of trees, encouraged Cape dune mole rats to eat my trees (watering deeply once a week collapsed their tunnels which made them come up and enjoy a tasty snack of my tree or bush)

I think for me permaculture is partly about trying to make things have more than one use (including supplying as many of your needs as possible), to make your landscape increasingly resilient in a way that is gentle and supportive of the land you have stewardship of, and to make the best possible use of that land.

That has meant, in our annual garden, growing some water-intense things like strawberries because I want to be able to eat them and they are well-suited to our climate in some ways... actually watering a lot of stuff in our annual garden almost daily because I'm still a beginner and I can't gauge plant stress terribly well. As the soil improves, my need to water declines. I figure I am always using less water than commercial farmers, and my primary goal is to get a yield without any commercial products. But I would not tell a beginner gardener to try dry-land farming, or to really think about trying to water less in our climate and soil. I would rather suggest starting by thinking in terms of deep mulch, planting on either side of hugels and berms, and just learning gradually what your trees and plants need. It is too discouraging to be a crappy farmer with tiny wilted plants, tasty as they may be, if you (I) have never grown the good stuff. Now, in year 4, that I've grown at least some good stuff, and the soil is a lot better at holding water, I can experiment with water -- my goal is to irrigate for 2 weeks less than the previous year, but it's not a hard and fast rule and depends a lot on when the winter rain starts and ends. So stopped irrigating the last week of April this year, and hopefully will only start up again the last week of September...

7 months ago