Dan McCoy

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since Apr 22, 2009
Seattle
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Recent posts by Dan McCoy

    I have forgotten who it was that has published a description of this technique, but I recall hearing of a woman who set up a system where she used 1/2 of a hoop house to house her chickens.  Their manure would be left to compost and the heat generated was vented into the other half of the hoop house to provide heat.  When the composting was complete, this was added to the planting beds...  My memory is faint on the details...  I do recall that there was one issue that needed to be resolved before this system could be effective--she had to figure out a way to filter the ammonia out of the air as this would build to toxic levels and would interfere with the plant growth...  but I understand that she was successfully able to do this.
    Sorry that I'm short on details...  maybe I can find a reference for this.  If someone is interested in learning more, perhaps they could research this idea further...  Perhaps someone out there is already familiar with this work and could do a better job of reporting than I...
9 years ago
I've learned from professional greenhouse growers that composting in a greenhouse can be good, not only for generating some extra heat at the margins of the growing season when a little extra heat helps, but also for off gassing CO2.  As CO2 levels in the greenhouse rise, so does plant production.  Some try to achieve CO2 levels @ 3000 parts per million.  Evidently there are gages one can get to measure such things.
    Regarding bugs...  yes, pests can be a concern in a greenhouse environment but micro-organisms are favorable.  Composting is about micro-organisms.
    Some growers are particularly careful about what materials they bring into a greenhouse environment because it is, after all, something of an "artificial" environment--it does not receive rain from the sky or other "cosmic" influences directly (like small amounts of meteor dust that sprinkle down on the planet)--the roof of the greenhouse prevents this.  What you bring in is what is there...  hopefully it will contribute to proper soil balance...  The pros use extensive soil testing to attempt to measure what they are working with...  They also test their compost!!!
    It has been said that 70% of the problems in a greenhouse derive from excessive watering...
    Proper ventilation can be key also...  just opening the door on a hot morning when the inside temperature in the greenhouse is 90 degrees can subject the plants to a vapor shock--colder 60 degree air that might rush in and hit the plants will contain less moisture and this can damage the sensitive growing tips of some plants (cucumbers are one such sensitive plant).  This damage may not show up for weeks and may only be expressed as failure to flower.  Sometimes the damage can be more directly observable but the connection is often not made to the fact that the plants were "shocked" with cold dry air two weeks ago--"they're failing but I don't know why..."  It's best to try to "mix" the needed cooler incoming air a bit before it hits the plants.  Some suggest ventilating from the roof, if possible.
9 years ago
I can't say that I've read Fukuoka extensively but I have come to understand his oft quoted statement "o Nothing" a bit differently than most might think.  I understand that this statement is from a larger commentary that goes something like this:

    Do nothing.
    Observe Everything.
    Timing is everything.

    I imagine that this does not mean to literally do nothing as in sit on your lounge chair with a tall drink and watch the world go by...    I imagine that this statement might have been directed to those who live in a western culture who might often be action oriented, as in "I am a man of action..."  I imagine that Fukuoka may have been suggesting that one should not simply do something for the sake of doing something, or that one should not simply do the first thing that comes to mind, or the thing that has always been done.  In the west, what has often been done is to cut everything down to "clear" the land and then set up a "factory farm" complete with chemical fertilizers, etc. and then think about what one wants to plant...  In this case, "o Nothing" would be a call to stop and think...
    Then comes the request to "Notice Everything."  As in, "pay attention to nature and its cycles in the specific context that you might find yourself" (my paraphrase).  I imagine this to be a very "active engagement" with the environment"--a hands on learning and exploring of the patterns and natural rhythms in the world around.
      Then comes "Timing is everything."  Following up on all of one's observations, it would seem to me that it would be obvious that one would want to "Join Hands" with nature and its cycles, engaging with nature and immersing oneself with its patterns and rhythms.  I very different process than imposing one's will on nature.

    So, in conclusion, I hear a call to observation and to harmonious action in Fukuoka's statement "o Nothing" when I include it in this context with "Observe Everything.  Timing is Everything" which would be very different than simply sitting around and doing nothing.
9 years ago
Sounds like a job for a "Permaculture Design Consultant" or at least someone interested in the challenge of designing a small-scale sustainable food system...    I would hope that they wouldn't just tell you to make an Herb Spiral, a few Key-hole beds planted with Polycultures, and a food forest and then call it "Good"--there is more to good design than just these things.

Good luck!!

Dan
9 years ago
"Till vs. No Till" certainly is a question that is hot these days.  I think that there is even a thread on this forum about this but since the subject has come up here...

    It is often tempting in life to latch onto an idea that seems to make sense (like no tilling) and then make the assumption that this is the ideal answer for all situations.  There may be some advantages that are missed in some situations if ones actions are limited by the use of only one way of thinking about something.

    I know of people who found that their vegetable production improved considerably when they finally did something mechanical to break up their soil.  They chose to use a Broadfork and not a roto-tiller.  There are advantages to use of a Broadfork compared to a motorized tiller (no gasoline involved, no loud noises, no vibration, no stinky exhaust) not the least of which is the fact that the Broadfork helps facilitate soil aeration without completely disturbing the layering of the soil.  By just making "slices" with the fork instead of subjecting the soil to the twirling tines of the tiller, a large proportion of the soil structuring is preserved while still benefitting from the positive effects of improved aeration.
    Plant roots and favorable micro-organisms actually need oxygen and if a clay soil becomes too compressed (water droplets from the rain or from overhead watering that "crash" down onto the surface of the soil are actually the biggest offenders that contribute to clay soil compaction) then there is a risk that the roots and organisms can "sufficate" and then the plants will not be at their best.
    In summary, I agree, tilling with a roto-tiller or indiscriminate plowing can be problematic--but there are some situations when mechanical activity can be helpful.
    Note: I also know of a very thoughtful fellow who  uses a tractor pulled "Rotovator" to just lightly blend the top two inches of a plot for the purpose of 1) smoothing out the large soil clumps to make a more regular planting surface and/or 2) mix in cover crop or grain seeds that he has broadcast by hand.  (Just leaving the seed on the surface can be a great invitation for birds to come and feast on the seed--stirring them in with a very shallow "Rotovation" is a method to keep the seed in the ground and away from the birds.)
    As I understand it, even when there is an indication to perform some mechanical treatment of the soil bed, this is something that does not need to be done often--like maybe only once in the fall when putting a bed to "sleep" for the winter in prep for spring planting...

    Many advocate heavy sheet mulching to cover a bed (which includes some watering) trusting that the worms will take over and churn through the mulch, breaking it down into lovely organic matter that then turns into rich humus--nice soil.  Certainly this is a lovely example of common sense soil building.  Sometimes, if one wants to plant a bed densely, one has to wonder, I should think, whether a heavy sheet mulch might restrict air movement into the soil thereby potentially limiting the benefits to be had with better soil aeration ??

    Back to the Nitrogen fixing idea--it seems to me that one goal is to ensure adequate organic matter in the soil that can then be acted upon by micro-organisms that will break this stuff down and turn it into valuable Nitrogen for the next round of growing to occur.  Nitrogen is not always stable in the soil--too much will just leach down during the winter rainy season here in the Northwest meaning that all of the work to get the Nitrogen there in the fall may be all for naught come spring time.  Timing can be important. 
    Other factors that would influence soil Nitrogen would be: pH, soil structure, and viability of soil micro-organisms (I'm probably missing a few things here...) all of which interact in complex ways to affect the overall Nitrogen levels in the soil and general nutrient availability.  "One answer" solutions may not work in all cases due to the many complex factors that influence soils in various locations.

    I understand that it is the presence of organic material in the soil in the form of slowly broken down material that can lend stability to Nutrient and Nitrogen availability.  Too much soil aeration such as in a hot climate with sandy soil would result in fast combustion of organic matter meaning that it might be harder to keep the nutrient levels high enough for growing some things in this type of soil.  In other cases, a soil might need help to develop enough "open" air space to facilitate the breakdown of organic matter in order to make it available for plant nutrition--is this case, perhaps mechanical action of some kind may prove to be beneficial...

What do you think??


Thanks,
  Dan
9 years ago
Certainly fungi have a primary role in forest eco-systems (breaking down leaf fall and such into forest floor duff and finally into soil) but aren't  the bacteria in the garden scape primarily responsible for making nutrients available to common vegetable plants??

We can't necessarily believe that it is fungi exclusively that are the active agents in creating favorable conditions for plants to grow--again fungi are mostly a forest thing.  Consider the ruminent animal with that extra stomach full of bacteria that literally digest cellulose and extract nutrition from it.  These bacteria are also secreted onto the pasture scape with the manure.  Not only does the manure add bits of undigested material that ads to the overall content of nourishing goodies in the soil, the manure also contibutes the bacteria that help break down these nutrients and help to make them available to plants that grow in the soil just as they make nutrients available to the animal organism.  It was this symbiotic cycle that was responsible for making the Great Plains one of the most fertile regions on the planet--thank you bacteria.

Dan
9 years ago
Gary and Justhavingfun,
    Thank you both for your posts.  Gary, thank you for the picture... this gives me a better (more accurate) idea of what might be meant by polyculture than the perhaps mistaken assumptions I have been keeping (??).  Folks I met in my Perm Design Course all seemed to be fans of the "scatter seed at random and see what survives" approach to "Polyculture."  I got the impression that this is what they thought was the best method for being the most like "nature."  Difficulties with this approach seemed to relate to the potential complication of harvesting large predictable quantities of a given crop if one were to plan to grow a predictable amount for CSA members or to sell at a farmers market.  Your picture offers a nice image that suggests easy accessibility while still mixing things up a bit.

Now, some more ranting... 
    I have felt that I too am a part of nature and my humble attempts at actually paying attention to how the soil is doing and how the plants might be spaced, etc. (instead of just scattering seeds and forgetting about any further planning or follow-up care for whatever germinates--the ultimate in "low maintenance"/minimal labor food production) can also be considered an acceptable "Natural" approach to growing food.  Especially if one considers that many of the traditional "food crops," in order to be at their best, seem to have been developed to the point where they require some kind of human intervention in their lifecycle (e.g. growing bed prep, some nutrient supplementation).  I had gotten the feeling that "polyculture" also meant: "ude, the plants will feed each other--my bother with that compost stuff--too much work."
    This raises questions (perhaps for another thread) about expanding one's food options beyond the seemingly limited number of items that one typically finds at the average grocery store--here in lies one other value of Polyculture that hasn't been openly discussed in this thread yet--diversifying one's food options by diversifying your plantings.  Could this also be one other implication of the term "Polyculture??"

Regarding Cancer...  I agree whole heartedly with the idea of prevention and I think that it has been well established that eating your vegetables is a very beneficial way to at least decrease one's risk of developing colon cancer.
    I have met people who have been living a reasonably healthy lifestyle (without being obsessive) and they still have developed cancer--example, my vegetarian gardening friend diagnosed with breast cancer.  This suggests to me that cancer is more mysterious than we now know--there are no simple answers that will explain every situation.
    The question I was curious about was: How can anyone honestly say that eating vegetables grown in a mixed up Polyculture is better at reducing your risks of acquiring cancer than growing your vegetables with other methods that are attentive to soil quality, etc. but that do not mix them up??
    I would suggest that the mystery here is enormous which to me means that there is no way that anyone could prove or disprove whether eating vegetables grown in a polyculture decreases your cancer risk more or better than other means or not, so why even pretend to say so?  It comes back to the idea that one is either a "True Believer" in such things or one is an "Unbeliever."  Living in the mystery would be to not even attempt to make a decision about this question with the little or no information that is available.

Regarding Asparagus...  perenials are great, aren't they!!!

I am sorry to hear about your cat... I hope that he will be doing better soon.

Thank you,
  Dan
9 years ago
This arrived in my e-mail box today...  thought I would post it for those who might be interested.

www.snohomish.wsu.edu/ag/workshops/biodynamic.pdf

...an invitation to a Bio-dynamic Field day.  Note the interesting research findings sighted in the blurb...

Thank you,
    Dan
9 years ago
I must confess that I have to make a correction.  Since posting the story above, I checked with the friend I was with when visiting the winery in Eastern Washington.  It was a white wine and it had taken on a distinct green apple essence--the wine maker also grew Granny Smith apples in addition to his white wine grapes.  It was not about his apple wine taking on flower essences...  It was about wine grapes taking on apple essenses...  My faulty memory is to blame for this mistaken story.  I'm glad that I checked and am at least able to set the story straight now.  Sorry... ops:  This visit occured in 1993--16 years ago.  Sorry for any confusion that this might make, if any.

Today is 18 May 09.  I imagine that sometime today, one might learn if they have been graced with a ticket to the Bullock's Workshop.  I must say that it has been fun making entrys here.  It has challenged my thinking and I have learned many things.  I will continue to periodically refer to this forum in the future in order to find great ideas.  I hope that my behavior did not get out of hand.  Thank you for hosting the forum and for offering the ticket as incentive to post and interact.
9 years ago
Paul,
    With all respect, I think you nailed it on the head when you suggested that you are "pontificating."

    When I first came to Washington State, I visited some of the wineries in the Yakima River Valley.  There was one wine maker who had, if I recall, an apple wine that he thought was very special that year.  He commented that that year, the apple blossoms occurred at the same time that many of the other flowering plants on his property blossomed.  He found that as he made his wine, it had a wonderful flavor to it unlike other wines he had produced in previous years--a flavor very reminiscent of the variety of flower he had in abundance on his property.  Variation in flavor that occurs with successive annual crops is something common to those who make wine.  He suggested that somehow, the fruit from his apple trees had picked up something of the "essense"/pollen/nectar/resins from the other plants directly--perhaps as a result of the action of the bees during pollenation??  Perhaps just from the air itself via plant respiration??  I'm sad to inform you that he had definitely planted his apple trees in rows, Paul.  I saw them myself.  What can I say??

    In Yunnan Provence, China, there is a traditional style of tea that is actually "aged."  This style of tea (camellia senensis) is called "Pu Ehr."  This has become a very popular tea.  It is very high in anti-oxidants and is considered by many to be very health giving.  The legend is that in years past, the tea was actually burried in the ground for a season in order to age and ferment it.  The tea is often then pressed into cakes for storage.  Nowadays, growers involve themselves directly in the processing of the tea and actually add fungal innoculants to help "age" and fermant the tea.  People who enjoy this tea appreciate the fact that if they save their cakes for a few years, the taste of the tea improves.  There are some who suggest that the best teas of this style that they remember tasting from years past were teas that were picked from tea plants that were surrounded by Camphor trees.  They believed that some of the quality of the Camphor, the aroma, the flavor, found its way into the tea and would then become apparent to someone drinking the tea.  These tea afficionados lament the fact that many if not all of the Camphor trees that were interplanted with the tea have been cut down or otherwise lost many years ago, and with them, some of the very best tea they remember tasting.  Sorry to say, Paul, the tea and the Camphor trees were probably planted in rows.

    My conclusion is that you have interesting ideas, but they are not new and they are not exclusive to forest "Polyculture."  Again, I appreciate your excitement about this, but to claim that you have discovered the cure for Cancer is still a stretch for me, too.
    I, too celebrate the concept of plant diversity.  I think that it is marvelous.  I look forward to increasing plant diversity in various ways whenever I can.  I will still probably plant my carrots in a roll.  Sorry...


Gary,
    I agree with you.  I have been through areas that have been clear cut.  It can almost make one ill to see this.  I understand that this is poor management--there are better ways.  No where have I implied in anything that I have written in this forum that I wish to see clear cutting happen.  If I have an open space with nice sunlight, chances are that I might use this space to grow sun loving vegetable plants that I can eat, and I will most likely grow them in rows.




    It can be interesting to read about carrots.  There have been many varieties that are still found wild in many places around the globe.  Most of these have either dark roots or white roots--the orange carrot root that we typically associate with the carrot today was intentionally developed.  So has its sweeter taste profile and its smaller inner core or heart which can be tough sometimes.  I've read that most of the carrots that we grow in the west are descendents of four varieties of carrots that have been given to us from the Dutch who initially "developed" them.  One of the benefits of the orange carrot is the fact that this color is associated with Beta Carotine--a substance that turns into Vitamin A in our digestive process.  I've read that Years ago, many peoples in various regions of the world were suffering from Vitamin A deficiencies--their traditional diet just didn't include enough Vitamin A or Beta Carotine.  Foods like the orange carrot, and the Chinese Cabbage, or Boc Choi which contain increased levels of these nutrients were instrumental in improving the nutritional status of whole nations--enabling them to survive when before, many simply died of complications of malnutrition.  Pictures I have seen of Cabbages grown in China have been pictures of Cabbages grown in rows.
    There is also interesting documentation of how the land in ancient China was distributed among the citizens.  There is not much aerable land in China--the land is mostly mountain of dessert yet, by careful administration of the available land, they have generally been able to grow enough food to feed their large populations.  Its interesting to read about this history.  One book that has been recommended to me is "Food in China" from Yale University Press--I forget the author's name.  I have a copy somewhere, but I can't find it.

    Here in the Northwest, Nash Huber is famous for his carrots.  I have been told that he has painstakingly selected his best producing carrots over the years and saved the seeds from these.  Over the years he has selected for varieties that are best suited to his specific growing region.  My own friends have remarked to me how delicious his carrots taste to them.  I believe that Nash grows his carrots in rows.
    I have a friend that lives in Acacia, Maine a few miles down the road from Elliot Coleman's farm and gardens (part of the once Homestead of Scott Near).  My friend has gardened for years, yet she looks forward to the summer season when she can go to the local Farmer's Market and buy carrots from Elliot Coleman because she says they are the best darn carrots she has ever tasted--better than any she's ever grown herself.  I believe that you can read about the techniques that Elliot Coleman uses to get fabulous results with his carrots in his gardening books--I believe that he grows many things in rows--there are pictures in his books.  I don't believe that Elliot Coleman has made any claims about his carrots curing Cancer.

    Everything I read suggests that soil is truly a mystery.  Many wonderful things happen in the soil.  I have come to appreciate that many of these wonderful things are the result of micro-organisms, both fungal and bacterial, as well as slightly larger multi-celled creatures, benefitial nematodes and worms and such.  We talk on and on about plant diversity and its benefits...  What about Micro-organism diversity??  There are so many varieties that it has been impossible to identify or name them all.  They can be found by the billions in every teaspoon of healthy soil.  (I've seen estimates that suggest that the biomass from micro-organisms in the soil can reach the equivalent of 12-13 cows per acre.)  They are said to be responsible for what makes plants grow--they break substances down so that the next generation of plants can recycle them for their purposes.  I have to confess that I am more interested in introducing diversity of micro-organisms via good compost to my soils than to crowding as many different plants as I can in one area.  I think that it is Okay to grow carrots next to other carrots because I can feel confident that the soil between the carrots has had plenty of love and plenty of nourishing from the good attention I might give to the soil.
    Okay, I should confess that I typically grow things like carrots in patches and not actually in geometrically straight rows...  Oops.  But I often leave a path next to some of the carrots so I can get to them quickly.  Of course, I often interplant this carrot patch with other things and I rotate the carrot bed to other places in the garden to access other soils--I don't believe that one must keep carrots in the same place from year to year though I do know that many organic greenhouse growers grow the same crops in the same place for years on end without difficulty.  They make sure that they add plenty of Micro-organisms to there growing areas in addition to compost, etc. so that the soil will benefit from their "cleansing"/digesting action.

I think that nature is truly wonderful, I'm glad to be alive and glad to be able to learn more and more about its mysteries and to even enjoy a few mysteries for what they are without having to try to understand everything.  I like the "laboratory" of discovery that a garden can be...  I think I'm still going to stick with rows, when its appropriate to do so...

Thanks,
  Dan
9 years ago