Brian Vraken

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since Feb 01, 2017
Eastern Ontario, Canada Zone 5b
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Recent posts by Brian Vraken

Hi Robyn,

Unfortunately, I didn't find much else useful, and decided the courses were too expensive for what they claimed to give - even at the periodic 50% off rate they offer now and again.

I do still watch everything they put out on Youtube, and I think Dr. Ingham's methods are valid. I'm just not convinced that the incremental knowledge or certification you get at the end are worth the money you have to pay to get them.
3 weeks ago

Edward Norton wrote:Could you collect surface water / rain? Dig a pond? If you have any kind of slope then you could funnel it into a pond.

You’d still need to move the water to the cattle as you wouldn’t want your cattle having direct access. I appreciate this depends on your terrain and you didn’t mention any streams.

I've considered these.

With only 3.25 acres, I don't want to invest in a sizeable pond and give up grass. And there's no slope here - this area is flat as a board!
10 months ago
Hi all!

So, I've been thinking about getting cattle for 5+ years. We have a family history of Dexters.

Life events have put that on the backburner the last few years, but I'd really like to get going next year. Having only about 3.25 acres of grazing available, my plan would be to start with a cow, calf and steer in a rotational system. Basically, I want a steer a year in the freezer, so add a Dexter steer in the years that the cow gives me a heifer calf. That should work with the amount of pasture growth we have here.

The one issue I need to figure out is how best to do water out in the pasture. Our primary well water is at the house. We have a second drilled well up at the barn, but it hasn't been working in 20+ years. Would need to get all the electrical sorted out, new pump and plumbing, and deal with the fact that it's in an unheated barn during the winter and still a long way from the pasture. Our third option is a dug well in the old turnaround circle in front of the old barn's milkhouse.

Fix the barn well

Probably the best long-term solution. Would require new electrical, pump and plumbing. In addition, would need to rebuild the pump room to be insulated and relatively airtight as it would need to be heated all winter. and probably my best option for winter water anyways. However, this is probably the most time, effort and funds-intensive options I can think of, and requires me to invest in a barn that I may someday be tearing down (don't want to, but probably need to invest $30k-$50k to get it weather-tight again, possibly a $50k roof on top of that, not to mention fixing all the rot that's set in from 30-40 years of low / no maintenance - for a building that I don't use most of due to it's awkward configuration.

Water trailer

My next idea is to purchase an IBC tote or other water tank with an opaque cover and put it on a trailer where it sits up high. I can pull it to the house with my tractor to fill it, then park it in the field, attach field lines and use it to gravity-feed a hose out to wherever I have the pasture water that day.

Here's the problems with that idea:

 1. Still have to invest a lot of time and money into building / buying a trailer for this.
 2. This plan breaks down when the ground is too wet to pull a heavily loaded water trailer.
 3. Doesn't really provide a good winter solution.

Wind Power

A second option - I have an old dug well nearby with the water down between 6 and 12 feet, depending on the time of year. I don't have power to the well, and bringing power would require breaking a bunch of old concrete. I could potentially add a windmill pump and a tank, and gravity feed the pasture,  but I'd need a big tank  up fairly high to have enough of a pressure head to feed out to the pasture. Option B would be to run the outfeed from the wind pump directly to the trough in the pasture, but that may not be too dependable. I think I need a tank buffer to carry through those periodic no-wind summer days.


1. The well is in the middle of the turnaround circle of our driveway, under a nice mature Red Maple that would have to come down if I built a windmill.
2. Not sure how much tank buffer capacity I would need to reasonably have.
3. I'm not sure my wife would be a big fan of having all the water infrastructure front and center on our property
4. Still doesn't give me a good winter solution.

Does anyone have any other thoughts or ideas about how to reasonably and cheaply develop a water solution?

10 months ago
Hi all!

For years, I've had an interest in soil science. I've read all Dr. Redhawk's soil threads. I've listened to Dr. Ingham's lectures on Youtube. I've read a bunch of different papers over the years. All very good information... sometimes it conflicts, but all very interesting.

For the last year or so, I've been considering taking the Soil Foodweb School course with an eye to opening a second business doing soil consulting. The value I see is having a certification (yes, that means something to clients) and to be attached to a somewhat reputably 'brand'. Plus getting some hand-on training in microscopy and recognition, along with resources to aid in that.

However, the course is $5k USD for the Foundation's courses, and you are approaching $10k USD by the time you have everything done for the Consultant Training Program. That's a lot to shell out! And because it's not from a government-accredited institution, I can't even claim it on my income taxes on it as job training / professional education. If I am convinced I want to start a business following, I could open the business and charge the course as a capital expense. However, the tax class only allows me to deduct 5% per year, so it would take 20 years to write it all off...

Here's my concerns:

1. It seems like every few years, the course gets rebranded and the price goes up. Yes, free market etc.... but this raises some red flags. They've developed a good marketing machine, but I can find relatively little information from folks who have taken it regarding the content and value. Especially in the last few years - most feedback is at least 3-4 years old and from before the more recent and more expensive iteration.

2. I feel like I have a fairly strong knowledge on soil science basics from years of research and reading on my own. What's the incremental value I'm getting for all that money? To commit to this level financially requires me to *know* what I will be able to do at the end. If I spend the money, but receive only moderate incremental value... that would hurt.

3. Ultimately, there's no way to dip your toe in the water and see what you are going to get. At this price point, it's a big risk with an unclear reward.

So... I'm looking for feedback and personal experience with the course. How did it go? What did you get from it?
10 months ago
Thanks for the tips from practical experience, Joseph!
1 year ago
Hi all.

This past year, I ordered and planted Lofthouse Dry Bush Beans - they are growing well, and I'm looking forward to harvesting (and saving) them this year!

However, I also have planted several varieties of beans that are intended as green beans in close proximity, and I was considering doing more. I have 5-6 varieties of green beans in various left over packets from previous years, and I was just going to plant them all. My hope is to never buy bean seed again.

However, I'd love to maintain both a dry bean population and a green bean population, so this leads me to a few questions:

1. I've never grown dry beans before. Will cross polination between green and dry beans 'ruin' both varieties?
2. How common is inter-plant polination? Looking at Josephs dry bean cultivar, it appears that there are a consistent 5-10 separate phenotypes of bean from year to year. Does this mean that most polination is self-polination?
3. How would you select within these two populations to help keep my green beans crunch and edible in their stage, and the dry beans consistent with their properties for storage and cooking?

With better planning, I would have at least grown them on separate ends of the garden to open up some space in between, but... I didn't.

Thanks in advance for any advice!
1 year ago
Thanks for the responses all! Sounds like I don't have to worry, and if it does happen, I'll call it a good thing and something new to play with!  The odd cross would be exciting and interesting - I was just concerned about finding both varieties intermixing with eachother after a generation or two, which sounds unlikely.

Joseph - actually, the pepo in this case is your Winter Pepo, ordered from EFN! The Maximas are the Nanticoke squash, also from EFN. I've been reading your squash, tomato and other threads for the last few years, and have been itching to get my hands on some of your varieties to experiment with. I also have your dry bush beans and the Chariot tomato coming. Don't hesitate to follow up if there's anything I can do up here to help advance your breeding work. I find it tremendously interesting.

1 year ago
This should be a simple question, but Google has given me both 'yes' and 'no' answers, depending where I look.

I'm looking to plant both a C.pepo and C.maxima in my garden this year, with an eye to saving seed. However, I'd like to know if they are going to cross polinate and give me unpredictable results. If not, I may restrict myself to only the C.pepo this year.

Thanks for any help!
1 year ago

Andrea Locke wrote:Curious to know whether anyone followed through on tapping red alder for sap, and how that went?

We have lots of red alder at our new place and according to one of my herb books the sap is rich in vitamins and is consumed as a tonic. So I am starting to think seriously about tapping.

I'm not sure about alder, but birches (which are relatives) have between 0.5%-2% sugars in their sap, while maples run 1-5%, and sugar maples in optimal conditions can possibly even hit 6%. My silver maples here calculate out to about 3-3.5% sugar content, but they are in good soil, planted in a single row along a field edge, so they get full sunlight.

With respect to syrup production, the amount of syrup yielded by a given amount of sap will be less. It will taste different, but I've heard it's good. It's not something I've ever tried myself.
1 year ago

Hamilton Betchman wrote:

Good morning, Brian.

I have been gardening with arborist's wood chips for 3 years now.
Although they are a great source for garden amendment, wood chips alone are not always enough.

When I made my beds in the late summer/ early fall, I first used several types of compost and several types of manures. I then put down about a foot of chips.

That winter, I planted my brassicas in trenches of good soil. They grew spectacularly, however they needed more water than I was used to using. I use Korean organic farming inputs, and I had to water with fertilizer once per week.

By that next spring, I was able to grow anything that was not a root vegetable with ease!

Now, starting year 3, root crops are growing great because the texture of the soil is perfect.

I constantly mulch with leaves, grass clippings, and more chips; as needed and constantly, being sure to keep at least  4 inches of mulch across the garden at all times.

I hope you can glean from this experience to help with your vegetable problems.

Onto the subject of the evil grasses; I have bermuda grass, Devil grass. I was able to conquer this nuisance by first laying down layers of cardboard and newspaper, but I have been plenty successful with just plain wood chips.

The key is to really load down the mulch, over 16 inches, after being packed down with rain and foot traffic.

You will still get a few survivors that you need to pull up.

You then need a fairly wide and deep trench around the perimeter of the garden.

Finally you have to maintain the trench and the mulch in your garden, constantly add mulch.

My garden is approximately 2000 square feet, and I can maintain the weeds and trenches alone with less than 15 minutes of work per week, as long as I stay on top of it.

Thank you for the thoughts. I suspect you are on the right track in that I need to supplement the fertility. My hope was that the woodchips alone would provide that fertility, but so far no dice. My intention for next year is to strongly supplement the garden with (imported) compost, as well as bringing in some mushroom spawn and red wrigglers to increase the activity and decomposition rate.

I have a good relationship with the local electric utility's forestry crew, so I have a near-unlimited supply of ramial woodchips cur from power lines along the rural roads here, so as fast as the woodchips decompose, I can replace them.
1 year ago