stephen lowe

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since Jul 05, 2017
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Recent posts by stephen lowe

A lot of the things that you named are better suited to prevention in my experience. You might want to explore biological controls. I have heard good things about a company called Microbe Lift or Microbe Life being used to help citrus in Florida. Another technique I've used on annuals with surface molds like powdery mildew is using potassium bicarbonate (typically sold as a natural pH adjuster) to create a spray with a pH close to 10.
1 week ago
Thank you all for your replies. I think I am going to let this one sit for a while and see if I can't end up with some wonderful finished compost in another month or two. My continuing issue is dealing with our kitchen scraps. I feel like it builds up and the best plan I have is to keep turning it into my compost, but then it seems like the compost never finishes. Might just have to store it up and build another big pile in a few months when I have a whole bunch stored.
1 week ago
I have been dabbling with a variety of composting methods lately. I made some giant, woodchip heavy, static piles two years ago. Last year I played around with a couple different forms of anaerobic composting followed by heavy aeration, as well as some vermicomposting. All of those produced mixed results and (although if I owned my own land and could dedicate a goodly sized plot to compost I would definitely make use of large static wood heavy piles) none of them gave me the benefits of using up my kitchen/garden scraps in a timely manner while producing good quality compost. This year, the technique I am pursuing is the more traditional aerobic compost piles with turning every 10-20 days using bokashi fermented kitchen scraps, mostly sun dried (we live in the fog so 'sun' and 'dry' are relative terms) yard waste, potting soil full of rootballs, saw dust, and any other things I can get my hands on. I have just turned my current pile for the 4th time and while I am starting to see some good results there is still a fair bit of uncomposted material and there are pockets that smell like they have managed to remain anaerobic. I always break up any clumps like this that I find and also try to break up and scatter any heavily innoculated clumps.

Now my question is, those of you who make these aerobic piles, how many times do you turn them before you find they are done? Does there come a time when you turn it a final time and just leave it for however long until you need it?
1 week ago
To find out for sure you will either have to dig out some dead or dying roots and identify the offending organism or submit a soil sample to a qualified lab that can do a biological assay. If it is a fungal pathogen then you can use things like copper based fungicides or find other microbes that will predate the offending organism. For pretty much any pathogen there are commercially available 'enemies' that can be purchased and applied.
4 weeks ago
I recently took my big barrel of bokashi fermented kitchen scraps and mixed it into my compost pile. It heated up extremely quickly and when I turned it again about 10 days later there was an amazing amount of visible colonization by fungi throughout the middle layer of the pile. The center had literally burned some things to ash, then there was a sphere that was thick with hyphae, and then the outer layer (the most done compost from the center of the original pile) was full of worms and bugs. Even a bunch of redwood saw dust that I added is breaking down quickly.
4 weeks ago
I think you got it then, I would also recommend using it in compost. If it has lots of rootballs then those roots are very mineral rich. One reason I love getting used grow soil when I can get clean stuff is that marijuana is a high value crop and as such the growers tend to spend lots of money mineralizing their soil (assuming they know what they are doing). So you can basically get a whole lot of expensive inputs for free when they give away their 'used' soil.
1 month ago
I've got lots of experience with this stuff too, it is the big industry around here as well. If you can verify that the soil came from an organic operation (they do exist, although they are usually less likely to be getting rid of their soil) then there are absolutely no downsides to it. Perlite is gross in its production but is ultimately a 'natural' product in that it is simply specific rock subjected to an industrial 'jet puffing' process. The soil will definitely help to loosen clay soils if tilled in and, as it is typically a neutral media, it can be great as a seed starting mix. I have used it primarily as a compost additive though. I find that my kitchen compost is far to wet to compost well on its own and since we are in evergreen forest we don't have the dry leaf litter that is a great remedy for that. With a few trashcans of old grow dirt on hand I can mix this super dry and absorbent stuff with my soggy kitchen scraps and make a good compost consistency. The other thing you can do with it is mix it with finished compost to make a wonderful container soil. To me, the primary question is the practices of the farm it came from, if you are getting it from a chemy farm then you are just importing chemical residues that you probably don't want to your land. If you are getting it from an organic operation than you are just importing organic matter that is great for loosening overly dense soils and increasing drainage but that would never be economical to buy yourself. You are right about the perlite but really most of the weed soil is coco coir and perlite and some peat. There is also often a serious excess of phosphorous because it is not used as fast as people think (the flower to leaf ratio on my borage is preposterous).
1 month ago
Unless that picture has been adulterated I would say you have your answer. Looks very possible. Might suffer some aesthetic damage after a few hours being towed at 55 mph.
1 month ago

Westley Wu wrote:Paul, first of all thank you for all your Hugelkultur content on richsoil.com and here on permies!  I’ve been doing weeks of reading to build our garden here in Northern California.  In short I’ve spent the weekends this summer building a 25ft. long terraced / raised bed veggie garden (to defend against the multitude of rodents everywhere around us) along the contour of a pretty steep slope.  Now it’s time to fill it Hugelkultur style and I’m running into issues - can you help?

We live right in the redwood forest, which is beautiful but all the recommended wood for Hugelkultur are in scarce supply naturally for acres in each direction.  And the local firewood companies only sell Oak, Almond, Walnut, and Eucalyptus.  The same goes for the litter/branches/twigs layer - most tree company cuttings are California Pepperwood, Oak, Bay Laurel, or some sort of coniferous tree.  All of the above are highly allelopathic, which is the challenge I’m facing.

So far I’ve managed to find a few dead Maple limbs but that’s all, and logs on the forest floor that are well decomposed so I collected them thinking they’d be OK, I think most of them are Oak.  I’ve resorted to putting freshly felled Oak logs on the bottom, then the decomposing maple and oak logs.  Am wondering if that will produce fertile soil for vegetables?  or will the Oak stunt all our plant growth?  And what should I use for litter?  I have a truckload of woodchips from a local tree company that’s been decomposing for 1-2 years, it was “green” (with leaves) which they said was a mix of oak and other trees.  Nothing grows out of the pile though...but I do see strands of white fungus mycelium growing to a depth of ~6” and the twigs deep down have moisture and easily break in my hands vs. “snapping” or being sharp like fresh woodchips.  Would this be a good next layer for the Hugel bed?

Or can I use the overly abundant redwood litter?  We have a 2 year old compost pile (about a cubic yard) but the brown matter has largely been redwood litter (we were not aware of allelopathy until this summer, and besides we don’t have any other brown matter around).  Is it a good idea to add this compost on top of the wood and litter layers?  I would remediate 50/50 w the clay soil I dug up from the postholes and then use purchased topsoil.

Would greatly appreciate your expert thoughts and ideas!  Anyone else who’s on the forum, we’d also welcome your feedback!



Westley, I think that your compost would be a great addition (there must be lots of redwood and evergreen digesting microbes), along with any local soil (no matter how clayey. In my experience in the land of redwoods the speed of arriving at good veggie soil is closely tied to the ammount of imported hummus and looser topsoil. What you have going on sounds like it will be working great after a few years of trying and irrigating. Compost and manure will help. I would love to see pictures over the next few seasons, good luck!
1 month ago
What you saw Roberto might well have been a crop grown for both seed and fiber. I have seen video of farms in europe where the tops of the hemp grown in the sort of conditions you are talking about are harvested to make a high protein animal feed while the bottoms are harvested for fiber.

I'll second Chris's thoughts too that the really exciting possibility for hemp is it's industrial applications. My understanding is that it can offer many of the benefits of fallowing a field while still providing a crop of biomass to make paper, bioplastics, fodder, building material (hempcrete), or medicine. From friends that have worked in and around the burgeoning hemp industry in Colorado it sounds like it is already providing a much needed infusion of reliable farm income to small farmers open to embracing this new old plant. So much so that some communities are seeing hemp acreage nearly double year to year as folks see neighboring farms go from scraping by to thriving in the blink of an agricultural eye. I've heard similar excitement from Vermont.
1 month ago