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Jeffrey McConnaughey

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since Jul 22, 2017
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Recent posts by Jeffrey McConnaughey

For timber, shade, or agroforestry: Paulownia tomentosa - ornamental with huge leaves and large fragrant purple flowers, nitrogen fixing, provides dappled shade good for undergrowth or alley crops, extremeley fast growing

For fruit and medicine: Elderberry (Sambucus spp.)

For nuts or seeds: Pistachios for areas that experience wide fluctuations in water availability, like California. While they need a lot of water to produce well, water can be withheld in dry years with little damage to the trees, and other low water-use annual crops can be grown in the alleys instead. Elsewhere, where water availability is more consistent, the American Chestnut...sigh.
4 months ago
I've found that ants seem to prefer honeydew produced from aphids raised on sunflowers (any Helianthus spp. including Sunchokes and various perennial sunflowers) and will pull aphids off of everything 30-75 feet from the sunflowers (depending on the sunflower plot size). Best of all, the sunflowers don't seem to be bothered by the aphids, even when infested heavily.

Always had a hard time keeping the aphids at bay on certain crops, but the worst always was yardlong beans; aphids would become so infested they would destroy flowers before they set fruit and would damage the fruits to the point they would not be marketable. I almost gave up on the crop entirely. Then one year I planted bed full of sunchokes about 20 ft away from one of my yardlong bean plots and that plot had zero aphids. Another plot of yardlong beans was around 100 feet away from the sunchokes and was infested normally. The sunchokes were infested with aphids and covered with ants, but yields were good. The next season I tried annual sunflowers in one part of the garden and planted a row of perennial Maximillian sunflowers along one edge. Both were effective at enticing the ants to round up all the nearby aphids and tend them on the sunflowers instead of my crops.
4 months ago
Seeds, nuts and grains are excellent sources of Phosphorus.

As for sources from yard waste, chestnuts and related trees might be one option; it's rare to find one without a carpet of the seeds underneath it.  Might be hard to find enough to meet your needs, though.
If you live in an area with a lot of orchards, there might be a processing facility that can help. Peach and cherry processing facitlites must have a solid waste stream of the pits. Mango, Squash, and Avocado processors probably have a lot of seed in their waste streams as well.

Also, grain farms might have variable amounts of old or rotted grain they would be happy to have someone take off their hands. I've read that the current trade war is making grain hard to sell and storage facilities are charging high prices as they fill up, so some farms are storing it haphazardly in barns and sheds, in hopes that prices will move in their favor. But if it doesn't, that grain might end up being little more than a waste product.
Best of luck!
4 months ago
Try Red Cheese or other 'Cheese' types. Basically paprika peppers that look like mini-bells but more adaptable imho. Most will produce peppers in 60 days or so. 'Super Shepard'  is a sublime early Italian sweet pepper variety, very early (most list it at 65-70 days) and productive on compact plants. If you've never tasted Italian sweet peppers, be forewarned, you'll forever find regular bell peppers to be vastly inferior. They taste similar to Mike & Ike candy.

If you'd like a bit of spice, try Shishito peppers. These small peppers are basically a Japanese version of Peperoncini peppers. Super early and productive; most are very mild but you might find a spicy one occasionally.

Use a heat mat or germinate your seedlings on top of your refrigerator. Start them as early as you dare. Last week might not be too soon for your climate. Some people keep their peppers in pots so they can bring them inside through the winter. Most struggle without supplemental lighting, though.

To speed things up in mild-summer climates like yours, there are two other things worth trying:
1)  Use clear plastic mulch. This will warm up soil temps a lot, which is really the key. Biggest problem with this method is weeds love the heat as much as the peppers.
2) Make a low tunnel using thick gauge wire and cover it with a small piece of greenhouse plastic and secure the edges tightly to the ground. Cut 6-12" vertical slits in it every 12 inches or so on both sides or it will get too hot in there, even for heat loving peppers. If you get a freak hot spell in the summer or notice any heat damage to the plants, remove the cover entirely and put it back when temps moderate. There is also slitted low tunnel plastic available commercially.

David Livingston wrote:Fava beans cannot be grown where I live

If you live in Anjou, France, then Fava beans can definitely be grown there. Plant from Mid-October through mid-November for June harvest. They shouldn't need any irrigation at your location and do well interplanted with old (tall) varieties of wheat. Most varieties are hardy to below -10 degrees C.
Well I am a skeptic. Can anyone find a published study that provides evidence that these biodynamic preparations have a greater effect on crop yields than, say, applications of compost or even green manuring? I sure can't.

For example, this study examined affects of biodynamic preparations on potato yield. It found that biodynamic preparations increased potato yields by 0%, 6%, and 33%, depending on variety. That is an average of 13% yield increase compared with the control. It is not clear whether the control was sprayed with water lacking biodynamic preparations or not.

In contrast, this study found that applications of compost improved potato yield by 50% at 7,344 kg compost/ha and by 89% at double that rate over the control treatment.

Similarly, this study found that green manure applications increased potato yield by 24% over mineral fertilizers and 56% over the control treatment.

To summarize:
1) compost applications improved potato yields 37%-76% more than biodynamic preparations, compared with controls
2) green manure applications improved potato yields 43% more than biodynamic preparations, compared with controls
3) Mineral fertilizers (without compost or green manure application) improved potato yields 11% more than biodynamic preparations, compared with controls.

I picked potatoes because the first legit study I came across examining affects of biodynamic preparations on crop yields studied potatoes. Could other crops react differently? Sure. But we have to start somewhere.

However, this isn't the whole story. The ultimate question for a farmer is which treatment is most cost effective? Based on real world costs and percent yield increases from studies cited above these work out to:
Compost: I can get good compost for $30/cubic yard, delivered. 7,344 kg/ha equals 6,552 lbs/acre, roughly 6 cubic yards per acre, worth $180. A skilled operator can spread that much in about 2 hours, costing $3 for fuel and 2 labor hours @$13/hour = $29. $219 total, or $4.18 per percentage increase in yield over the control.
Green Manure: Net costs of cover cropping run around $25-$30 per acre. That amounts to $0.53 per percent increase in yield over the control.
Biodynamic preparations: According to this study, 2 applications each of BD500 and BD501 cost $79/acre, or $6.07 per percent increase in mean yield over the control. Note that in the biodynamic study, BD501 was applied three times, but I won't waste more time accounting for that.

Thus the biodynamic preparations have the smallest effect on, and the highest cost per unit of, yield increase compared with doing nothing. If I could only afford to do one thing to my field, application of biodynamic preparations would not be my choice. I challenge the BD folks out there to convince me otherwise.
5 months ago
I am curious if anyone knows of actual landraces still surviving in the US..

Some criteria to qualify what constitutes a landrace:
- Historical origin
- Many growers in a region including at least some that grow it at medium or large scales for economic purposes.
- High genetic diversity. Different populations are phenotypically distinct, yet it shares the same name
- local adaptation
- little or no improvement from formal breeding programs
- evidence of continuous geneflow among populations

I have only encountered a few, all in one particular region of the country - the southern Appalachians

A Cucurbita maxima landrace known as 'Candyroaster' centered around western North Carolina, but extending into north Georgia and parts of south Virginia. Not to be confused with various Candyroaster varieties available commercially, which tend to be just one phenotype of the landrace. Fruit phenotypes include round, turban, oblong, hubbard, and torpedo types, with shell colors ranging from pink to yellow to orange. Flesh is always fine and orange, with exceptional flavor. Some populations are very diverse.  It is still grown by many commercial farms in the region, as well as scores of gardeners. It probably owes its survival to a large baby food industry that was centered in the southern Appalachians from the 1940s through the early 1990s. Virtually impossible to prevent geneflow among nearby populations.

A southern flint corn landrace called Keener corn. Endangered. Populations include white, yellow, and mixed kernals. Flint corn is not grown in the south; it's viturally all dent corn that's grown there. But an isolated community in NE Georgia has kept it alive, mainly due to a a few families that valued it for its culinary qualities and a local grist mill there called Barker's Grist Mill. At least dozen growers still produced it when I last visited (almost 10 years ago) and nowadays it seems there are less than 5 growers left, most past retirement age. It is made into flour and grits at the grist mill, which are available commercially (albeit in very limited quantities) Geneflow among populations is both apparent and probable due to the long distances corn pollen can travel and the relatively small area it is grown in. At this point it may not technically meet the criteria as a landrace due to so few growers. I hope it can survive!

"Greasy beans" probably constitute another landrace grown throughout the southern Appalachians, although several uniform phenotypes have been commercialized and a few strains have been developed in formal breeding programs. While greasy beans - as a whole - possess a lot of genetic diversity, most growers seem to maintain a single phenotype, and are reluctant to try or incorporate others into their population. This may not meet the last criterion listed above, as beans are relatively easy to isolate and prevent geneflow among populations grown relatively close to one another. But I could also be totally wrong; I didn't really explore the genetics as well as I did for the corn and squash landraces.

I'd love to hear about others. I think the Arikara squash might qualify, but commercially available seed seems to produce just one phenotype. I've not spent much time in North Dakota, so I don't know.

5 months ago
Kudzu is easily eradicated with goats. The monicker "the weed that ate the south" is SO exaggerated. I've been all over the south and Kudzu is almost always (and only) found along roadsides, which makes it very visible to travelling city-dwellers, who must think the whole countryside is covered with it. In fact, it was planted intentionally along roadsides with steep slopes to stabilize them. These roadside plantings, isolated from grazing and impractical to manage, have mostly thrived, while elsewhere the plant is virtually absent from the landscape. Asian privet covers some 14 times the area that Kudzu does. Meanwhile, the hysteria surrounding kudzu has resulted in the introduction of the kudzu beetle which is a major pest of beans and other legume crops. Worse, they emit a substance that causes allergic reactions in many people, making harvesting beans a tricky task.

Invasive species hysteria may be the biggest pest of all. It creates a bias in many naturalists that tends to focus on negative impacts and overlooks positive ones, especially if the positive ones do not benefit humans directly.  I could cite dozens of examples where attempts to eradicate so-called invasive species have caused far more damage than the species itself. "Invasive species" is little more than a re-branding of the words "weed" or "pest", as they tend to have far bigger economic impacts than ecological ones. In fact, most have net positive ecological impacts.

Puncturevine and spiny amaranth have to be the most annoying weeds on one's hands. Spiny amaranth looks just like regular amaranth until you try to pull it up...ouch! Luckily both are easily managed with a hoe.

Field bindweed, Bermuda grass, and nutsedge are the most difficult weeds - that tend to occur widely - to control organically. Johnson Grass and Bamboo can be harder to control, but they tend to occur in small clumps rather than invade whole fields. The first two will find their way out from under plastic mulch while the latter, with its sharp leaf tips, grows right through it. The first two will also grow through even heavy mulch applications.

Nutsedge can be eradicated with pigs. Sheet mulching works on nutsedge and Bermuda grass. While both methods will kill existing populations of field bindweed, seeds survive in the soil for up to 50 years and new populations will grow over time. This aspect might make field bindweed the worst weed of all, at least for me.

5 months ago
@Jason the great plains ecosystem is nothing like the Mammoth steppe biome. Shortgrass prairie wouldn't support Mammoths even if scientists could resurrect them from extinction. It is possible that mammoths altered the Taiga/Boreal Forest biome by clearing trees to produce the Mammoth steppe and, if so, might be appropriate there. However, I do favor introducing actual elephants to wildlife reserves rehabilitiated from formerly devestated areas in the neotropics.

@Bryan I had no intention of hijacking the thread and surely think there is room for other ideas on the "future of cattle ranching" in other parts of the continent, outside of the great plains. The "Bison Commons" idea does seem like a good great alternative to the existing land use paradigm on shortgrass prairies found in the great plains. I hope you agree.

I see absolutely no problem with range-raised/grass finished beef in the far west and other dry areas. Feedlot-finished beef is another matter all together, and I don't think anyone thinks it is the future of sustainable ranching or beef production.
I look forward to other ideas on how to make cattle ranching truely sustainable, especially west of the North American continental divide.

5 months ago