Amanda Koster

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since Dec 17, 2018
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chicken forest garden writing
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Recent posts by Amanda Koster

I have been told in a gardening class that you do not want to add sand as an amendment to heavy clay soils, because the soils behave like clay with as little as 20% clay size particles. The proportion of sand you would need to add to 'amend' the clay soil is large enough that usually it isn't worth doing. Instead the extension office suggests adding a lot of organic matter and stimulating your underground microbiome - the microorganisms, roots and earthworms help create larger aggregates within the clay that then helps with drainage issues, compaction issues and small pore spaces of clays. Ground covers such as daikon radish are also tremendously useful in breaking through clays.

I can't say exactly for your area, but we have a lot of clay in our region that makes gardening a challenge as well.
3 weeks ago

Savaan Davis wrote: The land is located in Colorado around 5000ft elevation.

The bad:
7.9 pH
high lime, low N, low P
3.6% organic matter
Under 12" of annual rainfall

I think we might be in the same area. Would be curious as to how your experiment worked out for you.
1 month ago
Thanks everyone for the wisdom and ideas! I really appreciate it.

@Eric: the climate is semi-arid and we average about 9.42 in of rain annually due to being in a rain shadow. As you can imagine, nobody dry farms here. We do have sun about 72% of the time as well, which is a lot of the reason I want more trees! As for my land, it's a little over an acre. Most of what my grandparents grew have died due to irrigation issues, except for a very hardy apricot tree, a struggling ponderosa pine, some juniper shrubs that don't care about drought, and quite a few russian olives that we plan to remove (they're considered highly invasive in the west). We think that the lawn areas are bermuda grass. I'd like to replace that too with either ecoturf or a cover crop blend for pollinators where lawn is actually needed. I'm a lawn hater :)

I have heard some great things about cowpeas and cover crops in general. Thanks for the link it's perfect!

1 month ago
I was very excited about the prospects of experimenting with a food forest on my grandpa's old property up until I looked at the USDA's soil survey on the area. Apparently the entire property has a capability grouping of 7s (irrigated!), which to paraphrase the USDA's site makes it basically worthless for cultivating anything other than pasture. To make matters worse, the soil is highly alkaline (> or = 8 on the pH scale). Although I could introduce sulfur or pine needles to decrease the pH a bit, the fact that the entire valley used to be a sea bed makes me think that's one of those 'spitting into the wind' ideas.

I've been doing a lot of reading on improving soils with permaculture strategies, but I have to wonder what the limitations are for soil improvement. Is it smarter to just keep looking for a better patch of land?

1 month ago
Hi Charles!

I'm researching eco-villages in and around Colorado. I sent you an email :)
1 month ago

Dani Cohen wrote:
Personally I’d make it a freemium and add as ad system that makes people have to do surveys to earn “coins” to speed up crop production or the time is a long wait but it should be able to balanced with survey and not keep rising up to the point that people have to pay. A lot of people don’t like freemium but there are some very well balanced ones out there that you can earn the stuff you need if your willing to put a bit of survey effort.

And advertisements is big money.

My two cents: I wouldn't play a game no matter how fun it is if it had time-gated content with an optional pay-to-win-faster sort of scenario. I imagine more like Stardew Valley with more realistic and permaculture-related concepts. (It is awfully difficult to make plant guilds when there's not a lot of perennials to pick from in the first place). There are a lot of gardening games out there with very "cutesy" content but I wouldn't call most of them very educational in that respect. If it were a good indie game with depth of content, I might pay $20-30 for it on Steam.

I'm currently looking for a good landscape design program since I don't want to draw everything by hand, so that aspect is more interesting to me currently
1 month ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:  I have had much better success with buried wood beds, which, while they did not eliminate the need for irrigation, significantly reduced it.

This makes more sense to me from what I've read and experienced with living in Western Colorado's semi-arid climate. I apologize that I forget the source I read this from, but I have seen some indigenous growing methods for arid climates that sink the growing beds in the ground instead of raising them. As others have said any small raised area will quickly be dried out by the hot summer winds and sunshine, while a properly protected depression (say by a small berm planted with more drought-tolerate species on the windward side) will create a more temperate microclimate.
1 month ago
Thanks everyone for your insight and support! I hoped at the very least my little rant would be entertaining, so I'm glad to hear it was!

Ken W Wilson wrote:Do you have any plans yet for how you are going to implement permaculture? Maybe you’re still studying and haven’t decided?

Thanks for the question Ken! I do have a couple things in the works for next year: I'm getting a Master Gardener Certification from our local extension office so I can help people with their garden issues and hopefully spread the word about better gardening/farming practices. In my area we call permaculture "perma-what-now?" so I'm looking forward to the teaching side. I'm also hoping to get locals interested in doing volunteer garden work for our schools so they can have more hands-on learning experiences outside the classroom. Sadly, most public schools in our area don't have access to community gardens.

I'm also going to be taking a bee keeping course so I can provide our buzzy friends with a nice home and I'm getting my PDC in August. Lots of things to look forward to!

We might have some land in the works too, just slightly over an acre to work with, but we aren't sure yet.
1 month ago

Cristo Balete wrote:Greening the deserts seems to occur to people who think that deserts aren't doing the planet any good.  It couldn't be further from the truth.  The notion that if people can't live there, everything else that does live there, doesn't matter is not a very planet-healthy notion, is it?

A desert is not just a functioning zone all its own, which is crucial for the plants/animals/insects that live there,  but the hot air it produces that actually helps bring rainfall to the green lands bordering it.

I completely agree with this sentiment after seeing how people treat the desert I live in (Intermountain Desert). Most often people completely trash it because they don't see the natural beauty of the landscape or the ecological richness of the organisms that live there. I hope that people in general will realize the difference between a desert that is naturally-formed and a human-made wasteland. It saddens me to see organizations like the Bureau of Land Management completely tear apart a sagebrush shrubland so that they can plant grass for cattle grazing, but they do. They don't consider the fact that they are creating more early succession habitat for opportunists like Cheatgrass and destroying organisms that take hundreds of years to establish.

I support greening the desert where it's the responsible thing to do
2 months ago
I remember my mother swatting a spider out of my hand when I was a little girl. It was that age of unquenchable curiosity, and at that moment I was wondering what a spider tasted like. I never found out, although I am deeply amused now to find out that I can buy candied crickets and fried scorpions as a protein-rich snack. (But I did learn early on why grass isn’t an ingredient in even the most exotic salad.)
Many would say that I’ve lived a sheltered life. We didn’t see hardships when I was growing up, although my parents argued as most do and grandpa told me stories about living in Kansas during the Dust Bowl years. We had a few chickens and bees and cows, but we lived within ten minutes of town. I didn’t even have a job until I was eighteen and in that awkward stage of life where we don’t know what we really want, but we’re sure we don’t want to be around our parents. That job led me to realize that I much preferred to go back to school as tell people what aisle the capers were on for the rest of my life.
Then I discovered that I love the planet I live on and all of the intricacies that make life possible, and I love learning about it. I became so much of an academic during my later years of college that I never socialized. I didn’t make any friends or go to any parties or have much to do with social media. In fact, I think if the human race communicated only through written word - well-thought essays, logical debate, humorous autobiographies and friendly critique – the world would be a much happier place.
But as it happens the “real world” introduces itself eventually with all the politeness of a child throwing a tantrum, through bills and complaints and rejection letters. The world after school became a land of broken promises, a post-apocalyptic wasteland of corporate greed and corruption. The career path seemed only to lead to the ever-churning meat grinder of the modern industrialized world. I began to wonder, as we all do at some point in our lives, about my purpose. About my niche. Was it possible that some of us simply had no niche?
Permaculture people know that everything in an ecosystem has a niche. Everything has something to offer. It may not always be what a gardener wants, but everything living has a role to play. Why? Because everything finds a place that can sustain and nurture their being. Humans aren’t in essence different than any other animal. We have needs, and we have wants. Both a human and a cat will gladly find a nice sunny spot to lounge around in on a nice day. The amazing thing that we can do that is different than many other non-social animals is that we can create our own niche. It isn’t something that’s handed to us… it shouldn’t be. How can anyone else know exactly what makes us happy? I love to play music, but there are many people who’d rather fix a car or build a birdhouse. By our personality traits, we have already begun to create our niche in the world. And the world is a much bigger and more amazing place than we have been taught by society.
Modern society has tried very hard to enclose us in our own tiny boxes. We are told that there isn’t anything outside of the box, nothing to be concerned about anyway. Meanwhile we’re constantly bombarded by violence, fear, anger and hatred from all sources of media. We have to protect our families. We have to protect what’s inside our box. The only way to do that is to do everything we’re told. Our niche is whatever society dictates we can do, so long as we remain the loyal consumer. Why aren't we all just happy little campers then?
Consumer is a funny word. Consumers play a vital role in stable ecosystems. Consider the humble robin; robins consume insects for energy and thus help curb insect populations so they don't explode out of control. They also become food for larger birds of prey. They transfer the energy from the insects they’ve eaten to organisms higher in the food chain. However, the consumer cannot exist without a diversity of producers – the plants that the insects eat for their energy. None of them can exist without decomposers that recycle nutrients back into the soil. It's a beautiful system that most of us don't think about much day-to-day although we are intimately involved in it.
If I compare, as a laywoman, the economy to an ecosystem, I immediately realize that this ecosystem is in serious trouble. There is a very large number of consumers compared to a very small amount of producers (manufacturing, farms etc.), and hardly any decomposers (recycling). The number of consumers is growing each day, while the diversity of producers is shrinking as large corporations devour smaller competition. I might compare this scenario to a plague of locusts, which doesn’t leave a very pleasant future for our planet. Yes, I am comparing myself to an "icky bug". Some mornings I really believe it.
Here’s where our free will becomes relevant again. We can create our own niche, which means we don’t have to simply be a consumer. We can also be a producer. We can be a decomposer. Many people already fill these roles by having their own gardens, buying and selling locally, recycling, using natural and re-usable materials, and of course teaching these habits to the next generation. These people are doing more than simply filling a niche though, and that’s what’s truly amazing. Or to use my husband’s favorite word, fascinazing. These people are finding healthy relationships, personal happiness and a sense of purpose and pride in a society that so often degrades these values. What I would give to have those things in my life. But how can we attain something we can’t simply buy from a retailer?
The funny thing about that moment when you finally have those stars in your eyes about something, when you think this is what I want to do is that usually you don’t have the slightest idea of where to start. As a hobby academic and introvert I generally start with books, but even I realize that you can’t learn everything from books. Some things require a more hands-on approach. Permaculture is one of them. I’ve only found that my curiosity has grown from my reading, starting with Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden through Jacke and Toensmeier’s Edible Forest Gardens and even into more specialized topics like Jessi Bloom’s Free-Range Chicken Gardens. I immediately wanted to meet these authors and the people they wrote about, ask them questions and learn from them. I wanted to walk around in an ecovillage and see how life could be different than I ever imagined.
You’d think that I’d started this journey of self-discovery years ago. In reality, it's only been about six months since I took five minutes to look up what the unknown word permaculture meant. Since then I have plunged fully into a new world of personal and ecological regeneration, self-sufficiency, worldly wisdom, native genius, hope and cooperation. It sounds too good to be true, but only because we have been taught to question happiness and doubt ourselves.
I have much to learn and a long journey to make still, but I much prefer the garden path to the sidewalk.
2 months ago