Andrea Locke

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since Aug 25, 2019
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Gulf Islands BC (zone 8)
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Recent posts by Andrea Locke

I'm thinking about best strategies for capturing and retaining water in our 5 acre swaled food forest/orchard area. Here in coastal BC, there is ample water supply on an annual basis, but almost all of it falls in winter, and in recent years there's been unprecedented heat waves and months without rainfall in summer. Capturing and retaining the winter rainfall/snow is definitely the key to summer survival of plants.

The soil is sandy and rocky (sandstone) with very little organic water holding capacity.  In the three years we've had the property we've been working to improve the organic matter of the soil with cover crops, chicken tractors, addition of organic material such as manure, plant trimmings and wood chip mulch, and biodiverse understory plantings to shade/protect the soil. We mostly have the wood chip mulch in rings about 1 yard in diameter around our young trees, starting about 6 inches out from the trunk of the tree. More mulch would be nice, but we can't easily source enough to wood-mulch the whole area.

We do water as possible during the worst of the heat waves but it's challenging given the size of the area and the amount of water available. We hope to get to a point where we can hold enough of the winter's water to get through the dry season without providing additional water.

One strategy that might help condense and/or hold water that I feel we haven't utilized to its full potential is adding more large rocks around the trees or in the swale ditches. There are plenty of rocks on our land but relatively few large slabs - mostly broken up sandstone pieces typically around the size of a fist or maybe double that size. I try to throw those out of the alleys between the rows of trees into the swales, to help shade the bottom of the swales and limit evaporation. I don't think these pieces of rock would be particularly effective to promote condensation of water - I think they may be too small. Does the temperature of rocks this size follow air temperature too closely to be effective as moisture condensers? I picture rocks the size of a soccer ball being optimal for this purpose - is that right? I wonder though whether the smaller rocks would work better for this if I can get enough of them to form two or more layers of rocks in the ditch. That could be feasible with a long term rock picking effort, maybe achievable over a few years.

All of these things are helping, but are not enough. We still end up losing trees and understory plants (one could consider this selection pressure and survival of the fittest, I suppose). We've definitely selected the most drought tolerant of our trees during these three years of crazy heat and drought. The ones that are thriving are really green through the summers although I feel their above-ground growth is slower than expected - hopefully, we are in the phase where most of their energy is going into getting their roots down through the sandstone to water. We plan to plant more that we've started from seed to fill in some of the gaps; I'd like to give these the best chance of survival so I'm trying to think how to get the biggest bang for our buck in terms of interventions. What I mean by that is: we have limited time and funds to improve water capture and retention. What is the most effective approach?

I don't think these are mutually exclusive approaches, and we will likely continue to work on all of them, but I'm curious to hear what others think are best practices in this situation:
- increase organic matter of soil
- increase living cover of soil
- extend the coverage/thickness of wood chip mulch on the planting berms
- incorporate other mulches on the planting berms
- add more mulches in the swale ditches, and if so, which kind
- add more rocks, or larger rocks, for water capture through condensation - if so, should these be on the berms or in the ditches

What else?
4 months ago
Here's my modification of my ''recipe'' (I use the term loosely as I tend to treat them as inspiration, not as a set of instructions!) based on the Not Just Cheesecake book I mentioned above.

2 cups yogurt cheese (just the strained yogurt, no additives needed; drained to a Greek yogurt consistency, not fully dried or pressed)
1/4 heaping cup (or maybe closer to 1/3 cup) sugar - can reduce a bit depending on what fruit etc you add
1 tbsp cornstarch (may need a bit more or less depending on how much you strain your yogurt and what else you add)
1 tsp vanilla
2 large or XL eggs

Optional additives are 1 tbsp lemon juice and/or any seasonal fruit or bananas, etc. I would add about 1-2 mashed bananas, or about 1 cup of fresh fruit, you can use canned fruit if you drain it. It's nice with a splash of maple syrup, or a couple of spoons of jam.

I make this in an 8 inch glass pie pan, lightly oiled. We have family members who don't digest gluten well so I don't bother with a crust, and honestly  we don't miss it at all.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Mix all the ingredients except eggs in a bowl. Lightly beat the eggs and add to other ingredients. Pour into pan and smooth top if needed, with a spatula or knife. If you are adding jam or maple syrup, you can add it at this stage once the cheesecak has been smoothed if you like, and swirl it through, very pretty.

Bake until centre is set. Probably anywhere between 20 and 40 min, depending on your pan and oven.

Cool and refrigerate until it is firm.

4 months ago
I’m a huge fan of yogurt cheesecake and used to make it all the time when I was making yogurt regularly. Hope to get back to that next year!

I made ‘yogurt cheese’ as a starting point which I think is the same thing you have, basically like a Greek yogurt made by draining off liquid from regular yogurt.

Lots of other yummy recipes you can make from that starting point.

I found two books to be really helpful.

4 months ago
I’m paying $11 (Canadian $) this year for 40 lb bales, Vancouver Island, BC. And that is a good price for here at the moment. It was a really bad year for hay. Most farms got only one cut or in some cases none. It’s not nearly as good quality as I bought from the same farm for less money last year, but at least they got some hay in. Apparently a lot of people were really scrambling when their regular hay suppliers had nothing this year.
4 months ago
Another benefit of a floating island planted with edible (or any) plants is that if the water is eutrophic (excess nutrients) these can be taken up by the plants. This is a remediation technique sometimes used in lakes with algal blooms or other issues associated with water being too high in nutrients. So in addition to feeding your flood plants on the floating island, you may be improving the water quality overall by tying up those nutrients in plants, especially if those will be harvested.

I think a similar effect of nutrient removal can be achieved using chinampas, which are a traditional gardening method  in Central America. So-called floating gardens but as I understand it, in reality they are stationary garden beds contained by reeds in a lake, the floating part is how you access them.

Edited to add: removing nutrients also improves oxygenation of the water, especially if there is overgrowth of algae. They photosynthesize and add oxygen during the day but respire and use oxygen/add carbon dioxide at night. Plus if they overshoot their sustainable population size and die off, that increases the biological oxygen demand and if the pond or lake goes anoxic that makes things even worse. So starving the algae of nutrients and preventing blooms is a good thing.

Cooler water also holds more oxygen than warm water. I don’t know whether the shading effect mentioned in previous message results in enough of a temperature change to make a difference in oxygen holding capacity, but it can’t hurt.
5 months ago
This year I strongly hinted that I would like some homemade hive stands for my bees. It would be an upgrade from the bricks that are presently under the hives and a low-cost item that can be made from pallet wood.
In the past I’ve received homemade birdhouses and yard art, all of which were great.
If I am making homemade gifts they are usually knitted or crocheted items, jam or preserves, homemade soap or other personal care, stained glass window hangers, etc.
5 months ago
Reporting back on this experiment! We ended up with 11 kids - 6 girls, 5 boys. Four sets of twins and one of triplets. Born in late April through mid May. It’s late October now so they are about 6 months old.
It’s getting colder and is into the single digits C temperatures at night, so everyone is putting on winter coat. And what interesting coats these are! My hopes for cashmere or mohair-adjacent production have been met and exceeded. These are the softest and fluffiest babies. The undercoats are thick and long, and many coats are getting curly or wavy.
As meat kids, they are pretty young and small yet so I think we’re going to carry them all through the winter and plan to cull/ butcher in late winter /spring. They are all plump and growing well but with obvious differences in family lines. Overall I would say they are stockier than the dairy kids we have grown in the past.
We have plans to keep two doelings, the twin daughters of our Saanen doe. She is a great mother, easy milker and our all around best goat. We will keep two bucklings. One Oberhasli son who was really fast-growing and has lovely coat colour, and the son of our favourite Nubian. These will be our breeding bucks for the next little while, although the long term plan is to find a good polled buck of a fullsize meat breed. Polled goats in general are scarce here unless you want Nigerian dwarf, but I want to breed up in size, not down.

7 months ago
Thank you very much! I am really looking forward to this book!
9 months ago
Suggest researching the behaviour of garlic mustard in your region before considering planting it. In some areas it becomes an invasive weed that readily naturalizes and outcompetes native understory plants.
9 months ago
Ajuga is another perennial edible that could work
9 months ago