Matthew Nistico

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since Nov 20, 2010
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Recent posts by Matthew Nistico

To address the OP's original question - are weeds good or bad; to pull or not to pull? - I have an alternate point of view that I don't believe anyone has expressed yet.  I propose that the OP's dilemma actually begs a different question: is your garden designed according to good permaculture principals if you have so many weeds in the first place?

To be sure, a few weeds here and there are inevitable, regardless of your design.  Who cares?  Pull them, or not, as you like.  But if you have weeds that are engulfing, overtopping, overcrowding, or otherwise posing an existential threat to your crop, seems to me that something is fundamentally wrong.  Perhaps your crop is just weak?  If so, why?  Maybe your transplants or seedlings got off to a rough start?  Could you be planting the wrong things in the wrong place?  Does your garden have good soil and appropriate light exposure?

Any of these questions could reveal circumstances that might favor weeds over your crop.  But the weeds in this scenario are the symptom.  I am suggesting that we address the underlying problem rather than worry overly much about the symptom.

First off, some disclaimers...  I totally acknowledge that, as with everything, it all depends because there are many styles of gardening we could be talking about and many different objectives the gardener could be aiming for.  We could be talking about a patio garden, a kitchen garden, a food forest, or a field of row crops.  One garden might be optimized for minimal time commitment, another optimized for minimal inputs, yet another optimized for profit.  Then again, one might argue that good permaculture principals can be applied to all cases, just in different ways to different degrees.  For now, let's not wade into that argument.

Further, I of course admit that the best design can be hindered, if not outright undone, by poor implementation.  In fact, I more than acknowledge this; I personify it.  I fancy myself a half-way talented permaculture designer, and I am in fact PDC certified.  Yet some of my results in practice have been pathetic, usually because I make dumb mistakes, often born out of a lack of time and labor to dedicate to my projects.  Transplanting trees that die or languish because I failed to water them sufficiently during establishment; letting valued plantings languish and die because everything else grows too tall and thick and I'm years overdue in chopping it back; etc.  I have 20'-tall weed trees in my food forest.  Need I say more?

Sometimes, I have also seen poor results for reasons that I cannot easily explain.  Fruit trees that grow strong and healthy, yet have not born a crop after 10 years.  Why not?  Whatever, I soldier on, keep trying, keep replanting.

But having given my disclaimers, here is my point: a good permaculture design should account for weeds in the first place, and not just through endless hours of weeding or hoeing.  This could be in one of four ways (probably more, but four that I can think of right now).  Or, perhaps in several of these four ways at once.

1) This is the simplest, which I can express in one word: mulch!  As some have pointed out above, weeds are born of bare soil.  That is where the seed bank lies.  Nature abhors bare soil.  We permies emulate nature.  So, let your mulch be thick and rich!  This will not eliminate weeds, but it should give you a good head start against them.  This will be more difficult if you are direct-seeding annuals, but it can still be done with a little patience and care.

2) Not all mulches are brown.  Design your polyculture with multiple layers.  One of these should be a groundcover, which some also call a living mulch.  This makes just as much sense in your kitchen garden as in your food forest: let those squash and sweet potato vines loose underneath your okra and tomatoes!  Take the space your weeds would otherwise occupy and fill that space with an appropriate and desired planting.  Several posters above argued that weeds are good because they add diversity and biomass to your soil food web.  Excellent and very true.  I currently let weeds occupy several of the layers in my food forest.  But if you can do the same thing with a variety of different crop species at different levels, then you can enjoy the same results without using the dreaded word "weed."

If your garden design involves large scale row crops and a tractor, will you be able to implement this same technique, or will you crush your groundcover crops under your tires?  Perhaps you can, with a little creativity and likely a little compromise.  But it won't be nearly as easy as if you were gardening on foot.  I face this same difficulty even in a small scale kitchen garden.  Gardening from a wheelchair, I am become the vehicle.  It makes many common permaculture techniques difficult.

3) Fight weeds with weeds.  I love my spinach and lettuce and tomatoes and such, but studying permaculture has also opened my eyes to the value of atypical crops.  Select among your crop species ones that are vigorous and thick growing and self-seeding - i.e. ones that "grow like a weed"; some above have mentioned lambs quarters - and use your "weed crop" to suppress other weeds.

At least in parts of the garden.  Got to have at least a few tomatoes!

4) Okay, this one's a little bit of a cheat, but...  Make peace with your spontaneous weeds by mentally redefining them as another form of crop.  Now we are circling back to the ideas that others above have already discussed, which don't reduce weeding so much as put the weeds you remove to productive use.  This could be more laborious, depending on your setup and your preferred approach.  If you count on repurposing your volunteer biomass to productive use in your garden design from the get go, then it is a now harvest.  And if you're harvesting it, is it really still a "weed"?  You could do this by composting your weeds, making weed tea for fertilizer, or feeding your animals with them.  If you can find a way to let your animals graze your weeds in place without excessive damage to your main crops, then it is really a win-win!
1 week ago
A part of this thread has diverged from the original question - are weeds good or bad? - to address instead what is the best way to recycle weeds once you have pulled them or cut off their tops: Chop & Drop vs Compost.

Several have argued that a compost pile is a more efficient way to recycle your vegetative nutrients, since mulching with your weeds - i.e. chop & drop - allows much more of the nutrients to off gas than occurs inside a compost pile, particularly nitrogen.  My understanding is that this is accurate.

However, I don't necessarily conclude that composting is therefore the preferred method.  I would say, it depends on your circumstances and preferences.  Composting is more efficient in terms of nutrients, but chop & drop is more efficient in terms of time and effort.

I would also point out that there is a middle path.  Ruth Stout-style gardening seems to me to combine the attributes of both composting and chop & drop.

So, I would tentatively propose that this is then actually the optimal process.  And sometimes, I do so.  But most of the time I am lazy and hurried, so I revert to chop & drop.
1 week ago

Denise Cares wrote:

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:In one of my fields, purslane is a tremendous problem. In every other field, if I see a purslane plant, I pull it up, and hike to the nearest paved roadway, and deposit the plant onto the hot asphalt: To be scorched, and squished. I don't care about the lost nutrients. Seems like a good trade-off.

Too sad Joseph. Purslane is very nutritious. It can be dried and used in powdered form many ways. It will not grow back as readily once pulled - in my experience at least - but I don't know why. I've tried spreading the seeds but they didn't grow either. I've read it's a bi-annual plant. It is frost sensitive. Maybe nature is offering you the opportunity to harvest it and use it or to share it with those who might gain health benefit from it.  I'm thinking of  our fine brother Paul W. here...

I second Denise's motion.  If I found my field overwhelmed with purslane, I might start by pulling the purslane as Joseph does. But noting that this field is a evidently an excellent location for purslane, I would then go back and replace the "weeds" I had pulled with a cultivated variety of purslane - there are several - and let it grow along with whatever other crop I had originally desired there.  Then I would harvest and eat the purslane!  I love the stuff and frequently plant it in my own garden (where, unfortunately, it is usually destroyed by deer, who love it even more than I do).  I make a couple types of fresh salad with it.  Very tasty.  I understand that it shows up cooked in some Mexican dishes, but I've not yet tried cooking it.

BTW, people write that purslane will aggressively self-seed.  Unfortunately, I've not experienced that with my cultivated varieties.  And the one time I tried direct seeding it, I got zero germination.  I usually make seed starts in potting mix - good germination in that setting - or else I buy transplants.  If you can't find purslane to transplant in a nursery's vegetable area, sometimes you can find it in the ornamental area.
1 week ago
Here is an idea that will work for some people and not for others, depending on your roofing material.  Green roofs or wooden shake roofs would not work.  But if one has a durable material roof - such as a metal roof, slate roof, tile roof, or shingle roof - then rooftop irrigation is a proven option.  You set up a dripline or mister that continually wets the roof during the daytime, and adjust the water flow so that all or nearly all of the water has evaporated by the time it flows down to the eaves.

You could use pressurized water - i.e. out of your water main if you are on city water - for a constant flow rate.  Or you could set up a solar-powered DC pump out of a large trough or rain barrel.  The latter has the added feature that it pumps more water onto your roof when it is needed most, which is when the sun is shining brightest.  Also, you don't have to remember to turn it off overnight; it just stops pumping when the sun goes down.

The evaporation cools the roofing material.  The cool roof does NOT transfer heat to your attic.  With a cooler attic, it is easier to keep the living space below cool as well through any of the various means already mentioned in other posts.  Keep in mind that most of the heat gained or lost from any structure is through the roof.
1 week ago

Mart Hale wrote:After a little asking around I was directed to this site..

harvest every 5 - 8 weeks ...

I wonder how well the techniques given in that article translate to black or red mulberry varieties?
1 week ago

Mark Brunnr wrote:

Diane Kistner wrote:Question: How many years should one wait after planting young trees to allow them to establish before attempting either of these methods?

That depends on the species and local conditions, as far as how fast the tree can regrow.

I wanted to add something to this discussion, tangential to this original question/answer.  The point I wish to stress has already been made here in many other posts, but only implicitly.  I don't think anyone has yet come out and said it in as many words.

When first planting for coppice or pollarding, yes it is best to wait a good few years before first pruning to let the trees grow a good, strong root base that will support regrowth after harvest.  How long exactly will depend on the type of tree, and some here have already given a few guidelines for a few typical species.

But after the first cut, how long a period should you set for subsequent cuts?  Coppice on a 3-year cycle?  A 4- or 5-year cycle?  Longer?

That will actually depend on four variables as I see it:

1) It depends on the species you are working with - some types of trees grow a lot faster than others.
2) It depends on the local conditions - the same species grows a lot faster in rich soil in a warm climate under plentiful light than it will grow in gravel in a cold climate planted in the shade.
3) It depends on for what purposes do you desire to use the coppiced or pollarded wood that you cut.
4) It depends on what resources you are willing/able to commit to the operation.

If you desire to pollard a willow tree for green hay, you might harvest a good portion of its whips every year.

Whereas if you desire to coppice a black locust for fire logs to burn in a wood stove or fireplace, you will let it grow until its trunk is at least 6" across.  Perhaps larger.

Let's say that you are coppicing the same black locust tree, but you've upgraded your wood-burning technology, trading in your wood stove for a rocket mass heater.  Now, your wood-burning routine is optimized for stick wood rather than logs.  So you might reduce your coppicing cycle to harvest smaller trunks more frequently.

Perhaps instead you want to harvest long, straight shafts for use as garden poles.  You would choose your species and set your coppice cycle accordingly.

But then maybe you need the poles instead for wattle fence or wall construction.  The same species might work, but you'd likely adjust your coppice cycle for smaller diameter trunks - garden poles need to be rigid; wattle needs to be slightly flexible.

Or maybe you are chipping wood for biomass (i.e. mulch), or burning it for biochar.  In both cases you'd want smaller-diameter sticks that are easier to work with and require less substantial equipment.

And speaking of equipment, here is where that 4th variable, available resources, comes into play...

Felling large trees for logs is difficult - it takes a chainsaw, enough skill to safely use the chainsaw, not to mention the skill to fell the tree where you want it to fall, a lot of ground onto which it can fall without crushing other valuable things, and a lot of manpower/truckpower to cut up the logs and haul them off.

If logs are necessary to you, then so be it.  But if your desired usage doesn't absolutely require logs, then you might default to a shorter cycle and harvest smaller diameter wood for no reason other than it requires less labor.  Harvesting saplings with pruners or loppers or a bill hook is a lot easier than harvesting large, heavy trunks with a chainsaw.*

Time and labor are always critical resources, the availability of which might influence the cycle for cutting your trees.  In the real world, one obvious, if perhaps less-than-optimum conclusion could be that you set your cutting cycle for whenever you actually have the labor available to get the work done!

(*Historical note: I've always presumed that tool use was one factor that motivated the development of coppice and pollard techniques to begin with.  As hard as it is today to harvest a 6'-diameter 200'-tall oak tree, imagine doing so only with hand tools and ox carts!)
1 month ago

Dave Lotte wrote:As for interior or exterior swing, i have already built a shed with a 7 foot round door - the door is 8 inches or so off the ground on the shed - and it was still a challenge to open and close it in the winter.
The house door will be set down into an in ground front porch- which i am guessing will collect snow at one point or another...

Ahhh, excellent thinking.  Where I live and build, I don't put too much thought into snow.  We get some snow, but accumulation is minimal and short lived.
1 month ago
Staff note (Timothy Norton) : I added a new option to the poll.

Thank you for the addition!

~ Thank you for taking my suggestion seriously and with an open mind.
1 month ago
I am disappointed that the creators of this poll didn't include an option for "composting in place." There are many of us practicing a diversity of techniques that eschew traditional composting methods - and all of the extra labor they entail! - and I would wish that we might be represented in this discussion.

Ruth Stout-style gardening, sheet mulching and other mulching techniques, crimping or plowing in cover crops, or just tossing your kitchen scraps out across your property - one can argue the pros and cons of different methods, but so long as you keep organic waste on your own property and it ends up back in the ground somehow, you are effectively composting.
1 month ago

Dave Lotte wrote:

Matthew Nistico wrote:

Dave Lotte wrote:Front door opening  is 6'6 inch outside, and a full 7 foot inside dimensions.

So, your round front door will open swinging to the interior?

Yes, interior swing direction.

Well, that is accurate to the source material, at least as portrayed by Peter Jackson.  But it will eat into your interior floorspace a bit.  It is a big door, after all.

The window looks lovely!
1 month ago