The Big Project, Part 9

stoneunhengedApril 22, 2008

Well, the project continues to evolve.

I've thought a lot about the energy inputs into my burgeoning permaculture system, and I always go back to the fundamental premise that the only 'free lunch' out there is derived from capturing the energy of the sun.

Unfortunately, most of the sun's energy on my property was being appropriated by pine trees. I don't particularly like the taste of pine trees, so I had to get rid of some of them and replace them with something a little more palatable.

I'm in the process of converting the volunteer pine forest into pasture. I learned that digging up the pine stumps, which have a taproot that can be 30' deep, had the effect of destroying the fragile topsoil because so much sand and clay was unearthed in the process. So, I left the stumps and am in the process of accelerating their decomposition by putting high-nitrogen cow and chicken manure on the stumps.

It's important to have the pasture, because basically I'm relying on this energy pathway to fuel the growth of my garden: sun-to-grass-to-cow-to-manure-to-vegetable plant. In this way the garden comes much closer to being self-sustaining and requires fewer and fewer external energy inputs.

The chickens continue to do an excellent job keeping down the resident insect pest population, and this spring Pan was riotous in the baby-making department. My four Gulf Coast native ewes each gave birth a healthy lamb (all female lambs, by the way), and my Pineywoods cattle are presently dropping calves. Here's a pretty little bull born last weekend:

The mulberry trees I planted last year are beginning to bear fruit this year, and they've rapidly grown. I planted more fruit and nut trees this spring, also.

We had a nice windy spring and the windmill performed like a champ, pumping thousands of gallons of water. I built a few more raised bed gardens and produced many strawberries, heads of lettuce, onions, carrots, etc.

Next up: build a compost tea maker to help process the cow manure as a liquid fertilizer and connect my tilapia tanks to the parallel water system to provide fish-waste nutrients to the garden.

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buffburd(z5 NY)

Sounds great, you're an inspiration to us all. Please continue to provide these updates.

Any other gotchas that you've discovered along the way? I see you found that your soil was too damaged by digging up the tree stumps and you've gone to just piling manure around them.

In general it sounds as though most of your plans have been fruitful. It must be thorough research and an bit of luck?

I continue to work on using my small space (50'x80' minus the house and drive) more effectively while I plan an eventual move to more land.


    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 12:12AM
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Well, thanks for the kind words. I could list plenty of failures along the way, but I'm slowly moving toward my goal.

Here are a few lessons I've learned:

1. For true self-sufficiency and low-impact gardening, you have to understand the energy pathways of the growing cycle. The only 'free lunch' in gardening is from the sun, so the challenge is to capture that energy in the most efficient and usable form. So, for example, if you raise vegetables, feed the scraps to chickens, and then recycle that chicken manure into compost, you can build an energy loop that requires very few external inputs like purchasing fertilizer. I've started to view the cow and chicken manure that my animals produce as one of the most valuable resources I have.

2. The insect pest problem declines over time. At first when you plant, there will be a large number of pests that attack the plants, and literally every day you need to inspect the plants and act as soon as you detect a problem. You can mitigate the effect of pests by 1) rotating crops, never planting in the same area in succession, 2) interplanting with other varieties so the 'target' crops aren't bunced together, 3) eliminating only the pests and not using a scorched-earth approach to insect eradication, and 4) using chickens to patrol the perimeter of the garden to interdict inbound insects. Over time, populations of predator insects will build up and each year the number of insect pests will decline.

3. You have to learn how to eat seasonally and preserve your harvest. In urban life, you might buy an onion a week all year round. Growing your own food, you'll get 50 onions at once and then have to figure out what to do with them for the rest of the year. It requires a lot of planning to have a year-round harvest and year-round availability of certain foods.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 9:13AM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

One thing that could be of great benefit to you is getting some soil samples. Many areas are deficient in some soil nutrients, and it would be to your advantage to know how to balance them. I know that many people think that if they pour manure and compost into their soil, it will be totally balanced. This isn't true.

If your soil is deficient in calcium or boron (etc), it will be deficient in the grass, which will make it deficient in the animals that graze on that grass, and it will be deficient in the manure that they produce. I guess many farmers think that minerals are generated out of thin air and wishful thinking.

Agronomist Neal Kinsey has produced an interesting video and written a readable book on soil health, both called "Hand-On Agronomy". They are in the library system. If your particular library doesn't have them, I'm sure you can get them on an interlibrary loan.

Another source of information is the series of books written by farmer Joel Salatin. His books on cattle and chickens are especially interesting. He has his farm broken into pastures, and he rotates the cattle through those pastures according to how many cow-days each pasture can handle, and no more. Then he rotates chickens after the cattle. The chickens work through the cattle manure and eat the insects and larvae, helping to break up the parasite cycle. When the cattle are eventually rotated back to the first pastures, they have recuperated, have been maunured, and are ready for the cattle again.

This method avoids the usual drawbacks that most farms end up with. Around here, you see it all the time: the farmers stock the maximum number of cattle they feel that their land can tolerate, and they fill the whole place. The cattle pick and choose their favorite grasses, etc, and leave what they don't like. When the next bunch of cattle are turned loose into the pasture, the good grass has been eaten and stomped into oblivion. Now all there is are the less desirable plants. Every year, the pastures get worse. Many of them are now covered with a bitter-tasting white daisy that none of the animals will eat. Now the farmers have to buy feed, because they're too dumb to use their land properly, reseed with a desirable mix of grasses and other plants, rotate their livestock, and let their land heal.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 12:42AM
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I have a few of Salatin's books but had not heard of the other. Thanks.

I had my soil tested this year, and it seemed to be remarkably well balanced without the need to add many amendments. I collect all the cow and chicken manure on my farm and compost it or make compost tea for use in the gardens and pasture.

I'm also installing a solar well this week. It can run off solar energy or with a simple change-out of the pumping mechanism operate as a hand pump. Here's a couple of photos:

    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 8:30AM
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hemnancy(z8 PNW)

I keep poultry, and have to buy feed. Can you grow enough grain to feed the poultry without having to buy feed?

Your solar pump looks great. How deep did you have to drill for water? Did you have professionals install the pump or did you do it yourself?

    Bookmark   May 17, 2008 at 5:07PM
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No, I cannot currently grow enough grain to feed all my poultry. That's is why I'm clearing pines so I can grow feed.

I had a professional drill the well. It's about 170' deep, and the static level of the water in the pipe is about 85' deep. I'm installing the pump and solar myself.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2008 at 12:36PM
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brendan_of_bonsai(4b AK)

You should follow this link and buy some fungi perfecti plug spawn, some chicken of the woods or conifer coral mushrooms would both eat those stumps and provide you with an edible byproduct that you can put on your dinner table or dry and eat whenever you please.

Here is a link that might be useful: Plugspawn

    Bookmark   June 10, 2008 at 2:04PM
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That's a clever idea on the mushrooms. I'll try them. Thanks.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2008 at 4:17AM
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Hi Stoneunhenged!

We've been following your progress and sure would like an update.

Any chance you could giving us an update: The Big Project, Part 10?

Eastport, ME

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 8:48PM
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Thanks for asking, Leasa. Actually, we've been so busy that I haven't had time to post. We've gone to farming full-time and it seems to be working well. We still are incorporating a lot of permaculture principles into the farm. We don't use synthetic pesticides or buy fertilizer. Chickens do insect pest patrol and our cattle are our fertilizer factory. We're still learning a lot every day, but we are having fun, raising happy animals and growing good food. You can see our website below. The blog outlines many of our recent projects.

Here is a link that might be useful: Greenfire Farms

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 6:36PM
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