Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Avoid monocropping

Most normal gardeners plant their plants in rows or even in huge fields with all one kind of crop, this is called monocropping. You'll drive down the road and see rows and rows, or entire fields of one crop, say corn. This is the worst way to grow crops. If a corn predator (bug, crow, disease) finds the cornfield, it will go from plant to plant destroying the entire crop, or most of it. If corn adverse weather comes it will kill the entire field or reduce the crop significantly. However, if the same farmer had planted several other plants with the corn, then possibly those would have survived the bug, crow, disease or adverse weather, as they weren't susceptible to it.

Permaculture has it's beliefs tied to the belief that  monoculture planting is not the best way to garden.  The belief is that if you plant as many different types of plants in an area, that some will survive no matter what happens. In permaculture you also lean toward planting as many permanent plants that you can in your polycultures. Permanent plants could be a canopy layer plant such as a tree, lower layer plants like shrubs, even lower plants like perennial and annual and biennial food and non food crops, but also below crops like fungi and even climbing plants like vines. Permaculture has lately been leaning toward edible or food forest gardens.

A food forest or edible forest garden trys to closly mimic the way nature grows things. You begin by planting your canopy layers, which could be a fruit or nut tree or even a shade tree (but why not try to grow as much food as you can ?). This canopy layer will support a lot of wildlife, bring in some shade, create humidity and provide mulch for the layers below it. Next you can grow lower growing trees such as a dwarf or naturally smaller tree, such as a plum or hazelnut tree, especially on the sunnier side of the canopy trees. Around these you can place plants that will support the life of the trees, such as a nitrogen fixing type plant that will feed your other plants nitrogen, dynamic accumulators which will bring nutrients up to the surface from deep within the soil by it's far reaching roots. You can also plant a variety of insectory plants, these will bring in your pollinators and your predatory insects (these will hunt down and kill the pests of your garden). It is best to have a large variety of insectory plants that will bloom from earliest spring to latest autumn.

Below these plants and around and among the food forest plants you should also consider as many food plants as you can find room for, especially those you have been buying from the grocery store, if they will grow in your area. Some people may even want to raise their own animal foods.

By building these food forests you will be bringing in a huge variety of food for your family, you may have excess to share with people or to feed to your animals, or even to feed to wildlife that will now want to visit your area. It takes very little land to build a food forest, you can even use dwarf or naturally small treees for your canopy layer if you only have a tiny yard. You can put a bench in the shade of the canopy  to provide a more comfortable place for people too, or build a small arbor and put a grape vine up and over it fore more varities of food and even more shade.

The final area of the food forest to continue is also the fungi layer, in my food forest garden I have ground dwellling and tree dwelling fungi. Morel mushrooms would be an example of one that will grow in the soil, but there are also mushrooms like Shiitake and Lions Mane that you can grow on a log partially buried in your soil, or in a substrate of sawdust or straw bales.

To find more information on Permaculture, food forest gardens, edible forest gardens, etc..please go to:

a few words about compost..pile or no pile

Lately I've been hearing a lot of people talking about their compost piles. I USED TO use a compost pile, even bought a tumbler at one time, but then I learned how impractical compost piles are.

When you build a compost pile, all of your compostables are piled to mature in a place OFF OF the garden proper. Some people will pile these compostables for a year or more to make their black gold. One problem that they aren't seeing by doing this is that all of the leachables go through the compost pile and into the soil below it, which does build very nutritious soil UNDER the compost pile, but is doing no good for their gardens. By the time you get your black gold on your garden you have lost valuable nutrients to the soil below your compost pile. Ever notice how the potatoes and squash that grow out of your compost pile are the best on the property?

So instead of buildling a compost pile, why not just put your compostables right on your garden soil? You can just spread them on the top of the soil, or to be neater and cleaner, tuck them under some mulch or weeds, or you can even bury them if you  so choose, but at least you aren't just fertilizing a 4 x 4 area under your compost pile, but you are fertilizinig your garden.

The reason I bought the compost tumbler several years ago, was cause I was too lazy to shovel a path to the garden in the winter..and would end up tossing a lot of scraps right out onto the garden on top of the snow (very messy looking) so I  bought the tumbler to use close to the house in the winter (not good, it really worked poorly so I sold it).

I also began to realize the best soil on my property was within 40 of the house back door, where a lot of stuff was getting thrown out on top of the soil and even on top of the snow.

That soil was rich, black, full of worms and the plants grew 4 to 5 times larger, faster and healthier than the plants anywhere else on the property. The worms were huge and anything that landed on the ground would quickly be pulled below the surface by the worms.

Even when I pull weeds and leave them as mulch on the garden, the worms will make fairly quick work of them, using them up so fast I can barely maintain a mulch on the give it a try..give up that compost pile and put the compostables right on your garden.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

2012 first day of summer photo updates

The first day of summer 2012 I wandered around with my camera and took a lot of new photos..thought I'd post some on here:
Welcome to our humble home, this is the first day of summer and lots of stuff isn't growing much yet here in Michigan. We had our last freeze a week ago, June 13th. In front of the porch you can see a Halls Hardy Almond tree (baby) and to the right of it is a Contender Peach (baby) in our mixed beds in front.There are lots of vines and thornless blackberries growing up the arbor on the right. Around to the right are 6 dwarf pear trees (3 babies were put in this year). To the left of the front porch is a fruit cocktail tree as well as some other peach trees. In front of the house are grape vines and a plum trees and there are two baby hickory trees near the garage (only 3 years old). Along the fenceline are wild black currants and grapes and a beautiful crabapple tree.

But you really don't see the house much from the road, rather, when you drive up to our house this is what you'll see out in front..
There are sweet autumn clematis vines growing up over this wire in the Fall. The hedgerow in front of the house is mostly for privacy and wildlife. It is made of cedar, white and red pine, black and blue spruce, maples, honeysuckle and snowball bushes, barberry, ash, chameycaparis, and lots of other trees, vines and perennials. Wild graps produce on the lattice to the left of the doorway.

My first trail here starts out in my front ditch. You can barely see the house with all the evergreens and lattice. 7 sisters roses climb the lattice here and there in the front, along with grape, trumpet, wisteria and bittersweet vines and Mock Orange, autumn olive and other shrubs.
There are climbing roses all over the property, these 7 sisters roses were here when we bought the property 41 years ago and we have been moving them around. They are very prolific but only bloom in June. We have other roses ..climbing and bushes and prostrate ones, that bloom year around as well and have huge hips on them in the fall.

Standing behind the garage looking East in the front yard, minus our huge ash tree we had to cut down.
I pruned the grapes back hard this year so they are just now growing back. These grapes are well over 100 year old vines. The gate and fence are on our West property line.

Standing east of the garage looking down hill to the south side of our pond (still a lot of clay piles to clean up). at the left is a baby spruce, and the grassy spot is a a  baby maple tree. there is a baby weeping willow in the center with bark mulch around it and left out of the photo are two more baby maple trees. The pond isn't really visible but it is around 175' long by about 75 ' wide and in a crooked and misshapen figure 8 with an island with 2 channels around it in the center of the 8. North of the pond are several trails leading off through the woods and a small ditch runs north and south, east of the pond to drain the overflow and any flooding on the property.
Another clip from our front yard, the hydrangeas are just starting to bloom. These areas also contain fruit and nut tree babies. Just to the right of this area is a baby plum tree and across to the left and behind where I'm standing are two baby Hickory nut trees.

One of ourAyers pears in our pear garden area. This area has 6 baby pear trees (2 Ayers, one 5 on one, one Bartlett, one Red Anjou and one Buerre Bosc. ) All the pear and other fruit tree blossoms froze this year so no pears on the trees. These are under planted mostly with comfrey, daylillies, siberian iris and other perennials and are around our East and South decks. We also have at least 4 other pears growing from rootstock where the grafts died so we aren't sure what will come of them, likely a Bartlett type.

North of the house looking out under an apple tree toward a lattice enclosed garden (very old poor soil from being overworked, we are attempting to bring this area back from years of overuse in the past, building it up a little at a time as we are able). The small enclosed garden is North of the house, West of the pond, and just South of the woods we are building trails through and attempting to plant fruit and nut trees in the edges of the forest and hopefully in some small clearings and more open areas of the forest. (See pond threads, trails threads, etc. for more photos of these areas) We have several arbors on the property with climbing roses, seedless as well as the antique grapes (3 on this arbor are seedless babies). There are also blackberry, raspberry, clematis vines growing up arbors and I attempted Kiwi but they didn't grow.

Here is one of our Cherry guilds. This part of the food forest is centerd around a young Sweet Cherry tree, we have 3 sweet cherries and another one coming next spring. We also have sour cherries, bush cherries and wild cherries in guilds throughout the food forests. This particular sweet cherry guild has siberian iris, strawberries, 2 spireas, barberries, autumn olive, alberta spruce,daylillies, pachysandra, hostas, foxgloves, ferns, and many other perennials. We try to plant a variety of insectory plants, dynamic accumulators and nitrogen fixers throughout the food forest gardens. Therefore, not all plants produce food but rather feed beneficial insects, bring in pollinators, fix nitrogen in the soil to feed the plants or bring up nutrients from deep in the soil. For more information on Food forests and guilds see other threads in this blog.

Can't really see them from this photo but there are baby sweet cherry and apple trees along this side of the garden, hopefully they'll grow large and produce fruit in a year or so. The cherry is a Windsor that we put in this year but it hasn't really leafed out well, so we are having it replaced. Possibly we will end up with two Windsor if this one decides to pull through. The other sweet cherry are Bing.

Another shot of the baby garden, this is basically a young nursery for a food forest garden. We had to dig out Jerusalem artichokes that were taking over this garden (still finding more babies all the time). This garden contains 4 apple tree babies, 2 sour cherries, 2 Hansen bush cherries, the red tree is an ornamental Canadian Scarlet Cherry. There are also 10 blueberries, lots of red, black and gold raspberries, blackberries, 2 sweet chestnut tree babies, rhubarb, asparagus patches, 6 hazelnuts, 4 wild plum, 3 baby mulberry trees, 3 pink currants, 2 honeyberries, a juneberry and a serviceberry tree. There are 5 seedless grapeveines as well as lots of annuals planted in this area, and a few roses and other perennials like iris and poppies, and some new baby hollyhocks and others. North of this garden is a walnut garden with black walnut, carpathian walnut, butternut and 2 heartnuts. Also planted seeds of beech and other walnuts in the woods edges and have another heartnut coming next spring. There are also lots of jerusalem artichokes, 2 baby peach trees, 2 baby apricot, elderberries and lots of others in the surrounding areas both east and west of this garden area too. North of the garden and the pond to the east are trails running north through the woods which is about another 700' x more than 200 feet of woods that we own (our son owns East and neighbors own west and trails connect all 3 properties)
The trails are new in the past 5 years and we are enjoying building more and more trails into the deeper woods and the plan is to move more and more food producing trees, shrubs, vines and plants along the trails in the woods in that deep fertile mucky well as extending the creek and ponds into the woods along the trails.
This is one of the newer experiments in our woods along the trails, mushroom logs. I have innoculate these logs with Shiitake and Lions mane mushroom plugs from fungii perfecti. We  also have morel, shaggy mane and oyster mushrooms growing in these areas so I HOPE that the logs were not infected with another fungii before we innoculated them, we'll see in about a year. This trail goes back through the woods about 700 feet and branches off both east and west as well, at the end of this trail is the big tree in the thread below.

This is the north more shallow area of the pond where I love to sit on my swing. On Friday a deer walked out of the woods just north of the dock arbor and was walking around eating wildflowers while I sat and was swinging in my swing watching her. I love to watch the birds, redwings are nesting int he cattails. There is a field across from the pond that Joel (my son) owns and we are repopulating that with trees and shrubs.Just behindwhere I'm standing taking this photo is that nursery garden. Below is a photo of one of the baby sour cherry trees in the nursery garden, underplanted with asparagus, comfrey, some baby herbs, bearded iris, some tiny seedlings and just seeded annual and perennial crops and also rhubarb as a chop and crop mulch (that needs to be chopped and dropped).

Looking back toward the house from the nursery garden area .
Lookinig over one of the deeper areas of the pond, you can see there are still some clay piles along the banks that have to yet be moved. And you can't see the water lilies from this photo , they are along the edges to the right and left as well as in some other areas..and not yet blooming. This is the SE corner of the pond.
I guess this is enough photo sharing for one update..These photos were taken the first day of Summer, 2012.

may have hit a spring..

When we were building the road to the big tree (post below this one)..Joel ran South off the trail trying to find a way around a wet area. The area appeared to be higher ground, but when he drove over it with the tractor he sunk, deep, into wet black goo. Well he is pretty savvy with the tractor so he was able to back himself out of the hole using the bucket, but it did leave a scar on the landscape of black goo mess.

Well yesterday he went back (2 days later) to that area and it was all flooded full of water where he had been, he must have hit a spring there as we didn't get rain and it wasn't just ground water, more than that.

There were cedars in that area indicating wet, but he sure didn't expect it to fill up and overflow with water, so we are thinking that might be a good place for a little pond (may already form a little pond there?) so it has us thinking more about how to use that area to increase wildlife access to water, also considering putting in a few blueberry and cranberry plants in the area as it is the right kind of conditions. This is already near a road that we built, and near our property line just inside our property.

Friday, June 22, 2012

mother of all poplar trees...and new trails

On the rear of our property we have a huge poplar tree, the mother of all the poplar trees in our area, they are all connected by a common root system to the mother tree. Here is Ron giving mom a big hug. The tree is so tall it had to be put on here in two photos and you still can't see the very top.

This tree is at the end of where we made our newest trail into the woods (to be able to cut dead ash trees for firewood and also to access an area for a new ponds and creek area to the property). Many years ago this area had been pulped off and the pulpers "tried" to get this tree but the soil wouldn't let them. There are huge ruts in the soil where they tried to get it, but failed. I'm glad they failed.

This is  almost as far as we got with our trail to the North, although Joel did manage to go to the left ..not visible...for another short stretch toward higher ground. In the very top center of this photo you can barely see the top of the BIG TREE above..The plan is to eventually extend the the trail to higher ground to the east or west around the big tree, where there is some beautiful land, and this low wet spot will become a pond when we can get our drain creek to the area..from our other pond. (the drain is now 500 feet long going past the pond in the back yard, but ends just to the east of the above photo, we own another nearly 500 feet back so the drain will eventually be about 1,000 feet long and hopefully with several ponds along it). The area to the right has a lot of aspen but also a lot of nice maples and canadian hemlocks as well as also some cedars and huckleberries. There is also a small meadow of wildflowers here which is very pretty. On the West (left) is another higher ground area with a lot of dying ash trees (firewood) as well as some aspens, cherries, maples, oaks and cedars.
Isn't this pretty, this is east of the big tree, lots of baby aspens and maples and the dark background is canadian hemlock trees, I just love this spot. Hemlocks and maples  in the photo below are east of the Big Tree, and there is a glimpse of the pretty little meadow where we would like to have a picnic table in the future. Just to the North of this area is a nice very dark shady grove of hemlocks and cedars, so cool and lovely.
A few large old cedar trees West of the Big Tree, a lovely area with some higher ground. We will likely have the trails wind near this spot so we can enjoy this beautiful area. This is also closer to our west property line which will make access to the other trails easier and more interesting. This will also lead us closer to more of the dying ash and other firewood trees.

This lovely spot was just about to the property line between us and the property to our west. They have trails along their side of the property line (which we found shortly after walking through here) and they said we can join our trails with theirs, so our new trails will take advantage of this lovely view as well.
Looking back toward our house here are a few glimpses of the new trails (about 6 new trails, didn't photograph them all)  we have been building this past month.This first one is a new trail Joel built to the apple tree area as the old trail was blocked by some fallen trees. There are some beautiful maple trees growing in this area  as well as a lot of ash trees dying (firewood).

The above is a firewood trail that joins in with 3 of our old trails farther down the line.

These trails are rough, but will help the tractor to bring us firewood from the dead ash trees this fall. Eventually we'll clean them up enough to mow with the riding mower to keep them open for walking on. This trail will lead through our woods to the West toward John and Jessica's trails eventually joining up with those just south of the Big Tree and the cedars in the photo above.

To the old horse barn (some dead branches still need to come down). This area is just south of the other trails above, there are two other trails that lead off of this area to the east and west by the barn and behind where i'm standing there are 3 trails that lead off toward the house and another that leads off to the east field through the alder trees.

This trail is a central trail leading around several dead ash trees and some dead aspens that need to be cut down and a  large fallen ash tree that has yet to be cut up.
Here we are back up by the food gardens again, the old trail went straight from here, a new trail makes a sharp right turn just past the large aspen tree there, and goes all the way back to the BIG TREE in the top photo. That is about 700' of new trails which will give us a lot of firewood access as well as walking access in the future. Hopefully some ponds, a picnic area and a creek will be added to the far end of this trail in a part of the woods that is beautiful but was previously unaccessable without a difficult hike through the woods. Now we can get there but it still needs a lot of work to make it useful and we still aren't done, we probably will put in another 200 to 300 feet of new trails yet this year if we have time to reach the farthest ends of the property and make a road for the backhoe to dig the ponds and the creek.

Monday, June 11, 2012

hemic histosol

Well with the new road through the woods/swamp I'm trying to figure out more about how to use the hemic histosol that I have in that area (swamp muck).

I've been researching this slimy black dirt, and have even posted on the forum to see if I could get suggestions from there. In my research I have discovered that hemic histosol is low in potassium. We heat with wood and have a lot of wood ash on hand so I could spread that over the black slimy soil and add some potassium to it, thus it SHOULD be better at growing crops.

In my research I have learned that if properly cared for it will grow just about anything, although it has little oxygen cause of the high water table, so things that like a lot of water are the best choices. Also it is highly acidic, but with the wood ash it would sweeten it a lot. Blueberries and cranberries like the highly acidic soil, so I'm thinking that maybe I should be considering cuttings or plants of blueberries and cranberries, esp high bush, along the pathways. In some areas sweetened by the ash maybe I should consider elderberry cuttings, esp in the really damp areas.

"They say" that onions and potatoes and lettuces and coles do well in this soil, and celery and carrots are often planted in that is a thought, maybe I'll pick up some spare seed packets and toss out seeds and see what I can come up with back there..I would love to have things self seed and go wild back in that area that would feed people.

I have rapsberry, blackberry, wild cherry and Jerusalem artichokes growing back there already but would like to add more variety, esp now that I have the new road that is open and gets more sun, that I can plant along the edges of.

Would love to grow fruits, like fruit trees, but thinking it might be too order to do that I might need to have a raised or drier area..and I'm not seeing any of those. There is one apple tree that is growing back there, probably in a drier area, so it is possible I suppose. I have alot of fruit trees on other areas of the property so I don't NEED to have any back there, but it would be nice to try a few and see how they work.

I also have nut trees on the borders of this area that are growing well, but they need longer root areas free of water than those areas allow.

Well off to do more research and make some decisions on what to try back in the new spot.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

yesterday's updates

Well on Saturday, even though it was really really hot out, Joel got out with the tractor and started working on a trench for electric to our pond. He was digging the trench and I was helping, we got the conduit in and buried from the woodshed to the martin house telephone pole by the pond, we also will be diggin another trench to the toolshed and another to the bridge to bring electric to those areas as well.

While he was digging by the pond with the tractor he also removed some of one of the clay piles and backbladed the bank to the water's edge, love that, can't wait to have the entire thing done (someday).

I mentioned a tree that was fallen and hung up in the woods, but he couldn't get to it with the width of our trails back there being too narrow, low and curved (tractor to big, long and high). So after looking at the tree he decided to build a road back to the tree so he could pull it down.

Behind our target pile, he began cutting a road through an area of woods that was mostly dead and downed trees and clearings, only had to knock over a few weedy trees to do it. He managed to clear about 100 feet long of trail back to the tree and put a strap around it and with much hassel pulled the one down. There is another dangerous one but he was afraid it would fall on him so that one needs to be cut with a chainsaw first, so that was that for the night. A lot accomplished in one day. 92 F out today so no tractor work for a few more days for the forseeable future.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

shed made with pallets many years ago

Many people have been interested in the shed we made with pallets so I thought I would do a search for some photos. We had access to 7 1/2 ' long free oak pallets, we used a footer and header board and placed them upright on a cement foundation. we framed in the sides and inner wall of the shed with the pallets, covered with T 1 11 siding and put a roof has been useful for us for more than 20 years now.

This shows the shed in a late spring storm, it is 12 x 16, and has two rooms inside, insulated,

Front of shed over 20 years after building (needs some paint touch up..duh)..taken this spring. (2012)