Composting Storm Debris: 4 Easy Methods

Dangerous-tree-falling-on-house

TJ asks about composting storm debris:

“I’ve got a lot of debris from the storm still, plus I’ll be cutting down some trees soon. What do you think is the best way to avoid exporting those nutrients and to reincorporate them into the soil? I was thinking on doing some hugelkultur beds, but I’ve never done one and might have too much material. Any recommendations on the hugel beds and other ways to make use of these material?”

Yes – I certainly have some suggestions.

Method #1 for Composting Storm Debris: Throw it on the Ground

In Chapter 11 of Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting I wrote:

“My dad and I started a food forest in his shady and infertile south Florida backyard. One weekend we piled up palm tree trunks, branches, logs, hedge trimmings, leaves, grass clippings and whatever else the neighbors were throwing out. The resulting stack of biomass was probably two feet tall and covered over a hundred square feet. In the middle and around the edges we planted fruit trees and edible perennials. Within a couple of months you could dig into the pile and find rich black soil, worms, and a wide variety of insects working together to rapidly convert that pile of “waste” into soil.”

This was what that mass of plant debris did:

DirtBeforeAndAfter

Just piling up all the trunks and leaves and debris will eventually give you rich results.

Stack them someplace out of the way or put them in rough piles right around trees or anywhere.

This pile broke down wonderfully in a little more than a year.

StickPile

When the sticks got brittle, I stomped on them. Just don’t do that if you’re in poisonous snake country.

Method #2 for Composting Storm Debris: Use Logs for Boundaries

I’ve also taken felled trees and chunks of trunk and used them to delineate paths in food forests.

growing sweet potatoes in the food forest

SouthFLFoodForest7-122

It’s not always the prettiest method, but those hunks of logs keep the ground moist beneath them, harbor a variety of useful species, plus host fungi, which are an integral part of forest life.

Mushroom13

A year after throwing down piles of tree trunks and shredded tree company mulch, I was so amazed to see the many varieties of mushrooms which appeared that I did a post with 39 pictures documenting them.

Method #3 for Composting Storm Debris: Hugelkultur

TJ also asked about hugelkultur as a method for composting storm debris.

I must confess, I have never built a proper hugelkultur bed. I know it’s one of those super-popular things that permaculture gardeners do but I haven’t done one.

I did bury tree chunks and plant a jaboticaba on top:

composting storm debris

That led to sinking soil and the need to replant the tree within a year.

I honestly don’t know how hugelkultur beds will work in Florida overall. Organic material deteriorates at a frightening rate and sandy soil is likely to wash away from the top of the mounds. It’s probably worth building one as an experiment but I wouldn’t bet heavily on a method which comes from a cold climate with clay soils.

And hugelkultur may not even be what many think it is.

As Jack Spirko writes in a very interesting article for Permaculture News:

“The purpose of this mound is twofold.

1. Break down organic matter and build soil

2. Grow annual production while number one happens and/or growing short term perennials and nurse trees for later planting in other locations.

How do I know this? When I met Sepp in Montana in 2012 and watched him build about 4 linear kilometers of hugels, he told me so and I believed him.

I hear cries of heresy and blasphemy, but I am just telling you the way this system is actually used successfully. So strap in if you are upset now, indeed it gets worse from here. The big shocker is what happens next. One of them you may have a hard time believing…

1. The mounds over time sort of flatten and are left. At this point, the succession proceeds into long term perennial production. The key though is that a few seasons of annual cropping and short term perennials are used first. Generally in this case they remain bush, shrub, small tree, herbaceous and annual crop producers.

2. More often than above, gasp! The mound is at some point spread out and full on perennial systems are established or even grazing systems are boosted. This can produce astounding amounts of soil, the value of which if trucked in would be measured in 10’s of thousands of dollars per acre.

The primary purpose of hugels is building soil, production is of secondary concern. Getting production out of hugels makes the method practical but none the less, still secondary to the original intent. Very few edicts to the concept are even aware of why Sepp Holzer did hugels in the first place. Quite simply it was done because he had a ton of low value trees around and removing them was more costly than their value.”

If the primary purpose is building soil, the same can be done with much less labor than digging mounds requires. Throw the material in big piles and let it rot, then later spread it around. Florida’s hot and humid climate chews through most fallen trees in a couple of years, turning them into crumbly humus. If you build mounds, they are going to sink. Fast.

Method #4 for Composting Storm Debris: Biochar

Biochar is just charcoal making.

Charcoal has the capacity to hold onto nutrition and potentially act like humus in the ground. In sandy soils with high leaching, this is powerful. Humus disappears very quickly in Florida, and less quickly in colder climates, but charcoal is practically immortal.

I now add it to many of my compost piles for that very reason:

Simple_compost_pile_adding_biochar_to_compost

It will sit in the pile and soak up the good stuff, then later be spread around my gardens and trees.

If you have a lot of storm debris, just do something like this:

Then use that charcoal everywhere. Just don’t burn the trees into nothing – be sure you quench the fire and get the charcoal, as most of the good material will leave your property for the atmosphere if you let the fire go too long.

So – to answer the question “what’s the best method for composting storm debris?”

Any way that keeps the material on your land. Don’t give in to the convenience of letting the county take it or just burning it to ashes.

Trees are rich in carbon and other minerals that they’ve produced and mined from the soil, sometimes for generations. Don’t waste them. Even making islands of trunk chunks, leaves and branches around your fruit trees will greatly benefit the trees.

As has been said before “forests grow on the remains of forests.”

Use fallen trees to feed living ones and you’ll be surprised how they respond.

David-the-good-books-revised

Easy Lasagna Gardening the FREE Way

Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening inspired a lot of people, including myself.

I was reminded of the sheet-mulching / lasagna gardening method a couple of weeks ago when I re-watched Geoff Lawton’s excellent film Permaculture Soils.

There’s a spot out back near our gardens that often gets soppy wet in the rainy season. It also has hard clay and rocks beneath the grass. Yet I wanted to do some gardening there.

The solution? A quick bamboo-sided “lasagna gardening” raised bed.

lasagna gardening

Easy Lasagna Gardening on the Cheap

Lasagna gardening is all about making lots of layers – here’s my latest video demonstrating this easy way to build a garden fast!

Are you ready to build your own lasagna garden?

It’s all about the layers… let’s get layering!

Layer 1: Manure and Seaweed

I started with a thin layer of cow manure and seaweed to encourage the soil life to eat up the grass and start loosening things, plus to provide nutrition.

lasagna gardening manure

Geoff Lawton throws down just manure, but I have lots of seaweed available here and it’s loaded with good stuff.

For those of you in the states… watch out when using manure. It can destroy all your hard work!

Layer 2: Cardboard Weed Block

I bought Rachel a chest freezer… and it came in a great big cardboard box!

Naturally, I had to find a way to use that in the garden. Weedblock it is!

First, I laid the cardboard over the bed to get a rough size:

lasagna-gardening-cutting-cardboard-weedblock-layer

Then I stomped it into place. I wanted it all the way to the edges of the bed so pesky grasses won’t come through.

lasagna-gardening-stomping-down-cardboard

Layer 3: The Random “STUFF IT” Layer

After the cardboard was in place, it was time to start throwing down some biomass.

I used pigeon pea bushes and heliconia leaves.

lasagna gardening pigeon-peas-layer

You can also use whatever brush you have lying around. Leaves, shredded paper, chunks of wood, whatever.

Layer 4: Kitchen Scraps

lasagna gardening kitchen scraps layer

Why not?

Layer 5: Kitchen Scraps

The next layer was a thin one, made from sifted soil from my chicken coop.

lasagna-gardening-kitchen-scraps-chicken-manure

This is manure and compost-rich dirt with bits of biochar in it. You can see this composting method here.

There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to these layers so don’t overthink things. Just throw in the compostable material you currently have available and let nature do the rest.

Layer 6: The Final Compost Planting Layer

And, to top it all off, I added a bunch of mostly-finished compost:

lasagna-gardening-final-layer

You really don’t need to fill the whole top layer with compost, though. You could just mulch with grass clippings or leaves over the whole top, then fill some pockets with good compost and plant transplants in those… which reminds me, that’s what I did next. Transplanted!

Transplanting into the New Lasagna Garden Bed

I had some bird peppers and a single tomato seedling ready to go… so they went in!

lasagna gardening

And then they were nicely watered in to settle the roots:

lasagna-gardening-wating-in-transplants

I watered them with compost tea for a little extra “juice” to ease the shock of transplanting, but that’s not really necessary.

If you have lousy soil, a poorly drained area, a lot of pesky grass you want to cover without digging, or if you’re just interested in the idea, give lasagna gardening a try. It works and the area where you throw down cardboard and organic matter like this will become one of the richest areas in your entire yard.

Everything in this bed was free. Granted, I did have to buy a chest freezer to get the cardboard, but hey – you can get cardboard anywhere!

Finally, I have more on this and other methods of composting in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Get your copy here.

And if you’ve done the lasagna gardening / sheet mulching thing in your own gardens, how did it work for you?

Let me know in the comments.

 

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lasagna gardening

David-the-good-books-revised

A Refrigerator Garden / Container Gardening Hack

Refrigerator-garden

I’ve always wanted a refrigerator garden. Now I have one.

The internet is still down at my house but I managed to upload this video a few minutes ago:

This instant herb-garden-in-an-old-fridge should keep us supplied with seasonings for the kitchen.

The method of dumping lots of wood and carboniferous debris in the bottom is one I explain in more detail in Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Also, the rap song from the video? You can get it here for a donation of any amount… or just for free, if you’re really cheap.

David-the-good-books-revised

Are Chickens Worth it? Let’s Count the Cost!

Chickens!

Are chickens worth it?

Are the eggs and meat you get worth the cost of a coop, the cost of feed and the cost of time it takes to manage a flock?

I’ve been keeping chickens for almost a decade now and, despite my best attempts, thus far the answer is…

Well. I’ll let you decide for yourself, but I know my answer. Here are the big problems.

A Coop Costs Money

If you have predators, you can’t just throw up some 2 x 4’s and chicken wire. No, you need hardware cloth, impregnable walls and roof and maybe even a concrete floor.

If you’re lucky, handy and a good scavenger, you might spend about $200-$300 for a solid little chicken coop. If you’re not, you spend a couple times that.

I can buy farm eggs for $3.50 USD per dozen – but hey, I get them cheaply because I live in the third world. You’re likely to pay $6.00 per dozen.

That’s fifty cents an egg. That means the chickens in a $250.00 coop must produce 500 eggs to pay off their real estate.

But wait… there’s more!

 

Chicken Feed Has a Price

A 50lb bag of commercial chicken feed costs around $16.00. Each laying hen will consume around a 1/4lb of feed per day. In 200 days, you’ll need to buy another bag. If you have one bird, that is. It works out to about $0.08 cents of feed per bird, per day. That’s not so bad.

But…

 

Your Time Also Has a Price

What is your time worth? $7.50 per hour? $15? $50?

If you were Donald Trump, it wouldn’t make sense to keep chickens unless you wanted to do so as a hobby. Chickens are certainly better company than Congressmen and have higher IQs, so I could understand if he did decide to raise a flock.

But we’re talking about your time. Let’s say it’s worth $15 per hour.

You need to build a coop, buy feed, let the chickens in and out, collect eggs, feed and water the birds, plus hunt predators.

Taking care of a flock doesn’t take all that much time, usually. Maybe a quarter hour a day.

That works out to 1.75 hours per week, or $26.25 of your time at $15 per hour.

At that rate, you could easily buy a dozen eggs every two days from an organic chicken farm… and keep your time.

 

And This is in an Ideal World!

You might decide keeping chickens makes sense for you even after these numbers… but what about deaths from predators?

Going out to the coop in the middle of the night after being woken up by the dying squawks of a murdered rooster isn’t fun. Discovering the fox that killed the cock has also murdered all your pullets is even less so.

At our place rats dug into the coop and killed our chicks:

A lot of people suggested building a stronger coop, poisoning the rats, raising the chicks off the ground, etc.

Yet that costs more money. Why would I spend the time and effort when I can just buy eggs from down the road for a few bucks a dozen?

I answered some of the commenters in this follow-up video:

So – are Chickens Worth It?

I’ve raised chickens for eggs and meat and I appreciate the manure and the work they do with composting; yet overall…

commodus

No. Heck no.

The “ideal” of chickens has always failed to mesh with the reality of chickens.

If I let the birds freerange, they’ll wreck my newly planted gardens and often end up as predator droppings.

If I box them up in a Gallus gallus gulag, they need more feed and produce lower quality eggs.

I’m sure there’s a way to keep birds that makes monetary sense, but I haven’t found it. I’m no Joel Salatin and we don’t even own our homestead here, so… considering tractors, coops, chicken runs, hardware cloth, feed, time… the numbers don’t add up.

A lot of us love the ideas of birds – or we like chickens the way we like our dogs.

I don’t want pets. I want eggs that are higher quality and cost less than the ones I can buy locally.

That isn’t happening, so the birds have to go. I’ll bet if you crunch the numbers on your own homestead, you’ll see the same monetary drain I do.

 

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keeping chickens worth it pinterest image

David-the-good-books-revised

Feed a Family of Four for ONE Year for Less than $300

BeansBeforeAndAfter

My family would have to more than double this amount, but I did find this preparedness hack to be quite impressive:

 

“This plan is THE fastest, cheapest and easiest way to start a food storage program. You are done in a weekend. AND there are no hassles with rotating. Pack it and forget.  It’s space efficient – everything is consolidated into a few 5-gallon buckets. You’ll sleep content in knowing that you have a one-year food supply on hand for your family should you ever need.

With the exception of dairy and Vitamin B12, this bean soup recipe will fulfill all your basic nutritional needs. It won’t fill all of your wants, but using this as your starting point, you can add the stuff that you want. 

All of the food and storing supplies listed below plus 2 55-gallon recycled barrels to be used for rain catchment cost me $296, including taxes. I purchased rice, bouillon and salt from SAM’s Club. You can buy small bags of barley at the grocery, but if you don’t mind waiting a few days, special ordering a bulk bag from Whole Foods was cheaper.  All of the beans I purchased from Kroger’s in 1-lb bags. Buckets, lids, Mylar bags and rain barrels were from the Lexington Container Company. Their prices are so good, with such a great selection that it’s worth a drive even if you are not in the local area.”

 

Hey, bean soup might get tiresome but it would keep you full. It’s a great idea to have plenty of food stored away in case of a crisis. Consider it cheap insurance in an increasingly unstable world. Additional greens could easily be grown or wild foraged for nutrition. Fresh or dried moringa leaves are also good for adding to soup. Maybe some Bidens alba, too.

I actually miss that prolific “weed.”

If a year of nothing but bean soup isn’t up your alley, my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening has what you need to know about survival gardening, plus information on what grocery store seeds and plant material can be used in a crisis to grow a serviceable garden if things get tough.

 

*          *          *

O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;
    save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
    rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.

O Lord my God, if I have done this,
    if there is wrong in my hands,
if I have repaid my friend with evil
    or plundered my enemy without cause,
let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,
    and let him trample my life to the ground
    and lay my glory in the dust. Selah

Arise, O Lord, in your anger;
    lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
    awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.
Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you;
    over it return on high.

The Lord judges the peoples;
    judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
    and according to the integrity that is in me.
Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
    and may you establish the righteous—
you who test the minds and hearts,
    O righteous God!
My shield is with God,
    who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
    and a God who feels indignation every day.

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
    he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
    making his arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
    and is pregnant with mischief
    and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
    and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
    and on his own skull his violence descends.

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
    and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

-Psalm 7, ESV

David-the-good-books-revised

In Memory of Bill

Seagrapes

bill-zinkFor seven years I’ve been debt-free. No credit-card debt, no school loans, no mortgage… nothing.

I might not be in this uniquely un-American state of being if it was not for my friend Bill.

Growing up, Bill and his wife Linda were pillars in the little church I attended with my parents. Linda taught my Sunday school class and put up with more than her fair share of trouble from me. If you think I’m crazy now… well, as a kid I was really… different.

Bill was a deacon. He ended up a deacon because he was already doing everything a deacon would do. If something needed doing, he’d probably already done it. He would grin at you as he hauled out a bag of trash or stacked tables, or shake your hand and ask how you were when you walked in. He was always laughing, too. To be around the guy was to feel lightened in spirit.

What does this have to do with my being debt-free?

A decade ago I was in rough shape financially. I had been freelancing in radio production work and as the economy tanked, so did one contract after another. I was left with very little. Rachel and I owned a small house in Tennessee which I had rented out to a friend while I was living near family in Florida. When I lost my work, I couldn’t keep up with the rent on my own house in Ft. Lauderdale so I moved into a trailer park… and then the “friend” who was renting my little house in Tennessee quit paying rent and wouldn’t answer calls. Instead of talking through whatever was keeping him from paying up, he sent me an email threatening legal action against me. Without that rent money, I couldn’t cover the mortgage on that house – and I could barely cover the rent on our trailer!

I was in trouble. Rachel and I had just had a baby – which was also expensive – and things were very stressful. One day I called Bill to say hi and we ended up having a conversation about faith. He told me that he also had been in debt once and simply decided to pray that God would pay it off. Bill had done so, and after some months of praying, out of the blue a man wrote a check and paid off his mortgage.

Personally, I thought that was rather presumptuous. Just… ask God if He would pay off my debt? But… I decided, why not? The worst that could happen was God wouldn’t do it, right?

So I started praying. Bill’s direct and simple approach seemed as good as any option. But… I didn’t end up debt-free right away.

A friend stopped by the house in Tennessee for me and said “David – guess what? The house is empty!” At that point, I decided I needed to cut my losses in Florida and go back to Tennessee with Rachel and our young children… so we moved back into the little rental house. The bathroom floor had half rotted out and a few things needed repair, but it was cozy.

And I kept praying. And I decided I wouldn’t take on another penny of debt for any reason.

A couple of years later, along came the Nashville flood. Though we were outside the city, the rush of water through the drainage channel behind our house turned into a rushing brown torrent and destroyed years worth of soil-building. I had a foot of mulch, garden beds, planters, a bridge… all swept away and ripped down to the subsoil.

I told Rachel “I’m done! It’s over! We’re outta here!”

And that Monday, I listed the house for sale.

Eventually, it sold and we moved back to Florida, this time settling in a rental house in Citra. Now we were debt-free and we had come out ahead a little bit thanks to the house sale, but we owned nothing. I was not making much money still but I was doing okay. And we had a few more children. And I really wanted some land to call our own… but the money I had in the bank was less than half the cost of a cheap house.

And I kept praying.

Then – out of the blue – we found out that Rachel’s aunt had set aside money for Rachel in a college fund which had never been claimed. Rachel had used some of it for college but thought it was empty. It wasn’t. In fact, there was $41,000 dollars in the account!

We were blown away. All the time I had been praying, there was already a provision laid up for us.

Rachel claimed the money and along with what we had made off the sale of our cottage in Tennessee, we had just about $75,000. We looked at a foreclosure that was listed for $109,000 and liked it, so I offered $50k, much to the chagrin of my real estate agent, who didn’t want to insult the listing agent. “Just offer it,” I said, and she did.

The listing agent was angry about the low offer, but presented it to the bank anyhow. Lo and behold, they came back with a counter offer of $85,000. I told them there was no way I could do that and I offered $65,000.

And… they came back with a counter of $75,000.

Sold.

I was debt-free and owned a home. Granted, I had scrimped and saved for years and had killed all debt except for mortgage debt… but God had done the rest and more than we could have saved. And Bill was the one who said, “just pray!”

I called him after buying the house and shared the story. He laughed and wasn’t surprised at all.

That’s a man of faith for you. I’m always surprised when things work out well. He wasn’t.

Back in time a little further…

I grew up with Bill’s daughter AZ. She’s maybe 2-3 years younger than me and was cute and slender. We never dated, though, and I met Rachel when I was 20 and never looked back.

After bringing Rachel along to church with me a few times, Bill pulled me aside between services, his hand on my shoulder.

“David?”

“Yes?”

“What are your intentions with that girl?”

“Rachel?” I asked, taken aback. “Well, I like her a lot. I’d like to marry her.”

He shook his head at me. “David, come ON!” he exclaimed. “What about AZ???”

He looked at me like I had completely let him down.

“I can’t BELIEVE you!” he said.

I never knew I was supposed to marry his daughter… and by the time I did, I was way too in love with Rachel. If you’re reading this, AZ, I am sorry you missed the chance to marry the most handsome gardening author in the tropics.

As Bill got older, he became sick with a degenerative disease that really took its toll on him. He spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital. When I was in town, I would sometimes see him at church or go visit. Linda would tell me to stop making jokes and making up ridiculous songs on the piano, though, as I would get Bill laughing so hard he’d start losing his breath.

On the 24th of February, Bill’s breath finally did give out and he left this world for the next. He was with family when he died and he left behind his wonderful wife plus loving children and grandchildren.

I miss you brother, but we shall meet again. You shared the faith that helped me pay off my debt to the bank… but to you I owe a debt I cannot repay.

Have a blessed Lord’s Day, everyone.

 

*           *            *

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.

Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.

O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you[a] and watch.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.

The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.

You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
in the fear of you.

Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.

For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue.

Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.

For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield.

 

-Psalm 5, ESV

David-the-good-books-revised

Free Nitrogen-Fixer Seeds

Nitrogen-fixers

I’m not picky when it comes to sources of soil fertility.

Sure, I could go the classic route and plant soybeans or peanuts, like farmers do, or I could go the grocery store and buy dry beans, peas and lentils, or…

…I could just go wander through the woods or even along the shoreline and pick up seeds from obvious nitrogen-fixing species.

Many, though not all, members of the bean and pea family, more properly known as Fabaceae, enjoy a special relationship with certain soil microbes which allows them to take nitrogen from the atmosphere – which is inaccessible to plants – and “fix” it into a form which plants can use.

Soybean-root-nodules

The roots of the plant share sugars and water with the bacteria, and in return, the bacteria give the plant nitrogen. It’s a fantastic design and one the gardener can put to work in his garden.

Once you learn to spot members of the bean and pea family, it because easy to find them.

If you don’t feel like you’re very good at plant ID, the book Botany in a Day has a lot of photos which will get you spotting plant families in no time.

Botany in a day

Though you’re not really going to learn botany in a single day – unless you’re some kind of a savant – Elpel does a nice job visually putting together plants into families and getting you going. You might not nail down a species right away, but you will be able to tell pretty certainly that the plant is in the hibiscus family or the soapberry family or, as concerns today’s post, the bean and pea family.

Nitrogen-fixing trees and plants are everywhere. In the case of the bay beans and Crotalaria I picked up at the beach, I know both of them fix nitrogen – and even if I didn’t know for sure, I could make a very good guess since they look like beans and are also nice and green in an area where they don’t have much right to look so chipper!

I’ll be planting these in rough areas and then later cutting them for use as compost while leaving the root systems in the ground. If you leave the roots instead of pulling them, you get more biomass in the soil and as the roots decay they’ll feed the next thing you plant.

Crotalaria isn’t edible (so far as I know) and the edibility of bay bean is disputable.

This woman, however, cooked and ate some – plus she made a nice privacy screen by planting a bamboo trellis with bay beans – but eat at your own risk. I’ll wait until I have more data.

Edibility is a nice plus with nitrogen-fixers but isn’t necessary. I’m mostly interested in feeding the ground for now.

If you’d like to see some of the many nitrogen-fixers I added to my old food forest in North Florida, check out this post.

Have a great Saturday – get out there and garden!

David-the-good-books-revised

A Tiny House Made from Coca-Cola Crates

tiny_house_cocoa-cola-crates_3

Yesterday I was invited to a neighbor’s farm to see his sugarcane plantings. As I’m always game for a farm tour, I spent a couple of hours visiting and talking with him.

As we walked down the main path together he said “David – how do you like my house?”

And there, surrounded by palms and jungle, I saw the strangest house I have ever seen in person.

tiny_house_cocoa-cola-crates_4

The entire structure, with the exception of the roof, was constructed from discarded Coca-Cola crates.

“I live humble,” the farmer told me.

I was impressed by his ingenuity. The indented portion to the left is his kitchen, the rest of it is his bedroom/living area. The door is just a stack of crates which he pulls in or out.

The kitchen has just enough space to walk into, with crates up to just over waist height as counters. To the back of the room is a gas double burner where he cooks.

Normally I wouldn’t put people’s houses on the internet, but he said “David, take a photo! Put it on Facebook if you like!”

I laughed. The man is proud of his work, as he should be.

Here’s another view:

tiny_house_cocoa-cola-crates_3

I asked where in the world he got the crates. He told me that a local bottling plant lost their contract with Coca-Cola and were discarding piles of them, so he was able to help himself.

The floor is also made of crates – the short, tray-like type that you can see making up the porch portion of the image above.

So far as I can tell there is no electric or water running to this property, though a river runs beneath it.

“Do you drink the water from the river, David?” he asked me, with a pitcher of water in his hand.

“No,” I replied. “I have heard it will make you sick sometimes.”

His brother who was sitting next to me chimed in, “Yes, it will sometimes.”

The farmer shook his head and laughed. “No – it’s good for you! You gotta drink it every morning! It’s better than the water you buy.”

He may have a point, as the city water is chlorinated – though I would definitely boil that river water before consuming it.

I asked if mosquitoes were a problem in his house and he told me they weren’t at all. My guess is they don’t like the bright red color, though I’m not sure.

“The house is always cool inside,” he continued.

I’m sure it is – the jungle is cool and the abundance of air flow through the crates certainly helps.

“How did you attach these crates together?” I asked. “Are they just stacked?”

“No – I used wire,” he said, gesturing at the wall.

tiny_house_cocoa-cola-crates_2

The crates are indeed all wired together. I tried to shake one wall and it was quite stable.

The farmer looked at me.

“Do you have poor people in the United States?”

“Sort of,” I replied. “People who don’t have that much money end up on government programs for food and housing and all that. They end up in areas with crime, standing in line for handouts. You can’t really get a piece of land and build your own house like this – you’d get in trouble. They’d say you were a terrible person and try to get you to pay for a septic tank and air conditioning and meet a bunch of regulations… and then probably take your children away if you had them.”

He just grinned.

“When I was a kid I was poor. We used sugarcane to clean our teeth – I didn’t get my first toothbrush until I was 12.”

He effortlessly peeled a piece of sugarcane with a razor-edged machete and handed some to me. The juice was sweet and rich, full of life.

We walked down a ways and he started digging a yam a little ways up from the riverbank, carefully breaking away the clay with his machete to free the root.

“One day I’ll build another house down by the river. We’re clearing and planting now. It’s beautiful here. The river is my jacuzzi, you see! And there’s food everywhere.”

“I know,” I said. “I’ve also been digging yams and eating wild fruit.”

“I wish people ate that way more,” he said. “Everyone is eating fried potatoes and fried chicken now, instead of the good food all around. That’s why we’re getting sicker and sicker.”

I nodded and replied, “The soil here is excellent – anything fruit you eat is like a vitamin.”

“Yes!” he said.

“You could build a house like mine,” he continued, carefully lifting a perfect yam from the soil. “Or David – build a tree house! That would be even better for the kids. You or I – we could live in the trees and be happy. This is all you need. Even if a man lives in a castle it doesn’t make him happy.”

He’s right. A piece of land, some running water, a roof over your head… and you are in pretty good shape.

Coke crate walls are optional, of course.

David-the-good-books-revised

The Coffee Plantation Begins

CoffeeCherries1

Coffee-shoots

Merry Christmas!

I have wanted to grow big piles of delicious coffee for a long time. Back in Florida I grew multiple coffee plants and even sold then in my nursery, but the climate wasn’t the best so I was stuck keeping my big coffee tree in a pot in the greenhouse or bringing it inside during frosts.

The one I planted by the south-facing wall of the house did well, though, and is still alive today so far as I know.

TheSurvivalGuidetoGrowingCaffeineFIXsmI did well enough with coffee, tea and yaupon holly that I wrote a little booklet on growing it, thanks to the additional help of Kona coffee farmer Gary Strawn (owner of Kona Earth coffee, which tastes amazing) who corrected some of my more exuberant ideas.

The plants I grew in Florida were Coffea arabica, which is the most gourmet of coffees; however, we have coffee growing here on the property we rent which is almost certainly Coffea liberica.

Coffea liberica is a courser-looking, lighter green coffee plant that is tall and has beans almost twice the size of the arabica beans I grew in the states.

While checking on them last week in search of ripe fruits, I discovered something wonderful:

I was hoping to harvest fruit and plant the beans, then I found that nature had already done it for me. There must be 50 or more sprouts out there around the trees.

coffee-sprouts-2

CHRISTMAS!!!

Yee-haw! This means I get to start my plantation!

Of course, just potting up some plants isn’t good enough to get my plantation started.

I also need to buy some land. And that leads me to a dilemma.

Buy or Rent?

It took a lot of money to move overseas.

I have enough cash to buy a small piece of property but it won’t leave me much of an emergency cushion and it ties me to one place.

At the same time, I want to own land so I can build a new food forest.

I could buy about an acre here for $50k. That’s rather brutal considering the cost of rural land back in N/C Florida, but that’s the economics of it. Then I’d need to build a house. Building a house here is MUCH cheaper because you don’t have a bunch of codes and inspectors and government losers to pay off before you can build. Heck, you don’t even need indoor plumbing to get approved here in the mountains.

I could likely build a decent Cracker house for maybe $15-25k.

This would be awesome, but then again… if I just rented I could live pretty cheaply and keep the savings I have in the bank.

It would also put me in the position in which many of my readers find themselves: a small yard at a rental and maybe some balcony space.

I know it sounds crazy, but food forest gardening is way too easy here. Fruit trees plant themselves all over the woods. Mangoes are a naturalized species for goodness sake! So are papayas. And yams? Everywhere. Just go wander through the woods and you can dig them all over the place.

So… having a small space gives me limitations that might help future writing. It also means I can move easily if I get tired of where I am.

I dunno.

Just thinking out loud… in front of the entire world.

I do want to plant that coffee plantation. If I rent, I’ll have to grow them in big pots (which works, incidentally), but if I can get them in the ground I’ll get a lot more production.

A New Post at The Prepper Project: Grafting Fruit Trees

Here’s my new post over at ThePrepperProject.com.

MulberryGrafting10

I once did a horticultural analysis of a property way out in the scrublands. The owner had good clean water, no real neighbors, a great location… and hot, fast-drying, mineral-poor sand that was really, really bad for gardening.

There was no couching it. I had to tell him: this area just won’t cut it for most of your planned annual gardening projects. It will barely support much in the way of fruit or nut trees.

What it did have was a decent amount of native American persimmon trees. They were dwarfed by drought and stress, but they were strong and alive. That said, I saw very few with fruit.

With antive persimmons you deal with a variety of drawbacks. Unlike their cultivated Japanese persimmon relations, they’re dioecious. That means you have male and female trees – and you need both to get fruit. The male won’t make fruit but it does provide the pollen that allows the females to fruit.

Japanese persimmons are self-fertile, plus they make hefty, sweet fruit that’s very worth growing. They’re also regularly grafted onto American persimmon rootstock.

Seeing the wild trees gave me an idea: why not use the existing trees as rootstock for Japanese persimmons? They’re already established and growing in poor soil, making them a perfect support for a higher-producing and delicious variety of improved persimmon!

Sometimes our first observations aren’t the best. You might see a crabapple with lousy fruit in your yard and think “I hate that thing! I’ll tear it out and plant a good apple in its place!”

Step back and think about it: maybe that tough tree is a resource you can use. With grafting you can go nip some twigs off good apple trees and just graft them onto the tree you don’t like. If it’s a happy and healthy mature tree, use it! If you can graft fruit trees, you can grow more food for less money…

(CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST)

Merry Christmas!

Star

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. 
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. 
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
-Luke 2:1-20

As I wrote last year:

Despite political and racial divisions, wars and rumors of wars, disease, loss, pain and misery… this season is a time of hope as we remember there is a God beyond this world who became a man, walked among us, was killed by His people and the corrupt Roman government, then resurrected to reign forevermore – and He invites us to join His family as the children of God.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. All the evil of the world can’t stand against Him, and ultimate peace can only be found through Him. Our own works can never get us to paradise – only His sacrifice can. He has conquered death and hell – glory be to God.

God bless you all and thanks for reading. Have an extra slice of pie and coffee for me.

David-the-good-books-revised

Gardening in Virginia Shade, Chicken Coop Water Catchment and Lots More!

Chickens!

Today let’s cover a bunch of stuff all at once!

First:

Help! Gardening in the Shade in Zone 6/7

AppTrail

I recently received this comment asking for help shade gardening in Zone 6/7:

“Hi David, I don’t know of a way to contact you will questions so, I am sending this email/comment.

I live in Northern Virginia zone 6/7. I have been proceeding nicely with numerous failures in the garden and have discovered lots of things not to do. I have a mostly shaded back yard and would like to plant something under the shade of my mature maple tree. Is there any food crop you can recommend? I am new to the gardening and don’t know if I can plant anything in the shade of a tree and expect it to grow. Thank you. I love all the things you do and can’t wait for more.” -Jason D

 

I love questions like these because they make me think. I gardened in Tennessee for five years at the edge of Zone 6 and 7, so I can speak to this question with a bit of authority; however, I’m sure there are plenty more options you readers out there can add in the comments.

Most of our agricultural food crops have been targeted towards sun-grown annuals such as corn, lettuce, beans, peas, etc. Yet there are some lesser-known edible (or medicinal) options you can plant in the shade. A few I can name right now:

Mayapples, PawPaw, Ginseng, Gooseberries, Violets, Shiitake mushrooms, Chives, Mint and even Jerusalem Artichokes, provided they get sun for at least half the day.

Questions like these are particularly good for the new Survival Gardener Forums, since they allow people to post on and on in a big string without the answers being buried by time as I post new posts here on the blog.

Jason, you may also have some luck with various greens in the shade. Full shade is tough but half-shade isn’t game-ending for most salad ingredients. Getting beans, peppers, tomatoes or corn to grow will likely be impossible, however.

One plant we used to harvest regularly from the shade of our hackberry trees in my Tennessee backyard was wild violet. We used the leaves in salads and the flowers to make a violet tea. Very nice plant, and it’s perennial.

Good luck!

Compost Everything: The Movie

I’ve updated the Compost Everything: The Movie trailer to send folks to the download link for the film, which is available on gumroad here.

If you enjoyed the book, you’ll definitely enjoy the film. I’m no Kubrick, but the film did turn out well enough to be very popular at this year’s Homegrown Food Summit. Just using one or two of the ideas it contains can save you hundreds – or thousands – of dollars over your gardening career. Seriously. Ever look at the price of fish emulsion? Or buy a truckload of compost or top soil that turned out “blah?” This is a game-changer.

Chicken Coop Water Collector

Shane writes in:

“Just thought I’d show you a cool way to use a chicken coop as a garden bed and water catchment device – something to show your blog audience.

My coop has a flat-roofed run covered in chicken wire with a tarp on the top. This tarp catches water in it when it rains. The main part of the coop, where the chickens sleep, has a roof that I use to put my plants on away from the weeds, bugs, and slugs.ChickenCoop-GardenBed_WaterCatchment

So, when it rains, I have all the water I need to water my plants. I use a plastic drinking cup and simple scoop out the water on the tarps and dump the water into the plant pots.”

That’s some good redneck ingenuity there.

Little-known fact: I used to be a total redneck. Here’s me from those redneck days:

Redneck_David

(That photo is totally going to get me kicked out of the Christian Agrarians Facebook Group – I just know it.)

Okay, enough silliness. I wrote back to Shane recommending he add some wicking grow bags… and he informed me he was already on it. Awesome.

Related: Justin Rhodes’ live chicken coop building webinar is this Sunday afternoon, so if any of you haven’t signed up, you can go do so here.

Help! What’s the Best Book on Raising Goats?

I received another email this week from C.B. who was gifted with some dairy goats and is looking for help raising them:

Hi David,
I was wondering if you knew any good books for getting into goats for a beginning homesteader (aka, one with no land but neighbors that let him use theirs)? I originally planned on starting with chickens, but one of those awesome neighbors gave me and my wife two goats that just had three kids! Anyways, the original owner is a decent go-to, but only from experience and regularly explains she only knows from trial, failure,  and going to other neighbors. I’d like to get some info, so I am not as reactionary and waiting for emergencies,  but having healthy goats and good goat milk!

I once gave a friend some goats and he hasn’t forgiven me yet. He still has them and they’re still eating away his financial resources to this very day.

The thing with goats is this: you need to stay on top of their management. C.B. is right to seek out knowledge right at the beginning. Rachel and I kept goats for a year, learned a lot, then sold them. She’s a voracious reader and consumed lots of information. We got to drink fresh goat milk, see babies born, castrate and later butcher a buck, plus learn a lot about how much land and resources it takes to raise goats properly. Rachel was also quite good at milking:

They’re pretty tough animals, yet they are hard on the land. After a time we realized we just didn’t have the space… plus one of the goats got out and pulled up an orange tree I just planted. That was the last straw – don’t mess with my orange trees!

Storeys_Guide_To_Raising_GoatsMy recommendation to C.B. was to go get Storey’s Guide to Raising Goats. That’s the classic book and it will get you started well.

I would also get in touch with ECHO in Ft. Myers and seek out goat-raising resources. It doesn’t necessarily have to be as complex as most Americans make it.

Where I live now goats are commonly tied by a back leg by the side of the road to eat brush all day. They make great road crews.

Often there are ways to do things simply and effectively without much in the way of inputs. Remember: your goats are not your pets. They’re a food source. If you’re paying $30 a quart for the milk once all is said and done, you might as well just buy it for less from someone else.

Finally – goats are a very good place to get safe manure for the garden. I dig that.

Tobacco Book Still Free (Ends Today)

TheSurvivalGuidetoGrowingTobacco-web2As a last point, don’t forget to go grab a copy of my tobacco-growing booklet on Amazon if you haven’t already.

It’s free through the end of today, then it goes back up to its normal price.

As of me writing this post on Thursday afternoon, almost 500 copies have been given away.

That’s not bad, but it would be cool to see over a few thousand copies fly out into cyberspace.

My next book should obviously be on the Kardashians.

Have a great weekend, folks. Get out in the garden and get something done and I’ll be back with a new post on Monday.

 

UPDATE:

Commenter Annie recommends Natural Goat Care by Pat Coleby as another excellent book on raising goats:

Natural_Goat_CareAs another final point for the day, I’m in the midst of totally revamping the forums right now.

We’ve decided to move from the free option we were using to a somewhat expensive but much more user-friendly alternative. It will work a lot better.

If you’ve signed up and posted in the current forums, my apologies. We’re going to lose all that data but the new one is so easy to use that it will all be worth it.

See you there. Soon!

David-the-good-books-revised
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