My iMac died two weeks ago so I switched to using my MacBook for all my writing and posting. Yesterday, the screen started to die on it. This is crazy, as it’s only a couple of years old. I think it’s the heat and humidity here. Electronics fail fast. I can barely read anything on the screen now, as its blinking and looks like mud, with lots of overlapping windows and text.
I’m going to go into town and see if I can get some help today. There isn’t a local Apple store but one of the techs at the computer shop might have an idea what’s going on. If that doesn’t work, I’m buying a new computer. Wish me luck. I’ll be back to posting soon.
Just a quick update – I’m going back to daily posting, but I keep getting derailed. Today is catch-up day.
Hi, everyone! I’ll start posting regularly again on Monday. I’m in Ft. Lauderdale right now, and will be flying home tomorrow.
We laid Dad’s body to rest yesterday with prayers and praise to God for his life. My brother and all my sisters were together and it is really good to be here with them for a short time.
Thank you for all the wonderful comments, emails and prayers.
Today I’m announcing a new regular feature: The Survival Gardener Library!
Every Friday I’ll feature a book of the week worth adding to your library. We’ll focus on gardening, homesteading, food forests, permaculture and wild plant foraging and maybe even throw in the occasional book from out there in left field.
I’ve been a book collector since I was a child and those books shaped the man I am today. From the Animals Without Backbones to The Foundation Trilogy to Florida Gardening to The Lord of the Rings, books have uplifted and inspired me over the years.
And that doesn’t even count the book that has impacted me the most: The Holy Bible. If you don’t have that book yet, go get one.
This week we’ll start the series with the must-have book Scorpions of Medical Importance:
Oh wait, no, that’s not it. I’m sorry.
This week we feature Steve Solomon’s classic:
Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times
I consider Steve Solomon my mentor.
We finally got the chance to meet via Skype a couple of months ago and he is brilliant in person as well. The man’s mind is a machine – yet his books are easy to read, accessible, and almost always practical.
Steve has gardened organically for years in a variety of climates. He’s farmed, run a seed company and written multiple books. I own them all, with the exception of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades – though you can bet your broadfork I’d buy that one too if I lived within a thousand miles of the region.
Gardening When it Counts teaches you to grow food without breaking the bank or your back. It will open your eyes to the value of wide spacing, sharp tools and traditional methods.
Reading Steve is like learning from a wise grandfather who has been there, done that, and grown the potatoes.
If you don’t own this book and you are a gardener, you should.
Go get a copy. Read it. Learn from Steve – he knows his stuff.
*Original featured photo by my friend Jean.
Here’s a simple compost pile design:
Unlike many of my composting experiments, this is a traditional compost pile of alternating layers of carboniferous and nitrogenous materials. The boundary is made from cut limbs hammered into the ground and woven about with palm fronds.
The C/N ratio in this pile should be about perfect with the greens and browns but if it doesn’t get hot enough I can always pour on some diluted urine to raise the nitrogen levels.
This simple compost pile can be set up anywhere in about an hour using local materials. I’ve done this in a cornfield before, cutting and chopping old stalks for the base, then adding on layers of greens and browns. Come back a few months later and harvest your compost!
Here’s a breakdown on the whole process.
How to Build a Simple Compost Pile with Local Materials
Step 1: Cut Stakes
I used sticks cut from some unidentified roadside nitrogen-fixing tree locals use as a windbreak.
It’s a soft wood and easy to chop, but you can use anything you like from bamboo to oak to PVC. 4-5′ lengths are good, as you want the pile to reach at least 3′ tall and you need some stake depth to drive into the ground.
Step 2: Install Stakes and Put Down Rough Material
I had already cut up some rough material and thrown it down before putting in the stakes, but it’s better to put in the stakes first.
Cornstalks, hedge trimmings and other rough materials filled with air pockets make a good compost pile foundation. In the case of this pile, I used chopped twigs and leaves from the nitrogen-fixing trees used for the stakes, some jasmine and hibiscus trimmings and a papaya tree.
Step 3: Weave the Sides
I can’t make a good basket, but I’m not bad at simple compost pile weaving.
The idea is to hold in the compost while still allowing some air through into the pile. This also supports the stakes. In a temperate climate you could replace the palm fronds with grape vines, tall grasses, cattails or other plant material.
Step 4: Add some Browns
Gotta get that carbon!
As I state in the video, these leaves have a lot of dirt in them. That soil contains microbes which will help break everything down, so I didn’t bother adding a few shovelfuls of soil as I normally would when making a compost pile.
Step 5: Add some Greens (and Keep Layering!)
Get that nitrogen in there!
Grass clippings are a really good compost pile starter – if you have them, use them.
Just keep laying greens and browns until you’ve made the pile nice and tall. You can also throw in biochar if you have it.
It won’t really help the composting process, but my hope is that it will be charged up with nutrients, bacteria and fungi as the pile rots.
Step 6: Water Well
This is important: composting uses a lot of water, so get some on at the beginning. If most of your materials are dry, you might want to water each layer as you build the pile. I was too lazy to do that so I soaked it from the top before finishing the final covering layer.
Step 7: Cover the Pile
Covering the pile hold in heat and moisture. Sticking with my locally available materials, I used banana leaves.
You can also use a tarp or just another layer of brown leaves. Compost really isn’t a finicky thing to make – it’s will work, even if you don’t do anything “right.”
It’s going to decay and become humus over time, hot or not, perfect ratios or not.
In a few months you can turn this pile over and sift out the good stuff – or just push it around over the garden bed beneath and get planting.
Finally, for some serious composting inspiration, get my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.
Get out there and get composting!
I read an article this last week which claimed that silence can regenerate your brain:
” A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.
The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.
In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.”
As stay-at-home parents of many children, Rachel and I don’t really get much quiet. Children, especially young children, are loud. Our house is also loud, as it’s got a lot of open framing, wood floors and no windows.
My writing takes place in a corner of our bedroom, which is a part of the upstairs and all the higher parts of the walls are wide open.
It’s amazing I get anything done – yet I’ve actually written two books since getting here, one of which should be out in March.
A pair of good headphones is the only thing that saves me. But boy… I would love some silence now and again.
Of course, eventually the children will all be grown and it will be quiet.
Then I’m sure I’ll wish they were home again.
I remember staying with my elderly grandparents in Live Oak once. They took a long nap in the middle of the day while I sat in the living room and read books.
The house was a very quiet house on a very quiet street in a very quiet town.
The ticking of the grandfather clock was like a hammer in the stillness. The creak of its weights occasionally added to the sound, along with the quarter-hour ding and the hourly chimes… but that was it.
Other than the clock, it was so quiet I probably grew a new brain that week. Maybe two.
I am the oldest of seven children. It was loud growing up, just like my house is now.
It was a good kind of loud. Laughing, giggling, games of pretend… but when you found a quiet spot at the park… or at the home of grandparents… you really felt the silence.
I’m not sure if this whole “quiet grows your brain” is junk science, but after family church this morning I think I’ll wander off into the rain forest and look for a quiet spot.
Then I’ll see how long it takes for boisterous and laughing children to find me and drag me off to the creek to play.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.”
Happy New Year, you wonderful people!
2016 was fun… but I have a great feeling about 2017. It’s time to Make Agriculture Great Again.
Here are my goals for the year.
Goal #1: Publish Three New Books
I got behind in my book publishing in 2016. I actually wrote two gardening books but didn’t get them finished and published. This year I’m changing that.
My first book of 2016 is slated to be published in March. It’s on zone-pushing, i.e. growing tropical edibles outside their “natural” range. After that I hope to finish Southern Beekeeping, the book I co-authored with beekeeper Allen Dovico. Then, if all goes well, I’ll be publishing a rather crazy follow-up to Grow or Die titled Tactical Gardening.
Goal #2: Purchase a Homestead
My gardening demonstrations and videos have been less than satisfactory to me since I’ve been renting a place.
It’s a marvelous little cocoa farm with an abundance of fruit but I can’t dig in and do some of the experiments I’d like to try. Getting some land of my own is a top priority right now and I’m praying something comes our way soon. I must – MUST – build another food forest!
I’m also looking forward to creating a few different test areas where I can experiment with small space gardening, pumpkins, sloping agricultural land technology and growing fuel wood.
Somewhere there is a place we can settle.
Goal #3: Return to Daily Posting
After a couple of months of dropping down to weekly posting here, and an announcement to that effect, I’ve decided to return to posting regularly.
I’m not only going to post on weekdays, like I did for four years: I’m going to post seven days a week.
It’s too hard to step away and I find writing here keeps my creativity flowing. So… this is the official announcement. My goal is to post at least 365 posts in 2017.
Goal #4: Reach 30,000 YouTube subscribers and Create 200 Videos
Here’s how many subscribers I had on December 31st:
I did well in 2016: over 600% growth from the less than 2,000 subscribers with which I started the year. Hitting 30,000 seems like a reasonable goal, especially as my videos just get better and better.
I hope to create 200 videos in 2017. That’s about 4 per week.
Goal #5: 10,000 Newsletter Subscribers
My newsletter is published once a week or so and features a bit of extra news and inspiration beyond what I publish on the blog. It’s also where I announce new books and sales.
Right now the newsletter has just under 5,000 subscribers. Let’s double it!
So – what about you? Any goals for 2017?