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.
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.
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.
I also added homemadebiochar to this compost pile to get it “charged” for future projects.
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.
” 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.”
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!
2016 was a year unlike any in my life. I moved south – REALLY far south!
Unlike previous years, in February I quit weighing the produce we harvested because we spent most of the year in a rental property and transition from Florida to the equatorial tropics. I also had to leave my scale behind when we moved overseas.
Don’t worry, though – I just got a new one this week and I’ll get back to tracking yields once I get a new homestead operational.
Here are the yields from the first two months of 2016:
Green papaya: 20lbs
Various Citrus: 8lbs
After those first two months, we sold our property in North Florida and moved to Ft. Lauderdale for a month, then flew out of there to the property we now rent in Central America.
Here we walked into an operating homestead with lots of bananas, plantains, cocoa, mangoes and various other fruit trees.
It feels like cheating. We’ve certainly harvested near a ton of bananas and plantains, plus just the wax apple tree alone has made baskets of fruit. I’ve also dug near 100lbs of wild yams in the jungle.
I’m going to hold off on further yield tracking until I get a property of my own and can start from scratch again with what I plant.
I had a goal at the beginning of the year to get three books published, plus a booklet. All I finished was the booklet.
I have three first drafts of three different books sitting on my hard drive right now, all of which need to get published.
The editing and illustration takes time and moving to a new country, doing paperwork, trying to get established, etc., has been time consuming. I put a lot of things on hold, including my book writing.
The Machete Affair
I also managed to cut through two tendons in my left hand, thanks to a coconut-opening accident with my machete.
Rachel reenacts that failure here:
That accident really set back my writing as well, as it kept me from typing well. I was almost back at hunt and peck levels.
The Stupid Car
Another failure of 2016 was our purchase of a car. We had an importer get us a 2003 Toyota Noah from Japan.It ran fine for less than two months, then the engine failed on the way up our road. Totally failed, as in the mechanics tell us it needs to be replaced.
This is insane. We paid roughly $11,000 for this car, thanks to the high cost of import duties and taxes. Back in the US that would have bought me three cars. And now it’s dead… and because everything runs slowly here… it’s been sitting in the shop for over a month and isn’t getting fixed. Apparently they’re hunting for a new engine.
I don’t make enough money to take these kinds of losses, so this was a major failure. Multiple people told us to go the import route – and we got screwed. And the screwing is ongoing, as I’m walking a couple of miles to buy groceries, we can’t go anywhere as a family, and we’re going to have to pay a lot to get this piece of garbage fixed.
It’s a good thing I rather enjoy taking the bus. I’ll probably be doing it for months to come.
The Survival Gardener Forums
After being told multiple times that forums would be a good idea, I finally bought some software and set up forums.
I rapidly discovered I had neither the time nor the inclination to keep forums running. They’re currently a spammed up mess and need to be deleted. It would work if I had someone else to run them but I just don’t have the time.
Broken vans and machetes be darned, it’s time to talk about the good stuff.
We Got Out of Dodge!
I count finally making it overseas as a great success. I tried to get out of the US for almost a decade before we finally pulled it off. And here I am, relatively established in a new nation. I managed to get a visa, thanks to my agricultural work, and I truly love where we live. Especially our neighborhood.
It’s been a heck of a year with a lot of challenges and excitement.
Though I sold my North Florida food forest property, I learned many lessons from it that I can apply to my next property. And I made a profit when I sold, which is great. Sometimes you really wonder if putting in a food forest is a good idea… after all… what about property values?
The new owner of my food forest bought it FOR the food forest, so not everyone is a Philistine! She tells me she’ll be sending a video update in 2017, which I look forward to sharing with you all.
Tomorrow I’ll post my goals for 2017.
All in all, 2016 was a great year and I hope you did well with it. If not, there’s always next year. Let’s face it together and conquer!
Not expensive as lenses go, but it lets in a lot of light and I use it for videos and indoor photography in particular.
It also has a nice wide angle, and takes great close up shots. It’s not as quiet on auto-focusing during video as I would like, but I suppose I have to forgive it.
I am waiting on a few new lenses that will allow me to go even deeper with my videography and photography. Unfortunately, because they’re imported I basically have to pay for them twice: once when I buy them in the US and again when I pay a chunk of tax on them at import. Ah well, it will all be worth it.
I filmed a video on Wednesday where I travel down the hill to visit my first experimental pumpkin hill… more pumpkins started from seeds from my farmer friend.
I can’t do much in the way of weeding or string-trimming right now as my cast makes it impossible, but I am determined not to let the jungle eat my pumpkins like it ate my cucumbers.
Soon I will be better. Three weeks and three days until my cast comes off. Then I am off to the races. The land-races!
In it, I share my struggles over the years with keeping birds happy and keeping them safe from predators.
Everything wants to eat chicken. Even other chickens will eat chicken.
However, keeping birds happy and healthy requires letting them have some sunshine, grass, insects, and forage.
That’s why I was chasing chickens underneath the breadfruit the other night. Good for the birds’ happiness and healthiness, I guess; less so for my own.
It was fun seeing that huge bat, though. I would not have seen that if I wasn’t trying to get roosters out of trees. It was seriously a foot across.
Now I want a pet bat.
There are smaller bats living in an empty building right near my house and it was bigger than one of those.
But back to free-range chickens…
If I owned this property instead of just renting, I would spend the money to get some good fencing and create a multi-paddock chicken system. Justin Rhodes uses electric fence but I don’t think I can find that here.
The birds we have are a scrappy little variety. They do fend for themselves well in the jungle but if I let them go too far we won’t have any eggs.
For now, I will let them out during the day but will be corralling them back in at night before gets too late.
Sometimes I like chickens. Sometimes I don’t.
What I do like is eggs and bacon every morning. Nice, fresh homestead eggs.
Justin Rhodes let me know that’s he’s doing his last free Permaculture Chickens webcast on Sunday – this is your chance to get in on the free information before he’s done. This webinar focuses on the self-sustaining flock.
Justin always has great ideas and the chance to ask questions live is quite valuable.
Feeding and raising your own flock from your own land is vital if things fall apart. Counting on far away chick-raising may not always be possible, plus, having birds well-suited to your land and raised by your own hens is a very good thing.