How much food could you grow in your own yard? We're about to find out...

Monday, November 29, 2010

free!!! lots of great illustrated designs for trellising and arbors.


squirrels and wild animal piss

i'm trying an experiment.  wild animal piss to scare away the squirrels.  i'm kind of scared to know how the wild animal piss is harvested. .  HA!

my plan is to squirt it strategically around plants that are fruiting or otherwise near harvest.  i've also thought it would be a good idea to spray it along the fences.  i've also had day dreams of filling up a super-soaker and spraying it up into trees and on my roof and on nearby utility poles and utility lines.

if it works i could switch to a different predator after a few years.  like from fox to coyote to bobcat or something.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

winter 2010-2011... planning out loud

it appears unlikely that i will have all 8 raised beds completed by spring.  that's just the way it is.  i have other commitments on weekends and have had other things pop up, so my momentum has been broken somewhat.

this winter, i'm going to plan better for trellices, hoop houses, and fruit caging.  i have to source out a bunch of 1"x3" boards, plastic sheeting.  the hoop houses need to be collapsible or take-down-able or convertible in some capacity.  i'm going to put an arbor beneath the tree along the east property line.

i'm going to plan better for fruit trees and food forest understory; it's likely to be four years (give or take) before the apple trees cast any significant shade.  i'll concentrate on companionate, guild-y sorts of combinations of plants to build up soil and concentrate nutrients for the trees.  nitrogen fixers and other beneficials (comfrey, dandelions, nettles, burdock, clover).  "green manure."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

four more garden beds!

i got a chance today to build four more raised bed frames today.  i think that with these four beds, it would make a great experiment to try to source out cut firewood for a more traditional hugelkultur style raised bed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

materials on hand part 2

i found three bags of concrete mix and i found a number of other concrete chunks and bricks. i still think i'll need to pick up more bricks from Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit at some point to do what i want with spiral gardens and will probably buy more 1" lumber for garden stuff or shelves in the greenhouse.

it looks like i've also accumulated far more hardware (screws, nails, other metal things) than i remember buying.  i have a few boxes of drywall screws and much more assorted chromed and galvanized hardware.  i also found a roll of jute string and some plastic coated thick steel wire that should be nice for a grape vine trellice.

it just seems like much of what i'll need for trellices is right in our garage.  i wish i had more bamboo.  maybe i should grow some.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

materials on hand

1)  28, 2"x6" boards (total about 150 lineal feet)
2)  100, 9" bricks
3)  20, 3'x3' patio pavers
4)  5, 1"3" boards
5)  8, 1" wide 6' long bamboo
6)  6, 2" wide 6' long bamboo
7)  12 tomato cages
8)  8 metal fence stakes
9)  30' of metal plumber's pipe strap
10) plenty of screws and nails

i'm still not certain what i'll do with the patio pavers.  the stakes, bamboo, and smallish lumber will be great for trellices.  this week will have plenty of shoveling and hauling.

Remaining Projects

1) finish garden beds (fall/winter 2010)
2) build spiral garden beds (early spring 2011)
3) plant fruit trees (early spring 2011)
4) greenhouse (fall 2011)
5) innoculate tree trunks for mushrooms (spring 2011)
6) rain water collection (summer 2011)

salvage victory!

it's easy to see how a project, any project could get out of hand in terms of cost.  this is especially true when overall health (as in sustainable gardening) is an overall goal.  how do you consider the cost of your health?  the book link is a great examination of the power and costs of going overboard without a budget.

i'm trying to do things as cheaply as possible.  the cost cutting is one of the more interesting aspects of the whole project.  this has led to the advent of the $8 chicken coop/run, and trying to source out free and very cheap materials.

today, i hit a grandslam home run!!!  i've blogged previously about the detroit architectural salvage near the corner of warren and grand river in detroit.  i bought about 20 boards that were 2x6.  the boards were all mostly 7-8 feet, but a few others were 5-6 feet.  i also bought 100 bricks.  grand total = $41!!!

the master garden plan called for four more 10x5 beds and two spiral gardens.  i'll piece together the 2x6 boards with some plumber's pipe strap and get the beds up and running for the upcoming spring.

one of the spiral gardens will be a tea garden with chamomile, mint, and beebalm, amongst others.  the other will have mostly herbs and self-seeding perrenials.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

coop improvement/salvage philosophy.

i nailed a scrap wire shelf up in the coop.  our neighbors gave us two brown paper sacks of leaves, including seed-heavy decorative grasses with really long stems that are common in suburbs... aka hay.   i took all the other feed out of the coop, so they can concentrate on this stuff.

the success of this whole project essentially depends on concentrating a lot of local biomass from neighbors.  constantly fixing nitrogen with legumes and peas.  leaves.  downed branches.  city provided compost material.

so far,  i've spent a total of $8 on my chicken coop.  all else was repurposed.  the only thing i needed was some fine netting.  all the lumber for the raised beds cost a total of $65.  hardware of about $30.

the hens cost $20.  feed has been a total of $40.  i've recently purchased a couple tarps.  i've bought a few rakes, shovels, etc.  green plastic garden fencing.  stakes and a few tomato cages. $150 on seeds and started plants.

craigslist and freecycle are awesome!!!

Two timely articles from Mother Earth News.

Vertical Gardening

this article outlines a great many ways to trellice up different plants.  It advocates for using arbors to further increase food production.  a message board thread at shows some advocacy for this method as well with proven results.  i think the permaculturists are interested in creating micro-climates to cater to different plants.  one suggestion would be to plant tomatoes, peppers and other plants on the west side of an arbor where they'll appreciate higher temperatures and afternoon sun, and to plant cucumbers and greens and other cool-loving or quick-to-bolt plants on the east side of an arbor to give them late day shade.

frankly, the material costs of the arbor is my first barrier.  cattle panels and other arbor materials are pretty expensive.  i think i'm inclined to really push the limits with trellices, though.

in summer 2010, i used what seemd to be large tomato cages for tomatoes and they simply weren't tall enough.  the indeterminate heirloom varieties (black russian, mortgage lifter, and an heirloom orange and yellow variety) all were far taller than the cages and ended up crashing down into the dirt again after they outgrew the support i provided for them.  i also used a metal post and horizontal wire for pole beans which worked out quite well.  another place, i used an 8 foot tall 1x3" tipi sort of thing with less laudable results.  i think the variety i used wasn't as suited to such high trellicing.

in retrospect, i should have used the smaller tomato cages for peppers and eggplant, which grew to be out of control and needed of support.  it seems like tomato cages would be great for peas and raspberries, too.

Wood chips as soil ammendment.

looking back on building the first four raised garden beds i have no doubt that they'll be great in the long-term, but i had raised some concerns about the soil being nitrogen starved in the near-term.  it seems like those concerns were valid and i may need to ammend the beds with some high nitrogen options, like blood meal (or urine).  since blood meal will disintegrate in water, it may be a good idea to mix up a high nitrogen tea and inject it about 12" below the surface of each bed, like with a syringe.  a long automobile fluid funnel may do the trick nicely.

you may remember that the chipped/shredded wood that was delivered was half fluffy shavings and half small chipped wood.  i had known that this would make the surface area of the wood sky high and speed along decomposition.  but it also seems like i underestimated the nitrogen-lock that may occur where the wood chips meet dirt.

since this blog and this project is about immediate results and really pushing things to the limit, i think i'm going to gamble with a small dose of blood meal now and maybe another one in the spring.

mother earth news is an amazing resource!!  for 40 years now, this magazine has been at the forefront of the upcoming eco-nomic and eco-logical transition that is needed so badly these days.  here's some links to some of their great publications:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Greenhouse part 2

i've become interested in rocket mass heaters as a great way to heat a greenhouse and warm the chickens and keep me from having mid-winter mood swings..  the cobb mass portion could snake along the floor and radiate heat.  given the position of the bee hive, i might even allow the bees in there.

initially, i thought i would want a freestanding greenhouse, but more now, i want to replace the wooden siding on the south facing wall of the garage with second hand windows and broken patio sliding doors.  many could open, still, but others could not.

there's an architectural salvage place in detroit at the corner of warren and grand river that could probably give me much of the materials that i'd need.  maybe take them to be quickly sandblasted or just a couple coats of good sealing glossy paint.  funny story, my wife and i almost got married in the former 555 gallery.

if i can start seeds and transplant into hoop housed bed, i think i can extend the season to 8 months in hoop houses outside and 12 months in the green house.  i think that we will almost always have lettuce. herbs.  strawberries.  tomatoes.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Some pics!

 Here's viewing southwest.  The chicken run wraps around the corner of the garage.  the four completed raised beds are framed in the rear.

 Looking due south.  where the kale is still sprouting, I will put more raised beds.  there are 9 patio stones in the souteast corner, which will be removed.

Here are the four hens..  They're laying each about 6 eggs per week. 

Seed garlic in the ground!

I planted two bulbs.  I planted some last year, but the seed cloves were much smaller.  A few sprouted, but died pretty quickly.

Hopefully, this year will be different.  I only planted about 20 garlic seeds, but it'll be fun.  Hopefully, it'll be a hardneck variety, but I have no idea what it is.

It might be too late, but today and yesterday it was in the 50's, so I don't think i've missed much of anything.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I'm going to be honest: there is absolutely no way I can achieve the amount of calories necessary to make a dent in our family's total yearly intake without growing some seriously calorie-dense food.  So, to be Socratic about the whole thing... What food crop can offer high calorie yield in a small space?

Genetically modified Monsanto corn is grown at about 200 bushels per acre.  Wheat yields are about 100 bushels per acre with all things working to plan.  Potatoes range from 300 to 400 bushels per acre!

Another point to make is that not only do potatoes yield higher per acre, but potatoes are also far more calorie dense than corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans.  The potato Wikipedia entry claims that 9.3 million calories per acre are possible from potatoes.  Clearly, it seems that the calorie density of potatoes per acre makes it the most valuable choice for this project.

So, given that potatoes appear to be the best choice, what is going to be the best way to grow them?  Clearly, an option is to just sew seed potatoes into the raised beds and let them go.  The problem with just sewing into the garden bed lies in the difficulty in continually mounding dirt up on the potatoes without blocking the sun for other plants within the bed.

Youtube has a bunch of videos available with techniques that seem to come from fresh ideas about sustainable agriculture and how to maximize space in the most efficient way possible.  I've had my interest piqued with the above-ground method that makes use of bags of various types.

Example #1
Example #2

I've decided to take it all one step further.  Landscaping cloth is a synthetic rolled material that people typically use underneath flower beds to keep weeds from coming up.  I'm going to make bottomless framed bags more like the kind in the second youtube video link.  I plan to use 1x1" lumber to stake out the corners of the bag and then staple the landscaping cloth to each post.  As the plants grow up, I can add soil and compost and roll the landscaping cloth up, stapling as needed to keep things tidy.

The whole point is that, as far as my reading has found, potatoes will grow along a plant stem wherever it is covered by soil.  So, it'll be interesting to see how far up I can push this method and what effects it will have with the potatoes.  As far as I can tell from all the youtube videos out there, this method is far from fool-proof.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Ferndale is in hardiness Zone 6b, maybe almost a cool 7.  That means that in order to keep food production going 12 months per year, I need to account for at least 50 F degrees (but really more like 60 F degrees) of heating capacity within a greenhouse to grow greens and peas and plenty of other cooler-weather-lovers.  The potential for all kinds of greens and other projects are really too much to pass by.

I'm going to use the blog to mentally doodle about this worthy experiment.  The whole thing really rests on whether or not the project can be cheap and easy to dismantle to sell if it doesn't work out.



I've been having good luck on craigslist lately with sourcing out free to very cheap materials.  All the wood chips and wood shavings for the raised beds were were free.  I bet I can source out some cheap or free old windows.  I already have a sliding patio door that had broken runners on a curbside near to our house.  It doesn't seem impossible to piece together 2x4 studs to frame in old windows.  I have plenty of patio stones to provide a base for a green house.

But, with Michigan the temperature requires that the greenhouse be heated in winter.  There's no way to avoid it.  Conceivably, most heating would need to go on at night and then sustain the temperature into the day. An option might be a Rocket Mass Heater.  This design concept is supposed to be really, really efficient.  It also seems to fit within my price range for materials costs.  Then again, if I were able to find a very cheap old wood burning stove, that would be hard to pass up.

It might be time to change around the chicken coop run to along the entire east garage wall and build a greenhouse on the southeast corner of the garage where the chicken run and compost piles currently are housed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Raised Beds, Hugelkultur style, part 3

 This is one kind of chipped wood I had delivered yesterday.  It's mostly chipped branches with a lot of bark.  It's mostly about a 1/4" square and pretty firm.  I'm guessing that it will hold a lot of water!

 The other half of the wood chips, was this fluffy hardwood shavings.  This will hold a lot of air and really help the organic material in the raised beds get really hot and cook whatever weed seeds are anywhere in the bed.

This is four wheelbarrow loads of the chipped branches as a base with a few shovels of chicken manure scattered across the top of the layer.

 Layer of green garden biomass.  It's mostly tomato vines, broccoli plants minus the heads, and bolted greens.

 Under the dirt, there are several alternating layers of topsoil and hardwood shavings and then about 6 inches of just topsoil.  It mounds up to be about 4 inches higher than the raised bed lumber.  I'm pretty certain that it will all settle down once the air is used in the aerobic composting process.  Rain is expected for each of the next four days (welcome to November in Michigan).  It should be very interesting to see what happens to the volume when water is added to the mix.

 I hammered a wooden stake as far into the bed as possible to allow oxygen to circulate and reach the under layers.  I think I'll keep doing this except with a piece of concrete re-bar to get down to the lowest layer.

so much depends upon
a red wheel barrow
glazed with rain water
beside the white chickens.
-William Carlos Williams

Raised Beds, Hugelkultur style, part 2

Well, after trying to source out wood on craigslist it became abundantly clear that the only wood available was in very large pieces that I would need to cut up and transport.  This presented a serious time commitment that I simply was unwilling to undertake with such a short amount of time before the ground freezes and work in the garden must cease.

So, I started racking my brain and realized that there might be another source of the rich organic material that would feed the underground bacterioculture and fungal systems that make veggies happy.  I had considered collecting neighbors bagged leaves, but I found another source that may be far more appealing... chipped up tree limbs from area tree trimming companies.

<--- Apparently, you can buy the fungal mycorrhizae to inocculate your soil, but why bother when you just need to encourage your soil to self-innoculate.  Mycorrhizae is in your soil already.  Depending on soil conditions, it may be inhibited or encouraged.  The goal is to give fungus so much food that great big chains of fungus penetrate every inch of your garden beds.  In doing this you can make sure that plant-ready nutrients are available to your veggies all the time.  If your soil conditions are right, your veggies can concentrate on growing the leaves and fruits and seeds that you eat instead of the veggie plants having to spend valuable resources growing roots to find the nutrients they need.

Note: Go ahead!!! Follow the link!!!  The product description at least provides a great explanation of the role of mycorrhizae in the growth of your garden.  Plus, it helps fund my little experiment in sustainable food production.

So, going back to craigslist, I found a tree trimming company that would rather deliver wood chips to my house than to a much farther location for disposal.  It saved him time and money because I would shovel the wood chips out of the truck after a long work day and it saved him drive time to the disposal site that was quite a distance away.  So, win-win.

The wood chips are smaller than the wood chip mulch that folks buy from garden centers and big box stores, so I think they'll decompose faster (decomposition rates of most organic material have to do with the availability of nitrogen, soil chemistry, and the surface area of the decomposing object).  I think I'm going to have to adjust for the more rapid decomposition rate of the smaller chips by adding some nitrogen from my compost pile and from the chicken shit that is ready and waiting.  See, circle of life!

Four hugelkultur-ish raised beds are dug out and ready for wood chips and back-filled soil.  I'm really interested in seeing whether or not snow collects on top of the raised beds this winter with the hot composition going on just a few inches below the surface.