You take the Good, You take the bad…

So I noticed some crazy effed up leaves on my peach trees this past week.  Looked like a leaf roller or something – yeah, it turns out I have a fungal issue with peach leaf curl.  Treatment this year will be taking the affected leaves and composting them – and next year it looks like a simple copper spray, or perhaps compost tea, may be enough.  Still, pretty frustrated that my first years buds and growth were rendered moot.   Live and learn.  The trees aren’t really big enough to support much fruit this year, but you still hate to see them in such a state.

On the Good side, – the potato tower is doing fabulous!  The two larger plants are putting on an inch of growth a day thanks to the compost rich soil, slow rain, and 1″ of worm castings.   Thus far it is VERY encouraging.   To top it off, I (finally!) bought a pair of gooseberry plants from a local native/edible landscaping nursery.  I am excited to see how big they get, how the fruit tastes, and how bad the thorns are.  They are fruiting out already so updates will be coming!

And finally, my personal favorite of the day – two of my compost bins crested 152 degrees today!  I typically struggle to get enough nitrogen in my piles as they are mostly coffee grounds, and with an entire winters haul of materials (almost 3 yards!) I needed to get the piles cooking HOT before I run out of room.  So I mixed in 2 cu ft of lawn clippings for each 6″ of partially cooked compost, wet it down a bit and let ‘er rip.  The first week I hit 142, but I must not have had it wet enough, because after several days of rain, they settled down about 4″ and are cranking along at 150+.  That is a personal best and should net me a very fine finished product if I can keep it up.  Hopefully I can let every other cutting lie on the lawn and still keep the piles going this strong.  How exciting!


Potato Tower, Month 1

Last month I built my first potato tower, filled it with 6″ of compost, and planted it with a variety of spuds.  Now 4 weeks in, 2 of the plants are up and running, and the other 6 are finally breaking ground.

Tower FrontUnfortunately, due to my dog digging through the tower after I planted it, I cannot say for certain which plants are doing better, but I would guess its the earlies (Yukon and Kennebec).  I have done one small “hilling” when I added an inch of worm castings a week ago.  Yesterday I added about 3″ of soil to cover the two more vigorous plants and next weekend will add the next row of side boards and fill it with another rich soil mix (1:1:1 compost, soil, worm castings).  

Tower TopI am considering building an 8′ version of this to push the productivity of the backyard a bit – we do have some unused space along a fence line or two.I still have 150#’s of spuds to get in at the market farm (another 50#’s going in today) so seed is not a problem.  Even if I only net 15:1 pounds in harvest, it will be worth it to be able to condense the plantings to this degree.  The 8 pieces in this tower would have taken over 20 sq feet of space, so from a harvest per sq foot perspective I am already at a 500% improvement even if I only get 8 lbs of spuds, as I a only using 4 square feet in the tower.  For sub acre agriculture, where success is measured more in harvest per foot, this is huge.

All in all its a fun expirement for the summer!



May 23, 2009,  8pm and Intermission at Wisconsin Fashion week where my 30 something wife is making a stand for Real Beauty against the insurgent tide of all but 2 dimensional (literally) teen-something “beauties” that have come to define what it means to be pretty in America.  She is stomping the runway against all odds through incredible skill, vit and vim and I am damn proud of her.  And yes, its hot to be married to a model. For me, sitting in the Fashion Show was interesting to say the least.  Pretty sure I was the only potato farmer there…    Now, placed on a bench on the sidewalk of State Street and People Watching.  Just amazing to see the world passing by and I am waxing philosophical.  Go figure. 


State street is so vibrant, so unlike the subdivision where I live.  So many people; so easy to go all existential… what are they doing, where are they going.  Who do they love what are they thinking about?  Diversity everywhere with swallows and nighthawks to boot.


Country living – is it an escape or a quest?  Am I running from something or towards something?  Times like this I really wonder as the city certainly has its allure.  I was raised in the suburbs of Chicago – and never felt at home.  The competion, the sameness for mile after mile after mile.  Going to school out in the plains – Nebraska and South Dakota literally opened me to new horizons and the vastness and the cleansing emptiness of Nature.  Wisconsin brought what I thought to be a compromise.  For a year we lived right smack in the middle of down town Milwaukee – but it was nothing like this.  Where we now reside.. in a small bedroom community of 1200 on the freeway with no infrasctuture other than its HOA’s and Outlet Mall will likely never feel like “home”; there is simply not enough there.  Should the free way cease to exist the town would shrink to nothingness again.  There is no purpose; no community.  


At the farm, I do feel more connected, but the communion is more with Gaia than my fellow sapiens.  The earth is so alive there as to create an almost visceral reaction – the vibrancy fills your nostrils, your mouth, perhaps even your soul.  Bringing life from the soil is less a matter of coaxing than of daming; an attempt to hold back the bounty of the  Earth so as to get only what is needed/wanted rather than the profuseness that Nature desires.   


But the farm is not my home either – at least not yet.  And truth be told, I am not convinced it will be.  The farm entails so many finalities.  Livestock ends most travel, affordable land removes us from most to all of human contact as we get further and further away from civilization.  And removing ourselves that far – is that sustainable?  We  cannot create *everything* we need on the farm, and post oil is we are 40 miles from a population center is that workable?  With whom will we barter and share labor?  With whom will I drink my home brew?  What village will help raise my children? That desicon is a bit off, but it is not a forgone conclusion despite me soul’s yearning to bring forth bounties from the Earth.


Here on State Street I know that the denisty is not sustainable either – too many people even in this lightly populated metropolis for the solar energy falling in its square mileage to produce enough calories.  But I think that this may be closer to the sustainable ideal than a 20 acre oasis an hours drive from here.  I look around and see the collee youth, the educated culturata, the hedonists and know that much will change in the coming years – the years that my children will grow to witness.  As the Flobots say – we are the architects of our Last Stand.  The key to that battle, as any military strategist will tell you, is in choosing your ground.  I have many of the tools and am learning the skills – the choice looming now before me is to where I sink my own roots.   


Much thought on this in the coming years.


Be the Change.


The War on Quack

I have a dream: a backyard filled with no till beds, deeply mulched and brimming with worms producing a fertility so rich you can literally smell it.  Weeds pull easily from the humus rich tilth and most of the toil is spent in harvesting, making compost, and sipping tea while watching the kids play.  My reality is far different thanks to my arch nemesis: Quack Grass.  Quack Border

We tried no till last year.  The soil came alive seemingly instantly, only to be completely overridden by Quack… that bed had hundreds of 7′ long (yes that’s feet) rhizomes in it this spring. The problem is primarily that my lawn is riddled with quack which can gather energy and send it through the rhizomes shooting into my garden beds giving them insane tenacity.   But I don’t give in easily.

My dream will be a reality: I’m stubborn as a mule, am possessed of wicked amounts of energy, and just happen to own a $4000 rototiller.  I will not be denied.

First step is get he effin quack out of the beds.  The beds that I did not no till last year were easier – I forked them and shook all the soil through the times – that’s 3 yards of soil per bed – and chucked the rhizomes into a wheelbarrow.  

The is the extreme opposite of "No-Till"...

The is the extreme opposite of "No-Till"...

Next up is getting the quack out from under the field stone I use for bed edging.  That means moving 100 30# stones per bed throwing them about 4′ and taking the Grillo to the perimeter for 3 passes to hack the rhizomes into bitty bits that are less able to outcompete my clover.  The picture above is a bed in complete disarray – the stone is removed, the soil was tilled last weekend and left to bake in sun.  The quack (of course) resprouted, but the rhizomal supply lines to the lawn were severed.  The bastards are mine!

Once the border is secured, I then rebuild the beds – in this case it is on a slope so

The sick thing is that all that stone came from my yard...

The sick thing is that all that stone came from my yard...

 I am terracing it with stone again.  As I move the soil, I throw it up into a mound and let it cascade down, this exposes most rhizome bits over about 2″ and these I pull out and throw into the ‘barrow.  I took this bed down to the underlying clay – about 8″ – and found another layer of uncut rhizomes several feet long.  I loathe quack at an almost unhealthy level, but I absolutely respect its evolutionary hutzpah.  This plant is incredible!


That tilled quack will sit in the sun for a week, get tilled again, and seeded to clover.

That tilled quack will sit in the sun for a week, get tilled again, and seeded to clover.

I have 7 annual veggie beds (about 70 sq ft each) as well as 4 permaculture guilds about the same size.  I am about half done with irradicating the quack from them.  The goal is to remove the vast majority of rhizomes within my “productive” yard and then cut a 5′ swath of lawn out as a veritable “Maginot Line” against the lawn’s quack.  This, as well as all the paths, is being planted very thickly with White Dutch Clover.  WD Clover is the only plant I have found to outcompete quack – as long as it is mown short and kept wet.  It greens early enough in the year to prevent the quack from getting a jump, and its stolons and uber thick root mass form a nice defense.  Plus I love clover almost as much as I detest quack: it fixes nitrogen, makes a great mulch, and attract beneficials.  

This is a syck amount of work – I spent 8 hours on 120 sq feet of bed and my arms are aching from schlepping 3 tons of stone and 6 yards of soil, but there is an Endgame here.  After 3 years of experimenting with ways to beat the quack, I am convinced that this system will work; that it is possible to eradicate the quack, though it will likely take 2-3 more years before I can no till it.  

In the mean time it is fantastic to see how far I have come with the soil building,  from grey clay and stone to 8″ of deep humus rich soil which is only waiting for me to stop tilling it 3 times a year to allow it to explode with life.  Plus, I was able to mix in half a yard of Russian Comfrey and Mammoth Red Clover cuttings (cut ever so nicely with my scythe) from my fence line mulch crops and will get at least 4 more cuttings from them.  The system is really beginning to work; all that remains is to purge the quack and switch to no till.

I have a dream,

and I will not be denied. 


Spud-tacular Start

Things are getting a slow start at the MArket Garden this year.  The soil is quite cool and most of the farm completely waterlogged.  However, I was able to get into the potato patch the past two weekends.  Below is 100#’s of potatoes – 50 each of Yukon Gold and Kennebec.


720 row feet of potatoes

720 row feet of potatoes

The Grillo does OUTSTANDING work in this application.  The Berta Rotary plow will cut a 1′ wide, 1′ deep furrow through the soil, neatly mounding everything to the right.  I then rake out the furrow to an even depth (not really necessary) and plant the seed spuds.  Then comes my favorite part, I turn the Grillo around, putting one wheel on the mound and cut the next furrow working my way back up the plot.  As I work along, the plow throws some of the soil from the new furrow up over into the seeded furrow neatly burying the seed, and leaving enough soil mounded between to “hill” the plants as they come in.  The result are seen above.  Working at a leisurely pace, I can see 360′ (40-50#’s) in a couple of hours including chasing chickens out of the plot and stopping to chat with the other tenants.

Soil prep on this plot was done about a month ago – it was planted with a rye/vetch mix last October and very heavily grazed by 100 chickens and 2 dozen geese all winter.  There was very little top growth, but decent root mass.  More importantly, there was significant manure, so I tilled it in lightly with a rototiller to get the soil breaking that down.  That is the only fertilizer this plot has received in 2 years.

Counting that hour of tilling, I have about 5 hours of work so far in this plot.  There will likely be another 5-10 in hilling and weeding, and it will take me about 10 hours total to harvest it.  Worst case scenario, I about 25 hours for 800-1000#’s of potatoes, which I can sell for $2/lb.   Time to market will be another 5 hours in delivery.  That works out to 30 hours of labor.  Seed was $200, cover crop about $10, and fuel less than $2.  Net Profit will be about $1500.  That works out to $50/hr.  I love growing potatoes.


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