Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sustainable Mulching

The mulch being used now will make a difference in the 
soil for a long time.

What mulch is best depends on what you are planting and what you want out of it. For a garden that is focusing on plants native to Utah you want to use rocks. They can be cheap, are what the plants are used to, and can be very ornamental. For a food producing garden you will find rocks to be lacking.

For vegetables I want something with few weed seeds and is biodegradable, readily available, and will improve my soil long term. While there are many materials that fit the first three conditions, there is only one material that I know of that readily meets the last: wood.

As I write this I have this nagging feeling that some of you are picturing a garden filled with cut lumber laid out like a wood floor. While this would work, there are better ways that I will cover later in this post.

The things that make wood so special are the complex chemicals that take a long time to break down. These chemicals are usually polyphenols and particularly lignin. As these chemicals break down they are a major contribution to humic acid, a class of organic chemicals that improve almost all soils.

Once the humic acid is developed, it lasts a long time. In fact if you mulch regularly for ten years you will make a 1,000 year difference in the soil--if you do it right!

The most important thing to do to get this 1,000 year effect is to not till. Tilling speeds up the decomposition to the point where it starts interfering with the creation of humic acid. You have to put the wood on top and leave it there!

Some suppliers sell a fossilized organic product mined near the coal fields here in the west. It has some potential value, but for the creation of long term good soil it has not been proven or disproven. It also costs more than creating your own humic acid through mulching.

Also, be aware that adding just wood products may throw your soil chemistry out of sink. Please see my post on Sheet Mulching for more information.

As for what kind of wood to use, slow growing woods are best. Oak, hickory, cherry, fir, pine, and many others are all very good. You can use saw dust, chipped trees, large wood chunks, or whatever is cheap and available in your area. Just be careful of paint, glue, and any chemical additives. They may be toxic for you or your plants.

Have fun and let me know how things work.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Green Buying

It just might be time to get a new mower....

Every once-in-a-while I check out the environmental blogs and articles on the web. Invariably I click away in disgust. Most of the chatter seems to be about great environmental products that are so green that you can’t live without them. When I start reading the green resume of the products I am often surprised at what constitutes ‘green’ to the bloggers. 



And then I look at the price. Even if I like the product and have a need for something like it, I don’t get the green product because I can’t afford it.

While more of us are becoming familiar with ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ I think we would be well advised to also remember an older phrase ‘use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without’ as well.

Neither of these phrases covers what to do when you finally need to buy something, but here are some tips to help: 


  • Ask: do I really need it?
  • Check to see if you already have something that will work for you, but you just hadn’t realized it. 

  • Look for hand-me-downs, items from thrift stores, or second hand shops. 

  • Don’t buy fad items. Look for colors, and designs that looked good 30 years ago and will still look good in five years.
  • Decide what you will do with the product after you are done with it. My running shoes are a good example. I can only use them for running for a year or two. Then they get rotated into my work shoes. When I get done with them at work, there is little left to dispose of.
We all need a certain amount of 'things' in this world, but by thinking and planning ahead we can cut our 'things' down to a manageable level that all of us can live with.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Nitrogen from Plants



Nitrogen fixing plants are a great way to build up nitrogen in the soil without using chemicals. But you can’t expect to just plant them and leave them.

The plant wants to use the nitrogen for its own purposes, namely leaf and seed production. So if you want to get the nitrogen benefit for your soil and other plants you will need to trim them back before seed is set.

Most annuals can be taken down to two or three inches, with some leaves showing. Perennials can usually be cut down to the ground. Many shrubs can be coppiced every few years, while the remaining shrubs and trees can be selectively pruned or even hedged.

Even some trees can be coppiced, but you must choose the tree wisely. And you must commit to caring for the tree as it recovers. Coppicing can cause trees to grow back with structural weaknesses that may create safety problems later on.

Whatever you plant and however you decide to maintain it, you should spend the time to research it before hand. Then, pay careful attention to how it grows for you and record what happens in a journal so you can refer back to it latter.

Good luck and let me know what happens!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Grapes for Northern Utah


I've become convinced, as I studied for this list,
that there are a lot of other grapes that would do
well in Utah. This one still needs to be evaluated
for the list.



Grapes might just be the best fruit crop for Utah. Grapes do well in dry areas with hot summers; and that fits Utah perfectly! In fact as long as I can remember I have seen chain link fences covered with big leafed vines with dusty-blue fruit peeping out here and there. 

As much as I like the flavor that comes out of the blue-black Concord grapes when in juice or jam, I've always thought it lacks texture for fresh eating.  Fortunately in the last couple of decades, green table grapes have been planted more often along the Wasatch Front. That still left a big gap in the potential for pinkish-red grapes and blue-black grapes for the table. 

I've found some good red table grapes, now, and a few black table grapes as well. So to help you along I've put a list together of basic starter vines of all colors. 




Variety
Table
Juice-
Jelly
Raisin
Color
Zone
Seed-
less
Notes
Black Monukka
Y

Y
Purple-
Black
6-10
Y
Self-fruitful. One of the hardiest European grapes.

Buffalo

Y

Blue-
Black
5-8

Earlier than Concord. Juice aged for best flavor. Less Foxy than Concord.

Campbell
Early

Y

Blue-
Black
5-9

2-3 weeks earlier than Concord. Needs rich soil.

Concord

Y

Blue-
Black
4-9

Long favored standard for juice and jelly. Self-fruitful.

Fredonia

Y

Blue-
Black
5-7

Earlier than Concord, but not as good. Later than Buffalo.

Glenora
Y


Black
6-9
Y
Less hardy than Venus. Good fall leaf color.

Jupiter
Y
Y

Reddish-
Blue
5-9
Y
Scored well on taste tests. Stays on vine after maturity.

Mars
Seedless
Y
Y

Blue-
Black
5-8
Y
Long vine life. Less foxy than Concord.

Venus
Y


Black
5-9
Y
Large, good quality. Early.

Canadice
Y
Y

Red
4-8
Y
Good winter hardiness. Self-fruitful. Some spice to flavor. Clusters weak and ragged looking. Production low for commercial plantings. 

Reliance
Y
Y

Red
4-8
Y
Good flavor, thin skin. Good winter hardiness. Very likely the best red grape for Utah.

Suffolk
Red
Y


Red
6-8
Y
Largest berries of the seedless Euro-American hybrids. Self-fruitful.

Golden
Muscat
Y


Green-
gold
6-10

Self-fruitful. A good home grape that likes a hot, dry climate. 

Himrod
Y

Y
White-
Green
5-9
Y
Early, loose clusters. More winter hardy than Interlaken. Small high quality berries. Clusters loose and shaggy. Needs to be picked immediately when ripe, otherwise the berries fall.

Interlaken
Y

Y
White-
Green
5-8
Y
A week earlier than Himrod and slightly hardier. Berries can drop prematurely. Self-fruitful. Good frozen.

Lakemont
Y


White-
Green
5-8
Y
Later than Himrod. Big clusters, good producer. Relative good keeper.

Niagra

Y

White-
Green
5-9

Sometimes called 'White Concord.' Good mix with Concord type for juice.






Saturday, March 31, 2012

I Dance with the Trees

Photos courtesy of Troy Nuttall

Yesterday, I finished a few last minute pruning jobs. As I did so, I thought of some of the tree trimmers I've worked with in the past. Each of those climbers have their own style and rhythm. 

Ryan roots himself to the ground so that no matter how high up he is, it looks like he is strolling through a spring day. Kevin hot dogs around the trees on his ropes, swinging from branch to branch like Tarzan. If he still doesn't have his adrenaline rush he takes his glasses off and lowers himself out of the tree upside down, like a spider. Max takes a calm, long term approach. I've seen him ride a tree to the ground after the roots gave out and walk away with nothing more than a calm smile.

Me? I'm not in the same athletic class as my friends, so my style depends a great deal on how my limbs connect with the tree's. Foot work is vital to me. Often times my feet point in opposite directions. They balance on bumps that don't exist and get wedged into angles that must be too tight for a guy wearing a wide shoe.

My arms are not left out. They move intricately around and through branches to hold myself in the tree, but still let me get a clean cut. My wife compares it to dancing, though I can't quite see the comparison. Each step is a tentative shifting affair, relying on an individual branch to tell me if it can handle what I am asking it to do.


There is a distinct rhythm as well. Not one that can be defined as something so simple as a three-quarter time or a standard category like a waltz. No, the rhythms I move to are deeply connected to the trees and to the earth itself. Deep, long, intricate rhythms.

Yes, I dance with the trees.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Growing Perennial Fruits (berries and fruit trees)


Wasatch Community Gardens presents the basics of fruits and berries with Alex Grover for Utah Sustainable Gardening.


The workshop will be located at Day-Riverside Library - Tree Utah's Eco Garden on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 2:00pm until 4:00pm.


Please pre-register at:
http://wasatchgardens.org/workshop/growing-perennial-fruits-berries-and-fruit-trees


There will be a $10.00 donation to Wasatch Community Gardens.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Backcountry radio segment


Last Thursday (March 15th) I was interviewed on the Backcountry radio network. It was a great chance to talk about permaculture, gardening and the classes I will be teaching in Salt Lake City in a couple of weeks. The segment will rebroadcast Sunday on KALL 700 in the Salt Lake Area in addition to Stations in Price and Moab or you can download and save at your convenience. Drivetime segments will air in the Salt Lake area locally on 1370 KSOP next week.

Sunday Edition
http://backcountrynetwork.blogspot.com/2012/03/program-highlights-for-march-18-2012.html
KCYN 97.1 FM in Moab 8:00 - 9:00 a.m.
KALL 700 AM in Salt Lake City 9:00-10:00 a.m.
KOAL 750 AM in Price 10:00-11:00 a.m.


Drivetime Editions
http://backcountrynetwork.blogspot.com/2012/03/march-19-2012-march-23-2012-drivetime.html
Monday-Friday
KCYN 97.1 FM in Moab 8:40 a.m. and 4:50 p.m.
KOAL 750 AM in Price 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
KTMP 1340 AM in Heber 7:55 a.m. and 3:55 p.m.
KSOP 1370 AM in Salt Lake City 9 a.m and 3 p.m hours
KCPX 1490 AM in Spanish Valley 7:40 a.m and 4:40 pm

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Occupy My Own Life

The Occupy Salt Lake City encampment, before they
were cleared out by the city.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the Occupy Movement, but I could never be involved.  The reason is I have things that are more important for me. I have a daughter that will gain an entire life by me being home and teaching her how to live so that she cares about others in a personal way. 


In addition, my wife was being treated for cancer at the height of the Occupy Movement. My greater responsibility was to support her and give her the help she needed to get through alive.


But even without the worries of my family, I couldn't be involved because I have something better to give than days and weeks at a time demanding change from people who don't care. I have a skill that I can teach that can change people's lives.


Each time I work with a new client on a design, I teach them how to make life better for themselves by giving them the choice to be involved in growing their own food. I give them a chance to see how they effect their neighbors by how they care for their lawn. And, how they can change that by taking out the lawn altogether.


I also work with several non-profit agencies giving low cost classes and seminars. I can't say I've truly helped more than a handful of people, but I know I am moving in the right direction. 


Now, I have begun to wonder, what if just a few of those protesters with specialized skills were to join me to teach others. I am sure there must have been a few folks with legal and financial skills that could have stepped out of the protest ranks, for a least a little while, to teach classes on how to improve local financial situations.


I can't give you details on these systems because I don't understand them well. I've read about them, but they seem to be ignored by the larger world of big government and big capitalism. 


Unfortunately, real solutions are rarely found by just protesting. They are found by people who take the next step and actively find new solutions which can be implemented from the bottom up. That is my job. Now that things are less active in the protest arena, I hope a few others will join me. Maybe with a lot of hard work and time we will make some real changes together.



Friday, February 24, 2012

I don't need to plant, that was done last year...

Lettuce gone wild.

While other gardeners are bemoaning the last days of winter, I am already started on this year's planting. Well, actually I started last spring. The lettuce plant you see above is a seedling of lettuce I planted last year. Half-a-dozen plants bolted before I could eat them and I left them in place to give the wind a chance to do its job.


Surprisingly, the new lettuce plants are near where the originals were. Less surprisingly, they are all in divots where the wind is too weak to blow them back out. While I have never been strong on a smooth seed bed, I think it is time to make them even more rough.

Rhubarb and a pea.

A few peas have found a way to sprout in mid-January as well. The one above will be an interesting companion plant to the rhubarb and strawberries that I planted last fall.


I will plant a few more lettuce and pea seeds since I don't quite have enough to cover my expected needs. I will be sure to leave a few of the best plants to give me seed for next year.


Now my biggest problem is what to do with the time that I was going to use for planting. Hmm, maybe it is time to talk to the landlord about digging up more lawn....

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sustainable Carpentry



I found a recent listing for an army carpenter's kit. Please note, although I recently found the listing, I also found a recent listing. With that said, I tracked down a kit that was newly issued as of 2011. With all the new electric motorized gadgets that most people work with these days, it is refreshing to know that at least the army has the sense to know that the power is not always on.

With the list still fresh on my mind I went to the local big box store to see what they carried. Although my tour was not complete for all the parts on the list, I did not find much. Files and screwdrivers were abundant. But of the other tools that were common only twenty or thirty years I could only readily find were an all-purpose-saw (no cross cut or rips saws), key hole saws, and a small sized plane.

The salesman for the tool department thought I was odd for being interested in had tools and continual recommended that the only manual tool I should be interested in is a trigger. 

Fortunately, I ran into Roger and his son-in-law Ron. Both of them are highly skilled hobbyists with an interest in good skills and good tools. Their suggestion was to find good old tools from antiques shops, on line, or preferably, from garage sales. While there  is some risk in buying old tools, the quality of the tools makes them well worth the time restoring them. 

They also recommended one web sight for good quality new tools: http://www.leevalley.com/US/wood/index.aspx. The prices are high compared to the big box, but if you are serious about carpentry and woodwork, the price is worth it for tools you won't have to replace.

Ron also has a woodworking blog that is well worth looking at: http://ronswoodshop.blogspot.com/. He goes into all aspects of woodworking as well as the tools used. I enjoyed his blog more than any others I have found recently.

Have a good a time finding more sustainable skills. And don't forget, there are more people out there that think like you. You just have to find them.

P.S. The list for the tool kit is below.




Carpenter's Kit
Item Description National Stock Number
Pinch Bar 26 in 5120-00-224-1372
Wrecking Bar 30 in 5120-00-293-0665
Wrecking Bar 12 in 5120-00-223-7218
Sliding T Bevel 8 in 5210-00-278-0645
Auger Bit Set 5133-00-293-2396
Bit Expansive7/8 in-- 3 in 5133-00-223-4987
Phillips Screwdriver Bit  5120-00-250-5576
5120-00-595-8197
5120-00-223-6971
Rachet Brace 5110-00-293-1958
Twist Drill Case (bits) 5140-00-837-5313
Countersink 5/8 in 5133-00-224-9096
Glass Cutter 5110-00-222-4401
Mechanic's Dividers 5210-00-263-0376
Hand Drill 5110-00-293-3411
Glazier's Driver 5120-00-596-9552
Hammer Face Insert 5120-00-293-2997
Hand File Flat 8 in 5110-00-203-4935
Hand File Slim Taper 6 in 5110-00-234-6528
Hand File Auger Bit Type 7 in 5110-00-251-9000
Hand File Taper 6 in 5110-00-234-6522
Hand Saw Filing Guide 5110-00-860-3377
Safety Goggles 4240-00-052-3776
Engineer's Cross-Peen Hammer 5120-00-900-6103
Carpenter's Hammer 16 oz 5120-01-112-8346
Carpenter's Ripping Hammer 20 oz 5120-01-112-8345
File Handle 5110-00-595-8325
Hatchet 1-3/8 lb 5110-00-228-3161
Hammer Face Holder 5120-00-903-8553
Craftsman's Knife 2-1/2 in 5110-00-240-7070
Pocket Knife  5110-00-240-5943
Aluminum Level 24 in 5210-00-239-0892
Hand Oiler 6 oz 4930-00-985-2604
Pencil 7510-00-275-7213
Jack Plane 2 in x 14 in 5110-00-224-7911
Pliers w/Cutter 8 in 5120-00-239-8251
Brass Plumb Bob 5210-00-224-8794
Glazier Point 5340-00-538-6791
Saw Set Anvil 5120-00-244-1167
Crosscut Hand Saw 26 in 5110-00-293-3435
Rip Saw 5110-00-142-5015
3 Blade Nested Keyhole Saw 5110-00-501-6014
Phillips Screwdriver Size 2 5120-00-764-8067
Phillips Screwdriver Size 3 5120-00-234-8912
Phillips Screwdriver Size 1 5120-00-240-8716
Screwdriver Flat 6 in 5120-00-234-8910
Screwdriver Flat 8 in 5120-00-237-6985
Screwdriver Flat 3 in 5120-00-236-2127
Screwdriver Flat 4 in 5120-00-222-8852
Carpenter's Square 5210-00-273-1948
Combination Square 5210-00-241-3599
Steel Staples 5315-00-132-8302
Sharpening Stone Couse-Fine Grit 5345-00-260-0759
Staple Tacker 5120-00-388-6821
Tape Measure 100 ft 5210-00-527-9429
Tape Measure 25 ft 5210-01-139-7444
Portable Tool Box 42 in x19 in x19 in 5140-01-237-3233
Waxed Nylon Twine 4020-00-954-1118