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  • VA2SFX 8:03 pm on May 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Gardening, ,   

    Wild cultivation at scale 

    Growth-hacking your seed round

    There’s a principle in permaculture that says we should strive to “work with Nature, rather than against it.” It’s a nice idea and I guess that works sometimes, but with establishing a new garden of approximately 16,500 sq. ft., I’ve been hard-pressed to make it work. And the season has barely kicked off.

    From satellite view, it looks like this:

    Of this, I’m trying to cultivate about 230 feet across, which is my largest gardening experiment to date. There’s simply no way I’m going to be able to maintain this space with conventional kneel-in-the-dirt style weeding. And I’m no longer attempting to run a business or earn any kind of living from this.

    So what does you do when you have a field and a feeling?

    You roll with it.

    The field in question has not been cultivated in I’m not sure how long, but it’s not in anyone’s recent memory. So this means that weeds and moreover grasses have been running riot for years.

    I’v set out trying to apply a kind of compromise between “working with nature” and “doing what I want” — which is basically set it and forget it.

    Sow and let grow.

    In other words: take a bunch of different seeds —

    And go to town.

    It’s wildflowers, perennials and annuals. It’s grains and cereals and legumes. It’s “ordinary” garden variety veggies. Thrown out in a big field at random (-ish).

    A family member came by and harrowed the plot before I got started — just to open up the soil a little bit without totally tilling. Which sounded like a good start until the grass started growing back in — completely undiminished.

    Pretty much just looked like it was going to be a big field of grass that choked out all my pretty experiments.

    Though, if you knelt down and looked closely, you could see some of the desired germination happening:

    The grass, we finally decided, had too much of a head-start against these little emerging seedlings. So we had another family member come in with a rototiller and apply a rough clumpy finish. This knocked back the grass hard, cutting everything up.

    It’s unclear yet what the fate of those tiny emerging seedlings will be: if they will push through from their new positions, or will fade away.

    The field now looks something like:

    And close up for you dirt lovers:

    It’s rough, it’s choppy. If you’re planting directly, you would want something much finer. But I’m on an experimental kick, and was hoping to potentially be able to preserve the viability of some of those little sprouts.

    We’ll see how it goes; it’s only been a couple of days.

    So the above was germination from my first phase of mixed sowing. I immediately followed up with the remainder of my stock to set another layer into the soil seed bank.

    And above that I sowed two big sacks of oats, and one of sunflower in a band near the back. This over-sowing (which I actually did already in the previous seed-round too) has a two-fold purpose: oats because they grow fast, easily and don’t have tough rhizomatic root systems like most perennial grasses do. I’m hoping to eventually out-compete the grasses already there. And also to give the birds something to eat that’s more visible/obvious target than my mixed “fancy” seeds.

    Anyway, success or failure remains to be seen, as our temps are not quite high enough for widespread germination across the board. I have another smaller test field of a sort of similar method from last year now entering it’s second season. The goal is basically to create a forager’s garden, combining human desire and folly with whatever Nature’s rhyme or reason decides to call forth out of the assembled possibilities.

    Worst case scenario is all the grass grows back and I have to start over next year. I think the likelihood of that happening across the whole field uniformly is low, but we’ll see what my simulated “weed pressure” can do to fight the grass down and force some spontaneous plant communities to agglomerate.

    I’m also planning to, throughout the season, supplement with whatever organic materials I can, added to the top of the soil. Given the square footage, I’ll never be able to cover all of it equally, so I’ll just do it in clumps and patches and try to work alongside Nature to figure it out. I guess I’m not exactly fighing Nature, but it remains to be seen at this point what ultimate effect “working with it” will have in this scheme of mine.

    Will keep you posted.

  • VA2SFX 2:38 pm on April 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Gardening,   

    Plant & Seed Order 2017 

    My plan is basically still the same as I sketched out at the end of last season. A mixed fruit tree / berry area interspersed with perennial herbs, mixed with both perennial and annual wildflowers, plus all kinds of grains, edible leaf plants, a few peppers and tomatoes, and pretty much anything else I can manage to scrounge up. It’s intended to be a sort of “wild-simulated” situation with heavy stocking of the soil seed bank, so Nature can kind of make her own choices over time about what will thrive — based on my hints and suggestions of what we like and I know grows here well (or hope will one day).

    View story at Medium.com

    Purchased from:

    Hardy Fruit Tree Nursery, Quebec

    • American Plum
    • Surprise apple tree
    • Magenta Grape Vine (seedless)
    • Somerset Grape Vine (seedless)
    • Blackberries
    • Serviceberry
    • Surprise Pear Tree

    Richters, Ontario

    • Bob Gordon elder
    • Chicago hardy fig
    • Lavender Munstead Plug pack
    • Lavender Phenomenal Plug pack
    • Oregano Kaliteri Plug pack
    • Oregano Italian Plug pack
    • Oregano Profusion Plants
    • Oregano Greek Plug pack
    • Oregano Syrian Plants
    • Oregano Turkestan Plants
    • Pepper Bhut Jolokia Plug pack
    • Pepper Jalapeno Chile Plug pack
    • Pepper Scotch Bonnet Plug
    • Rosemary Hill Hardy Plug
    • Tomato Black Cherry Plug
    • Tomato Roma Plug pack
    • Zaatar plants

    Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds, Saskatchewan

    These are sold as microgreens/shoots, but I’m sowing them directly in the field to stock the soil seed bank.

    • Arugula
    • Garbanzo
    • Fava beans
    • Flax
    • Fenugreek
    • Large green lentils
    • Kohlrabi
    • Millet
    • Brown mustard
    • Dwarf grey sugar peas
    • Green peas
    • Popcorn
    • Black quinoa
    • White quinoa
    • Khorasan wheat

    Johnny’s Select Seeds, Maine

    • Crimson clover
    • Pearl millet
    • Sudangrass
    • Anise-hyssop
    • Borage
    • Calendula
    • Chamomile
    • Collards
    • Pickling cucumber
    • Nasturtium
    • Gold beets
    • Cayenne pepper
    • Caracas carrot
    • Sorrel
    • Claytonia
    • Golden purslane
    • Parsley
    • Cilantro
    • Zaatar

    Vermont Wildflower Farm (VT)

    • Penny Pincher mix
    • Northeastern all perennial mix
  • VA2SFX 1:13 pm on April 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Gardening, , Outdoors   

    What to do with wood 

    Managing windfalls of materials in the garden

    We bought a house at the beginning of February with piles and piles of old semi-rotten wood out front:

    I would estimate there is probably about 10x this quantity of wood piled in various spots around the property, thanks to some big old dying trees that were cut down last year.

    Part of the vista from Google Street View:

    There are some other stashes in other places as well, not shown above.

    Since we were living just next door when those trees were cut last year, I was happily able to capture a big quantity of mulchy goodness, which I incorporated onto my garden soil.

    View story at Medium.com

    Option #1: Firewood

    Clearly the most obvious option for using a bunch of pre-cut logs is turn it into firewood.

    Now, I’m no expert here — and we do have a woodstove (plus electric heat)— but people with more experience in the matter say that this wood won’t produce quality heat as it’s old and in some cases rotten. It will burn too fast, and maybe dirty. Sounds probable.

    Plus splitting and storing all of it sounds… boring!

    Option #2: Mushrooms

    I’ve played around pretty extensively with inoculating logs with various types of edible mushrooms, like shiitake, oysters and even reishi.

    View story at Medium.com

    This season will tell me whether or not I’ve finally found the pathway to success on that front. But I know from experience, again, you don’t want to inoculate old bad wood with mushrooms, as there will be too much competition: wild strains, etc will have taken hold by now. Best practice seems to be cut fresh wood, let it age a few weeks and inoculate once it’s only somewhat dried out.

    Option #3: Hugelkultur

    There’s a permaculture thing, hugelkultur, where you bury a bunch of wood in mounds, it decomposes slowly and holds moisture and builds soil over time.

    View story at Medium.com

    It sort of works/sort of doesn’t/maybe I haven’t found the right technique yet. From my experiments, it seems that on a relatively small scale, it’s a challenge to get these things to perform.

    I suspect, based on the Sepp Holzer examples you always see of this, that you have to pile these things really high with tons of material in order to achieve the critical mass necessary to accelerate the biological processes at play. It’s *probably* like a hot compost pile — it won’t get hot if it’s not big enough and the chemical reactions at play are restricted.

    That said, I finally think I have a large enough quantity of wood to actually try out a freakin’ big mound of buried wood, plant over it and see what happens. For the soil moving though, I will enlist the aid of someone with a tractor. Because I don’t want to spend the next 4 months spading soil out and getting nowhere.

    Option #4: Beds

    There are any number of variations on the old “wood in soil” trick in gardening.

    • Use logs for garden bed borders.
    • Dig a trench and stick logs in it. Plant over top.

    Or some combination of the above.

    Given the sheer quantity of material with which I have to experiment, you can rest assured that I will exhaust every possible configuration of the above and post my results. Oh the wheelbarrowing that is going to take place!

    Option #5: Walls

    Lastly, we’ve noticed a benefit of having the wood in stacks as they presently are, since it forms a basically free barrier between us and the street. It’s a bit haphazard though, since it was “built” by a tree-cutting crew. A more formalized wall or walls, perhaps even including masonry of some sort — a more true cordwood wall — is in my future.

    Anything is possible, but everything requires work. I’m fine with wheelbarrowing, and a certain amount of digging, but I’m not into “getting my hands dirty” just for the sake of it. I have a limited amount of energy and tons of things to do in the house, garden and at work — and the name of the game with land management seems to be the least effort for the maximum payoff. So we’ll see what develops!

  • VA2SFX 8:45 pm on September 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Gardening, Planning, Strategy   

    Garden 2017 Concept Sketches 

    Pictured above is a concept sketch for my garden(s) next year. It’s actually an instance of a pattern which I will try to detail with examples.


    The idea is you have a few basic components, you cluster them in groups (I think plants like to “grow together”). So my basic units are:

    • Hardy perennial culinary herbs
    • Wildflowers
    • Various types of berry plants
    • Diverse fruit trees

    Clusters, though not necessarily formal, and not necessarily regular distances:

    Note: individual clusters will be a bit more mixed: some herbs in with berries, etc. 

    Then each of those clusters is part of a larger cluster set which continues with random variations across the landscape:

    Not quite a “Food Forest” per se, but an extremely biodiverse, mostly wild-cultivation technique which can still produce both short term, middle term and long term yields as the ecosystem develops.

    Wild sown components

    Interspersed among and between clusters is a sort of “grab bag” of whatever seeds will be on-hand, with the intention of continuing to stock the soil seed bank with biodiverse plants that will adapt on their own over successive generations, especially:

    • Mixed cereals (wild sown)
    • Mixed vegetables (wild sown)


    • Climate Change is happening.
    • We don’t know/can’t predict with much accuracy now what crop plants will grow here well in 5–10 years or longer.
    • Biodiversity is automatically better: both more dynamic and simultaneously more stable.
    • Biodiversity will attract wildlife and pollinators.
    • No irrigation or fertilization will be used.
    • Randomized mulch where available (wood chips, maybe hay and cut material from garden) and deeply mulching where possible.
    • Plants like to grow together in mixed-type clusters: in communities, touching, exchanging with dense connections between them. Same thing on an ecosystemic level with non-plant actors.


    • Conventional companion planting. I won’t pay any regard to “what people say” are good plants to put together. I will go by “feel” and by observation.
    • “Natives” vs. “Invasives” arguments. My axis of qualifying component plants is more a useful/unknown use.
  • VA2SFX 9:03 pm on September 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Gardening, , ,   

    Time: Experimental Martian garden takes root in Quebec 


    I took these photos about a week ago, I guess — on assignment. Here at one of several QASA research stations on a mostly-uninhabited island in the St. Lawrence River where we are developing crops to produce biofuels, medicinals and foodstuffs for Martian Freightliners, Colonial Capital Corporations and various unaffiliated Terran climate refugees capable of affording passage.


    “As we speak, the Quebec Autonomous Space Agency is preparing to launch, via SpaceX, its premiere vague of “full-equip” modified RVs hurtling toward the Red Planet — with enough potatoes and firewood to last the next 26 months…” […]

    “If Quebec wants to be both independent and profitable, we must go to Space.”

    Below used to be garlic until mid-July.

    Pulled the garlic and then laid in thick wood chip layer over densely-sown oats. Oats germinating well and between the oats and the chips, other weeds seem to be basically smothered.

    Close-up of oats pulled out and wood chips:

    Hardy Chicago Fig (Richter’s) — one of several Climate Change gambles I’m currently letting play out in the garden.

    Kiwis (Green Barn Nursery):

    A male and two females — now I forget which is which…

    Seedless grapes:

    Frost Peach, at left. Two pears at right (Green Barn Nursery)

    Probably millets?

    There’s one with black seeds here (below) that I know I planted, but not sure what it is. Possibly another variety of millet? The form of their seedhead is pretty different though.

    If you want to try to hazard guesses about the unknowns here, I did keep a record of what I had at the beginning of the season. Tiny broomcorns maybe above?


    I made no specific records of what was planted where, or if even all of the above were planted or not. There was also a lot of mixing that went on as well…

    My theory was always that for whatever succeeded, I’d have at least somewhere to start — and some motivation — for going back to identify the winners. Perhaps that time is finally upon me now that the season is winding down…

    These are definitely some type of Italian dandelion I planted…

    I think I’m seeing some success elsewhere (not pictured) of garnet chicory or maybe bloody dock?

    Part of the beauty/mystery/design/frustration of stocking the soil seed bank in the way that I have is that it may take several years for your “seed round” investments to yield. That’s why I’m kind of like grow ’em all and let [insert deity/supreme force/fate, etc] sort it out…


    Another good case in point: at right is red clover. At left is _____? (light green — click to enlarge image)

    Accepting uncertainty…

    Maybe some kind of amaranth (at left above), based on leaf shape, but they’re borderline hairy leaves and they taste almost medicinal… so I’m not sure. If they ever get to flowering I assume I’ll have more evidence on which to propose an identification…

    I guess maybe, psychologically, part of the impetus behind keeping general and not specific records is to prevent myself from getting too attached… If plans simply fail to come up, I can’t point to a sign or a conclusive chart or something and say x didn’t work. Instead, I can look at it from another angle: z worked. Why did z work? What about z and the growing conditions I’ve got here are compatible such that z was able to be expressed?

    It’s for me a more complex calculation then, if less scientific. Pure, controlled field trials would be more scientific. It’s volitional I guess too. That is, recognizant of the plants’ volution and the place’s volition. It’s perhaps a philosophical position to take, but it’s not “me” that’s growing plants. I might be tending — however loosely — a garden. But the plants grow on their own or don’t. Succeed or don’t. Success might end up being relative, but given enough trials over a long enough timeline, it’s a guaranteed outcome.

    Teff, an Ethiopian grain in a light-green band in the middle here:

    Hoppy Hour:

    Having seen what a difference you can get out of the plants if you do a good job (like last year) or a bad job (like this year) of tying up and trellising this plant, in future I will make some better — and maybe even more elborate & sculptural trellises for these guys. Maybe a nice pergola is in my future?

    I should be so lucky.

    A giant Miscanthus:

    Agastache loves us and the feeling is mutual.

    Benefits of Agastache:

    - Grows great in this climate with no maintenance or irrigation
    - Perennial
    - Edible leaves (licorice-flavor)
    - Amazing herbal tea from flowers
    - Bees go crazy on this plant
    - Long lasting attractive purple spike flowers last a long time during season. 

    Experimenting for next year with wild-sowing them. That and lavender. I feel like especially if lavender can be wild-sown and succeed, that would be a major coup. A sort of wilderness of herbes-de-provence in the garden. Could be major.

    Some very successful closely planted herb boxes:

    I’ll divide and conquer the lucky remainees after next Spring’s thaw — spreading them out across the plantscape to “re-wild” it.

    Trying to put my garlic stalks to use here where I can in the garden as biomass and ground-cover:

    Hill Hardy Rosemary (Richter’s):

    I’m hoping to find a winner rosemary varietal for this climate that can survive under the snow and revive after it.

    Origanum dictamnus — Dittany of Crete (Richter’s):

    Bergamot in foreground — not yet flowering:

    I’ve had scary success with parsley — that is, if you measure success in allowing plants to go to seed rapidly, which may not be the typical gardening goal; a lot of gardening techniques focus on arresting growth at a certain stage. I don’t have time, though, to go out and tell all these plants what to do. And besides, that’s not why they hired me…

    The umbelliferaes are umbelliferating, that’s for sure.

    Is there a future in broom corn?

    Only one way to find out.


    We’ll see what develops next year.

    Do they have maple syrup on Mars?
  • VA2SFX 12:01 pm on September 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Gardening, , Martian   

    Fresh herb mix for homesick Martians 

    It’s weird: as much doom and gloom as my personal pendulum swings toward, I’m still running my little mini-farm & garden stuff because… once the escape rockets for Mars have all departed, I’m still gonna need something to do with my days… nevermind something to eat.

    Here is one little secret I’d like to share with all you off-worlders looking back fondly on your holo-device archives to a quaint Earth before everything went completely to shit: a nice fresh herb mix made of culinary herbs and wild edibles. You can throw this mix onto virtually any dish for a veritable “flavor bonanza.” By gum, a little goes a long way, friends! Change the method to suit whatever ingredients are available in your camp’s sterile drone-pollinated underground hydro grow-units:


    (1) Find/grow/steal a bunch of edible herbs — you might remember them from your childhood or from colony Berenstain picture books: “green things.” Yes, you can eat them. Weird right?

    (2) Take out all of the hard/tough parts which you’d just as soon not have to crap out into a Martian chemical dry toilet during your morning shift on the power-bikes. 

    (3) Chop that shit up — if they still allow you to use “sharp objects” offworld. Maybe sharpen the edge of your colonial identification chip into a “shiv” of sorts. Failing that, you could always manually rip them into pieces I guess. But a shiv could come in handy, just saying. 

    (4) Bag it for later use and stow it in a low-temp climate-controlled chamber. (But not freezing — well I guess you could freeze this [probably better to do it in oil], but it would defeat the whole point of a “fresh herb mix,” now wouldn’t it?) Will also endure quite a long time at room temperature for "BBQs" and similar group dining events. 

    (5) Do you guys still have chickens? Because give them the stuff you’re not willing to digest and they will pop out these little round delicious things you can eat — I swear! Chickens totally seem like they’d adapt to offworld conditions no problem. Get your squad leader or block captain to look into it if it won’t get them written up by colonial authorities. 

    Voila, future Martians eat your hearts out!

  • VA2SFX 12:38 pm on August 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Botany, Gardening, ,   

    Etymology of “weed” 

    From Etymonline:

    “plant not valued for use or beauty,” Old English weod, uueod “grass, herb, weed,” from Proto-Germanic *weud- (source also of Old Saxon wiod, East Frisian wiud), of unknown origin. Also applied to trees that grow abundantly. Meaning “tobacco” is from c. 1600; that of “marijuana” is from 1920s. The chemical weed-killer is attested by 1885.

    I actually kind of like that definition more than a “plant in the wrong place” which is often applied, because it speaks of value, utility and aesthetic.

    This comes via Google Etymology: a depiction of mentions over time (not sure how this is measured — via Google Books?)…

    Curious that usage peaks around 1950, don’t you think…?

  • VA2SFX 7:37 pm on August 11, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Gardening, ,   

    Garlic harvest 

    I estimate that I planted around 2,200 cloves of garlic in the Autumn of 2015. Here is my harvest, drying on racks constructed from cinder blocks and shelving sections:

    Close-ups for context:

    I had maybe 40–50 “crappy ones” which had dried out and separated. Can sort of see them on a table in the back. They will get re-planted in semi-wild areas.

    Then maybe another 25 or so which broke when pulled up by the stalk (which they say you shouldn’t do — but I found it was faster as a harvest technique, despite losses). Not really “lost” at all though, as they will form the basis of a ‘volunteer’ garlic force next year which are welcome to re-grow at their leisure.

    If I were to re-plant all this garlic (often 4 cloves per head), I would probably be in for over 8,000 garlic next year. It’s already too much right now, so I can’t do that… Got to find other uses. It’s a good problem to have though.

  • VA2SFX 3:43 pm on August 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: First Fruits, Gardening, Lammas, Lughnasadh, Wheel Of The Year   

    Lammas Garden 

    The time of the First Fruits.

    Flax flowers, I think

    I’m not really into Biodynamic gardening or any of the attendant stuff, but I do kind of buy into the whole neo-pagan “Wheel of the Year” thing. That there are literal turning points in the seasons, in the calendar, in the turning of the planet in its dance through the heavens.

    All moments have their attributes.

    Some more charged than others.

    Sorghum and friends

    I am working on blended environments…


    Frequency of signals.


    Miniature cities.

    The power is in the seeing.

    Though others were harvested and set aside, the Grand Potentate was left to complete it’s cycle in Fullness.


    Coltsfoot — growing on its own.

    Rhudbeckia, no doubt.

    What I did with the volunteer kale seeds…


    Between me and the world.

    Note traffic cone

    Uphill battle.



    Gradual harvest.

    Repetition of forms.

    Overstocking plants on purpose.

    Weeding becomes harvesting.

    Turkeys are moving into a new life phase.

    Chicory in foreground

    Coriander, oregano and woolly lamb’s ear.

    I have lost control.

    Let the plants sort it out.

    Poireau (leek):

    You can’t weed all the time…

    Let a few grow to maturity and reproduce in place. {See also: gleaning, tithe}

    Let them just express themselves…




    Fig. (And sarrasin)

    Crimson and clover.

    Over and over.

    Teff, what they make injeera with.


    Amaranth, I think…

    Don’t ask me which variety.

    Birdnet is a highly-effective winged LAN wifi network I installed.

    Chamomile Ile.

    Sunflower power.

    Beautiful mess. Cultivation.

    At a certain point, we have to accept what we can and can’t control and strive instead to set up good conditions for success. And of course broaden our understanding and experience of success…

  • VA2SFX 6:13 pm on July 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Gardening, , Scapes   

    This is what it looks like when you let garlic scapes go too long… 

    This is less than half of what I harvested

    Most of it is fibrous and borderline inedible without some fancy footwork to transform it. My fault for letting them go. I have a huge quantity. Last year I had maybe 1/10th this much garlic planted (I planted approx. 2,200 cloves in the Autumn) and was easily able to offload all the flowers to a local chef.

    I sold 5 kilos a little earlier this year at $30/kg when they were in top shape:

    I’m not in it for the money anymore though… just the fun. It’s better this way.

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