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

    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 3:07 pm on January 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Growth Hacking, , , ,   

    What I learned posting news summaries to Medium for 4 months 

    Over the past four months, Invironment has experimented heavily with re-posting environmental news summaries — sometimes with commentary, sometimes without — to Medium. I’ve seen a lot of positive results.

    Here are some examples from our news section:

    View collection at Medium.com

    Tracking trends

    A major part of the utility of doing this has been to closely track trends in environmental news events as they unfold around the world. I’ve never been so aware, for example, of the struggle for communities around the world to retain control over clean drinking water. Or the increasing number of major cities which are being crippled routinely by smog. Or the business leaders who are trying to make a difference and/or make a buck off Climate Change.

    • Benefit: I now have a clear, referenceable index of environmental news stories from around the world at my finger tips

    Common format

    After some experimentation, we settled on a fairly basic common format for news re-posts on Medium. Looks something like this:

    1. Start with a screenshot from Google Maps to provide geographic context on where the story takes place.
    2. Follow with a title, which begins by naming the news source and either repeats that source’s original article title or modifies it to fit our space needs and/or meta-narratives.
    3. Next comes an optional line or two of commentary (not pictured above).
    4. Then an embed of the original article source.
    5. Then the main (short) quotation from the source explaining the gist of the story.
    6. Follow with a section break, and additional commentary if needed.
    7. Follow that with any related news items we’ve indexed, or quotes and links to further information.

    Some general guidelines

    Rapid turn-around

    Compared to writing exclusively original content all the time to keep our all-volunteer/zero-profit publication going, clearly identified news re-posts are quick to produce (minutes), can provide excellent context for any original published works, and if done well can actually serve the reader.

    There is a lot of value in quality curation in this day and age.

    Observed problems

    I’ve noticed that occasionally readers don’t grasp that this formatting:

    quote format

    Means that something is excerpted text from another source. Enthusiastic commenters will try to take me to task over something ultimately not written by me.

    I always encourage them to track down the original source, ask questions, do their homework and share their results. That said, I’ve also switched to actively using quotation marks in these excerpts, like so:

    “quote format”

    I think that makes it just that much clearer for the reader.

    Stats boost

    Sadly, my publication stats appear to be “taking the day off,” so I can’t share them here. I will however go through a quick list of recent items and their recommendation numbers to give a framework:

    I could go on and on with examples like that, but that represents a fairly accurate distribution of recommendations on pieces.

    People will 💚 good news

    My hypothesis for many of these stories is that people see a positive news headline in their feed, and they simply recommend it outright — either without reading it or with just a casual scan of the summary. [Write for scanners.]

    Increased followers

    Since starting this experiment in September of 2016, Invironment’s followers have gone up by nearly 2,000. (as of Jan. 2017) Obviously, I can’t attribute that entire bump in numbers to simply posting news stories, but there seems to be an undeniable link, if we consider that for every 💚 readers give our posts, our stories get more widely distributed in Medium’s network.

    Twitter re-posts

    I’ve given up on Twitter basically, so I never bother to re-post links to our stories there. But I’ve noticed, thanks to the news pieces that ordinary readers do that job for me.

    Here’s an example section of my Twitter notifications page:

    Now, I haven’t gone through and vetted all those accounts that have re-posted a link card to my stories. But even if these are all bots simply re-posting anything that is a keyword match, the fact is they are driving traffic and attention to our publication. So in addition to more recommendations, an increase in followers in-network, we’re also seeing significant bumps in visibility outside-of-network.


    Since little green hearts 💚, follows and traffic are the currency of Medium, and the vast majority of these pieces were produced in under five minutes, I would argue that this is a pretty decent return on our time investment.

    What’s your opinion?

    Is this simply more low-brow “growth-hacking” that cheapens the Medium experience? A legitimate way to track and share important news items with a targeted/self-selected readership — or something else?

    I encourage you, as ever, to do your own experiments, to be above-the-board about it, and to share you results with the community. Thanks for listening!

  • VA2SFX 12:10 am on January 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Growth Hacking, , , ,   

    How my 👀 work when I read Medium 

    Writing for drunks and scanners

    I’m a scanner*, I won’t lie…

    * I am not as skilled as SF Ali who appears to be able to read every word of every article on the platform and recommend it. 

    For my daily information ingestion routine, I find instead there’s simply no way to consume media out of a “feed” (however tailored) without scanning for the bits that interest you — foraging.

    There’s just too much out there.

    I think my eyes in general on Medium work like this, but like fast:

    [Image source]

    “Special sauce”

    It’s like diagonal streams of words open up and I look unconsciously for keywords that interest me, or structural elements that draw or hold eyeflow as I scroll down the page… *

    I know, these are very first-world problems of people who spend too much time on the web, but what can I say? var guilty = true;

    * If via scanning the whole thing meets some mysterious criteria I can’t quite articulate, I may even go in and start reading "old school"--if I have time. 
    // (Because I'm old-school like that) 
    BUT there is so much little clicky-flashy-blinking junky stuff out there on the internet competing for my limited cyber-attention. GAAARGH!

    I think this reading/scanning effect on Medium I’m describing is neither good nor bad in itself, but as a writer/content-producer/hustler there’s a way to manipulate it by, basically, blocking or chunking your content and making it more scanner-friendly…

    Kanye West GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

    If your reader is constantly scrolling down while scanning content, you have to manipulate the both the gaps *and* the focal points in articles.

    Like so:

    Headlines make you stop.

    Your eyes get drawn in. Especially if they are short and punchy and packed with keywords I know and trust, I might even read into that paragraph before….

    — Losing interest. Hm, got any pictures?

    Then I start scanning again — you can’t stop me! //Don't even try!! Here I go, watch me!

    Where was I —

    Uh, what was the subject of this post again?

    → → Oh wait, I know…

    Scanner GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

    Enjoyed this post? Click 💚 or die!

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

    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.

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