Sunday, August 14, 2011

Creating Raised Beds From Leaves

Permaculture Raised Bed Cross Section

Here is sandy Jacksonville raised beds are essential for a number of reasons.

First of all we are in hurricane territory.  When Tropical Storm Fay came through several years back we had over twenty inches of rainfall within twenty four hours, almost a continual inch per hour.  Water backed up and flooded our garage, rising to about an inch below the door threshold but covering the garden by several inches.

The only plants to really survive were those in the raised beds not covered by the flood waters.

But flooding is not the only reason to build raised beds, there are many more.  Raised beds are typically made with compost and leaves, or organic matter.  The organic material is important for several reasons.

First of all the leaves provide a source of micro nutrients such as boron (B) , iron (Fe), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn) and molybdenum (Mo).  Composted leaves and kitchen scraps can add the required macro nutrients, the three main being nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K).

Additional horse, cow, rabbit, chicken or other manure can be added for additional macro nutrients.

Chicken and turkey droppings should be allowed several months to cool because it is considered an 'hot' manure.  Some recommend allowing hen droppings to compost for a year before using.  If the chicken manure is mixed with leaves from the coop floor less composting time would be required.

Cow, horse, rabbit, duck and geese manure are considered more 'cool' manures and can be used without the long wait.  In fact, vegetables have long been planted directly in horse manure collected from the streets in nineteenth century France, giving rise to the practice known as French Intensive Gardening.

Yet beyond adding micro nutrients, macro nutrients, organic matter and flood protection, raised permaculture beds offer even more benefits.

Leaf compost allows for mositure retention.  Keeping the root area moist during hot dry periods is important.  Leaf compost prevents vegetable bed soil from drying out as quick as those beds without compost.  I've seen raised beds made of pure sand and manure turn into dried, cracked planting beds during long, hot summers.  Adding leaves cools the beds, provides shade and keeps the soil moisture intact longer.

And then there is nematode protection.  Nematodes devastate vegetables planted directly into our sandy soils by infecting the root area with their presence and damaging the plant's ability to transport water and nutrients up through the vascular system to the leaves.  A nematode infested vegetable plant will appear stunted and produce little if any vegetables.  Fortunately, nematodes do not like highly organic and composted soil.  Building raised beds with organic matter, compost and leaves will help in preventing nematode infestation.

There are many more reasons for building raised permaculture beds when operating an urban core farm.

Rest assured though that your raised beds will out produce non-raised beds every season.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Living Architecture, Critter Proof Coop for Pennies on the Dollar

One of the first tasks at hand we were faced with when starting an Urban Farm was the design and construction of a chicken coop.

With twelve newly hatched chicks growing rapidly each day we knew it would only be a matter of time before the puffy peeps would no longer comfortably fit in the large, blue tupperware storage bin.

I'd never built a coop before and honestly had no idea where to start.  The images we found on the internet were complicated looking, possibly requiring days of intricate cutting, nailing and screwing.

I'd just rather bang-bang get it done quickly.

But the coop had to look good and had to be functional.  Most of all the chicken pen had to be cheap.

Here is how we made our really cool, pimped out fowl parlor.

First we figured four square feet per bird, pretty much the standard for chickens as stated across the omniscient web.  Ten birds would be forty square feet - not a overly large area - but sufficient enough to let the chickens roam around in, chase bugs and roost at night.

Then we decided on the spur of the moment to quadruple the size to one hundred sixty square feet with no good reason except we wanted our hens to be happy hens.  Whether or not larger coops make happier hens remains to be seen.  But I am glad we have a large coop and the hens seem to enjoy chasing each other around the coop aggressively determined to rob whatever morsel of food one or another hen may be carrying in her beak.

Coop frames are the foundation on which the final coop appearance and function develops.  I like arches but don't want to have to bend pipe or purchase pre-bent pipe.  The coop walls also need to be critter proof.  below is a photo of a basic coop frame upon which living walls will be established.

Urban Farm Coop Frame
The frame is inexpensively constructed with grey electrical conduit (Outdoor plastic type) that easily bends to create the arches.  The ends of the conduit are zip-tied to either farm fence posts or chain link posts hammered into the ground.  Finally chicken wire or fencing is added to the frame to keep critters out and fowl in.

The frame can be covered with a variety of native materials, such as bamboo or saw palmetto fronds.  We also grow native flowering vines and food plants around the coop for shade, visual effect and feed for the hens.

One year later our coop begins to blend into the urban farm fruit vines.

Grapes covering the Coop walls
Cost-wise we have less than one hundred dollars into a very large, hen happy chicken coop with all the reuse of scrap materials we incorporated.

Coop Door View Living Architecture

Monday, March 21, 2011

Simplification, Bamboo and the Florida Urban Permaculture Farm

Am trying my best to simplify.  This week is my birthday week and I've been on a healthy diet for the last six months - ever since my last stomach operation.  I am convinced I can reverse all the damage with a steady diet of organically grown greens, fresh air and urban permaculture.

Urban Farm Florida - Bamboo Chopsticks, Rocket Flowers & Cilantro!

So this week I am going to eat only what grows on our Urban Farm lot here in Jacksonville, supplemented with my favorite snack - herring.

I've really put forth the effort to simplify lately, passing along an entire truckload of tools I'd accumulated to my son Adam yet I still have a massive amount of 'stuff'.  I want to simplify down to the bare minimum.  

Recognizing my non-sustainable habits has been a learning experience.  I had always thought nothing of grabbing a clean drinking glass from the kitchen cabinet when thirsty and putting it into the sink.  Yet all those glasses and dishes add up to a cumulative carbon footprint with running the dishwasher, hot water, soap and then the human factor - all the hours of loading and unloading the dishwasher.

So I start my week with a new resolve.  I am eating only from the urban farm - we have lots of veggies growing and then for protein supplement - my herring.

The real test will be at night when the 'sugar' urge kicks in.  I'll be making a bee-line for the sugar snap peas probably.  

Finally, in conjunction with the simplification and eating locally, I am adopting chop-sticks made from bamboo growing here as a permanent replacement for silverware.

I'll post daily to let you know how the week long personal sustainable project is coming! :)

Enjoy the photo of the home-made chopsticks, home-grown rocket flowers and fresh urban farm cilantro!  BTW - delicious!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Update on Urban Farm Raised Veggie Beds, Jacksonville Permaculture

Last Photo was Feb 1.  Last month brought little rain but lots of vegetable growth in the raised bed organic soil medium. Watch how the veggies grow.  The first three photos are mid February and the last was taken first week in March.

We are already enjoying our homegrown organic produce and saving a bundle while growing them!

Jacksonville Urban Farm Raised Veggie Beds

Jacksonville Urban Farm Raised Veggie Beds

Jacksonville Urban Farm Raised Veggie Beds

March 2011 Jacksonville Urban Farm Raised Veggie Beds

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Intense Urban Permaculture & City Farming - Plunging In!

We are serious about turning our Jacksonville lot into a productive, food-producing, permaculture based, organic Urban Farm!

And we are going to do it on the cheap!

So far the 1985 GMC pickup truck cost less than $900 bucks and we are recycling all things useable.

Though plastic is petro based and not a favorite material, it will be used if it a stable polymer type that does not oxidize as easily such as polypropylene AND if it is post-consumer recycled material.

Raised Beds made from modular wetland boxes, planted with cabbage

Use it rather than send it to the landfill.

Though I'm sure the photos of garbage bags full of leaves are becoming old, I posted another this am.

Green Roof Garlic for the rabbit hutch

Yesterday we collected 6 truckloads of huge heavy duty garbage bags full of leaves.  Judy and I laughed at the labor we received for no cost - all those hours of raking and bagging organic material for us to pick up for free!  Surprisingly, the entire lot of leaves came within a couple block radius of our Urban Farm.

Some of the bagged leaves are full of sand also, perfect for filling in those uneven holes in the back.

Rooftop Veggie Garden

We also picked up two truckloads of very clean pine straw for the pathways and the barn all for free, saving the organic matter from ending up in the landfill and providing free heavy duty garbage bags and mulch!  We stay away from those lawns that hire fertilizer companies to come and spray.

Additionally, the number of raised beds have increased from two to seven now.  Five old modular wetland boxes were adapted with drainage holes and filled with leaf compost and seasoned horse manure from a friend.

Chicken Coop being constructed from Greenhouse
Cabbage plants are planted directly in the seasoned manure over leaves in much the same way the French would plant their famous intense vegetable gardens in horse manure hundreds of years ago.
Chicken boxes from milk-crate type boxes

The garlic is sprouting now on the rabbit hutch green roof and spring is just around the corner.  Potato beds are readied and every day brings a new challenge.

Judy is reading up on chickens and I am converting our greenhouse into a chicken coop - see the photo, using scrap wire and fencing.

Free Compost, truckloads

We are using recycled milk-crate type chicken boxes for the fowl's nests!

Rooftop vegetable gardens are growing strong!

Urban Permaculture and city farming at its best!

More later!  Happy permaculture & Urban Farming from Jacksonville!


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Urban Permaculture - Composting the Hood's Leaves

Free Compost, Cations and pH tools
We gather many truckloads of leaves every week destined for the landfill and recycle the bags and the leaves.

Not too glamorous yet very practical ( remember Louis Sullivan and functionalist architecture) collecting your neighbor's bagged up yard leaves can benefit your permaculture garden, your green roof and benefit your wallet.

Cation exchange capacity and pH are two important variables of a gardens and green roof.  Additionally, leaf compost can add valuable trace minerals needed by both the ground level and rooftop plants.

Leaf compost typically contains twice the amount of trace minerals by weight as does horse manure.

And heavy duty garbage bags are expensive.  We used to pay about ten US dollars per box at our local home improvement store.  Now we have all the free heavy duty garbage bags we need.

Interestingly, leaves from different species of trees offer varying characteristics.  While ash leaves are relative neutral in pH, some maple species leaves are documented to possess a pH of around 4.5.

Research shows use of properly composted leaves greatly increases the cation exchange capacity of soils.  One of the important functions needed in both garden and green roof soil media is cation exchange capacity.

Save $10 per month on garbage bags
 Though varying opinions of organic compost value to green roofs exist throughout the industry, many believe organic material in the soil media is highly beneficial to green roof plants.

Remember, both gardens and green roofs are individual ecosystems, intricate webs of life with complex interactions.

Collecting heavy duty garbage bags filled with fresh raked leaves (we avoid those lawns heavily treated with fertilizers and herbicides/pesticides - those lawns are easy to spot here in the US due to the small advertising signs the lawn companies stick in the lawn after a fertilizer application - and speaking of lawns and fertilizers - a short must-see video of the history of the American Lawn will have you rolling in your chair and scratching your head at the same time can be viewed here) is a positive step for the environment.

Other benefits include;
  • Free highly effective cation exchange capacity supplements from the leaf compost
  • Free organic matter from the leaf compost
  • Free trace minerals from the leaf compost
  • Free pH adjustment material from the leaf compost (this is especially important when using higher pH soil media or media high in calcium)
  • Free garbage bags
  • And a lesson to your children riding with you to scavenge that recycling is more important than pride. :)
Free Organic Mulch and Free Garbage Bags, Urban Permaculture
Enjoy the photos of the free leaf compost we gathered last week and also the free heavy duty garbage bags and as always - its great to have an Urban Farm!