We had a rough go of it this Spring and Summer with a wide range of garden pests, fungal outbreaks and diseases.
Squash vine borers
Tomato horn worms
Blossom end rot
and the list goes on…
My understanding is that this largely due to the fact that our soil is completely lacking in organic matter and is relatively lifeless. We harvested a small amount of zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers a lone pumpkin and a single butternut squash. Everything else suffered destruction at the hands of one problem or another. Healthy soils yield healthy plants, and healthy plants don’t suffer these problems on nearly the scale that we’ve experienced this year. Continue Reading…
View of the North field as seen from the home site after clearing Fall 2013.
By the summer of 2014, we were finally situated on the property. We rented an excavator and installed the basic framework for our food forest. We buried the bulk of the remaining brush piles in 200ft of raised hugelkultur beds on contour and dug an additional 75ft of swale. These earthworks were designed to store a tremendous amount of water in the landscape and serve as a reservoir for the fruit trees and support species that would one day inhabit the forest garden.
The earthworks were quickly planted with iron clay peas to protect the soil and begin preparation for the eventual addition of the fruit trees and support plantings. Continue Reading…
Last night we got more than three inches of rain. It was the first time I’ve seen the swales completely full of water. The rain continued through most of the day and into the night. Ultimately, the ground absorbed as much as it could, and then the swales began to fill.
All of this water would have simply run down the hill into the ditch on my neighbor’s land north of the Ant Farm. Instead, it’s soaking into my soil and hydrating the stumps at the bottom of the hugel mounds… Nice! Continue Reading…
Since we completed the hugel beds and swales back in June, there hasn’t been much for us to do with the earthworks.
Shortly after we completed the project I seeded the beds completely with iron clay peas. The earthworks consist almost completely of subsoil due to my inability to separate out the topsoil during the excavation work. As a result, we’ve got a lot of work to do to build the soil into something that is productive. Iron clay peas were my choice for several reasons. I needed a crop that would create biomass for the soil while adding nitrogen and protecting the soil from drying out in the summer’s harsh sun. As with all of my other planting, the seeds were simply broadcast onto the swales and hugel beds a day or so before a light rain.
The iron clay peas did awesome for such a short season. The crop is a perfect fit for our climate, and we gave them LOTS of clay to enjoy! They’re currently in the flowering process, and we’ll probably see a pea harvest before the frost comes, even though that wasn’t part of our plan.
In a few months we’ll begin planting the trees for our future food forest, but for now we’re focusing on building the soil and getting some type of ground cover on all of the interswale areas. We’ve still got a lot of compacted, bare soil exposed in between the beds, and reconciling that is a top priority before winter sets in.
As we were planning the winter ground cover, somehow we decided to jump the gun a little and play with some actual winter crops. However, knowing that the odds are pretty good that the crop is going to fail, I really didn’t want to put too much time, energy or money into the experiment. As a result, we’ve decided to take a play out of Masanobu Fukuoka‘s book, and utterly neglect the winter crops. At least we’ll know exactly what we can grow in the native soil. Continue Reading…
Brush piles have pretty much been a fact of life for us over the last year. It didn’t matter where you looked on the property, chances were that a brush pile was the back drop to your view. If you were looking for us on the weekend, all you had to do was follow the smoke. All of that changed last week with the installation of our first bit of permaculture framework at the Ant Farm.
While a photo can’t do the insanity of our brush piles justice, this picture gives you some idea of what one of our piles looked like. There were approximately 30 giant stumps in this pile alone, and we were becoming convinced that they would be with us forever… We even thought about renaming the place, but “The Stump Farm” just didn’t have the same ring to it. The above image shows one of the five remaining brush piles. We had already burned three of them over the course of the year, and something had to give.
I took a picture of the initial layout for the plantings in the new swales during the TSP Earthworks Course. Many of the attendees expressed interest in seeing what Jack was planting where, so here it is… Click to enlarge and download at will!
Last week I attended the TSP Earthworks Course outside of Fort Worth, Texas. The event was hosted by one of the smartest people I know: Jack Spirko, the man behind The Survival Podcast. With something like 85,000 podcast downloads a week, Jack is THE man when it comes to a wide range of topics from preparedness to permaculture.
During the workshop we dug over 500ft. of swales using a mini-excavator and participated in numerous lectures on earthworks, food forestry and permaculture. Each day’s events were chock full of surprises including hands-on training on mini-excavator operation, a presentation by an expert falconer (with live hawk), a knife sharpening class, training on the use of laser levels for marking contour, brainstorming sessions, Q&A and even a hands-on class in beer brewing (not to mention beer drinking!).
The project included the installation of 500ft. of swale to support a future food forest garden.
I signed up for the event thinking I would get an opportunity to pick the brains of Jack and his right-hand-man, Josiah Wallingford of Brink of Freedom. However, we were pleasantly surprised that Nick Ferguson of Permaculture Classroom and Nicholas Burtner of Working with Nature showed up and participated in the events. The time I spent one-on-one with these permaculture gurus reviewing the contour maps of my property and discussing design possibilities was absolutely invaluable and unexpected.
I’ve attended a lot of training events in my life, but this one was definitely one-of-a-kind. The food was incredible: slow-cooked beef brisket, smoked chicken, wild hog sausage, canned elk, home made salami, and a wide range of home-brewed adult beverages including honey mead and various ales and hard ciders.
The team pulled together to complete 500ft. of swales in one day.
With all of the excitement and education, the best part of the experience by far was the personal connection with twenty-five other homesteaders dedicated to the same ideas of permaculture, freedom and common sense. I realized the day before I left that this event would mark the first time I would ever be in the same room with a group of truly self-reliant people. So much so that we were all willing to fork over $425 to dig ditches in the freezing rain on someone else’s property for the simple opportunity to learn about sustainable agriculture. Those of us who attended are a very special breed of crazy with a new bond… We may be crazy, but now we know we are not alone!
Now I just need a mini-excavator and twenty-five strong backs, and I can get my project done in a day or two… Any volunteers?
Drainage is a huge consideration, especially with gravel or dirt roads. In the worst case, your road could wash out, but the prospect of constantly repairing an improperly build driveway is not a good one. You’ll first want to observe how water currently flows around the area. Notice where it pools during rain. Look for ruts or gulleys. These will be indicators of the volume of water you’ll be dealing with, and how it’s currently routed.
The most common approach in our area is to raise the bed of the road with chert fill, and then install ditches on either side to handle the wash.
A culvert is then installed in areas where the water builds up to allow it to pass down grade. A culvert is a metal or plastic pipe of varying diameter that is installed under the road. With the right placement and capacity, the volume of water collected during a heavy rain will be dispersed at a higher rate than it is accumulated. This prevents water from rising over the road. Once the road becomes submerged under moving water, it is only a matter of time before it will wash out completely.
The key to managing water is to keep it moving slowly. Fast moving water has an enormous amount of power and can quickly erode soil. Slower moving water tends to just spill over without creating damage. Continue Reading…
When you’re looking at property, access is one of the most critical elements that must be considered. The Ant Farm is located off of a chip & tar road maintained by the county, which is a very good thing. Unfortunately, the only access to the interior of the property was via an old timber road that hadn’t been maintained in years. After a cursory review of the property, we knew that we wanted our home site to be located deep on the property, which would require a significant investment in road construction. As a result, we had to consider the costs associated with adding a driveway when we determined a reasonable offer price.
There are basically four different aspects of road building that you’ll need to give some thought. Each one will require research in order to fully understand the repercussions of your decisions. While your excavator should provide a lot of expertise, no one is more interested in the success of your project than you are. Invest yourself in learning more about these issues, and your chances for success will multiply exponentially:
This was taken Saturday from the edge of the future edible food forest garden, looking down into the 1/2-acre field. Next week I hope to dispose of the giant brush pile in the middle of the field. It won’t be too long before the first swale is added, along with the first fruit trees. I can’t wait!
The Ant Farm began as 16 acres of forest in unincorporated St. Clair County, Alabama. My wife and I bought the property in 2013 with the vision of raising our two kids here. As we're learning, we're also teaching our children about sustainable agriculture, the land, self-reliance and freedom. Society has a tendency to produce grasshoppers. We're raising ants.
Go to the ant, O sluggard;consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.