Category Archives: permaculture

Building a Cold Frame

Building a cold frame was last weekend’s project at our house and we did it in the nick of time, just before the cold blast of arctic air and many inches of snow hit us this week.

Although we built a winter greens hoop garden a few years ago and it is working to produce winter greens like a charm (see my post about that here), my goal was to do a fall gardening project using the salvaged glass I’d saved years ago to make a cold frame.

Being in town, unfortunately, our neighbor to the south has a lot full of huge overgrown trees which shade our house in the wintertime, therefore my chosen “best” spot site for this mini-greenhouse isn’t perfect, but will get a few hours a day of sunlight on sunny winter days. The spot happens to be sandwiched between the concrete driveway and the house.

First, we took a trip to a neighbor’s dumpster where they are deconstructing part of a house and picked up a couple pieces of wood there, and then, we headed to our fabulous Boulder Resource Center (recycled community materials) to look around. It was a lucky day there, because we found three perfect sized lengths of redwood which ended up being exactly what we needed for the project.

The first photo, below, shows the project in its early stages. Designing the box with the materials at hand was the hardest part and I took a great deal of care and time in the planning stage. To construct it, my husband did the sawing and I got to have fun using the electric screwdriver.

This photo shows the project farther along, with glass in place. Careful measuring has paid off nicely.

Finally, the box is in place. Since this photo was taken, I’ve sunk it’s edges into the ground, found an old thermometer to put inside, and started a few spinach seeds as an experiment. I stacked rows of bricks against the back wall and plan to place a few old milk cartons inside that are filled with water as additional heat sinks. The floor is already covered in small rocks which should also help retain heat for this passive solar mini-greenhouse.

It seems to be pretty well settled that the plastic hoop house works best for growing winter greens in our area and if you think about it, glass conducts cold a lot better than plastic does. Eliot Coleman layers plastic with success in Maine’s cold winters. My project is an experiment and I hope to try a few things but mostly I want it for starting seeds next spring. I already think I should have made it taller so it could house some short tomatoes, but I will work with what I have. The glass panes slide apart nicely to vent it when it gets too hot inside and I will either bring the cold-sensitive seed starts indoors or throw a blanket over the frame on the colder spring nights.

Whew. Got it finished just in time. The total cost was about six bucks for this salvaged-materials project.

NOTE: As I post this, the outdoor temperature is 27F and the cold frame’s thermometer is showing 85F after the sun hit it an hour ago. Later… 100. Wow.


Also recommended, this previous post: Extend Your Growing Season with Simple Backyard Coldframes or Hoop Gardens.

Leaf Illustrations and Charts to Help Diagnose Plant Nutrient Deficiencies

For the farmer or gardener, it is important to be able to read your plant. The seasoned grower develops an intuitive sense over time in response to plant signals of stress. The key is observing and being able to notice unhealthy leaves, and developing the ability to understand what the plant’s leaf is telling you. Something to note is that a young leaf’s message differs from an old leaf’s message. In this post, I have assembled a number of good graphics to help you do just that. While there is some overlap between the illustrations, they should be helpful as a whole in helping you figure out your specific problem.

PLANT LEAF CHART OF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES


Credit: Twitter @FarmerRaviVKV “Plants speak to us through their leaves what they want. Farmers must keenly understand the language of his plants.”


DIAGNOSING NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES CHART


Credit: Twitter @trouttroller Day 2 of #canoLAB14. John Mayko with a great slide depicting location of nutrient deficiency symptoms.


SIMPLE PLANT DEFICIENCY GUIDE


Credit: Twitter @JSKProperty. Plant deficiency guide – Some possible problems because of nutrient deficiency or even too much of any one nutrient.


CORN LEAF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY ILLUSTRATION


Credit: farmwifediary.blogspot


CHART OF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS IN PLANTS



Credit: Atlantis Hydroponics.
For more charts showing the inter-relationships between nutrients (excess-induced deficiencies) see this PDF, also from Atlantis Hydroponics.


LEAF DEFICIENCY GUIDE (MAPLE LEAVES)





Credit: CANNA.


NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY FLOWCHART – OLD AND NEW LEAVES – CHLOROSIS AND NECROSIS


Credit: UNKNOWN


NUTRIENT ANTAGONISMS CHART


Credit: UNKNOWN


NUTRIENT DISORDERS MARIJUANA LEAVES



Credit: mjforum


DEFICIENCIES AND ABUNDANCE OF FERTILIZATION ELEMENTS (MARIJUANA LEAVES)



Credit: OCK.PEACE.ORG


NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS – Citrus


Credit: Twitter @247Garden. Nutrient deficiency symptoms at a glance! #growing #gardening #hydroponics #green Courtesy of NATESC and IPCC.


AQUATIC PLANTS – LEAF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY


Credit: Zapins at Aquatic Plant Central. Plant Deficiency Picture Diagram for aquatic plants.


CHART EXPLAINING LEAF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY


Credit: Hawaii.edu. Plant Nutritional Deficiencies Symptoms chart.


If you have any links to other great graphics on this subject, please leave them in the comments.

Bioregional Agriculture in Colorado

“Our food system is broken. What kind of society do we live in that pays all of our farmers to grow the same five crops? —Adam Brock”

Adam Brock, who helped found Denver’s by-now-famous GrowHaus*, tells us that we need a bioregional cuisine here in Colorado not unlike the Cajun food found in the Gulf area. Because we live in a region with very little precipitation, we need to start listening to the land, because we can only get our crops that we do today by working against nature. By growing bioregional food here on the High Plains, we’d use less water and produce food with better nutrition. He suggests eating foods such as a salad made with Sorrel, Bison, and Nopali (Prickly Pear Cactus).

Brock explains that Colorado’s farmers have to play into the commodities markets to compete economically with a result that our state’s top crop is wheat, followed by corn, hay, millet, sorghum, and sunflowers. Showing us a pie chart of the state’s water allocations in 2011 (@3:35), 44 percent of Colorado’s water goes to irrigation for agriculture and 30 percent to power generation.

Here is his list of plants that he recommends we eat and plant in our gardens, because they are native and/or suited to our climate:

• Nopal cactus – prickly pear cactus
• Sunchoke (also known as earth apple or Jerusalem artichoke)
• Sorrel (lower right photo)
• Sea Buckthorn
• Currant
• Burdock
• Amaranth
• Goji berry
• Goumi
• Jujube
• Lovage
• Nanking cherry
• New Zealand Spinach
• Prairie turnip
• Western Sand Cherry
• Yellowhorn

Brock has a website (atriplex.org) which lists more plants he recommends for food that work with nature here in Colorado.

He is also instrumental in helping to plan Denver’s first public food forest.

You may listen to his great talk here:

*****

*The GrowHaus is a half-acre greenhouse in an under-served area of Denver which uses aquaponics to produce fresh greens and vegetables to its local community at prices “less than Walmart’s”.

Also recommended: Seattle creates a public food forest; Hardy Perennials for your small farm; and, Denver’s GrowHaus website.

Photos: Wikipedia and GrowHaus.

Hardy Perennial Plant Suggestions for your Acreage or Small Farm

There is a very remarkable nursery in Northeastern Nebraska, near the farm where I grew up, called HH Wild Plums Inc. It was founded by the famous (but not as famous as he should be) horticulturalist plant finder, Harlan Hamernik. He passed away tragically in 2012, and I wrote up a brief tribute to him here.

Though Hamernik introduced many new plants to the gardeners across the U.S. over his lifetime, he focused in his later years on neutraceuticals, or, healthy edibles and medicinals, some of which were used by Native Plains Indians. Especially, this interest was from those sources which were in the form of perennials, shrubs, and trees – something the Midwest is not known for in our current day and age, but were key to the health of the nomadic tribes which preceded us.

Today, I interviewed Tammy Melcher of “HH Wild Plums” to get an update on this nursery which was founded by Harlan Hamernik for the purpose of promoting sales and the popularity of these hardy edible plants which he studied and discovered. She and plant propagator-grower, Lori Pfeifer, are instrumental in their small operation.

My impression of Harlan from personal experience, was that he was an incredibly intuitive plantsman, so readers, pay attention.

First, I asked Tammy to list five plants and a couple of trees that she would recommend to farmers/landowners who would like to incorporate edible or medicinal perennials into their farm, either as a hobby, or as a value-added crop or food product. Note that this list works in Nebraska, but most of these plants are extremely hardy and would grow well in much of the U.S., especially the Midwest and Upper Midwest.

Here is her list:
1. Aronia (8-10′ shrub)
2. Crandall’s Clove Currant (6×6′ shrub)
3. Redleaf Rose (7×7′ shrub)
4. Elderberry (7×7′ shrub)
5. Serviceberry (10×10′ shrub)
6. Tree: American Hazelnut (18′ tall)
7. Tree: Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (10-15′ tall)

There was no doubt that Tammy was most enthused about the Aronia plant which produces the common named “chokeberry”. She’d just returned from an Aronia conference in Omaha, and the awareness of this plant is catching on a bit, but, she said, “ninety percent of the public doesn’t know about it.” In general, the dark blue, purple and black berries contain high levels of antioxidants, making them superberries, or superfoods. We all know that blueberries are a superfood, but, according to Tammy, the Aronia berry contains three times the amount of antioxidants that blueberries do. (Note there is a current question about the benefits of antioxidants in this past year’s news and studies.) Indians used these berries as an ingredient in Pemmican. High tannin levels make these berries tart, thus the name “chokeberry”. The bright side of this is that birds tend to leave them alone, as opposed to other berries which you need to cover with netting, or pick before the birds do.

Incidentally, Tammy was not aware of sending Aronia plants to Colorado, and thought they would do very well here on the front range, so Colorado readers take note.

Three varieties of Aronia which Tammy recommends are Black Aronias: Aronia melanocarpa ‘Galicjanka’; Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’; and, Aronia melanocarpa ‘McKenzie’. ‘Galicjanka’ is a cultivar from Poland which tolerates drier soil conditions; ‘Viking’ is from Scandinavia and produces very large fruits; and, ‘McKenzie’ was produced at North Dakota State which has extra-large berries, and is drought and cold tolerant. These shrubs need chill hours so don’t grow in the South. They are drought tolerant once established, and they produce beautiful fall color.

Aronia berries are used in smoothies, salsas, jellies, breads and muffins, and for wine. A supplement form is available which uses a powder to create an extract. A company in Omaha, named “Superberries” owned by Kenny Sailors, uses Aronia berries to make products such as gummy chews, frozen berries, and concentrate. Also, according to Tammy, the Black Squirrel Winery in Council Bluffs, Iowa, makes a great wine using Aronia berries.

The next shrub on Tammy’s list is Crandall’s Clove Currant, or Ribes odoratum ‘Crandall’. This shrub also produces a black medicinal berry which is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. This grows in rich well-drained clay soil to plant hardiness zone 4.

The Redleaf rose is a beautiful hardy shrub rose producing a hip rich in Vitamin C. I have personally grown this in my yard and love the iridescent blue-green sheen to its leaves. If you grow it, as an added bonus you will occasionally have a volunteer pop up in your yard. Also, Rosa Pomifera, or the apple rose, is a good hardy choice which produces good fruit. One can make tea from the rose hips of either plant.

Elderberries, or Sambucus species, are another hardy shrub which produces a black berry that is high in Vitamin C and antioxidants. These grew wild when I was a child and I used to help my grandmother pick them to make jelly. I’ve personally picked them from road ditches to make a pretty darn good pie, if you don’t mind the seeds. Even better, you can make a combination berry pie such as elderberry-cherry. Elderberries grow across the U.S., but are less drought-tolerant.

The Serviceberry, or Amelanchier canadensis, produces large black berries that are loved by both humans and birds. They make delicious jams and pies. A good variety is alnifolia ‘Parkhill’ which is a dwarf.

Next, the two trees on Tammy’s list.

The American Hazlenut is formally named Corylus Americana. It is a small tree which produces an edible nut. It likes afternoon shade and requires two trees for nut production.

The Dwarf Chinkapin Oak is a great native shrub oak. By 3-4 years of age, it produces a nut which is valued by wildlife. These nut producers are about 15-18 feet tall, but can be trained shorter. Hamernik would collect this tree’s seeds from the wild, as is true of many of the plants which Wild Plums sells.

HH Wild Plums Inc. has a great catalogue online plus, they will be happy to send you a nice spiral bound hardcopy, such as the one I have lying next to my computer as I type this. There are many, many more varieties of trees and shrubs, along with unusual varieties of perennials, annuals, and vines available from their nursery.

If you have a favorite hardy native edible, please let us know about it in the comments.

Photo credit: Purple Aronia berries, by Konjica.

DIY Solar Powered Tractors

Solar tractors are around — if you pay attention. Supposedly, there is one here in my own Boulder County which I hope to seek out someday and make a post about, but until then this post offers a sampling of “what’s out there.”

Most solar tractors are do-it-yourself projects, happily taken on by the frustrated-would-be-engineer, and so each one is different and innovated by its unique designer.

In this post, I’ve put together a few links, which if followed, will give you some ideas of what a few of these innovators have created for their own personal farm use.


The above is a solar tractor at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in 2008, taken by Mouly Kumaraswamy (FlickrCC). It looks as if its owner-maker is plugging the battery pack into a solar array system for re-charging, instead of putting panels on the tractor’s roof, like many other models.

On the Homesteading Today forum, the builder of the solar tractor in the photo above describes how he made the tractor, and there are other photos of this labor and back saving creation at the link. He calls it his P-Machine: P for Planting/Picking/Pulling weeds and Putting around the garden.

This (above) tractor is featured on the Solar Car and Tractor website. It is a heavier duty tractor, weighing 3700 pounds (with batteries), on a Ford 8N tractor model. With 12 HP, a 1300 pound battery pack lasts for about two hours, capable of plowing or harrowing a half-acre in that amount of time.

The same website also features another solar tractor using a Farmall Cub.

Mother Earth News, this month, includes a small solar-powered tractor being used on a 30-acre farm in Arkansas. Its innovator used a 1950 Ford scrap tractor for the frame. With its roof top solar array, it uses eight batteries and runs for two hours following an 8 to 10 hour charge. Its power is similar to a gas or diesel tractor, according to the owner, who says it is perfect for the needs of their small farm. Go here to see the Mother Earth story which includes two nice photos of the tractor. To watch a video of the tractor working, go here.

If any readers here know of other solar tractors that they’ve seen or read about, please add links or descriptions, in the comments below this post.

ADDITIONAL LINKS:
Permaculture Electric Tractors
Youtube video of Steve Heckeroth’s Solar Tractor
Youtube video of 1954 Farmall Howe Converted Electric Tractor