Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gardening on the North side of a house on a North facing slope

I've been doing some more musing about gardening "on the the North side of things".

The seven feet of yard nearest the house never see direct noontime sun because it is always in the shadow of the house. The next seven feet only get direct sun in the height of summer (June - mid July). Then we get into the region that gets sun from the spring through fall equinox.
So I guess this means I will have a strip of shade garden (maybe with some trellised shade tolerant vines). Then I'll do raised bed gardening between two swales.

This is the side of the garage facing East. It seems to be screaming for espaliered fruit trees.
I am also becoming more interested in figuring out how to make best use of the roof of the garage. It probably gets pretty good light for growing up there and it isn't really set up well for solar power because of the tall trees just to the South of it. But maybe windows that capture some passive solar heat to drive the green house behind the garage.

Here is a look at the 25' x 22' space behind the garage.
That's about a three foot drop behind the little wall.
I had always thought of the chickens / ducks/ quail going against the back fence, but they may do better right behind the garage, then the greenhouse / pool house?
There are a couple trees that we need to work around or deal with. I need to determine how much space they need as well as how much space we need for the exercise pool. I am hoping I can "stack" the functions of the greenhouse vertically sharing the same space with the pool. It seems to me they should have compatible requirements and issues.

This is the tree I climbed to take these photos. Shasta showed me how it was done.
This cherry tree has a pretty funky form at the moment. It has a lot of character. I am looking forward to seeing what kind of micro climate it creates in the heat of the summer.
Shasta has been having even more fun than me exploring the new back yard.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Economies of local

I have heard a lot and read about economies of scale. It seems like we need to develop a better understanding of the economies of local.

We should understand the forces that help keep operations local and tied to community and offset the benefits of growth. Maybe I should plan to fly to the next International Conference on Localism? I find it ironic the tension between promoting local thinking to the world and researching and sharing best practices in the widest possible way, with the ethos of focusing on that place we are at.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The role of raccoons?

While planing for life in the backyard section I keep encountering questions of dealing with raccoons (Procyon lotor). There is something unspeakably cool about raccoons -- crafty, intelligent, versatile, fastidious, silent, lurkers. I don't like thinking of them as enemies. But I also don't want them nabbing my hens and such.

Their diet consists of about 40% invertebrates, 33% plant foods, and 27% vertebrates -- eating invertebrates is good, usually. Since raccoons are able to increase their rate of reproduction up to a certain limit, extensive hunting often does not solve problems with raccoon populations. Older males also claim larger home ranges than younger ones, resulting in a lower population density. The costs of large-scale measures to eradicate raccoons from a given area for a certain time are usually many times higher than the costs of the damage done by the raccoons.

In an enlightened world, what then is the place of a raccoon in the urban environment?

Understanding place

It seems like there are a lot to understand about a place.
Here ares some aspects about our new place
  • Climate
  • Geology
  • Hydrology
  • Solar exposure
  • Topography
  • Ecology: flora, fauna, mycology
  • Soil
  • Demography
  • Agriculture: where does my food come from
  • Economy
  • Government: agencies and representatives at city, county, state, nation, global level
  • City systems: city services, power, gas, water, storm water, sewage
  • Architecture
  • Society
I am thinking it would be nice to put together something like a scrap book with all those different sections and add to it as I gather more and more information on each topic.
Some of them would be good as map overlays. Some as photos with captions. Or maybe it would be better as a blog of sorts. It will take some experimenting to figure out something that makes sense.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wanted: time lapse garden video system

I'd like to have a setup where I can capture time-lapse video of the garden at various time scales automatically.
  • I want to be able to watch the last day / week / month / season / decade over the span of an hour. Old video should just progressively get sampled more and more coarsely in time.
  • Moment of peak activity should be flagged and retained at higher sampling rates
  • Events should also be able to be flagged by hand while watching playback.
  • It would be nice to be able to pick a time of day and watch some short clip from that time of day for day after day. So the sun would be roughly in the same spot in the sky East-West.
  • The camera should have good night mode with long exposure and good low-light sensitivity
  • It would be great to gather video from more than one camera using the same system.
A lot of this sounds like security cameras might be able to do the job.

Ducks vs. Frogs

I'd like to have a pond that I can share between the ducks and the local frogs.
A friend pointed out that the ducks would probably love to eat the frogs.
Good for the ducks.
Not so good for the frogs.

Got me wondering about habitat or shelter I could provide that would give the frogs a safer place to hang out near the edge of the pond that the ducks would not be able to penetrate. Maybe just a jumble of sticks lashed together? Maybe the parts sticking up out of the water would be good perches for small birds as well.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Crazy Idea: fowl greenhouse swim center complex

For the area behind the garage I think I may have too much stuff I am trying to fit in:
  • Chicken henhouse
  • Duckhouse
  • Quailhouse
  • Space for endless pool -- exercise, thermal mass
  • Outdoor shower -- use the rain water to clean up after a swim, use gray water on site
  • Rain water storage -- provides lots of thermal mass
  • Greenhouse -- passive solar and source of light for winter growing
  • A composting toilet -- for infrequent use, gather humanure.
There are a lot of musings about chicken greenhouses on the internet in the permaculture crowd.
These are a lot of functions to stack, but I don't see why they couldn't play well together.

Since most of the use of the greenhouse will be from equinox to equinox (Sept. - March), we only need to capture light when the sun is below 45 degrees above the horizon. We also don't want too much solar capture in the summer when the sun is more like 68 degrees high.
This makes me think of using clerestory windows facing south with 1:1 roof pitch behind in sort of a saw tooth pattern (a little like this).

We could install solar water heating on the garage roof for the pool, though we will likely need auxiliary heat in the winter.

All of the rain from both structures could be captured and kept inside the envelope for thermal mass, and for use watering plants, the poultry, duck pond, and for showers. The composting toilet would be nice for pre/post swim "emergencies" and while working out in the yard. And why waste perfectly good waste?

From the coops I've seen it doesn't seem like a couple hens, ducks, and quail are going to take all that much space, especially if we stack them somewhat.

So, how much room will my crazy complex take?
How much water should I have storage for? In what shape?

Multnomah Front Yard Section

First cut at zone maps for the font section...
  • West fence in front -- zone 2: perennials with nice street appeal.
  • West fence to the back -- zone 3: espalier with perennial understory shade.
  • Front of garage -- vines on trellis.
  • East facing side of house along driveway -- potted espalier and vines on vertical supports.
  • Front porch -- potted plants.
  • Front trellis -- beef up support for wisteria above front porch. Second climber from other side.
  • Front yard -- zone 1 near the steps up the front porch, zone 2 further away.
  • East fence in front -- zone 2: perennials with nice street appeal.
  • Planting strip -- zone 3: fruit trees

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wildlife Habitat

Found a couple good tips for creating bird habitat from the Audubon Society.
  • Naturescape your yard: Plant a combination of native plants and trees to provide birds with cover, food and nesting opportunities. Group several of the same species together with the largest species towards the edge of the yard to create a songbird border. Include evergreens for cover, thorny species to create nesting opportunities and berry producing shrubs such a snowberry, salmonberry, red flowering currant and huckleberry to provide food.
  • Create a brush pile: Pile up downed tree limbs to create a brush pile, a great source of cover for birds during bad weather. A 3' x 5' pile can also be good for reptile habitat.
I also came across some good info on habitat for native bees.
Bee blocks can be made by drilling nesting holes between 3/32” and 3/8” in diameter, at approximate 3/4” centers, into the side of a block of preservative-free lumber. The holes should be smooth inside, and closed at one end. The height of the nest is not critical—8” or more is good—but the depth of the holes is. Holes less than 1/4” diameter should be 3-4” deep. For holes 1/4” or larger, a 5-6” depth is best.
These nests should be placed where they are sheltered from the worst of the weather, with entrance holes facing towards east or southeast, so they get the morning sun.
One thing that I haven't seen is varying the sizes and location of the holes to make an attractive pattern. Not that the bees would care, but it would be fun for observers.
There are also notes for ground nesting bees (need dry bare ground) and bumble bee nests (7" cube).

A pond can also be useful for many species.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Multnomah Back Yard Section

In the back section we have fences all around which will allow us to introduce some helpful fauna: chickens, ducks, quail, and rabbits. We should also create welcoming habitat for mason bees, various birds, frogs, and beneficial insects.
The back yard slopes down from the house with a several feet of drop to the back fence.

I'm thinking the area behind the garage would be good for coops for the poultry, a greenhouse, and a place for an endless pool for us to exercise in.

The upper area would make a good Zone 1 for raised bed annual gardens. and a low deck off the back of the house (the current deck is too high which just gives a "better" view of the unsightly bits over the back fence into the commercial area of Sandy Blvd.)
If we add a swale before bellow the beds that will create an area for Zone 2 with perennials.
Then another swale and Zone 3 with fruit and nut trees, vines, and shade tolerant perennials.
One last swale before zone 4 with some tall growing evergreens: firs, coastal redwoods, and maybe a cedar. These will be as close to the back fence as we dare, layered with the tallest growing to the back (North) side.

Somewhere we need to work in a pond for the ducks, that will hopefully also be supportive habitat for frogs.

Along the fence on the East side it would be nice to set up some supports for climbing plants.

Excess rainwater, beyond what we can store, will be diverted into the swale system with level sills.

In the very North-East corner will be Zone 5, our little patch of wilderness.

Permaculture Planning -- zones, sections, goals

In permaculture planning it is useful to distinguish 6 zones:
  • Zone 0: The built environment: house, garage, porte cochere
  • Zone 1: Intensive gardening -- Annuals, finicky plants that need tending
  • Zone 2: Perennial gardening -- Plants that produce year after year
  • Zone 3: Food forest -- Fruit and nut trees, vines, understory plantings
  • Zone 4: Forage forest -- timber (in 100 years or so)
  • Zone 5: Wilderness -- leave it be
For planning purposes, I also think I will divide the property into three sections:
  • The back: back yard, garage and area behind it, east side yard.
  • The house: Front porch, trellis over porch, window plantings, indoor plants, back deck, rain catchment system.
  • The front: planting strip, sidewalk, front yard, driveway, porte corchere and plantings west of the driveway.
With this division I can write separate articles focusing on one section at a time. Before I get into that level of detail, I should reflect on my overall goals:
  1. Produce a lot of food for ourselves and our friends
  2. Minimize inputs: fertilizers, purchased stuff, city water, labor
  3. Maximize diversity: nurture a rich interoperable mini-ecosystem
  4. Focus on natives: but allow for some well adapted species and strains
  5. Contribute beauty: try for a balance that will quiet the eye and calm the soul
So, with those as organizing principles we can proceed to plan the sections....

Sunday, May 2, 2010

References from The Urban Homestead

I Just finished reading The Urban Homestead. Very good book covering many sustainability topics for the modern city / suburban dweller. Here are some of the references from the book that caught my eye:

There are many more sites and books that look interesting. But these were the ones that seemed to speak to me at the moment.

Mobile blogging

This is an experiment in mobile blogging.

Sent from my iPod

I need some froghopper eating spiders

The other day I noticed spittlebugs on my rosemary.
Spittlebug eggs are laid in late summer and are left to over winter on plant debris. The eggs will hatch in early spring and go through five Instars, or stages, before becoming adults. When the nymphs originally hatch in early spring, they will attach themselves to a plant and begin feeding. They are a wingless, green creature at this point and are almost invisible inside the spittle. []
I had tried just hitting the spittle with a blast of water from my spray bottle,
but they just came back a day or two later. So today I took a closer look and spotted the little light green nymphs after blasting away their protective foam. Then I was able to hand pick them.
Now I need to find some spiders to feed them to. Maybe they'll develop a taste for froghoppers and help me out.

Found a neat little summary complete with an example on a rosemary plant at the UC Davis IPM site.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Plant investigations

Listened to a podcast on unusual varieties of plants to consider in permaculture.
  • Gogi Berry (also called Wolfberry)
  • Jujube (Ziziphus zizyphus)
  • Nanking Bush Cherry (Prunus tomentosa) -- not a true cherry, similar tart fruit
  • Blue Honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea var. cauriana)
  • High Bush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) -- not a true cranberry. The fruits, sour and rich in vitamin C, can be eaten raw or cooked into a sauce to serve with meat or game.
  • Elderberry (Sambucus) -- many varieties. Multipurpose berries. Insect repellant. More...
  • Clumping Bamboo -- edible shoots, wind break, doesn't run like many bamboo
  • Filbert (Corylus maxima) -- nuts, can use for hedges