Category Archives: Grey Water

There is fungus among us

Organic Gardener, Holistic Orchardist, Sustainable Agriculture, What exactly do these terms mean? Are there rules and regulations that must be adhered to? I don’t really know nor do I really care. The “system” or “method” I practice is the one that my head puts together from resources that make sense to me. My chickens are currently being fed fodder, fermented scratch, weeds, cooked rice gleaned from a local restaurant and leftovers from the weekly cleaning of the fridge. The orchard/garden is watered with grey water from my laundry and mulched with shredded waste from local tree service companies. Why do I employ these “practices”? #1 cause I’m cheap #2 because certain aspects spark interest in my brain and finally #3 because they are effective/efficient. Happy productive chickens, healthy trees, and productive gardens is the goal and at least currently the outcome.

As has been mentioned several times lately on this blog The Holistic Orchard (fruits and berries the biologic way) by Michael Phillips has really captured my attention. Basically Mr. Phillips is advocating and trying to educate about the benefits of treating the whole orchard holistically. Focusing on the overall health of everything from the soil to the foliage in an effort to minimize the susceptibility to both pests and disease. Backyard Orchard Culture as refined and practiced for my area by the UNCE experimental orchard lends itself to embracing these holistic idea(l)s, at least in my little world. One thing that really clicked with me was the idea of “random” mulching, this is using whatever you come up with as you come up with it as mulch. Shredded paper? OK, Shredded/Chipped tree waste? OK, Straw? OK, the idea is to promote a diverse environment for beneficial bacterial and fungal soil cultures to thrive.

That brings the agenda to spring and pulsing sprays. I wish I could do more than regurgitate stuff from The Holistic Orchard but right now that’s where my knowledge is from, maybe this fall I’ll be able to make an informed and insightful blog post about all of this….we’ll see. Pulsing sprays are used to spark a “pulse” of action in the microbial world inhabiting the soil of the orchard and the bark of the trees, encouraging the beneficial ones to thrive and therefore outcompete any bad ones that come along. Ingredients recommended for this witches brew is liquid fish (are you thinking of SNL and the bass-o-matic?), cold pressed Neem oil, and EM-1. Liquid Fish was easily found and reasonably purchased from SF Organics, cold pressed Neem oil is all over E-Bay, but EM-1 proved a little tougher especially for a frugal individual. The stuff is not available locally and both of the proprietary makers apparently think this stuff is very special. I was willing to cough up the $23 SCD Probiotics wanted for a liter of this stuff but when I went to check out at their exclusive online distributor and found that shipping was going to double the price my gag reflex kicked in, likewise at Teraganix.

All of his has been leading up to my initial topic for this post……clandestine culturing of microbes. While I couldn’t find any reliable instructions for knocking off these companies products I did discover that this concept stems from Korean Natural farming techniques in general and specifically to Lacto-Bacillus/IMO culturing. Ironically it was a question asked on one of my favorite blogs, Scratch Cradle, that lead me to the answer I was looking for. Two youtube videos, Korean Natural Farming- Lacto Bacillus, and Korean Natural Farming-IMO part 1 provided me with a wealth of information about creating inoculant cultures for use in the orchard. A less detailed (there actually four parts of the IMO series) but very practical explanation can be found on IMO Farming part 1 . Following the procedures outlined in these highly informative videos has lead me to attempt to start my own cultures.

Rice Wash Water hopefully collecting and culturing Lacto Bacillus

Rice Wash Water hopefully collecting and culturing Lacto Bacillus

 

Funky rice water hopefully stored where Karen won't find it

Funky rice water hopefully stored where Karen won’t find it

1st ingredient of IMO: Forest Litter (actually dirt and mulch from the oldest section of the UNCE orchard)

1st ingredient of IMO: Forest Litter (actually dirt and mulch from the oldest section of the UNCE orchard)

2nd ingredient of IMO: hard cooked rice

2nd ingredient of IMO: hard cooked rice

IMO ingredients together: Top tray has lots of holes drilled in the bottom so that microbes can migrate to rice beneath

IMO ingredients together: Top tray has lots of holes drilled in the bottom so that microbes can migrate to rice beneath

IMO incubator hopefully located where Karen will overlook it

IMO incubator hopefully located where Karen will overlook it

Now all I have to do is let my stuff funk up and culture for a week or so then move onto the second phase of refining and fortifying the captured cultures. That process may take a little more ingenuity to keep beneath my Sweety Karen’s radar but I think I’m up to the challenge.

Oh by the way IMO stands for Indigenous Micro Organisms

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Sweaty Guerrilla

It is back to yuck again today! The monsoon is on its way, humidity over 30% and 116′ at 9:30 am. Yeah I know the weather channel says it’s only 90′ in Vegas, Hooey on that! That’s my shirt after half an hour and my shorts were soaked through (how’s that for a visual?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The girls are really diggin the fermented feed, especially on those days that I have cooked rice mixed into it. My basic mix is 50% high protein, no corn, whole grain pigeon feed and 50% scratch. When I have it I combine my basic mix 50/50 with cooked rice. After being allowed to ferment overnight the resulting “mash” is fluffed up and not quite as sour smelling as the basic mix is. The sour smell I am talking about is not a bad thing, more like a very strong sourdough starter. Which makes sense because that is basically the goal of fermenting livestock feed, a cooperative effort between yeast and bacteria to partially digest the raw feed and create compounds more digestible to the animals. With or without the rice my chickens absolutely love fermented feed though, as to the claims of firmer less smelly poo? I never really had a problem with that.

Look at all those purdy birds goin after my homemade slop! The one right in the middle along with the 2 on either side are 3 of my 5 Golden Cuckoo Marans, in fact the little white one in the center is a GCM also. Why is she white? I don’t have a clue, but when I get a chance I’m going to ask Heather over on her excellent blog Scratch Cradle. Heather’s series on Chicken Genetics has been not only highly informative but easy to understand and enjoyable to read. Her post on Fermented Feed helped me better understand what I was really doing in those smelly buckets. I don’t think she will be able to explain though why out of 10 Black Copper Marans I have successfully hatched out I only have 1 hen! Anybody around Vegas looking for a nice BCM roo? I can hook you up! Maybe I’ll get lucky and all 5 of my GCM’s will be pullets, yeah I know, wishful thinking.

About a month ago I took some culm cuttings from a clump of Oldham Bamboo and tried to propagate them. My goal is to get enough plants to create a screen for my chicken/orchard area that will not only block the view from the street but also provide afternoon shade. Of the dozen cuttings I potted up only 1 put out shoots ( those two teeny little green wisps coming out of the node) Today I prepared another dozen or so cuttings. After cutting them to the proper size, 2″-3″ above the node and 4″-5″ below the node, they were soaked for 15 minutes in a 5 gallon bucket full of water with B1 and rooting hormone mixed in. Finally they were put in pots with fresh potting soil buried to the point where the node was halfway covered. Hopefully I will get a few more viable plants from this batch.

That covers the Sweaty part of my morning now lets talk about Guerrillas! My greywater system has been working fairly well, though there have been a few problems. The main problem has been one of balance, while I don’t believe this would be an issue for established trees I do believe it cost me several newly planted trees do to saturated soil. My orchard plot has a slight fall from N-S consequently the southern end of the orchard stays wetter. Additionally I have a bit of a valley right down the middle, guess where I lost trees? Yup those in the valley and on the SW corner which is also a low spot. There are a combination of factors that caused this and I believe I have some solutions. But for today I wanted to show my short term fixes.

In the top of this picture is the main 3/4″ distribution pipe for my greywater system, you can just make out where I tapped into it with standard 5/8″ poly line.

This line travels down the center of my orchard and branches out into the sunken beds I have blogged about previously. Traditional flag drippers are used in these beds and now the greyawater is routed to here 5 days a week and only into the orchard mulch beds twice a week. The results have been dramatic.

The Squash, Comfrey, Melons, and Pumpkins in these beds have gone crazy, and the mulch beds in the Orchard have gone from soggy and a bit slimy underneath to pleasantly moist. The earthworms are still working their butts off and the remaining trees are looking very healthy. This revisiting and discussion of grey water was inspired by another Greywater Guerrilla over at Grasshopper Sense. Blog Posts tagged about greywater, grey water, or gray water are few and far between  and it’s encouraging to see someone else starting down the same path you find yourself on.

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Much ado about Mulch

I started this weekend trying to fight off that wee little bugger in the back of my head that was arguin for havin a layabout weekend seein as how my sweety Karen was off an adventure with my sister Lorri. Thats Karen in the picture to the right, it was taken in the lava tubes on the Big Island of Hawaii the year our oldest son graduated from college. I love this picture of Karen because I think it truly shows that inner light that burns so fiercely in her, don’t tell her I posted it though cause she’ll kill me.

But I digress. Mulch….yup I got up early Saturday morning and went out to the UNCE orchard and saw my buddy John. He filled my truck up and smashed it down with the tractor really good so I could close the cover. He also hooked me up with the chelated iron that works in our calcareous, heavy clay, and high PH soil. Sprint 138 right around $100 for 5# but it only takes an ounce per tree of bare root size and it WORKS! I have tried everything from Ironite to Sulphur and nothing will lastingly green up plants in our terrible soil, but this stuff does!

Once I got all that mulch that John had wedged in the back of my truck out I had a fairly respectable pile. Did I break out the Garden Fork and Wheelbarrow and spread it all out? Hell no! it was frickin hot yesterday. I did plant a couple of Artichoke plants and sowed some Indian Corn seeds both of which my afore mentioned sweety, Karen, really likes. Oh I did set up my new fangled ScareCrow Sprinkler thingy, I’m hoping that this will keep the pigeons from chompin up all my sprouts.

But if not it should be worth a laugh or two watching it get unsuspecting little egg thieves like my Granddaughter Alexa. She absolutely loves the chickens and sees absolutely no conflict between her love of Katy Perry and her love of chickens. And yes she will be mad at me the first time she gets sprayed but then she will have a blast trickin everyone else into the kill zone.

SQUIRREL!

I scraped back the mulch about midway between my dripperlines to see how moist the soil is getting. These photos are from two separate rows, as can be seen the soil is moist. In fact in the area in the right hand photo it was dripping wet!

The most encouraging thing I found is in the third photo WORMS!!!!! They are a sign that I am moving in the right direction.

My greywater system has a 32 gallon rubbermaid garbage can for a surge tank, originally the washing machine we had would 3/4 fill that on every cycle. After 12 years that damn thing decided to up and die! The replacement high efficiency top loader my wife replaced it with only uses about half as much water so I’m thinking that each load is discharging about 25 gallons into the orchard with an average of 6 loads a week plus I have a sprinkler valve that comes on every other night for 1 minute which also puts in roughly 25 gallons, I estimate the orchard is getting a total 225 gallons a week. With 400 sq ft being irrigated this is a little over 1/2 gallon per sq ft. What’s all them numbers mean? I don’t know but I do know that is a whole lot less water than the same square footage of lawn takes in this wicked climate. So did I accomplish anything this weekend? You Betcha! I got a load of mulch picked up, unloaded, and spread out; I collected 3 dozen eggs 20 of which I put in my incubator to see if my cocky little Marans rooster is gettin busy; I enjoyed a nice BS session with the UNCE Orchard manager and got a bag of the right kind of Iron supplement, he also sicced me on Master Gardner Fran with whom I had a very informative discussion about what will grow during the summer to feed my chickens and finally I did squeeze in enough time to read a couple hundred pages of Dianna Gabaldon’s 6th installment of the Outlander series! What a great book, really makes you wanna be a sassenach hatin Highlander!

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Sunken Beds?






 As can be seen in these 2 pictures there is currently a lot of open space in my Orchard. This space both receives full sun and is irrigated. 
That got me thinking about how I could put that area to use. At first I tried pulling the mulch back from the area above the  dripperlines. That didn’t work out to well because the mulch was so deep that it would migrate back into and cover the cleared area within a day. That was when I thought of raised beds, but in reverse.

I built some 70″x14″ frames from cedar fence planks nailed together then reinforced in the corners with L-brackets. 
I installed these in between the trees and on the upslope side of the drip lines. I chose to put them there so that the majority of the water would still move through the mulch bed while water pulled uphill through capillary action would irrigate the crops in the boxes.

 Above is the first bed set into the mulch, in the foreground my Emerald Beauty Plan can be seen leafing out nicely. Below are the first 4 boxes installed between 2 rows of Plums, Pluots, Apricots, and Apriums.

Sweet Corn, Cow Peas, Pinto Beans, and Buckwheat have been sown in these first beds. The Sweet Corn is for us and the rest is for chicken feed and to help break up and improve the soil texture. I am now thinking that the middle row will be setup similarly to the first row but will be sunflowers mixed in with legumes and cover crop while the final row, where there is room for six boxes, I may fill the boxes and use them as true raised beds. The draw back on that is that I will need to irrigate them, the upside is fresh Tomatoes! 

Common Sense Gray Water Irrigation

Today I completed the basic installation of my Gray Water Irrigation system for my High Density Orchard. The system brings water from my surge tank (a rubbermaid garbage can) through a 400 micron filter (that only removes the really big stuff) and to the orchard via 3/4″ poly tubing.

In the above pictures the Surge tank and Filter is underneath the stairway in the first pic, the 3/4″ main line can be seen on the right hand side of all of the pics and it also runs along the fence line with the grapevines.

Once the Gray Water reaches the Orchard via the 3/4 poly line it is distributed throughout the planting area via 1/2″ dripper line. This dripper line has emitters spaced every 12″ along it’s length and I have spaced the lines every 4′ running generally with the contours of the area. What the heck does that mean? It means that the rows themselves are basically level but each row is lower down the slope of the land than the previous. Originally I thought my Orchard sloped from the NE corner down to the SW corner which would have forced me to orient the rows on the bias running NW-SE, but when I dug out the laser it showed that I had only a very slight E-W slope with the main slope being N-S. Consequently I ran my lines E-W, located 1′ N of each row of trees.
 
The first picture shows the layout of the emitter lines in relation to the trees, the following pics show the dispersal of the Gray Water from the emitters.

In a traditional drip irrigation system for a planting such as an orchard you would irrigate each individual tree with three or four emitters located in a circular pattern roughly at the drip-line of the tree. What’s the drip-line of the tree you say? It is the circle defined by where the rain would drip off of the leaves of the tree. This system is designed to water each individual tree, additionally common knowledge (which everyone knows ain’t necessarily correct) has it that this type of irrigation should be done slowly and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. This deep root growth is supposed to allow the tree to tap into buried sources of nutrients and provide a secure foundation.

 

Here we see the drip lines running down the rows of trees, which along this axis are spaced 9′ apart,  the expanding area of moisture can also be seen developing in the second pic.

The traditional system works great when you are providing water solely for the purpose of irrigation, in my Orchard my water source is primarily a waste product from laundering clothes. This Gray Water is not storable due to the fact that it contains nutrients that will start to get funky in 24 hours or less. Also for a Gray Water system to work in the long run it must be as unobtrusive as possible, if the system requires thought and effort every time a load of clothes is going to be washed it ain’t gonna work! 

Capillary action is the main theory my Orchards irrigation system is based on. Basically I am watering the entire 600 square foot area of my Orchard instead of the 24 seperate 4′ diameter circles around each tree. When I first started researching this concept it made absolutely no sense but the more I read the more the pieces came together from separate sources to reinforce what Paul James over at graywatergardening.com is preaching. What I am trying to achieve is an inviting biodynamic area for my trees to send roots out into. The moist areas seen expanding out from the lines in the pictures above is the result of approximately 80 gallons of Gray Water flowing through the system, by next weekend I’m hoping that normal laundry use and capillary action will result in uniformly moist soil over the entire area. 

Then comes the mulch! Everything I am trying to emulate in my Orchard says that mulch is the key! Dave Wilson over at www.davewilson.com says it’s key to successful Back Yard Orchard Culture, Bob Morris at xtremehorticulture says it’s key to growing fruit in Las Vegas, and finally Paul James at graywatergardening.com says it’s key to having a safe and efficient Gray Water system. So next week I plan on hauling in mulch (ground up tree trimmings) and covering all of the area watered by the drip lines to a depth of at least 6″. Over time this will provide a fertile and ever improving soil for my trees to spread their roots into as the mulch slowly breaks down and is incorporated down into the soil by the natural action of earthworms, God’s little roto-tillers.

Gray Water #2 The Backbone

I received the material for my gravity fed drip irrigation system this past week. The system I am using is from www.irrigray.com . Their site is a wealth of information. Before deciding on irrigrays drip approach I did a lot of research, http://oasisdesign.net/ , is a good starting point with a wealth of knowledge that isn’t built on fad theories. 
My system is basically a gravity fed laundry to landscape system, the starting point of which is a surge tank. Don’t confuse this with a storage tank, gray water contains to many proteins and other nutrients and if held for more than a few hours will get funky. As you can see I am using a durable garbage can. 

The kit came with a fitting to easily tap into the surge tank. I drilled a 3/4″ hole approximately 3″ above the bottom of the tank, inserted a tight fitting rubber grommet, and then inserted a fitting that was a force fit in the grommet thus creating a watertight seal. The other end is a standard barbed fitting for 3/4″ poly irrigation tubing. The valve you see is only for system service and maintenance, when the system is in operation this valve will always be open.

As you can see that 3/4″ poly line goes past my irrigation valves, along a ditch, then comes back up and is run above ground in my orchard area.
I still need to install a 400 micron filter somewhere in the line before it gets to the orchard area, then install the 1/2″ dripperline that has 2 gph droppers installed every 12″ along its length. I plan on doing all of that next week which should be right on schedule for the start of the irrigation season here in Vegas. I did see one of my trees beginning to put out the tiniest little leaves today.
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