Category Archives: greywater

Summertime and the livin’s easy?

It was a long hot summer here in Vegas. Back in June I took an excursion to Reno to meet my Granddaughter

Avery

Avery

and come back to find a fried Pluot Tree and my favorite Golden Cockoo Marans rooster keeled over. Friday morning everything was dandy, when I got back Sunday POOF! It got to 117 degrees that Saturday and just knocked the bejeezus straight outta that tree and roo.

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble?

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble?

The ferment buckets really got going strong by August. 24 hours and there would be a good strong ferment going on, by September the amount of hooch being produced was remarkable. Ferment2

It got to where every Saturday I would empty all of the hooch out of one of the two ferment buckets and they both still stayed nice and sour. All of that Lacto-Baccilus inoculated highly acidic fluid went straight into my greywater collection tank to be distributed throughout the orchard. One bucketful did go into the latest compost pile and boy did it heat up fast!  Glop

 

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This lovely looking Glop had collected in the bottom of the buckets, it is very viscous sorta like a sourdough sponge, Mother? I win sure. The chickens gobbled it up though.

 

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Mulching for Max

Gardening in the harsh desert climate of Las Vegas really brings to the forefront the necessity of utilizing every drop of moisture as efficiently as possible. The Fruity Chicken orchard/garden utilizes several techniques to help maximize this utilization. My baseline moisture is supplied by a sub-surface irrigation system over the entire area whose primary source of water is greywater from laundry. This system does have a supplemental input of fresh water of approximately 35 gallons every other day during the height of the summer which I estimate to be about 1/3 of the total input. This freshwater input tapers down to 35 gallons a week in the fall and 35 gallons a month through the winter months. My orchard/garden area is currently 20′ x 40′, due to the 6″ to 12″ layer of mulch over the general area the soil stays reasonably moist year round. On the the other hand my raised beds are above this moisture source necessitating a drip system to keep seedlings and shallow rooted veggies thriving.

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The drip system in my main 4’x12′ beds is 3 laterals running the length of the bed with .9 GPH emitters spaced @ 12″ intervals, this system runs 1 hour a day early in the morning applying roughly 35 gallons a day. Up to this point in the season this system has thoroughly watered those beds and resulted in enough seepage coming out of the downhill end to keep the comfrey planted there to scavenge nutrients flourishing. With the recent increase in heat the moist area has been noticeably receding, rather than increasing the run time on the drip system I have been focusing on mulching to reduce loss through evaporation. In the picture above the green mulch that was planted initially can be seen, this is primarily red wheat which has really exceeded my expectations.

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That green mulch gets cut down about every other week and laid between the crop plantings. Now that the heat is coming on that mulch just isn’t enough so I have started supplementing it with straw.

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My experience with trying to mulch with straw hasn’t been positive but this time appears to be different. In the past I had done things the traditional way, spreading straw over the whole bed then pulling that mulch aside to do my plantings. This method always resulted in straw blown around everywhere except where it was needed, due to already being used to cutting and placing small amounts of green mulch I just kinda kept up the same process. Rather than throwing down a big ole flake off the bale I have been sitting down next to my beds with a pile of straw, picking up a handful, tearing it in half and then sorta weaving in between the established plants. This method has resulted in the mulch being where it is really needed and staying in place, a side benefit is that I am spending quality time up close and personal with my garden. Pests get spotted sooner and so far have been able to be controlled by manual means rather than using chemicals. Additionally it is right in my face when a plant is struggling a bit allowing me to either adjust my spray mixture or do some spot amendments such as a leaf or two of comfrey smushed up and pushed under the mulch for a bit of boost.

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Hurray the work weeks over! Now let’s get to work.

 

The soil at my Orchard site is terrible, rocky, alkaline, and mostly clay. A big part of my efforts are towards soil improvement, from the mulch bed covering the entire area to the sub-surface greywater system that keeps the soil/mulch interface moist. Thinking about it almost all of my current efforts are going towards that goal. Reading the-real-bounty-of-the-coop on the excellent blog Northwest Edible Life made me realize how valuable that messy chicken run is. I practice the deep litter method in my 8’x10′ chicken coop, hold on a sec, doesn’t “deep litter method” sound awfully snooty? You can read all 33 pages of that article I linked to on BYC but in reality the “method” is all about lazy, but it works! If you keep a 6″ + deep bed of wood chips, pine shavings, or what have you in your coop it absorbs the moisture from the poop and helps keep the smell down. In addition it starts breaking down and really fires off when put in a compost pile. My coop sits up on 4×4 skids and the chickens slowly kick the shredded tree service mulch out under the walls, so about once a month I rake all of the stuff up outta the run area, toss it in my composter, and liberally wet it all down with duck pond water. Tomorrow is time to haul one bin’s worth out of the run and pile it up to mellow for a bit in the orchard area, turn the other bin into the now empty bin, then refill that bin with the scmutz from the run. I was thinking of using that batch of compost for my other task on schedule for tomorrow but I think I’m going to save it for my new half-assed hugelkulure bed that will be on the work ticket in a month or so.

Comfrey…..that is the focus of this weekends second project. Simpleunhookedliving along with Milkwood have both recently had excellent blog posts about Comfrey that are well worth the read.

This is one of the 4 plants my Sweety, Karen, got me from the Korean nursery in Pomona. I have no idea what variety they are but I do know that they are growing like mad and my chickens love the leaves. I searched all over the web for more and finally found some being sold by a true believer at Coes Comfrey. Coes site is a wealth of information and the owner, Tom, is an incredibly interesting guy to talk to. Tom prefers doing business by phone 828-321-4913 which is kinda ironic because his website is really well done. I ended up ordering 10 one year old plants that should be here saturday or monday at the latest. Thats where the work comes in, Tom recommends planting Comfrey in “fertile holes”, basically a 2′ diameter hole as deep as you can dig it, he even suggested using a post hole digger to let the tap root get off to a good start. I got too many rocks to get to deep but I am going to do my best and backfill the holes with steer manure and chicken poop. Everything I have read says that Comfrey can handle very potent fertilizer without burning, this includes fresh chicken manure and straight urine and I’m gonna find out. I have been “watering” my other Comfrey plants whenever the need arises and they are doing great.

What’s all this Comfrey for?

  • Chicken Feed: This stuff is very high in protein and my girls love it
  • Compost: It is also very high in nitrogen and low in fiber and is supposed to make a great activator for your pile
  • Mulch: Comfrey is a bio-accumulator and through it’s tap root mines nutrients and minerals from down deep
  • Fertilizer: When packed in 5 gallon buckets and allowed to break down for a month or so crates a nasty goo that when cut with water is supposed to be a great organic fertilizer

So hopefully with the help of my nephew Steven I’ll get a lot accomplished and have some nice pictures to post on here Sunday!

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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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To much shit goin on so here’s a recap of my greywater system.

I am jonesing a bit because I’m going to be tied up most of the day this Saturday which is going to severely impede on my weekly dose of chicken and orchard communing. Rather than breaking my cycle of blogging I have put together this recap of what I have accomplished so far on the Orchard side.

I have a 1/2 acre lot on the East side of the Las Vegas Valley (Nevada), water is expensive here so the previous owner just turned off the irrigation system about 6 years ago, since acquiring the property about 3 years ago I have been exploring different ways to utilize the land, cut down on dust, and not bankrupt myself with water bills.

For various reasons I kept coming back to fruit trees. A little research led me to a system of high density orchard keeping called “backyard orchard culture” and low and behold the University of Nevada has an experimental orchard here that has been testing those practices in our valley since 1995! That was huge, now I knew it could be done and more importantly what to do do and what not to do.
I put my orchard in 4 N-S rows 9′ apart. The 2 Eastern most rows have 7 trees each spaced 4′ apart and the 2 western most rows have 4 trees each again spaced 4′ apart.

Now comes the Greywater part. I’m cheap and hate wasting anything so I got to thinking about greywater, my laundry area is on the back porch and had been just dumping in the backyard because I hadn’t tied it into the septic system yet. I had to install a surge tank which collects the water from the washing machine and allows it to be released in a slightly slower manner into the drip system.

 

The drip system came from Irrigray and is designed to handle greywater, it came  with a filter, 5/8″ poly distribution line, and 150′ of 1/2″ dripperline with 4 gallon per hour drippers built into it every 12″. My orchard area has a slight N-S fall to it so I ran the dripperline 1′ north of each line of trees, these lines are run E-W and therefore end up being spaced 4′ apart.

To cover the drip lines I hauled in enough ground up tree trimmings from the tree service companies to cover the entire orchard area to a depth of 6″. The system has been operating now for 4 months. I can go anywhere in the orchard and pull back the mulch, even dead center between twosets of lines, and the soil is moist and full of worms. The filter is a 400 micron filter and it is claimed you only need to clean it twice a year, I have cleaned it twice now and neither time did it need it.
I am currently using ECO brand laundry detergent, it is supposed to be Bio-Compatible rather than Bio-Degradable. From what I have read the difference between the terms is that bio-degradable just means that the substance will break down into it’s component parts,whatever they are, when exposed to the elements and bio-compatible breaks down into environmentally friendly components. The main reason though that I chose this brand as opposed to Oasis, which is the main one you find recommended on the web, is that my local Costco carries it.

Isn’t that a nice picture? This is a view looking down into my surge tank, on the right you can see the black ABS drain pipe coming from the washing machine. The white 3/4″ PVC just below the drain pipe is connected to an automatic sprinkler valve. My son, who lives in the house at The Fruity Chicken, currently doesn’t do enough laundry to supply the water needs of the orchard. Rather than install a parallel irrigation system I ran this line to supplement the greywater, currently this valve is set to run for 2 minutes once a day.

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Work

All week I have been thinking about work. Currently I am sitting in a Hotel room in Reno looking forward to seeing my Daughter in law get her Masters Degree from UNR. Erin is a great example of someone with a strong work ethic, she works full time, goes to school, writes a blog, and does a great job of keeping my knuckle headed son Michael pointed in the right direction. In my work I am surrounded by a lot of people like this but unfortunately have to deal with the other end of the spectrum also. Every time I got fired or caught up in a one man layoff I knew exactly what I did to create the situation I found myself in, likewise when my three sons got into trouble my first question was what did you do? In our house you were guilty until proven innocent. Apparently not everyone thinks that way.

Where I am going with this, besides bragging about my daughter in law Erin, is that my Orchard/Chicken project is about work. None of this stuff is set it and forget it, in fact if it was I would probably figure out a way to put some effort into it. A good example is feeding my Chickens, feed isn’t that expensive and I could afford to purchase top quality food for my girls. It is just more stimulating figuring out how to “beat the system” and find free or nearly free ways to feed them well without going to the feed store. This really sunk in when I was rinsing the seeds I was sprouting

20120517-161934.jpg Why was I doing all of this stuff just to feed my chickens? And why have I been working every weekend setting up and tweaking a greywater irrigation system for my Orchard? Because I, and I believe most urban farmers, are really looking for a challenge. And that challenge comes from using your wit and your back to overcome obstacles that may well be easier overcome with money.

It’s very hard to explain to the uninitiated the sense of satisfaction that comes from collecting your own eggs, or picking your own fruits and vegetables. I have had people try to quantify things from a business perspective explaining that my eggs are really costing me 4 or 5 times more than I could purchase them for, and that doesn’t count my labor. The old saying about the fruIts of your labor is probably an abstract concept to these people, but in my case it’s a literal concept and one I think more and more people are striving towards. In this modern world where so little is within an individuals control it is comforting to know that I had at least a little bit of control over the quality of the eggs I eat.

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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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How important is Mulch?

My plan for tomorrow is to go pickup a load of mulch from the UNCE orchard, am I going to do it? I hope so. It has been a hectic week at work and I keep finding myself slipping into rationalizing sitting on my ass all day reading instead of spreading mulch in the 100 degree sunny day predicted for tomorrow.

The reality is that it needs to be done. Mulch is a key component of all of the individual projects that collectively make up whatever it is that I’m trying to create.

The Backyard Orchard Culture philosophy that I am trying to follow not only stress’s mulch’s importance but the 17 year history of the UNCE expiremental Orchard has proven that it is vital for an orchards success in my area.

I have seen with my own eyes that my greywater irrigation system does not work properly without mulch, transpiration and evaporation prevent the flow of moisture between my dripperlines and that isn’t even considering the perceived need to sub-surface irrigate with greywater to isolate potential pathogens.

Finally my chickens are pushing the limit of capacity in my neighborhood so I need to keep them as unobtrusive as possible and I have found that a deep litter system, really just mulching your chicken coop, really cuts down on the flies and all but eliminates any odor issues.

So am I gonna get my butt up and go visit John at the orchard, BS about guns, find out what type of Iron Chelate I need to get to treat the chlorosis I got happening , and load up the truck with mulch? Yup I probably will…..I’ll let you know tomorrow.

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