Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Early Xmas. Chips. 12.14.15

Now and then I call an arborist in my neighborhood and ask for him to leave a pile of tree chips in my driveway.  Thank you!  That saves him the hauling/dumping costs, and saves me the cost of the wood chip mulch.

This batch smells really good.  Pine. 

Yesterday my neighbor was hauling a load of tree leaves to be disposed of.  I asked if I could load them into my pickup.  Thank you!  Those are now already spread on the garden bed for next year's corn / squash / sunflowers.  They'll keep the weeds from growing, plus be mixed in a compost in situ.

Based on past experience, this batch of pine chips will take about 6 or 8 pickup loads.  They should be enough to refresh the front garden borders, and most of the orchard.  I want to be as water-wise as possible next year, and avoid the labor for weed management.  This will help significantly.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mushrooom. 2.14.15

Growing under a fir tree.  This mushroom looks malevalently beautiful. 

From web search, apparently this one is Amanita muscaria.   We'll leave this one alone.  In fact, I'm not eating any of the mushrooms in our yard.

Planting a Home-Grown Hollywood Plum Tree. 10.14.15

Hollywood Plum Cuttings at One Year.  Late 2014

Hollywood Plum Tree at 2 years.  12.14.15
Today I added a Hollywood Plum tree to my little orchard.  It's too good not to use.  I took cuttings early 2014, replanted the resultant little trees late 2014, and now have some nice trees.

The tree was minimally root bound.  I teased the out and trimmed the longest ones.

All new trees get the mulch, hardware cloth to repel voles, and fencing to repel deer.
Roots on Hollywood Plum Tree.  12.14.15

Planted, Hardware Cloth  Sleeve, Deer Fence, and Mulch.  12.14.15

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Peecycle. A Follow Up. 12.12.15

In Jan 2014 I wrote a fairly extensive blog post, with references, about use of urine as a fertilizer.  I won't repeat that discussion, but link here.  I still think it's  an important concept, and worth repeating.  These are the learnings for 2015, almost 2 years later.

-Peecycling means saving urine in a container, for use in the garden.
-Urine has similar organic plant nutritional value, as organic fish emulsion.
-The main ingredient in urine that contributes to plant nutrition, is urea nitrogen.
-If stored, the urea nitrogen is broken down into ammonia and carbon dioxide.  That results in a highly alkaline solution that sterilizes any potential pathogens.  If used directly, the soil bacteria do the same thing.  Used as described here, I don't think the alkalinity is enough to change the pH of the soil in any meaningful fashion.   Soil here is acidic, so if there was an effect, it would be beneficial.
-Urine is safe.  Urine from a healthy person does not cause a risk for infections.    To sterilize the urine, it can be stored for a few weeks.
-The main negative is salt content.  Don't add more salts to an already salty soil.  My Pacific NW soil is very low in salts, based on recent laboratory soil testing.  So that is not an issue here.
-In my soil, there is plenty of potassium and phosphorus, and most trace nutrients.   Nitrogen is the main soil nutrient that is needed.  Urine is very low in potassium and phosphorus, so likely doesn't change those nutrients much, unless the soil is deficient.  Then the contribution would be helpful.
-In other soils, there are different needs.  There is a movement against adding phosphorus, which harms the environment.  Potassium is often high - a soil test would be needed to determine that.  

In 2015, I used peecycling for nitrogen-demanding garden plants, especially corn, tomatoes, and squash. I did not do a randomized trial, comparing plots with and without.  So this is not a valid university trial.

We saved the urine in plastic bottles from orange juice or cider.  Most were approx 2 quart size.  For fertilizing, we poured it into a 2-gallon watering can, then rinsed the pee bottle 3 times with water, pouring the water each time into the watering can.  So that is a 1:4 dilution.  We poured that on the ground in the corn row, or around the tomato or squash plants, about one watering can full per 100 square feet.  We estimated the 100 square feet as about 5 X 10 feet, guessing the distances.

If stored, some dissolved minerals bind to the sides of the container.  I'm thinking those are potassium phosphate, or ammonium salts, but not sure.  This can be unsightly on the bottle, but is not harmful.  After emptying the bottles, they can be filled with water and left sitting for a week.  The water dissolves those minerals, resulting in a cleaner looking container.  Sometime 2 water treatments are needed.  I use that water for watering as well, those minerals also go into the soil, so nothing is lost.

In all cases, after watering the diluted into the soil, I watered again with a second watering can with just water.  That soaks the diluted urine a little deeper. I did not notice any odor, although I may not be sensitive enough to know.

The result was excellent production of all three.  I was very surprised at how well they did.   Corn, squash, and tomatoes, all had excellent yield.  The plants grew vigorously and fast, and the production was excellent - large fruits and excellent flavor.  We had the most tomatoes and squash that we have ever had.  This was my first time for sweet corn, which was excellent.  All three crops received the fertilizer at 2 or 3 week intervals, until the corn tassels start to grow, or the tomatoes start to bloom, or the squash starts to bloom.

For some flowers and herbs, I also used the same fertilizer.  I quit when the flowers started to grow.  Chinese chives were big and tender, and rebounded quickly from harvest for second and third and 4th crops.  Nasturtiums grew too large, making big bushes with very large leaves and few flowers.  Daylilies were big and vigorous, and made many beautiful, big, flowers.

I used much smaller amounts for the young shade trees, using one diluted bottle per tree, in late winter and repeating in early spring.  Those were watered in extending to the drip line and a little beyond.  Growth was excellent.  Linden trees, maples,  and ginkgos responded very well to the additional nitrogen In fact, I was kind of awed at how much growth the maples produced - more than 3 foot of sturdy, stout branch growth.

I did not use nitrogen boost for the producing fruit trees that are already big enough - the plums and the cherries.  If they were smaller, I would have.  I do not want to overstimulate leaf and stem growth at the expense of fruit--bearing growth.  For persimmons, I read that extra nitrogen can lead to fruit drop.  Those trees were so small and young, I did fertilize them to stimulate more growth.  I read that the first year fruit often drops, and they did.  This year the Asian and Asian/American hybrid are tall enough, and will get no extra nitrogen in 2016.  The American persimmons are still very small, so I will fertilize those in early 2016.  The pawpaws grew very well, and have many flower buds now.  I don't think that fertilizing them prevented formation of next year's fruiting wood, and it did stimulate growth a lot.  I will fertilize the smaller ones and not the larger ones.

Apples and pears are susceptible to fireblight.  Rank, excessively vigorous growth is especially vulnerable to the disease, especially in the early Spring.  I have seen that happen, fast rank growth suddenly looks like it has been torched.  So for the smaller pome trees, it's a gamble.  You want them to grow well the first couple of years, so you don't have to wait too long for the onset of production, especially the first taste.  The pear trees and Asian pears are all big enough, so they will get no nitrogen boost.  Some of the apples are big enough - they won't get any, or won't get much.  The smallest apples might benefit from the extra nitrogen during their first year.

I thought about this when I bought the Maxie pear this week at Tsugawa nursery.  In the ground, this tree is 8 foot tall.  It is plenty tall, so needs no nitrogen boost.  If I bought a whip by mail order, shipping requirements result in it being much smaller and shorter, and I think I would have to wait longer for it to bear, or risk fireblight by fertilizing.

Figs are more sensitive to freezing if the growth is too rank and soft.  For the smaller ones, which is most of the Battleground fig trees, the plan is fertilize early - say, May, but not after that.  Use about 1/2 as much as on the corn, so 1 original 2 quart bottle goes to about 200 square feet.  That method worked nicely this year, and all growth was hardened off well before the first frost.  Most of my Battleground figs are in the 3 or 4 foot tall range, so still some growth is needed before I get significant production.  I hope to get a few bowls of figs here this year, and still have the big, very productive, Vancouver figs to satisfy me for the next year.

If you fertilize and the growth is fast and tender, then there is no rain, you risk losing the crops to leaf burn. Ditto for concerns about salts.  Concentrated salts lead to leaf burn and in severe cases, can kill plants.   Think of lawn spots where dogs urinate.  This can be a motivation to reduce salt in the diet, healthier for all.  By diluting and watering the dilute urine into the soil. we did not have any leaf burn issues at all, on any of the plants that we fertilized.  This was an especially hot, dry, summer.  We watered the vegetables and youngest fruit trees regularly, but only watered the young maples, lindens, and maples, 2 or three times.  Those are in the range of 10 to 20 feet tall.  They did not have any leaf burn at all.

Since we are planning some beds for chicken feed next year - seed sunflowers, milo / sorghum, and flint corn - I want to save some urine for spring use.  The same large juice jugs should work fine.  Many writers recommend storage for auto-sterilization.  There is more odor, which passes fairly quickly, especially when watered in.  There are no special requirements.  The jugs can be stored in shed or garage.  Some of the ammonium content is lost due to the alkaline state of the stored product.  Used quickly on opening, and watered into the acidic soil, I think this loss would not be a lot.  At least for manures, ammonia loss are significant only  if the manure is left on the soil surface.  Loss is also less if applied to tilled soil instead of residue, and in cool temperatures.  Similar concepts apply to use of diluted urine.

No fertilizing regimen is a cure all.  Judgement about which plants to fertilize, when, and how much, is important.   Every plant has it's own needs, and those needs change with stage of growth.  This method is mainly good for nitrogen-demanding plants at the time that they need extra nitrogen.  For the past 2 years, this is the only fertilizer that we have used, and the results were all positive.

Some people are very squeamish about peecycling.   On a web forum, several members were close to horrified about the topic, some spread misinformation and one member was almost threatening.   In addition, it's anatomically much easier for men than for women.  No system can be suitable for everyone in every circumstance.  A lot of education is needed to improve acceptance and reduce prejudice.  Peecycling, is sanitary, prevents excess nutrients from going into rivers and streams, probably prevents medications from going into rivers and streams and disrupting fish reproduction and concentration into fish.  Peecycling conserves water, reduces reliance on chemical / natural gas production of nitrogen, so is a responsible measure for those who, like me, want to be stewards of the environment and reduce our own role in climate change.  Peecycling is hygienic, safe, responsible, easy, and effective for many crops.

(All images public domain, from vintageprintable.com)

Addendum.  Pee-cycling is now almost sort of mainstream, to the extent that you can purchase Peecycling Coffee Cups and mugs.  Maybe people are less squeamish than I thought.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Soil Test Report. 12.8.15

Here is a summary of the soil test report from this week's test.  The area tested was the home orchard, and the report recommendations were based on that.  I had this done by simplysoiltesting.com in Burlington Washington.  Their reports seem very detailed and understandable.  The interpretation below is per their report.

Image via vintageprintable.com
Soil Test report
Phosphorus 227 ppm =  very high
Potassium 431 ppm = very high
Calcium 1405 ppm = high
Magnesium 222 ppm = high
Boron 0.7 ppm = medium
Sulfur 3.7 ppm = medium

Organic matter 8.8% = high

Soluble salts 0.14 mS/cm  low
Zinc 1.7 ppm = high
Manganese 4.0 ppm = very high (normal is 0.7 - 1.4)
Copper 0.7 ppm = high
Iron 46.5 ppm = very high (normal is 2.5 to 5.0)

pH 5.31 (3 years ago this was 5.05)

They don't test nitrogen, stating it is too transient.

They recommend lime 44 pounds per 1000 square feet - if mixing to 8 inches deep, or 11-14 pounds if scattered on soil surface, nitrogen 2.3 pounds per 1000 square feet, and small amounts of borax and sulfur supplements.  They give recommended amounts of organic supplements, which is what I requested, as either blood meal, Alaska fish fert (46 pounds per 1000 sq feet - could get expensive and stinky), organic urea, 5 pounds per 1000 sq feet.  It's up to me to determine the peecycle amount.

Image via vintageprintable.com
When tested 3 years ago, most was similar but  the pH is higher.  I did spread lime at that time.  That may explain the increase in pH and calcium since the last report.  I have not used any fertilizer other than peecycling.  I think back then they stated calcium was also low, and at that time also recommended some borax similar to this time.  I did not supplement borax.

Despite the low pH, most of the trees have done well.  Maybe they'll do better with further correction of the acidity.

New Fruit Trees. 12.10.15

Home Orchard.  12.10.15
This week I added 2 new fruit trees to the home orchard.  I stopped by Tsugawa nursery on my way to Longview for an appointment.  They had some nice fruit trees, left over from the 2015 season.  Now leafless, with the year's root and stem growth completed.  I think these are bigger and have more roots, compared to the expected incoming stock or anything mail order.  They are varieties I was going to add, after considerable reviewing on the internet.
This winter is warm and wet.  I don't think there is any disadvantage to planting now.  If the ground was frozen, that would be an issue.  But it isnt.   I've planted in December before, and the trees settled in perfectly.

Maxie Pear Tree.  12.14.15
There may be a challenge finding s spot for each of the trees that I want to add.   The trees from Tsugawa were Honeycrisp on "semidwarf" rootstock, and Maxie hybrid pear on quince rootstock.  Maxie is a hybrid between Red Bartlett and Nijiseiki Asian pear.  It is described as having the juicy crispness of the Asian pear, with the Bartlet flavor.  With more ripening, it is reportedly more tender, like European pears, but can be eaten at the crisp stage.  Starks describes Maxie as resistant to pear scab, although the bigger problem here is fireblight.  Maxie was developed in New Zealand.   I expect to graft pollinating varieties / supplemental varieties onto each.  They both appear to have lots of viable flower buds on spurs.  This tree will not get nitrogen supplement, because rapid growth may be more susceptable to fireblight.

The Honeycrisp is next to another apple.  The Maxie is on its own, other pear trees are uphill and upwind.  It will need pollinizer scion.  I'm thinking Shinseiki, which is very vigorous.  Honeycrisp will get, maybe scion from 2 or 3 varieties of apples to make it into a multigraft tree.

Honeycrisp Apple Tree.  12.14.15
Neither had much winding roots.  They were potbound.  They should settle in without a hitch.  I did add hardware cloth vole-guard sleeves to both.  The apple got deer fencing, and so will the pear when I buy some this weekend.

Tsugawa offers a veteran's discount.  It's a nice gesture.  I appreciated that.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Plans for 2016. Growing for hen food. 12.3.15

Chicken food can be costly.  You don't always know what you are getting.  We have room on our 2 acres to experiement with additional crops.   I don't know the art and science of chicken feed.  I read there needs to be a balance of protein, and amino acid type.  Some feed plants contain anti-growth substances such as saponins that need to be cooked out.  Some plants are eaten by deer.  They ate all of our buckwheat this year.  This web page contains a list of various seed protein content.

Amaranth.   Long history as a crop, thousands of years.  High in protein but also saponins. Keep untreated under 20% of chicken diet, treated - cooked - under 40%.  Dried leaves can also be used.  Protein 14% to 18%.

Broom Corn or Sorghum.  Not good as a main component of feed, poor quality protein and contains anti-nutritive tannin.  Probably a little is OK, as a minor part of the feed, but not much.

Whole grain corn - It's possible to add some whole grain corn to supplement part of the hen diet.  Corn is the main grain used in poultry feeds in the USA.  Corn grain is 10% protein.    Corn has no intrinsic toxins.  Corn grain is 72% starch and high in lipids.  Some of the pigments may carry over into the egg yolks (xanthophylls).  From OSU extension, "corn grain is deficient in lysine, methionine, and tryptophan; all of which are essential amino acids. The major protein in corn is zein. Zein is a poor quality protein; both in terms of a poor amino acid profile and low solubility. As stated, the lipid content in corn is relatively high. The lipids in corn increase energy content and palatability. In addition, the lipids provide essential fatty acids. In terms of minerals, corn grain is very deficient in calcium and moderately high in phosphorus."  I was thinking about growing Indian corn, preferably a northern strain that would be harvestable here.  Deer and rabbits don't seem to eat our corn plants.  We would have to keep them separated from sweet corn, because of detrimental cross pollination.

Legumes.  There are concerns about soy, and about GMO soy.   Soy is shipped long distances.  Soy is a high quality protein and oil seed.  Other legumes are possible, but need processing.  I don't jave a good substitute in mind.  During summer, our free range hens forage all types of plants, weeds, and bugs, so get various protein sources.  Keeping deer out of legume plants would be challenging.  Deer love eating bean and pea plants.  Soy contains anti-nutritive saponins which apparently  can be inactivated by heat processing.

Sunflower seeds.  Apparently, can be partially substituted for soy.  Not clear, less than 15% or 30% of feed.  Protein content is about 26%.  The sunflower seed heads can be left in the chicken yard or chicken house for them to peck out the seeds.  They don't need any other processing.  This site states they can be no more than 30% of the hen feed, which is a lot.

This is an incomplete post, to be edited as I read more and learn more.

(All images via public domain, vintageprintable.com)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Fruit Tree Seedlings. Winter Growth. 12.2.15

Fruit Tree Seedings.  12.2.15

Germinating Red Pluot Seed.  12.2.15
Status report for fruit tree seedlings, 12.2.15

Apricots.  3 seeds germinated.  About 1/2 of what I tried.  These were the first, about 2 months old now.

Peach. so far only one plant.  Most of the seeds rotted.  These are all from Oregon Curl Free.  I repotted the plant today.  Leaves were pale.  Now in regular potting soil.

Red pluot.  4 seeds germinated of about 8 attempted.  I removed one from paper towel / zipper lock bag today.  The roots are easy to get off the paper towel if the paper towel is very wet. The first one to grow is looking good, abnout one month.
Germinating Red Pluot Seed.  12/2/15

There are some unknowns with these.  For the ones in the sunroom, temp drops into the 40s at night.  Daylength is short.  I don't have them on artificial lighting.  I don't know of the short daylength will induce dormancy, or if growth will continue into Spring.  I don't think temperature is an issue as long as the sunroom doesn't get much colder.