Hello friend!

Welcome to the Hobby Farm, where we raise discussion about multiple topics I’m passionate about, but mostly we’ll focus on Permaculture.  Grab a sweet tea, lemonade, or other favorite drink, have a seat on the porch, and let’s get comfy for an evening of whatever we feel like talking about today.

Warning.  I ramble sometimes.  It usually just means I love the topic.

Field Day

I know this is a “technical” hobby, but this coming weekend is the fourth full weekend of June.  That means it is Field Day.  Not the day we clean the ship thoroughly (Navy.)  Not the day we go on a big outing (School.)  This is the day we operating Amateur Radio stations in a communications war to see which clubs, groups, and individuals can score the highest points in the only “not a contest” contest of Amateur Radio history.

The purpose of Field Day is to give people the opportunity to make as many contacts from as many locations as possible, all while operating “off the grid.”  This means the radio can’t be powered by “The Grid.”  Anything from solar and batteries to generators are fair game, but if high voltage power lines are involved, it’s a no go.

This is also a day for raising awareness and interest in the hobby.

Every year over the last few years I have put together some kind of kit that requires soldering.  This year, I have no kit.  That’s probably for the best, because this year we are in a different location than our club has become accustomed to using.  In the past, we’ve been primarily at the O.E.M. facilities on Acklin Gap road.  This year, we’ll be downtown Conway at the following address, instead:

Arkansas National Guard Armory
300 Exchange Ave
Conway, AR 72032

If you’re in or near Faulkner County, Arkansas, you’re more than welcome to swing in, meet the club, and learn about Amateur Radio.

Can you recommend a book on Permaculture?

I’ve seen the same question pop up in about three different places, lately.  Since this has come up so frequently in such a short amount of time, I thought I would take the time to write about why this is such a wonderful question… and why it’s such a terrible question.

I’m happy and excited to see people asking this, because it means people want to learn more.  People care enough to try to wrap their heads around what Permaculture has to offer.  On the other hand, most people want “one” book to start with, and it should be a “good one” for their needs, but they don’t ever tell us what their needs are.

If you’ve been paying attention, my article last week was on starting where you’re at.  This is important for more than just implementation.  If you try to dive right in and read the Permaculture Designer’s Manual, without any real prior exposure, you will probably learn a lot.  Or you will fall asleep.  Or maybe both.  The truth is, that book is a huge volume of information to take in all at once.  It is also the defacto source of the best ways to design and implement for any given climate and environment.

Most people don’t NEED to know how to design and implement for anything outside of the climate they live in.

So the next sets of books that are often recommended are from the “big hitters” in Permaculture.  These are the books by Sepp Holtzer, Ben Falk, Toby Hemenway, Eric Toensmeier, Joel Salatin, and so on.  This is great, but if someone lives in the desert, the “Resilient Farm and Homestead” may not be the best book to start with.  If someone wants to focus on pastured livestock, the books on edible food forests won’t be as useful to them.  The first response to someone asking this question, “can you recommend …” should be “what are you wanting to do with the information?”

Someone who wants to learn design, really SHOULD dive into the Designer’s Manual.

Someone wanting to go from trying to learn how to container garden to growing food in raised beds with a Permaculture focus, should probably pick up something more introductory that meets those needs.  So far, the best book for this that I’ve found isn’t one of the “big names” in Permaculture, but is chock full of useful information, regardless.  I highly recommend the book “The Suburban Micro-Farm” by Amy Stross for any beginner.  The Amazon link may be an affiliate link, but it’s for her, not me, if it is.  I pulled it straight from her site, as is.  The book is an easier read, with better break down than say… “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway.  This is just my opinion, of course, but I’ve read both, and I try to recommend what I think is best for a person based on what they tell me their needs are, and I truly believe this book is a better starter book for a backyard gardener wanting to expand into Permaculture centric food growth.

She also has a website, called Tenth Acre Farm.  You should go visit her site, and pick up a copy of her book, if you’re just starting out.

If you’ve been following my Twitter and FaceBook posts this last week, a lot of the quote graphics I posted came straight out of her book.

If you’re more advanced, and you’re looking for how to choose specific elements for your food forest implementation, try Mark Crawford’s “How to Grow Your Own Nuts” and “Trees for Gardens, Orchards, and Permaculture.”

Before you rush out and buy books that are recommended, also try this.

Check. Your. Local. Library…

Our local library system has a really nice selection of books on the subject.  I own many of them, myself, but some of the ones I don’t own I can preview before buying, just to see if it’s anything I might want to hang onto for reference purposes.  The library systems are often neglected by the current generation, so help support it by utilizing it regularly.  It’s good for the community.

Start Where You Are At

One Permaculture principle is “start where you are at.”  Another is to move slowly.  I’m doing both of those this year.  Our crops this year so far are a few containers of Jerusalem Artichokes, Chinese Artichokes, and some Comfrey.  The Hazelnuts from a year or two back are doing okay, but haven’t shown any signs of producing, yet.  I’m hoping they will next year.

My dad said the Raspberries he planted are sending up babies, and he’ll bring us some potted up for our back yard.  I’m looking forward to putting them in.

This fall, we’re looking to start a small mushroom yard, as well.  We’re considering Shiitake, Portabella, and Winecap varieties.  Next spring, we’ll put in a few fruit trees, Kiwi vines, and Strawberries.  We’re also talking about putting in some raised beds, but breaking the ground for them the first year by using potatoes, garlic, onions, and beets or radishes.  We got the idea from Edible Acres up in New York.

Returning next week.

My break has taken a bit longer than intended. I want to apologize for that, but rest assured, I’m coming back next week. This post is to give a heads up on the re-structuring of both UnixSecLab and Jack of all Hobbies.

Until further notice, the mailing list sign ups (one per site) will only be a summary feed of the previous week’s blog posts for that site. I may bring back the extra content, eventually, and I may continue to use the mailing list for the rare but occasional promotional advertisement for products or services I offer.

Also, until further notice, the minimum number of posts per week (starting NEXT week) will be ONE post on Monday (for UnixSecLab) and ONE post on Thursday (for Jack of all Hobbies.)

I’m trying to run two different sites with two different focus topics. I work an 8am to 5pm job with a one hour commute to and one hour commute from work each day. This means I lose two hours out of my day just driving on the interstate. I also have nine beautiful children that need some of my attention, a loving wife that needs some of it, and so on. My time is more limited than I imagined when I first started these ventures, so I’m having to restructure. I may be able to get into a groove and get more content in a week eventually, but for now I’m backing things down.

In lieu of the extra blog posts, I will be doing more on social media. Posting to Twitter(UnixSecLab), Twitter(Jack of all Hobbies), FaceBook, LinkedIn, and so on takes less of my time than writing a full detailed blog post would, so I’ll be more active there.

You can expect the first content blog post for UnixSecLab under the new format starting June 5th. The first Jack of all Hobbies blog post under the new format will be available June 8th.

I also have some exciting plans for the not too distant future, so stay tuned.

I hope to catch you all here and on social media, and as always, leave comments, suggestions, or other verbiage in the comments for this post.

Weekend Update

This weekend was crazy busy.  We’ve had weather issues most of the week, but this weekend it came to a head, and our county is now declared a disaster area.

I gave my presentation on Saturday, as scheduled.  I think it went well.  The audience seemed receptive, and I hope to get to know their little community group better over time.  That was the best part of my weekend, really.

Then the storms came rolling through.  Saturday night / Sunday morning, we got so much rain and wind from the thunderstorms that rolled through that much of Conway became flooded, as well as several of the towns and small communities around us.  At least one road had one lane just wash away from the event.  Some of the towns are under a boil order.

I hope and pray that the community group members are all safe, and I will be following up with the organizers to ask how they are doing.

Permaculture Basics Class Venue Changed

The Permaculture Basics presentation for Saturday has changed.  The date is the same, but the class has been moved to a private residence due to weather.  If you are local and were planning to attend based on discovering the class from this site, leave a comment, and I’ll contact you privately to provide directions.  I won’t post private residence location information publicly.  Comments are moderated, so only I will ever see them, and comments specifically for this post will not be approved for public, so feel free to leave contact information so that I can reach you.

Permaculture – Thoughts on Re-everything

One of the foundational concepts of Permaculture is the idea that we want to reduce waste as much as possible.  This means we need to find some way to deal with waste in a productive manner.  This brings up the topic of the “re-everything” mentality.  I bring this up, because while people tend to use the WRONG word for what they are doing, their hearts are in the RIGHT place, and a word is just a word until you get into legalese.  Below, I’ll get into the concepts and differences between recycling, reusing, and re-purposing.  We’ll also look at the term “refuse” which is not “to refuse to do something,” but rather “the refuse produced that must be disposed of.”

At its simplest, the easiest thing to do with an object that many people might just dispose of is to reuse it.  If you have a jar of jelly from the local store, you eat all of the jelly, and then you keep the jar, you can reuse it to store more foods in future.  The jar is not modified in any way, and its original purpose is still its current purpose: to store foods with a seal-able lid.

The next level up is to re-purpose an item.  If we consume a bottle of blackberry wine (either directly, or via cooking,) we can either reuse the bottle as shown above, or we can do some modification to it to re-purpose it.  If we use glass cutting techniques to cut the neck off at the top most portion of where the bottle is consistently largest, and do it in a way that there are no sharp edges, the neck could be used as a funnel for a small wicking garding bed.  The base can be used as a drinking glass.  This is re-purposing.  A small modification is made to allow for a different kind of use than the original object was designed to perform.

Finally, we have recycling.  This word is often misused frequently to mean either or both of the above.  In reality, recycling is breaking down an object into its base constituent parts to be remade into new products from those same parts.  For example, smelting aluminum ingots from soda cans in order to use those ingots in cast aluminum projects.  Or perhaps we can crush the glass down in order to re-melt in glass blowing projects.  We can crush clay into a powder to re-mix with new clay projects, in some cases.  All of these are valid and appropriate ways to deal with some of the items we might otherwise dispose of.  This is also the method that requires the most work for accomplishing our goals.

Finally, we have “refuse.”  Sometimes you just have to give it up.  If you have cardboard that came into contact with food items, you might “recycle” it by composting, but if you have cardboard that came into contact with harsh toxins, you wouldn’t want to introduce those into your system.  You would want to dispose of them off site.  You might let them “compost” in a zone 5 area around a non-food plant, perhaps.

Alternatively, you might compost on site.  For example, you might put it in a compost that also contains mycorrhizal fungi who’s sole purpose is to break down toxins from your site operations.  This is often used on matter dredged from the little pocket ponds upstream from a production pond.  These pocket ponds are designed to capture run-off in such a way as to grab the “sinkers and floater” to keep the production pond cleaner.  These often have a higher density of heavy metals and such if they are close to roadways, for example.  Dredging these and composting the reeds used to capture the floaters are both better disposed of by using fungal composting before either taking completely off site, or using only on ornamentals in the lower elevation levels of your system.

So, if you have items that you are thinking of throwing away, consider first reusing them.  If you have more than enough of that kind of item on hand, then consider re-purposing, instead.  It takes a little more work, but it can be worth it.  If you have the talent/skills, and the equipment to do so, try recycling if neither of the other options are good.  Try to reduce what goes to “trash” as much as you can, but be cognizant of how you deal with refuse that you don’t just pitch in the trash to be hauled away.  Consider mycorrhizal fungi composting where appropriate.

Permaculture Basics – The Flyer

My wife suggested that I post the flyer for this coming weekend’s Permaculture Basics presentation I’ll be giving.  I know I mentioned this earlier in the month, but below are the flyer details for my local readers who may want to attend.  I also wanted to mention that the site is getting polished.

There is now a “Subscribe” option.  You should see this at the top of the page.  This will get you onto my mailing list, so you never miss a post.  I may also send other information not found on the blog occasionally, via this list.

There is also a “Work With Me” link.  My time is limited, but if you need a slice of my time for consultation services, please do fill out the form and we’ll arrange a discovery call to determine if my services are a good fit for you.

You can expect other pages to start popping up over the next week or so.

Enough of that, onto the flyer details (contact details for Shirley were removed to respect her privacy from the Internet.  If you need details, you may contact me through the comments on this blog post, instead.)

Public Service Announcement for Saturday, April 29, 2017

What: Permaculture Basics Workshop
Presenter: Stefan Johnson
When: Saturday, April 29, 2017, 9:00 am
Location: H & W Dime and Dollar Store, 659 Hwy 225 EAST, Greenbrier 72058
Admission: Free! (Donations will be accepted to help with handout printing costs)
Registration: Suggested, but not required for admission (For handouts)
Hosted by: Centerville Community Group

What is permaculture? The word is a contraction of two other words, permanent and agriculture. Permaculture helps people grow more food in less space with less overall effort. Many landowners in Faulkner County are now seeking information on how permaculture techniques can increase the sustainability and productivity of their farmsteads. To answer some of those questions, Centerville Community Group will host a Permaculture Basics Workshop on Saturday, April 29, beginning at 9:00 am at H & W Dime and Dollar Store located at 659 Hwy 225 EAST, about 8.5 miles east of Greenbrier in the Centerville community. The workshop is free, however donations will be accepted. Pre-registration is suggested to insure enough handouts, but not required for admission.

The instructor for Permaculture Basics Workshop is Stefan Johnson from Conway, certified permaculture design consultant. He will share his expertise in how to apply some basic permaculture techniques to address common problems a landowner might encounter, such as erosion, low land fertility levels, how to optimize small acreages, all with a component of working with nature instead of against nature. He will explain the advantages of permaculture compared to some of our more traditional farming and animal care practices. The workshop should last no more than two hours.

Participants are encouraged to dress for the weather. The workshop will be held outside, so hats, sunscreen, water, maybe even an umbrella for those who are sun-sensitive — all may be needed to make participants more comfortable during the workshop session. In case of stormy weather, the event will be canceled and a new date will be announced later.

Earth Day

This coming Saturday (the 22nd) is Earth Day.  In 1970, the “modern environmental movement” was created, and this day celebrates those efforts.  While I don’t believe that the climate change we are witnessing today is wholly caused by the efforts of man, I do believe we should all do our part to minimally impact the planet in a negative capacity.  We overuse man made (often petroleum based) chemicals in an effort to combat nature in the name of farming.  Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and synthetic fertilizers all contribute to reducing soil life and increasing soil erosion.  Even “organic” practices are less than ideal when handled poorly.  Over-tilling, over-cropping, and over-watering the soil can also lead to more soil erosion.

By reducing soil disturbance over the long term, using passive water catchment techniques to slow it, spread it, and sink it, and by using a diversity of plants and animals in our systems, we can use permaculture techniques to improve soil life, and produce an abundance of food for our families and local communities.  Teaching permaculture concepts to others is my contribution to “Earth Day,” except I do it year round.

If everyone were to change their habits just a little each year, learn more about better ways to deal with waste, source food more locally, grow some of their own, and so on, we would heal this planet a little more each day.  I rarely go into details about the damage we do, preferring to discuss the positives of the techniques, but sometimes it’s good to talk about those negatives.  Earth Day is a good excuse to bring them up.

Go do something positive.  Start a garden.  If you already have one, try planting some perennials in or near it.  If you’ve got those, try expanding your horizons and so something new such as combining vines with your back yard orchard, or planting comfrey (or other support plants) around the base to be cut back and left as mulch to feed the trees.  Do something productive, but start where you’re at.  Don’t try to jump in all at once.  Most of all, go learn and learn some more.