Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Trompe - An Almost Forgotten Air Compression System

The simple, yet brilliant, Trompe

A Trompe (also spelled Trombe) is a water powered air compressor system. This simple device was used for hundreds of years to produce compressed air for furnaces, mining equipment, ventilation systems, and even for air conditioning and ice production. Trompes were almost entirely replaced when fossil fuels, with their high energy potential, came into more general use at the beginning of the twentieth century (I believe the only large scale Trompe still in use is at the Ragged Chute plant on the Montreal River in Ontario, Canada). Unfortunately, the knowledge of these systems has been almost completely forgotten. At this time of increasing energy prices and likely post-peak oil, this is the type of information that needs to be shared and implemented.
The function of a Trompe is brilliantly simple. It has no moving parts. Water is directed into a tall, vertical pipe that decreases in diameter. As the column of water is constricted from the piping, air is sucked in through ports. The air bubbles in the water are pressurized – the higher the column of water (i.e. the more head), the higher the pressure. At the end of the vertical pipe, the water with pressurized air bubbles, flows into a larger chamber (called a plenum or reservoir) where the air bubbles are released. The water flows out and the air, now compressed in a tight space, can be harvested.

Correct me if I am wrong, but from my understanding there is a loss of heat energy in this process which cools the air. Actually, the air compression is isothermal (no change in heat energy), but then the air coming out of compression is cooling. This cooling effect can then be utilized for simple air conditioning systems or refined for ice production.

The compressed air can be used directly as a power source to pump pistons or turn gears, or it can be stored in tanks and used elsewhere.

There is a lot of physics involved with a Trompe, but it is really a basic design. The higher the water origin, the greater the potential of energy produced. This is why many of the larger systems were built near waterfalls. However, I think there are plenty of smaller applications in a home or homestead where a Trompe could be used. It is time to bring this almost lost technology back to modern use.

For More Information:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bright Agrotech - Vertical Farming and Aquaponics


The Bright Agrotech team

My good friend's brother has co-founded a grassroots agricultural company seeking to help produce healthy, local, and sustainable food. Awesome! They have a great lineup of products and a great philosophy. Check out their website here: http://www.brightagrotech.com/

If you believe in their mission, and you have some extra cash, consider investing with them. Here is their KickStarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/569973520/grow-up-vertical-farming-for-everyone


Monday, November 26, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Chicory

Chicory is a plant with many faces.

Common Name: Common Chicory
Scientific Name: Cichorium intybus
Family: Asteraceae (the Aster, Daisy, or Sunflower family)

The "wild" Chicory is an unassuming plant and a great addition to the Forest Garden.

Belgian Endive is just one of many forms of Chicory.

Description:
In a similar way that Great Danes and Chihuahuas are very different forms of the same species (Canis lupus familiaris) the Chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) has been developed for a variety of uses. It may be a leaf vegetable in green, red/purple, or white/yellow that comes in a head or a dandelion-like leaf, a root crop used as a coffee substitute, and a forage plant for pasturing animals. It is a pioneer plant, a beneficial insect attractor, and helps build the soil. There is not much more we can ask from one plant!

Cichorium intybus

History:
Well known throughout recorded history, the Chicory plant was prevalent through ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Over the years, it has spread and naturalized over the world. There is likely a variety well suited to almost all but the most extreme locations on Earth.

Trivia:
  • The Common Chicory (Cichorium intybus) has many varieties of leaf vegetable including Radicchio, Sugarloaf, Belgian Endive (aka French Endive or Witlof).
  • True Endive (Cichorium endive) is a closely related plant, but is a separate species.
  • Root Chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) is a variety of Common Chicory cultivated for its root which is used as a coffee substitute.
  • Some forms of Chicory will form heads, but these are usually annual or biennial varieties and not perennial species.
  • Some perennial species of Chicory will form a head in the first year, but after that the plant ceases to form tight heads.
  • The tight heads of Chicory are called "chicons".

Radicchio, a type of Chicory, comes in many varieties.

Grilled Radicchio (here with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar) is one of my favorites!

USING THIS PLANT
Primary Uses:
  • Edible Greens – some varieties are developed for commercial production of salad leaves; a great, bitter, nutty-tasting leaf – perfect addition to mixed green salads; leaves can be cooked as any other green (just don't cook too long), and this reduces the bitterness. 
  • Edible Roots – roasted, ground, and used as a coffee substitute

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant
  • Insect shelter plant (especially hover flies, spiders, and parasitic wasps)
  • Dynamic Accumulator – Especially potassium and calcium
  • Pioneer Species
  • Dye Plant - blue-ish dye from the leaves
  • Pasture/Forage Species for ruminant animals

Yield: Not applicable
Harvesting: Year round. Greens are most tender and less bitter before flowering (Spring), but can be harvest through the growing season. The roots are best harvested Autumn through Winter.
Storage: Use fresh, may be stored as lettuce for up to a week. While there is no reliable information on storage of roots, I would imagine that roasted roots should last for some time before needing to be ground for coffee, although the flavor likely diminishes with time.

Chicory flowers are typically blue, but white and pink are possible.

Chicory flowers attract many beneficial insects like this Hoverfly.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9
AHS Heat Zone: 9-1
Chill Requirement: Not likely, but no reliable information available.

Plant Type: Small to Medium-sized Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available.

Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile. Also pollinated by bees.
Flowering: April - October (varies tremendously on the variety and zone)

Life Span:
No reliable information available, but as this plant self-seeds so easily, life span for an individual plant is not very relevant. Keep a patch healthy, and we’ll always have some available.

The roots of some Chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) are grown as a coffee substitute.

The "wild" Chicory leaf strongly resembles the Dandelion.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 1-4 feet (30-120 centimeters) tall and 1-2 feet (30-60 centimeters) wide; not typically very small, but the flower spike can climb to 4 feet (120 cm).
Roots: Tuberous
Growth Rate: Fast

Some Chicory, like Puna II picture here, are used for animals on forage.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light to moderate shade
Moisture: Medium moisture requirements
pH: tolerates a wide variety of soils (4.5-8.5)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Consider cutting back the flower stalks to extend the harvest of greens.

Propagation:  
Typically from seed. Self-seeds easily.  Large plants may be divided.

Maintenance:
Almost none. Consider cutting back the seed heads if you don’t want seedlings to spread. Although, this is a plus in a Forest Garden almost all the time.

Concerns:
Spreads easily through self-sowing of seed.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Another Great Geoff Lawton Video

Geoff Lawton

Here is yet another great video from Geoff Lawton, the director of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. You need to follow the link below and sign-up. The 30+ minute video is well worth it. Very inspirational!

http://www.geofflawton.com/sq/15449-geoff-lawton

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What I am Brewing: Azorean Blackberry Porter

A previous Porter I brewed. One of my favorite styles of beer!
 
Name: Azorean Blackberry Porter
 
Comments:

My goal with this beer was to make a dark, dessert style beer for the Winter months. It is bubbling along right now, the blackberries slowly giving up their flavor and aroma (I hope!) into the dark brown Porter. Should be perfect for a cold night on the island sitting in front of the fireplace listening to the wind howl and the waves crash outside.
 
Azorean Blackberries (Rubus hochstetterorum) from my backyard garden wall.
 
Ingredients:
  • 6 lbs - Midwest Liquid Malt Extract Dark
  • 3.3 lbs - Midwest Liquid Malt Extract Gold
  • 1/2 lb - Grains: Caramel 120
  • 1/4 lb - Grains: Chocolate Malt
  • 1/4 lb - Grains: Black Malt
  • 1.5 oz - Hops: Tettnanger, US (AA 6.1%), boiling hops
  • 1.0 oz - Hops: Willamette (AA 6.4%), finishing hops
  • 3 lbs - Azorean Blackberries (previously frozen - picked from my garden)
  • Yeast - Safale S-04
     
     
Method:
  • Simmer crushed grains in 5 gallons of water at 155 degrees F for 30 minutes.
  • Remove grains from water
  • Add more water to bring total to 5 gallons (some water lost in heating/steeping time)
  • Bring to boil.
  • Add malt extracts and return to boil
  • Add boiling hops for 60 minutes
  • Add finishing hops at T-2 minutes
  • Transfer hot wort to 6.5 gallon brewing bucket containing thawed blackberries (the wort was just below boiling, so the blackberries were sterilized but not boiled)
  • Add yeast when completely cool (below 75 degrees F)
  • Rack off the fruit at 7 days
  • Allowed to settle for a day or two in a 5 gallon carboy - If the fermentation is still moving along, I may keep it in here for a while longer
  • Rack, prime with 3/4 cup corn sugar, bottle, age, drink!

Notes:
  • I would loved to have used more blackberries, but that was all I had. The blackberry season is over here, so I will need to wait until next year for more berries... local ones at least. Ideally, I would have at least double that amount. Hopefully I didn't destroy all the flavor with the hot wort. Hopefully I won't lose the small amount of berry essence to the fermentation gasses, krause, or trub. No worries though!
  • Depending on the taste of this beer, in the future I may consider adding the fruit to the secondary instead. The alcohol and pH at that point will likely inhibit any wild yeasts and bacteria, so I may be a better flavor infusion from the blackberries. This experimenting is why homebrewing is so fun!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Blueberries

The Blueberry, one of the most perfect fruits!

Common Name: Blueberries
Scientific Name: Species in the Vaccinium genus and the Cyanococcus section
Family: Ericaceae (the Heather family)

There are so many species and varieties of blueberries available
Here is a patented variety of Southern Highbush Blueberry named Jewel.

Common Species:

  • Lowbush/Wild Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
  • Rabbiteye/Southern Black Blueberry (Vaccinium ashei or Vaccinium virgatum)
  • Northern/Alpine Blueberry (Vaccinium boreale)
  • Highbush Blueberry (Northern) (Vaccinium corymbosum)
  • Highbush Blueberry (Southern) (Vaccinium darrowii)
  • Creeping Blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium)
  • Velvet Leaf/Canadian Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides)


Kids love to help pick blueberries - a great way to get kids in Nature

Description:
The Blueberry is one of the most well known fruit around the world. It is highly nutritious, highly flavorful, and used in a variety of ways. Primarily used for its fruit, there are blueberries that can be grown in almost any Temperate Climate around the world. A little work is needed to get their acidic soil needs met, but after that we are left with a moderately long-lived, productive plant needing very little maintenance. Blueberries are on my list of mandatory plants in the Forest Garden.

Vaccinium corymbosum

History:
Native to North America, blueberries were used my Native Americans for thousands of years before Europeans took this plant around the world. The first cultivated blueberries (Highbush Blueberries) were introduced in Europe in the 1930’s.

Trivia:

  • The Bilberry, aka “European Blueberry” (Vaccinium myrtillus) is closely related to the North American blueberry species, but it is not in the Cyanococcus section of the Vaccinium genus, so they are not true blueberries. Bilberries have red flesh unlike the white or light green flesh of true blueberries.
  • “Huckleberry” refers to a plant that is either a true huckleberry in the Gaylussacia or Vaccinium genus like the Blue Huckleberry (G. frondosa) or Red Huckleberry (V. parvifolium). The name “Huckleberry” is often a local name given to plants, typically in the Appalacia area of Eastern North America, that are really true blueberries.
  • "Half-High" Blueberries are a cross between Highbush and Lowbush types. They are very tolerant of cold weather, but reportedly are not too flavorful.


Blueberry Tart... enough said!

USING THIS PLANT
Primary Uses:

  • Fresh Fruit
  • Cooked Fruit
  • Baked Goods, Pies, Tarts, Pancakes (!), etc.
  • Preserves, Jams, Jellies, etc.
  • Dried
  • Frozen (place washed and dried fruit in a single layer on a wax-paper lined baking sheet and place into the freezer for 20-30 minutes before placing in a container – this will keep the berries from freezing together into one large chunk)
  • Juiced
  • Used as primary or flavoring agent in beers, wine, liquors, cordials, etc.


The Creeping Blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium) is a great, evergreen ground cover

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Wildlife food source
  • Hummingbird plant
  • Ground cover plant (mainly the Lowbush Blueberry in cooler climates and the Creeping Blueberry in warmer climates)
  • Edible Hedging
  • Tea Plant – dried fruit and leaves
  • Dye Plant - purple, from fruit and leaves


Yield: 3-8 quarts (3.5-9 liters) or 8-15 lbs (3.5-6.8 kg) per mature plant
Harvesting: Late Summer – Early Autumn (July - September). The best fruits are ones that fall from the branch with a little shake. Most blueberries in grocery stores were harvested once the fruit turned blue (and sometimes not even quite blue!). Blueberries to not "ripen" after picked, so harvest the berries when they have been blue for a few days.
Storage: Fresh fruits will keep for 1, maybe 2, weeks in a cool, humid location

Lowbush/Wild Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) is a small, cooler weather shrub

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • Lowbush/Wild Blueberry: 2-7 (Deciduous)
  • Rabbiteye Blueberry: 7-9 (Deciduous)
  • Highbush Blueberry (Northern): 2-8 (Deciduous)
  • Highbush Blueberry (Southern): 5-10 (Deciduous)
  • Creeping Blueberry: 6-9 (Evergreen)


AHS Heat Zone:

  • Lowbush/Wild Blueberry: 8-1
  • Rabbiteye Blueberry: 7-9, said to “love the heat”
  • Highbush Blueberry (Northern): 7-1
  • Highbush Blueberry (Southern): No reliable information available
  • Creeping Blueberry: No reliable information available


Chill Requirement:

  • Lowbush/Wild Blueberry: 1,000-1,200 hours
  • Rabbiteye Blueberry: 350-700 hours
  • Highbush Blueberry (Northern): 800-1,000 hours
  • Highbush Blueberry (Southern): 150-800 hours
  • Creeping Blueberry: No reliable information available


Blueberry bushes in Autumn... beautiful

Plant Type: Small Shrub (including prostrate forms) to Large Shrub
Leaf Type: Most are Deciduous, few are Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover/Creeper Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Wide variety of species and varieties available – there will be at least one type well suited to your location. Most blueberries available for purchase are hybrids of multiple species.

Pollination: Most are Self-Fertile; however, Blueberries will produce significantly more fruit if another cultivar/variety is in the immediate area. Pollinated by bees and other insects.
Flowering: Late Spring-Early Summer (May-June)

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 3-5 years
Years to Mature Bearing: 6-8 years
Years of Useful Life: Average 10-15 years, but some plants have been productive for over 50 years

Blueberry flowers attract beneficial insects, like this Mason Bee

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size:

  • Lowbush/Wild Blueberry: 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) tall and 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) wide
  • Rabbiteye/Southern Black Blueberry: 6-18 feet (1.8-5.4 meters) tall and wide
  • Highbush Blueberry (Northern): 6-12 feet (1.8-3.6 meters) tall and wide
  • Highbush Blueberry (Southern): 3 feet (0.9 meters) tall and wide
  • Creeping Blueberry: 3-6 inches (7.5-15 cm) tall and spread up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide


Roots: Relatively shallow and flat. Most have a suckering or stoloniferous growth habit… sending up new plants from underground roots or putting down roots from creeping stems.
Growth Rate: Slow

Blueberries can be used as an edible hedge
Rabbiteye Blueberry (Vaccinium ashei or Vaccinium virgatum)

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates medium shade, but reducing sunlight also reduces yields
Moisture: Dry to moist soils, depending on the species/variety
pH: prefers more acidic soil (3.5-5.5)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • The acidic soil the blueberries love can help be maintained with pine needle mulch if available
  • Blueberries can be early-, mid-, or late-season cropping which provides a longer harvesting season
  • Does not tolerate juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives).  Consider using another plant as a buffer between your blueberries and walnuts.


Propagation: From seed. Up to 90 days of cold stratification may be required. Cuttings are possible but take some skill - softwood cuttings in Summer. Division of suckers are easier and can be taken in Spring or Autumn.

Maintenance:

  • Minimal. 
  • Cut back the “twiggy” branches at planting to encourage good initial root development. 
  • Prune after 3 years or so to open up the plant; blueberries can develop into less productive, thicket-like shrubs if left un-pruned. 
  • Yearly pruning of older woody growth will encourage new growth and larger berries. Remember that berries grow on wood that is one year or older, so don’t get too carried away every year.
  • Netting may be required to protect the harvest from the birds
  • If the leaves start to yellow, then the plant likely needs more acid.


Concerns:
None.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Trap Plants and Trap Crops

A central row of Buckwheat being used as a trap crop on a large scale.

First, a basic definition. A Trap Plant is used to attract insect pests away from a desired plant. When used on a large, industrial scale, we use the term Trap Crop. Trap Crops are just a larger planting of Trap Plants which protect the main crop from insect predation.

This simple technique has many advantages:
  • Reduces the use of pesticides
  • Protects beneficial insects from pesticide use
  • Provides food for predatory or parasitic beneficial insects
  • Eventually decreases overall pest populations
  • Increases biodiversity
  • Reduces crop loss

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these advantages.

Reduces the use of pesticides
This is fairly straightforward. If you don’t have pests on the fruit or vegetable you are trying to harvest, then you are not going to use a pesticide. I am all for not using any chemicals on my food, whether they be toxic mainstream pesticides or “safe” organic pesticides. If I don’t have to put something on a plant that wouldn’t be there on its own, then that is ideal. If you are a backyard grower who is somewhat committed to an organic garden, then avoiding a pest outbreak in the first place will reduce the temptation of using potentially harmful chemicals on your plants.

Protects beneficial insects from pesticide use
One of many problems with the use of pesticides is that they indiscriminately kill insects, the good along with the bad. By using techniques that reduce or eliminate pesticides, we are preserving the population of beneficial insects.

Provides food for predatory or parasitic beneficial insects
Predatory and parasitic beneficial insects are vastly outnumbered by their prey. Just think of the African savannahs; they are full of wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, and other grazing animals, but there are relatively few lions or cheetahs in comparison. There needs to be a healthy population of prey for the predators to be sustained in the environment. A garden system that has absolutely no pests will certainly not have the beneficial insects which we want. Why would they be there? There is no food for them. But we don’t want our food crops to be hosting the pests either. By providing plants that the pest insects can eat, we are in fact maintaining a food source for the beneficial insects that use the pest insects for food. Since the predators are present in the garden, the pests will have a significantly harder time inflicting damage.

Eventually decreases overall pest populations
Proper use of trap plants involves monitoring the life cycle of the pests. When the trap plant becomes covered in pest eggs or pest caterpillars, it is time for us to intervene. Maybe we cut down the trap plants and bury them in the hottest part of the compost bin. Maybe we put the cut plants covered in pests in the burn pile. Maybe we toss the branches covered in caterpillars in the chicken pen. By intervening at the proper time, we are allowing the pest to expend a large amount of energy on growth or reproduction or both, but not allowing that pest to capitalize on its investment. If almost every time an adult pest lays eggs those eggs never make it to adult stage that can itself reproduce, how many of those pests will continue to be in your garden? Not too many.

Increases biodiversity
By allowing some pests to survive, but away from our food crops, we will encourage more predatory and parasitic beneficial insects into our gardens. Life will never thrive in a vacuum, and in nature a vacuum never lasts. If we try to sterilize our gardens by chemically destroying all pests, we are creating a vacuum of our garden. Without constant vigilance of our garden vacuum, our garden will be overrun the moment we are not looking. Maybe it is a few days of having to work late and not being able to get into the garden or maybe it is a vacation for a long weekend. When we return, we notice that our food crops are covered in caterpillars or, worse yet, we see skeletons of our former plants with no leaves and dozens of fat, happy caterpillars munching on the few remaining bits of green. It has happened to me, for sure. However, by having trap plants and allowing some pests to remain as food for the beneficial insects, we are allowing for the natural increase in biodiversity that will develop in any environmental system.

Reduces crop loss
This is obviously the ultimate goal of trap plants, and it works. It takes observation and planning, but working with nature instead of constantly fighting it is considerably easier, less stressful, and more fun. It is also great for the environment and health of your garden. It is so successful, that many farmers are using this method on a large scale. Reducing crop loss in your own garden is just as effective.


I'll be expanding on this topic more in the next few days with examples of trap plants and ways to use them in your gardens. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Monkey Puzzle Tree

The prehistoric-looking Monkey Puzzle Tree
 
Common Name: Monkey Puzzle Tree, Chilean Pine
Scientific Name: Araucaria araucana
Family: Araucariaceae
Description:
The Monkey Puzzle Tree is one of those trees that remind me of the long-lasting investment of planting a tree. These funky looking evergreen trees, with leathery leaves that cover the branches, can take 30-40 years before they will give their first harvest of nuts, and they have the potential to live for over 1,000 years! What a gift to our descendants. How many actions in our lives have that much forward thinking involved?

I had read of the Monkey Puzzle Tree for many years, but it wasn’t until about three years ago that I ever saw one in person. It was growing in Washington State at the Meerkerk Rhondodendron Gardens on Whidbey Island. It was a single specimen about thirty years old. Unfortunately, this isolated plant will never produce a nut crop. While I have yet to taste a Monkey Puzzle Tree’s nut, I have tasted the nuts from the very closely related ParanĂ¡ pine (Araucaria angustifolia) when I was traveling in Brazil. These nuts are massive and tasty. It is common for groups of people to sit around talking for hours slowly eating through a pile of freshly roasted cones and drinking chimarrĂ£o, a traditional tea made from dried Yerba Mate leaves (Ilex paraguariensis).

My plan is to get these and my other nut trees in the ground as soon as possible after I acquire my land. I hope to get at least one harvest before I die… just another reason I need to live a long life!
History:
Native to South America (central and southern Chile and western Argentina), the Monkey Puzzle Tree was a native food source and sacred plant to the Mapuche in Chile. The wood was prized for lumber, but due to over harvesting and its slow growth rate, it is now rarely used. This tree has been exported around the world due to its unique appearance and is typically used as a specimen tree in gardens; however, there has been some minimal experimentation of using this a food crop in areas with cool oceanic summers where other crops do not grow well.

Trivia:
  • Trunk diameter can get to 7 feet (2 meters)
  • The Monkey Puzzle Tree is the nation tree of Chile
  • There are male trees and female trees.
  • Male trees bear “male” or “pollen” cones
  • Female trees bear “female” or “seed” cones
  • Female/Seed cones take 18 months to mature and will hold about 200 seeds
  • While it is commonly called a Chilean Pine Tree, it is not technically in the Pine Tree family.
  • The name “Monkey Puzzle” comes from the following story: “The proud owner of a young specimen at Pencarrow garden near Bodmin in Cornwall was showing it to a group of friends, and one made the remark "It would puzzle a monkey to climb that"; as the species had no existing popular name, first 'monkey puzzler', then 'monkey puzzle' stuck.”
  • When young, the tree has a typical conical “pine tree” shape, but as it matures and grows taller, the lower braches drop off. The resulting tree shape resembles a lollipop.
 
The large nuts from the female cones of the Monkey Puzzle Tree

USING THIS PLANT
Primary Uses:
  • Seed/Nut – large, almond-sized (1-1.5 inch/3-4 cm), excellent-tasting nuts are produced in large cones. Raw or cooked.
  • Specimen or landscape tree

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect nectar plant
  • Wildlife seek shelter in this large tree
  • Wildlife food source
  • Maritime plant – tolerant of salt spray
  • Lumber – good quality with wide trunks; however, these trees grow slowly, so they are not an ideal, sustainable lumber crop.
  • Coppice plant – although considering the slow growth rate, this may not be such a good idea unless you have a large planting

Yield: No reliable information available, but a mature tree will produce a lot of seeds.
Harvesting: Autumn. Mature female/seed cones will fall to the ground
Storage: If kept in a cool, dry location, Monkey Puzzle Tree seeds can store for over 6 months and possibly a full year.
 
The very spiny leaves of the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
 
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: 6-8 (some sources are more generous at 7-11)
Chill Requirement: Likely, but no reliable information could be found

Plant Type: Large Tree
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Single species

Pollination: Monkey Puzzle Trees are Dioecious – have male and female plants. Male and female cone will form on the respective plant. Wind pollinated. Both are needed for fertilization.
Flowering: Summer – yes, I know that pine trees don’t technically have “flowers”, they have strobili, but this will suffice in the common vernacular.

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 15-40 years (plant it now!)
Years of Useful Life: Reported to live over 1,000 years!
A relatively young Monkey Puzzle Tree
 
A bit older specimen just starting to lose some of its lower branches
 
A mature tree with characteristicly absent lower branches.
  
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 100-130 feet (30-40 meters) tall and 50-60 feet (15-18 meters) wide
Roots: Relatively shallow and fibrous, but not a lot of information available
Growth Rate: Slow

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Medium
pH: prefers neutral soil (6.1 - 7.0)

Special Considerations for Growing:
  • Grows well in areas with abundant rainfall – an oceanic location with cool summers are ideal. However, it can grow in a variety of environments, just not in a location with a lot of pollution.
  • For optimal nut crops, plant one male plant for every five-six female plants. However, it is not possible to discern male and female plants until flowering. Consider planting more than required and thin after flowering using the excess male plants for lumber.
  • Plant this tree where the spiny leaves will not cause a nuisance.

Propagation:
From seed. Germination takes 30-60 days. Propagation from cuttings is possible, but not easy. Monkey Puzzle Trees have sensitive root systems, so getting the plant in place as soon as possible is a high priority.
 
Maintenance:
Almost none. Pick up occasional branches as they are shed.

Concerns:
None.
 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thrive Hive. A new twist on the Top Bar Bee Hive

The Thrive Hive

Here is a great variation on the Top Bar Hive that I mentioned in my previous articles here:


Here is a link to a site with some good photos on the design and construction of this hive:
http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/8/view/16295/tom-back-thrive-hive.html