Category Archives: Newsletter

Me, Whish, and Eric

Spring 2015

The summer solstice has arrived and it’s hard to believe the days will already be getting shorter, unfortunately though they keep getting hotter for another 2 weeks. The big story lines of this Spring have been the large amount of rain, a bumper year for fruit and vegetables, tree clearing, mushroom logs, a hippie reunion, and a new urban homestead. Not to mention I also got engaged! More on that later.

Soaking mushroom logs

Photo Credit: Amber Garrett

I spent the early part of the Spring nearly clear-cutting about a quarter of an acre between the common house and the campground area. Not exactly my favorite task, but I’ve replanted the area as a nut orchard with blight-resistant chestnuts, hazelnuts, and hickory/pecan(hickan) hybrids. Processing the chopped trees took a lot of doing. The 4″-8″ diameter pieces were cut into 3′ sections for use as shiitake mushroom logs. I cut the thicker pieces into 16″ and roughly split a large portion of it to speed up the drying process and stacked some of it round. Green wood can be harder to split, but I find that oak splits pretty well even when green. I now have enough firewood to last me probably 3 years.

With help of my volunteer, Whish, we made about 50 shiitake mushroom logs. I tried a different method this year that involves a little more equipment, but is ultimately cheaper and faster. Using an angle grinder and a special attachment drilling the holes is sped up probably 4X. Then instead of using the plug spawn we used sawdust spawn, which is significantly cheaper, though you do need a special plunger tool to press the spawn into the holes. I’m also using a combination of paraffin wax/mineral oil(3:2) to seal the spawn in and to seal the ends and that seems to give it a good enough flexibility that it doesn’t just chip off.

StrawberriesThis year’s Midsummer Mayhem, what I hope will be a summer solstice tradition, got postponed until the weekend of July 17-19 because of the nasty camping weather. As storms rolled through this morning I realized I’d made the right decision. In the last month we’ve gotten 12″ of rain and it’s very muggy whenever the sun is out.

The plants are loving it though. I’ve seen whole varieties of trees flower this year that I haven’t seen in my previous 6 years here. The fruit trees and berry bushes have been productive thus far, and a heavy crop of peaches is weighing down many branches in the food forest right now. I also had far and away the best strawberry year so far, and the blueberries, gooseberries, blackberries, and raspberries all seem to have gotten the memo too.

Me, Whish, and EricI have a volunteer from Connecticut, Whish, who is handling a lot of the garden management this year. She’s kept an eye on plant pests and diseases, and she also helped make a large number of metal plant markers from roof flashing and marker flags for the garden. She is just now getting into the canning and pickling portion of the season, but she’s been dehydrating plenty of herbs and other produce.

My other volunteer, Eric, from Vermont has helped out a lot in the garden too. The extra rain this year has made weeding a bigger chore than normal, though I should have put down more rotted straw for mulch.  Anyway, Eric is going to be helping me more with the construction this year that we’re just now gearing up for because of rain delays.

farm reunionIn the middle of June, some of the original members of the land trust got together in Columbia and then came out for a tour of the new happenings at Maya Creek and to see what remained from the old buildings that were here.

It was nice to put faces to names, hear so many stories, and to see old friendships being renewed. I was also glad to see that they were all excited by my new endeavors out on the land they helped to purchase back in the early 70’s.

CARE CCUA strawbale cob benchRight after the reunion, my volunteers and I spent a couple days working with a group of young people working with the C.A.R.E. gallery, a summer program run by the city of Columbia and the Missouri Arts Council, to build a strawbale/cob bench at the main CCUA(Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture) farm in Columbia.

I was excited to do this project, despite a busy June, as I’ve wanted to contribute my skills to the CCUA for awhile. The materials were not ideal, but the group did a good job working with what we had. I’ll be going back later in July to show them how to mix and add a finish coat to the bench.

TaoSephhouseI also closed on a home in Columbia at the beginning of May. Not to worry! I’m in no way giving up on my work building Maya Creek, but I’ve been wanting a crash pad in Columbia for some time and boy did I find a nice one. I’ve already gotten an energy audit and started making easy efficiency upgrades like adding LED lighting, a hot water insulation blanket, and an efficient front-loading washing machine. I’ll be adding more attic insulation soon and somewhere between 2-4 kilowatts of solar panels next Spring.

Only a few weeks after closing on the new house I asked Persephone to marry me. I was beginning to think I’d never find someone to share my life with, and just as I was giving up I meet the woman of my dreams and I couldn’t be happier! She is kind, altruistic, funny, and vivacious, with a beautiful and intelligent head on her shoulders. Her eye for style and design compliments my utilitarian engineering mindset wonderfully and the future is full of possibilities.

For now the house in Columbia remains mostly her domain, though I’m there nearly every weekend and help when I can. I spend the rest of my time out at Maya Creek continuing to build what I hope will become a wonderful institution for learning self-reliance and communing with the natural world.

Summer 2014

tao-seph-fireWe kicked off Summer with a solstice party that I may try to do on a regular basis.

‘Midsummer Mayhem’ as I called it featured a large bonfire, a pickup truck pool, lawn games, garlands, and me in loin cloth and antlers for fun.

Plastered

duplex-back-plasteredThe major summer accomplishment was getting the 2nd layer of plaster done on all of the buildings.  The 2nd coat is the most labor-intensive coat, and involves sifting, mixing, and applying a large amount of plaster.   I owe a lot to my volunteers who put in a lot of sweat getting it done this year.

The finish coat won’t take nearly as much effort, though getting it nice and smooth will take a decent amount of time.  I’m excited to get it done at least in the common house next year, it’ll drastically lower the amount of dust that coats everything now.

Holy Shiitakes!

shiitake-harvest4I got a great harvest of shiitakes off of the mushroom logs from the 2012 workshop and a previous smaller batch of logs.  There are usually 2 big flushes of mushrooms each year, one in the spring and one in the fall.  I did some soaking of the logs prior to the logs fruiting to give them some extra moisture and I think it really paid off.

I think the mushrooms will be a pretty big piece of the puzzle when it comes to making Maya Creek financially sustainable.  I helped fund a kickstarter project to product a book called “Farming the Woods”, and I finally got my signed copy in the mail.  It looks to have some other great ideas on how to make a living off of non-timber products in a temperate forest environment.

The Garden Harvest

pasta-sauceFor the last couple months there’s been a weekly routine of harvesting the garden on Monday and then spending the next two days processing the harvest by canning or dehydrating it.  The sun hasn’t been cooperating too much this year as far dehydrating goes so a lot of it has been canned.

The tomato harvest was intense this year.  Despite getting off to a slow start I’ve ended up with 20-25 quarts of tomato sauce and probably another 6 quarts of salsa.  The amount of time and effort that go into it don’t make financial sense, but it’s hard to argue the quality of the end product.

Without my volunteers I’d be spending the vast majority of my time working in the garden and processing food.  I enjoy that work, and I hope that’s how I eventually spend my late summers, but for now I need to spend a lot of time earning money for construction and on the actual construction itself.

The Cistern Pit

cistern-hole-dugThe last part of the Summer was spent digging out the cistern hole. It was originally dug out in 2012, but because of too many things going on, it was covered up and left for the following year.  Unfortunately, the temporary roof collapsed and it filled with water, which then caused the walls to partially collapse in.

Sean, Caroline, Billy, and myself spent several hard days of digging and hauling out buckets of clay from the hole.  The original plan called for simply attaching mesh to the clay walls and spreading concrete on it directly and then building a thick frost barrier wall around the top.

Since the pit is now much larger, I’m planning on essentially building a below-grade concrete box, pouring a rebar-reinforced concrete slab, and the walls will be cinder blocks filled with rebar and concrete.  I’ll backfill outside of the cistern up to the frost line and then build the thick frost barrier wall and use that to help frame up the roof cap when I pour it.

Apple blossoms

Earth Day Update

Apple blossomsIt’s a beautiful sunny day out here at Maya Creek and it seemed like a nice time to update everyone on the goings on with it being Earth Day and all.

The Garden

I’m a little surprised to report that it looks like we may have had our last spring frost on the average last frost date for the area(April 15).  Given the erratic start to the year I’m not making any assumptions, but the weather has turned into really nice typical spring weather, sun interspersed with rain storms.

Many of the plants that were bashed by the large hail have bounced back, though the fruit trees may still be susceptible to disease from their wounds.  Still, they’ve leafed out and are flowering beautifully.

asparagus

The asparagus, which got set back slightly by the frost, is now back at good harvesting size.  The spinach that miraculously over-wintered and then battered by hail is exploding and ready for copious salads which we’ve been gearing up for (we’ve been using mixing bowls for personal salad bowls).

Billy and I have spent a lot of time the last couple of weeks in the garden taking out the first wave of weeds and generally cleaning things up.  I’ve pushed a bunch of brush back from the garden fence to stop plants from growing on it and through it into the garden.  I also reinforced the fence with some more fence posts.

potted plantsI also potted up some of the gooseberries, comfrey, elderberry, and thyme that had begun propagating themselves as I had several people express interest at a recent potluck I held out here.

Anyway, they’re ready now, so come and get them!  I can maybe drop them in CoMo too.  If you’ve got more small pots laying around I’ll definitely take those.  I’ve got quite a few gallon sizes ones already though.

tomato soil block startsThe soil block experimentation continues.  It turns out that the trays I planned to use to soak the blocks with are just a tiny bit too small.  I’m now thinking that I’ll just build a large tray to hold a number of the smaller trays and line it with some old billboard vinyl to make it water proof.  That way instead of taking out each tray and soaking it every day I can just pour some water in the one big tray and be done.

That aside, a number of the soil blocks have sprouted and though they’re a little behind where they’d ideally be since I started them a little late and didn’t keep them inside very much for germination, but they look healthy and had a good germination rate despite that.

billy making absorption finsSolar Hot Water System

Yesterday was the first day we’ve really worked on the solar hot water system in the last few weeks.  Billy cut up the aluminum flashing and bashed the metal into a form to make the heat absorption fins.  He also cut a number of thinner strips that go behind the copper tubing to help transfer the heat to the pipes and then to the water.

I attached the insulation to the back of the panel and got the copper manifold installed into the frame.  I also soldered on a valve to empty the panel so I can drain it when frosts are eminent and it won’t burst the copper pipes.  I also built the legs and attached the front ones.  I left them loose so we can adjust them as we position it.  The next step is going to be attaching the fins and painting it black.  Then I’m going to stain the outside, attach the polycarbonate glazing, and we should be just about ready to roll it out!

Jason water system barrel bulkheadls

Water System Taking Shape

Jason water system barrel bulkheadlsMy first volunteer of the season, Billy, arrived this past Thursday night from Louisiana.  I haven’t gotten the solar hot water collector or the rest of the basics of the common house water system up and running yet like I’d hoped.  I got a good a start on it, but I decided to do a bit of spring cleaning before people started arriving.  I also figured the volunteers would be interested in seeing the water system constructed, though perhaps not as interested in as I am.

Before I switched gears to cleaning, I procured and cut the lids off of what will be the gravity feed hot and cold water storage tanks.  With Jason’s help I got all of the bulkheads for the various inlets and outlets installed on them.  I built an overflow catchment tray above the shower where they’ll be housed in case of some kind of leak the water will now go down the shower drain and not into the battery/power room(yikes!).

solar-collector-copper-layoutI’ve gathered all of the parts and materials I need for the solar hot water collector and have gotten it configured how I want it.  Since this picture was taken I’ve also soldered the ends of the panel together(ie, the manafolds).  I also built and tested a form to mash aluminum flashing into “fins” which help redirect the heat into the copper tubing.

Next up is soldering the rest of the connections and testing to make sure it’s all water-tight. Then I’ll build the frame, stamp out the fins, install the insulation on the back and then build a stand for it in front of the common house.

Spring Cleaning

firepitI cleaned up a bunch of stuff at the small strawbale cabin I’m calling the “Pillbox”.  I finished constructing a closet rack with shelves in it, and generally cleaned up a bunch of down trees around it.  

I also jazzed up the main fire pit behind the common house and have been grudgingly pushing back all of the brush I’d piled up directly on the other side of the garden fence(mistake!) so that I can get at plants that are growing through the fence and shading out plants I actually want to grow.

cut-cedar-garden-tarpToday, with Billy’s help, we cut the tops off a couple of the cedar trees in the garden that support the rainwater catching garden tarp, but were block a lot of light.  We got the garden tarp hung and position to catch some of the forecasted rain, and we also finished pushing back the brush from the fence.  A lot of dirty sweaty work, but at least it was a beautiful day.

There’s still plenty to do in the garden, but I’ll start delegating some of that to the volunteers and get back to the solar hot water projects because there’s going to be plenty of dirty stinky volunteers wanting a hot shower soon enough.

 

organized-workshop-2-26-14

Sputtering towards Spring

Organized workshop

In between the unusual arctic blasts that continue to pummel the area I’ve been quietly preparing for the inevitable coming thaw. We’re now back in another round of near record-low temperatures, but before that happened I got some much needed clean-up done as well as set up a really simple coldframe/mini-greenhouse for seed starting.

Ever since I brought my first load of stuff out to the property there’s essentially been an amorphous pile of stuff including everything from private affects and clothes to tools and materials all piled together with little rhyme or reason. It was under tarps strung between trees for the first 3 years, and then about a year ago it moved underneath the protection of the new shed.

Organized shed

Well, I finally went through ALL of the boxes of stuff and organized at least roughly. I can’t tell you how many things I found that I’d spent crazy amounts of time looking for.

The shed is a long way from done, and I’ll have to move some of the stuff again to work on the root cellar, but it’s so wonderful to easily find the tools and materials for projects and then know exactly where they go when I’m done. There’s an actual place for that kind of object now!  Also, I finally have space to pull in a vehicle to work on it when I need to.  Will wonders never cease!

Simple Coldframe

Hay and straw bale cold frame mini-greenhouseI made a rectangle from 8 old hay bales someone gave me and then stacked another 3 bales on the north wall of it.  Then I put down about 6″ of straw within a rectangle to insulate the floor and then draped a clear plastic drop cloth over a few 2×2 boards.  I secured the drop cloth with some of the scrap chunks of granite I have for various projects, mainly the footing around the straw bale buildings.

I also put a couple of the bigger dark pieces of granite inside of it, propped up against the back wall.  These chunks of granite are thermal mass that moderate the temperature, absorbing heat and keeping it from getting too hot during the day, and then re-radiating that heat back out at night.

Opened coldframe with onion trays

Today the outside temperature topped out at 26F, but inside the bale greenhouse it was 80F.  I’ve been bringing the seedlings inside at night since it’s been getting into the single digits and it gets below freezing inside the greenhouse, but soon it’ll protect against mild frosts and I can start getting tomato and pepper soil blocks started in there along with the onion trays I’ve already got growing.

Eventually there will be a greenhouse attached to the front of the common house and I won’t need to set a variation of this up every year.

 

Right as Rain

Hawai'iLife at Maya Creek has developed a seasonal rhythm and each has its pros and cons.  Despite the cold weather, winter has its perks.  It’s my vacation time, and I was lucky enough to miss out on the polar vortex during a month long trip to Hawai’i.  Also, since I work from home I don’t have to leave the warmth of the cabin very often as I would if I had to make a treacherous drive to work on a daily basis.  Cabin fever can become an issue, but I have good company and make a point to venture out for socializing regularly.

When winter first arrives I’m excited to take a break from all of the projects, but after just a month or two I start itching to get my game plan together for the coming year.  When your projects directly improve your quality of life there’s a lot of incentive to figure out good solutions that will improve your life the most quickly.  It’s been at the top of my list for awhile, but this year I’m finally going to tackle the water system.  That’s right, after 5 years I will finally have indoor hot showers on demand that don’t involve pots of hot water and a cup!

I’ve had a general idea of how I was going to do the water system, but after a lot of research and brain-storming I think I have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to deal with several of the problems I’d been mulling over.  I’d like to share what I’ve got planned so far.

I’ll be catching rainwater instead of digging a well.  There are a couple reasons for this.  Wells are expensive to dig and can cost ~$8,000 in this area.  Because of over-pumping for agriculture water tables are dropping world wide, so deeper and deeper wells are required with more powerful pumps needed to pump the water.  An old woman who lived at Maya Creek as a child recalled a spring on the property, which no longer exists because of the lower water tables.  Another reason for not wanting to use well water as the main water source is that well water in this area contain high levels of sulphur which is difficult to remove, can gunk up plumbing, and generally just stinks.

rainwater system

I will be catching rainwater off the 1,300 square foot galvanized steel roof.  Some people worry about increased levels of zinc from galvanized roofs, but according to this testing report on different roofing materials for rainwater collection, the elevated levels of zinc only occur in the first water off the roof in a rain event.  Because there is also a large amount of dust, bird poop, etc in the first water off the roof I will be using a roof flusher to divert the first 15 gallons(10 gallons/1,000 sq. ft. of roof). The gutters will have screens over them to prevent leaves and other large debris from getting into the system.  The downspouts will also have screens to filter out debris before directing the water through the 500 micron gravity water filter and finally into the underground cistern.

The cistern has to be underground to prevent it from freezing.  It will hold ~3,500 gallons of water.  We get about 46″ of rain per year on average, but very rarely do we get less than 25″ which is what I’ll use to show how much water can be caught.  For every inch of rainfall on a square foot of roof you catch .6 gallons of water.  So 1,360 sq. ft. of roof times 30″ of rain times .6 gallons would give 20,400 gallons of water per year as a minimum.  If we got  46″ it would be 37,536 gallons.

The next question is how much water is needed.  Based on my best estimates we’ve only been using a little over 3,000 gallons per year, of course I expect that to go up with longer showers and laundry(praise be!), so let’s say we end up using 10,000 gallons.  Given that an average 4-person American home with consumes 150,000 gallons per year.  One of the major reasons we use so much less water is because we have composting toilets instead of flush toilets.

Luckily our rainfall is pretty evenly distributed throughout the year, but given the 3,500 gallon storage space of the cistern we should be able to handle an inconceivably long 4-month drought at average consumption levels, but I’m sure we would adjust consumption accordingly in such a situation.

4bricks_fullThe hole for the cistern is already dug, though it needs to be significantly cleaned up.  Once it’s cleaned out, I’ll our a concrete floor, build the walls out of cinder blocks filled with rebar and concrete, and then build a wooden frame for the rebar reinforced concrete roof cap.  There will also be a 2′ wide x 2′ deep urbanite(reclaimed concrete chunk) wall mortared around the top of the cistern to protect it from cracking due to frost heave.  The frost depth in the area is about 20″.  The interior of the cistern will be coated with cement meant for holding potable water and will prevent the cistern from leaking.  I was lucky enough to find someone who had built a similar cistern though his is mostly above ground, and I will be pouring a concrete roof cap to avoid issues with the wood rotting.

From there a sump pump will pump the water into two 55 gallon barrels in the loft area of the common house, one for cold water and an insulated one for the hot water.  The water pressure in the house will come simply from gravity, which means it will have only a few PSI of pressure.  I have a shower head designed for the very low PSI, but the low PSI will help reduce water usage in general.

floatswitchBecause I won’t want to pump cold water from the cistern into the hot water tank in the middle of the day which would cool it down before it gets used I will put the sump pump on a timer and turn it on late at night.  The pump will pump water into the bottom of the cold water tank and an overflow from the cold water tank will take the warmest water from that tank and put it into the bottom of the hot water tank to preserve as much of the heat as possible.

In order to turn the pump off when the indoor tanks are full there will be a float switch at the top of the hot water tank which will control the electrical outlet that the pump is plugged into and turn it off once the hot water tank is full.  There will also be an overflow redirected to a drain in case the switch fails for some reason.

two_solar_hot-water_systems-1The hot water will be heated by a simple home-built hot water collector using the thermosiphon phenomenon to circulate the water rather than using a pump.  The idea is that hot water rises, so by placing the collector beneath the storage tank cold water is drawn into the panel from the bottom of the tank and the heated water from the panel rises up from the panel and into the top of the tank.

The collector will be set up so that if another panel is needed they can be easily set up next to each other.  It’s important that pipes are always sloping at least slightly upwards to prevent bubbles from forming and messing up the thermosiphon effect.

I will also be wrapping copper tubing around the rocket stove to heat water in the winter since I will likely have to stop using the solar collector in the winter to prevent water from freezing in it.  However, I’m planning on putting the collector inside of the greenhouse that will be attached to the front of the house to help prevent that and extend its usable season.

I’d been operating under the idea that I needed to finish the rainwater collection system and cistern before getting the solar hot water system working, but it occurred to me that I could actually set up the interior water tanks and hot water system first and simply pump the water in from the barrels of city water I’ve been trucking in.  That way we can go ahead and have hot showers and running sink water months sooner than I’d been planning.

 

 

 

Unglamorous Accomplishments

It’s been almost 5 months since my last blog entry.  Summing up so many months to a length that won’t drown you is the challenge now.  The reoccurring themes of this past summer seem to have been maintenance, preserving gains, and most recently, new friendships.

Tarped shed

I suppose the lack of blog posts has something to do with the unglamorous nature of maintenance work.  For instance, I did quite a lot of work on my car this year, but it’s not something that particularly lends itself to Maya Creek’s mission or the audience.  Still, vehicle repair is an act of self-reliance and I learned a lot about car repair.

Other unphotogenic progress was made in the shed. I laid billboard tarps around the outside of the shed, which Sydney covered with gravel.  That, along with the french drain I installed on the uphill side have stopped all water from seeping into the root cellar.

I also tightly wrapped the shed in two layers of billboard tarp as a temporary moisture barrier for all of the tools and materials inside of it.  That allowed Sydney and myself to build shelving and I began the unenviable task of organizing the mountain of odds and ends that have accumulated, and which is still far from being sorted.

Duplex with half a 2nd coat of exterior plasterWith some help I also put a sturdy temporary cap over the cistern pit that was slowly collapsing in on itself thanks to several feet of water in it.  I’ve since pumped it out and after several months it is now relatively dry and I should be able to start work on it early next year.

A second coat of earthen plaster made its way onto the first floor of the side of the duplex that didn’t have it yet, as well as the exterior on most of the other half.  There will be a lot of plastering to do next year, but by the end of it the common house should be ready for the finishing touches: interior shelving, counters, sinks, etc.  I certainly won’t miss all of the dust on everything!

Mom, Gary, Me new gateSydney and I felled a couple of large cedar trees that blocked a significant amount of sunlight on the solar panels.  We trimmed them up and peeled them, then a group of visiting AmeriCorps volunteers helped me haul them down to the end of the driveway where I’d dug two large holes for them.  A couple weeks later my mom and stepdad helped me raise and set the posts and attach a gate.  Eventually I’ll put a wooden cross piece attaching the posts with “Maya Creek” on it.

Screen doorEarly in the summer I took off the back door of the common house, added a dog/cat door, changed the side it opens on, and modified the door so I could put a regular door knob on it.  Now I can lock all of the buildings as well as lock the gate at the front.  So there were some major security improvements this year.

I built a custom screen door for the common house earlier in the summer which was great for opening up the place to cool it down at night without letting all of the bugs in.  Eventually the back porch will get screened in and we can leave the back door open too and get some cross ventilation.

paw-paw-harvest-taoIt was a good year for mushrooms.  We found several large patches of chanterelles, a number of oyster mushrooms, and few medicinal jelly ears late in the summer.  I’ve since found some lion’s mane, resinous polypore, and velvet foot mushrooms that have been quite tasty.  I also turned an excellent wild harvest of paws paws into some mead and wine, which is getting close to being ready now.

Sydney left at the end of September and a little while before she left I began to connect with more people in Columbia.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve met so many fun and interesting new people in such a short amount of time.  I hosted my first Taco Tuesday potluck-type event about a month ago, unfortunately by the time most people got here it was too late for a tour.  I’m excited and energized about becoming a part of the community and all the fun, collaboration, and mutual support it brings.

My Summer at Maya Creek

*Written by Sydney

My summer at Maya Creek is drawing to a close. The past three months have been an amazing opportunity to do things hands-on, experiment, and explore. I have had fun attempting a wide range of tasks at Maya Creek, and (of course) have had a similarly wide range of outcomes. Some projects have definitely turned out better than others.

Peeling a cedar trunk for a postOne of the more interesting projects I attempted was to tan a deer hide and then use the hide to make moccasins. I had this over-the-top vision of walking around in really cute moccasins, and when someone would ask me where I got them, I would casually say, “Oh, these? I just threw them together after curing and tanning the hide.” One of the early steps involved soaking the hide in a solution of wood ash to make the fur and outer layer of skin easier to scrape off. However, after soaking the hide for the allotted time, I found that not all of the hide was properly drenched and some of the fur wouldn’t come off. Even worse, some sections were overly-soaked, and those parts of the hide would basically disintegrate into a disgusting mush when touched. At this point, the hide was ruined. Tao had tried tanning a hide earlier, and had gotten similar results, making me think that the book that we both followed recommended using a solution that was much too strong. So, the super cute moccasins were not to be.

Another thing I have attempted, with much better results, was building a large shelf for the shed. Currently the shed is a huge jumble of different items, and as Tao isn’t sure where he wants to put everything, there is not a lot I can do to help. However, this shelf should help organize some of the smaller building supplies and tools. It was my first large construction project (its bigger than I am!) and I am pretty pleased with how it came out. It’s not perfect, but it should do the job.

Canned garden produceI have also been doing a tremendous amount of canning. Almost anything that the garden produces in a large enough quantity I have canned, and the canned produce should be a nice alternative to dried foods in the winter. So far, I’ve canned potatoes, tomatoes, tomato sauce, soy beans, green beans, and carrots. While I have been really careful to follow the directions exactly to avoid improper sealing or improper sterilization, the overall process is not too difficult.

The time I spend in the garden is particularly rewarding. While I arrived too late to do much of the early plantings, I have watered, weeded, and tended those plants throughout the summer. Each day brings subtle changes to the garden, and it is a really good feeling to be able to notice them. The constant rotation of what crop needs to be harvested, what bugs are currently doing damage and need to be killed, and what needs to be weeded keeps things interesting. Looking at the garden now, in the middle of September, is a very different sight from when I came here in the middle of June. Of all the things I have done at Maya Creek, I think it is the evenings spent listening to music and puttering around in the garden that I have enjoyed most.

Wild chanterelle and oyster mushroom harvestDuring my stay here, I also had the opportunity to visit two intentional communities, and soon I hope to visit a third. At the end of July, two friends and I went to the Possibility Alliance for an afternoon. We got to participate in a Sunday morning Quaker Meeting and took a wonderful tour of the place. A month later, I had the chance to stay at the East Winds community for three amazing days. Both of these communities are proof of what great things can be accomplished when people work together to meet their needs. While the two communities were very different, they were united in their general goals of living simply off the land, sharing and cooperating with others, being mindful, and empowering people to live outside of systems of violence.

Similarly, while Maya Creek is not a full-blown community like the Possibility Alliance or East Winds, it too shares these main goals. Visiting the intentional communities helped me see the bigger picture of what motivates Maya Creek. After coming back from those visits, particularly after coming back from East Winds (probably because I stayed there longer), I felt a renewed dedication towards Maya Creek’s goals and general inspiration towards living life in a positive way.

Overall, Maya Creek has been a really cool place to spend a summer. The lack of running water has been difficult at times, and the limited number of people around means it can get isolating (I just spent 10 days without seeing another human being!). However, I think these downsides have stretched my comfort zone in a way that makes me a stronger person. The idea behind Maya Creek is so powerful, and is physically realized in such a beautiful way, that I will leave this place in awe as to what people can do if they really put their minds to it.

New mailbox

Addressing Problems

I haven’t started on any major construction projects this year, but I have been spending a lot of time in the garden, doing some Spring cleaning, and addressing some other issues.  I’ll start of with the thing that spurred this post.  Today is the first day for pre-ordering internet service on the new fiber optic grid that’s been laid down in the area.  It was absurd watching them run fiber optic cable down the gravel road in front of Maya Creek.  City water doesn’t even come down this far, yet we’ll now have ridiculously fast internet.

New mailbox

Many of you know the issues I ran into when I tried to get an address for Maya Creek.  I’d essentially given up and settled into the PO box routine.  However, the fiber optic people saw fit to install a connection box at the end of the drive way and when I called them a couple months ago they said that they could still hook me up even without an address.  When I called today I got a different story and was momentarily crushed.  Then I was able to get in touch with the guy who told me he could still hook me up.  He looked up the house on Google Earth and then went and looked at their contract with the city.  Apparently, the city gave me an address and didn’t bother telling me about it.

So, I went from no address and crappy internet service to 30 Mbps(when the grid goes live in mid-July) and an address.  I dusted off the old mailbox I bought back when I’d been told I was getting an address and went ahead and set it up out front using a leftover cedar post.  I feel like a bonified neighbor now.

Garden Trials

The garden has been doing wonderfully.  The fruit trees are covered in baby fruit, the asparagus had a good run, and everything is planted except for the future succession plantings of various veggies.

Slug trap works on pill bugs tooOne issue I’ve run into is that I didn’t start my peppers or tomatoes early enough and the seed starting mix I used was out of a bag that got donated to me and it was total crap.  When the plants started showing serious nitrogen deficiency I went ahead and stuck them in the ground, but being as small as they are I’ve already lost quite a few.

Something was eating the leaves off my peppers and I finally caught the culprits one night, sow bugs, hundreds and hundreds of sow bugs.   A couple of nights before I’d set out a beer trap because I thought slugs might be the culprit, but wow, that trap filled up with maybe 50-100 of the buggers.  So, I’d luckily stumbled upon a control.  It still didn’t seem to be totally stopping them though, so I’ve also been spraying with a soap/cayenne pepper/garlic spray to make the leaves taste bad to them which doesn’t seem to be effective so I’m going to stop that.

Aluminum can plant collarAnother technique I’m trying out because a couple of my tomato plants were getting chopped down right at the base of their stem is making little metal collars out of aluminum cans.  I didn’t think it was sow bugs doing that, but I’ve read accounts online that they do.  There are definitely less sow bugs on the plants with collars, but I’ve still lost a couple more tomato plants.

Every year is a battle with pests in an organic garden.  It does seem to come into balance more and more as time goes on, the pest population explodes and eventually the things that eat those pests have a population explosion of their own.

I believe I brought the sow bugs in with a bunch of manure, and now that they’ve finished eating the decaying material in the manure they’re turning their sights on the next closest source of nutrition.  I have no doubt that they’ll eventually become less of a problem.

Shedding Stuff

My next project is going to be going through and organizing the shed and putting up the permanent 2-ply tarp walls.  Going through all of the stuff is going to be quite the nightmare. I’ll have giant piles of stuff to donate, stuff to sell, stuff to trash/recycle, and then stuff to keep and organize.  Not fun.

The temporary tarps that got hung up have been ripped to shreds.  The new ones will be attached more securely.  I’m also going to bury some tarps around the outside of the structure because I was getting water seeping into the root cellar.  After hooking up the downspouts and redirecting the roof water away and then laying down some tarps on top of the ground around the shed the problem has stopped.

 

 

Balancing Autonomy and Community

Brian, John, and Dan

Despite getting 9″ of snow yesterday we’re already plowed out here at Maya Creek.   Dan and Brian graciously liberated us today when they came over and cleared off our driveway.

I have a fascination with being snowed in out here in the woods with plenty of food, water, and warmth.  I like the idea of putting this self-sufficient setup to the test.  Not to mention just being snug and nestled away in my den peacefully waiting for Spring.  Without the ability to leave, my world suddenly becomes much smaller and in some ways that simplification is comforting, assuming I don’t really want to leave in the first place.

However, the world seems to reach out and pull me back even faster than if I lived in the city.  Instead of days or even weeks spent alone in the woods, neighbors I haven’t seen in months stop by to make sure I’m keeping warm and offer to plow the driveway.  I gratefully accept their offer and I’m reminded of how important it is to be a part of a community at large.

The toughest part of living in a community is balancing the needs of independence with the need to feel connected to each other and share in something larger than ourselves.  The balance that’s right for one person is often not the same for another, and so the boundaries become compromises.  The larger the difference in preferred balances, the harder the compromises are to make.  The compromises can certainly be made more likely to succeed with increased mindfulness, openness, and skill.

Anyone can attest to these challenges that has ever moved in with a friend only to find that even though you love them, that living so closely with them is not the best way for your friendship to work.  So it’s with a heavy heart that I tell you that I’ve disbanded our burgeoning community of permanent residents here at Maya Creek.  Jesse will be moving out within a few weeks, and John will follow suit later this year.  We are not parting on bad terms, and our friendships I hope will be better for it in the long run.

As for the future of Maya Creek, I intend to continue pursuing a healthy, self-sufficient, and sustainably-minded lifestyle here, but rather than building a permanent community on the immediate property I would like to see it become a temporary retreat for those needing to take a break from mainstream society’s onslaught of consumer-driven wage slavery and gain some perspective by connecting more directly with their real needs and the natural world.  I would very much like to see this place become a venue for workshops, skillshares,  potlucks, meditation and organizational retreats, and other events that are in-line with the goals of improving ourselves, connecting with each other, and integrating with the natural world.

Common house after thunder snow storm.

The main difference now is that I’ve recognized my need to have a certain level of control over my home, as I’m sure both Jesse and John can relate to.  Visitors are still invited to come stay and participate in life and projects here at Maya Creek, but any visit will have a beginning and an end.

I still want to be a part of a community, but I’ve recognized that I need a level of separation between myself and the community that’s physically impossible here right now.  I believe my ideal community is relatively autonomous with people sharing meals a couple times a week, coordinating on issues that affect everyone involved, lifting each other up in times of need, and sharing certain tools and resources that make sense for large groups of people but not individuals.

In some ways the local community that already exists here in the surrounding area could meet many of those needs for me and I hope to connect more deeply with it in the future.  The influx of visitors and helpers drawn to Maya Creek will certainly have its own transient communal culture and will help connect me as well as the local community to the larger global community.  I also hope that Maya Creek can act as a beacon for people seeking a similar situation and perhaps draws in some new like-minded neighbors as well.

So that’s the latest update.  There’s been some hard lessons and big changes here, but I’m optimistic about the future and in many ways relieved at how events have unfolded.