Category Archives: Food

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.

manu-billy-mulch

Spring 2014

The day after my last post we planted potatoes. Last week we harvested those potatoes.  That’s how erratic my blogging has become so I’m not going to go into detail about the almost 3 months in between, but I’ll try to summarize.

solar-hot-water-collectorHot Showers!

Not long after my last post I finished up the solar hot water collector and the associated insulated hot water barrel.  I made sure to leave space next to the collector in case I needed to build another one.  That turned out to be unnecessary as the collector easily heats the 55 gallons of water to scalding temperatures within a day, and then holds it there even on cloudy days.

It feels so much more civilized out here now.  Sure, it’s still really dusty in most of the buildings, and there’s still plenty of work to do before we have real sinks or a washing machine, but at least now we’re just a bunch of mildly-dirty hippies instead of filthy ones!

 Workshops

plaster-workshop-2So far I’ve held a shiitake mushroom log workshop, wild edible foray, and an earthen plaster workshop, all of which have gone well.  There was plenty of good networking going on between people with mutual interests, knowledge was shared, skills were learned, and I got a nice pile of inoculated shiitake logs growing their way towards deliciousness.

One side note on the shiitake logs that I’m kind of excited about.  I cut more mushroom logs than I had spore plugs for, and I decided to take some of the mushroom logs that already producing and stack them interspersed with the uninoculated extra logs.  I have strong hope that the mycelium will grow into the other logs or that spores will fall on them and they’ll begin producing as well.  I’ve had the mycelium grow between the logs and from the logs into the pallets I stack them on, and have had mushrooms pop out of the pallet itself so it’s not far fetched.  If so, I may be able to seriously ratchet up my shiitake production for a fraction of the effort I put in now.

The Garden

garden-6-18-14The garden has done really well this year.  We’ve gotten an above average amount of rain and only had to water occasionally mainly to get seeds started and transplants settled.  All of the extra rain made construction projects difficult, so the volunteers spent an above average amount of time in the garden; weeding, fighting bugs, harvesting, etc and we’re now reaping the benefits.  The dehydrator is constantly full and anything we can’t dry we’ve been canning.

It now seems clear that I can grow almost all of my own food, and probably trade excess for the things I can’t grow.  The volunteers have been a big help, but I could do it all on my own if I didn’t have construction projects to deal with too.  Maybe in a couple years I’ll try a year of total food self-sufficiency and see how it goes.

Construction Projects

earth-tube-trench-billy-diggingI originally planned on working on getting the inside of the common house finished, but after more detailed planning I saw that I needed a lot of carpentry work first that wouldn’t be easy to use volunteer help on so instead we’ve been working on getting the 2nd, and most labor/material intensive, coat of plaster on the cabins.  The small single cabin now has it’s 2nd coat completed and we’re well on our way to getting the duplex coat on.

We’ve also been digging a 100′ long 2′ deep trench to lay some PVC pipe in and use as a very simple geothermal cooling/heating system called an earth tube.  I’m mostly concerned with the cooling side of it, though it should decrease the already small amount of firewood I need in the winter.

According to what I could find on the internet I believe the air coming into the duplex even at the hottest part of the summer should be 70F or less and be significantly less humid.  A small CPU fan will pull the air and as it cools in the pipe the moisture should condense and drain out.  Another CPU fan attached to a pipe going through the highest point of the roof will blow the hot air out.  The fans may not be needed all of the time since natural convection should move the air, but they certainly won’t hurt.

The rainwater cistern is the next big project and we should be starting on that in August.  The pit is still wet from all of the rain this year, but the storms seem to be dropping less and less water and I think it’ll dry out enough to work on within the next month or so.

Volunteers

manu-billy-mulchRight now I’ve got a full house with 3 volunteers.  Billy, my full-summer volunteer is turning into a real asset now that he’s gotten the feel for things.  The other 2 volunteers are Emmanuel, from France, and Daniel, from Utah.  Both of them have been hard workers with good senses of humor and pleasant dispositions.  I’ve also had a couple of volunteers from Pennsylvania and London earlier in the Spring.

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.

 

Starting Onions from Seed

*UPDATED: 2/26/14

DISCLAIMER: I’ve never actually tried to start seeds this exact way. I’ll update this post when I see how effective it turns out to be.

Seed starting materialsIt’s February 15, exactly 8 weeks before the average last frost in this part of Missouri, April 15, so it’s time to start onions!

I’ve found that watering from the bottom keeps the soil evenly moist, uses less water, and disturbs the seeds less. Before I was using some donated peat pots and setting those in a baking tray with water for them to soak it up. That works ok, but they dry out pretty quickly and I’d like to have a method that doesn’t rely on a supply of peat pots.

The idea is that I drill holes in the bottom of the tray that will contain the soil and seedlings and set it in another bus tray holding water and allow the top tray to soak up as much water as it wants from the lower tray and then remove it. If I let it sit in there continually it would likely drown the seedlings. One thing potential issue might be overfilling the bottom tray and having it spill over when I put the top tray in to soak.

I’m starting 2 trays of onions this year. So I drilled 1/4″ holes a couple inches apart in the bottom of 2 trays.

Trays, one with 1/4" holes

Next I mixed up my seed starting mix. Ideally I would just use some compost, but the pile I set aside for this isn’t finished yet. Instead, I’m using equal parts vermiculite, peat moss, and some “potting” soil that appears to be much more top soil with compost than the fluffy potting soil I’m aiming at.

Mixing materials

I used a 1 gallon bucket as a measuring cup. I used 1 bucket of each ingredient and mixed them dry with a rake and broke up the bigger clods of the soil.

Soil mixing

Set aside maybe 1/4 of a bucket of the dry mix per tray for covering the seeds later.

Then I stirred in about a gallon of water for those 3 buckets of material and worked it until the mix was saturated.  In this case I used melted snow as water, but if you use tap water make sure to let it off gas for a day or more so that no chlorine kills the beneficial microorganisms in the compost.

Adding water

Then I filled each tray up about 2.5-3″ with the wet seed starting mix.

Filling the trays with wet soil mix

I repeated for the second tray, but really could have done both at the same time if I’d known how much each tray was going to take.

Next, I labeled the two trays with masking tape and put the variety, type of plant, and the date on it. These seeds are intermediate-day length varieties I’ve had success with here, Bronze D’amposta and Australian Brown.

Tray labels and seed packets

I tear the tops off and hold the package horizontal so the torn edge makes a wider mouth for the seeds to fall off and then shake it side to side. I feel I get a good distribution this way. I put a packet and a half of each type of seed(~450/seeds per tray). I have another packet and a half remaining of each in case this batch fails I can try again.

Broadcasting onion seeds

I then sprinkled on maybe a 1/4″ of the dry mix I reserved earlier and tried to get break or get rid of any bigger chunks in it before sprinkling.

Covering seeds with the dry mix

Next I used a mister and wetted down the dry mix and seeds. I shouldn’t have to water from the top again, but it’s important that you get everything completely wet the first time so that the capillary effect, which soaks up the moisture, will be effective.

Wetting the dry material and seeds

Now it’s just a matter of putting them somewhere relatively warm (70-75F is ideal). I’m setting them on my rocket stove’s thermal mass bench which is about 80F right now.

Trays on rocket stove bench

They should germinate in about 2 weeks. I’ll update shortly after that to record how it’s working out.

 Update 2/26/14

Bronze D'amposta onion sproutsThe onions began germinating in only 4 days! Since that was so far off from the 10-14 day estimate I’d seen in 2 places I looked some more and found that under optimum conditions they can germinate in 4 days, so I guess the temperature on the rocket stove bench was good for them.

It’s now 11 days since I sowed them and I’ve been making sure they get at least indirect sunlight as much as I can.   Despite the recent bout of well-below average temperatures the cold frame I set up a few days ago is getting into the 80’s even though the highs have only been in the mid-20’s outside so I’ve been setting the trays out during the sunny part of the day.

 

 

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.

Adventures in Homesteading

Cattle panel tomato supports with Sydney and KitaMy summer-long volunteer, Syndey, arrived last week.  She’s a Wisconsin native who has just finished an engineering degree in California.  She’ll mainly be focusing on the food situation, maintaining the garden, harvesting and preserving food, etc.  We’ve already spent a good amount of time familiarizing her with the garden, the plants, the pests, and the tasks to keep it on track.

Garden Observations

We just put up a few cattle panels with t-stakes to act as tomato supports.  So far I’ve tried tomato cages and last year I used t-stakes with rope tied between them as supports, but I can already tell that the cattle panels are going to be my favorite so far.  They are far more stable than the other two styles, and I think the clean up at the end of the year should be fairly minimal.

The squash bugs made their first appearance several days ago and we’ve been religiously checking for eggs and adults.  I think we caught it early and it seems to be under control.  I pulled off the straw mulch on the squash beds, so they’ll need to be watered more, but taking away the squash bug shelter is more important.  I’ve laid down some boards and pieces of granite in between the plants so we can flip them over in the morning and kill the adults that shelter there.  Another trick we’ve started doing is using duct tape to pull the eggs off rather than just pulling the section of the leaf off altogether.  It works reasonably well.Peaches ripening

A lot of things in the garden are doing well.  There’re loads of peaches on the trees, and there’s even  a handful of pears and apples ripening.  The blueberries are growing ever so slowly, but the gooseberries are loaded down and the thornless blackberries are finding their stride as well.  The potatoes are looking phenomenal, and most of the other annual vegetables seem to be kicking into high gear.

The goumi berry harvest has been completed.  This morning Sydney, Molly, and I got almost a gallon of berries off one bush.  I’d already picked the small goumi plant clean for fresh eating over the last couple weeks since it ripened first.  We made juice and fruit leather out of it.  I’ll be posting a step-by-step guide on how we did it since there wasn’t a whole lot of useful information, especially on how to separate the seed from the pulp.

I’m noticing that the birds are leaving the berries in the garden alone this year. I’m not sure if that’s because the glut of rain has made earthworms and other sources of food more accessible or if the looping mp3 of predator sounds is discouraging them from staying out in the open. There certainly seems to be fewer birds hanging around the garden. It’s probably some mix of the two.  I’ll post the MP3 of sounds I’ve made in the future when I’ve perfected it.

Rain Diversions

We had a week of very heavy rain since I last reported on the root cellar in the shed leaking and alas, significant amounts of water seeped in again.  I’ve finished half of a french drain on the uphill side of the shed, and I should finish the other half later this week.  I also put a rain diversion swale in the driveway to redirect water away from the shed as well as laying down some more tarps around the shed. We got .75″ of rain last night and so far nothing in the root cellar.

Eastern Hog Nose

Eastern hog nose snake,  aka "Puff Adder"

John came across a previously unseen species of snake out here recently.  It was right outside his cabin and scared him pretty good as it was an eastern hog nose snake, aka “spreading adder” or “puff adder” as it puffs out it’s neck like a cobra and hisses loudly. It’s not poisonous and will even play dead to avoid predators, but it’s certainly nothing I’d like to mess around with.

Carpenter Bees

I’ve also had the first serious run-in with carpenter bees. They started digging holes in the earthen plaster near the top of the gable wall on the common house. They’re typically good pollinators to have around, but I don’t want them digging holes in the walls so I’ve sprayed them with a pesticide which I loath using but don’t have a suitable recourse at this time.

I’m hopeful that once the finish coat of plaster goes on it will discourage them because it should be significantly smoother and harder. I’ve got my fingers crossed otherwise I’ll have to figure something else out.

Feist perched on the lip of a rain barrel

Balancing Act

I was on the phone making plans to visit my friend Daniel in Hawaii over the winter.  He just surfaced from a 7 month tour on a submarine, and we’re planning on doing some sailing around the islands there when I come for a month in December.  Anyway, I looked up and I saw Feist perched on the side of a rain barrel having a drink.  The lip has to be half an inch wide at most.  She sat there for a good 15-20 seconds after I noticed.

Pretty impressive.

 

 

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.