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Help Wanted

UPDATE: I’ve found someone for this position.  Thank you for those who applied, inquired, or spread the word!


I’m taking it slow this year, but it’s still much easier and more fun to get things done with at least one other pair of hands.  I can offer room, board, a small stipend, hands-on experience with organic gardening, permaculture, and construction, a beautiful piece of woodland to explore, a pond to swim in, a relaxed atmosphere, and some good company in exchange for your assistance on different projects and chores around Maya Creek.

Description

The work includes help with planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, and preserving the 3,000 sq. ft. organic no-till garden.  The critical project that needs to get done this year is to finish the 3,500 gallon concrete rainwater cistern.  The hole has been dug, though it will need some more shaping. There may also be some work done on the shed and various other projects.

Other tasks will include things like helping to load/unload manure to build compost piles,  general clean up, watering/harvesting shiitake mushroom logs, and taking care of the dog and cat if I’m away.  We will either share or take turns cooking and doing dishes.

Having cooking experience is a plus, though I don’t mind teaching what I know.  You will need to be in moderately good physical shape, ie able to lift 50lbs.  Based on my goals for the year I expect we’ll have a leisurely work pace, but if you find yourself tired or feel overworked I expect you to tell me and we’ll slow things down.  I prefer a non-smoker and that you not be in the habit of abusing other substances.

Workload

I’m looking for someone who can start in May and who can stay for at least 4 months, although you’re welcome to stay on up through October. I expect that we’ll be putting in around 30 hours of work most weeks, though I’m including things like cooking, dishes, laundry in that estimate as well as the gardening/construction work.

I’ll be gone for a week here and there during your stay, in which case I only ask that while I’m gone you do general maintenance ie, take care of the dog and cat, take out the garbage, clean up after yourself, etc.  I’m also flexible if you would like to take some time off for trips during your time here though I ask you that give me as much notice as you can.

Room

You will be given the other side of the straw bale duplex, which is roughly 180 sq. ft. including the loft area.  There is no finish plaster on the walls or floor, but it will keep you dry and cool in the hot summer.  There will be a full-size mattress and some basic shelving provided for you.

Board

I typically make mostly vegetarian meals, though I am flexible to your dietary needs or wants.  Once the garden produce starts coming in we’ll likely be eating a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables from there.  All reasonable food requests will be provided, unreasonable requests would be things like filet mignon, caviar, microwave dinners, etc.  Also, candy and beer are not included, though there will likely be some just don’t count on it.  I have a large collection of homemade wine that I’ll gladly share.

To Apply

If you’re interested in the position, please send me an e-mail about yourself and why you’re interested in it.  Please let me know about any skills or knowledge you have that may apply to working and/or living out here.  Also, I ask that you include 2 people as references as well as any questions or concerns you may have.

Healing Up and Breaking Down

As some of you already know I suffered a serious hand injury at the end of October.  I was sharpening a shovel using far too much pressure on the file, lost control, and gashed my wrist open.  I was wearing gloves for protection, but the shovel caught me just above them and severed 4 tendons and one of the 2 main nerves, narrowly missing one of the 2 main arteries.

John and Jesse were nearby and we got to the hospital right away.  Luckily, I have health insurance and so won’t be gashed too badly financially on top of it.  We were in the process of winding down construction for the year anyway so the timing, if it had to happen at all, isn’t terrible.

My doctor and hand therapist both tell me I’m recovering remarkably well. I’ve gotten a considerable amount of feeling back and my range of motion and strength is starting to return. I should be good to go when Spring rolls around.

Apart from that minor tragedy, John has moved into the new mini-cabin. He’s sealed it up better, but it looks like we should have dug deeper for the insulation barrier in the floor. We’ll fix that in our future cabins.  Jesse was staying in the common house, but just departed for a month and half trip to Denver, Portland, and Seattle. I’m staying mostly with Jessica in Columbia, although I’m hoping to start transitioning back out to MC over the next several weeks.

It’s been an incredibly mild and sunny winter and the new solar array has been pumping out the power.  Our peak power output last I checked was 847 watts from panels rated at only 800 watts.  Normally you never even produce the rated watts for panels, but thanks to the reflected roof sunlight we’re probably making an extra ~25%.

We’ve started really planning and prioritizing for this coming year and have created a project breakdown to keep track of it.  The big projects will be putting in a cistern for collecting rainwater, building a mini-duplex similar to the mini-cabin we built last year, building a shed with a root cellar in it, finishing the outside of the mini-cabin, and doing a lot of interior work on the common house.  That ought to keep us busy.

All the while we’ll be maintaining the garden.  I’ve done some planning and have put together a page of garden notes.  It has on it all of the seeds we’ve ordered with pictures and descriptions.  We’ll probably add a few more plants before it’s all said and done.  On the same page I’ll record all the pertinent information on when and how much we plant, when and how much we harvest, and everything else noteworthy.  I’m also going to record the rainfall and high and low temps in the garden.

We lost all of corn to raccoons last year, but this year we’re moving the tipi up into the garden and I’m going to spend the summer in it along with the dog.  That along with the solar-powered radio playing predator noises during the day ought to minimize our pest problems as far as mammals and birds go.

Stick It Where The Sun Does Shine

It’s hard to believe another summer has come and gone, and as the colder weather has set in we get less and less things done.  We’ve wrapped up construction on the common house for this year and I’ve moved into the loft for the winter.  John has been taking refuge in the common house as well until we get the floor totally finished and the doors and windows installed on the cabin he’ll be in for the winter.  Jesse’s managing in his camper, but he’ll probably move into the common house when John moves into his cabin.  So, there’s lots of shuffling going on as we prepare for the winter.  I think we’re all looking forward to the nice long break.

Hot Showers

We’ve gotten our first hot indoor showers at Maya Creek now.  It’s still very primitive, we have to heat up the water via the cook stove or rocket stove and pour it in a feeder bucket above the shower.  One of next year’s major projects will be installing the water system including the cistern and solar hot water panel and tank, until then we’ll be just fine with what we’ve got.  It’s probably hard for an outside observer to understand how grateful we are for the low pressure showers that we take right now, but that goes for a lot of things out here.  It’s rare that people understand the amount of time, labor, and general effort that have gone into what we’ve got so far.

Mini-Cabin Progress

We’ve gotten a steel roof installed on the cabin, with an old billboard tarp as a second layer of protection taking the place of tar paper.  We extended one side and added a small covered porch area.  We’ll finish filling in the gaps on the roof gables and plastering the outside next year, but we did put all of the layers of plaster and floor in on the inside.  We haven’t worked with the finish coats of plaster or earthen floor to this point and we used the cabin as an experiment to get some experience before doing the common house.

We wanted to lighten the walls some so we incorporated some masonry lime into the mix, and a little really went a long way towards lightening up the color.   That’s good to know so that we can use it for the exterior finish coat on the house and make the burnt sienna coloring stand out more.  The lime is a little rough on the hands, so next time we do an interior finish plaster that we want to lighten we’ll try to find some white kaolin clay, but for an exterior plaster the lime adds extra protection.

The floor is currently drying out after applying a couple of coats of linseed oil cut to different strengths with mineral spirits.  Then we finished it off with a mixture of oil and beeswax to finish it all off and waterproof it.

John’s building an insulated door improving the design of the doors used in the common house.  They’re kind of a pain to build, and in the future we’ll probably just build the door and window bucks to fit whatever doors or we can salvage.  The benefit of building our own is that we can make them super-insulated, so there’s a trade-off.

Reflecting on Solar Power

When I first picked the unpainted galvanized steel roofing I was mainly thinking about our rainwater collection system and how I didn’t want any toxic paint residue in the water supply.  I was also thinking about reflecting some of the heat in the summer.  That reflected light goes all year really and is actually blinding when you hit at the right spot.  After putting on the porch on the back of the house this year at a lower angle than the roof the effect was even greater.  It occurred to us to harness all that extra light by mounting our panels behind the house on a raised rack to catch all of that extra light.

We’ve never seen something like this before, but now that we’ve done it we’ll pretend like we had it planned this way all along. Hehe.  The panels are all in one long row to catch to orient with the roof more closely and catch more reflection.  We’re still putting the finishing touches on everything, and we had to buy a few more pieces of hardware since we’re moving from a 12V system to 24V, but so far the panels appear to be putting out 25-50% more power!  As you can imagine we’re quite pleased and have doubled our battery bank to hold more of that goodness.

Granting Wishes

We’ve been looking into trying to get some funding help for our projects out here at MC.  Next year we’re planning on holding several free workshops on the things that we think we’re confident in teaching.  We’ll post a schedule some time over the winter about those.

Anyway, we feel that since we’re actively providing education opportunities by giving tours, work parties, setting booths at related events, and now with workshops that we should be able to receive grants to help us along.  We’ve been pouring our own money into everything so far, but it’s consistently a restrictive factor and one causes significant amounts of stress.

We’ve explored the option of becoming a tax-exempt non-profit, but the paperwork and legal rigmarole is disenchanting to say the least.  However, we’re in talks with Mid-Missouri Peaceworks to become a project of theirs and fall under their non-profit umbrella.  We’ll probably know if that’s going to work out by the end of November.

In the meantime, I went to a grant-writing workshop for SARE(Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) grants last week.  It was moderately helpful, although I was told that many of things I’d hoped to get grants for such as permanent structures like greenhouse, root cellar, etc wouldn’t be allowed, I found examples of SARE grants funding those exact same things while researching it later.

We understand that grants are not meant to build private structures, but everything we’re building is meant to be both for our own use as well as to be a demonstration for tours and for use in workshops.   It seems like most grants do not want to pay for physical items, but if they want to pay us to do what we were already intending to do then we can use those wages to buy the physical items that we need.

The Big Chill

My name is Jesse, and I am the newest full time Maya Creek resident.

Weather Vs. Progress

The weather here has turned to Fall literally overnight. The temperatures were in the upper 90’s for most of August, then suddenlyplunged to the upper 70’s last week. Today the high was 65 and rainy. Its going to be 36 degrees tonight. The rapid change was the perfect opportunity to get some of the sweaty work out of the way.

As of yesterday we are now about 3/4 finished with the second layer of the floor. Once we finish that, we can put in the indoor shower.

In the garden, we dug up the oldest compost and piled all of its goodness on thebeds, then created a new compost pile. We are still waiting for the floor in John’s winter cabin to dry, then we can put on the finish coat and then window and door. He should stay nice and warm in there. Now Its cold and wet. We can’t do any work so, I have time to write a blog as well as catch up with friends and family. Having time is important, kill your TV.

Winterizing

Since the chill we stacked strawbales on the roof of my camper, and created a small wall around the bedroom for insulation. It has helped noticably, especially on the hotter days when it stays much cooler in there. I hope it will keep the heat inside this winter too.Its going to be 36 degrees tonight, it should be an excellent test to see if I will make it all winter. The camper has heat but…even if we finish the solar upgrade, I’m not sure we can supply the electric blower through the winter. What an unusual year of weather.  Since it just rained and it was cold last night, we decided to have a campfire.

Visitors

 

We had a great visit from Caitlin for a week. She learned about earthen floors, composting, alternative energy, straw bale building, and we also attended an Organic Beekeeping workshop at the Possibility Alliance. Caitlin ended her stay as a “Master” earthen floor installer.  Thanks for all your hard work Caitlin!

As soon as Caitlin left, we welcomed 3 new visitors. Dustin, Janet and Oatie the quaker parrot. Everone helped pour more earthen floor and sift clay on their first day. The second night is looking pretty chilly.

Sustainability Fair

Come Join us at the Sustainable Living Fair in Columbia, Missouri this Sunday from 11am to 6pm. Look for the Maya Creek, Sustain Missou, and Peace Nook booths! Details and directions can be found at http://www.slfcolumbia.org/ Sponsored by Peaceworks’ Center for Sustainable Living.

Growing Possibilities

Visualizing the future of Maya Creek can be double-edged sword.  The possibilities for this place are incredible and less and less difficult to see even to outside observers.  On the other hand, the amount of energy needed to realize those possibilities can be stifling and disheartening.

Still, over time I get used to the pace of growth and accept that it may be many years before it even approaches what it could be.  Every year and every day is different and fulfilling, and there’s really not much more you can ask for out of life.  The work here will never be done, or at least I should hope it never ends.  As the saying goes, the day you stop learning, is the day you begin to die.

Guest Cabin Progress

We’ve finished applying the last thick coats of earthen plaster and floor to the cabin.  It’s a very labor intensive process since the infill coat of plaster can be a couple inches thick.  It’s worth it though, because it really smooths out the walls, and is going to provide lots of thermal mass to moderate the temperature.

We also installed the foundation insulation, and mortared in the scrap granite chunks around the base to protect the bottoms of the walls from rain.  We stuffed the area behind the granite with misprinted polypropylene feedsacks filled with scrap alpaca wool, which we affectionately named, “fur turds”.

Yesterday, we went looking for a screen door and found one at the Habitat Restore for $20.  It was the only one they had and it was heavy duty and just barely the right height.  We took it back and it fit perfectly.  Dumb, but very awesome luck.

John should be able to move into the place after the walls and floor finish drying in several weeks.  We’ve still got to put the metal roof on, install the doors and windows, and put the finish exterior plaster on, but we’re getting close.

Garden Raids

The garden has been under siege ever since the sweet corn started coming in.  We’ve trapped ~7 raccoons and 2 opossums, and we probably would’ve gotten more if they hadn’t finished off the 400 sq. ft. of corn completely.  The fence we’ve set up works well on deer and rabbits, but climbing critters don’t mind it at all.

We’ve got a new solution though that I think will work.  We’re going to set up a stereo hooked up to a small solar power system.   We tried it out for about 5 days and the garden was left alone all that time.

Playing conservative talk radio seemed like the best bet, because it has the most yelling and angry sounding voices… and it’s just scary in general.  However, I had the idea of making a long MP3 recording of the sounds of common predators in the area and having it loop.  I’ll probably throw in some weird tiger roars and other foreign animal sounds too just to keep ’em freaked out.

The tomatoes are still coming in pretty heavily, and so are the squash and cucumbers.  I’ve been dehydrating a lot of the squash and tomatoes for winter soups.  They should go well with the ~50 lbs of potatoes we’ve got left from out harvest earlier this year.

The Possibility Alliance

Last Saturday Jesse, Jessica, John, Nic, and I went up to the Possibility Alliance in northern Missouri to take a short class on sustainable forestry.  It was actually more about just seeing the place and meeting the people.  It was a short, but sweet visit and I was really excited to see a project working that’s so similar to what I currently hope Maya Creek will turn into.

They’re creating a sustainable community, teaching workshops, and permaculture certification.  All just for donations!  I’d noticed that all the places that teach these types of skills and certifications were really pricey, and it seemed to defeat the point.  Most people interested in learning these skills don’t have a lot of money, and if you think the skills are that important then I would think you’d want to give as many people access to them as you could.

Today John and I went back for a more in-depth tour.  We got to explore the site fully and get a lot of questions answered.  The amount of energy that Ethan exudes is staggering, and I’m amazed he’s able to maintain it.   He and others at PA are part of the superheroes organization which ride bicycles in superhero attire offering help to people.  Perhaps he really is a superhero in more ways than one.

I’ve created an album of photos from the tour here.

Visitors

We had a nice visit from Bob and Kelly earlier this month.  They were out from California looking around the area at permaculture related projects.  They’re planning on moving out this way in the near future, and are planning to help out at Maya Creek after they get settled.

Nic just left to help set up a camp at Burning Man.  He was here for about a week helping us put in some earthen floor and just checking the place out.  He came down from Minneapolis, but has been traveling around all over.  It’s always nice to have a new person with new stories and perspectives come and share that with us.  I’ll be seeing Nic again at Burning Man in a few days.

Riding the Heat Wave

As I stepped out of the St. Louis airport and the wall of thick steamy air hit me I began to realize that Egypt isn’t all that bad this time of year.  At least the oppressive heat there is dry.

I had a good 12-day trip with my family.  We saw all the major tourist attractions, rode camels, sailed up the Nile, and saw enough hieroglyphics, temples, and tombs to last me a lifetime.  Summer isn’t the ideal time to visit Egypt, nor is it an ideal time for me to take a vacation, but when given the chance to go I had to take it.

John and Tom kept working away while I was gone.  They got most of the first coat of earthen plaster on the outside, harvested the potato crop, and picked up a truck load of waste alpaca fiber.  Tom headed back to Canada a few days before I got back.  He was the voice of reason, hard working and wise for his age.  I have no doubt he’ll be back someday.

The severe heat forced our work patterns to change.  We’re now getting up around 6-7am and working until about noon and then depending on how we feel we’ll work a few hours in the evenings as well.  For the hot part of the day we sit in the common house and read, watch movies, nap, etc.  The hottest it gets in the house is about 80 degrees, the only problem is that the floor is not completely dry and won’t be until we leave the doors open.  That also means it’s very humid in the house and doesn’t feel as cool as it should, but with a fan going it’s more than tolerable.

Straw  Bale Cabin Progress

Despite the heat we’ve still managed to finish the interior and exterior plaster coats on the straw bale cabin, as well as fixing and reinforcing the roof.  While we wait for that to finish drying to add the next layer to the floor and walls we’re going to work on the granite footing.

We’re going to dig a trench about a foot deep and fill it with used styrofoam packing peanuts and then place the waste alpaca fiber in old polypropylene feed sacks before we enclose it in granite pieces like we did on the common house.  Insulating the floor helps to isolate the earthen floor from the outside and acts as a thermal mass keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Porch

Before I left for Egypt we finished getting the roof on the porch.  It’s dramatically increased the storage area, but it won’t get screened in or have the floor finished until next year at least.  The common house actually looks like a homestead now.

Compost Piles

John and I made a large compost pile from horse bedding, garden weeds, and humanure earlier this week.  We get the horse manure free from the stables at a local university, they even load it up for us.   By building the pile all at once it gets incredibly hot, so we put all of the humanure in the middle of the pile and use the heat to sterilize it.

Every time we fill up all dozen or so humanure buckets we’ll make a new compost pile.  The piles take about a year to break down completely.  It could be sped up significantly if you turned it, but since we’re not in a hurry and turning it would take a lot of energy and time, we’ll wait.

 

 

 

Rock, Wood, and Clay

It’s turned into something of a running joke here at MC that just about any problem can be solved with rocks, wood, or clay.  Andrew and John made replacement stove knobs from pieces of wood, and I built a replacement starter for it from clay.  We also cleared a path along the creek, and to deal with all the creek crossing and drainage we either used rocks as stepping stones, or logs for steps or water diversions.  We planned on making a wooden bridge, but opted for redirecting the path and using stepping stones instead.

House Progress

John, Jesse, and I finished putting in the base layer of the earthen floor last week(clay and rock).  It will probably take a month to dry, and so during that time we’ll be working on the porch area.  The wall on that side is not well protected from the weather until it gets built so it’s a priority.  We’ve already done some prep work, prepared the back wall and cut and cleaned the cedar support posts.

Straw Bale Cabins

The straw bale house has performed amazingly with all of the above-average hot weather.  So much so that we’ve started dreaming up a small ultra-cheap and easy one-room straw bale cabin design.  Our current cost estimates put it at about $300 for ~80 square feet.  If it performs anything like the main straw bale house it may be all-season housing.  We’ll probably begin on that later this week.

Garden Deficiency

All of my new garden beds have been quite a disappointment.  The new beds have some severe nitrogen deficiency. I noticed that there is quite a bit of wood chunks mixed in the compost I get from Columbia.  I think that it’s not finished composting, and when I mix it up by spreading it onto the beds it’s like turning a compost which reinvorgates the decomposition process and locks up the nitrogen for months.

I’ve added blood meal and urine to the beds and it has certainly helped, but some of my crops have died and others are stunted and will likely be delayed significantly.  I think the key to using that compost is to make the beds in the fall so they’ll be ready in the spring.

Inhabitants

As far as inhabitants of MC go, John has been here for about a month now.  Tom arrived from Canada via 31 hour bus ride last week and will be here for a month or so.  Andrew from St. Louis spent 10 days out here helping on the creek path.  Jesse spent the last week out here and I think he plans on spending this coming week as well.

A New Direction

I’ve been doing really well since dissolving the community aspirations for Maya Creek. I don’t feel as rushed, and have enjoyed taking long walks exploring the woods with Kita.

On one of those walks it really struck me how beautiful the land was, and how much it easily rivaled many of the parks I’d been to. That reminded me of my high school guidance councilor, and how I’d told her that if I could have any job in the world it would be to be a park ranger. Everything kind of clicked for me at that point.

Maya Creek Nature Preserve & Sustainable Campground

I basically want to set the land up as a private park and sustainable campground. Once the straw bale house is done, the campground upgraded, and the trails cleared I’ll start on my own home. Eventually I may build a larger building to have a space for retreats, workshops, and classes.

At some point whenever everything is set up at the campground I may start charging something for visitors who just want to camp.  I may also sell food and meals from the garden and start making the place financially sustainable as well.

People seem to think that I still want to start a community, but it’s really not even on my agenda. I want to get my own life in order, share the beauty of this place, the things I’ve learned and am learning.  Beyond that adding more people on a permanent basis gets complicated quickly and I’m liking simple.

Environmental Group Retreats

Sustain Mizzou from MU and ECO from Truman State came out for campout/work party.  Unfortunately the group from Truman could only stay for a tour since they had finals looming, but it was still great to meet them.  About a dozen people camped out, cooked veggies and marshmallows over the fire, and basically had a nice party.

The next day they helped clear out what I’m calling the North Ridge trail.  I didn’t actually get a chance to enjoy what we’d accomplished that day until I walked it a few days ago.  It makes a huge difference in how much you can enjoy when you’re not constantly dodging branches and watching your feet to make sure you don’t trip.  So thanks to everyone who helped out!  You can find more pictures of the event here.

This coming weekend May 13-15, the Missouri Student Environmental Coalition is holding their spring retreat out at MC.  Depending on the size I’ll probably put them to work clearing another trail and helping make some more raised beds in the garden.  I may also put some of them to work digging out a space for a small root cellar.

The Garden

I’ve really gone crazy making expanding the garden.  I’ve probably doubled the size of the garden from last year.  If one of my summer apprentices wants I’d like to continue expanding it until I’ve filled in the entire fenced in area with raised beds.  It’s probably a little over half way to that point now.

On May 4 there was a mild frost and killed back most of my potatoes and a lot of my squash, tomato, and pepper plants.  At the time I didn’t know how I could really protect the hundreds of plants, but in retrospect I should’ve piled straw up around them.  It’s lightweight enough not to damage them and easy to apply.  Next year I’m also going to start 3x as many tomatoes and peppers as I think I’ll need just to be safe.  Live and learn.

The Campground

I’ve gotten my camper positioned and cleaned out.  My plan is to live in the campground during the summers, at least until I get my own home built.  After this year though I’ll hopefully be living in one of the summer cabins we build, but the camper will do for now.  Jessica will probably be staying with me a lot more this year, although she did just get a small apartment in Columbia. I’ll be glad to have her around more.

As far as the new summer cabins go, I’ve got the site for the first summer cabin staked out and it’s a beauty.  It’ll have a really nice view looking into a wild field.  I now think that the cabins will have a simple tamped dirt floor, with a rubble trench curtain drain to keep them dry.  I’ve got some chisels and other wood working tools to make a simple timber-frame to support a metal roof and to wrap the scrap billboard tarp around.  I think I’ll call this new style, neo-rustic.  🙂

Kita

The little bitch is growing like a weed.  She’s already learned sit, lay down, and shake, although her biggest accomplishments are that she now knows that she’s not allowed in the garden and that she’s not supposed to chase the guineas or chicken.

The training shock collar has really worked wonders, but don’t worry, I hardly have to use it and when I do it has a vibrate option that works most of the time.  The noise I make to tell her she’s doing something she’s not supposed to carries a lot more weight now.  I probably won’t need to use the collar at all in the near future.

Watching her play makes any stresses I have seem silly.  She’s dug out a big crater in the middle of my sand pile, and I’m pretty sure she’d dig a den under a tree if given the opportunity. Also, she’s always picking up sticks, but we’re still working on the finer points of “fetch”.  Her favorite parts of our walks are when we take a break down by the creek and she goes bounding up and down it.

Volunteers

It looks like I’ll have a full crop of volunteers this year.  A lot of people have been finding me through a site called Workaway.info, which is set up sort of like WOOFing but for anything really.  There are hosts and volunteers, hosts can be anything from a family looking for a nanny in paris, an organic vineyard in Italy, or a beautiful nature preserve/campground/homestead project in mid-Missouri.  The hosts are expected to provide room and board and the volunteers provide about 25 hours of help a week.

At this point I’m still looking for one more full-summer volunteer.  I’m going to have 4 people staying for the summer, with a spot for a short-term volunteer that’ll keep changing all summer.  At this point the short-term tent space is reserved for 6 different people with only a span of 2 weeks near the end of June available.  It should be kind of nice having a new person to get to know constantly, not to mention all of the other different people coming for weekend work parties and tours.

Spring Greening

It’s been wonderful seeing the fruit trees and berry bushes come back to life.  They have so much more vigor this 2nd year compared to the 1st year when they were dealing with transplant shock.  There are even a few plants I thought died last summer that are setting out new leaves.

I’ve been doing some serious sheet-mulching around all the perennials I planted last year. I’ve laid out about 5 cubic yards of compost I get from the composting operation the city runs in Columbia using people’s yard waste. I’ve been putting it on about 4″ thick, and it I’ve made about 500 sq. ft. of raised beds with it.

I planted bird’s foot trefoil on most of it, which is a nitrogen-fixing ground cover. Tick trefoil, another kind of trefoil, grows here natively but gets to be a couple of feet high and makes these burrs that stick to clothes and fur. The bird’s foot only gets to be a few inches high and makes a really beautiful yellow flower the bees love.

Dr. Greenthumb or: How I Stopped Weeding and Learned to Love the Plants

In all the paths I’ve thrown down some dutch white clover seed, which is a really low-growing clover, and like all kinds of clover it fixes nitrogen. There’s a ton of wild mustard, some kind of parsley, and a kind of deep-rooted plant I haven’t identified yet, growing in all the beds and paths. I’m in the process of re-wiring my brain not to see them as weeds. I’ve been pulling some of them out and throwing them in the compost pile, but to make it seem less like weeding, now I think about it as harvesting nitrogen.

For instance, wild mustard has edible leaves, makes a small flower that looks and tastes exactly like broccoli, and it does without me even having to do anything. But the thing I’m most excited about, which I recently learned is that it’s a trap crop for flea beetles. A trap crop is a plant that a pest prefers to the one you’re trying to grow. Last year the flea beetles shredded my radishes, turnips, eggplants, and did quite a bit of damage to my potatoes. After I thought about it some more, I think there were already flea beetles here before, I just sheet-mulched on top of their previous food source.

The flea beetles really liked my turnips too, which was fine with me since I really don’t like turnips. I didn’t even harvest several softball sized turnips last year and they were starting to grow again (turnips are biennial). They’d gotten woody and weren’t good for eating, but rather than composting them I just replanted them near where I’ll be planting my potatoes this year so they’ll act as another kind of trap crop.

I’ve also planted comfrey roots around a lot of the major fruit trees and berry bushes. They put down deep roots and pull up a lot of subsoil nutrients, and then I’ll come by maybe 3 times a year and chop all the leaves and spread them around the base of the plants I want to fertilize. It’s basically like growing your own fertilizer.

Hop Trees

Since I plan on making beer for awhile longer I’ve put in a raised bed for hops. Hops are a vine and can grow a foot a week. They need a really big trellis, and in one of the books I have it says to put in a 13′ cedar pole and put string coming down like a tent around it that the hops will grow up. So, what I did is just cut the tops and some of the branches off of a couple of living cedar trees. I’d already cut the lower branches flush or I would have left stubs on them as well.

Cedars don’t coppice so these should die now and be resurrected as hop trees. I think I can train them to grow up the fence and then into the structure of the cedars. It might be kind of a pain to harvest, but it’s worth a try, and if I have to I’ll just cut the rest of the branches flush and use string.

Pruning

I’ve done my first real pruning after reading up on it in a couple of my books. In some ways it’s kind of painful to cut off any of the precious growth. I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t a huge loss, because it still has a lot of stored energy that it’ll now go where I want. I’m just telling that grape vine, “hey, look there’s this awesome fence for you to grow on over here.”

I pruned back the large wild russian olives that border the eastern side of the garden. They’re not really olives, but they do make a small edible fruit that birds like so they’ll act as a trap crop for my berries. They also fix nitrogen, but nitrogen fixers don’t share much of the nitrogen they store until the roots die back. Basically, when you prune the top of a plant, it automatically prunes it’s roots. With a nitrogen fixer that means I’ve just freed up the nitrogen nodules on its roots for other plants to use, such as my grapes, and in essence I’ve fertilized them.

Permaculture Design Certification

I started expanding the garden before I left for the permaculture design certification course I took in Wisconsin last week. I already knew a lot about permaculture before taking the class and had a good idea of what I was going to do in the garden already, but I’m looking at things slightly differently now.  Things are starting to click faster, and I’m seeing more of the relationships between things.  It was really kind of the perfect time to take the class because I get to come home and immediately put it into action while it’s fresh in my mind. I also just generally feel energized from all the great ideas and people I met in the class. I hope some of them are reading this and come visit when they get a chance.

Kita

My plans for the immediate future are to build a dog house for Kita, my new dog. She’s 8 weeks old now and can leave her mom, so I need to a place for her to live. She’s half belgian malinois and half carolina dog, both of which are herding dogs so she should be a smart one. I got the pick of the litter and she seems to be the most friendly and intelligent one of the group, at least when I’m around.  There are still some puppies that need a good home, so if you’re interested e-mail me.

Her main job is going to be guarding the garden as well as the house and livestock(currently just the guineas and chicken).  I’ve been reading dog training books and looking into classes.

I’m designing the dog house based on the dimensions of her parents and taking into account she’s a she.  I’m going to make the place out of pallets that I’ll stuff with alpaca fiber and wrap in billboard vinyl.  I’m even going to insulate the roof.  The door will be angled towards the south west so it’ll catch the cool summer breezes, as well as have a good line of site directly to the garden entrance and driveway.  The house will also get shaded by the hops trellis in the summer and have good sun in the winter when the hops dies.  I’m also considering putting a straw bale compost bin to the north west of the dog house to block the cold winter winds.  The house will have a shed roof slanted to deflect those cold winds as well as have a gutter attached that’ll fill up a watering bowl.  Does she have a smart alpha dog or what? 🙂

I’m going to try to dumpster dive most of her food, but I also just got a book that shows recipes on how to make an all vegetable feed that provides the right mixture of proteins, nutrients, etc so that I can actually grow her own food rather than raising animals to feed her.  If she wants meat I expect her to eat rabbits, mice, gophers, etc.  The person who wrote the vegetarian cat and dog food book had a border collie that lived to be 27 years old, that’s 189 in dog years!  It was almost a new record, but I have to believe that no dog would live to be that old if it didn’t like the taste of its food.

Summer Apprenticeships

This is my favorite time of year, when no one’s around yet and I can just wander around observing, thinking, and planning the projects for the year.  I’m starting to zero in on how and where to build the summer cabins, and I’m settling on a plan for the cistern at the house.  The vision for the garden is coming into focus, and I’ve got spots for the shed/greenhouse and ponds picked to maximize their relationships to the other elements.  I’ve got a plan for a small root cellar made out of a 55 gallon drum, there’s a half-built top-bar beehive that needs to be setup, and there’re probably a hundred other projects to work on.

I hope to have at least a couple summer apprentices, which I’ll put to work on any and all of those tasks.  I don’t like the word ‘intern’ or ‘work exchanger’.  ‘Apprentice‘ says it better, even though I’m no master craftsman.  Besides, putting an apprenticeship on your resume sounds way better than an internship or work exchange.

I am starting to acquire quite a bit of useful knowledge and wisdom I can share, and there’s plenty to learn for everyone involved.  These aren’t paid positions, although I will provide room and board.  I have guest tents on covered platforms with mattresses in them.  I’ll also provide all the rice, beans, and potatoes you can eat as well as whatever’s ripe in the garden.  Throw in a little spice and excitement in the form of dumpster diving excursions, and what more could you need?

For all the short term volunteers I’ll be holding work parties every month, typically on the second Saturday.  However, this next month it’ll be on the third Saturday, April 16th, because this will be a garden work party and the average last frost date here is April 15th.  There’ll be plenty of planting, sheet-mulching, and weeding(ie nitrogen harvesting) to be done!

Publicity

On March 29, I’ll be a guest on Evening Addition.  It’s a radio program on KOPN, which is a community radio station in Columbia.  I’m not sure specifically what we’ll talk about since he deals with a lot of different issues, but it’ll obviously have to do with everything going on out here.  I’ll be using it to schlep for interns and volunteers too.  You’ll be able to listen to the archived recording here.

On April 22, Maya Creek will have a booth at the Earth Day event in Columbia at Peace Park.  We’ll have the soil blocker out for demonstration and have an assortment of beans and seeds for people to plant and take with them.  Our table will be on Elm St. right by the entrance to the park.

On July 9, I’ll be giving an hour long class at Fiber U in Lebanon, MO.  I’ll be talking about using waste alpaca and llama fiber as insulation and mulch, as well as giving them some permaculture tips on pasture management.