The idea behind sustainability is that you are creating system that does not degrade its foundations and the resources it requires so that the system can continue indefinitely. It suggests a sort of equilibrium, but really what is needed is a system that is regenerative, that continually reinforces its foundations and increases its resources or becomes more efficient at their use and reuse. Nature does exactly that, it improves the soil tilth with continual growth and decay of plant material. Roots slowly breakdown bed rock and clay into soluble nutrients replacing nutrients lost to erosion and leaching. Evolution is the process of finding ways to become more efficient.
To think that we can create an independent system as elegant or as tried and true as the natural system that created us in the first place is arrogant and naive. Our goal at Maya Creek is to observe the natural system around us and discover ways that we can fit our own needs, activities, products, and waste as seamlessly as possible into a symbiotic relationship with it. We hope to do more than sustain our existence. We intend to thrive.
Posted by Tao on May 22, 2013
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.
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.
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.
One 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.
Another 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.
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.
Posted by Tao on December 20, 2012
Posted by Tao on August 30, 2012
The heat wave broke in mid-August and our energy levels went up along with a noticeable improvement in everyone’s spirits.
We’ve continued to re-evaluate what is possible with the remainder of the year, and have begun prioritizing. The duplex topped the list, followed by finishing the root cellar so that we can move all of our tools and materials out of our makeshift tool tent. The last thing we’d like to accomplish is put the finish coats of plaster and floor in the common house to keep the dust down this winter.
That said, the last few weeks we’ve almost solely focused on the duplex. We’ve gotten better at stacking bales so that the corners are more square. The key is not to stuff the spaces around the corner bales to tightly or it’ll push them out. Apart from stacking the bales, stuffing the gaps, and trimming them we’ve also put in several electrical outlets connected to our off-grid grid.
To put the outlets in we nail the outlet boxes to plywood stakes, cut out space for the box in a bale with a chainsaw and then drive the stake/outlet box into the wall. The electrical wire is just tucked in between the bales.
For the roof we installed two pieces of tarp as interior liner and used trim to secure it to the roof rafters. Then we packed in scrap alpaca wool to fill in the space made by the liners and the 2×12 rafters. We sprayed the wool with a borax solution to keep pests out and help with fire resistance, though wool is naturally fire retardant and straw bales coated in earthen plaster won’t burn.
Next, we put another tarp over the alpaca fiber to keep critters out of it and to act as secondary barrier like tar paper in case the metal roof ever leaks. Lastly we put on the metal roof. The only thing left to do on the roof is to put the gutters on.
Apart from putting in a couple more wine bottles in our walls to let more light in we’re ready to start plastering. Earthen plastering is a very labor-intensive part of straw bale construction, though we generally find it to be satisfying work. We hope those who joined our August 18th workshop felt the same way! Luckily we’ve got a couple of new volunteers showing up early next week. They’re well aware that we’ve got a bunch of plastering for them and so that should speed us along.
Our goal for the year is to get the base coat of plaster(it’s one of three coats) on the interior and exterior, and then to at least get the second coat or infill coat of plaster on the exterior, but hopefully the interior as well. We’d like to build our rocket stoves before winter too, but we may have to make due with kerosene heaters if time doesn’t permit it.
We managed to get all of 1/2″ of rain last weekend, and it looks like hurricane Isaac may deliver us some more hopefully. The problem is that’s all the rain we’ve gotten this month. Out average rainfall for August is typically 4.25″. I have no idea what kind deficit we’re running for the year, but we may have gotten 2″ since the end of April. Even the wild trees are dying. It seems contained to dogwoods and maples at the moment, although you can tell the oaks and other big trees are stressed too.
Apart from the tomatoes, peppers, and a few other plants we’ve essentially given up on the garden for the year. You can’t win them all.
In other news, we’ll be holding our first ever harvest festival. There will be a wine making workshop, archery, disc golf tournament, hiking, swimming(weather permitting), home-brew tasting, a potluck dinner, and camping. Everyone is invited, just please RSVP especially if you plan on camping and/or want to stay in one of our guest tents.
Posted by Tao on August 15, 2012
We finished construction of the window bucks today. We’re using small high-efficiency double-glaze low-e windows which we were able to score from a couple different places for $25/each. I wish we’d used pre-built windows and doors in the common house. Unfortunately, we’re not skilled enough carpenters yet to make doors and windows that seal well.
These bucks are known as floating bucks because they won’t be secured to the frame, but will simply rest on the bales and be held in place by compression. We’ll put some screws on the outside of them so that they bite into the bales.
All that’s left is to stain and oil them. Then we’ll be ready to start stacking bales!
Posted by Tao on June 19, 2012
We set the cedar posts for the duplex today. It’s a good feeling seeing it rise above ground level. At every step we get a little clearer sense of the space. Even if it just looks like something they set up for monkeys to play on at the zoo right now, it’s a little more believable that Jesse and I will actually have private quarters this winter.
Working with round rough cut posts isn’t the easiest thing. Assuming that the post isn’t warped, it inevitably tapers and so it’s only really possible to get one edge relatively straight. On the corners we do our best, and then we use string as a guide to line the other intermediate posts up.
Although it’s not exactly sustainable, we cemented in the posts. We’ll also likely use cement to set the granite footing around the base. Altogether though we’ll probably only use 2 bags of cement for the whole structure.