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 November 13, 2013
It’s been almost 5 months since my last blog entry. Summing up so many months to a length that won’t drown you is the challenge now. The reoccurring themes of this past summer seem to have been maintenance, preserving gains, and most recently, new friendships.
I suppose the lack of blog posts has something to do with the unglamorous nature of maintenance work. For instance, I did quite a lot of work on my car this year, but it’s not something that particularly lends itself to Maya Creek’s mission or the audience. Still, vehicle repair is an act of self-reliance and I learned a lot about car repair.
Other unphotogenic progress was made in the shed. I laid billboard tarps around the outside of the shed, which Sydney covered with gravel. That, along with the french drain I installed on the uphill side have stopped all water from seeping into the root cellar.
I also tightly wrapped the shed in two layers of billboard tarp as a temporary moisture barrier for all of the tools and materials inside of it. That allowed Sydney and myself to build shelving and I began the unenviable task of organizing the mountain of odds and ends that have accumulated, and which is still far from being sorted.
With some help I also put a sturdy temporary cap over the cistern pit that was slowly collapsing in on itself thanks to several feet of water in it. I’ve since pumped it out and after several months it is now relatively dry and I should be able to start work on it early next year.
A second coat of earthen plaster made its way onto the first floor of the side of the duplex that didn’t have it yet, as well as the exterior on most of the other half. There will be a lot of plastering to do next year, but by the end of it the common house should be ready for the finishing touches: interior shelving, counters, sinks, etc. I certainly won’t miss all of the dust on everything!
Sydney and I felled a couple of large cedar trees that blocked a significant amount of sunlight on the solar panels. We trimmed them up and peeled them, then a group of visiting AmeriCorps volunteers helped me haul them down to the end of the driveway where I’d dug two large holes for them. A couple weeks later my mom and stepdad helped me raise and set the posts and attach a gate. Eventually I’ll put a wooden cross piece attaching the posts with “Maya Creek” on it.
Early in the summer I took off the back door of the common house, added a dog/cat door, changed the side it opens on, and modified the door so I could put a regular door knob on it. Now I can lock all of the buildings as well as lock the gate at the front. So there were some major security improvements this year.
I built a custom screen door for the common house earlier in the summer which was great for opening up the place to cool it down at night without letting all of the bugs in. Eventually the back porch will get screened in and we can leave the back door open too and get some cross ventilation.
It was a good year for mushrooms. We found several large patches of chanterelles, a number of oyster mushrooms, and few medicinal jelly ears late in the summer. I’ve since found some lion’s mane, resinous polypore, and velvet foot mushrooms that have been quite tasty. I also turned an excellent wild harvest of paws paws into some mead and wine, which is getting close to being ready now.
Sydney left at the end of September and a little while before she left I began to connect with more people in Columbia. I can’t remember the last time I’ve met so many fun and interesting new people in such a short amount of time. I hosted my first Taco Tuesday potluck-type event about a month ago, unfortunately by the time most people got here it was too late for a tour. I’m excited and energized about becoming a part of the community and all the fun, collaboration, and mutual support it brings.
Posted by Tao on September 19, 2013
*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.
One 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.
I 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.
During 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.
Posted by Tao on June 16, 2013
My 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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