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 January 25, 2015
This Fall was relatively uneventful, but I did get a few minor projects done that have made Winter much more pleasant. Also, I hosted wine-making workshop, which didn’t draw as many people as I imagined it would. My volunteers from Chicago left at the beginning of October heading to another farm in Georgia. They took my long-term volunteer, Billy, with them and as far as I know he’s still at that farm.
The volunteers helped me split a good bit of firewood before they headed out, and I spent most of the Fall preparing for Winter in one way or another. After they left I hauled some more logs, split them, and stacked up about a chord of wood. I also cut down a big oak tree that had died over the summer and was leaning precariously towards the shed. I cut that up, split it, and stacked it to cure for next Winter.
I also finally extended the common house rocket stove flue pipe up through the porch roof. The exhaust from the stove had been getting hung up under the porch and the moisture was condensing on the rafters to the point it was practically raining underneath the porch. I used a dremel to cut a precise hole for the flue and a butyl rubber to seal around it. The draft on the rocket stove has improved and I haven’t seen it back-smoke at all since the improvement.
Rocket-Powered Hot Water!
Last winter I combined a couple of ideas and came up with a plan to have hot water year-round. I built the solar hot water heating panel and installed the hot and cold barrels earlier in the spring, but the panel will only work in above-freezing temperatures because the water would freeze in the panel and burst the pipes.
I came up with the idea of using the same thermosiphon principle that worked on the solar panel, but wrapping copper tubing around the rocket stove barrel compared to the sun heating up the water in the panel. It was a little tricky getting the copper wound tightly around the barrel, but luckily when you buy large sections of copper tubing it comes in coils to begin with making it easier to avoid crinkling the pipe when I bent it around the barrel.
After running the stove the average 6-8 hours it takes to heat the common house up for several days the water in the 55 gallon hot water barrel will be upwards of 120F. The mass of the water and insulation on the barrel keeps the water hot for a couple of days, so it holds the heat almost the same amount of time as the house does.
Posted by Tao on January 6, 2015
We 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.
The 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.
I 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
For 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
The 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.
Posted by Tao on July 21, 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.
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!
So 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 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.
I 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.
Right 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.
Posted by Tao on April 22, 2014
It’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.
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.
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.
I 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.
The 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.
Solar 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!
Posted by Tao on March 30, 2014
My 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!).
I’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.
I 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.
Today, 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.