Tag Archives: Canning

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.


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.

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.

Raising the Roof

The big news is that the roof is going up quickly.  Probably one of the few things that’s going faster than I anticipated.  The weather has been exceptionally cooperative, all the same, we are running out of time before the cold moves in so I’ve strung two large blue tarps over the site so that we could possibly work even if the weather wasn’t great and wouldn’t have to go through the labor intensive process of covering and uncovering the walls every time the weather got bad.

I considered covering the site from the beginning, but ruled it out based on how hard and costly it would be, but looking back on the unusually wet summer we’ve had here, it would have been a good idea to do it earlier.  Who would’ve guessed though?

Tao raising the roof.The flow of visitors(i.e. free labor) has tapered off somewhat and Liz has injured her back somehow.  That left me with the unenviable task of raising the roof mostly alone.  I consulted with Tom Mudd, a family friend down the way, and he filled in a lot of my questions on how to design the roof and what I’d need.  He also informed me I’d need a minimum of 3 people to put the ridge beam on.  I didn’t have the luxury of waiting for volunteers so I pondered and came up with what I felt was a fairly ingenious method and managed to do it all by myself.  I’ve since hung all of the rafters and cross-ties and started putting the purlins on.

It’s now become clear that we won’t be staying in the building this winter, and we’ve decided to try to leave around the last part of October.  At the current pace we should have the roof done and the protective plaster on easily by that time.  Our plans for the winter are to get some sort of used RV and migrate south, visiting other intentional communities, ecovillages, and like-minded people along the way.  We’ll also probably spend some time in Virginia working on Liz’s house there.

Liz stuffing between the balesIn other news, we were in the news last week.  We were the cover story for the Columbia Missourian which you can see here.  They took some nice photos and wrote a pretty good article.  It looks like the same article also got put on a number of news sites in St. Louis.  A guy named Glenn who’s building an earthship in Union, MO called me tonight after reading about us on Yahoo! News.  It’s great having all the cool people come to us without even having to search them out.

The garden has slowed down, but still producing a large number of tomatoes.  The squash are producing a second explosion, which we could probably have done without since we’ve got two large overflowing crates of them as it is.  Liz has canned about 35 jars of pickles as well as a couple jars of pasta sauce.  She’s also discovered  that you can use regular jars from the store to can with.  Jars from things like pasta sauce and pickles will seal shut if you do them just like the special canning jars.  That ought to save some money and what a great way to reuse something rather than recycling it.

The Missouri Department of Conservation provided us with channel catfish and bluegill fingerlings for our pond.  It was more than a small chore hauling the pond water up to the truck to have them put the fingerlings in at the drop location and then hauling them back down.  We haven’t got the road accessible back there yet so I had to make a half dozen trips with the garden cart.  Next spring we’ll be getting the bass fingerlings for free from the MDC as well.

Justin destroying the noobsToday we took a brief break from everything and went to a “Knapp-In” in Booneville, MO about an hour away.  Justin and Melainia, our friends from Fulton invited us out.  Justin knapps flint and makes his own spears, at’latls, darts, arrows, bows, etc.  It was really interesting watching the people knapp arrowheads and knives.  Justin participated in the at’latl contest.  For those that don’t know, an at’latl is a deviced used to essentially extend the length of ones arm allowing you to throw a spear or dart much harder and farther.  Although he’s technically new at the contest throwing, he cleaned the floor with all of the rookies, myself included, although to be fair it was only my first time to ever try to throw one at all. Here’s a video of Justin hurtling a dart with an at’latl.

That’s it for this installment.  We’re in the home stretch and the weather is starting to cool off.  We’ll be working pretty much non-stop except for a brief excursion down to Mississippi for my 10 year high school reunion.