Tag Archives: cistern

Summer 2015: Rainwater Cistern Construction

light-posts-comparisonBefore delving into the big project of the summer, the rainwater cistern, I decided to finally bury the electrical and network wiring running to the cabins in flexible conduit.  I also put in 4 cedar light posts that also act as junction boxes.  The lights are attached to a light activated timer that turns the path lights on for a couple hours after it gets dark.  There’s also now a light in the composting toilet that’s got a timer switch so it can’t be left on.

Eric helped a lot with digging the trenches for the conduit.  The project cost a lot more than I’d hoped.  Thick copper wiring and conduit are expensive.  They also get you with all of the connector pieces.  Outlets, junction boxes, a breaker box, breakers, etc. It all added up to a pretty penny.

cistern putAfter that it was on to dealing with gaping mud pit that the cistern hole had become after 3 years.  Last Fall we spent a lot of effort cleaning it up again only to have the monsoons this Spring deluge it and cause the sides to collapse.  Any hope I had for letting it dry out to make work easier evaporated unlike the water in the foot or more of clay mud at the bottom, so we sucked it up, pulled our shoes off and jumped into the muck.

It took Eric and I probably 2.5 weeks of hard work to get it all cleaned up and leveled out.  The next step was laying sub base gravel for underneath the concrete slab.  The cistern will hold almost exactly 4,000 gallons or 16 tons of water, not to mention the weight of the concrete-filled cinder block walls and wooden cap, so having a thick sub base and thick foundation slab were important.  We tamped down and leveled 8″ of 1″ minus gravel (~10 tons).

cistern leveled with sub baseNext week built a square form for the slab using 2x8s, bracing the corners and putting stakes in to hold the sides in place.  We had to get it pretty level for the concrete, and we also needed to leave as much space as we could around the outside to remove the frame and be able to maneuver.

We then used a couple of pipes and an angle grinder to cut and bend the 1/2″ rebar so that base and the walls would be tied tightly together. We used broken bricks and rocks to hold the rebar up off the ground so it would end up roughly in the middle of the slab.  We used wire to hold the rebar together where it crossed and held all of the ribs upright by laying down a piece of rebar on the ground with screws in it that we could tie each piece of rebar to.

pouring cistern slab concreteAt last it was time to call in the cement truck.  We had to drag a bunch of tables and other things out of the way and clear out some brush to make a path for the truck.  I believe I calculated that we’d need 3 yards and it turned out to be almost exactly right, with just a little left over to spare.

We let the slab set for a week or more before we started in on the block walls.  I should have gotten concrete blocks not cinder blocks since cinder blocks contain fly ash which is toxic, but I didn’t realize it until I’d already bought, hauled, and unloaded all of them.  To get around that I’ll be putting several more coats of potable cement coating than I’d planned and then do testing before I use the water.

cistern block mortared wallsI’d never mortared blocks before and Eric had only watched, so the first few courses were slow going.  Getting the right amount of mortar on the blocks to keep it level without too much overflowing, and also getting the mortar to be a good sticky consistency were the main tricks that we had to get worked out.  We used Type S mortar, which is essentially a mix of cement and hydrated lime.  It probably took us 3 weeks to do the walls.

Ultimately I believe we used about 8 90-lb bags of mortar mix and a pick-up load of masonry sand.  I believe we used about 300 cinder blocks altogether in the 12 courses of the wall.  We turned 2 half-blocks on their side, one a couple feet down which will allow the 3-inch PVC inlet pipe in and the other is in the top course for the 3-inch overflow pipe.  I also used a masonry bit and drilled about a 1-inch hole 2 feet down to run the outlet pipe from the cistern into the common house where it wouldn’t freeze.

cistern cement paintOnce the blocks were in place we filled in all of the block holes with concrete that we hand-mixed.  It took us 4 days to mix and fill all of the blocks.  We also placed some anchor bolts as we went to attach the wooden roof cap later.  I also went around the outside of the cistern and put 3 coats of potable cement paste on the outside of the cistern to minimize any toxins leaching out from the cinder blocks.

Next we back-filled dirt around the cistern to about 2 feet below the surface.  The frost line in our area is about 20 inches, so I want to make sure there’s good drainage down to that point to avoid wet soil freezing and pushing against the cistern, potentially cracking it.  Once we got the ground back-filled and tamped we made sure that it was all sloping down towards the lowest corner and then dug a trench from there downhill and put in a loop of 4-inch perforated drain tile around the cistern to collect water and then non-perforated drain tile to carry it from the lowest point out and away downhill.  At this point in the year Eric’s time was up so I carried on by myself for a few weeks.

cistern backfilled with insulation, gravel, and drain tileI used some 2″ extruded polystyrene boards that someone gave me to insulate the outside of the cistern from 2′ down and up to the top of the cistern.  This is to help keep the water from freezing.  After getting the insulation in place I back-filled with 1″ clean gravel on to the drain tile so water would drain down.  Once I got that tamped down to a little above ground level I put landscaping fabric down and then piled up dirt against the side of the cistern.

That’s as far as I got with it this summer.  I laid some boards across and then put plywood on top of that with an empty 55-gallon drum on it and then tarps laid over that so the rain and snow would run off.

The plan for next year is to build an insulated wooden roof cap over the top, which will essentially act as the floor of a gazebo.  I’ll put several cedar post timbers in and then a gable roof with galvanized steel roofing on it.  This will protect the roof cap and also provide a nice flat outdoor space for people to do yoga or other activities.  I’ll also add some retractable clotheslines.

After that I’ll need to add the system that filters the water coming off the roof by filtering out bigger debris like leaves and sticks, and then dumping the first 20 gallons, which is the dirtiest.  Then the water will go through a couple of fine screens before entering the cistern.  I’ll describe that system more in a future post.



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.

Unglamorous Accomplishments

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.

Tarped shed

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.

Duplex with half a 2nd coat of exterior plasterWith 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!

Mom, Gary, Me new gateSydney 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.

Screen doorEarly 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.

paw-paw-harvest-taoIt 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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

May 2012 Newsletter

This past month we transitioned from clearing out and processing trees to actually breaking ground on our major projects.  Just today we finished up grading the foundation for the straw bale duplex.  Yesterday, we had the excavator dig out as much of the root cellar as he was able to and then graded the shed/workshop site.  That’s been the major hold up on our projects, and with that completed we’ll be splitting up somewhat and focusing on specific projects.

John and Tony are working on the shed/workshop/root cellar, and recently refined their roof plans.  They’ve already built a few roof trusses and we received the lumber to do the rest of them yesterday.  The root cellar is going to need quite a bit more digging, but they may wait until they get the shed roof up to do that.

Jesse is tasked with the duplex, although I’ll be helping him with the planning.  Now that the foundation is graded we’ll start in on building the timberframe.  Once it’s protected with the basic frame and roof we’ll start on the rubble trench, stem wall, and then the earthen floor.

I’ll be heading up the work on the common house and the rainwater catchment system and cistern.  Over the last several weeks we’ve put in a little less than half of the interior walls using rammed straw lightly coated with clay.  Because the forms won’t fit over things like light switches, outlets, and plumbing that sticks out of the wall we’re using cob to fill in around those spots.  We’re also using cob at the top of the walls since there’s no space to ram the straw down if you put the forms all the way to the top.  So far it seems to be working well.

We’re reclaiming some broken chunks of concrete (AKA urbanite) from an old patio that was being ripped out.  We’ll use that for the retaining wall on the cistern and whatever is left over we’ll use in the stem wall in the duplex.

We’ve also done some work on John’s cabin.  We’ve cobbed in the open areas in the roof except for a spot in the back where he’s putting in a flue for a small rocket stove.  We’ve also put the first coat of earthen plaster on the roof bales and started on the second coat of plaster, or infill coat, on the lower part of the cabin.

Clay is a hugely fundamental part of our building methods here, and so any innovation in our sifting technique that speeds it up or makes it easier help greatly.  We’ve begun layering the different sifting screens and placing wheelbarrows underneath them.  This means less bending and shoveling, and has increased our sifting rate by probably 33% or so.


I applaud the people who bravely attended the humanure workshop.  It went well and we’ll post the video from the workshop when we have time to edit it together.  The next workshop will be the Primitive Skills Primer on June 16 taught by Justin McClain.


So far all we’ve harvested from the garden has been lettuce and peas, although that should be changing in the near future.  Our squash plants have taken off and the tomatoes and potatoes are not far behind.  With the help of  Bobbie and Janis we’ve managed to stay on top of the weeds this year.  Also, we’ve discovered that s spray of just water and a small amount of Dr. Bronner’s soap will kill squash bugs.  It looks to be an epic year for squash, and with the dehydrator cooking away we should be able to preserve huge amounts of it when the time comes.

Unfortunately for the garden we haven’t gotten much rain in the last month, although that has certainly helped with our construction plans.  We’ve been watering sporadically the few plants that need it from our rainwater barrels by the solar shower, but unless the drought breaks soon we may be forced to truck in some city water.


We’ve raised $4,700 towards our fundraising goal of $8,000!  Thank you to everyone who has contributed!


We’ve got more pictures posted in our photo gallery for those who are interested.



Diggin’ It

Last week we rented a small backhoe and began excavating the cistern and leveling the front yard. The plan was to dig the root cellar, level the workshop/shed site and dig out the straw bale duplex foundation at the same time, but we managed to break the rear wheel drive and were cut prematurely short after nearly finishing the cistern and leveling much of the front yard area of the common house and making a greywater mulch basin.

The cistern will hold about 3,500 gallons of purified rainwater and keep it from freezing.  We’re going to seal it with a cement plaster lining and reinforce the frost zone with a rock/cement retaining wall and seal the top with a concrete lid poured in place.

We’ve spent the last few days digging the ledge to hold the retaining wall and squaring up the hole somewhat, although it doesn’t need to be perfect for our purposes.  We’ve still got to dig the trenches for the overflow and outlet pipe runs, but in the meantime though it’s perfect for some good old fashioned pit fighting…


April 2012 Newsletter

It’s been months since our last general newsletter update. I’ll try to hit a few of the big older things we may not have talked about in other posts and try to sum up our last month here at Maya Creek.


We’ve got a small family of wwoofers who have been helping us out since mid-March. They’ll be here for most of the summer as our extended-stay volunteers. It’s amazing how quickly things can get done with more hands, but it also means we run into planning, materials, and organizational barriers quickly.  We’re going to start holding weekly meetings to help plan out the coming week, discuss projects, and just generally check in with everyone.

It looks as though we ‘re almost fully booked for the rest of this visitor session ending May 26.  We still have space the last half of June and the last week and a half of our 3rd visitor session from September 4-15.  The 4th visitor session from September 29-November 10 is still wide open.  Find out more about visiting here.

Fundraiser Progress

So far we’ve raised $1,400 of the $8,000 we need to complete this year’s infrastructure projects. We’ll be throwing more of our own money into the pot as we earn it. We’ve also managed to decrease our costs by salvaging the majority of lumber we needed this year and we’ll add that as a donation when we figure out how much it saved us. We also found a cheaper backhoe to rent and operator willing to barter for some of our labor. All in all, we’re probably closer to 40% of the way to our goal. If you’re interested in helping us out check out our fundraising page, it’s got more information as well as a list of gifts we’re offering for funding us.

Frost Setbacks

After such an incredibly warm March and the early forecast for April looked good I took a gamble and transplanted and seeded a number of plants.  Unfortunately, we got 2 nights of hard frost in mid-April and then another light frost a week later.  We managed to save many of the plants by covering them with mulch the first night, but the 2nd night wiped out many of them.

It appears that the garden can get significantly lower(8 degrees) than the forecasted low in Fulton, above and beyond any minor heat island effect Fulton would have over us.  We’re not sure why that is, but if you have an idea let us know.  Topographically the garden is at a high point on the property so it shouldn’t be a frost pocket, although it is surrounded by trees which we thought would help give it protection from the wind but seen from canopy level the garden would be a low spot.  We’ve replanted everything and there is more than enough growing season left for everything to mature just fine.

It appeared we were going to get a large amount of fruit this year, but the frosts seemed to have knocked much of the developing fruits down and bugs have done some damage as well.  The main paw paw patch down along the creek looked like it was set for a massive fruiting year as well, but all of the blossoms were wiped out and much of the leaves burned during the hard frosts.  A couple years ago I girdled some trees in the paw paw patch to let in more light, but by doing so I also gave them less frost protection.  Now the situation seems to be one of feast or famine.  A lot of the gooseberries were likewise developing loads of berries, but 90% or so of them have since fallen off unripe.

Shiitake Cultivation Workshop

We held our very first official workshop on April 21.  Since we’re all new to much of this including teaching workshops it was a little rough around the edges, but everyone seemed to walk away from it satisfied.  I suppose it didn’t hurt that they were all carrying away a freshly made shiitake log of their own  The event was sponsored by Kittie Kong for donating $250 to our fundraiser, and we intend for all of our workshops to be free to the public. If you’re interested in learning about the other workshops we have schedule please visit our workshop page and remember to register for those that you would like to attend. We’ve compiled a video of the workshop below.


Earth Day

We had a wonderful time at Earth Day in Columbia last Sunday.  We took in our solar dehydrator and oven loaded with goodies despite the fact that the sun was mostly a no-show.  We met a lot of great people and were told by many of them to keep it up, and we certainly will!  Earth Day is a great time to network and introduce people to a lot of different ways that are available to live a more healthy, connected, and sustainable life.  Each time I heard, “Oh, that’s a cool idea.” was like another tiny step towards moving us all in a better direction.

Project Progress

We’ve gathered a lot of the materials that we’ll need for our projects this year.  We’ve cut and peeled almost 40 cedar posts, salvaged lumber, and gathered scrap granite.  The construction areas are all cleared out, and all of the trees we had to take out have been processed for firewood, mushroom logs, or are awaiting a turn at the chainsaw mill to be turned into beautiful boards.  We now have enough firewood set aside for 3 or 4 full winters here thanks to our efficient rocket stove and super-insulated straw bale housing.  As if that weren’t enough, we also cleverly stacked it

Our main hold up at the moment is getting a backhoe out here and digging the cistern, root cellar, greywater pond, and duplex foundation.  We now know where we’re renting the equipment from and have an operator who can do it starting next week, we just need it to quit raining.  Over the last 48 hours here we’ve gotten 4.25″ of rain, more than 1/10 of our average annual rainfall.  We even got some nice sized hail that luckily didn’t do much damage in the garden or anywhere else.

While we wait for the excavation to begin we’re working on gathering more materials like sand and billboard tarps.  We’re also going to start on the interior straw slip walls in the common house as early as tomorrow and begin plastering again on John’s small straw bale cabin.


If you’d like to get updates whenever we post a blog, pictures, videos, or when we just have something small and quick to announce or discuss please join our facebook group.


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.

Dissolution and Renewal

As the weather has warmed up my mind has been reeling with the physical tasks ahead of me.  How exactly am I going to build that cistern?  What kind of floor should go in the summer cabins? And on and on.  I can figure that stuff out and I’ll get it done, but the real question is how do you build a community?

There aren’t exactly manuals for what I’ve been attempting.  There are books that talk about successful communities, and some ideas can be drawn from them but every situation is different and every person is different.

So when the community meetings began to get serious and real or imagined divides began to show themselves I was not prepared for it like I should have been, nor did I have the emotional energy or time to deal with it.  In hindsight, it would seem that this was inevitable.  The group I’d assembled knew almost nothing about each other except that they shared a similar vision.  No one in the group other than Jessica was planning on moving out for at least a couple years, yet we were deciding policies and rules to live by before we’d decided if we even wanted to live together.

After giving it a lot of thought and discussing it with people I decided to call off the community meetings and simply aim for having a sustainable homestead.  If some day a good friend is in the right place and wants to move out I’ll consider inviting them and a community may happen organically like that, but until then I just need to focus on getting my own life sorted out.  Right now I need running water, not a pet policy.

I called everyone who had been attending the community meetings about a week ago after I made the decision to discontinue the ecovillage and I was pleasantly surprised at how understanding everyone was. I can’t tell you how much less stressed I’ve felt since then.  I’ve really been enjoying working in the garden, getting a tan,  and playing with Kita, the new puppy Jessica and I got.  I feel like I’m on the right track and have learned some important lessons.

Also, I feel that I should mention that the new puppy and the pet policy discussion were only passingly related.  The main issues and disputes were over entirely different things.  I mean just look at that face. 🙂

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.


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.


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!


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.