Tag Archives: Columbia

Me, Whish, and Eric

Spring 2015

The summer solstice has arrived and it’s hard to believe the days will already be getting shorter, unfortunately though they keep getting hotter for another 2 weeks. The big story lines of this Spring have been the large amount of rain, a bumper year for fruit and vegetables, tree clearing, mushroom logs, a hippie reunion, and a new urban homestead. Not to mention I also got engaged! More on that later.

Soaking mushroom logs

Photo Credit: Amber Garrett

I spent the early part of the Spring nearly clear-cutting about a quarter of an acre between the common house and the campground area. Not exactly my favorite task, but I’ve replanted the area as a nut orchard with blight-resistant chestnuts, hazelnuts, and hickory/pecan(hickan) hybrids. Processing the chopped trees took a lot of doing. The 4″-8″ diameter pieces were cut into 3′ sections for use as shiitake mushroom logs. I cut the thicker pieces into 16″ and roughly split a large portion of it to speed up the drying process and stacked some of it round. Green wood can be harder to split, but I find that oak splits pretty well even when green. I now have enough firewood to last me probably 3 years.

With help of my volunteer, Whish, we made about 50 shiitake mushroom logs. I tried a different method this year that involves a little more equipment, but is ultimately cheaper and faster. Using an angle grinder and a special attachment drilling the holes is sped up probably 4X. Then instead of using the plug spawn we used sawdust spawn, which is significantly cheaper, though you do need a special plunger tool to press the spawn into the holes. I’m also using a combination of paraffin wax/mineral oil(3:2) to seal the spawn in and to seal the ends and that seems to give it a good enough flexibility that it doesn’t just chip off.

StrawberriesThis year’s Midsummer Mayhem, what I hope will be a summer solstice tradition, got postponed until the weekend of July 17-19 because of the nasty camping weather. As storms rolled through this morning I realized I’d made the right decision. In the last month we’ve gotten 12″ of rain and it’s very muggy whenever the sun is out.

The plants are loving it though. I’ve seen whole varieties of trees flower this year that I haven’t seen in my previous 6 years here. The fruit trees and berry bushes have been productive thus far, and a heavy crop of peaches is weighing down many branches in the food forest right now. I also had far and away the best strawberry year so far, and the blueberries, gooseberries, blackberries, and raspberries all seem to have gotten the memo too.

Me, Whish, and EricI have a volunteer from Connecticut, Whish, who is handling a lot of the garden management this year. She’s kept an eye on plant pests and diseases, and she also helped make a large number of metal plant markers from roof flashing and marker flags for the garden. She is just now getting into the canning and pickling portion of the season, but she’s been dehydrating plenty of herbs and other produce.

My other volunteer, Eric, from Vermont has helped out a lot in the garden too. The extra rain this year has made weeding a bigger chore than normal, though I should have put down more rotted straw for mulch.  Anyway, Eric is going to be helping me more with the construction this year that we’re just now gearing up for because of rain delays.

farm reunionIn the middle of June, some of the original members of the land trust got together in Columbia and then came out for a tour of the new happenings at Maya Creek and to see what remained from the old buildings that were here.

It was nice to put faces to names, hear so many stories, and to see old friendships being renewed. I was also glad to see that they were all excited by my new endeavors out on the land they helped to purchase back in the early 70’s.

CARE CCUA strawbale cob benchRight after the reunion, my volunteers and I spent a couple days working with a group of young people working with the C.A.R.E. gallery, a summer program run by the city of Columbia and the Missouri Arts Council, to build a strawbale/cob bench at the main CCUA(Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture) farm in Columbia.

I was excited to do this project, despite a busy June, as I’ve wanted to contribute my skills to the CCUA for awhile. The materials were not ideal, but the group did a good job working with what we had. I’ll be going back later in July to show them how to mix and add a finish coat to the bench.

TaoSephhouseI also closed on a home in Columbia at the beginning of May. Not to worry! I’m in no way giving up on my work building Maya Creek, but I’ve been wanting a crash pad in Columbia for some time and boy did I find a nice one. I’ve already gotten an energy audit and started making easy efficiency upgrades like adding LED lighting, a hot water insulation blanket, and an efficient front-loading washing machine. I’ll be adding more attic insulation soon and somewhere between 2-4 kilowatts of solar panels next Spring.

Only a few weeks after closing on the new house I asked Persephone to marry me. I was beginning to think I’d never find someone to share my life with, and just as I was giving up I meet the woman of my dreams and I couldn’t be happier! She is kind, altruistic, funny, and vivacious, with a beautiful and intelligent head on her shoulders. Her eye for style and design compliments my utilitarian engineering mindset wonderfully and the future is full of possibilities.

For now the house in Columbia remains mostly her domain, though I’m there nearly every weekend and help when I can. I spend the rest of my time out at Maya Creek continuing to build what I hope will become a wonderful institution for learning self-reliance and communing with the natural world.

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.

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.

The Big Chill

My name is Jesse, and I am the newest full time Maya Creek resident.

Weather Vs. Progress

The weather here has turned to Fall literally overnight. The temperatures were in the upper 90’s for most of August, then suddenlyplunged to the upper 70’s last week. Today the high was 65 and rainy. Its going to be 36 degrees tonight. The rapid change was the perfect opportunity to get some of the sweaty work out of the way.

As of yesterday we are now about 3/4 finished with the second layer of the floor. Once we finish that, we can put in the indoor shower.

In the garden, we dug up the oldest compost and piled all of its goodness on thebeds, then created a new compost pile. We are still waiting for the floor in John’s winter cabin to dry, then we can put on the finish coat and then window and door. He should stay nice and warm in there. Now Its cold and wet. We can’t do any work so, I have time to write a blog as well as catch up with friends and family. Having time is important, kill your TV.


Since the chill we stacked strawbales on the roof of my camper, and created a small wall around the bedroom for insulation. It has helped noticably, especially on the hotter days when it stays much cooler in there. I hope it will keep the heat inside this winter too.Its going to be 36 degrees tonight, it should be an excellent test to see if I will make it all winter. The camper has heat but…even if we finish the solar upgrade, I’m not sure we can supply the electric blower through the winter. What an unusual year of weather.  Since it just rained and it was cold last night, we decided to have a campfire.



We had a great visit from Caitlin for a week. She learned about earthen floors, composting, alternative energy, straw bale building, and we also attended an Organic Beekeeping workshop at the Possibility Alliance. Caitlin ended her stay as a “Master” earthen floor installer.  Thanks for all your hard work Caitlin!

As soon as Caitlin left, we welcomed 3 new visitors. Dustin, Janet and Oatie the quaker parrot. Everone helped pour more earthen floor and sift clay on their first day. The second night is looking pretty chilly.

Sustainability Fair

Come Join us at the Sustainable Living Fair in Columbia, Missouri this Sunday from 11am to 6pm. Look for the Maya Creek, Sustain Missou, and Peace Nook booths! Details and directions can be found at http://www.slfcolumbia.org/ Sponsored by Peaceworks’ Center for Sustainable Living.

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.

The Big Thaw

It’s finally happened.  The weather has warmed to the point it’s no longer miserable to be outside.  In fact, it’s down right pleasant and judging by the chorus of crickets and peepers, the wildlife would agree.

The change in temperature has been swift, but I remember being struck by how quickly the chirps and hum of nature disappeared last fall.  One day it was there, and the next it wasn’t.  Two days ago the woods were completely silent at night except for the occasional owl hoot, and yesterday it was as if everyone got the memo.

As the days have gotten nicer they’ve also begun to pass much more swiftly.  That tends to happen when you’re constantly busy, web work in the morning and projects in the afternoon.  I have to slow myself down at times because it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer scope of everything.  I’ve taken to making to-do lists every other night just to keep that next step in perspective.

I’m aiming to start setting up Tarpopolis again at the beginning of April.  Once I empty the house out then I can start working on the interior roofing again, and after the last frost is past the plastering can start.

Until then I’m focusing my energy on the garden.  I built a trellis in the garden and cheated a little by buying some bagged garden soil to plant the sugar snap peas in.  I’ve also got a lot more seeds in the mini-greenhouse and coldframe although I’m a little worried I may have to restart some of them since I think I might have cooked them by not paying attention and opening them on a sunny day.

Due to some ridiculous beaurocratic wrangling with the DMV I wont’ be able to get a plate for the truck until early April.  Which severely hampers my rotted manure collecting operations among a host of other things I need the truck for.  I do have a plan on how I can still use it, however, it’s not exactly legal so I won’t post the specifics here.  Big brother may be watching.

I’ve got several new sources for manure which I plan on taking advantage of.  I’ll be adding a 4th vegetable garden bed as well as a 2nd perennial bed and then I’d like to add at least a small layer of manure around the perimeter of the main beds where I intend to plant berries and fruit trees in a couple weeks.  All in all I’m probably looking at 8 full loads of manure and another 2 or 3 of free mulch from Columbia for the paths.  It’ll be a good workout and warm up for the coming construction season.

A couple weekends ago Justin and Melainia came out and we burned a bunch of the brush piles that had been built up over the last year or so.  I wanted to make bio-char out of them by putting them out before they’d turned to ash.  The charcoal holds a lot of the nutrients in the ground so that they don’t wash away.  Unfortunately I didn’t have any water so we just let it burn where I’ll be adding the new vegetable bed.  The ash will still be good source of potassium for the plants.

One point of excitement was when we all 3 came back with bunches of brush to find flames leaping from the humanure pile which was maybe 20 feet away from the fire.  It was amazing how quickly the pallets caught on fire as well, and putting the whole thing out wasn’t easy with the aforementioned lack of water.  It was tempting to stomp on it, but it would be the equivalent of stomping out a giant flaming bag of poop on your doorstep.  Justin made this excellent graphic which is certainly t-shirt worthy should the opportunity arise.

I was considering planting standard size fruit trees, but there really isn’t enough space in the garden for that.  Instead I’m going to plant a lot of semi-dwarf and dwarf trees and have a big variety of different kinds of fruit.  I’m hoping that these trees will serve as sort of the genetic stock for the eventual food forest in the ecovillage center.

Typically you don’t want to start a fruit tree from seed because you don’t know what kind of fruit it will have, for instance an apple pollinated by a crab apple probably won’t have very tasty fruit.  However, if you start some of the trees from seed and then graft a branch from one of the tried and true varieties that I’ll have growing in the garden here then you’ve got something you know will be tasty.   Of course, any trees grown like that will be full-size since size is determined by the roots and they won’t have the dwarf root stock, but that’s what would be more appropriate for the ecovillage anyway.  Standards produce a lot more fruit and do so for many more years than dwarfs and semi-dwarfs.

I’m also waiting on the truck plate to pick up the pipe I need to raise the wind generator.  I’m hoping I can get that next week and get it up and running soon.  I did manage to fix my gas generator which hadn’t wanted to start since I got back so I at least have some power until then without having to go recharge my batteries at my friend’s place every several days.

I also picked up some trash along the road with some help from a friend last weekend.  I noticed that people had still been parking at the driveway to the old cabin and littering it with more beer cans and bottles since I cleaned it up last year and posted the “No Trespassing” signs.  Clearly they didn’t get the message so I lugged some of the 30 or so old tires that someone graciously dumped in the old root cellar and placed them as a barricade across the driveway entrance.

There are still another 30 or more tires in a ditch just down the road.  I plan on using some of those in the garden to grow potatoes in, and saving the ones that are in decent shape for other uses down the line.   A lot of them are really too far gone to do anything with and I may end up hauling them to a special tire recycling place not too far from here.  I also posted a homemade “No Dumping” sign in the hope that it might make some sort of difference as far as future tires are concerned.

My current struggle of the moment is getting water in the camper.  It appears that simply opening the main drain valve didn’t empty all the water out of the pipes and at some point the water froze and burst the water supply line in two different places.  Neither spot is very easy to get at, but I’ve only had to cut minor holes so far.  I’m on my 3rd attempt at patching them and each time I’ve gotten closer.  In fact the last time they held for a couple hours, enough for me to take my first hot shower in the camper, but then one burst and the second started leaking.  I think I’m finally on the right track now though and I should have it taken care of in the next day or two.

I’m also looking to get 3 or 4 laying hens and keeping them around this time.  I considered guineas again as well, but I wouldn’t be able to actually have them out and tick hunting until late July again.  They also don’t have the benefit of easily collected eggs and aren’t going to handle the winters as well.  The chickens have stinkier poop, but I think if I only let them free range around the campground and construction site every other day or so then it won’t be too big of an issue I’m hoping.  In the future I’d like to get guineas again since they have a wider tick-hunting range and they’re just kind of cool, but I’ll save that for another time.

So that’s where I’m at.  I’ll probably start having visitors out on the weekend of March 27 weather permitting if anyone’s interested.

Winding Down

The weather has shifted and things are getting downright cold around here.  The first frost is just around the bend and our tomatoes don’t look happy about it.  It’s been pretty overcast and the solar shower just isn’t cutting it anymore so we’ve been taking showers at the truck stop.

Visitor Lodge Fall '09The metal roof has been installed on the straw bale visitor lodge and it seems to be working like a charm.  It’s already weathered several intense storms without a sign of leakage.  Standing back and looking at the place I can’t help but be proud of myself.  I know we were aiming to get the entire place done this year, and we certainly could have gotten farther with different weather and more help, but somehow it’s hard to believe we’ve done as much as we’ve done.

We’ve started packing everything up and taking down Tarpopolis for the winter, after all, the tarps would collapse under any kind of snow load.  Liz has cleaned up a large chunk of the garden.  I’ve still got a few more things to do like tarping up the walls of the straw bale place and putting a metal roof over the composting toilet.  The cold makes it hard to get up in the mornings, but it certainly motivates to get as much done as possible.

We had a busy weekend with a photo-journalism student coming out to do a project about us, and a couple from Kansas City came out for a visit as well.  Justin and Melainia came out Sunday too and Justin helped us slaughter and butcher the guineas.  In reality, he did all of the slaughtering by breaking their necks in what appeared to be about as quick and painless a way imaginable.  The bodies still flopped around afterwards in a grotesque nervous system dance.  After watching Justin clean and butcher 2 of the 3 guineas I did the last one to get my hands dirty and really learn how to do it.

I’m not quite comfortable with the neck snapping, killing the animals is by far one of the more difficult and emotionally taxing things to do, at least for most people.  I’m concerned about hesitating and not doing it hard enough to kill them and having them suffer, the opposite is doing it too hard, in which case you pull the head clean off, which Justin did on the first one since guinea necks are weaker than chickens’ and he’d never done a guinea before.  I’m thinking I’d like to try making a chopping block out of a stump with two nails that you bend over the neck to hold it still and cutting the head off that way.  I’m sure that will cause the birds more anxiety, although I’d know I could kill it quickly and surely that way.  Gruesome trade-offs, and I may end up snapping the necks, but either way I know the birds had a good life, and that’s really the most important thing in my opinion.

We would have also slaughtered the last chicken but the night before Justin came out, a fox or some other critter made off with her.  All that remained was a pile of feathers and a bent fence where whatever it was climbed back over the fence.  Surely the way we choose to slaughter our animals is less painful and drawn out than what nature would do otherwise.

We cooked the meat over the fire and served it with some boiled carrots and potatoes from the garden.  The guinea meat was somewhat darker than chicken meat and had a slightly gamy flavor, which was actually very enjoyable.  The leg meat was a little chewier, but again, it was enjoyable.  I say that not just because it was personally satisfying to have raised our own meat, but because I objectively thought it was tasty.

Tao and Liz enjoying the guineasOur goal is to be providing ourselves with all or most of our own meat, which will undoubtedly be much less than the average American consumes.  It will also be healthier meat without all the antibiotics and elevated levels of saturated fats that confined animals end up with.  Not to mention our animals will be living happy lives doing what they instinctively want to do, and in the process providing us with much more than just meat and eggs.  We’ll be using goats like lawn mowers, using manure as fertilizer, guineas and other animals to get rid of pest plants and insects, all the while providing the pleasure of their company.

We recognize that the shear fact that we will be killing most of these animals near the end of their useful lives may seem brutal or inhumane to some people.  However, the more I observe and live closer to nature and read varying perspectives on animal husbandry, I’ve begun to see it as a symbiotic relationship.  These animals have evolved to depend on humans for their care and continuity as a species, in return they provide us with a host of services and ultimately even their bodies.

The alternatives are either to not have animals at all, which seems like a huge loss once you begin to recognize the immensely useful goods and services they provide, or to take care of them long past their useful lifespan until they die of old age, which is simply a fool’s errand.  I certainly will not enjoy killing them, but I will do it with somber respect and gratitude by doing it as quickly and humanely as possible and being as wasteless as possible with what they have provided.

In this last week, my mother will be coming up and we’ll visit the sustainability fair in Columbia, MO as well as just showing her what we’ve done and enjoying each others company.  Liz is heading out on Saturday I believe and I’ll finish up a few things and follow her a couple days later.  It’s sad to be leaving all of what we’ve accomplished but we’ll be back early next year and then we’ll be permanent residents.  I’m definitely looking forward to hot showers whenever we want and not dreading pulling off those covers in the morning.

I’ll continue to post blogs, I may even convince Liz to start posting as well.  We’ll spend the first month or so in Virginia doing some minor improvements to Liz’s house there and then we’ll head off to visit different intentional communities, as well as friends and family on a winter voyage in a small cheap tow-behind camper.  I’ve already got a few questions for each place we go, and I’m excited to see what other golden bits of wisdom they can bestow upon us and thus our blog readers as well.