This Fall was relatively uneventful, but I did get a few minor projects done that have made Winter much more pleasant. Also, I hosted wine-making workshop, which didn’t draw as many people as I imagined it would. My volunteers from Chicago left at the beginning of October heading to another farm in Georgia. They took my long-term volunteer, Billy, with them and as far as I know he’s still at that farm.
The volunteers helped me split a good bit of firewood before they headed out, and I spent most of the Fall preparing for Winter in one way or another. After they left I hauled some more logs, split them, and stacked up about a chord of wood. I also cut down a big oak tree that had died over the summer and was leaning precariously towards the shed. I cut that up, split it, and stacked it to cure for next Winter.
I also finally extended the common house rocket stove flue pipe up through the porch roof. The exhaust from the stove had been getting hung up under the porch and the moisture was condensing on the rafters to the point it was practically raining underneath the porch. I used a dremel to cut a precise hole for the flue and a butyl rubber to seal around it. The draft on the rocket stove has improved and I haven’t seen it back-smoke at all since the improvement.
Rocket-Powered Hot Water!
Last winter I combined a couple of ideas and came up with a plan to have hot water year-round. I built the solar hot water heating panel and installed the hot and cold barrels earlier in the spring, but the panel will only work in above-freezing temperatures because the water would freeze in the panel and burst the pipes.
I came up with the idea of using the same thermosiphon principle that worked on the solar panel, but wrapping copper tubing around the rocket stove barrel compared to the sun heating up the water in the panel. It was a little tricky getting the copper wound tightly around the barrel, but luckily when you buy large sections of copper tubing it comes in coils to begin with making it easier to avoid crinkling the pipe when I bent it around the barrel.
After running the stove the average 6-8 hours it takes to heat the common house up for several days the water in the 55 gallon hot water barrel will be upwards of 120F. The mass of the water and insulation on the barrel keeps the water hot for a couple of days, so it holds the heat almost the same amount of time as the house does.
The day after my last post we planted potatoes. Last week we harvested those potatoes. That’s how erratic my blogging has become so I’m not going to go into detail about the almost 3 months in between, but I’ll try to summarize.
Not long after my last post I finished up the solar hot water collector and the associated insulated hot water barrel. I made sure to leave space next to the collector in case I needed to build another one. That turned out to be unnecessary as the collector easily heats the 55 gallons of water to scalding temperatures within a day, and then holds it there even on cloudy days.
It feels so much more civilized out here now. Sure, it’s still really dusty in most of the buildings, and there’s still plenty of work to do before we have real sinks or a washing machine, but at least now we’re just a bunch of mildly-dirty hippies instead of filthy ones!
So far I’ve held a shiitake mushroom log workshop, wild edible foray, and an earthen plaster workshop, all of which have gone well. There was plenty of good networking going on between people with mutual interests, knowledge was shared, skills were learned, and I got a nice pile of inoculated shiitake logs growing their way towards deliciousness.
One side note on the shiitake logs that I’m kind of excited about. I cut more mushroom logs than I had spore plugs for, and I decided to take some of the mushroom logs that already producing and stack them interspersed with the uninoculated extra logs. I have strong hope that the mycelium will grow into the other logs or that spores will fall on them and they’ll begin producing as well. I’ve had the mycelium grow between the logs and from the logs into the pallets I stack them on, and have had mushrooms pop out of the pallet itself so it’s not far fetched. If so, I may be able to seriously ratchet up my shiitake production for a fraction of the effort I put in now.
The garden has done really well this year. We’ve gotten an above average amount of rain and only had to water occasionally mainly to get seeds started and transplants settled. All of the extra rain made construction projects difficult, so the volunteers spent an above average amount of time in the garden; weeding, fighting bugs, harvesting, etc and we’re now reaping the benefits. The dehydrator is constantly full and anything we can’t dry we’ve been canning.
It now seems clear that I can grow almost all of my own food, and probably trade excess for the things I can’t grow. The volunteers have been a big help, but I could do it all on my own if I didn’t have construction projects to deal with too. Maybe in a couple years I’ll try a year of total food self-sufficiency and see how it goes.
I originally planned on working on getting the inside of the common house finished, but after more detailed planning I saw that I needed a lot of carpentry work first that wouldn’t be easy to use volunteer help on so instead we’ve been working on getting the 2nd, and most labor/material intensive, coat of plaster on the cabins. The small single cabin now has it’s 2nd coat completed and we’re well on our way to getting the duplex coat on.
We’ve also been digging a 100′ long 2′ deep trench to lay some PVC pipe in and use as a very simple geothermal cooling/heating system called an earth tube. I’m mostly concerned with the cooling side of it, though it should decrease the already small amount of firewood I need in the winter.
According to what I could find on the internet I believe the air coming into the duplex even at the hottest part of the summer should be 70F or less and be significantly less humid. A small CPU fan will pull the air and as it cools in the pipe the moisture should condense and drain out. Another CPU fan attached to a pipe going through the highest point of the roof will blow the hot air out. The fans may not be needed all of the time since natural convection should move the air, but they certainly won’t hurt.
The rainwater cistern is the next big project and we should be starting on that in August. The pit is still wet from all of the rain this year, but the storms seem to be dropping less and less water and I think it’ll dry out enough to work on within the next month or so.
Right now I’ve got a full house with 3 volunteers. Billy, my full-summer volunteer is turning into a real asset now that he’s gotten the feel for things. The other 2 volunteers are Emmanuel, from France, and Daniel, from Utah. Both of them have been hard workers with good senses of humor and pleasant dispositions. I’ve also had a couple of volunteers from Pennsylvania and London earlier in the Spring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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