Tag Archives: land trust

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.

Shifting Gears

After making my way through the final push of the year, including cleaning up and taking down tarpopolis, finishing the rocket stove, and putting doors and windows on the house, I now find myself breathing a sigh of relief and am looking forward to a long winter of reading, planning, and preparing for next year’s warm weather.  By the time the weather actually warms up enough to start on projects I’ll be chomping at the bit to get started, and the whole cycle will start again.

Project Updates

The rocket stove is finally complete, well, for the most part at-least, I still have some tweaks to do.  The thermal mass bench took quite awhile, mainly because I had to let it dry in layers to avoid crushing the flue pipes.  Ianto Evans, the guy who literally wrote the book on rocket stoves, says that you won’t have a problem with crushed flue pipes if you build the bench with love.  So either I didn’t add enough love to my cob mix or he should be a little more detailed.

It took awhile to figure out exactly how to burn the stove and what size firewood to cut and how to position it to stop smoke from escaping inside the house, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it.  If I make any modification to the rocket stove it will probably be to raise the height of the feed tube to make it harder for smoke to escape and so longer wood can be used.

Altogether though I’m extremely pleased.  I can burn the stove for 5-6 hours and have the house stay in the mid-70’s for the next 2 days with sub-freezing temperatures outside.  The constant temperature is also great for sleeping because I don’t keep waking up having to add blankets like I did in the camper.

Also, cooking on the stove is really great, especially since it means I don’t have to use the propane stove very much.  It gets hotter than I was told to expect, which works out well because I can use it to cook just about anything or boil water for tea.  To slow-cook or just keep things I warm I set the pot on a raised metal stand.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I undumpstered the top to a bbq grill that fits perfectly over the top of the barrel.  I’m hoping that I can use it to turn the stove into an oven.  Experimentation is required.

In other news, I’ve expanded my brewing abilities.  I’ve got a gallon of blueberry wine fermenting away and a 5 gallon batch of experimental wheat beer going as well.  I invested about $200 in parts and equipment so that I’ll be brewing my beer from actual grains starting with my next batch. It’s a somewhat more labor-intense process, but I’ll immediately drop my cost per beer from about 90 cents to 40 cents.  I’ve been reading on how to use the spent yeast from one batch to use in the next so that will drop my costs another 5 cents a beer, and then once I get hops and brewing herbs planted next year I ought to be able to get it down to about 20-25 cents per delicious home-brew beer.

The off-grid power system got another serious upgrade.  The limiting factor on the system was storage capacity.  The system was making way more power than it could store, which isn’t a problem if it’s sunny and windy every day, but for weeks of overcast doldrums it becomes a problem.  So, I bought 6 new deep-cycle batteries to add to just the 2 I had previously.  That brings the system to 450 amp-hours from 112.  Enough to easily run all the lights and my beast of a laptop for hundreds of hours on a full charge, which I get from a single sunny day.

Winter Goals

I was beginning to physically wear down near the end of the warm season, and now that my body has recovered from that my brain is anxious to get to work.

The main goals will be organizational this winter.  I want to start holding monthly meetings for everyone interested in Maya Creek at whatever level.  I want to involve everyone in the decision-making process, figure out things like what it would mean to be a member here, how the membership process would work, how the decision-making process would work, etc.  I have ideas on a lot of these aspects, most of which I’ve posted on the website, but I want to hear from people interested in this place, what ideas and concerns they have, etc.  A dozen heads are better than one. It’s also just a good excuse to get everyone together to try out my beer and wine.

Apart from the meetings I’m going to start recruitment efforts for next year.  Last year was great, and I was lucky to have the people helping me that I did.  I didn’t do much in the way of recruiting volunteers or work exchangers, partly because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with being in charge of directing a large number of people.  Now that I have a little experience with it I have some ideas how I can handle a lot more help.

The first thing is going to be getting at least 2 or 3 work exchangers to be here all year.  These people will essentially be like foreman.  I have several large projects which I would want them to oversee next year such as building semi-permanent summer cabins in the camping area where the tent platforms are, making a trail from the camping area that goes to the ecovillage site, and starting on the main driveway to the ecovillage site itself.  Once they feel confident about the different projects I’ll essentially let them oversee them and put them in charge of short-term volunteers who come out to help.

I know the colleges and universities near here are brimming with people interested in what’s going on here, it’s just about letting the right people know what opportunities are available. So, I’m going to start a more aggressive campaign to get the word out at the universities this winter, try to identify organizations and professors who would be interested and let them know what I have going on.  I’m also going to post a detailed description of what the work exchangers would be involved in and responsible for and once I find them to start preparing them however I can for those projects as well as just generally being prepared for life out here.

My other mission this winter is to make Maya Creek Ecovillage a bonified legal entity.  I’m going to attempt to set it up as 501C3 tax-exempt non-profit educational organization.  It will make it much much easier to get grants as well as donations.  When that gets set up Maya Creek can create a formal agreement with the land trust, and once that agreement is in place it should serve to allay concerns about members’ property rights and provide a framework for what Maya Creek can do with the land which would facilitate more long-term planning.

Recent Events

I’d like to thank everyone for the attending the sweat lodge.  A memorable 30th birthday to be sure.  Justin and I will be reworking the sweat lodge to be smaller, more accessible, and ultimately much hotter.  After all, you’re not going on a vision quest unless you’re on the verge of losing consciousness.  Justin and I will hopefully have it down to an art for the next gathering.

Maya Creek also hosted the Weill/Lundemo family Thanksgiving this year.  Despite the house still being only roughly livable everyone seemed to be impressed and enjoyed learning about the different building aspects and other projects going on around the land.  There’s a profound since of satisfaction at having built a structure to protect your loved ones from the elements, especially when Thanksgiving day was the coldest day of the winter so far.

My dad enjoyed splitting firewood while he was here.  It’s also become one of my favorite new past-times because it involves and improves concentration, hand-eye coordination, strength, and when you’re done you’ve also produced something useful.  Last winter I had trouble finding ways to stay in reasonable shape, but this year it found me.

Upcoming Events

As I mentioned earlier I’m going to start holding monthly meetings for everyone interested in being a part of Maya Creek in one way or another.  So I’d like to announce the first Second Saturday Meeting on December 11, 2010 at 4pm. If that date and/or time doesn’t work for a lot of people then we can move it.  Please let me know if you plan on attending the meeting here at Maya Creek so I’ll know to expect you.  If you need directions or more info contact me.  I expect the meeting will last a couple of hours and time will be credited to everyone in the work log.