Tag Archives: strawbale

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.

Battening the Hatches: September/October 2012 Newsletter

September was spent doing a lot of earthen plastering on the strawbale duplex. We managed to finish the 1st coat on the exterior and interior and got the 2nd, much more time consuming coat, on the interior of my(Tao) side of the duplex.

It would have been nice to finish the interior of both sides, and especially nice to get the finish plaster and floor in so that we wouldn’t have to move out to do that next year, but since the 2nd coat of interior plaster is still drying on my side there’s no way that was possible.  It’s been exactly a month and the 2nd coat is almost dry.

Anyway, that’s where we decided to cease major construction for the year and give ourselves a healthy amount of time to prep for winter. Prepping for winter includes taking down all of the tarps, tents, the pop-up camper, cleaning out the garden, spreading compost, and generally cleaning up and battening the hatches to stay warm.

The Common House

Yesterday I built some shelves for the pantry, and it’s actually being used for pantry-like functions for the first time in its existence. Having our food spread out in an easy to see and accessible way is probably more novel than it should be. I feel like I’m standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open.

Moving the kitchen in and out has become one of the dreaded spring/fall tasks. Until we finish the walls and the floor of the common house we have to move everything out to work on it. We were hoping this would be the last year we’d have to move it in and out, but we’ll have to do it all again next year as well.

We’re prioritizing the finish work on the common house for next year. The water system(hot indoor on-demand showers!) is the driving force. It’s also getting old explaining to every visitor that no, the common house isn’t done yet. We want to have at least one nice finished place to show as an example of what can be done using these sustainable techniques as soon as possible.

Rocket Stoves!

We’ve also been working on heating for the winter. I just finished work on the rocket stove in my side of the duplex. Jesse has the first phases of his complete, and John is gathering materials for his slightly more complex design.

The only thing I would do different on mine so far is to use 5″ flue pipe instead of 4″. Still though, it works remarkably well, and since it basically just burns twigs and small branches I can collect enough wood to burn for 4-6 hours in just a few minutes and I don’t even have to chop anything!

The draft created by the chimney effect and the insulated burn chamber are really exceptional. The sound it makes reminds me of the sound the space shuttles made(past-tense boo!) when they were taking off.  I find it very soothing.

I set mine up with a small cooking area as well as a platform to keep things hot.  I’ve cooked a couple batches of ramen(don’t judge me) on it so far, but I see a lot of tea being brewed in the future.

Harvest Festival

The harvest festival went well, although we’re contemplating moving it later in the year and using it as a time to celebrate our accomplishments for the year and to essentially close out the building season. We had a good turnout of friends and neighbors though, and I believe everyone had a good time.  The homemade hard lemonade certainly didn’t hurt!

Adventures in E. Coli

Many of our neighbors are hesitant to eat anything we’ve grown since word is out that we use humanure to grow our food. With that in mind I ran some tests for e.coli(Thanks to Sarah for acquiring the tests!) just to make sure we’re doing things correctly.

I tested our garden soil that I hadn’t added humanure to, some that I added humanure to last year, straight 1 year old humanure, and 1 year old composted alpaca manure. The results are in! The alpaca manure showed 4 e. coli colonies on the 2 tests, which is within safe limits, there was 1 e. coli colony on 1 of the tests that just had plain garden soil and there were no e.coli colonies found on any of the 7 tests that were done on straight humanure or soil amended with humanure.

Let me repeat that, despite doing more tests on the humanure compost and humanure-amended soil than on the other samples, we were unable to find a single cell of e. coli.  In other words, our humanure compost is totally safe!

We believe the alpaca manure didn’t compost as thoroughly because of how compacted it was.  The manure came from cleaning out the alpaca stalls in the spring and had been tromped on all winter.

While that should put everyone’s mind at ease I doubt the fecalphobes, ie most of society, will be too reassured. In order to utilize our humanure while still compromising with the fecalphobes we’re now only applying the humanure to the fruit trees and using alpaca manure on the veggie beds, despite it showing higher levels of e. coli than the humanure, although still within safe levels.

Winter Goals

We’re organizing ourselves for winter projects. Those include working on organizational aspects such as becoming a non-profit organization, restructuring our volunteer program, and getting training as meeting facilitators. I personally plan on doing more introspective work, meditating, reading, taking long walks, etc.  Oh, and I’ll also be working on editing together the video footage we shot this year into something presentable.