Tag Archives: tomatoes

Sputtering towards Spring

Organized workshop

In between the unusual arctic blasts that continue to pummel the area I’ve been quietly preparing for the inevitable coming thaw. We’re now back in another round of near record-low temperatures, but before that happened I got some much needed clean-up done as well as set up a really simple coldframe/mini-greenhouse for seed starting.

Ever since I brought my first load of stuff out to the property there’s essentially been an amorphous pile of stuff including everything from private affects and clothes to tools and materials all piled together with little rhyme or reason. It was under tarps strung between trees for the first 3 years, and then about a year ago it moved underneath the protection of the new shed.

Organized shed

Well, I finally went through ALL of the boxes of stuff and organized at least roughly. I can’t tell you how many things I found that I’d spent crazy amounts of time looking for.

The shed is a long way from done, and I’ll have to move some of the stuff again to work on the root cellar, but it’s so wonderful to easily find the tools and materials for projects and then know exactly where they go when I’m done. There’s an actual place for that kind of object now!  Also, I finally have space to pull in a vehicle to work on it when I need to.  Will wonders never cease!

Simple Coldframe

Hay and straw bale cold frame mini-greenhouseI made a rectangle from 8 old hay bales someone gave me and then stacked another 3 bales on the north wall of it.  Then I put down about 6″ of straw within a rectangle to insulate the floor and then draped a clear plastic drop cloth over a few 2×2 boards.  I secured the drop cloth with some of the scrap chunks of granite I have for various projects, mainly the footing around the straw bale buildings.

I also put a couple of the bigger dark pieces of granite inside of it, propped up against the back wall.  These chunks of granite are thermal mass that moderate the temperature, absorbing heat and keeping it from getting too hot during the day, and then re-radiating that heat back out at night.

Opened coldframe with onion trays

Today the outside temperature topped out at 26F, but inside the bale greenhouse it was 80F.  I’ve been bringing the seedlings inside at night since it’s been getting into the single digits and it gets below freezing inside the greenhouse, but soon it’ll protect against mild frosts and I can start getting tomato and pepper soil blocks started in there along with the onion trays I’ve already got growing.

Eventually there will be a greenhouse attached to the front of the common house and I won’t need to set a variation of this up every year.


Addressing Problems

I haven’t started on any major construction projects this year, but I have been spending a lot of time in the garden, doing some Spring cleaning, and addressing some other issues.  I’ll start of with the thing that spurred this post.  Today is the first day for pre-ordering internet service on the new fiber optic grid that’s been laid down in the area.  It was absurd watching them run fiber optic cable down the gravel road in front of Maya Creek.  City water doesn’t even come down this far, yet we’ll now have ridiculously fast internet.

New mailbox

Many of you know the issues I ran into when I tried to get an address for Maya Creek.  I’d essentially given up and settled into the PO box routine.  However, the fiber optic people saw fit to install a connection box at the end of the drive way and when I called them a couple months ago they said that they could still hook me up even without an address.  When I called today I got a different story and was momentarily crushed.  Then I was able to get in touch with the guy who told me he could still hook me up.  He looked up the house on Google Earth and then went and looked at their contract with the city.  Apparently, the city gave me an address and didn’t bother telling me about it.

So, I went from no address and crappy internet service to 30 Mbps(when the grid goes live in mid-July) and an address.  I dusted off the old mailbox I bought back when I’d been told I was getting an address and went ahead and set it up out front using a leftover cedar post.  I feel like a bonified neighbor now.

Garden Trials

The garden has been doing wonderfully.  The fruit trees are covered in baby fruit, the asparagus had a good run, and everything is planted except for the future succession plantings of various veggies.

Slug trap works on pill bugs tooOne issue I’ve run into is that I didn’t start my peppers or tomatoes early enough and the seed starting mix I used was out of a bag that got donated to me and it was total crap.  When the plants started showing serious nitrogen deficiency I went ahead and stuck them in the ground, but being as small as they are I’ve already lost quite a few.

Something was eating the leaves off my peppers and I finally caught the culprits one night, sow bugs, hundreds and hundreds of sow bugs.   A couple of nights before I’d set out a beer trap because I thought slugs might be the culprit, but wow, that trap filled up with maybe 50-100 of the buggers.  So, I’d luckily stumbled upon a control.  It still didn’t seem to be totally stopping them though, so I’ve also been spraying with a soap/cayenne pepper/garlic spray to make the leaves taste bad to them which doesn’t seem to be effective so I’m going to stop that.

Aluminum can plant collarAnother technique I’m trying out because a couple of my tomato plants were getting chopped down right at the base of their stem is making little metal collars out of aluminum cans.  I didn’t think it was sow bugs doing that, but I’ve read accounts online that they do.  There are definitely less sow bugs on the plants with collars, but I’ve still lost a couple more tomato plants.

Every year is a battle with pests in an organic garden.  It does seem to come into balance more and more as time goes on, the pest population explodes and eventually the things that eat those pests have a population explosion of their own.

I believe I brought the sow bugs in with a bunch of manure, and now that they’ve finished eating the decaying material in the manure they’re turning their sights on the next closest source of nutrition.  I have no doubt that they’ll eventually become less of a problem.

Shedding Stuff

My next project is going to be going through and organizing the shed and putting up the permanent 2-ply tarp walls.  Going through all of the stuff is going to be quite the nightmare. I’ll have giant piles of stuff to donate, stuff to sell, stuff to trash/recycle, and then stuff to keep and organize.  Not fun.

The temporary tarps that got hung up have been ripped to shreds.  The new ones will be attached more securely.  I’m also going to bury some tarps around the outside of the structure because I was getting water seeping into the root cellar.  After hooking up the downspouts and redirecting the roof water away and then laying down some tarps on top of the ground around the shed the problem has stopped.



July 2012 Newsletter: The Doldrums

The doldrums of June spread into July, but despite the incessant heat we soldiered forward on our projects.  We haven’t been accomplishing as much as we’d hope though, and have decided to postpone finishing the rainwater cistern until next year.

We’re still making good progress on the duplex.  Jesse has installed some bracing because the 2nd story was wobbly, and the bracing has really made a huge difference. He along with some volunteers also put in the blocking on the roof to fill in all the gaps between the purlins.

Over the last month we’ve finished the framing, dug the foundation drainage/insulation trench, put down the gravel bag stem wall, and poured the base layer of earthen floor.

We just finished placing the foam board insulation and drain tile in the rubble trench.  The foam board isn’t exactly environmentally friendly.  We’re thinking about using a layer of empty soda bottles as a dead air barrier in future construction.

Tomorrow we’ll fill it in with clean 1″ gravel and can move on to other building aspects like building window bucks, finishing the roof, and actually stacking the bales!

We finished installing the metal on the roof last week and we’ll have the gutters done tomorrow.  We used some semi-transparent pieces of roofing to let more light in and it looks they’re going to let in plenty of light.  We’ll probably only need a few lights inside.

We’ve done a good bit of digging in the root cellar squaring it up and getting it down to a better depth so some of us taller folks will be able to walk around in it without knocking our heads on the rafters.

There’s still part of a day of digging left to do on the root cellar, and then it’s on to framing it up, plastering the walls, and adding the gravel floor, shelves, and steps.

We had a wonderful 4th of July party, made some new friends and enjoyed the company of some old ones.  On the 21st we held an earthen floor workshop which was sparsely attended, but enjoyable and hopefully helpful nonetheless.  By the way, our next workshop is earthen plaster on August 18th!  Come by, learn something new, and give us a hand!

As it does every year about this time we’ve gone lax on our gardening duties as we fall behind on construction projects.  The drought certainly hasn’t helped anything, but despite that we’re still getting a nice crop of tomatoes.  So far the favorites are the yellow cherries and the hillbilly orange tomatoes. We also got a good haul of potatoes, onions, and garlic.

Most everything else is in serious need of water, but we’ve mainly kept the watering to a minimum and have been making sure the perennial fruit and berry bushes don’t die.

We’ll still plant a few more things for a fall garden, but unless the rain picks up we won’t expect much.  If we weren’t so pressed on construction we’d be hauling more water, ah priorities.  Next year we’ve got a full-time garden manager already signed up so that should help alleviate this seasonal decline.

We’ve had a number of comings and goings this last month, Dan, Lucy, Mike, Tristan, Tony, Bobbie, Janis, and Natalie.  We appreciate all of the hard work everyone has put in!




Growing Possibilities

Visualizing the future of Maya Creek can be double-edged sword.  The possibilities for this place are incredible and less and less difficult to see even to outside observers.  On the other hand, the amount of energy needed to realize those possibilities can be stifling and disheartening.

Still, over time I get used to the pace of growth and accept that it may be many years before it even approaches what it could be.  Every year and every day is different and fulfilling, and there’s really not much more you can ask for out of life.  The work here will never be done, or at least I should hope it never ends.  As the saying goes, the day you stop learning, is the day you begin to die.

Guest Cabin Progress

We’ve finished applying the last thick coats of earthen plaster and floor to the cabin.  It’s a very labor intensive process since the infill coat of plaster can be a couple inches thick.  It’s worth it though, because it really smooths out the walls, and is going to provide lots of thermal mass to moderate the temperature.

We also installed the foundation insulation, and mortared in the scrap granite chunks around the base to protect the bottoms of the walls from rain.  We stuffed the area behind the granite with misprinted polypropylene feedsacks filled with scrap alpaca wool, which we affectionately named, “fur turds”.

Yesterday, we went looking for a screen door and found one at the Habitat Restore for $20.  It was the only one they had and it was heavy duty and just barely the right height.  We took it back and it fit perfectly.  Dumb, but very awesome luck.

John should be able to move into the place after the walls and floor finish drying in several weeks.  We’ve still got to put the metal roof on, install the doors and windows, and put the finish exterior plaster on, but we’re getting close.

Garden Raids

The garden has been under siege ever since the sweet corn started coming in.  We’ve trapped ~7 raccoons and 2 opossums, and we probably would’ve gotten more if they hadn’t finished off the 400 sq. ft. of corn completely.  The fence we’ve set up works well on deer and rabbits, but climbing critters don’t mind it at all.

We’ve got a new solution though that I think will work.  We’re going to set up a stereo hooked up to a small solar power system.   We tried it out for about 5 days and the garden was left alone all that time.

Playing conservative talk radio seemed like the best bet, because it has the most yelling and angry sounding voices… and it’s just scary in general.  However, I had the idea of making a long MP3 recording of the sounds of common predators in the area and having it loop.  I’ll probably throw in some weird tiger roars and other foreign animal sounds too just to keep ’em freaked out.

The tomatoes are still coming in pretty heavily, and so are the squash and cucumbers.  I’ve been dehydrating a lot of the squash and tomatoes for winter soups.  They should go well with the ~50 lbs of potatoes we’ve got left from out harvest earlier this year.

The Possibility Alliance

Last Saturday Jesse, Jessica, John, Nic, and I went up to the Possibility Alliance in northern Missouri to take a short class on sustainable forestry.  It was actually more about just seeing the place and meeting the people.  It was a short, but sweet visit and I was really excited to see a project working that’s so similar to what I currently hope Maya Creek will turn into.

They’re creating a sustainable community, teaching workshops, and permaculture certification.  All just for donations!  I’d noticed that all the places that teach these types of skills and certifications were really pricey, and it seemed to defeat the point.  Most people interested in learning these skills don’t have a lot of money, and if you think the skills are that important then I would think you’d want to give as many people access to them as you could.

Today John and I went back for a more in-depth tour.  We got to explore the site fully and get a lot of questions answered.  The amount of energy that Ethan exudes is staggering, and I’m amazed he’s able to maintain it.   He and others at PA are part of the superheroes organization which ride bicycles in superhero attire offering help to people.  Perhaps he really is a superhero in more ways than one.

I’ve created an album of photos from the tour here.


We had a nice visit from Bob and Kelly earlier this month.  They were out from California looking around the area at permaculture related projects.  They’re planning on moving out this way in the near future, and are planning to help out at Maya Creek after they get settled.

Nic just left to help set up a camp at Burning Man.  He was here for about a week helping us put in some earthen floor and just checking the place out.  He came down from Minneapolis, but has been traveling around all over.  It’s always nice to have a new person with new stories and perspectives come and share that with us.  I’ll be seeing Nic again at Burning Man in a few days.

Rocketing into Fall

It’s hard to believe that the building season is already coming to an end.  The house isn’t as far as I’d hoped, but I’ve begun to get used to that.  As long as the progress is tangible it’s hard to get too depressed.  Watching the granite footing go up with Emily’s hard work has been exciting and has turned the house into a work of art.  The loft and interior wall studs in conjuction with the first half of the base layer of earthen floor have added a new dimension to the interior and although it’s still probably a whole building season from being done the finish line is in sight.

With the first light frost of the year and the leaves changing and finding their way to the forest floor where they’ll keep the tree roots well-mulched and cozy I’m reminded of my own winter preparations.  It would be easy to get stressed about all of the work still to be done over the next couple months, but I know I’ll get it done. Just knowing that I won’t have to spend the winter cramped in my tin can of a camper again is enough to keep my spirits high.

My most pressing project is getting the rocket stove done.  A rocket stove is a type of wood-burning stove similar to a masonry stove in that rather than the heat going straight up and out of a normal chimney, the flue runs horizontally through a bench made up of really heavy materials like rocks, bricks, and clay so that the heat is absorbed inside the house before the stove gases exit.  This means that the temperature of the air leaving through the flue is only a hundred degrees or so, even though the stove burns cleanly and efficiently at over a thousand degrees.  After setting up a mock-up of the heat riser guts of the stove at the last work party there are at least 3 new stoves in the planning stages by impressed observers.  I foresee many winter nights and days spent on the thermal mass bench in the future.

The earthen floor base layer is only a little over half done.  I held off doing the whole base layer because I wanted to bury the rocket stove in the floor so that the floor will also hold the heat.  I was more than ready to be done with the tedious work of mixing and leveling the floor.  Each batch of mix only created a couple square feet of floor space, so it would easily take 300 batches to do the whole layer.  Even after 3 weeks of running a couple of fans to dry it out it’s just now really begun to dry out.  There are two more layers, which involve a lot less material, and thus less mixing and work.  Any more work on the floor is going to have to wait until next year so I’ll have a half-gravel floor for the winter.  No big deal.

The solar power system has gotten a significant upgrade.  We’ve now got 400 watts of panel on the roof and new MPPT charge controller which is significantly more efficient at charging the batteries with those panels.  I’ve cut a couple trees down that were blocking significant sunshine and I’ll have to cut down several more before it’s all said and done unfortunately.  I also need to get some more battery capacity since we’re making way more power than we can hold when it’s sunny, but it only lasts a couple days with regular usage.

My first attempt at a brewing beer since I stopped about 5 years ago was a resounding success.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading on brewing beer with more raw materials so I can lower the price and have more control over it.  I’ve also got my first batch of wine brewing and plan on doing a lot more brewing and experimenting this winter as my pet project.  I’d like to have a lot of beverages tucked away for next year.  We go through a lot of beer and wine, and I figure this will cut down a lot on our recycling and expenses.

Emily finished the solar dehydrator that she’d taken on as her own pet project.  We’ve tried bananas, apples, persimmons, tomatoes, acorns, and herbs and they’ve all been delicious.  I’m especially fond of the fruits when they’re only partially dry and chewy.  It’s going to be a lot less depressing not seeing tomatoes and other veggies going bad because we don’t eat them or give them away fast enough.

Dakota headed out in September, and Emily has just headed back early to Ohio.  She’d expected to stay through Thanksgiving, but her father’s health has taken a turn for the worse and she’s gone back to spend some time with him.  Both her and Dakota were really crucial in getting as far as we did this year, not to mention just being good company.  Hopefully I won’t be too lonely this winter though, Justin is putting the finishing touches on his tipi cover and is planning on having a tipi-raising party in the next week or two.

A Little Bit of Everything

As usual, sorry for the blog hiatus.  Time has just been zipping by, but that’s what happens when you’re busy from sun up to sun down.  So, let’s see what’s new.

I’ve planted a ton of new fruit trees and berry bushes in the garden.  At the last minute I decided to try some blueberries and put three plants in this evening and added some sulfur to acidify the soil and mulched them with dried out cedar needles.

I also planted two different varieties of Goumi, which fixes nitrogen in the soil and grows an edible berry.  It’s related to the Russian Olives that grow here wildly so I figure it’ll do fine.  I planted them in among the fruit trees so that when I cut it back its roots will die back and feed the fruit trees.

The garden looks amazing and the first thing I do every morning is go check on it and just soak it all in.  The sugar snap peas have started coming in full tilt and there’s more lettuce and spinach than I know what to do with.  The first little green tomatoes have appeared on the early variety tomato plants, and there’s already some little zucchinis in the making as well.

I have a work exchanger from Nebraska who I’ll call “Dan” for privacy’s sake among other inside joke reasons… He’s been helping me since early May.  He’s staying through the 4th of July weekend when I’ll be holding an earthen plaster party and having a large bonfire down at the lake.  If you’re interested in coming just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll get you info.

Mid-way through May I also had a couple visitors from St. Louis who stayed for a week and helped me raise the wind generator.  I would’ve raised it sooner but it had been far too windy, and now that it’s up the wind hasn’t come back.  I’d like to have gotten higher above the trees but it just wasn’t easily done without cutting a bunch of trees and having a lot of ugly guy-wires all over the place.  I may have to cut the tops off a few trees to get some better air flow, but it still spins regularly.  I’m thinking about getting a small solar setup to augment it in the meantime.

Dan and I have gotten a lot done on the interior of the roof, and tomorrow we’ll be filling over half of it with cellulose insulation made up of recycled paper.  I also put quite a bit of alpaca wool scraps in there, but it was nowhere near enough and apparently all the other alpaca farmers sent their scraps to the gulf to help with the oil spill.

I’ve also installed the basic wiring for the house and put in the breaker box.  I used the chainsaw to cut out the depressions for the switches and outlets, and then attached the boxes to a plywood wedge and pounded it in between the bales to secure it.  I left them jutting out a little over an inch so that they’ll be flush once the wall is plastered.

With the help of my dad, Charlotte, Jessica, and Dan we’ve also got a bunch of mushroom logs inoculating.  Right now there are 3 different kinds, shiitake, chicken of the woods, and reishi.  I have another large bag of plug spawn for maitake(hen of the woods), which I need to get plugged in the next few weeks.  I won’t actually have any mushrooms for at least 6 months, possibly a year.

The main trees that needed to be removed from the dam have been cut down and piled up for the bonfire on the 4th.  The roots can penetrate the heart of the dam and cause leaks.  There’s quite a few more trees that need to come out though and there’s already enough wood down there for several large fires.  While I was clearing one day I almost stepped on a fawn in the reeds by the lake.  It was clearly scared, but just hoping that I didn’t see it or would ignore it.  I somehow just expect animals of that size to run, even if they’re small.

We also cleared the tour route and cut back the grass so ticks won’t be a big issue when I give tours.  The ticks haven’t been bad, and the only reason I get them at all is because Pink brings them in on his fur and they fall of in my bed in the camper.  I’m working on getting a lavendar oil/water mix to spray on him so that hopefully the ticks won’t hold on to his fur.  The mosquitoes are just now getting kind of annoying and aren’t nearly as bad as they were this time last year.

I’ve got 200 pounds of hydrated lime slaking in preparation for making lime mortar, i.e. lime putty and sand, which I’ll use to mortar rocks against the foundation wall of the house.  I’d come up with the plan of using the rocks surrounding the foundation wall at the old cabin.  My dad told me that they actually got the rocks from an old farm house that had been on the property so far, so this would be the 3rd time they’d been used.  However, I passed a granite counter place in Jefferson City that just had piles of broken granite pieces and I’m talking to them trying to see if they’ll sell or let me have it.  In which case I might have a really pretty foundation wall material, not to mention a great material for mosaic counter-tops, furniture in-lays, etc.

I took a fantastic trip down to a place called Jack’s Fork in south east Missouri.  It’s actually in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.  We went canoeing one day, and exploring water falls and springs the next.  There also a bunch of really interesting caves.  Surprisingly, the water was almost perfectly clear.  I have a bunch of fun and interesting stories from the trip and I’m contemplating whether to post that kind of stuff on the Maya Creek blog.  I know I make this pretty personal, but it has a pretty specific scope.  Let me have your input on whether I should branch out or not.

I’m having a hard time believing it’s June already.  I still think I should have everything done to live in the house this winter, but I’m getting a little anxious.  The trip to Jack’s Fork this last weekend and the wedding I’m going to in North Carolina this coming weekend have me feeling like I’m not getting enough done.  I had a couple other trips planned later in the summer, but I may have to cancel them depending on my progress out here.  I’ve definitely got one new work exchanger coming out at the beginning of July from Ohio, and very possibly a second one from New Jersey coming at the same time.  Having help is fantastic. It’s great to get so much done, but also to have someone to hang out with.

Hopefully, I’ll be getting back to my regular 2 week posting rate, but we’ll see.