Tag Archives: trees

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.

Eastern Tent Catepillars

We’ve pulled a dozen or more of these eastern tent caterpillars off our fruit trees.  They’re around every year  mainly in the spring and they’re easy to spot once you know the kind of damage they do to the leaves.  They seem to prefer the apple trees, but I did find a few on peaches and plums as well.

I’m hoping they won’t be too big of an issue once the trees get larger and we plant more of them, for now hand-picking them is no problem.  We’re just squishing them and leaving them for the birds, but when we get poultry again we’ll turn them into eggs.


It’s not fun to cut down trees, for the trees or for us.  No one likes using a tool as noisy, smelly, and dangerous as a chainsaw, but this last month has been packed with tree felling and processing. We’re clearing out our construction sites for this year, and turning the trees into firewood, mushroom logs, and we’ll be milling some of the trunks into lumber.

We’re also culling some cedars, trimming them up, and peeling them for use as posts in the shed and strawbale duplex.  They’re rot resistant, beautiful, and plentiful here.

In exchange for harvesting some trees we’re taking on the responsibility of protecting the other trees on the property and providing for their survival.


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.

Getting Warmed Up

Yes, I know, I’m overdue for a blog entry. As soon as the weather warmed up it seemed that everyone decided it was time to get their web page revamped.  Every time I’d sit down at the computer I’d feel like I needed to be working on web work, and the blog could wait.  It can wait no longer!

There’s so much to do and just not enough time to do it all.  I’ve significantly cleared out the garden area along the edge and put up a 5′ tall fence.  I’ve taken to throwing all of the brush on the outside of the fence to further deter deer from jumping it and hopefully it’ll be good wildlife habitat for less garden-aggressive creatures.

I decided to cut things back when I started planning out the exact fruit tree locations and realized that they’d be getting quite a bit of shade, and if I didn’t cut those trees back now it’d be a lot harder when the fruit trees are planted because the trees and branches could very easily fall on the fruit trees.  It’s been sweaty work, but it’s finally done.  I don’t enjoy cutting trees down, both on principal and my general dislike for running the chainsaw.  It just makes me nervous handling something so dangerous.

Incidentally, a couple weeks ago I accidentally cut a tree down and had it fall on the straw bale place.  It did some damage, but not nearly as bad as it could have.  I’d actually taken extra precautions because it was near the house.  I had a wench set up and had it under a lot of tension pulling it away from the house and cut an extra large wedge, but somehow the laws of physics decided to throw me a curve ball.  I’ve since chopped the tree up, along with some others and will be inoculating them with shiitake and chicken of woods mushroom spore plugs in the next week.

I’ve successfully been driving the truck around without being hassled.  So far I’ve picked up all the supplies I’ll need to raise the wind generator, supplies for the plaster that’ll cover the gravel bag foundation wall, a load of horse manure, and a heaping load of compost.  The compost came at a price though.  I didn’t realize that the new trailer that I’d been given couldn’t handle the weight I put in it.  The person who gave it to me told me that he’d used it to haul compost and so I just filled it up.  I didn’t realize anything was amiss until I pulled into the driveway and was clearly dragging something… it turned out to be the whole trailer. The neck part basically just bent, and I’m not sure what I can do to fix it.  The guy who gave it to me does welding, but I’d feel bad asking him to fix this.  I’ve considered just flipping it over and using a sledgehammer to bash it straight, but even if it’s effective it’ll still be weak.

Despite the tree falling on the roof and trailer breaking things have been generally good.  I put up the gutters on the front part of the house and have been harvesting rainwater.  All of my seedlings seem to be doing well.  I was worried for awhile that some of the older seeds weren’t good any more, but they just took a little longer.  I’ve got one of the garden beds planted with cool weather crops. I’ve added nesting boxes and a run to the old guinea coop in preparation for the chickens.

I’ve met some interesting people in the last few weeks as well, and everyone always seems to bring me things.  A couple people from Columbia came out and brought me 3 loaves of freshly baked homemade bread which was absolutely delicious.  I’ve even been invited to come out to the next bake so I can see how it’s done.

Yesterday, a guy that lives a little over an hour from here came up for a visit.  He’s building a geodesic dome, and it turned out we had quite a lot in common.  He brought me some great stuff that he’d got dumpster diving behind a Trader Joe’s.  I’m quickly getting on board with the dumpster diving idea.  It’s not exactly sustainable, but it’s certainly making good use of things that would otherwise just go to waste.  You wouldn’t believe the perfectly good stuff that people throw out.  He’d even found working power tools in hardware store dumpsters!

As with every post, I’ve got to talk about the weather.  It’s been unseasonably warm here, it got up to 82 today and right now there isn’t anything close to freezing temperatures in the forecast.  I’ve been sleeping with the door and windows open, and I installed a cat door on the screen door so Pink wouldn’t just tear a hole through it.  He didn’t like it at first, but he’s getting used to it.  The nice weather has made it all the harder to spend time inside working on the computer.

My next projects are getting the fruit trees in the ground, getting more manure, and raising the wind generator.  I’ve had a lot of offers for help getting the wind generator up, but there’s quite a bit of prep work I need to do, and even then I need to think about exactly how it’s going to work and what people will need to be doing.  I’m trying something a little… unconventional, but I’ll save that for my next video post.