Tag Archives: volunteers

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.

Spring 2014

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.

solar-hot-water-collectorHot Showers!

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!


plaster-workshop-2So 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

garden-6-18-14The 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.

Construction Projects

earth-tube-trench-billy-diggingI 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.


manu-billy-mulchRight 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.

2014 Call for Volunteers

Volunteers finish earthen floor base coatI am looking for volunteers to help on a number of different sustainability-related projects at Maya Creek for 2014.   I’d prefer volunteers to stay a minimum of 1 month, but I’ll consider volunteers for stays as short as 2 weeks. Volunteers staying longer will be given opportunities for more complicated work as well as preference on housing.

The work season starts at the beginning of April and runs through the end of October.  All volunteers will be provided room and board in exchange for 20 hours of work per week.

Canned garden produceGarden Help

I am looking for volunteers to help with the garden, food forest, medicinal and wild plant identification and harvesting, and food preservation.  This will involve weeding, watering, making compost, pest management, research, harvesting, canning, dehydrating, and fermentation. There may also be an opportunity to build an herb spiral for a volunteer staying a month or more.

Volunteers applying earthen plasterConstruction Help

The other main area of help will be on natural building projects, such as mixing and applying earthen plaster, helping construct the rainwater cistern, root cellar, and rocket stoves. Artistically minded volunteers may be encouraged to get creative with the finish coats of plaster, frescoes can be added with a little lime, and shelves and other sculptures can be incorporated as well.


You will be expected to put in 20 hours per week, weather permitting.  Cooking and doing dishes from communal meals count towards this.  There is a work log where everyone enters a general description of what we did each day and roughly how long we spent on it.   It will serve as a chronicle of Maya Creek and is useful for future planning, but it also lets you know if you need to find more to do or you can chill out and spend the day down at the lake or the river.

We will attempt to do most of our work during weekdays and keep the weekends free, but sometimes circumstances demand we work on the weekend, ie workshops,  weather, etc.

Strawbale duplexAccommodations

One side of the strawbale duplex with loft or a small 80 square foot strawbale cabin.  Both come furnished with full size beds, night stand, dresser, etc.  Each place is livable, but not totally complete.  If you would like to spend some of your work hours working on making your quarters nicer that would be more than acceptable.

The first construction project next Spring will be setting up the indoor solar shower system, but until it is working rainwater can be heated up on the stove and you simply pour it over yourself with a cup.  There is a composting sawdust toilet outhouse in the campground.


We will rotate through cooking duties.  After dinner each night we’ll discuss plans for the next day as well as who will be in charge of the various meals and dishes.  Often breakfast and sometimes lunch may be on your own, but there will be plenty of food to choose from.  Everyone is in charge of washing their own plate, glass, and utensils.  Pots, pans, utensils and other equipment used for preparing common meals will be done after dinner by whoever’s turn it is that day and put away by whoever has the first meal shift of the next day.  All reasonable grocery requests will be filled, don’t expect filet mignon or other junk food, at least on a regular basis.


I would like to find volunteers who have their own vehicle.  There will certainly be local events and chores that we will carpool for, but you’ll inevitably want to take your own excursions, as will I.  This is in now way an absolute requirement.

How to Apply

To apply please fill out the Volunteer Questionnaire. If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me.

Catching up with myself

It was four years ago on April 15th that I landed at Maya Creek.  I was asked recently about my personal state of being now after this much time pouring my everything into my work here.  So this post will be a little different from my normal updates on projects, observations, and whatnot. I’ll post about more external affairs soon, but this is a personal audit of sorts.

I’ll start with the easiest aspect to describe, that of my physical condition.  I lost 15-20 pounds that first summer on the land, but gained back about 10 over the winter.  Since then the pattern has somewhat equalized so I gain 10-15 over winter and lose 10-15 over summer.  I spend about 2-3 weeks every spring being pretty sore as my body gets back into shape.

I haven’t noticed any permanent wear and tear on my body apart from the injury I got in October of 2011 when I cut my wrist badly.  My flexibility and strength has returned in the hand, but the nerve sensation is only slowly returning as is expected with that kind of injury.  I’ll probably never recover the sensation fully, but it should continue to return indefinitely.  It doesn’t hamper me for the vast majority of tasks.

All in all though, I eat better than I did, feel better, and at any given time I’m in some of the best shape of my life.  As a side note, I’ve noticed that I have a much broader comfort range than I had before when it comes to things like temperature, pain, cleanliness, bug bites, etc.

The first couple of years on the land I only had a couple people helping me, if any at all. I was so eager to see my dreams come to fruition that I worked hard day in and day out.  I started to wear down and so took in some friends and more volunteers to help out, but instead of keeping my goals small I expanded them and ultimately made more work for myself and felt less able to regulate my work schedule around my own personal energy levels.  On top of the larger project scope there was significant amounts of energy going into managing volunteers and even just maintaining relationships of all kinds to the point that I began to seriously burn out.

This year I’m scaling my volunteer help back to what it was the first couple of years and am taking my time; working on things when I feel like it, and taking time to relax and recharge when I need it.  As the zen story goes, “When hungry, eat.  When tired, sleep.”  I already feel like I have significantly more control over my life and I’m finding a pace that I can keep for the long haul.

It’s been VERY easy to bite of more than I can chew and then spend large amounts of time stressing about getting everything I’ve started to  a satisfactory conclusion.  It’s also been VERY easy to get overwhelmed when I start to break down the bigger picture into all of the steps.  My vision for the future has changed so drastically that having more than a rough outline for the future is almost waste of time in it’s own right.  Setting realistic goals in a general direction and focusing on taking things a step at a time is certainly the path to maintain sanity.  It may sound obvious, but it’s been easier said than done thus far though I’m certainly taking it to heart now.

I’ve become better at recognizing when an emotion has arisen in me and examining it for what it is rather than letting it control my thoughts and actions.  I still have a long way to go in this regard, and regularly say things or behave in ways that don’t reflect the person I want to be and who I know is still buried within me.  Yet, that person comes closer to the surface as time goes on and any progress in that direction is welcome.

The word “spirituality” brings to mind new age ideas, which don’t appeal to me.  Still, the more intimately I entwine my life with the natural world the closer I feel to something sacred.  I often feel like a child while closely examining insects, reptiles, birds, mushrooms, plants, or watching the interactions between any number of participants in this natural web of life.  It’s awe-inspiring and a large reason for slowing my construction pace down is so that I can spend more time connecting with it.  It makes me feel more alive.

Altogether, I’m happy and optimistic.  The enjoyment and satisfaction I get from completing even small tasks and projects keep me motivated and excited to continue my journey.  There are certainly pitfalls to this lifestyle, and I’ve skirted dangerously close to their edges at times.  I now have the sense that I’ve found stable footing and though there’s still some rough patches ahead I feel well-equipped to handle them while still appreciating the view.

April 2012 Newsletter

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.

Fundraiser Progress

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.

Frost Setbacks

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.


Earth Day

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.

Project Progress

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.


If you’d like to get updates whenever we post a blog, pictures, videos, or when we just have something small and quick to announce or discuss please join our facebook group.


A New Direction

I’ve been doing really well since dissolving the community aspirations for Maya Creek. I don’t feel as rushed, and have enjoyed taking long walks exploring the woods with Kita.

On one of those walks it really struck me how beautiful the land was, and how much it easily rivaled many of the parks I’d been to. That reminded me of my high school guidance councilor, and how I’d told her that if I could have any job in the world it would be to be a park ranger. Everything kind of clicked for me at that point.

Maya Creek Nature Preserve & Sustainable Campground

I basically want to set the land up as a private park and sustainable campground. Once the straw bale house is done, the campground upgraded, and the trails cleared I’ll start on my own home. Eventually I may build a larger building to have a space for retreats, workshops, and classes.

At some point whenever everything is set up at the campground I may start charging something for visitors who just want to camp.  I may also sell food and meals from the garden and start making the place financially sustainable as well.

People seem to think that I still want to start a community, but it’s really not even on my agenda. I want to get my own life in order, share the beauty of this place, the things I’ve learned and am learning.  Beyond that adding more people on a permanent basis gets complicated quickly and I’m liking simple.

Environmental Group Retreats

Sustain Mizzou from MU and ECO from Truman State came out for campout/work party.  Unfortunately the group from Truman could only stay for a tour since they had finals looming, but it was still great to meet them.  About a dozen people camped out, cooked veggies and marshmallows over the fire, and basically had a nice party.

The next day they helped clear out what I’m calling the North Ridge trail.  I didn’t actually get a chance to enjoy what we’d accomplished that day until I walked it a few days ago.  It makes a huge difference in how much you can enjoy when you’re not constantly dodging branches and watching your feet to make sure you don’t trip.  So thanks to everyone who helped out!  You can find more pictures of the event here.

This coming weekend May 13-15, the Missouri Student Environmental Coalition is holding their spring retreat out at MC.  Depending on the size I’ll probably put them to work clearing another trail and helping make some more raised beds in the garden.  I may also put some of them to work digging out a space for a small root cellar.

The Garden

I’ve really gone crazy making expanding the garden.  I’ve probably doubled the size of the garden from last year.  If one of my summer apprentices wants I’d like to continue expanding it until I’ve filled in the entire fenced in area with raised beds.  It’s probably a little over half way to that point now.

On May 4 there was a mild frost and killed back most of my potatoes and a lot of my squash, tomato, and pepper plants.  At the time I didn’t know how I could really protect the hundreds of plants, but in retrospect I should’ve piled straw up around them.  It’s lightweight enough not to damage them and easy to apply.  Next year I’m also going to start 3x as many tomatoes and peppers as I think I’ll need just to be safe.  Live and learn.

The Campground

I’ve gotten my camper positioned and cleaned out.  My plan is to live in the campground during the summers, at least until I get my own home built.  After this year though I’ll hopefully be living in one of the summer cabins we build, but the camper will do for now.  Jessica will probably be staying with me a lot more this year, although she did just get a small apartment in Columbia. I’ll be glad to have her around more.

As far as the new summer cabins go, I’ve got the site for the first summer cabin staked out and it’s a beauty.  It’ll have a really nice view looking into a wild field.  I now think that the cabins will have a simple tamped dirt floor, with a rubble trench curtain drain to keep them dry.  I’ve got some chisels and other wood working tools to make a simple timber-frame to support a metal roof and to wrap the scrap billboard tarp around.  I think I’ll call this new style, neo-rustic.  🙂


The little bitch is growing like a weed.  She’s already learned sit, lay down, and shake, although her biggest accomplishments are that she now knows that she’s not allowed in the garden and that she’s not supposed to chase the guineas or chicken.

The training shock collar has really worked wonders, but don’t worry, I hardly have to use it and when I do it has a vibrate option that works most of the time.  The noise I make to tell her she’s doing something she’s not supposed to carries a lot more weight now.  I probably won’t need to use the collar at all in the near future.

Watching her play makes any stresses I have seem silly.  She’s dug out a big crater in the middle of my sand pile, and I’m pretty sure she’d dig a den under a tree if given the opportunity. Also, she’s always picking up sticks, but we’re still working on the finer points of “fetch”.  Her favorite parts of our walks are when we take a break down by the creek and she goes bounding up and down it.


It looks like I’ll have a full crop of volunteers this year.  A lot of people have been finding me through a site called Workaway.info, which is set up sort of like WOOFing but for anything really.  There are hosts and volunteers, hosts can be anything from a family looking for a nanny in paris, an organic vineyard in Italy, or a beautiful nature preserve/campground/homestead project in mid-Missouri.  The hosts are expected to provide room and board and the volunteers provide about 25 hours of help a week.

At this point I’m still looking for one more full-summer volunteer.  I’m going to have 4 people staying for the summer, with a spot for a short-term volunteer that’ll keep changing all summer.  At this point the short-term tent space is reserved for 6 different people with only a span of 2 weeks near the end of June available.  It should be kind of nice having a new person to get to know constantly, not to mention all of the other different people coming for weekend work parties and tours.

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.

Raising the Roof

The big news is that the roof is going up quickly.  Probably one of the few things that’s going faster than I anticipated.  The weather has been exceptionally cooperative, all the same, we are running out of time before the cold moves in so I’ve strung two large blue tarps over the site so that we could possibly work even if the weather wasn’t great and wouldn’t have to go through the labor intensive process of covering and uncovering the walls every time the weather got bad.

I considered covering the site from the beginning, but ruled it out based on how hard and costly it would be, but looking back on the unusually wet summer we’ve had here, it would have been a good idea to do it earlier.  Who would’ve guessed though?

Tao raising the roof.The flow of visitors(i.e. free labor) has tapered off somewhat and Liz has injured her back somehow.  That left me with the unenviable task of raising the roof mostly alone.  I consulted with Tom Mudd, a family friend down the way, and he filled in a lot of my questions on how to design the roof and what I’d need.  He also informed me I’d need a minimum of 3 people to put the ridge beam on.  I didn’t have the luxury of waiting for volunteers so I pondered and came up with what I felt was a fairly ingenious method and managed to do it all by myself.  I’ve since hung all of the rafters and cross-ties and started putting the purlins on.

It’s now become clear that we won’t be staying in the building this winter, and we’ve decided to try to leave around the last part of October.  At the current pace we should have the roof done and the protective plaster on easily by that time.  Our plans for the winter are to get some sort of used RV and migrate south, visiting other intentional communities, ecovillages, and like-minded people along the way.  We’ll also probably spend some time in Virginia working on Liz’s house there.

Liz stuffing between the balesIn other news, we were in the news last week.  We were the cover story for the Columbia Missourian which you can see here.  They took some nice photos and wrote a pretty good article.  It looks like the same article also got put on a number of news sites in St. Louis.  A guy named Glenn who’s building an earthship in Union, MO called me tonight after reading about us on Yahoo! News.  It’s great having all the cool people come to us without even having to search them out.

The garden has slowed down, but still producing a large number of tomatoes.  The squash are producing a second explosion, which we could probably have done without since we’ve got two large overflowing crates of them as it is.  Liz has canned about 35 jars of pickles as well as a couple jars of pasta sauce.  She’s also discovered  that you can use regular jars from the store to can with.  Jars from things like pasta sauce and pickles will seal shut if you do them just like the special canning jars.  That ought to save some money and what a great way to reuse something rather than recycling it.

The Missouri Department of Conservation provided us with channel catfish and bluegill fingerlings for our pond.  It was more than a small chore hauling the pond water up to the truck to have them put the fingerlings in at the drop location and then hauling them back down.  We haven’t got the road accessible back there yet so I had to make a half dozen trips with the garden cart.  Next spring we’ll be getting the bass fingerlings for free from the MDC as well.

Justin destroying the noobsToday we took a brief break from everything and went to a “Knapp-In” in Booneville, MO about an hour away.  Justin and Melainia, our friends from Fulton invited us out.  Justin knapps flint and makes his own spears, at’latls, darts, arrows, bows, etc.  It was really interesting watching the people knapp arrowheads and knives.  Justin participated in the at’latl contest.  For those that don’t know, an at’latl is a deviced used to essentially extend the length of ones arm allowing you to throw a spear or dart much harder and farther.  Although he’s technically new at the contest throwing, he cleaned the floor with all of the rookies, myself included, although to be fair it was only my first time to ever try to throw one at all. Here’s a video of Justin hurtling a dart with an at’latl.

That’s it for this installment.  We’re in the home stretch and the weather is starting to cool off.  We’ll be working pretty much non-stop except for a brief excursion down to Mississippi for my 10 year high school reunion.