Tag Archives: winter

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.


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.


The Big Chill

My name is Jesse, and I am the newest full time Maya Creek resident.

Weather Vs. Progress

The weather here has turned to Fall literally overnight. The temperatures were in the upper 90’s for most of August, then suddenlyplunged to the upper 70’s last week. Today the high was 65 and rainy. Its going to be 36 degrees tonight. The rapid change was the perfect opportunity to get some of the sweaty work out of the way.

As of yesterday we are now about 3/4 finished with the second layer of the floor. Once we finish that, we can put in the indoor shower.

In the garden, we dug up the oldest compost and piled all of its goodness on thebeds, then created a new compost pile. We are still waiting for the floor in John’s winter cabin to dry, then we can put on the finish coat and then window and door. He should stay nice and warm in there. Now Its cold and wet. We can’t do any work so, I have time to write a blog as well as catch up with friends and family. Having time is important, kill your TV.


Since the chill we stacked strawbales on the roof of my camper, and created a small wall around the bedroom for insulation. It has helped noticably, especially on the hotter days when it stays much cooler in there. I hope it will keep the heat inside this winter too.Its going to be 36 degrees tonight, it should be an excellent test to see if I will make it all winter. The camper has heat but…even if we finish the solar upgrade, I’m not sure we can supply the electric blower through the winter. What an unusual year of weather.  Since it just rained and it was cold last night, we decided to have a campfire.



We had a great visit from Caitlin for a week. She learned about earthen floors, composting, alternative energy, straw bale building, and we also attended an Organic Beekeeping workshop at the Possibility Alliance. Caitlin ended her stay as a “Master” earthen floor installer.  Thanks for all your hard work Caitlin!

As soon as Caitlin left, we welcomed 3 new visitors. Dustin, Janet and Oatie the quaker parrot. Everone helped pour more earthen floor and sift clay on their first day. The second night is looking pretty chilly.

Sustainability Fair

Come Join us at the Sustainable Living Fair in Columbia, Missouri this Sunday from 11am to 6pm. Look for the Maya Creek, Sustain Missou, and Peace Nook booths! Details and directions can be found at http://www.slfcolumbia.org/ Sponsored by Peaceworks’ Center for Sustainable Living.

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.

Maya Creek Christmas 2009

After some soul-searching and continued annoyance with referrals to the morning after pill I’ve decided to change the name of the Ecovillage.  I’ve gone through a few different ideas and some conferring with Justin and Melainia I’ve settled on Maya Creek Ecovillage. Almost the entire watershed is on the property and it’s easily one of the most beautiful features of the land.  The road that will eventually go out to the ecovillage center will pass along several especially beautiful parts.  What a way to be greeted home!

Straw bale house with new truckIt’s snowing out here on the land today.  Big fat flakes dancing around in the gusty wind.   There was a little snow on the ground when I arrived but it melted quickly the first day.  I’ve only been out here for about 5 days.

It’s gotten colder since then, but I’m keeping warm. The propane heater is keeping the camper warm and I’ve also started using one of the kerosene lamps in the evenings, which also puts off a good amount of heat.  It makes it smell a little, but nothing like the kerosene heater did.

It’s not a large area to heat, but the camper has exactly no insulation.  That’s why I’m using a bunch of the rejected straw bales I have left over from the house to just wall in the camper for the winter.  I’m going to hang one of the billboard tarps from the trees over the camper to keep the bales dry It’s ok if they degrade a little because I’m going to use some of the wet ruined bales to mulch the garden this year.

I started on it, but didn’t want to hang the tarp first because it was supposed to snow and I wouldn’t have been here to knock it off and make sure it didn’t just collapse and tear the tarp.  Even with just third of it I’ve done it’s made a difference.  I put that part up to block the prevailing winds, but I’m sure once I get the bottom done all the way around it’ll make the floor a lot warmer too.

Camper partially surrounded with balesI wouldn’t have been here because I was supposed to be in Minnesota at the family Christmas, but the same storm that’s snowing on me made a barricade of ice between here and there.  Snow is one thing.  Ice is another beast altogether.  I’m still going up there, but just going to miss today and post-Christmas eve.  I’d been looking forward to seeing everybody and I’m glad I still will.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals for the winter out here.  The first thing is to get the trailer baled and get the water running, especially the hot water.  I’ve been worried that the water might freeze in the tank or in the lines, but I think once it’s all baled in that won’t be a problem.

The next thing I’m going to do is make a hot bed, which is basically a cold frame that you put compost under to keep warm.  I’m going to try growing some greens and who knows what else in it.  It’s a stepping stone to a larger greenhouse I’d like to build out in the garden area.  I’ve already got some good ideas on the design.

My next bigger and much more expensive project is to start generating some power.  I didn’t really want to spend the money just yet, but I found an awesome deal on some amorphous silicon thin-film panels. They were only 98 cents/watt, which is outrageous considering the next cheapest I’d ever found before was $1.74/watt and that was at this same web site.  I ordered 10 Kaneka 60W panels from Sun Electronics in case anyone else is looking for cheap panels.   The next cheapest place I found was Affordable Solar, but even it’s best deal is $2.69/watt and most of them are much much more.

Consider it stickeredThe camper has a battery-powered lighting system and I have an small inverter I can use for now, but 600W will be way more than enough for just me.  Even just taking the minimum average hours of full strength sunlight per year and minimum panel efficiency I should get at least 1.5 kWh/day or roughly enough juice to use my 90W power hungry giant laptop for almost 17 hours/day.  Obviously I wouldn’t use my computer that much, but it gives you an idea.

There are a still a lot more expensive components to buy and then I’ll have to assemble them, the toughest of which will be mounting the panels on adjustable mounts that I’m going to make myself.  The batteries and the charge controller will be the most expensive pieces, and the inverter isn’t cheap either.

I’ve learned to scale down my expectations somewhat on how quickly I can get things done, but not as much as I had worried I’d have to.  So, building the green house and the solar power system are my main things to get done, but somewhere in there I’m also going to set up a small biodiesel production system to process waste vegetable oil for use in the truck and future vehicles and engines.  That’ll cost a bit to set up as well, but nowhere near the expense of the off-grid power system.

Pink is not a snow fanAnd, as if I could get all of that done I’m also thinking about building a nicer larger guinea/chicken coop with insulation that I can fit inside the greenhouse.  It’ll keep the birds warmer and they also produce some CO2 and body heat for the plants.  At some point I’d like to be able to move the coop to another greenhouse though so I’m going to keep that in mind.

Other than that, the straw bale house is standing up nicely to the elements, even without plaster or gutters.  The tarps certainly aren’t very charming though.  Everything else said and done, I’m enjoying living in the camper.  It’s cozy, everything is within arm’s reach, and it takes 5 minutes to clean from top to bottom.  I hope everyone else out there is staying warm and dry.

Winding Down

The weather has shifted and things are getting downright cold around here.  The first frost is just around the bend and our tomatoes don’t look happy about it.  It’s been pretty overcast and the solar shower just isn’t cutting it anymore so we’ve been taking showers at the truck stop.

Visitor Lodge Fall '09The metal roof has been installed on the straw bale visitor lodge and it seems to be working like a charm.  It’s already weathered several intense storms without a sign of leakage.  Standing back and looking at the place I can’t help but be proud of myself.  I know we were aiming to get the entire place done this year, and we certainly could have gotten farther with different weather and more help, but somehow it’s hard to believe we’ve done as much as we’ve done.

We’ve started packing everything up and taking down Tarpopolis for the winter, after all, the tarps would collapse under any kind of snow load.  Liz has cleaned up a large chunk of the garden.  I’ve still got a few more things to do like tarping up the walls of the straw bale place and putting a metal roof over the composting toilet.  The cold makes it hard to get up in the mornings, but it certainly motivates to get as much done as possible.

We had a busy weekend with a photo-journalism student coming out to do a project about us, and a couple from Kansas City came out for a visit as well.  Justin and Melainia came out Sunday too and Justin helped us slaughter and butcher the guineas.  In reality, he did all of the slaughtering by breaking their necks in what appeared to be about as quick and painless a way imaginable.  The bodies still flopped around afterwards in a grotesque nervous system dance.  After watching Justin clean and butcher 2 of the 3 guineas I did the last one to get my hands dirty and really learn how to do it.

I’m not quite comfortable with the neck snapping, killing the animals is by far one of the more difficult and emotionally taxing things to do, at least for most people.  I’m concerned about hesitating and not doing it hard enough to kill them and having them suffer, the opposite is doing it too hard, in which case you pull the head clean off, which Justin did on the first one since guinea necks are weaker than chickens’ and he’d never done a guinea before.  I’m thinking I’d like to try making a chopping block out of a stump with two nails that you bend over the neck to hold it still and cutting the head off that way.  I’m sure that will cause the birds more anxiety, although I’d know I could kill it quickly and surely that way.  Gruesome trade-offs, and I may end up snapping the necks, but either way I know the birds had a good life, and that’s really the most important thing in my opinion.

We would have also slaughtered the last chicken but the night before Justin came out, a fox or some other critter made off with her.  All that remained was a pile of feathers and a bent fence where whatever it was climbed back over the fence.  Surely the way we choose to slaughter our animals is less painful and drawn out than what nature would do otherwise.

We cooked the meat over the fire and served it with some boiled carrots and potatoes from the garden.  The guinea meat was somewhat darker than chicken meat and had a slightly gamy flavor, which was actually very enjoyable.  The leg meat was a little chewier, but again, it was enjoyable.  I say that not just because it was personally satisfying to have raised our own meat, but because I objectively thought it was tasty.

Tao and Liz enjoying the guineasOur goal is to be providing ourselves with all or most of our own meat, which will undoubtedly be much less than the average American consumes.  It will also be healthier meat without all the antibiotics and elevated levels of saturated fats that confined animals end up with.  Not to mention our animals will be living happy lives doing what they instinctively want to do, and in the process providing us with much more than just meat and eggs.  We’ll be using goats like lawn mowers, using manure as fertilizer, guineas and other animals to get rid of pest plants and insects, all the while providing the pleasure of their company.

We recognize that the shear fact that we will be killing most of these animals near the end of their useful lives may seem brutal or inhumane to some people.  However, the more I observe and live closer to nature and read varying perspectives on animal husbandry, I’ve begun to see it as a symbiotic relationship.  These animals have evolved to depend on humans for their care and continuity as a species, in return they provide us with a host of services and ultimately even their bodies.

The alternatives are either to not have animals at all, which seems like a huge loss once you begin to recognize the immensely useful goods and services they provide, or to take care of them long past their useful lifespan until they die of old age, which is simply a fool’s errand.  I certainly will not enjoy killing them, but I will do it with somber respect and gratitude by doing it as quickly and humanely as possible and being as wasteless as possible with what they have provided.

In this last week, my mother will be coming up and we’ll visit the sustainability fair in Columbia, MO as well as just showing her what we’ve done and enjoying each others company.  Liz is heading out on Saturday I believe and I’ll finish up a few things and follow her a couple days later.  It’s sad to be leaving all of what we’ve accomplished but we’ll be back early next year and then we’ll be permanent residents.  I’m definitely looking forward to hot showers whenever we want and not dreading pulling off those covers in the morning.

I’ll continue to post blogs, I may even convince Liz to start posting as well.  We’ll spend the first month or so in Virginia doing some minor improvements to Liz’s house there and then we’ll head off to visit different intentional communities, as well as friends and family on a winter voyage in a small cheap tow-behind camper.  I’ve already got a few questions for each place we go, and I’m excited to see what other golden bits of wisdom they can bestow upon us and thus our blog readers as well.