Tag Archives: workshops

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!

 Workshops

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.

Volunteers

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.

Balancing Autonomy and Community

Brian, John, and Dan

Despite getting 9″ of snow yesterday we’re already plowed out here at Maya Creek.   Dan and Brian graciously liberated us today when they came over and cleared off our driveway.

I have a fascination with being snowed in out here in the woods with plenty of food, water, and warmth.  I like the idea of putting this self-sufficient setup to the test.  Not to mention just being snug and nestled away in my den peacefully waiting for Spring.  Without the ability to leave, my world suddenly becomes much smaller and in some ways that simplification is comforting, assuming I don’t really want to leave in the first place.

However, the world seems to reach out and pull me back even faster than if I lived in the city.  Instead of days or even weeks spent alone in the woods, neighbors I haven’t seen in months stop by to make sure I’m keeping warm and offer to plow the driveway.  I gratefully accept their offer and I’m reminded of how important it is to be a part of a community at large.

The toughest part of living in a community is balancing the needs of independence with the need to feel connected to each other and share in something larger than ourselves.  The balance that’s right for one person is often not the same for another, and so the boundaries become compromises.  The larger the difference in preferred balances, the harder the compromises are to make.  The compromises can certainly be made more likely to succeed with increased mindfulness, openness, and skill.

Anyone can attest to these challenges that has ever moved in with a friend only to find that even though you love them, that living so closely with them is not the best way for your friendship to work.  So it’s with a heavy heart that I tell you that I’ve disbanded our burgeoning community of permanent residents here at Maya Creek.  Jesse will be moving out within a few weeks, and John will follow suit later this year.  We are not parting on bad terms, and our friendships I hope will be better for it in the long run.

As for the future of Maya Creek, I intend to continue pursuing a healthy, self-sufficient, and sustainably-minded lifestyle here, but rather than building a permanent community on the immediate property I would like to see it become a temporary retreat for those needing to take a break from mainstream society’s onslaught of consumer-driven wage slavery and gain some perspective by connecting more directly with their real needs and the natural world.  I would very much like to see this place become a venue for workshops, skillshares,  potlucks, meditation and organizational retreats, and other events that are in-line with the goals of improving ourselves, connecting with each other, and integrating with the natural world.

Common house after thunder snow storm.

The main difference now is that I’ve recognized my need to have a certain level of control over my home, as I’m sure both Jesse and John can relate to.  Visitors are still invited to come stay and participate in life and projects here at Maya Creek, but any visit will have a beginning and an end.

I still want to be a part of a community, but I’ve recognized that I need a level of separation between myself and the community that’s physically impossible here right now.  I believe my ideal community is relatively autonomous with people sharing meals a couple times a week, coordinating on issues that affect everyone involved, lifting each other up in times of need, and sharing certain tools and resources that make sense for large groups of people but not individuals.

In some ways the local community that already exists here in the surrounding area could meet many of those needs for me and I hope to connect more deeply with it in the future.  The influx of visitors and helpers drawn to Maya Creek will certainly have its own transient communal culture and will help connect me as well as the local community to the larger global community.  I also hope that Maya Creek can act as a beacon for people seeking a similar situation and perhaps draws in some new like-minded neighbors as well.

So that’s the latest update.  There’s been some hard lessons and big changes here, but I’m optimistic about the future and in many ways relieved at how events have unfolded.

May 2012 Newsletter

This past month we transitioned from clearing out and processing trees to actually breaking ground on our major projects.  Just today we finished up grading the foundation for the straw bale duplex.  Yesterday, we had the excavator dig out as much of the root cellar as he was able to and then graded the shed/workshop site.  That’s been the major hold up on our projects, and with that completed we’ll be splitting up somewhat and focusing on specific projects.

John and Tony are working on the shed/workshop/root cellar, and recently refined their roof plans.  They’ve already built a few roof trusses and we received the lumber to do the rest of them yesterday.  The root cellar is going to need quite a bit more digging, but they may wait until they get the shed roof up to do that.

Jesse is tasked with the duplex, although I’ll be helping him with the planning.  Now that the foundation is graded we’ll start in on building the timberframe.  Once it’s protected with the basic frame and roof we’ll start on the rubble trench, stem wall, and then the earthen floor.

I’ll be heading up the work on the common house and the rainwater catchment system and cistern.  Over the last several weeks we’ve put in a little less than half of the interior walls using rammed straw lightly coated with clay.  Because the forms won’t fit over things like light switches, outlets, and plumbing that sticks out of the wall we’re using cob to fill in around those spots.  We’re also using cob at the top of the walls since there’s no space to ram the straw down if you put the forms all the way to the top.  So far it seems to be working well.

We’re reclaiming some broken chunks of concrete (AKA urbanite) from an old patio that was being ripped out.  We’ll use that for the retaining wall on the cistern and whatever is left over we’ll use in the stem wall in the duplex.

We’ve also done some work on John’s cabin.  We’ve cobbed in the open areas in the roof except for a spot in the back where he’s putting in a flue for a small rocket stove.  We’ve also put the first coat of earthen plaster on the roof bales and started on the second coat of plaster, or infill coat, on the lower part of the cabin.

Clay is a hugely fundamental part of our building methods here, and so any innovation in our sifting technique that speeds it up or makes it easier help greatly.  We’ve begun layering the different sifting screens and placing wheelbarrows underneath them.  This means less bending and shoveling, and has increased our sifting rate by probably 33% or so.

Workshops

I applaud the people who bravely attended the humanure workshop.  It went well and we’ll post the video from the workshop when we have time to edit it together.  The next workshop will be the Primitive Skills Primer on June 16 taught by Justin McClain.

 Garden

So far all we’ve harvested from the garden has been lettuce and peas, although that should be changing in the near future.  Our squash plants have taken off and the tomatoes and potatoes are not far behind.  With the help of  Bobbie and Janis we’ve managed to stay on top of the weeds this year.  Also, we’ve discovered that s spray of just water and a small amount of Dr. Bronner’s soap will kill squash bugs.  It looks to be an epic year for squash, and with the dehydrator cooking away we should be able to preserve huge amounts of it when the time comes.

Unfortunately for the garden we haven’t gotten much rain in the last month, although that has certainly helped with our construction plans.  We’ve been watering sporadically the few plants that need it from our rainwater barrels by the solar shower, but unless the drought breaks soon we may be forced to truck in some city water.

Fundraiser

We’ve raised $4,700 towards our fundraising goal of $8,000!  Thank you to everyone who has contributed!

Photos

We’ve got more pictures posted in our photo gallery for those who are interested.

 

 

Workshops Posted

Update: The date for the Primitive Skills Primer is actually June 16, NOT June 19.

We’ve finally settled on the workshops and the dates that we’ll be holding them this year.  We chose these based on how much experience and success we’d had with each of these topics.

All of the workshops are free, but we do ask that you register ahead of time so we know how many people are coming.  We doubt that we will have too many, but you never know.

We’ll be hanging flyers around the area, specifically in Columbia.  Although if anyone wants to print some out and hang them around their areas we can either give you some or you can print your own from this pdf.

Looking forward to seeing some of you there!