Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Balanophagy 101.....

I've been discovering and working with one of the huge abundances of the new land....ACORNS!   They drop literally everywhere on the property somewhere every late summer into fall.   Even when many oaks in the wider landscape produce little, at least a few of the trees in the yard produce enough to process for a significant part of my diet (and, more recently, that of my chickens....more on that in the next post) I think some of this is due to the moister niches available here, either from roof runoff, the drainage gully going through the property, or roots accessing irrigated gardens and septic field (now being phased out for graywater mulch basins).
        I tried to process acorns a few times living in Georgia, but there, the crop often entirely escaped my notice.  But here they clatter down on the roof for weeks and weeks, hit me in the head a few times, and carpet the ground in spots thickly enough to make walking perilous.  What a yield! 
        So here is my way of utilizing them for human food,  perfected by research, trial and error over the last three years.   I begin to gather the nuts once I see, upon cutting them open (normally I use a sharp pair of hand pruners) that a significant amount of nut meat is present.  The acorns don't have to be completely filled out or brown....the first ones are usually still green.  These early ones may be a significant part of the crop in a non-mast year (a year between heavy crops).  Many sources will say to reject these early drops as being wormy, but I've found them to be no more wormy than others, and since my normal method of processing separates the visibly wormy ones and kills any worms in the invisibly so,   I will make use of them.  After all, I'm after staple food here (currently I eat something or other with acorn in it twice a day), and am sedentary (as opposed to semi-nomadic, like many native peoples, who would simply move from heavy mast area to mast area, among other locations) so I'm interested in making use of off-mast crops and the early drops. 
        Whether early or mature, once I have enough to be worth processing for storage, I clip them in half with the pruners, and then in quarters.  At that point, I set aside any wormy or otherwise dark or decayed looking pieces.  Normally a worm will only damage a quarter or half of a nut, leaving the rest usable.  Once quartered, it is then easy to separate the shells from the nutmeats with one's fingers.  I often make evening work of this,  and with practice can do it (especially the final separating part) while reading, surfing, or watching video.
         Here again, many resources recommend grinding and leaching the acorn right at this stage, and then proceeding to cooking and immediate use, or re-drying, freezing, or other preparation for storage.  Traditional native people would store harvested acorns in the shell, sometimes with preliminary drying.  I am experimenting with this for the chicken feed acorns, and so far, a few months into storage, a significant number of acorns are moldy.  Perhaps I did not dry them sufficiently, or perhaps they had so many they sorted these out, or perhaps some other factors are at play.  I do know from research that traditional burning would reduce the number of worms in succeeding years' harvests....perhaps this is true of molds as well.    In addition, acorns vary in fat content, and the favorite of native people was the black oak (Q. kelloggii), which has a higher fat content and stores better in the shell than the lowland oaks we have here (blue oak: Q. douglasii, and valley oak: Q. lobata).  Being lower in fat, perhaps, lends them to dry storage out of shell with less danger of rancidity.
          So at this stage I spread the shelled quarters and pieces on trays or screens set out in the sun, bringing them under shelter at night or in the (rare at that season) rain, for several days until they are shatter-dry chips.  Then I put them into a bucket and stir them around with my hand, which separates the thin, reddish brown skin that clings to the nut meats (which, like the shell, is bitter and rich in tannin).  And then I put them up in tightly sealed jugs to store in our pantry shed, just like grain or dry beans.  I'm still eating on the jug put up in 2012, and have two 5 gallon jugs full from last year's heavy crop.
         So when I want to "do" a batch, I get out the desired amount (usually, like corn, we fill a smaller glass jar from the stock jug, and keep the jar in the kitchen, which holds several batches' worth), I grind them in our Vita-Mix blender.  Before this, I would use our hand-crank coffee and grain grinder usually passing the stuff through it twice (once on a coarse setting, then finer).  I dump the resulting flour onto a coarse piece of fabric in a colander, and then leach it by leaving it under a hose dribbling, preferably outside next to a thirsty plant.  I've done it in the sink, too; although it takes up the space in the sink for several hours, and the tannin can leave a brown stain.  With out comparatively mild tannin species, a few hours leaching is sufficient.  You can simply taste the meal.....if it tastes bitter or like tea leaves, leave it leach more.  Then I shut off the water and let the last of the water drip out for another few hours. (Ordinarily I grind in the morning and leave it to leach all day, then shut off the hose in the evening, put the dripping colander up off the ground somewhere and let it drip out overnight, preferably covered against bugs, debris, etc.)
        Now comes the cooking.   I use two methods, boiling, which yields a product very comparable to corn grits or polenta or grain porridge, and can be used any way one would use those things.  I have added it to chili, curry, soups, etc.  My traditional "from farm" lunch is acorn gruel, sweet or white potatoes or winter squash, cooked greens, cooked beans, and a bit of curry paste.  The type of potatoes or greens varies by season, though ordinarily there is some such around.  So far favas and teparies are the dry beans we grow, and ordinarily I soak, cook, and can large batches of them, so all I need do is open a jar when I need beans.
         The second method is baking, which I've been playing with for a while using a basic corn bread recipe as a template.  The acorn meal is mixed half and half (though I've been pushing the acorn towards 2/3 lately) with another flour (started with homegrown corn, and have some winter whear coming on this year....both work well; as well as various gluten-free flours such as quinoa, amaranth, etc.)  This is a powder raised bread and uses egg and baking powder to rise.  More recently I've been doing sourdough....making up the dough (before adding baking powder, salt, or oil) and adding inoculant (some saved from a previous batch, and if this fails or gets forgotten, some kefir, wine vinegar, homebrew, probiotics, yogurt, etc. all work, as well as the wild microbes that find their way in!).   This sits around for two to four days (the cooler, the longer) until it gets bubbly and tastes good and sour.  Adding some wood ash or baking soda along with the powder will react with the sour and help it rise.   Usually, I attempt further sustainability by doing both the boiling and the baking in cast iron pots, either in the solar cooker or in the embers of a woodstove fire,  depending on weather.    The resulting bread is usually part of my breakfast. 
        Isabel has also had success mixing acorn meal into ground meats, and I've also made her banana bread with quinoa flour and about 1/4 acorn meal.....



Too Busy to Blog! or My Once a Year Post!

As bloggers, we suck.
This little acre+ parcel and our high-input lives keep us very busy.

We continually work on fire suppression-which means keeping all vegetation-or at least dry vegetation away from the house and other outbuildings. My small flower and stinky garden continues to grow. There are some small areas that we keep a bit of lawn (now nearly 1/2 sweet grass) so the non-sweetgrass part gets mowed.
We have fenced the last side of our triangle, and then fenced the entire thing with plastic chicken wire, mostly to keep small animals out, and our own cats from going on "walkabout".  There are so many different wild animals about, and we've already lost one furball to a mountain lion (we believe) so we're doing everything we can to keep our animals safe.
Recently we've seen what looks to be a cross between a bobcat and a domestic cat (yes they do crossbreed), numerous coyotes, dear, turkeys, and one very large feral hog. We have a game we play when we see a hog-we try to sneak up on it as close as possible and then I like to SQUEAL at it really loudly. They will usually run away like they've seen a ghost pig or they think you're out of your mind. Country entertainment at it's finest!

There is also a lot of bird life out here. I'm not one for categorizing and photographing but I see a lot of different kinds, some very unusual and hear lots of birdsong during the day, and owl calls at night. And our local hawk finally seems to have a partner and they've settled in the area. It's nice to see the two of them flying around together.

We've also been working on renovating parts of our old mobile home. Not because we fancy high-end toilets or anything, but because the kitchens and bathrooms really really needed help. They were pretty gnarly. So the last two winters we worked on indoor projects when it's been too cold to be out. Last winter we did the kitchen which is wonderful and we just finished the master bathroom. My one splurge was a 6 foot bathtub, really only because I'm getting older and some days my bones hurt so bad I need a giant vat of hot water to soak in. I felt bad about the water use, but Alder has created a wonderful graywater and it has lots of happy edible plants. The plants in this graywater are edible because the water coming from the bathtub is very clean, where the laundry and kitchen graywater's are more water loving non-edible plants. We have one closet and a half bath left to go. I am redesigning a few things in this space simply to make sure that we are using every inch of available space for storage and putting it to good functional use. We will also have to change out all of the flooring eventually, because the previous owners put down terribly inexpensive, basically cardboard and laminate flooring and it's already buckling. Any water spilled on it causes more buckling. We're replacing it with inexpensive vinyl mostly because it's easy to clean up.

Alder has been continuing to improve the gardens, plant asparagus, replace a few trees that didn't make it, and he built three raised metal beds that have been wonderful for carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes etc. He has been working on getting to know the local bounty (acorns) intimately-which he's going to share about here on this blog soon. He continues to improve and work on drip irrigation, chicken arrangements, and eventually we hope to fence off about a third of the land so we can have a couple of sheep-more for fire suppression than anything-they're beautiful lawnmowers.

Speaking of using sheep for fire suppression, it's interesting that that one feral hog seem to selectively root all along our fence, which makes a wonderful firebreak and I also noticed that the chickens have been scratching on our side of the fence also making a wonderful firebreak. The idea of "animals doing what they do" and working WITH us is kind of awesome. Interconnected systems function!

It is so beautiful and quiet out here, and I would not trade it for anything. I guess the Universe seemed to know what I needed and gifted me with it, and I am extremely grateful. This place is so full of peace and I can see the mountains out my window-I watch them change daily...I can't ask for anything else.
We've beaten the "asparagus curse"....It's happened twice before that when we start asparagus from seed and grow them to about 2 year old, one gallon pots, we seem to move. That's happened twice before. But this time Alder planted them. They are in the ground. Rooting. As are we. We have also, by now, broken another curse. My last two long-term relationships lasted approx. nine years, and by that time in each of those, I was ready to cut and run. So I must have mellowed a great deal, learned a lot, and found a bit of humility, as well as another strange pea to share my pod, because Alder is a keeper, and our relationship is good, and settled. Rooted.

That's life on the farm. One year summed up in a few paragraphs. Now you see why I post once a year?

Peace.

Isabel



Thursday, February 14, 2013

The How to’s of Permaculture Forums, Lists and Other Online Sites

After a recent negative experience on the web, I was asked by Permaculture Magazine out of the UK if I would write up a guide to Permaculture Forums-how to select forums that will be helpful and won’t land you in nasty message attacks with strangers, or with some very bad advice. No one needs drama and ego when searching for information. As permaculture grows, there will be more and more sites on the web, and not all of them may be trustworthy. 
Homesteaders and permaculture people (be they certified or just experienced) have a wealth of knowledge between them that is priceless, timeless and free. The Ethics of Permaculture encourage us to share our surplus, including knowledge. 
Nearly anyone even in remote areas can connect to the internet and find like-minded individuals, advice and camaraderie. Sometimes the only people who understand our sometimes “less than mainstream” ways are people in other widely dispersed places like ourselves. The internet and it’s forums can be helpful with information, but can also be sanity savers at times!

What does one look for in a good online Permaculture forum? Well, in short, if you don’t have time or are one of those folks that only browses articles:
  • Stick with the sites that have been around the longest.
  • Look for people with the most on the ground (in the dirt) knowledge.
  • “Surfer Beware”: Not everything (and everyone) is/are as they seem. Watch out for Ego trippers and profiteers.
  • Remember the Ethics of Permaculture-this is about SHARING not control.
  • Look for a good Terms of Use policy and remember that everything you post in a public place on the web MAY be difficult to take down or edit and ultimately, legally you may have no rights to it after you post it.

That’s the short of it, but let’s break that down further.

What’s in a Name
Some “big names” are very useful to have on a forum. Older men AND women who have been there done that and know all the ways to clean out a humanure bucket can be very useful to have giving advice in a forum. You have to get to know the site, the administrators and the people who “hang out” in the forums, and who knows something and who’s all hot air. You want to know who’s there, where they’ve taught, maybe how many generations removed from Bill they are, and if they are really DOING permaculture. In this case it’s good to know who you are talking to.
On the other hand with CISPA being passed in the US as I write, you may not, for what ever reason, want your name and all your details on the web. This is a prudent thing! Maybe you don’t want people knocking on your door asking for farm tours or a place to stay, or maybe you don’t want your local government to know your cabin and your humanure are not up to local code...or maybe you don’t want stalkers…Whatever the reason, you may not want to use your real name.
It is useful to pick one moniker and use it across all forums, and all permaculture sites, even email, so that people who see you in one place will know you if they see you in another.
Some forums have very public member lists that are completely searchable via the web (Goggle, etc.) and you may not, for whatever reason, want to be that exposed or searchable in a permaculture site. At least here in America there is some (possibly warranted) paranoia over being seen as a potential threat because you compost your waste or live outside of the mainstream, or whatever the case may be. Be sure that in the forum you join using a handle/moniker/pseudonym of your choice is acceptable.

Take the Time
All the forums are different. One forum says “You're currently viewing our forum as a guest. This means you are limited to certain areas of the board and there are some features you can't use. If you join our community, you'll be able to access member-only sections, and use many member-only features such as customizing your profile, sending personal messages, and voting in polls. Registration is simple, fast, and completely free.” This is a good thing!
If a forum has ALL of their information-every post, every snide comment, every comment where the moderator called someone a psycho SEARCHABLE, this is a bad thing.
If you take the 5 minutes or so that it takes to sign up on a site and set up a profile, you will be rewarded with a better site, better quality people and more good stuff. Take the time to register. Having said that, you may not like what you find once you get in there, so be wary of providing your real information or posting until you have looked around the website a good bit! To repeat, you need to log in, but be cautious until you poke around a bit.

Who’s Behind the Curtain?
If you find one person’s name all over a forum, and they are by far the most prolific poster-that’s a red flag warning. If the website uses the words administrators, moderators, and owners, (all plural) that’s a good sign.
Moderators should be there to moderate-help keep things going smoothly, warn anyone who’s getting really unsavory in any way, and occasionally-very occasionally-kick someone off or delete what they’ve written. 
I think that most forums reserve the right to delete portions of, or all of a post if they find it offensive. Their site, their terms-remember that, but no site should ever add things to a post or change it to change the meaning of what you said. I have heard from someone at PermacultureNews.org (my favorite forum) that they would never add content or change the meaning of a post and that generally they let people have their say except in cases of say, religious intolerance, personal attack or racism.
Anyone primarily promoting the buying of goods on a forum is questionable. Anyone promoting other concepts alongside and equal with permaculture like biodynamics, hugelkultur, or any word they have made up, is not promoting permaculture but their own agenda and piggybacking on the permaculture world. Biodynamics (or any other system for growing food, raising animals, etc) may be a subheading or a sub-forum on a permaculture site-in other words a part of permaculture-but it is NOT permaculture. Sometimes these subjects can differ and conflict drastically, and in my opinion really belong on their own separate forum. I don’t know about everyone else, but if I go looking for information on permaculture, I don’t want to be inundated with lots of other concepts or systems.

Certification

If you find yourself on a forum, or any permaculture website, run by one person and it uses the word permaculture, or any derivative there of, ask the owner if they at least have a Permaculture Design Certificate. The rule is if you use that word in business, websites, books, etc.(as opposed to general conversation), especially when your goal is to make income off of that word, you need to have a Permaculture Design Certificate under your belt.
Recently one person that I know of was told to rip out an entire valuable and very old orchard because it wasn’t diverse enough. Since this person relies on this orchard as a thriving family and community business, this was potentially crushing advice, given glibly online by someone who may or may not have had any clue what he was talking about.
Also, make sure that if there is any inkling that the site is being run as a business that your name, contact information, email address, etc., are not being sold, rented or leased to other parties. Yes, it happens all the time.

Hands in the Dirt
Look for a forum filled with and run by people who have actual experience in hands-on permaculture-someone who has or had a farm or other permaculture site. Some folks may be retired, or too sore in the knees to do much anymore but you are looking for real hands-on advice, not someone who has only read books or surfed the net, who lives in an apartment and works in a cubicle, or who is not growing at least a part of their own food.
Another nice thing about large older forums and email lists is that you may be able to find people in your local area or bio-region to chat with. These folks can be invaluable, because say for example, if you live in a tropical climate, all the plant lists in the world from Canada aren’t going to do you much good! 

TERMS OF SERVICE/USE POLICY and FAQ’s
This is very important!
Look for a page that says what the terms of use are for the forum. They should be a lot longer than just “play nice with others”. You should read it! I know, I know, no one ever reads those things, but, say, in the case of Apple where it is very long and backed by an entire corporation-they don’t want to get sued, and the likelihood of one person’s ego being in the way is not an issue. But when you’re dealing with small forums, which may perhaps be just one guy sitting on his sofa somewhere, you might want to read what they expect of you as a participant. They should have rules. These rules are there for yours as well as others’ protection, and should be spelled out fairly thoroughly, and I highly suggest that if you have a question about something, you email the moderators and ASK.
Also find and read the FAQ or ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section. You will learn a lot ahead of time and it might come in handy later.
There may also be pages about how to use the forum and deeper detail like display options, and what to do with a troublesome user or offensive post. These are good to read. If they don’t exist-that’s a red-flag warning also.
The answer to ‘what to do with a troublesome user’ is, there should be a “report” button. In a forum-which is an online Community-it should be up to the users to help each other discern what is acceptable behavior and what is not. It should not be up to the whims and busy schedule of one person.

“Google It”
Just because a forum comes up first, second or third on a search does NOT mean anything except perhaps they have PAID to get there. It does not denote quality. Neither does the number of people who have joined the forum. I am not familiar with some of the smaller or newer forums, but that does not mean that there are not great, knowledgeable people on the other side, but you have to find that out for yourself.

Differences
There are different kinds of forums on line, some are fancy and easy to use, some are older, not terribly intuitive, or like the Ibiblio email list or Yahoo groups, not a forum at all, but there are still great people and useful information in them. Don’t forget the pages and groups on Facebook. Not all of them may even show up on a search-engine, so it pays to poke around, and ask others what their favorites are.
Don’t be afraid of another country’s forum, you can find good advice and similar climates in many countries. Most people speak at least some English, so language should not be a problem. There may also be (I don’t know) Spanish and other forums out there-I’m betting there are.
Many times on a forum people just want quick free advice. What you’re looking for is a variety of backgrounds, knowledge and bio-regions and countries. People who give and people who ask, but not just the askers. It’s frustrating to find a site where everyone on it is new to permaculture and no one can answer your question.
Most people think about going to a forum to learn, but there’s also the giving back aspect-it’s what permaculture is all about. Sharing. If you know a good bit, don’t be arrogant about it, but also don’t feel shy about answering a question. You can always start your answer with “well in my experience…”

The bottom line is (in my experience) that if someone sees permaculture as a way to get rich, they’re in the wrong business, or they don’t get what permaculture is really about, and they’re going to make all the other permies detest them in the process. If they’re honking their own horn and it’s loud, it says something, and it’s not “Look at me, I’m awesome.”
Along with the ethos of permaculture, the entire body of people and knowledge that makes up permaculture is not about ego, is not about profit, it’s about sharing. It’s the third ethic, and the most important.
Remember, always be polite, give people the benefit of the doubt if they sound harsh, and always search to see if someone has asked your question already, before you ask it for the 400th time.
Ultimately, just like in permaculture, the more knowledge you have, the better. It is very important that if you use the internet you know what you are using. Knowledge is power. Ignorance can get you into trouble!

Lastly, as far as what I read-if I had to choose just two (which can be a LOT of reading) I would go for the two bigger, older forums, Permaculture Research Institute of Australia’s forum at http://forums.permaculturenews.org/ and the Permaculture Mailing list at ibiblio http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/permaculture .
That should give you plenty of reading to do!  As you read you will certainly find other websites other forums, and other people with the kind of knowledge you are seeking. Just remember not everyone and everything is what it seems online and you are the only one that can protect yourself from bad advice or scams.





I am a graduate of Earth Activist Training, a PDC course taught by noted author Starhawk, Penny Livingston-Stark and Patricia Allison. Isabel also has experience as a student teacher and PDC Organizer. I previously lived on a raw homestead in rural Georgia (USA) for six years, with my partner and Permaculture geek Alder Burns, creating a homestead and permaculture site from the forest up. We are currently living in California, where I am a semi-retired herb gardener and medicine maker, quilter, knitter and Super Auntie to two adorable twin girls and two active little boys.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Walk by the Creek

Yesterday afternoon in returning coolness I decided to walk to the blooming tamarisk along Vale Gulch westward, and saw several wonders.  There are 3 or 4 six-inch fish in the pool under the highway bridge....they must have come from some dam overflow upstream, since this creek dries up completely in the summer.  And.....a first sighting of something I've only read about.....a horsehair worm!!...a thing like a long very thin snake a foot long, eyeless as far as I could tell, writhing and contorting.  It was not slimy or soft, but firm, almost hard in texture.  (These things, amazingly, live most of their lives as parasites inside of crickets and other large insects, and crawl out of them into water, where they breed....another of the more gruesomely creative niches for life devised by nature!) 
          Beyond the tamarisk (which had all flower parts in sets of four and not five...a diagnostic among them....Tamarix parviflora....another of those infamous invasive exotics about which much debate rages.  I for one wish there were some on our property...if for nothing else than to burn and feed to goats!) I went on along the creek, with the tall cliff opposite.  I got the sense that nobody had been there in a long time, even though I've seen the neighbors' dogs over there from time to time.  Such amazing rocks in the creek bed!  I filled my pockets, and stacked up several more too large to get without a bucket to fetch later.  So many are metamorphic of a sort....one kind of rock cracked-sometimes in multiple directions- and then inlaid with a contrasting mineral...often white quartz.  On a few of them the matrix rock is broken into chunks, offset from their original location, and the gaps infiltrated with quartz.  In one, the whole had softened and the cracks had warped and curved.  What unimaginable torments in the bowels of the earth took place to form these?  Fracturing, then having molten quartz poured through, later fracturing again at another angle, or else shattering altogether and hardening again.  Then again, the whole being heated to softening and then warping, twisting, folding....  Last of all, eroding into fragments and being polished smooth for how many millennia in this small creek, which only flows in the winter and only really rocks a few times a year? 
         The cliff is opposite me, and I saw a huge owl fly in and perch on a branch near the top.  I could see where the layered clay had caved and fallen from time to time, and more pieces cracked and overhung and ready to fall.  Fifty feet or more from the top, I see roots hanging out.  The vastness and depth of time, the awe of the Earth impressed me as it hasn't in a while, busy with my subsistence.  Animal tracks in the sandbars: canids, coons, maybe possums or skunks, turkeys, smaller things.  Strange clouds slide across the sun.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Real Life is Calling

I know I've been a bad blogger...
Between the real-world calls of fixing up the farm, cooking, cleaning, not feeling well, and visiting family and trying HARD to stay OFF the computer (because certain [anti]social media sites can eat your entire day if you let it), the LAST thing I've wanted to do is blog.
But I'm still going to keep up with posting photos on our flickr site and mostly let those tell the stories...
Real Life is far more rewarding and comes with less EMF's than the virtual world-what can I say.

Hans Christian Anderson said "Just living is not enough,...one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.”
He never said anything about Facebook!

And I'll leave you with my other fav. quote, from Shakespeare, " And this our life exempt from public haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.I would not change it."


PS, I just posted some photos from the past several months-link is on the right side-bar, lower right. Here's a sneak peek.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

fruit tree spots....

Hopefully this will be the last major basic fruit and nut planting of my life. Hopefully I will find my way up and out of transition and start-up mode, and settle in to deeper works and longer lessons. But we have a bunch of fruit trees on order for January, and I've been busy the last weeks getting the designated sites ready.
Preliminary observations (especially, soil jar tests and seeing how slowly water drains into test holes) have shown me that most of our soil is a tight, compacted, and poorly draining clay. NOT the best soil for most fruit trees....mostly due to the danger of their becoming too soggy in winter and spring. (For me, it's a matter of faith. I think I can count on one hand the times it's rained here since June, but people reassure me it's coming. And I've also lived my whole life in rainier climates than this....it's a bit of a stretch to imagine anything getting too soggy with only twenty inches a year!) So this means raised sites...mounds or better yet, edged and raised beds. I started to do this with the citrus, avocado, and olives set a couple of months ago (being evergreens, I surmise that it doesn't matter much when they are planted as long as they can be watered, and since everything must be watered anyway, why not snap up the deals on the varieties I want when I see them. But deciduous trees are best planted when leafless...thus the big January planting)
A good permaculture in process feels to me like a kind of vortex which I get to participate in for a while. The task of the designer and installer is to orchestrate the resources at hand into a pattern focused toward the desired yields with minimum waste and maximum yield. Nothing ordinarily thought of as trash is to be disregarded without careful thought. So: Utility pole on our property has so many woodpecker holes we could see daylight through it.....a phone call leads to an inspection, and a hasty decision that yes, it did need immediate replacement. So when the crew shows up I tell them "You could just leave the old pole here...I'll find something to do with it." In Georgia and Oregon, sticks, logs and wood are everywhere. It seems like the main project of the ecosystem in those places is to produce wood. In Georgia I'd simply go cut a pine tree or ten down to get logs to make raised beds with. And when the logs went to compost, I'd put new ones down, if I thought the situation warranted it. But here in CA, every stick is precious. It's more like Bangladesh, where they burn cowpies for fuel! I'm not quite at that stage yet, but I can see it as an option for sure! So here is this utility pole...a huge resource, come at just the right time! ( Not that there wasn't a plan B. In my case the plan B would have been old roofing tin, folded in half and backed up to stout stakes, to hold the raised grade behind) So I made wooden wedges (blue oak is harder than Douglas fir!), then sawed the thing into eight foot sections and carefully split each in half lengthwise (effectively doubling the number of raised sites I could enclose with it) Then I laid them out in triangles at the sites of the most drainage-sensitive trees (the pistacio, pomegranate, apricot, and nectarine. The logs were staked back with aluminum scraps from an old TV antenna we took down. The persimmon, mulberry, and figs can apparently do with shallower mounds).
Then I remembered that the base of the pole had been treated with who knows what....perhaps a problem around food. I was encouraged by the pole's age and general state of decay. But in any case at the two sites enclosed by the base sections, I lined the inner surface with scraps of linoleum flooring which we'd torn up from some nasty kitchen and bathroom water leaks.....again...a use and a sequestration obtained from what might be thought of as "hopeless trash".
Then I became aware of the danger of gophers, and at the same time recalled some earlier observations that they tended to avoid burrowing around where humanure was buried, or, for that matter, around any manure. Stands to reason...I wouldn't want to burrow through it either. But in any case I made chicken-wire baskets to sink into each spot, to foil the gophers gnawing and disturbing the crucial trunk-base and main roots of each plant.
Next, the fill. Four five-gallon buckets of humanure were put to use, plus the last of the soil/charcoal from our predecessors' burn pile, and then I began digging out our future laundry greywater trench. (actually a fairly high-priority project, as we discovered our washing machine drains DIRECTLY into the gully which probably has flowing water at the height of the rains!) Thus the spots were all raised, the humanure safely and usefully sequestered, and most of the sites are now ready (except for the figs) I think our dog attempted to dig up the humanure at two of the sites....some of my coarse starthistle slash then came to the rescue.....a good dog, and perhaps pig, deterrent (there again, I wouldn't want to stick my nose into that stuff, so likely neither would they!)
All for the love and the dream of apricots and all their luscious kin!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Projects, Routine and Special Surprises

I know it's been a long time since I've blogged...we're still in what we call "Start up" mode, and although we are mostly "moved in" and things put away, there are still some projects left to do, like painting the hallway and the built in hutch (thingy) and of course planting around the house outside...
What gets me is when we first got here we pretty much just did projects from morning til night, and put away stuff...but NOW, add to that that we've been here long enough that there is routine cleaning to do-something that for the last 7 years I've only done in less than 200 sq. ft.

Now I have 1200 (weee!) and it ALL gets dirty! Dirt, yes, as in cat hair, DUST (it's dry, it's summer and it's DUSTY outside) plus spiders-MAN the spiders-and spider poo and dead bug carcasses that go with lots of spiders...not to mention the floors (oh don't get me started on the DAMN LAMINATE flooring) which needs mopping (not any more) and sweeping often... Alder is used to having A CAMP kitchen, as in outdoors-leave the crumbs and 47 different species will clean up after you...but not now...now we try to keep it clean to keep the mice and tiny sugar ants out...

So now I CLEAN a lot, AND still have projects
left to do, PLUS, oh, yeah, PERSONAL projects-like the half-finished baby sweaters that my two
great-nieces have already gotten too big for, and curtains (finished those for the guest room because the rubber backing is keeping out the boiling
afternoon sun) and a quilt for the guest-room, because I need more big blankets, and 80 million smaller sewing projects that I fancy myself
doing...someday! And yes, I have fantasies of turning my half of the barn (with it's dwindling supply of STUFF) into a dyeing and tee-shirt printing shop....yeah.

BUT, we have gotten a TON of things done-Alder's been outside almost constantly...
So here's a QUICK look, and a list that you can find photos of over at http://www.flickr.com/photos/udanfarm/collections/72157626991999288/


Right-Alder made me a peg/chalk board for my sewing room, to inspire me to create :)






















Left, Alder's first olive brining experiment from gleaned olives.





















Alder creating an orchard...
























What's cooking?


















Isabel winnowing acorns...


So that's what we've been up to...that and not much else, oh, except I go play auntie to my two great nieces :)
We make jokes about the day when we finally get "DONE" with all our projects!

And yes, I'm promising Alder to stay PUT here for good!

Oh, and the surprise???
Water leak in the bathroom that crept under the wall and soaked into the laminate flooring (BAD choice for a bathroom!), under the old linoleum and into the sub-flooring in two rooms... so now we have to re-do bathroom flooring! WEEE. (Not.)