Monday, December 17, 2018

The Great State of “Not Yet”

Part 1

This is an update, mostly for our friends on where we’re at with the idea of moving. 
I tell you, it’s been hard. REALLY hard. It feels like maybe the hardest thing we’ve done, because there’s mature thinking involved that sees pros and cons to both staying here in California and moving back to Georgia, and right now, each basket has roughly 50 percent.

So the answer is that, for now, for as short as maybe a couple of months or perhaps as long as 8 years, or maybe even never, the answer is “Not Yet”. And that’s unsettling.

Many things in the Universe seem to be slowing us down, telling us “Not Yet”, including the massive blessing of an entire pig hit right in front of our house and turned after almost two weeks of work into food, by Alder, and the fact that my trip to Georgia to investigate was really a huge bust other than connecting with new/old friends (or not in some cases-I missed seeing several people due to “Snowpocalypse”. Nice timing Isabel! 

And after all of that UP, I am utterly exhausted. I have more spoons (See Spoon Theory) than I used to, but they are still limited and stress can deplete them. So I’m tapped out for now.

It really feels 50/50 right now for both of us. I had hoped going to Georgia would help tip things, but it didn’t. The Georgia basket has it’s issues: Moving, for one. That’s a massive chunk of what’s in our California basket-we don’t want to move. Mold for another. Now I notice that it’s a constant companion back East, along with 50+ inches of rain. Coming from 11 inches here last year, that seems excessive. 

And “where” is still a big problem. The Athens market is too brisk and too pricey for us, and not living in Georgia it’s almost impossible to buy a property. Yes, it has it’s positives-we could be more social with people who are friendly (yeah California, that’s a bash against YOU) and likely drop happily right back into so many communities that we left-Permaculture, Georgia Organics, food growers/homesteaders, and the knitting community. Because OMG I could have moved in next door to Revival yarns in Athens and made those people my friends. They were so friendly-above and beyond the fact that I was a customer. That I’ve missed!

The California basket has lots of pros and cons too. Fire is a huge one. But staying put in a 7 year old, lovely, fruitful and mature system (that’s been relandscaped for better fire suppression) balances that out.  And we do have family here that I would miss, and things here we like, and my mountain view and the wide open space and peace here I am still not sure I can leave. There is peace and safety here that we would never find back East. The population per square mile is much denser in Georgia than where we live now, and I’m not sure I can talk that. And Alder errs to staying put, as Hobbit's do, going with the flow until he’s forced to make a move…We’re not there yet.

Moving still means a massive amount of work. Culling stuff, pruning down to only what we really need for the next stage of our life-I mean seriously we still had a lot of stuff that was Alder’s dad’s and grandfather’s and I’ve accumulated yarn and fabric and household items…it’s just so much STUFF!  So now we’re spending the time to list items we need to let go of and put them on Ebay, Etsy or Craigslist. It’s really time consuming, but a good thing to do. I can totally see how older people become hoarders and I WILL NOT be that.

And then there’s the getting the property ready to sell. Things need painting-we’ve been told twice that must happen in order for this place to sell. And we have to do a lot of fire-suppression work. We made some big mistakes when we planted this system, and as I’ll talk about in part two, they have to be undone.
So culling and landscape work have to happen first, and frankly we (Alder) need time to wrap our heads around leaving this place, leaving a 7 year old system and moving to what might be our final destination, which will for sure include it NOT being a “system”. We are not prepared to fully recreate a homestead again, so there’s a lot of emotion and worry about living “like normal people” in a house with very little food growing, a much larger monthly food bill, and no animals (other than poultry) and all that entails.

We’ve identified all of the steps that have to happen before, and then when and if we move-like getting our place appraised again (the market has changed) and preparing it for market, doing more real estate research back east, which means more plane trips, which I really don’t want to do-but we also don’t want to rent, because that’s just flushing money to no good end…

And all of this is honestly taking an emotional toll on both of us. 
So we’ve agreed to cull stuff and work on fire suppression (which is a HUGE job) for another month, and then we’re going to give ourselves a few weeks “off”. To go back to “normal chores” because there are things like fixing electric fence, raking leaves and canning that need to happen. 
After that, we’ll see. We’ll see where we are in early March-how we feel emotionally then, and where we are with work that has to happen here before we move. 
Yes, it may mean we’re here through another Summer, or two, or five. And that’s a risk we need to take.

I have always been one of those people who quickly assesses, makes a decision and then jumps, so living in this perpetual state of unsure is not easy. As I said, this is really one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because I’m awake, aware and have a lot of experience to back up moving more slowly. 

So for now, we live in the great perpetual state of “Not Yet”.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Spring Photos

It seems like this year everything looked fuller earlier. Everything is maturing. And to be on a place almost 7 years and see that maturity-to see the accumulation of work is a really gratifying thing.
Here are some photos from April 2018

Asparagus patch and fruit trees

New raised "hugelkultur" bed, INSIDE Of the old pigeon shed. There's chicken wire all around and this way deer can't eat our green beans like they were eating things in the bed behind this shed. Creative thinking Alder!

New raised enclosed bed ready to add drip tape and seeds.

Someone's enjoying the sunny spot in the "dryland" garden-where we have all of our stinky native plants (I love the smell of salivas and artemisias, etc)

The gully that splits our land-we've been slowing down the water and mulch is accumulating. The terraced DG covered area is our "petanque" court and a nice fireproof place for the barbecue in winter. Clothes line runs the length of this area.

Everything in the flower gardens is looking so lush-several different species of lavenders enjoying the spring, and my picky plants in pots so they don't get wet feet. The two small trees are working to shade the patio (and patio to the right of the pots) and the house. Patios also serve as fire break.

Favas and Oats as cover crop planted out in the sheep pasture area. The white thing behind is the shade over the chicken yard in the back corner.

My nibble garden-just outside the door, for mostly herbs-what was it Mollison said about having food at your door in the morning so you don't get your slippers wet? There it is! Also helps if needed as a fire break.

Raised hugelkultur beds, ready for action, carrots, parsnips, beets and more to come...

Small beets and carrots in a raised bed.

More young plants in a hugel-bed.

Looking past the apple tree, herbs, and wine grapes into the barley and fava crop areas.

Shady area-platform to the left will eventually be an outdoor shower. Yes after 7 years we still have some projects to work on.
Terraced beds just beyond our petanque court. These were built with metal lath in the bottoms to ward off rodents (we have tons) so we can grow root crops like sweet potatoes and echinacea. There is also perennial leaf celery (front) which I did not know makes actual celery stalks! It's yummy! And we're stacking functions by having the clothesline over the top. In the height of summer big things like sheets have to go further out because the plants get tall, but otherwise, it works!
Kitchen greywater, just downhill of the terraced beds. It's in the far left in the photo of the raised beds above.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

It's Been A While

Every time I get mad at Facebook, I start blogging again. Every time something large comes through my life, I reassess what's important, and what needs to be left behind, and with every assessment, Facebook (and too much internet time in general) are at the top of the list.

So here I am. The big thing this time was the death of one of my Permaculture teachers, Patricia Allison.
I think you really don't realize how much impact someone has had on the world until they die. Now I understand more clearly how many people Patricia touched, how many people she mentored and taught, and called on their BS to help them grow...
She was real. Not one for ego and pretense, she did what she loved and she lived in the now...I hope I'm getting there.
But when I die, I don't want people to remember me by my Facebook posts.
I want my garden to remember me, and I want to leave a legacy of quilts for my nieces. I want all of my great-nieces and nephews to feel like I feel about Patricia-that I taught them that they can do it-they have it within themselves to achieve. Sometimes we just need an extra little bit of someone who believes in us.

So reassessing takes me off of Facebook, and back into the garden. Thankfully the rain of the last week has let up and I could see blue sky and green grass and sunshine today. That helps my sad heart...

I need to post a full farm update, soon, but in the mean time, here's some photos of the farm...

Blue Heron-I think looking for a place to nest

Alder's fava beans. The flowers smell like cinnamon perfume!!

Favas with the bluff across the creek in the background.
You can tell how tall it is by looking at the trees on the top.

The Bees are very happy!

John Barleycorn-Alder's barley crop.

Bumble bee on rosemary blossoms

Small orchard/herb garden. Plum left and apple center.
All of the fencing is to keep the geese from stomping on my plants.

The "Nibble Garden" right out side the front door where you can pick food without getting your slippers wet. This is what's overwintered.

Alder's "mostly rodent proof" cage for starting small plants, in the tiny lean-to cold-frame against the south side of our house.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bill Mollison 1928-2016

With greatest respect for how much one man and his ideas can inspire the whole world to change...

Mollison directly impacted hundreds of thousands people and the way they live and think, and indirectly many millions around the world. He wanted people to plant trees in his name when he was gone.

Monday, September 19, 2016

September Photos

Fejoa fruit in the works...

A visitor who eats mice....
Pink Lady Apples

Four different types of oak galls

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bye Bye Zucchini

Aphids have decimated our zucchini

I think we’re learning valuable lessons here. About slowing down. 

For most of our 12 years together we’ve been full ON with food production-and Alder was an organic grower in Georgia before I met him and also grew food for others in two intentional communities. So he’s sort of always been full on. 

But now it’s just the two of us, no longer in Georgia, no longer with room or energy for interns, and no longer young. And it’s showing in our gardens. We just don’t have the energy or enthusiasm for doing as much as we
used to-especially me.
While we’re slowing down, we’re also continuing to learn (this is our 5th Summer here on this land) about what CAN grow, vs. what grows WELL, and about the climate. Goodness knows we are not in Georgia any more. 

This is California, and while people may think of it as the fruit/veggie and nut basket of America, there is one thing needed to produce all of these prolific and juicy crops here, that’s water. And there’s generally not enough to go around most years.

Yes, we could and have used considerable amounts of water to grow tomatoes, squash and zucchini and other common “water loving” summer veggies.


This climate has a definite wet and dry season. From about the end of May til the end of October it’s as dry as a bone. More so now, in September because everything has been without water (in the natural landscape) for months. Everything is dusty, brittle and waiting. The animals and insects are all seeking water and beginning to think about shelter for the winter. Every tiny insect and animal is seeking water right now. And where do they find it? Our garden. 

The deer come through and munch some, when the dogs are sleeping. The rodents chew holes in the thin drip tape. And the insects suck on plants. Which brings me to how we came to the conclusion that we really don’t need to grow (and therefore eat) certian summer veggies anymore.

Thriving aphid population on kale leaves
Last year we did well with zucchini but this year, it’s decimated. There are almost solid aphids on every plant and no fruit can even make it to finger size. It’s the same with the kale. Yes, we could spray it with something and hope we run off all of the aphids, or get some lady bugs and hope that they eat all of the aphids-the birds are eating some. But Permaculture teaches us to look with new eyes. And what I see is a landscape and people that need to be dormant in summer. In many climates the dormant period is in Winter. But not here. Here you die of heat, not hypothermia.

What I see is insects who want to drink water. And plants who need lots of water. 
So what if we only grew plants that did well in say, Africa, or Arizona? Last year we did really well with Hopi Winter squash, and our Spring crops do well, because we have rain then. Sweet potatoes don’t really need that much water through the summer, and you can eat the greens in the mean time. Carrots pretty much just sit there, needing little water all summer. 

Yes, we need tomatoes. NEED-as in over 100 quart jars of pasta sauce and more than that in pints of salsa. That’s what we got this year. So next year, we can literally take a total break from tomatoes.

And I have my “nibble garden” which is a small patch right outside the door for herbs, and tulsi and the ever present arugula, and my much loved marigolds. The arugula, parsley and salad burnett pretty much keep me in green stuff through the Summer. (I also drink a lot of dried nettle infusion and eat potatoes daily and carrots frequently, so I’m not lacking in minerals and vitamins.)
The Nibble Garden

What we discussed this week is probably not growing things like zucchini, kale, squash and peppers anymore. They just use too much water for this climate.  We can grow okra, and eggplant (they both need much less water) and Malabar spinach (Basella) and Florida lettuce (Talinum triangulare), and Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), which has a decent bit of protein (2%) and minerals for a tiny succulent weed that we couldn’t get rid of if we tried! It’s everywhere, so why not eat it!

It’s a matter of shifting our thinking towards what grows WELL AND without much water, vs. more commercial or traditional veggies found back East or in Northern Europe. 
And less watering tasks will be easier on us both. We really are starting to slow down, and just don’t want to do as much, but still want to be sustainable. So it’s a matter of working smart rather than hard, like we did with getting sheep, geese and a hyperactive dog on the land to keep down weeds and grass rather than mowing like suburbanites! That worked well, and I may never have to mow grass or weed-eat again!

So we’ll see how it goes. Yes, I will miss zucchini fritters and squash casserole, so maybe there will have to be a plant or two-but not in the quantity we have been. 

This is part of listening to the landscape and observing what we see, rather than forcing our will upon the land. This is living in community WITH nature rather than having control OVER it. And hopefully this will be easier.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Fall and Spring on the Farm-Part 2

 Alder's standard 50 tomato plants went in a new spot-an unused corner of the property. He just tilled rows and left room to get a mower in between-smart man!
And yes, we like spaghetti sauce and at $4 a jar this saves us about $200 a year or more. Alder doesn't mind the sweat labor in August and September to sit with a canner pot when it's 110* outside, so I'm happy to have it!

Random spot in the garden/yard...Violas, horseradish, poppy, onions, asparagus, apricot tree, and a ton of brassicas in the further garden, along with wood and kindling drying.
And a hairy "lawn". Boy am I glad we don't live in a neighborhood with rules about grass height :)

Back left is one of the raised beds made out of corrugated tin, which I believe are about 20' long. There are three in total.

Alder picking apricots

The Brassica patch-chard, cauliflower, broccoli, red and white cabbage and several potatoes that came up from the compost we used.

"The Ferny Brae" as I call it. This was originally veg garden and is transitioning to orchard, with apple, apricot, persimmon and something else in there...the asparagus doesn't mind a little shade, and as long as one doesn't try to walk through it (it's ITCHY!) it makes a great screen from the road in the summer.

 This might look like just light and shadow on a shed but it's really important and embodies a lot of things here.
When we moved into this place, everything was painted barn red. Not sure why, and it would not have been my first choice. Maybe in North Carolina to keep out the tobacco sprites, or in Maine, but here a dark color absorbs heat.
I don't know what the previous owner used this shed for, but we use it to store canned food. Since the grocery store is a once-a-week event, this is a big "pantry". I think some people think we are "Preppers" but no, this is not about the shit hitting the fan, this is about not running to the store daily, buying in bulk and properly storing the food that we grow.
The first year we were here, the heat in the morning in this shed was awful. In the winter the sun hits the back (left) side, or not at all because of the oak trees-but since we are so far north here, the sun moves up the sky an incredible amount from Winter Solstice to Summer Solstice, and from about March to Sept. this shed gets just beat with the sun first thing in the morning. So we painted it a light color. Not great for keeping bird poop from showing but it helps with the sun. But it wasn't enough. So we planted some quick-growing trees, which also happen to be nitrogen-fixers, and only really later did we learn that they are LITERALLY the herbal **key to happiness (see below).
This particular tree got whacked once by yours truly, with the weed eater, but over 2 years it has grown from a twig the size of my finger to this beautiful shade tree. One morning in March I suddenly realized the shed was incredibly cool, and snapped this photo of the tree doing it's fabulous permaculture-y, multiple functional thing. Yay shade! <3

Here's another fun permaculture "use what you've got" tip. An old screen house from our camping days
has found it's use as a shade house for our new geese. This way we can move them around the garden and they love to eat bermuda grass and other grasses, while pretty much leaving alone the artichokes, blueberries, goji berries, asparagus, etc. This is a whole lot easier on us than mowing or scything between those rows.  The solar panels power the barn.

Here are the geese-Pilgrim geese to be exact. Smaller and apparently nicer than regular geese. With this breed, boys are white and girls are grey. 

 This is the magical flower of the **The Happiness Tree- Albizia julibrissin-the one shading our "food shed". Known as Mimosa or Silk Plant, the tincture of inner bark and these gorgeous pink flowers makes a medicine that some say brings "happiness" but for most people I know it brings calm. Not like a valium or tall beer calm, but just taking everything down a notch...It's hard to explain, but it's magical. If you want some, I believe Herb Pharm and Planetary Herbals both sell it. It's great for those stressful situations (can we say "FAMILY?") when you need some calm...
So now that we have several of these, planted for shade, nitrogen boosting in the soil and for coppice wood, we will be harvesting the HECK out of these and making literally quarts of tincture.

 Here's the late summer version of the new terraced raised beds-looking (from front to back) out over the flowering radishes, two rows of carrots, to the plants in the greywater spot and on out into the gully and sheep area.
 The "Nibble Garden" right outside of the front door. This could also be named the "Que Sera Sera" garden because nothing really gets planted here. Things just show back up. Arugula, tulsi, lambs quarters, purslane, onion and chives, cilantro, dill and marigolds. I did wedge in a couple of tomato plants (for nibbling), a few parsleys and some salad burnette, oh and some basil. Any empty spot gets filled with annuals. Fence is there for the dogs.

Pomegranate flowers. Last fall we harvested a good number of fruits for such a small plant and we juiced a lot of them. It was so yummy that we froze some of the juice for a mid-winter treat, and obtained two more pomegranate bushes. So we're set!

And last but not least, a few more random shots from around the farm...

Buzzard and our local Red-tailed Hawk (who nested right across the road and spends most of her days around our area of the gulch) fighting about who's dinner it is. Hawk won.
I literally saw this from my bedroom window, snuck out and filmed the whole thing. Buzzard brought his friends and they tried to intimidate the hawk-all of them even standing their ground a loud truck went by, but it was fresh meat, and the hawk finally flew off with the whole thing.

 Abandoned barn in winter....

Cool random "look down" shot-tiny red frost-chilled weeds. There is indeed beauty wherever you look!

Morning sun through Mimosa blossoms.

 Early Morning garden tea spot by the fish pond. Not bad for five years worth of work. The small deck used to be a redwood hot tub. We don't do those, nor the fuel to heat one, so we made it into something useful.