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...

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.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

not georgia any more!

A strong steady wind came up this morning and went on all day. I was wondering why I felt so tense and stressed this morning, then it dawned on me: in Georgia, to have a wind this strong for so long in hot weather means something very very bad is coming....a hurricane or tropical storm, or maybe a wicked bad cold front with tornadoes and hail.....But Isabel reassured me, here, it means nothing much at all....maybe, just maybe it means the first hint of fall coming on! So I went on, preparing the grapefruit spot, and picking up windthrown pears (possibly mature enough to cold-store and ripen!) and the early, buggy acorns to smash and dry for chicken feed.....

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

World of Wonders

Azurite and cavensite crystals found in a new age crystal shop in Mount Shasta the other day. A crystal healers' website tells me that crystals are a physical reminder that miracles happen. As extremely unlikely events, the statement is true. Cavensite was not even discovered till 1970, and is found in only about four places on earth, so far known. A calcium vanadium silicate incorporating water (a hydrate), it is needles of intense turquoise blue...little starbursts of them. Wow.
Miracles happen. Beauty happens. The world goes on, in spite of our meddling. Maybe it will be OK. Even if we stay on grid power till the farm in Georgia sells and we can set up solar and wind. Even if we have to buy firewood and food and whatever till then. Planet Earth has been through worse. Asteroid impacts, runaway climate changes....
Night after night I see the many stars, the great spangled strip of the Milky Way across the sky. Twice now I've walked out with the star book and the red headlamp and traced the Great Square and down the leg of Andromeda and seen that small smudge of glow there, like a detached blob of Milky Way: the Andromeda galaxy...the most distant thing visible to the naked eye. Between here and there, all I can see, how many living worlds are there? How many beautiful and unknown crystals, how many living things that glow, how many consciousnesses and cultures? In my own lifetime, people have gone into space, gone to the moon, sent probes throughout the solar system. New wonders they have found...sulfur volcanoes on Io, methane lakes on Titan, the ice world of Europa.
A bookstore can be a depressing place to me sometimes. I will never know all the wonders that are known, not in space, nor even on earth. At various temperatures and pressures, ice and other substances crystallize in different patterns. There are droplets of colored oil in the retinal cells of birds. Mary Kingsley saw balls of violet light over Lake Ncovi (in Gabon, West Africa), and I have no reason to doubt her. I myself have seen bead lightning, frost flowers, and felt the heat of aroid blossoms. There are fireflies in multiple colors, and staghorn ferns, and skunk cabbages, and cavensite. Cavensite existed in 1965, before anyone knew about it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Taking Root....

Progress toward chickens the last two days. How many times have I moved and set up my tried and true critter-proof chicken pen.....all around Udan, then to Gainesville FL, Asheville NC....(and back to Udan both times) and finally here. It's a huge dumpstered fishing net...heavy black nylon. You put up poles (or whack off saplings if they grow conveniently enough, as in GA), put jars or cans over the ends, and throw the net over the top. Weight and stake down all around the edges, tarp over one end for the rain, a trashcan on its side for a nest box, a couple of sticks stuck through the net for roosts, and electric fence all the way around on at night. The only thing that often got in was a snake, after the eggs.
Now in this small, largely clear site.....still, I find resources to put to use for this set-up. The poles are parts of an old TV antenna that I took down. Smaller pieces made ground stakes to guy them to....with electric cord from the many strings of Christmas lights left festooned all over trees and fences around here. (I'm thinking of saving a number of these intact, if they run....they are a handy way to add heat to semi-tender trees like citrus on the coldest nights!)
The net is weighted down around the edges with two of the heavy old well pipes left lying by the well when the pump was changed by the last people, and a few old fence posts from the back corner, slowly composting in the grass. Interestingly, I think they may be made of redwood (which grows not far away....over the other side of the hills I can see in the west....maybe fifty miles as the crow flies...but it would take three or four hours to drive there).
So some of it came with me, and some was scrounged on site. Like an introduced exotic, my permaculture system strikes roots into a new place.....
Meanwhile, acacia, mimosa, and tagasaste seeds are sprouting!

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Little Walk

It's been warming up, although still below normal by at least 10 degrees, so the other morning, Alder and I went for a walk-he wanted to show me what he had found.
I wanted to share some photos... Here's one:

but it was easier to put them here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/udanfarm/sets/72157627142139475/ (I had the permissions set wrong the first time, but the link should work now!)

It was a beautiful peaceful walk-although I still have a small thought in the back of my head of a rampaging 300 lb. hog interfering with our nice morning walk...

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Yesterday Alder and I went for a walk since it was "long pants chill" til about 11am (strange weather lately!) and we found that there is year-round water in the creek just above us-to the East. There's even one place that looks likea wallow. A HOG wallow.
We found lots of rocks, really pretty
and big enough to do stuff with! I found some sort of wild mint, blooming purple on the hills, and some pretty little pink flowered thing, which I've never seen before. We also found a POND. Mind you all this is on the neighbor's land, but we were told by the former owners that he only comes around a couple of times a year and that they used to walk it all the time. SO I'm thinking that on some hot day soon, me and that pond are going to have to make friends :)
There's willow by the pond to. We walked further up the hill and found evidence of deer, turkey, hog and beautiful views. The sun finally came out, so we headed back.
Unfortunately the dog was COVERED in burrs, and I mean covered. So I think she will only be walking with us in late winter. Bummer.

The weather has been strange. It's been getting progressively cooler, and yesterday was completely overcast when we woke up, chilled from lack of blankets and a chill morning. Last night there we
re even thunder clouds to the north of us, and lightening. It was 59 this morning! I keep telling Alder, this is NOT NORMAL!! Here he is (above) with his cat warmer and his old blue wool shawl from Bangladesh. Really, this is ridiculous (but LOVELY) for JULY!!

We are noticing lots of things, including bird calls, and
birds themselves, and we finally met an owl who was out on the cloudy day, catching some of the MANY mice that live around us! He just sat there, even though we were making noise and the dog was growling at it, and looked around. Then he flew over to a big oak on the neighbor's land.

Not all discoveries are good ones, and while the laundry was draining this morning (we assumed into the septic tank), Alder was sitting on the porch and I was out in the small "back yard" and we were conversing about where to run the greywater from the laundry, I heard water draining through a pipe, and to my horror, looked over the edge of the gully to see soapy bubbles draining right down into the watershed. Oh MY! Well, greywater just moved WAY up the list!!

Alder had one failed batch of tempeh which he posted on Facebook that he was drying along with the mice from the traps to keep for future chicken feed. The mice dehydrating also failed, but this morning he had nice warm white-moldy tempeh in the oven. Very happy he was!

So it's been a constant chain of projects. Painting is still happening, along with a million other things all vying for top spot on our daily to-do list.
Thankfully it's been nice enough for me to be outside and dithering in the back...I am starting with some small plantings (ok, I'm a plant junkie and I CANNOT help myself!) to beautiful the small area along the walk way in back, that leads to the laundry and other outbuildings. It's a cool shady spot and the frogs love it, so I wanted to fix it up. For the frogs.

Every day brings new discoveries, some not so good, like a dog
full of burrs and finding out your'e polluting the countryside. But some discoveries are magical, like medicine growing in the wild, a feather or a dried dragonfly that's just too pretty for words.
It's SOOO good to be back in the land where I found much solace and magic as a child. I find myself being very worldly wary when I go out-watching for snakes, etc. But then I remember who I was, back when I was 10 and my best friend and I would go on "hikes" in the woods. Those were magical times that helped to keep me happy, and really are a part of who I am now. It's so good to honor that. Good to be home.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Big City Sunday

Yesterday was my first outing to meet with the Cherokee Culture, Language and History group in Oakland. It's a group that is supported by the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and I had met some of the folks at a Cherokee picnic back in May who told me about this meeting. They meet at the Intertribal Friendship House near Lake Merritt. It's a pretty cool place with a garden out front that includes corn, squash, sweet grass and ceremonial tobacco.

Oakland is a long way to go, but for one thing, learning the culture and language and history of my ancestors means an incredible amount to

me, as does the fact that these

folks don't consider me some pesky white woman, they consider me a child of the Nation. And just the opportunity to converse with others is very valuable in learning the language. You can only read and write so much.

The other thing is that Alder and I made good use of the rest of the day in the city, shopping for things that we love but can't find within a 100 mile radius of our new home, like Indian (other kind) curried lime pickles, powdered Indian tea, and strange Vietnamese fish.

It was well worth the visit, getting to meet other like-minded Cherokee folk in CA (there are a LOT of them!) but the traffic, even on a Sunday, was enough to wear me out by mid-afternoon.

We have-after some trial and error-decided that it's better (at least for us) to live in the peace and quiet of a very rural setting, with no distractions, and visit the city once in a while, rather than live in a city with all it's time, money and energy distractions, and visit the peace and quiet once in a while like a lot of people do. Which reminds me I want to blog at some point about permies living yes, on degraded land, but what about degraded social or economic areas....

I realize now after 7 years of living very rurally and without a (or much of a) job, that the rest of America is entirely too STRESSED!! No wonder everyone is so unhealthy!

Yes, it was a long drive. Can't say I'll want to do it more than once a month, BUT, that's plenty I think. Enough to keep us in social fun, curry paste and strange meat anyway.

Pantry and Blueberries

For several of the past days (3 to be exact) I've been unpacking, re-jarring or jarring and placing FOOD in our pantry. Due to the fact we're in the country, where the mice and ants are thick, we have to do like we did in GA and put everything in glass.
We have a LOT of food on hand, so it took that long. I literally spent one whole DAY putting new food in jars.
Once a young lady from a city came to our farm in GA. She stood in front of our pantry and said "That is the most food I've ever SEEN in someone's home!"
It's mostly because we buy in bulk, or GROW in bulk (last year Alder got 150 lbs of small black peas, 50 lbs of corn, and 250 lbs of sweet potatoes. And we also store sugar, salt, other grains, and all sorts of canned foods, like goat, oil from various animals, fruit, tomatoes, peppers, etc.
It may not look like much, but that pantry is a laundry room, so the shelves are as deep as a washing machine. And they're packed!

Alder and I got a lead on some local blueberries-not organic but they didn't seem super-sprayed either, so we went out on the spur of the moment Sat. morning and picked. It wasn't too hot, which was nice.
They were super cheap, so it was hard to resist. End of the season they weren't perfect, but for 1/10th of what I can pay for a pint at the store, it was worth it.
We bagged and froze them. normally we would can them, but at the moment everything is still packed, so freezing works. I use a lot of berries in my morning smoothies, so it's nice to have some fresh!

People wonder what we do for a "living"....THIS.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Past Few Weeks

Well, here we are!
We have been in the process of packing, moving and set-up for about 5 weeks. It makes me never want to move again!
I think people probably wonder what's taking us so long, and I realized-in the last 7 years, I've had from one to three kitchens-functioning kitchens-the most being when I was in Oregon and Alder was in GA, plus the "camp kitchen" for our rock-star intern, Gina.
Plus we had several "spaces" worth of furniture, beds, sheets, blankets, pillows, tools, etc. We still have some of Alder's dad's stuff too. I am also a hoarder of fabric, yarn, towels, clothes, herbs and food.
I guess it's been easy not to notice what it adds up to but now that it's all in one place, uh, we have a LOT of STUFF!! Thankfully we now have 5 outbuildings, plus a giant metal "barn" and the house (~1200 sq. ft.) to put all of it into!

I guess the first inkling
of how much we have was the two U-haul TRUCKS plus the last little open trailer that we hauled all of it to Cali with. Yes, TWO trucks-one 20' long, and one 26' long.
Yes, they were full. (See photo left). If you ever want help packing, I'm your woman. The gypsy in me has learned quite well how to cram things in every little nook. My dad once crowned me the "Queen of putting 10 lbs. of $#!t in a 5 lb. bag." :)
Since I'm the one with all the U-haul experience, I am the one that opted to drive, DOWN the Siskiyous to Red Bluff.
A 5 hour drive going about 45 miles an hour and not caring what other drivers thought of me. Stressful to say the least. So now, I've discovered two things for sure: 1. I could totally be a truck driver; 2. If I did that a lot, I would die of a stress-related heart attack!
The second truck had me ready to sign papers for Alder that I would never move again. Really. I mean, 29 moves in 29 years (strangely that's with living in one place for 9 years) is enough!! And since I'm about to turn 50 i figure the 2nd half of my life should be very different. Stationery. So hopefully, no more moving! (Never say never though, right? Maybe now I can jus travel :)

On the second day that we began to unload the 2nd truck, around noon, we were met with a very frightening sight-SMOKE behind the next rise to the north-east of our place.
Total fear struck, especially since I had been reading daily updates on Kiva Rose's home and impending fire in N.M.
(bearmedicineherbals.com). Having grown up in this region, that is one of the things I still remember being keenly aware of. It pays to be well informed about who's burning what when, and is it wild or is it farmers.
Problem was we had NO phone and NO internet, NO cell service and only minimal mobile wireless, which would not work. I checked the wind, and strangely, the wind was FROM the north-east, which was right-freaking toward us!
I had the idea that if we needed to leave because our home was going to burn, having 3/4 of my stuff in a truck was a good time-and I backed up the truck so that it could quickly exit the area if needed. I grabbed all important stuff (purse, computers, etc) and piled it by the door.
We waited and watched, and thankfully, the fire died out.
The next day, after the phone guy left, we noticed smoke from the same direction, and knowing that's not likely in a wild-fire, maybe in a heavily forested area or a few hours later, but not 24 hrs...I figured it must be someone burning something, although I'm surprised it would be allowed.
I found the number for CalFire (I love you already guys!) and check about "Farmer burn days". Sure enough, on windless days, farmers are allowed to burn detritus. Great. Somehow I had gotten the idea that farmers had quit doing that in the 20 years I'd been absent from Cali, but now I think it's maybe only the rice-paddies they can't burn. Dunno, but it still scares the bejesus out of me when anyone burns anything in this state.
We took a little ride later that 2nd afternoon and found that indeed, one property over, behind our land, there is a rancher (not farmers, here-they raise cows) who likes to burn off his land to keep it clean, sterile and free of anything but grass. OOOOH, I'll hold my tongue about ranching practices. We had to sign a form when we bought this place saying that Tehama County is known ranching area and we are not allowed to SUE anyone for their practices that may cause us inconvenience, nuisance or worse...(Can we say cows in the creek?). Sigh.
But anyway, I was glad we didn't have to start our life here by running from fire, BUT, between reading about Kiva Rose's family preparing for the worst, and getting settled into this place-seeing all the over-grown and un-pruned flammable stuff, we are now WELL aware of the fire proof practices, and, as UGLY as it may be (nothing but bark mulch surrounding your house and the less wood the better) it's a necessary evil that we will have to learn to live with. Goodbye giant rosemary right outside my door!
I have been drilling Alder in the fact that fire is NEVER a casual thing here-unlike Georgia where they set the entire woods on fire and leave, knowing it's not going to jump or engulf anything-and in training his eyes, nose and brain to be constantly sniffing, looking around for smoke.

We spent A LOT of the first several days cleaning. The former owners had not lived here in at least 6 months and this place was NASTY with mouse poo. We cleaned and painted one bedroom so we could sort of live in that, deep cleaned the bathrooms, laundry room, and then cleaned the kitchen, painted the pantry, and I even put down shelf paper. That day ended with a headache, from the bleach water and PVC smells of the shelf paper, but it was pretty necessary given the mildewy old particleboard under the cabinets. Newspaper would have been cool, but mice would make nests out of it.
11 mice later (that was the laundry shed and kitchen) and it's smelling less like a big mouse maze and more like a house!
And lest the permies think I've lost my mind using bleach; Two words. Hanta virus. Carried by mice it can be very deadly, so that will probably be the ONLY time I use bleach on my home, but we thought it pretty necessary given the quantity of mice.
Speaking of mice, we have yet to tackle the barn, which must be a veritable rodent zoo, since the owner left a giant bag of organic flax seed (for chickens) in the barn, and the mice seemed very happy with it, judging by the quantity of poo in the barn.

Between obsessive all day cleaning bouts, I started doing the mountains of laundry that pile up when you move, but it took me a while to
figure out the clothesline pully.
At first I thought it was kind of dumb and only worked one way, but that would be ME that was dumb. It actually works two ways, and basically, if you put out one load, then as you put out the 2nd load on the other line you can bring in the first load, and YES, most days, you can dry a load of laundry on the line in about 45 minutes, which in Georgia was impossible-sometimes it would take DAYS there. So I am now extremely happy with my cool little clothes line and it's neat little wheel (see upper right of photo.)
Someone had built a little pier and table right at the point where you stand to do laundry, but it's pretty rotten and needs rebuilding. I think it's a cool perk that you can put out laundry without taking a step. Lazy woman's eco-friendly clothes dryer!
It actually uses some otherwise pretty useless space (over the gully) which seems like a good permaculture idea. I am sure the day will come when something falls off the line and down into the gully, but it is accessible.

It's going to take a lot of time, and a lot of emergency maintenance and site set up before this place starts looking like permies live here. Vegetables are the furthest thing from our minds, although there's artichokes, asparagus, dandelions and purslane growing around already.
So far besides cleaning, and unpacking, we (mostly Alder) have fixed the kitchen faucet (not once, but twice-long story), put in a new vent fan over the stove (because I cook a lot), gotten the swamp cooler working (they work GREAT in a dry climate!), fixed a snafu with the well that caused no pressure for a while, lined the insulated but not covered walls of the laundry room with plastic (for now, until we have time to cobb it or ?), buried at least 2 dozen mice (the cats are finally doing some WORK!) We're also working on fire-suppression by getting rid of all the waist-high star thistles. Apparently the last people had a LOT of chickens, and they ate everything except that, and fertilized it, so it's growing like mad! Alder has gone out every morning with his scythe and, minus a little blood from his thumb (scythe needs to be very sharp) it's starting to look clearer-and safer!

The other thing that has become a not-so-fun daily chore, is de-burring the dog. Poor Lakshmi, this may be the worst place for her and her little hairy black dog self!
The cats don't seem to get burrs so much, either because their fur is slicker or they don't go in the tall weeds like the dog, but the dog has been COVERED in them-the little tiny round burrs as well as the long V shaped foxtails, which can cause havoc, pain and large vet bills if dog owners don't stay on top of them.
They are bad about getting between paws, in ears and nostrils and even up the dog's rear. Their V shape means that they will only "work" themselves ONE WAY, which is inward.
I already had to pull one long foxtail out of Lakshmi's leg-that had gone in about 1 inch. YAK!!
Maybe she just thinks she's getting a massage every night at sundown, but being next to a hairy hot dog on a warm evening up close picking burrs is not my idea of fun. We are seriously thinking about keeping her penned up some or most of the day so she doesn't have to be a canine pin-cushion. I'm guessing that next year, when we are HERE, we can keep those weeds down and they won't go to seed so they hopefully won't produce the incredible volume of burrs they did this year.
Ah, yes, I think I can safely say now that I romanticized my childhood, and, while I remember grass fires and spiders, I DO NOT remember the quantity of spiders, mosquitos (we are near a seasonal creek), mice and burrs that I am now faced with. So chiggers, mold and fire ants in GA have been replaced by their Cali. counterparts! Ah, life on a farm IS a bit the same where ever I go!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

mast year!

I see little nubs of acorns growing on a lot of our oaks...both the blue and the valley!! One of my early items of research into a sustainable subsistence in the West, ever since imagining living here, has been learning how to process and eat acorns. Eastern oaks produce them too, but they often seem sparse and get wormy quickly, and so I've only gotten to play with them a couple of times there. But in these parts the crops can be legendary, such that large numbers of native peoples made them a staple. They knew about planting, and about corn and beans and such, and sometimes traded for them, but acorns were their carb staple. I went to a workshop in Oregon to see them being cooked the old way, in a tight basket with water and hot rocks! All the way down to modern times, where an ideal leaching suggestion is to tie the mush in a bag in the toilet tank, where each flush gives them a rinse! And then there's the option of eating them once removed....in the form of a chicken, a turkey, or (as the previous owner of the place once bagged....right in the little gully behind the house) a 300# wild hog!!! I guess I need to learn to shoot a bigger rifle than a 22 to make that kind of meat!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fixing the Faucet...a Permaculture Lesson….part 1

by Alder

Yesterday I changed out the broken faucet in our new (to us!) 1976 mobile home we have just moved into in remote Tehama County, California. Yes, it really needed replacing….the handle was falling off because the metal seat of it was cracked. This is a good question to ask early in a project...does it need to be done at all. Remember the option not to. So we had obtained a new faucet kit at Home Depot, including all normally necessary components, so I thought it would be an easy, hour long project.

Almost nothing in a sustainable system, especially one attempting a light budget and a light footrpint, is easy or hasty!!

First check...no water shutoffs under the sink. I could have crawled up into the dark space under the mobile with the mice and perhaps snakes to see if there were shutoffs there, but instead opted to fill a few buckets for the interim and shut off the whole place at the well.

Second check….no easy disconnects, but rather archaic copper pipes with corroded fittings. Fortunately these were the same size as the flexible plastic hoses on the new faucet kit. So I immediately thought outside the box, as I’ve learned from years of homesteading….cut the copper and splice it, somehow, to the plastic (while also cutting off it’s brand new, high detail ends). A few hose clamps and the right size hose ought to do it.

Big lesson one….and a reiteration of why California has some catching me up and impressing me to do to replace Georgia….every permaculture homestead, especially a rural one, needs a junkyard. I kept a very organized one in Georgia. And in that junkyard was a basket of old dead faucets with their hoses and fittings and all.

As well as a pile of various size scrap garden hoses, which I found useful for many things...even for hinges. I spend six months sorting this stuff, making the judgment call as to what was worth putting into a $4K POD to haul across the country, and giving away or trashing the rest. Unfortunately the dead faucets and scrap hoses didn’t make the grade.

Lesson number two is tweaked from a gem of an old book I have, “Camping and Woodcraft” by Horace Kephart. It deserves praise from many aspects, and I’d recommend it for any permie or homesteader’s library, but the part I was thinking of was where it applauded the creativity of those who made it out,. survived, or succeeded not with full preparations and tool kit in place, but when these have been lost or confused by the events of life.

We had just moved. All my tools are in disarray, and the space they are stored in so infested with mice and their offal that we fear to spend a lot of time in it for fear of hanta virus. Almost no “junkyard materials”. So the challenge was to use what I have to get what I want.

Points up a difference between an urban and a rural site too. Where we last thought to settle, (Cave Junction, OR), we were on the edge of a small, rural, isolated and therefore somewhat self-sufficient town. I could have gotten on a bike and gone to one or both of two hardware stores and had my pick of faucet parts, hoses, hose clamps, or whatever. I could have ridden back again later in the day if I forgot something! I’m reminded of the last time we tried, futilely , to live in town ( in Asheville NC). Where are we supposed to put our food? There’s no pantry in this house!...we thought….and then it dawned on us….we were attempting to live in a small house in a town in America after all. What pantry. Your pantry is the grocery store uptown. You’re not supposed to store a winter’s worth, much less a year’s worth, of anything in your house, least of all food!!

So here in CA, it’s a half hour drive to town to the nearest place we could get faucet parts, wire, hoses of any dimension, anything. And you sure wouldn’t want to have forgotten anything and have to go back later that day!! Don’t want to do that. Hard to get to the really good tools, and minimum junkyard resources ready to hand. What to do?

I catch a glimpse of our hose level, taped to two yardsticks, that we’ve used in a couple of permaculture classes. That hose looks just right! And the level can spare six inches of it. Cool! Next problem...no hose clamps small enough. No problem, I’ve used wire ties many times….using a pittance worth of wire to achieve what would otherwise cost a 50 cent hose clamp. ( I learned about this wire tie in a 1996 workshop about working with bamboo….it’s a way to do bamboo joinery without splitting the bamboo, but it works great on hoses too!) But darn, no wire...just aluminum electric fence wire ( which I made sure to bring, since electric fence is THE solution to critters getting into the poultry at night!….and, especially baited at intervals with peanut butter on aluminum foil tags, is a good solution for deer, too!). Aluminum wire isn’t strong enough for wire ties. But then, looking to the trash for my salvation, I spied a length of stout electric wire in the pile hastily swept together in the new “barn” of insulation, mouse manure, and other assorted, what I call “hopeless trash” (trash for which there is no imaginable use)….lesson...whether there is an imaginable use depends on how desperate or committed you are. I stripped one end of it and obtained five lengths of stout copper wire, and with these, I spliced the plastic hoses of the new faucet to the copper pipes of the old one, using two pieces of our hose-level hose!

ON goes the water, and….there’s a slight drip….since the new plastic hoses are, after all, plastic, and the wire ties didn’t bind tightly enough. So there comes to the rescue the fall-back…..bicycle inner tube to the rescue! If you don’t know this, know it now….don’t let any inner tube get away if you see it. It can patch just about any leak. Cut into thin strips, and then wind around again and again, tightly wrapping it in overlapping courses. Do it with the water on, so it drips through, and just keep wrapping till the dripping stops, tie off, and you’re done! I have fixed a high-pressure steam line to a four-kettle pressure canner this way once….the leak was at an elbow in a place so hard to reach it would have meant taking apart the shed the boiler was in. Little strip of inner tube, wound around again and again….solved it….and lasted for as many more years as that boiler was in service. (NOTE---If you use this for outdoor uses, such as for garden hoses---works good for pitchfork punctures, for instance….follow the innertube with a course of duct tape to keep the sun off. Sun is the rubber’s enemy and it will break it down in a few weeks otherwise. The plastic duct tape will go a year or two before needing replacement)

So there’s the kitchen faucet at Udan West….thanks to a hacksaw, a couple of pieces of hose, five copper wire ties stripped from an electric cord, and a couple of pieces of bike innertube!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Quick Note

Just a quick note to let everyone know that we made it down the mountain with dog, 5 cats, last small U-haul (I swear to god if I ever see another U-haul I will scream!) and all the last bits, so we are now fully in one place again, all of us, which we have not been since a year ago. YAY!

Now comes insane amounts of cleaning (OOOOH the mouse poop!) and painting (oh the wood paneling :/ ) and the REAL internet service gets here on Tues. so for now, we are severely limping along on the crappy Mifi service that Verizon provides (or doesn't provide in this case)...so internet communing will resume just as soon as the tech leaves on Tues.!!

Anybody want to come help me with an insanely long to-do list? :)


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Star Thistle....

Most of the nearer yard is waist high in star thistle. Ever the opportunist, I think....well, there's my mulch...just waiting for harvest. I've been wondering about mulch provision a little. So I've spent several hours already getting intimate with my old scythe....a tool never finding a use in Georgia due to tree stubs and sticks everywhere. The electric weedeater just won't hack it, not full grown like that. And I read about other uses of this "invasive exotic"....a valuable goat browse that will grow longer into the drought than the grasses, and an important bee forage and bird food. But so far I'm after two yields by cutting it...fire control...it shouldn't be left to stand there after it dries, and mulch. Perhaps I can arrange a beneficial meeting between the two invasive plants on this land...the bermuda grass in the garden and the star thistle.....separated by a layer of cardboard....with the production of food as the eventual yield!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Making Friends

The other day when we were down in CA, Alder and I took time out of our busy painting schedule to take a walk around the land. We could feel the pull on both of us, out to the back part of the land, where things are a little wilder...we just wandered that way, coffee in hand, knowing we had painting to do...

I collected plants for a bouquet. I had found a tequila bottle which I think must have belonged to one of the previous (probably a long time ago) owners, hidden behind the fridge in a dusty crevice, and, washing it clean, it's very art-deco looking so I was glad to find some flowers to put in it.

I can't tell you how odd and cool it is-how happy it makes me, to make acquaintance again with all of the plants I knew so well as a child, but did not know their name.
So on this day, Alder called out the names as I picked things.

Some I know-I'd know anywhere. Plantain, Dandelion, and Wild Oats! What medicine, and Oh, I love the wild oats! I have such fond memories of the oats behind our house-dry and brown after a long summer, and the first rain perfumed the air with such a warm, yummy fragrance-oatstraw tea all over the place!

What ended up in my bouquet (above) are, Brodia (purple flower-species unsure), a wild tall Hypericum (St. Johns wort), wild yarrow, Oats, one other unknown grass, and an unknown stinky daisy looking thing (sort of looks like feverfew)...ah, yes, we need weed books! They are on their way. Well, not the UC Davis one-it's two volumes and "cheap" is $64, so that one will wait!

While I picked flowers, Alder noticed that there was a 2nd species of oak on the land.
We THINK these two are Blue oak (right) and Valley Oak (left), but we'll have to key them, as well as the herbs and grasses, etc. out before we know for sure, and before I attempt to make medicine out of anything.

While I looked at the ground, Alder looked out at the landscape.
Our land is only 1.5 acres, but right next to it, unfenced are two small peninsulas, one near the house, and the other out on the back of the property, separated by a gully (which will hopefully someday be a pond) and these two peninsulas, if added to our area that we can walk and sit and harvest from, increase the land to probably over 2 acres. At the edge of this back peninsula, half of it falls straight away down about 12 feet to a small wet spot, where there must be something good-we'll find out, and that "creek" goes south up the hill onto the neighbor's land and up to two ponds, while it also goes downhill to the seasonal creek with the large open bed and tall cut banks, that gives the area it's name "Red Bank" district.
The other half of this back peninsula slopes down steeply, but enough to walk down to the bottom there, and just above it is a spot where cat-tails grow, a sign of year round water. Which means a lot of things...

We are both terribly excited to go exploring! I keep telling him though, just watch your feet in the sunny spots. The first time I said that, it got a quizzical look. Snakes. Rattlesnakes. BIIIIG eatin' size rattlesnakes! Oh, I can't wait!

Our First Gleaning in Red Bluff

Alder and I took the first load of stuff down to Red Bluff last weekend, and on Sunday we took the Uhaul back, and so found ourselves at the Dutch Brothers coffee hut on S. Main St. in Red Bluff.

Alder, ever eying the plants, spotted fruit on an olive tree, and came back with a few black olives.
They were still there after the winter, which is a very ODD thing. Olives normally ripen in the Fall, which means this tree either bloomed in the middle of winter, or else the olives hung there all winter-unlike another unloved tree a mile or so away, where we found dried up olives all over the ground, and none on the tree.

We decided that if that they were hanging there dead ripe, it meant no one in that parking lot wanted them, so we drove over and picked what we could reach off the tree-and then parked the Prius under it and stood on it to glean higher.
Our small first "harvest" of gleaned olives is now in a brine bath.

Olives are naturally inedible right off the tree, so you have to soak and rinse and soak and rinse, in pretty salty water, until they are tasty.

Here's a link to a document Alder found about pickling olives. http://ucanr.org/freepubs/docs/8267.pdf
Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive and PFAF also have great info on "Olea europaea"

The bitter substance, oleuropein, is medicinal... see http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/o/olive-06.html

And we know where there are about 1/2 a dozen more trees, who's olives dropped (don't know why this tree's didn't) so we plan to visit those this Fall!

I can see easily becoming obsessed with olives, as people are with wine...there are so many different cultivars-some better for eating, some better for oil pressing, oooh, and then the oil....Sigh.

On my way back from Sacramento several weeks ago, I stopped in Corning, at the "Olive Pit", a restaurant and olive store/tourist stop, and bought several kinds and flavors of olives...so far, my favorite is the Manzanillo style, with pickling spices and a bit of hot pepper. MMMM.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

learning a new world......

Several times now we have driven from Oregon to California and back, through the Siskiyous, over the high pass and back, from the old place to the new. In the road cuts one can see the strata of the rock, once deposited on the level, all heaved sharply up at an angle. What astounding force could have done this, and over how long? Moreover I learn that the strange greenish rock, the serpentine, is actually former ocean floor, and now here it is at 4,000 feet! A sense of the muscle and bone of the Earth takes hold, alive, flexing in ponderous strength and slowness beneath the thin skin of topsoil and green.
And then there is Mount Shasta. From certain vantages, one can see it even from Red Bluff, perhaps a hundred miles away. The snow never leaves it. And Mount Lassen across the valley. Maybe I will get to see some of Gaia's fireworks before I'm mulch!
I still know my trees in the distance....if not to species, at least to genus...the douglas-fir, alder, maple, cottonwood, madrone, and various pines of Oregon, and down in the valley the strange grayish pines, weird eucalyptus, and the odd blue oak...visibly bluish compared with some less common greener kinds...
And fruits. Our first scrounging from the new land is marinating in brine in the back room....olives from a parking-lot tree in Red Bluff.
--Alder (Bob)

Udan Farm Reborn

I wanted to explain how we came up with a name for our new place, and what the symbolism in the logo is about.

We closed on the new “farm” a week or so ago, and we took the first load of stuff down from OR, spent two nights, cleaning up and basically camping while we unloaded the Uhaul.

A farm, a home, a place, in my opinion NEEDS a name! It makes it more of a living entity.

When Alder and I first started seeing each other-which entailed me coming down to the farm he was on every weekend-one of the things we did was read together. I’ve always loved doing this, and he had a great love of Ursula LeGuin. I wanted to know about the things he was passionate about, so we read quite a lot of her stories.

The one we both like the most (well, one of two) is a short story called “Another Story, OR the Fisherman of the Inland Sea”, which is set on a continuously inhabited (for 3,000 years) family “farmhold” named Udan.

So when we started our own permaculture homestead in GA, that was undoubtedly our choice for it’s name.
It’s been a good name, but now we are in CA, and we have to ponder, was Udan us, or did Udan stay in GA…

When we started talking about the new place we knew we wanted to name it, and our minds immediately went to Ursula LeGuin for our inspiration.

Our other favorite book is “Always Coming Home”, arguably Ursula’s epic novel, of an indigenous people that inhabit CA many years in the future.

I love the cover of this book, because it always looked like “Home” to me-where I came from...those rolling, voluptuous, velvety hills where I grew up-the land that comforted and shaped my soul.

Alder and I started pouring over “Always Coming Home” last week, thinking that the name for our new farm MUST come from this book. But nothing really struck us. “Just give it some time”, he said.

Then a couple of days ago, we had a colorful encounter that inspired us. The dog was barking and I went out to see a peacock in the neighbor’s yard! My mouth dropped open! So pretty! I figured the elderly neighbor lady must have gotten a peacock, but the more I thought about it, I figured that probably wasn’t the case, so I ascertained that it was not hers, and it was most likely wild.

In the meantime, I had been reading about our friend Liam, who died unexpectedly a few weeks ago, and his re-drawing of the Seal of Atlanta to include a Sun and fruit tree. Ever the optimist and catalyst for change, he made the grey phoenix into a “green” phoenix.

I have a special place in my heart, because of a vision I had, for phoenixes. I think of the Cherokee (part of my heritage) phoenix as red, my personal bird is turquoise-and came to symbolize the direction my spiritual life would take, so the image of a green phoenix sounded very cool!

Visions of a colorful pet for the farm and a “green phoenix” danced in my head as we spent some time trying to catch the bird. Chasing a bird through dense underbrush (mostly posion oak) is not easy, but when it drew us into the blackberries and then FLEW away, we said goodbye to our dream of a free, LOUD alarm clock!

I came back to the house and looked up “Peacock Medicine” as in the lessons that an animal passing into our lives has to teach us. Peacock is a symbol of watchfulness (his “eyes” on his tail feathers) and in Christianity, a symbol of resurrection. It also teaches us with it’s laugh-like cry to laugh with life! Chasing a peacock unsuccessfully through the brush is certainly a case for laughing at one’s self, and as I made lunch, I thought about peacocks, and Liam and phoenixes and resurrection, and chasing peacocks and laughing. Liam is still not far from my thoughts, and the one thing that I think if immediately when I think of him, is JOY and laughter-yes, I think Liam would have thought Alder chasing a peacock was funny.

As I cooked an idea came to me...Udan farm, our beloved permaculture homestead could BE reborn in California! Why NOT name the new farm the same as the old farm, and continue all the good that we did there-continue the permaculture ethics and community, teaching, etc….it felt very right.

So I passed it by Alder and it felt right to him too. I told him I had been thinking about Liam helping us plant persimmons and figs on Udan, and phoenixes, and being re-born (wondering where Liam is now, and where he’s going) and how it all wove together into the idea that Udan should stay with us.

Being the graphics geek, and having a rare (at the moment) day to goof off, I set about making our new “logo”…. I can see it as a carved and painted wooden sign at the gate of our new farm.

I started with a pecan tree, one that was part of an ad for the first Permaculture Design Course at Koinonia (Alder’s home for 10 years and coincidentally the PDC where Liam was a student). I changed that pecan tree into an olive tree, to symbolize where we are going and what Alder hopes to plant. The two fallen leaves are our permie friends that we have lost in the last 2 years, Liam, and Frank Cook. They symbolize something of the circle, of life and death, that is part of every farm.

The artichoke is also a symbol of our future food. Even before we closed on the house, the previous owner gave us permission to take artichokes that may be growing there, so we had a dinner several weeks back that included food off our new land! How cool that the land is feeding us before we even move onto it! The artichoke in the logo is one of the ones we ate, turned into a graphic. It looks mighty like a lotus, which is also a symbol of rebirth.

The red line at the bottom is symbolic of the land, our grounding foundation, red for both the land that we left, and the land we are going to-which is in the “Red Bank” district-so named because of the color of the soil showing along the banks of the creek. The red also stands for my Cherokee and Alder’s Mauntauk heritage.

The phoenix has so many meaning held within it. My Cherokee heritage, my vision and newfound Spiritual path (hence also the 7 drops of water coming off the bird, as if he were coming up out of water), Udan’s rebirth, Alder’s rebirth, and even Liam and his green phoenix.

And the spiral on the bird is a pattern in Permaculture, was the G in “Georgia Permaculture” and was part of the peach logo for the Altanta PDC that never happened.

As for the word wudeligv, which is Cherokee for West, we didn’t just want to name the place “Udan Farm” again-there needed to be some distinction, and with me ever ready these days to practice my Cherokee language skills it seemed like a nice 2nd part to the name. Udan West.

So that’s the story behind our new “logo”. And the picture behind the blog is the new place we call home.

Home. Owenvsv (oh weh nuh suh) in Cherokee. The place where we will grow food, make friends, sit and watch the grass grow, maybe play with some great-nieces in a few years and laugh. And I hope there’s a LOT of laughter, and joy.



Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Cows

Because I'm on a cow roll, and this little ditty has stuck with me since Northern Exposure was on!


In honor of the new place we are going to call home, and our thousands of neighbors with 4 legs and horns....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Welcome everyone!
Alder and Isabel will both be posting what they're up to here. Stay tuned!
We just purchased a 1.5 acre in Tehama County, CA, which includes a metal barn, two chicken sheds, three other sheds (food storage, laundry, etc.) and a 1976 mobile home!
I (Isabel) have never been very fond of mobile homes, especially after living in the South (and in OK for one year when I was a kid) where mobile homes can be death-traps if a tornado comes along. But happily, no real threat of tornadoes in CA, just heat (it's a DRY heat!) and snakes. Earthquakes I'm not worried about.
I'll post a link to the right for some awesome folks in Truth or Consequences, NM who have become my heros for having a permaculture/maker outlook on a mobile home. THEY are the reason I'm game to fix this place up!
Another blog I'll post a link for is for a family who has been doing permaculture in southern Tehama county for 3 years!
Stay tuned for an explanation of the new logo and farm name, and first photos of our first gleaning foray in Red Bluff!
We're looking forward to the challenge!