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: (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.
( 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 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 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 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!