And here’s the time lapse-ish prep and install of the PV panels…
Mother Nature is keeping us in balance (at least by her definition) with some gorgeous January weather – blue skies, bright sunshine – that is opposite of this past summer’s Juneuary. I suppose it is a matter of perspective, but the sunshine sure makes me happy no matter what time of the year it comes.
Projects this month included (finally) bricking up the base of the attached greenhouse so it matches the rest of the house, starting the earth-moving work to prep level pads in our pasture for inbound photovoltaic panels that we’ve been thinking about for five years, and starting seedlings for spring planting under the grow lights.
I use this time of year to reflect on what went well this past calendar year, what didn’t, and what I can do about it for the coming years. As the accompanying graphic from the always-brilliant artist behind The Oatmeal explains, greatness for any given project (or just life in general) is the oh-so-lucky intersection of at least four major influences.
Upon reflection, my day job of the last two years (where I have that excellent colleague as indicted in the graphic) is increasingly taking me away from food production duties, and yet that has only decreased our production by 10-20%, mostly due to not prioritizing the daily/weekly management of season extending devices like grow tunnels and Agribon paper.
This year I’ve continued to experience the benefits of a two decade-long buildout of a personal Board of Mentors. They’re like a Board of Advisors for a company, but at a personal level. I’ve found one gaping hole, however, with the lack of a mentor in permaculture. I’ll remedy that this year by carving out time this year to pursue a PDC certificate (permaculture design course) through which I can recruit a mentor specific to my bioregion.
Looking forward to this next year, our first major project will be installation of a ground mount solar PV system we just purchased (will pursue adding wind harvesting when the tech improves as our measurements are currently too low). The solar will be a ground mount system since our roof has way too many angles and not enough continuous space for PV panels.
We’ve enjoyed almost a full month of Colorado-like weather with biting cold and glorious blue skies. Love, love, love seeing the sunshine around here, even if it means the chard looks like it is melting under the onslaught of below-freezing weather.
Below you’ll find a special collection of mushrooms found in our yard, food forest, hugelculture bed, and wood-chipped pathways connecting everything. An amazing variety, although we’re missing the return of the hoped-for morels! If you want even more mushrooms, head over to Fantastic Fungi.
Big moves and changes this month:
- While this blog is primarily for friends and family that always ask about our projects, other random folks have found this blog based on my obsessions with electric bicycles, long tail bicycles, permaculture, and more. For those of you reading this anywhere in the US other than the Pacific Northwest, you should probably go ahead and start the process of moving out here now.
If the “before and after” images here denoting problem areas due to climate change don’t convince you, go read the full article for the details. Not for the faint of heart…but a big move may be in store for you whether you want it or not.
- We did our annual field cut with our neighbors so I had the joy of several early meditations sessions watching coyotes and raptors hunt for mice/voles/etc now that their normal hiding places of a 7′ pasture are gone. Owls, ospreys, eagles, ravens, and various hawks. Wow!
- We swapped out our used Prius for a used Chevy Volt. Between the Volt, the Leaf, and my electric bicycle, we’re now 99%+ doing transportation on electricity. Which means we’re now saving for solar panels and trying not to get fat.If you are still on the fence about the benefits of an electric car (particularly if you are a two-car family) check out the math from the always-funnny and usually-right Mr. Money Mustache.The primary behavior change I’ve noticed is a smile every time I accelerate the Volt. The Prius felt like driving a cardboard box in comparison. The fact that I was still burning gas while driving a cardboard box made me dislike the whole experience even more.
- The garden suffered from a lack of attention as both my wife and I decided to take on intensive work projects at the same exact time. What I learned was some crops can’t handle it (I’m looking at you, corn) while others seem to do just fine being ignored. Case in point is the tomatoes. In previous years I’ve been careful with spacing, leafs off the ground, proper pruning for air flow, etc.
This year (as witnessed by the below photo), I just transplanted them from the greenhouse and promptly ignored them…and we still have an abundance of healthy tomatoes. There is a lesson here that Ruth Stout has tried to teach me through her books, I’m sure.
- We finished our treehouse. What was a 2-3 weekend project turned into a summer-long project since both kids were running the screwdrivers. But we just created lifelong memories, too.
- We fired back up the greenhouse for winter salads and jumpstarting cool weather crops like broccoli, kale, and chard.
- Evenings are currently spent processing the abundance of food. Dehydrators are our best friends.
Years ago we used to send out a Christmas in July newsletter as a lark since no one would expect an annual family newsletter in that month. Given our continued cold temperatures, it feels like I should bring that back. I actually came downstairs from my home office one day to find my family had a fire going in the fireplace with them all sitting around under blankets. Seriously. It was the middle of July!
This month’s highlights:
- June’s cold weather finally broke towards the end of the month, giving much-needed heat to the corn, tomatoes, and peppers.
- We threw our first annual Summer Solstice party BYOLS (bring your own local stuff) with everyone wearing all-white. Much fun, great relationships (true wealth), and a celebration of everything hyper-local…from kombucha to kale.
- Camping with kids = no sleep for anyone but good lifelong memories.
- Hand-watering got to the point where we reestablished the fully automated irrigation in all it’s geekiness glory. A few years ago we repurposed the fancy lawn irrigation controller to control water dosages to all our veggie beds and food forest with an A/B switch to move from our neighborhood water (shared well system) to our cisterns holding harvested rainwater. Now with a few hours of patching work the full system is up and running again.
- Newly refilled sheds for of green firewood (not to burn this winter, but the following) give me a good feeling of preparedness for ourselves and our neighbors.
- Serious growth on the fruit trees should mean our first significant harvest this fall. Hooray!
A nice rebound from a record-breaking wet March, the sun has finally returned to the Pacific Northwest – at least on some glorious days. With the longer days I’m back to late evening sessions of scything paths through our fields, putzing about my greenhouse, and enjoying the return of bees to our land.
The small town we live in has approximately 50 beekeepers who brought in 2MM new bees this past month (most folks lost most of their bees over the winter). With all the trauma and drama of working out how we have a symbiotic relationship with these crucial creatures, I’ve decided that to be a beekeeper is to be an eternal optimist.
My favorite moment from this past month was standing under one of our blooming Japanese maples with thousands of bees overhead. The tree itself seemed to be buzzing with excitement, welcoming these visitors.
There must be something about March that calls for stuff to break, wear out, or just simply come due for some upkeep. This last month we’ve been in constant fix-it mode…while taking the all important breaks to see that elusive winter sun here in the Pacific Northwest.
Some of the projects weren’t much fun, like fixing basement foundation cracks due to flooding. While I sympathize for my fellow gardeners down in the severe California drought, up here we are experiencing way too much water. Other projects I’m not quite sure how to fix yet, like a rain garden swale that does a great job of capturing runoff water but drains so slowly that the plants have to survive in deep standing water for days on end. To be fair, we *have* had a significant amount of rain.
But most projects this past month have been enjoyable, especially working on them with my children. Whether it was building a chick brooder from scrap with my six-year-old, or scything the rye cover crop on the hugelkultur bed with my 11-year old, I am a lucky man with great kids like these (true wealth!). Other projects, like pruning fruit trees or re-sinking all the bamboo guides we use to train our raspberry rows, I did solo, often in the rain. With good rain weather gear, you forget about getting wet and slip into a meditative state out there; a great way to detox from the stress of work.
And speaking of true wealth (relationships), this spring finds me bartering with my neighbors again, helping to kick start their veggie and herb seedlings under our grow lights and greenhouse so the entire neighborhood gets a jump on food production. Love it.
Now that winter is almost behind us again and I’m balanced on daily tinctures of vitamin D and St. John’s Wort, I can actually reflect on things I enjoy about this season:
- Wearing flannel-lined Dickies work pants every day
- Catching up on semi-indoor projects like new workbenches and grow light setups in the greenhouse
- Flushing our rainwater harvesting cisterns of their 5000 gallons, just to see them full again in a couple of weeks (!)
- Appreciating my bullet-proof Carhartt jacket that seems to just get better with age
- Obsessing over indoor projects I have no time for in the other seasons, like my never-ending quest for the ultimate EDC (Every Day Carry) and CERT bag.
My most recent EDC is pictured here and includes an X-band minimalist wallet, Leatherman Skeletool (primary blade), Streamlight PT2L (primary torch), titanium pocket dangler holding a paracord lanyard, keys, and Streamlight’s Nano Light (backup torch), James Avery wedding ring, stock Apple headset, and a knife belt buckle (backup blade) mounted on my grandfather’s belt. I changed from my perennial favorite Leatherman Expanse blade to the Skeletool to have ready access to the pliers/wire cutters in addition to the screwdrivers, which have been handy recently for wire work with berries in the food forest and tweaks to The Chunnel. The belt buckle knife that I added as a backup blade this year is kinda dorky and at the same time, completely cool. Not pictured is the iPhone 4S that took the photo itself.
This month unfortunately included a few lowlights:
- After painstakingly raising 2′ high broccoli from seed and successfully transplanting them into our new hugelkultur bed, I made the mistake of covering them with Agribon paper for a snowstorm. It may have kept them warmer, but the combined weight of the snow accumulated across the paper snapped 80%+ of the stalks. We probably lost a year’s worth of broccoli with that one mistake. Bummer.
- Almost to the day from one year ago, we had another dog attack by a pair of sweet but untrained dogs that ran across three acres of pasture, barreled though our electronet fence, and killed two chickens. Negligent and naive dog owners who don’t have their dogs under voice control drive me nuts. My dog is under voice control…why the hell can’t theirs also be?
- The final lowlight for me this month is a case study of what stupid humans who live in my area do when faced with a super-positive event like winning the SuperBowl. If widespread jubilation leads to rioting and violence, just think what widespread panic would lead to…
To end on a positive note, as we begin to appreciate the signs of spring, I’m most excited by the huge growth our fruit trees put on this year. They are moving from fledgeling trees to recognizable fruit-bearing wonders comprising a proper orchard. I love seeing a full bed of garlic shoots popping up, and early flower bulbs in the fruit tree guilds emerging. And I love the occasional sunny weekend day that allows us to absorb real vitamin D while preparing the garden with new sugar snap pea trellises and repairs to the deer fencing.