Creating a Rain Garden

This month’s weekends were filled with the creation of a Rain Garden to stem the overflow of water that creeps steadily towards our garage bays and front door.

Our existing french drain was regularly being overwhelmed after the neighbors above us removed some vegetation that evidently had been soaking up quite a bit of rainfall.

After a free consult from our county’s Master Gardeners, we created two  40′ x 8′ swales to slow down the water entering our property. Next we added a soil/sand mix since the percolation tests in one areas performed so poorly. (Perc tests are easy to do, just a dig a hole to 24″, fill with water, and watch how slowly the water drains.)

Finally, we added a variety of plants from the lengthy recommendation list for our bioregion, selecting mostly plants that are deer-resistant and attractive for pollinators.

We also transitioned our T5 grow lights from a closet in the garage to the greenhouse, and added a more powerful set of metal halide grow lights to the mix. In the grow light photo you’ll notice a new outdoor cat house my son and I built; we’ll get a pair of barn cats after the holidays to help control the mice/rats that love to nest in our firewood shelters.


Breathless from the bounty

This month’s highlights, capturing the benefits of bounty:

  • Oh my goodness, the tomatoes and tomatillos just kept coming, and coming, and…good thing the kids and I like sun-dried tomatoes. The sun-dried tomatillo is amazing as well. We’ve had the food dehydrator going 24/7 for weeks now.
  • And the chili peppers. I believe pure happiness is a little red fruit.
  • A seasonal flush of the water cisterns and they are already full again.
  • Both our wood burning stoves are the cleanest they will be all year. Ready to burn!
  • New-to-us used bicycles for everyone. Just in time for the rains (oops!).

Buying nothing new (except toilet paper)

As our rains and colder weather invade, we button up many of our outside projects and batten down the mini-hoop houses, cloches, and Agribon paper to extend our growing season. The remaining chili peppers – full grown but still green – will be brought in to ripen inside, and the water cisterns will be flushed/cleaned so they can quickly refill for emergency water storage during winter storm power outages.

And so we turn our attention to inside projects like bread-making, cheese-making, and another One Year experiment (our last one was on transportation). A few months ago we began a one year experiment of Buying Nothing New other than food, vitamins, and toilet paper to see how we would fair on 12 months of salvaged, repurposed, or used items. For example, we’ve shifted our apparel purchases to consignment shops (both local and online) for our fast-growing kids and for ourselves as we wear through items working in the garden.

The effect of “buying used” has had an interesting affect on us of actually acquiring *more* stuff in my life. Yikes! We’re actually buying more stuff now than we were before, because our brains were thinking “Oh, I’m saving money because it is used!”

But of course, we’re not. We’re spending cash where we were not before. And we now have more stuff coming into our lives, which is the opposite of the our previous simplification focus. Now that we recognize the behavior change, we’ve corrected it. But for several months, this experiment was clearly a wash (at best) on our finances. I expect we’ll begin making gains now.

This month’s highlights and lowlights:

Highlights:

  • Lessons learned re: our Buy Nothing New experiment. Time to combine a repurpose focus with a simplification focus!
  • Cool weather crops coming on strong; warm weather crops still doing well under their cold frames.
  • Addition of a Kenyan bee hive (aka Top Bar) that I’m bee-sitting for a friend who is injured. Fun to learn a new style of beekeeping.
  • Giving away our honey to friends and family as gifts!
  • Renewed interest in finishing my book on Prepared Neighborhoods (citizen-led emergency preparedness at the neighborhood level) and reinvigorating our own town’s preparedness activities.

Lowlights:

  • The biggest lowlight for our country is seeing the suffering of our East Coast neighbors from the superstorm. So, so, so wish more towns had citizen-led preparedness projects underway. We can’t rely on our government to bail us out; they are going to have their hands full just repairing the core infrastructure.
  • The biggest lowlight for me personally is literally the low light. Time to start taking Vitamin D supplements and St. John’s Wort to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  • Learning from our failures for the Buy Nothing New experiment that were not always so fun. Example: had to buy a new car tire jack in a hurry (no time to search for a used or salvage option) when I discovered our Nissan Leaf does not ship with a spare tire nor a jack. It was a bit of dumb thinking on Nissan’s part that was not fun to discover as we blew the tire away from home – surprising given the Nissan engineers got so many other details about the Leaf correct.

True Wealth; True Health

True Wealth – Winter Warmth

Our heat (and sun) is leaving us too quickly for my taste. I find myself going outside every chance I get while taking work phone calls to enjoy the last days of our sunshine and mild weather.

Hoping we retain enough heat in the next few weeks for our chili peppers to ripen on the vine but they’re all huge so finishing them off inside would not be so bad.

This month’s learnings to share with both highlights and lowlights…

Beauty Set Into Strength

Highlights:

  • An appreciation of true wealth (2-3 winter’s worth of good Douglas Fir stored) and true health (a year’s worth of garlic in storage).
  • The entrepreneurial spirit I see in my son with his care and responsibility for our chickens and his egg business
  • The joy on my daughter’s face as her toes wiggle out another huge potato. We had several 5 gallon buckets worth of gorgeous red-white-blue volunteer potatoes despite planting no new eyes this past year.
  • New woodsheds were made by a local woodworker father-son crew and purchased via barter. Love barter deals!
  • Steady supply of salad through the heat weeks where normally everything bolts. My wife’s brilliant idea was to create a new bed in the shade, and the lettuce transplants there did wonderfully!

True Health – Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Lowlights:

  • Almost blowing up myself and my house. Nicked the copper feed line for my generator’s propane tanks when trimming the bamboo surrounding it. One little spark from my shears before I got the tanks shut down would have been a disaster.
  • Another failed corn year (four in a row!) after a promising start. Think my problem this year was lack of water. Will push out drip irrigation to the corn next year and tie into my timer system.
  • Actually, it’s hard to think of many lowlights from this past month. It’s gorgeous and pleasant most every day outside this time of year and we’re not suffering from the droughts plaguing the rest of the country. Sunshine, blue skies, white clouds, gorgeous mountains, and deep healthy forests. It all goes a long way to erase work stress, crop failures, and any other problems. Feeling very grateful at this time of year as we head into Harvest Festivals and the celebration of this season’s bounty.

End of summer summary

Well, our summer here does not really end until late September, but for most of my friends around the country, Back to School means Summer End.

A quick summary of learnings to share with both highlights and lowlights.

Highlights:

  • Successful brooding of next batch of laying chickens. All 25 Golden Comets survived and transferred well to our Andy Lee style of day ranging chicken tractors.
  • Very high production continued for berries as well as many of the vegetables.
  • Learned why our 30+ blueberry bushes were just doing mediocre (surrounding strawberries too healthy and grabbing all the nutrients at the same shallow soil level) and how to fix it (transplant strawberries down to food forest and surround each blueberry bush with aged sawdust, which I can get for free).
  • Fruit trees bore a decent amount of fruit for the first time. That taste on some of these like the cherries and asian pears is amazing compared to store bought (even organic + local). The ability to wait until the exact day of full ripeness makes an enormous difference in the taste.
  • Surprising crop of volunteer potatoes. For planting zero seed potatoes this past year, we’ve got enough of a crop of volunteers to last us several months.
  • A monster amount of tomatillos and tomatoes are coming in, which combined with our cilantro and hot peppers, is making for some awesome salsa.
  • Bumper crop of peppers, both sweet and hot. Not much makes me happier than cayenne and habanero peppers.

Lowlights:

  • Lost another bird to an eagle attack, despite the ceiling. Found the hole that the eagle did after the fact to close it up. Bummer.
  • Forgot to switch from my rainwater harvesting cisterns over to the well water at the beginning of the irrigation season, and promptly drained my backup water in just three weeks. Won’t get to refill them until the rains return in force this fall.
  • Another year of multiple failed carrot plantings. I lose some to wild rabbits, some to potato bugs, and some to I-don’t-know-what. Top of mind to fix for next year. Trying a different type of carrot for overwintering this year.
  • On the alternative transportation front, finally broke down and bought a replacement battery for my electric bike after I toasted my old battery. $450…ouch! But love being back on my bike, especially in these sunny months.

Open source blueprints for civilization

Do you love farm hacks as much as I do? If so, check out this mother-of-all hacks architected by Marcin Jakubowski.

Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, Jakubowski is open-sourcing the 50 most-used farm machines that can be built cheaply from scratch.

TED Talks calls his Global Village Construction Set a “civilization starter kit.” At just $10K that could be shared among several micro-farmers and permaculture enthusiasts, I call it affordable.


Back to the (micro) farm

After taking off December from posting to sell one business, launch another, and take a much need vacation to see the sun again, we’re back and ready to dive into our winter projects as we seek ways to opt out en masse fro the typical North American culture.

First up was finishing up a lean-to style greenhouse so we can continue growing our own food throughout our dark winter.We started with digging in to lay a foundation and finished with adding water barrels to store emergency water and absorb heat during the day (to then release at night).

Side note on the water barrels: they also serve as a more long term economical (and environmental) solution for storing emergency drinking water. Several years ago we bought (lots) of 1 gallon plastic containers to keep on hand in case of emergencies. It’s a lot of plastic and cardboard that now, when it is time for me to cycle back in, I have to find other uses for. Oops. Since I don’t want to repeat this every few years for the rest of my life, the food-grade plastic rain barrels and a siphon are a much better long term solution.