Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Solstice Salute - Photos of All Projects

Happy Summer Solstice...a little late, but it was Father's Day, big market day, and Summer Solstice, all rolled into one!  Oh, and then Monday was Oliver's 5th birthday, and Tuesday was my garden day at the local Montessori school, where we built a big solar oven in our garden this week (more on that below).  So I'm going to just pick up where we left off last time, and run through a bunch of photos.  There are some nice garden shots, some new self-reliance measures, there's a tour of my elementary school project, and a wrap-up at the new organic cider orchard that a couple of my buds and I have been working on.  Let's go, starting with my place:

The ol' fire pit doing its thing, on May Day evening where we left off last time,  Raised my glass of mead to summer, as promised, grilled a little local grass-fed ribeye, some garden 'taters and root veg, sauteed kale from the kitchen garden, and enjoyed the fire with my family. 
Built a small front porch, which is about to get its roof. 
My daughter Ella turned 7.  Nice tea set from my mom, huh?  Ella loves wearing fancy dresses and setting out tea. 
Out to the garden, the comfrey that occupied the space in the lower-middle-left of this shot was harvested, for the second time this season, to help repair an orchard problem I'll get to in a minute.  The more established comfreys are really starting to produce some high-quality fertilizing biomass.
First-year plum guild starting to settle in.
View through nectarine polyculture across the strawberry-rhubarb bed.  Pinching the strawberry flowers for the first round, like the pros suggest, definitely paid off, with bigger, stronger plants that are now producing large, sweet berries as they peter out for mid-summer downtime. 
Separated the rooster from the hens while I introduced the spring pullets to the laying group.  Just as easy to build garden beds with chickens as with rabbits, probably easier - just have to wait longer to plant in it. 
There's a uglier side to this update, too, I'm afraid.  Boo boo #1.  I left a couple sheets of rockboard leaning against the adjacent fence while I was gone one day, wind started blowing, blew the rockboard backwards into this little peach tree, and made a mess of its trunk.  As you can see, though, medicine arrived quickly.  I slathered the wounds with the comfrey cream we make, to fight off microbial infection in the bare inner tissue, and harvested a mess of comfrey leaf to feed the soil around the tree.
I've never met an organic treatment that has more positive effects on fruit trees than the chop-n-drop comfrey strategy.  I've used it for years now on all kinds of problems, with excellent results. 
This nectarine is our first fruit tree to reach 12'.  Probably time to do some heading cuts on it next major pruning session. 
Second growth on this comfrey, following a fat harvest.  The rest of the guild is coming along nicely, the greens are productive, and some young tomatoes are settling in. 
Lavender, like comfrey, is another one of those plants that I couldn't do without.  Took us some time to figure out how to grow it here, though.  We babied it too much before - composting, mulching, putting it in a prime spot.  No, that's not what it wants. It wants to grow in the dry gravel along the path, and get kicked now and then for good measure!
Found a Cherokee arrowhead out in the garden recently.  Super cool.  Also found out that I have some Cherokee blood as well, which might explain the feathers in my hair.  Er, wait, that's probably just dirt and chicken feathers.  Maybe I just need a shower...
Also got a newer car since my last post.  The morning after May Day, we were in Atlanta for a big craft show, and got rear-ended on the off-ramp...sitting still, waiting for the light to turn green, a nice Mercedes slams into a GMC truck, who slams into us.  (I bet the guy was texting!)  Anyway, we had enough other problems cropping up with the old Camry, and unfortunately can't live without a car at this point, so we broke down and bought a newer one.  I hate having a car payment, even a small one, but she sure is niiiice.  I'm hoping this car will take care of us as well and as long as the last one did. 
This one's here to help balance out the utter dependency of the last photo!  We're finally catching some rain.  I mean, when it rains again. 
Moving on to my Montessori project.  This is the top side of our Mike Oehler-style earth-berm greenhouse.  This is the first thing you see when you walk into the play yard/garden at the school.  The little sign tacked to the right corner of the eaves says "Please excuse our goat-ravaged garden."  I'll get to that in a sec.  To the right... 

This is the best greenhouse design I've ever seen.  Thank you, Mike Oehler!  Although his is buried even deeper in the ground.  I only had so much hill to work with, and didn't want runoff water, nor cold air, pooling in the greenhouse as the low spot.  It's buried deep enough, though, and has enough masonry thermal mass in the north wall, that I had tender young lettuce plants make it through a 5 degree night without any doors on...and one of the highest windows was out, being reglazed.  It holds some heat.  But because of the earth connection and open doors, doesn't get as hot as you'd think in the blinding summer sun.  I've built this particular greenhouse to accommodate the flow of young children.  During the heat of summer we're not growing anything in it, but it's a perfect place for my garlic to dry.  Everyone seems to dig it!
Speaking of digging it, how about Boo boo #2? 
Some great and giving folks, parents of one of my students, contributed a dump-bed load of composted horse manure to our garden efforts.  You might as well have dumped a load of gold doubloons in the garden, I was so happy.  Well, turns out the horse manure compost had a persistent herbicide from the hay (thank you, Gilmer County Master Gardeners!).  Graze On would be my guess (thank you, Chris!).  What a mess it's made of our school garden!  The tomatoes are stunted, curled up and really ugly.  Some of the fruit trees don't know what to do.  I spread that stuff everywhere.  At my house too.  At this point the strategy is to try to remove as much of it as is feasible, spread some untainted compost on all the offended areas, inoculate with mycorrhizae, mulch with straw, and water thoroughly.  ??
The tea garden at school - various mints, lemon balm, bee balm, self heal.  The kids usually pick and make tea once a week. 
Alright, Boo boo #3.  A giant billy goat at the farm next door to the school broke out of his fence and into our garden a few weeks ago.  He broke fruit trees, munched raspberries down to stubs, and clipped this herb row down hard. 
Things are starting to recover, like these young peaches, but man, between the billy and the tainted compost... 
This is the new raspberry row, on a hugelkultur mound on contour.  It was bushy and loaded with ripening fruit, just in time for summer camp-ers, when the billy broke in and demolished it.  It's slowly recovering, though.  I think we lost one Asian pear tree for good, but I think everyone else will recover.  The owner actually sold the billy goat on account of this.
This is our rabbit/worm compost factory.  Clover gets tons of attention from the kids, and tons of fresh greens to eat; they even let her out to roam now and then.  The rest of the time, she's busy feeding the vermicompost bin below her with her droppings and food mess. 
This is another of last summer's projects.  We dismantled an old dilapidated play set, and reused the materials to make a chicken tractor!
Food door below, egg door above.  Kids take care of them full time - feed, water, collect eggs.  And they've collected LOTS of eggs.  Usually once a week, eggs have to get used before they take over the kitchen!
The kids even move the tractor.  See, we used an extra swing as a harness, chained to the bottom of the leading end.  It takes two of them to pull it in the harness, so it also fosters teamwork.  They all love the chickens, and almost no one minds getting stuck with this detail for the week.
This photo makes me happy and sad.  Happy because we built a nice little school orchard - 6 pears, 6 apples, and another peach - on the cheap, and sad because our orchard was only cheap at someone else's expense.  A friend of mine, too.  Ran one of the great southern fruit nurseries, and went out of business 01JUN.  By mid-May, we were buying trees for $5 each, as he liquidated the entire nursery.  That's about half of what he had in them.  Good for us; bad for my friend.
Just yesterday we built this baby!  A nice solar oven, big enough to hold and heat lots of corn dogs and leftover pizza.  Got this pan of cold water to the edge of boiling in about 45 minutes.  Unlike most Americans, I don't think microwaves are good things, so I'm trying to encourage the kids to use this instead.  There's a false bottom, stuffed with insulation underneath, the seams are taped up tight, and the joint between the box and the window top is weatherstripped.  I think I'm going to have fun playing with this, and can't wait to build one at home!
The Other Other project.  A buddy of mine has a great little homestead to the north of us a little ways.  He's not there much.  He's off somewhere else making lots of money.  We have another friend, though, who actually lives there, and sort of takes care of the place and does some publicity work for the owner friend.  He's from Seattle, but wants to slow down and work on a farm.  So we're building one.  Starting with shifting the horse pasture, and planting the first 70 apples trees of our organic cider orchard.  This is where my friend's nursery business closing really helped out.
The lower tier has the first 25 trees, and a bunch of elderberry that definitely has a home in our orchard.
The upper tier has the other 45 trees.
We've had a little deer pressure, but a dowsing around each tree with a solution of Irish Spring "soap" seems to be working.

Our long-term goal with the orchard is a permaculture-type mixed yield polycultural "farm."  (Farms used to all be polycultural, but that's not the image associated with the word today).  We're brewing a steady supply of mead now, and more cider every season, and we intend to keep increasing our production, adding more cider trees, berries, grapes, honeybees, herbs, and so forth, every season.  Disc golf course might have to move...

With school, my youngest is now 5, and they can stay at Montessori until at least 12, by then probably all the way through, so it's my intention to keep trading my organic garden-herbalism-permaculture course for their education.  We'll see after that.  I might have too much to do at home by then;)

So I have our low-impact off-grid homestead and developing food forest "Rivenwood," our herbal business, Small Batch Garden, the school project, and the cider orchard.  That's four part-time jobs, a wife, and two children.  There's always something to do.  And I hope you've enjoyed this more comprehensive photo tour of my projects, 'cause, I gotta run!

Be back around Lammas.
Until then, 
Tripp out.