Wednesday, November 30, 2011

earth healing

one of my goals on this trip is to learn how to help create healthy soils.

the organic matter is what i often think of when i imagine healthy topsoil. there is also the mineral part of it, whether it be in the form of sand, silt, or clay. there is usually some mix of the three. then there is the organic matter in soil, which consists of that living and not living. the living are organisms on the soil surface and below the surface that participate in the soil food web. that not living is the plant or animal material in various stages of decomposition that is the nutrient source for the living things.

in farming practice we have replaced a natural, soil-building ecosystem with a cropping system that we must manage in order to maintain or build soil. in agriculture the trend has been to deplete soils, but there may be some rare cases where soil fertility has been maintained or risen. what i am interested in finding out is if us humans can help to rebuild at an accelerated rate the soils which we have depleted. i think it may be possible through small-scale farming and intensive composting of all organic materials otherwise deposited in various waste streams. if it is possible this is what i want to participate in. i believe humanity depends on it.

at Green String Farm i took the opportunity to practice composting. i built one pile while there i felt was big enough to call complete. the minimum size in order to build the necessary heat in the pile for proper digestion is about four cubic feet. it can be bigger, but at some point it will have so much thermal mass that it will heat up more than is optimal for the desired bacterial activity.

joseph jenkins, author of the humanure handbook, does not believe turning compost is the best way to do it. he cites studies where turning compost was found to cause loss of oxygen, organic material, and water. it also requires labor that might be better utilized elsewhere. if the pile is properly built then the microbial life in the pile can be left to do it's magic over the course of a year after the pile has been built to full size.

before my time at Green String Farm i'd never completed a compost pile. closest i got was just a couple layers shy on a pile i started at wild's edge, where i used to live on orcas island. that one was in a bin made of pallets. this time i built the pile free-standing, using coarse, somewhat rigid materials to create structural support and a barrier against pests on the outside. i did not put these materials on top of the pile, but i see now that it could have been an extra deterrent against pests such as the cats and duck that liked to poke around up there. usually i just used finer material like leaves or straw. every other time i added nitrogenous materials and covered with carbonaceous materials, i also added a thin layer of soil. this seemed to discourage the animals. this is the way i saw the piles being layered at Ecology Action. those folks have some experience with composting.

for the last few weeks of the internship i added my own humanure to this compost pile. what encouraged me, besides the information in the 'humanure handbook', was that the pit under our outhouse had filled up and we were not prioritizing digging a new pit. i'd rather not go to the trouble when there is a perfectly relaxing and otherwise practical alternative, to compost the poop in a thermophilic pile! the 'humanure handbook', the only text i read while at the farm, helped me to feel confident in the safety and sensibility of this activity. there is more chance of pollution occurring from an anaerobic pit than there is from a properly built and maintained compost pile.

towards the end i also added two whole chicken corpses. this is another activity that mr. jenkins encourages in his book.

i took great care and enjoyed the creative act of building this pile. i felt with satisfaction how i was participating in this essential natural process of decomposition and digestion. without this process there would be no renewal and continuation of life.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

hoop hike

here in sonoma county there were strong winds from about 11am to 7pm. for our lesson we had a hike with our instructor bob. the forest we walked through is on a ridge above the sonoma valley. very beautiful land. he pointed out mt. diablo and the cities of the bay area to the south from the highest point on our hike. we found many pounds of golden chantrelle mushrooms at a couple of bob's spots. it was one of my most exciting mushroom experiences. walking through this forest of oak, maple, madrona, bay, and manzanita i felt deeply connected to the spirit that flows through it all. the wind was blowing in a way that feels like some kind of communication. there was a lot of talk of the natives of the area, who bob said used to live on the ridges above this valley, until the last were killed or driven out around 1906. there was said to be a population of about one thousand when the settlers, the takers, arrived. there is an old village site on bob's property. i want to learn more of the story.

previous to this hike i had been up in the forest on thanksgiving. i walked up as dusk approached and played some mbira in spirit of thanks while sitting under a big oak on a lower ridge by a small meadow. when i finished playing mbira i bowed in reverence and release, bending forward in my seated position. making a sort of prayer with eyes closed, i heard a 'crack' sound to my right out of the stillness. when i rose i looked around and was not sure what had made the sound... then another cracking sound came from the tree to my right, about thirty feet away. then the sound increased as a large limb fell from this old tree and crashed to the grassy ground in my direction. i felt like i was being acknowledged. i smiled and laughed and decided to start back, taking a leaf to ask which kind of tree it was. a black oak.

a couple weeks later a friend from my home on orcas island told me i should go back and get a piece of this tree, as it might be an important power item in my life. that story is recorded here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

thanksgiving at bob's

i made some pies. one without crust for the gluten intolerant. and one kind of dry (not the right kind of apples i guess) apple tart with the leftover dough.

misja, mellisa, and kate in the kitchen.

there were other beautiful pies there too!

bob trains the dogs to eat meat in a civilized manner.

hey jude. what do those clouds look like to you?

the buddha statue by a big oak next to the bed of young italian parsley.

the lettuce bed, with comfrey to the right, rosemary hedge and orchard in the distance.

about half of bob's very plentiful chantrelle harvest from the generous forest.

Friday, November 18, 2011

thermophilic benefits

cats sleeping on top of the pile were a sign that the pile was heating up. this sight always made me happy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


this is how i looked towards the end of the festivities of our intern event, the barnival, which was held last saturday at Green String Farm. in my hand is a slice of sourdough bread with rosemary-squash spread, both of which i made. i enjoyed picking flowers, helping people make compostable crafts such (head-wreaths were popular!), and starting a compost pile(including wishes and apple mash from the cider press). the music of the band who played was really the perfect fit. one of them works for petaluma360. on their website there is a gallery of more images from the event.

Monday, November 14, 2011

dexter the dexter

this week my chore is to take care of the animals other than the chickens. we have a dexter cow named Dexter, a sheep named Harry, and two goats, Lily and Maggie. i don't know all of their stories, but i know that the goats were donated to the farm early summer of this year. they are an Oberhasli/Nubian mix and have not been bred yet. i think they would make fine milking does if that is to be their fate.
the animal's facilities remind me a little of Wild's Edge. a bit rickety sometimes but does the job. this area could use a lot more attention and be made more comfortable for everyone involved. visitors really like to see the animals here and it could be a draw to have attractive facilities as well as healthy, happy animals. it is the same with the chickens, needs more attention and better craftsmanship.

i felt good about the amount of fresh, green food these ruminants got today in my care. i found good places to tether them out and nobody got tangled up. one time before i did have to save harry from serious strangulation. the grass and other plants growing in the borders are often growing in lush stands with the arrival of moisture recently. while the animals were grazing this afternoon i filled tubs for them to have back in the paddock. i just use my sharp little Opinel knife to slice through the tender stems, mowing down handfuls at a time.

tonight i am going to can some apple sauce, start tomato sauce, and put the first batch of dried lemon verbena for the store into jars!

Friday, November 11, 2011


rainbows have been a theme the past week.

and the gallon of kraut i made turned out well. still lots of cabbage around here to kraut up! i also want to try roasting it, which i've heard enhances the sweetness of a sweet, green cabbage.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

broadcasting cover crop

in one of our lessons at bob's home farm we learned a technique for broadcasting cover crop. walking at a steady pace, we throw the seeds up and forward in a 180 degree arc. a little like throwing a frisbee forehand. the more active lessons such as this got everyone pumped.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

optimistic morning

the roasted chicken last night was spectacular, with the tart addition of quince, something i've never tried before. i've got stock in the crock pot and kraut in a jar. mint on the line, only part dry so far.

i will do what i can today and accept that i can't do it all.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

busy at a farm

well i'm at the first checkpoint, where i'll be until the first week of december. this is a three month internship at Green String Farm, near Petaluma, CA. the experience for me here has been immersive and intense. i've been trying to practice certain things like making compost, planting, and maintaining the garden by weeding and watering appropriately. i've been focusing a lot of time on drying herbs, fruits, and peppers. the foods i mostly dry in the earth oven when it cools to a lower temp after baking. also i've been cooking a lot and trying to use the bountiful produce here in enjoyable ways. i've made a couple nice batches of pesto, lots of pasta sauce, and hearty vegetable soups with chicken stock. we got a bunch of surplus roosters from our instructor's son and have been feeding them and consuming them.

today during our afternoon lesson, which we have every weekday, we piled in two big pickup trucks and went up to this spring that is up on the small mountain above the vineyards that are owned by the company that owns Green String. we are installing a solar-powered pump in order to have access to the water. we are very fortunate to have this spring near us, and i hope i get to drink from it in this last month here.

more details as i have the time...