growing good memories

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This blog has certainly gone through an evolution from progress reports on our families transition to rural life, to being an outlet for the community projects and events I am so passionate about creating and promoting. Today I sit in a warm insulated space (for the first time in years) and look out on to our little mountain side farm and take in all of the blood sweat and tears that have got us where we are today…

Our Kootenay adventure started with a lovely piece of land and a gross moldy trailer. We started with gardens and chickens, built woodhenge, and a new road, two yurts, then a lovely outdoor shower house. We added hugelbeds and food forest systems, amazing onsite fertility programs, then came the rabbits and the bees. A cob rocket oven and a cob bench with outdoor kitchen space in the garden even a new green house. Perennial food abounds and now we are surrounded with community fresh water and love.

We couldn’t have done all that we have without the help, and love and support of our families and friends…. and our Interns. ‘Oh our interns…

Two years ago I took the advise of my friend and permaculture teacher Rob, he suggested I forgo the WWOOf’ers I was thinking about adding into the fold and look for folks who share our permaculture ethics and could really embrace and explore the techniques we are playing with here. So in 2011 I offered Permaculture Internships for the 2012 season, and for the past 21 months we have had continuous interns living with us.

Today is the first day Since Feb of 2012 that we are without interns, namely without Jordan. Jordan came here back in April of 2012 bright eyes and eager to live in the mountains and build on the solid permaculture education foundation he had. His 6 week commitment soon passed and we all decided that the energies we had as a team were worth holding on to.  All of our interns came and went for the season and Jordan was integral to their orientation and settling in.  Actually he was integral to just about everything around here, our fertility program was ramped up 10 fold as soon as we teamed up on the pitch forks! Jordan has a great ability to retain just about everything he reads (I am more of a skimmer) so having him drop facts and stats on a whim was always amazing. Jojo made all the crazy permie dreams totally doable, especially when he introduced us to his white board system of tasks and goals.  Every time I dreamed up another event or community project or planting guild idea, Jordan was there to back me up, or take on the challenge  himself and ace it. Not only is he a kind and amazing person we were thrilled to have here, he had also become my personal spell check / proof reader… you all can probably see by now how important that role is to me, as I’m a copy editors worst nightmare!  At the end of the harvest last year we took on a big project, out biggest ever and he was eager to stay through the winter and we were thrilled to have him, he was after all part of our little family by then. Together we starting creating our internship program for the coming season and soon realized, although we were overwhelmed with amazing applications and emails, we were going to build on the family we had made with Jordan. We invited his CSA team from years early to join ours and took on the lofty task of housing 3 full time – 3 season interns.

It was still snowy when Dave arrived from Victoria, and he was keen to chop wood, haul trees, wild craft and hone some carpentry skills. Jordan and Dave were living in the “Murt” together and built a really great loft space. Dave brought us music, and a good dose of laughter. Dr Kombuchy start brewing kombucha for all of us and caring for all the little critters and wee seedlings. We started our (2nd attempt) and breeding rabbits; we had a buck and 3 does and Dave took on that process entirely; from salvaging scraps of everything to assemble their new bunny palace, through the the daily care. Dave was a vegetarian when he arrived, however he was moving toward eating meat from small, local, organic and loving producers which was totally inline with the way we eat… he was in for a big surprise however when our little piggie, Bacon (raised by our friend) was ready for market shortly after Dave’s arrival. Poor guy sat nearby and watched me use every grueling nasty bit of that pig in preparation for Pig-in-a-day. Wow that was a tough 3 days for everyone; Dyl and Jojo did the killing and the skinning and scraping, and face peeling, and I boiled the heads and prepared the organs then created a workshop for 20+ folks to come and learn from our friend Ben the Butcher how to break that beast down.

By the time Isis arrived in the spring there were still remnants of pig… I think she found a hoof buried in the food forest on her first day in the soil! And of course she enjoyed the smoked bacon we were serving. Isis came along to the farm right around the time that Jordan brought home Balou, son of Odin (our golden guard dog) and soon the 3 of them; jordan Isis and Balou were all sleeping outside in the wood shed and Dave had the yurt to himself. Isis was a magic addition to our growing team. Her days were often spent tending to the garden, weeding and planting, and most importantly observing! She is a stellar observer.  Isis and I decided before her arrival that this was the time to finally take on bee keeping.. something we both so wanted to do, so together with the help of some serious queen bee guardians; Elise and Christina, we had the confidence to welcome and care for our new holistically managed bee colony. What a joy. Isis also came to be my number 1 dishwasher (feeding 6 meant for lots of dishes), and wild crafting and harvesting goto. I soon came to know that tone in her voice “…and the cucumbers” this meant I had many a basketful she was hoping to bring in and have me process in short order “the squash, the tomatoes, the grapes, the cabbage (the blue ribbon cabbage that is)…” the list goes on and on. We had our most productive and abundant year ever and this I blame heavily on Isis and her garden fairy magic.

As harvest wound down and the wood supply stacked up it was time for Dave to move on, back to the coast again with a soul-craft stop over. Dave is working with “Farmer Mike” (who I look forward to meeting someday) doing urban farming in Victoria. Maybe Dave’s most important legacy he left in the Kootenays was our daughters new interest and skills in music namely the ukulele and the songs they rocked together at open mike! Dave we raise a cup of turmeric tea to you, and wish you nothing but the best. love + gratitude to you.

Isis and Jordan are back home in the rambling foothills of Alberta now ready for a new page in their adventure together. With a heated home (novel idea) and lots of land to craft and observe, manage and care for. Our community’s loss is Black Diamond’s gain. Those two will do great things together. Jordan, Isis we love you both so much, and can’t wait to see how your future evolves. We wouldn’t be here without everything you have done to help us achieve our dreams. Thank You!

canning & preserving 101

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Workshop #2 of our Homesteading 101 series… An introduction to Canning and Preserving, using hot water bath techniques. In this class you will learn how to make: Jam, Chutney and pickles and best of all you’ll take the preserves you made home with you, and all of the produce will be organic and local.

Participants will be limited in this hands on class, so register ASAP to make sure you get a spot!

Register by emailing vpg (at) rbrand (dot) ca or by calling 250-226-7402

here is your chance to help

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Big Huge Thanks to Malin, Stephan, and my Tricycle Acres support team for helping put on a stellar Solutions Symposium this week! Thanks to the “Tables Hosts:” who helped keep things running, and especially to those who are now empowered to do more! Also thanks to the politicians who came and actually participated in the process like community members, and who are finally speaking up about the actions our community NEEDS! And of course thanks to the 100 folks who showed up to contribute their ideas!

One of the best way you can help us, help our river is by dipping into your pocket so we can pay Both Leila Darwish and Anita Burke who are on route to our aid. Together they have had many years of experience working with remediation companies and affected communities to help clean up environmental disasters. We think that their differing skill sets will be complementary, helping us to diversify our approach to cleaning these waterways.

Next week we will be planning a public event so we can all get to know these ladies and their expertise first hand, and until then you can participate by contributing to our fundraising efforts.

More about upcoming events soon…

Bio-Remediation Workshops, PIckle Palooza, and Canning & Preserving 101

earth air fire water

slocan river we love you

Our lives have been turned upside down by this uncontrolled wildfire and the horrible impacts of the fuel spill in our creek and river. A Slocan Valley Emergency Response Page has been set up for the latest news and movements on these 2 situations…

Some of our friends and neighbors are without water to drink, water to grow food with, or water for their animals. Some of our neighbors are still feeling and smelling the effects of the spill in their bodies, in their sick children and in their homes, and our community has a broken heart and is full of hurt and healing.

Last nights Public meeting was swamped with hundreds of people, past capacity in the hall and a parking lot full of folks desperate for more information. I left with more questions than I had going in, along with new concerns. This is good audio summary of the events of the night. And this is a recent CBC interview with a local.

Big Love and Thanks to the organizers of the River Vigil last night, it was beautiful to have so many folks from the community come together with positive intentions for our fresh healing waters to flow again.  Since the spill happened I have been hearing Bo’s voice singing “down to the river to pray” This image is from 2011 Water Day in Winlaw, our annual river blessing, this is where we gathered last night, while the helicopters flew over head with water buckets destine for the forest fire behind the ridge.

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I know we will get past this and come out a stronger more united community. Our river is loved and central to our lives. The skies are clouding and I have never longed for rain like I do now…

We are looking for what to do now as a community. Everyone wants the clean up to start, and to be done with care.

Here are some of the suggestions others have made that we are doing:

Donate to the Slocan River Stream Keepers, Take some food to the firefighters through the fire stations and while your at it take some food to the Sinixt Nation Road block up on Perry’s Forestry Road. It is so important we come together and support all of the efforts to keep our pocket of this planet healthy and diverse.

groundswell community green house

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Last weekend both Jordan and I had an amazing opportunity to be part of Rob Avis of Verge Permaculture’s Design Team, participating in an applied Design Practicum at the Groundswell Greenhouse in Invemere BC. Groundwell is a fabulous network / non profit leading the way in community greenhouse design. They have completed construction of a 300 sq meter geo-solar green house, which is a state of the art facility. Our team had the task of creating an equally impressive outdoor space; One that would allow education, community, food, water and inspiring opportunities to grow. I can’t wait to see how the implementation takes place.

The final design included a brilliant water system that harnesses rainwater from the huge greenhouse roof as well as the adjacent school roof top, the water moves through a series of underground and above ground storage and then through ponds, dry ponds and mulch basins, which all feed the dynamic food forest system. The site has housing and forraging opportunities for both chickens with their chicken moat and ducks with their very own “duckuzzi”. The plan features 12 new  raised beds available for community rentals, some of the beds are built as hugelkulture beds, others are wicking beds, and other still will be built up with sheet much fertility methods. An Elliot Coleman style movable green house will further explore season extension gardening. At the heart of the space is a adobe round kitchen with a living roof, living grey water system, cob oven and a stage area complete with grazing bench seating. In all it is set to be a stunning example of what is possible when community meets permaculture design.

Big love and Thanks to the team at Verge for putting this all together (we-heart-verge) and to the team at Groundswell for being such fabulous and fearless hosts! You guys are doing wonderful things in the world of food, energy and eduction. Keep on keeping on!

foraging food + de-construction

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Something happened this week, about mid week… we noticed the saskatoon berries were ripe and the tree that formerly lived with the chooks was FLUSH with purple juicy berries… ever since then it has been a rolling stone of harvesting food… mosquito mint bog abundance led way to cat tail collection, cherry tree pillaging and strawberry swaps with neighbors. But let me step back just a little…

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indicators + gardening tools

Indicators are a great permaculture designer tool, observing nature and following her lead.

Nature has a way of communicating and relying on different species to benefit and signal one another. If there is one thing I have learned about gardening, it’s timing is everything! And I already blew it big time this month, with the loss of dozens and dozen of healthy hearty tomato and cucumber starts, some of which I had nurtured right from the seed saving point years ago. I had the BEST starts I have ever had, big huge healthy plants, and then I joined the rest of the valley weeping at the late and hard frost that devastated even the most hardened veteran gardens around here! Not so many days after that big event my girlfriend dug this little tid bit of phenology up specific to the Kootenays (excerpt from Gardening in the Kootenays:)

“When Forsythia or Daffodils bloom, plant peas
Plant beets, lettuce, spinach, cole crops and carrots when Dandelions start to bloom or when Lilac leaves first begin to unfurl
When Lily of the Valley blooms it’s safe to put tomatoes out
When Irises bloom you can transplant eggplant, melon and peppers
When Daylillies bloom plant out tomatoes and peppers
When Aspens have leafed out there will be no more hard frosts
When Apple blossoms fall plant corn
When Maples unfurl their leaves plant out decorative perennials
When Lilac blooms fade plant cukes and late squash
When Lilacs are in full bloom plant beans and squash
When Mock Orange blooms you can direct-seed cabbage and broccoli in the garden”

Gee I wish that: A) I knew what the lily of the valley was, and B) noted that it had not yet bloomed on the night of the deadly frost!

I have been following a number of tools to get my timing right; my garden journal from last year, as well as the growing in the kootenays guide. So I am happy to add a more natural indicator guide to my planting arsenal.

On the topic of gardening tools (and I don’t mean shovels) I have some tried and true resources at hand:

love love love companion planting guides here are some of my online favorites:

Golden Harvest  PRI  and  Garden Toad

As for my go to books to guide me through my food systems I rely heavily on:

Gaias Garden (MY BIBLE OF GROWING FOOD), Gardening When it Counts and The Resilient Gardener

I am also really enjoying Homegrown Whole Grains and The Permaculture Garden (great book, horrible cover page)

So.. My apple blossoms are falling and the lilacs are in full bloom… Hello 3 sisters (ancient guild of corn, beans and squash) Tomorrow is the day for getting into my super nitrogen rich corn field (former chicken run) and planting more food!

Big back road thanks to my darling “city girl takes on the country companion” I will follow the flowers lead from now on. And you can follow her farmyard follies and garden frolics at theredsnowshoe.

Oh and I just found this GREAT companion planting image:

mess beautiful mess

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I keep taking pictures and want to share all of the exciting accomplishments we have made around here, but everytime I pull out my camera to compose a picture I think… ‘ew look at thay ugly pile of poo, or those tarps look so messy, or why are all of those materials piled up like that in the way? Maybe it’s the artist designer in my who is always put off by the chaos in a image composition… yet I have no trouble living with the straw piled high in front of my waddle and daub shed and strewn with an ugly blue tarp! I have to admit I don’t share as many images as I would like to because I think the farm looks messy when captured in a single frame… but when your here, living and moving, growing and building the mess is all relevant to the successes we are having!

So messy piles and half finished undertakings aside we have so much to share, where to begin?

The entire “old” garden space got planted, new rock stairways improved access to the Yarn yurt and the new expansion of the garden (to the hugel and giant sheet mulch, and future key holes), we started a swift execution of an outdoor shower that was quickly quelled, and promptly replaced by a stunning pole framed shed roof shower house structure, which decks off from the yarn yurt and houses a new cedar board and baton shower and composting toilet house with stunning open views of the moutains across the valley and the top of Perrys Ridge. The new structure also boasts a lower level garden sink and outdoor kitchen area. OMG it is looking fabulous! with huge overhangs, and beautiful joinery. I was happy with the make shaft early version.. but this my friends is unreal. There is talk of milling a giant cedar slab countertop for the garden sink with part of a massive cedar trunk gifted to us.

We have had some big days in the last week planing cedar boards, pulling new dead standing poles from the back 40 for garden fencing, hauling shit, and building sheet mulch beds, and another HUGE compost pile (decked out in a fancy compostex cover rather than the trouble some tipi’d tarps). The other day I spent most of the day sitting in aged horse shit weeding it for the base of the barley bed. Poor Phil had the unfortunate task of hauling nasty chicken shit straw up to the new compost pile site.While Jordan got his chainsaw skills tuned back in, as he hauled the newly required 14 fence posts for the big expansion. Dyl and his dad plained miles of boards and the reward was warm shower for all Friday morning! What a delight! The space is totally functional yet not at all finished. It’s time for some designer attention. I have some idea to adorn the space with rusty bits and bobs repurposed. YEAH FOR HOT SHOWERS!

But I digress, I skipped the long weekend… Both of Dylan’s folks ended up joining us for what was a drizzly and cold weekend, but we still manged to get many tasks done and feed an army of 8 for days (whew that was a little tiresome but my culinary skills are honing in). It was as always so wonderful to have family out here! It was a real shock for Helen to see what we have done since her visit last summer (new road, 2 yurts, waterlines, and expanded gardens to name a few!)  Jordan slipped back to Alberta for a few days but brought his friend Isis back with him, and I was thrilled to have some amazing estrogen in the dirt with me. Isis and I managed to plant out all the rest of the beds and she did a number on the weeds, cleaning pathways and flower beds, she even improved the esthetics of the man-yurt and painted a lovely mural on the door!

Dyl and I were getting a little burned out and called for an all out NO WORK weekend! For maybe the first time ever! We spent Saturday with Dave driving to Kaslo and touring through Sandon,  it was wonderful to take a much needed day off… as we haven’t done that in months.

Today we heading up valley to help our friend raise the roof of their Conics shelter for their outdoor kitchen. What a wild structure! low cost, no waste, strong and resistant to all sorts of extreme weather. It was so cool seeing it go from a pancake of plywood tiles to a curved self supporting structure of beauty! With very few hitches!

Ah living the good life.

hugelkultur is here!

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I know I have mentioned a few times already that we are hugel-ing a part of the new garden expansion… well the other day we finally got the bed underway!

The hugelkultur bed (mound culture as it translates from German) was pretty simple to assemble:

We started by staking out a contour line, and as we are building it on a hill side, we pounded some pole steaks into the ground to catch the load of the first and largest punky tree trunks, then we neatly stacked more and more woody materials (which we have been hoarding in hugel stacks for months) generally building the stack from biggest pieces to smallest as we went up. The overall shape is a long pie wedge that acts as the boarder from the road way to the new terraces.

The following day we utilized our new gravity spring fed water line and really saturated the mound, which made for a nice refreshing sprinkler cool down as we worked on a small excavation about 12 feet away in the beating heat. Having a hugel dump site directly behind a earthen excavation was peachy! All of the roots and twigs and duff we pulled out easily made there way to the mound.

What a lovely way to use us massive amounts of wood bits and bobs; branches punky stumps, rotten birch branches, roots, twigs, leaves, pine needles, old straw well packed in chicken manure, the contents of many pee buckets, leafy duff, pine shavings, and sandy soil from an excavation… what does this all amount to? A self watering nutrient rich raised bed, that may even ward off the kouch grass for a time!

Check out Paul Wheatons Great hugelkultur Page full of diagrams and pictures of more examples of hugels in action!

Our hugelbed will will planted out with squash and chickpeas, all of which will be heavily mulched of course. As we work on building good soil it will be exciting to watch it grow!

On the topic of mulch; For the last couple years I have used a great amount of straw to mulch all of my beds, but struggle with the fact that it is not even close to local out here, it’s expensive and has been pretty seedy in the past. So what is our local counterpart to straw? Well it’s wood chips my friends! Lucky for us we have a friend who owns a small (this is a relative term) mill just down the road and he is swimming in wood chips and shavings, he gives us the word once he has run pine or fir and we head down the road 5 minutes for truckloads. I like the look of the wood chips in the garden, and on the occasion of a chicken assault on the garden the birds seem less drawn to the wood chips than they are to straw! Best of all it’s free!

We will add more pictures as we get the bed planted and it starts to grow and we get underway the next garden bed projects: sheet mulch key hole beds!

On the topic of sheet mulch: Way way back 3 spring times agao, when all we had here was a waving hillside of kouch grass I eked out one 80 foot long bed using a lasagne or sheet multch technique. I built that bed right ontop of thriving fresh kouch grass, and still to this day it is one of my favorite and most nutrient rich beds in the garden. The grass is managable and not so vigorous and I feel like this is a really viable option for working with weedy long routed grass challenges! There are some things I have learned about that bed and my material selections I am set to improve this go round.

*** I am so stoked to have so much great news to report, having all the extra muscle and brain power around here is fabulous, we are making HUGE steps forward in all manor of food and human systems. Jordan erected a great shower house next to the yarn yurt and we finally got to use the bamboo walls Dayna gifted us last year for the task, The shower has a sturdy peeled pole bench and a pallet deck floor. We will have a double sink next to it for all manor of garden / toiletry / and kitchen camp uses both will be heated with a hot water on demand unit designed for outdoor camps. The open air view from the shower is wonderful and I can’t wait to jump in an enjoy a sunny outdoor shower!

Phil and Jordan hauled no end of big @ss boulders around today, improving access after days of bobcat disruption! We now have a raging water line across the garden and to the yarn yurt, and that was no small feat. Dyl had to learn how to drive a bobcat backhoe to get 140 feet of new water line in place, and that task was an all hands on deck pick axe-shovelling-racking fiasco! I kept singing “laying pipe all day long” and acknowledged that never before have I had 3 men “…working so hard to satisfy this woman”!

Yeah for water, and bobcats, and bamboo showers, and perky plants who loved the vermi-compost tea treatments!!!

may daze

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Oh what a week we have had here!

Our new intern Jordan arrived last week just as Phil departed for a time, we are soaking up the the new and unstoppable energy and crossing many items of the ever building To Do list! Things are looking tidy around here and Dylan is bucking up stacks of trees and Jordan doesn’t ever put the axe down… which means the firewood stacks are growing to a promising size!

I moved my nightshade starts into their new temporary home in the sweet cold fame Jordan built and we have salad greens popping up everywhere! The garden has been all encompassing of my time these days and  Jordan and I have been spending endless hours digging and double digging the new massive potato patch, edged on one side by shelling peas set to climb up the fence and on the other is a cabbage and onions mound edged with a whimsical olive oil tin  kale / chard container boarder. We put 20+ lbs of potatoes in the ground today, 4 varieties, and are trying and interesting approach to planting… Firstly we set each start in the ground with a comfry leaf (to ward off scabs) placed 12″ apart in rows of triangles to maximize plants per space, then we gently covered them with dirt and will be building up layer after layer of straw mulch on top. The idea is that the potatoes grow in the straw rather than the ground, yielding clean and easily harvested  potatoes, hundreds and hundreds of them! Here is a good example of a straw potato patch success storey. Next we tackle the purple barley field and the corn crop.

This week we  travelled to a south slocan farm to meet our newest animal additions… a mating pair of rabbits. Just working on the design for hutch housing and dropping collection to easily feed the worms. The idea has spiralled into a bigger far more function stacked system, but while we have the skilled hands we might as well throw in a passive solar green house and compost tea brewing facility right!?!  We have orderd a few more chicks to keep our little solo babe company and have finally got our hands on the two breeds we have been after for some time; Marans which lay chocolate brown coloured eggs and Silkies which have a big white poof of feathers on their heads and look an awful lot like fragil rock creatures.

Our strawberries are flowering (which is so exciting because they will turn into the first strawberries ever from our land) and out guilded fruit trees from last year all look healthy and are popping with green, as is everything around us!

We managed to get our new hillside seeded out and planted with hundreds of basket willow starts to attempt to stabile the lot after our road work last year. Much more willow basket weaving is certain to be in my future.

We all managed to get the final strapping of the yurt roof done, it’s tied down, insulated and almost decoratively covered (with white tarp). Last night we celebrated with a fooz tourney, as the long stored foos ball table now has a home in the man-yurt. It is all most move in ready, with a well working door and a new temporary (albeit ugly) roof cap, that is a repurposed fiberglas massive satelight dish. We have sweet vintage metal cabinets to use in the new yurt ( or the Murt; man-yurt as we have been lovingly referring to it as) and the makings of a nice little kitchenette, complete with a bar fridge and a sudo- sink.

This next week the boys will finally tackle the unfinished 3/10th’s of  tin roof on woodhenge! This will mean dry storage and re-stacking of lumber in racking!

We built and have been monitoring a whopping HOT compost pile… Ahh nothing like the smell of steamy cooking compost to get you up in the morning! Actually the pile got a little too hot, and took some effort to cool it down, but it will be lovely and ready shortly. Jordan took an in depth soil studies class with Doug Weatherbee last year and there is another round of this class I am really interested in attending this month in Alberta hosted by Verge. I love the study of soil and making it and it would be dreamy to get out to this workshop.

Speaking of interesting things happening in Alberta, The Western Canada Permaculture Convergence is happening this August (24-26) and it is certain to be an amazing event! Many of our friends are involved in making it a success and it will be a fabulously inspiring weekend of learning and sharing and networking!

I have been working on this post for a number of days, and since starting it Phil has re joined our team here, and I was happy he made it back in time for all of us to take in the May Day – Water Celebration. Winlaw’s annual festival in celebration of our stunning water in this special place. The event is a long day of music and dancing and reuniting with friends as we all shake of the winter and celebrate the spring, complete with a drum lead parade from “downtown” to the river for a blessing. The whole community joined in singing “down to the river to pray” and it was a breathtaking and fabulous! What a special place  to be.