16 Mar 2011, 6:44pm
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gettin’ plastered

yesterday we plastered most of the walls in our bunkhouse—the room attached to the kitchen where we hang out and eat our meals. we used natural plaster, which is (roughly) clay + flour + sand + pigment + water. we also added mica for sparkle!


(with test color patches)

STEP ZERO. prep your space.

STEP ONE. mix clay slip: water + clay.

(soupy checks the slip’s consistency)

STEP TWO. add pigment (in this case, yellow iron oxide).

STEP THREE. add wheatpaste. we made the wheatpaste by mixing cold water and flour, and then adding that mixture to a whole bunch of boiling water.

STEP FOUR. add mica!

STEP FIVE. add this mixture to a bunch of fine sand and get your hands dirty!

STEP SIX. start plastering it on the wall! we did this using hawks (the wooden palette-sorta-things) and trowels. not all of these trowels were created equally. there were two “magic trowels” made of flexible stainless steel that were about a zillion times easier to manipulate that the other non-stainless steel ones. but we figured it out, sort of, eventually.

there were some trials and errors. we didn’t remove the color test patches before adding our new plaster, and the green patch in particular didn’t bond with the wall very well, which meant our lovely yellow plaster wouldn’t stick either to that spot. our application technique was also not great at first, and until we learned to taper every bit we applied into the wall as we went, we had some problems with plaster falling off.

STEP SEVEN. smooth it out! the magic trowels are useful for this.

STEP EIGHT. admire.

13 Mar 2011, 10:02pm
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* the meat chicken died on friday; she overheated in the greenhouse. soupy and i buried her under a tree in the garden.

* last week we had a few adventures with the water system… it really is so cool that our water is off-grid (so to speak) and we are the only human users of this small watershed. we get to see the effects of our actions pretty quickly. last week we woke up one morning to a totally empty ag(ricultural water) tank—took most of the morning to isolate and repair the leak that caused it. and our potable tank—usually there are two potable tanks in use, but one is empty at the moment while we prepare to install a new u.v. filter to comply with someone-or-other’s regulations—was dropping two hundred gallons a day despite lots of rain and plenty of flow into the sand filter. after a few days’ observation and detective work, it seems like the sand filter is clogging more easily than it should be. we are harrowing it (running our fingers over its’ surface to break up the stuff clinging to it) daily, and the sand may be due for replacement.

* friday’s dinner: black-eyed pea and white bean soup, tasty buttery whole wheat biscuits, and the most amazing salad! kyle and kalyn gathered wild greens (plus nasturtium and borage flowers) for a truly s.l.o.w. food salad—sustainable, local, organic, wild, and prepared with love. they even made a little key so we knew what we were eating.

(cutting the thistles off of milk thistle.)

* i like being here and i like the people and i like the process of telling my stories to new people and learning other people’s stories. i am so excited that for six months, all of this will not be the exception, but the rule.

10 Mar 2011, 2:27pm
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“sustainable hedonism”

(i put this in my mouth, ants and all. it was delicious.)

(monday was kyle’s birthday.)

(a mistake was made with some of the hives some number of weeks or months ago. this is part of the damage. in a couple of weeks a local bee expert is coming out to teach us how to set it right and give our bees some love. that’s how it’s written on the big calendar in the bunkhouse: “bee luv.”)

* oh my goodness i am so full of delicious food. last nights’s dinner: lentil and chickpea patties, fresh baked naan, sauteed chard in a creamy goat milk and butter sauce, raw hummus made from sprouted chickpeas, and AMAZING goat cheese. we made the goat cheese monday and tuesday. we split it into three batches and added rosemary to one, red and black pepper to the next, and garlic, green onions, and thyme to the last. yummmm.

* my hands are tingly. yesterday i worked with soupy; we destroyed a cob bench in the back of the greenhouse (pick ax and shovel), sifted out the gravel from the foundation (shovel and bare hands), troubleshooted the kitchen/bunkhouse greywater system, and dug out the system’s gravel trench in order to widen it and replace the gravel (with gravel from the cob bench!). it was a full and satisfying day. and i need to get my hands on some well-fitting work gloves.

* i really like being here. it feels right to have dirt under my fingernails, to listen all night to the rain fall on the tarp over my tent, to watch the chickens run around the garden, to push heavy wheelbarrows up and down the paths. (i am also pretty excited to have the day off today, and to drive over mt tam and then over the bay to berkeley for the weekend in a couple days.)

6 Mar 2011, 1:35pm

the meat chicken

when i got here, there were five very young meat chickens sharing the coop with the two dozen or so laying hens (and one rooster) who spend their days clucking around the garden. when i say meat chickens, i mean the kind of chickens engineered bred [edit 3/7] to be eaten—designed to fatten up and be killed in eight weeks, sorta top-heavy for big juicy breasts and thighs, and with patchy feathers for easier postmortem plucking. now there is one, with a small bloody puncture wound in her side.

the chicks were encouraged to stay in the coop, under their heat lamp. when the last round of farm homies trained us, they suggested that if we saw one outside the coop, we should put it back in. i guess the chicks were donated by someone, which makes me feel better about the whole thing—i mean that a place like this didn’t seek out chickens who aren’t supposed to do happy chicken things.

the first three were killed a couple days ago, sometime in the morning, after the chickens had been let out of their coop but before they’d been let out of their larger enclosure to free-range in the garden and meadow for the afternoon. we all assumed that some predator, a fox or a raccoon or something, had gotten them. then the fourth died, again during the day, with a bloody puncture wound in its side, and we started suspecting the other hens. (one of the first three was more mangled when it was found, but it may have been attacked by another animal after it was hurt or killed by the hens.) when i say we, i mean the general buzz in the community here. i am a little unclear on what exactly happened in what chronological order. i know the remaining chick(s) started spending the day in a little chicken wire cage inside the chicken enclosure (with food, water, and heat lamp) and their night(s) in the chicken coop with the other chickens.

at the end of every day, just before or at sunset, the chickens gather in their coop, and we close the gate to their enclosure and the door to the coop. last night, the last few chickens were still milling about the enclosure when we closed the gate, so the door to the coop was left open until a little bit after dark, when someone went down to shut it. this morning, the last chick was found underneath the coop, with a spot of blood on her side, still alive. seems like the hens kicked it out of the coop last night before the door was closed. she was carried in a box to the kitchen, where i watched her for a few minutes while jason set up her little cage in the greenhouse, a warm place far from the other hens.

i hadn’t really thought a whole lot about the whole thing before jason asked me to watch the chick for a moment, but i stood in the pantry with her and stroked her feathers and she peeped and preened and was a suffering animal, just like the rest of us.

i don’t know what will become of her, if she’ll survive in isolation, if she’ll grow up to be eaten or if she’ll end up in the compost like the others. i have no conclusions.

6 Mar 2011, 2:10am
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have i mentioned that it’s outta control beautiful here?

* there’s a big beautiful redwood tree behind the kitchen. i climbed it the other day. i stood on top of a cooler at the base for a few minutes with my hands on the lowest branch and then i jumped up and got my belly and then one knee over the branch. i didn’t climb very high, but next time i’ll climb higher, and the time after that i’ll climb higher still.

* there are several shelves in the pantry stacked with mason jars full of preserves of all sorts… jams and sauces and chutneys. they were made months ago by folks who are no longer here to enjoy them. in our time here, we’ll eat them and we’ll make more, for the people who are here after us.

* yesterday was poop day! we use composting toilets here, rather than waste precious water (i mean right now all our tanks are overflowing and there is plenty falling from the sky, but just wait until late summer) and human resources (installing and maintaining that kind of plumbing) to send our waste to treatment plants where it’ll be added to various chemicals and eventually pumped into the ocean.

the toilets are emptied into ~50 gallon bins, and when enough of those fill up—and the previous round’s pile has done it’s thing for long enough—they all get trucked (or, more accurately, tractored) down to the piles that have been built for them… poop day! this happens about every three months. there are currently 16 full-time residents here, and lots of folks come through rdi for workshops, classes, etc.—lots o’ poop. yesterday we emptied 19 bins. we shoveled out a pile that had been goin’ for six months or so and no longer at all resembled human waste matter, and replaced it with our new pile. the older compost will be left in a big heap to “cure” for a while longer.

the piles are bordered by stacked straw bales for insulation and containment, and straw is sometimes added in layers to the pile itself if the carbon–nitrogen ratio is off. (the waste already contains toilet paper and wood shavings or saw dust, which toilet users add by the handful after they’ve done their duty. happy little bacteria get to work immediately, and the toilets are non-stinky.) the size and c-n ratio make the pile get hot. california regulations say that ~130 degrees for 3 days is enough to kill pathogens, so we’ve got a thermometer in there and we’re monitoring it to make sure we get that.

rdi has only been using this particular humanure method (which is joseph jenkins’, of the humanure handbook—he uses this method for waste management at large festivals and events!) for less than a year, so the resulting compost hasn’t been used on anything yet. though it will theoretically be safe to use just like you’d use any compost (i.e. on annual vegetables, etc), i think folks here do feel a wee bit weirded out by the idea of it. it will probably be used on perennials and trees. and the humanure composting process will have turned our waste into a resource.

* harvested, weeded, prepped a bed today. was planted in tatsoi, a sorta-spicy asian green; will be planted in strawberries! later in the day we all stood around a counter outside stripping the best leaves off the tatsoi; we filled two enormous mixing bowls. we’ll be eating it for a few days.

5 Mar 2011, 1:53am
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hippie camp

last friday A bought a car from a friend of his and named it bikey junior. (bikey senior is, of course, his bike. bikey junior is quite a few years older than bikey senior. details, details.) on tuesday afternoon we drove bikey junior to the oakland airport to pick up a woman named tori, and then we drove across the richmond–san rafael bridge and through the woods in marin county. found the unmarked turn to bolinas and arrived at commonweal gardens just a few minutes before the last light of the day disappeared. A stayed for dinner and then we reverse-engineered the directions we used so he could find his way home to berkeley again.

i live here now. i am one of eight work-traders (a.k.a. farm homies) who will be living, learning, and working here until the end of the august. i have been here for three days. they have been PACKED. my brain is full. i imagine that soon my muscles will be sore. i am not sure where to begin and i am TIRED, so here are some small bites of the big meal i’ve been cooking and eating (and soon, growing).

* goats will mistake their reflection in the side of cars for other goats and headbutt them. haven’t witnessed this, but penny’s car i guess is a little banged up. we have to make sure the goats stay on the other side of the fence.

* kyle knows lots about wild and native edibles, so every once in awhile he’ll hand us pieces of plants and we’ll stick them in our mouths and then ask, “so what was that?”

* owls hoot and frogs sing all night.

* we are totally off the grid as far as water goes. we are also at the top of our watershed—or near the top, and above us is all national park land. this land is leased from the national park system, in fact. anyway, we’ve been shown the springbox and the filters and the tanks and the piping and the shut-off valves. later in my time here we’ll be running pipe from a pond in the next valley over to the east in order to make water a little less tight at the end of the dry season.

* the other day we walked from the farm through pasture and along the stream to the ravine where it drops down to the ocean—the other end of the watershed. we walked along the foggy cliffs above the sea. i found a piece of raccoon jaw.

more more MORE soon. and i’m going to start taking photos.