Small Batch Garden

Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Friday, April 22, 2016

Farming, Drugs, and Drink

2-3-2!  Man, those are high N-P-K numbers for an "organic" fertilizer.

That's what was crossing my mind when I opened up the bag of Black Hen in the kale patch this morning.  This was a desperate situation, and it called for desperate measures.  You know, as desperate as an organic-approved 2-3-2 composted manure fertilizer can be anyway.  But the thing is, those numbers actually are high enough to warrant some care in application, because of their level of refinement or, said a different way, because of their level of extraction (and abstraction) from the whole system from which they were refined.

For example, I have no idea what the numbers for whole fresh comfrey leaf are, not even a very good guess, but I know comfrey is a dynamic potassium miner and accumulator, and I know that when I apply it around other food crops - herb, vine, or tree - it ALWAYS does magical things.  I know I can eliminate black spot in Prunus fruits with it - usually in less than two weeks - just by applying a decent layer of comfrey leaves on the ground around the tree, and that it's probably one of the best general plant immune optimizers out there.

In it's whole form.

Isolate and standardize "the active ingredient" potassium from within, however, and suddenly you're not dealing with an immune optimizing, biomass building, wound-healing wonderplant anymore.  You're just dealing with a mineral: potassium.  Just an element.  Just some granules from a bag that you probably shouldn't touch with bare skin.

What happened?  The comfrey we started with was large and robust, fuzzy and fleshy, with attractive purple-blue flower stalks - something you might carry around with you just to rub it on your bare skin.  And here's the important bit: you could probably pile comfrey leaf a foot thick around the target plant and get nothing but even better results.  I really don't recommend doing that with potassium granules!  Removing and isolating the potassium from its whole system makes it dangerous.

Isn't that funny?  All three of the major plant nutrients - Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium, the very things plants cannot live without - can become red-hot toxins in excess.  That's why fertilizers come with very specific dosage instructions, and why soil test results are so important.  If you're applying something that can KILL your garden if it's present in excess, you're going to want to know precisely how much your soil needs.  And add no more than that.

You can only overdose on comfrey the same way you can overdose on cannabis: by physically laying it over the target organism thick enough to smother it.  No one's ever died from a cannabis overdose because at some point the herb's gonna put you to sleep.  Then your body will rest and recover.  You can keep at it every day if you want to, just to verify my claim, and you might get pretty forgetful, maybe a little stupid, and you might get ostracized by your more pious friends, but I promise you will get tired of smoking the stuff long before it kills you.  Same with comfrey.  Lay it on, and lay it on thick.  More comfrey only makes things better.  And when you remove the potential for toxicity doesn't that take away some of the potential for failure too?  Some of the anxiety and paranoia?  (Pot paranoia is a product of the law, not the plant.  And the red eyes come from smoking the chemical fertilizers used to grow the pot, not the pot itself.  Try an organic version some time, and see if I'm lying.)

Any number of pharmaceuticals can kill you if taken in excess.  So can liquor.  For the very same reason I laid out in my potassium argument!  To my mind, that fits the definition of "drug" a lot better than cannabis does.  Just as chemical fertilizers strike me as a lot more toxic than organic biomass fertilizers.  At least that potential is there.

I've met so many herbalists whose main concern is standardization and dosage.  What?  Why?  Have you refined your ingredients so thoroughly that you've made them toxic?  If so, is that really still herbalism?  Granted, one should try any new food or medicine in small quantity to see how the body responds, but from then on, aren't we all smart enough to keep increasing the dosage slowly until our body tells us that's enough?  We are if we're not dealing in toxins!  And if we're used to thinking that way.  I don't know about you all, but that's how it works for my family.  And has for a decade now with fine results.  Try that approach with a standardized pharmaceutical isolate, though, and you're taking your life in your own hands.

See how that works?  Whole medicines, properly "tasted," like whole fertilizers and whole ferments (as opposed to refined liquor), just don't have the toxicity issues involved.  Yes it requires more of it to do the job sometimes.  Grab a friend one night and one of you shoot tequila as fast as you can and the other drink beer as fast as you can and see who ends up in the emergency room first.  Likewise, the amount of plant material in a teabag is probably vastly bulkier than a comparable pill.  So?  The tea dregs are also wonderful compost material.  Can I have yours too?  I can also simply step out the door into the kitchen garden and pick it for free...and come back for more free medicine half an hour later if needed!  I don't need the (understandably expensive) advice of someone highly trained in toxicity issues if I'm not dealing with toxins!!

Understand what I'm getting at here?  The medicine we're after is the same, whether that's a lone mineral like potassium or zinc, or the most complex organic molecule ever recorded, but one form is isolated, standardized, and toxic, and in need of strict dosage requirements, while the other is whole, subjective, and not just non-toxic, but also possibly synergistic.  You don't get unexpected synergistic healing from pharmaceutical isolates.  Ever.  They do lots of things that are worded to look like marginal problems (really? stroke, paralysis, death??) and talked about in hushed tones as "side" effects, but they definitely don't have any shot at synergy.

OK, yes, herbal medicine requires a little knowledge on the user's part.  Of course it does.  But I hope you're not taking any pharmaceutical medicine without researching it a little bit first either!  Buyer beware.  In all cases.  Especially the toxic ones!

This whole train of thought began about a week ago when I asked my more conventional father for his advice on phosphorous deficiency in a new garden plot.  Of course I got the very educated insistence that it couldn't be fixed (not in a timely way anyway) without chemical fertilizer.  And if I really did want to eat that kale this spring I would have to use something like triple 13 to get it done.  Now this might shock you, but I didn't take his advice!  Instead I used comfrey leaf and flowers, and bone meal, and the Black Hen composted chicken manure this post opened up with.  The stuff with N-P-K numbers high enough to get my attention.  High enough to open the door to toxicity.  To my mind a desperate situation!

Well, I've had that 40 lb. bag of Black Hen for a couple of years now and just used it up this morning.  I'm not likely to buy something with numbers like 13-13-13.  Numbers like that might as well be printed in fiery red with flames licking off the edges to me.  Caution!  This shit is toxic!!

And probably works wonders for your garden-variety biochemist, like my father.  Me?  I'm an ecologist.  A biophile.  I don't want a recipe.  I want a garden absolutely thronging with biodiversity and natural negative feedback loops to minimize damage.  Just like I want thriving children whose bodies are well-versed in general immunity due to natural exposure and organic plant-based medicine.  And I want to admire all of them from the porch swing with a cold hard cider on a hot afternoon.

Whether it's reductionist solutions in the garden, "active ingredient" medicines, or concentrated ethanol down the hatch, they're all symptoms of the same problem of isolation.  I want to live life in situ, not isolated.  Isolation is toxic.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!
Tripp out.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Guardian Sounds a General Alarm for Global Collapse

Limits To Growth model looking a little too accurate for comfort.

Wow.  The (so far excellent) model published by the Club of Rome in 1972 predicts a sudden rise in the global death rate in just 4 years, and then the beginning of global population decline - by about half a billion per decade - just 10 years later.

I hope you guys are settled in.  I'm not feeling all that prepared suddenly.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Alphabet Soup

There are some big changes afoot in our lives, and though I'm going to keep them under my hat for the moment, I do want to pull up a question from the new matron in the picture for closer scrutiny.

Before the big dinner and discussion a few weeks ago, she asked me what my experience in gardening/orchards was.  I gave a fairly stock answer for someone of my experience level that went something like this - "well I have a degree in biology from the University of Florida, with a minor in chemistry, my great-great-grandfather was a fantastic gardener/orchardman, my great-grandfather was a fantastic gardener/orchardman, my grandfather is a fantastic gardener/orchardman, my father is a fantastic gardener/orchardman - I just grew up immersed in big, productive gardens.  My professional experience is in watershed ecology, botany, and soil science, and I practically live outside in my gardens and orchards full time, and have for several years.  (And then cheekily,) I do go inside now and then to sleep!"  OK, and to blog eight times a year.

But why should I list my "official" credentials first, when I have lived in and participated with a garden for most of my 42 years (how is four years better than four decades?), and surely had some subconscious genetic leanings, not to mention extensive nurturing, in that direction passed to me through generations of garden-loving forebears.  Even in my wayward 20s and ladder-climbing early 30s, whenever I rented a new place my greatest affinity was for the raspberry thicket at the back edge of the yard, or the hops growing up to the second story bedroom window, or the little sunny patch in the side yard deep in the student ghetto at UF where I could grow a few tomatoes.  Or at least try to.

Why do we put so much emphasis on a few years of intense (but rarely practical) study?  In fact, as soon as one reaches a certain level of practicality the academic community tends to redefine that more as "technical" school.  Obviously implying a lesser entity.

Nah, the years of experimentation (and what decent gardener doesn't experiment constantly?), the thrilling successes - the spinach leaves bigger than my hands!, and probably most importantly, the failures, mean so much more than the alphabet soup we sometimes like to dangle behind our signatures.  At least they do to me.  And I think they should more generally.

There is merit in the letters, though, I think.  In a way it's a concise means of conveying that you care enough about a subject to have taken the time (and probably the debt) to spend 4 years of formally-sanctioned (and expensive!) study to further your chosen path.  But honestly, I've learned at least an order of magnitude more about my chosen path SINCE college than I did in it.  And it didn't require the psychological and not-insignificant social pressure of student loan debt either.  Debt that may not ever get repaid.  As a currently-popular millennial musician says it, "between student loans and treehouse homes, we all would take the latter."  Or was that ladder?

But even that concise packaging really only works because we live in a culture that identifies closely with credentials, so sometimes credentials feel necessary.  I for one would love to see a general return to apprenticeship systems, slowly wedging their way into the space currently (and fairly securely) held by banks and universities.

How many psych majors with 50k in student loan debt does the country really need?  At what point do the rest of us start discouraging young people from wasting their time on such things?  At what point do we get tired of education (and medicine, and...) costing as much as it does at least partly because of the number of administrators and regulators, the number of layers of people on the dole, requiring themselves to be paid before the letters of recognition can be passed on.  It's like we've had to make jobs up (and pay for them all!) to fit everybody into a space that just doesn't require them.  Because, well, what else are we going to do with all these people in a country selling its jobs abroad as fast as it can?

Energy descent will eventually make all that look like the folly that it is, but it will take a while.  Nobody's going to offer up their job willingly on the altar of efficiency, nor take a new, more practical one in the name of resilience.  But perhaps we should consider redirecting some of our cultural energy toward prying the death-grip of the banks and universities from the throat of the overly-credentialed and under-employed populace!  Just thinking out loud here.

Maybe it's time to realign ourselves with practicality, and give some of the certification outfits the boot to the backside they so richly deserve.

Meanwhile, here's something practical for another spring immersed in severe colony collapse disorder among our honeybees, an ongoing threat no doubt presided over by plenty of knuckleheads dangling alphabet soup behind their names.  (Alphabet soup that probably aligns better with doctrine than critical thought.)

Our first top bar honeybee hive!

And a darling little future beekeeper (my daughter Ella) modeling the new bee gear.  Bees in two weeks.  Can't wait!

Happy Spring everyone.
Tripp out.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Long Way to the Land of Milk and Honey

With Donald Trump running amok inside the American political machine, soaking up the admiration of an entire social class that has been discarded like so many pairs of worn-out gym socks in the race to the dream, I want to take a moment to talk about an alternative route to the future.  Fortunately, it has precious little to do with politics.

It's frustrating to watch cycle after cycle of politicians plucking at the heart strings of the electorate, lying to the faces of millions of people who desperately need them to be honest, promising that land of milk and honey that seems to slip faster and farther away every election cycle.  And rightfully so, because it IS slipping farther out of reach every election cycle.  Unless we're talking about a land of actual milk and honey, that is.

What the industrial world needs now more than anything else is a prominent and responsible figure to stand up and tell them what's up: that the modern industrial way of life is going down by the stern and that seats in the life boats are available, but we're running out of time to get you safely aboard.

Now wait a minute here.  Does that mean that everyone should panic and start pushing the boats off before everyone who could be aboard is in fact aboard?  Of course not.  Does it mean that there is some sort of event horizon when it will be too late to put the gin fizz down and actually get on that boat?  Again, no, probably not.  Does it mean that we need to hoard up all the amenities of the industrial age in a lifeboat for ourselves, and wait in the dark with the pistol cocked for the thieving zombie hoards to inevitably barge in, eat our brains, and take our stuff?  Don't be absurd.  But every election cycle, every year actually, that goes by without meaningful change consigns you to a worse position on the life boats than need be.

And someone who matters needs to tell folks that time is of the essence.  There are plenty of players out on the fringes of society who have been pushing people in the right direction for years, but not enough people are reading them.  In fact there are at least as many on the other end of the spectrum, shouting down the people who really are trying to help at the top of their lungs.

To wrap up the Titanic analogy (thank you, Tripp!) there are plenty of things that can be saved, time still even to put a few of your favorite but non-essential belongings in the pocket of your overcoat on the way out.  But the rest of the cargo needs to be seeds, and tools, and small livestock, and books, and forgotten skills.  We need to make friends with the neighbors.  Fruit trees need time to settle in and reach bearing age.  Breeding programs need to be tailored to the new realities of energy descent, not some flashy hyper-efficient and unnatural industrial formulation.  Effective (and organic) crop polycultures need to be worked out over years of trials.  And worked out without the use of modern (and expensive) machines and additives.  And then, after that's done, we will need to invest that much time again, to build resilience in our life-support systems.  As an example, I have a few fruit trees that are now of crop bearing age, but that tend to bloom too early and get hammered by late frost.  Later blooming cultivars are on my list of items to acquire this spring.  But they won't be ready to fruit any time real soon even so.

The way we've done business in the industrial world since the end of WWII only made sense under the specific environmental and market conditions that existed up until recently, but continue to unravel at a hastening pace.  Kudos to us for being so successful under those conditions!  But contraction is a very different animal than expansion.  Whole systems tend to behave in radically different ways under different energetic trajectories.  What we're dealing with here isn't an economic hiccup or a trendy stab at simplification, and we need to stop thinking that.  We need to stop being lied to about that.  What we have before us instead is a long, slow, ragged decline from the giddy heights of the fossil fuel age to some deindustrial version of what would be to us an unrecognizable way of life.

If we want to continue living in a land of milk and honey - and who doesn't - we'll have to build it for ourselves, preferably right now, where we are, with what we have.  If you have a cube truck with 4 tons of cargo ready to roll out when the zombie hoards show up, where will you run that could possibly be better prepared than home?  Will the protective and nurturing community you've been working on be ready to roll out with you when you give the word?  Or will they just think you're a reactionary nut?  Productive organic garden soil is a lot easier to come by when you've spent years developing it just outside your kitchen door.  And you can't dig up a 5 year old peach tree.  At least not in a hurry.

It is heart-breaking to see the very poor twiddling their thumbs day after day, not even a tomato growing in a bucket or an egg bird wandering around, waiting for help to arrive when we know good and well that help will not be forthcoming.  Not from the politicians who don't promise it, nor from the politicians who do.  Politicians only say what they need to say to get elected, and nobody serious about getting elected is going to tell us the truth about the future.

But a smart fella (multi-billionaire, remember?) like Donald Trump is willing to bank his campaign strategy on a forgotten class of blue collar folks who've had their jobs sold to third world sweatshop hellholes or given to illegal immigrants for peanuts in compensation with no legal recourse against being stepped on and underpaid.  That being the case, I'm guessing Trump doesn't believe the official unemployment statistics any more than some of us do.  And Rust Belt cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh are listening.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that he will do better in the northeast and midwest states than he did in Iowa.  And he didn't do too badly there...

Milk and honey have always been available to those who go out of their way to secure it.  But if you're thinking that someone will just give it to you, or that it's your birthright as an American, or even that paper money will always be able to buy it for you, the future might end up being a disappointing place for you.

Me, I'm gonna be adding honeybee hives to all three of my projects this spring.  I like honey.  And milk.

Peace, beautiful people.
Tripp out.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Sneak Peak

Well, the climate change deniers wouldn't miss an opportunity this rich, so I won't either.  We've had EXTENDED TORRENTIAL rainstorms this last several days.  There was thunder in this system that shook the mountain underneath us.  Thunder!  At Christmas!  And lots of it.  Sinkholes, mudslides, closed bridges, with whole trees washed up against the street level rails, detours, state of emergency.  That's the rumor anyway, that our county has declared a state of emergency and requested FEMA funding!  Wow.

Temperatures were downright balmy, too.  Still are.  I'm sitting in my friend's kitchen typing with windows open and fans running, trying to dry things out a little.  At my house too, curiously moist and warm.  A very saturating sort of storm.

Got all the way down to 66 last night.  Seen temps in the 70s, and almost 80 when we popped down to my Mom's in south Georgia for Christmas Eve dinner.  Hard to get in the yuletide spirit under the air conditioning, but my sister's new boyfriend was showing off his mad kitchen skills with a medium rare prime rib roast, so I'll soldier on...

El Nino, La Nina, call it whatever you need to to make it work in your brain, but I think this is a sneak peek of the new climate normal ahead of us.  Mrs. Small Batch Garden and I are beginning to wonder if we moved far enough north!  But, you know, like I would tell the deniers if it were bitterly cold, a week of weather does not a climate make, so we add a very unusual spell of tropical weather at Christmas to the tally, and pray for some chill hours.


"To me, this is the most staggering thing: In the Boston area we're going to see the coldest winter month ever recorded and the warmest winter month ever recorded in the same year in 144 years of records."

That's the real kicker with climate change: extreme volatility, unpredictability, shifting rain bands, no real normals to be counted on.  I've stopped taking the weather forecast seriously beyond a few days.  And even in that short time frame they can be incredibly wrong.  My aforementioned dad in the aforementioned Iowa got 6 inches of fresh powder on Christmas Eve, and NO ONE saw it coming even the day before.  "Thick Skin" may become one of the most desirable traits in meteorologists of the coming decades!

Meanwhile, the Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets keep melting faster than ever, and methane explosions pock-mark Siberian quasi-tundra.  Sea water bubbles up out of storm drains in Miami whenever there's a good stiff onshore breeze during high tide, and Florida's infantile governor has forbidden state employees from talking about climate change and global warming, as if that will magically make it go away.

Forty year lag time mean anything to you, Mr. Scott?  If humans stopped burning carbon entirely, right now, across the globe, it would still take 40 years for the current pattern to peak before things started getting better.  Of course nothing of the sort is ever going to happen, especially when you have the leader of the industrial world changing the language in the proposed climate accord from "shall" curb emissions to "should" curb emissions.  Yes, we should, we all should, but if you can't do it yourself, ain't nobody short of Mum Gaia going to enforce that helping verb.  Stop looking for help from above, and start making changes personally from below.  "They" don't have anything useful to offer.

(Channeling Dr. Mesmer)  That saltwater in your garage is supposed to be there...dry land is for pansies.  Sea level rise is a liberal conspiracy.  Now, repeat after me...

Message to current residents of south Florida: North Georgia is ugly, backward, smelly, xenophobic, and otherwise generally disagreeable.  The lovely forested hillsides in the background of the photos below were Photo-shopped in.  Think California when relocation becomes necessary.  It's more like Florida than north Georgia is.  Oranges good.  Apples bad...Got it??

On a more local note, we've spent some time this fall building more shelter for ourselves.  You know, in between downpours.

I'm all but finished with the cob oven shed - the cherry counter top still needs some of my time, and I may add a spice shelf above that - but all in all I'm pleased with its form and function. It closes up the campfire terrace very nicely, and I can (and do) position myself between fires for cooking and entertaining.  I've forgone the door I talked about last time, and opted instead to keep a small live fire going against the back of the dome when cooking.  Like I thought, it is a nice party trick.  And more importantly, it makes top shelf pizza...
Next up was a wood shed.  I needed a spot, on contour with the entry to the house, to store and process firewood, and keep some larger dimensional lumber high and dry.  This does all.  If you took the lower level of boards out and stacked firewood up to the bottom of the top level of boards, that would be exactly a cord (16'W x 6'H).  With our small, tight house, that's just about all I need for any given winter, and this is a very accessible design for my needs.  The fact that it's on display above the fire pit the way it is, just makes me want to load it up faster.
This is what I've really been looking forward to.  A big flat space!  Although I've kept it pretty modest, for so many reasons, it might just be the most useful thing we've added since we took down the tent and built the cabin.  A dry(ish) entry porch at the front door makes a great big difference, too.  All of us love this new space.
That said, I regularly field criticism that we have compromised too much, that our radical edge is gone.  And you know what I say to that?  So what.  Who cares.  We - four of us - live in a 480 s.f. house (plus loft), with maybe 30W of solar power all told, and no indoor plumbing, with a few new modest amenities.  And while I very much intend to add to some of that very soon, I would be perfectly comfortable like this for the rest of my life if it came to it.

Lots of people seem to misunderstand what we're doing here.  We didn't come here to don hair shirts and live in a tent.  The tent was so we could live on our land and not acquire any additional debt while we set up shop.  And, believe it or not, hair shirts were never part of the plan.  We weren't preparing for zombie invasions, or nuclear war, or Chinese hegemony, or an EMP, although what we've created, and where we've created it, might be fitting for any and all of the above!  The point all along was to live a more self-reliant life, which, taken seriously, generally just means a smaller life with less stuff.  

We went to ground, did without most of what Americans consider essential, just to see what we really wanted or needed to add back.  My blog over the last year and a half has shown a few of the answers to those questions, and the next spring equinox update will probably show some more - 500W of solar power for lights, fans, and a fridge, and hot running water to a kitchen sink.  And that's about it.  Most of the rest of what we think we need is fluff.  At least that's what our little experiment proved to us.

Your conclusions may be completely different.

Happy Winter Solstice/New Year/Christmas, and all that.  Thanks for stopping by!

Tripp out.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cob Oven Reveal

As my ol' pal and prodigal son, Ix, noted in the comments section of my last post - and by the way, Ix, I'm glad to see the money you invested in finishing school is paying off - the rough sketch of the fledgling cob oven on display in my last post was somewhat baffling.  Agreed.  I've been able to see it in my head since I started stacking rocks, but there's no reason to believe anyone else could have.

Well, ponder no more!  It isn't completely finished (I still have to do the finish plaster and finish building the shed over it) but it is now a legitimate oven, fired dry and hard, 6" thick dome, with a few tasty pizzas under its belt.  Check out the video of the first firing:

Burns surprisingly well (later, bigger fires) for not having a chimney.  Must be the door height to dome height ratio thingy that I mentioned last time.  I seem to have gotten that part right.

The thing I have to do next, though, is build a door to close it up tight.  I can put a lot of heat into the mass of the oven (about 500 lbs of cob alone), get it way up over 500 degrees in there, but it just hemorrhages heat once you remove the fire.  Everyone says a tight door is a must.  I agree.  A door is next.  I think it'll work great then.

Or you could build a version large enough to leave the fire in while you bake if that's your preference.  I could see that being a better party trick anyway.

So I've got $20 invested in the thing so far, for sand, that I used as a mold over which the cob shell was built.  I'll reuse that sand in the finish plaster, too, though I might have to buy a little additional pigment to add to the native clay to get the desired finish color.  Very affordable for its gravity.

Although...with a chance to look at it from the typical angle, and the little cooking tool and woodshed going up around it, I'm afraid the split down the middle in the target look of "wheat seed" looks a little more like "fat man's derriere."  Never mind what that would make the entry to the oven look like.

Nah, I think I'll plaster over that and make it smooth...we'll just pretend it's there to help the plaster hold onto the structure better!

Everyone who has seen it so far wants one, wants me to help them build one.  I think I could just about start a career building these things.  Pretty fun, too, but took plenty of physical effort.  Probably a full work week of effort all told, just to this point.  Core workout the whole way through, too.  Not like sitting at a desk.  Cobbing is actually very physical.  Surprisingly physical.  Every batch was a workout.  But left me feeling really good.  To be able to take heavy, natural, (and free) materials lying right around you and make something beautiful and useful out of them is uniquely rewarding.

If you're ever in the neighborhood let me know and we'll fire this baby up.

In the meantime, I've been churning it out lately.  I'm going to have one of the best photo updates in years ready for the winter solstice post!  Please stop back by.

Tripp out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Equal Night

Happy Fall, everyone!  Living without A/C definitely makes Fall one of my favorite seasons!

My family (the 4 on the left) and the rest of my maternal family (Mom, sister, brother, heading to the right away from me) at the beach in the Florida panhandle last weekend.  First time we've gotten this much related blond hair together in a long time!  Forgive the matchy-matchy Gap ad - Mom's request - we haven't gone back to watching TV or using a water-flushing toilet or anything, just making Mom happy...;) 

Time to start drying things out from a muggy summer.  The first fire will be lit in the wood stove before too much more time goes by.  Books will get their annual maintenance.  Shoes too.  Mildew rules the summer in most places and ages.  And will again one day.  The large serving of energy required for air conditioning goes a long way toward a lot of other, less presumptuous, conveniences when the time comes.  Even after the planned addition for solar power next spring we won't have nearly enough power for even a single window unit.  Never will.  That's not part of our future.  So we get out the anti-fungal essential oils and rub the books down every Fall!

Today is also my Dad's 61st birthday, so we wish him well for another year!  And look forward to seeing him next month at the trail ride.

Not too much to cruise through this time around, but I do want to show some updated photos of my school project and a cob oven I'm working on at home.

Starting with the greenhouse at school:

I've set it up sort of like a cattle chute to file school children through on greenhouse days.  The solar oven in the foreground is getting increasing usage from the students, though admittedly, it took some prodding to get them out of the microwave. 
And out the other side, no congestion necessary.  In the last update this was still very rough; now it's looking a lot more polished, and a rain barrel has been installed as well.  This seems to be plenty of water for watering the greenhouse bed and seed starting flats, and filling small livestock fountains nearby.

The herb garden has mostly recovered from the goat encounter, and is once again giving us what we need for regular herbal classes and cut flowers for the classrooms, although the Brown-eyed Susans in the foreground bloomed in a stunted way.  We did our first herb class of the year yesterday on lemon balm, complete with lemon balm and honey tea.  Kids loved it. 

The perennial fruit has mostly recovered too.  This row of raspberries on the hugelkultur mound is looking pretty strong after being nibbled down to nubs in early June.  Grass in the playground seems to be benefiting from the chicken tractor's regular circuit.
On to my house and the new cob oven in progress:

Did a dry-stacked base for the oven out of fairly large rocks.  The oven will enclose the south end of the firepit area and create more of a cooking complex between the two.

Oliver checked each addition for stability.

This is the platform, ready to receive the oven.  That big flat rock on top cost me a massage...

Here's the first course of cob laid in place, and the beginnings of the sculptural roots extending down into the rock base.  I did this partly out of a craving for artistic flare, and partly to help glue what I considered the weakest part of the rock base together.

Second cob course going on.

New batch of screened mineral subsoil ready to stomp.

Just like biscuits...

All stomped up, good texture, ready to use.  There's no straw in this batch as it will form the thermal layer on the interior of the oven, and will be exposed to open fire and high heat.

I changed my mind and decided I wanted a brick arch for the door instead a cob one, so I just pulled off the cob that was sticking out this way and extended the sand mold to support the bricks as I built it.

The door/interior height ratio seems to be one of the more critical technical aspects of building one of these.  Supposed to be right around 60%, door height to interior height.  Mine's pretty darn close to target.

The sculptural roots have developed some more, and we're working on a "root dragon," as the kids call it, sleeping under the top layer of rock.  You can see his snout sticking out directly under the sand mound.  All of this will be coated with the colored finish plaster we seal the oven up with, and will stand out from the native rock, which of course blends very well with the cob made from subsoil that used to BE the native rock!  As soon as I'm done with this post I'm going to go wet my cob back down and finish the thermal mass dome layer.  Hopefully I'll have some great photos of the finished product, and some fine baked goods cooked in it, to show off next time around.

Well, like I said, not too much to show this time around, but I hope you enjoyed it anyway.  I know I'm enjoying it, and loving this cooler fall weather even more.  Ready for the bugs to call it a season, and ready to light that first fire in the old wood stove.  See you next time around, about Halloween.

Tripp out.