Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Clearing sage on the new land

Hard weekend.

We closed on our land last week and began to work as soon as we could get down there. The new home site is about twenty miles from where we are now. Work thus far involves clearing sage...lots and lots of sage. A few hours for two days and we managed to get a compost bin built (for cleared sage of course), the road to the compost bin cleared, H-braces up for the front gate, and 230  feet by 4 ft wide (920 sq feet of sage!) on the west boundary cleared for fence.

This is a ten acre parcel and we plan on putting a perimeter fence around it to keep kids and critters in. It's still a little too close to the Gorge for my comfort. I have horrible thoughts of running llamas and running children...with a 1000 foot drop in the middle of the sage. I need my fence. And there are still thousands of acres of unfenced sage land as far as the eye can see. I've been having an internal conflict/dialogue about fencing the natural land, but in the end, the security of a fence won. It only takes one mishap, and I won't take the chance. We try to talk to the kids about the importance of not going to the gorge without Mom or Dad, but with the autism thing going on, can my daughter really get it? And the llamas, well, they just look at me and lay their ears back, hawking up some nasty smelling loogies to launch. "Gorge...what gorge? Don't you be telling me about no stinkin' gorge!"

Yeah, I'm a big fan of  fence. I'll clear the sage by hand and do what it takes to keep the critters safe.
230 feet of cleared sage

compost bin o' sage
Still, even with the sunburns and sore muscles, it feels soooo good to be working on our own land. My  four year old son calls it "Our Place." Who knows, maybe it'll stick and a name change is in order for the farm.

Richard making an H-brace
And the views out there...can't be beat!

Even the dinosaurs are hard at work moving dirt for their house.
More good news...manifested a whole lot of bags for our first Earthbag project. And some pallets too. Wonder what we could do with a bunch of pallets? Thinking some kind of composting toilet inclosure/ shed.

We plan on heading out to our land every Sunday to work hard on getting fence up and sage cleared for our first building project. Right now, I think it's space to park some vehicles. I'm looking for a bus...yeah, an old retrofitted school bus we can use as a home base to get out of the sun, have a kitchen and maybe live in (when I talk Ricardo into it of course). If we didn't have to pay rent, think of the resources that could go into building!

Our first idea after the fence, or while fence project is ongoing, is to put up a shaded picnic area, which will sit next to a 20 x 40 ft building we can uses as a classroom for our sustainability school. This will involve a cistern to catch rainwater too, so our first class will be born soon. After we clear more sage!

Tired, but recovering. It is well worth it. Knowing it is ours (almost...still have that pesky owner carry loan to pay off on the land) and it is clean (no fracking anywhere nearby) and the air is pure...that is beyond priceless! It is a miraculous manifestation of positive intentions and heartfelt meditations.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chicks, Prairie dogs, Earth Day and Earthbags

Chicks in "brooder"
This past week we received 27 baby chicks in the mail from McMurray Hatchery. Some assortment of Jersey Giants, Cuckoo Marans and a surprise chick. My little surprise chick is yellow with feathered feet. I'm excited to see what it turns into.

It is rather challenging keeping the chicks at the right temperature (95 degrees F) when we don't have much electricity to spare. We can't really afford the energy pull of a 100 watt bulb on our batteries, so we opted for a 40 watt bulb, and keeping the chicks in the well insulated but unused chest freezer over night. During the day, anywhere near the front, south facing, slanted windows provides more than enough heat, in fact, too much and I have to move the chicks around to maintain the temperature at 95F. So far so good. We are on day three and haven't lost any of the little ones.

Freezer brooder, always propped open for air.
Richard has been doing chicken classes for interested folks looking to start their own backyard flocks. It has been going pretty well in our new community. There seem to be plenty of people interested in living sustainably.

Moved the ducks out, sort of...they get to spend the days in the chicken tractor inside the chicken pen, and come in at night. They are almost all feathered out, but the nights are still pretty cold, so we bring them in at night and they sleep in their rubber brooder.
Baby ducks out in the fresh air.

We also hauled our first load of water (1000 gallons) from the community well with our pretty new rainbow truck. That worked well. One of the cisterns here at our house is not pumping into the house, so Richard hooked up a pump he found in our utility room and spent a whole day transferring water from the non-working cistern to the working cistern on the other end of the house. The pump really taxed our electricity storage, and now with the new chicks, the power has been fluctuating on the low side. I'm back to candles and camp lanterns at night.  But, good news...we got our wind turbine and are ordering the rest of the parts so we can get it put up and running. That should help with the power. It seems the wind blows here nearly everyday. Richard used to hate the wind, but now he just thinks of the potential power it can provide.

I attended a couple of Thrive Taos meetings in town, which show a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to attend because Richard works, I have both of the wild ones in tow, and now, they are closing the bridge to town over night for the next month, which leaves us stranded in town or taking one of the two other bridges which are miles out of the way and particularly unsettling for me with the switchbacks and short altitude climb. I won't do it. Scares me...anxiety attacks don't work on mountain roads. So, I'm most likely not going to attend the Thrive meetings for a while, although maybe we can be involved in other ways.

Discovered the Taos Food Co-op through Thrive, and we ordered a bunch of bulk items from Golden Organics. They have all of the flours we need for the kids' gluten-free diets. Wonderful!

Prairie dog burrow in field to south of house.
Richard has been volunteering at Cerro Vista Farm up in Cerro on one of his days off. He just felt the need to farm. In return for his work, he gets a "work share" of produce, which will help us out with clean, organic, locally grown food, since our ability to garden is limited here due to water and space. And, it turns out prairie dogs! It seems there was a reason we found chicken wired buried under the last residents' compost piles. There is a sizable prairie dog colony out in the field beyond our fence. And they have been burrowing into the yard in search of green grass, which there is, although we have not watered what looks to be the former owners' attempt at a "lawn."

Prairie dog burrow in new raised planter.
So now, Richard is putting chicken wire under the planter beds and we have to dig up the three we already put in to line them with chicken wire too.

What do prairie dogs teach us? About about that. In our sustainable, off-grid community, the covenants do not allow for extermination of any of the natural critters, which is great, and I'm trying to find some natural prairie dog deterrents (haven't found any yet). Funny we found a crap load of mouse traps beyond the fence when we moved the llamas out there. Were they trying to deter the little prairie dogs or exterminate the field mice? Maybe it was a vendetta against the huge pack rat that lives under the wood pile.

Baby goats and little kids at Lettuce Grow Farm
For Earth Day (our new Xmas) we took the kids to a cute little farm in town that is focused on Permaculture and building community. Check out Lettuce Grow Farm in El Prado, NM. They played with the baby goats, baby ducks, planted seeds in eggshells, and picked dandelions for the ladybug farm.  We also took them to Twirl, a lovely local toy store with playground and found them an adorable board game focused on gardening. We went by the Fiber Art show in town and had a full day of fun things to celebrate our Mother Earth. I'd like to turn Earth Day into a big holiday in our house, maybe plant more trees and flowers around the house...when we build our own. Give the kids a meaningful holiday to replace the consumerist American holidays we are no longer celebrating (Easter, Halloween, Christmas...anything that requires spending money on things we don't need or want.).

Lettuce, radishes, strawberries.
Our garden is pretty tiny this year with a few raised beds outside and our Earthboxes inside. I don't think we'll have any problem using the share from Cerro Vista Farm.

Up next: more chicken classes, in partnership with Thrive Taos, and on the near horizon, another Earthbag building event! This time we are going to build an Earthbag water catchment cistern. We just have to decide when and where, and collect enough polypropylene bags to get it done. If we close on our land in the next week, maybe we'll do it there. Or maybe at one of the Thrive member's homes. It seems we all need a little extra water here in the arid Southwest, and if we could all build cheap, and easy cisterns, wouldn't that be a great thing!