Thursday, March 31, 2011

Settling in and getting started

The first two and a half weeks here have been the incredible transition of dreams into realities. It has been sore butts (road tripping) to sore backs, and soft hands to calluses (and blisters). We spent a few days getting settled into the house and our respective rooms and then got to work.

Alan surveys the finished water catchment.
A big priority from the beginning was water retention, because it gets pretty dry here during the summer. There is a spring with a spring-house, so we built a 300-gallon catchment below it out of an old cattle sweet feed barrel that we found. The water was murky at first from all the digging but now it's crystal clear.

We’ve turned the stuffy den termed the “Republican room” into a warm, sunny spot to germinate starts. Dinosaur kale, Cossack Pineapple ground cherries, Red Acre cabbage, and Green Zebra tomatoes are just a few of the beautiful heirloom varieties found in the many flats of little seedlings currently in the loving care of the farmers four. We are using only natural light, cold frames, and a homemade potting mix.

Fran holding a section showing sheet mulch layers.
Building sustainable soil fertility is of fundamental importance to this project, and we began developing this before we even moved into Twin Oaks. Fran and Jacob were here in October of 2010 and sheet mulched the main 26’ X 70’ garden plot. Their hard work has paid off five months later with soil that has been entirely transformed into rich black loam teeming with life! We’ve created more garden space by sheet mulching, including our beautiful Om-shaped bed, two keyhole beds, a hugelkutur bed, and the flower beds lining the breezeway. To suppress weeds and retain soil moisture, we plan to cover all of our nearly 2000 square feet of bed space with a thick natural mulch layer that we’ve been making ourselves with collected materials (leaves, tree limbs, grasses, acorn shells) and a handy little wood chipper.

Chickens enjoying the new chicken house.
There is a small shed just to the south of the main garden which contained a handful of rusty tools and tons of rat-gnawed dusty junk. We cleaned it out, removed the old shoddy workbench and converted it into a beautiful chicken house. We picked up four year-old laying hens on tuesday to jump-start our egg production, and we'll be getting six or eight hatchling chicks in about two weeks to round out our little brood.

Left to right: saurkraut, vinegar, kombucha, sourdough.
When not wielding pick axes, mauls, machetes and shovels for the sustainable garden cause, we’ve been keeping ourselves busy diving right into the homesteading lifestyle: Fresh baked bread. Hummus. Kombucha (yes, Scoby Steve lives!). Gurgling wild yeast sourdough starters. Pressed apple cider vinegar. Herb cheese. Fermenting crocks of sauerkraut. Homebrew beer (Alan’s cinnamon oatmeal stout will be ready in a few weeks, and we will soon brew our own jasmine IPA). Mmm, gotta love that self-sufficiency!

Working outside completing projects of our own design, built with our intention, molded to our goals is incredibly empowering. There are no imposed rules to follow or expectations to fulfill. WE ARE LUCKY! That being said, we have set a few for ourselves, a foundation on which we are trying to live so that we can increase our physical and mental health and decrease our negative impact on the natural world and the people that we rely on for goods and services. The majority of these “guiding principles” structure how and what we consume. We’ve decided that whenever possible we will rely on resources from our land over purchasing - fortunately, there are lots of miscellaneous materials scattered around the farm already. If we do buy goods we try to do it locally and in the most socially, ethically, and environmentally responsible way available. It’s definitely a challenge and an experiment, increasingly so with all the building that we’ve been doing.

This opportunity would never have been available to us without the support and generosity of Meredith Skelton - she has helped make our dreams reality. Thank you Meredith!
Meredith and the farmers the day after arrival.

Much love,
Alan, Fran, Jacob, and Kelsey


  1. WOW! i never could have imagined such a transformation in such a short amount of time! You are so creative, and such an inspiration. I enjoy reading your blogs, and hearing about all of the wonderful things you are doing in the mountains! Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy :)

  2. Great post! Your lives sound like the antithesis of my current situation in Beijing. Keep writing!

  3. smart on jump starting the chickens. Our's are all smallish pullets still. I'm getting antsy for a scramble.

  4. We have 6 buff orpington's chicks this year too. About the stuff you are culturing (kombucha, etc). I'm not sure if you put them all together for the picture or if you always keep them together- if you do always keep them together, you may look up on that because I know I can't culture my kefir and yogurt close together or the two cultures weaken each other through the air. I put them on either ends of the room.
    (Kelsey's cousin)

  5. Wow guys! I can't believe you've made Virgina a home in such a short time. The absence of your presence in Seattle is, without a doubt, constantly felt. Yet the positive energy that radiates through your blog keeps you present in my mind and inspires me to keep at my work here :) I'm so excited for you all of you and the path you've chosen. I do plan on joining you to experience some of that farm life in the near future...

    The farming life seems to be keeping you busy, but next time you guys find yourself without anything to do, doubtful I know, find a way to get in touch with me! There's so much to share!

    May you guys find continuous success and true happiness on your adventures!



  6. "Working outside completing projects of our own design, built with our intention, molded to our goals is incredibly empowering."

    Wow! Just, wow. Those of us living vicariously through your blogging are loving every word. I certainly am. :o)

  7. Need another update! It has been almost a month, I bet lots has happened. Update soon, please. Living vicariously up north.