After more than a decade of trying my hand at different types of agricultural styles, I’ve finally settled with one- Syntropic Farming. I’ve tried my hand at growing conventionally, organically, using permaculture, and dabbling in biodynamics. None, however, can seem to touch what I’ve been learning about Syntropic Farming/permaculture.
I started having this feeling that our land and gardens could produce more abundantly if they had perennial plants and trees in the system. It was a reoccurring concept that wouldn’t go away. I knew there must have been something to it for the thoughts to not go away. I blame our elder beautiful live oak trees, Elsa and Agatha…they whisper to me their thoughts all the time. So, I can’t really take the credit for perennial plants in the gardens. I only started to have those thoughts after we bought our land.
Anyway, as the plans started to form for creating a perennial market garden, I started searching for something that seemed to be missing from my overall plan. And I found it!
Syntropic Farming and Permadynamics sent me down a rabbit hole…forever!
I’ll never look at gardening and farming the same again.
The concepts are easy to grasp and if you’ve practiced permaculture you’ll get that ah-ha moment.
I used to view how I grew a garden as someone who tended to the system. I was the one who planted, watered, fed, pruned, harvested, cleaned it up, helped to create abundance. But I never considered that I was a vital part of the system like the honey bee. I can get so caught up in doing that I forget about being.
Here is a definition the syntropy:
From Greek syn=together, tropos=tendency. It was first coined by the mathematician Luigi Fantappiè, in 1941, in order to describe the mathematical properties of the advanced waves solution of the Klein-Gordon equation which unites Quantum Mechanics with Special Relativity. As noted by Viterbo, syntropy is “the tendency towards energy concentration, order, organization and life” (http://www.syntropy.org/). In contradistinction to “entropy,” syntropy is a result of retrocausality leading to persistent and more complex organization. This is akin to the concept of dissipative structures developed by Ilya Prigogine, expostulated in Order Out of Chaos, by Prigogine & Stengers (1984). Buckminster Fuller developed a definition in relation to “whole systems” as “A tendency towards order and symmetrical combinations, designs of ever more advantageous and orderly patterns. Evolutionary cooperation. Anti-entropy” (http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Syntropy).
I love that syntropy is described as “the tendency towards energy concentration order, organization, and life.” It is the opposite of entropy.
As I’ve grasped some of the concepts of syntropic permaculture, what stuck out the greatest for me was how the use of grasses and perennials when pruned sends out hormones to other plants to invigorate the growth of those plants around them. Things are planted densely in guilds where each plant helps the next in cooperation. It isn’t about competition in the system.
The next important thing is that the ground is always covered to protect soil organisms and life that are extremely light-sensitive. Even all the walkways are covered in a thick layer of mulch.
Our perennial market garden is ground zero to start making beautiful mistakes. I’ve had to throw out much of what I’ve known about gardening and farming in order to make way for syntropic agriculture. I have to put away my impulse to rip weeds out of the ground and instead chop and drop them so as to not disturb the soil as it comes into balance.
It’s exciting! This weekend we got started with our second market garden bed. Dom and Noah have been working on the perimeter of the market garden for weeks, fortifying the fencing, adding taller posts and stringing wire. When they’re done, there will be 8 foot high posts attached to the existing posts we have and then strung with wire to prevent the deer from jumping in and eating our garden.
A 2′ high chicken wire is then put along the bottom of the fencing to deter bunnies from getting in.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done about the mutant squirrels that live here. Some are as large as a cat.
You can never trust a squirrel.
The area pictured above is our second market garden row. The first one we created a few weeks earlier.
This second row will be planted with:
Four apricot trees
Five black locust trees
Artichokes between the trees
Sudan Grass at the edge
Amazing that so much can be planted in just one row, right? I found a nursery in Silver City and I was finally able to get apricot trees. I searched high and low for apricot trees for months. Most places online are sold out, Home Depot and Lowes didn’t have any, and I thought for sure I would not get any this year and then I found a nursery hiding in plain sight!
There’s a new carwash in Silver City and as Simmi and I were getting our car washed, I noticed a greenhouse and trees and roses. I couldn’t wait to get out of that carwash to see if it was actually a nursery.
They have apricots, cherries, apples, figs, and more. Not only that but they weren’t little tiny 2′ tall trees.
I purchased three apricot trees to start, and I need one more to complete the row. I would have liked it if they had at least three varieties of apricots, but two varieties will work.
All fruit trees planted become my mother fruit trees to produce more fruit trees from.
The pattern of trees will be black locust, artichoke, apricot, black locust, artichoke, apricot, until the full row is complete.
Currently only three apricots are in. Two Tilton and one Harglow. This week I’ll be getting a second Harglow.
The black locust and artichoke I’ve started from seed a little more than a week ago and they just started poking through the soil this weekend.
Thursday the fourth apricot will be planted and the bed will be seeded, then covered in a layer of straw.
I had to wait on ordering the irrigation lines because Simmi’s birthday is coming up fast and we are getting a pool for her to have a pool party. Once the pool is ordered, I’ll be able to continue ordering supplies for the garden.
To the right, you can see the first bed planted. That bed is right up against the goat pen.
This bed has been planted with three bare root peach trees, three blueberry bushes, catmint, cucumber, Blackeye Susans, and milkweed. I’ve started Sea Kale from seed and when it’s ready it’ll be planted in between the fruit trees and berry bushes.
It has taken a good long while for Dom to fall in love with the wonkiness of nature. As a builder, it was difficult for him to marry straight lines with the curves of nature. Something clicked for him last year and he started re-learning how to build with nature. I’ve loved watching the evolution of his creations. I think this gate is my favorite so far! The only thing purchased to make the gate was the hinges. The welded wire is scrap that was just laying around.
B2 and B1 contain a countless amount of black locust seedlings. I wasn’t sure how many would grow so I planted a shit ton. Haha When they get their true leaves and have doubled their size they’ll be transplanted to their own containers.
Aren’t they so cute! It’s amazing that these little babies will grow to feed all the other plants around it, but it will also create the most beautiful tree that can be pollarded and fed to the poultry or dropped on the garden bed and create a mulch. The bees are crazy for this tree, and when I plant a large area of these trees close together, they’ll grow tall in a few years and we can coppice them are create fence posts, tool handles, and use for firewood as well.
The usefulness of this tree is unbelievable. Just think…I have 5 pounds of black locust seed. Ha!
I’ve started nearly 100 Colorado Star Artichokes from seed. They just woke up this weekend. By the time we’re done installing all the market garden rows, they’ll be ready to transplant.
Ginger! I plan on planting the ginger in a shady spot of the market garden.
Six itty bitty fig trees in three pots. When they’ve doubled in size, they’ll be transplanted into a larger container, and when their garden beds are ready they’ll be planted out in the market garden. I’m shooting to have them in the ground by the first week in July. Right now their just about ready to be moved to a sunny location.
The horseradish box is doing well. I planted the horseradish last year right next to our front door. Interplanted are Chinese garlic chives. I ordered the garlic chives last week and they should start growing this week.
The goats are doing well. We’ll be taking them out on the leash into the market garden to chomp down on all the glorious weeds coming up. They’re going to love it!
The goat pen is shaded by a large tree that is kind of like a willow and kind of like an elm. We’re still not sure exactly what kind of tree it is. It’s delicious to the goats, and the horses when we had them in this area. The tree becomes a reprieve to the goats as well as the full market garden area by 6:30 pm. The sun is blocked by the large tree at that time and it cools down the market garden area giving plants a chance to recover from the long hot day of the high desert sun.
It’s incredible that by the end of September this Syntropic Market Garden will be thriving and producing for us.
This is a view outside the market garden. Along that fence line are asparagus. There are also two fig trees that just leafed out. I expect they’ll grow at least three feet this year.
We’ll update this weekend when we create the next two market garden beds. In bed three, Four cherry trees, five black locust, and eight globe artichoke will occupy that space, and in bed four, four apple trees, five black locust, and eight globe artichoke will do the job. I haven’t decided on the annual fruits and veggies that will also be planted there…yet.
All total so far that we have planted and at various stages of growth:
We’ve been quite busy over the last three and a half months. I had hoped to blog more but with the country’s response (for good and bad) to the current events, we felt the need to speed up our plans and reprioritize what we were doing. It’s amazing how clear we can become if we’re motivated enough.
Dom and I have always been on the path to being more sustainable and self-reliant. Not in the sense, however, of us being an island unto ourselves and living like hermits somewhere out in the wilderness. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have chosen the area we’re living in as a place to set down roots.
We believe in community and helping where we can. We want to be productive and provide products and services that can help stabilize our local economy. As we’ve watched our nation and the world go through extremes, we’ve seen the impact it has on us personally.
Having taken care of animals and grown our food in the past, it has become crystal clear that we need to get our asses in gear now. I believe that hyperinflation is inching closer and that things are about to get extremely ugly (they are already ugly) with regards to food security. One thing is appallingly clear…we are NOT prepared!
I hate to sound like a cliche, but I thought we would have more time. We knew this was going to happen. Well, not that there would be a lockdown and all our rights being taken over 38,000 deaths in the United States, but we knew there was going to be a great shaking. It’s one of the reasons we began growing food and caring for animals in the first place.
It feels surreal to watch everything unfold in the world. Worse yet, we are feeling somewhat powerless, marginalized, and unable to help those who are suffering in any meaningful way.
Our goals were to start getting animals and have a little extra to sell. To have a few large gardens and have some produce to sell. But in this season of change, I’m setting my sights much larger.
It’ll start with the chickens…
Originally we planned on having about 75 chickens which would include Brahmas and Croad Langshans as our meat birds, and Cream Legars, Welsummers, Marans, Faverolles, and a few other egg layers. But I’ve chosen to increase the number to between 175-200 birds. The area we’ve been preparing for them is large enough to handle such a large number of birds.
I will also start a breeding program for each kind of bird. I’ll be crossing the Brahma and Langshans eventually to create a new table meat bird.
Our birds will be raised on organic feed and have one of the most important jobs on the farm…making compost for us. No one can turn a compost pile faster and with more efficiency than a mob of chickens.
This system of animal production will be intensive and highly productive. Each section will be multifaceted. For example, the chicken composting yard will have fruit trees, meat rabbit housing (yellow rectangle) and under the meat rabbits will be worm bins. Behind the rabbit row will be an enclosed area for berry bushes.
The fenced-in chicken composting yard will also have an enclosed turkey run with more berry bushes on three sides, and a round turkey coop (green circle). Why a round turkey coop? Because turkeys LOVE round things. They are fascinated by round objects and love round spaces. At least that’s what we’ve observed in keeping turkeys in the past.
There will be an area for ducks. We won’t have as many ducks as we do chickens, but we’ll have at least 30 for egg production as well as meat. Even though I really wanted to get Dutch Hookbills for this area, we have so much land that I decided that I’ll have them in another area. In the duck area we’ll be adding Cayugas, Silver Apple Yards, Pekins, and a few geese.
In the market garden, there is an overlap between the duck area and the garden. This overlap is because of where the large trees are. We won’t be removing the trees. Instead, the duck housing will be on the market garden side. There is an old large water trough that was for cattle. It will be turned into their pond. A spigot will be added to it, and the duck poop water will be used to water the market garden.
The market garden…
Currently, we have rows dug. They can be seen in the plot below. We don’t have the greatest water pressure coming from our well, and in order to save water, we decided to completely rework the market garden.
We’ll be creating inground wicking beds. The wicking beds will allow us to drain the duck pond water directly under each garden row. Think of it like bottom watering your plants. Freshwater will be used once a week to topwater, but the duck pond water is the real workhorse, nourishing all the plants and fruit trees that will be planted there.
Around the perimeter of the market garden we’ll be adding tall posts and electric to keep out the deer.
Last year we started building our little chicken composting run in the market garden. It’s the little green rectangle. This is intended to be our Silkie chicken nursery. Silkies are good mothers and will happily hatch out eggs. They can also be bullied by other chickens, so they get their very own area. We won’t have more than 10 Silkies. They’ll also be making compost in their area.
The outdoor kitchen and meat processing area (turquoise square)…
Last year we had an overgrown HUGE patch of wild grapevines. I cleared it out and burned the area so that they wouldn’t grow back. We have so many wild grapes on the property, that it wasn’t a big sacrifice. Now that the patch is gone, we can build our outdoor kitchen. We will harvest our small animals in the outdoor kitchen. It will also serve as the farm kitchen when we start holding events.
I told you we were busy! Haha
As our plans continue to morph, I will be tucking things into each system. Two things that aren’t on the plans are the post-harvest washing station and the greenhouse. The post-harvest station will be located on the north side of the market garden. In the upper right-hand corner above the market garden is where our tents used to be. That will be the location of our greenhouse.
Everything will be in close proximity to each other. This creates fewer steps. At the center of everything is the water supply. Farms should be run efficiently with as few steps as needed. We’ve worked on farms that weren’t planned out very well. Water that would need to be hauled great distances, needing to walk 10 minutes to a field way out in the middle of nowhere to harvest lettuce, only to turn around and walk another 10 minutes in the opposite direction to collect eggs and yet another 20 minutes to go feed pigs. This is extremely time-consuming. Our systems will not be done that way. There’s no need for it.
To the right of the market garden is the entrance to the pasture. We will be keeping dairy sheep and horses there. More on that another day!
Here are some photos of things that were accomplished from the end of January until this week:
Our little teeny tiny bathroom is nearing completion. Pallet walls are an ingenious way to rooms but if they aren’t sealed up with walls and insulation, animals feel free to make themselves at home in our spaces. That is a big fat NOPE! The walls were finished with drywall and an opening for windows was put in. We found the windows under one of the rigs on the property. They were partially buried in the dirt. I cleaned them up, painted, and reglazed them.
The toilet and bathtub were installed, and we got the cutest little antique Italian Florentine chest of drawers to convert into a sink. We need to purchase a wall-mounted faucet and hopefully, in the next few weeks, the sink will be functional.
We still have shelves, a mirror, and a few other things to add, but it is looking great! It feels glorious to take a long hot bath too.
I love watching him work and get creative. I love how he makes our lives so much better every day!
My girl continues to grow into this stunningly beautiful young woman. She turns 13 next month.
Some cedars and pine were taken out of the chicken compost yard. When completely cleared of dead or dying trees (we had both in that area) fruit trees will be added. The straight branches that were still in good condition will be used to build the chicken coop.
Our supply area is filling up fast. The pallets will be used to build a storage shed for all our things that are currently being stored in the roastery. We have many projects going on all at once. Behind the pallets are a LOT of glass panels. Those are for the greenhouse.
This is the next section of the chicken yard that needs to be cleared. This whole area is one large tree that fell but never died. It is connected at the root by about two feet of tree. It must have fallen at least 5 years ago but refused to die. This is the area where the large chicken coop will go.
We have two entrances to our property. One is on Mineral Creek seen in the photo above, and the other is on a back road when the creek is flowing.
This year we had so much rain that we couldn’t get across. The creek cuts into the banks creating a steep drop off. We need to have heavy equipment come in to fix this each year. What we really need is a bridge!
Once the water subsides the creek bed is a hot mess! We had it leveled on Friday and we can finally cross again.
Much better! There’s only a small amount of water flowing now, and within the next few months, it should be dried up completely until next winter.
The other project I’m currently working on is updating and changing our website. Firelight Farm will still have the blog, but it will be a magazine-style layout and include lots of different sections. Instead of having one blog where I write everything, there will be categories like animal shelters, animal husbandry, growing a garden, building structures, how to lacto-ferment, and more. We want our website to be more informative. I also want to start producing videos again. We started to a few years back, but when we sold our last farm, there was no reason to continue making videos.
My aim is to have the new site launched by the end of May. It’s pretty exciting and it’s all coming together.
Dom and I haven’t sat down to officially write down our goals and intentions for the new year, but as usual, they are pretty big and exciting. First, I’d love to recap 2019 and touch on our future plans because it was a pretty incredible year for us.
Our initial plans prior to moving here included others who are no longer living on the land. They’ve moved on to new and exciting adventures. As things shifted, for some strange reason, my thinking did not. I still went about working on the land as though the others were still present. It took a good six months for me to plan out how the land would best function with others also living here, which mainly had to do with our planned gardens.
Since everyone has moved on, we’ve finally changed the direction of our plans for farming and living.
Our camping came to an end at the beginning of November. We were hit with a cold snap that went right through Dom and he was unable to handle the cold during the evening. Simmi and I were fine, but since he was feeling it in his bones, we made the transition from our tents to the rig where we have woodstoves to keep warm. We’ve been updating the rig for us to live in since we had only planned on the rig being used for Buffalo Mountain.
It was a good thing that Dom changed his mind about tent living because the tents were old when we purchased them and sun-worn in our high desert climate. About two weeks after we moved into the rig, we had a few very strong storms that ripped the tents to shreds. We had already moved all our things out of the tents, and if we had stayed the course it could have been disastrous.
I think often to what could have happened if we installed our woodstoves and decided to stay put. The tents ripped wide open in the middle of the night. All our belongings would have been ruined, including our mattresses. It would have been a financial nightmare.
Buffalo Mountain Coffee:
Our coffee company has been going through quite a bit of growing pains and I have felt the squeeze. Since we moved into the rig, we needed to move everything for Buffalo Mountain to another section of the rig, separate from our living space. Doing this reduced greatly the amount of room I had to work with. I had three areas originally for work which included an office, an art studio, and the coffee room, but Simmi will be moving into my office, Dom and I are in my art studio, and all our equipment and inventory is in one small space.
In the coffee room (as I call it) I have to work in stages, which really drags out the hours I work. We’ve made it as efficient as possible, however, my workflow suffers quite a bit. The roastery is our top priority but it needs to be balanced with what we need for our family.
From November up to me writing this blog post, we had so many orders come in for the holiday season that there were many nights I never even went to sleep. Dom works in construction and we’re not at a place financially yet where he can work full time at Buffalo Mountain, so I designed the space to be only used by me, and made it impossible for us to hire outside help for the season. This set great limitations on what he could do to help get orders out the door. Buffalo Mountain was severely short-staffed! The fact that we still only have one car adds insult to injury because it would mean that after being up all night filling orders, I had to take him to work each day.
I was exhausted! I still am. However, financially we were able to move Buffalo Mountain forward significantly. I don’t take an income from our company yet because everything is always reinvested back to the company to move us forward. We bootstrapped our coffee company so we wouldn’t have a huge debt load or burden. While it is difficult at times bootstrapping, I’m glad we chose to do it that way.
We have the supplies necessary to finish the roastery and some of the other projects we’re working on. There are some very wonderful people in our community who have donated lumber, windows, and other materials and we will have everything we need to get our plans accomplished in the new year. We chose to use recycled materials because it helps others in the community to get rid of what they don’t need, and it helps us to utilize actual money on things we can’t get recycled, like inventory, supplies, and assets vital to Buffalo Mountain.
In the wake of the holiday rush, I was flabbergasted by the amount of waste that is produced by Buffalo Mountain. There is very little about our company that is environmentally friendly, and that is a problem for us. In building our company, I didn’t really consider using products that were environmentally friendly because they were cost-prohibitive. However, with the mountain of waste products in the form of label backing, plastic tape, and other things that can’t be composted here on the farm, we’ve decided to change our packaging moving forward.
We’ll be phasing out what we use now, by using it up and slowly transitioning to an environmentally friendly packaging. We won’t be using sticky labels any more. I have found a company that sells labels that can be compostable, but they are still quite cost-prohibitive, and I don’t want to pass that cost onto our customers.
2020 is looking amazing for Buffalo Mountain. In 2019 we made three times the amount we did in 2018. It’s great to watch the growth, year over year.
As I mentioned, we are currently living in the rig. For those who don’t know what the rig is, it’s an RV with four additions built onto it prior to us buying the land. It was used mainly for Buffalo Mountain before we moved in. Now that we’re in the rig, we’ve turned our attention to making it more liveable for us over the next year. We want our space to be comfortable, but not too comfortable that we don’t move forward with our house plans.
The addition/rooms put onto the rig were built with pallets. They didn’t have insulation so insulation was added to the office space and where we sleep.
There were places in the rig where wild animals could get in, and we had a very interesting thing happen one night about three weeks ago.
Simmi came into our room saying there was a skunk in the rig in the middle of the night. I didn’t believe her because it just sounded absurd to my sleeping brain. But it was true. It was a baby skunk not more than about 5 inches from nose to tail.
He came up under the rig and found a small hole to climb into. Then he made his way down to our room and got snapped in a trap we had set for mice. He started jumping and trying to free himself and started spraying his little stinky scent everywhere. Dom was able to get him out of the house and by the time he got him outside, the little guy died. Dom buried him in a burlap sack out in our ash pit.
I had a reaction to the smell of that tiny little cutie pie. He didn’t have a full skunk smell, just the smell of onions and garlic. Within about an hour, I passed out for six hours. My body couldn’t handle his scent.
Not everyone was as repelled as I was by his scent…his mother found his scent and tried to dig him up. He was already dead, but she refused to leave the sack. She stayed on the ash pile for three days and died. It was quite heartbreaking. Simmi cried, I was upset, and Dom was disturbed. We have never witnessed such dedication as that of a mother skunk. We brought her food and tried to help, but if we got close to her she would have sprayed us.
Dom found any holes where an animal could climb into the rig and closed them up.
The mama skunk was such a beautiful little creature. I think she was still young herself because she hadn’t reached the full size of a mature skunk.
Anyway, sealing up any small holes in the rig will prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
Rehabbing the rig is going slow, but soon we’ll pick up the pace. For the last six weeks, it has been nonstop work for me with Buffalo Mountain as well as homeschooling Simmi. Not an easy task to do both fulltime. But I made it work!
Our lumber keeps arriving from neighbors and people in our county, and we’re confident we have what we need to now gut the main part of the rig and redo it.
The kitchen will be refinished. All the cabinets and the RV bathroom will be removed and in its place, we’ll have bottom and top open shelves.
We have a full-sized Kohler sink and a white Chambers Stove to install. The stove we will be picking up the end of January when things settle down with Buffalo Mountain. Orders are still coming, so it’s difficult to get away for the day.
I’m so excited about getting this stove. I’ve known about Chambers Stoves for a long time, just didn’t think we’d ever have the money to afford one…especially one that has the pots and pans that go with it! I’m geeking out just thinking about it.
The Chambers Stove we’ll be installing is a model A from the year 1936-1939. It has all the bells and whistles of a classic Chambers Stove, AND the backsplash folds down to create more counter space when not in use. That comes in handy when you’re in close quarters on the rig. We also needed something that was thin enough to fit through the RV door, and the Chambers is just a little slimmer than the RV door opening.
It took a long time to find this model. When I found the seller, we struck up not only a conversation about coming to buy it, but became friends and may even partner on future projects between our coffee company and her catering company. The above photos are not of our stove, but ones I grabbed off the internet. Ours needs a bit of work to clean her up and shine again, but they can be restored beautifully. I’m so excited!
We currently are using the RV stove and oven that was in the rig. While I LOVE cooking on it, it just doesn’t provide the space we need to roast things. It has served its purpose so far, but if we plan on living in here for the next year or so, we need the space to be as accommodating as possible. I know me, and if things don’t start to flow the way we need them to as a family, depression and apathy will set in and Dom and I will start feeling sorry for ourselves. Haha That is NOT a pretty sight!
We’ve learned that when our surroundings aren’t what we need them to be, we become complacent, tired, and even depressed. It happened to us early on in our marriage when we would have to move into a new place that wasn’t optimal for us. Over the years, we’ve learned that we need to make something home before we start feeling homesick. It sounds like an oxymoron, but truly, homesick isn’t just for those who miss being home after being away. It’s also being sick mentally and physically while living in your home.
Neither of us wants to be homesick. No thanks!
As soon as we get our rig completely rehabbed (I’ll do a blog post about it), we’ll turn our attention to the roastery. After the roastery is finished, we’ll turn our attention to working in phases on our new house. We had planned on building a cabin, but since we moved into the rig, we won’t need to build a cabin until we’re ready to get rid of the rig. The new cabin will be designed as a guest cabin and we’ll stay in that after the rig is removed and until our house is built.
A few ideas I’ve grabbed from pinterest for inspiration in how we’ll redesign the main part of the rig. We don’t have a lot of height/headroom so we wouldn’t have as many upper shelves, but painting everything white and opening up the space will help it become more functional for us.
I’m debating whether to use our live edge shelving for the rig. I love the look, but I want to use what we have for our future permanent kitchen space. I’m on the fence about. Nothing is set in stone though.
I love the open shelves and open bottom shelf design. We have what we need to do a new floor as well as all the countertops and shelves.
Between the countertop and the first shelf, I’ve chosen long subway tiles that are a bit wonky. I love the texture and movement in them. They’re a bit expensive, but because the area we’ll be using them is small, we’re willing to invest in my sanity and create a backsplash that will make me smile every day. Investing in my sanity is a real thing, by the way!
We’re unsure of the style we’ll use for shelf brackets. I love the black angle iron but it’s costly. However, because they can be removed when we’re ready to remove the rig, I may want to invest in these, knowing they would be put into our final kitchen.
We purchased a full year of workshops and tutorials for building a cob home as a Christmas gift for each other. Our goal is to build our cob home where the rig currently is. Because of my issues with electricity, this house will not have any electricity or plumbing. The plumbing part has to do with my severe allergy to molds. Our main bathroom will be located on the exterior of the house inside an attached greenhouse. Technically it will be in the house, but the greenhouse makes the bathroom separate. Water damaged buildings create mold that is difficult to get rid of. Having any running water inside a house is inviting disaster to my health.
Our cob house will have bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, an apothecary, and a music room, but the kitchen will be separate and completely outdoors, connected by a porch/overhang. This will not be a ragtag kitchen. Instead, it will be designed with rustic elegance and equipped to handle the winter weather. I’ll share more on that as we finish up our final designs.
We’re redesigning the infrastructure. My plans had to be scrapped when Dom wanted to build a cob home. He wants to play in the mud and sculpt our house. Who am I to deny him such a winsome desire? Building a cob house will require a huge amount of earth for not only the walls but also the plasterwork. I created a plan (it took a long time to design) for our potager garden which is a 60’x60′ patch of earth located right next to the market garden. It was the area the horses were in when we first moved here.
Well, my need for having a pond and Dom’s need to play with mud caused me to change my mind about the location of the potager. We’ll be digging out that area to make cob and the hole it creates will make our pond/living swimming pool.
A living swimming pool is a deep pond with a buffer zone where aquaculture is cultivated. No chemicals are used and the buffer zone filled with plants cleans the water. I’ve seen them done complex as well as simple. We’re going for simple.
I want this pond to be passive with only a solar aerator to keep the water moving. I have seen them done very similar to a pool, where a bog is created and water is pumped from the bottom of the pond to the bog where it flows down back into the pond, but it would drive me up a wall to hear the pump going night and day. It would also create an unpleasant electrical field that I would start avoiding since electrical fields cause hives and heart palpitations in me. I want a system that can clean the water passively while creating habitat and a new microclimate for the area.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it would be located about 60+ feet from our house. A pond in front of the house? Yes, please! One that Simmi and our family and friends can swim in? Hell yeah.
We haven’t decided on the shape of the pond yet. We just know we want to start digging it in the next year.
By the way, none of these things will be done quickly. But they will be done! My timeline doesn’t work according to everyone else’s beliefs of when a project should start and finish. We have a lot going on in our lives, and I won’t allow myself or Dom to rush through things just to check them off of some list. We want these things and we are willing to wait in order to do them properly and without killing ourselves in the process.
There are so many things that need to happen before we can even start digging a pond. The pond is a part of the new farm infrastructure.
We have the materials we need to start building our duck yards. We’ll be building fencing, a mini pond with its own bog, and a few duck houses. There will be two areas of the duck yard. On one side, there will be housing, food, and water. On the other side, their pond will be finished. The pond is an old water trough from cows that used to graze on the land a long time ago. It’s hooked up to the well. The two areas are separated because anyone who has ducks knows, these little cute quirky birds love to party all night and spend lots of time mating.
They will be trained to stay in the area where there is food, water, and housing at night, and at mid-morning be allowed access to their pond area. Ducks aren’t like chickens where they go into a coop and lay eggs. No, they walk along and boop! one falls out. From my experience, they also lay at night or very early morning. If they are given access to a large piece of land every morning would become an easter egg hunt. Some ducks will try to hide their eggs, and keeping ducks in a smaller area makes it easier to find them.
Galeno is standing in the water trough in the photo on the right. Half of the trough will be made into a bog, the rest of it will be water. It’ll be lined with a rubber membrane and then rocks will be added. We’ll also have a spigot attached so that we can take the duck poop water and use it on plants that aren’t root vegetables. Plants love duck poop water and it won’t burn them.
In the background, you can see the area that will be turned into a living swimming pond. The ducks will not have access to the pond and will only be in their duck yard. They would put too much stress on the pond.
We’ll be finishing our chicken composting run as well. We’re nearly there, but it came to a screeching halt when we kept putting all our attention on things that kept redirecting us personally. I’ll leave it at that because we had to deal with some pretty disturbing things in 2019.
We won’t be getting animals until after our trip to California. We are planning to take a trip sometime between March and June. We thought we’d go for our 16 year anniversary, but then thought it would be nice to go a little later and celebrate Simmi’s 13th birthday. She’s never been to the pacific ocean, the San Diego Zoo, Sea World or any other place. Her life-threatening food allergies always kept us from traveling by plane. But since we live only about 14 hours from California, we can drive there. We want to do so before we get animals because we don’t want to worry about feeding schedules and things like that.
It will be our first trip ever going on a vacation. It will most likely be the only one we ever take. I don’t like traveling to different places. It stresses me out. I love being at home or taking day trips. That’s about it!
We will start with chickens, ducks, and turkeys in early summer. We would love to plant this year, but I’m not sure yet what that looks like since I have no idea where I’m putting the potager garden. In the market garden, we can get that ready, but again, with our upcoming trip to California, it would be better to wait until after we return home to start planting.
I’ve been recovering very well, but I want to speed up my process. Back in November, I started an elimination diet to see what foods were causing lingering inflammation and autoimmune problems. I have a very high pain threshold, so pain for me is different than pain for others. What causes me to ache might be crippling for others. My body has always been that way. Anyway, there is an underlying discomfort that I’ve had for years that I want to be gone.
I’ve tweaked my health over the last few years since returning to New Mexico. If I were still living on the east coast…I would be near death if not already dead. The mold in buildings triggers an autoimmune response and horrible stuff starts happening to me.
My last big flareup was in August 2018 and it lasted through Christmas. I don’t feel 100% and if I think about it, I haven’t felt 100% in years. So I’ve jumped on the carnivore meat wagon. It’s the ultimate elimination diet. I’ve tried to just eat only animal products like eggs, cheese, dairy, butter, pork, fish and shellfish, poultry, lamb and beef, however, I still had issues that wouldn’t clear up. After seeing many of my fellow autoimmune warriors switch to ruminant meat, salt, and water diet and completely send their disorder into remission, I knew I should try it for at least six months. I will also be mostly consuming my beef raw, which I already have been doing since last year.
It’s not a big deal in that I already eat that way, I’m just removing some of the tasty things I have always loved. That will be the difficult part. I’m committed though to figuring out what foods are affecting my body. I’ll revisit reintroducing other foods into my diet in six months unless I’m feeling fantastic and don’t want to jinx it.
It’s been a while since I’ve done an update on what we’re up to, so I think I’ll stop there. I’m hoping to write more this year. I tend to go quiet during busy times or disturbing times. Long pauses in my posts happen, but I want to make the effort this year to put at least two posts per week out. I don’t know if I can make that happen, but I’m willing to try.
I hope everyone has an amazing New Year, filled with blessings, hope, courage, new direction, and clear vision! It’s the start of a new month, new year, and a new decade, and I’m glad I get to share it all with you. Be safe!
“The way you do anything is the way you do everything”Martha N. Beck
Getting back into the swing of farm life is more challenging this time around than when we had our organic CSA in Los Lunas, NM. Back 8 years ago, we spent the first six months rehabbing the house (it was a real shit hole!) and then started doing earthworks and planting trees. A little garden in front, fruit trees to anchor the different growing spaces and that was about it until the following year when we laid the work for our farm. I didn’t have work outside the home so I could concentrate on planning and getting seeds and trees. All our time from morning till night was spent advancing our goals. We learned about life and death on the farm. We also learned about loss. About who we could trust and who we needed to avoid, it happens with families. But no matter who we slice it, we have always done things the same way.
The saying, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything” applies so fittingly to me in my daily life. I don’t wait for things to manifest before I’m willing to make something happen. I keep moving, keep striving, keep motivated. It’s in my nature. I still wake up amazed by all the life growing up around me. Berries ripening, invasive plants I try to become friends with, small critters who live among us curious about who we are. It’s how I do life…every day.
Back when we operated Luna Hill Heritage Farm, I ran around all day trying to get everything done. Animals to feed and care for, plants to harvest, seeds to sew, weed pressure, bug pressure, making meals, homeschooling, spending time with my family, trying to maintain friendships.
Can it all be done?
Yes. But there needs to be balance. Daily. If our lives are consumed with putting out fires all day long, that is how our lives will be. One big knot of worry and chaos. I know I always bite off more than I can chew, but this year I’m learning to pace myself.
The list of things that needs to be done in this place grows by the day like a hungry monster. I need to constantly re-prioritize everything according to what’s going on, especially since this time around we are also building our coffee business. With our coffee company in its first full swing of commercial coffee orders coming in (we put our business in a time out while we got settled), weaving in chicken feedings and watering my little seedlings get shifted a bit.
Here’s a list of all the things that need to be accomplished before we can even start our market garden. My hope is to have our first fall crops in the ground by mid-July:
Horse tape needs to be finished
Brush around tape needs to be cleared
Move horses onto pasture full time
Chicken coop/compost run needs to be completed
Set up feeding and water station near the coop for chickens and ducks
Move chickens to the new coop
Turn compost piles
Install a permanent tomato bed on the west side of the compost chicken run and plant tomatoes (by mid-June)
Make new soil from compost for market garden
Finish adding old manure to market garden beds
Finish forming the market garden beds
Weed the market garden
Purchase 150- 1/2″x10′ PVC, 10- 1″x10′ PVC, and rebar to create low tunnels for market garden beds
Purchase 6ml greenhouse plastic for market garden
Purchase two bolts of tulle for market garden
Purchase 100′ hose and high-velocity sprinkler for market garden
Purchase 4-way splitter
Purchase pond liner for the duck pond
Put up new fencing around the duck run and pond
All that has to be completed by mid-July if we’re going to get crops in the ground for the fall. All the warm season fruits and veggies are in the teepee greenhouse waiting for when it will be safe enough to be planted outside. I would like to get them in the ground by mid-June the earliest. We’ve learned living in the high desert that warm season crop seedlings become desiccated by our dry winds, have to tolerate high fluctuations in temperature variations between daytime and nighttime, and can be hit with an unseasonable hard late frost. In my experience, it has always been more than one late frost. The high desert is not the easiest place to grow food, but once you learn how your area of the high desert functions, you can plan accordingly.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when planning a garden is believing that because it might have been unseasonably warm one year or for the last 10 years, that everything will be okay and you can start planting those tomatoes in mid-May. If those crops are covered at night and for freak weather events, then yes, by all means, get those babies into the soil. For me? I’m not so quick to do that. This is our first year growing things in the Gila Forest. The microclimate here is beautiful but just as unpredictable as a college kid on spring break!
Our ongoing holdup at the moment is the chickens. They’re everywhere and until they are contained fulltime in their new space, my hands are tied and I’m limited to what I can accomplish.
I’ve had a few plants sitting outside and so far the chickens haven’t bothered with them. Honeysuckle, trumpet vine, Spanish lavender, and rhubarb. It would be a different story, however, if I were to put them into the ground! The first thing those chickens would do would be to scratch and dig at the base of the plants. They can’t do that when the plants are still in pots. So I wait and work on the endless list of other things that also need my attention. Like property cleanup, cutting down dead trees and branches, painting and rehabbing the business hub, chicken proofing my coffee roasting area. That one was big! I thought I was going to go on a chicken killing spree when they got into the area where I roast coffee and crapped all over the floor. Something about the new set up made them say, “Hey! This is the PERFECT place to throw a party and crap all over the clean stainless steel table and floor! Woohooo!” Yeah, it took me an hour just to clean it all up and sanitize the work table. Then I chicken proofed it. My insane need for cleanliness when it comes to my coffee roasting area almost sent me to the loony bin. We also learned that you can’t leave the door open to the business hub because the chickens will walk right in and make themselves at home. Oh, and forget trying to work with any kind of tools. One of the chickens decided to make Dom’s tool area the perfect place to sit and learn how to build something. I think she’s was mostly entertained by Dom’s work habits. I find him highly entertaining and watch him often. Maybe the chickens got that from me?
Yeah, they need to go into the coop!
“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”
What are the things you do on a daily basis and end up being the way you do everything in life? What is the reoccurring theme? Are there things you wish could be different? I know I’m always working to improve daily habits. I’m my own worst enemy at times. But still, here I go…full steam ahead!
It has been six weeks since we moved here, and it has been six weeks of being betrayed. Betrayal is a nasty word and one that is only fitting for our situation. Our lives have been filled with joy, happiness, inspiration, and wonder. Simmi is acclimating to life in our semi-wild location. Dom has been busy with work. Sara has been working around the land and taking care of the horses.
And me? Betrayed by my own body. My autoimmune problems have gone away, but in its place comes my clumsy ways where I bang into walls, trip over small sticks, bang my head on corners of cabinets, lose my balance standing on the first step of a ladder, and cramp my hands up so bad that I can barely pick up an ax or hammer without it slipping through my fingers.
It all started when Simmi destroyed the zippers (both sets!) on her tent. The first set is on the outside of the tent, and the second set is on the screen. You see, she LOVES to make a small opening in the tent, and then dive in. There is no time to unzip the tent properly because what’s the fun in that?! No, this child wants to dive through the smallest opening possible. I kept telling her not to do that because she’ll damage the tent, but she didn’t believe me.
And then it happened. Both zippers broke. It’s not like we can take the tent down and just run it through my sewing machine to repair it. I have to sew it all by hand. The key word is hand. I had zippers from the extra tent we have, so I removed them and started sewing. It took four hours to get the first set of zippers properly attached. My hands were so cramped it was difficult to type or do any work. It took nearly a week for my hands to start working properly. Once they were somewhat recovered, I had to get the second set of zippers put on because a storm was coming.
Six more hours of sewing the outer zipper. This zipper was more of a challenge because of the thickness of the canvas. After I finished the second set, I could barely move my hands. I was betrayed by my own body. But I did it to myself. I pushed through and destroyed myself.
Six weeks of being betrayed.
My hands are finally getting back to normal. I still have problems with fine motor skills and typing is somewhat of a problem, but I can use my ax again without fear of it slipping out of my hand and cutting open my head or leg, or anyone standing in close proximity. Being accident prone is something I’ve always had to contend with, but when hands are so cramped they can’t do what they’re told, it makes my issues with banging into things and falling even worse.
It’s kind of like when you bang your toe on something and then all the sudden you keep banging it in that same area. When I fall because I tripped over a small twig or leaves (yes, I’ve tripped over a leaf last week) and my hands aren’t working properly, my fall is even worse because I can’t catch myself.
Beyond my quirky accident-prone ways, things are going great here. Here are some photos of the goings on around here…
Dom built a temporary teepee greenhouse. The poles were taken from trees the horses stripped.
We originally wanted to use our leftover plastic furniture wrap. It kept snagging and ripping so we ended up using some plastic we had laying around.
I sewed fabric straps to anchor onto the outside. Dom will need to attach them where I can’t reach. The straps keep the plastic from moving and provides a way for me to string up the outside and inside of the teepee to prevent the plastic from moving too much in the wind.
We added a door lined with chicken wire to prevent the chickens from getting in. They have been conspiring all week to get in and eat my little sprouts. We’ll be adding bricks to the front since it gets pretty muddy at the entrance.
The door was made from branches and attached with some old cabinet hinges we had. Making this little greenhouse was fun and it didn’t cost any money to make.
The seedlings have been enjoying their new home. We currently have artichokes coming up in the aquaponic system and next week they’ll be moved to the greenhouse.
I’ve had this cutie pie with the most adorable little freckles helping to move the seedlings into the greenhouse.
See what I mean? As I was stripping the bark off the poles, the chickens were plotting the great seedling heist. A few of them managed to get in there and I had to chase them out.
My girl has the best laugh.
She loves playing cards with her dad. She likes to trash talk while playing. It’s hilarious. When I hear Dom and Simmi playing, and she’ll say to Dom as she wins, “Eat it old man!”
I love him.
We started building the chicken compost run. It’s made from wood that was laying on the property, screwed together and lashed with jute. The side walls will have welded wire attached, and chicken wire will line the top. We have a nice stinky pile of compost under that tarp. On the right side is where the horses are (they’ll be moved soon to the pasture full time), when they are out of the area I’ll be putting tomatoes on that side. Tomatoes can handle compost so it will be a good set up and it will shade the compost pile and the chickens towards the end of the day. We’ll also be adding honeysuckle and trumpet vine to the chicken run to shade the girls all summer. They’ll also attract many pollinators for the garden.
At the close of Sunday evening a few weeks ago, Dom was frustrated, hot, bothered, and ready to be done. We pushed through the dehydration and cramping hands during mid-day in the hot sun because we needed to get the chicken run covered with chicken wire to protect the posts from the horses. Yet, even with a torn meniscus and working on the uneven ground all dehydrated and weather-worn, the end of the day scowl was the only thing showing his pain. I feel fortunate to have such an amazing person to walk through this life with. When he came home from work he apologized to me for the way he handled the day. I was unsure why he needed to apologize. He said, “I love that we get to work together, but I know I could have made the whole day more fun for both of us. Instead, I barreled through and made everything a chore.” What he doesn’t understand is that every moment I spend with him is heaven, and the fact that he would apologize and want to make it even better rocks my world.
We have wild grape vines setting their fruit. We’ll be cutting back most of the vines in this area and grafting different types of table grapes to them. We’ll be putting up a pergola for Farm to Table events and the new grapes will grace the pergola.
I got my hands on the last pot of Spanish lavender. I’ll be taking cuttings to make a lot of lavender that will grow down the driveway and in the potager garden and well, everywhere else. I love lavender!
Scored some rhubarb and I’ll be planting it next week.
When the Benadryl hits hard, goofy faces happen.
Sara is loading horse manure onto each of the market garden beds. Soon we’ll dig the pathways and form the beds.
Hopefully, in the next few weeks, my hands will be fully recovered. In the meantime, I’ll be busy creating new plants from cuttings, planting more seeds, continuing to work on the market garden, and working on the business hub. Now that I can type again, I can also start writing more blog posts!
Oh, and in two months we’ll be welcoming some ducklings! I’m so excited about that. We’ll be driving to Arizona to pick up Dutch Hookbill Ducklings. I haven’t decided how many we’ll purchase, yet. This month I’ll be ordering the pond liner and getting the duck area ready. It’ll take a month to get all the rocks moved into their pond.
Pictured above is a Dutch Hookbill Duck. We’ll be getting our ducklings from someone who is preserving this breed in Arizona. She’s an excellent photographer as well!
This unique and very old Dutch breed of duck is thought to have originated in the Netherlands between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the province of Noord-Holland. As the name implies, the breed is characterized by its downward curving beak, setting it apart from other duck breeds. It is believed that this trait was particularly useful to duck breeders in making it easier for hunters to distinguish Hookbills from wild ducks that inhabited the same areas as the domesticated birds. In Holland these ducks were managed in the waterways and canals of the countryside and they were expected to forage for most of their own food. Today they are still among the best foragers of domestic ducks. According to the Dutch Association of Breeders of Domesticated Waterfowl (Nederlandse Vereniging van fokkers van gedomesticeerd watervogels) the Hookbill duck and the Noord-Holland White Breasted duck (also known as the Witborst duck) had similar genealogies. Their exact origin has never been determined but it is speculated that the breeds developed from early importations of Indian Runners. This idea is supported by J. Bonenkamp in the magazine Avicultura (8/1990) where he accounts of finding pure Hookbill ducks among groups of ducks in East India.
The unique appearance of the Hookbill made them desirable as ornamental birds but early on the Hookbill was known for being excellent layers of eggs. That combined with their remarkable foraging capability made the breed widely popular on Dutch farms. In Holland, in the 18th century ducks were provided a place to nest and feed while they were brooding, then ducks and ducklings were all sent out to the surrounding wetlands to forage for their own food and received no further supplemental food. The wings of the ducklings were clipped to make them easier to catch later. By mid-August the birds were gathered and sent to market in Purmerend, where they were purchased by duck keepers who would use them for egg production. The birds kept for breeding were selected to be sturdy and disease resistant, self-sufficient, adaptable to new circumstances, and efficient layers needing less food than other breeds in order to be productive.
The Dutch Hookbill breed declined in the 20th century due to a diminished market for duck eggs and the effect of increasingly polluted waterways that served as their home. By 1980 the Hookbill was nearly extinct, but through a Dutch effort led by Hans van de Zaan, the last 15 birds were collected and used to start a conservation breeding program in the Netherlands.
Dave Holderread was among the first to import the Dutch Hookbill into the United States in 2000. He found that there were three bill types in the population: extreme curve, moderate curve, and straight. In his book Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks (2011), Holderread outlines that the most effective breeding strategy was to cross birds with moderately curved beaks to each other or an extremely curved beaked bird with a straight beaked bird as the best breeding options. He found that crosses between birds with extreme curved beaks had poor egg fertility. There are still very few primary breeding flocks of Dutch Hookbills in the United States.
Dutch Hookbill ducks have excellent flight capability, especially younger individuals. The birds reach sexual maturity very quickly by around 16 weeks of age. Healthy ducks can be expected to lay anywhere from 100 – 225+ eggs per year. They come in three primary color variations: dusky, white, and white-bibbed dusky. Other colors exist but not in great numbers here in the US. The Hookbill is a remarkable breed that deserves a second look as a viable and efficient egg producer for small scale farming.
There have been a lot of questions about our decision to live in tents, and I thought I would take some time to answer them. Some answers are easy, others are a little more involved and deserve a more detailed explanation.
Before I start, I thought I would share a video from one of our TV shows, Parks and Recreation. This episode scene was about camping. Not as a lifestyle choice like we’ve decided, but I think it gives a funny representation of what different people think of when they get a chance to go camping:
Camping conjures many images to the mind. Some are fascinated by our decision to live in tents, while others say, “Yeah, but why?” As they smirk unsupportively.
I’ve compiled a list of questions that were asked of us over the last six months from family and friends.
1. What’s the point in living in a tent? Did I miss something?
This question is the most obvious but deserves the most attention. There are a few reasons we chose to live this way. Our number one reason…it’s the most economical. It seems like that should be the first thing that people think of when they ask the question, but for whatever reason, it’s not the solution they would come up with. Economically it makes financial sense to not be tied to a massive mortgage! We didn’t want to make a commitment to a bank to spend 30+ years of our lives paying for an overpriced house and land AND that doesn’t even include the interest we would be paying. No. That wasn’t for us. We made the decision to live in a remote rural area where it takes an hour or more to get to a supermarket. There is no major industry in our local area, and to try and get a mortgage requires one of us to have steady 40 hour per week work that is consistent day after day and year after year.
That wasn’t for us. We already went the route of owning a house and land with a big mortgage and it required Dom to work two jobs. His commute time was 40 minutes each way, and when he was done with his main job, he went right to his second job. On the weekends, if he wasn’t on the schedule to be at work, he was digging ditches, doing earthworks, digging garden beds, and laying our farm infrastructure. This is NOT sustainable. He was burning out and exhausted. We live on one income. Our daughter is disabled and very early in her life we made the decision that I would be the primary caretaker during the day. I know that sounds strange since most families with disabled children still work multiple jobs, but due to her food allergies and her neurological disorder, she was most safe at home with us.
Living on land we own in tents while we build our farm infrastructure AND emerging coffee company makes good financial sense. It is a sacrifice of sorts, but not much. We still have a building on the property that contains electricity, running water, and a bathroom, but even if we didn’t have that we were planning on building one from scratch. Having access to the current structure affords us the ability to jump in quickly and be fluid with our coffee company. That was important to us. If we didn’t have the building to work from, we just would have made it happen from a tent. Not a big deal at all.
The second reason for living in a tent is that is completely free of all electricity, the tent can breathe, and it is by far the healthiest environment that we’ve ever slept in. Conventional housing contains some pretty nasty environmental toxins. If there was a leaky roof or water damage and the owner did not address the issue, I suffer. Most (almost ALL) landlords are quick to claim that they have never had a water damaged building. Oh no, they would say, our building is clean! Until I start losing my hair, my breathing becomes labored, and I have an autoimmune flareup. Mold always triggers an autoimmune flare up. Hair dye also triggers an autoimmune flareup, but I haven’t dyed my hair in years. I know my triggers.
Our tents are not moldy, they breathe and provide the best living experience for us to date.
2. Aren’t you cold at night?
It’s chilly right now. We all have different thoughts about what we can handle when it comes to the cold. Living in a regular home with heat, we became accustomed to having the heat set at night to about 70 degrees. However, when we lived in our little place in Reserve, Dom and I didn’t have the heat on at night. We did have a little electric heater for Simmi in her room, but that was set low. Usually, the nightly temperature in our house was about 30 degrees in the winter after the fire died down in the wood stove. We did have propane heaters as well, but we didn’t use them because the odor from the propane bothered us. That sort of prepared us for the cold nights. Until we moved into our tents, that is…
The first night we slept in our tent, the temperature got down to 22 degrees. We were snuggled under the covers (we have a heavy down comforter) and Simmi sleeps under six blankets all year long. Yes, even in the summer. It’s weird, I know. Anyway, while 22 degrees is pretty cold, we were very warm, and sleeping in the crisp cutting cold air was actually refreshing. I never would have thought that especially since most of my life my body temperature has always been low. I freeze even in the summer. I can wear a sweater all year and still be chilly.
The thing that happens when you live outside most of the day, is that you become acclimated to the cold. We as a society are used to being in 70-72 degrees year round. During the winter thermostats are set to 65-70 and during the summer, air conditioning is set to 70-75 degrees. That’s a lot of money wasted via electricity or gas to keep you warm or cool.
We have wood stoves for our tents but we haven’t set them up. It’s spring and it won’t drop below 20 degrees. We can handle that. This year in the fall, we will set up our wood stoves but we don’t intend to feed the fire through the night. It’s not necessary.
The biggest takeaway living in tents during the cold seasons is to make sure you’re properly dressed and that you have warm bedding. That’s about it. If you’re comfortable (not shivering) there’s no need to worry about the cold. I worried a bit about Simmi being able to handle the cold, but she’s proven herself to be far more robust than I gave her credit for. We were prepared to set up a special propane heater (doesn’t give off the propane smell) in her tent at night if she got upset about the cold…but she didn’t. She falls right to sleep in the crisp air and wakes up refreshed and ready for the day. No complaints. Wanna know when the complaints start? When we’re in the business hub starting a fire in the wood stove in the morning. We fire it up while we’re making breakfast, and she sits there like she’s freezing to death while the stove is generating heat. Why does she do that? Well, that’s exactly what she did when we lived in the little adobe in Reserve. Every morning she would sit in front of the wood stove complaining about how cold she was. This was why I worried about her not having heat in the tent in the first place. It turns out, it’s just a habit of hers. She likes to complain about being cold while she’s getting warm. Go figure!
3. Don’t you miss modern technology?
We have all the creature comforts of electricity, internet, phone, heat, bathroom facilities, and running water. We lack for nothing. We live in two worlds currently. Our business hub which is being rehabbed contains all the creature comforts we have been accustomed to. We aren’t interested in living without those amenities, we just want them to be separate from our living space, aka, our camp.
I LOVE technology. Never forget that for a moment. If I could still have an active cell phone in my possession, I would! I am a technology whore. I would do anything for it. It also lead to me becoming electro-hypersensitive (EHS). No more blue tooth devices, streaming wirelessly, cell phones, or wifi. I used to LOVE wifi! No wires or cords anywhere. That was my favorite. But do you want to know what I love more than wireless capability? The fact that our daughter’s learning disabilities are dissolving. Since being in this place without any wifi signals and no cell coverage, Simmi is now reading and comprehending. She used to HATE to try and read, and now she can’t wait to read us a story. That is a huge win, and it wasn’t a coincidence.
4. How do you light your tent up without electricity?
This was a big question. I guess when we’re all used to having technology we never think of alternatives. We currently use taper candles which give off the greatest light and when you combine it with the beauty of the off-white canvas tents, the glow of the candles becomes magical in the tent and from the outside. I love how our tents seem to glow at night. We’ve found that two taper candles light our tent well, three taper candles make it quite bright. We do also have oil lamps, but Simmi and I can’t handle the odor they give off, especially in a confined space. If we’re outside at night, oil lamps work great, but while in our tents or if we’re in the hub after dark, we use candles. Yes, even in the hub we use alternative light source at night if we’re not at camp.
However, one thing that has changed in our habits is that we try to head down to camp at sunset or before. There have been times during these two weeks that we were in the hub after dark, but we’ve made a point to change.
We know all too well what happens with farm life. Before you know it, it takes over. There are so many projects, too many things on the list that still need to be done, that our personal lives start to disappear. It happened to us when we previously had a CSA. We would be up till all hours of the night trying to get personal things done because all our time during the day until night was spent on outdoor projects.
I’m more interested in balance these days.
The funny thing about candles is that nowadays candles are used for “romance.” No one thinks of using them instead of light bulbs. But that’s why we’re called Firelight Farm. We do have a flashlight, but we need to get a red filter on it. Artificial light after dark is really bad for our circadian rhythm. Artificial light at night turns off the body’s ability to use melatonin which helps us go to sleep at night. Also, melatonin is very important in the regulation of female hormones. I wouldn’t be surprised if women who have problems regulating their hormones or go into early menopause do so because of the habitual use of technology and artificial lights after dark. If you’re up all night and can’t sleep, shut off all your devices (unplug and power them down), turn off all lights and use candles instead. Shut down the electric where you sleep and above all shut off the wifi! It raises blood pressure, blood sugar, cortisol levels, and causes all kinds of physical problems.
We are only awake for a little while after we get to camp. So far we have used a total of 4 taper candles in two weeks.
5. You’ve mentioned that you were going to have an outdoor kitchen and full bathroom, but I haven’t seen that yet and I’m so curious? Please post pics!
We are planning on building two outdoor kitchens. The first one is our personal camp kitchen not open to the public. The second is our farm to table outdoor kitchen for events we are planning. We are hoping to start our personal camp kitchen by mid-May after we finish rehabbing the business hub. We currently have composting toilets down at camp, but when we build our full freestanding bathroom at camp, it will be complete with flush toilet. We don’t have a date for when the bathroom will be started.
6. Will you plan on living in tents for the rest of your life?
That would be a resounding no, although, we are well on our way to becoming feral. Our plan is to continue building our coffee business, our farm infrastructure, then build a coffee roastery and commercial kitchen. After that, we will turn our attention to building our house and Sara’s house. Our intent is to build all our structures from the materials on our land or obtained locally and/or repurposed.
7. Are you afraid of wild animals and bugs?
Yes and no. Wild animals are here in the Gila Wilderness. We live in an area that has snakes, bears, mountain lions, skunks, wolves, coyotes, eagles, hawks, scorpions, poisonous spiders, fire ants, and more. Our plans are to build a perimeter around our tents to guard against any dangerous animals, but it has been a low priority. If we start to hear coyotes, foxes, and wolves at night, we’ll step up our game and add fencing.
One of the more pleasant things about camping in fall, winter, and early spring is the lack of bugs…other than flies. When there are farm animals there always seems to be flies. We’re in growing zone 7B which means the winter months don’t get too cold and during the day it warms up nicely here. No need for more than a light jacket during the day in winter. This will be our first summer here, so I’m not sure what kinds of bugs will be active and desperately trying to get into our tents. Haha, We will us diatomaceous earth in the nooks and crannies of our tents as well outside around the base of the tent, but other than that, we don’t use bug spray or other types of chemicals.
Those are the majority of the reoccurring questions we get about our current lifestyle. And make no mistake, this is a lifestyle choice.
Many who have been camping might wonder how we could ever do this. We have our very comfortable beds and bed frames, area rug, and our special chairs, and clothes in our tent. All the comforts we would have had in our past bedroom are in our tent. Simmi has her very comfy mattress, dresser, all her favorite blankets, clothes. What more does one keep in their bedroom? How much room do you need? We spend 7-9 hours per night in our bedrooms. That is a long time each day. That is the same every day of the year, and it’s the same in a tent. I don’t think I would be happy sleeping in a sleeping bag on the hard floor or even on a cot. I wouldn’t be happy waking up and putting my feet down on shifty tarp that’s hard to clean or keep clean. I know that I wouldn’t be happy in a thin vinyl tent that feels like a hobo motel!
That is not my idea of camping full time for the next few years. We live very well here. Anyone that will come to stay with us for the week (family or friends) will stay in a tent like ours, with a comfortable bed, warm blankets, and clean sheets. They won’t be sleeping in a vinyl tent and sleeping bag on the ground. If they visit in the winter, they’ll have heat from a wood stove that they will have the option of using through the night.
Any other questions? Leave a comment, I would be happy to answer them…if I have the answer.
Thank you for visiting my blog. I've entered my 50's, and as I delve into the next exciting chapter of my life, I’m so pleased to be able to share it with all of you. I am a lifelong artist, writer, vocalist, crazy organic farmer, and own and operate Buffalo Mountain Coffee Roasting Company.