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a soggy spring

it’s still spring — that is *highly* unusual behavior for mid-May in these parts. ordinarily, it’d be in the high 80s every day by now, and i’d have pulled out the insulation from the yurt window and propped it permanently open. instead, it’s barely clearing 70 most days, my window is still winter-shut, and i’m being careful to keep a supply of dry firewood inside, because it’s cold enough to need a fire a couple nights a week still.

it’s also raining regularly. *highly* unusual spring behavior. some of the storms are summer monsoon thunderstorms, with crash-bang dramatic downpours and sideways hail. some are slow overnight soakers. in the last four weeks, we’ve had both of those and everything in between.

what with it all, we’ve had some dramatic skies and an awful lot of green stuff growing. some of which is even the stuff we planted. i don’t know that i’ve *ever* seen the weeds quite this epic.

chard & beet greens
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peas & dill on a dewey morning
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blooming baby bok choy
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volunteer corn in the bok choy
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by the way, if you’re local and you’d like some bok choy, we’re selling it for $3/bundle. let me know! it’s every bit as delicious as this picture.
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pretty weeds in the squash bed (sunflower, lambsquarter & amaranth)
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we also re-tilled our field at the end of March. Chris from Ironwood Farm came down with his tractor to help re-level it, since it’s been a few years. we spread about thirty pounds of clover and winter wheat seed on it, and lo! this is our field! seriously.
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also i got some new lenses that snap onto my new camera. a fisheye lens that converts to 15x macro, and a wide angle lens that converts to 10x macro. so now i can do things like this. blue flax in the back, both of these.
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(you guys, this is our FIELD. this is also NEW MEXICO. i’m blown away every time i walk out there.)
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grapes
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did i mention my new camera? it’s a phone, technically, but really it’s a camera. i’m in love.
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flax in the pollinator beds
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clear boundaries:
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we’re also doing a really awesome job of keeping our back fields irrigated this year. that combines with the rain to give us this:
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(more back field photos on our flickr!)

this is the path. what?
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and some horsetail reed, which is thick this year, what with the water.
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so are the tumbleweeds, but i failed to dignify them with a photograph, electing instead to pull them out by the dozens until my hands itched.

one very tiny cota
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and the view from the farthest wayback.
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here is Tybalt enjoying the lambsquarter bed. what do you mean, we didn’t plant lambsquarter?
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we’re also working on the wall again! i know, we totally finished that last year. but this is Wall v. 3.0! Mahazda wall! it’s an extension of the earthbag wall between us and the highway, along the south property. it’s already going smoother & faster than the last one, what with everything we learned last time. and it’s going to be so satisfying to have a solid boundary between us and the street, across the full width of the property.
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oh, and i don’t think any bimonthly blog post would be complete without this guy. follow me @yarrowkat on instgram for #dailypeacock pics! (they’re not really daily. more like a couple times a week. but “dailypeacock” sounds catchier than “periodicpeacock” or “intermittentpeacock.” i think.)
Elliott in the morning. #dailypeacock

spring sprang sprung

it’s been an eventful spring so far. the second hexayurt collapsed a week before the Equinox festival — a combination of weather, wear, and too long between maintenance days. so we spent a work party taking that apart and getting the site cleared up, what with having several dozen people over for Ostara the next weekend.

meanwhile, Jenny & Tristan have gotten all the irrigation up and running and the spring crops planted. we’re earlier than last year, but so is Spring — it’s been in the 60s-70s consistently for weeks now, and while i’m sure it will freeze again, i’m equally sure it’s time to plant the spring crops, and then some. and the summer starts are up and sprouting in the seed greenhouse, thinking about putting out their second sets of leaves. just like that!

Seedhouse Greenlings
Photo by Tristan

Alan, Rev and I spent a day getting the aquaponics system up and running for the spring, and recalibrated so that instead of the water washing the seed away, the water level is just under the gravel level in the grow beds, so hopefully the seeds will sprout and we will have greens from the AP system this year. i planted spinach, kale, lettuce, and a bunch of pollinator-friendly flowering herbs, which i hope to start in the AP system and then move out into various other gardens around the property, while re-seeding the greens as we eat them.

Fish for thought.
Photo by Tristan

lettuce by the water. #nofilter

forsythia and nectarine are in bloom, as are daffodils (almost done, really), hyacinths, and plum. the apricots have already bloomed and gotten frost bit, of course.

springtime. #nofilter
nectarines

nectarine.

and this post would not be complete without this perfect photo. the peacock was thinking about whether or not he ought to be bothered by the cat. the cat was utterly unbothered by the peacock, and sauntered past him, to dive up into this tree — and discover that the tree is not really large enough to support a large cat. thus, the scene:
note the cat. this might be the best picture I've ever taken.

i love it that Elliott is just watching Tybalt, as if to say, “kitty, you’re doing it wrong. you forgot how to cat.”

and another shot of Elliott, loveliest of all poultry.
Elliott.

more moving!

Thanks to a generous gift from Britta, we made there to be a fireplace in the great room! it looks as if it were original to the house, but it was built (in the course of a week) from scratch.

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here’s the room set up for the Solstice. my apologies for the blur!
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and the Mahazda kitchen is finished! everything but a microwave. check this out:
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being fully shifted into Mahazda has meant we can begin shifting things around in the Cottage. here’s the ongoing library project:
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with reading nook:
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building a real live library is phenomenally satisfying. every time i walk into the house i start playing in that delicious pile of books.

light is returning

i am woefully behind on posting here. we finished the kiva fireplace! it’s pretty dang awesome! Also, the kitchen cabinetry and the oven arrived, and we got the gas hooked up, so the kitchen is finally complete.

Also, it snowed.

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Note Jenny and Gawain on the south side of the garden, following dog & kitty tracks in the snow.
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and i don’t think i can have a snow post without a “cute results of snowy weather” corrolary:
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a poem for the harvest

the long quiet of winter
kat heatherington

bird after bird after bird
passes through my hands.
all the long day in the cool autumn sun,
laughing, teaching, sharing
the work of killing,
the work of bringing food
from the living.
the bucket black with old blood,
filling red with new.
feathers by the handful.
leaves falling all day in long cascades
themselves dry feathers from a cloudless sky.
in the morning, crows, and then cranes.
in the evening, cranes, and then quiet.
entrails red on the ground,
left carefully out for coyotes.
in my heart, an uneasy silence.
the good work i’ve been given, in fullness.
and the hollow of the missing, the lost, the dead.
all the birds dispatched to their tables,
the long quiet of winter descends.

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sweat lodge!

This weekend, we built a sweat lodge, for use in the winter solstice ceremony (and potentially other ceremonies, of course).

we began by clearing a level site just west of the fire circle.
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some friends came down to help, and our three current wwoof interns all jumped into the work with enthusiasm.
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the cleared site:
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then we selected fifteen strong young elm trees, as slender and long as we could find, and stripped them down to become the poles for the frame. normally, this would be done with willow, but we are working from a principle of site-specificity. our property includes many thousands of elm trees that require some management, and no willow at all. so we used elm. it worked out very well.
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we measured the center of the lodge, tehn dug the hole where the hot rocks will go.
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then we laid out the poles to determine where to dig the holes to plant them into the earth.
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we dug the post holes about a foot deep, to give the structure strength and stability.
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then set the poles in place
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planted them firmly in the earth, with much careful tamping
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and bent them into shape.
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the poles are not interlaced, because they are elm, which is less flexible than willow. instead, they are laid over each other in courses.
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we fastened the bent poles to each other with wire. we used wire again because it was what was already available on hand, and also because elm is very strong, and somewhat resistant to being bent, and we wanted a fastener that would hold it firmly in place without supervision while it dries into its new shape.
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when all the long poles were in, we added the lateral support along the outside of the circle.
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and finished with a couple extra supports to hold the blankets above the door.
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we also began to add a berm around the low side, to protect the lodge from flood irrigation next spring.
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the final lodge:
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the frame is sturdy enough that i could do a pullover directly onto the top of it, and it barely moved.
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isn’t it lovely?
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the full set of photos is here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunflowerriver/sets/72157646902028803/

another change, in a season of change

i suppose i haven’t done a fall photo post yet. a lot of fall photographs are up on our flickr page, if you’d like to see some pretty leaves and grapevines.

i’m behind on taking pictures of Mahazda, for a couple reasons. one is that we’re both half moved in, and also waiting for the keva fireplace in the livingroom to be finished. i’ve got process pics of that, but want to be able to show the whole thing — it’ll be another week.

and by “we’re half moved in,” I mean that Jenny and Gawain are moved into the new house, but we’re still working on the kitchen, the office, and the common areas, so the space isn’t quite functioning as a community gathering space in the way we want it to. It will when the kitchen is fully moved over, but that’ll be a couple weeks while we finish installing cabinetry and appliances. And finish that fireplace in the livingroom, too. Alan and I are remaining in our yurts, Tristan in the Cottage, and Rev and Billy at Caer Aisling. While all of these are community spaces in different ways, Mahazda will be the common gathering place, for meetings, parties, events, etc. The Cottage front room will become a library later this winter (not that it’s very far from being one right now).

the other reason i’m behind on photography is that this is a season of change, in more ways than the house. Alan has been thinking for a year and more that he might need to move to the San Francisco Bay area for career reasons, and the time for this has finally come. So a couple of weeks ago, we packed up a rental car and drove out to Mountain View together, where we got Alan settled into a room at Tortuga Intentional Community. And a week later, he’s starting a job at Electric Cloud. Pow, just like that.

Alan is not leaving me, nor is he leaving Sunflower River; he’s very much still my partner, and a Steward of this community. He’s just a long-distance partner, and an off-site Steward, for as long as he needs to be in the Bay. This job is a very good career opportunity for him, and moves many objectives forward. So all in all, while it’s a really huge change for all of us, it’s one that we support his making, and will weather together.

And meanwhile, I’ll be flying back and forth to San Francisco more often. That just doesn’t suck. ;-)

Harvest Festival!

This coming Monday, September 1st, is the Sunflower River 6th Annual Harvest Festival.

that means it marks our Seven-Year anniversary as a community!

come on down to the farm and enjoy the sunshine and excellent company, from 1-6pm. we’ll have bobbing for apples, a game of horseshoes, a potluck (please label your ingredients and be aware of food sensitivities! many people are sensitive to wheat, nuts, meat, and other ingredients!), and as always, the ever-popular pie contest! bake your best pie recipe — or try a new one — or bake a pie for the first time ever — and bring it down to enter in the contest! our friend Sandy Bryan will judge the pies at 2pm.

later in the afternoon, we’ll have an open music jam; bring your instruments!

hope to see you there!

The Stewards of Sunflower River

(if you need directions, please email yarrow at sunflowerriver dot org!)

Hexayurts and Intern Support Infrastructure

Last year, we decided to construct two hexayurts for intern housing on our back acreage. Prior to this, all our summer interns have camped in the area we call the green belt, about halfway back on the property. Many of them enjoy the long campout, but it leaves them exposed to weather events such as spring windstorms and monsoons, and over time, the impact of having tents resting on various parts of the land has been somewhat detrimental to new growth in those areas. Hexayurts allow for quick, portable, weatherproof housing. They’re inexpensive, and considered a sustainable portable housing method, which emerged out of Burning Man culture and have been recently widely adopted. This project has also allowed some of our longer-term summer interns to learn the skills involved in building hexayurts.

on the first build day, Alan, Rev and Randy took the project from raw material to 6 “kites,” which compromise the roof.

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Parallel to converting rigid insulation and tape in to ‎hexayurt panels is site-prep. A ring of cottage stone will keep the yurt wall off the ground, while also elevating the structure enough to prevent irrigation water from getting in. The sand allows the cottage stone to be leveled (we’re ‘nominally’ leveling the stone, rather than having it it level across the span.) Cottage stone was chosen because it is easy to work with and extraordinarily easy to recycle. Off to the right you can see a garden our intern Justin created last year out of cottage stone leftover from building the pond.

cottage stone:
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The tent in the background of the first photo has become an exceedingly popular way to WWOOF. Alan sleeps in exactly the same product in his yurt, and made sure his own deck had uprights that could be usee to support a hammock. The 4×4’s you see here are for the same purpose: we’ll put them in the ground inside the footprint of the hexayurt so a guest can sleep in a hammock.

Alan asked Randy Ziegler to Sunflower River this year specifically to work on this project. The ‘Egyptian’ style survey markers are, to my knowledge, best practice for sites of this scale. This is entirely his work.

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It has only been the past couple years that we’ve reliably attracted people with the capacity to do this kind of site-prep, and was one of many motivators for Alan taking a Permaculture Design Course in 2012: to keep up with the extremely talented crews which we’re delighted to host.

cutting pieces for the roof.
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once the pieces are cut, the edges are taped with a durable woven tape to prevent deterioration of the edge. This tape is very strong, but not particularly sun-proof, a requirement in the high desert, where we get 360 days of sunshine a year — more, in recent years, with the unreliability of our summer monsoons. We added a layer of aluminum tape over the woven tape to protect its surface from local weather conditions.

the taped roof panels:
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Sunflower River’s smallest site overseer.
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over the course of the last year, it has become clear that the silver insulation panels of Hex One are visible from space from at least a quarter-mile away. they don’t integrate visually with either the farm or the neighborhood. so i decided to paint the next one before we got it set up. at some point, we’ll paint the second one as well, when we can figure out how to get at the roof without taking the whole thing down. meanwhile, after some materials tests to see what would withstand the weather, we decided to go with exterior spraypaint, and i spent some afternoons painting trees and sky on the panels for Hex Two. the sky came out a lot brighter than the trees — i rather regret getting talked into turning it into an art opportunity at all, and instead wish i’d gone with my original idea of just painting the whole thing camo green. which is probably what i will do with Hex One. meanwhile, at least it blends into the environment considerably better.
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inside Hex One, various interns who have stayed there over the last year have built or found an assortment of furniture to make the space more homelike, including a pallet bed platform, a set of wire shelves, and a bench. last fall, Marisa even built a cute funky clothes rack from sticks pulled from the stickpile.
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