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.


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:

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.



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.

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:

Sunflower River’s smallest site overseer.

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.


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.

we got a peacock!

he’s chilling with the turkeys until he settles in, at which point we’ll free-range him. now we’re looking for one or two peahens to hang out with him, to see if we can breed them.

isn’t he pretty?



he was free, because his previous owner has a small flock of free-range peacocks. his neighbor has a big plate glass window, and this peacock spent a lot of time standing in front of her window, showing off. the neighbor was so disconcerted by this, feeling that the bird was watching her, that she complained to the county. so the owner was keeping him in a small pen, and looking for a new home for him.

we’re getting him a mirror. so he can see himself whenever he likes.


So, between my general delinquency at posting here this year, and the server crash a few weeks ago, it looks like i seriously owe you all an update on the house remodel project.

so we bought that place?

and we gutted it?

and early this year, we hired general contractor Bryan Jabaay to come do the remodel for us. He, in turn, has pulled in assistance from a number of directions, most notably Cadmon Whittey at Paja Construction, who did the strawbale wrap.

we’ve got a lot of great things going on with the place. and we’re getting pretty close to being done with it.

This includes:

radiant heating/cooling system (i somehow did not get a shot of the sub-floor piping. so here’s the manifold.)

awesome strawbale wrap around the exterior (strawbale has an insulative value of about R-45-50, compared to the average house’s R-19 walls. this place is *cozy.*)


wood flooring over the slab

niches in the old adobe great-room

gorgeous big windowsills brought to you by strawbale walls

new roofing (i apparently did not get a photograph while i was up there; it looks just like a new vinyl roof. you’ll have to imagine it.)

and Jenny and I are working on a penny-tile floor in the small bathroom. she said, this is what comes of choosing your home improvement projects off of Pinterest. isn’t it pretty? i’ll probably do a real post on that project as soon as i can get around to it. but here’s a teaser:

this has been taking huge rafts of our time and energy all year. we’re getting very excited to see it complete! we’ll probably be moving in over September/October.

server crash. we appreciate your patience.

so, we had a big whooptidoo with the server the last couple weeks, as you’ve noticed if you’ve tried to access our website at all. we’re very sorry about that! it’s newly remade and doing much better now, and running from a backup copy of the site… so if you notice something that’s off, do please bring it to my attention, so i can try to fix it.

we lost four blog posts — the one i just restored, and three others, regarding the path project: changing the way we walk the land, finishing the earthbag wall, and roadrunner habitat. all our photos are stored on flickr, so they are all still there, intact and findable in albums and through the photostream. i’m not going to re-create those posts. i’ll just recap the data in new posts as time goes on.

i’m glad i’ve been slow with the posting this year. just as well.

on which note, i’ll try to get some new content up here soon. meanwhile, the latest gratuitous kitty pic:


from snow to spring (recovering lost data from March 3rd, 2014)

february started with small snow, and closed with small rain. we’re grateful for the moisure, however little it is against the specter of deepening drought.



apricots are in full bloom, and both trees hum with bees all day. if it doesn’t freeze, the fruit will set and we’ll have a harvest this year, but the odds are stacked against us; for all the unseasonable warmth of the last few weeks, it would be pretty surprising (and unnerving) for there to be no further freeze between now and april. they say you get a good fruit harvest one year in five in the high desert, and so far, our experience bears this out.

that said, they sure are pretty. there’s a great deal of spring springing up everywhere.

yarrow in the herb bed

walking onions

a lively regrowth of water celery in the aquaponics bed

and i think this is year three or four on the perennial chard in the main garden.

bulbs are opening up as well.



as always, these are last week’s; i saw hyacinths coming up this morning, but it will probably take me another week to get their photo onto the internet.

and of course, here’s your gratuitous kitty picture:

a small snow


I am remiss in posting updates here. Winter is escaping us. It’s mostly been warm and dry, not entirely atypical (“it’s a desert,” right?) but much drier than the norm. Dangerously so, in terms of the absence of mountain snowpack that creates next summer’s river flows.

So we are celebrating last night’s small snow. It’s dry and slight, but it’s something, and anything is better than nothing. Migratory birds were wheeling excitedly all around this morning, clearly pleased with the overcast weather.

Many things on the farm have been moving steadily forward over the winter, one step at a time. the contractor is working on Mahazda now, getting permits and organizing the plumbing and electric and such. we’re starting to make very concrete decisions about various bits of the house, which is exciting. it is about to become quite tangible.

Our winter intern, Barbara, built a fabulous new door for the chicken coop — a daily quality-of-life improvement for anybody doing animal chores here.

Jenny has been working hard on paths, fences, and the small ritual ground. Soon the front acre will be fenced in, for full containment of dog and child, and the path to the greenbelt will run up the north side of the Mahazda field and along the south fence. Already there is a bridge, a thicket cleared, much deadwood removed, and new gates going in, in all the right places.

Seeds are ordered for this season’s garden, and we’re a month away from the arrival of most of our baby birds. in fact, the plan for this weekend includes tilling the garden, if things aren’t too wet. it doesn’t feel that close, yet, somehow, with the grey sky lowering over the day, and snow on the ground.

and ice monsters in the aquaponics tank. (under ordinary circumstances, these are plants.)

the aquaponics tank siphon, having a weather experience.

three wheelbarrows:

barnyard in snow:

poultry enjoying the novel weather:

in the field:

volunteer broomcorn. i suspect this is growing here because we used broomcorn seed more or less symbolically in an Ostara ritual one year, and since then we’ve had some volunteer patches of it.

a wider shot of the field:

the view across the neighbor’s field:

snow in the playground:

and Kat’s yurt:

and making mandalas on tables.

as always, there are more photos on the Farm Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunflowerriver

turkeys in the snow

every year, we process around forty turkeys for the thanksgiving market (including a few for our own table). these are the cage-free heritage-breed birds that we raise up from hatchlings starting in March. they are beautiful creatures, and get up to around 18 pounds. because they’re raised outside, and they’re heritage birds, and also because we sell them fresh, not frozen, they are juicy and delicious. we all really enjoy eating them.

saturday & sunday we got up early in cold grey weather to process turkeys. both days the energy was high and we got our day’s work done. saturday we got shut down early by freezing wind, which made it impossible to keep the scalder up to temperature. first time we’ve ever had that problem. so we knocked off before noon, and made up the difference the next day. both days we had good volunteer turn-out, though sunday’s was impacted by the snows. several of the people who didn’t want to drive down on icy roads in the morning, did so in the afternoon to pick up their bird, and the rest made arrangements with us to get their birds. i took wednesday off work, and spent most of it selling turkeys. and a lot of people did come down over the weekend, and the day’s energy was fun. I had great conversations with people all day, and heard other fun conversations going on all around me.

sunday while we were working, we got about a half-inch of snow. no rain. because it was snow, the air was very still, and it was actually pretty nice to work in, if muddier than we are used to. we did 18 birds on saturday and 24 birds on sunday, and now the barnyard is quiet for the winter. nobody left but the laying hens and the dog. on sunday we finished with turkeys around noon, including clean-up, since we had an abundance of volunteers to put to the final tasks.

a few photos from the day:

family education and involvement


scalding (you can see our super-professional set up, here — it’s a water trough propped on saw horses over a camp stove, with a tinfoil windscreen. that stick i’m using to push the bird into the water? that stick is THE tool; we’ve used that same one for six years now. it’s got a fork that’s exactly the right angle and size to dunk a bird.


the scalded bird goes into the plucker, without its feet, which jam the plucker.


our whiz-bang poultry plucker in action (thanks to Chad Person for the photograph!)


Thistle really enjoys a good turkey foot. she enjoys all of them, actually, though we usually save them up to dole out as treats over a month or more.


the enthusiastic butcher crew. this is Hannah, enjoying the morning’s work.


most people work the butcher table.


we didn’t need to use ice to keep the birds cool this year. the daytime temp never exceeded that of the interior of a refrigerator.


Alan and Dave wrap some hearts.


i promised i’d publish this. Dave, photobombing the butcher crew with a head. you’re welcome.


sunday’s snowfall (the blood from the butchering goes into the garden, to enrich our iron-poor soil).


working in the snow


in the late morning, the sky cleared, and the work moved fast. Chery and I had a lovely conversation over our work.


and here is the lovely little snowfall:

broomcorn in the field


the garden


the north drive (look at that beautiful wall in the snow)


the front drive




sunflowers, resting after their successful mission of total farm domination this summer



snow dog:


spotted towhee


the rest of the photos are on our flickr page, here:

turkey day: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunflowerriver/sets/72157638065392304/
snow: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunflowerriver/sets/72157638064681325/

and we also received this wonderful approbation from Tristan’s mother Britta, after the holiday:

“I will now take this opportunity to tell you how impressed I am that you and your volunteers spent those cold, snowy and windy days slaughtering turkeys so the feast of thanksgiving could be held. The next time one of my geezer friends moans and groans about how irresponsible and lazy young people are today I will whip out my tale of the turkey slaughter held outdoors during a winter storm. I thank you for adding to my store of stories.

“As a final note, I want to share with you what happened on the way home. Someone made a joke about eating in a sardine can. I piped up that next year we should be about to gather in the great room at Mahazda where there will be room to seat 40. Deb observed that when that happens you will invite 50. That perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Sunflower River Farm and the stewards who have created that haven in the South Valley.”

absolutely. we’ve never been accused of an insufficiency of ambition, not even when it comes to hosting a good party.

on that cheerful note: we paid off the mortgage on Sunflower River last month! and closed on the construction loan for Mahazda this week. rolling right on through. we can start construction on the remodel in the next couple weeks!

Autumn on the Farm

down falls the autumn. today is leaf-fall: i woke to a rain of cottonwood and mulberries leaves, steadily streaming down from a clear blue, and very cold, heaven.

as usual, i’m running a bit behind on photo updates. we’ve put the garden to bed for the winter, and processed the last batch of meat chickens until next summer. turkeys are coming up in just a couple weeks– we still have birds available for reservation for thanksgiving, so if you are interested, please drop me an email!

meanwhile, here’s some autumn on the farm.

virginia creeper on the north fence, in the wayback

curved cottonwood branch, as the year wanes



turkeybirds in the barnyard. these are our mama turkeys from last year, who raised up a batch of 7 wholly free-range poults.

i don’t know what these are, but they’re lovely. i only see them in the autumn in the garden.

the AP system fish tanks by the pond

roses overarching the garden path

and hiding beneath it.

the garden falling into fall. the corn did not come in very well this year, and stayed short in comparison to other years here. we’re tilling again this winter, and re-doing our irrigation system between now and next march, to change this for next year.


grapes on the Gate of Possibility.

there’s a full month out of every year when the simple sight of this tree can knock me over with a breath.
from september:

to october:

bam. the Grandfather Cottonwood, a 200-year old Rio Grande Cottonwood near the acequia, is the first to turn gold and the last to turn green, every year.

beneath that canopy, a sweet rain of massed gold.



this might be what it’s all about, really.




i spend a little time on the roof of my yurt, most years, doing seasonal repairs. i skipped it last year, since it hadn’t been raining, and this year’s summer rains took me off guard and came down in long streamers onto my stove. so i got myself back up there to mend the tape and pull mulch out of the seams again this year.

here’s the view:

Alan’s yurt

tiger on the wall

the woodpile

and there’s nothing quite as sexy as a well-stocked woodpile. this year’s firewood is courtesy of the spring’s demolition work in the remodel project, as it generated a lot of non-reuseable scrap.



the view over the ditch

Kat: garden update, fall 2013

it looks like i didn’t manage a single photo-post about the garden this summer. i knew i was behind, but i thought maybe there’d been at least one. but this has been how the whole summer went: i was out a lot, travelling, focused on other things. summer was hot hot hot until the end of July when suddenly we got all 8″ of our average annual rainfall in just a few weeks. pow. not really a monsoon, more of a waterfall. fortunately, our land is flat, so it acts mostly as a water battery; we do not have the kind of run-off problems that are endemic during these storms.

what with it all, most of the garden just did not do that well this year. our spring greens experiment in selling excess lettuces was a success, but after that, most of it just sort of went to sunflowers. the guinea hens ate a bunch of stuff when it sprouted. we ate the guinea hens, and replanted some beans, but we didn’t really put much effort into the whole thing. then the irrigation system didn’t really work right, and we didn’t apply ourselves to figuring out why until fairly late in the year. (it’s old t-tape; it’s probably clogged with mineral sediment from our well-water. which has a pH of 8. i like that — it’s delicious, and full of dissolved calcium — but it is hard on plastics. we’ll be replacing the t-tape in the spring. and re-tilling with a tractor, because the soil compaction is also out of hand. yay, valley clay.)

it almost (almost!) froze two nights ago. it’s awfully early for that sort of thing! i have lit fires in the woodstove in my yurt the last two nights. but the garden is pretty done anyway, with the semi-feral turkeys nesting in it. we never successfully bred turkeys before. these ones were fighting with the younger birds, so we kicked them out of the pen and just let them roam, and before we knew it, they had 7 chicks. now there are 5 younguns, and they’re half-grown. we’re keeping them for 2014 thanksgiving harvest. it’s been nice to hear them percolating in the mornings as they browse through the herb garden right outside my bedroom door. the whole flock are genuinely free-range — which means they often bed in the tomatoes. we all just sort of gave up on caring too hard this year. the tomatoes came in pretty well, but they’re basically over now anyway. all we’re really picking right now is chard & basil. and chard will winter over.

so let the frost come. let the garden fall to fall. we have a couple months of firewood laid by, and more on the way. the harvest is as in as its going to get. it might as well get cold and kill all the bugs and bring us some more much-needed moisture.

after this month of intermittent downpours, we are all the way up to the low end of our average annual rainfall! after two years of not even that much, this is a substantial relief. we’re at over 8″ for the year. i’m measuring specifically on the farm; if you look at NOAA’s totals for Abq, they show higher — but we are south of town, and we’re in a rain shadow. our neighbor calls it the “Los Padillas Hole.” he says the Manzano Moutnains get all our rain. be that as it may, it’s not new, but it’s not that awesome, either. they are predicting a cold wet winter, and much as i hate the cold, i hope they are right. we need it.

and it’s time to put this summer to bed. to retreat into winter, into dark and quiet and stillness. to allow space for the turning dark, the velvet dark, the sweet slow unfolding of the nurturing, birth-giving dark.

Kat: wall update. two steps forward, one step back.

i’m looking forward to this saturday’s wall plastering party. at the last one, a couple weeks ago, we made the decision to add portland cement to the earthen plaster mix we’re using on the north wall, with the result that the new mix did not suffer any damage in the ongoing rains we’ve experienced.

we certainly don’t want this much-needed rain to go away, or even to let up. we just want our work to withstand it as it is supposed to.

saturday we are going to tackle the last exposed stretch of new construction. next week, (gods willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say), we have three new interns arriving. they will be able to do the bits of patchwork here and there throughout the whole north wall, where the rains have knocked down last year’s (and some of this year’s) work.

the reason we’re dealing with this many repairs is mainly time. earthen plaster doesn’t happen in a single layer, and the wall is very long. the time it takes us to get a single layer over the bags is substantial, not least because we are doing one or two workdays a month with as many volunteers as we can wrangle — which is sometimes many, and sometimes none. this year, due to an assortment of schedule confluences and the ongoing length of this project, most of our wall days have been just a handful of Sunflower River residents. so that has slowed us down, and we can’t work full-time on it; we have jobs and other responsibilities that prevent us from being able to work full-timeon any one farm project — and this is *far* from the only project going on at the farm! so there’s that. priorities are all over the map, and with good reason.

but the longer the project stretches, the more the rain and sun wear away this base coat of plaster, which is not actually supposed to be the final wall surface. it gets two more coats, then a limewash at the end. between the second and third coat, we’ll add more sculpture to the wall’s interior, as we are doing on the (much more finished) east wall:
(tiger by Eso Robinson & Nina Dubois, art studio MFA students at UNM).

so we’re doing a lot of this kind of patchwork:

and the bit of wall in that photo has bits that need to be redone again, as the weather has gotten at it in just these few weeks. we’re hoping this fall’s interns can help us get all the necessary patchwork filled in with the new cementatious plaster mix.

we got a big rainstorm (3″ in one storm) at the end of July, that did this to the north wall:

this was an area we’d had particular trouble getting plastered last fall. this time, we covered the wall material with chicken wire (most earthbag resources say that this is not necessary, but we are discovering that this is an exaggeration at best; the chicken wire helps a *lot*). then we re-plastered. IMG_5889

that time it stuck, with minimal damage in the less-intense rains that came between work days.

returning to the project a couple weeks later, we used the new mix over that whole end of the wall, with this result:


we got so much done at that work day, that we were able to take time to beautify the apse out front at the day’s end.

that’s right on the corner of our property, and faces Isleta Blvd, so it’s a relief to have it looking so good!

if you’re feeling inspired, or have a need to throw things and would rather do so while also getting soemthing done, come on down to the farm this saturday, or on Sunday, october 6th, for our last two wall parties of 2013! we can use all the help we can get, and the work really is fun (and really is all about throwing mud), and is livened up even more by the good company.