garden morning light

I’m getting ready to write more actual updates, but in the meantime, I woke up to the soft morning light in our beautiful garden this morning, and I thought you’d enjoy it too.

UNM Sustainability Expo

Earlier this month, Sunflower River was invited to participate in the University of New Mexico’s 9th annual Sustainability Expo, a one-day sustainability fair put on by the Sustainability Studies Department. It’s part educational fair, part farmer’s market, with local farms and other vendors selling plants, produce, food, and handmade crafts, and booths demonstrating everything from solar power, to recycling methods, to backyard chickens.

We’re known to sell eggs on campus — I routinely have a few dozen of our tasty farm-fresh eggs at my university office, so that people can drop in and buy them.

$5/dozen, y’all. cage free, farm fresh. drop on by!

UNM is in the center of town, and convenient to more people than the farm itself is, and as i keep regular office hours, this makes it mostly simple. So the organizers asked if we would have a booth selling eggs at the expo. And I decided it was worth doing. I took a day off work, figured out a bunch of farm products to sell, made labels, made a banner for our table, and started saving eggs.

Here’s 20 dozen eggs and two gallons of dried tomatoes, bagged into quarter-pound bags. We still have some — $5/bag, if you’re interested! They’re amazingly flavorful.

The entire farm helped prep the night before. Picking veggies, sorting and weighing them, getting them into coolers.

Here’s Dharma and Jenny weighing spinach

fresh green lettuce:

our project supervisor:

Getting set up was almost an adventure, it was such a busy hour. You can’t park anywhere near the expo, as it’s on a pedestrian mall in the center of campus, so you have to drive in, unload, convince somebody to watch your stuff (yay for the super awesome student volunteers who put up the canopy while i was parking!), go park, run back, and then set up your booth before the fair officially opens — but with substantial distractions on all sides as everybody else is setting up, volunteers are running all over making things go, and students are wandering through anyway because it’s in a pedestrian mall in the center of campus. Whew. Once set-up was done, the day was no less fast-paced, but much better organized.

And me at the booth the next day.

(photo credit Cal McManus)

My friend Cal came out to help me run the booth most of the day, and Terra dropped by for a while as well. We sold over 20 dozen eggs, and about a cooler and a half full of greens — all the spinach, most of the bok choy, and some of the lettuce. About half the dried tomatoes. All in all it was a successful day — fast paced, energetic, and entertaining. And exhausting! A lot more people signed up for our farm sales mailing list, and I connected with a lot of other farmers doing interesting projects around the Valley, such as the folks at Grow the Future and FoodCorps.

Pack out was pack-in in reverse, basically a mad-house, only now a tired one. Cal had had to leave earlier, so I asked another friend, Amy, who was running a booth across the way, to watch my stuff while I got the car. It took forever to get back in, with the lines of cars, traffic-control on campus, and all the foot traffic. But once in, it took very little time to load up and get off campus, in spite of the intense heavy traffic.

When we reckoned up how many people-hours went into organizing and running the booth, the day’s profits came out to $6/hour. As fun as the actual vending was, that’s a lot of work for not much. Plus it completely wore me out for two days afterwards. it’s a good thing I don’t do this for a living! Mad props to those who do! For now, I’m grateful for my excellent office job, and while I’ll happily do this event again next year, I won’t be signing up for a grower’s market anytime soon.


many years ago, we had a friend keeping bees on our back property, but for a number of reasons, they didn’t make it through the winter, and the hive either swarmed or died out — without one of us steadily involved back there, it’s hard to say. the hive had been laying around in the field ever since, awaiting the day we decided to keep bees again.

that day has arrived. Terra is keeping bees at Sunflower River — using the old langstroth hive that was in the back acreage, with some new parts that Rev built, since the old ones had fallen apart a bit in their years sitting around in the weather.

A couple weeks ago, we drove down to Bosque Farms and picked up a very loud box containing three pounds of bees. We took it out to the field, and Terra installed the bees in the hive.

Note the remaining piece of the old hive on the left. We cleaned all of that up that day.

Bee installation. Did you know they just pour out of the box in giant clumps? It was pretty intense.

An instagram video of the bee installation can be found here.

Several bees got tangled in my hair, so I had to retreat from my photographic vantage point near the action.

Terra and our HelpX intern Michael placing the frames in the hive, post-bee-installation.

We’re supplying them with sugar water and a little bowl of drinking water while they get themselves settled and established. An experienced local beekeeper Terra talked to suggests that feeding sugar water all summer in their first year is wise, as the weather can be unpredictable and it’s very dry here, so we will do that. We definitely want to give them every opportunity to succeed. We’re interested in harvesting honey & wax in future years, but also in the preservation of honeybees as a species. We’ve been planting pollinator-friendly flowering plants for years; now we’ve got our own honeybees to go with!

here’s Terra’s bee blog, for a much more detailed ongoing update!

Ostara (Spring Equinox) Ceremony, March 18th

You are cordially invited to a Ostara Ritual at Sunflower River.

On Saturday March 18th at 1pm, the May Royalty will celebrate the turning of the seasons and the renewal of warmth and light!

What to Bring:
Yourself in proper attire for an outdoor ritual.
Potluck — bring a dish or beverage to share! Please label your ingredients!
Music makers of all kinds.
A friend or few (but let us know approximately how many are attending)
Please car pool as parking is limited.

Any time after 1pm you are most welcome to present yourself to our home.
The ritual will take place at 1:30 pm, followed by feasting, dancing and sharing of music.

Sunflower River Large Ritual Ground (out back), email for directions.

Come celebrate the season of spring among friends old and new!

we rearranged the garden

it’s like rearranging the livingroom, except with a tractor. we are rotating the beds 90* from their previous orientation, so now they will be half as long, and run north-south (instead of east-west) with a central east-west path from greenhouse to barnyard. this should improve our irrigation, as well as crop rotation.

and it feels nice to move everything around.

it has been a very collaborative project. first we brought in 5 truckloads of manure from our friend Kendra’s place down the road.

then Chris from Ironwood came over with the tractor and tilled:

with the helpful assistance of one brave chicken; the others stayed away from the tractor, not being used to that much noise.

then it snowed the next day — thanks, weather!

and since then, our intern Kenan has been making the new garden beds. this is the result.

Saturday, we’ll finish the last “little” details, like pea trellises and drip irrigation, and begin the Spring Planting. welcome, Spring!

2017 Annual Retreat

This year, Sunflower River held our annual retreat, a four-day visioning retreat and planning meeting which doubles as quality social time for the farm-fam, at the home of some friends in Silver City, NM.

This was probably the smoothest, most efficient retreat we’ve had yet — our process gets more organized and functional every year, and we are now 9 years old, so we’ve been practicing a while. Part of the smoothness of the retreat was probably due to our improved household kanban, a system of two whiteboards with sticky notes, organized from Project (large things we’re working on) through Stewards-Only tasks (current tasks related to projects that cannot be delegated to interns), Stewards Current tasks, Upcoming Tasks (which will become Available once the Available ones are complete), and Available tasks, which any Steward or intern can pick from at any time, and which tend to be our most urgent set of tasks. Ideally, all tasks are related to a Project, and every Project has at least one next-step task on the board. Each intern has their own section, so they take a note from Available, and “own” that note until they’ve finishe dit, when they move it to Complete. Stewards likewise move their tasks to the Complete section when they’re done. Each week at house meeting, we go through the board, make sure our real work is reflected there and that the board is tracking reality, and we celebrate the Completed tasks.

This process has so improved our communication and ability to accomplish sets of tasks, that most of those things didn’t even come up at the Retreat. It was all 2017 planning, instead.

here was 2016:

and here we are on retreat.

The discussion topics on that table are sorted from Thinky to Thingy.

We’ve elected to take a Jubilee Year from our work parties, from Feb 2017-Feb 2018. This means that except for specific projects, we’re “resting our ask” — we’re not going to ask the community to come work with us every month. We’ll still do our monthly work days and monthly family work days, except now they’re basically all family days, unless somebody reads the event page on our website here and decides to show up. Which is entirely welcome, but we’re not putting out the constant ask.

In 2018, we’ll presumably resume asking. :)

Meanwhile, if you want to know when things are going on, you can sign up for one of our mailing lists! We’re going to be relying on email more and facebook events less from here on out. So this is far and away the best way to find out what’s going on at SR!

Shed of Holding reorg.

Some years back, we acquired a potting shed. it has enough space in it to be a number of things other than a potting shed, so for a while we were calling it the Shed of Holding. (also, we’re a bunch of geeks, in case you didn’t notice.)

The Shed of Holding is located conveniently near our community house, Mahazda, so while we were doing the renovation, we stashed materials and supplies in there so they were handy for projects. That worked okay for a while, but then entropy set in.

It’s looked more or less like this for a while:
looking east

looking west

so we decided that Outbuilding Clean Up is a priority for us this winter. Last sunday, we tackled it. We took everything out of the shed, and swept.

Then we started making executive decisions about what went back into the shed, what went into other outbuildings (and what problems that might cause there), and what to get rid of. At the end of the day, we had moved one raft of things to the Pump House (and a corresponding raft of things from the Pump House to the Cottage kitchen, where Rev obligingly spent the next day retrofitting a shelf for them), another raft of things into the Barn (which, surprisingly, was actually slightly improved thereby, in spite of our expectations to the contrary… it’s possible the barn was alreayd in such bad shape, nothing could have made it *worse* so it simply had to get better!) a stack of things set aside to be friend-cycled*, and everything else tidily organized within.

looking east:

looking west:


potting shed being an effective potting shed:

so very satisfying!

*like recycling, but to your friends. still available: 4 solar dehydrator frames, a kid’s bike suitable for a 5+ year old size kid, and an outdoor portable playpen. message me if you’re local and interested! i’ve also posted them on facebook. also for sale: a Hammer brand punching bag. good condition, unused by us. $50 obo. and a pressure tank for a well, in great condition (it came with the house, and wasn’t the right thing for our plumbing situation post-remodel; works great) $35 obo.

a highly productive warm winter

We have been having the warmest winter in many years, here. There were still flies alive in mid-December (fortunately, a hard freeze after that finally killed them all off), and the garden didn’t even slow down until late November. Combined with this, the farm has been blessed by truly spectacular interns all winter, with the end result that a lot of outdoor projects, and some indoor ones, are getting done.

for instance, our turkey coop experienced a number of problematic failures this summer during the rainy season. The coop became very lake-like in the rain, and we had a water-system failure that led to having to use trough watering — always a messy, unsanitary arrangement when it comes to poultry. What with it all, though we mucked as often as possible, with the frequent rains, it was also a mess for months.

So we discussed remodelling it — raising the level of the ground to something above the level of the barnyard, so that it would shed water. Installing a completely new watering system, to avoid having to use troughs, but still get enough water to the birds (which the bucket nipple-waterer system wasn’t doing). Changing the door configuration between the carport-end of the coop and the old corral end.

We thought this might take until the 2017 baby turkeys were big enough to move into the coop — that would be the deadline. mid-May. instead, it has all been finished in the last month!

Raised floor:
See how there’s a step up from the barnyard now, and it slopes away from the barnyard toward the open space to the north?

detail on the slope:

including brand-new turkey playground, also much needed, as the old one had collapsed. this photo also shows the new door between the carport-coop and the old coop, doubled in size so that when we are using the whole space as one pen, the birds better understand it as a opening.

and — our interns Sam & Flora, who completed this entire remodel, used a line-level to gently slope the newly-raised ground to the north — and then they lowered the ground north of the coop, so that it slopes back into the pit that was already there! so if this works, runoff from heavy rains this summer will all slough away from the turkey coop, enabling much faster drying times, and preventing the lake effect.


They also built a new, sturdier, roosting system out of old cottonwood branches:

meanwhile, Rev installed and tested a new watering system:

We’re planning to use a similar system in the brooders this year, so that the baby birds get started on this type of watering system from day one. I have high hopes for the overall dryness and cleanliness that could result if this works!

Rev also installed the new laundry lines, a farm-scale construction behind our community house. These lines should hold 4-5 loads of laundry at a time!
Later this year, I hope to paint the header bar with some kind of artfully interesting and attractive design.

in the process of remodelling the coop, Sam and Flora moved a huge amount of clay and sand out of the Mahazda front yard, so the driveway finally looks like an actual entry way:

The previous intern, Dan, got us caught up on a couple year’s worth of chopping firewood:

Ana and Flora got the (very, very messy) greenhouse completely cleaned out and prepped for spring:

and then yesterday the whole crew teamed up to bring five truckloads of horse manure from our friend Kendra’s riding stable, into the garden. it’s tmie for a major garden reset — details to come later this winter, after our upcoming retreat.

and, because we have to have at least one cute animal picture in these photo updates, here are some of our laying hens enjoying the aquaponics system on a balmy January afternoon.

and here’s Tristan’s new dog, Cora, posing for the camera.

autumn, outside the garden


it’s autumning out in other ways, though, even if the garden is refusing to slow down for the season. the grandfather cottonwood is an enormous burst of golden energy, brilliant, dominating the horizon with his glow.

sunflowers have been blooming everywhere.

and other autumn flowers as well, such as these purple asters on the ditch bank.

and these beautiful seed poofs from the indian hemp plants:

not to mention our very own actual red-leafed maple tree:


meanwhile, we finished plastering the main wall:

and then we plastered the secret outdoor privy wall, tucked into a niche. it is made of plywood, and looked a bit out of place as such. we will do the last coat of plaster on it this saturday.

we had to take out the cottonwood on the east side of the property, as it was both dying and leaning in a way that endangered the wall, the gas meter, and nearby cars. Here’s Gawain being King Tree on the stump: 20160927_182309

one consequence of this was a giant pile of wood chips, left (at my request) by the arborists who took the tree out. it solved a timing issue for us with the fire circle: instead of having to rent a chipper and chip up a bunch of our stick pile out back (still on the eventually-list, but now no longer as urgent) in order to mulch the fire circle, we simply moved that mulch pile back from the remains of our tree. the fire circle looks and feels amazing with this protective coat of woodchips, helping it stay soft and free from weeds. when we intend to do a dance event, we’ll rake the mulch out of the way, and the put it back after, and the mulch will keep the ground from becoming a weedy hardpan the rest of the year.

also in the area, our interns are coming up with creative season-extension devices for camping in (an admittedly warm) November, like this cozy strawbale arrangement:

and the sunsets just keep getting better as the season advances.