Sunflower River is turning ten years old!

It’s a little hard to believe how fast the time has flown by. We read a homesteading book our first year, that advised us that we would over-estimate what we could get done in one year, and under-estimate what we could accomplish in ten. There are definitely things we thought we would have gotten to by now (goats? possibly mythical, hypothetical goats?), and also things we have accomplished that were barely on our original ten-year plan (giant earthbag property wall! buying and rennovating an entire ‘nother house!)

A couple things we’ll be doing to mark this anniversary — first, our Harvest Festival this year, on September 4th (yes, Monday of Labor Day!) will be a celebration of our birthiversary. I’m going to go back through the archives on this blog and find the five-year photo retrospective i did a while ago, and take new photos from those same angles, and post a ten-year photo retrospective, documenting the scope of the changes we have enacted on and with our land.

Aside from that — what are your ideas? How should we celebrate this? We’re open to hear suggestions! Especially for things that could be done at the Harvest Fest. Feel free to comment here!

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We bought the first property that became Sunflower River in September 2007. It was 3.5 acres of weeds and potential, with some slightly-ratty outbuildings and one little house shaded by giant cottonwood trees. Ten years later, it is four acres, two yurts, two houses, a big garden, a few weeds (but not a patch on those first couple years!), two ritual circles, a dance ground, a greenhouse, intern housing, some pretty solid outbuildings (including three that we added), and a pond — all shaded by giant cottonwood trees. and it’s still got a lot of potential. and we’ve still got a lot of plans for it.

so many intentional communities don’t make it this far. I’m very proud of Sunflower River, that we have talked through (and continue to talk through!) our differences, and remained committed to our core vision and our integrity as a group.

Here’s that vision, still just as true as the day we wrote it:

Sunflower River is joyfully creating a sanctuary wherein we embody and promote sustainability, spirituality, adaptability, and safety, within ourselves, our community, our land, and Gaia.

It has held up well to the rigors, trials and triumphs of the years.

here’s to the next ten!

monsoon season

it’s been a long summer already, and hot, but the monsoons finally seem to have arrived! fingers crossed that they stay, now that it is raining. the farm received a good gentle soak last night, adding up to a half inch of rain for July — not exactly a record, but an awful lot better than nothing, and a good start to the season.

rainy garden:

meanwhile, the peacock has shed his tail (feathers still for sale, $2.50 for 3 feathers, please email Kat directly).

this artichoke bloomed and went to seed in the garden:

tomatoes are ripening:

there are toads everywhere (but not quite enough to keep up with the grasshoppers, alas)

hawks adorn the skies
(this one is a young Swainson’s Hawk)

our stalwart crew has canned many many pots of nectarine, apricot and peach jam:

the horse next door had a baby:

monsoon clouds are one of the best things ever:

except maybe for heart-shaped monsoon rainbows:

we have sunflowers with Sun-Flowers:

and my cat is a-door-able.

and i’m not sorry for the puns.

Without Net Neutrality, You Will Not Be Able to Read this Blog.

Join the resistance! Contact the FCC today! You can file comments on Pai’s plan to gut net neutrality rules at this link. Click “Express” to write a comment directly into the FCC form, or click “New Filing” to upload documents. Initial comments are due July 17, and reply comments (in which you can respond to other people’s or organizations’ comments) are due August 16. https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express use Filing number 17-108.

a new pen for peafowl

As you’re no doubt aware, in 2013 we adopted a rescue peacock who needed a home. His name is Elliott, and he has his own facebook page. He wandered the property for a couple of years, and then we decided he was lonely and we acquired some peahens. That took more structure than we were quite ready for — they kept leaving our property and joining our neighbor’s flock. The neighbor finds this to be a problem, so we got busy and sorted them into a pen, the largest one we had on hand, which was the turkey-pen carport extension from a couple years ago, originally built to allow our turkey flock more room to roam when they are penned.

so of course, with peafowl in there, we don’t have that space available for the turkeys, which takes us back to the high-pressure space before we built that pen — a real problem for the sanitation and overall well-being of our birds. we needed the carport-exension back. and the peafowl didn’t quite have enough room there — no space to fly, very little sunlight (it’s a roofed shady-space, also desirable for the turkeys, whose main pen has plenty of sun).

so we worked our way around to the decision that if we are going to breed peafowl, they need more space. this spring, in an ongoing effort to solve these types of issues and also clean the property up, we cleaned out the junkyard we affectionately call “the goat pen,” named after what Jenny calls The Prophesied Goats — the goats we intend to eventually get, but never yet have fully prioritized. the Goat Pen had long since become a dumping ground for random construction supplies, yard-related objects, and all manner of miscellany.

So first, we built a “boneyard” for supplies we draw from and will use, and then we organized that with some degree of actual rigor (pallets go here, fencing goes there, etc). This helped us locate the earth inside the goat pen. Part of the barn remodel process ejected more material into the goat pen, so we had to sort that out as well.

It took two workdays to clean up the pen, and begin fencing it for peafowl. We added a layer of chicken wire to the fence all the way around, and then doubled its height as well, so the birds would have 7′-8′ or mroe of clearance at all places.

Finally, yesterday, we roofed the entire enclosure, which is 40’x75′ at its widest points, with bird netting. This took five people all day, and there were points in the day where I despaired of ever finishing it, but ultimately, all five Stewards got involved and we got it done! We set up nesting boxes for the peahens (hope springs eternal! we want them to set a nest and raise chicks.) and moved their food and water over.

Then Alan captured the peafowl from the smaller pen, and brought them over one at a time to move into their new digs.

sunlight!

as of last night, they had begun settling comfortably into their new home. let’s hope they’re comfortable enough to set a nest!

The Great Barn Remodel of 2017

For some years, we’ve badly needed to remodel our barn. One slow step at a time, things have been shifting — first we found these blue plastic outdoor storage bins for animal feed, so now each animal has feed stored near its pen, and we no longer have a feed vs rats problem, and we no longer store feed in the barn. So we decommissioned the wire feed cage in which we used to store feed bags (and still contended with rats getting into it all the time!) We also acquired the potting shed and moved all the garden supplies, as well as camping supplies, and for a while painting supplies (which are now in the better-insulated pump house) out of the barn into it. But meanwhile, we were remodelling Mahazda, and a wide array of remodel-related items landed in the center of the only open floors pace in the barn, starting with a giant pile of great hardwood flooring intended for other projects, on top of which a pile of miscellaneous storage accumulated until the pile was over 7′ tall in places. not functional! and we had this half-wall separating the workshop area from the feed area… but we no longer needed to store feed in there.

photos of the “Before”:

So this spring, as part of our “catch up on lingering projects” year, we decided to empty it and remodel it. We scheduled a workday for our whole group to clean it out and make executive decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of (building materials we’ve stored for 10 years with no use in sight? freecycle, already! we had a very busy freecycling day, and are much better for the lightened load!).

these all became destined to become someone else’s backyard fence project — a much better use than sitting around in the back of our barn taking up space.

And when we had the barn emptied out, then Rev pretty much single-handedly tackled the task of turning the barn’s full floor-space into a functional workshop.

It took some thinking.

And some creative re-invention of space.

and some help from the cat.

and a great deal of building of benches, counters and shelves.

but after a while, the space took shape.

(note how this chop-saw is level with the counter. nice, eh? safer, too.)

and having taken shape, order emerged.

there’s room to work! a place for everything, and room for expansion! and it’s considerably easier to find tools, to put them back where they belong, and to fully utilize the space. whew! brilliant work, Rev!

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.

bees!

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!