Sunday, March 9, 2008


Hey there,

I went into Grants Pass yesterday, a beautiful drive thru the Williams valley, with lots farms, country stores, wooded hills, etc. I visited Arbel and Yonatan Shemesh; Arbel's sister Sharon is my oldest friends, and one my closest friends as well. I've known Arbel since I was six, although she's alot older than me so we never really saw each other much, as she was pretty much out of the house when I became friends with Sharon. Anyway, we got a chance to check out the Grants Pass farmer's market, which is close to her home in the old part of town; not a lot of produce yet, which is not surprising -- people were mostly selling plant starts, bread and other value-added products like jams, etc. Afterwards we returned to the Shemesh house and talked gardening. They have asked me to put in a vegetable/herb garden with them, and so we had a long talk, sitting in the sunny backyard, about how to do that. This is a wonderful opportunity for me because I've long been interested in doing edible/permaculture landscaping for people, with the aspiration that city folks can access food as locally as possible as well as hopefully learning themselves how to grow it. A few months ago I read an article in Orion magazine about two women in Portland, OR who have started a business called "Your Backyard Farmer." ( They set up and maintain vegetable gardens in people's backyards, and every week during the harvest season they pick a box of vegetables for you and set it on your back porch. usually there's enough to feed their clients and their clients' neighbors, extended family, etc. Anyway, I am really enthralled by this idea. I also read an article about a guy in Santa Cruz, CA who does edible landscaping for people, and part of his service is that he hooks his clients up with a local herbalist, who gives them a health diagnosis and prescribes herbs, which are then planted in the clients' gardens as well. I love this idea too. Anyway, I would love to set up a business where I am setting up vegetable/fruit and medicinal herb gardens in people's backyards, so that everyone can have a stronger connection to their food, to plants and nature in general.

It's a trek for me to get to Grants Pass (an hour each way) and the other big towns, Ashland and Medford, aren't much closer, so I'm unsure if it's really a practical thing to do if I stick around here long-term, but I think this scenario with Arbel and Yonatan is perfect for now -- a test case, a chance for me to give it a try and see how I like it, with friends who are flexible and enthused about growing their own food. They get a CSA box every week already from a local organic farm, "Fry Family Farm," so mostly I'll be planting culinary herbs and a few vegetables that they eat a ton of, like dark leafy greens (kale, collards, etc.), cabbage (they love sauerkraut and make it all the time), lettuce, etc. It's a good challenge for me.

.....Today I helped Ryan and Eden out with finishing up their strawbale cottage in the morning; they're putting down a floor, which involves laying gravel down, sprinkling it with a tiny bit of pulverized clay (to help it stick together), spraying it with water and then running a tamping machine over it; then laying down black plastic as a vapor barrier and repeating the process. I just helped them with one of the layers; they have several more layers to come, and the final surface is gonna be cob -- some mixture of clay, sand and straw, I would guess. One of the guys that's been working on the house started applying the orangey plaster on the outside of the house. With the red roof it looks pretty good.

After lunch I went out to the field with Matt and planted a ton of "everbearing" strawberries. The soil is so soft and crumbly, it was a pleasure to work with, and I worked in my bare feet in the surprisingly hot sun all afternoon. I'm pretty beat, but it was great to talk with Matt, pick his brain about farming, get a greater sense of his overall vision and squat there, planting strawberries together. Tomorrow there are more strawberries to plant, including another variety called "Chandler," as well as golden raspberries. I've never seen or heard of them before, but apparently they're delicious. He's got a bunch of varieties of berries and fruit trees that are gorgeous, delicious and not present in the regional markets here, so he's hoping he'll create a niche for the farm that way. Apparently his plan is to grow mostly culinary herbs and fruit, with a few veggies thrown in there as well.

OK, that's it for today. Peace out.

Friday, March 7, 2008

First week at Full Bloom

Ahh....I just finished my first week as a "provisional member" at Full Bloom Farm. It's been a full week, for sure. So many things have happened, it's hard to sum it all up. I could probably blog each day about the things I'm learning, and that might be more helpful than once a week, because in retelling what I've learned, I integrate them better, and I'm less likely to forget.

I got here last Saturday, March 1st. I've done a bunch of different work so far. This afternoon (Friday) I planted a few hundred strawberries in the farm field while Matt Vivrett, the farm manager, was busy ploughing, discing and rototilling all around me. The section I'm working on is all on a slope, and will be a combination of berries -- strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries -- and fruit trees. I think it's good that all those plants are going on the slope -- operating a tractor on hills is really difficult, and all the aforementioned plants, with the exception of the strawberries, will not need to be turned every year, which means much less tractor work. I'll have to report later about the various fruit trees the farm will be growing -- can't remember it all now. The berries and fruit trees arrived in the last couple of weeks, and there is a push to get them all in soon.

In the meantime, I've been helping Ryan and Eden put up deer fencing around the perimeter of the cultivatable area. There are about 30 acres at the base of the property that the farm owns irrigation rights to -- the other 250+ acres on the surrounding hillsides are forested. So the project is to fence in most of the 30 acres, and lemme tell ya, that's a lot of fencing, up and down slopes, around a pond, thru a bit of exotic blackberry growth, etc. When I was here in Feb. I helped put in metal fence posts; there's still a lot of posts that need to go in, but this past week, I've been putting the actual fence up -- rolling out long stretches of it, stretching it with a "come-along," and finally tying it to the posts. Some of it's a little bit difficult, as the rolls are heavy and awkward to deal with. But it's also satisfying to look back and see how much got done. And a little sad -- fencing is ugly, keeps out wildlife, etc. Ryan and I were talking about the possibility of eventually replacing the fencing with hedges that achieve the same purpose -- keeping the deer out so that they don't ravage the veggies, herbs and young trees we're trying to grow.

The fencing is coming along, and today we just got a huge load of manure, about 15 tons, which will allow us to start another project that needs to run concurrently with the fencing project, and that is the creation of a "hedgerow." First we're gonna put down a long stretch of sheet mulch -- cardboard, then manure, then straw, in a strip about 25 ft. wide and a couple hundred feet long. The sheet mulch will eventually decompose completely into soil, while keeping down the weeds, and slowly adding fertility to the soil. Then into the soil we will be planting all kinds of shrubs, a complex mixture of plants that will function in many ways -- as a windbreak, as a "nectary" (a source of nectar for many insects, as well as shelter for them) and also as a source of food for us. The planting has to happen this month because, well, that's when these particular plants really need to go into the ground. But they need to be properly fenced so that the deer don't totally destroy these young plants. So there's a lot of work to be done on two fronts.

In addition to the hedgerow, the berries/fruit trees for the farm, and the deer fencing, Ryan and Eden are trying to finish the house they just built for themselves, a cute little strawbale house fifty yards from the main house. I may be helping them out with that as well. The house is livable -- they started sleeping in it as soon as I moved into their old room in the main house. But it still needs lots of work -- the outside has to be painted, and the floor needs to be put in, and probably other things as well. Also, we are going to be putting in the kitchen garden for the year -- about a quarter acre of crops grown for the community. So right now we're sowing vegetable seed in the greenhouse for that.

Another cool thing that happened this week is that the beginnings of a cob oven were begun right outside the main house. Jo and Rosie are going to be building their commercial bakery on the land, but it won't be operational till next year, but they want to start baking on a small scale this spring, to start building a loyal base of customers. So they commissioned an outdoor oven to be built, by an organization called "House Alive" which is probably fifteen minutes from here. Cob is a mixture of sand and clay, or sand, clay and straw. Earlier in the year, a roof was built on the patio in front of the house, and then a platform was made, and on wednesday the cobbers came. We started out by building a dome of wet sand. It partially collapsed a few times, but finally we got it up. Then we layered wet newspaper over that. And finally we applied a 3-inch layer of a sand/clay cob mixture, about the width of a hand, all the way around the sand dome. That will be given time to dry, and then the cobbers will come back and cut the door to the oven, and scoop out the sand. The newspaper is just there to tell them where the sand ends and the cob begins. Then they'll light a candle inside the dome to try the cob out further, and then...I can't remember exactly, but they're gonna build another layer or two, of what I'm not sure, and then the oven'll be done. I'll have more to say on this next week probably -- hopefully I'll get to participate in the next stages of the process. I loved working on this oven -- the materials were really fun to work with, and it was very social -- the cobber and his wife, as well as another couple, plus me and Ryan, on a sunny day with "The Be Good Tanyas" on the radio. It was a good day.

Later on this summer Full Bloom will be hosting a six-week cob-building workshop, and the product they'll be working on will be Jo and Rosie's new house, a cob house. I'm really excited to be a part of that as well.

Mmm...I guess that's all for now. I must do this more often -- so much more to tell, about living in community, about all the various plans and projects going on around this wonderful place. But I'll save it for another day......