After listening to Joel Salatin speak at the Acres conference in 2012, Tim returned fired up about capturing rainwater for use on the farm. Joel inspired us to hang on to every drop that hit our soil for as long as we could… by building a pond.
Tim proudly surveying the new pond
He says, “It is all about leveraging whatever you have:
The #1 lesson is to keep the water where it lands on your farm as long as you can . Keep every raindrop as close to its place of dropping for as long as possible.
We just don’t think enough about water. Imagine you are a raindrop and you come down and hit the ground. Gravity wants to move you down hill as quickly as possible. It’s physics!
So, as farmers, we want to hold that raindrop as high on the land for as long as possible. Because the longer we hold it and the higher we can hold it, the more that raindrop can be used productively before it heads out to sea.
P. A. Yeomen- Australian water guru- wrote Water for Every Farm. His view was that the weak link on every farm was water.
Building a pond is one of the smartest things you can do, so that you can eliminate flooding during winter snow and storms and prevent the devastating effects of drought in summer.
Digging a pond is building forgiveness into the landscape. I believe it is part of our stewardship responsibility as caretakers of creation. I would say 80% of farms don’t’ have enough water.
P.A. Yeomen says every farm should be 8% water! It is great to go back to those ravines and streams that use to run with winter melt-off and see it running into a pond instead of off the land.” ~ Joel Salatiin
March 2013- holding 80,000 gallons.
We chose a swampy site between our cider apple trees and sheep pasture so we’ll have access to the fresh water for irrigating trees and livestock. An added benefit of our project was that we needed clay for construction of the cob cottage, so the timing was perfect.
Our pond is 1/3 of an acre and holds about 800,000 gallons of water. It is fed by a wet-weather spring uphill and any overflow spills downhill into the stream.
Building a pond is not as easy as just digging a hole. We wrestled (literally!) with a persistent slow leak at the spillway and finally, with the help of our talented welder friend Dain Taylor and sodium benonite, we sealed the leak and we’re happy to report the water level is holding steady- crisis averted!
The plan, in addition to irrigation, is to grow fish. Since one of our 5-year goals is to produce or barter for 75% of our family’s food, fresh fish will be a healthy addition to the mix.
Tim learned about growing fish in a cage (we’ll explain in a future blog) and is very excited. We’ll raise two seasonal crops of fish. In the summer, we’ll grow Channel Catfish (March – October)
and in the winter, we’ll grow Rainbow Trout (Oct. – March). Channel Catfish are more heat tolerant and Trout require cooler temps. Both are delicious and will be for sale once they reach 1-2 lbs.
To kick-start the new ecosystem, first we’ll introduce Fathead and Rosie Red Minnows feeder fish for the aquatic food chain.
We’ll purchase these “fingerling” fish at Zett’s Hatchery in Inwood, WV .
Hooded Merganser Duck
Last but not least, the pond will provide wildlife habitat and a wonderful place for recreation- fishing, swimming and boating.
It didn’t take long for us to spot mature frogs, tadpoles and Hooded Merganser Ducks.
It’s true what they say- “Build it and they will come!”
Halleluiah! Our high tunnel greenhouse is assembled and ready for us to play in the soil. Soon, we’ll be growing fruits and vegetables even if it is snowing outside.
Taproot Farm received a generous grant from the WV Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to construct a High Tunnel (unheated greenhouse) on the south side of our garden. It has a metal frame and a skin made of 2 layers polyethylene. Once our barn solar panels are installed, we’ll have electricity to power a fan that will keep air pumped between the two plastic layers providing additional insulation.
Our 26′ X 48′ structure from Pucketts Greenhouse
s will be big enough for 4-6 rows of crops with room on the side for growing strawberries vertically. The larger the system, the more thermal mass is stored (warm air) and a single layer of poly cover may provide one hardiness zone
of protection while a second low row cover close to the crops may provide a second zone of protection. We are considered a zone 6 growing zone . In the high tunnel we’ll be able to plant our crops as if we were located in a warmer climate- like North Carolina.
Our farm apprentice, Alexor, will be manager of the high tunnel. He was happy to answer questions about the new growing laboratory:
What are the benefits of a high tunnel? How is it different than a greenhouse?
The benefits of a high tunnel are wind and frost protection during the colder times of the year. One of the differences between a high tunnel and a green house is that greenhouses traditionally were covered with glass panels and were used to grow exotic plants out of season with heat supplementation. A high tunnel, pipe framed and covered with a sheet of UV resistant clear plastic, is often used without added heat with great success.
How did you prepare the ground for planting? How will you water the plants if they don’t get rain?
Ground preparation is simple: promote life! There are countless microscopic living organisms in a cubic inch of healthy, pesticide free soil. The goal as a gardener is to allow that microscopic ecosystem to thrive. Like us, these microbes need oxygen, food, and attention. Check out a video clip
of the hogs helping prepare the soil.
Right now we are letting the pigs aerate and feed the soil for us as they add organic matter. We will follow them up with chickens to clean up any seeds the pigs missed. Then we’ll create narrow pathways between planting rows, trying to minimize compaction in the beds. That’s just one approach: there are countless ways to support the life in the soil that’s needed for great success.
We will water the plants with PH neutral well water, fed to each bed through a simple drip irrigation system to save lots of time and soil disturbance. We received funding to install the system because drip irrigation is another efficient, environment-friendly management practice that WV wants to encourage. Other options would be rain water collection uphill from the site, using gravity and a hose to your advantage. That system would not work so easily in the winter during a freeze, but that would be OK because watering in the high tunnel during the winter is minimal!
How does a high tunnel work? Do the plants freeze in cold seasons or cook in warm seasons?
A high tunnel keeps most frosts at bay in our climate. One way to be successful with high tunnel gardening in the cold seasons is to plant winter hardy crops. I’ve learned there are many crops that thrive in cold weather, and can even tolerate frosts! To name a few: carrots, spinach, turnips, chard, beets, kale, onions. In the warm seasons, you can grow heat loving plants like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers and provide ventilation on scorching days by opening the door(s) and rolling up/down the sides.
Our friend Andy’s abundant high tunnel garden
What will you grow in it? Can you grow things in all 4 seasons?
In February we will begin planting our cool-weather crops like : Carrots, spinach, lettuces, Asian greens, kale, onions, leeks, peas, strawberries.
We’ll have a headstart on growing summer vegetables and will plant those in the spring in the protection of our high tunnel. I do believe we will grow things in the high tunnel year round. I will report back on that as the seasons pass
One idea is to grow some herbs and heat-loving crops in pots in the main garden and then movethem to the high tunnel as the days grow shorter late summer. This will give us a month or more of harvest from plants that may otherwise stop producing in early fall.
What resources do you suggest for people who might like to grow in a high tunnel?
Elliot Coleman is our favorite- he has written several books on the exciting topic of four-season gardening. I highly recommend any of his books
for a bounty of ideas and inspiration.
You do not have to have a large high tunnel to grow year-round. There are many ways to build inexpensive small structures for growing plenty of high quality food year round in any climate in the US.
We have several hoop houses (low tunnels) in the main garden now. They a great way to protect plants from frost and extend your growing season by several months in spring and fall. We are excited, though, that now we’ll be able to walk right in to the high tunnel instead of yanking on the sides of a low hoop house in the ice to get to our produce.
Hope to see you for a farm-fresh salad in February!
For more photos of our high tunnel in action Click Here
Taproot Farm is almost 5 years old. We have learned so much about growing plants and animals and made lots of mistakes along the way.
This summer we took some time to step back and envision the next chapter of the farm- what it might look like, how it should run, what we’d like to grow, how we’d like to balance our time. Clear that we are not into growing for growth’s sake, we’d rather put our energy into tightening up our farm systems and deepening our knowledge about what we already do here. Quality, not quantity is our interest.
T.J the ram joining the ewes
Having farmed through enough seasons now to get a feel for what a natural farm “flow” feels like, we’d like to spend the next few years really buttoning-up the seasonal routines. To create a healthy, sustainable small farm it’s time to create reliable systems for when to breed, immunize and process the animals; when to plant, fertilize, harvest and preserve the crops; and when to work, when to rest. No more just wingin’ it!
Of course, we’ll never perfect this farm life. And more and more surprises in weather and animal antics will catch us unprepared. But it is satisfying taking time to connect with our intention and staying true to it as we make our daily and seasonal plans. We feel lucky to be in this creative partnership together- after decades of having separate careers out in the world-we are now on the same page about what we want the Taproot Farm experience to be. This really is our first shared creative venture (besides raising a family) and we’re having a blast.
Joelle, Alexor and Tim building the pasture fence.
To turn our dream of a well-run small-scale farm into reality, we realized we’ll need some more help.
Taproot has been blessed over the years by lots of young people – helping us build fences, construct the cob cottage, lay out the garden from scratch. Our own children had a hand in every phase, nieces and nephews visited to pitch in, and several Wwoof interns, staying for a month at a time, have been invaluable in helping at all levels of our farm’s development.
We love the energy and enthusiasm of young people. We love their resourcefulness, creativity and hope for the future. Taproot Farm will always make a place for them on our team.
Soooo… we’d like to introduce you to our new Farm Apprentice, Alexor Moore.
Joelle (Allen) and Alexor worked last year completing our cob cottage. They are both amazingly gifted and hard-working young adults. We just couldn’t have finished that masterpiece without them.
Alexor’s dream is to one day find a piece of land of his own and create a healthy, happy, self-sufficient life. He hopes to inspire and teach others who would like to do the same. And one of our aspirations is to “grow” more young farmers- offering real-life experiences on our farm. So, we offered him a position as our Farm Apprentice and he enthusiastically accepted.
To introduce you to our new farm apprentice, it is best to hear it in his own words. His essence shines through:
The Fix-it Wizard
Tell a little about where you grew up …
We moved to Rio, WV in 1997 from suburban Ohio. There were wild raspberries in the spring, and blackberries in the summer! The pond by the house came stocked by nature with newts, bluegill, and goldfish to keep me and my brothers busy. We spent most of our time outside, running around and being kids. Looking back now, the thing that makes me the happiest is that my past has led me to exactly where I am now. And I desire more than ever to grow in ways that I had never known was possible!
Why does being a Taproot Farm apprentice interest you - why do you think this is a good choice for you for the next couple of years?
I believe the most important thing a human can do is to sustain themselves by living symbiotically with nature. There is something about utilizing nature’s abundance for sustenance and healing that just feels so real and true to me. I want to learn how to become a leader and a teacher, and learn how to be less dependent by minimizing the use of fossil fuels and focusing on local resources. By the end of two years at Taproot, I hope to have gained the confidence and knowledge to help bring people together and guide them to feel passionate about the earth like we do. I want to put in place natural systems at the farm that can be carried on by others so they can be improved and sustained for years to come.
What are some dreams you have for your future?
Ready to farm!
A dream of mine since I read about four-season gardening by Elliot Coleman is to have a year-round food supply of fresh greens and vegetables. I dream about having a plot of land where I can farm year-round. Once my basic needs are met (fresh food, clean water, clean air, shelter, and warmth) I want to become an inspiring teacher to help others notice what has always been available under their feet. I am passionate about health and teaching others how to be healthy. I’m passionate about quality workmanship using the earth’s resources.
What are your off-farm interests/hobbies/favorite lazy Saturday afternoon things to do?
I like to read, play guitar, work on my car, prepare food, spend time with my younger and bigger brother playing music and having as many happy moments as possible.
Well, welcome aboard Lex!
We are thrilled to say that Querencia Cottage
is finally complete. Despite a few details over the next few months- for all purposes, she is finished and ready to work her magic.
Soon Beth will break out the mosaic tiles and colored pencils and see what creative things begin to happen there!
Plus, starting in September, the cottage will host two Mindfulness Meditation groups: a 6-week Meditation Class
(Tuesdays Sept. 18- Oct. 23) and a weekly Mindfulness sitting circle
(beginning Wednesday Sept. 12).
The dream has been for Querencia to nurture both creativity and inner stillness… sometimes she’ll be be rocking with creative juices and other times she’ll be a quiet respite from the busy-ness of life.
One thing is for certain- we really don’t know what will happen in a building like this. There is now so much love and good energy in those walls that she has a mind of her own!
We can never begin to thank all the people who made this dream a reality.
Thank you to Sigi Koko
for helping us design it and teaching the building workshops; Alexor Moore and Joelle Allen for helping build every phase of it and then dedicating themselves the last 4 months to bringing the project “home”; Kate Reese for stepping up as “manager” of the project all last summer and Jenny and Allen Reese for pitching in whenever they came to the farm; the Hobbie family for cooking, building and playing music during the workshops; and all the other amazing, strong, good-hearted friends (old and new) who lent a hand with sweat and creativity.
We plan to make up a little booklet describing the local artists and musicians who contributed to this masterpiece.
So many gifts. So much talent in our new community!
This includes Harriet Segal
- stainglass artist (foyer); Dain Taylor- welder (exterior lotus); Danny Spies (woodworking- curved counters and stairs); Eddie Chavez- stonework (foyer floor); Pete Hobbie (“sculpted” wood table in sitting nook); Mary Jennings (cupola nest painting); Candy Wrobel (cushions and pillows); Joelle Allen and Alexor Moore ( their creative hands were in everything
natural building; plus, sculpted phoenix and lotus mirror by Joelle ; draped fabric ceiling, finish shower by Alexor); Nancy Striniste
- outdoor labyrinth; and on and on the list goes.
We have the most talented and generous friends!!!
Querencia is truly a community-built oasis… like the old-fashion barn-raisings of the past.
And the friendships that were forged here in the mud and sweat are going to last a lifetime, we are certain
Here are some photos to give you a peep inside…
We plan to have a “Tah Dah” party for everyone who helped out.. hopefully come spring.
For now, time to close the computer and take a good book over to Querencia.
There is no wifi there… definitely part of the plan
At Taproot our calendar year starts on March 9. Why? Because that is our farm anniversary! 3 years ago we began this adventure- the house was almost finished, but we really had no idea where this would all lead us.
Keeping the larder full
Today, as we enter our 4th spring, our farm vision is becoming much more clear.We moved out here thinking it would be a place simply for relaxation and recreation, but very quickly that part-time idea evaporated and we decided to make it our permanent home.
Our dream is to create a more self-sufficient homestead- providing almost all the food we eat; a good portion of our household energy, all the while being much better stewards of the environment. A bonus has been discovering a vibrant community of like-minded people who share our passion for a sustainable life- we are learning so much from them! We feel lucky to be part of a community that works hard, questions conventional assumptions and doesn’t take itself too seriously (we laugh a lot!)
The warm winter gave us a jump-start on this year’s farm plans:
Setting the posts
Tim finished fencing 1/2 of our front hayfield. We are going to start a rotational pasture system where we move the animals from paddock to paddock in order to keep them on fresh grass and allow the grasses to recover between grazings. Click here for the before and after photos.
Baby Mamie's first day on the farm
We introduced a new ram to our ewes in December and we are pretty confident that all 3 are pregnant which would mean baby lambs in May! The ram’s name is G.W. (after the 1st president- not the 43rd), but we call him “little man”. With all the new fenced-in pasture we decided to add one more ewe lamb to the flock. We picked her up from Church View farm in early March- just 8 weeks old. She’ll be called Mamie to continue the First Lady theme. She’s a beauty!
More sheep shots.
Last year’s big project was our straw bale and cob artist cottage, Querencia, and we’re happy to say it is about 85% complete. With a water-proof lime exterior and cute little woodstove, it weathered the winter beautifully. Some of Beth’s talented friends are giving the cottage personality by sewing cushions, arranging furniture and painting the cupola. Just a couple more workshops to go- Natural Interior Paints on Saturday, April 28 and Finish Adobe Floor on Saturday June 9. Come join us for the fun!
Click here for some photos of the most recent cottage updates.
Querencia with her healthy green roof
Here we are, back to our Taproot blog, after a wonderful, muddy, and exhausting summer working on the straw-bale artist cottage. More on the cottage progress later but, first, let’s get reacquainted with the farm!
Join me one recent morning as the farm woke up:
Mary Todd is looking for a handout
Good Morning! The sound of Reveille is bleated by the sheep. As soon as the sun rises, they stare intently at the front door, looking for the first signs of life inside. I don’t dare turn on the lights in the studio when I go in for morning meditation- even the lighting of a candle can trip off a loud ‘MAAAA” “MAAAA” alarm from begging sheep. I laugh because if we forget, and open the front door too early to get something , it sounds like a car alarm- door opens and MAAA, MAAA! from the field. Happens everytime.
Okay, I’m coming. ..
Boots on, hot tea and egg basket in hand, the first stop, has to be the sheep barn (they insist!). The first ladies (Eleanor, Jackie and Mary Todd) greet you at the gate to escort you to the sweet feed can under lock and key. On the way we open up the brown coop full of our cackling Wellsummer and Golden Buff laying chickens.
First chicken up and out
So cute how they tumble out of the door, like a crowd in an elevator stopping on your floor. None of them run off right away- they hang around the food trough hoping the sheep will share their crumbs. We check the nesting boxes for morning eggs.
Sweet feed and hay are safely stored in a food closet Tim built on the little barn. Sheep would literally eat themselves to death if allowed free access to their high calorie grain. We only give 1/2 c. sweet feed to the flock twice a day. Like gifting children with M & M’s- a little goes a long way.
Waiting in line for sweet feed.
It is helpful to have trained the animals to be comfortable with hand feeding- they will follow us anywhere and morning treats are a time for us to look closely over the sheep- rubbing their bodies, looking in their eyes, and observing their behavior. We caught a nasty mastitis in Jackie’s inflamed teat during one of these morning “check-in” visits.
On to the second coop- a mobile “chicken tractor” that we can move anywhere the pasture might need a boost of nutrition. The older chickens wait, peering out their window for us to slide open the door.
Good morning girls!
They look like ladies on a tour bus, leaning close to each other, beaks pressed against the pane to get a good look at what’s going on. Chickens really have a lot of personality- they crack us up constantly!
We check the laying boxes here too, expecting much fewer eggs from these girls. This flock has diminished in size since a summer fox attack plus they are a year older, no longer in their prime laying stage (fyi- the first year is their egg laying peak, diminishing with each year. Summer is the prime laying season). When needed, we refill their grain feeder and refresh the water trough. Cooler weather means less water consumption but more grain feeding as the free-range insect and seed source disappears.
Next stop, the pig pen! (since this blog was written, the pigs were taken to the butcher, but I wanted to include their photos in the morning lineup because they were such important members of our farm).
As soon as they hear footsteps on the driveway, the pigs begin their own reveille song of snorts and grunts. Pigs are very smart and supposedly have a wide repertoire of sounds meaning different things. I wonder if they are saying “Oh good morning, so happy to see you!” or “Holy cow, we’ve been waiting for hours for you to get your butt out of bed and feed us!” We’ll assume it’s the first.
As hogs grow, you increase the quantity of their mash. There is a tool you can buy that measures and predicts their weight from girth size, but we prefer a more low-tech method, which is to feed them an amount that they gobble up in no less than 10 minutes and no more than 30 minutes. That works for us since our walk with the dogs leads us back to the pigs in about 25 minutes and we can check their bowl. As predicted, it is licked clean every time! Throughout the day we supplement with goodies from the kitchen compost bin and any veggie leftovers from the garden. They are fat and seem very content in their playpen of slushy mud under the big, wide, West Virginia sky.
After feeding and watering the pigs, we rinse and drop the eggs off in our “Honesty Store” refrigerator where our egg customers can pick them up anytime and leave cash in the jar.
"Time for a walk?!"
Next stop is the dog “apartment” in Tim’s workshop. Banjo and Pick stay in bed until they hear us coming. Then they shoot out of the dog door, tails wagging, Pick doing Snoopy spiral leaps. They LOVE their morning walk! It tickles us that, although these dogs have the run of our 20 acres all day, they wait for us to say “Wanna go on a walk?!” to take off down the mowed path in to the other fields. Tim reminds them “you know you guys, you can take this walk anytime you want…” but they prefer to wait for us all to go as a family.
Banjo is the nose-to-ground hunter, picking up scents of tiny furry things like voles and mice. Pick, on the other hand, likes to keep his eye on the horizon and sky- bolting after deer or birds. They are a balanced team. Luckily their batting record is low, so most creatures great and small are safe at Taproot.
Humming bee hives.
The morning stroll gives us an opportunity to survey our property- checking on deer damage to trees, if the bee hives need more sugar water, effects of heavy rains, and signs of new life.
There is nothing like that view rounding the corner and heading back down the drive. Bear Garden Mountain and the tall grasses are washed with early morning color. It’s worth getting up just for that picture.
Last stop, the garden. This time we pick lettuce for lunch, but each season offers up its own basket of goodies. The dogs take this as serious hunting time ever since they flushed out and caught a rabbit in the carrot patch.
Our favorite fall-winter lettuce mix.
They do have permission to catch any critters stealing the crops. I think the rabbits have started spreading the word, though, because Banjo and Pick have come up empty-handed recently.
Once we get to the house, our faithful farm dogs get breakfast on the front porch.
Sitting on the front steps, looking back over the farm, you can sense the wide-awake energy not present an hour ago. Bug-chasing chickens, grazing sheep , and playful, muddy pigs all now in motion!
Daughter Jenny is far from the farm this year.motion.
While we think about those family members ready to close their eyes for the night on the other side of the world, this farm is ready for a new day!
Here are more photos from the morning walk- enjoy! https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2644830127481.2144807.1457463116&type=1&l=329c9cfa70
The farm is quiet now after a fun-filled, cob-stomping, very productive weekend at our Cob Oven workshop.
Friends in Mud
We never expected so many interesting, eager people to show up. There is no doubt we’ve just met some long-term friends. It seems that the kind of people willing to try their hand at natural building all care about many of the same things- health, caring for the earth, friends, family, and keeping that “kid inside” alive!
Since a picture says a thousand words, you can enjoy all the workshop photos here.
Many hands make light work
Talking, drinking a cup of coffee and cob dancing- now that's a multi-tasker!
All ages and abilities were right in there mixing, throwing cob balls up to the sculptors, digging sand, screening clay… It was nice to know there is no pressure to be a workhorse. Some liked to keep a steady pace going, others preferred the sprint and rest method. It was important to us that people listened to their bodies- some of us need to sit more often than lift (could it be the over 50 factor?).
Taking a break and sharing stories.
We all took notes or photos throughout, so we wouldn’t forget the fascinating science involved- how clay, water and straw become a concrete-strong building medium; how the fire in a clay oven heats the thermal mass and the insulating layer with straw holds the heat in; how the shape and size effect efficiency and durability, etc..
Sigi explaining how to cut out the door
Sigi was an amazing teacher. Participants said- “Wonderful teacher. Easy to understand”, “Total hands-on and every question answered”, and “I appreciated how very knowledgeable she was and her relaxed, easy-going style”. Sigi’s motto “no worries” was a keeper. Even as fissures appeared in the side of the wet oven, she smiled and said “No worries! It’s clay. We can fix it!’ We think we might need some “no worries” tee shirts next time- ha!
And, just when the cobbers were losing energy, Leenie and son Aren rang the dinner bell. What a treat! Everything homemade and local; artisan breads, Amish wedding soup, salsa, apple pies, Greek roasted chicken, Wild Herb Spanakopita, Venison barbeque, wild flower teas, homemade Chai tea…. and on and on it went. A feast for the mud gods! The magic in the kitchen was just as amazing as the creative sculpting going on outside.
Pickin on the porch
Tired, satisfied cobbers relaxed on the porch or by the river listening to the wonderful impromtu “pickin” session by Pete and Andy. Nothing finer after a day in the sun and mud.
So what's the inside of a cob oven look like?
We’ll spend the next few weeks getting back to the garden to put in warm weather veggies, build the pig pen, welcome son Allen home from college and set up for the next workshop- ADOBE FLOOR on June 4-5.
Hope you’ll help us spread the word- we’ll need lots of feet and hands for that one.
Come meet new friends, enjoy the satisfaction of learning some sustainable-living skills, and have a bit of “inner child” fun!
Here’s the rest of the workshop schedule.
Tim watering down the center of a finished tater tower, dreaming of roasted potatoes.
Well, we love potatoes! This year we wanted to grow lots more and to try some different varieties, but we just don’t have anymore space to devote (and potatoes need space!). Plus, as we try to practice companion planting, we find that not many other vegetables like to share their bed with potatoes. So a potato farmer really needs to segregate the spud in the rotation plan. Wow- what a real estate hog this veggie is!
Kate filling the bin with compost
This winter we stumbled upon a new concept in potato growing- Go Vertical. We thought this was a wonderful idea because it allows you to grow 50 lbs in just 9 sq. feet of space. AND harvesting doesn’t require back-breaking digging!
We are not sure it will work, but we are experimenting this spring with four “eye-rise” potato bins. (high-rise, get it?
Here’s the basic set up from a great article by Fred Davis.
In our bins, Tim modified the design by adding a drain pipe in the middle- advice from a veteran gardener he met at the WV Small Farm conference this year. Since this vertical garden can dry out more quickly, we’ll put the hose into the drain pipe and let water seep to the roots- from the center out.
Adding some straw lightens up the soil and prevents it from washing out the side holes.
1. Cut a 10′ length of hardware cloth. Use wire cutters to cut holes about 3″ x 4″. Lace together the ends of to create a cylinder 3′ diameter. (more details in Fred’s article).
2. Place a length of drain tube in the center so it peeks out the top.
3. Fill it with light compost and straw.
4. Wet it down to help soil settle.
5. Plant potato pieces- 1 each in the side holes.
6. Water through the center drain tube.
Ready to plant the pieces of potatoes that have been dried out to prevent rotting- each with 1 or 2 "eyes" on them.
In vertical gardens it is best to use late-season varieties like Russian Fingerlings, Yellow Finn and Beauregard Sweet Potatoes . Early (or short) season potatoes only set tiny tubers once. Late-season plants set tubers many times along the way from different sections of their growing stem. Our question is- if in this design the potatoes are planted into the side of the bin, are late season potatoes necessary since their stem will not be covered with soil and straw as in traditional potato planting? We’ll plant one bin with early-season potatoes as an experiment to compare results!
Planting 1 potato piece in each side hole. Leaving the slightest bit exposed so it can find the light sideways.
But since we do love potatoes, we are not willing to put all our “spuds in one basket”. As insurance in case this new method fails, we planted some early-season potatoes like Sangre, Red Gold and Yukon Gold in the ground using the traditional method.
What we're hoping our bin will look like in a few weeks
The great benefits with the tater towers are in harvesting- you just untie and let the potatoes fall out. (that’s the idea- stay tuned! )
Today our team gathered around the building site of Querencia, our soon-to-be artist studio. After months and months of drawing, planning and dreaming… today we stood together and drove final stakes in the ground. Marking the front door, the curve of the sitting nook, the wall of south-facing windows… walking the perimeter, opening the imaginary door. Sure, the footprint may only be 500 “square feet”, but there has been a lot of thoughtful consideration to orientation, efficient use of space, and the “feel” of the building. Thankfully, as of today, all marks on that plan have a specific, physical address
***We hope to share building updates on this blog every week or two. While it may sound like Beth is writing it (using “I”), it is a compilation of all of our experiences- the construction, people-connection, and design perspectives of Tim, Kate and Beth. We hope you’ll join us in our natural building adventure – through this blog or, better yet, by digging in with your own two hands! (check out the building weekends on our website )
Kate, Tim, Gary and Sigi- the brain trust.
We are so lucky to have terrific people involved in this project.
Gary Blankenship of Lucourt Contracting will be in charge of the foundation, framing, and roof. He is willing to try his hand at some unconventional building shapes- spirals, curves, cones- instead of the typical 90-degree angle. Gary and team built our perfect yellow house two years ago- so we have complete faith in him! And Tim, with all his years of home repair and carpentry projects, will be on Gary’s team- problem-solving and offering a hand.
Our daughter Kate is the project manager. Traveling all the way from San Diego, she brings a basket full of skills: construction experience from rebuilding in New Orleans with Americorps; managing events and guests as hostess on a shark-diving boat; organization skills from being a personal assistant.
And I’ll be choreographing the process (and pitching in everywhere I’m needed) Definitely a generalist, not a specialist !
Sigi Koko, natural building guru, drew up the design of our little cottage after a year of asking great questions and listening deeply to my vision of a tiny artist oasis. She will now lead each of our building workshops- teaching workers the skills they need to help us complete each phase of construction.
Eagle Scout Tim finding true South with the compass
Our tiny building is going to be big on passive solar design.
The south-facing wall will be full of windows- letting the sun shine in to be absorbed into clay walls and floor. Large roof overhangs will block the too-hot summer sun, while allowing warming rays in from the winter sun lower in the sky. On the west side, a few small windows will allow in light but prevent the extreme late afternoon heat from spiking the interior temperature.
On the north side there will be almost no windows- just a few key “zen” views that allow a peek at the river and ventilation when needed. Uninsulated glass is the mostly likely place for precious warm/cool air to escape.Lastly, the east side will include a moon window (to enjoy the early night moon “rise”), morning-light window over the sink and two high windows over the sculpted sitting nook. Both east and west sun can provide nice light (especially east) but are too unpredictable to use in a big way for heating and cooling. South is king in passive solar design.
a bucket of taproot clay
While Gary was on the phone renting equipment, we looked over our “shopping list” of supplies from our own property. This winter I began hauling field stone from the hedgerows to use for the base of the cob oven and the studio. Tim located a good spot for a pond and will dig up the soil from there. Hopefully we can also find a fallen tree with a curved limb to serve as the entryway arch. Straw bales will arrive from a local farmer.
Sigi showed us how to assess the soil on our site for its cob suitability. Cob will be the clay mixture we use to mortar stone, sculpt walls and then thinned for clay plaster to seal the strawbale walls. Tim dug up a bucket of soil (excluding any organic matter in the topsoil) from the pond spot. After seeing how reddish-tan it was, we were optimistic it was full of clay.
Then we took a blob of soil and rolled it into a ball. It quickly formed a little cannon ball that did not crumble when dropped. Only clay can do that! Yep, we have clay. And looks like we won’t need a liner for that future pond- it’ll be more like a clay fish bowl!
Lastly Sigi set up a shake test in a canning jar. (see more about cob to learn about cob and soil testing).
Cob shake test... from Sigi's website.
A simple shake test determines relative percentages of clay and sand contained in the soil. It works because clay remains suspended in water, whereas sand and silt sink in water.
1. Fill approximately ¼ of a cylindrical-shaped glass jar with crumbled soil (free of visible stones).
2. Fill to the top with water, close the lid, and shake well, until all of the clay is dispersed.
Our shake test to determine proportions of clay and sand in our soil
3. Set the jar down on a level surface and watch for 10 seconds. All of the sandy solids will settle to the bottom. Draw a line on the jar at the top of the sand. The water remains cloudy with clay.
4. When the water becomes completely clear, draw another line at the top of the settled clay. The ratio between the height of the sand and the height of the clay represents the ratio of sand to clay in the soil. Note: it is difficult to differentiate silt in this test, as silt is similar to sand, only smaller and spherical.
Seems we have a 3:1 ratio of clay to sand… and we want a 1:4 ratio. So I’ll be ordering a truckload of sand.
Therefore our final cob mixture will be made up of approximately 1 part Taproot soil, 1 part sand, and lots of straw. Straw will provide the tensile strength since stalks of straw resemble little trees- strong and stretch resistant.
As you can see, we are truly building our little studio from the ground up!
Digging the rubble trench foundation next week; framing/roof in late April and May; and setting up the May- Sept. building workshops to train our workers.
Today is the second anniversary of Taproot Farm. We spent it making final preparations for all the new arrivals expected in late April and early May.
Tim has been busy working on an addition to the lamb barn- a second coop for the last of our layers. We are trying two new chicken breeds from Meyer Hatchery. Half of them will be Welsummers, a beautiful brownish-red hen that’s known for its chocolate brown eggs often adorned with speckles. We expect them to continue laying well in the cold months, a good thing since our current “girls” tend to go on strike in the winter.
We also ordered Golden Buffs which is a hybrid strain that is very productive and lays a large, light brown egg.
The coop addition in process...
Demand for Taproot eggs from friends is outstripping our supply so we are doing our part to “employ” more workers. If you can lay an egg- you’re hired!
Mama and baby Large Black hogs
We were referred to a wonderful source for feeder pigs. Bob Harrod in nearby Paw Paw, WV raises “Large Black” hogs. After a fascinating question/answer session on the phone, Bob tagged two piglets for us- a gilt (female that has yet to bear young) and a barrow (castrated male). Their mother is a 50/50 Berkshire/Hampshire mix and the father boar is 100% pedigreed Large Black. We are really excited about this breed, because we’ve heard it is the tastiest and tenderest pork. Why? Because the fat is marbelized, not just layered in each cut.
After talking with WVU’s apiarist specialist, Paul Poling, we’ve determined that mites did-in last year’s hives. Bees can tolerate some infestation, but too many can overwhelm the hive. We expect Varrola mites were our problem- attaching to the bees and also feeding on pupa. They say that if a honey bee was the size of a person- it would be like carrying around a parasitic watermelon on your back.
So, this year we’ll start with a clean slate of four hives! And we’ve planned to treat the hives to control mites periodically through the summer. Tim and Brandon (our niece’s fiance) have been building bee boxes in preparation for the 40,000 bees arriving on April 28. Things will be buzzing here!
Playtime! One of the lambs in the center is soon to be ours.
We can’t wait to have another baby lamb around! In June, the new Katahdins at Churchview Farm will be weaned and we’ll get to bring one of the little girls home. Eleanor and Jackie will love having another “first lady” in their club since, sadly, our original third lamb died from an accident last fall. Lambs are very curious and not always the sharpest. She got her head tangled in a rope hay feeder and strangled before I found her early in the morning. Our experienced farmer friends comforted us with their own sad stories and the wisdom gained from such experiences.
This fall our plan is to breed Eleanor and Jackie. Lambing will be an amazing experience- we should have 3 or 4 Taproot lambs next February!
Yesterday the UPS truck delivered 24, 8′ trees- the foundation of our new nuttery and apple orchard.
Osage Pecan tree
When you are farmers over 50 like us, you don’t waste precious time with 3′ whips. These grafted trees should bear nuts in 10+ years and apples in 3-5 years.
We chose Northern Pecan and English Walnut varieties from Willis Orchards. We are interested in growing nuts as a healthy protein source and cash crop. A 3-acre field on east side of the stream will be dedicated to this edible forest- delicious, profitable and serving as a carbon sink by storing carbon dioxide in it’s fiber. Also, as the U.S. Dollar drops in value, we think investing in Walnut “futures” is not such a nutty idea.
As the nightly news gets worse and worse, we also thought that having a little hard cider in the pantry might help. Six Orleans apple trees and six Cox’s Pippin apple trees will pollinate each other nicely. The Orleans is a classic yellow English apple that ripens mid to late September. The Cox’s is a medium reddish-purple apple developed in Geneva, New York, so it is well suited for our cold winters. Apple cider is one of our favorite drinks whether on ice, in a hot mug or fermented for a festive Saturday night!
The most anticipated new arrival at Taproot is our delicious daughter, Kate. Kate has been working for the past 2 years on a charter dive boat off the coast of Mexico. She’s decided she’d like to trade in her fins (temporarily) for muck boots and we need the help! She’s a hard worker with an upbeat attitude and has a million ways to crack us up. Kate will be part of the staff through September.
All these new arrivals will bring fresh, spring energy to the farm. We’ve had a good rest- now we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work!