Saturday, March 7, 2009

Good fences make good neighbors.

We love our neighbors, but traffic down our new driveway has gotten a little out of hand. We rented a really cool auger over the weekend at a weekday rate to set some posts in the shale clay. I can't wait to set the gate!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Valentine's gift of Apple Trees

Valentine is a day for homemade gifts in our household. This year Christi ordered me our first fruit trees for the farm, but the trees came too late to be gifted for Valentine's Day. As a present for me to open, she made me an unfolding, growing card of an apple tree and poem.

It was so thoughtful of her to gift fruit trees. Our first house had peach trees that I had cultivated. In the middle of urban Houston, I had tilled up the St Augustine grass to plant an herb garden with 4 white peaches (200 chill hrs) and 3 MidPride peaches (300 chill hrs), 3 Anshiner (sp?) apples and 3 Reverend Morgan apples. This last spring, the peaches outdid themselves and the Midpride produced the best fruit I or Christi had ever eaten. We made peach chili all summer long. Houston had very low chill hours, so I would need to learn all new varieties for Arkansas.

Understandably, Christi wanted to get started growing fruit right away! As a tease before we truly set our garden plans, she bought one Golden Delicious Apple (700 chill hr) and one Red Delicious Apple (800 chill hr) as a pair to symbolize our love. She also added one more branched bare root tree to get free shipping, lol, an Alberta Peach (800 chill hr).

Never too early to plant a tree. The best time to plant a tree is ten years ago.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Putting things in order

For the first time last night, I felt my baby kick in her mother's womb. I am going to be a daddy. There is nothing like that feeling to put the pressure on a would-be homesteader. There is no house, no garden, and no nursery. We seem so unprepared.

The first rule for an architect and former Scout is to be prepared. Plan well. Follow the plan. But when the plan changes on you, ADAPT!

We did have a plan. My soon-to-be-wife and I put a contract on a farm last summer. It had fences and cross fences, house and barns, creek and lake. Incredibly, it had a huge new shop that I could start my construction business from right away. It was made for us. We were so excited!!! We even considered having our wedding ceremony on the grassy lawn by the lake and swing dancing in the barn, but the logistics were too unmanageable. We did plan a wedding nearby and promised to host our families at the farm when they visited. We adopted our Great Pyrenees puppy from one sheep farm to grow up on our farm and then acquired a trained Border Collie from another, since our Aussies were not trained yet for herding. Arrangements had been made with still another local sheep farm to provide us a small herd. Everything seemed gloriously ordained.

Two months into the process of quitting jobs and packing to move from Houston, the seller breached his promise to sell the farm to us. As was natural for two architects, we had planned our first five years of growing the sheep farm. We had shopped for trailers and tractors we thought we would need. We ordered quinneas, ducks and chicks to be delivered to the farm to start the process of de-bugging the place and composting. All that planning was derailed as we began the painful process of realizing that the seller would never sell us the land. There were no farms anywhere like this one. The fowl were redirected to Houston during the negotiations, but we had to release the fast growing ducks into a nearby lake. The keets grew quickly too and we had to release them too. Reality set in hard that our dream would not start as ideally as we had hoped.

Eventually we found this other land with a creek that we could maybe afford to build our own homestead. We would have to start from scratch. We rented a house sight unseen and started our move. The chickens live mostly in the garage awaiting a protective coop and fencing on the land. The wedding went beautifully with the family happy with hotel arrangements. We remained undeterred in our hopes and dreams. We took it as a sign that we were to be die-hard homesteaders after all, when we discovered we were pregnant with a honeymoon baby. An incredible surprise but a welcome one!

Plan, plan, adapt. Just because it seems we are doing everything out of order, just means that we did not know the order that things were supposed to happen.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Make a path into the woods

The first mark on the land was dramatic. We had walked the land and knew that there was no flat land anywhere to place a house, much less have a practice field for Christi's dog agility runs. This homestead was not well suited for her plans of starting an Aussie Club and having Agility Trials. The raw power of the land would allow only the homestead with some gardens, and with hard work, pastures and rolling fields. We will have to find more urban land for the kennel's business requirements.

We did know the perfect location for the house. There is a knoll, actually a knee on a ridge. From there, we could look around at the distant hills and up both sides of our property. Though we could not see the property to the south from the knoll, we felt safe from the south. A good friend and his wife had bought into being our southern neighbors some time after we had bought ours. Apparently the idea of homesteading a piece of mountain was contagious. I was thrilled. The creek was low to our west and the access road high to our east.

It was time to make a driveway. The knoll was a 1/4 of a mile from the road and involved a drop ff a ridge and crossing a saddle to the knoll. We had already talked to the electric coop who said that they would set poles and run overhead line up to a 1/4 of a mile from the road. Obviously, our fate was cast. We had our dream site. But how to manage it?

We stopped by a neighboring property where we saw a man digging a lake with a rather large bull dozer. When we met Mike Nally to show him our work, the day was frost bite cold. He was bundled and warm, whereas we were obviously not prepared for Arkansas ice. Nevertheless, the enthusiam of the day kept us from freezing in our steps. Mike was a dream. He spoke of building and excavating like an artist and natural land steward. We learned more about the native trees from him in those minutes than we could ever have learned from books or internet. We had cherry trees and walnuts and more oaks than we could use. The tall pine were part of a managed forest, though they were a hazard to powerlines and houses since they did not set good tap roots in the rocky shale loam. We had to clear 30 feet for an easement to give the electric coop room to manage lines in ice storms. Dreams of being off the grid were far off yet.

Mike turned out to be semi-retired, but putting in a lake for a former client down the road. It would be a real gas saver to drive his bulldozer to our land rather than haul it back to his land. He was quick to invite us to see his new farmhouse and the huge lake we was carving there. More on that in a later post... As his prices were much less than we had been discussing with others, we set about working on machine time. We would only pay for the hours his machine clocked, like a taxi. I was used to design/build and knew we could never plan exactly what we wanted. Hourly was the best approach and turned out to be very reasonable. After all, in this forest, we could not even see the contours clearly. We cut and then looked, flagged a path and then adjusted.

We cleared the top of the knoll and then marked our house corners. We did this twice, reducing the top of the knoll a good four feet in elevation. What we bought with this decision was house and yard space, as well as excavated tons of the the best shale the county had. This saved so much fuel costs of hauling in rock, that I can hardly fathom it. Having rock on site is fabulous. Mike brought in a dump truck and other heavy equipment to load the shale and then pave and compact the drive all the way back to the road. I was amazed at the toys he brought out. Having run a large construction company building developments all over the state, he had a lot of toys. It bothered me at first to see the deliberate destruction along the drive, but his act was one of concentrated effort in the smallest part of the land that he could, leaving the rest of the land undisturbed. My truck will have no problem leaving the road and coming down the drive to my house. It need not go cross country though clay and loam.

We also cut a rough drive down from the driveway into what we planned to have barns and paddocks for rotating sheep around. We held back from going further. Mike would have loved to pave all the way to the creek, lol. I don't need my truck there. I can still walk. We will have Mike back later to build a damn for a lake on one of the seasonal runoff creeks near the knoll. He has had some personal knowledge of laying geothermal piping in his own lake and encouraged us to consider that, or a wood burning furnace, or even a heat circulating system involving a triad of Living Machine, tilapia fish farm in a greenhouse, and radiant floor piping. For an excavator, Mike was brimming with green construction techniques. As a green consultant myself, I was delighted to hear my thoughts given back to me so easily and persuasively without any jargon or mysticism. Mike spoke from the heart.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Aussie explore their new creek

This land was the only water property we could find in our price range and the dogs just love it.
Clear waters and rounded stones do not belie the secret that this valley probably floods and the land beyond this creek is all but inaccessible. That is fine by us. This will be our preserved natural habitat where we can bring the children down and picnic.

The rest of the land is fairly steep and rocky. The soil will require protection and work to sustain us. For now, we wash our souls in the sound of the creek and look forward to spring.

Garden of Eden

One must start somewhere. I choose the Garden of Eden. My wife Christi and I fell in love with the idea of homesteading some land and building a straw-bale house. Our very marriage was infused with that thought. We quit our jobs in the big metropolitan Houston and sought land and adventure.

We have our land SW of Little Rock, Arkansas. With a gurgling creek and shale mountain slopes, our 60 acres is full of forest, briar and deer. We became the stewards of this wild garden of Eden we named optimistically Griffin House Farm and dreamed of sheep fields and fruit trees and a warm, cozy house to raise a family. No more will we only talk of sustainable living, aesthetics, and permaculture. We want to live it.

Christi is my Eve. She surrounds herself with animals. She feeds two cats named Bean and Ru; three Austrailian Shepherds named Gryphon, Dahlia and Paige; a Border Collie named Call; and a Great Pyrenees named Athena. You can see more of her life with the dogs on her kennel site Outfox Aussies She is my healer and studies alternative medicines. She is my life artist. She is my soul mate and heart's echo.

I am Rodney. My skill is construction. You can see my design handiwork at EcoHouse Architects I love my chickens and my sustainable gardens fed by roofwater and organic soil. My goal is to feed, house and sustain my family in the most fulfilling, healthy way.

Together we transform our Garden of Eden into Arcadia, a land rich in knowledge and experience. We aspire to live and teach green strategies and sustainable ideas. See our profession come together in our company EcoHouse Construction, or home Griffin House Farm, named after my first sustainable house and after her heart dog. The House that we build for Griffin House Farm will be our homestead and our experiment in green Living.

This is our blog.