Category Archives: Collaborative Love

Fort Building Update II

moving along!

This fort is feeling like a never ending project, and it’s due to the extreme heat we keep having. Who wants to work outside when it’s broiling? Today we spent the whole day working on it, despite 90+ degree temps with high humidity. We worked mostly in the shade, which was bearable. We survived with a lot of water and several breaks. Daniel got the remainder of the roofing boards (scrap pieces) and roofing paper on. After two heavy rains we were concerned about the roof boards warping, so the tar-paper should help until we get the metal roofing on.

I’m looking forward to finishing up the wood trim and door step so I can move on to more fun things, like shutters and a door. In my mind it’s already stained with shutters and a flower box… looking awesome, of course! It’s turning out to be a very cute structure with a lot of possibilities. It’s my second major building project since the chicken coop, and for some reason this larger house has been a much simpler project.

We’ve been brainstorming a name for the structure. Something having to do with the raised flower/veggie bed frames we used to build the lower section, or possibly referring to its usage as a kids fort.

Amelie loves going inside and hiding behind a wall next to the window. Then she throws balls out the window at Sky or Prasad, laughing hysterically. They’re going to get a lot of use out of this cutie!

Posted by: Jill



Filed under Collaborative Love, Do-It-Yourself, Family Happenings, Kids, River Living, Urban Farmsteading

Fort Building Update

looking inside...

Sky looking South toward the river levee

We’ve been moving along on the kids’ fort. You can see the four layers of old garden bed frames we started with at the bottom, and we’ve been using scrap wood we had on hand, as well as new wood to build the rest. The newer wood is mostly cut from untreated dog-eared fence boards, which are very cheap. The roof will have additional framing before we install it, and of course we’ll be building a small door, shutters, and a flower box.We’ll be staining the wood, and paint the door and shutters. We plan on incorporating some decorative branches and logs into the structure, either on the roof, around the windows, or wherever feels right. It’s nestled under the trees, and is barely noticeable.

Sky and Prasad will be doing all the sanding on the cut edges. They’re both very excited about their little second home, and keep going outside to sweep out the floor (under trees with no roof = a floor full of leaves and twigs). They’ve already played “restaurant” inside, and asked whether or not it’s okay to jump out of the windows. Of course, the answer was “no” but I’m glad they at least asked!

It’s turning out to be a solid structure, and will probably last a very long time. In a few years, the boys will be too old for a fort and Amelie will enjoy it. After that, we could use it as the perfect garden shed or goat house (if they ever approve of keeping little Nigerian pygmy goats in our city). Most likely, the shed idea will happen. I’ve always wanted one just for gardening since we don’t have a garage or barn.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Collaborative Love, Do-It-Yourself, Family Happenings, Home Projects, Kids, Parenting, Reuse, River Living, Urban Farmsteading

Farmstead Harmony

Today I’m feeling especially struck by the perfectly harmonious relationship we have with our animals. I was pulling weeds around the roses this morning (which have their first blooms of the season and the fragrance is to-die for) and threw all the weeds into the chicken run. It was a large pile, but they were all devoured in less than thirty minutes by both the ducks and chickens. Instead of tossing them into the garbage or compost heap, they disappeared into a perfect cycle… we’ll basically be consuming the weeds through our eggs. There is something primal and beautiful in having that symbiotic type of relationship with other living beings.

I’m noticing we have the most ideal mulch now. Every month we clean and rake out the entire chicken run. All the old straw and manure goes into the compost pile. Chicken and duck poo breaks down quickly since it’s dry and grainy, so we’re able to stir it around a month or two and see the most ideal mulch appear for our garden beds– rich, organic straw. We laid a heavy layer over our tomato bed, and they’ve been taking off like crazy. (**PLEASE NOTE: The compost we put on the beds was from the Fall/November. Compost should be aged at least 3 months for above ground crops, and 6 months for ground/root crops**) My point- we fed the chickens our scraps, weeds, etc. and they produced fertilizer resulting in mulch that both protects and nourishes our plants while at the same time saving us a lot of money on mulch. Then we’ll  consume the most amazing tomatoes we’ve ever eaten (if all goes well). I’ve been so excited about the mulch, we’ve been putting it everywhere. Note: we have to be sure to use the very broken-down straw compost since it can burn plants if it’s too fresh.

I should add that we have a new type of Dandelion control going on within the yard. We consume it ourselves, but never from our back yard due to the dog waste. Prasad walks around every day picking Dandelion and Violet to feed Forest, our growing Flemish Giant. The Dandelion that was taking over the cellar door is trimmed way down (sometimes he even gets the whole root out), and this week he’ll be pulling out the plants behind the air conditioner. Would Prasad be so willing to weed without his bunny? Probably not. Once again, it’s a sweet example of the natural harmony that takes place when you have the right animals around.

There are so many other examples of this in our lives, and I’m wondering if I’ll ever get used to it and take it for granted… it is, after all, the most natural of things.

Posted by: Jill


Filed under Chicken & Rabbit Gardening, Chickens, Clean Planet, Collaborative Love, Ducks, Eggs, Food, Order & Balance, Organic Food, Peace, Rabbits, Recycle, River Living, Simplicity, Urban Farmsteading, Veggie Gardening, Wild Food

From Raised Beds to Kids Fort

starting the base and floor

Sky and Prasad watching

moving along...

plywood floor attached

Surprisingly, raised garden bed frames are perfect for building a kids fort/ playhouse. A few weeks ago when we decided to replace all our 8′ long treated raised beds with untreated wood (due to the harsh chemicals in treated wood lurching into our crops), we wondered what we’d do with all that expensive wood. The boys have been begging for a wooden fort nestled under the Elm trees, so it seemed to be a logical use for them. We went out this morning and purchased other boards for the framing and floor. We’ll stack three more of the old, treated garden bed frames on top of this one, followed by some new siding boards, a roof, and voila! Instant (well, almost instant) kids cabin in the trees. It’ll have a door, window & flower box, and front stoop. It should be plenty of space for the boys to hide out and store things. We think Amelie will also love it for years to come. Time to start framing the walls!

Posted by: Jill

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Urban Farm & Garden Update: Early Spring 2011

Pole Beans!

First, I’d like to point out that we have to put in a fence around our veggies. This is because of our Boxer pup, Hanu. He usually leaves the beds alone, but has occasionally trampled over them and pulled out one of our Marigold plants last week. He was the reason I was having such a difficult time actually planting anything a week ago- I was apprehensive out of fear that he would destroy our goodies. I was bummed out for a few days because I can’t stand the look of typical chicken wirey fencing around that large of a space. We’re talking about a 20′ x 60′ foot area- a small portion of our property, but it’s clearly visible from our sun room. I wanted to keep it visually appealing. After some brainstorming, we decided to utilize natural materials that are readily available in the woods behind our property– logs and branches. A nature fence! There is an endless supply of logs next to the river, so it just seemed like the most logical choice. It won’t be completed until this weekend, but I’m LOVING the fluid, gangly, funky feel of it already. It blends beautifully with nature, and the posts will not be cemented in… we want to be able to move and expand the garden easily over time. Instead, they’re put into very deep holes (the soil is like butter and easy to dig out). When they rot, we’ll go back into the woods for a free replacement! I personally love how right-brained it is… there is no measuring required, and it feels like we’re sculpting. Both Daniel and I are having so much fun log hunting and building that we can’t stop admiring it and talking about it. We’re looking forward to diving in more fully this weekend. More pics to come as it develops.

Now, for the garden- So far we have four 4′ x 8′ garden beds, two large rum barrels, and this homemade tee pee trellis for pole beans and snap peas. We wanted snow peas (the flatter variety) but have had no luck finding seed or plants in town. The two plants in the picture are Kentucky pole beans, and the beans get 7″-8″ long. We left an opening on the front of the tee pee so Amelie will be able to sit inside when the plants go wild. We’ll also have a large, rectangular 12′ x 19′ plot for more blueberries, and other larger plant crops. That’s also where Prasad and Sky will have their own little garden squares to plant whatever they want.


On the right you can see 9 small tri-colored cherry tomato plants, only three of which have their cages. Behind those are 9 wider, taller cages with a tri-colored variety of large tomatoes. After a lot of research on tomato cages, we opted for a more durable version of the classic metal tomato cage (the wires are much thicker and stronger). We considered building our own out of wood, twigs, or concrete re-bar wire, but these seemed the most do-able for us this year. I didn’t want to spend valuable time building, or bending very hard re-bar to shape. It’s all an experiment, so we’ll see how these do this year.

The far left bed isn’t filled up yet, but it contains 8 tomatillo plants, and 8 eggplants. Another bed (not pictured) has garlic and onions, with red peppers and jalapenos.

The past two weeks we’ve done more digging than ever before. We are very impressed by the soil. It’s extremely rich with organic matter, free from rocks and clay, and doesn’t really need anything added to it. A farming friend told me the proper name for our soil is “Eudora Silt Loam”, and it is Capability Class 1 soil, which is a tiny percent of the world’s soil. We’ve noticed just about anything can grow here, and the soil can be worked easily, wet or dry. No tilling required. And it’s never too muddy after a rain to dig in the dirt due to the extremely fine sand. With our hot, dry Summers, the soil stays moist just a few inches deep, so we won’t have to water as often as one might expect. When I was digging up the soil for the pole beans, I ran into some of the longest, fattest, juiciest earthworms I’ve ever seen. It’s incredibly fertile soil, and I can’t say enough about it. If we’re successful at growing our own food, most of the credit will go to the soil.

Posted by: Jill


Filed under Collaborative Love, Do-It-Yourself, Food, Natural Food, Organic Food, River Living, Simplicity, Urban Farmsteading, Veggie Gardening

Our Old Passive Solar Greenhouse


South side of the greenhouse

the North side, and East door

I’m guessing this structure stands well over 120 feet from our house. It’s quite a little journey to do daily watering, thinning and pruning, but it always feels like a quiet getaway. When we’re inside, the stillness is amazing. Note: That rain barrel is temporarily standing on two old tree stumps, but we’re hoping to find a much better, less silly looking alternative. We also plan to install a gutter to that side which will empty into the rain barrel. For now it’s still filling up during rains. Being so far from the main house, it is imperative that we have a water source for the greenhouse.

The South tinted panels will probably need replacing due to yellowing and aging, but so far they’ve been allowing enough light for our seedlings to thrive. We’re guessing it was built a very long time ago, considering it has a very old fuse style breaker box installed. Possibly built in the 50’s or 60’s. It’s approximately 25-30 feet long, and 12 feet wide. It’s extremely well built, and designed as a passive solar structure. This means it utilizes the sun and earth naturally for heating and cooling. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside when it didn’t feel like a comfortable temperature. It’s built 1/2 underground with a breathable cinder block foundation, and the ceiling is very high to allow heat to rise in the Summer. Whoever built this structure must have been seriously into gardening because a great deal of thought was put into it. It’s all wired for electricity (if we ever opt for it) and it even has a sink and plumbing ready.


looking inside

The greenhouse needs a lot of TLC, but only aesthetically speaking. Structurally it’s fine, and it has a newer roof.  There are unfinished parts around the inside of the front door that need insulation covered with paneling, a rotted ventilation door on the West side needs replacing, siding replaced in a few areas, and I keep thinking those white cinder blocks could use some colorful paint. We may have the kids go to town by painting designs on it soon! The upper walls will remain white to reflect as much light as possible. Of course we’ll put in solar wind chimes, statues, and some decorative flowering plants in the two back corners which help to oxygenate the space year-round.

We think that whoever designed the structure was very tall, or had some type of step stool inside. At 5’5″ and 5’8″ Daniel and I reach the close rows just fine, but the rows against the walls are difficult to get to (we have to jump up and stretch). Because of that we’re planning to build a raised wood plank floor on top of the gravel flooring, and that should do the trick. You can’t tell by the photo, but there is A LOT of growing room in there. We haven’t even taken up half the space, and we have spinach, carrots, broccoli and lettuce growing… all doing beautifully. Daniel will be adding chard this week.

Oh, and do you see the cinder block with the holes? It has at least 4 of those blocks, probably for aeration and drainage. I bent down to look inside once, and noticed the soil goes down about three to four feet, and then it turns into about two feet of gravel for excellent drainage. Again, a very well thought out design!


spinach babies!

I took this picture a few days ago, and they’ve already tripled in size. We can’t wait to eat our very first greenhouse spinach salad! The best things about having a greenhouse are: We don’t worry about pests or animals eating our crops, we can grow food year-round, and last but not at all least we have a reason to get away from  the main house every day and experience some major stillness and quiet. It’s really an excellent place to sit and meditate, so we’ll probably be adding a small stool in the future.

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Filed under Collaborative Love, Greenhouse Gardening, Home, Home Projects, Peace, River Living, Shashwat, Solar Power, Urban Farmsteading, Veggie Gardening

Weekend Barnyard Pics

Mortimer & Phoebe, now 5 months old

Mortimer has been losing his darker brown feathers and will become a soft, lighter cocoa color. We love his green neck and head… Sky calls it velvet green, and it’s becoming more green everyday. It sparkles in the sun.

Our ducklings outside with Broom Hilda & Ermengard. Growing!

the 4 baby chicks spent two afternoons outdoors, too. Clockwise from left: Maria, India, Dot and Mirabel Muppet

Ermengard (6 weeks old) was sunbathing and doing dirt baths. We were surprised to see 3 week old little India doing the same

Jasmine, our smallest but most spunky adult hen


Marigold watching me clean out her coop

Yes, I know, I post far more pictures of our flock than our kids. It’s funny how they take hold of your world like that! The kids are having a great time with them, though.

We had an excellent weekend of warm and sunny weather. I planted one peach tree, and Daniel planted the other one.. they’re both on the South side of the chicken run so they have more shade.

POTATOES: We drilled holes in our large, oak whiskey barrel planters (they were actually rum barrels) for drainage. Then we filled them with rocks on the bottom for drainage, then half organic topsoil and half peat moss. You’re only supposed to fill them about halfway because when the plants stand about 5-6 inches tall you’re supposed to throw on another 3-5 inches of soil to bury the plants, leaving only a small bit of leaves at the top. When the plants flower we can dig in and grab a few small, new potatoes. Then when it’s time to harvest (the plants age and yellow), we can tip the barrels onto their sides to dump out our large supply of mature taters.. no digging required, and no concerns about moles or other pests. We have seen evidence of moles! We’ve never even tried growing our own potatoes, so we’re super excited. As for seed potatoes, I looked into them at the local garden center, but decided to go with our store bought organic russets because we know they’re organic. The seed potatoes at most garden centers are not. I have ours wrapped in newspaper, stored in a dark drawer for sprouting. They’ll be ready to cut up and plant by early May.

LAUNDRY LINE: I haven’t been able to hang laundry for a couple of weeks now due to expanding the chicken fence, and I’ve missed it. Yesterday I finally got the poles re-assembled, and all I have to do is reattach the three lines today. We have been buried in laundry all Winter, and for some strange reason laundry is more difficult without the laundry line. Somehow, hanging on a line breaks down the steps in a more manageable way… at least for me. Especially when it comes time to fold- I just walk outside, unpin and fold everything into the basket. I come inside and have no piles lying around to fold. It’s all done, and I just put it away. Plus, it smells incredible! I especially love having line-dried sheets and pillow cases.

SEEDLINGS TRANSPLANTED: The seedlings tray of tomatillo, eggplant, tomato and cherry tomatoes was transplanted into the greenhouse yesterday. We were hoping they’d make it in the trays until being planted outdoors, but they just got too big and needed to move before the last frost date. Daniel did that, considering the greenhouse has become primarily his territory. Today I’m starting some organic tri-colored pepper seeds for Liam (a huge favorite of his), and some pumpkin seeds for Sky. He kept begging for pumpkins this year, so we’re going to attempt a large bed of them.

PLANNING: I’m not a planner, so I don’t garden from drawings of elaborate plans. I’ve tried planning out my gardens in the past and always end up scrapping them. I wait for the earth, or the tree, or the plants to tell me where they want to go. I guess it’s a form of intuitive farming, or Shashwat. I was sitting down, taking in everything yesterday, and received a strong impression of the garden to come. I love it when that happens because I can stop thinking and trying to plan it in my head, logically. I can just see it, feel it, sense it and know exactly what needs to be done. It’s going to be wild, woodsy, elaborate yet very casual and native. I could see a crudely built border of tree branch fencing along a curved edge that enclosed a lush mass of green- wildflowers, some edible and some not, along with endless veggie beds and tall grasses and ornamental trees. I saw my rusty old vintage Schwinn leaning against part of the twig fence with a flowered basket in front. Why get rid of it when it could be used as a garden decoration? I saw all kinds of song birds, butterflies, and I even saw the little house we’re planning to build for Sorin… I saw/sensed the exact location, shape and size. Because it’s so clear in my mind now, it will be easier to manifest. The drawback of seeing it so clearly is that no one else can, and I have to wait so long to convey and express what I’m seeing. It’s a little oasis of peace, and now all I have to do is close my eyes to see it. Of course, it’s not something that will appear overnight, or in one or two growing seasons… the end product is not what matters, anyway. It’s the process of getting there that is most enjoyable and fulfilling.


Filed under Chickens, Collaborative Love, Ducks, River Living, Shashwat, Simplicity, Urban Farmsteading