For the Love of Clay Plaster: Building a Sauna

Homestead

In Finnish tradition, when one first moves to the land they build a sauna that they can use and live in the first year while getting their feet on the ground. It serves the dual purpose of providing a restorative haven and also a tiny home of sorts while they establish other infrastructure.

When we moved to the land at Mountain Jewel we had basically no building skills. We were gardeners and needed a home on our raw piece of land as a necessity, but it wasn’t what excited us about homesteading. To house us that first year we bought a used yurt on Craigslist.

Fast forward nearly 4 years

We are building a straw bale home and tending gardens & food forests. It becomes clear, however, that we will not get the straw bale house, begun in April (though dreamed of for much longer), closed in for winter. One of the reasons is that lime plaster requires above freezing temps to cure and we are about a month from our first freeze. As this reality settles in, that we will be spending another winter in our tiny cabin built during the Discovery Channel Homestead Rescue episode on our land, I realize that I cannot do another winter in that tiny space with Ini — without running water or a place to wash off easily. We decide to build a sauna.

As the temps have cooled in the past few days, the decision to take a pause on the straw bale house and build a sauna seems a good one. It’s hard to take clothes off and bathe outdoors when it’s really cold out! (Though we have a well with a pump and electricity, our cabin is hundreds of feet away from that and there are no insulated indoor spaces capable of housing a shower.)

Earthen Plaster Practice

Painting on a clay alis (clay paint) onto an earthen plaster. I will go more into this in future articles.

This season as I gear up for plastering an entire straw bale home (lime on most of the outside and a combination of lime and earthen plasters inside with an earthen floor), I have been honing my skill at earthen plasters. Thus far on the homestead we have created a composting toilet (the Fert Lab, pictured below) that is slip straw with a clay plaster and the facade of the solar shed is also slip straw with earthen plaster finish. A few spots on the exterior of the composting toilet were very eroded from direct water damage and the conventional studs were showing through in a few places due to the sand/wheat paste not being a good binder- we have since started to use fiberglass mesh to better connect wood and earthen plasters. I decided to start there.

In these dark sections, the slip straw was revealed and the earthen plaster was greatly cracked. When water directly hits an earthen wall, the sand comes to the surface and the wall slowly washes away as the clay can only take so much before it erodes. The dark clay is a base leveling coat of plaster.
Fiberglass mesh stapled into a framing stud. Clay cannot connect with wood so this bridges the plaster gap. Notice the wet clay on either side. When applying a new coat of plaster, one must wet the clay to ready the particles for bonding.

Mixing earthen plasters is an art unto itself. Yes, you can basically take any clay rich soil and put it on the side of the wall and it will do some type of job at resisting the elements and closing in your building. However, without good ratios, you will get cracking, peeling away from the surface below, dusting, and a finish that leaves a lot to be desired.

Solar shed perspective shot on many of the areas that needed attention. In future articles, I will detail the process and show final photos.

Being the stubborn creature that I can be, I had not followed all of the advice to do test patches and to sift the clay when making earthen plaster. This led to some cracking and unsuitable trials on my part that I went ahead and plastered the whole wall with (I did mention that I can be stubborn.) This time, however, I was really interested in honing my craft and not just getting the job done. It’s my intention to get really good at this so I can live in a house that exemplifies how truly stunning earthen plasters can be.

The dark brown is a straw and clay heavy leveling coat that prepares the wall for the final plaster which is usually very refined and creamy (lighter finish on right.)
This creamy plaster literally drove me wild with glee. A taste of earthen delights! A dream to apply!

So I practiced. And practiced. Made test patches and trials with our local clay, sand and straw mixes and I learned a lot. One mix I did was very heavy with clay (I had read from Athena Steen of the Canelo Project that a heavy clay mix with a lot of straw and little sand can actually be beneficial in areas where finishes are exposed to direct rainfall- sand comes to the surface when exposed to rain and often erodes quite quickly, whereas the heavy clay & fiber can provide more of a mat resistance.) Though I did have some slight cracking (imagine small broken blood vessels) on this finish, with a wrung-out sponge I was able to burnish the exterior and wet the clay enough that it filled its own cracks.

Left: clay heavy final plaster that has not been burnished. Notice the cracking and uneven drying due to heavy clay content. Middle: same plaster finish as on left but rubbed gently with a wrung out sponge. Notice that the surface now appears much more even, the cracks are (mostly) gone and a nice straw aggregate has appeared. Right: This is the clay alis (natural paint) that I have applied as a final coat (will go more into this in a future article.)

After realizing how a heavy clay finish performs, I was interested in experimenting with more sand. A basic ratio for earthen plasters is 1 part clay and 3 parts sand with a generous portion of chopped straw. This is a rough guideline because the “clay dirt” in each area of the world contains different levels of sand, silt and clay. You can do a test to figure out how much clay, slit and sand your soil contains and whether it is suitable for plaster. Sigi Koko has a good video:

When I made a ratio with 1 part of our clay with 3 parts sand and some finely chopped straw, the plaster felt nearly too sandy, too coarse and dense. It didn’t feel right in my hand, but boy did it dry to a beautiful, crack-free finish! I’m learning by touch and I have a ways to go!

This is why it is so cool to practice with your own local clay – it’s incredibly empowering. I am not simply following someone’s recipe, but I’m learning about what the different ratios look and feel like myself. If you’re interested in learning about earthen plaster, I encourage you to do the same. Because all of these are earthen ingredients, if the plaster doesn’t turn out right I can wet it and use it again!

Sauna Dreams

After honing my craft on the Fert Lab, I was truly itching to plaster more walls. I was having dreams about plastering each night and woke up wanting to sift clay and mix up creamy gorgeous plasters. After Ini and I decided we were going to pause on the straw bale and build a sauna, we decided on a conventional stud framed building with slip straw (light straw clay) infill with an earthen plaster finish. Soon I would have more surfaces to play on! (Basically we built the sauna so I could plaster more!)

Mixing up a batch of slip straw earlier today! Stay tuned for a tutorial video and sauna and slip straw specific articles.

We started the sauna in early September and we’ve been working hard nearly every day on it. I’ll make another post detailing our progress, but thus far we have built the foundation, framed all but one wall, finished the roof on the back of the building and completed nearly half of the slip straw infill. No doubt we are tired and building our muscles, but we are fueled by passion and our imaginings of baking in our sauna this winter!

Photo from a few days ago. Roof and more walls completed at this point.

In coming posts, I’ll detail our progress on the sauna, share some photos and details of my plaster process on the Fert Lab, provide some tutorials on the methods and practice of Slip Straw and Earthen Plasters. Stay tuned!

Foundation for our Straw Bale Home

Homestead

Wow y’all! I have not been keeping up with sharing all of the work we’ve been doing on the Straw Bale build. Things are busssssy, but I’m making an effort to document some of this to share/educate/enliven and because I value being able to look back on things.

The month of June included a lot of work on the foundation. You saw us get a backhoe in to dig and fill the trench. And I didn’t record any of the form building, though @birdsinparadise documented some of it when they visited.

It was so awesome that they could come & help us with the foundation — and my mom helped clean and organize our entire outdoor kitchen (who’s amazing? she is!!) Not only were we making great memories together and we’ll always remember them as being a part of the house build, but they’re really brilliant and skilled people. They used to own a home building company and my dad spent many hours on site (+ he’s a perfectionist who can build nearly anything!) and my mom was the accountant for said home building company and did all of the estimating for the builds… perfect duo to step in as we’re wrapping our minds around the build.

As I mentioned above, my dad is a perfectionist “over-builder” and that’s exactly what we wanted while making the foundation. In fact, we had a friend of ours who had worked in concrete for 8 years come over and inspect the forms before the concrete & pump trucks came Friday June 28, 2019, and he was impressed with the forms saying that they were overbuilt. The pump truck operator said the same thing! We had no blowouts and everything went smoothly (except Ini misestimated the amount of concrete to have delivered so we had to hand mix a section.) All in all – it went really well.

Here are some pics from the day:

We had to get a pump truck as the cement truck couldn’t fit around our site. We couldn’t believe how large the pump truck was – absolutely incredible! When it got going the work happened so quickly!
Ini directing the nozzle into the forms.

We had a good crew of local friends including Petey & Sumner from Eastwind (an income sharing community near us), Chris & Gene (neighbors from 10 min away), Michelle (neighbor 20 min away) and Sarah (a friend we recently met at the Baker Creek Festival who is 3 weeks away from having a baby!). It was a great crew!
Petey & Sumner banging the sides of forms to get the air bubbles out of the concrete.

Gene especially had a lot of concrete experience under his belt and he and Chris smoothed off the tops as we went along.
The little section to Chris’ right was the gap between our need and what Ini estimated! Some of the trench was deeper than he thought it would be and that’s why he thinks his estimate was off (even though he ordered more than he thought we’d need.)
We eeked out the last bits in the pump truck (that the pump can’t access) and filled up the trench by hand, but it still wasn’t enough. Ini, Petey and Sumner mixed some concrete by hand after Michelle and I went to town to get some. Not ideal, but it worked!

Today Ini is taking off the forms (we’ve been lightly misting it for the past day and a half). It’s been super hot – like in the 90s so that concrete is drying and curing quickly. So far what he’s taken off looks great!

I have a video of the process that I’ll compile and upload as well and we’ll do our best to blog about the process as it unfolds.

It feels like such a big hurdle to be finished with the foundation. This was a new step for us and a lot of the steps to come are things we’ve done before. We’ll be calling the community in for help along the way and we’re super excited to be finished with the foundation! Onward <3

Perennial Food in the High Tunnel: Planting Figs

Homestead

Here in the Ozarks of Missouri we’re on the USDA zone map as 6b. Who knows, we may be zone 7a soon! These zones depict climate trends like the date of first and last frost and mean temperatures throughout the year.

When choosing perennial plants to grow, one looks at these trends to see if a plant will thrive within a given climate. With High Tunnels (especially if they’re heated or double walled), we have the opportunity to bend these zones a bit and extend the season or encourage the growth of plants that usually wouldn’t thrive here.

One such plant that is a common one for High Tunnels, Greenhouses and Microclimates is the Fig.

Common figs belong to Moracea family which also includes mulberries and Osage orange.

They are part of the very large Ficus genus which includes thousands of species that grow all around the warmer parts of the world. Figs have been cultivated for thousands of years and have captivated human interest with their scrumptious fruits and lush foliage.

Figs have low water and nutritional requirement, are not bothered by many (or any) pests and love heat so they are a great choice for our high tunnel. Many of the edible figs are hardy to zone 7 and above, meaning they won’t reliably bear fruit in our climate.

On our homestead, we’ve decided to allot the fig ample room within our High Tunnel to encourage fruiting. Usually figs “die back” each year (their roots are still alive, but all above ground growth dies. When this happens, we lose a lot of fruiting opportunities as the plant has to spend its energy producing vegetative growth as well. However, in a High Tunnel the fig doesn’t die back and we get to start with a larger plant each season.

To prepare the soil, we first dug and removed rocks. We then grew a spring cover crop of oats and amended with ashes and lime. We harvested the oats at the milky stage for a delightful nervine tonic and then cut the straw down to stubble to cover the bed- a great mulch layer! We will add some kelp and a little manure before laying on the mulch even more heavily.

We are choosing to focus on perennials in the high tunnel for a few reasons.

First, we want to grow something we otherwise couldn’t, not just get a jump start on heat-loving annuals. Secondly, pests can easily build up in an artificial environment such as a high tunnel, particularly if similar crops are grown year after year. Figs are not susceptible to the most common garden pest. Lastly, we also didn’t want a lot of maintenance and upkeep with the high tunnel so figs it is!

The Romans grew figs in pits to constrict the roots and encourage fruiting over foliage.

These were rock or concrete pits or trenches roughly 2 feet cubed. This bodes well for us because our soils are shallow and we have plenty of rocks, not to mention low fertility. We will boost Phosphorus and Potassium as we are low in these minerals but take it easy on Nitrogen to avoid excessive leaf growth.

We’re excited to take our perennial vision to the high tunnel and are looking forward to a delicious variety of figs in years to come.

Unbelievable Stats on Climate Change

Ecotrain, Homestead

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets. We are literally taking over the earth and causing animals our grandparents grew up with to go extinct. 40% of insects have already gone extinct. This is due to conventional farming practices (read pesticides and herbicides), deforestation, habitat destruction and warming air and waters. Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.) As everything is interconnected and human reach is so vast, our actions intimately and more and more quickly impact all of life on the planet. Now is the time to simplify & drastically scale down consumption, buy used durable goods we can use for a long time, grow your own organic food or know your farmer who does, stop using plastic in favor of wood, glass or metal and simplify simplify simplify. Downscale. Share. Barter. Create. Rampant consumption is not a sign of wealth or progress, it’s actually more quickly devastating our planet and everything on it. Throwaway culture is the death of us all.

Yesterday I shared this soundbite on Instagram with a picture of our little cabin the woods. (We finally got a wee bit of snow!)

I was surprised at some of the “backlash”. Multiple people found the facts I shared unbelievable, one even going so far to call them delusional, and while the gram isn’t link friendly, writing a blog post sure is.

Perhaps you all will find these statistics on climate change and human related impact hard to believe as well. If so, keep reading and I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Breakin’ It Down

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets.

This stat came from this article in The Atlantic, Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction.

Our destruction is so familiar—so synonymous with civilization—in fact, that we tend to overlook how strange the world that we’ve made has become. For instance, it stands to reason that, until very recently, all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass. This Frankenstein biosphere is due both to the explosion of industrial agriculture and to a hollowing out of wildlife itself, which has decreased in abundance by as much as 50 percent since 1970. This cull is from both direct hunting and global-scale habitat destruction: almost half of the earth’s land has been converted to farmland.

40% of insects have already gone extinct.

This stat was from this article in The Guardian, Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.


The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.

So it seems my statement that 40% have already gone extinct was incorrect. Rather, they’re on the verge of going extinct. Either way you slice it, news like this is not positive and we need to start creating pollinator habitats while we stop destroying the wilds and curb pesticide and herbicide use.

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.)

You all already know about the Mariana trench from an article I did earlier in the week and the egg yolk fact came from this article Plastic chemicals discovered inside bird eggs from remote Arctic.

Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet.

Scientists were concerned by the traces of phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys due to their potential “gender-bending” effects.

These substances are routinely applied to many plastic products, and probably came from the bottle tops and cigarette butts these seabirds often eat after mistaking them for food.

The eggs were taken from northern fulmars living on an island in Lancaster Sound, more than 100 miles away from the nearest human settlement.

In a preliminary study, Dr Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service tested the eggs of five fulmars and found phthalates in one, but warned the problem is likely to be far more pervasive.

“These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” explained Dr Provencher.

Conclusion

While I misrepresented the statistic on the insects, the rest of them stand affirmed. I find these stats unbelievable as well and it’s shocking to have people who read these demanding that I prove the veracity of my writing simply because the stats themselves are so controversial.

Yet on the other hand it’s not shocking at all. A large group of humans remain “climate change deniers” and they make it a political issue obfuscating the very realities that we need to heed in order to act accordingly.

It’s always so odd to me that people deny that this stuff is going on or get lost in the minutiae. One could go on and on sharing alarming and disheartening studies revealing the state of things facing our world and all of its inhabitants.

Most of us ignore finding the details out about this information because it’s too difficult to take in.

It really is as bad as the scientists confirming it are now saying. Ask people on the coasts or the people facing increased rates of floods, wildfires, hurricanes, island dwellers with raising sea waters, fishermen with less and less to fish, the list goes on…

We can waste our time arguing about the details or focus all of our energies on the solutions. I do think it’s worth hashing out the details so we can really know where we stand and realize how bad it is (or not if that’s what the facts say)! Yet at a certain point, we just have to start acting.

I found this article, The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future, a very worthwhile read proving that no matter where you live you can make key changes toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

After all, we are all just reaching toward sustainability. It’s literally impossible in this day in age to be divorced from the system that is killing our earth. With that said, it is very possible to take the necessary steps toward living more lightly and aligned with the earth. If the movement toward a gentler way continues, we can truly make lasting change and turn this ship around.

2019 Interns at Mountain Jewel Permaculture Homestead: The Details

Homestead, naturalmedicine, permaculture
  • Natural Building
  • Permaculture/Holistic Living
  • Perennial Agriculture/Food Forests

Mountain Jewel is a permaculture homestead in the heart of the Ozarks. Located 15 minutes outside of Gainesville, Missouri on 18 acres, we focus on perennial agriculture, Herbalism, natural building and bioregional living. As a Center for Earth Connection, we seek to observe and align with natural rhythms, making sustainable use of the resources around us while honoring and getting to know the wilds.

At a 2019 internship at Mountain Jewel, there will be a heavy focus on Natural Building as we are building a Passive Solar Post & Beam Straw Bale Infill house!

We also will be tending and expanding perennial gardens and food forests which includes sharing host of practical skills & information on edible landscaping and useful Permaculture & medicinal plants. We currently have 2.5 acres of Food forests, 2 high tunnels, and .5 acre of intensive perennial and annual garden production. Mountain Jewel is completely off grid (save propane used for cooking) using Solar Power and our water comes from a 250 ft well on the property (soon to include more rainwater harvesting as well.)

Garlic harvest

What can an intern expect?

As in intern you will have an amazing opportunity to engage in the intimate process of building a natural home & creating and tending food forests.

You will learn mostly by doing, although there will also be some structured “classroom” time. The process is messy at times, involves plenty of consideration and creativity and a lot of physical labor, which can be taxing emotionally as well (especially in the beginning as you familiarize yourself to new surroundings and experiences.)

Through hands-on skill building in a variety of natural building methods and Permaculture principles, you can expect to receive a good introduction to a wide range of practical topics.

Throughout the season we will be going working on different aspects of the build. Starting with site prep and foundation, we will continue with framing, roofing, raising straw bale walls, plastering, laying floors, plumbing, wiring solar systems, plumbing solar hot water, building a rocket mass heater, etc…

In addition to the building, we also tend annual & perennial gardens, high tunnels and food forests, which account for much of our diet. Other opportunities for learning may include rain-water catchment and irrigation systems, grafting, layering and other propagation methods, seeding, general gardening tasks, pruning, fertilizing and more.

On top of this, there is also the reality that you will become an integral part of an organic Permaculture homestead in the country.

Early summer garden

 With 3 acres of our land open for food forests, high tunnels, outbuildings and gardens, the rest of the land (15 acres) is mature forest which has choice wild edibles and provides respite, recreation and beauty throughout the year (and ticks during the warm months!). Some of our diet is also obtained through foraging and wildcrafting and you are welcome and encouraged to join us in our wild forays where we teach ethical, safe and sustainable harvesting methods.

Wren making a cleaver’s tincture

As we ask for your help 5 out of the 7 days of the week (not necessarily Mon-Fri), this also leaves 2 days a week for rest and exploration of the surrounding areas, much of which is the Mark Twain Natural Forest and includes stellar waterways like Bryant Creek and the Norfork, a world class destination. Our property has a creek of its own and we take dips down there often!

Our western edge

What do we expect?

In opening up our homestead to interns we are seeking to share our experience in hopes of equipping, inspiring and empowering others to participate in meaningful practical ecological ways of living.

Mountain Jewel is foremost a Center for Earth connection and we provide an holistic haven and skill building opportunity for modern humans to reconnect with that which is essential, Nature. Our homestead is dedicated to living in alignment with these natural rhythms and it is these skills we want to pass on.

We foster a culture of respect from ALL participants including ourselves, each other, the wild, the site and the process of learning. This means respecting boundaries, personal space and guidelines we outline as a collective (depending on expressed & present needs.)

Sunset on Ozark Mountains surrounding our homestead

We encourage applicants who are engaged, interested, motivated, self directed, passionate and ready to learn. We see this internship as a relationship between you and us, other interns, the process itself, and most importantly, the land. At Mountain Jewel, interns are crucial members of the team and as such we ask that interns take active interest and initiative to facilitate their learning process, express their needs and desires, and support the collective.

This internship will require a lot of physical work and we want you to know that ahead of time. If the workload is ever too much, please express this to you as we seek to create a healthy work culture. During work hours, we invite your full presence and participation.

Mountain Jewel inspired art by https://lauraleesart.com/

What time frame?

We would prefer interns to stay from 1-3+ months as we feel this gives a richer depth of experience. It takes time to build relationships to place, process and people, as well as taking into account the skill building process. Seeing the building and gardening process through time is a much more grounded way to build skills and experiences. As we are a family run homestead, we are open to various possibilities and opportunities, and if a situation isn’t working for either party that will be discussed.  In these cases, if possible, we practice the Art of Council communication technique to gain clarity and hopefully resolution before going our separate ways. We are all here to learn from and with one another and see these connections as  opportunities to do just this. We have a no tolerance policy for any forms of abuse and will not tolerate drug use.

For all potential interns there will be a 2-week trial period to see if the experience is a good fit for all. It will include orientation, training, check-ins and some hands-on tasks. At the end of this, there will be a process where we clarify next steps and make sure all parties are on board. It is our goal to hold space for interns to have a great experience learning more about themselves, the earth and all that we have to share on this homestead.

Lodging and Food

Lodging

Lodging at Mountain Jewel is simple and rustic. We cannot offer any indoor lodging during the summer months, but offer shaded tent platforms in the woods, running water and a covered outdoor kitchen space for simple food preparation (including a double burner propane range, large sink, shelves, food storage, counter space and table.) While we have a couple extra tents we can loan out, we encourage you to bring a tent that will be your shelter, a sleeping pad or mattress, hammock (with mosquito netting and a tarp) and/or build a shelter (if you know how to adequately do this) once you reach the land.

We live close to nature and ticks, spiders, and other insects inhabit our space with us and the transition to such a lifestyle can take some getting used to. Come mentally prepared and see it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and strip off layers of modern conditioning. It gets hot in the summer and at times this can be oppressive, but we balance this with early morning starts, frequent creek dips, and midday siestas. As mentioned, we do have a creek on the property and this aids a lot in our self care.

Food

Many but not all meals will be shared, and we expect interns to be able take part in food preparation on a rotating schedule. We have yet to work out details, but what has worked best in our experiences has been setting up basic meal plans and going through a rotation where each team member takes their turn in preparation of meals based on what’s seasonally available.

We will offer simple whole foods and seek to eat a balanced diet. We strive for sourcing 100% organic food where we can’t meet these needs ourselves. We eat meat occasionally (wild and locally grass fed from a nearby farms), eggs (don’t have chickens anymore but will source locally) and may source local dairy (depending on refrigeration options at the time). 

During the summer, we will have abundant greens and other produce as well as fruits grown on our homestead. Sometimes we fish and often we go mushroom hunting. We buy bulk grains, beans, oil and other staples.  

*SORRY, but we may not be able to accommodate certain special diets or allergies. Contact us if this is a concern.

As this is a work exchange there will be no stipend offered. In exchange for 6 hours of work a day 5 days a week, you will have access to bulk food staples, fresh garden produce, one healthy shared group meal a day.

Shiitakes we grew on oak logs

Transportation

A personal vehicle is recommended but not necessary. We are located 1.5 hours from Springfield, MO, 45 minutes from West Plains, MO, Ava, MO and Mountain Home, AR and frequent these cities biweekly for bulk food runs at the health food stores and other sundries (these towns have a lot of options.) We live 15 minutes from the very small town of Gainesville which has basic amenities (post office, small conventional grocery, library, and gas stations, etc.) You are welcome to come along for these journeys.

Ini with a harvest of wild Paw Paws

To Apply

Answer the following questions and send us at least 500 words to mountainjewelbotanicals@gmail.com on why you want to do this and your current related knowledge and experience (it’s fine if you have no experience). Tell us a bit about yourself. You can share blogs, social media sites, etc.

Name, Age, Current location, time availability and desired length of stay, special needs/allergies/other considerations, do you have your own camping gear, vehicle or pets, one thing that scares you about this and one thing that excites you, what you’re hoping to get out of it and what aspects you’re most looking forward to. We look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about us at Mountain Jewel by checking out our blog at https://steempeak.com/@mountainjewel or http://instagram.com/mountainjewel

Woven Beginnings: My First Wild Willow Baskets

Homestead, permaculture

Oh the slow chilled winter daze! It feels like winter has finally hit! We had our first snow a few days ago and temps have dropped. The Canadian enjoys this weather much more than I do. Feeling like my bundled child self when I do go out, I mainly only go outside to adventure into the woods and to the creek or to make it from point A to point B. Aside from indoor projects (like tiling) and Ini’s work on the Welcome Kiosk, we are turning our sights inward, reading much, and spending time indoors. 
As previously mentioned, this winter I wanted to teach myself to weave with native materials. I started off looking into the river cane, an incredible native bamboo beloved by the Native Americans who lived here previously. Yet, I feel I need a teacher to move forward in this craft — or perhaps I am trying to peel the cane in the wrong season? Nevertheless, there are some Native teachers I may seek out in Oklahoma- especially if they have a workshop on cane material prep and weaving this year. Instead, I have turned my sights onto other materials and I’ve made two baskets!
My first basket – what a thing! Though I did it with a library book tutorial, each step is new and one doesn’t know what one needs to do until ya do it for the first time. It’s cool to already see progress on basket #2 – simply because I knew more about the nuances of the materials and what needed to happen at each stage. Still, the first basket, a true experimental labor of love, is in use and am somewhat charmed by it. However, this second basket.. Ini and I aren’t really taking our eyes off of it! 
Far from perfect, my second basket is USEFUL. It is this that has me deeply enamored with this process. 
The indwelling magic of taking nothing but materials from here to make a useful object with them. As I wrote last night in reflection:
I finished a basket tonight that’s already holding our cedar kindling and sitting next to the fire. It was definitely a life changing moment seeing it there. Somewhat of an epiphany. So outside of capitalism, untouchable. Made completely from this land I love only using secateurs, following a book from the library, a transmission of a skill long held by humans. Something untouchable by the system, made from here, by my hand & serving a purpose… weaving purpose with the land. 
Truly I am enamored with this process and its implications. In a throwaway culture to be able to take a wildcrafting jaunt, especially down by wild water hearing the sounds of the fluid creek as I gather willow, sycamore, bramble and other vines, and harvest materials for a much needed basket… this is really something else. Of course something quite old, but marvelous to my modern self. We’ve been needing a kindling basket for quite some time and we love the look of it sitting there holding the freshly split cedar from our land that we use to start our fires. It beautifies and enhances the whole place. And just looking at it.. the hues and textures, knowing it is born of the river, carries the energy of flood and heron, sunshine and the constant gurgle of spring fed creek… but most of all that it didn’t pass through the hands of commerce and I made it! And I can make more! 
I would like to next perhaps work on a basket with a circular base. It is a bit tricky with the materials I have because they are note uniform “farmed” willow (though I think I will order some of these cuttings to root in the spring so that I can have some cultivated “basketry willow” which is longer, stronger, uniform and comes in neat colors! Yet making these “wild” baskets is a fantastic first step and I read somewhere, and was thinking this too, that if I can weave with the irregular funky pieces, I will cultivate my skill well for when I do have the long ones. And I do love the funk! 
Happiness is making practical objects which escape the economy, made from the land which we love and tend, adding beauty to our abode. I’ve read a lot of books lately on indigenous stories and I am feeling inspired — and also that sick/raging sadness of the destructive march of civilization/modern culture which erases and kills it at every turn. Yet these are skills that bring life and we are all connected to the land, and can be more aware and more connected if we put more time/attention into it. 
Blessings,
Wren of Mountain Jewel

Rivercane Basketry | Native Practical Art Inspired By the Cherokee & Choctaw

Ecotrain, Homestead

It’s a new year and I’m feeling invigorated to learn a new craft. Isn’t that funny how something you passed over in the past may strike an inward fancy and seemingly a breeze on the wind can propel one toward learning a new skill? 

Basketmaking

It started off with hopes of purchasing some willow cuttings from Dunbar Gardens. @schoonercreek, whom some of you may remember, recommended them as a source. As more and more beautiful baskets were passing my vision on Instagram, I’d decided I would grow a patch of willow, wait for it to grow and in the meantime teach myself weaving using brambles and hopefully some wild willows that I could find near me. As I started doing research, however, I found an incredible diversity and wealth of inspiration that quickly changed my initial plans. I will likely still purchase some willow cuttings and root them in this year’s Food (and useful material) Forest planting in “the Orchard” (where you’ve seen us recently clearing and planting apple trees.) Yet I will also be using my energy to try out other local materials, ones that have a distinct and superior history of use.

Choctaw and Cherokee

As I was racking my mind to think of different things I could gather to practice making simple baskets, I thought of the grapevines, aforementioned willows, brambles, wild roses, honeysuckle and much more. People have been weaving since before neolithic times – an art many are keeping alive and reviving and the sky is really the limit as far as what you can make baskets and other useful items with.

What I’ve read is that if you can bend the material at a 90 degree angle or if you can wrap it around your wrist and it doesn’t break, the material is good for weaving. 

I wondered, had the river cane, Arundinaria gigantea, our native bamboo (and one of the three temperate native bamboos in North America), been used?

A quick search found some jawdropping creations by this region’s original inhabitants, the Choctaw and Cherokee.

Here are some samples of their works, though follow the links if you want to be further impressed. Some of these were even made to be watertight!!!

Cherokee

Single weave rivercane basket by
Cherokee basket maker
Lottie Queen Stamper

 

Choctaw

Large pack baskets, such as this one, were used by Choctaw women for transporting many types of large or bulky objects. These baskets were used to harvest fields, to collect wild food and other resources, to pack a family’s belongings for travel, and even to carry the soil for constructing earth mounds. Most pack baskets, including this one, have a leather tumpline, or strap that goes over the forehead to help stabilize the load.

 

 

Taposhake chufa, pointed basket

 

Immediately, I was intrigued. This is the same river cane that we have here and I live on a creek called Caney Creek!

Ini and I have always looked at the cane and wondered what we could do with it. Our neighbors have rich stands of it and it lines the creek that abuts our land’s western edge. People don’t seem to value it much, though I am increasingly learning of its importance and in the importance of tending wild stands.

Cane favors stream banks and acts better than hardwood trees to stabilize the bank from erosion and to filter run-off pollutants. In fact, the big stand of cane on Highway 209 was planted as a stream bank stabilizer by the landowner, on the advice of the county agricultural extension agent, about 40 years ago.

Researchers estimate that some 98 percent of the canebrakes present when the Europeans arrived have been lost. The usual suspect is the enclosure of animals, especially cattle, which eat the tender cane shoots as they emerge. In Cherokee, the tribe has sponsored a restoration project to ensure native basketmakers having a supply of cane for their work. Preserving river cane is one way to recognize the history and value of this hardy and beautiful grass. Source

It’s very important that we treat this process with respect and as Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, writes,

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so
that you may take care of them. Introduce yourself.
Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.

Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.

To this end, I want to tend wild stands near our creek, spreading the rhizomes and making sure I am adding back what I am gratefully taking. 

Foraging & Learning

My first foraging mission happened yesterday, as many of you caught on to in my DTube video and post. I took my Gerber machete down to the creek and just looked around. I found a lot of wild rose, catbriar and grapevine and finally made it to a canebreak, the name for the cane stands.

I had done a bit of research on making basket materials from the cane, but sadly it is sorely lacking online so I wasn’t sure what size or age I was looking for. I took a few big ones (the size of my thumb- which I later learned are the size you want) and some smaller ones to experiment with. I used my machete to chop off the leaves, which reside at the nodes of the cane.

That evening I brought them into the cozy cabin after googling my heart out for more information. I had found out a few things and watched 1 video which helped me understand a bit more what I was after.

Experiments

That first night was quite funny as Ini tried to split the cane in half and then into quarters and trip the inner pith out. Today I finally found a couple Youtube videos which demonstrated what needs to be done- not what we spent hours last night doing! Hah! But it was good practice and it’s important, I think, to experiment and just try.

This morning I went and harvested more cane and practiced using the new techniques I found out. Thank you past humans and those who have carried this tradition on! I got some usable material.

It’s incredible to believe that this is just Step 1! Next, they usually would then dye the pieces, walnut and bloodroot are two popular local options, and then weave! I found some weaving demonstrations online, but I may practice using brambles as it is a lot of embedded energy in each cane piece and I would like to have a wee idea of what I’m doing before I use them.

Into the Future

I’ve also found some Choctaw classes in Oklahoma (about a 4 hour drive) that I may attend to learn more about these techniques. I am so thankful they’ve been carried on and I’ve watched many Youtube videos and been very heartened to discover that though not quite popular, this art has been carried on and is currently being passed to the next generations.

A fire burns inside as I study these techniques and look with wonder at the baskets and other practical items the Natives to this land created for thousands of years. I seek to honor them as I learn this craft and likely blend techniques as I gain in skill.

Exciting times! Stay Tuned!

Baby in the Garden & Cats on Woodland Walks

Ecotrain, Homestead

Return from Holiday

Just got in at 2 am from visiting my sis and her family near some mountains in Colorado and @birdsinparadise and my dad were there too! Conked out after we got in and woke up to a balmy 45 degree temp so I decided to take a walk in the garden.

Being the garden nerd that I am, I go around and greet my plants, even though some of them are simply roots underground. I can still feel them. My sis and bro in law made Ini and I this cute little cement foot of their new child, my nephew Brooks! What a better place to put it than on the old stump next to the crystals near some raspberries, goumi & asparagus! I am already hatching plans to have my nephew spend weeks in the summer here where we can indoctrinate him with plant lore and alternative lifestyle visions… And what a sweet little foot he has…

 

Good to be Back

As you know, we spent most of December away! A dear old friend visited upon our return and then we flew the coop again, spirited away to visit family. We’ve hardly spent any time here! Since the temps were so balmy, it was great weather to take a walk into the woods. Even though our place is 18 acres, which really isn’t too big, we don’t make it to certain parts of the land.

Today we took a jaunt over to a North East slope where there are some awesome overhanging rocks.

 

Woodland Walks with Cats

I always take it with a little smile inside that our cats follow us on walks. Sometimes just one or today 3 of them… It’s cool they want to be near us and fun to see them scamper and play. They’re clearly happy to have us back and our dog is happy to be home (we had her at a kennel) and she was doing loops around us as we walked through the woods.

 

Into the Future

Winter is such a great time for rest and we’re reading, cozying up by the fire, eating nourishing food, meditating, spending time with friends, planning for the year ahead, moving plants around (today moved and split up an elecampane plant), and finishing up odds and ends around the homestead. I feel like there is so much space and that’s such a welcome feeling after the rush of necessity inherent in the last 3 years.

 

We talked about this a bit with the friend who just visited. She’s built log cabins in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and in the interior of Alaska… and then left… after 2 years each time. At that point, she said, things had just begun settling down from the necessity of getting food, shelter, water, etc worked out.

 

I feel like we’re finally getting there, to that spot of equilibrium where we aren’t rushing around taking care of our core needs. And that feels really fucking good.

 

Yet the house plans are also on the horizon and talk of inviting interns into our space. 2019 will be a good and full year and I feel that we’re filling our reserves and holistically preparing for what comes ahead! I’m excited!

In Other News

A happy holiday season to all of you! Wishing you the best from our mountain homestead! I’ve enjoyed sharing our SP and will be taking back the delegations shortly after posting this. I hope you all have had a good time with them and been able to grow your accounts a bit and share the love!

 

Looking forward to coming into 2019 strong, healthy and clear! Steem On & Much love!

Come Hell or High Water

Homestead

One thing you should know about our area is that we live in a place that is prone to flooding.

Last night we were awakened around 2 AM to the sound of rain pounding on our cupola. We have 100 yr+ White Oaks surrounding the house and when I woke up in the middle of the night hearing rain and the whoosh of the trees around me, my heart gave a little panic and I prayed that they wouldn’t fall on our roof.

Marty Raney of Homestead Rescue (and the whole Discovey Channel Team) begged us to remove the trees. In fact, it was the drama they were looking for the last day — except their plans were thwarted because they couldn’t make it to our homestead. We had a historic “100 year flood” and had to turn around. We were stranded that night and the next day.

We set out early to assess the damage and found a sycamore tree over the “high water bridge” near our house. With the help of our neighbors, we removed it. Yet many times we find our low and high water bridges under water after heavy rains. Now, after a deluge, we always go and check out the damage done, so to say.

This morning I went outside and heard the creeks roaring. We are experiencing unseasonably warm temps and Ini and I were itching to go on a walk.

Taking the Fart Out of “Jerusalem Fartichokes” Aka Sunroot or Topinambour

Ecotrain, Homestead, permaculture

Topinambour

Though this plant, also known as Jerusalem Artichoke, Sunroot or Sunchoke, is making a revival, I have heard much negative press about this forgotten, yet increasingly popular root vegetable. Largely the negatives reside around the side effect of flatulence due to its inulin content (the same characteristic that has earned it the title of a nutraceutical) and the flavor.

Last night Ini and I made our first harvest of these tubers in the sunflower family. A wild plant to the Americas, they were first tended and selected by Native Americans in the eastern part of the continent, yet now they are popular all over the world after early Europeans brought them home with them.

We have already written about the plant and showed you some very sexy photos of the plant in bloom here so today I want to focus on the roots, their preparation towards the tastiest (and easiest) of dishes and ways we can reduce that fartaffect.

Because last night, let’s just say I was nearly gassed out of my house between Ini and the dog and my own digestive track was doing the rumble and “letting wind” — I have a personal stake in the matter.

 

And as their perennial nature of self propagation, ease of growing, and health benefits, I am not even close to giving up on this plant.

Digging them was like digging for treasure and as we collected the smaller heads and filled the hole with a big head and spread them around the property, we realized what an easy staple food crop this truly is.

Only, how to prepare it and reduce the gas?

Acidify

As one article says,

 I learned that indigestible polysaccharides such as inulin can be converted to digestible sugars by “acid hydrolysis.” In layman’s terms, that means bathing the inulin in something watery and acidic. Lemon juice, perhaps?

and furthermore,

 “Boiling Jerusalem artichokes in an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar will hydrolyze the inulin to fructose and small amounts of glucose,” Rastall advises.

 

Ferment

 

Here’s another solution: Traditional fermentation-style pickling also removes sunchokes’ gaseous effects – while retaining their artichoke flavor. Gardening mavens Linda Ziedrich and Rose Marie Nichols McGee developed a game-changing recipe that yields completely gas-free Jerusalem artichoke pickles that keep all their wonderful crunch and taste.

 

Build Up A Tolerance

 

His fix for the overdose of inulin in Jerusalem artichokes? Build a tolerance. “Rather than avoiding all inulin, I suggest that people consume small quantities on a regular basis,” he notes. “Their gut microbiota will adapt – the proportion of beneficial bacteria will grow, while the gas-producing bacteria will diminish – and after a while they will be able to eat Jerusalem artichokes without discomfort.”

 

The Long Cook

Another site adds this helpful tidbit,

In On Food and Cooking (2004 edition), page 307, Harold McGee indicates that the… erm… flatulent effects of sun chokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) are due to complex fructose-based carbohydrates that are not digestible by humans.

> Long, slow cooking allows enzymes present in the fresh of the tuber will convert these fructose over time. McGee recommends 12-24 hours at 200 F / 93 C.

And also,

“About half of the remaining indigestibles can be removed by boiling in a large volume of water for 15 minutes.”

Storage

 Harold McGee addresses this subject in his excellent book, The Curious Cook (1990). He explains the Jerusalem artichoke in great detail in the chapter titled, “Taking the Wind out of the Sunroot.” His conclusions are (a) the quantities of the responsible carbohydrate are somewhat dissipated during cold storage of a month or more.

Late Harvest

 As one of the other answers outlines: the most accepted remedy is cold storage or late harvesting. When left in the groud during the winter, the tubers transform the inulin, thus enabling us to effectively digest the Sunchokes. This means that if you are growing your own, you can just harvest the tubers on the day you eat them, provided you do so late in the season.

First Things First

This is so exciting. Ini and I dug up a bunch of sunroots today and last night and will be selling some on the @homesteaderscoop for SBD! We bought these from a reputable nursery and they are select varieties!

First things first, I have some wonderful fodder here to experiment with. I think, to start, we’ll try the fermented aspect. As you know, we’re going on a 10 day meditation retreat shortly and will start a couple batches of classic lactofermentation using these sunroot and some salt (and other herbs and spices, and perhaps vegetables, as the mood strikes.)

 

The sky is the limit when it comes to learning how to most effectively partner with perennial vegetables. One thing is for certain, I feel the joy of life moving through me as a I work with this plant and I feel the familiar happiness and wonder at thinking of all of the humans whose hands this vegetable has passed through and how it has traveled all over the world (via humans and yes of course rodents, which are known to move little tidbits around gardens everywhere– and the plant will grow from the smallest tidbit!)

 

How do you like to eat Sunroot? Start small and let our bodies, which aren’t used to high amounts of inulin, get up to speed with this nutraceutical and it sounds like we’ll be off to a better start.

 

Let me know your favorite ways to eat it in the comments below!