Sunday, December 10, 2017

Photo Update 2017 Part 3: Gardening


Volunteer grape-sized tomatoes that grow abundantly with no human help at Wild Roots.


Wild Roots was logged to oblivion about 15 years ago, just before it was purchased by the woman who now owns it and lets us live there as we do (thanks!). I've seen aerial photos of it from the time, full of mud slides on steep rocky cliffs.

It's still quite steep and rocky, full of rhododendron and mountain laurel and dog hobble that hold soil in place so the tulip poplars, oaks, and others could get established over time. I can tell where gardeners have been and what they have done and not done, and it's taught me a lot.

My gardening

Here's some garlic drying which I planted end-November 2016

Here's what I did to harvest the garlic:
  • Late November 2016: 
    • brought up 2 buckets of soil from compost space and laid them over a terraced garden bed
    • placed garlic into soil
    • covered with leaves
    • hauled 8 gallons of water up the hill, watered the bed
  • Early June 2016:
    • harvested the garlic scapes
  • Late June 2016:
    • harvested the garlic in great abundance
To me, this demonstrated the maxim: feed the soil to feed the plants. We compost religiously at Wild Roots, and years of layering healthy compost upon healthy soil has built up our garden beds from shale-rock to a few thin inches of garden soil. It showed me that humans don't have to work hard to eat - we do need to take care of the land, though.

I planted a few more beds in late August 2017, and had mixed results. Squash grew abundantly but didn't fruit before the frost; I got some daikon radishes; only one onion sprouted - the bulbs I planted had been too exposed to the weather for 2 years between purchase and planting. The radishes didn't do great; I think I didn't mulch them sufficiently, especially given the erosion challenges of gardening on a hillside (and I didn't want to redo the terracing half-way into the fall gardening season - another lesson). Plus Wild Roots is very high in the mountains, so planting recommendations based on expectations of hours-of-sun-per-day, date of first frost, etc don't apply to us the same as they do to lower-elevation places just a few dozen miles away.

We also had a period of drought in September/October that hit the gardened and wild plants pretty hard. For weeks, I took water from the rain barrels and dutifully watered all the beds, and when the rain barrels went dry, I had a decision: I could haul water up a steep, long, windy trail from the stream every day, or I could let the plants fare as they will.

Many locals believe the conservative politics about climate change (it supposedly ain't happening) but they also believe what they see with their eyes: they tell me that streams are about 1/3 as wide as they were in living memory. We're simply getting less water in this region, and I decided I want to learn to garden with resilient plants that don't need much human help, that can fend through droughts and floods and hot and cold and still produce food I can count on. Furthermore, I want to be able to leave for months or years and return to an abundantly food-producing space.

On a larger scale, when I die, I want to leave an abundant food space to whoever follows, whether they recognize it or knew me or not.

So I now recognize three kinds of gardening. When you're dead and gone, or just gone, you...
  1. Leave the earth worse than you found it. Possibilities: make the land less bio-diverse, harder to garden, more toxic, etc
  2. Leave things neutral (2 years later, no one will know you'd been there)
  3. Leave things better than you found it. Possibilities: leave it more bio-diverse, more food-producing, less toxic, more drought-resistent, etc.
A woman, T, lived at Wild Roots for about 10 years and left right before I arrived in early 2016. She did much of the gardening during that time, and I found examples of all three kinds of gardening from her time.

I'd like to show you some examples:

Gardening - Neutral
In neutral gardening, you work hard and do a lot, and maybe you even get lots of food, but if you totally disengage with the land for a year or two, you leave no sign that you were ever there:

The pictures above and below show some gardening spaces that have gotten so overgrown in the last 2 years, you wouldn't know they'd been garden spaces unless someone told you. Other garden spaces aren't quite so overgrown.

Certainly, there may still be positive long-term effects: the neutral gardener may still enrich the soil (though she may withdraw the nutrients when harvesting the crop, so this may equal out). If this was how all humans related to the earth, it'd still be a huge step up!

Gardening - Negative
I don't see any signs that previous gardeners used toxic chemicals or soil supplements. The worst actions I saw were wanton tree girdling: 

When you remove the inner bark, you kill the tree, as the tree moves nutrients through this bark and not the inner wood. All girdled trees that remain are at risk of falling at anytime, making them a safety hazard we have to keep an eye on. 

We felled some of the trees T girdled before she left, but some still stand - and as far as I know, there's no reason for them to be girdled unless there's an urgent need to take them down. So this is an example of negative gardening - leaving a space worse off after your absence than if you hadn't been there.

Gardening - Positive

This is where it's at! In positive gardening, you encourage plants that will continue to live happily without intense human support. These are often the weeds gardening books warn against, the ones that spread aggressively, tolerate wide ranges of heat and cold and moisture and dry, and don't fit into conventional diets and recipes. They're the plants you find in wild-food foraging books! T was also instrumental in introducing and encouraging these plants.

My favorite leafy green at Wild Roots is stinging nettle:
Stinging Nettle: Mega-nutritional, and gentle enough that many herbalists recommended even for pregnant women. Also a source of fiber/cordage material, and the seeds are edible too.
Each year we mulch this bed, and that's it - it not only produces abundantly, it will spread if we don't hold it back. That's how I like to garden: I want to have to restrain my food from spreading into the path! Hold on food, stay in your home. Or at least spread in that direction over there please! No weeding, no store-bought soil supplements or testing, no plastic covers when the temperature drops below freezing. Just feed the soil in thanks for the nutrients you receive through harvesting the food, and let the cycle continue.

Here're some volunteer grape tomatoes:
The tomatoes fruits are hidden in this photo, but all the foreground greens are tomatoes, and they're just a small fraction of all the tomato plants at Wild Roots that grow abundantly with zero human effort.

The background green to the left of the cob chicken coop in the above picture is lambs-quarter, another volunteer and source of edible greens and seeds.
Look closer, and the plants are full of these lovely tomatos!

A major horseradish patch next to the stinging nettles! Leaves are spicy, and the roots delicious in fall-time krauts. This also gets no tending except a yearly mulching.

Above is a che-fruit tree. I don't think it even gets mulched. Maybe we'd be wise to do that. Below is a close-up of the fruits.

Che-fruits close up. Another abundant-producer with no human labor needed. It's a happy tree.

So the gardener T left Wild Roots, and what happened? A few tea herbs remain, the nettles remain producing abundantly, tomatoes,  horseradish, che-fruit, and some others remain producing abundantly - a true gift to the future residents, even ones like me she never met.

That's how I want to garden, leaving behind a richer world for whomever comes. Generosity towards the soil and plants and people, all at once - and if we're wise, we needn't work farmer-hard doing it, from sun-up to sun-down keeping nature from taking over our little plot. Instead I want to encourage nature to take over, and I'll just give a little nudge to the particular plant and mushroom and animal and microbe communities I most value.

I learned that the natives who lived in western North Carolina pre-Cherokee relied especially on lambs-quarters, a close relative of quinoa, and jerusalem artichoke, a plant similar to a sunflower that produces edible roots in massive abundance: the farmers I know want it uprooted at all costs so it won't spread, and the foragers I know lust to find it in unpoisoned areas. Some friends who know it well, and who are considering what to plant in their garden, considered planting it but discussed how to firewall it from the rest of their land. They even discussed putting metal sheets 3-4 feet into the ground to keep this incredible food plant from spreading too aggressively.

That's how I want to relate to my food garden - "Hold up food! Don't spread so fast. That's the herb patch you're gunning for, and I want room for them too." And then I want to extend that to whole forests, too, encouraging abundant food producing plants to spread and live happily without constant human effort tending and weeding and worrying and spending and plastic-covering...

And when I leave, or die, those mushroom-plant-animal-microbe communities will happily carry on, and any people who come later will benefit - no legal action, no written word, no human awareness at all will be needed for the beneficial results to remain, and perhaps even spread.

I feel grateful to the Cherokee for demonstrating this attitude in their tending of the wild blueberries. As I mentioned in my post on wild food this fall, they tended many many square acres (square miles?) of blueberries that grew so happily that they continue to grow abundantly today, centuries after the Europeans evicted Cherokees from those spaces

Next Year
This fall and winter I'm gathering resources to continue this garden-positive relationship next year. I'm going to spread lambs quarters and jerusalem artichoke, as well as a few others like amaranth that many people consider aggressive weeds, and then I'll just keep feeding the soil and help them establish. Then I'll observe how they do! Between the wild food-producing plants within a mile walk of Wild Roots (like wood nettle) and these plants I want to introduce, I hope to be able to harvest many gallons of grain and carbohydrate-root crop someday, a complement to the fruit, dried greens, and meat/broth/fat we already gather each fall.

And someday I'll leave and perhaps come back years later, or perhaps others will come, and the only thing we'll have to do to enjoy abundant, nutritious, free, non-toxic food is recognize it!

This is part of a series of posts describing my living situation (Wild Roots) and projects this summer and fall 2017:

Photo Update part 2: Wild & Intentional Foods

My pickup containing ~180 gallons of non-toxic, nutritious, free apples harvested from an untended orchard nearby with owner's permission. Me and 2 friends had a blast laughing, climbing, and playing in the orchard. We also ate, threw, and occasionally harvested lots and lots of apples. This was about 3 hours' work (and play).

 Wild and Intentional Food

Years ago, when I lived in suburbia, I felt really frustrated that I constantly learned of poisonous new ingredients, food processing practices, wrapping materials, sprays, farming practices, and so on in processed and raw grocery store foods. It seemed a never-ending battle to learn what to avoid, which brands to trust and for how long, and so on. So now I'm avoiding all that and learning to gather food from the wild, the garden, and trusted organic farms, with an emphasis on foods not tended by people. I love doing it with friends when there's energy, otherwise I like gathering food alone too.

Why wild food? Because I find it much easier and cheaper to accept food that's already present than to buy land and farm. Plus I get to feel grateful for the wild plants that sustain me, rather than feel a need to control and dominate a land space in order to force it to meet my food needs.

I'll share more about this attitude in the post on my gardening this year, but here's an example: native Cherokee tended blueberry patches that spread over whole mountains SE of present-day Asheville, and the plants were so hardy and happy there that they continue to produce abundantly today, centuries after the local human culture stopped giving them much attention - that's where I gathered about 1/2 of my blueberries this year. I felt gratitude to the Cherokee and also the blueberries, and I experienced firsthand that I didn't need a controlling attitude towards land in order to eat well. Rather, I consider what human-edible plants will grow aggressively and abundantly, and I merely encourage them along, and adjust my diet to suit. I'll share more in the post on gardening, because I definitely want to emulate the Cherokee's attitudes and practices as well as I can understand them.


I started working part-time on an organic farm nearby, and I got to take home the 'seconds', or super-nutritious non-toxic food with a minor blemish, odd shape, or other issue that makes it unsellable. This picture shows a bunch of food I got just in one day - daikon radishes, sweet peppers, many raddishes, and various other things. I spent about 7 hours, with a little help from friends and neighbors, washing and chopping and salting and pounding it into its final shape in the fermentation vessel:

First kraut batch in a crockpot. For many years crocks like this were made with lead  (or painted with lead?) so I recommend checking which year your crock was made. I feel more comfortable using food-grade buckets than lead-lined crocks. To keep the vegetables below the liquid level, I weigh the food down with a rock. $9.99 at your local brewery shop (kidding).
I added a bunch of plants from where I live, some wild and some from our garden: toothwort, garlic, horseradish, and wild ginger. I've done three of these projects now for a total of around 12 gallons of kraut.

The same crock covered with a shirt donated by a visitor. It says, "I'm tired of busting my butt. I'm going camping!" Indeed.

I had three large kraut-making parties this year with food I got from the farm or wild-crafted. I called them parties, but mostly it was me and a large pile of food, with a little help from some friends on the first 2 batches. I ended up with about 12-13 gallons of all-organic/wild-crafted kimchi/sauerkraut.
Now, during fermentation a little mold will commonly form on the liquid surface. If I'm going to eat the kraut, I'll just stir the mold into the food and carry on. Otherwise, if I plan to give the kraut away, I'll scoop the mold off every few days as I taste the fermentation progress.

Another batch of kraut. The bucket wall only gets crusty where the liquid meets the air. This mold did something I'd never seen: it caught the gas emitted during fermentation and formed mold-bubbles on the surface. Cool!

The mold scraped into a bowl. I will eat almost anything, and if someone asked me, I'd probably try it out. It doesn't look very appetizing though.

I made sure to spread the goodness around, sharing a few gallons with a bunch of friends and neighbors, including the folks at the farm, and saving the rest for my winter food use. I don't want to have to buy any food this winter, and this kraut's a big part of that plan!

Apples and Cider
Folks where I live know of several untended orchards or wild fruit trees where the owners are happy for us to come take as many apples as we want... and so we do.

I'm salivating seeing this again. I averaged eating about 10 apples/day for the next week.

Two friends and I loaded into my pickup and in a few hours brought home ~160 gallons of prime, non-toxic apples for free. YES. And this was about 1/3 of our total fall harvest. Processing took various forms...


We took ~1/3 of our apples and made ~110 gallons of cider. We don't have our own cider press, and it's common in this area to take apples to a friend with the press, and the press owner gets 1/3 of the juice.
The buckets are 6 gallon carboys (alcohol fermentation vessels), the glass jugs are 5 gallon, and we have more not shown. The dog Early is in the bottom right. The sheets you see bulging are full of chestnuts, pears, apples, and winged sumac leaf. I think at this stage these were my personal projects and we'd finished our group drying efforts. Winged sumac leaf is full of astringent tannins that help tan hides. It doesn't add much to a meal though.

Drying Apples and other Things

Picture from uphill, looking down on a few buildings we use for drying - here you see fresh apples cut that day (on grates), apples from previous days on sheets, and other things like chestnuts).

A roof full of drying goodies.

These grates are mostly scrounged and scavenged. This one on the lower-left is hand-made with 'waste' pallet wood and stainless steel mesh. The right is a thrown-away BBQ grill grate.

I scored ~40 free organic bananas and decided to try making banana chips. It didn't work - maybe if I'd dried them on a grate. I just got a big gooey sugary mess that went into some really tasty pancake batter. The other trays are wild honey mushrooms I gathered from the woods nearby.

I'm cutting up honey mushrooms to dry here.

Another picture of our sheet-holding space. Overnight, dew will gather on any sheets left on the floor, undoing previous drying efforts. So we stack our sheets of drying food on our unused stove, benches, chairs... anywhere we can find space! This is an inside picture of a cob structure we call Rathaven.

Without electricity, sheets-on-the-roof is our main way of drying things. I dried a few gallons of greens this way, folding half the sheet on top and half below the herbs to prevent direct sunlight from destroying volatile oils and other nutrients. Roofs also help dry animal hides.

I collected a bunch of grapes this fall too...

I initially wanted to make wine, but I struggled to separate the grape pulp from the juice (again, no electricity and limited tool and work space).  Here's what I got:

This is how I begin wild alcohol fermentations - instead of adding store-bought yeast, I let it yeast in the air land on the food through a cloth that keeps flies and other bugs out.
The grape wine experiment didn't yield wine, but I ended up making raisins out of them and a little red wine vinegar too.

Cool side story on the grapes: I found a rich chestnut grove on some strangers' land a few miles away. I went up to their home and asked if I could gather chestnuts. Not only did they say yes, but they came out and helped me! And afterwards, one of them asked if I'd like some grapes. Sure, I said, and so they took me to a grape patch maybe 1/2 an acre big and three of us picked and filled a bucket for a long time, munching here and there too.

They were adamant about not spraying any poisons on their plants or putting any chemicals in their cows. I spent an hour with two grandparents and their kid who herself was a mother. This mother, perhaps in her late 30s, told me her daughter of 12 looks about 17 years old, and she attributes it to her eating so much meat from animals fed huge amounts of growth hormones. I never met the daughter, but the family felt really strongly about having untainted food - good neighbors to know! I felt very grateful for the nuts, grapes, and personal stories.


In July I went to California to visit family. I decided to see how much seaweed I could gather in a week at Morro Bay with no special equipment, including no boat. I lucked out and found a rocky spot where I could gather seaweed that wasn't full of sand from washing ashore.

The most common kind by far was giant kelp. Each morning, I'd go down to the rocky shore and fill 1 or 2 five-gallon buckets. Then I set them up to dry:

I kept gathering and gathering, and the seaweed multiplied:

Eventually I had about 15 different drying spaces behind the house! Unfortunately, it stayed foggy much of the day at Morro Bay, so my seaweed never fully dried there. I packed it up and when I returned to Bakersfield with my grandmother, I put it all out to dry in her retirement community. It completely dried in about 3 hours, thanks to the baking sun and no moisture.

Seaweed shrinks a LOT as it dries. This was about 7-8 gallons dry, and maybe... 35-50 gallons wet?
Seaweed's super nutritious, so I feel excited that I can gather and process it in such quantity.

A little about seaweed cleanliness: the oceans are pretty polluted indeed. The water off the west coast tends to flow south, so it gets more polluted the further south you are. Morro Bay, where I harvested, lies half way between LA and San Francisco, so not great, but here's the thing: I don't want to be cleaner than the environment I live in. I'd have to live in a bubble to do that. I just don't want any more toxins than average in the environment in my diet and dwelling. My rough goals are a) to clean up the environment as much as I can and b) learn to live with toxins, including learning how to purge or neutralize them in various ways.

The seaweed grew protected from the main ocean inside a bay and sandbar with minimal industrial activity nearby. It's as clean as I can imagine anything growing off the west coast of the US being, so I feel grateful for it and comfortable sharing it with friends.

Other side note: while I stayed with my grandmother in California, she tried both seaweed and prickly pear cactus fruit! Super cool.  I was totally unprepared for how mucilaginous the pears were, so that was about the stickiest meal I've had in a long time. I mean like Winnie the Pooh sticky. Maybe if I learn to prepare it better, she'll give it another try...

Food Experiments

Often, I want to learn to process/store food in ways that I can't find books to learn from, so I end up experimenting. One of my favorite foods is chestnuts, and processing them to remove / kill the grubs is key so they don't eat the nuts over the winter. Normally I've pounded the nuts to bits, then dried them on sheets on hot days and removed grubs+shells by hand.

Here I'm trying something different....
I'm heating chestnuts in water not to boiling, but just hot enough to kill the grubs.

That light sliver-looking thing is a chestnut grub! Super tasty, full of fat and protein, and sadly not welcome in my winter chestnut store.
I heard that I could heat the chestnuts in water to kill the grubs, dry them in the shell, and store them. However, enough water got inside the shell that they didn't dry well, and I ended up pounding them and drying them as I did the other rounds of chestnuts.

Wood Nettle Experiments
Sometimes delicious food's abundant nearby, but none of my friends or books have info on how to gather, process, store, or cook it well. European-descended culture didn't take much interest in preserving knowledge of native practices until 100-150 years ago, so many native practices weren't studied or recorded before Euro-descended people wiped out natives in this region. And so we experiment. Interesting aside: for all I learned about the year 1776 in grade school, I never learned that was a major year in the war against the Cherokee in this region, and rebel Americans were fighting a multi-front war. 

A very abundant plant here is wood nettle, Laportea canadensis. I found just one scant reference to the seed being edible, but no advice on processing (thanks Sam Thayer). So I watched the nettle every day to learn when it was harvest-ready. Day by day, week after week, not knowing when the seed was ready, what color it would be, what size.

And then it rained and all the seeds dropped to the ground! Bahh.

But two weeks later a new bunch of seeds began to darken at the tops of the plants. In just a few more days, I had my first harvest:

Wood nettle produces female flowers on top of the plant and male flowers in the middle. I chopped off the female portions when they seemed full of seed.

To separate the seed from the plant, I dried them in brown paper bags, but that didn't go fast enough. Then I used these scavenged cooking trays and it went pretty fast.
I don't have a picture of the next steps. Basically I rubbed handfulls of dried seed heads together which gave me a bunch of seeds and green plant matter in a pile. Then I experimented with water in different ways, finding that if I put the whole mess in water and stirred it, the seeds dropped to the bottom and the rest floated. I could pour off the top, dry the seeds, and store'em!

I didn't end up eating them, so no report on that. I only wanted to learn how to gather and process them in bulk so I could be ready to gather vast amounts next year. Next August I will be ready!

Meads, Ciders, and Other Alcohol Ferments
I want to learn to make really delicious, nutritious alcoholic drinks, so drinking isn't a poisonous vice, but rather a healthy fun time.

I like to brew meads in 1-gallon jugs. These are reused apple juice jugs from grocery stores. 5 of them are mine.

When we run out of airlocks, we improvise. Sometimes the yeast are active and make lots of gas, and sometimes they aren't active, and the condom slumps down. What's really great is giving a tour to a visitor as the yeast wake up and start making gas quickly.
To make the mead, I mix good honey (not filtered or pasteurized or other nonsense) with a strong herbal infusion. A few of my batches were wildflower meads: elder flower, goldenrod, purple clover, ox-eye daisy, and so on. My favorite was a super strong infusion of wood nettle and stinging nettle leaves, which made a dark green mead. Super nutritious and tasty.

I like to do wild ferments, so I gather yeast in a bucket as I did with the grape project above, stirring the honey+infusion mixture a few times a day. When it starts to bubble, I move the juice to a carboy with an airlock which allows air to escape but not enter. This prevents the alcohol from turning to vinegar. After a few months, you're done: and you get to decide how sweet or dry you like it.

Then I bottle, label, and share with friends over the next year.

The cider again. Some friends added honey and herbs to some to make ceizers, a major taste improvement in my opinion.

Wild + Intentional Foods 2017
Here's a list of foods I gathered and preserved this fall (excluding wild/untended foods I gathered and ate right away). It'll form my diet over the winter, as I hope not to buy any food:
  • Nuts:
    • acorns (pounded, dried w/shell)
    • chestnuts (pounded, dried, shelled)
    • walnuts (hulled, curing in shell)
  • Fruits
    • blueberries (dried)
    • concord grapes (dried into raisins, some juice fermented to red wine vinegar)
    • apples (various: some slice+dried, some pressed to cider, some canned for applesauce)
    • pears (slice+dried)
  • Mushrooms
    • Shiitakes (slice+dry)
    • Honey mushrooms (slice+dry)
  • Vegetables (roots, leafy greens, etc):
    • organic leftover farm produce (squash, radishes, potatoes, etc) (left in airy space above freezing temps)
    • homemade kraut (organic bok choi, baby bok, radishes, turnips, daikons, cabbage, fennel, and others from the farm, toothwort, garlic, horseradish, and wild ginger from Wild Roots) (lacto-ferment)
    • giant kelp seaweed (dried)
    • stinging nettle leaves (dried)
    • biden leaves (dried)
    • garlic
    • horseradish
  • Animals:
    • bear meat, broth, and fat in large quantities
  • Alcohol ferments
    • meads (honey+herbal infusion of wildflowers, nettles, etc)
    • cider/ceizer
For many of these, like stinging nettles, apples, pears, bears, and others, I did several batches each, so it was a busy time!

In addition, I have some leftover organic lentils, oats, and brown rice I bulk-purchased last fall, plus a few other foods I've received as gifts or scavenged and saved for the winter.

I wanted to gather stinging nettle seed, but we kept gathering greens too late in the year, and combined with a few long periods of no rain, it didn't go to seed this fall. A few other bulk-wild-food projects didn't work out or I chose to drop/postpone 'til next year: groundbean, deer, and a few others. I'll look forward to them next year.

Damn, I'm water-fasting today as I write this part of the post. I feel hungry!

In coming post(s):
  • Wild Roots, where I lived this year and last
  • Kamana (Naturalist training)
  • Truck work
  • Hide tanning
  • Gardening
  • Phyplay
  • Healing
Feel free to get in touch if you want to catch up. I feel bummed I haven't been in better touch with friends I haven't seen in a long time. I don't mean for this post to substitute for staying in contact. More like, it'll help show what the heck I'm talking about when we do finally talk or meet up!

A Short Photo Update: 1st of Several

This year has been pretty magical!

A view from where I sleep: tons of food drying on the roofs! This was in September, when community food-drying efforts were in full-swing. Chestnuts, apples, pears, and probably more. This year the group put away 37 gallons of dried non-toxic, nutritious, free apples, and I put away some more personal fruit besides.

I want to share a mostly-photo update about how life's going for me these days, and what I've been up to. The more intangible parts of life like relationships and thoughts and feelings about the future don't lend themselves to pictures like all the fun projects, but... so be it.

I decided to focus on a small number of projects this summer and fall so I could really hone in on a few key skills and practices. I tried to keep the list short, but I felt super busy and sometimes it seemed like a long short list! Here's what I focused on:
  • Wild / Intentional food gathering: gather bulk wild foods and 'intentional' foods (i.e. foods where I know and trust their source: an organic farm where I worked, or my garden, the woods, etc). "Wild foods" include all manner of plants, animals, and fungi, including untended fruit/nut trees on private land where the landowner doesn't mind if I harvest. I want to learn to eat without depending on industrial agriculture, so this was a major step in that direction.
  • Gardening: I garden differently, focusing more on encouraging aggressive wild edibles most people consider weeds. I did do some more conventional gardening too (though I use no chemicals!).
  • Kamana: Naturalist studies, getting to know the living earth experientially, instead of just learning mentally from books.
  • Phyplay: A term I invented which means 'physically exhausting play'. Often a mix of dancing, calisthenics, and wrestling. I followed progressive calisthenics programs focusing on strength and explosive power, and I feel good!
  • Truck work: I bought an old truck last year with no computers in it with the goal of learning to maintain my own vehicle when it breaks down.
  • Hide tanning: Both braintan and barktan/vegetable-tan of bear, deer, racoon, groundhog, and possum skins.
  • Healing: Building self awareness of various behaviors and anxieties and how they lead me to relate to me or others in ways I don't like: mistrusting trustworthy people, hoarding when I could share with generous people, competing when we could cooperate, mindlessly trusting when I ought to act more cautiously, treating the living earth like it's dead, zoning out when I need to focus and be present, etc. This also includes learning to recognize these patterns in others and work through them productively.
I still studied and practiced things like herbal medicine and massage which I focused on last year, but never when one of those top projects felt urgent. I find it easy to lose my focus if I'm not careful.

Before I share pictures+notes about the projects, I'll share about the place where I lived: Wild Roots. Also: My only camera is a 7 year-old tablet with a scratchy lens, so the picture quality ain't high.

Wild Roots

Like 2016, I spent most of this year at a place called Wild Roots, located ~1 hour NW of Asheville, NC. The landowner, as far as I know, has never visited since buying it over 15 years ago. She got the land for some friends after getting a large inheritance, and seems happy for it to be a vaguely-defined learning community. So the folks that live here have to get along without resorting to the 'I'm the landowner, and I can kick you out anytime' card.

A few pictures:

Our outhouse, with rain catchment into a hand-washing bucket. Also a hide-drying place! That's one of my new deer skins from this fall. After fleshing it and dehairing it, I nail it up to dry so it dries flatter for easier storage. Stretching may also make tanning easier by keeping the fibers stretched out.

A fancier outhouse, with our drying grates on the side.

We cook over an open fire here spring, summer, and fall. The sheet metal keeps the fire space dry when  it rains.

The cooking space without sheet metal. A little suggestive...

Dish washing space. We sometimes use ash water to wash dishes, sometimes we find dish soap.

Food prep space, from scrap pallet wood and scrap 55 gallon metal drums for roofing metal
I don't have pictures of all the buildings, but many look like this: timber-framed without walls. This is Jarhaven, where we store glass mason jars of bear meat, broth, and fat, plus other goodies.

Water catchment everywhere!
A mega luxury: a heated shower! Under the black barrel you light a fire, fill the shower barrel with water from rain catchment barrels, and when the water finally heats up, it feels reeeeal good.

Close up up shower barrel

Closer-up of shower spigot (the two cans near the top)

We made this dam in early 2016 to have a bathing space in our stream. We have a no-chainsaws norm at Wild Roots, so we did this with cross-cut saws, axes, pulleys, ropes, chains, PV-hooks, big rocks, and about 5 men and women. There are actually 2 logs sunk into the banks on the dam at left. The log at right is just resting on the rocks - it's not important to maintaining the bathing space.
Another view of our stream, called the Pounding Mill. Like Squeeky Frog, this is potable water with no processing needed - we've explored the whole watershed and found no toxic activity. I live on very little money, but having this stream, I feel like I live in such abundance! How many rich people have water so clean (and full of minerals and healthy bacteria)?

This and the next picture show where I stayed this year: a platform+roof built by a few people several years before I arrived. Since they weren't here this year and it was empty when I arrived, I moved in.
Last year I lived at a site at Wild Roots we call "Sky Island" under a tarp. Having a metal roof this year seemed a major upgrade. It blocked most of the rain, except a little drizzle sometimes. I never got cold or wet at night, even when temperatures reached the 20s F in late November. When it rained hard, I just had to dry the top layer out the next day.

I draped my finished racoon and groundhog hides over the railing, and the garlic I gardened hangs to dry.

A close up showing the garlic better. I like life without walls, though come winter time they seem pretty nice. Especially combined with a wood stove!

"Squeeky Frog", a spring that flows into a stream right through the middle of Wild Roots. We can drink directly from the stream with no water cleaning.
This stream intersects a path that goes to the meal area one way, and the vehicles+workshops in the other space. Whenever a water jug is empty at one location or another, and we're walking towards Squeeky Frog, we take it with and leave it on the side of the stream corresponding to its home (meal area or workshops).

When someone walks over the stream and sees an empty bottle, they fill it like so and carry it with them. In this way, we get fresh water for cooking and drinking without any extra trips to the stream - it's a way of minimizing wasted effort I really like.

Mushroom logs near Squeeky Frog. Lots of shiitakes and some oyster mushrooms graced our plates from these logs and others.
We have a few other buildings, including a few cob buildings with wood stoves where people overwinter, some blacksmithing spaces, and so on. Maybe I'll show pictures of them another time.

 Now a little about the culture at Wild Roots...

Bear meat, broth and fat form a huge part of our diet.
We have several large cauldrons we use to render the fat and cook the broth. Above, we're rendering fat. We used scavenged 55-gallon metal drums to insulate the fire. We also use scavenged pallet wood to burn.
 Every year we process somewhere around 1-7 bears, given to us by local hunters. Both years I've been here, we've canned hundreds of quarts of broth and meat from these bears, and render the fat. Sometimes we get two bears at once, and then we're just up dawn to dusk for many days in a row, skinning, gutting, quartering, chopping, canning, cleanup... and eating lots and lots of bear! Oh my gosh it's so  much fun.

Sometimes we add magical things to these boiling witches' and warlocks' cauldrons. Not gonna say what - but I welcome you to come visit if you want next fall and find out.

And when bears come in..... we eat LOTS of bear. Bear with a side of bear with bear on top. And a dessert of...

We sometimes have 2-3 raging fires going into the night, with 1-2 smaller ones under the fat or for cooking. This picture doesn't do it justice, but it's a pretty magical time processing enough food for a year's meat/fat needs with friends, often with home-made cider or mead. Feeling exhausted, tending several raging fires with a few good friends making food for the year, stars overhead while we feast on the best food I know - damn that feels special to me.
I didn't want to interrupt any work to take pictures, 'cause I really don't like cameras. Maybe another time I can show us breathing through the bear's trachea, inflating and deflating their huge lugs as we breathe through them. I felt so much awe for the bear in that moment! And of course we all had super bloody mouths and chins...

One of my new favorite foods: bear cracklins'. When you render the fat, you wind up with lots of fat-soaked solids you strain out before storing the liquid fat. Pretty tasty if you can keep the hair to a minimum.

Bear Cracklins'. Yum.
The food from bears feeds us year-round, but we only get bear during bear season. We never know when one will come in from hunters, so when one arrives we drop everything to put up that food for the year.

Scavenging and Improvising
A big part of the culture at Wild Roots is learning how to scavenge useful equipment/tools/etc from other people's waste, and improvising with what we've got to meet our needs.

As an example... if we only used scrap wood (often pallet wood) to run these fires, we'd constantly be running to town for more. Instead we also use waste vegetable oil from various sources, and it makes fires go big. Very big.

Here's an oil bucket with long-handled scooper. The scooper is a scrounged cooking pot attached to a wooden pole. The oil was free for the taking.

We have a blacksmithing space, and forge (some of) our own metal tools. Here we made a hook to attach to the end of the pole.

The hook lets the scooper hang over the bucket.
I'll post soon soon showing personal projects...