Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cobbing Fridays!!

For 3 Fridays in a row, Old Chimney Farm hosted "Cobbing Fridays," a collection of people gathered together to build out of the earth. Together, they built a cob bench that was built in a beautiful spot within the future food forest that will soon surround it.

What is cob? Cob is a mixture of sand, straw and clay rich soil. This material is readily available in the ground beneath our feet. It can be used to build cob benches, ovens,even houses! It can survive a fire and withstand earthquakes. It is the building material most widely used throughout the world. It has a low embodied energy, a truly "green" building material.

We built the bench foundation dry stacked with a mix of stone and brick/gravel infill. All of the material was just lying around the property. Sometimes you just have to make a few before you start to get it right, so if you don't know how to build a foundation, I encourage you to just give it a try. You'll get it. Just stagger the joints and when you hear a clunk instead of a clank, you'll know that was the right rock.

We mixed the cob at a ration of 2 parts clay soil to 1 part sand. We figured out this ratio by making a few test batches and checking for things such as cracking, brittleness, etc. A few of us worked as teams taking the batch of clay and sand and first mixing it on a tarp dry. After it was mixed we'd add water and do the cob dance, jumping around in the mud with our bare feet mixing the water into the material. After that was throughly mixed we added straw. We added as much as the mix could hold.

Now we have ourselves a good cob mix. Moist and plyable, ready to put onto the bench. We proceeded to build the bench with batch after batch of cob, kneading each new layer into the layer beneath with our thumbs. The kneading is very important because that is what gives the cob it's strength, the fact that it is one solid piece of earth. This goes on until you get the desired shape,leaving the bench rough and ready for a plaster.

We mixed plaster with a mix of sand, straw and clay, but just in different proportions to the cob. We added 2 parts sand to 1.5 parts clay (sifting the clay soil this time with a 1/2inch screen), with a medium cut straw. We spread this on as our base coat to the bench with our bare hands pushing up with the heal of our hands as well as with trowels. The Base coat went on pretty quick and easy,allowing us to move right on to the finish coat.

So one day I got a bunch of unfired clay flutes from this place downtown,100% pure clay. Great for finish plaster. You can pigment it any way you like. They had some red clay so we decided to go with that. Mixing it with sand, we applied this coat as a paste, almost painting it on to the bench and giving it color.

That's all it took, just three days, 6 people each day for 5 hours, piece of cake,right?
If anyone wants to build their own bench or has questions,just drop us a line.

Back to Old Chimney Farm

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rain & what to do with it?

The weather out here can be kind of nice for what we call a winter. Already January and we've only had 2 rains and plenty of 70 degree days. Most places would love to have that be their summers, let alone their winters. Around here though, we wish it was raining.

Over the past year we have been working on creating ways in which to store the water we get from our sporadic rainfalls. We want to see them put to use. It's remarkable how much rain can be saved off less than an inch of rainfall. We've had 2 rains so far and so far we've saved 100,000 gallons of water. Saving every drop is worth it, even in our dry climates.

On our farm, we harvest water in multiple ways, creating a redundancy in the system so that if one fails, more will take up the slack. We have built 3 ponds that hold over 80,000 gallons of water, we have 4 above ground water tanks that hold 30,000, an underground tank that holds 15,000 gallons and a huge network of swales that passively harvest even more water than all of those methods combined.

All our ponds, tanks and swales catch rain runoff from every roof and driveway on the property. Our catchment area is pretty sizeable allowing us to catch so much off such small rainfalls.

In future postings, we will describe the process we used to build our ponds, how we filter them, and how our system of swales work and what they are good for as well. Until that time, take a look around the place you live during our next rainfall to see where your water goes.

Have a Grateful Day!!!!
Back to Old Chimney Farm

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lemons and more lemons!

Food preservation is taking off here in our kitchen. And its the middle of the winter! We finished off the basil in pesto early December (gotta love Southern California) then came a delicious pickled beet, which seems very popular. Today we're saving the bounty of Meyer lemons in a test batch of Moroccan pickled lemons and a big batch of marmalade.

Moroccan Lemons
Cut lemons as if quartering, but leave top and bottom in tact.
Stuff sliced up lemons with salt
squish into a jar
(add extra lemon juice or boiling water if not covered.)

quarter lemons
blend in food processor - peels and all.
cover with water and boil 20 minutes with sugar -to taste. stir occasionally
add fruit pectin* (not yucky gelatin from cow hooves!)
can it up - no need to sterilize and seal

- one or two packs, depending on quantity. Don't worry about proportions, it'll be thicker or thinner each time, but always delicious! I try to make enough to fill my biggest pot (I think its 8 quarts) and add two packs.

Back to Old Chimney Farm

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Fresh Start

Wow! It has been a year and half since we lost blogged on this page. Crazy how time flies. Everyday duties out on the farm leave little time to devote to this little blog of ours.

What started as a modest project has morphed into a complete 8-acre permaculture installation. From food forests to swales, chickens to veggie gardens, CSA's and beehives, we have been pretty busy. We should have been more proactive with keeping records on what we've been doing. We hope to change that practice now.

Every week, we will post a little something about what we've been up to here on the farm. We'll either cover what we're up to right now, or share a little about some of the projects we have already finished. Together with these stories will be photos taken to help instruct and inspire.

We want you to know what it is like to build a farm from the ground up, where your food comes from and who grows it, and how communities can be saved through the support of local food.

So come along and follow what we're up to, hopefully we can help inspire a more beautiful world.

Back to Old Chimney Farm

Sunday, April 13, 2008


The chickens by far have been the most fun, the most challenging, and the most rewarding aspect of working close to the land. I get the chance to watch these animals do their thing without them really caring about me. There are a whole lot of things that I wish they did not do, however, like eat young grape leaves off my newly sprouting vines, or scratching up the freshly sprouted herbal lawn I've been working so hard to get going.

But other than that, it has been a blast watching them as they've evolved their pecking order or as they wallow in the dust under the old citrus tree. Here are a few of the culprits we have running around these days. I found one more little one dead the other day from unknown reasons. Happened pretty quick and never saw it coming. So we have a flock of 20 now, with about a dozen and a half eggs a day right now.

We have 2 roosters an 18 hens. That is a pretty good ration of rooster to hen. Plus, the two roosters grew up together, therefore establishing their social rank early on. They have not yet fought, but have been seen playing chase.

This guy in the picture above, that's Buster. Chasing around one of his hens, getting her into an area of dense cover where it is safer. He's the big boss. He is a big bird. Very smart, very wary, always has a close eye on you. He started crowing at an earlier age than the other rooster and I am sure that is one of the main reasons he is dominant, because he matured faster. He is a beautifully colored bird, a Brown Leghorn variety. Great bird.

This guy. He's the other rooster. His names Keaton. Still very big, very menacing, he's the mean one. Buster rules through admiration while Keaton would rule by fear. It's like a Shakespearean play with this sort of power nuance. He's a great bird, does a good job helping the flock stays safe, they all watch out for one another.

Monday, March 17, 2008

March Madness

This is definitely the month for planting, spring is just upon us, the weather is warming, and plants are growing. All I am trying to do for the next 2 months is plant, plant, plant. There is not much time to do anything else, I have no time to finish mulching pathways, no time to do any stone work, only time for planting and anything planting related.

Today I seeded almost 100 six packs. I must say, efficiency wise, six packs are not the way to go, get the 72 or more cell trays. Those things are quick to fill with dirt and to seed. I do six packs because whatever I am not planting at my place I am going to sell to the community. Today I planted beans, basil, zinnia, echinecia, sunflower, and more. My grow tables are starting to fill, I will have to make more soon, I am going to have thousands of plants this year, it should be awesome.

I also got a chance to let out the chickens, gotta keep a close eye on them though, they have been getting into some of the freshly seeded beds that I have in the backyard. I am going to put up a temporary fence tomorrow to keep the little buggers out.

Work is never done.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cold Fronts

Sometimes in Southern California, the weather gets so warm in the spring that you think that it is here to stay. Then a chilly cold front moves in while your still in your shorts and sandals. Starting mid morning on Saturday the air quickly turned cold as the winds kicked up from the NW. Brings us back to reality that it still isn't quite summer yet. I like working when it is a little chilly outside but I do not like these winds.

I have been hard at work in the garden lately. I have been planting out many of my rooted cuttings that I have had growing for a few months. I put out some lavenders and sages amongst the citrus that we have growing in the backyard. Lavenders and sages are both high in medicinal value and love attracting beneficial insects. I also planted out some artichokes along the pathway , working as both an ornamental and an edible. I planted out some borage as well. Borage is a great plant. It is easy to grow in our soils and climate, bees LOVE it, you can make tea from the flowers, and it is a beautiful plant and a great addition to any garden.

I also have a few beds growing vegetables now, all double dug and grown using the GROW BIOINTENSIVE approach. We utilized double dug beds, we have grown our own compost, we used close hexagonal spacing, and grew our plants together in a way that they would contribute to one anothers health. So far we have planted out garlic, rossimo and flame head lettuce, leaf lettuce, radishes and carrots, as well as some potatoes and cauliflower.

At the same time I have built two more grow tables and have seeded some flats of corn, tomatoes, cucumber, kale, and more. I need to do a lot more seeding.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Daily Chores

The past couple days have been heavy ones for me. The death of that little chicken has had a profound effect on me. Thoughts revolving the circle of life and death go through my head all the time. And whether or not I did the right thing for the chicken, I guess I will never know. Many have told me the best thing that I could do is allow the chicken to be warm and comfortable to ease the passing and I definitely tried to make that happen. What will be I guess.

The passing of our little hen has opened my eyes to appreciating the ones I have left a lot more. They are fun animals to watch and they really enjoy it when the get a chance to roam outside. Too bad they eat everything in sight.

I have been planting the garden, cleared out 3 beds of cover crops, double dug them (more on that in a later post) and planted lettuce, cauliflower, carrots and radishes. I built some cages to keep out all of the little critters from eating them, so far so good. I planted some lettuce outside of the cage and they got eaten already. I have to figure out something for the peas because those are getting ravaged by a squirrel and the cages I have made will not work for them.

More work to be done I guess.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Life & Death

My little hen passed away on Sunday night. I named her Hope. She was the same hen that I was worried about a few weeks back. I have never been witness to death before. It was heart wrenching. I really wanted her to get better and believed she was. Then, quickly she took a turn for the worse. She could not breathe, she was really gasping hard for air. She started fluttering around and panic and just as suddenly, silence. She passed away. I loved that little hen.

My only wish is that she is roaming some nice green pasture with all sorts of grains and insects that she can devour. My she rest in peace and be in my heart.

This experience led me to think whether or not I did the best thing. Should I have taken her to a vet right away, put her out of her misery, or have done what I did, try and save her. I thought she was getting better, that she was just weak on the first day and she needed to regain her strength. I feel so bad, partly responsible. But I know that I will have a plan for whenever this might happen next time. A solid one that has been well though out to maximize chance of recovery.

Hope, you gave me hope. Watching how you really fought hard to survive. I am proud of you and wish you the best.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Injured Chickens

I have been working hard trying to recuperate our little hen. She is hanging in there and progressing slowly. I am glad she is progressing. I really think that the close personal contact is what is helping her get through this.

But for a Saturday, it was a pretty mellow day. A nice warm sunny day here in Southern California. Got a chance to go for a late morning surf, it was really fun out there. My dog also got a chance to get in the water as well. She loves it. She's a lab by the way.

Other than that, I just watered the seeds I have started around the property and seeded a few more flats of some specialty greens, corn, Fordhook Chard, chives, elecanampe.