Permaculture – Promises Kept

(by Rebecca Simpson) Aug 10 2017

Permaculture QuoteThe gardens at Suburban Stone Age have been strongly influenced by permaculture concepts. For those new to the term, permaculture is defined by Wikipedia as “a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.”

The promise is that if your follow Nature’s grand design, you not only build a sustainable garden that provides you with food and resources. You build a food web that extends beyond your human needs and into the natural community that exists beyond your backyard fence, for the benefit of all.

It has been over 6.5 years that Suburban Stone Age has been in operation – long enough to flirt with being a “mature” garden.  And I can tell you, without a doubt, that permaculture principles work.

We don’t use pesticides, we invite birds to do the work instead.  We recycle nutrients through the use of compost to let the land feed itself.  We build the soil with humus so that it can hold more water – this helped our plants survive the greatest drought in California’s recorded history. We group plants according to their habits and functions, so they can thrive and provide the maximum amount of usefulness to ourselves and the natural community.

This was all begun because of the promise that if you build it, they will come.  The plants, animals, and abundance, that is.  And there has been no truer promise, no more spectacular return on the investment, than what the gardens of Suburban Stone Age have become.

If you are curious about permaculture and how it works, please leave a comment.  I am happy to share whatever knowledge and experience I can.  And be sure to keep checking back for updates, as the best is yet to come!

 

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Living with the Seasons – Stop Time From Flying By

(by Rebecca Simpson) Aug 06 2017

Time flies, doesn’t it?  In our hectic modern lives, the month is over before we were ready for it to start.  Days are just numbers that roll by on a calendar.  Children grow right before our eyes, and it takes but a moment before their precious childhood years slip away and they are grown.

The good news is that there is a way to change how we live with time.  And the surprising consequence it that time slows down.  Life makes sense, feels good, has cycles, and touches your inner being – connecting you again with the ancient rhythms we were all born to feel.

How is this done?  By living seasonally.  That means, wherever you are, stop and understand that place.  What are the rhythms of life there? The length of daylight, the temperatures swings, the rainfall amounts.  How have the native plants and animals that have lived there since ancient time adapted to these particular conditions.  What does that say about how you can adapt too? And this is just the beginning.

This new awareness is something that evolves over time, as you pay more and more attention to it.  But what ends up happening is that you sync up with your environment in a way that feel natural and makes sense.  There is no rush and bustle and worry to this new timeline, only moving along with the seasons in the great and gentle flow.

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Compost – The Dirty Truth

(by Rebecca Simpson) Jul 25 2017

Compost and me – we be mates.  It truly is Nature’s “Black Gold”.

In my evolving love affair with compost, we’ve had our ups and downs.  I’ve done everything from actively hot composting wagon loads of material to barely being able to get my own coffee grounds onto the pile.  A lot depends on my work schedule, and because I’ve been working full time, I’ve had to trim down how and what I compost to make the process fast, efficient, and most of all, sustainable.  Here’s the dirty truth about what I’ve learned.

  • Keep it simple. If all you can compost that day is an orange peel, that’s ok.  Better something than nothing.
  • Bugs love giant piles of compost.  This includes crickets, cockroaches, and fruit flies. Not necessarily a bad thing (they become wild bird food), but if you have a big pile, put it away from the house so you don’t get visitors.
  • Grass clippings smell.  Even when mixed up well, expect a good 24 hrs. of nitrogen-ish aroma.  Again, put your pile away from the house (and downwind from your husband’s open bedroom window).
  • Horse poop smells too.  Not as bad as you might think, but a whiff every now and again will find you in the first week.  Still worth it.
  • Don’t put sticks and vines in your compost, unless you want the compost coming back out that way.  They take too long to break down and make the texture a pain to deal with.  Unless you chop them up, I usually don’t add them.
  • Let the wind help.  I don’t know about you, but the wind blows leaves and dirt up against my chain link fence.  I used to get mad, until I realized this was the best type of material there was for compost.  Crumbled dry leaves mixed with dust and soil – perfect. Sweep it up, toss it in.
  • Be nice to yourself.  I used to get guilty if I didn’t compost EVERYTHING that came from the yard.  But that is unrealistic given today’s life circumstances.  So I do the best I can, and let go of the guilt.  All that is important is I am still going.

There is more to share but that is enough for one day.  If you have wisdom to share, I’d love you hear your comments below! Compost on!

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Are Birds Eating your Fruit?

(by Rebecca Simpson) Jul 24 2017

July is such a lovely month at SSA.  Wander around, and you’ll find peaches, plums, apples, grapes, figs, and tomatoes, all becoming ripe.

Trouble is, every bird in the village knows this too.  So word gets out, and bird friends invite bird friends – and bird kids and bird cousins and bird neighbors  – to all come feast on the bounty.  This means that I get lots of birds eating my fruit.

Do I mind? Not at all.  I chalk it off to farming overhead and as an offering of gratitude to the birds for the joy they bring here daily.  But this doesn’t mean I don’t want some beautiful fruit left for myself.

What is the solution? As with many things, it is a compromise.  You see, the birds have all day to investigate the fruit for perfect ripeness.  They will often start a test hole on a favorite candidate, and then revisit it for many days as it progressively ripens.  They will also drink the nectar that oozes from the juicer fruits, kind of like opening up a little Nature’s Jamba Juice.

So when I am out there getting fruit for myself, I find the one the birds have already gotten, and LEAVE IT ALONE.  I take the rest for me.  I have found that if you pick the birds’ fruit in order to discourage them, you compel them to find another on which to start a test hole.  And because they probably have more time than you to watch for the best fruit, they will beat you to new fruit every time.  This leads to many holes in many fruits, and it will feel like they are eating all of your crop.

Don’t pick their fruit.  Leave it for them.  They will happily revisit the fruit they have started for many days, and leave the others unmolested for you. I practice this on every fruit tree I have (and there are over 40).  I find that the birds are happy to oblige by leaving fruit for me if I leave fruit for them as well.

See?  In a nutshell, by giving, you receive.  Isn’t Nature (and the birds) awesome teachers?

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6.5 Years and Counting

(by Rebecca Simpson) Jul 21 2017

My how far we’ve come!

Suburban Stone Age is 6.5 years old and counting.  The transformation has been unbelievable.  We started as your traditional suburban home, full lawn front and back, some shrubs, and nothing much else of interest.  Now I am fortunate enough to live in the middle of a fully functioning food forest, an ecosystem unto its own.

It gives me great pleasure to feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself,  and that this something has taken on a life of its own.  I merely set the stage, but, to my vast delight, I found an eager and enthusiastic cast and crew happy to set settle in and thrive.  For example, when I look back to the before times, I don’t really remember any more birds being around than any other average neighborhood.  Which is to say, not many, and mostly the odd crow or sparrow.  But now, as the summer sun comes up, the sound of singing birds it so loud, and so close, and so profuse, it has become my alarm clock.  I can’t think of anything better to wake up to.

I have generations of bird families come to bathe in my ponds in the morning, too many birds to count, all fluttering, splashing, and chatting like teenagers at a pool party.  I can count several types of butterflies at once dancing around the flowers, and sometimes pausing to deposit eggs on their favorite nursery plants.  Bees visit the lavenders in the front in humming, lazy clouds, warmed by the sun and content they don’t have to travel far to get their fill of nectar.  And I love that insects beyond count scuttle to safety when a log is lifted to inspect the rich moist soil that has been nurtured below.

The sheer amount of biodiversity is astonishing, and is the yardstick of my success.  I merely set the table with food, shelter, water and Nature happily comes to the feast.  And in return I am fed, both literally, through the fruits of the trees and the vegetables of the garden, but spiritually as well, as I find a great comfort in finding my small place in the great web of life.

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Starting Anew and You’re Invited!

(by Rebecca Simpson) Jul 20 2017

Good Morning, Fellow Adventurers!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but it is time to come on home.

For the last 3.5 years, I’ve been working full time in the corporate world.  Sure, it’s been great.  But I miss my farm, I miss my plants, I miss my wacky experiments, and most of all, I miss YOU.

New changes are afoot.  I want to reconnect with the magic that is Suburban Stone Age, and bring you along with me.  I’ll be living it and sharing it, little by little, every day.

So get comfy, grab a snack and beverage, and settle in for the ride towards living a more sustainable modern life.  Because we are going to have some FUN!

Buckle up,

Rebecca and The Gang at SSA

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Fresnel Lens – Solar Cooking will be happening at Suburban Stone Age

(by Rebecca Simpson) Nov 15 2015

What do you do when you have a bum shoulder and can’t dig your pond? Why, you buy a death ray on eBay so you can melt glass and cook food, of course!

Let me explain…

A Fresnel lens is a thin plastic lens made of small concentric grooves on one side that focuses light like a magnifying glass. You’ve seen them around – they are those plastic sheets that are used to magnify text, and on a large scale are what’s in a lighthouse to create that beam of light.

When you use a Frenel lens to concentrate sunlight, you take the warm embrace of gentle sunshine and focus it into a face-melting, unholy death-ray. Seriously, if you do it right, that spot of light is strong enough to melt steel. Wow!

So naturally I HAD to have one.

Why? Well, to my mind, this Fresnel lens unlocks a whole wealth of possibilities using only the power of the sun. I can cook, disinfect water, start fires easily, and even go to new places such as metal cutting, welding, and making homemade obsidian. All from the benign power of the sun! Which, by the way, will still be available in the aftermath of a major earthquake.

And so enters a new Era of solar cooking and more at SSA. On the way are two Fresnel lenses, one spot and one linear, plus a parabolic mirror just for funsies. I’ll do my solar cooking and experimenting while my shoulder heals, then go back to finish digging my pond before spring.

(Side note – guess what the pond can also be? An emergency store of water for a disaster. Which I can distill into safe drinking water using the Fresnel lenses and only the sun. A beautiful thing, no?)

I’ll keep you posted!

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California Drought and Greywater Usage Update

(by Rebecca Simpson) Nov 08 2015

I love me a hot bath more than just about anything. But as a drought-striken Californian, that is a luxury I’ve had to forego for the last few years.

Last week, I sustained a significant shoulder injury.  I was so sad. Until I heal, I can’t dig ponds, build fences, clean, and lift, like I was looking forward to doing all winter. Total bummer.

But today something awesome happened! I’ve been coming along nicely on my greywater system, using laundry water to irrigate the landscaping and plunging my family’s water usage to a record low of 62 gallons per person per day. ( This month’s total bill from the water company was $54.26) Since I had most of the grey water plumbing rigged, it was simple matter to run a pump to the bathtub so I could take a therapeutic soak for my shoulder and afterwards pump the water to the garden.

Long story short, though being injured caused a surprise change of plans, it also set me on a new path. With careful management, I can now reuse even more grey water from both the laundry and from baths/showers. I think that is a win-win.

Sometimes in setbacks there are hidden victories. I’ll keep you posted.

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Siberian Husky Shedding (Blowing) Her Coat

(by Rebecca Simpson) Sep 17 2015

Siberian Husky Coat Harvest

As you know from previous posts, our Siberian Husky Roxy is the family sheep.  We harvest her undercoat and use it to spin yarn and weave hats and scarves.  In case you haven’t seen what it is like when a Husky blows their coat, the video below will give you a taste of the experience.

 

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Siberian Husky Shedding (Blowing) Her Coat

(by Rebecca Simpson) Sep 17 2015

Siberian Husky Coat Harvest

As you know from previous posts, our Siberian Husky Roxy is the family sheep.  We harvest her undercoat and use it to spin yarn and weave hats and scarves.  In case you haven’t seen what it is like when a Husky blows their coat, the video below will give you a taste of the experience.

 

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