A casual check of Zillow doesn't show much land in Sonoma for much under $100k an acre...the back side of LA on the Nevada side is CHEAP but there is little water and ugly as, well, its ugly
As for the house, I lived on a small sailboat for a year and as a single guy it was great, smaller in some ways than your average tiny house. Frankly, if you needed a covert living space a boat on a trailer would escape notice depending on the situation and being wired for DC would hook up to solar rather well. Boats are cheap in LA.
I am not the biggest fan of no til but give me a giant break.
Compared to WHAT? Few people till the soil and add nothing. I just might have to find a copy of the article in Nature but this comes out of the UC Davis ag dept so I am skeptical even if I did attend there.
I am a cynic so I just wanted to put that disclaimer up front. I help run a large community garden in Sacramento, I run a small B&B, and am starting an urban farm on 1/2 acre as well. So I DO believe in this stuff but that said...
Notice the number of people mentioned who run non profits, develop "programs" and license people to teach them? THAT is the end that is an actual business. Farming is a great way to make a small fortune you just need to start with a larger one!
A few have mentioned Ron Finley's Urban Homestead, four people working solid hours making $20k? Even if you say the food they eat is double that, that is $10k a year per person. Its sad but working at McDonalds pays more!
Most of these farms are labors of love, meaning the owners and volunteers subsidize them with labor and love. They are not a sustainable business. Their quality of life can be high, the emotional rewards wonderful, and certainly far tastier and healthier food but the people buying the food? They work real jobs and make in Los Angeles probably close $100k a year to afford to buy CSA food.
I am NOT saying any of this to discourage you but you asked about BUSINESS, not how to enrich your soul or your soil...
The money (and its not much) in all of this is in teaching others to do what you want to do, getting grants to do what you want to do (thus all the non profits that pay salaries to their managers), and staffing the whole thing with volunteers. Growing and selling raw veggies is also the lowest rung of all this, there is very little value added. A local company here raised $100k on kickstarter to make organic bloody Mary mixes...value added!
Now I am NOT saying "money" is the goal but you do need it to buy water, seed, gas, and a roof over your head so it IS important, although all of us here have a different value on it than the rest of society.
MY plan, is to open a cafe downtown, grow the majority of the produce and some of the meat for it, teach classes on the "farm" and create our own sort of closed loop setup where each space makes the other "cooler" and we not only add value as things move up the chain but we keep it all in house. If it becomes a roaring success I won't have to have a full time job to support it, LOL!
So, my advice is to first decide how much you need to make to live, calculate how much you need to grow to achieve that, and then understand that water is only going to get more and more expensive in LA so you will need to invest in rainwater harvesting to offset that cost. Now THERE is something that could be interesting. Ask the neighbors if you can capture the runnoff from their houses as well. They don't use it and capturing it from three surrounding properties could produce a fair amount of water. Now its urban runnoff so you will need to divert a fair bit and let the remainder settle in tanks but that should only set you back $10k but that IS something crowdsourcing or grants could pay for.
You follow the contour lines for elevation. In your case, you have none so you can "draw" them anyway you like. Since you can't see the underlying topography, I would suggest looking at a google earth map to see where the "greener" areas are on your property, places where things are less sparse and assume from that that some subteranian topography traps water and work at concentrating water there using circles.
When it rains does all the rain soak into the ground? if so, then adding swales and the like will not catch more water but I am sure water still flows over your land during a hard rain.
In addition, being flat, erosion is less an issue and you could then channel water from one place to another in ways that would be problematic on a hillside.
Bill, you should write an article on that as i am sure Sunset would feature it on the front cover! In our community garden alone we have entire plots taken over by bermuda and nutgrass. I guess lots of mushroom compost and cover cropping isn't enough to make our soil as good as yours must be. What is your secret?
Bermuda is evil but can be eradicated, I find using a potatoe fork is a great tool for digging it up. Loosen the soil a bit with the fork and THEN pull, you get most of the root that way. I have even done the sifting of soil through a screen to get rid of it. As many have said, in a garden, it takes over, shades out food producing plant and offers nothing in return. For those who hand wring over pulling it out, just pretend monsanto invented it.
Nutgrass is even worse and much harder to eradicate but the same technique works.
Its rare that you can eliminate it entirely but you can reduce it to the point where you can garden effectively without those taking over.
I find most who find kind things to say about things like Bermuda do most of their gardening with electrons rather than dirt.
I was a kid watching parents butcher both rabbits and chickens. I hated plucking chickens but cleaning rabbits always seemed so damn simple and "clean" by comparison. Thanks for the wonderful description of what you went through! Next year I will be butchering both for the first time myself and so stories like yours help a lot!
On our new property is this beautiful olive thicket decended from an ancient olive with a trunk about 2 foot in diameter that was hacked down many years ago. The tree is loaded with beautiful fruit we were so looking forward to harvesting.
Except they are all infested with olive fruit fly maggots...
SO, going to do what the conventional efforts to contain which is gather up and destroy all fruit, put out lots of bait traps during the year. I am going to prune the thicket heavily next year to limit fruit production but other than using the clay spray, anyone have an ACTUAL experience dealing with this little buggers?
Probably can't eliminate them enough to make a marketable olive but we can press them and make a decent oil in two years....
Solar energy is under attack at the moment because it has reached a price point that is going to threaten the current utility system. Price per watt is under a dollar and in bulk under .50 cents and FALLING.
The article contains a bunch of half truths and twists them to make the problem seem to be caused by solar but it isn't. Okay, get ready for a long winded explanation by someone who made a living working for a number of the major residential solar installers.
Electricity costs more during the day than at night. Nighttime energy is the base load, it is generated by the cheapest and most efficient producers but most of those can only increase their output marginally. During the day, especially during high demand summers with A/c running, utilities need to bring more expensive plants online to generate energy and that is called peak load. Most utilites don't sell homeowners electicty based on "time of use" they do it by volume so the cost difference between day and night energy is not passed on accurately to consumers. This cost difference in California is significant enough PG&E pumps water UPHILL during the night in a number of places using cheap night time baseload energy so that they can run that same water downhill during peak demand and generate far more expensive peak load energy.
The article skirts around that fact. So what it isn't saying is the current billing systems usually treat all electricity as equal so you get a 1 to 1 swap even if you were generating the most valuable peak load energy in the afternoon and getting cheap night time base load in return. So for a homeowner the most effective orientation is one that generates the most power regardless of timing. This is ALSO why utilities are afraid of time of use net metering. Already the point at which residential solar will start affecting their profits is on the horizon but combine the massive price drops with THIS concept:
IF homeowners COULD get the value of their solar during PEAK demand and take it for CHEAP base load at night the trade would go from 1 to 1 but 1 to 3 or so!
Forget the fact that would make FAR more sense to the nation or the environment, or a host of things, it scares the begezus out of their beancounters! In places like California electricity is sold to consumers in tiers, use a little you get a subsidized rate which is offset by the higher rates paid by users with bigger homes, more pools and thus have higher usage. Who does solar make the most economic sense to? Those high volume users who subsidize the lower rate tiers. So what they are facing is raising the lower tiers because people with higher bills are the easy market for solar but as they raise their rates that makes new candidates for solar and they can see the looming problem to their bottom line and are now paying to have ariticles like the one above published.
As an aside, solar makes a ton of sense in California and other states with electrical rates above .15 cents, many states still have cheap power and it makes less sense unless you are never moving but as the cost falls that will change.
Wendy Smyer Yu wrote:Michael, I just joined your meetup. I'm not sure how often I'll be able to come from Woodland to Sac, but I like your idea of sharing assistance on each other's yards and passing abilities around. Your property sounds amazing. I'm just starting and so far the only "productive" thing I've got is a budleia that blooms through summer, regardless of drought. I also have a young volunteer fig coming up under some very drought-stressed birches and after 6 weeks being unable to identify two massive trees in my backyard I stepped on a pecan the other day and thought the idea was preposterous (there are no other obvious nuts on the trees and I didn't think they do well in the valley) until I found another under a paver and saw your post… So, maybe I have pecan trees… Other than that, I have a huge garden space with raised beds (which will be removed in favor of a sunken bed approach) and tons of roses and the ubiquitous stretch of (now turning brown) lawn.
Wendy, there are members all over in the group, I am sure there are some in Davis and perhaps even Woodland. I am going to do a "harvest party" with our pecans which are going to be ripe soon, any chance you would be interested in hosting something similar out that way?
As an aside, I am not one for taking out existing infrastructure, any chance you could keep the raised beds in production and ADD in sunken beds? We are getting ready to host this saturday an event centered around winter garndens and cover crops, any chance you could attend that? Would you be willing to host something similar out your way? I am not sure what happened to it but I had an event without a date to tour a wool mill out your way in Woodland at Wool Mill in Yolo/Woodland and perhaps we could create an event at your place AND a tour?
Before you go making tools, check out leevalley's gardening catalog and places like etsy and artfire. There isn't much you can make better or cheaper but what you can do is market better.
I speak from experience, I am a talented woodworker and have at times made marginal livings making gunstocks, sex toys, and kitchen utensils from wood.
You are going to be hard pressed to make something better than Japanese tools for either price or quality Hida Tool & Hardware. These are laminated steel blades with a very handmade look
I don't say any of this to undermine your efforts but to point out that what really matters is YOU are making it. Permies rarely have the money to buy high end hand made items, the market for that is yuppie high end garden boutiques. Case in point, that Hida tool is five minutes from a high end nursery where they sell those same tools for a 35% markup.
And as an FYI, maple is not the best tool handle, it rots and it isn't as shock resistant as things like ash and hickory I cannot recomend two books high enough, both cheap and FULL of good permie information and both of which would provide you with a wealth of both knowledge and inspiration
I dislike posting theory but this is a blend as i have done some of these things. I also have a wonderful ex who is a private chef in San Francisco and have dated more than a few people involved in the food industry there.
Selling veggies to home owners is okay and clearly many make money doing it. The trick is to add as much value to what you sell as you can. You can do that with actual work, like drying things, or you can do it with marketing. Find some local restaurants that pride themselves on high end food and talk them into doing some specials with some of the more exotic things. Make it a feature that these are WILD greens, HAND harvested, hell ride you bike to deliver them, etc.
Work on your farms "image" online, facebook, website etc. If you suck at building websites, find some "green" college kid and let them help you. Selling your food becomes a "cool" thing and THAT becomes the value. Sure you might have to sell it for a bit less than you might to a consumer but you will sell MORE and the fact that your stuff is so good that restaurants use it allows you to charge more to consumers and the whole thing feeds on itself.
Now many of you will be retching over this crass capitalism and frankly, I do as well. Counter it with teaching free classes that you can now afford to do because you are not hand to mouth.
Now the above is my plan for the 1/2 acre plot we have in downtown Sacramento. I am working on the class and the image portion of this but I already have restaurants chomping at the bit for mundane things like zucchini and tomatoes that are actually RED and tasty. Sure you should plant some cool exotic heirlooms but remember, good slice able red tomatoes will outsell them 3 or 4 to 1.
Also, don't forget the value of using your land for events, both promotional and other. Hosting fundraisers/wine tastings/tomato tastings or even your "rare heirlooms" which is where your things like nettles (which AREyummy) can be marketed. People WANT to support small farms, don't be afraid to get them to help in ways other than just buying produce. Ask for volunteers to help and you will be surprised how many want to get their hands dirty.
My place is just mature fruit trees and dirt. We bought the bare lot in July, too late here to put much in and so we have six rather sad raised beds and not much else.
I was reading a thread tonight and a thought occurred to me, not always a good idea...
The thread was about the problem using grafted trees that have dwarfing rootstock not being good for dry climates and that makes sense. I wondered about the opposite, grafting dwarf tops to full size rootstock to make a tree with a full size root structure to support a dwarf upper to maximize water intake. Or do full size trees essentially do that because the amount of water "dwarfs" them naturally?
I have a friend near where you live and having spent time in SW Oregon where it is very dry, growing up in San Diego and living in Sacramento, all places that are near desert, NC without a stream seems like a rainforest! It also seems rather idyllic! Streams are nice but a 2 acre pond with fish seems like winning the lottery! Beauty is something you can enjoy every day and I think you scored!
This is a local wool mill I am leading a group on a tour of but I am sure there are others closer, find a copy of one of the higher end kitting magazines and of course google it and see if you can't find local ones to ask. Most are interested as we all are trying to local source more things.
William Bronson wrote:Them is some damn sexy tools!
I can think of may uses, and the prices are reasonable.
I find myself surprisingly indifferent to the knives...
For anyone who loves tools, their catalog is a MUST. if you read the one on the fancy tool, they don't BS, they simply tell it like it is. I use a lot of their woodworking tools and that catalog is amazing as well. They still send them for free!
I am not a purist but to me, one thing that has struck me in the books I have read on permaculture and this discussion is how many need to turn to non native plants (more than a few of which are highly invasive) to make their "natural" system work...it seems so unnatural!
What works on a bulletin board does not always work when you plant it, nor does it grow as predicted, and you cannot always hit delete to control the consequences. The other major issue I see is what can you convince people to try who think we are crazy but might serve to convince them, is to me FAR more important and valid than some pure theoretical stance that is based on 15,000 years of what ifs.
Of course i can't cite it but i remember reading some articles on cattleman switching to using paddocks and or natural grasses and getting solid productivity and profitable results...is it pure? No, but THAT is more likely to provide the social chance we all want than 100 keyboard farmers arguing over what is the best ecosystem for the head of a pin...
I say this as someone who grew up with chickens, goats, and pigs with quasi-hippy parents and who has now mortgaged everything to buy a small 1/2 plot in the middle of an urban setting to create an urban farm and teaching center for all of "this" but what i am creating is quite unnatural because I have italian olives, middle eastern Figs, east coast pecans, and god knows what the origins of the rest of this managery are. I am fighing invasive Chinese tree of heaven as they are very invasive, a nightmare to kill once established and yet are listed in many books as trees to plant...
So, lets all set aside our differences as compared to that with the rest of society we ALL agree on what is important if you look at it that way.
nathan luedtke wrote: The two things that I want to do in Fresno are go to the underground gardens, and visit the farmer's market plaza that was designed by Christopher Alexander, my favorite architect.
OOOH, next time i am down there teaching, I will have to go the plaza, never heard of it but it looks amazing!
So am I right then in understanding that the meetup group you've taken over had already accomplished some things for one another? or was their focus, up to now, something a little different?
It was mainly focused on supporting a lecture series that the founder spun off into a non profit focused on big business, solar, bmw electric cars and that ilk and lost interest in the meetup group. Since the title is Sacramento Sustainability Group I took it over and re purposed it. My goal is to create some community with common goals, with my farm being a supportive element rather than the focus.
I am surprised nobody mentioned S.M. Sterlings works.
Dies the Fire is the first of something like seven books. Its the first two or three that would be of interest to those here. As they struggle to relearn how to live simply without technology, the different groups deal with the issues in different ways and its quite interesting. There is another series about Nantucket and again, the first one or two have the most relevance but good solid fun reads with a lot of things that would resonate for anyone here.
Dies The Fire takes place in post-apocalyptic Oregon, in a time when an unknown phenomenon permanently disables all forms of modern technology, electricity, and combustion, including computers, electronics, guns, car and jet engines, and batteries. People are forced to adapt to a world without technology, and rely on swords and crossbows for protection. Many people starve, while others rob, rape, and pillage. Many even turn to cannibalism. Due to the collapse of public order, some band together, forming small farming communities on the outskirts of cities, while urban areas fall to sword-wielding warlords. The book follows the Bearkiller Outfit and the Clan Mackenzie, as they struggle to survive, and attempt to understand the mystery of what exactly made the lights go out in this post-apocalyptic world.
I stole this idea from someone who ran a meetup.com group and it ran on the same principle. People got together at each others houses and helped complete projects. I took over a meetup group here in Sacramento and am starting to do the same thing. I am having a potluck this weekend with about 30 plus people to map out some potential projects and get this going.
If you are EVER driving up Hwy 99 or even Hwy 5, it is WELL worth the detour to Fresno to se the Forestiere Underground Gardens! The man dug much of the complex by himself, water catchment, underground trees to escape the heat, dealing with hardpan, it has it all!
I did a search and the name didn't come up so I had to post this. I had heard about it and always wanted to visit but had forgotten all about it. I was teaching a class in Fresno, asked them what was cool to do there and the moment the guy mentioned this underground garden I got so excited as I remember it was there. VERY cool tour, very funky but inspiring what can be done!
M.R.J. Smith wrote:That's a great question because many of the PC kick starters I has seen boil down to "fund my dream please!" I'd be really interested to see what people think as we'll.
I agree, I AM going to do a kickstarter but it is going to be for cover crops this spring for a summer harvest on land I just bought. I am only going to ask for a $1,000 or so and have cool gifts. I have seen people asking for $500,000? I mean get real people, its about helping each other get a rung up, not winning the powerball lottery!
I am having to teach myself video editing as that seems to be a key component in successful efforts. The land has the bones of a great slice of paradise, about 12 mature fruit and nut trees but the rest is just dirt. We are working with a number of local groups of various sorts. Our request is going to revolve around getting a rototiller, drip irrigation, and some water upgrades to make all that work plus the seed.
We MAY do some sheet mulching as there is a small urban winery that wants me to compost their waste and a few large coffee houses. Trying to get some tree trimmers to start dropping off wood chips. i am hesitant to get grass clippings as we do not have much in the way of bermuda grass and I intend to work REAL hard to keep it that way!
I had to rush off before I could finish the post. The property also has about 12 mature fruit and nut trees. A HUGE productive fig and another smaller one lost under two huge pecan trees. There is a very tasty nectarine that was crazy productive and an apple that may end up having two or three apples make it to ripeness but they must be tasty as it is the only tree on the property that has been pruned well. There is a GIANT olive thicket heavy with green fruit that is starting to ripen and turn black that we are about to harvest and a number of different plums and a couple of loquats.
The pecan trees have a small fig and two loquats under them and I am seriously considering trying to create a food forrest underneath them although I am not entirely sold on the concept AND pecans drip very stock sap all year long so that might be a problem.
I took over a sustanability meetup group that wasn't doing much and am working at getting it going. We are going to start doing "barn raisers" where we go to each other's homes and help out with projects in each other's yards.
Yeah, I was surprised as well that there isn't a section for northern California. I am starting a place on a 1/2 acre in the middle of downtown Sacramento. It would be kind to call it a work in progress but we DO own the land, it has a 2bdrm house on it and a bunch of mature fruit and nut trees as well a a huge thicket of olives that we are about to start harvesting. The website is www.thatsYfarms.com. I am also revitalizing a meetup group as well http://www.meetup.com/Sacramento-Sustainable-Living/
My family just purchased a small 1/2 acre plot we are turning into a teaching center and high end specializd truck garden but we are doing some permie stuff including a food forrest underneath some mature pecan and figs.
SO, what we do now is list people who give a LOT of help on our website, we give most people who help food and veggies from the gardens, but MOSTLY we praise their efforts, and do the little things to take care of them.
We get ice for the coolers, make a show of bringing them water, we host a potluck that is for volunteers only and we provide the BBQ and beer/wine. We make them feel appreciated.
For some who do a lot, we let them "own" a project they are interested it, herb spirals, garden beds, etc.
Facebook is a great way to spotlight someone at no cost, they get to share it on their own page. Make them a special T shirt, lots of ways to do it cheaply.
Bottom line, is you need good people to manage volunteers, if done well, they are wonderful resources...
We are starting an urban farm and teaching center on a 1/2 plot in the middle of the urban core of Sacramento. Our property runs N/S and on the west side we have a section with two large pecans and in between and under are a fig and a loquat tree. It is perfect to start creating a food forest in as everything but the fig is thriving and with some judicious trimming the fig will come back with a vengence.
What I find troubling about the majority of plants listed is some are toxic to handle and the russian olive/eleagnus are invasive species. While i am not overly fussy, we already have to watch nutgrass, crabgrass, and texas privet, I don't want to add another headache!
So, what have people who actually HAVE pecans found works?