Philip McGarvey

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since Oct 24, 2018
California, Redwood forest valley, 40°N, 8mi from ocean, elev 1500ft, zone 9a
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Recent posts by Philip McGarvey

I’m pretty happy being single.  I have good friends and community and a lot of love in my life.  Even so, it could be really sweet to find someone I really click with and try to do life together.  To share all that beauty.  I don’t leave the land I’m on very often right now, so I rarely meet new people in person.  In addition to looking for a partner, I’m also happy to talk with likeminded people on here and make new permie friends.

In a partner I'm looking for a woman who:
- Loves what I love / has the same primary values.  I love life in all its forms, beauty and abundance and diversity of all forms of life.  My mission is to help life thrive, to help create and nurture habitat.  For humans yes, but not only for humans, and perhaps not primarily for humans.  I particularly love forest.
- Has deep integrity.  Like, you’re not perfect but you at least aren’t afraid of acknowledging the ways you’re not perfect and you actually want to better live in alignment with your values.  Honesty, with myself and others, when I’ve fallen into a bad pattern of thought or behavior is really important to me.
- Is as excited as me about piles of organic material.  (This follows from the above two ;)
- Cares about her health.
- Isn’t so afraid of things.  I mean, yes, we’re going to die.  Life is beautiful and we’ve been given so much; let’s give back and enjoy it in the time we’re given. “Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?”  Have a sense of humor, almost everything is funny if you think about it!
- Isn’t in denial about ecological collapse, climate change, etc.  We’re headed for hard times and we need to be mentally prepared for that.  I’m not necessarily expecting to survive whatever comes though I’ll try, but more importantly I’m going to serve the land while I can and create something beautiful.  Even if does get wiped out by some calamity, it will have been worth it and I’ll have enjoyed doing it.
- Is around my age, give or take 5 years.

As for where we could live ultimately, there are a lot of options.  There’s a beautiful big piece of land near here in northern california where I’ve been offered to stay permanently and build/garden/raise animals on.  (The owner wants people who deeply care about the land to live there and protect/nurture it long term, it already has some permaculture development on it.)  Or it’s possible I could stay at the place where I live now in the redwood forest, if you were into that.  It’s a tiny community kind of thing, and focused outwardly on serving the forest more than just on creating local community here, but I do love it here, been living here 7 months.  I’m not depending on it, but I wouldn’t be shocked if I stayed a very long time.  Or I could buy land in western NY where I’m from and start a farm/homestead/community sort of thing there, close to my family and a lot of connections.  Or, if you already have a place somewhere, or want to live in some other place, I am open to the possibility of coming to love another region and community.  Though I really love the forest, and I don’t want to live in a desert.  I don't intend to live in a city.

As for kids, I absolutely love kids.  I think I could be a good dad.  I’m also not in a rush, and it’s not something I absolutely need.  In the right circumstances it could be wonderful, and I could see myself having kids in a few years, or in 10 years, or never.  Ideally in a situation where the kids don't have to go to school, unless it's some hyper-local thing with neighbors.  I would want to spend a lot of time with them.  I do think in the long run I want to be around kids for example in a community setting, whether or not they’re my own.

As for lifestyle/career stuff.  I will probably want to live close with the land and grow food etc, like I'm doing now.  If you end up wanting to be part of that, or if you have your own thing going on or your own dreams and we can mutually support each other, that's cool!  I'm pretty flexible about what I end up doing as long as it serves what I love.  Honestly, while I do have space in my life to commit to things long term, I haven't yet, and so I'm still in a very open place as far as how the future will look.

Where I’m at right now:
I work most of the time here where I live, at a little community in the forest in Mendocino county CA, taking care of the garden and land, feeding the people here, and generally supporting the work that goes on here, which is a group focused on forest advocacy/protection/regeneration.  I saved money so I can live for a long time without needing to make more money for myself, so I can find the work I want to do and just do it.

In the past I’ve been reluctant to share much about myself in online dating sites, because it kind of feels like bragging.  But life’s short, and I may as well share the ways I’ve been blessed as it may help you, you wonderful person, to feel that we’d be a good team.  I don’t expect you to be the same as me, I just want to say who I am so you can have some sense if we might be compatible!

I wrote a lot here, and it's cool if you want to chat without having read everything.  It’s fairly quiet where I am these days so I like to talk on the phone if you’re into that.  And to you elders out there, if you know someone awesome feel free to play matchmaker for us.  ;)

Some things about me:  

I’m very healthy.  I think health is all about attitude, nutrition, and exercise.  Having a healthy attitude and not being stressed about stuff helps the body stay healthy.  As for food, I care mostly that I get good nutrition.  When I’m living with land I’m pretty good at this.  Some of my guidelines are: if it’s good for you and won’t ruin the food, throw it in!  And, the more different plants and fungi you eat every day, the better.  No surprise given that we’re on… that I generally avoid processed stuff, inorganic stuff, sugar, factory farmed animal products, and so on.  I never have coffee or alcohol or marijuana and I quit caffeine when I was 16.  I have nothing against these necessarily, I just don’t need them myself.  I don't watch TV and I have enough to do outside that I don't waste time on the internet / social media much anymore.

I’m 6’4”, physically fit, only medical visits in the last 10 years were for a couple of nasty spider/bug bites.  That’s not to say tragedy couldn’t strike and I get cancer or something.  But right now I seem to be in good shape.  I’ve never really been on any kind of medication.  (I used to take ibuprofen for headaches once in a while, but haven’t had to in years.)  I’m very skeptical of modern mainstream medicine — not to say it’s all bad, just I think a lot of it is.

I don’t need much physical comfort.  For example I often don’t mind just bundling up in winter and going without heat.  (Though when there’s a woodstove I don’t mind chopping wood and staying toasty!)  I’m pretty low maintenance in this way.  The only thing I use to clean myself is apple cider vinegar, toothpaste, and water.  (This is negotiable but it's worked well so far!)

I’m very frugal and ecologically conscious about what I buy.  I’ve never owned a vehicle because I haven’t really needed one yet.  If I was running a place myself and had no other vehicle to use I might get a vehicle, but so far it’s not been necessary.  I wish humans had never invented cars for obvious reasons.  I rarely buy packaged food, I generally don’t eat at restaurants or pay for entertainment unless it’s directly to someone I know.  Still, I’m not at all innocent.  I think for us to live in healthy relationship with the land would ultimately mean a lifestyle much more like that of the native americans pre-colonization, and I am far from that.  I don’t wallow in guilt about this all the time, but I’m very much aware of it and do make an effort to do better.

I’m totally privileged.  I grew up feeling loved, financially safe, got to go to college, etc.  And I want to use this privilege wisely and generously.  If we do some beautiful land project I’d want it not to be just for us — we must share the bounty and the beauty, especially with non-humans of course, but probably also with other humans too.

I don’t have a work ethic in the abstract sense, it’s more that I care and so I work for the good of the things or people I care about.  In my ideal world we wouldn’t have destroyed the habitat and so we could all goof around making beautiful things most of the day and hunt/gather a little for our food.  But the things I love are in danger right now. Kind of like if your village was being attacked, you have to fight.

I'm good at math and have an engineering mind and funnily am very skeptical of all our modern technology.

Oh, hobbies.  I mean.. gardening obviously.  Learning all about forest ecology, and ecology in general, and how to fit that into forest gardening.  Is cuddling the cat a hobby?  I do nature photography mostly of the forest:  I love to sing, I sing scottish gaidhlig.  I love to write when I have something I must say.  Foraging wild food and experimental cooking and preserving food are probably my biggest hobbies.  I get a lot of mushrooms and acorns and berries from the forest.  Learning all the plants around me and how to use them.  Sharing food with people is my favorite thing to do, especially foods from the land that they’ve never had before.  I got to share my roasted garlic-chanterelle-marinaded acorns and quince sauce with city people over Christmas.  When I’m in cities I always help out with Food Not Bombs which is a grassroots group that serves free healthy food in public in many cities -- I did this in San Francisco for two years while living there.

Some of my hobby dreams are to build a truly eco-friendly home from stuff on the land, make a longbow and hunt with it, learn to play an instrument well, and grow an abundant food forest with minimal technology and minimal maintenance.  Maybe I will just learn that this region is already a food forest of acorns and huckleberries.  ;)

I was vegan for a while, I’m not anymore.  I don’t generally buy animal products and if you’re vegan I’d probably be happy to eat that way.  I just think hunting a deer makes more ecological sense than clearing forest to grow a field of beans.  Or even than fencing off forest to keep the deer away from the acorns so I can have them.  Better to let the deer eat some of the acorns and then eat the deer if you need to.

Spiritual/religious life.. I grew up in a fundamentalist christian church.  When I was 14 or so I was questioning it all, like how can it be that everyone but us are going to hell and we can somehow save them but we don’t seem to actually try that hard, and why is God so vengeful?  I stopped going to church at 17.  There’s a lot of story in between then and now that I won’t get into here.  Now, I’ve been part of the mennonite church in san francisco for almost four years, and this community has meant a lot to me.  I see them only every few months now since I left the city, but I feel very supported by this group and also feel a responsibility to them to live my life well in service.  This is not a burden but a joy.  The rituals, gatherings, and commitment to each other transcend religious terminology.  I don’t call myself a christian, though I still love some of the stories about Jesus.  The forest and its mountains and rivers are my temple.  I feel very close to whoever the spirit/creator/god/mystery is that holds all this together, and I’ve been learning to trust this one intuitive voice inside me which pretty frequently guides my day to day.  It’s led me to so much beauty in the past year, I don’t think I could do better trying to figure out life logically.  I take mushrooms sometimes, which has been a beautiful and clarifying experience.  I’ve read a lot of poetry and wisdom and hopefully absorbed a lot of it.  I am full of gratitude for life.  I love this line by Rilke: that “life’s bestowal of riches already surpasses any subsequent impoverishment. What, then, remains to be feared? Only that we might forget this!”

Politics… I mean I value the forest.  Neither of the big parties in the US seem to give a damn about healthy soil.  One party is sometimes slightly less blatant in their disregard, perhaps.  I don’t pay much attention to national politics anymore — not saying it’s wrong to, but we don’t all have time for everything.  Local politics I do think are important, and wherever I end up I’d love to understand county/town government and see if I can help push things in the right direction.  Perhaps deep ecology is my political affiliation.

I admire strong women, and I feel most at home in a matriarchal context.  I have a lot of strong woman leaders in my life who I deeply respect.  I feel like women tend to have more purity of purpose than men — they’re less often acting from personal ego, and more often acting from love and care for the community.  This is a generalization I know and there are plenty of exceptions.  I don’t mean that women have to make all the decisions, just that when they do feel strongly about things I usually respect their wisdom more than mens’.

I cry.  Often in gratitude or joy, and also often in grief at what’s happening to what I love.  Usually when I’m with myself.  If you think a man shouldn’t have emotions, I beg you to reconsider.  It doesn’t get in the way of acting appropriately in response to the situation, quite the contrary.  I feel things deeply and this is what motivates me to do the work I do.

I don’t get stressed much.  I don’t get angry at people.  I’m pretty practiced at letting go of things.  I do care about stuff and I am angry about what we’re collectively doing to the earth that I love and its inhabitants.  I just have never had much personal drama and don’t want to.

My weakness is peanut butter.  It’s weird because most everything I cook tastes better than peanut butter but I still have a sort of addiction to peanut butter.  My other weakness might be that I spent so much time in front of a computer and so I have a lot of catching up to do on the real world, but I do have all of my time free to give to this catching up now.  I know I have many other weaknesses, some of which are too complex to write about here, and probably many more that I’m blind to which I’ll need you to point out for me.  I'm very open to talking about the ways I'm not perfect or not who I want to be.  I don't have much to hide or defend.

Finally, here’s a very short version of my life story.  I grew up on a farm in western NY.  Was homeschooled along with my siblings.  We had a garden and some goats, chickens, and cattle, although I wasn’t too involved in that it was always there.  Then I got interested in computers and ended up getting my “dream job” as a software engineer out of college.  I didn’t feel like I belonged there deep down, but I did enjoy it and was very successful so I rolled with it.  Then I started realizing how the industrial economy is destroying everything beautiful that I love, for example the forest, and I realized that I was part of that, and that all the money I was making was effectively coming from decimated habitat if you follow the economic interconnections.  This was mostly during 2015-2016.  So I finally took a three month leave from work in spring 2017, moved out of my apartment and traveled on bicycle in Oregon, and spent the summer in nature.  When I got back I moved into a homeless protest camp in Berkeley.  I was going to quit my job right away but was persuaded to stick around for a couple months so I could be a “senior engineer” when I left, in case I wanted to come back some time.  I slept in a tent on the street and then rode the fancy techie bus to the office during the day.  It was funny.  Finally quit the job at the end of October 2017 and went slowly traveling, wwoofing and looking for community to be part of.  I spent some time back in western NY, then in North Carolina last winter, and then returned to California and took my bike up to the northern california coast, and fell in love with this place.  It was a long time coming — I first met the redwood forest six years ago in the afternoon after my job interview, and I had come up to this region twice before and absolutely loved it.  I’ve been here since April at the same place.  I also frequently spend time at a friend’s place in the mountains where there are a lot of animals.  I’ve been taking on more responsibilities and at this point I feel like I have good practice and familiarity with what’s involved in living permaculture off grid.  Of course there’s *tons* I don’t know, but I’m broadly aware of what’s going on and how to learn what I need to learn (, haha!).

So, that’s me in a nutshell.  Hey, I had some time for writing over the holidays since I didn’t travel back to NY this year.  :)  I don’t expect you to write me something really long about yourself.  It’s been a fun little self-reflection.

If you feel like talking, you can post here or send me a message by clicking or email me at

Best wishes to you on your journey, whoever you are!
1 month ago
I inherited a bunch of seed potatoes that had sat in boxes and sprouted.  Some of them have a little mold, and someone once warned me that you should never *ever* plant moldy potatoes cause the potato mold could spread and ruin all future potatoes in the garden.  This seems dubious to me, I suppose it's theoretically possible, but how likely is that?  

I googled "moldy seed potatoes" and only found people saying they had success planting them.  Couldn't find anything on permies about this.

I'm planning to go ahead and plant them unless I hear a lot of people saying don't.  Here are some pictures of them.  What do y'all think?

2 months ago

wayne fajkus wrote:Watch "Zach Weiss   Water Retention Landscapes   LSSM" on YouTube

Just watched that, and also read this on the half/full cycle:

I was already familiar with this stuff, I guess my question was more "what are these other farms doing that's causing the problem", and my guess is it's something like this:

- they're clearing forest which raises ground temperature so water runs off quicker
- they're spraying some amount of water in the air so it evaporates faster and never gets into the ground
- they're probably making their irrigation water overflow directly to creeks rather than sink into the ground

The key bit I was wondering about was how are they preventing the water from reaching the streams, and I think the answer is that they're not.  The streams are drying up because when the rain does come down, it flows out to the streams even faster than it would have with a healthy ecosystem, so the streams run faster in the rainy season and then run dry in the summer.  
2 months ago
I'm trying to understand the difference between permaculture water retention, e.g. making swales to keep rainwater around rather than letting it run off into streams to the ocean, vs the much bemoaned waste of water in agriculture.

For example, I've heard many times that the pot farms in our region use up too much water so streams are going dry, e.g:

I'm only interested in the water usage aspect -- of course the pesticides and fertilizers are bad.  And of course, clearing forest to grow crops is going to affect the climate and probably result in less rain, that's also a separate issue.

If I dig a swale and divert a lot of rainwater into it so it slowly seeps through our garden for the fruit trees to use, rather than running off directly to the creek, what's the difference between what I'm doing and what these other farms are doing?  Is it just that the pot farms are throwing water up into the air so there's a lot lost to evaporation?  Or how is this water disappearing?  I would expect water used to irrigate marijuana to eventually percolate down to the creek the same way it would in our permaculture garden.  

I want to be like the beaver, slowing down the water so it sticks around and makes habitat of all sorts, and I want to understand how I'm not doing something harmful.
2 months ago

Ben Zumeta wrote:... I had very good strawberry production the year after heavily mulching with woodchips (inoculated with duck pond water to emulate some of the back to eden chicken processing). In subsequent years I have been inconsistent with the deep mulch due to time and availiability of chips, but I do try to always have the ground covered by organic matter. I always have enough strawberries, but I do think that I have had less when I mulched less. It may be water stress (they are not irrigated anymore due to being under grapes that now produce).

Thanks Ben!  This is helpful -- it's great to hear your experience doing what I wanted to try, in the same region, and having success.  We'll probably mulch everything else first, and if we still have time we'll bury some of the strawberries and see how they do.  I agree, it emulates the forest ecosystem.  We actually have a lot of wild alpine strawberries in the surrounding forest and spreading in the garden.  I was surprised at how well our strawberries did this year -- fruiting really well from middle of May through the first week of Nov when the freezes finally ended it.
3 months ago

Ben Zumeta wrote:I have actually buried my strawberries in woodchips about 6” deep in the late fall as Paul Gautschi (Back to Eden) suggests, and like he said it did naturally thin back my older plants and selected for vigorous younger runners that produced well the next year. In a forest strawberries would be periodically covered in duff or leaves and have to survive as a species somehow, and this seems to emulate that process. I would bet the main caveat would be that it has to be coarse enough for the plant to work a runner through.

Hi Ben, this is very interesting to me as we're in the same climate.  Did you just pile the chips on top of the strawberry plants without cutting the plants at all?  We have some piles of chips that have less dirt/compost mixed into them, taken from the edges of the original pile, and I wonder if we'd want to use these on top of the strawberries instead of the denser composty chips.  

It sounds like from your experience you recommend this?  Have you tried other overwintering approaches that worked well?  We're debating burying them with woodchips vs just leaving the plants as they are and not mulching them at all.  We have enough strawberries that we could try several things on different beds.
3 months ago

Casie Becker wrote:Strawberries would love a woodchip mulch. They're originally forest plants and are better adapted to wood remains than straw.

Would you bury the entire plants with woodchips, or just put the chips beside the plants?  Or cut down the plants first?  Our plants are pretty big, a lot of them have foliage a foot tall.  What's the most depth you'd consider putting on strawberries, to not stifle their regrowth in the spring?
(I realize these may vary by region and conditions etc etc, but any thoughts on these questions are helpful.)
3 months ago
We scored a lot (probably 50 cubic yd) of free wood chips.  They look like ground up branches and/or stumps, because there's some dirt and rock mixed in, and they're all varying sizes up to a 1" by 12", and some larger.  They've been sitting at least a year or maybe two, so there's a lot of decomposition already.  Lots of good compost in the piles.  They're almost all tanoak, with a very small percentage of redwood and other wood mixed in.

We're now thinking about what to do with them.  My initial plan was to spread them at least 8 inches deep under our trees and bushes (not touching the trunks of course), and also on any exposed soil we aren't yet using for planting.  But since we have so much we were wondering if they'd be good to mulch some of the raised beds.  We don't have a lot of other mulch available, and some of our beds are empty right now with just a thin layer of straw on top.

My question is, if we spread these on top of beds, would we need to rake them off to plant in the spring?  I imagine it varies by what we're trying to grow.  Maybe we'd be OK just pulling off the biggest pieces from the beds before planting.  

We also have ~1000 strawberry plants in the garden, which did really well this year and we're figuring out how to overwinter them.  I doubt we want to bury them under these giant woodchips, but the thought did occur to us.

We're in a very summer-dry climate (no rain from May through Sept) so building up moisture retention is our top priority.

I've been reading all the threads here about woodchip mulch, but I wonder if a lot of it might be different for us because of how big some of our woodchips are.
3 months ago