Trees for fall planting are here

This year’s trees are ready to plant!
We have: Local Honey Mesquite (29 Palms and Morongo Valley), Local Blue Palo Verde (Joshua Tree), and Desert Wolfberry -Lycium andersonii (parent plant not local, but it’s a native species).
We gathered the seeds for these trees ourselves and grow our plants in tubes to facilitate a healthy taproot and rapid growth. These are wonderful desert-adapted trees, if I say so myself, but be aware that our local varieties have big thorns, so not ideal for every location.
They are $20 each.
We can deliver by bike in Joshua Tree (2 tree minimum) or you can make an appointment to come  here.
maya with tree

Chickens and Welcome!

Welcome to our new website! Keep an eye on us here to see our latest projects and offerings from our little patch of high desert abundance.

A few weeks ago I got a call from the post office that our 50 day-old chicks had arrived. My 4-year-old and I rushed over there to usher the peeping box of cuteness to their new home. Everything has gone well so far and the chicks have transitioned from a cardboard box, to a henhouse, to a “straw yard” and are growing fast! We have Cornish cross -the classic fast growing meat bird, Pioneer -a fast growing dual purpose (eggs and meat) bird popular among permaculture folks, and Buff Orphington -a gentle heritage breed, also considered dual purpose. In a few weeks we’ll be eating home grown meat, and in a few months we should have plenty of eggs. We don’t know yet how many roosters we have, but I’m hoping it’s about half, which would leave us with about 15 laying hens, that’s just about right for the size of our current hen house and will provide about 7 dozen eggs a week. plenty for our family and enough to share with neighbors.

IMG_20160315_081123 IMG_20160226_142445

on walking

my family is pretty big into health. lately we’ve all been reading a ton of the lovable biomechanist, katy bowman. her book, move your dna, is definitely worth the read, but she has other books, a blog, and instagram, too. her advice is pretty much what we’ve been hearing from every health advocate ever; being sedentary is really, really bad for you. moving your body in lots of different ways for lots of the day is good for you. not exactly earth shattering, but getting more movement into my day has proved harder than i thought. i had this idea that since i do a lot of my living outdoors, i’m ahead of the game on the movement front. that may be true if i’m comparing my self to other people suburban america, but not so much if we are comparing anybody else in the world. i walk from my washer to the laundry line, i dump a 5 gallon bucket of greywater a few times a day, move hoses, and randomly putter on the property. but when i got a pedometer at the beginning of january, i discovered that even a more active than average day for me is less than 7000 steps. most days i top out a little over 5000. you’ve all heard of the 10,000 steps thing, right?  i’m pretty sure that when i lived in vancouver i got a lot closer to 10,000 steps without even trying, because i enjoyed walking the half mile to work, and it was the path of least resistance to run errands by foot & public transportation. here, i walk around my property, or will go for a hike nearby, but never walk for transportation.

yesterday oliver (age 4.5) and i decided to have an “adventure” by walking to our weekly homeschooling gathering. we made snacks and filled up our camelbaks and ventured out to trek the 1.6 miles. we both enjoyed the stroll very much and now i’m just kind of embarrassed that after living here for more than 10 years, i’ve walked to town only one other time. and that walking a mile and a half felt like an adventure. it’s just weird that using our legs as transportation has gotten so novel. i think i might even prefer walking over biking here. because soft sand and steep hills are no problem when going by foot, we could take a more direct route, and didn’t see a car the whole way. oliver had no trouble walking the whole way on his own, and had plenty of energy left over to play hard with his friends for several hours. maybe we’ll get super ambitious and walk to the library one of these days, or the post office! look out world!

there’s a way that walking for transportation here feels like a radical act. i guess because NOBODY does it. there are a handful of people who bike, and we are generally seen as either impoverished or crazy. people seen walking are assumed to be even more impoverished and/or crazy. honestly, if i see somebody walking along the street here, my first thought is, i wonder what’s wrong? should i give them a ride? but there is something liberating in leaving the car keys in their basket and just walking out the door to go somewhere. plus we can feel super smug about the fossil fuels we aren’t burning and the long term health benefits of fresh air and exercise. holding hands and conversation is easier when walking than biking or driving too.


my letter to caltrans

Dear CalTrans,

I am writing to request a widening of the shoulder to 4 feet on Sunburst Avenue in Joshua Tree. I am a mother of a preschooler. I live just off of Sunburst and the recent tragic death of Tim Kelly as he was cycling North on Sunburst happened less than 1 mile from my house. I believe biking is an excellent mode of transportation. It cuts down on traffic congestion, creates no fuel emissions, limits wear and tear on roads, and promotes an active, healthy lifestyle. I have invested in a mountain bike and bike trailer for my four-year-old son, and we often ride the 2 or 3 miles to play at Sunburst Park or attend Story Time at the Joshua Tree library. Every time we go anywhere on bike, we suit up with helmets, safety vests, and and a big orange flag. But even with all these precautions, I don’t feel safe riding in the road. There is simply not enough room for a car to safely pass a bike because there is no paved shoulder. I ride on the dirt shoulder going down the hill until we get to the paved bike path between the old elementary school and highway 62. But the dirt shoulder is soft sand and hard to ride on, it’s nearly impossible for me coming back up the hill pulling a 40lb kid trailer. A widened shoulder or extension of the bike path would make walking and biking between the community center and elementary school much safer, and I believe a lot more people would choose to walk or bike their kids to school if they could do so without fearing for their lives.

Thank you for your consideration of this topic, and thank you for all you already do to help our community stay safe.


Maya Toccata

Joshua Tree, CA


a couple weeks ago i was standing near the hen house and wondered aloud if we should turn our old laying hens into gut-healing broth. “after all, we’re only getting a couple eggs a day, they are old, and this area is going to be a swale soon. they are really just a liability with new chicks on order…” the next day, i kid you not, there were 11 eggs in the nest! from 10 hens! and i’ve been getting 8-10 eggs a day since! production hasn’t been this good in years. i’m not saying they understood what i said, but it’s a funny coincidence, don’t you think? 

we got an inch of rain a couple weeks ago and all the plants and trees look so good. we harvested the first mulberry and all the greens are going gangbusters. after 8 years of trying different planting techniques, we are officially converted to seeding vegetables indoors in peat pots and transplanting in polycultures. we bought 6 of these, and a bunch of refill pellets. we just seed the tray and keep it moist. once the seeds start to sprout we put the tray on the window sill. when the plants are big enough i pick a little mix of plants that are different from each other, for instance, one each of leek, fennel, kale, and arugula. i plant these all in the same area, digging a little hole and amending with compost before i drop in the start. it’s easy and quick, and lends itself well to gardening in 5 minute intervals. the different plant smells, textures, and colors help confuse pests and also have different nutrient needs from the soil so no particular nutrient gets too depleted.

this spring garden is probably our best yet, but i don’t think we’ll be doing our summer garden the same way this year. it takes so much water and things get so stressed in the relentless heat. we want to build some wicking beds and do our peppers and eggplants in there.

the trouble with waldorf

the mama blogs and pinterest posts i like best are the ones brimming with waldorf inspired activities. they have adorable, seasonal crafts made out of natural materials, they tell sweet seasonal stories about the leaves changing color, or harvesting apples and baking bread. i love them. they resonate with me not only because they value the innocence of children and the natural world, but also because my mother is german, and the german origins of the waldorf esthetic are familiar and nostalgic for me. i love the idea of noticing and celebrating the seasons with my child, and doing annual festivals to mark the year. the trouble is, seasons. we don’t live in germany. we don’t live in any of the northern hemisphere’s temperate zones. our “seasons” feel really different than the four celebrated in all the waldorf festivals. it seems a bit odd to be celebrating apples and bread when we can’t grow wheat or apples here. it’s not easy to collect autumn leaves and dip them in beeswax. by the time easter hits, our spring flowers have come and gone. the poems about the dark days of winter around solstice time just seem a bit off when are days are filled with gardening and water play. we feel more like hibernating in summer, when it’s too hot to go outside, but that’s when all the waldorf songs are about frolicking in the sun.

i guess we need to come up with our own season appropriate celebrations and festivals. cholla day? mesquite waffle party? maybe damian can write a song about how the season has come once more to see the lizards and beware of snakes. or maybe we should just try shuffle the poems and crafts to go with what we have. i suppose we’ll have to skip the ice lanterns all together.

sage mountain farm

we joined a CSA! we are excited about it because it’s 100% organic, and the farm is about 80 miles from our house, closer than most of the vendors at our weekly farmers’ market. we love our local farmers’ market and are so glad it’s here, but sadly, only one vendor is organic, and his variety is limited. this means i end up buying stuff from the non-organic vendors, which is fine, but i sure do prefer the taste and ethics of organically grown stuff. for $30 we got the “small” (i did not find it to be particularly small) box which was bursting with yummy greens, citrus, tomatoes, and some other stuff. but mostly greens. january is greens season. i was worried about giving up control of my weekly produce to somebody else, so we decided to get the bi-weekly subscription. every other monday we get our CSA box and every other saturday (in between) i go to the farmers market and buy stuff to compliment the box. when faced with a box full of greens, i stocked up on garlic, potatoes and yams to round things out. our winter garden isn’t producing too much yet, but i think soon we’ll have plenty of greens to harvest between CSA pick ups. we may find ourselves overrun with greens this spring. it’s a risk i’m willing to take. and soon other things will be coming in too, that’s the beauty of a seasonal harvest.


The Energy Strategy

With the super-abundant solar energy that is available here in the desert, we hope to transition to solar powered everything (cooking, lighting, transportation, technology, etc.) as solar technology evolves.

Coppice stick-fuel that is grown on the site is intended to serve all of the energy needs that cannot be met by the sun. Rocket stoves designed to burn this fuel super efficiently will serve in cases where solar cooking is impractical or too time consuming–there will be rocket stove systems incorporated into each of the kitchen spaces as well as a rocket-stove oven.

The house is already heated quite nicely in the winter through passive solar (sunshine fills the house all winter and none penetrates in the summer).

It is hoped that cooling can also become more and more passive as the property becomes increasingly shaded with trellises and trees. In addition, the installation of screen doors on the house and office will do much to cool the space passively.

Structural Elements

Here is a wish-list of all the structural changes to be made, when and if possible on the site–roughly in order of priority.

-Screen doors to be installed on the east and west doorways of the house and on the western door of the office to allow cooling breezes to passively move through these buildings in warm months.

-trellises buffering all western walls from the hot afternoon sun with deciduous vines planted in order to help keep buildings cool.

-Shutters added to the outsides of all windows in order to keep heat out of buildings when appropriate

-A composting toilet to replace the water-wasting conventional flush toilet.

-All greywater diverted into the zone 1 landscape for below-ground irrigation.

-Create a moveable chicken house and run.

-Build a portable, raised rabbit hutch.

-A pigeon loft will be erected.

-Since all rooftops are going to capture rainwater for drinking, roofs may need to be changed for water safety.

-Three large water tanks installed around the property.

-Build a cold-frame along south side of the house.

-Solar PV arrays on rooftops.

-Install a long, black, solar chimney through the roof on south side of the house to suck hot air out of the house while drawing cool air in from the other side during the summer season.