Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ocotillo Tea, Ferrocement, and Tour plans...

Ocotillo in bloom
Today, Don Bryant and I started prepping for the ferrocement demonstration at the Green Scene in Terlingua this weekend. Our one hour workshop is one of many on the subject of off grid living and sustainability. Ferrocement is the binding of sand, metal, and cement. It is the material that the dome studio is being built with. We stopped by Bonnie Hill, a friend of Don's, who he built a ferrocement cistern for about a decade ago. They last forever, unlike the plastic cisterns that are expensive and allow algae to grow. Bonnie has a thick Ocotillo orchard that is in bloom. She told me that she makes a tea out of the blossoms and she let me pick some to take home to try. It is good! Fruity!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Signs of Spring

Even though it hasn't rained in over 6 months, the Mesquites are tapped into the source with roots that can  transport ground water from up to 100 feet away. The very dry desert is suddenly green as these trees come back to life, signaling without a doubt, the end of winter.

Monday, March 21, 2011


So, like last year, and the year before, I chose SWTX over SXSW (the much hyped annual music fest in Austin, TX). And glad I did. It is not only a magnificent time of year for Spring weather here in the Big Bend, but there is also heavy tourism, and thus, a built in audience for a songwriter like me. They are the right kind of crowd, one that listens and buys records. Over the last week, mostly from record sales, tips, and the guarantees from the venues, I have raised enough money to pay for my Amtrak pass for my tour by train this Summer. Not a cheap ticket.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


plum tree roars to life with the first sounds of thunder this year
The plum tree that I planted last fall loves it here and apparently also loves my dish and shower water. The roughly 8 foot tree is the greenest thing around and survived well through the deep freeze that we had last month. We'll see how it likes the heat. There are about 50 flowers or so on the tree. I have received varied advice about picking off the flowers the first couple of years so that the energy is sent towards making the tree bigger instead of making fruit the first few years. I think that I want to keep this tree small though, so that it won't have the water needs of a very large tree. And I'm hungry for plums.

I also planted a new tree today...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Solar Cooling

I am no longer living out of a cooler, as I have done for the last couple of years.  Gone are the times where I purchase a big block of ice and watch it melt over the course of a few days as delicate food items drown in the glacier melt. 

When my new refrigerator arrived via Fedex, I was still skeptical. I wondered if my minimal solar system would hack it. Can the sun really power a refrigerator? The idea seems like a conundrum. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spring Visitors

Pretzel Cigars
Michelle's Kitchen

My new friends Michelle and Jim, from Canada, have taken over the place...  cooking nutritious meals, helping with the building, and driving us all to Mexico to stock up with groceries. Jim and Michelle are a very enlightening duo. They travel for most of the year and garden at their off grid Canadian home for the remainder.  They are also avid sailors and are currently planning a year long expedition. And they do this all on $12,000 a year, combined. Even while on the road, they cook almost all of their meals, and practice grocery management without a refrigerator. They were here to witness the only sign of spring on my property. The plum tree that I planted last fall, the one I have been giving all of my grey water to, is flowering.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Afterlife of an Ice Block

Being off grid in the desert, with no access to city water or unlimited electricity, we have to come up with ways to stretch out the lifespan of our resources. 
I have been keeping my food refrigerated with an ice box. It is actually a broken mini fridge that I keep cold by replacing a block of ice every few days. This is easy in the winter. I just stick a tub of water outside on a freezing night, let it freeze, and then switch it out with the melting block inside the ice box. It is rare that I have to purchase ice in the winter months.

Now that we are getting into the warm months, I have to buy a block of ice every few days. Luckily, the Grub Shack down the road sells blocks of ice. It is a nice 7 mile round trip bike ride, and I can strap my cooler to the back of my bicycle to keep the block from melting in the hot desert sun. I can also get a Trevor sandwich while I am there (the veggie version of their breakfast sandwich, but with grilled onions instead of bacon).