Canyon Wren Farm is an organic farm located in Grand Junction, Colorado adjacent to the Colorado National Monument. This stunning location is perfect for all kinds of outdoor recreation: hiking, mountain and road biking, rock climbing, and skiing. At the farm stay, you will find repose with delicious home-grown sustainable food and generous hospitality.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


I want them.  I planted and lost a couple of bare root trees about 6 years ago.  I don't think the soil was ready, nor was I.  I did not get the warm wall built to the south of them and they died.

Fall of 2013, I was able to get seeds from a woman who lives in Northern India.  She

got pomegranates grown in Kashmir.   Thank you Becky!

I germinated about a quarter of the seeds in the fall or 2013, potted them along.

Here they are in April.  Getting hardened off.  I put them in the sun every day, for increasing numbers of hours until I can leave them out all day.

If it gets really cold during this process, they stay in the greenhouse.

Click these photographs.  Most will get bigger, and show more.

I meant to get them planted out earlier, but this is what it was like when I was ready to plant them out.  We'd had our first frost.  The rust colored plant is a rose geranium.  The next dry thing, some dry grass, is vetivert, an other plant that does not like the ground to freeze.  Another sensitive plant sharing the mulch is lemon verbena.

    The pomegranates are actually planted in this mulchy fall plot:

See the dry twigs with yellowed leaves (above)?
With my shirt for contrast, they are more visible (below).

When the ground got a lot colder, I put another foot of mulch over the top, and I am hoping for the best...

What am I doing here anyway? spring 2014

I follow land stewardship practices which increase the fertility of the soil while crop production is underway,  practices that create richer soil each successive year, and in produce something to be harvested.
My goal is to enrich the soil, increasing complexity, productivity and stability of the soil community,  bacteria, fungi, protozoans, nematodes, microarthropods and earthworms,

To quote Joel Salatin, "Earth is not a reluctant partner, she will bequeath abundance if we will only help".

I am trying to help my light sand with clay.  My first baseline sample by Peter Donovan's Soil Carbon challenge showed less than one percent organic carbon.  There was also some carbon in the form of calcium carbonate, which carbon is not available to the soil microorganisms.

For six years prior to Peter's sampling, I grew as much biomass as I possibly could.  Mostly it was in the form of Kochia, Russian thistle, aka tumbleweed, bind weed, sunflowers and cheat grass.  Each year I stacked the dry material, hoping it would protect the earth below from the UV of the sun, the sere desert winds, and slow evaporation from the soil.  Most of it just waited there in piles, with out enough moisture to decompose.  It was not doing much enrichment.

I was of the opinion that animals would both disturb the surface and compact the soil, and as my first love is the soil, I wanted none of that.

I since learned of the theories of Alan Savory, and the restorative actions of the proper level of grazing.  I got a goat, and began to encourage more green biomass.   One goat was not enough.   That's where I am now, in the early spring of 2014, contemplating how to get more eating going on and more green biomass for the goats to eat.

To increase the fertility of the soil while a crop is in production, to generate more in the system than was carried away, I bring the goats in at the rate the feed is coming up out of the ground.  Their digestive tract is a sort of speed composting system.  In go fresh greens and the dry cellulose roughage (the stuff that still sits on the desert sand 6 years later), it is  fermented chewed and rechewed, and comes out 24 hours later moistened, finely ground, with microorganisms that contribute to the soil's microbiological community.

The goats will eat what ever there is to eat, and move every few days to a new piece of the field.   This year, it's likely I'll have to feed some wonderful non gmo organic alfalfa from across the valley.   The soil will have the benefit of the hay the goats don't eat, as well as the hay they DO eat.  When I am bringing in feed it is easy to see that the soil will have more at the end of the season than it did at the beginning.  In the meantime, I will be milking the goats, making chevre and feta, learning about the more complicated cheese making processes.

Soil Carbon Site Update photos

Last time I posted was July of 2013, after Peter was here for my baseline soil tests.

Yikes.  I forget  how to sign on, and get very frustrated.  Having figured it out again, I'll see how I do this time.

In case you are curious, here is a link to the report he posted, including photographs he took when he was here to test my soil.  Follow the link, at the bottom of the page enter CWF it has to be capitals), click "generate" right beside it beside .  Pause a few seconds, then scroll down, the report will appear beneath.

The pasture and soil are making great progress.

This is the study area in May of 2014,  Looking east.

And here it is in July of 2014, a year after I brought water to it, and seeded it.

I have plenty of manure, wood chips and such, and make use of them elsewhere on the property.  In this area, I am careful to not add carbonaceous material in the form of compost or mulch.

I seeded it, I've reseeded, and I've transplanted seedlings from other places, but I really want to see what plants can do.

I've put goats on to chew it up and trample it down, and leave their manure and urine.  I also heard Elaine Ingham speak about inoculating the soil with microorganisms, and made a few batches of soil microbe soup, and poured that on.  It's going pretty well I think.

These next photos are of different areas of the pasture/garden, but I had the same amount of vegetation in the study area. 

This is mid summer, before the goats moved in.

And here are the hard working doelings, eating everything.
This is late October, this area too was shoulder high and green.  Most of what is growing here is annual, at this point.  It looks like maybe I let them eat too much, but what is left here is dead sunflower stalks, and dead kochia. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My Soil Carbon Project

Last winter after attending an ag conference, where I heard Fred Provenza speak, I found the soil carbon coalition website, and began to learn more about the connection between soil carbon and ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, and climate change.

In July Peter was here and took baseline soil samples.  I had him locate the test plot in the barest place in my field, as that is what I started with everywhere but the orchard and the original lawn.

Eventually, when he has time to update the website, you will be able to see my test plot on the day he took the first samples by clicking here.

Last week I gathered as much sweet clover seed as I could get from my plants and spread it in the area where I am planning to establish warm season grass and mixed pasture.  The soon to be pasture encompasses the entire sample plot for the soil carbon project.

Today I seeded big bluestem in that part of the field.  This post is just to record what I did.

First I cleared most of the weeds, made some creases, ran water, adjusted ditches and flow.

Today I scratched the surface, scattered seed on the down hill side of every crease, and the interior side of edge creases, and raked it to cover the seeds.

Then, because the literature says big bluestem likes it, I stomped it down, then ran water again, and again, and again.  I'm hoping to see germination in a week.  In warm weather conditions, it is important not to let the grass seed dry out, so its water, water, water.

The soil is warm enough for plenty of weed seeds to germinate, but few of the annual weeds will have time to set seed before frost.   Just in case they try it, I put out plenty of substitute weed seeds, purple amaranth, calendula, kale, arugula, radishes and a few others from my seed box. 

I have some more seeds to add, but I will wait to list them until they are in the soil.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rocket Stove Part Three


The greenhouse is either construction zone or plants or thermal mass barrels of water.  It is hard to move around in there, and I keep resisting the urge to move some things outside, like barrels of water or stacks of pavers.  But everything in there is holding warmth, and anything I put outside will take its inherent heat energy with it.  So, I move it out of the way, again and again.  

Tomorrow,  I'll clear some material out of the way by putting it in place.  I will insulate the heat riser, rebuild the clean out, place the barrel, cob in the heat exchange pipe, and add mass.  I'll cut an exit hole for the stove pipe.

The clean out access after 3 designs, and before cobbing.

Treasure!  The fourth load of stone given to me by my generous neighbors.  I've unloaded all the stone, and sorted it by color and type, and now that it is spread out in the snow, we have new snow predicted.  Of course.  It will be good to have the water.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Greenhouse Heat part 2

I did do my test burn today, but before I did,

I put in the row of booster bricks, to raise the barrel up.

And built the clean out / ash pit room.
I mortared in the bricks to complete the row, and covered the top, set the barrel in place (without the insulation, in case it doesn't work, and I have to go back and rebuild something.)  

I missed a few pictures today, my hands were muddy most of the time.   But there is still plenty to do, so I will get pictures showing the top all sealed up, and the barrel in place.
  Below, you can see the top of the barrel, and the pipe carrying some of the smoke out the door.

It did burn, it did draw smoke up the riser and down the inside of the barrel, into the ash pit /clean out, and on down the pipe, but it was smoky.

Ianto says smoky is to be expected when the stove is cold and wet,  so I think I have a workable combustion unit.  The top of the barrel was warm to the touch, air went in the intake.  Flame went down the burn tunnel.  And steam rose off the wet mortar from the top of the burn tunnel to the place where it disappears into the riser assembly.

I had a helper today.  Maxi-Cat.  Here, he is checking what is on top of the worm bin.

 Here, resting in between inspecting my work.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

January 2013 Project, heat in the greenhouse

It's been COLD.  Below 0 more nights than not since before Christmas.  It's been so cold that when it warmed all the way up to 38 F one day last week, it felt positively balmy.  You know it's been cold when 38 feels toasty!

The day time highs have been in the 20s on a warm day, and there is snow on the ground.  On a sunny day, the greenhouse heats right up to mid 70s.  On a cloudy day, or a snowy day, it gets up to 40.  That's not bad for solar gain on a day with no sun and the outside temperature in the 20s, but I want a greenhouse that's warm enough for the 3 pots of Moringa oleifera who don't like it colder than 40.  I want it warm enough for the rose geraniums and lemon verbena.

Starting in late February, it will need to be in the high 70s to germinate tomato and pepper seeds.

I am building a rocket stove mass heater, something I learned about in 2003, when I took a cob building class with Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley of Cob Cottage.  

Most people build rocket stoves with collected materials, so I made a tour of the junk yards, the re-store, my garage.  I called the oil change places and mechanic shops until I found a barrel.  I gathered brick from my garden.  I read and re read the book , read the whole wood stove forum.  I would lie in bed in the morning before getting up, at night before sleeping, imagining how the air would flow, how it would go together.  I tore up the floor in the back third of the greenhouse.  Pavers, dirt, tarp, rock, tarp.                                            

Here I am using my materials to plan.  I understand the idea, and have got the right dimensions and proportions in mind, but spatially, it's a puzzle.  Always has been.  Playing with building blocks  I would disassemble and rebuild a thing several times, because I could not visualize the completed thing, had to see how it went, then go back and add the needed pieces, once I discovered I needed them.  Here is that same thing again.  Build it part way, and then discover what it was I did not yet understand.  Luckily, the experts all say to build a "mock up"  exactly what you plan to build, to see if it will work, so  I guess maybe I'm not the only one who doesn't get it the first time.

Yesterday, I leveled a pad and began.   At the end of the day, I had mortared the feed hole and the burn tunnel and the bottom of the heat riser.  The stove pipe is just resting on top of the bricks.  It was a good stopping place.  I wanted to let the mortar set up.  The sun was down, and it was getting cold.

Today had lots of puzzles.  The heat riser needs insulation, then a barrel.  The silver tube will hold the insulation, but the space between the insulation and barrel is critical, and I could not see how the fumes would get out if I set the barrel on the bricks, and if I did not set the barrel on the bricks, then what would hold it up?

The clean out walls are in place.    Whew!  And with my black circle the diameter of the barrel, and my cut up pieces of measuring tape, I  measured the space where I hope the fumes pass into the clean out and thence to thermal mass.

At this point I think I'll raise the barrel up 4 inches by setting a course of bricks on the side, and I will build that course to the outside, leaving space for the fumes.  Three improvements.  Extended the heat riser, increased the cross sectional area for the fumes exiting the barrel, and created a support for the barrel.  Yay.