The Fungal kind of Fruit

Shiitake almost ready to harvest!

Shiitake logs fruiting

Last summer, dreaming of low-maintenance, cruelty free, perennial food sources, we inoculated 27 mushroom logs with Shiitake spawn plugs. We’ve patiently kept watch since then, keeping them in the shade and making sure they don’t dry out. Now, a whole year later, our efforts are finally coming to fruition.

We soaked the logs in cold water for a day to bring on a flush, and much to the pride and joy of their care takers, a few days later, many round speckled heads of Shiitakes begun to emerge. All in all, we harvested about bushel of mushrooms from this batch, just in time for my dinner plan of mushroom fajitas!

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Just when I thought I couldn’t be more pleased with my mycelial friends, we happened upon a beautiful head of Chicken of the Woods, a wild mushroom that, true to it’s name, bears surprising resemblance in taste to chicken.

Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods

Now I was able to prepare a zesty lemon Chicken of the Woods as well as a spicy “Beef of the Woods” (Shiitake) for a full taco bar, complete with homemade tortillas (thanks Mac!) and fresh pico de gallo from heirloom tomatoes and yellow potato onions from the garden.

Chicken Tractor

Joel Salatin is the self-proclaimed “lunatic farmer” who has been struggling against industrial farming methods and the government regulations which favor them to create a set of holistic agricultural practices.  Inspired by his pasture raised chicken system, we’ve been raising our broilers in so-called chicken tractors.  The basic idea is a bottomless moveable coop that gives the chickens access to fresh greens and bugs, while their waste returns nutrients to the soil. This is the second of this kind of tractor we have built, and we have improved on the design in several ways.

Here is the frame that we built.  The dimensions of the tractor are 8’ X 8’ X 2’. For materials we went with 2”X2” lumber, partly because we had a bunch lying around, but also because it will result in a very light frame that will be easy to pull around.



IMAG0131  The triangly corner bits are made out of plywood, and serve to provide cross bracing, as well as  increased surface area to screw things together.


“Triangly corner bits” is the technical term







The hatch doors were built in place to assure a good fit.  The pieces were cut and clamped in place with some shim material to leave a gap with the frame, then the cross bracing corner pieces were screwed on from underneath. We went with hatches on opposing corners to give us greater access when it comes time to get the chickens out of the tractor. With two hatches on the same side they have a tendency to hide in the back.IMAG0123


We also installed some support pieces in each quadrant to prevent pooling of water.IMAG0133


The feeder hangs from the hatch in such a way that opening it raises the feeder out of the tractor.  This allows us to move the tractor without removing the feeder. An additional benefit is that we can pour the feed in without having to contend with a chicken feeding frenzy.IMAG0134


The waterer is a bucket with 6 horizontal chicken nipples screwed into it.  We’ve found this setup to be vastly superior to any other watering system.  It’s simple, effective, and low maintenance.  The horizontal nipples do not have the leaking issues that the vertical ones are known for. The bucket rests on support beams and is attached to the side of the tractor with a bungee cord, again allowing us to move the tractor without needing to remove it. We also installed a piece that the hatch can be propped up with to allow one person to refill the water on their own.












Instead of using a hand truck to move the tractor like some designs call for, we opted to install wheels on the back.  The frame lays flat on the ground when not in motion, but when the front is raised up to pull the tractor, the back also raises up several inches, to prevent slow chickens from getting their feet caught under it.IMAG0125








Here is the final result. We used EPDM (pond liner) instead of sheet metal for the covered sections because it is lighter, easier to work with, weather-proof, and again we had a bunch lying around. The back half is completely covered to provide shelter from wind, rain, and sun. The front half is mostly open to allow for good ventilation and access to the sun, and it is covered with chicken wire.



And here are the chickens, checking out their new digs.IMAG0148




Land Day Celebration 2014

Our annual Land Day Celebration was much fun. The weather was very cooperative, the food & drink were delish, the guests were delightful, the music (with not 1 but 2! very rockin’ bands) was fabulous.  Some pics of the day are below. Thanks to all who made it possible.

the party monster stage

the party monster stage ready to go day before the big event


Acornistas Mardock & Belladonna Doing a Duet

Acornistas Mardock & Belladonna Doing a Duet


the crowd gettin into it

the crowd gettin into it


The joy of live music made by your friends and fellow communards makes itself evident

The joy of live music made by your friends and fellow communards makes itself evident


Acornistas & Oakers perform as The All Request Dance Band

Acornistas & Oakers perform as The All Request Dance Band


River & Finley enjoying the music

River & Finley enjoying the music



The view from the 2nd story deck of the Seed Palace

The view from the 2nd story deck of the Seed Palace (the pile of loose material is for the living roof)




our little calf (Pandora Midfield Fieldmouse Skeeter Acorn) wandered onto the dance floor to check out the TAPL (totally awesome party light)

As twilight approaches, the dance floor lights begin to make their presence known. Our little calf (Pandora Midfield Fieldmouse Skeeter Acorn) wanders onto the dance floor to check out the TAPL (totally awesome party light)


OK. Now that its dark the dance floor lights are really showing their stuff!

OK. Now that its dark the dance floor lights are really showing their stuff!

Quite the light show, isn't it!?

Quite the light show, isn’t it!?






some folks did dress-up for ambiance enhancement

some folks did dress-up for ambiance enhancement


Acornista Samantha

Acornista Samantha

When the night arrives its time for the bonfire

When the night arrives its time for the bonfire


our bonfire

our bonfire



The world famous Acorn Goat Circus performing death defying acts of goatness

The world famous Acorn Goat Circus (>featuring select members of the Independent Goat Nation of Acorn<) performing death defying acts of goatness


Acornistas Dragon & Luna

Acornistas Dragon & Luna


Visitor Grace & our newest kid

Visitor Grace & our newest kid (and youngest member of the Goat Circus)

East Wind to the Rescue – Thank you !

(Editor’s note: This is a repost from Paxus’s blog. Check it out )


Part of what is exciting about living in the central Virginia communities these days is the network is actually growing.  After almost two decades of there being only two income sharing communities in the region (Twin Oaks and Acorn), three years back Living Energy Farm popped up nearby.  Last week Acorn moved members into Sapling (aka Tranquility Base) which is the house we bought in late August. It is starting out as a simple residence for Acorn, but we have already agreed that it will ultimately become a new income sharing community.

Part of what is so exciting about this is that often times communards don’t find the right community to start with.  Sometimes this is resolved relatively quickly, like with my dear friend Belladonna Took who was rejected by Twin Oaks and is now a happy member of Acorn (she is referred to as Abby in this post about her rejection).  Other times it takes one or more memberships at “the wrong community” before the person finds their place.  With three, soon to be four affiliated but independent communities all in the same county there are lots of possibilities for synergy including clever membership solutions.  [And a more fertile soil for my own Chubby Squirrels dreams.]

~Belladonna Took was a bit too wild for Twin Oaks, but fits perfectly at Acorn~

Communities have their own personalities.  Twin Oaks is what i call a clockwork community, where there is a more regular procedure for things to happen.  Hundreds of work shifts are scheduled, meals show up on time and reliably, you better not be late for your tofu shift – because people are depending on you.  Acorn is somewhat more chaotic.  Things happen when people get inspired to make them happen, very little is scheduled (small dozens of jobs, mostly related to cooking and cleaning, contrasted with hundreds to perhaps a thousand jobs weekly at Twin Oaks).

East Wind is a thousand miles away in the Ozarks of Missouri and i have always thought of it as the “wild wild west of the communities movement” (despite there being important income sharing communities further geographically west).  East Wind is physically more rugged, without indoor plumbing in many buildings and more demanding physical work than Twin Oaks (but not Living Energy Farm).  East Wind has huge tracks of beautiful land, over 1000 acres that they control and neighboring state parks which are even larger.  Their decision making system is a strange anarchist-democratic model which is more flexible and volatile that either Acorns or Twin Oaks.

But what has inspired this post is a cultural difference between East Wind and all her sister communities, in my never humble opinion.  East Wind is the community you can depend on if you are in a jam.  East Wind will send out a group of members to help out almost any of the FEC communities when they really need it.  Got a sorghum harvest beyond your capacity?  East Wind will send a van load of people. Need some willing kids to help with a barn raising?  East Winders are there. Arsonist burns one of your buildings?  East Wind can be relied upon to dispatch a crew, even if it is a thousand miles away.

It is this generosity of spirit and willingness to help that makes me (and the rest of Acorn) especially happy to welcome the 7 East Winders who traveled far to help out with the fire recovery, straw bale work and dozens of other tasks we need help with going into winter and the busy season.  Viva East Wind!

east winders help destruct heartwood

~East Winders help tear out the damaged floor in Heartwood at Acorn~

Young Farmer Mixer and Autumn Stomper Oct. 19th!!

On October 19th, local heirloom seed savers and worker-owned co-operative Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will be hosting a Young Farmer’s Mixer to facilitate an enriching community building experience, provide networking opportunities and have fun.  We want to provide young farmers and young farmer recruits with access to examples of financially viable business models for new farms, homesteading resources and land link organizations. We also want to facilitate connections between landowners who want their land in cultivation and land-less farmers.  There will be opportunity to link farmers with food justice organizations and illustrate how food justice activism can play into a small farm business.

The event will begin with a tour of Southern Exposure’s seed and trial gardens and a demonstrative seed-saving workshop.    The day will end with our second annual Fall Festival complete with dancing, home-grown music, apple folk tales, food, drink and  good spirit.  If interested, please RSVP to to let us know what you’d like to bring for the potluck!”

4:00 – Tour of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange trial and seed gardens

5:00 – Seed saving demonstration

6:00 – Dinner, keynote speaker, young farmer networking session

7:30 – Apple folk tales and music from Diane Cluck

8:30 – Music and dancing and merriment!

Come mingle with landowners, food activists, local sustainable agricultural organizations (including Tricycle Gardens, Twin Oaks Seeds, Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF), Blue Ridge Permaculture Network) and of course, young, beginning and aspiring farmers!

From Richmond:  Take I-64W to Exit 159.  Turn right onto US-522/Cross Country Road, continue ~7 miles.  Take a left onto 629/Cartersville Rd.  Take 1st right onto 640/East Old mountain.  After ~2 miles, stay left on East Old Mountain, turn right onto 699/Indian Creek Rd.

From Charlottesville:  Take I-64E  to Exit 148.  Turn left onto 605/Shannon Hill Rd.  After 3.5 miles, take a sharp right onto  640/East Old Mountain.  Left on 699/Indian Creek Rd.
Acorn is one of the first driveways on Indian Creek Road on the left.   There is a large greenhouse at the front of the property.


“Bale Raising” Straw Bale Workshop

After years of planning and a frenzied summer of building, the new seed office is finally ready for the straw bales.  In accordance with our values of providing educational opportunities for sustainable living, we’re having a “Bale Raising” Straw Bale Workshop Oct. 28th and 29th.  The workshop will be lead by green and natural building architect Fred Oesch.  Straw bale is valued for utilizing a local, non-toxic agricultural by-product in the context of building to help create highly energy efficient buildings, and it’s also very user-friendly.  

Acorn Involvement in Local Food Bank Garden


For the past few yPAR Signears, several Acorners have collaborated with local organizations including the Louisa County Resource Council (Low-income Food Distribution Center) and The Central Virginia Master Gardeners to start up a local food bank garden program called Plant a Row.  Plant a Row encourages gardeners to grow extra in their gardens to donate to their local food bank to help provide fresh, local, and healthy produce to economically disadvantaged people.  We expanded the program to include a garden education center at the food bank, where we grow a variety of vegetables, hold workshops on organic gardening, and have cook-offs to prepare freshly harvested veggies into delicious samples for folks to try.

kids being cute

Although this is a little outside the norms of the typical Acorn project, we think it’s important to break down oppression in all its various iterations, not just within our little community bubble.  We see access to healthy food  (that isn’t covered in pesticides!) as one of the building blocks to a healthy, productive life, which should be a right, not a privilege.  Natural food stores and farmers markets are great, but the prices can be cost prohibitive, especially for those who are suffering to make ends meet.  With this project, we aspire to bring in more fresh food to the food bank, as well as to also empower clients of the food bank with the knowledge and skills to garden, putting control over our food source back in the hands of the people.

CIMG_3217_46EM                                 CIMG_3221_46EM

As you may guess, it’s difficult to implement such lofty ideology into a practical reality.  One of the biggest challenges is to make connections with the food bank clients in a sustained and meaningful way.  An attempt to address this is the samples portion of the program, where we serve samples made from in-season veggies and let clients know that the those potatoes in that cheesy potato pocket (gotta start somewhere!) were harvested from the garden out back just yesterday.  Many of them don’t even know about the garden, so this gives us a great opportunity to tell people about the program and give them a tour of the garden.

If you visit Acorn and you think this project sounds cool, ask how you can help out!  With this new, volunteer-run program, we need all the help we can get.


Timber Framing: The Old with the New

The structural core of the new SESE headquarters is a timber framed skeleton. Timber framing is the traditional method for building in wood, only being replaced by modern stick framing in the early 1800’s when the development of industry made the cheap production of standard size wooden lumber and pounds of cheap nails possible. Timber framing, in a relatively well forested area such as our own, makes the use of local wood, even wood from our own land, possible. We decided to incorporate timber framing into our new office for a few reasons.

  1. We want this building, SESE’s new home, to gel with SESE’s emphasis on regional heritage and empowering people to provide for themselves and their local communities. Timber framing in this case allows us to use local wood milled by local millers to build something showcasing a bit of regional building heritage.
  2. The large posts and beams inherent in timber framing allow for large open spans between horizontal posts which works particularly well for straw bale walls. This is because the posts can be embedded within the straw bales with a minimum of notching of those bales (we only have to notch every 12 to 16 feet rather than every 16 inches as we would with a stick frame).
  3. Exposed timber framing is not only a functional part of the building’s structure but is also quite beautiful and visually impressive. And what, after all, is life without beauty?
  4. It looks like a lot of fun to build!

The timber frame in progress…

So we dived on in! Based on a number of recommendations we got in touch with George Allman of Timbersmiths, Inc., a second generation timber framer who lives and works about 30 miles away from us. He was and still is a great help as he is both an experienced timber framer and a professional engineer. So, he was able to take our architect’s drawings, confirm their structural soundness, size all our timbers, and provide us with all the diagrams and plans we need to construct the thing in addition to advising us on tools and strategy, loaning and renting us specialty tools, and teaching us all the necessary skills.

So what’s involved? Well, there are a range of timber framing styles (most countries have their own traditions) and a range of techniques ranging from round timber framing to square and from all traditional hand tools to the inclusion of modern power tools. As this is our first timber frame structure we chose a fairly simple style and are using common woodworking power tools (like power planers and circular saws) instead of sweating it out with axes and hand saws. The modern world has a lot of very useful things to offer us, after all.

First, we ordered our full complement of oaken posts and beams from local sawyer Mike Wheeler and had them delivered to George’s shop where we showed up in force to run them through his giant thickness planer, reducing them all to a uniform thickness and smoothing out the rough saw marks.

Running an 8″x8″ timber through the thickness planer. Look at that plume of shavings!

Once that was done, we loaded the planed timbers onto a flatbed truck and had them delivered to our farm where we set up some heavy duty saw horses and got to work cutting the mortises and tenons needed to join them.

Some of the bigger and more complicated posts required quite a bit of work chiseling out the joinery on their many facets. Tip: Avoid non-right angles when building a timber frame structure.

The author carving a mortise on the biggest most complicated post in the building.

To increase the drama (and hide the heavy wear likely to happen in the building) we decided to ebonize all the oaken timbers. Ebonizing is a natural finishing process we learned from a local furniture maker. Oak, it turns out, is full of tannins which will darken to near blackness when exposed to iron oxide (better known as rust). Being a working farm we have no shortage of rusty iron and steel laying around which we collected in a bucket and submerged in white vinegar. Painting this on to the timbers turns them from a golden tan to deep blueish black in minutes. Very dramatic indeed!

An ebonzed timber next to an unfinished timber in our work yard.

After this we put a final coat of boiled linseed oil on the timbers and lift them into place with the boom truck we are renting from George. Traditionally the building would be built on the ground in sections called frame rows (basically cross sections of the frame) and then tilted up into place and connected to each other. It requires a lot of people, a lot of rope, and a pretty good idea of what you’re doing. As cool as it would be to have a big barn raising, considering the realities of the situation I am incredibly happy to have a crane on hand. Individual timbers in this building can weigh close to 1000 lbs.

Sliding a girt into place with the help of our borrowed crane.

Once the timbers are placed we drive a peg or two through the joint, tying the tenon into the mortise and securing the frame in place. Voila!