Manila Cooperative Garden…
“The Farm”

This project is on an elderly lady’s land. She is disabled and has very low income, and with her increasing years has found it harder to make ends meet financially and in terms of doing the hard work that needs doing on her property… most notably the immense amount of garbage that previous tenants, including a kleptomaniac, had carelessly left prior to their departure. We have already removed over 1.25 tons (2,500 pounds) of garbage from the property and we are still finding more hidden under briars patches and even when we dig in the soil in certain places.

Her property was once the Manila Cat Haven, but she does not receive any funding and has been taking care of the dozen plus aging and ill cats out of her disability check.

We are providing some degree of self sufficiency for the landowner, and laying the foundation for a successful cooperative garden, by way of:

  • Building raised beds and growing edible and medicinal plants.
  • Building a centrally located composting bin.
  • Repairing dilapidated structures such as a greenhouse and chicken coop/pen.
  • Planting a small food forest/orchard in raised tree beds.
  • Cleaning up the many years of accumulated garbage surrounding a previous tenant’s trailer so Shar can once again rent it out for some additional cash.
  • Most of the property is just above the water table, and can be very swampy when it rains, which is often. We are lessening the swampiness by digging out a drainage ditch that runs the length of the property and which ends at the far end of the property near the highway where the county has discontinued roadside drainage maintenance.
  • We are cutting back willow trees that serve as noise and wind breaks but that have encroached into otherwise usable garden space, and the willows have even overgrown fences… collapsing them. What trees we do cut, we are cutting into firewood lengths and fence or other usable pieces, and the smaller branches are composted.
  • There is a severe rat “problem” (the landowner is a very kind hearted person, and refuses to kill the rats, which are almost as tame as pets), which we plan to combat by encouraging predatory birds… by building nest boxes. Despite the fact that Shar insists on being a “no kill facil”, control by natural means is acceptable.
  • There is also a severe mosquito problem, which we are going to combat by encouraging bats… by building nest boxes.
  • We are expanding water lines to further reaches of the property to make watering easier.
  • We plan to find a solution to the salt wind problem, which blows onto the property from the ocean to the northwest, and which prevents some of the fruit trees from producing fruit.
  • We are repairing the property boundary fence… and building better goose fencing and gates to keep them out of the gardens.
  • We are building ponds to raise mosquito fish as an extra measure against mosquitos. Also, cutting the willows back has allowed a slight breeze to blow through… making it harder for the mosquitos to linger in the area once constantly wet and still.
  • We are planning a moldering toilet outhouse, so tenants won’t have to transport their waste from their trailers to an offsite location… and which will also provide humanure for trees.
  • We are going to sell the three derelict vehicles, to free up usable space and for some extra cash. If we can’t sell them, we will give them away or have them taken to the local auto yard.
  • That’s the gist of it right off the top…! 🙂

TIMELINE (Note that we have worked part time and sporadically on this project since we all have different schedules and a very limited budget if any):

April 10, 2011: I am in the preliminary discussion/planning phase with the landowner who would like to see the full potential of her three acre property come to its fruition by way of a cooperative garden. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and we will be recruiting people to help with this challenging project.

April 20, 2011: Blackberry bushes cover the area we will be putting raised beds in, keeping some of the Blackberry bushes accessible from all sides in a meeting/relaxation/socialization area we are calling ‘the maze’.

This field was essentially a swamp covered in Blackberry Bramble Briars! Believe it or not but there is a shed in this photo. Richard, my number one and only real co-founder on this project, boldly initiates and takes the first step toward creating a farm out of a blackberry swamp as we begin pulling the briars out of the ground.

This all used to be Blackberry Brambles before we cleared the paths.

April 25, 2011: Cleared the majority of the Blackberries from the area were we will have raised beds.

Building a raised bed out of old wood we found onsite.

May 05, 2011: Finished building our first raised bed. It is about 5 feet wide by 20 feet long; we laid cardboard down, then straw, then potting soil. We will fill it in with more soil and then some compost on the very top. We plan to make this raised bed our first experiment in ecological gardening — for more info on ecological gardening, read The Ecological Gardening Method… About Soil, Not Food.

It took hours to dig the black hose in this photo out from under a length of ~50 feet of soil and grass that had grown over it. Also, you can see the shed mentioned in the first photo.

May 09, 2011: Completed filling the first raised bed with soil and we put some broccoli starts in that were given to us.

May 11, 2011: Returned to the raised bed today to discover that the geese like broccoli starts! We put chicken wire around the bed to keep the geese out, and also diatomaceous earth around the starts to keep the slugs and snails away.

This photo doesn’t quite capture the ferocity of these attack geese, aptly named the “territorial velociraptors”.

Here we see Louis, one of the more driven of my many volunteers, “hugging the geese into submission” were the words he used when we told him about the geese.

The old goose pond on the left and the new goose pond on the right… we will put the boat in a hole we are digging for it. They will be happier geese… they eagerly oversee and supervise construction of their pond. The pond will serve dual duty as a watering hole for the bats we will attract with the bat boxes we are making… goodbye mosquitos!

This hot tub is our Mosquitofish pond. We have a jacuzzi we are going to turn into the new goose pond… rather than the boat… and the boat will be another Mosquitofish pond. We got our Mosquitofish from an undisclosed location where they were introduced in an uneducated attempt to reduce mosquito populations. Mosquitofish have been introduced into many wild ecosystems all over the globe, resulting in the outcompeting of native species of fish which eat mosquito larva as well… Mosquitofish are yet another example of why non-native species should never be introduced into a wild ecosystem.

We are going to get the soil for this second raised bed from what we dig out from the back of the property. During the spring when the geese got ornery and went on their seasonal rampage of death and destruction, we had to put fencing at all areas of the property where they could approach the raised beds because the chicken wire around the raised beds was not high enough to keep them out and any higher would keep us out!

That’s me… presiding.

I thought I heard Richard say, “As the aesthetic coordinator, I approve!”

Friends at the farm in June 2011.

Harvest time!!! 🙂

The garden becomes wild very quickly! There are a lot of desirable wild plants that appeared within the beds including nettles, nitrogen fixing legumes, heal-all, plantains, chicory, mint, and catnip!

One of many areas for herbs.

Until we build a greenhouse, we grow cilantro (next to the blue tag in left photo) and other cold sensitive plants under any available plastic we can find. Also in the photo are garlic chives, broccoli, and sweet peas. The box in the above photo will be turned into a coldframe by adding glass sides and a hinged glass roof… that is if it doesn’t completely fall apart first… we put it together with pieces of rotten wood we found.

This was once a solid wall of willows and blackberries. We made the path to access the area where we dug up soil to fill the raised beds.

The photo above shows where the saltwind comes in from over the dunes from the ocean. The side of the little apple tree directly under the pine tree is being inhibited… burned by the acidic pine tree leaves as they fall. Those pine branches will be removed and used to increase the pH for plants that thrive in acidic soils, such as blueberries!


Sweet peas… delicious!

It’s a pat on the back to realize that this was once a blackberry covered swamp interspersed with all kinds of garbage from recycleable containers to stolen and discarded computer and stereo components.

Waiting for blackberries.

One of the neighbors has gifted us glass to rebuild the greenhouse that strong winds destroyed! The new greenhouse will be bigger and we are planning to have an aquaculture project inside it. There is a banana plant in that greenhouse that we have temporarily protected from the winter storms with plastic sheeting.

Fixing a trailer… waterproofing and ratproofing… we are also planning to put in a solar water heater and shower, a composting toilet, a rainwater catchment over the roof, solar panels, and it will be connected to the wind turbine we are going to build for less than $100! In the below photo, a custom watershield over a storage panel.

While creating The Farm, we have made many things better. But I think the best part is that the 5 large raised beds full of food not only supply the landlady with all the nutritious vegetables she can eat, but an abundance to share and trade with her neighbors… AND 2 years of the ECV diet has sent her cancer into remission! This is exciting news. We have done some good here!