sunflower by the gate

the sign that will be by the gate, so you can find the place:

sunflower sign

<span class=”entryheading”><span class=”subject”>Sunflower River Open House &amp; Work Party:&nbsp;

(thanks to for writing this post)

As most of you know, Sunflower River is currently in the process of buying land—3.5
acres in the South Valley, specifically—with the intention of building
a passive solar strawbale house, making our own electricity, raising
some livestock (chickens, goats), and growing a whole lot of food.  The
land is mostly open field toward the back, and has several very large
old cottonwood trees up front near the house and barn–and it has a
house.  The house, soon to be named Sunflower Cottage, is a smallish
2-bedroom place that comes with some projects before we can move
in–such as tearing out the carpet, clearing out the barn so that it is
adequate for storage (to start with), fixing up the chicken coop,
replumbing for greywater, installing a water filtration system in the
kitchen, and fixing some electrical details that the home inspection
revealed.  Of course we have more projects in mind than that, but that’s
roughly where we’re starting.

If all goes well, we expect to close on the land this Friday.  Four days
from now!  :)  This is tremendously exciting.  With this in mind, and of
course with the understanding that one never knows whether one is going
to close on time until one sits down at the title company and signs
seven hundred pieces of paper, we would like to invite you to an Open
House and Work Party this coming Sunday, Sept 16th, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

You don’t *have* to help rip carpet out to come, but we sure would
appreciate all the help we can get.  :)  And actually, we have a whole
bunch of possible projects, not just carpet: weed-cutting,
barn-clearing, chicken-fence-stapling, and a whole lot more.  And we
also are prepared to appreciate small gestures of affection: cold
lemonade, for example.  ;-D  We’re also good for that.  And really, we’d
like very much for y’all to see the place, and envision what we’re
visioning for it, and see the first steps of this very long dream coming

If you plan to help out, (which we would really really really
appreciate!) it might be a good idea to bring work gloves, and if you’d
like to look around the land, shoes suitable for wading through
waist-high weeds are a good idea. :)  That’s another project, weeds.  If
you just want to drop by and see the place but would like to bring us a
little something to sustain us through the work day, remember that Alan
is vegan and Jenny can’t eat wheat.  *grin*

If you are interested in joining us please leave a comment and we will get back to you with directions to the land.  And please consider just stopping by to see the place!

Quiet Before The Sale

It feels like the quiet before the storm this week.  Behind the scenes all the various paper work things are happening.  In corporate offices over the state our piece of land is being shuffled from Inbox to Outbox and back to an Inbox again.  The wheels are turning.  They continue to turn in our minds as well. 

Where do we plant first? What is our building time line?  How do we integrate this new way of living into lives already full with abundance?  My mother describes wisdom as ‘When you answer one question you only create one more question.”  We are not yet wise.  But we will be. 

For those who are the friends of the creators of Sunflower River I predict you are about to see great change in us.  Change as we reach for something we are driven to manifest.  How that will look to all of you I dare not guess.  But when the dreamers take hold of the dream change is the only outcome on which we can predict. 

Acequia Culture

Acequia Culture
Juan Rivera

notes on presentation, August 31, 2007
SouthWest Water: An Artistic Approach to Preserving Water Quality and Quantity in the American South West.

The first Spanish acequia irrigation ditches go back to 1598, one month after Don Juan de Oñate’s initial conquest of New Mexico. They are based on gravity and dug and built with precision so that gravity flow can carry the water for miles in bermed earthen trenches. Every acequia is unique, because the topography that each one crosses and contributes to, and the river that each one draws from, are all individual. The Spanish brought acequia culture with them from Spain, where they had inherited it from the centuries-long Moorish settlements in Andalusia, but they learned a lot from existing Native American irrigation methods practiced by the Anasazi and Puebloan cultures.

The first Spanish acequia in New Mexico diverted water at the confluence of the Chama and Rio Grande rivers. They were dug to water fields at Chacon, and that acequia still carries the water from the Rio Grande, over a mountain range and down an 800-foot drop (the resulting waterfall is part of the acequia, not previously present in the landscape) into the Chacon valley. Pre-colonization, that water joined the Rio Grande; having been diverted over the mountain, it now joins the Mora River, and thence the Canadian River, and thence the Arkansas River and ultimately the Mississippi River.

The word “acequia” is Spanish for irrigation canal or ditch that diverts water off a river. The word is of Arabic origin, like the practice and culture it names. Diversion dams, source of acequias madres, (the point at which the acequia diverts water from the river) are called “presas.” Irrigation ponds or oasis are called “tanques.” During the Moorish (Arabic) settlement period in Spain, which lasted over 400 years (as long as Rome was in Britain, for comparison) they developed the acequia and flood irrigation systems and methodology. When the Christians reconquered southern Spain and evicted (or forced the cultural assimilation of) the Moors, royal edict declared that the acequia system would not be damaged and would remain in use. It was then expanded on and exported to other parts of Spain and became deeply entrenched (so to speak) in Andalusian culture.

In the American South West, water control systems had been developed long ago by the Anasazi and Pueblo peoples. They used the material at hand in any given bioregion to create their irrigation ditches, rather than importing materials. Local materials included tree trunks and sticks, clay and mud, and basalt rock in what is now northern New Mexico. These irrigation systems moved water through deep trenches long distances to water fields of corn, squash, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes and beans, as well as other native plants. When the Spanish colonized the area, they learned from the Pueblo’s ability to use the material at hand, since importation of specific materials was very difficult, and they worked with whatever was available in much the same way the Pueblos did.

Acequia irrigation was and remains common in areas where the average annual rainfall is less than 13 inches/year, which includes all but the highest elevations in New Mexico and Arizona. In most of this region, the monsoon season, when it comes, provides the heaviest rains of the year in July-September and sometimes into October, but leaves the agriculturally-significant months of May and June scorching hot and dry. This period is the highest use period for acequia irrigation, which uses water from the spring high-altitude snowmelt that is flowing into the rivers. Mayordomos begin to clear out acequias as early as February to prepare for the spring runoff from the sierra watersheds.

The basic principle of the acequia is to raise the riverbed enough to create a diversion channel—not a lake or reservoir. Traditionally, stone and logs were piled into the river to raise the river’s height a couple of feet in a small area, and create a small dam (the diversion dam, or presa), which creates a waterfall. By the side of the waterfall, the diversion water would flow out from the pool this created and into the acequia madre, the source-point of the acequia. From there, the acequia may go on for miles, including many diversion points (“partidoras”) to go many directions, and may include “canoas,” elevated canals of hollowed logs to move the water above the land, such as over a gully or other low spot. “The physics of water served as the principal tool of landscape modification.” Gradual but pervasive landscape change spread out from the acequias, because of the movement of water, lifeblood of the land. This is referred to as “el paisaje de los acequias,” the landscape of the acequias.

The building and maintenance of acequias was and remains communal, but the water rights from acequia water apply to the individual rather than the community. The acequia collects, transports and distributes water for both communal and collective use. Some acequias fed small water-wheel grain mills, “molinas,” for grinding wheat. One of these remains in use in Algodones on special occasions.

In addition, acequia culture includes intangible aspects, such as the knowledge that is passed down concerning skills such as how you move water through the field once it arrives on your land, and how to efficiently and effectively clean the acequia ditches of accumulated debris each spring.

Acequia culture also demonstrates a great rootedness to place—like water, culture extends deep into the earth. It also includes water blessing rituals both Catholic and pagan in nature, including annual blessings of springs, rivers and ditches. San Ysidro is the patron saint of farming.

Ecology and Acequias:

Ecological benefits of acequia watering include:
• Expanding the riparian area and biodiversity by increasing the surface water
• Expanding wildlife habitat
• Preserving native plants as well as cultivars, and feeding taller trees in addition to scrub, allowing further plant diversity in the shade and moister areas thus created
• Aquifer recharge: because almost all acequias are earthen ditches, a great deal of water seeps back into the earth and recharges the aquifer, the same way it does from a naturally-flowing river or stream (this is called return flow). Also, the ultimate destination for the water is a field, where most of the water will seep into the soil to feed plants (except for that lost to evaporation, which is significantly less than in water-spraying irrigation methods that propel the water through the air) and thus return to the aquifer.
• Studies have shown that most of the water rejoins the river in four weeks to three months, not very far from the site of final use, thereby extending the surface-level flow life of the river, which in turn protects and expands wildlife habitat and biodiversity.

Water Claims and Priorities:

• native rights: primary water rights (held in common)
• acequia irritators, pre-1903 (held by individual/family)
• municipalities—formerly only used aquifer water, now also claiming surface water diversion rights on rivers, purchasing acequia rights, to use for drinking water, development, and household use
• industry, which claims “higher economic use”
• recreation & tourism (boating, fishing—State Parks, etc)
• the environment itself: wildlife, riparian area, river flow, species diversity, plant life.

The only place in New Mexico where mayordomos still control the acequia access is in Velarde, where the largest orchards in NM still are. In all other parts of NM, governmental agencies such as the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District control the water access.

Both acequia irrigators and environmentalists are interested in the preservation of mountain forests and watersheds, as the source of almost all southwest water.

There is an old Spanish farmer’s saying: “When I plant my fields, I throw in four seeds for each plant I want to grow. The first seed is for me, the second seed is for us (our community), the third seed is for god’s creatures, and the fourth is in case the other three fail.”

Moving into Sunflower House

Alan and I will be moving out of Mulberry House and into Sunflower River House (Sunflower House?) on Sunday, October 14th. Saturday the 13th will be the day to dig up garden plants, shift a bunch of fresh compost down to Sunflower River, get those in the newly-composted ground, and move the chickens. Help is appreciated with garden activities, but urgently requested for Moving Day! We will, of course, provide pizza or similar encouragement, and homebrew.

so, anybody want to help us move? or give us boxes? we are super-organized earth signs who pack everything into labelled boxes first and are easy to move. and we’re in practice, having done this once this year already!

we’re assuming that everything will come back workable from this morning’s inspection (which, when i left at 10:30, had turned up quite a number of minor issues and some things we will have to fix, but no deal-breakers at all, thank goodness–i’m putting more energy into positive completion of the inspection and getting a report back soon with no surprises on it).

and we’re assuming we’ll get financing, but our loan officer has approved applications from us all now, and says everything will go smoothly. we have an insurance quote we can deal with. and today i bought insulation for my yurt. most of it is a ginormous roll of Solar Guard, but some of it, for under the deck (before the solar guard) is cotton batting insulation made out of recycled blue jeans. it’s the thickness of fiberglass insulation, only blue and fuzzy and friendly to work with and breathe near. it’s very nice. we can apparently install it with a stapler. it’s also R-13, so in combination with the R-10 solar guard, it should be extremely helpful under the floor. it’s also relatively inexpensive, as these things go. $20 for 54 square feet–37 cents a square foot. the solar guard is about 29 cents a square foot. and i found a really great supplier here in town: Greg at Selle Supply. friendly, knowledgable, genuinely helpful. he quoted me the price for the solar guard and called it “contractor pricing” and i said, “i’m a member of the general public.” he said, “you planning to install this yourself?” and when i said yes, he replied, “then you’re a contractor.”

we picked the spot for the yurt, and further investigated the status of the existing animal pens. one will work for chickens with merely one more go-round of chicken wire to close the gaps, and maybe some roof patching. one is dry underneath (in spite of yesterday’s rain) but its fence is dilapidated at best and will require some real work before we can put goats in it. the third animal shelter is lying collapsed on one side. scrap material for repairing the other two; the more so since we’re only planning on goats & chickens at the moment. the weeds are taller than me, but not thorny. we saw a very beautiful orb spider in a very large web suspended in some of the weeds.


Tangentially, i’m taking a studio art class this semester, called SouthWest Water. one of my fellow students in that class is an irrigator from Taos county, traditional Spanish guy named Miguel, working on his PhD in Biology now, who is a Permaculture Design teacher and who is deeply invested in and involved with acequia culture. when i explained Sunflower River, he said, “when you close on that land, let me know and we’ll make a time to come by, i’ll do some consulting with you on the permaculture of the place, and how to irrigate it.” he then also talked about the environmental benefit of flood irrigation (the traditional method) over drip irrigation (my preferred method)–which is that flood irrigation, even of a controlled area, preserves wild native plants as well as the plants you are choosing to grow. wild spinaches, the common amaranth that grows everywhere here and is edible (it’s called pigweed), wild mustards, purslane, and so on. he can readily identify many more of those plants than i can, and while i am not certain that we will rely on flood irrigation, i am willing to listen with open ears. the more so since we do appear to have surface water rights— has been talking to the MRGCD ditchrider, and we can siphon for 3 hours whenever the ditch has water in it, and he reccommends that we do so, because it will demonstrate “a history of beneficial use” of irrigation water on the property, which will come in handy when this ditchrider retires and we have a new one to deal with. and also it will be very useful for keeping plants alive, of course. we’ll have to dig out some sunken beds in order to irrigate, because of the height of the land compared to the ditch, and the need to use a siphon to move the water to the gardens, but we were planning on sunken beds anyhow, because they collect and trap rainwater. which is pretty darn vital in these parts.

one of the other aspects of the “how to water” question is that right by the river, the only loss in flood irrigation is evaporation–because excess water soaks straight back into the water table, quite literally. evaporative loss can be considerable on a hot day, however. it’s also deeply traditional and i recognize that this fellow who wants to talk me into it probably has a strong cultural investment in it. so i will listen respectfully and learn what i can, and work out a barter for the permaculture consulation! :) he also might offer a weekend permaculture course at some point, which i would love to take–i haven’t been able to take permaculture design courses becuase they all require two solid weeks of your life, and i just can’t take 2 weeks off work at once. but if i can get it in a couple of weekends at some point, i would love to.


i’m feeling very excited and optimistic about all of this, and also somewhat overwhelmed.

current projects include but are by no means limited to:

-packing for moving
-preparing to move all my perennials again (and planning where to put them)
-restore Mulberry House to the condition its owner thinks its in (that is, undo several projects we’ve done, like increased backyard fencing, chicken-related fencing, and the shade cloth installation out back)
-find new renters for Mulberry House, which is a kick-ass house, by the way
-get rid of some extraneous possessions
-finishing everything left on my yurt (subset of projects: dye yurt, sew walls, sew windows, sew roof seams, install doorknob & deadbolt & hinges, acquire woodstove)
-deal with 3 large bags of apples from Tristan’s trees that had best be done now (on the agenda for tonight)
-as soon as we have the survey, Design Master Plan!

after closing (hopefully Sept 14th):
-remove carpet in house
-get chicken coop/run ready
-build deck for yurt
-replumb house for greywater
-rewire outdoor outlet behind house so it works so we can use it to run electric to the yurt
-set up composting toilet behind house
-set up compost itself
-install water filter (under-sink reverse osmosis already in-hand, thanks to ‘s mad networking skillz; still discussing whole-house options)
-make the barn suitable for projects and storage (subset of projects: remove carpet and air out the place, lay down pallet floor, paint roof white for decreased heat through metal roof, patch small holes in roof, make the doors shut properly so they keep weather out. possible insulation at some point.)
-buy some fruit trees to plant! and figure out exactly where to plant them.

i’m sure there are things i’m not remembering right now.

speaking of extraneous possessions, anybody want to buy a bike? I have a classic Schwinn’s women’s bike for sale, asking $80. 3-speed, good condition, very spiffy bike. too tall for me, but then, i’m shorter than everybody.

(x-posted in )

A different perspective.

If you were a bird looking down at the land we are working on getting you would see this – well minus the helpful yellow line to tell you where you should be looking.

vision statement for sunflower river

vision statements receive a lot of derision, though diana leafe christian (author of creating a life together) has stated that she has never seen a community succeed without one.

a vision statement gives you something to fall back on and rally to if you otherwise can’t make a decision. it provides a point to return to in order to find common ground.

some weeks ago sunflower river created our vision statement:

“Joyfully creating a sanctuary wherein we embody and promote sustainability, spirituality, adaptability & safety within our selves, community, our land and Gaia.”

what does this statement suggest to you? how does it sound? i’d love to hear input and ideas.

x-posted to and .

this is the only photo we have of the house right now…

but we’ll take more pics when we close. :) the house, as seen from the street

This image doesn’t show the width of the property, but it does show the magnificient cottonwood trees. the area behind the house is very shady. :) and here’s the land:

the land

the land

we’re now in the process of securing financing (finangling the details, that is) and scheduling inspections. we’re hoping to close at the end of September and spend October moving in–including moving all the perennials from my house once again. any and all positive energy and well-wishing much appreciated!

What is this.

Welcome to the Sunflower River Blog.  You are probably reading this because you are a member of Sunflower River, a friend or family of a member, or you are interested in eco-villages, sustainable living, homesteading, permaculture, living with the land,  or something like these things.

I personally hope that this is a place where we can share our experiences.  That is to say what worked and what failed.  So others can share our experiences and maybe also lend their own experiences to us all.

As a blog the people posting articles here will all be members of Sunflower River who wish to share.  We do welcome everyone to comment and join in discussions on topics of interest so that we can all learn from each other.

Why start this blog now you ask.  Good question. Because the members of Sunflower River are very close to buying land that will become our home and it seemed appropriate to start talking to the world as we manifest ourselves in that world.

So welcome along as we begin our journey.

Welcome to a Beginning

Welcome to a beginning.  We are Sunflower River. We are creating something that no one person can create alone.