Libertarians, Not the Political Kind

Recurring themes are common at our house.  We’ve been talking about Free Will lately – the belief that humans have the power to control their own thoughts and actions – and now, it comes up everywhere.  It’s not a mystical phenomenon, the concept of Free Will is so broad and basic that one could probably relate it to just about anything.  But still, the coincidences happen with other stuff too.  It happens after we read out loud a book about President Theodore Roosevelt (who like all historical figures, was a pretty self-centered dude).  Now Teddy shows up everywhere:  movies, other books, art on display at Salvage Vanguard, and most recently, Terlingua, the former quicksilver mine turned ghost town turned free-thinker colony.  Actually, the more we read and the more we interact with people doing cool stuff, the more these weird connections happen to feed our appreciation for daily experiences.

Books, and Interacting With People Doing Cool Stuff:  two huge spiders that weave the webs of connections that make life worth living.  I’m talking about people living the Free Will lifestyle.  People who are self-aware (not self-centered);  people who lead with their passions and still make money without a drive to get rich; people breaking off from the pathway worn by the masses and opting instead to blaze their own trail.  Pioneers.  American heroes.

Josh Hare – Hops & Grain Brewery, East Austin

The world to Josh is simple, black and white, but he’s thoughtful and smart enough to know that the entire spectrum of colors can be found in just these two.  He’s like the Captain Ahab of our generation.  Only instead of the insane obsession to be killed by a God/Satan whale, he has a passion for making beer.  Instead of steering a doomed ship and clomping around on a wooden leg, he’s steering (stirring) some of the best beer in Austin and making a profit to boot.

Josh was a home-brewer for years, learned some larger scale stuff at a Colorado brewery, and decided to go commercial in Austin in 2010.  A common story in Austin these days, where craft breweries pop up about as often as new farmers markets.  But there’s one thing that elevates Josh above the plane of new local brewers and into the awesome-sphere:  he’s not a trust fund baby; he’s not independently wealthy; and he skipped the banks for funding.

A 29-year Abilene kid in a T-shirt and running shoes doesn’t walk into Wells Fargo and ask for half a million dollars to open a brewery without being shown the door.  Even a really smart and really hard-working one.  So instead, Josh interpreted his vision for a sustainable craft brewery into a business plan that investors could understand.  With just his passion and clarity of vision, Josh infected 43 individual investors with a contagious itch to help fund his project with few-strings attached cash.  He took the money, found the space, bought the equipment, hired an installer, and was instantly selling every drop of beer he could possibly make.  After just one year, he purchased equipment to more than double his output, and still, the shelves at Central Market and Whole Foods are empty of his 6-pack cans of Alt and Pale Dog more often than not.  The dude’s a craft business genius, without being a greedy business man.

Not only is Hops & Grain debt-free, it’s also a force for community cohesion.  They donate beer to non-profit events, host local business events, give spent grain away to local beef producers, and open the tasting room every two weeks to a farmer’s market.

Josh is flexing Free Will as the new economy poster child for young people.  Gone are the days where going to college is what you do to get a job, since over half of college graduates these days aren’t finding job in their studied field (if they’re finding jobs at all).  Innovators like Josh aren’t finding jobs – they’re MAKING jobs.  They don’t sit around waiting for someone to hand them a paycheck for having whatever degree they earned – they have a dream, then they make that shit happen.  Josh ‘Poster Boy’ Hare was so passionate and so convincing of what he wanted to do, that he inspired investors to pay for the endeavor, and now he’s selling beer by the truckload and hired his third employee to help keep up with demand.  If Max decides to go to college, I hope there’s a degree is Joshism, because it might be is only hope at landing a job and developing a successful career.

Hops & Grain Champion

John and Jo Dwyer, Angel Valley Farm, Jollyville

John and Jo used to run a business that I think had something to do with car parts.  They quit that to start a certified organic farm in Jollyville near Cedar Park, and for the past 15+ years, Angel Valley Farm has consistently produced some of the highest quality produce in the region.  During that time, they’ve become an open source for anyone interested in growing local organic vegetables, and developed one of the most loyal customer bases around, rival only to stalwarts like Boggy Creek Farm and Tecolote Farm.

Their following is so loyal, that the entire farm is supported entirely on two weekly seasonal farm stands – good enough for John and Jo to earn a pretty good living.  You don’t just snap your fingers to make something like that happen, it takes some serious dedication to growing seriously good vegetables to make that happen.

So why did they recently make the decision to sell it all and move to the San Juan Islands above Washington State?  Because they wanted to.  Free Will baby.  Farming they way they do isn’t easy  – it takes a toll on the body, which is linked closely to the soul.  If walking away from a high-paying corporate job to start an organic farm is ballsy, how about quitting a very successful organic farm in Central Texas to live low-key on Orcas Island, where I’m pretty sure 100-degree days is not part of the local vocabulary?  Colossal elephantiasis, that’s what.  I love these guys, they’re like my spirit guide aunt/uncle, so down to earth and real that if you ran over them with a plow, they’d just shape shift themselves back together like the T1000, only instead of liquid metal they’re like human humus, fertilizing the inspiration of their friends and acquaintances with their awesomeness.

Jo and John Dwyer

Jake V Pup Walther, Native Roots Landscape, Kerrville

The history of our home town sounds ok on paper.  Shingle makers settled near the Guadalupe in the mid-1800s to harvest Cypress trees that were milled and shipped to nearby San Antonio.  The economy gradually expanded and diversified into ranching, then some other stuff including tourism, and pretty much held tough despite whatever slumping trends were occurring throughout the rest of the country.  Which I guess is a good thing, but if economic slumps have a hard time getting over the hills and into the Kerrville valley sometimes, then so does culture and independent thought – the place sometimes feels like an air tight bowl where not much gets in and not much gets out.

Kerrville is one the richest small towns in America, though there’s no obvious indication of that to a casual observer, as most of the that money is held tight by ultra conservative old white people who live their lives in fear.  Kerrville prospered even through the Great Depression, and by the 1950s, the booming economy had pretty much wiped out most any structure that represented the town’s history.  The motto seems to have always been, “tear down the old, build up the ugly.”  Kerrville is also known as the hometown of the serial baby killer nurse Genine Jones, the site of several 1980s slave ranches, a place where the huge gap between the rich and poor seems to grow wider every year, and more to topic, a place that experiences a “significant out-migration of young adults raised in the area”.

It’s no wonder this last fact is true – Kerrville generally tries to suck as much as possible.  The old people that come to die here tend to strongly resist anything that hints of change as best they can, because change is scary.  The resulting suckiness of this town tends to keep development and opportunity for young people in check.  The kids leave, the old people come but only for the last few years of their life.  We have only one 4A high school, but at least 10 times as many nursing/retirement homes and a respectable number of undertakers.

But still, somehow, despite trying so hard to be a crappy place for young adults, Kerrville can still be a desirable place to live.  The Guadalupe River starts just upstream, so there’s no city sludge or other point-source pollution outlets to muck it up as it flows through the heart of town.  Kerrville Folk Fest brings in the free spirits for 18 days out of every year, the Cailloux Foundation is the rare exception of deep pockets actually being used for the greater good, and lifetime residents like Joe Herring Jr. are tirelessly fighting to preserve what history the town has left.  There’s even a few trees left.

Actually, there’s more than a handful of writers, poets, business owners, teachers, coaches, preachers, social workers, service workers, and all-around awesome people in Kerrville, trees of the community.  They’re just overwhelmed by the relatively small but still dominant contingency of close-minded, bitter, and scared people who have the power to stall cultural development here to be noticed sometimes.  So it takes a young person with a pioneering mentality and the ability to see the remnant positives of Kerrville to make the jump away from cities like Austin, with its rich and vibrant buzz, and into the pit of Kerrville, with its chain stores and small clots of close-minded people.

Brother Jake is one of those.  After graduating from A&M, Jake lucked out to find a great job in a field he studied, working for a great guy at Madrone Landscape Architecture in Austin.  As a small company doing big work, Jake was exposed to just about everything – it was a dream job for even experienced landscape architects, much less a punk fresh out of school.  And yet, there was an inner urge in Jake to to do something more independent, even if it meant sacrificing the plush job and risking a career that was on track to greatness.

So last year, Native Roots Landscape in Kerrville was born.  Jake immediately picked up several small jobs and one big one, big enough to keep him busy for six months, and established an office on historic Jefferson Street in Kerrville to start putting down some roots to build a successful business in a notoriously tight town.  And at least for now, it’s working.

Buttrot and VPup


Jessie Temple, Murphy Street Raspa Co., Alpine, TX

Jessie comes from a family of bright lights.  Scholars, entertainers, novelists, ambassadors – there’s rumor that a boat captain uncle who’s actually a Robin Hood pirate.  It’s actually alot to live up to.  How do you blaze your own path when your family history has already torn up the world in their wanderings and wonderings?

I guess follow your heart.  I guess if you’re not quite as content as you’d like to be, quit your job as an architect in Austin and take over a snow cone stand in the desert.

The historic building was a furniture factory in the early 1900s, then a grocery store, now it’s Jessie’s home and work in the hub of the Big Bend region of West Texas.  Not easily described in words, you just have to experience it.  Both the snow cones and the desert.

Jessie and Rodeo

Godspeed friends, blaze the path.


Crew Love, Fall/Winter Chores, Tree Sale Pre-Orders

Crew Love

Human connectivity is a source of personal fulfillment.  Not to imply that I care for the steaming pile of masses – that’s impossible and the world is full of douche bags.  I’m talking about microcosmic connections with worthy folk.  Like, knowing the name of the guy who raised our holiday turkey.  Or the parts guy who knows the model number of my machine because he remembers my face.  Or the waitress who brings a biscuit and coffee before I even have to ask.  Or the postal worker who acts all grouchy, but doesn’t fool me because she cares enough to remember my box number.  Little things, small gestures, discreet and intimate connections made when they weren’t even sought out.

Mutual appreciation, even subtle, is the glue that maintains these relationships.  I really appreciate my crew, and there are obvious ways I show this appreciation.  I pay them a living wage, two weeks of vacation every year, protect them with workers comp and personal health insurance, make sure they have proper equipment and tools to make their job as simple as possible, and insulate them as best I can from general unpleasantness.  But there are little things too – daily things that are hard to describe but that are still appreciated – that demonstrate our mutual respect for each other.  Those little daily connections are ones that I value big time.

Maybe you feel the same way about these guys.  When you come home from work to see that the driveway has recently been cleared of those hazardous little acorns, or that you have one less crappy weekend chore to do because you’re lawn has been freshly mowed, maybe you feel a need to connect with those responsible for making your life a little easier and want show a little extra appreciation.

If so, please consider including an extra something in your November payment for your BioGardener crew.  It could be a gift card, tip, thank you note, or other simple gesture within your means that lets the guys know you appreciate them too.  Every year, I present these gifts and notes to the guys before the annual holiday break – its a warm and fuzzy send-off after another hard worked year.

Fall and Winter Chores in the Landscape

It can be sorta awkward for us this time of year.  The grass has slowed its growth, and we don’t want to encourage soil compaction and waste resources by running a mower when its not needed.  But mowing is also a good way to manage patchy growth and help break down leaves and accelerate their nutrient and organic contribution to the soil.  Regular visits through the winter is also an economical way to mange leaves and beds, and the guys are usually great about finding productive ways to spend their time if mowing is not needed.  But if you just don’t think those visits are necessary, let me know!  We don’t use contracts, you’re always welcome to change the frequency of our maintenance visits.  A quick email and its done.

Our main focus right now is leaves.  We’re still mowing when needed, but we’re also shifting leaves into bare spots in beds and collecting excess leaves to recycle off-site.  Later in the season, we’ll shift focus to seasonal pruning.  It’s still too warm for most perennial and shrub pruning, which might encourage plant growth and make plants more susceptible to freeze damage.  It’s also too late for heavy feeding, though we continue to apply our Triple Shot organic soil stimulator as long as our compost tea supplier is still brewing.  This helps sustain microbial activity in soils throughout the year.

We’re also turning down irrigation timers, gradually reducing water applications as soil temperatures cool.  For established landscapes, we’ve turned the timers off, or set them to run once every four weeks.  For newer landscapes, we’ve reduced timers to every two weeks.  And of course, we’re still making sure that those systems are running as efficiently as possible through monthly checks.

Winter Tree Sale, Coming Soon

We are currently wrapping up fall installation projects, but here’s little sneak preview for our wildly popular annual tree sale, which should get started in December/January.  We are still in drought mode – for a long-term outlook at regional drought, read this article and check out current lake levels – so we’re limiting native tree selection to only proven warriors.  We’re also trying to push smaller sizes, which are much better at adapting to real world conditions and soils:

Mexican White Oak – shade tree – 7-gal=$40′; 15-gal=$110; 30-gal=$250
Texas Mountain Laurel – shade or sun – 10-gal=$110; 30-gal=$275
Mexican Buckeye – shade or sun – 5-gal=$40
Anacacho Orchid Tree – part shade or sun – 5-gal=$40; 10-gal=$110

We’re expanding the selection of fruit trees this year, cuz if you’re gonna water something, it might as well be something you can eat.  All fruit trees will be 2-3′ bare-root whips, $60/each or $50/each for 3+ trees, though some types might be a little higher.  Peaches, Plums, Pears, Apples, Figs, Apricots, Persimmons, Pomegranates, and Grapevines.

You’re welcome to send me a note if you’d like to pre-order any of these, a more detailed announcement will be made once we settle in to winter.

We will be in touch soon, enjoy the autumn leaves, and as always, thanks for the love!

Eco Yard-keeping Article in Edible Austin Cooks!

Jeremy has a fresh article in this years’s special edition Edible Austin Cooks! on sustainable landscape maintenance in Austin.  Go grab a free copy and read what you’re already living.

 Screenshot 2014-12-18 08.24.35

Malabar Spinach Plant, Inversed

And I’m talking about the prolificity of updates lately.  It’s just that we’ve been doing alot of stuff lately:

Planting Malabar Spinach: Drought Tolerant, Edible, Coolest Plant in a Garden

Maintaining Fonda San Miguel Garden – October 2012

Building New Patio and Native Beds in South Austin Backyard

Observing a Good Year for Poison Ivy – Until We Show Up to Remove It

Creating Habitat in Central Austin

Night Fishing Ladybird

ThunderTurf, HabitTurf, NativeTurf Can Be Done! (Sorta)

We’ve heard lots of hype on the Wildflower Center-promoted Habiturf, sold under the name Thunder Turf by Native American Seed in Junction, as a drought-tolerant alternative to St. Augustine and other traditional lawn grasses.  On paper, it’s great:  less mowing, less fertilizer, less water – the perfect mix of the native short-grasses (Buffalo, Blue Grama, Curly Mesquite), that are able to survive all extremes of our crazy native climate.

We’ve tried this mix several times over the last 3 years with poor results.  Most of the time, the seeds failed to germinate and grow fast enough to compete with the bank of weed seeds that exploded with all the extra attention they were getting.  After about a year, the site was infested with weeds and with no visible native grasses left.

The problem with this grass mix is the same issue we see with other native plants.  Sure, they’ve adapted to our climate over thousands of years, but here’s the kicker – NATIVE PLANTS NEED NATIVE SOIL!

Unfortunately, the soils under most Austin landscapes resemble nothing even close to native soil.  For over a hundred years, urban soils have been brutalized by compaction, scraping, exotic material importation, erosion, and other constant disturbances.  What’s left is a mostly sterile mix of a medium that only invasive and noxious plants can handle.  Like Bermuda.

Combine dead soil and noxious weed infestation with the difficulty of establishing plants by seed (especially during drought), and Habiturf just doesn’t work as well as we all want it to.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Thunder Turf Established After One Year, in South Austin

It can be done.  But for most sites, it takes alot of work.  For this project in Travis Heights, which was infested with Bermuda over highly compacted soils, we first solarized for several months.  We chose this to avoid using any chemical herbicides to prep the site, just to make it as difficult as possible.

Infested Site Solarized to Kill Bermuda and Other Unwanted Vegetation

More than once during solarization, we had to come out to re-pin the black plastic tarp, which came loose during heavy winds.  After a view months, we excavated 6″ of soil, hauled it off, and replaced with a mix of non shrinking compost, mineral sand, and other amendments – Thunder Dirt from GeoGrowers.

After Solarization, Excavation, and Addition of 6" of Thunder Dirt.

Then, in late summer, we spread 15 pounds of Thunder Turf from Native American Seed, roughly 5 times the recommended application rate.  The owner took care of daily watering, and constant weeding of stuff that came through the 6 inches of Thunder Dirt.  That fall, we re-seeded parts that didn’t take, due to wash out from rains.  Then did it again the following spring.   By the next summer, 10 months after the original seed spreading, the grass is finally established with very few bare spots.

Close-up of Thunder Turf, 10 Months After Seeding

Total cost in materials and labor:  about $2,500 for roughly 1,000 square feet.  Nearly twice as expensive as sodding with the only available native turf, Buffalo grass, but a far superior demonstration of a native and diverse lawn.