It all started with a 5 minute burst of robust enthusiasm, with notes of kindness and generosity, at Permaculture Voices 3 in San Diego. We were sitting at the back and I swear his smile lit up the room like a ray of sunshine all the way to our table as he talked about making of mead on the southern coast of California. Such is the nature of the man behind Golden Coast Mead, Frank Golbeck. And we got to not only sample his mead, but also spend 4 lovely days at his farm, between attending the Permaculture Voices conference and our trip to Disneyland to celebrate the girls’ birthday.
Frank and his wife Theresa, along with their 2 young kids, have started a micro community on their land in a little village just north of San Diego. They moved in about a year ago and have carved out spots for others to come and live on the land with them. We parked on one of those spots, a driveway overlooking one side of the property, as it waited for a more permanent occupant. Yes, a driveway can be a perfectly good home, especially when it includes access to land for growing food. There were a few more trailers on the land as well as some more permanent structures, including Frank and Theresa’s house that had an apartment attached to it.When we arrived on the land early on a Monday morning, Frank was just on his way to work at his Meadery in a nearby town. He introduced us to Eddy Garcia, one of the members of the micro community and the one who was leading the efforts to regenerate the land and create a productive farm there. Eddy took us on a tour of the property, and we spent the next several days working with him and trying to wrap our heads around his grand vision that included fish, worms, goats, chickens, bees, and a tortoise.
The land was on a slope with a flat part at the bottom, and a house kind of mid-slope. It used to be an orchard and a nursery, and an old trailer on the property as well as a collection of odds and ends spoke to the history. Perhaps most telling was the soil, full of tiny bright green pellets, the century old waste product of munitions factories turned into fertilizer. Maybe it sounded like a good idea at the time, recycling or something like that, but these pellets never go away, nor do they actually help the soil.
When we had tasted Frank’s mead a few days before at the conference, one of the flavours was “sour orange blossom.” Now on the land, I could see where the inspiration for that flavour might have come from. The delicious smell of orange blossoms emanated from the many orange trees that ringed the property. Tasting these oranges led to a distinct puckering of our lips. Last year during the drought, the watering of all the orange trees just did not seem justified. Thus they turned out pretty sour this year.
There were many other fruit trees on the property as well, especially on the uncleared land above the house, as well as many pots of a strange looking, cactus-like plant with very long arms. Turns out these were dragon fruit trees that Eddy is growing to plant above the house and train up stands he is making from old trees. These will be a good cash crop for the farm.
The central vision for this farm and its future productivity, even in potential drought conditions year after year, is to develop an aquaponics system. Eddy is an expert in this, having developed many properties using aquaponics in Hawaii where he used to live and still maintains a property. He showed us a mini-system he had built already for this farm, and pointed to the old pool that will be used for aquaponics one day.
Essentially, from my very basic understanding of aquaponics, it is a closed loop system that allows you to raise a ton of fish and worms, while creating very nutrient rich water and other by-products, which you can use to feed plants, which you then feed back to the fish and the worms. The water and other by-products can also be used to feed the soil on your farm, and benefit all of your plants, and the worms can be released into the soil to play their important role of loosening up the soil and adding air, and also adding more nutrients through their poop, which helps the soil food web to thrive.
One of the plant superstars in Eddy’s vision for the farm was vetiver grass. It is a deep rooting and fast spreading plant that pulls up nutrients from deep in the soil, while at the same time preventing erosion on a slope. When you cut it and lay the cuttings down, the nutrients become available, both through the dying grass as well as through the roots that die back under the soil. The worms really help sped up this process, and Eddy uses three different types of worms: red wrigglers that mostly stick to the surface, night crawlers that go down deep, and a third worm that travels the space between. The combination of these three worms enables a penetration of the soil to the depth needed by many plants. To learn more about how vetiver grass and the three worms work, read this blog on Eddy’s website.
While we were visiting the farm we helped build some lasagna beds with straw and composted horse manure, pull some dragon fruit plants off a fence so they could be replanted, and chop some eucalyptus wood (up to 83 strikes to get one cut on this very hard wood). The girls planted some sunflower seeds, hand pollinated some fruit trees (as a fail safe after Frank’s bees swarmed and took off), and took care of the 4 chickens. We also went on a day trip to a nearby beach, made some sour dough bread and milk kefir, and had some amazing meals including a duck soup that Theresa made with the spoils of one of Frank’s hunting expeditions, and a beef stew made with duck bone broth a few days later. And of course, we drank some mead. And it was delicious. And I really wish we had visited the Meadery and stocked up on it before leaving as I miss it a lot… We left instead with a few precious navel oranges, and gave away the first two sour dough starters from our Calgary-created mother.
This farm is beginning to be transformed into something amazing and we saw the edges of the vision starting to be realized. What it will end up looking like is beyond our imagination. We will have to return one day to see it all in action! It will include an educational component for kids, and hopefully adults too. We think that is what the tortoise is for, but it may just be Eddy’s good luck charm…