Gardening Inspirations from Solar Living, Hopland CA

Solar Living (2)

Normally when someone takes off north from the Bay area on a day trip, the usual destinations are the wineries in Sonoma or Napa, maybe Sears Point for a little racing action, or a beautiful coastal drive.  However, being a gardening geek, I had another destination.  Hopland’s Solar Living Center.

I was in the Bay area spending the week with my mom before the BlogHer Food weekend, where Diane and I would be giving a talk on photography. Unfortunately Diane was stuck at home for the week to take care of business, so she didn’t get to share in the  fun, but I did steal some fruit for her while gallivanting about (she’s a guerilla fruit snatcher in her spare time 😉 ).

Solar Living (3)

Hopland’s Solar Living Center, located a couple hours north of San Francisco,  is a non-profit renewable energy, permaculture demonstration site.  They have about 12 acres where they have designed their facilities as an example of how nature and man can work harmoniously in providing our comforts and shelter.

Being a food aficionado, it may have seemed weird skipping past Napa and Sonoma’s wonderful wineries and restaurants to go check out a sustainable living demonstration site. However, Hopland had peaked my curiosity since Mom first told me about it many years ago and it seemed like a great opportunity for a Moment of Discovery.  Diane and I aren’t looking to revitalize the 70’s and the free-love ways, but we are always seeking ways to become more self-sufficient.

Not knowing quite what to expect (I didn’t do any research before going – just basing my desire to visit on Mom’s experience) I arrived at the Solar Living Center with curiosity and an open mind leading my thoughts.  Like many areas just north of S.F. in late September, it was hot, but as we drove into the Center, the sight of figs and quince amongst other fruit trees with a gentle pond laced by willows sweeping its edges, my body began to relax in the heat and draw from the coolness of the trees’ shade.

Solar Living

There were the expected solar panels and a few wind mills, but they seemed to be a mere piece of the puzzle, rather than the primary focus.    The focal point was of a grander scale, utilizing many of nature’s gifts simultaneously and in harmony, rather than relying on one or two to help provide for us.  Grape arbors surrounded the main building helping shelter and cool the summer’s heat while also providing delicious snacking.  Solar powered water pumps generated a soothing stream of  water which branched off into a drip ring in the courtyard in front of the main building, providing further relief from the heat using evaporative cooling principles.

From the buildings’ designs, materials, orientations, and outside landscaping virtually everything had a purpose and use in allowing nature to provide human comfort. It was a wonderful example of permaculture.

Back home we had been utilizing some of the permaculture concept in our garden, trying to plant and design so things were mutually beneficial, but after visiting the Solar Living Center, it has inspired me increase our knowledge and the use of the permaculture ideas.  I like the thought of being efficient with what nature provides us and in developing naturally harmonious relationships.  We’ve done it a bit in our garden through use of beneficial insects, recycling trimmings as mulch, and other individual aspects in the design and functioning elements of the garden. This mindset is some of the inspiration for our edible garden, but there is so much more potential to the garden and knowledge to find.

Solar Living (1)

What are the ways to recycle greywater (bath, dish, and laundry water) to be cleaned and utilized as irrigation water for us at home?  What plants help protect and provide beneficial qualities for other plants?  What can we do to improve our mini-ecosystem in our home and backyard?  There are hundreds of questions streaming through my mind.

The Solar Living Center had a great bookstore, making it an excellent opening resource for my revitalized quest, but we’d love to hear some of the things other people have done to help create a healthy ecosystem in their gardens and homes.  And if anyone has questions about permaculture and such, we’ll do our best, or maybe other readers can help answer the questions.


Solar Living Center

13771 S. Highway 101

Hopland, CA 94559


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. Marc @ NoRecipes

    How is it that I’ve never heard of this place. I’m going to be there for a week and half in November and will definitely have to steal my mom’s car for a day to check this place out.

  2. gloria

    My contribution to grey water—- The Laundry plus one prep sink runs freely into a large PVC with preferated holes (slightly buried), and that irrigates our garden. Also one bathroom shower tunnels under the house to another garden. Then we also have a spa that empties into yet another garden area. Have had solar water heater but even in Florida that froze and busted the copper pipes so gave that up. Anxious to hear how others are working this out. Great news letters, thanks. Gloria

  3. zenchef

    I think it’s great you’re using some of the permaculture concept you learned in our garden. The world needs more people like you. You provide great inspiration via your words and photography. Bravo!

  4. Nan

    Wow – looks beautiful – so glad you had such a good time! On another note – I have a nephew who attends BYU and he writes for a campus newsletter, actually a non-school sanctioned alternative newsletter…so I get his newsletter in my email every other day or so and this past week I noticed an article written by another student about a new movie…White On Rice! I have no idea what it’s about, really, but if you Google White on Rice, your blog comes up and so does the movie – just thought you’d like to know! Hope it’s not an offensive film – but I guess if it’s showing in Provo, Utah it must be okay! xo, Nan

  5. Jessica @ How Sweet It Is

    Your photography is gorgeous! Breathtaking!

  6. Brooke @ Food Woolf

    Todd, what a great working vacation you were on. It’s really amazing just how much good we can do for ourselves and the environment with simple adjustments such as the ones you learned up north. Thanks for sharing. Good info for someone looking to get into gardening.

  7. El

    Beautiful photo. Thanks!

  8. White on Rice Couple

    Hélène – It is always hard to pass up the wineries, but we’ve hit many of our favorites over the years & I was longing for a new discovery. I’m glad I went to the Solar Living Center, but next time up north it will be time to visit the vino again!

    maria – Thank you very much! Being at BlogHer Food was very inspiring for us as well. There are so many people with a hunger for knowledge. We will be posting a series on photography reiterating and expanding upon our talk at BlogHer. Glad you enjoyed the session!

    Viviane Bauquet Farre – Thank you very much. I just had to pass on the passion. I hope you enjoy the Center as much as we did when you get to visit.

    Manggy – I loved that many of the toilets in Japan utilized the concept of greywater, in a way. They had a faucet and a bowl at the top of the tank where you could wash your hands with the water that was refilling the tank. Very efficient and crafty.

    Meaghan – Solar water heaters are definitely something we need to look into. So many things to reevaluate and look into for more possibilities in making everything more efficient, practical, cost effective, and attractive. As we find things that work for us, we’ll be sure to pass it on.

    Angelia McGowan – A rain barrel is another thing they had which I wanted to figure out how we can incorporate that into our home (whenever we get rain again. It’s been a while!) I’m excited as solar technology expands and starts becoming more efficient and affordable. They had many small solar units for charging phones and such for sale at the Center (I’m sure many other places sell them as well. Esp. outdoor stores like REI). The devices were made to charge, then store the charge so you could plug your device into it whenever to charge up. Little things to become more efficient.

    Thanks for visiting everyone and continuing the discussion. Any other gardening permaculture tips out there?


  9. Angelia McGowan

    This is so interesting, I love new ideas on conserving energy. My husband designed a rain barrel for home irrigation as his mechanical engineering project in college. We want to incorporate it when we have our own home and yard (we just have a townhome now), plus many other energy conserving things. My site servers run on wind energy, and I wish I could have more things at home on solar. This is great information, thanks for sharing.

  10. Meaghan

    Looks like a great trip! I’m also interested in learning new ways to use our energy and water more effectively–my dad sometimes talks about putting a big water tank on the roof. It would be kept warm(ish) by the sun and then doesn’t need to be heated as much before use, and you can also get energy from the heat in the water, like solar panels. Even very cold water has enough heat in it to produce energy, apparently. I’m not sure about the logistics of this plan, though. I look forward to hearing some tips & tricks for energy efficiency from your blog.

  11. Manggy

    It’s great to be thinking about these things, Todd (first thought for greywater would be for flushing the toilet). I mean, The French Laundry and Napa is great, but these issues are important too and deserve attention 🙂 Love the pictures- would be great to visit it someday.

  12. Viviane Bauquet Farre / food & style

    What an inspiring post! I really enjoyed ready it and could feel the energy flowing through your words.

    The Solar Living Center will be on my itinerary next time I visit CA! Thank you for that & for the wonderful photographs too.

  13. maria

    I just wanted to say thanks for your fabulous photo presentation at BlogHer. You guys are amazing!

  14. Hélène

    Your so lucky that you could spend time with your mom. She must have had such a great week. That’s an interesting place to visit but if I was in the area I would not want to miss the wineries.

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