May Projects

 

After three years of promising this last weekend the fire ring Shane has wanted finally was built. He wanted it cut back a little into the slope of the yard and big enough to have a few friends stand around. I had James help and work the level to get it set in. 20180513_180430

Shane didn’t waste time at all but as it was evening and time for dinner he pulled out the hotdogs sticks and a broke it in.

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James found a few old grates from long dead bbq’s and brought them down so Shane could experiment and see if he wanted one of them built into the ring for future use.

We picked up almost twenty trees from the Nursery to start the orchard as well. I tried t take a few pictures of them but they are pretty leafless at the moment and not much to show all leaned up against a ceder. The time line to pick them up has moved forward so the site is far from ready. Piled in wet sawdust I have a few days to get them in the ground but the tree that have been blocking sun from the solar panels and the future orchard site have started to be cleaned up and thinned out.

Shane came up with his chainsaw as mine is just too small for trees this size and helped bring down the leaning pines and managed to drop them in just the right places to not crush the camper or the green house. There are still more to come down to open up the sky but already the difference is rather astounding. I can see the southern sky!

I picked up raspberry starts from a friend who has both white and reds creeping into her yard despite her husband’s best efforts. They came from one yard; chives and and rhubarb from another, and last years missed garlic from a third.

With the transplants in and the orchard site getting rapidly readied I had just long enough to walk around the yard and snap a few pictures of the June-Berries and wild strawberries in bloom, as well a the herb garden waking up.

Spring in this part of the world is short, and nights still dip down into the mid 30’s at times but it is stunning how rapidly winter melts and turns into green and flowers burst open in carpets and towers of white, yellow, and lavender blooms.

 

Work on the Truck

Part of living off grid and on a budget is keeping everything running. That most certainly includes the truck. At 172K miles the F-150 is still a great truck but to keep it that way requires a person to stay aware of what is happening with it and addressing issues before they leave you stranded. Last week I noticed that the rear differential was leaking oil. Everything was canceled and I got a ride from Shane into Missoula for parts.

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Changing the fluid and checking all the moving parts is not that difficult. It should be done every few years once a truck gets as many miles as this one has. It only took a few hours and is nothing anyone should be intimidated by.  The drain plug is on the back side of the casing and takes a 1/2 inch wrench to open it up.

 

Once the drain plug is out you can get a good idea of much metallic particulates are in the fluid. The inside of the plug is a magnet that works to pull the any metallic fragments from the fluid while the truck is running. You will want to be sure to wipe clean.

 

The bolts on the casing should be loosened in a star pattern. When they all are loose and can be removed with no chance of putting any strain on the other bolts or the casing cover itself, put them aside to clean while the fluid drains. When all the bolts are pulled, very gently, use a tool to get in between the cover and the case to break the seal. Be very careful not to scratch or mar the surface with your tool or you risk a bad seal later on.  As soon as the seal is broken the fluid will start to drain out.

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Give it twenty minutes or so to drain then pull the cover off. Cleaning the bolts and around the outside of the seal quickly fills the time.  (Be sure to have a drip pan of some sort under to catch it all.) Once the cover is off take your time to clean it well. A shop towel or shop quality paper towels work best.

 

Once it is wiped clean you will want to spend a little effort to clean off all the old sealant and any grime from the mating surface not only of the cover but the case itself. Using a plastic scraper takes a lot of the risk out of it. You can pick one up, with an extra blade, at Auto Zone for $4 or less depending on what part of the country or you’re in.

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Inside the differential you’ll want to wipe out all the fluid from the bottom and down in the basin just inside the lip. Use a small portion of the new fluid to rinse it down. Only then put your new sealant on.

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I used JB weld blue glue. There are different brands but whatever you use make sure if says for use on differentials. Once its on, line it up carefully and put it into place. Begin to replace the the bolts in the same cross cross pattern used to take it off. Tighten them gently and only enough to touch all around. You’ll need to let the sealant set-up for at least an hour before you tighten it down all the way. Be sure to replace the tags so future work, or future owners will know what fluid to use.   20180513_132918

I let it set up for a full 24 hours before I drove it. For the effort of a morning and for the $60 of fluid and sealant a great deal of stress, headache, and later work was dealt with. I had already lost over 2 quarts of the fluid (the trucks hold 2.5 quarts of differential fluid) by the time I had caught the leak. If I had not stopped work on other projects to deal with it, it would not have been long before entire differential would have had to be replaced.  Some of these unexpected little side line projects are well worth stopping other plans for. Being able to do such work for oneself is a skill that only gets better with time. Even when you find yourself under a truck and greasy to your elbows try to appreciate the fact that you’re in a cubical. Doing basic mechanics is just part of the off grid, homestead lifestyle; and try not to be intimidated by it.

April

The snow has finally melted! Yesterday the lupines popped out of the mountain side and today the humming birds have returned. We are still at three days of sunshine this year with cloud cover again. The solar panels are not really amused but the plants in the greenhouse have the grow lights on them to help them on these cloudy days.

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The days are warm enough now for t-shits and the work outside has picked back up again. Below the dam where the trees were dropped from making room for the greenhouse has become the target of focus. We will be putting in an orchard in the space as well as the chicken coop. (Zone 3 in permaculture) The ladies will be under and among the trees. The final plan for the coop is being worked out with several ideas in mind, including one with a rocket stove inside the wall to give them extra winter heat.

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Thor thought he would help with clean up and kept making a bed out of the piles of slash that we needed to burn and sort. A perfect place to chew on a freshly found deer shed I guess. Almost two weeks of picking up the dead fall, chain saw work and nonstop fire, we got through the fiddlestick game of trees and found the rock bank. To my delight gooseberries are coming up and hopefully I can encourage them to thrive there.  20180505_121019

Our top temp today is likely to be in the mid 50’s with chance of rain, but as soon as I step away from the computer I will be outside. Summers in Montana tend to go from cool and grey to too hot and so smokey work outside must stop. Last year we went from smoke to snow with no chance for much fall work, hopefully this year we have fewer fires and more work can get done. The coop, the orchard, and more gardens, as well as a cob oven. Not to mention all the other stuff.

The greenhouse in April

This time of year in MT the weather is on the swing. When you’re high up the temps remain chilly even if the valley warms up. Sunny afternoon turn into fresh new snow in the morning. You have to be very careful with any seedlings you have, and be patient about planting them. 20180219_120018

With the unpredictability of the weather in the mountains lasting well into June having a greenhouse or planning to purchase seedlings is about the only way to make sure you can get a garden to grow.  Where were are up here we have had years where the snow lasted until mid June with frost well into July, returning in is September. With days short and the sun not breaking through the clouds for months, the itch to work in the greenhouse got James and I out there stocking up the fire and working on projects in early March.

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It took a couple days to warm up the back wall and get the space warm but once it was going we kept it going around the clock until just last week. Night fires are still lit but our days are warm enough now to let it go out. This weekend is rumored to be 60 degrees and at that temperature I will have the doors open and likely be working on the fan system. But in March it was dancing around 0 with four feet of packed snow and more on the way. We couldn’t help ourselves but to get our fingers in the soil and plant some seeds.

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Thor on guard duty.

Last year the back roof was not up, with only tarp to hold out the weather but this fall we got the roof on and the space closed off. There is always more work to do but at least we got it warm enough for t-shirts in there. This summer the sod roof will go on and the back wall will be made as rodent proof as possible. Anyone who has read any of the earlier blogs know of the war I have had with the pack rats, and while Thor and I have gotten them out of the greenhouse the voles and mice have moved it. 20180403_155139

As soon as the space warmed and the plants began to wake up the mice began to chew them off to drag them back into the rock wall. As much as I had wanted to leave the rocks exposed I might have to cob the entire stone wall just to seal them out. The Voles on the other hand went after the newly planted seeds. They did not limit themselves to the squash and larger seeds James and had I planted, but even cleaned out seeds as small as the basil. Up until this spring I had not had voles as an issue. My mountain is more rock and shale than soil so not a very welcome space for them. After a few rounds of standard traps and a five gallon bucket trap we cleaned out more than two dozen so we planted again, but to no greater gain.

Vole’s and Moles though are not as difficult to deal with as mice. Fuming, I left the mountain to get a bottle of castor oil at the local good food store and put it in a sprayer. I sprayed down everything! The ground beds, the seed pots, the back wall. Castor oil is a safe and easy way to drive them out. The soil and whatever is in it starts to taste like castor oil to them, as well, as the oil makes them sick and they vacate.

I also purchased an electric mouse trap. It takes two AA batteries and is said to work for 100 zaps. I am up to about twenty in the last three weeks with it and while it has been licked clean a couple times with escapees, when mice are caught it is clean and no nasty resetting, just dump the mouse, click it back on, and set it back in place.

Our third round of seeds have done much better.

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One of the the plants in the greenhouse to wake up as soon as we started the fire was the avocado tree that we had put in last fall. It was started with a pit from an organic avocado that was just tossed in a pot of soil with another one that had been sprouted in a cup water water in the kitchen window. The buds were exciting to see after so much white for so long, but the first leaves were even better. 20180314_015805

In the pots on the raised back wall the sage and rosemary were also was quick to follow. Pansys  woke up and the avocado tree kept growing.

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I am going to have to start working on pruning the tree to keep her from getting too big for the space. Being in MT the largest avocado I have dealt with is definitely this one, so anyone who has any tips on them, let me know!

Today the sun came out and we hit 53. It was the first day that felt like spring so I am hopeful for the whispers of 60 or more coming soon. The sun was warm enough the cooler weather babies got to go outside for the first time and they loved it.

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This year with health issues on an upswing things are getting done and plans are being put back into motion with achievable deadlines. On top of my own projects I will be working with the design and implementation of a Farm to School program. Down in the valley I will be able to play with fruits trees that have no hope of producing up here so the summer should fun and full of classes both here and down the hill.

 

Cob on sheetrock

When living in a Tiny House the issue of weight is something that has to always be taken into account. Often this excludes the use of cob in any substantial way.  There are few things like the touch and warmth of cob. Most of the walls however are sheetrock and normally that limits when you can do with it. Cob does not stick to sheetrock but peels and crumbles off. 29633226_1996325267063983_597712160_o

I had worked with a flour paste cob slurry before and knew there were ways around using normal cob but I wanted to find an easier and less labor intensive means to do it. The flour you have to cook down and into a paste and get the texture and mix right or it would be too runny or too think and not work well. Not everyone has the time to perfect the method so I wanted to find an easier way. What worked was taking sheetrock mud, you can get a large box from any home center, and mixed it with a clay soup.

When the two were completely mixed, to the consistency of thick soup I used a large brush and simply painted it on the walls. It took barely two coats but went on quickly and easily with the sheetrock /clay mix sticking to the wall with no issue.

Like with all cob work as it dried it cracked a little but with a damp cloth my fingers i simply smoothed it out, adding a small amount of clay to any areas that seemed to need it. I was able to get a smooth finish and the white of the mud-paster did not take away from the color of the clay itself.

 

As the work was done int he kitchen it needed to be sealed not only from water but from touch. Unsealed cob in time, will peal and crack from weather or wear. I chose to use boiled linseed oil. Normally this is mixed with mineral spirits in a 50/50 mix after the first coat but due to the chemical sensitivity I opted to just use the oil on its own.

I will warn any one who uses linseed oil, mixed or straight, it stinks. Fortunately the weather was above freezing and I was able to keep the windows open but the smell lingered for days after it had dried and that does not happen over night. I suggest doing this when you can leave all the windows and doors open for days.

29526989_1996325397063970_1522204547_oThe slurry did not bind well to the wood of the window frames. i had not expected it to but wanted to test it out. The windows will be trimmed out anyway so there was no worries with the effort. The work itself took me a full weekend with time to allow the cob and the linseed to dry between layers. It was a small space though and the time it took to get the smell out was closer to two weeks, but the end result I am very happy with.

The warmth of the color of the clay, as well as the feel of it, is a welcome addition to the house. I will be doing another two walls but not until summer is in full swing and the windows can be left open even at night.

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pond liner Patched!

Last Dec. or so a pack rat decided to tear this way out of his next into the depths of the pond. This spring I found the hole he had made as well as what was left of his tail. 19420502_1700832066613306_3109672944671040314_n

It took about a week to drain the pond low enough to get it clean and clear. Using pond liner tape I got a patch over it. Keeping scraps is always a good idea. I found one that was just about the perfect size. The patch went on about nine and the water was turned back on.  Now I just have to wait and watch it refill. The weather has of course decided to claim into the upper 90’s making evaporation during the day  real slow down to the filling but the water line is coming up.

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You can see the water line along the black liner. The pond is an ongoing project that still needs much gravel for the bottom, plants, and I hope to get a solar powered aerator. For now the spring is filling the pond and the fish are surely grateful.

Joyful Home… I just had to share.

Joyful Home made this blog about freeze-rootcellar.  I will be building on this summer out of an old fridge. It’s a good use for a fridge/freezer that would otherwise meet the landfill.

 

We had a bumper crop of potatoes last year. After freezing them (as fries, casseroles, etc), canning some, and giving over 200 lbs away, we needed a reliable way to store the rest. The goal was to have enough potatoes stored to take us through to the next harvest…and possibly never to have to buy potatoes […]

via Burying a Freezer — Joyful Home