Category Archives: off grid

0 degrees and falling

Outside winter has blown into and made its presence known. The forest is utterly still. The only sound now is the dry snow slipping off of high boughs to settle on the snow below. The forecast warns of -30 with the wind chill. It’s a ‘keep the fires burning’ sort of night.

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Being off grid having a heater for the chickens water is not really an option, nor are heat lamps. Chickens are far tougher than most people think with them being fine with the cold and dark make the egg laying come to a halt but not adversely affecting most breeds. Even with the laying stopped warm water and lots of deep warm straw are always in order, but -30 is just too cold. They can get cracked feet, freeze off their combs or suffer fromt he strain of being too cold.

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With space open in the greenhouse and the fire keeping it above freezing despite the back wall being unfinished I made the call to move them. James took the task in hand. Shane came up to help him catch The Ladies and Boots and move them across the yard to the Greenhouse.

I got home from helping at the neighbors safe guard his his water from freezing, just in time to see the birds go in.  The change in them was almost instant. It took only a few minutes for the first lady to look around and settle down. She happily set to exploring the new space.  I tossed out a little corn scratch for them on the soil, piled up straw for nesting and brought over food and water while the boys worked together to catch the rest and get them swift from one home to the next.

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Tomorrow I will build them in a coop. James has mentioned he might video it for YouTube, so if your interested I guess the we will be posting there soon. For now they are safely inside, they will be warm and have lots of space to move around as well as many options of places to roost safely for the night.

I have a sneaking suspicion with them in the greenhouse with me all day there will soon be many more pic of them.

The little stove

The plan had been to build a rocket stove this past summer, but plans do always go as we might expect. With all the time and effort going to build the greenhouse in time the rocket stove, Jame’s bedroom and several other ‘planned’ tasks were set aside.

The stove int he little cabin had a destiny to be in the greenhouse but that left us in freezing weather with no heat source and no time to build the rocket stove. After a search and with time running short we found a small wood stove within the range we could afford.

It had been outside for god only knows how many years. It was rusted extensively and cracked out from water freezing inside. It did however have all the parts and a glimmer of hope for it. The stove is over a 100 years old and with fingers crossed James and I loaded it up and paid the old man.

On the deck in pouring rain we took the drill gun and wire brush to it, stripping off decades of rust to get down to the metal. Once clean, about 10 hours of sanding, I used JB weld to seal the cracks. Over the body of the stove I used stove black, high temp paint, and we built a fire.

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For anyone who has never done this, do it outside or when you can leave every door and window open. The smell if horrific and highly toxic. It took about 5 hours to burn it clean. Once clean of the stink we moved it in the next down.

This style of stove has several issues I should point out. I bought the stove aware of them as I had grown up with a very similar stove in my bedroom. The stove pipe union is oval and it is very difficult to attach a round union to an oval piece. If you have a short chimney this can be an issue. It needs a chimney damper. These stoves are not designed to work without one, and you have to be very careful how to put your logs in and not burn your hands. 15239136_1459573284072520_1866510889_n

The shape of the stove means you need to stand them up on end, but if you do not have them in there touching they will often simply go out. It is a slightly more maintenance fire place than others but once its hot it stays hot. The amount of cast iron allows it to radiate heat for hours after the fire has died.

There are pieces that yet need to be re-chromed, but once those are seen to the stove will truly have been given a new life.

 

Update on the Greenhouse

Work has been non-stop, as much as possible anyway. As so often in the case with the off-grid lifestyle money is always an issue. The work that needs to be done often is limited by the materials you have at hand. In my case a bit of health issues never helps. I am happy to say though, seeds are in the ground.

The creeping fear we just wouldn’t be able to get it going this fall was alleviated when we got the stove into place.

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We got enough of the Gabion wall in place enough to get it in and the chimney up. The stove had been int he little Cabin but was simply too big for the space. That meant to make it hot enough to keep the chimney clean the house became an oven even with the windows and doors open.  It was a great day when the first fire was built.

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James painting the top boards for the back wall. Vent fans will go into these come spring.

The back wall, had to be closed in. Even though there has been next to no snow the temps here have stayed below freezing and the ground freezes early up this high. The extra panels, a few tarps and an promise of ongoing effort to deal with cold air leaks all winter we had to put a halt tot he rock work.

The fire place section us in and the nest nine foot segment of base wall was done.

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the section north of the fireplace, mid build. The 15 gallon pots still visible.

Even before the back wall had it temporary paneling put up James and I got to putting in beds and moving all the craft, art, and home school extras to the greenhouse. The ground here is nothing but rock. Putting soil directly down would simply wash down and away forever. Using a layer approach is the only hope to keep the soil in place without using completely sealed boxes. The hope is the cardboard and straw add enough fiver to the base layer to help bind the soil and prevent erosion.

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James at work layering cardboard, straw and top soil in on the the ground beds

last week the first seeds went into the soil. Its a little cool in there at night but all the plants going in are cool weather and hopefully will pop out of the ground any day. Snow peas, spinach, kale, and garlic are in.

A friend gave me a few heritage potatoes and squash that had been forgotten on the edge of his garden to throw in and see what happened. We’ll see if the join the party.

This week was spent clearing more of the the mountain side and thus adding to the wood pile but we had time to get up some of the gutter gardens and get them planted as well.

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The gutter, though a bit warped I picked up at the Restore in Missoula for under $20. I love that place. Nearly all of the building material I have used has come from there. Some I have had to buy new, some small amount has been donated, some collected from clean up jobs, but the Restore is a massive asset to the area. Reusing material takes patience and conviction. Most people have access to planers and routers to clean and trim down their reused lumber but off-grid that just isn’t really an option.

This morning with snow on the ground, and the house a bit chilled I went out pre-coffee to check on the greenhouse. It was by far warmer than the house. The larger stove was stacked up before bed and still had embers. A few logs and handful of paper garbage and the fire came back up to life. Coffee in hand Thor and I went on back out to sit by the fire and enjoy the quiet of the first real snow of the year.

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The Greenhouse

Early this spring health issues sparing up again and the job at the little grocery store had to come to an end. What to do for income? Even after years of limiting bills there is always something and with building and having a teenager there is always things you need to get so. Shane agreed to cover my share of the mortgage for a year so I could build a green house and get it up and going. Again, the value of a friend/partner who embarks on this sort of adventure with you shows its self.

 

Living between two steep mountains the first order of business was to level an area that would work. A bulldozer was brought in and a friend of mine spent a day making a terrace in the side of my mountain. I began gathering windows and setting up plans for construction when Shane’s friend told him about a greenhouse his mother wanted torn down. We could have it if we cleaned it up and hauled it off.

I took pictures but none of them show the monstrosity of the thing. It was build to be a pot grow room with grand illusions of supplying the entire state of MT. The construction looked to be have been over-seen by a twelve year old with an over zealous crew wielding air-nailers. No wonder the poor woman wanted it gone.

However, the roof panels and the amount of lumber that could be salvaged was worth thousands easily. I assured Shane it would be worth it. With him working nights we planned out weekends together and spent two three-day weekends with crews of friends to help tear it down and on a thirty foot trailer hauled it the hundred miles back up to our property.

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The terrace was going to be too small. We had to hire in another machine and tore into the mountain with gusto. The damn across the end of the the little pond was built up, widened and packed. The site was leveled, expanded, and leveled again. Thousands of yards of rock was moved.

The big rocks were pulled out for the pond while mid sized rock was set aside for use in other projects. The rest was packed, raked, leveled, and raked again. The mountain is all rock with less than two inches of soil on top. It is astounding how much the native plants thrive with so little at their disposal.

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Once we had it leveled the digging began, fourteen holes for concrete footings. This is a task I can not express how much more work it is than it sounds or how hard it is to dig holes in gravel. We managed though and celebrated when that step was done.

Then the posts went in ten feet up in the back. Choosing the best angle for where we are and the length of wood we had to pull from 30degrees was the cut and the time consuming work of finding the least damaged, least warped and long enough pieces the first rafters went up.

Worried about snow load Shane wanted to do a rafter on top of the header design with a love of brackets. I wasn’t going to argue. It saves a lot of small cuts and as we had buckets of brackets from the demolition thats what we decided on.

A word to the impatient and the perfectionist about building with reclaimed wood. Wood splits, it twists, and it warps. You will never get a perfect board and if you buy lumber these days they come that way. Using twenty year old fifteen foot 2×4’s, well lets just say it takes patience and a time to trim, cut and pull them into place. Even then some warps and twists will never come undone. You must just carry on.

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The first panel went up. We had a few issues when Sterling, 9the third virgo on this mountain) came and tried to help. Oh Dear Lord. Shane and I can work together. We have been best friends for over a decade but add a third and this sort of project turns into a test of tolerance. I admit, with the years of experience I have dealing with construction and landscaping…(greenhouse building high on the list) I do not take well to having my every move question and irrelevant questions asked without listening tot he answer.

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After two weekends of nothing but debate and having to undo and redo everything Shane asked Sterling to fix the windows in his fifth-wheel for him. Sterling had a project and we went back to work.

Panel by panel we crept our way down the length of the greenhouse. There was some swearing at the the rails or panels when one o the other was damaged and they refused to fit together but we get them on. At the end it all lined up, perfectly.

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Weather is already getting cool, storm warning up high and leaves are already red and gold. As the Starks say, Winter is Coming! In a cold drizzle we worked on the front and got the wall in. An unloading door needs to be build but the greenhouse is taking shape. This week I plan to begin building the main beds and the rock walls on the back. The too big for the little cabin, wood stove will go in soon. Soil next weekend if all goes well and next week…seeds!

 

 

Misty Morning

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I have been working on the edits, trying to get the book (Through the Barrier) with all the little edits that seemed to get missed even after many read overs.  I thought I would share those posts just to show what it is that I do most days.  I hope you enjoyed them.  Today however, I thought I’d bring it back to this world.  Morning coffee, with temperatures just hovering at freezing when I got up, I stood outside to enjoy it. After the cold we have had this morning felt almost nice enough to not even need a coat, just a heavy sweatshirt.

I had mentioned earlier that I was looking into the e-lance site.  I thought Id mention that there has been no activity and as of yet I can find no one who has ever been hired though them.  Always trying f id ways to make ends meet a little easier I thought id try the ‘online survey’ machine.  Oh have I opened a can of worms!  I will stick with it and see how it works out and if t is worth it.  I am a sceptical of it at this point.

Today, edits, split wood and if the weather holds scavenger hunt hike with Oz.

Concept Plans

As some of you might know I have been rather under the weather the last week and a half.  Not feeling up to eating, let alone chopping wood, building cabinets or working on the water system I instead sat at the kitchen table with a glass of water and worked on the concept drawing for next year.  Having Landscape Design to my name and nearly a dozen years doing it, I have advise to anyone who plans to build anything,  DRAW it OUT!  Even if you aren’t any good at perceptive, or drawing at all, think about why you want something where you want it and how it will work for you in the long run and put it on paper.

Once you have it drawn out, hang it up, study it, walk around with it in your hands, look at the angel of the sun, drawing in hand of course, close your eyes and imagine it and feel the direction of the wind.  (a fun way to spend some time in the winter)  Then draw it out again, finesse it, play with it, try to think of other ways to get the goals you want doing it another way. Always keep an open mind and be ready to alter your plans as you go.

On that note, I thought I’d share the concepts I drew up this last week.  These are pretty basic, I couldn’t find either a ruler nor a decent pencil… not even graph paper, but at this point it is only concept, so no worries.

plansIn some of the pictures I am sure you can see the propane can sitting on a green chair outside the kitchen windows.  That is most certainly not the log term solution.

I plan to use the siding that was cut out for the windows for the front to make it blend in ad have a low cold frame top so I cant start cool weather plants early.

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This might need explaining if you have not seen the double-dome concrete roofs made, or rock and wire walls. ( I plan to make a youtube video of this project and am rather excited about it.)

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This one is a bit crude.  The measurements are off, angels not quite right and topography poorly done but that’s just me being professional about it.  (here’s where I make a face at myself for over analysing my work)

Start anywhere, crude is better than not doing it all.  Even if you have no concept of how to get anything built or why topography lines matter, just start!  This one might be the most fun to look at, to get a basic idea of the spring and summer ahead of me.  I better enjoy the slower pace of winter!

If you have any questions about any of the plans or concepts, or even why I am doing this part or another go ahead and comment.  Any ideas? Feel free to share.

Nov 24/ New Snow

Just as I got the car unpacked, (it now sits at the bottom of the drive and everything must be carried up and up down,) the misty rain turned to snow.  Tired from fighting the wind while taking pictures that morning and driving in it for hours I headed to bed.  Fire built up, I hoped to sleep a few hours before I had to get up and restock it, but the cat seemed to have missed me and decided my head was right where she needed to sit.  When she did relent it was close to 4 am and she decided she needed to go outside.  I could see it was still snowing but was too tired to really take notice.  This morning however it was impossible to ignore.  Even as tired as I grabbed the camera.

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Pre-coffee I stepped out to get the sun on the snow but just as I did a cloud over the sun. I decided to take a few anyway.  I will go out later I am sure and try to get some with a bit more direct sunshine.

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These two old Tamarac’s tower up just outside the kitchen window.  They stand as guardians over the yard.  We call them the old grandmothers.

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The only sound this morning was the little wood pecker who has until now been almost magical in its way of hiding from the camera.  Its not the best picture I might have dreamed of, but I’m happy to have gotten on of this little guy at all.

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Pictures do not show just steep the last leg of the drive up tot he cabin is, but its a good work up going up and down.

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Looking up the mountain behind the little cabin.

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