Category Archives: permeculture living

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.

 

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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chickens still in the greenhouse

This year spring has been in a long debate with winter whose turn it was. Just days ago we had six inches of snow. This high up however, while lilacs bloom down along the river we get frost every morning. It drives home, again, how difficult growing a garden in a zone 3 can be.

 

Inside the green house though it is warm enough the cool weather plants have been up for weeks. The unfortunate thing is that the chickens are still using a section as a coop and two in particular are very clever and naught. Julie Chicken and Katie Bird have escaped. Not once, not twice, but a dozen times and proceeded to tear u seeds, devour seedling and teach the others that out is better than in.

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Julie has even learned to escape the green house all together and look for better places to be. She is perhaps the most naughty bird I have ever met. At this point every three days or so I let them roam free. Sooner or later this will bring in wildlife from the mountain and Sterling, (lives down the hill) hates noise of all kinds and having Boots the rooster crowing in his driveway is not a good way to keep the peace.

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With them free to explore and a constant seeking of escape routes the seedlings have begun to grow with vigor.

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Flowers have come up now that the threat of chicken attacks have passed and the other plants have followed.

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There are places however that remain sprout-less as I have to plant and replant them. With bird netting and coop, hopefully repaired enough to hold until the long term coop is built, this time they might get to grow.

The gutter gardens are doing very well right now. As I have never used this style of alternative beds I am still experimenting with water and exactly what pants can and can not handle the heat to their roots.

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With room in the green house for plants to be kept over winter this year I am playing with warm zone plants. Various pond plants as well as lotus. I put the seeds in water three days ago and when they sprout I will be sure to keep you informed on their progress.  Some of those I ordered have fallen rather sadly into a state of abuse as they had no time to adjust and even int eh green house water barrels they got too cold but now with the weather finally starting to warm they are putting out new leaves and starting to recover. This year will be bursting with life and I will be sure to keep you posted.

Spring 2017, a dozen and more projects.

This winter, while not as cold as some, the cold has lasted. Nightly, falling well below zero neighbors across the state have had frozen water and drains. Not just those in rural areas but towns and cities have had water simply creep to a frozen standstill. Up here on the mountain water has remained the same for us. Off grid certainly has its advantages.

The cold has however, eaten up the wood stack impressively. Last week when the weather gave us a break and we got above freezing it was cause for days outside. A dozen spring projects to began in a flurry of activity not seen since the last few days before the snow arrived. img_20170121_193401_714The unsold wreaths came down to start with. The ornaments and now dry boughs were all unwound and put away for next season. Thor decided the big ones made great beds after a day chasing snow balls and helping haul wood.

Large boxes from costso we turned into new indoor nest boxes for the ladies. They loved them at once and eggs started to show up.

img_20170121_192921_172The big dead tree by the driveway came down, was bucked up, hauled up the driveway via sled, and split. Shane came up to cut down the old Pondarosa as my chainsaws have deiced to stop running. They are both in need of carburetor, work so they look useful, but for now they do little. James and I saw to the rest of the tree and got it all stacked in one long afternoon. The beetle killed pine split so easy we had to remind ourselves not to chop it too small.

The deck had to be shoveled of snow and ice from almost record breaking snow fall. Of course a sled hill had to be tested… img_20170131_195319_546…sticks had to be tested for strength and bonfires had to be built.

We had four glorious sunfilled days before the snow returned last night and buried us under another foot. We will be back inside the rest of the week finishing up the long overdue sheet-rock in the Little Cabin.

Yesterday, however, was stunning. I woke up to a dozen types of birds all greeting spring, chipmunks were chirping, and the squirrels shouting their chatter. Thor hasn’t been so excited to get outside since the snow first arrived. I let him out and sat down to have coffee before James woke up.

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After seeing to morning chores it was warm enough out the greenhouse to sit down for projects without even needing to build a fire.

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The beadwork my grandma had started before she passed away this fall I finished while the chickens debated if it was truly spring or not.Craft supplies from the last homeschool kid co-op visit were sorted and put back in their drawers, and most of the glitter swept up. (I doubt it will ever be truly all gone. By time that happens I am sure a handful of little girls will be back for another art workshop.)

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Thor on guard duty. he likes the snow this year if for no other reason than he can sit up very high and watch the driveway.

Waking up to snow this morning was very pretty but I will be glad for the next day with sunshine and thawing weather. I count the days to get the first seeds into the ground int he greenhouse. The thermometer is in the ground. It will be soon.

 

Work on the Little Cabin

Its Dec 2016 and work on the cabin is ongoing. It is easy to look at Youtube or many blogs and think how wonderful off-grid must be. There are challenges! One of them is working in a teeny tiny budget, say less than $600 a month and most of that pays mortgage; I assure you cops do not care if you’re off-grid when they ask for your car insurance. Bills don’t vanish over night. That translates to working on projects is not only as-time-allows but as-money-permits. What might take only a few weeks of man power takes years when you find your budget transformed. 15800905_1500616399968208_1254370982_n

 

This year James went to visit his father for an extra week as his GED studies have gotten ahead of the schedule we had set out. As he will be there for his 15th birthday I wanted to try and get the loft a bit more teenage boy appropriate, aka… sheet-rocked.

Shane offer to help me so when James gets home he will find his ‘bedroom’ vastly closer to finished. The last couple of years the loft has become mostly storage space and i have been sleeping up there as it is simply suffocatingly hot and James would rather sleep on the couch.

Having a wall to separate the loft and main space has always been the plan but has never been real high on the priority list… until now! He is too tall for the couch and I need to sleep!

Yesterday I drove to Missoula to get sheetrock and today started with pulling down all the storage. Man, oh man, can I pack a small space! The rest of the house is packed! I will be going through every box and either it will be stored int he greenhouse or gotten rid of. Too much stuff. Lessons of tint house living is: it must have a purpose no matter how pretty it might be, or how long you have had it, if its not useful it must go.

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My mother and sister both wanted to see the work so I promised to make a video. I thought I;d go ahead and share it.  … If i can figure out how…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryMB0i6orl8

Let me know if that works.