Category Archives: permeculture living

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.






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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!




This summer has been crazy. It started all with a seeming utter collapse of health that led to my having to leave a great little job at the small town- family owned store. However, that in turn allowed for several things to happen all at once. The first and most consuming was that Shane had the opportunity to tear down a rather large green house and take it away. So as i was saying I needed to build one and seek to making a living growing herbs and veggies he shrugged and said he could help me make that happen. Tearing it down took us only a few weekends but the design was … shall we say… not well thought out.

After a little reworking and the use of an excavator the work began. Sonnet tubes set to help stabilize it no matter what weather gets thrown at the mountain. All the lumber cleared of nails and soon the posts will go up. I don’t think it will be done before the end of next month this gem will be year round and offer the smell of green and earth even in the long winter months this far north.

The green house hasn’t been the only project. The Little Cabin is getting face lift with wrap around decks (decking from the greenhouse that does not fit into the new plan) and the pond is under way. This week I hope to get the last few touches onto the drain and then the rest of the fill can happen.

James has begun to study for his GED as well as working on designs for his own room. It will be a small space but his. Gabbion walls will support bottle and cob walls, with a sod roof. Its hard work to build the walls but it will stand up to just about anything when we are done.

I also have had time to begin to edit again and pick up art that I have been remiss of in the last few years. Glass paint, pencil sketches (when my hands allow) and even a bit of clay… oh for a kiln and wheel. Today i will be working on the water tanks and securing them for winter so this year I need not haul water when -20 hits.

I haven’t posted for a bit as I hate to do so without pictures and a friend ‘helped’ me set up a google photo account and now I must learn how to access my photos for use anywhere else. If any of you know how to do that, Let Me Know! As soon as I figure it out, my usual number of photos, of work as well as the landscape will return.


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.


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.)


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.


After an evening of dealing poker (yes, Another, part time job) I joined the fire outside, table put away, chips locked up and shift over.  Standing around, most the people with a can of domestic beer in hand, enjoyed the unlikely pleasant October weather.  All of them I have known for years and could have followed any of a dozen conversations about the fire.  My conversation how ever went to my friend Joe. He and I talked about my rather shocking lack of firewood as of yet and other details of the little cabin.  In his 80’s Joe is one of the most generous men I have never met and he suggested I go up and check out his “junk yard”.  “…up the hill and past the old trailer, see what you find,” he said with a smile and a chuckle.  Today I will be heading up and see what gift he has in mind to put towards my projects.

After he stepped back inside to get himself another Kokanee a man I have known for several years gave me an odd look. “You really are doing it aren’t you?” he said with a very perplexed tone.

“Doing what?”

“The off grid thing.  You are seriously going to do it.  You truly want to.”

“Yes.  I am seriously doing it and yes,I actually want to.”


Why is a good question.  It is a question that anyone who is thinking about stepping away from the grid needs to truly think about.  There is always a very romanticised approach to off grid living, the tiny house movement and even home-school.  All these things I do and while I happy with each choice not everyone is going to be.

So why have I made this choice?  Firstly and beyond most peoples choice is the fact that the older I get the more sensitive to chemicals of all sorts I must get further from them.  That however, is not enough to make a person love the life style.  I truly believe that it is a spiritual need to know the sound of the forest, to seek to give back to a suffering planet and to stop being part of the abuse. A person can not wave their banners, and stomp their feet expecting things to change if they leave their starbucks cup on the side walk, drive their SUV back too their suburban house, turn on the sprinklers to water the lawn and watch fox new while they microwave dinner.  For those that don’t know how to start making a shift it starts with little things and a simple awareness of the world around you.

It is beyond choice to me at this point.  To be a part of that system is painful to me both physically and spiritually. We do not need to burn coal, we do not need to pull oil from the earth, we do not need to rush from task to task with the white noise of hate mongers and false wars being made into nothing but ratings.  We can be good to each other and to Gia and still have lights that turn on, internet to connect us, music of a thousand genres at a touch of a button, the freedom to travel around the world or even just down the road to visit a neighbour.

Every piece of food you put in your mouth, every piece of clothes, every square foot of space you occupy is a choice. If you are reading this blog you are aware, at least on some level, that there is another way of doing things.  If more people stepped off grid without becoming hermits and cut off from the world it would become easier for others to do so as well.  When my sister comes out to show her nephews that there is a place where there is neither cell service or flushing toilets it changes his awareness just a little.  So when people ask me why my answer is not all this, or nearly so long.  I simply say

“Because I can; because its right for me.”

It is not right for everyone or sadly not obtainable for what ever reason but if you cant take that leap at least try to be aware, support laws that help others to do it, stand up for them.  From gardens in the front yard, to solar panels, rain barrels to backyard chickens, all of this under pressure to be denied to all with the stroke of a pen from corrupt or simply ignorant governments.  When I mention laws and the ever building move against off grid, sustainable, and the first steps towards either, people often ask me if I vote and what party do I belong to.  I vote at local government levels, I attend town councils meeting and if the laws did not deny me I would likely run for the council.  I vote for the sheriff, I vote for the governor, but do I vote on a national level? No.  I do not. I do not, because not only does my vote mean nothing, it is not who votes that matters but who counts the votes. I will not vote for someone I do not believe is being handled or controlled by greed.  The “party” I follow is Ubuntu.  If you do not know what that means it is time you learn.  Take the time to learn and consider it, to imagine a world that we could have with such a shift of focus.

Duct tape shoes – project 3

july 2014 026This afternoon my sister came to visit with her family.  My little nephew, the youngest, was asleep on the way and his shoes were forgotten.  As the yard is still mostly shale and not so nice to walk on this was very sad for him.  Duct tape saves the day.  I grabbed four sheets of paper and a roll of duct tape.  The paper I folded to the size of the bottom of his foot and in under 7 minutes (my sister timed it) we had shoes!  grandpa slipper style but with a back strap.  july 2014 027He was so happy he couldn’t even wait for me to take a pic of the little shoes before he was out fo the chair and after the “big boys” july 2014 035modern mountain living tip #3 Always carry duct tape.  You never know when you will need it.     

Work on the Cabin – July

Taking a simple box and deciding the shape it will take has a certain gratification when that shape starts to take shape.  The long pieces of the counter top purchased at the re-store took a couple cuts and they began to be put in place. 

may 2014 004

The options, even in a small space are as limited as the imagination and a persons willingness to forego the idea that size means worth.  After spending enough time in the space and knowing that the loft will be home to a boy who is only going to get bigger one thing was set for certain.  His steps up to the loft needed to be in the enter to avoid hitting his head.  The steps also needed to not be in the center of the room, so not off the loft edge.  The third thing is that they needed to be steps not a ladder.  For now the ladder remains but my knees can barely do them now and in the years to come it’s likely to only get more difficult. 

Today we got the counter top in, the frame for the bathroom wall(door size yet unknown, so that is not framed in yet) ladder moved, and stove set into place. 

 july 2014 055The sink will be under the first window, and cut to size when the right sink is found.  The little kitchen is starting to pull together and gives the little cabin a much more home like feeling.  The propane is not yet hooked up.  The back splash or behind the stove (and a bit of extra counter top) tucked under the counter.  The back splash will go in after the insulation, water, and copper for the propane has been run.  july 2014 061With the hole cut and ladder screwed in the batteries for the tools were about dead so we went outside.  The hose that ran from the spring straight down the mountain to the green house and 5 gallon bucket we reran.  Following the slope of the mountain to the back of the cabin where the water barrels will reside we set the first 55 gallon bucket up to fill.  For now it is just a hoes but with most projects that will be revamped into something much more efficient and weather tolerant.  july 2014 057It will be a fun project to see how long it takes to fill, dump it out in a pre-seal rinse before the basic plumbing and the water pump go on.  It was a long hot day but one of those great days that when you step back you can see what you did for the day and better, do have done it with your 12 year old son.  Good day on the mountain indeed.