Category Archives: tiny house

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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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.

 

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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