Tag Archives: off grid

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.

20180513_104746

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.

20180513_111342

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.

20180513_120850

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.

20180513_121522

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.

20180501_192225

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.

20180407_131457

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.

20180225_175708

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.

img_20170130_163441_462

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.

20180405_165337

20180328_172822

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.

20180418_16484120180402_12202020180411_163125

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.

20180418_164419

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.

 

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.

1493928101133 (1)

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.

1493919118083

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

orca-image-1495499798929.jpg_1495499803946

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

orca-image-1495499698749.jpg_1495499699502

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.

orca-image-1495499773258.jpg_1495499774283

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.

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.

14706047468911

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.

14706252125991

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.

14712198411261

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.

14723575695451

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.

14256306_1368796183150231_1965245318_n

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!

 

 

Summer

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.

 

One day to the next

Montana weather is known to change suddenly and extremely.  That is very true in the spring when you live up in the mountains.  You can go from t-shirt weather back to coat and gloves in a matter of moments and back again just as fast.  This April has not disappointed on that level.
april 2015 003The snow was surprisingly deep when we got up  in the morning but by the time I had coffee and headed out with the camera most of it had melted off. It was still definitely cool enough to need a fire in the house.

april 2015 005

To days later the sky has cleared and the sun came out. Not only was it t-shirt weather it was tank top weather!

april 2015 021