Tag Archives: offgrid

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.

 

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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Leaking Pond

This spring, as snow began melting off, rain falling, and  the spring running high I have been watching and wonder why the pond is not brimming over. A few weeks ago James and I discovered a few thin slashes that we packed a bit of clay in as a stop gap. We theorize it was maybe made by a dog’s claw, a kids toy, or some other strange accident. It was after all just a few thin slashes. Maybe, we hoped, the clay would be enough to mend it and if not, once it warms up enough I could patch it.

The pond however, still seemed to be going down, so I shut the spring water off and waited; watched. The water kept falling. Rain fell for two week, three feet of snow melted and still the pond level steady went down. Today I went out, hose in hand to wash away sand, clay, the last bits of ice and I discovered the reason.

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Once again packrats are the bane of my life on the mountain. I have at most been annoyed at the bears, the wolves have never bothered me, the deer are too jumpy to be much trouble, and while the chipmunks cause havoc in the garden, it is the packrats who test my efforts not to declare war on a species.

I imagine that about mid-December after weeks of subzero weather and record snow levels the smug little rodent realized that what he thought was a clever home, tucked in a small pocket of air, under a rock, and a pond-liner had become not so great when there was six feet of snow and ice on top of you and no way out with no way for air to get in.

So, no. Clay will not fix this. I will be needing a rather large section of pondliner. I will need the weather to nice and warm so I get both the set liner and the path to be warm enough to press well enough together that the sealer will make a good match. The weather might just be warm enough on Wednesday. If the sun actually shines n the black it will be and I can get it fixed. Fingers crossed. 60 with rain will not do, but at least I have the liner cleaned and enough left over to patch it. Finger crossed this is the only place.

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.

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!

 

 

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.