Category 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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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.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff

It has been most of the winter since James and I went out to take photos. The cold has kept us pretty close to home. Last week with the weather breaking for warmer temps we headed out. I thought I’d a share the favorite of the group and the one that is going to be printed in the local newspaper.

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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.

 

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.

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.

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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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.