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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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.

 

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

After a few months hiatus, with the snow coming down and the forest a deep quiet, I am back in the swing of things. This year spring has come early, the ice has melted off he driveway and the last f the snow hangs on only on the mountain tops. The danger of forest fires is already a major topic around town but for me spring is a time of winters plans getting put into motion and a daily check on the gardens to see just what has spouted.

Already the birds are back, the black birds and robins, last year little window tappers are back as well. The creek is rushing, the river is high, and the skunks are out. The plans for the year are rushing forward. The pond liner will get laid next week, the mill comes in to turn down trees into lumber, and the green house is marked out.

This year the plan has become to make the green house a source of income. As the chemical sensitivity gets worse typical jobs become less of an option with each passing day. It is going to going up as fast as we an make it happen and fingers crossed we can get it done and growing things n time for farmers markets. There will be pictures soon. Pictures of ponds, of green houses and of growing things. Certainly there will be pictures of wild flowers and work on the Little Cabin.

Today though I head to work at the little grocery store down the mountain and try to get through another week.

 

Morning Walk

After getting a new job, that doesn’t feel like a new job at all, (not the first little grocery store I have worked at, just a different little town) I have found myself working open till close several days n a row.  Today I don’t need to be there until 2 pm so I had time to take my morning coffee for a walk up the mountain.

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All over the mountain things are alive and in bloom.  From up here I can hear the birds from across the valley and down along the creek.

june 2014 042Coffee in one hand, camera in the other, getting focus was a bit of a challenge but I dared not set the mug down or Thor was sure to knock it over.  A little higher up I found the wild roses. While down below they have already dropped their petals, up here they were just opening up.

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I couldn’t resist taking ‘just one more’ picture.

june 2014 037They cover a large section of the mountain side, making it difficult to hike that way but this time of year its rather amazing to see, but not so impressive in a photo.

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Hiking down stopped at the garden to check on the everything.  The little guys have begun to pop up and are rapidly catching up with the plants in garden further down the mountain.  We still get pretty chilly at night and have only recently stopping having frost in the morning.

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Later today I will put the squash and cucumbers in.  Despite being knocked over and spilled out several times by Thor the Naughty Puppy they are good and ready for the ground.  I have no idea what is what at this point but they are all welcome in my mountainside garden.  It will be a fun surpise to see what each one turns out to be.

little projects

may 2015 002The garden has gotten its first real round of work. I left a couple little rose bushes and some balms root as it is a very edible plant, and got the seeds in.  I was running the hose down from the spring itself for a few days but the water flow was just little more than a trickle by time it got all the way down tot he garden.  After I hooked the hose to the water barrel, (not to the pump) messed with the lay out of the hose, and got the air locks out of the line, the problem was solved!

june 2015 012Water Pressure!  Yeah for gravity.    Up at the little cabin I got the new pump hooked up.  It is a good deal smaller than the one I had before.  I want to use it a bit before I write about that, but its in, so washing hands and dishes just became a lot easier!

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The weather has been getting hot enough that soon it will be a perfect day for dressing up the spring, getting the box over it and beginning to dig the permanent lines.  Once that is done then the only real project for the water system (at least for this year) will be to build the solar hot water heater.  The copper pipe is still in a pile, just need to get the solder and the ‘T’s’ to put the base together.  The insulation board and the glass are waiting against the green house as well.  One project always tends to lead to another.