Monthly Archives: April 2009

Slow but Steady

Liz should be getting here tomorrow evening sometime.  I’ve been missing her even with the video chatting at night, not to mention I’m starting to get a little lonely.  It wouldn’t be so bad if I could go into town, but the truck is stuck in the mud.  I was hoping that would be over by now, but the gravel people still haven’t come and the truck is only 2-wheel drive.  I spent 45 minutes getting it out earlier, moved 10 feet and got stuck again so I decided to just wait for the ground to dry out.

Truck in the mud

The truck itself is really nice.  I can’t thank my step-dad Gary enough for trading with me.  I’ve got a list of things I need to get with it and the trailer, but it’ll have to wait at least until tomorrow, maybe the next day even.  My life has never revolved so much around the weather before, and although it can be a little frustrating, it seems natural and right.

For instance, I knew it was going to rain for a couple days so I threw out some cover crop in the area where the garden will be.  Mainly I put the cover crop seed down where I didn’t think we get to making garden beds this year.  I went out there today and I could already clearly see the stuff shooting up.  Pretty impressive, especially since there are quite a few native grasses, herbs, and flowers already taking over.  I’m still a little concerned that the cover crop won’t be able to compete, but we’ll see.

Composting toilet frame with bark

I had planned on going into town and picking up a bunch of pallets and stuff for the composting toilet today, but the truck was still stuck.  So instead I did what I could on the composting toilet, which wasn’t too bad.  I sunk the remaining 3 cedar posts and got the pallet which will be the sub-floor raised, leveled, and nailed in.  I also stripped the cedar bark off the posts, which I probably should have done before hand, but it didn’t seem to want to come off then.  Once I finally got it going it was like pulling string cheese apart.

I’m pretty proud of the little stand I’ve got so far.  It’s sturdy and I think it looks nice.  I’m going to try to find some sort of recycled wood to make the walls out of, but I’m going to buy some more plywood to make the actual toilet part out of.  We’re gonna be pooping in style in no time.

Debarked composting toilet frame

The other thing I did today was take down a couple trees out in the garden area that needed to come out because they were seriously blocking southern exposure.  I also widened the access way so that a truck can get back in there now, although it’ll need some gravel on it too.

There’s a ton of brush everywhere, big piles of it along the driveway, in the garden, and on the building site.  It’s really a 2-person task making mulch.  It would really help to have one person preparing the wood so that it would fit into the chipper and the other person feeding it in.  There’s a lot of it that needs to be done, and I don’t think we’ll need to mulch all of it.  There’s a good bit that’s too big to be mulched and too crooked or small to be used for anything else so we’ll have a good ol’ fashioned bonfire here at some point.  Although I do plan on leaving a few small piles of brush here and there as wildlife habitat, especially around the garden.

Things are definitely taking longer than I expected, even with anticipating that it would take longer than I expected.  We’re probably not going to really get started on the straw bale building until the middle of May.  That’ll be alright though, we should have a nice base camp by then and that still gives a month of flex time on the construction.

Week 1

Big tent on bigger platform

Every day seems like a vast improvement over the last.  Today I expanded my tent platform, raised and reinforced the billboard tarp over it, and put the 8-person tent Liz and I bought last year up on it.  It’s actually something you could spend a decent amount of time in now.

I also got tired of not being able to find tools, parts, and things not to mention looking at the massive pile of disordered stuff under the main tarp.  It took me several hours but I finally got it looking reasonable.  I moved the 4-person tent I’d been sleeping in under the main tarp and loaded it up with well-sorted tools and other hardware odds and ends.  I then used the other half of the main tarp to set up a kitchen and table, which I’m cooking myself some potatoes and onions on right now.

Organized stuff under main tarp

The chipper I bought didn’t come with a draw-string bag that’s supposed to go over where the mulch comes out to catch it.  I tried putting a bucket under it but it just blasted in and right out.  I called grocery stores and feed stores looking for burlap bags, but no luck.  Finally it was up to my own ingenuity so I took some billboard scraps and sewed it into a simple bag with some old twine I found in a tree from when we were here last fall.  Then I punched a bunch of holes in it and wove a bungee cord around the opening end to hold it on to the chipper chute.  It works great.

Chipping takes a bit longer than I’d hoped.  Mainly because I have to trim a lot of the branches off some of the wood and it doesn’t chew the stuff up super fast either, especially the bigger stuff, but it works.  I’ve started putting the mulch down on the paths, mainly right in front of my tent so far, but once I make some more mulch I’ll do the main path.

Mulch bag made from billboard vinyl and string

Yesterday I spent the entire day clearing out the driveway so that the gravel people’s dump trucks could get down it and lay the gravel.  They needed it 12’ wide by 12’ tall.  The way the road was before was very closed in and it had a good feel to it.  That also made it very time consuming to clear out and now it’s not nearly as cozy feeling.  I suppose it’ll grow back or we could plant some shrubs and vines along the sides to make it feel nicer.  Anyway, there’s plenty of fuel for the wood chipper now.

The gravel guys should be out here early next week and that’ll be first big improvement I feel like.  Although, just having the camp site set up and reasonably comfortable has been big.  My next task is get the composting toilet built.  I’ve sunk one of the four cedar trunks that’ll be the frame.

I took a shower at our family friends’ house down the road yesterday.  It was the first time in 6 days and I really needed it after clearing the driveway.  It was almost 80 degrees outside and since I was sweating all the sawdust, bark, and dirt just stuck to me.  Before that I wasn’t too bad.  I think the ideal temperature for working outside is in the low 60’s.  Once you get your heart rate up it feels perfect and I don’t sweat very much.

So, yeah, my next big project after the composting toilet is the solar shower because it’ll make life a lot happier.  I’m going to get some straw bales and build a small greenhouse type thing around one of the black 55-gallon drums and then fill it with water I haul in from a pumping station in town.  I’m thinking I can extend the greenhouse part a little and the water in the tank will mediate the temperature at night and keep it warmer in there for whatever warm-weather plants I might want to grow in there.

Tomorrow I’m off to meet up with my mom and step-dad in Oklahoma, which is just about half way from their place in Texas.  I’m swapping my little civic for Gary’s truck.  That’ll make things a lot easier, I won’t have to take as many trips with the little trailer and I can finally start on the garden with some loads of compost.

By the way, I also got a PO Box in town today.  You can find it on the Contact Us page, but it’s PO Box 876 Fulton, MO 65251.

Day 3

It’s day 3 and I’m finally spending the night in a tent.  The car was fine the first night but the last 2 were pretty uncomfortable.  I wanted to wait until I had a tent platform built, which I had done by yesterday evening but then got caught up video chatting with Liz until it was dark and then I didn’t feel like setting it up with a headlamp.

I’ve already started to fall into a groove.  I go to sleep early, like around 10 and get up with the sun around 6-6:30.  Nothing is open so I can’t make calls or go get supplies, and I don’t want to break the still of the early morning with a generator or chainsaw so I’ve been clearing brush in a few spots I’d like to have people camp.  It’s probably the only time I’ve ever felt like George Bush.

Then I’ve been running around like crazy getting things from the storage unit, the hardware store, and picking up free pallets, and billboard vinyl wraps, and sawdust.  I’d read and heard that these things were easy to get but hadn’t really thought they would be.  I called a custom cabinet place nearby and they had bags and bags of sawdust, so I went over and grabbed 2 40lb bags for the composting toilet.

Tent on pallet platform

The pallets are everywhere once you start looking.  They’re hiding out behind lumber yards by the hundreds.  I bought a couple pieces of plywood and screwed them down to some pallets, and poof, a tent platform.  I also put a water sealant on it so it’ll hopefully last longer and didn’t nail the pieces together so each piece of plywood is on top of 2 pallets and can be easily dragged individually by one person if they need to be moved to a different camping spot.  And, I screwed the plywood on so I could easily take the plywood off and use it for something else if I needed to.

It’s really nice inside the tent.  I don’t have to worry about things falling over.  I feel dry and warm, and the floor is nice and smooth, no twigs or roots poking me in the back.  I’m looking around on craigslist for all kinds of things, but one of them is a twin and queen mattress.  I’ll put the queen in Liz and I’s tent and when she gets here, and just get the twin in the small guess tent for whoever.  Now that’s camping in style.

I also drove down toward the Lake of the Ozarks today to pick up some old vinyl billboard wraps.  It was a little farther than I expected, but I at least got to see some of Jefferson City and the touristy Osage Beach area.  I haven’t even looked at what all the vinyl wraps say yet.  They’re pretty massive and the bigger ones are hard to lift.  The one I did open had SUVs on it.  Who knew they were good for something?

Vinyl billboard wrap

I’m planning on putting them up over the tent platforms so everything stays nice and dry.  I’ll probably have to cut the bigger ones.  They’re like 16’x40′ and super thick.  It’s funny you can even see the photoshop .psd filename on the outer edges that are normally hidden from when they printed it on some kind of massive billboard printer.  I’m going to try to find somewhere closer that I can get them from, and also I’d like to see if they have any of the plywood panels from the older type billboards.  The place I went to today had some I saw over in a pile but they looked like they were in pretty rough shape having been left outside uncovered.

I got stuck in the mud a couple days ago, but managed to rock myself out.  I called the gravel people to come out and they said I needed to clear out the driveway so that their was 12′ of clearance both horizontally and vertically for the dump truck to dump the gravel.  So that’ll be another half day or so of brush clearing.  It’ll be nice not driving through all the mud and ruts when it’s done though.

Tomorrow I’m going in to Columbia to see about this 8 hp wood chipper I found on craigslist.  If it goes well I’ll be able to mulch that brush and use it for the garden and the paths around the campground.  If there’s room I’ll probably pick up another 55 gallon drum or two while I’m in Columbia.  There’s a recycling place there that sells them for $6.

Composting toilet initial stages

My other big project is getting the composting toilet built.  I’ve already sunk one of the 4 cedar posts that’ll hold it up off the ground and form the frame for the walls.  It’s quite a task, but enjoyable work.  I find building stuff in general, especially something as environmentally friendly as a nice composting toilet out of recycled materials very rewarding.

The journalism students came out on my first day and interviewed me and I gave them a tour of the property.  They were here for hours and they even came back to re-shoot some stuff the next day.  It went well and the story is supposed to run in the Missourian some time next week.  I’ll post a link to it when it comes out.

Showing them around made the need to clear up the tour route very obvious.  I’ll try to get to that somewhere between getting the garden going and starting on the straw bale place.  I’ve pretty much decided to give one tour a week on Saturdays at 2pm.  It’s quite a walk and takes awhile so I don’t want to be doing it all the time.

The creek was higher than I’d ever seen it when we went walking around and it was beautiful.  I don’t think I’ve ever been out here during Spring as an adult.  I’ve always come during the heart of summer, but there are quite a few flowers, both on the ground and on the trees.  You can also see a long way off without all the leaves on the trees.


Well, I pulled onto the land this evening and hung a large tarp in the trees where we stayed last summer with the help of a head lamp and the car headlights.  It’s been raining here, but I lucked out and it hasn’t rained since although it’s supposed to tomorrow and the next day maybe.   I’m overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions.  Relief at finally being here, anxiety at the amount of work to do and figuring out what needs to be done next, excitement over the amount of work to do and figuring out what needs to be done next.

I already hate our gas generator with a passion.  It’s like running a lawn mower.  It drowns out the relaxing sounds of owls, frogs chirping, crickets, etc and makes me feel deaf.  I can’t wait for solar.

Tomorrow some journalism students from the University of Missouri are coming out to see everything and interview me.  I’d normally want a little more time to get things in order but they have to turn their report in by the beginning of this next week so I said sure.  They wanted to see the beginning, they’ll get the beginning. A guy in the woods with a tarp over his head.

I’m waiting to set up the tent until I can build a simple stand for it.  Bradley, a guy building an rammed earth bag house in Tennesse where I crashed last night on the way out here recommended it and I agree.  Being up off the ground will help keep things drier, cleaner, and it’ll be nice to have a flat surface to set things down on.

He also gave me some great ideas for replacement tarps.  Apparently a lot of billboards have their advertisements printed on giant pieces of thick vinyl that they just throw away afterwards.  It’s like a super tarp that lasts way longer than regular store-bought tarps.  Plus, who doesn’t want to see a Whopper on their ceiling every day.  Oh, maybe that’s a minus.

I’m thinking part of my preparation for visitors and getting things rolling will be to get some of those pieces of vinyl or more used tarps from places so that people will have nice places to set their tents up.   It’ll give me a good opportunity to lay out the camping area how I’d like it too.

I also realized with the first tour coming tomorrow that I’m going to need to at least clear out a decent foot path from the old cabin, along the path where the road will be, through the field where the ecovillage center will be, down the road to the lake and back out.  I already warned the journalism students that they’d be walking through the woods basically and that it might be raining.

The other big items on my to-do list are to dig a little drain ditch for a few of the bigger puddles on the road in here.  Then I need to call about having some gravel laid down, preferrably something from a dry creek bed instead of a quarry for environmental reasons.  Then I’ll start work on the first composting toilet, and then the solar shower, a small make-shift tool shed, a small garden, and then start on the house.  It’s gonna be a busy year.