Monthly Archives: May 2009

Groundbreaking Developments

The Solar Shower

I know it’s been too long between blog posts, but better late than never.  I loath using the generator and it seems like we’re constantly busy with something.  Such as…

The solar shower has been done for awhile now.  It works great, the water can even get a little too hot after a sunny day, but for the most part it’s perfect.  I’d like to get a shorter hose from the water barrel to the shower head so there’s not 2-3 minutes of cold water before the hot gets there.  Also, it’d be nice to have a solar panel up there and a couple batteries so we didn’t have to lug the generator up there.

The Solar Shower Room

In the shower room we modified a pallet and dug out a french drain to divert the water away.  I’d have like to divert it towards the garden but the land slopes the other way and it’d need to go through a greywater pond first anyway.  I also built a small bench out of a pallet and hung up a rope and some hooks.  We put some mulch down but we’d really like to get some old carpet turned rubber side up, but we haven’t come across any yet.

We’ve also put in 3 keyhole garden beds using a sheet-mulching technique.  It gives us about 550 square feet of garden right now.  We’re a little late planting some things, and the aged horse manure may be a little strong this first year, but we’ll probably have some good eats in a couple months.  I found a local source for the horse manure if we ever need any more.  The guy, Sam, also told me to stop by for a cold one some time.  We’re making friends already.

The first garden bed, before we put it in 2 more

Liz is still trying to get a chicken to sit on guinea hen eggs.  The kind of hens we’ve got are good for going broody, i.e., sitting and hatching eggs, but they’re too young.  We didn’t realize that they usually don’t do that until they’re a year or more old and ours are still in their first year.  She’s still looking for someone to buy an older broody hen from. Also we had a large animal break into the coop and eat our rooster about the 3rd night we had them. We moved them down to the camping area and haven’t had a problem so far. Liz is reinforcing the coop.

We had some great help from Justin a couple weeks ago, he spent 5 days out here and helped with a bunch of tough jobs like shoveling gravel for the garden road, digging some french drains around some bad areas of the camping area, etc.  Daniel has also been mulching like crazy and made the mulch for all the garden beds and covered the main tent areas really well.

The cleared rubble and cement posts

I’ve also built a new tent platform and hung a tarp over it for visitors when they come.  The platform is 8’x8’ which is about the size of a regular square 4-person tent.  I also hung a big tarp over the shower area so now hopefully we can collect some water for the shower and the garden when it rains.  Right now we’re filling 55-gallon drums at the city power plant where you put 25 cents in a machine and it floods out about 75 gallons in a few seconds.  It’s pretty impressive really, although the water has that chemical city taste so we’re using a Brita for drinking water.

We’re researching plans on how to build a bio-sand gravity fed water filter.  It seems pretty simple, we mainly just need to spend the time to do it.  The rain water we’re collecting right now is brown with pollen from the canopy of oaks we’re under.  We’re trying a couple of ways of filtering the water before it even gets to that point so we can use it for dish-washing and things like that.

Dragging away the cement pillar after being wenched

Also, I guess the big news is that we’ve finished clearing the building site out and are now in the process of digging the rubble trench.  That’s right, we’ve broken ground!  Clearing out the site was quite a task.  After removing all of the buried bricks and flag stone and then cutting back a lot of the trees and shrubs, we had to dig out about a dozen cedar posts and 6 cement foundation pillars.  I don’t know how we would have done it with out the come-along and chain graciously donated by my dad.

The digging is going better than expected since there are hardly any rocks at all, the roots are a little annoying but not too bad.  After almost 2 full days of digging, Daniel and I have the rubble trench about 80% dug, but it still needs to be level and tamped down.  We also need to dig the sub-floor and level it, which is probably going to take at least a couple days.  We decided to do a split-level floor so that we wouldn’t have to dig nearly as much dirt since one corner of the building site is about 2 feet lower than the upper corner.

Daniel looking over the first section of the rubble trench

Once it’s all level and tamped down good we’ll put down the drain pipe and tamp down gravel until a several inches below the surface and then start on the stem wall.  It’s amazing how far behind schedule I thought we were going to be right now but it’s looking like we’re only about 5 days behind schedule at most.

I also spent a day and cleared out about half of the tour route trail.  I got half way through the field slinging the weed whacker before I finally wore myself out.  It’s hard to say when I’ll get back to finish it.  It’ll probably be before one of the Saturday tours that have a lot of people.

The Rise of Tarpopolis

The Big Board

Once people began arriving out on the land things began to pick up and time for blog writing quickly vanished.  Liz got here about 2 weeks ago, my dad and Charlotte just left after spending a week here and bringing lots of tools and goodies as well as helping out a lot, building a solar oven, mulching, etc.  We’ve also met a great couple that lives right in Fulton, Melainia and Justin.  They’ve got a composting toilet in their house, keep chickens, and have a garden.  They both work at MU and Justin is in plant science and has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of plants.

There have been a number of large developments.  First, the driveway has now been graveled.  We still need another load which we’ll spot place on the trouble spots and use for some other projects as well as using it for the rubble trench foundation of the straw bale building.  No more stuck cars!  I just wish the gravel came from a dry creek bed instead of a quarry, but beggars can’t be choosers.

The composting toilet is now basically complete.  I would still like to add a hand-washing station on the side and I’m going to paint the front white so it matches the vinyl wrapped around it.  It seems to be working great, no smell or flies.  I’ve emptied the buckets into a simple pallet compost bin near the garden and it doesn’t even resemble… poop.  Just some brown sawdust textured material.

The Composting Toilet

Thanks to dad and Daniel the paths are quickly becoming mulched and are now mostly mud free.  Although we are going to have to dig some french drains, or ditches filled with gravel to keep them open, around the bigger communal tarps to divert some of the water that runs down and soaks the ground and makes things muddy.  We also need to patch some holes in the tarps.  There’s still a lot of brush to be mulched, especially for the garden, but we’ll get there.

There are now 3 tent platforms, Daniel moved into the 6-man tent my dad and Charlotte left for us and put his mattress in it.  Then there’s another platform that hasn’t been nailed together yet, and needs a tarp, but it’ll be used for visitors who camp out.  I also hung up a giant 15’x40’ billboard vinyl that now houses our nice kitchen setup and new screened-in picnic table.   I’ve taken to calling our little settlement Tarpopolis as the tarps spread through the forest.

Tao and the Rhode Island Reds

Liz built a chicken tractor and as of today we now have 4 Rhode Island Reds, 3 hens and 1 rooster to help expand the clan.  That brings our current population to 7 full-time residents.  We also picked up 6 fertilized guinea hen eggs, which we’re going to attempt to have the chickens hatch.

We really want the guineas because they eat a lot of ticks and range far and wide.  The problem is that adult guineas tend to leave and return home, normally you want them from babies and train them to come home to a coop at night for a feeding.  Another cool thing about them is that they can fly and so you can build an open-top fenced in area where they can fly into and be safe at night.

So we’re going to get the hens to hatch the guinea eggs we’re going to wait for the hens to lay a few of their own eggs and then switch them out with the guinea eggs because they take a week longer to hatch and then a week later we’ll put those eggs back.  At least I believe that’s the plan. So, if all goes well, the tick population is in for a massive decline and it couldn’t happen any sooner.

Wonder Wash and Eco-friendly detergent

The solar shower is the next big thing on the list, and I’ll be heading out to get some pieces I need and working on that tomorrow.  Clothes washing was another big thing that we didn’t have answer for until Melainia and Justin offered to let us use their little hand crank “Wonder Wash” machine that does a small load by turning a crank.  We haven’t tried it yet, but I think it’s a good temporary solution.

After the shower gets done we’ll be getting the garden going.  It seems like a million little jobs creep up on you and makes getting the main projects completed take a lot longer.  It’s all good as long as we can get started on the actual straw bale structure soon, hopefully in the next week we’ll be breaking ground.

So that’s it from here.  If anyone wants to come out we’re giving tours every Saturday at 2pm and we had our first meetup group meeting today which had a total of 6 people at it.  I think she’s planning on having the next meeting on May 23, but I’m not sure on that.