In Goes the Garden

After many long projects this summer, our garden went in.  Several raised huegelkulture beds made with logs from the pine trees around us too big for firewood.

On the main swayle, on contour, we planted garlic and saffron. On the other three mounds, Jeruselam artichoke. We’re mulching with alpaca manure and pine needles for acidity.

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We’ll see it again next spring!

The Road to Abundance

 photo DSC03883_zpsnwiejcod.jpgVigorous sourdough on the counter. “My cup runneth over…” (Psalm 23:5)

This was a fun weekend, with plenty to do.  We relaxed a lot too.

First it was a lazy night at home.  Then Saturday, in lieu of the Rebecca Farms Horse Show, we stayed home to pound fence and rebuild the chicken coop door.  I was surprised that I was able to piece-meal it together with wood scraps lying around the property. Good ‘nough!

My new commercial crayfish trap caught four nice sized water-dwellers, which we cooked up for Sunday night finger snacks (I’ll try fish offal next time as bait for a better catch).  That was after harvesting a couple gallons of huckleberries.  Those will be in our Sunday pancakes every week this year.

 photo DSC03895_zpsvx31wjj6.jpgCrawfish on a silver platter. photo DSC03898_zpscmjkfbeg.jpgYum.  With garlic olive oil.

My Icelandic chicken eggs are in the incubator, but my failures are pretty high.  Of 16 eggs, only 6 look promising now.  It’s my first time, and the seller told me 50% loss with shipped eggs is common. If we lose a few closer to hatching, I may be lucky to get five chickens. That might give me a sound chance at a breeding pair, but…

As we picked huckleberries yesterday, we talked about ways to make money with the property.  First and foremost, we discussed ways to reduce costs with our investments.

One of the areas in our budget most amenable is our food budget, most especially our egg costs.  We buy local eggs from a farmer and currently pay $3.50 per carton.  That seems reasonable to us for quality eggs.

But we eat a lot of eggs.  Two a day, each, plus some in our salads comes out to three dozen a week, or fifteen dozen a month = $52.50!

Now, shipped eggs cost me $60 for 16, plus $20 to rent the incubator. Shipped chicks would have cost: ~$250.  So let’s say I didn’t mess it all up with the incubator and went straight for the chicks.  Buying the chicks would cost the same as paying for five month’s worth of eggs.

So let’s say we take $250 from our savings, and invest it into the egg project on our own property and ask ourselves for a 20% return on our own investment. Order the chicks and begin producing eggs within about four months.

Over the following six months (ten months total now), we begin to repay our savings with the money we would have spent on eggs.  That builds our savings another $50 in the end and cuts our egg cost permanently, all in less than a year!

Plus, what else are we going to do with all those kitchen scraps, fish parts from our ocean salmon trip this fall, and that 30 lbs. of sausage that turned out poorly last year?  I also received 5 lbs of winter cereal rye seed to cover crop over our french drain project when we finish, which I hope will provide winter forage for the chickens.  I want to minimize or eliminate chicken feed costs by recycling our wastes to the chickens.

The problem is the solution!

Another few weeks until hatch.  We may buy the chicks to come in at the same time.  We can’t wait for chickens!

The Cat Strikes One

This morning, I awoke to the sound of a bull elk bugling across the way. In previous mornings we have heard cows and calves as well.  South of our property, perhaps 20 yards, is an elk run which hundreds of elk use annually.  The property across from us has acted as a sort of elk preserve for decades, but the land is in new hands now.  We’ll see what happens next.

I was also pleased to find a dead mouse under our bed upon waking. I was so proud.

A neighbor with a bachelors in zoology told me that cats will chase mice to make their owners proud, and admonished us to lavish affection on the cat who completes the task.  So I did, and it’s funny.  Winter will go out of her way to hunt when I’m awake and asleep, but it does seem strangely as if she’s doing it for us.  What a good girl.

The dead mouse now sits in her breakfast dish, which I hope gets the point across that she’s more than welcome to eat it.  That would help our feed costs.

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I am continuing my permaculture education with Paul Wheaton’s podcasts, of which he has produced over 300 hours.  Although he offers them free online you can get the whole shebang here, with:

  • All 4 of the Wood Burning Stoves 2.0 4-DVD set
  • All 3 of the World Domination Gardening 3-DVD set
  • 340 podcasts which includes the rocket mass heater podcasts
  • +more.

For our fall project we plan to build a Rocket Mass Heater on the dollar, since a winter’s worth of firewood sits ready for us already, but with the effort of a little construction we can make that wood last five years instead of one.

Meet the Camelids!

Welcome home the crew!

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Ashley and I have dreamed of owning alpacas since we moved to Montana together and were married.  Montana, with its cold winters, well simulates the environment of the high mountains of Peru from which alpacas come. They are ruminants, of the Camelid family, including Monte, the big lama of the group.  The three alpaca are named Orion (the brown boy), and Snickerdoodle and Zaccharia (the white girls).

 photo 13498075_1196285357061839_2354556731069759189_o_zpstirg34uo.jpgOrion doesn’t know he’s been snipped.  He still thinks he’s got the stuff.

 photo 13502841_1196284610395247_5858807062323503863_o_zpsurp8merv.jpgThe girls we could breed.  They were all recently shorn.

Ashley began spinning several years ago, already an adept at the skills of crochet and yarn.  If you didn’t know, alpaca fiber produces some of the best wool in the world, being softer, lighter and much warmer than traditional sheep’s wool.  So once processed and spun, they make excellent winter garments and accessories useful for those frosty winter days up here.

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Monte is also our herd defender.  We have heard lamas described as “mid-level security” for areas with a medium-density predator pressure, such as ours.  The former property owners had lamas and claimed to never have issues with predators.  However, in certain seasons we could still encounter: coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, black bears or even a grizzly bear.

So we’ll be reinforcing our fences to discourage the predators, including the use of an electric line (already installed for us!) on the outside of the fence.  It’s still an unfair fight for Monte who will defend the others, because dog packs can still jump fence and will use strategies of decoying and flanking the would-be guardians to get to the defenseless, tasty little alpacas.

The next step up in security would either be high fencing or one or two livestock guardian dogs.  We’re not ready for that yet.

We estimate with pasture grazing in the warm months total expenses of no more than about $100 per year per alpaca including the cost of unsprayed hay, medication, shearing and pellets.  The lama eats a bit more and may have a slightly higher cost.  That’s reasonable!

Alapaca and lama manure is an invaluable resource in a garden.  It can be composted well, but does not need to be as it will not “burn” plants. Camelids act like cats in many ways and always poop in the same place. We’re installing a paddock shift system right now to manage the pasture grasses and keep the animals healthy.

We have a lot to learn.  Ashley’s tearing through The Camelid Companion and other books, and we’re asking lots of questions.  All in all though, their quite easy to manage and maintain!  And they’re so darned cute.

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Hand-forged Cast Iron Rack

It feels like a trophy on our wall.  If anything ever made us feel like we had really moved in, it might by my hand-forged cast iron rack.  It looked very nice in our old apartment:

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It looks a little homely here:

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It just goes to show how much work there is to be done here!

When I asked Bob Thies how much money we would need to remodel our home per month, he recommended a budget of $300.  So although this house is currently in good working order, we made sure we could afford $300 a month in a category exclusively for “Maintenance and Repair” before we made an offer on it.  Bob was talking about the home itself, but Ashley and I decided to use that amount some months for outside work (e.g. fencing, animal projects, etc.) and to slow down our remodeling speed.

Bob said that it works in a triangle: Cost – Time – Quality.  He told me that it is possible to maximize two of those if one is reduced.  So we chose low cost and high quality.  If it takes 10 years to remodel this home, that’s fine.  If it takes 20, that’s ok too.  Weekends we will work to make slow, permanent improvements to the place we live in and love.


A Cat to Eat a Mouse

Almost a week ago my wife saw a mouse.  She screamed.  When I came in the living room, she was was nearly on the table.  Ah, cliche.

“That’s it,” she said.  “We’re getting a cat.”

Well I wasn’t ready for that.  We needed to be sure we got a good one.  It wasn’t in the budget.  So I bought a couple mouse traps and had taken three mice by the next day.  Then all was quiet for a while…

Not a week later she picked a beautiful short-haired tabby cat from the rescue.  $50 down with a free bag of food.  She was sweet, well mannered, attractive, cleaned herself and liked to be pet.  The house seemed lonely and after long discussion, we took her home and called her “Winter.”

In Episode 50 of Paul Wheatons podcasts, Toby Hemenway stressed that an animal solution is usually another animal.  Even vegans can include animals into a permaculture design without using them for food.

This morning we were pleased to see Winter diligent at her task.  She saw this mouse herself and caught it several times, but didn’t finish it off before it ran away.  I have plans to help teach her to complete the task (I plan to catch one live and set it in a plastic tub like a gladiator arena for her to chase until she sees it through.)

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It also helps that my wife has “mouse-proofed” our kitchen, storing everything in plastic or glass containers with lids.

We’ve starting learning how to make our own cat food from locally caught trout, venison and grains grown on property in time.  I hope that will help food costs.  Like the first cat we owned from the rescue, unfortunately, she developed an upper respiratory tract infection shortly after arrival, which we believe came from the vaccinations.

She’s a sweetheart, and we’re glad to have her on the homestead.

Enter the Crawlspace

One reason we chose this property, as opposed to some alternatives (like buying bare land or purchasing a yurt from Shelter Designs in Missoula), was due to something Bob Theis (legendary green architect who trained with Bill Mollison) said in Episode 1333 and Episode 1352 of the Permaculture Podcast. He said something like this:

“The best thing young people can do is to buy one of these old stick-built homes from the mid 1900’s and renovate it using green methods.”

So we did. In fact, I called Bob Theis personally to ask him about this decision. He approved and encouraged me, despite lacking construction skills. He offered to be consulted later for his hourly rate, which we believe will be a good investment in time.

Our house is 1600 sq. ft.; a three bedroom stick-built home in need of some love. Half of it had been recently remodeled and the other half was in good working order with a good layout, except for one major issue: the crawlspace was soaking wet. We knew this upon the inspection and took it as something we needed to fix right away upon moving in. We didn’t need to consult Bob for this.

Enter the crawlspace:

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What a mess. There were decades of discarded pipe, projects, an entire discarded septic line, ripped vapor barrier plastic and rotting insulation over clay almost as wet as mud in some places. I descended three times, for a total of five or six hours cleaning it out. It reminded me of the hidden spaces in some people’s lives—neglected, overlooked, and a potential disaster to the entire house, hauling out decades of garbage. Looking at all the pipework down there got me thinking about simpler ways to do plumbing, like going grey-water style!

Next comes stapling new vapor-barrier to the ground and fixing a few areas of insulation. Part two of this project involves the French Drain Project outside, a mighty task for a humble gardener wannabe.

Six Mile Homestead

We made it.

Our new homestead, on six acres. A dream come true.

We hope to use this property as a permaculture experiment, a design site. We are learning as we go, and this is how we can share. Please follow us!

What is permaculture? It is growing your own food; sustainable living; stewardship of the land; a design science; and philosophy of living; and a lot more. It’s about interrelationships in the landscape; a way of living; low input with high yield systems; and a better way for humans to co-inhabit nature in symbiosis (a mutually beneficial relationship). It is closely related to the field of agro-forestry, in which perennial, living food-forest systems replace traditional agriculture and all its negative impacts through soil depletion, landscape deprivation, chemical malfeasance and subsidized yields (especially over time). Permanent + Agriculture = Permaculture.

Let me make one note. Paul Wheaton ( mentions in podcast 002 that people who have not formally taken a PDC (Permaculture Design Course) should not use the word Permaculture. We’re going to do that anyways. We hope the community will forgive us, as we’re growing into this. We want to share our journey along the way.

Yes, I do intend to take a PDC as soon as possible. I’ve also listened to hundreds of hours of Permaculture podcasts and am reading Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual (a stout, nearly 600 page textbook sometimes considered the functional equivalent of a PDC, minus field time). Take that as recompense, please.

Anyways. Enjoy!