We've had a stack of rough, well-weathered shipping pallets sitting where we get a lot of sun at the edge of the woods for months. We thought we might use them to build a fence for our garden-to-be, but we didn't like the look when we started assembling them. The other day when we were talking about ground that needs to get dug out before we can put up decking on one side of the house, it hit us: we should use the pallets to build raised beds and put the soil we dig up in them, mixed with the big pile of leaves we raked off the ground.
Because we don't know what the pallets have been used for and we know we want to plant edibles in them, we decided to line them completely with thick plastic that we had left over from another project. (Hopefully, they'll last longer this way, too.) So, far we've built and lined one monster-sized bed: two feet high, two wide and twelve long. We've layered earth and partially composted leaves up about eight inches now. We plan on filling the planters at least halfway, then use our best compost mixed with top soil and other amendments for the top planting area.
After that, we'll build at least one more raised bed, and we still have to figure out the fencing--unless we're doing all this just to feed the deer. (At this rate, we won't be offering you too many tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers this year.)
The toilet cabinet is now a glowing white thanks to primer. I'm thinking I'll do a white enamel interior finish (to match the two white buckets that will sit inside) and some pop of color on the outside. Still seeking inspiration on the color choice...can't wait to have a functioning bathroom in the tiny house!
I've come to expect a look of distress every time I tell someone that we'll be using a bucket as our toilet. Then come the questions, including the most-asked question: "Won't it smell?"
I'll let you know the answer definitively after we get our rustic "plumbing" in place. For now, I can say that many, many people use some form of composting toilet and swear they wouldn't go back to flushing toilets. Jason and Nikki Wynn, for example. They've produced a number of great videos and FAQs on the subject. And then there's the Bible of all things composting toilet: The Humanure Handbook.
In addition to being an off-the-grid solution, composting toilets have a sustainability appeal; they eliminate the need for a massive volume of water. Every year, the average person in the average house uses thousands of gallons of fresh drinking water to flush their poop down the toilet: 4757 gallons with an older toilet, 1850 gallons with a low-flush toilet*. In a world of water shortages, that doesn't seem right.
Back to our toilet. We've built a box to hold two buckets (more on that in a minute) and our Ecovita Privy kit. Besides a fan (which we'll install later), the key to a scentless composting toilet is keeping urine and feces separate. The poop will go into the bucket, covered each time with a scoop of Coco Coir stored in the second bucket. Alternatively, we could use sawdust, peat moss or even grass clippings. Our research pointed us to coco coir. (Find one discussion of the alternatives at permies.com.)
The urine will get diverted and run through a pipe to a plastic gas can beneath the house. Since urine is non-toxic, it can be diluted with water and emptied on site without any issues. (Remember, we have a forest all around us.) It's even a safe, proven fertilizer, but we're not ready to try that! The poop, on the other hand, can legally and hygenically be bagged and deposited at the dump with our other trash until we get an official composting system set up. Conservative sanitation experts recommend a full year of composting before "humanure" can be spread.
Once I prime and paint the toilet box, it will be ready for install. That's after we have walls and a floor, of course! Back to work...
(*Source: "We Have Better Things to Do with Clean Water," Carl Hensemen, sanitation expert with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)
We've been invited to scavenge what we want from a few fallen outbuildings up the mountain. I've found a couple old windows and wood boxes, semi-rotting boards and rusty hinges and door handles. I have all my "finds" stored in the carport until we figure out where we'll use them. I already plan on using many of the boards--once cleaned, trimmed and sanded--on one of the living room walls. Others will likely become shelves.
My favorite find so far: an green old shipping crate with stenciled origin (Japan) and destination (Washington, DC). We built interior shelves so it could house our new Biolite wood-burning grill (you can read about it here) and a load of fuel. We stripped wood off pallets to make the shelves and build a base. Now we need a couple hinges to replace the old rusty ones that don't work. Eventually, the box will get coated with Thomson's Waterseal and it will sit outside one the tiny house's doors, stacked full of wood to burn in the grill and in our Kimberly wood stove (see more on the stove here).
I love the idea of incorporating these relics into our new house. They speak to the history of this mountain, of all that's gone on before us. This mountain was home to J. Russell Smith, geographic economist and "tree crop" advocate (our Tree Crops Lane is named in his honor), to Ellie Sanderson, whose painting studio still stands in the woods, to Sam and Betty Stowe, the writers, world travelers and generous souls who welcomed me to their mountain home some forty years ago. I hope their spirits feel welcome in this wee house we're building with new 2x4s, plywood, wiring and all the rest--but also with much-appreciated bits and pieces they left behind for us.
We liked the table we put together for the screen house so much, we decided to make another! Using the same basic design (pallet-wood top, IKEA metal base), we assembled another counter-height table with the wood oriented in a different direction. (Going for the different-but-complementary aesthetic.)
One table will continue to provide dining space in the screen house; the other will be part of the tiny house kitchen—an extension of the counter that's also a stand-alone dining table. The idea is: when we have people over, we can put the two tables together for more space in the screen house, the tiny house or on the deck.
Now, if spring will only make an appearance, we'll finish the house that goes with the table!
One way we're keeping toasty (or should I say "toasted"?) this winter involves emptying pint glasses. Not just any beer will do—OK, just about any beer will do in a pinch! But we're particularly enjoying our own home brews as Bill learns more with each batch he cooks up.
Brew days are long, aromatic affairs. Carefully, Bill stirs the malt mash as it heats, adding hops as the recipe calls for them. After cooling the wort, it goes into a bucket for fermentation.
A few days later, when the little device atop the bucket stops bubbling, Bill siphons the near-beer into another bucket for more bubbling. Then it's time for bottling and...waiting, waiting, waiting.
I play taste-tester and occasional assistant in this fascinating process. As I sip one of Bill's creations now, I'm thinking about how brewing fits so well into this new way of living we're moving towards:
1. It's educational: We know what goes into what we drink.
2. It's practical: We are—or at least Bill is—learning a new homesteading skill.
3. It's humbling: We have a heightened appreciation for ale artisans.
4. It's communal: We like to chat with people who drink and/or produce craft beer.
5. It's entertaining: Living on the side of a mountain, it's a good idea to find things that amuse.
6. It's affordable: After an initial $100 equipment investment, 5-gallon batches cost about $40.
In about four weeks, the latest brew (an Irish stout) will be ready to uncap and pour. If you happen to be in the area, your bottle awaits.
Hunkered down in the house, avoiding sub-freezing temps and snow, we've been working on indoor projects. When we do venture out, we love our campfires here on the mountain. Hence, one recent "hunkered down" project—fire starters.
The ingredients: Beer cans (any beverage cans will do; our canned beverage of choice happens to involve malts and hops); corrugated cardboard; old candle stubs; and an old can for melting wax.
The steps: Cut the bottom off a beer can, leaving about one inch of can (start off a slit with a knife; then use scissors to cut around the can). Cut cardboard into one-inch strips, roll tightly until the diameter of the beer can, and stuff the roll into the beer can base. Add a wick in the middle (tiny cardboard strips work for this, or use old candle wicks). Melt wax by immersing a can with old candles in a pot of boiling water. Pour the wax over the cardboard until near the top of the can base.
Our test starter burned brightly for at least 45 minutes—plenty of time to get a roaring fire going.
We had the ends of a couple pallets sitting around after building stairs for the screen house. They were destined for the fire ring until we realized we could hang them on the carport wall and use them to corral the garden tools—rakes, hoe, pitchfork, clippers, etc—that were flopping around and getting misplaced on a regular basis. A slap of stain and a few screws later, we have ourselves a handy place to grab a shovel when it's time to dig.