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Archive for August, 2013

Earthships

First, I want to say that there is so much information to go through on earthships that you really should check out the website: http://earthship.com/.  I will try to give you a simple explanation, but I’m sure I will leave things out.  Earthships are homes that are entirely self sufficient.  They grow food, run off solar or wind, collect their own water, treat sewage, and heat and cool themselves.  I know I’m making the house seem like it is a living being and it isn’t, but it is kind of like its own little eco system.

Again, this is hugely simplified and I am simply relaying information that I have read.  You build the outer walls out of old tires.  You fill them with dirt and pack them tight, then bury the back of the house underground.  The tires are structural and provide thermal mass.  The sun will warm the thermal mass and then slowly release the heat back into the house overnight to keep the temperature fairly stable.  The front face of the house is a greenhouse.  The windows are angled so the winter sun is let in and the summer sun is minimized.  The plants growing in the greenhouse are treating the grey water the house produces to help them grow.  The water from the shower etc. runs through the planter and comes out cleaner on the other end.  This water is reused to flush the toilet, then goes to a leach field.  A septic system is not needed, although it is sometimes used to keep to code.  The roof is used to collect rainwater to provide all the water needed to supply the house.  Since the water is used and recycled, you need much less water.  The house has a filtration system for the water so that you can get you drinking water this way too.  Any electricity you need is provided by wind or solar.  So that is it in a nutshell.

According to the website, you can build these houses very inexpensively if you do everything yourself.  It seemed to be a little to complicated for us, so we figured we could hire the crew to help us build.  That would increase the cost quite a bit though.  The we thought about just buying construction plans and figuring it out.  However, for the size house we want, the plans were $10,000 or more.  At this point, the purpose of building cheaply so that I can retire VERY young is destroyed.  The systems for the earthship can also be purchased from the crew, but I did not price that.

I am very torn about this particular house.  It would be a fantastic house to live in.  I’m not sure the cost will fit in with our plans, however.  And as I said before, it may be just a little bit too technical for our very limited construction skills.  Still, a very good option.

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At the end of season you will likely find yourself with an abundance (hopefully) of some vegetables that will need to be put into storage.  Actually, your goal should be to have way too much of everything so that you can have plenty to put into storage for the year.  So what is the best way to store some of this overstock?  Well, it depends on what type of fruit or vegetable you want to store.

Drying is one viable option for many DSC_0422kinds of fruits and vegetables.  There are many good reasons to use drying in some form for much of your stash.  The most important reason to use drying is that it retains most of the nutrients in your food.  When you can foods, you cook them and therefore loose valuable nutrients.  Drying uses a lower temperature to remove the water from foods so that the nutrients are able to remain there in your food.  A very healthy option.  Without water in your foods, microbes cannot grow.  This growth is what would cause your foods to spoil so this is actually how they are able to be stored.  Sometimes when you store foods you can also loose some of the flavor.  Dried foods are actually a concentrated form of the foods so that they are actually full of flavor.  Many people do not like banana chips because the flavor is too strong.  Don’t forget the best part: drying foods is usually very easy to do.  You can get complicated and make fruit leather and jerky, but you don’t have to.  You can slice foods and throw them on the trays and set the dehydrator.  It’s that simple.

There are many ways to dry your food as well.  Simply leaving foods on the vine they grow on and letting them dry out like I discussed with amish snap peas is the best way to save peas, beans, lentils and things like that.  Herbs are dried by either hanging them up somewhere or putting them in a brown paper bag.  Many fruits and vegetables can be dried in the sun.  Anything that needs more constant heat like meats can be dried in a dehydrator.  Most anything can be done in a dehydrator because it is set up to regulate the time and temperature to get exactly what you need.  If you want to buy a dehydrator, here is an article to read: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/choosing-a-food-dehydrator.aspx#axzz2Wmq8Vk3J.   I had originally bought myself a cheap version of a dehydrator and after using it twice I gave up on dehydrating altogether because it was so bad.  Don’t waste your time and effort on something cheap if you have a garden that will provide a decent amount.  Buy a good one right away or build a good one.  I currently own an Excalibur and now have a renewed sense of why I wanted to try a dehydrator in the first place.

Drying foods has become a common practice this year in my household.  After learning how to do some new methods and getting a good dehydrator I’m going to have a decent stash of dried foods and herbs for this winter.  Not enough to live off of yet, but you have to start somewhere.  I have even learned how to use the dehydrator to “cook” some dinners.

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Wooden Handled Tool Care

If you have any older wooden tools or have accidentally left new wooden tools outside for too long then you need to know how to revive the handles.  It is a very simple process and it will make your tools last much longer.  First you need to smooth out the wood.  If it is  really bad, then take some sandpaper  to it until it is pretty smooth.  If it isn’t too bad, then steel wool should do the trick.  Once it is smooth, apply 3 coats of teak oil or whichever type of oil it is that you want to use.  I like teak oil because it is

durable and environmentally friendly.  Between the coats of oil, go over the handle with the steel wool again.  That’s it, good as new.  Ideally you want to go through this process every spring when you first take your tools out for the year.  It doesn’t hurt to apply an additional coat of oil every month or so.  This should keep those handles in great shape for many years to come.

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nasturtiumNasturtiums can be grown for many reasons.  You can grow them because they are pretty flowers that are easy to grow.  You can grow them to eat both the flowers and the leaves.  I grow them because they are beneficial to the bug population that I want to have in my garden, or not so beneficial to the bug population I don’t want.

There are many different types of nasturtiums you can grow in your garden.  Some grow like bushes, some grow like vines.  The colors range from yellow to red to shades of purple.  They grow well in not so good soil, so they can be planted anywhere there is full sun.  You pretty much just plant them and they grow.  I plant mine when I plant my beans and they bloom throughout the summer all over the garden.

Nasturtiums have a sort of peppery taste to them.  They are related to the cress family and are often added to salads both for their flavor and for their decorative qualities.  You can even use the seeds in pickling for an interesting taste.

I grow nasturtiums because they are known to ward off bad bugs.  An excellent form of organic pest control.  Cucumber beetles and squash vine borers dislike the peppery smell they emit.  Good places to plant them are among cucs, pumpkins, squash or anywhere you have room really.  Aphids, slugs and white cabbage butterflies like nasturtiums so they can be planted near other plants these bugs like so that they will go after the nasturtiums first.  I personally don’t like this idea, but some people do use it with success.  Most flowers also attract pollinators to your garden.  Bees and butterflies are always a good thing to have around to help pollinate your crops.

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Cordwood House

Cordwood, like straw bale, is one of the more common natural homes that is built.  I find cordwood to be one of the more beautiful kinds of natural homes.  Just like with the straw bale house I talked about yesterday, I have never built a cordwood house and so I don’t have pictures to share.

So, why would you want to build with cordwood?  First of all, like I mentioned before, they are gorgeous homes.  The supplies are as easy to come by as firewood, mostly because they are firewood.  They are well insulated homes with the walls having an R value of 20-25.  The process is a simple process and so good for inexperienced builders like me and my family.

The actual building process is a lot like the straw bale process.  You start by pouring a standard foundation.  You then put up a stick frame if you choose to use one.  Like the straw bale, some codes require you to use one even though it is not necessary for the structural integrity of the house.  Next you stack the cord wood using a concrete mixture between the wood on the ends and a sawdust mixture in the middle.  If you were to look down the thickness of the wall you would see the wood running the whole length from front to back and between the logs you would see concrete, saw dust, and then more concrete.  The length of the wood and the thickness of the wall is 12″-24″ depending on how much insulation you want.  The surface of the wall you see would be the cut ends of the cordwood, which can be laid in patterns to make shapes or just in rows.  Just like with the straw bale, you then can add the roof of you choosing.  There are many options of what to do.  Again, you can run regular electric and plumbing but not through the outer walls.

The cost of these buildings varies greatly.  I have seen it said that if you cut your own trees and do the work yourself, you can build for $10 a sq/ft.  I’m sure you could pay much more if you had one built for you, but I have not seen many companies that do this. There were many companies available to build you a straw bale house though.  I’m not sure why this would be, but I may have just not looked hard enough.

Check out these websites for some more detailed information: http://www.cordwoodmasonry.com/http://www.cordwoodconstruction.org/, and http://www.daycreek.com/dc/html/don_gerdes.html

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Straw Bale House

Straw bale building was one of the first types of natural homes that we began to look at.  It is one of the more common types of natural construction due to its ease of building and ability to fit to code.  I have not built one myself, so I don’t have any pictures and am only sharing the information I have gathered for my own use.

Why build with straw bale?  One huge reason is its energy efficiency.  Straw is an excellent insulator with an R value of 35-50.  To compare, fiberglass walls have an r value around 12.  These thick straw walls also provide good soundproofing.  The fire resistance is higher than that of a standard house by about 3 times.  The thick packed straw does not allow oxygen through so that it burns very slowly.  Straw is normally a waste product of grains.  Much of it is just burned rather than being used in some way.  There is apparently enough straw wasted per year to build around 2.5 million homes!  Don’t forget the obvious good qualities of straw bale such as the lack of toxic chemicals in your home.

The building of the homes seems to be fairly simple.  A standard foundation is poured first.  You can then choose to build a stick frame and fill in with straw bales or to use the straw bales as the actual load bearing walls.  If you build a stick frame, it can cost more but you will have a much easier time finding a contractor to work with for building.  If you do it yourself this won’t matter.  The other reason to build a stick frame is to fit the codes.  Some areas will only allow the straw to function as insulation, in which case you basically build a standard house and just fill the walls with bales.  Once the bales are stacked, you cover them with an air tight adobe type material.  This material is clay, sand, and shredded straw.  This is a time consuming process, but allows for much creativity.  You can be as artistic or plain as matches your personality.  The options are endless.  The roof can be built in a number of ways from a standard roof to an earthen roof or a rain collecting roof.  Anything you choose to build.  The house can be equipped with standard electricity and plumbing, but these can not be run through the straw bale walls themselves.  And that is the quick straw bale “instructions.”

The cost of the house is of course important as well.  There seems to be a huge range depending on how much you do yourself and what is readily available.  They can cost the same as a standard house, but save you monthly on heating and cooling costs so you seem to make out either way.  I found one site pricing a straw bale home at $88,000.  The complete breakdown is available here:

www.buildingwithawareness.com/information.html.  A couple other excellent websites are: http://www.strawbale.com/   and    http://www.houseofstraw.com/   That last website features a house of 880 sq ft at floor level plus a sleeping loft for $50,000. Overall straw bale seems to be a pretty good option for us.  Warm, safe, and not too expensive.

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Natural Home Building

As a huge part of our homestead, we need to build ourselves a house.  It has been my dream for as long as I can remember to build my own house.  Not just any house either.  It has to be functional as well as warm and inviting with as little negative impact on the earth as possible.  I want it to be built both to compliment the land it is built on and to be adapt to my families needs and personalities.  To accomplish all this, I look to natural home building.

While I am busy looking for land to build a house on, I am also busy trying to collect all the information I can gather on the different possible types of natural homes there are.  I have been investigating this for the past few years but now we am nearing the point where we are going to have to choose which is going to be our very own.  We won’t be able to make the final decision until we have our property and can see what that specific piece of land has to offer a home, but we can have all our ducks in a row so that once we get there it will be very obvious to us what the choice will be.

When I started this information gathering process I didn’t realize how many different types of natural homes there were out there.  The first couple of types of homes I looked at were strawbale and cordwood.  Strawbale homes use strawbales (as in the kind you feeed your animals) stacked to form walls and then covered with a stucco like material.  These stacked bales are apparently fantastic natural insulators among other things.  Cordwood homes used stacked cordwood (as in the kind you would burn in your fireplace) to from the walls.  These homes are also supposed to be very well insulated.  The next type of home we began to look at were earthships.  These homes are built out of garbage and are completely self sufficient.  All of the systems are built right in to the house and work together to become a sort of “living” home.  We also looked at cob and earthbag type homes.  It seems as though these types of homes are better suited to warmer, drier climates than the one we would be building in, but they could be right for you.  Cob is building with mud basically.  Earth bag is filling bags with dirt and stacking to build with.  Both of these types of homes utilize thermal mass to regulate temperature in milder climates.  They aren’t effective in colder climates due to the lack of insulation.  The final type of home we looked at has been underground homes.  These are built with a variety of material but are covered over with earth to produce a sort of geothermal effect of warming and cooling the homes.

Over the next few days, I’ll share with you the information I have found on all of the types of homes we have looked at.

For now, here is a great website to check out:  http://naturalhomes.org/

And if you’re looking for a book: Best of MOTHER EARTH NEWS: Natural Building methods.

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