Fall 2015

Here is an overview of what has happened so far on the property this year.

Since closing in June, we have made quite a bit of progress. We have not made as much as we would have liked, but we must remember that this is an experiment. We are not the first people to build an earth-bermed cabin, nor are we the pioneers of the Alaskan saw mill. However, this is the first bermed cabin that we have built by ourselves. In fact, it is the first of any large structure either of us has built – ever. Watching a Youtube or following a blog is definitely not the same as using our own hands. Plans do not happen in the order they were expected – steps are missed. It happens. We are learning. We are growing. We are adapting.

A garden was started and produced a small yield. Having sandy, rocky soil with no amendments and a poor watering situation, I think it did rather well for what it was. A compost is up and running. The frame of the cabin is up. Considering that time and money is a constant struggle, I think for the first year, first time homesteader such as ourselves we have done remarkable.

Of course we will continue in various ways throughout the winter as we are able. For now as we a taking a nose dive into fall, we’ll just have to wing it.

Of the six acre parcel, about two acres makes up the southern most flat area. This is where most of the action is happening.

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A small creek skirts one edge of the property. Two weeks after we closed it became evident that this was in fact a seasonal creek. It was listed as such, but with how good the flow was we expected it to last much longer into summer. A good educational point. Water is life. Never will we consider property without open, drought-proof water again. Should have known better… Can’t change it now. Wells are fairly reasonable in this area compared to others: ~$36/ft at 50-100ft depths. Add another $1,200 or so for a hand pump.

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Brandon began work on the compost bin. The Humanure Handbook is a great source of information for all aspects of compost – not just human manure.

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Using what was available, our first compost bin was dry sticks cut to length. We used wood chips from rotten logs inhabited by ants as materiel. We now use dust from a neighbor who collects his planer and tablesaw dust.

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Once the build site was selected, we worked about 10 man-hours using the pulaski to dig up the grass. We did not have a wheelbarrow so we used 5-gallon buckets. This was dumped into a big pile to sit for a while and hopefully compost the vegetation into a big pile of dirt with some weeds on top.

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This property is full of surprises! Looks like the logging crew forgot something. It was logged sometime in the ’70s we think. By the brand logos, I think this is fairly accurate.

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To begin the capillary break for the floor and foundation, we laid very large rocks (4″+) down that we pulled from our quarry.

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After the large rock was laid, we dumped 2″- sized gravel (with our wheelbarrow!) on top of the large rocks.

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Using a ’83 tractor powered by an International v-8 diesel, we tamped it down best we could. This will be the start of an earth floor and (probably) earth bag layer for the first few feet of the wall.

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Using six pecker-pole posts and 100ft of welded wire fence, we started a garden. Using the same pulaski and 5-gallon bucket method we cleared off the weeks.

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Using a window box, we fashioned a cold-frame of sorts. This worked moderately well, in that it was better than not being there at all. I don’t feel it was “remarkable!”.

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Time to drop some trees and get log posts drying. The o56 did fantastic.

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All limbs and brush was picked up and put in a pile for rocket stove fuel this winter. Trees dropped later in the summer had their limbs piled in place to be retrieved later to keep the project moving when we had time.

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Another archaeological find! A fine example of the timeline for plastics and aluminum degradation. +/- 40 years

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Renting an excavator for a week we placed the posts, girders, and beams. Using a layer of four trash bags taped to the posts followed by about two gallons of diesel to soak into the log (in the first bag), hopefully the posts last a while without rot and insect invasion.

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Notching the girders with Brandon’s broad ax.

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Using 1/2″ rebar (about 30″ in length) to tie the girders-posts, and another for beams-girders, we started using a 14″ paddle bit on our Makita. The battery died on the first hole. I mean shorted and fried… So we moved to the hand auger. We had no 1/2″, so we used the 13/16″ bit I found at the hardware store and we put in two sticks of rebar side-by-side. This process took almost three hours each hole. The afternoon was spent considering the options and a plea was made to a neighbor for assistance. He graciously allowed us the use of his generator and corded drill. Finishing the last ten holes in the same amount of time it took to auger the first two, the frame came up.

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The blueberries and raspberries given to us earlier in the spring (thanks!) are off to a great start. The blueberries love the sandy soil and the raspberries came in a rich, clay soil that did the just fine. Watering started with dipping buckets into the creek. Once that dried, we used 5-gallon water cans to haul the water in from the main river a few miles away. These five water cans were each dumped into 5-gallon buckets in the garden. Using 20-25 gallons daily for minimal watering of each bed, we filled all cans daily.

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Peas, beans, beets, kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli, radish, tomatoes, pumpkin, watermelon, and a few others that are escaping my memory completed our garden this summer. The pole peas, mustard, kohlrabi, and radish (and berries) did great. Everything else added some compost to the soil.

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With the need of a larger (and dog proof) compost, Brandon used the Alaskan mill to make some planks out of a rejected, punky log.

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Oh, and the comfrey has been right at home.

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Avocados are hardier than I thought. This seed was in the garden scrap bucket with other rotting things and dishwater for a week and still sprouted!

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We took a walk up the valley to see where the creek headwaters is. It does flow year’round much farther up the valley. We found some more surprises! This valley was mined heavily at times for sapphires throughout the last 150+ years.

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Rhett getting excited for some lunch (ground squirrel).

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On top of the saddle our valley leads to. Looking southwest.

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Looking east.

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We left our mark!

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A fire nearby, maybe three miles as the crow flies from us. Not much danger here. Just a distraction.

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I found this picture of Jimmy and Rhett. It brought back some memories.

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Our resident momma moose and a bull. We believe this is the calf she had earlier in the year, but I don’t know enough about moose to know how quickly they grow.

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— Jeremy

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