Reflections on December, 2017

Solar power is in the pipeline!

The ground mount frame for the solar array is now secured in the ground.  Each of the 12 posts are stabilized 6 feet underground with concrete.  The lateral frame has been welded to the upright posts.  The end caps are secured to keep wasps from making nests in them.  And the ring-a-ding bell has been hung from one of the lateral pipes.



One simply cannot build a super secure pipe structure and not accessorize with a steel pipe bell.

And then the research began; or continued.  Because he’s designing the whole system from scratch, Aaron has had to price and order all the various components which are greater in number than you might think.  There are batteries, which actually cost more than the modules themselves, the charge controller, inverter, AC and DC disconnects, PV wire, conduit, and materials for mounting the parts inside the power closet.  Currently, the high temperature of the day has been in the 20s so no one is working outside, on the array or otherwise.

Continued Work on the Floors

Without spending too much time on it, we laid out and agreed on a pattern for the granite pieces in the middle room.  They kind of flow from one room to the next and create a comet in the middle.  Of course this awesomeness is only temporary; an earthen floor will cover it eventually.  We decided to embed these granite scraps mainly because they take up space and save on Portland cement.

granite scraps home farm soil cement floor handmade home

Granite scraps take shape!

Our method for filling in this floor is to scoop up the loose dirt from the east room floor, run it through the vibratory separator (a mechanical sifter) then mix it with Portland cement on a piece of plastic tarp.  We use one #10 can of Portland cement for each 5 gallon bucket of sifted dirt.  After the dry ingredients are mixed, water is added until the mixture is soft and workable, but not sloshy, roughly the consistency of peanut butter.  Aaron smooths a spot of pre-leveled and tamped floor and wets it and the granite pieces.

granite scraps soil cement floor home farm

The process of laying pieces

He takes the chosen piece, blobs some soil cement on the back and flops it in place.  Then he lays the 4’ level across the previously done floor section and pushes down the new piece until it is flush with the first.  These pieces are allowed some hardening time before he fills in and smooths the spaces between the granite.

soil cement granite pieces home farm

Troweling in the soil cement

After a few hours and the cement has shrunk a bit, more gets smoothed into the cracks.  Then after a day or so, we use a wet rag to smooth down any rough surfaces.  One could probably find a sealer (polyurethane?) to cover this, as it does dust and crack with minimal use.  However, we are excited about installing and enjoying our future earthen floor, and won’t be sealing this soil cement subfloor.

soil cement floor earthen floor home farm

Soil cement floor with granite pieces in the middle room

 

cracks in soil cement floor home farm earthbag home floor

Cracks!

Cob Work

I believe the archways in the middle room are done with cob.  That is quite a milestone considering how many times I’ve added and shaped, and then shaved down areas to get them just right.  There are so many angles and surfaces to skew.  The next phase for these arches is manure plaster.

archway cob home farm

Archways are ready for manure plaster

With the cold weather, we’ve been able to further assess our home’s winter functionality.  Essentially, as long as we’re here it maintains a livable temperature.  We were gone to visit family during 2 of the coldest nights of the month.  There was no heat source, but the mass of the walls and all the cob prevented a rapid temperature drop.  Even though it was 30 outside, it didn’t drop below 40 inside.  I know, that’s hardly comfortable to live in, but imagine the conventional home.  The power goes out for a couple of days, there is no heat, the indoor plants freeze and die, and pipes freeze and sometimes crack or burst.  I think the mass of our walls minimizes temperature extremes, allowing us more time than a conventional home, to respond and achieve the desired comfort level.  Of course, we still have many comfort measures to put in place yet.  The rocket mass heater (coming soon!), cooling tubes, appropriate drapes for the windows, papercrete on the ceiling and eventually a closed outer wall under the porch on the north side.  All of these projects will greatly improve our living situation.

One recent upgrade is the installation of outlets in the west room.  They are the fancy kind, with USB ports!  Dragging the 50’ extension cord around the house will be no more as soon as we get those solar modules up and running.

USB outlets off-grid home-farm

Outlets are a super exciting upgrade

Ever heard of foamcrete?  It is a mixture of Portland cement and foam, from soap.  Mixed together, reacted, and dried, it is hard, lightweight, fire, insect, and mold resistant, and is a great alternative to bricks.  Just check YouTube for lots of videos of people making and using foamcrete in all kinds of creative ways.  We are planning to make some foamcrete for patio pavers and… more on that in a future blog.

My oldest son, Julius (11) has always had an interest in survival skills; DIY weapons, and fire-starting devices like the bow-drill.  Well on Christmas this year, he finished his hunter safety online course and quiz and went out with Grandpa to shoot a deer.  They hung it up in Grandpa’s barn and butchered it themselves.  My first-born isn’t a baby anymore!

December Booklist:

11 year old fiction fanatic home farm

Part of Julius’ stack for the month

When he wasn’t hunting, writing his research paper on wild boars, or whittling the spindle for his bow-drill, Julius read The Midwife’s Apprentice and Alchemy and Meggy Swan, both by Karen Cushman.  He also read the first three books of the The Lost Books series by Ted Dekker.  Because he enjoyed Crispin (assigned reading) so much, he picked up the second book, Crispin: At the Edge of the World by Avi.  And he’s been breezing through A Series of Unfortunate Events.  The Summoner series by Taran Matharu is included in Julius’ December list.

Aaron finished up Ruined by Amy Tinterra and the Summoner series books 1 and 2 by Taran Matharu.

Mason has been enjoying the Eric Carle storybook collection among other books.

The Read Aloud book this month was Robin Hood by Howard Pyle.  This story was such fun!  “Now hark you all!” cried Robin.  “Our dear companion, Will Stutely, hath been taken by the vile Sheriff’s men, therefore doth it behoove us to take bow and brand in hand to bring him off again; for I wot that we ought to risk life and limb for him, as he hath risked life and limb for us.  Is it not so, my merry men all?”  You simply cannot read such verbose language without tipping your nose up and adding an English accent.  Then we watched Mel Brooks’ satire, Robin Hood, Men in Tights, which is totally inappropriate at times, but we all enjoyed it.  We’ll get the Disney animated version next.

robin hood book read aloud

Robin Hood with an accent

This month I had to really force myself to sit down to meet my 2017 Reading Challenge goal.  I made it, just in time.  On New Year’s Eve, 2017 I finished Maeve Binchy’s A Week in Winter, which I adored, once I got the hang of her writing style.  From the point of view of a handful of characters, we get to visit this quaint bed and breakfast called Stonehouse in the west of Ireland.  It made me fantasize about my long-term life goal of having a bed and breakfast here on our land.

I also finished up Project Based Homeschooling and gleaned some useful tips.  It mostly gave me a confidence boost in some ideas I already had, like leaving project spaces set up and available all the time, despite the mess.  This is something that I have to continually remind myself: the mess and clutter are important and necessary for each member of the family to work on and achieve project-related goals.  The kids deal with our project of house-building, so surely I can handle theirs.

And for my 2018 Reading Challenge:

A Book Written the Year I was Born

An Author from Illinois

A Re-read

A Book Recommended by Someone with Completely Different Tastes

A Classic

A Book About Current Events

A Setting in the Southern Hemisphere

A Book About a Musician, Band, Singer, or Songwriter

A Modern Poetry Collection

A Book About Writing

A Book About Food

A Book About Education

I don’t usually do New Year’s resolutions, but this year, I’m going to give it a shot.  Yoga twice a week.  Resolutions must be realistic, yet challenging, so surely I can manage just 2 times a week.  I used to do yoga before my middle son arrived.  And now that we have a couple of flat floors, I can spread out my mat and stretch my body in the comfort of my own handmade home.

Do you have any resolutions?  Perhaps you’re going to take steps towards greater self sufficiency?  Got questions?  We might have answers.  Feel free to ask us in the comments.

Here’s to a peaceful and productive new year!

 

 

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