Monday, April 3

Homesteading 101: Land

Well hello again!  Spring has brought us out of hibernation.  We had a very busy Summer and Fall and we were definitely grateful for the rest that Winter insisted upon us.  As usual, so much has happened since the last time I was here (sorry!)  This is a post about the land where you'll find us.

When we took possession of the land in the middle of Summer last year, there was a road that led us up onto a "clearing".  The "clearing" could barely fit our trailer because really, it was still a forest :)!
We needed to clear some of the trees to make some space so our door didn't open right into a tree (as lovely as that was!)  tBoy was very excited to purchase a machete to start doing the work.  But he quickly realized that it was time consuming and... well, not very effective!  So he got his first chainsaw...
That was fun for a while, but we needed power and water!  In order to bring in electricity, we needed a large unobstructed road cleared for the electrical poles and wires.  This proved to be a bigger job than one man and his chainsaw :)!  So we made a new friend... the excavator!
Voila!  More space!  We managed to move the trailer back about 5 meters - maneuvering this 40-foot monster with a truck on uneven land was no small feat.   The tree on the right of the photo below is the tree we originally opened our door to! 
The excavator came with a playmate for tDog2
And then it was time to work on the clearing for the power to come onto the land.  tBoy's path that took him days with a machete and then a chainsaw was hardly visible (sorry tBoy!)  But in one day, we had a second road/driveway on the property.  We cringe to think of all the fossil fuels used, but we appreciate its efficiency and it allows us to create our homestead sooner so that we can live a Mother Earth-friendly (friendlier) life.  From the many books that we have been reading, it is suggested (and we agree) to use fossil fuels to build all the infrastructure for the land and to start planting/growing etc. as soon as possible. Our idea is to use electricity while it is available, but to build our homestead with the possibility of being off-grid in the future. 
Getting started...
Driveway and parking area:
While the excavator was powering away, tBoy was working hard to figure out the best path for our gravity fed water system.  We have a licence for the spring on the top corner of our property and we hoped that there would be enough water pressure to the trailer (and future house site) that we won't need to have a pump (and have our water depend on electricity). 
Once tBoy determined the path (that required felling as few big trees as possible), it was time for our friend the excavator to dig a trench.  It is amazing to see the work of this enormous machine, yet it is also so sad to lose parts of the lush forest. 
It turns out that we do have enough water pressure :)!! 
Once the trench was dug out, tBoy got to work connecting all the pipes.  This was a labour-intensive task requiring not-so-teeny-tiny muscles as the pipes were heavy and needed to be hiked quite a distance (uphill of course).  tBoy installed a water tank at the source and then the pipes needed to be buried (by the excavator).  So water = getting acquainted with the location of the spring, choosing the water path, acquiring the piping, finding the right fittings (many trips to the store), hauling pipes, putting it all together, choosing a water tank and installing it etc. etc...  All done by tBoy (except excavation part)... I'm so impressed by this tBoy(!!)  And that's not all because he did this ALL while I was taking a 2-week intensive Permaculture Design course - which means that he was also being Super Dad (to 2 kids and 3 dogs!  Yes.  THREE dogs, but that post will come later!)!

In order to have access to water in different parts of the land, we also installed some stand pipes (that are designed not to freeze by emptying all the water after each use).
Great pressure from just the slope!
We also needed our friend the excavator to put in some culverts at the entrance of our driveway...
As you can imagine, by the end of all this, tBoy was super keen to have his very own excavator - Uh... sorry... NO!  :)!  But I can't stop him from dreaming...
tBoy getting an excavator operation lesson ;)!
But he did manage to get this:
Yes.  A fossil fuel guzzling machine - sigh!  But on a homestead, it's needed to help with hauling wood, tools and machines etc.

Back to the electricity... Power did not come just with the cleared road.  We had to put up a pole and because we wanted most of the wiring to be buried underground, we needed more excavation.   We also had to build an electrical shed and as much as tBoy would have liked to tackle this on his own, he lacked the experience and knowledge and we wanted electricity before Winter.  How did we power the tools to build a shed without electricity?
Meet our other friend, the generator
To help with the task and to mentor tBoy in building, we hired our amazing carpenter.  A* was very fascinated, and asked: Mommy, can I sit and watch him?  Future carpenter, perhaps?

We also built an outhouse which has 2 chambers (=2 toilet seats) inside.  When one chamber is full, it has time to compost while the other one is being used.  When the second one is full, the first one will be emptied into the woods where it will be covered and continue to compost for 1-2years.  And then it will be used to nourish the forest.  We love the idea of returning it all back into Nature, rather than using (wasting) fresh water to flush it, and then having it being treated with chemicals which end up in our environment.  (Does get a wee bit chilly in the Winter, but it's worth it to us.)  Instead of peat moss (like for our bus composting toilet), we now use wood chips (which we get for free from the local sustainable wood milling cooperative - whose practices exceed FSC standards!) It is an odourless experience (really!) even without a small (electric) fan (as in the bus) = less dependence on the grid :)!
We also constructed an extension to the trailer (for a sitting area with a wood stove and a bedroom for the girls)  Interior photos to come in the next post... Homesteading 102: Home. 
Building a roof for the trailer took quite a bit of brainstorming.  We were told that we needed to create an entire structure around the trailer to handle the snow load in the Winter.  The prices that were quoted to us for such an endeavour far exceeded what we wanted to spend on a temporary shelter (until we build our house).  So.  tBoy decided to design and build his own roof right atop the trailer despite all the opinions claiming that it won't work (he does have a Master in Engineering... but didn't have any real life experience though... so it was a gamble... but I was game!)
Greenhouse too?
Excavator friend AGAIN!  Needed for the final touches on the roof (when tBoy couldn't lean out anymore!)
The real test was, of course, Winter... and this was a heavy snow Winter... But I'm happy to say that it passed the test!  And it's quite pretty, no?

All of our belongings (that we acquired living in a house for a year - sigh!) was in a storage locker that we were paying for monthly.  We needed a longer term solution, so we purchased 2 shipping containers.  One for storage, the other as a temporary workshop for tBoy until his real workshop gets built. Again, our friend was there to help us (thank you excavator!)  How did the pioneers do it??

First the land needed to be cleared and flattened (as much as possible)...
Before the containers arrived, we put up our slackline.  A* was practising her balance.  And yes, it is a puppy... more on that in an upcoming post... Homesteading 104: Dogs.
Despite having the excavator to help, it was a real challenge to level them. Was a bit sketchy with one guy operating the excavator (with the container dangling) and another using a laser tool to check for leveling! The two containers are placed 20 feet apart.  The idea is that we will eventually build a roof between them to make tBoy his big workshop.  (And cover the exterior with wood to hide the ugliness!)

Winter was imminent, and the temperatures were dropping fast, not to mention the record rainfall that happened this Fall (you don't see this in all the sunny photos, but it poured here!  Argh!  We moved away from the Coast and the rain followed us!) So we didn't have time to do the exterior finishing.  tBoy was not happy about the prospect of living with TYVEK all Winter, but we had no choice.  Cold temperatures meant that protective oils for the wood would not cure.

Speaking of the inevitable Winter, we had to insulate underneath the trailer because our bus experience taught us that a lot of heat is lost underneath the trailer (bus).  So tBoy and the carpenter built a skirt ALL around the trailer and tBoy packed in insulation (crawling underneath).
And finally, we did run out of time.  tBoy's tools got covered in snow and the workshop wasn't ready. 
 We didn't have time to build a wood shed, but luckily, we found a way...
Our "trailer" is actually a fifth wheel (to be attached onto the box of a truck), so it created a shelter for the wood.  Wood for our wood stove!  tBoy always wanted one (and didn't get one in the bus or in our house).  More on that in Homesteading 102: Home.

So what did tGirl do all this time??  Well.  I did take a 2-week hiatus to do the Permaculture Design Course learning about all the possibilities for our homestead...
And then there were all the hardware store runs while tBoy was hanging out and banging away on rooftops and under trailers...  And the child minding to keep children safe while a massive orange machine did its job....  And the interior of our (for now) home... Ah yes...
Coming up: Homesteading 102: Home.
The view of the Lake from the potential site of our future house
The view from our porch this Winter


  1. What a fascinating journey! I just found your blog and love what I've read .... years past, from bus, to cabin, and now...your beautiful homestead and teeny, tiny home! Thank you for sharing pics and descriptions of activities along the way. Your permaculture plans are amazing! My husband and I are looking into a land purchase in the Northwest and will be following your posts!

    1. Hi Diane. Thanks for your message! Sorry for the delay in responding, we are away in Asia. All the best to you and your husband in finding the perfect land for you. Would love to hear about your adventures too :)!