Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rain Rain Go Away You've Wrecked Our Pastures and Our Brains


 After 3 solid build days on the Grain Bin House we got slammed with rain, and more rain and even more rain. Construction came to a mud sliding halt. It has rained at night, in the morning and in the afternoons. It has rained while we were trying to fix electric fences, cook outside, set up a new milking system for our cow Polly, put together our rocket mass stove, manage baby ducklings, plumb the water lines, host a few guests, move livestock around, hang laundry (which has now been hanging for 3 days) name it, it has been rained upon.

At times, the sun would peek through, tease us for a couple of hours and bake us with humidity, then the rain came back and our feet, legs, clothes just got muddier. Wet clothes would only stink up the caravan (remember we have no dryer) so they got hung outside, alongside the clean clothes which of course had returned to their former dirty state. But as my good buddy G. reminded me today, "You choose this life didn't you?" Why yes G. we did.


And on the evenings when we felt truly beat up by the hassles of tiny living in a swampy acreage with very few of the modern conveniences we used to have, we were graced with the most amazing silver linings in the clouds that besieged us.

Tomorrow...only hot sun is forecast. Bring it!

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Grain Bin House: The Foundation, Part 3 (and a contest!)

 Ah weather, thou has vexed us this week. We had nearly two inches of rain Sunday night and scattered storms all though the week. The "moat" around the GBH filled partially with water but more frustrating was the softness of our drive making it impossible for a concrete truck to deliver precious cargo. But, finally on Thursday in between rain fits our guys returned, sucked out most of the moat water and attached the outside metal forms to the foundations rebar ring...


In the afternoon when the humidity and heat soared  the concrete company was summoned. Hearing them rumble down our road was an exciting as...well...hearing the concrete truck responsible for  pouring your first foundation to your first GBH rumble down the road! Even better was the moment all that wet, grey, rocky, slop came pouring down it's rickety metal sluice.

I believe I wept a little.


Filling in the gap between the two metal circles with 9 yards of concrete ($1400 worth) the crew worked in near tropical conditions while Keith and I applauded from the comfort of our white plastic chairs in the shade.

We're just supportive that way.

But after a couple of minutes of rest we did return to our own outdoor work; a new milking set up for Bessie, (I mean Polly) among other tasks. It did not take long though for the guys to get the one and 1/2 truckloads of concrete settled into it's trough.  Soon enough the foundation was complete.  Almost.

Next, the metal forms on the outside of the foundation will be removed, hard foam insulation will be cut and curved around the concrete and then dirt will be backfilled against that making it virtually impossible for little pests like ants and mice to get into our mini fortress. Big pests, aka family, will be allowed to enter through our single doorway.

The rebar pointing up through the fresh concrete will eventually be bent towards the inner circle and buried within the concrete floor which will be poured over and around the rocket mass stove heater built on top of the inner gravel. Keith and I will build the rocket thingy this next week. Foster Mechanics will then come back, pour the floor and start raising the walls of the GBH.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

At the end of the day, there was a fair amount of concrete still left in the truck and since we had already paid for it Keith quickly put together some wooden forms to contain the surplus and put it to good use.  Can you guess what he is making?

Leave a comment with your guess and the first one to answer correctly will get a free bar of homemade soap.  I make a mean bar of soap which will treat your skin very nicely. Yes, you can play if you live in another country. I believe in global blog pandering.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Grain Bin House: The Foundation, Part 2

On day two of the GBH build, (Saturday) after laying out the basic diameter and digging the footing the day before; our bin guys got busy with additional support for the concrete foundation to be poured. First they secured older pieces of galvanized bin metal against the circular base of what will be our GBH floor, with rebar bent in place as they went.  Then more gravel was added and pounded down in the GBH floor area.

Cutting the rebar took time as they were meticulous about spacing and attaching. The white PVC pipes in the photo below will drain water softener fluid directly into our leach field bypassing the septic tank while the other larger pipe will drain our shower, dishwasher and sink water. We will not be putting a regular flush toilet in the GBH, only our compost toilet, nor will there be a tub or dishwasher.

After the first go round they decided a second row of rebar would be even better. That's my husband Keith in the trenches to give you an idea of how deep the foundation will be. Foam insulation panels will be placed outside the rebar all the way around, backfilled with dirt and then concrete will be poured between the insulation and this older, uglier piece of galvanized metal circling our GBH floor, hiding it and all the rebar completely.

The grain bin body will then go on top of the concrete foundation but I am getting way ahead of myself. Last night we had nearly two inches of rain and so no GBH work was done today but hopefully they will be able to resume tomorrow. This gave us time to make our final plans for the Rocket Mass Stove Heater we will be installing ourselves in the GBH floor, before they pour the final floor, as our only source of heat.
Rocket mass stove heater...sounds so scientific does it not? Lets' just hope Ralph doesn't send Alice to the moon accidently. It will be our first rocket mass stove heater you know.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Grain Bin House: The Foundation, Part 1.


Two days ago Foster Mechanics of Paxton, Illinois started on our new home. Although they have installed many grain bins for their intended purpose of grain storage; this is their first grain bin home or GBH as I shall hence refer to it.

Arriving early Friday morning they worked hard all day. I was impressed with owner Phil Fosters way of operating his small backhoe while giving directions to his two man crew simultaneously. A true multi-tasker. No matter how many times we walked up the hill from our work site to their work site there was never once, one of them just standing about; always each man was working on a task. They also did a fantastic job of asking us lots of questions, clarifying how and why we wanted specific things done and double checking if unclear.

Watching these guys out dig out the diameter of our new home was thrilling. I had no idea a large circle of dirt could make me so giddy.

From there a trench was dug,  around the GBH footprint, 3 feet deep and 30 inches wide. This "moat" was filled with 18 inches of road rock gravel, sprayed with water and pounded down hard. This gravel footing will serve as the bottom of the concrete GBH foundation to be poured in the next few days. We are expecting rain today (Sunday) so pour date will be based on how much precipitation we get.

They also measured out the lines for our new septic system and dug the pit for our 750 gallon concrete septic tank which was delivered and put in place the afternoon of the first day. We had not planned or budgeted for this septic system, hoping to do a grey water system for our GBH water since we were going to use the compost toilet for solid waste but of course we ran into issues with Illinois Public Health ( a trend for us)  Seems there are no grey water codes in Illinois, and if there are no codes IDPH considers any actions outside of those codes to be illegal.  I'll discuss that in detail with our septic system costs, in a future post.

The septic tank had to be filled with water at the end of the day to avoid possible shifting and re-digging in the event of large amounts of rain prior to final hookup to the leach field. So after the first 10 hour work day we can see our new home taking shape quickly. Tomorrow I'll show you what they did on day 2, another highly productive day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


For those of you who wondered if we had poultry on our new place; this post is for you or them.
In my previous blog I talked about the Earthships being built in the southern states, very popular in New Mexico, and Arizona for their ability to conserve energy, and grow food with greywater systems.  Keith and I love the idea and will start experimenting with the technique this week as we design an Earthship or Chickenship as we have christened it,  for our poultry.

Earthships for people are made from recycled tires filled with pounded dirt and covered with homemade cob. The end results are beautiful, cost effective, sustainable. comfortable and a great way to use up the garbage in our lives.  Michael Reynolds is the guru behind their design.

Image result for michael reynolds earthship           Image result for michael reynolds earthship

When they come to put up the Grain Bin House (any day, any day) we will have them also dig out a spot in a sloped area to build the chickenship.

The birds are very excited about this new plan as it will be the first chickenship in Livingston County and perhaps in all of Illinois. We expect tons of media coverage, or at least one or two shares on Facebook.

The most important material needed for our chickenship is of course tires; fortunately there are a few here on The Poor Farm. Oh the treasures we have inherited with this place. Sorting them into similar sizes, widths and condition is one of my tasks this week.

Some tires are too worn or torn to be used and will have to be hauled away to be recycled again in playground mulch. After sorting and digging out the area, the chickenship will be partially built into a hillside for warmth in winter and coolness in summer.  Tires will laid in a straight line and pounded full with dirt. Another layer of rubber circles is thenplaced on top and more soil pounded in and eventually you have a wall of tires.
Image result for michael reynolds earthshipImage result for michael reynolds earthship
The wall can then be finished with a plaster of homemade cob made of dirt, sand and clay. When dry it becomes mortar like in strength. The front will be glass or plexiglass and the entire structure is for winter or nighttime only; the rest of the time our birds will continue to run free-range. They are our primary source not only of eggs but of tick, fly and mosquito control. They deserve the best in housing we can afford.
Which is basically a pile of old tires.