Oct 142011

[Tiffany: I discovered this post by Wolf while trying to wade through my overstuffed "Drafts" folder. He wrote it a year ago, but somehow it never got published! Our timeframe had shifted somewhat, but the principles and thought process remain.]

Contentment on a shoestring budget.

And on a two year timeline.

We are setting a two year timeline for the project because of our oldest son. He will be old enough to move on to college or wherever in two years. Two years sounded like a good timeframe for trying to get a lot of things ready for us to move out to the homeplace.

I will be doing most of the work myself (with help from Tiffany and the kids, when possible).

I have worked construction and I’m a pretty handy guy. I have no problem with the labor and I can grasp the concepts if I get some input and counseling for the engineering parts.

Heck I can even do a fair job if I can get my hands on a good book.

We need to build out the home my father built, to suit our family and lifestyle.

  • We want a summer kitchen and a stone wall and tower.
  • We plan to build the building around a courtyard style structure.
  • After that, we will need to build all the animal and equipment structures needed. A barn for the animals and for the equipment we will have. We want a fenced perimeter to keep the animals from wandering away.
  • And of course don’t forget about the things needed for a self-sufficient life: We are figuring on having a mill (water wheel) to supply some of the power we need. Solar and wind power would be good things to have, too, for alternatives.

The first thing I’m looking for is the best foundation to have in the area.

I’ll be building a stone wall about one to two feet thick around the outer perimeter of the building we will live in.

I don’t know if it’s best to build the floor inside the walls on footings or to have the floor joists run into the walls. Maybe not even do the joists at all, but I think it would be cheaper than a concrete slab.

I also want to make sure it lasts for a long time. I would like for my kids to take over when I get too old and their kids after that. The construction should be easy to repair when needed.

I guess the first thing I will need is a sawmill. It will be a great benefit to have our own lumber capabilities. I’ve seen those portable bandsaw things around. Or I could go the John Walton way and hook up an old car engine to a big circular saw blade.

We’ll just have to pray and study on these things for a while. If you have any helpful ideas or materials, let me know.

(Photo from Homesteading in Tennessee)

 Posted by at 11:30 am
Mar 142011

Sounds serious, eh?

I’ve never “gardened”.

Houseplants, yes. Water the lawn and mow it, yes.

“Garden”, no.

But if we’re going to make Contentment (see our explanation page, and posts about it) a reality, it’s going to take quite a bit of farm know-how.

So I figure I better work on knowing how, now.

I’m starting with the most-recommended book in my informal survey of gardening friends:

I have to make a few decisions such as -

  • Where to put the garden in the yard
  • How big to make it (in this case, how many “squares” to create)
  • Dig into the ground only, or build raised beds on top?
  • How best to make a fertile plot of of this horrible, sandy soil (what needs to be added)

All before we even get to the fun questions, such as choosing which crops to grow!

I sent for the Free Catalog from Gardens Alive, which includes a $25 coupon (not a sponsored endorsement, just sharing a deal!). Using it, I got their 10 pack of seeds, since they meet my primary requirement of being open-pollinated / heirloom varieties. I may not be saving any seeds this year, but I know that that is part of our future.

I want to eat the food the way God designed it, and I want it to reproduce itself self-sufficiently – also the way God designed it.

Their 10-pack includes:

  • Blue Lake 274 Bush Bean
  • Detroit Dark Red Beet
  • Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce
  • Cal Wonder Pepper
  • Cherry Belle Radish
  • Danvers 126 Carrot
  • Bloomsdale Spinach
  • Early Summer Crookneck Squash
  • Brandywine Red Tomato
  • Sweet Burpless Cucumber Hybrid

We will probably not grow the beet or the radish, but will use the other eight as our first experiments with each of those vegetables.

Important things we’re considering adding include Corn, Blackeyed Peas, Pole Beans, Winter Squash, Brussels Sprouts, Garlic, Onion, and some friendly and edible plants like Nasturtium and Marigold.

Some things I’m anxious to grow we won’t start until we move up to the land, since they’re not annuals: Asparagus, Blueberries, etc.

And how do Strawberries grow in Mississippi? In Florida they’re an annual crop, since there’s no winter to speak of to create the dormancy period which would signal them to produce again… So, here, can I keep them going?

I plan to grow a few little trees in containers – like Clementines. Not sure whether I should start those now, or would the trip still traumatize them too much?

Yes, I’m totally overwhelmed. Likely I will end up throwing myself on the mercy of the garden department staff at Lowes….

Feb 192011

I have been looking into different means of lowering our energy costs. The two biggest expenses seem to be heating and cooling. The three places that this is applicable are 1) heating the clothes dryer, 2) heating the house, and 3) cooling the house.

The first thing to do is to make sure the house is adequately insulated and sealed for holding in the heat and cool that we produce. There are several places to get information on this, so I will go on to other things to help.

1) Heating the clothes dryer.

This is a huge drain on our electricity. Using electricity to produce heat is the most inefficient way to use electricity. I actually documented my power use and found that running the dryer uses 5 times the electricity used on an average day. We solved this problem by installing a gas dryer. Burning natural gas to produce heat is much more efficient and less expensive than using electricity.

Another option here is to hang some clothes out to dry naturally. We have an indoor rack that we can hang a few things on and we have an outdoor line (like mom used to have). Hanging things out to dry is good for the bulky things we have.

2) Heating and cooling the geothermal way.

This is a good discussion topic for later. For now just imagine heating and cooling with the same temperature air from an underground duct system. Just like caves stay a constant temperature because of their massive earth insulation, we can have a buried duct system that bring constant warmer than the ambient air temperature in during the winter and cooler than the ambient air temperature during the summer. This is really simplified and these systems are usually supplemented with other methods.

3) Heating the house.

This is the same huge drain on electricity. So, of course, we use gas. This cuts the electric bill by about $200 per month during the cold months and only adds about $35 per month to the gas bill.

4) Cooling the house.

This is my biggest concern right now. Everyone who lives in a region of the world where it is hot for 3 to 6 months out of the year (I know, some are longer) knows how expensive it is to run a central AC unit or window units. This isn’t as easy as just “switch to gas”. Gas units are expensive up front. But if you can afford it and will keep the house for many years then go for it. Heat exchanger units with natural gas are a great alternative. I am going a different, kind of extremist method. I’m going to build an ice cooling system.

In its simplest form we could just put an ice block in front of a fan and turn on the fan. But the ice would melt and get all over the floor. OK, let’s put it in a tray to catch the water. We can even reuse the water if we retain it in a collection system. This would still put a lot of moisture in the air and in some parts of the world that’s the last thing we want. Let’s go a step further and put the water in containers (like a 2 liter soda bottle) and freeze it. Now when the ice melts it is inside the container and we can just freeze it again. We might even incorporate fins on the containers that would conduct the cool over a larger surface area. If you put water in bottles and freeze it, remember to leave a little space at the top of the bottle for expansion of the freezing water and leave the cap off while freezing so the bottle doesn’t burst.

OK, that’s one method.

What if we used the ice a little differently? What if we had an insulated container lined with hose and in the container we had ice and in the hose we circulated liquid that was transported to a cooling coil on a fan?

Take a container (maybe a large Styrofoam cooler) and line the inside with a hose that can circulate liquid. If the hose is a material that conducts (like copper pipe) it will work better, but PVC or garden hose will work. Fill the container with ice and circulate the liquid in the hose using a small pump. Connect the ends of the hose to a cooling coil in a central ducted system or a stand-alone fan. You will need the ice to actually come in contact with the hose for best conduction. This makes the reusable bottle method not as good, but we could drain out the water and refreeze it into ice cubes for reuse. For a little more efficiency we could get rid of all the extra space in the middle of the container. We could actually fill that with smaller containers (like a few 2 litre bottles).

We still need fans to circulate the air, but like the heating, we can save about $200 on the electric bill per month by not using the big central AC unit and the fan will add about $35 back into the bill. The more efficient the fan is, the better.

Taking it to another level …

What I propose to do at my home place is a bit more extensive. I plan to start with a 4 foot by 4 foot pit in the ground. The bottom of the pit will be tapered down in a cone mostly to give a little more surface area. Line the pit with a heavy plastic to capture the water from the melting ice that can be reused or repurposed. I was thinking about putting a small hose and pump down to the bottom of the pit to pull out the water as it accumulates. Next is to line the pit with hose starting about two feet below the top edge. This is much like the Styrofoam cooler method, only this uses the ground for the insulation. This also allows me to have a much larger holding container. The last step is to fill the pit with ice and seal it up. As in the Styrofoam cooler method, I will pump liquid through the hose to a cooling coil used to cool the air and a fan to circulate the air. I will need to get on a regular schedule of draining out the melt-off every day to freeze back into ice for the next day. Usually this type of water cooling system is piped into each room in the house where you can connect a coil and fan setup in any or all of the rooms.

If you live in an area where you can collect ice all winter and store it in a barn or shed, you wouldn’t have to make or buy as much ice during the summer. And if you built this as a large container above ground you could insulate it and ice it for cooling in the summer and build a fire under it for heating the water in the winter.

…There’s much more to come as I investigate this topic further…

Aug 282010

There are a number of different trees growing up on the Holley property.

Wolf plans to thin out a bunch of the pines near the house area, since they are the favored habitat of ticks and other nasty critters.

There are also plenty of hardwoods around, so things will still be plentifully forested.

But I also want to plant some food trees.

We’re planning to buy the biggest ones we can manage (financially and logistically), since we hope to not have to wait ten years for a mature, fruit-bearing tree. And we are hoping to start planting now, so that they have these couple of years before we move up there.

So, what would the ideal small homestead “tree farm” contain?

Here’s what we’ve been thinking:

  • Apples. Good for eating straight, applesauce, cider, etc., etc.
  • Sugar Maple. Syrup and sugar – the old-fashioned way.
  • Pecan. Nuts are a good food. Pecan is not necessarily our very favorite, but I know it grows well in the climate there.

I also want to plant a couple of non-fruit-bearing pear trees, which has the most beautiful, sudden bursting into flower in the springtime, and allowed me to fall in love with Mississippi.

So, how many of each kind of tree? Just one, because how much can we eat? Two, for pollination, and you can sell surpluses? Three, because you want two and that way there’s a spare?

And what other food trees should we consider?

Aug 232010

Now begins the quest for a simpler life.

My wife and I have been wanting a simpler lifestyle more and more over the past few years. We are both used to the big cities of California.

She has come to long for a simpler life for us and our children. I was born and reared in northeast Mississippi and hunted and fished and heard stories of farming and having animals.

We felt that if we could ever buy a decent-sized plot of land with running water it would be a dream come true.

I grew up spending lots of free time at “the farm”. My uncle had purchased upwards of 80 acres of land outside of town. After he died in the Air Force the land went to my grandfather, and when he passed away my dad got the land and eventually built a house there.

My father passed away on August 16th, 2010 and my brother asked if I had any desire to move onto the land when our step-mother moved away. She will stay for a while, but eventually retire to the town further north where her family lives.

I thought about the 80-plus acres with a creek running through it.

I think our dreams have just begun to come to fruition.

Our plans are to have an essentially self-sufficient life on a small homeplace. We have planned out little bits and pieces of it over the years; we have lovingly come to call this place “Contentment” after Paul’s description in the Bible.

I plan to document and pass on the things that work and the things that don’t.

The journey will begin now for me and my wife Tiffany (in our 40′s), oldest son Nick at 16, Jewel at 5, and R.T. at 2 years of age.

The following months or years will be planning and preparing the land.

On some undetermined date in the future we will move to the homeplace and start our new life … one step at a time.

So, here we go … on the road to Contentment.

 Posted by at 8:17 am
Sep 072009

(By Wolf)

I’m not really a green kinda’ person (although, as Tiffany recently pointed out, we’re greener than we think)…

I just saw Colin Beavan’s web information on living green and saving the world. That’s not really me, but I do have a conservative side that wishes to live a simpler lifestyle. My family and I have spent hours thinking about our little community of people who want to live a simple, self sufficient life.

Of course, we would start our simple life in simple ways. We have already started in many areas like cloth diapers for the baby and making our own bread.

Our bigger steps are to grow some fruits and vegetables and maybe even get a cow for milk and butter. We began a year or so ago (early 2008) to save a little money and it was nice to save a few trees in the process. We cut down on our toilet paper usage and paper napkins. We started using cloth towels instead of paper towels for the little clean up jobs. We try not to use the electric dryer to dry all of our clothes and we cut out commercial television a long time ago for many reasons.

We’ve even moved on to food things. That started one day when we bought an ice cream maker. With the price of stuff going up and up it made more sense to make ice cream instead of buying it. Now we also make bread and are looking for other ways to make our own food items that are normally bought prepackaged. This move to making our own foods from scratch has been spurred along by the invasion of high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener in almost everything from soda to ketchup.

Then, in my dreams of the future, I have the even bigger step of starting a community of like-minded people who want to get rid of the “luxuries” of the fast paced life we have come way too close to being addicted to. I want some land with running water to build a mill and have a community that might look like it was from the turn of the century … the 20th century. I say that it will need to be a community because I can’t do it all. We would need a blacksmith and a baker and a carpenter and a rancher and a farmer and the list goes on.

And the dream has a name.

We will live content in the community of Contentment.

My wife has covered this better than I can in her page about the reasons we chose this name. I’ll just say that it was a God thing. I look forward to getting closer and closer to this dream as time goes on. And anyone with a passion for a simpler life is welcome to join us in making this dream come true.