Canadian Renegade

Renegade: an individual who rejects lawful or conventional behavior

Month: November 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Permaculture Test Plot – Part 3: Cattle Catastrophe

We woke up one morning to find a bunch of baby steers had invaded our yard. They must have liked my permaculture test plot more than I did because they ate about half of it to the ground!

I noticed them in the yard first thing in the morning and didn’t want them to hang around and cause damage so I shooed them off into the hay field behind the yard. I left for work confident that, in a few hours, whichever farmer had lost the cattle would notice and come round them up. not only were they not claimed that afternoon, the cattle also managed to find their way over to the test plot where they gobbled up most of my comfrey and radishes! Somehow, the trees were not badly damaged, thank goodness.

When I arrived home from work they were still in the hay field. I spent a couple of hours talking to all the neighbors and eventually figured out to which farmer they belonged. It was quite late in the day before anyone come by to round them up but at least they made their way home safely and wouldn’t be causing any more damage to the yard.

More in this Series:

Pine Paneling and Air Intake

After thinking about all our potential options for the interior walls, the reason for pine paneling being a popular choice for tiny homes on trailers became apparent. Drywall is heavy and likely to crack when relocating the trailer. The old school wall paneling made out of fiber board, common in the 70’s and 80’s, may be light and thin but is just butt ugly. Pine paneling is relatively light, thinner than most other materials and able to flex a bit without damage. The biggest drawback to the pine is the time commitment required to work with the material. There are so many pieces that have to be cut and installed. Despite that I don’t really know if there is a better option.

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Cutting the tongue and groove pine boards to length. An electrical box partially cut in.

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Measuring an electrical box, transferring the measurements and cutting. The jigsaw was invaluable for the smaller cuts.

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Not everything had to be measured with a tape. Some things could just be eyeballed. I was able to do some of the finer detailing with a knife because the boards are so thin.

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Continued knife work leading to a tight finish.

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It’s hammer time baby! Not all of the boards wanted to fit into place easily. Some of them needed to be hammered down gently with a rubber mallet.

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The last step in the process of installing a board was to nail it into place with a pneumatic finishing nailer. I did my best to hide the nails by nailing at a 45° angle just below the tongue. This wasn’t possible in all areas due to space restrictions.

One important step we didn’t get a picture of was making sure our rows stayed level. Every 3-4 rows I would check with a level and sometimes a tape measure to make sure I wasn’t installing the boards at an angle. If I was out a bit I would adjust accordingly as I continued up the wall.

In the following video I discuss the pine paneling installation, cedar loft flooring and the cold air intake for our propane range and wood stove.

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The air intake after the installation of the range and wood stove.

Permaculture Test Plot – Part 2

The long term plan for this test plot is to leave the ground to nature when the saskatoon, seaberry, and hazel trees reach a large enough size that they have no trouble competing with undesirable weeds like thistles and perennial grasses. In the short term, since I don’t have much free time, I have been maintaining the test plot by planting vegetables and trimming back undesirable weeds to the ground (chop and drop). I only get out to do this about twice a year so it makes for a very unruly looking garden plot but the trees don’t seem to mind how it looks and are probably benefiting from these companion plants.

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On the left horse radish. Bee balm that looks to be frost damaged on the right.

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Jerusalem artichokes.

One important principle I learned from my study of permaculture is that if a piece of ground is left bare something will eventually occupy that space. Having bare dirt between rows of plants is very unnatural and the only way this state can be maintained is if someone physically removes the “weeds” or applies chemicals to the area. Planting companion plants you want along side your crops or mulching is a better option in these spaces, but remember, not all weeds are bad. Many weeds have beneficial effects on the soil and nearby plants. Dandy Lions, for instance, have a large tap root that helps to loosen compacted soil and bring up nutrients from the subsoil. Clovers and alfalfa feed nitrogen fixing bacteria and help to increase soil fertility.

Another walk through of my test plot after trimming the undesirable weeds back. A couple of new plants have been revealed.

More in this series:

Vapor Barrier Part 2 – Poly Hat

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This short video walks you through installing a poly hat through the vapor barrier on my tiny house.

The first blog post on vapor barrier.

Permaculture Test Plot – Part 1

As you’ve seen in some of our prior posts, we finally bought a piece of land to homestead on. We had been looking for several years and during this time I have been itching to start experimenting with permaculture plants. We never really had the space to do much but I did manage to take over a small section of my parents potato patch for a test plot.

Some of the plants we grew in it were bush beans, comfrey, tomatoes, lettuce, Jerusalem artichokes, seaberry, hazelnut, mint, catnip, icicle radish, lemon balm, bee balm, saskatoons, horse radish, red current, and a few other items I have probably forgotten to name, plus weeds. I am always amazed at how many plants can be fit into such a small space.

Even though our production on this small piece of land was not huge, we did get some tasty vegetables while the trees are being given a chance to grow. I have learned a lot by observing the plants, even when things weren’t going exactly as planned. For example, deer have enjoyed sampling our trees from time to time; several times last winter I noticed that a little bit more of the trees had been nipped off. The damage has been annoying but not detrimental so far; our trees are hanging in there.

The radishes, in particular, impressed me and are now one of my favorite vegetables! If left to grow well past when the roots are small and tender they become rather huge. I had to trim the radish tops back several times to keep them from smothering our trees. They produced an abundance of flowers, which the bees loved, and then a bunch of edible pods! When I saw the pods I decided to sample them and they tasted great! Afterwards, I looked up whether or not they were edible and thankfully they were. I prefer the pods to the radishes themselves. The pods have a more mild radish flavor and grow abundantly. The roots of the icicle radishes grew exceptionally large and penetrate deeply into the soil creating carbon pathways.

In the video I walk through my test plot and go through the wide variety of plants stuffed in this small area. One thing you may notice in the video, that I didn’t talk about, is the orange snow fence along the north and west sides of the fence around the plot. We used the snow fence as a wind break to buffer this area from the harsh winds in this location. The fence has improved the plant growth considerably.

More in this series:

Vapor Barrier Part 1, Furnace Install

Some days I just wasn’t in the mood to be in front of the camera. I just wanted to get the work done and not worry about putting on a happy face or waiting to take a picture. At the same time though I didn’t want to miss recording too much of the Tiny House build and had to suck it up. Luckily I don’t take myself too seriously, in hind sight I find some of the videos and photos we made amusing.

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How I really felt on the left.

In this video I discuss the Vapor Barrier and furnace installation.

The second blog post on the vapor barrier.

 

Electrical Part 3 – Exterior Plug and Light Boxes

Just a short one today. I didn’t feel that this video fit in well with with some of the others that were done around the same time period. Here, I discuss my solution to waterproofing our porch light and exterior receptacle boxes. The porch light runs a DC light that I rigged up myself which I will cover in a future post.

Birch Firewood for the Hobbit Stove

There is something satisfying about watching chunks of wood fly while chopping firewood. Having a reason to look forward to this chore is a good thing, especially if you have a large pile waiting to be split. Luckily for us, we have a small wood burning stove which mean less work overall.

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Small chunks of wood like the piece I am holding are the perfect size for our Hobbit Stove.

When we first started using the Hobbit Stove last March, we were primarily using softwood scraps left over from the Tiny House build. While these scraps were adequate to heat the house I had a feeling they were not the optimal fuel for our stove. This year, I purchased a small amount of birch firewood from one of my friends at the gym.

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A large axe is not needed when cutting kindling from such small pieces of wood.

I have certainly been impressed with this firewood. The birch burns both hotter and cleaner than the softwood scraps. Sometimes if the air mixture is just right the flames are more blue than orange or yellow. A blue flame is a good indicator of a clean burn and that the primary gases being produced will be carbon dioxide. An orange flame means there is incomplete burning occurring and more carbon monoxide and other pollutants are being produced.

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This was a tough one! You can see the knot in the piece of wood in the left picture.

In the following video I discuss how impressed I am with how clean our birch firewood burns! One thing I didn’t mention in the video which I covered in a previous post was how much higher the energy content of birch is compared to spruce or pine. This makes a noticeable difference in the amount of heat produced and how long the wood burns.

Tiny House Insulation

Other than the exterior foam board which I have already covered here, the primary insulation used in our tiny house is Roxul batting.

We chose to go with Roxul for a few reasons. One, the quality is superior compared to fiberglass batting as it will not slump or lose R-value if it gets wet. Secondly, Roxul does not burn or off gas during a fire. In fact, despite not being marketed as a fireproof insulation we have heard of people using Roxul to insulate around chimney pipes. I’m not advising that anyone use it for any application the company doesn’t recommend, however, I can tell you that I tested Roxul with a blow torch and it would melt at extreme temperature rather than burn.  Roxul is also much easier to install than cutting foam board to fit in between 16″ on center studs.

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The other option which is gaining popularity in the Tiny House community is hiring a company to spray foam the walls. The big advantages with spray foam is a higher R-value and the addition of structural stability. However, we decided against the spray foam option because we were concerned with the potential for off gassing. Foam tends to off gas more the newer it is, decreasing over time. Foam board purchased in store has probably off gassed most of its volatile chemicals by the time it is purchased. Spray foam is actually off gassing at a much higher rate than foam board because it is applied directly to the house. A major deterrent to using spray foam was reading several stories online of people having reactions to spray foam installed in their new house, especially when it was applied improperly.

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In this video I cover some of the basics of installing our Roxul insulation and talk about why we used 3″ foam board in a few select areas instead.

 

When Moles Attack! (Pocket Gophers)

The other day I was walking by the garden and noticed that there were multiple mole hills on the ground where we planted our Jerusalem Artichokes. I wasn’t planning on harvesting them this year, instead, I was going to leave them in the ground over the winter to increase our root stock for next years crop. However, with the moles feasting on them I figured I better dig them up before we lost the whole crop. As you’ll see in the video the “moles” aren’t really moles they are actually the Northern Pocket Gopher. Most people I have met call them moles though, probably because they look similar and produce dirt mounds.

 

Jerusalem Artichokes also known as "Sunchokes" are an attractive perennial plant that can grow to heights of 9 feet or more.

Jerusalem Artichokes also known as “Sunchokes” are an attractive perennial plant that can grow to heights of 9 feet or more.

Jerusalem Artichokes are a perennial sunflower that are mainly grown for the root tubers they produce. The tubers are very high in the carbohydrate inulin which is difficult for humans to digest and is often classified as a prebiotic because it feeds gut bacteria. Jerusalem Artichokes can cause a significant amount of gas if you eat too much in one sitting. There are some things that you can do during the cooking process to mitigate this but they are best consumed in smaller quantities. I don’t consider them to be a great carbohydrate source like potatoes because of this drawback. However, they are a great permaculture plant and both the leaves and the tubers are good animal feed as the pocket gophers will attest to. They are also really easy to grow.

Jerusalem Artichoke Tubers. These tasty roots can cause significant gas if you aren't careful.

Jerusalem Artichoke Tubers. These tasty roots can cause significant gas if you aren’t careful.

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