Vela Creations is an in-depth resource for off grid living. The site documents our research and experiences, hoping that they might help others interested in pursuing this lifestyle. This blog is designed to document our day to day experiences as we build our new, sustainable homestead. If you are interested in seeing more photos and videos, we have a flickr account at the following url: http://flickr.com/photos/35090117@N05/collections/

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pumpkin


This fall, we harvested, among other smaller squash, two 40 lb pumpkins, one of which we gave to some friends. Today we processed our one.

We cut it into chunks, cleaned the seeds and fibers out, then steamed the chunks. Once they were cooked, we scraped the flesh off the rind.

The seeds were cleaned and dried for next year. The rind and fibers went to the chickens. And the meat was turned into:
Two pumpkin pies
A bunch of squash, banana and honey leather (sun-dried)
Squash salad
Pumpkin bread
The rest I put into ice trays and froze them for our teething nine month old son.

The big, winter squash are great. They last for a long time, so produce a lot of food in winter when your fresh vegetables are at their lowest.

Phase 1 of Building

The biggest project we have going on at the moment is building more rooms onto the existing one. These will be, going west to east from the existing building, the living room (13' x 10'), the dining room (13' x 10'), the kitchen (13' x 10'), and the entrance way (8'x6').

The north side is dug into the hill (adding thermal mass to the coldest side of the house), and the south will be double-glazed polycarbonate windows. The eaves on the south side will be such that no sun gets into the room in summer, when the sun is at its highest and hottest, while allowing the sun to enter all the way to the back of the room in winter. This will help us heat the house and grow year-round food in the flower beds that will be built at the base of the windows.

Here is a summary of what we have done so far:
1)Dug into the hill (north side of house) and leveled a 40' x 16' area.
2)Built a cement block retaining wall to the south of the building site.
3)Put a 4” PVC pipe at the base of what we dug out. This runs all the way along the earth, leading out to the garden. We have a trench dug into the clay up the hill from the building site, but should any water get through to the house, this should carry it away from the foundation.
4)Filled the whole site with 8” sand.
5)Compacted the sand.
6)Dug post holes for the south corners of the rooms. We covered castillos with lathing, put them into the holes, leveled them, and poured concrete into them.
7)Put 30 feet of 4” metal square tubing on top of the posts and welded it in place.
8)Poured a 6” x 6” metal reinforced foundation. We dug into the sand a little and then made forms so that the rest was above the level of the sand. The trench was lined with plastic, as an added security against water. We had pieces of rebar sticking up out of the foundation at two feet intervals or either side of doors.
9)Attached wall panels, made of remesh and rebar, to the foundation rebar.
10)Cut out doors and windows, when necessary.
11)Wired two layers of lathing, going in opposite directions, to the wall panels, using hog nose pliers and clips.
12)Cut out any holes needed – for water pipes, stove pipes, thermal cooling pipes, etc.
13)Wired the house with AC and DC plugs and switches.
14)Put in the breakfast bar and other shelves – all of which were made out of rebar, remesh and lathing.
15)Put in curtain rails, picture hooks, and anchors for a future shelf.
16)Put in and plumbed the doors and the window frames.
17)Made two 8' x 4' movable forms that we used for backing while we put the first layer of concrete (scratch coat) on.
18)Using a 3:1 finely screened sand to cement mix, we stuccoed a scratch coat and brown coat to each side of the walls. The final coat, which will consist of cement, lime and fibers, will go on after the roof is finished.

So that's where we are now: Stage 1 is complete and we are about to start Stage 2... the roof.

For more photos, click here.

Introduction

We moved to our new place about a year and a half ago, in June of 2007. We bought 10 acres of raw land, a couple of miles north of a rural village, whose economy depends on apples and cattle. The property is a south facing hill at 6300 feet elevation, with clay soil, juniper and oak trees, and lots of rocks.

We started off with no shelter, water, electricity, garden, etc. and have slowly been building up each system. Our set up as of right now is basic, but functional:


  • Shelter: a 20'x12' unfinished, ferro-cement vault that will eventually be divided into a hallway, bathroom and power house.
  • Water: 180 square feet of arched catchment area and 1500 gallons of storage tank. We get an average of about 25 inches of annual rainfall. Our grey water (showers, dishes and laundry – all of which are done by hand) goes to the garden.
  • Energy: a 100 watt wind generator, 75 watts of solar, 8 x 6 volt deep cycle batteries. We have the house wired with both ac and dc electricity. Our fridge and stove currently run off propane and our heat is a wood burning stove.
  • Food: 800 square feet of garden, which we double dig and compost heavily, in order to loosen up the clay. We have wheat, garlic and greens planted at the moment, after a very full summer crop. We also have chickens for eggs and occasional meat.
  • Waste: We compost everything organic, including human waste. And we save almost all our other trash to reuse in some way or other.
  • Transport: Unfortunately we are still dependent on gasoline, though we don't often leave our place. This is something we definitely want to rectify as soon as we get a chance!
Our eventual goal is to become totally self sustainable, but one thing that we have learned so far is that there is a lot to do and it all takes time. So our motto, while we enjoy our life and slowly get things done, is “little by little”. This blog is designed to keep track of that gradual progress.