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:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a great 2011.


All our love,
Abe, Josie, Leo and Nico

She has a penis

Now that I'm in my 20th week of pregnancy, we decided to go and have another ultrasound.

Everything looks great. All normal and healthy. Just one small issue - our little girl has a penis! Yep, that's right, another boy. And before any of you start in with stories of someone you know who thought their baby was a boy, but turned out to be a girl, our little guy was very accommodating in the view he gave us of his junk. Even Leo, who was calling out the body parts he could see, cried "Nicky's wee wee".

Of course at the end of the day, it doesn't much matter either way. But it will take some readjustment. We had always assumed it would be a she, a little sister, etc. Well, Nicola Tess is no more, little Nico took her place!

And he is a very active little guy. I am now feeling him regularly. Thankfully, I have no discomfort or bad side effects of the pregnancy so far, although the BIG months are about to begin! Keep you posted next year.

As for Leo, I realize that I am long overdue for an update. I promise I will do a post on him in January. For the time being, suffice it to say that he's doing great, growing like a weed, in constant trouble, chatting up a storm and excited about Christmas.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Tree

SANY7003 We had figured that we would have one more year before Christmas really kicked in at our place. We were wrong. Two and a half is old enough, I guess.

We went to the city and Leo met Santa, shook his hand even, and he has been talking about him ever since. He also loves the lights, especially on trees.

So, given his general excitement about Christmas (even if full comprehension is still lacking), we have entered into the spirit. And I'm really glad we did, as the eagerness of children is completely infectious.

We cut down a small juniper tree from our property, and decorated it. It makes a really nice little tree, and Leo loves it when it gets dark and we can turn the lights on.

We also got him a Christmas stocking, seeing as Santa now knows where he lives.


Since finishing the bathroom and sealing the floors, we have been concentrating mainly on other types of work - you know, the kind that earns you money. One of our revenues is writing articles. Here are some links to a few of the most recent that have been published by Make magazine; the ones that are not yet published will be coming soon, but the photos will give you an idea.

Toddler Swing:
How-to article - coming soon
Leo testing the prototype

Solar Food Dryer:
How-to article - coming soon

Fabric-formed posts:
How-to article - coming soon
Photos - here and here

Top bar beehive:
How-to article - coming soon

How-to article
Version printed in Make

CEB Floors:
How-to article
Version printed in Make
Photos - here and here

Tool Bucket:
How-to article
Version printed in Make

Jar Organiser:
How-to article
Version printed in Make

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Leo/Nicky Bed Fund

This post is for family and friends that would be buying us something for Christmas or a gift for the new baby when that time comes. We ask that instead of doing either of those things, would you please consider contributing to this project.

We got to thinking about what we needed to get for when the baby arrives, and we realized that we have absolutely everything we need - clothes for boy or girl, crib, blankets, toys, a new house and bathroom, etc. There is however one very large thing that we need - a bigger bed.

When Leo wakes up in the mornings, he likes to come and get in bed with us and either go back to sleep for a while or play. And when the baby joins us, she will be sleeping with us at first. It's already pretty crowded in our double bed with the added bulk of a rowdy two and a half year old, let alone a new (and delicate) little one. So we have decided to get a king size bed to accommodate the whole family.

We priced out what the whole thing will cost, including frame, mattress, sheets, etc. and the price (without shopping around too much) is $700. So, chip in to the bed fund with the widget above, and help us achieve our goal!

This little piggy went home with us

SANY6908 Pigs have always been on our homesteading agenda. The original plan was to get our feet wet with a couple of feeder pigs in Spring 2011, and then maybe get 2 or 3 breeder sows and a boar the year after. A great plan, and only one hitch so far - it got jump-started.

Abe was talking to a guy in the village who mentioned he had some piglets and was about to take them to the market. Abe naturally asked to see them, and 5 minutes later he had arranged to come and pick three of them up the following day or so. That was Thursday.

We went from his house to a nearby town to get some sacks of feed, a nipple that the pigs drink water from, and a few T-Posts. That afternoon, we began work on building a corral and house for the newcomers.

By 3 O'Clock Friday afternoon, we had finished the remesh pen, the water and feeding system, and the hoop-house, which we filled with hay for bedding. So we went to the village to pick up our pigs.

Joel caught them (not too hard as they lived in a pretty small pen) and lifted them up. Abe held up a feed sack under them and pulled it up over the pig. In the sack, they were fairly calm and couldn't run around. It was funny to see these feed sacks with a pig nose sticking out of them!

SANY6900 We took them home and let them loose in the pen. They were over the moon - they had never seen grass before and were immediately rooting around. We were in the pen with them and Leo just loved it. The hardest thing about the whole thing was getting him to leave.

Abe checked on them a couple of times in the night. The first time, they were bedded down outside the hoop house, so he picked them up and threw them into the hay. The next time he went to check on them, he couldn't find them anywhere. The giveaway was the fact that the straw (where they had buried themselves) was snoring.

Now all we have to do is put up some electric fencing, so that they can pasture. We plan to make the fences follow the contours of the land, so that when the pigs are rooting, they will actually be doing the foundation work for swales.

First thing Leo said this morning was "See pigs?"
"Sure. Let's go. How many pigs are there?"
"That's right, one for papa, two for mama, three for Leo."
"One Nicky?" (Nicky is what we're calling the new baby at the moment).
"No baby, Nicky's going to share mama's pig."
"Poor Nicky."

For more photos, click here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sealing the Floors

SANY6862 We finally got around to something I have been waiting for for a very long time - sealing the downstairs floors.

Because the sealant is so stinky, it is not something we could just do, as the house must be left open for a while. We'd wanted to do it at the beginning of the year, but we had visitors, then other stuff came up, then the rains started, etc. This was the last chance we had to get it done before it gets cold.

This was something I did not participate in, as we were worried that it might be something that would affect the baby. Abe and a friend did a great job and it went a lot faster than we had thought.

We have left the house open and alone, while we take a mini vacation, much deserved we feel.

We have now done all the major projects we had wanted to get finished before winter, and when we return home I will be able to sweep and mop the whole house - just in time for the pregnancy nesting phases. Poor Abe.

For more photos, click here.

Compost heater

SANY6845 Another thing we did this week was build a compost heater.

The brick walls on the north side of the bedroom can get a little cold this time of the year, so we are trying an experiment. To the north of Leo's room, we built a big, insulated box out of hay bales, 14 feet by 4 feet, 3 feet tall. We then lined it with a tarp and put layers of weeds and manure into it. After wetting it down we covered it with a tarp and insulation.

We'll see how it works before we do outside our room. So far, it is doing great. It has definitely heated up. The bricks lower down the wall are considerably warmer than the ones higher up. Time will tell how much it warms up the room and how long it will last. The great thing is that even if the experiment is a failure, we will get a whole bunch of compost out of the deal!

For more photos, click here.

Tank finished

SANY6830 Well, the hot water system and bathroom are now totally finished.

We put radiant barrier around the tank, then insulation (R40), and then built a box around it all, which we stuccoed, waterproofed and painted.

The water now sits at about 115 to 120 degrees. It is too hot on its own. We can take showers as long as we want. If we leave the floor heaters on all night the temperature drops to 95 degrees, but heats back up to 120 by 10 or 11 in the morning.

We are very happy with it!

All photos, click here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

First shower in the new bathroom

Well, we didn't hit our desired deadline of 1st November for the bathroom, but we are now within 2 days of totally finishing. Things always seem to take longer than you think they will, what with unexpected occurrences and general delays. Oh well.

So, what have we accomplished?

SANY6795 Abe has got a lot done outside. The panels are finished and are now circulating hot water through the tank, which is in place and hooked up to the system. We have 2 pumps connected - 1 circulates the water through the sub floor heating, the other pumps the water from the tank to panels. When the panels are within 10 degrees F of the tank, the pump turns itself off. There is a control panel inside the house, which shows us what the temperatures of the panels and tank are. All that lacks now is to insulate and stucco the tank, which should take 2 days. As is, the tank's water gets hot in the day, but then loses its heat overnight.

SANY6776 He had one major mishap, one that was totally beyond his control. The hot water for the shower and sinks comes from 100 meters of 1" pipe that we coiled up inside the tank (which was a bitch to do!). It was in place and hooked up and Abe was about to fill the tank with water when the pipe sprung a leak, luckily near the end. I climbed inside and cut the bad piece of pipe off (almost couldn't get out, and give me another month of pregnancy and I won't be able to!) and we thought all was well. He filled the tank and then a day later the pipe sprung another leak. He had to take it all out (after emptying the tank water), buy a new one and recoil it inside. What must have happened was the machine that picked up the roll in the factory must have pierced it, for there were three identical cuts in the roll. We got our money back, but it sucked a lot of time.

SANY6779 I filled the inside planters with soil. We had made a huge pile of compost many months ago and this composed the main substance of the soil. It was black, rich, tarry and filled with worms. I also added a little sand and soil (for trace minerals and bacteria) to the mix, and then put a thick layer of mulch on top. I must have moved more than a ton of earth, and of everything I've done recently it was the most tiring couple of days.

SANY6788 I also finished all the interior concrete and then painted the bathroom. Abe installed the bathtub, shower and sink, and then we hung the curtail rail and shower curtain. Yesterday, the three of us took our first ever showers in our own home. It was truly blissful, and of course Leo loved it as much, if not more than we did. I got the privilege of the first shower, which was a mistake, as Abe and Leo then got in and stayed there until the hot water ran out, which was a very long time. That's the last time I let Abe be chivalrous.

We've been dreaming of having a hot shower in our bathroom for so long now that we can hardly believe it's actually done. We feel like we have truly climbed to the dizzying heights of civilization. I guess all that's left to do now is a solar hot tub!?

For photos, click here.
For photos of the construction of the planters, click here.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hot water panels

We worked again on the hot water system this week.

I finished interior stucco, but I still have other concrete work to do.

SANY6744 Abe stripped, cleaned, tested and put up the solar water heating panels. They are each 8 feet by 4 feet metal, insulated boxes, with copper pipes (painted black) snaking back and forth inside. They are then closed with glass.

The panels were on the verge of being thrown away some months ago in New Mexico. They were saved from the dump by Abe's dad, Jim, who is just as loathe as Abe to see anything useful become trash. Though he didn't need them, he immediately told the guy that his son would use them, so the man gave them to Jim for free. One of the panel's glass was broken and they were a little dirty, but otherwise in perfect condition.

They now have a new home, mounted on our roof. You cannot hold your finger inside the copper pipe as it gets way too hot.

This week, we work on the tank and controls. Next week, we should be having hot showers inside our bathroom!

For all of the photos, click here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Two and a half

SANY6254 Leo has just passed the 2 ½ year marker. Hard to believe at times, but the little baby is now almost completely gone, and in his place is this disarmingly cute little boy.

Physically there's not been too much change in the past 6 months – he still runs, jumps, climbs all over the place. Still loves to swing from stuff and be thrown around and up in the air. Accepts any chance he can get (no matter if he's never seen the person before) to ride a horse with someone. His throw keeps getting stronger and more accurate.

His coordination is certainly heightened. He can get into far more complicated devices and wrappers than before. He can take off shoes and socks (always putting the socks inside each shoe), and is starting to tackle dressing, or should I say undressing.

He's very tidy and organized and will always put his toys back in their exact places. He also has a fair amount of respect for things that aren't his. That's not to say that he doesn't mess with our things, but he USUALLY asks you first.

Verbally is the biggest change for sure. His language skills have taken off. Having spent 10 days with a bunch of Brits, his pronunciation, especially of “t”s, has gotten a lot better. He will repeat a word back instantly (not always clearly, but he's trying). He also forms pretty good sentences now, with noun, verb, adjective and object. Hasn't yet used any prepositions or adverbs, but hey, he's just 2. And something that is super cool is his Spanish. This week Abe and I have been working hard on the bathroom, and Leo has been spending time with Armando and Estela. In just three days, he is now saying over 15 words in Spanish and learning more each time.

He now knows every letter (except X) of the alphabet, and at least two words for each letter. He can repeat back to you the numbers 1 to 10 in both English and Spanish, though only does 1 to 5 in English independently. He knows all his basic colors and uses them correctly.

SANY6224 He is also exceptionally observant. Abe's the same way, he sees things I wouldn't even think to look for, and Leo has inherited this very useful gift. We'll be outside at dusk to see the first stars come out, and I'll point out the bright ones (planets). Leo will then point to something and say “baby star”. When he points it out I see it, but wouldn't have done before. The same goes for horses, cows, birds, etc. that he can see on the surrounding hills or skies.

Personality-wise, he is overall a very sweet and loving boy. He is curious about everything and generally enchanted by life. He does throw little fits of course, but generally not too bad. He lets out a little frustrated scream whenever he's trying to do something and just can't, but I think we can all sympathize with that.

Right now he wants to go play with other kids all the time. He still asks for his little cousin Timmy, and then he remembers that “T-Tim gone home white car.” I have a friend who has 3 boys, the middle of which, Martin, is just 5 days older than Leo. I go and see her whenever I have some spare time, and Leo loves to play there. He is not as advanced as Martin at sharing toys, but I'm hoping that will improve with practice, not to mention a new sibling next year.

His play is getting more entertaining for us. He will entertain himself for longer periods of time now, especially if you are close by. And some of his antics are so funny. His latest thing is teaching his toys how to talk. He'll line up a few of them in front of objects like “Juice” “water” “car”, etc. and repeat each object clearly to his toys. They are not quick learners, but Leo's patience with them seems endless.

I'm sure there are a million other things I'm leaving out, but when you see him every day it's very hard to realize what's new and what's not. Some things we hardly notice as anything special until someone else brings our attention to it.

I haven't taken any photos of Leo since getting back from vacation, but I will try and amend that. I will be putting any photos and videos of this month here.

Bathroom and hot water system

SANY6706 Since getting back from holiday, our focus has been prepping for winter. First we gathered and cut firewood and did a few other basic bits and pieces, and now we are attacking the bathroom and hot water system. Our goal is to get it finished by around the first of November.

Because it is an integrated system, there is a lot involved.

I've been doing the concrete work – stuccoing the walls and underside of the bathroom ceiling. For those of you who have never done overhead stucco, it is a bitch, leaving you with aching neck and shoulders. However, Abe had saved some acrylic sludge that was in a used barrel we bought and cleaned out, and I added it to my concrete. It made the hardest part of overhead stucco a million times easier. I have another two days to finish the interior of the bathroom and I will then start stuccoing the tank and other bits and pieces outside. SANY6715

Abe meanwhile has been doing everything else. He's laid the grey, hot, cold and floor heating lines within the house. So far all these lines (except the grey) end just outside the kitchen's east window, which is where the tank will go. This is our 300 gallon heat storage tank. We will have panels on the roof that will heat water and circulate it into the tank. We have not yet set up the tank or the controls – that will be next week's project.

Abe has also been working on the brackets that will hold the panels onto the roof, welding and bolting them together. Next week should also see the panels mounted.

The grey water lines will empty out into the flower beds that are inside the house, in the dining and living rooms. We will be using a wicking bed system for them, whereby the water sits in gravel and rocks, and is then wicked up by the soil to the plants. We'll be adding the soil next week or the week after – that will be almost the last thing we do.

SANY6710 All in all, we had a very productive few days. We're both pretty tired, as it's been a while since we worked like this. But hopefully just another week or two at this pace and we can slow down for the winter months.

On a side note, I have found the cure for morning sickness: since starting working with concrete (which I did all the way through the first two trimesters of Leo) my nausea has disappeared!

For more photos, click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bun in the Oven

Our biggest news at present is that I'm pregnant again, just entering my 2nd trimester.

Though sex is still unknown, calling the baby "it" feels a little impersonal, so until we know otherwise, it will be "she". There isn't a single girl in Leo's generation on either mine or Abe's side of the family, so we think it's about time to change that.

We had our first ultrasound last week, which is always a wonderful experience. She's an active little booger, dancing around, moving her hands, playing with the umbilical cord. When we had our first view of Leo, he turned towards the camera and we had a perfect shot of his face. With this little one however, just as the doctor was trying to measure her head or spine and be about to click, she would lurch away and he'd have to begin all over again.

As far as the day I ovulated is concerned, she is due on the 10th May. However, based on the size of her head and spine, the doctor is estimating 28th April. We had planned this pregnancy so that the kids wouldn't have birthdays in the same month, but I guess she may not want to cooperate... we'll just have to wait and see.

She's definitely been more trouble so far. With Leo I never felt any morning sickness or anything in the first trimester. With this pregnancy, I have felt sick pretty much all day every day. It is now starting to ease up thankfully, so I'm just getting ready to enjoy these next three months. 2nd trimester is definitely the best – all the fun stuff, before the sheer discomfort sets in!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shelly's Wedding

SANY6511 The second part of the trip took place in Arizona. We had a long day traveling from Florida to Tucson. It seems like Leo just got used to the three hour time difference and then we came back. Oh well.

Abe's second eldest sister, Shelly, was getting married, and pretty much the whole Connally clan came to share the day. All the siblings, the parents, uncle and aunt and two cousins.

We had a family party on Saturday night, where the Connallys got to hang out with their new in-laws. It was a lovely evening.

Then, on Sunday, we all went down to the river for the ceremony. It was really sweet and simple, in a scenic, tranquil setting. An obviously happy and well-suited couple, and we're so glad we were able to witness their vows to each other.

SANY6549 Then came the reception. Again, everything looked great. Everything about the wedding was what would be called low budget, in that they did all the catering and decoration themselves. To be honest though, it was the most beautiful and stylish wedding I've been to.

Leo was awesome. He barely cried or whined at all, despite being super tired. He seemed to make friends everywhere he looked, especially on the dance floor. I eventually took him back to Shelly's house early and he crashed.

Everyone had a great time. Just like my family, these are people who really enjoy each other's company and make the most of each time they get together. There were smiles and good times all around. I think it's generally accepted though that Zane is not allowed to mix the shots again!

Congratulations Shelly and Donna.

For more photos and videos, click here.

Florida Trip

SANY6430 Emily dropped us off at the airport on Wednesday morning, and we arrived that afternoon in Florida. Not a bad journey – two 2 ½ hour flights, with an hour's drive at the end. Leo liked watching the planes, and being in them for a little while, but then he wanted out. Still, it wasn't too bad, especially once he fell asleep.

We stayed at my mom and Bob's house. My grandparents and dad flew in from Europe and stayed in a house nearby, and my sister and her family live an hour away from my mom and came up to visit a couple of times.

SANY6434 It was really great to see everyone. My family is so strewn out that we rarely get to see each other, so when we do, it is very special. With that in mind, we did not do a great deal while we were there, preferring to spend most of the time hanging out with each other.

My sister's youngest boy, Timmy, is 8 months younger than Leo, and I was really looking forward to seeing the two of them together. I was not disappointed. Timmy is pretty much the same size as Leo, and is 3 lbs heavier, so they were evenly matched when disputes did arise. There were definitely moments when they wanted each other's toys, whined, cried, etc. - they are both two year olds. But for the most part, they were very sweet together. They had great fun splashing in the bath, having “blah” shouting competitions, and generally keeping the adults entertained (and run off their feet).

SANY6349 We did go to Disney's Animal Kingdom one day, as my mom and Bob get free tickets. It was a very long day, but fun. The highlight for the babies was when they found water jets coming out of the ground and wall. They played for over an hour in the water, until they were blue and shivering and we had to drag their soaking bodies out.

Thank you everyone for coming and for a wonderful time.

There's a bunch of photos and videos here.


I haven't blogged in a long time as we have been away on a trip to visit both sides of the family. We got back home Monday night and have been fairly useless since. Leo repeatedly empties his toy boxes and touches every single one of his things before putting them all back. We're not quite that bad, but it is nice to sleep in our own bed.

The trip was pretty full, so I'll break it down into two more blogs: Florida and Shelly's wedding. But before I even start in on those, our departure from here was an adventure in itself.

We left Monday 27th October and it had been raining solidly for a week. This year has been a strange year for rain. Overall, we got 10 inches more than either 2008 or 2009, but the majority of that fell during one week in July and then the week before we left, with it being fairly dry in between.

At 9 am we were all packed and ready to go, house tidy, fridge empty, baby excited. The ground was so slick and saturated that your footprint would fill with water. We knew it would be a ride up our hill, but we've made it before without issue. In fact, we made it out the afternoon before, without an issue. Today however, our Isuzu decided it would be an appropriate time to give the four-wheel drive a vacation. Abe tried and tried, but the front wheels would not engage. We slipped and slid, but only succeeded in going backwards, and then it started drizzling.

Well, Leo and I went back inside, while Abe tried to come-along (hand winch) the truck out of its hole. He was moving it about a foot and a half an hour. So while he was out there in the cold drizzle, covered in mud, he was figuring out how long it would take to move the truck the rest of the 100 feet. He was getting despondent.

I had tried calling friends, but with the weather people's cellphones weren't getting a signal (there are no landlines around here). I finally got through to someone who turned up a little while later. It wasn't easy, but he managed to pull us up the drive.

We stopped by the river and washed our feet, legs and floor mats, and then continued on our way. We left at 2pm.

Because the wedding was near Tucson, Arizona, we had booked flights from there to Florida. Combining the two trips saved time and money, but it meant an 11 hour drive from us to Tucson. Luckily, we had given ourselves two days to get there, so it all worked out. We drove until 9 pm the first night and slept in a motel. The next day was pretty easy and we arrived at Emily's (Abe's sister) house with plenty of time to relax.

It was a pretty exhausting and stressful start to a vacation, but it did mean that our new rain catchment tank filled up and overflowed. We now have 9000 gallons on the house system.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rabbit drama

The last couple of weeks have been extremely eventful for us as far as the rabbits are concerned.SANY6207

First of all, Abe went out to see them one day and the mama of a two week old litter was jumping all around, flopping about and just generally freaking out. Abe looked at her wonderingly and there on the floor was a huge rat snake with a white baby halfway down its throat. Abe killed the snake, but it was too late for the baby. We normally only kill a snake if it is right up near the house and poisonous (rattlesnake), but we also cannot allow a non-venemous snake to take up residence with the rabbits. It was so big (4 feet) and beautiful though that I skinned it and have been tanning the hide. Today is the last day of painting both sides with a glycerin/alcohol mix and it'll be ready to use. When this all happened, we took Leo out to the rabbit shed to show him - we are trying to install in our fearless ranger a sense of fear in some things, you know, like rattlesnakes. Ever since then, he'll periodically say in a tiny, sad voice, "Poor rabbit" and then shout angrily "Bad snake!".

SANY6090The next major event was the twelve week birthday of our first litter. We kept two females and one male, but the other four met their end. I won't post photos of this process, as some of you I'm sure do not want to see it, but don't forget, this is the reason we are breeding rabbits! We dropped Leo off at a friend's house, then processed the four young ones. We are tanning their furs too. While Abe did the grimmer side of the affair, I helped skin and then cleaned the skins and put them in a water/acid/salt mix. They have now been there for a week and as soon as I finish this post, I will go and peel the flesh off the furs and then they'll go back in the acid for another week. If it all works out well, I plan to make quilts, purses, etc. out of the fur. For the past week, we have been eating rabbit, cooked all kinds of ways, and it is truly delicious.

Two days later, we noticed Obama - our prettiest and biggest female - dragging her hind legs around. We thought that maybe she had just jumped wrong after the stress of the snake, but we seperated her from the others just in case. The next day, one more, Kiwi, had the same symptoms. Abe did some research and figured out what the problem was. They have a parasite called Encephalitozoon cuniculi (EC). Apparently over 80% of all rabbits have it, but only 15% ever show symptoms. We have started medicating them with a drug called Panacur and after three days they have already got some use of their legs back. They will be on the medication for three weeks and we're hoping they will fully recover. We will also be medicating everyone else too, as they probably all have it, and the medication does not harm them even as a preventative measure.

SANY6202We also made an outside pen for the babies that have been weaned. Right now we have just two females that are breeding, so there aren't that many babies at one time, but we will be putting two more females with a male this month. At the moment, there are only three young rabbits in the pen, but they love going outside, and they have a tree to play under.

SANY6190Just so that we end on a positive and happy note, Coco had five more babies the other day. They are precious (although they don't start to be pretty until they're a week old). Reina and Coco have now had two litters each since being here (the first of which happened right after they arrived at our place). For a while we were thinking that all the other females might have been bred, as Frisky got into their pen last month. But though his name is fitting, he was either too young or not in there long enough, and noone had any unplanned babies.

For more photos (none of butchering), click here.

Solar Food Dehydrator and food preservation

SANY6171 This week, Abe made us a solar food dehydrator, an essential component of any self-sufficient homestead. It has a see-through top and front, metal sides, and space for 4 trays, 4 feet by 2 feet each. It has screened air vents at the top and bottom so that hot air rises up through the produce, pulling out the humid air and thus speeding up the drying time. It is great. We got a couple of hundred apples from a neighbor the other day, so it has already paid for itself. We can dry 40 apples at a time in two partially cloudy days. For photos of the dryer being made, click here.

Anyone that has a garden knows that when something is producing well, you have way more than you need or want. For example, the first squash of the season are so exciting and so tasty, but after eating squash every meal, every day, you're almost happy to see the plant dry up.

The key with this imbalance of food is to preserve it in some manner or other, so that you can eat it during winter. There are several ways to do this, each with their own advantages.

Drying is my favorite, as it conserves a lot of the original nutrition and taste, and I consider it safer than canning (which might just be that I'm fairly new to canning and am a little afraid that I won't do it right and will end up poisoning my family!). You can then store the dried produce in cans, bags, containers, whatever. They don't take up much space and will last a long time (provided that you dried them properly). We use the dried fruit as snacks, eaten as is. Vegetables can be rehydrated in soups or eaten like chips. It is truly amazing what you can dry, and how well the flavor is preserved.

SANY6206We can some things. Canning keeps the moist quality of your produce. For example, we pickled and canned some cucumbers a couple of weeks ago. They are delicious, and everything, including the dill, came from our homestead.

We don't have a freezer yet, so not an option for us, although we would probably only freeze meat, and only for a short amount of time.

SANY6181Another great way to have fresh food in winter is to grow things that naturally last, like winter squash. I still have one winter squash left over from last year! We have now collected the first of our pumpkins.

We are still slowly building up our homestead, and each year we increase our systems. We look forward to having the pantry ready for next year and being able to fill it in the main growing season.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

29th Month

SANY5836 Leo's now 2 years 4 months. It seems like the months just roll on by, with him growing and changing daily. I can now hardly keep track of all the little stages that he is going through.

He now totally gets the idea of deals – “Eat all your food and you can have chocolate pie” - and we thought we had entered a golden age. Not so. It seems that our two year old is as adept at deal-making as we are.
“Come on, Leo, get your shoes, we have to go into the village.”
“No. No car.”
“Yes. We have to.”
“Car, then swim.”
“We'll see how it goes.”
“Leo swim, Papa swim, Mama swim, Dogs swim.”
“Okay we'll all go swimming when we get back.”
So Leo then gets his shoes and proceeds happily to the car. He falls asleep on the ride into the village and doesn't wake up until we get home. And we figure we are off the hook, but then his eyes flicker open, look around and he says “Swim”.

SANY5958We have started swimming every day in our pond. We have put our name down for a machine that is in the area. When he gets around to us (the list is fairly long), we will be able to fix the pond, allowing 2 more meters (or 6 more feet) of depth, as well as making it wider. But even in its broken and depleted state, it is still over my head in the center. Leo loves it. He begs to go swimming all day, every day. He's not yet swimming, or even close, but he is making a lot of progress and his confidence grows each time we go down there.

His language skills are also improving rapidly. He learns new words every day, even if he doesn't pronounce them all very well. For example, he loves to play with the numerous amount of frogs that are around our place, but he pronounces them “Cocks”. Always makes me giggle when I hear him shout “Cocks. More cocks for Leo. Where more cocks?” Oh well, I still have time to mature, I guess. We are also in the “watch what you say” phase: one of his favorite sayings right now is “Oh shit!”.

We have a bunch of fridge magnet letters and numbers, which he increasingly likes to play with. He brings us letters and tells what they are (B, bear. C, car. He knows more than half of them now). He also says numbers up to five easily, though he doesn't always use them in the right place. He gets two consistently right, but then we'll add another item and he repeats two. When we say three, he'll repeat it.

SANY5826 He's still very helpful. He tidies his toys away well. Loves to get your slippers, put things in the trash, etc. He especially likes to help mama make chocolate cheesecake, which makes for a great photo if nothing else.

I have started telling him stories whenever he gets a little upset and looks like a meltdown might be coming. They always start “once upon a time there was a little boy named Leo and he had two dogs, Salsa and Gracie. One day...”. It almost always settles him and he starts to tell me what story to tell – that they meet a bird, or cow, or fish, that it gets dark and they see the moon and stars, that a car comes and his grandparents, Momo and Popo are here, etc. It's kind of fun, as he gets so excited when I incorporate what he wants into the story – he will often cuddle me and say “Good girl, mama.”.

I think I probably portray Leo in an overly wonderful light. For the most part, he is a great kid, but he is a two year old and he does have his moments – refusing to do what you want, whining, crying, etc. In this we are sometimes (though not always) able to employ the help of a little friend – Alfie. Alfie is a hand puppet that Abe had when he was a kid (you know, from ALF the TV show), and Leo adores him. Alfie can tell Leo to do anything and he'll do it. Alfie wants an elephant, a circle, a blue cup, etc. Leo will go get it. Alfie wants to put Leo's shoes on (a battle at times, as Leo still prefers to go barefoot), he'll go get them. Leo even puts Alfie on the toilet each day. Alfie is a master tool of manipulation, working for the parental units!

Leo has developed a cute-ish habit. He'll poop in the toilet in the morning, but for his evening poop, he much prefers to strip down naked and go outside. At first we thought this was hilarious and humored him. However, it has started to dawn on us that this is perhaps not socially acceptable behavior for all places – somehow city folk are fine with you pooper-scooping a dog's shit, but the same does not apply to children! Oh well. I'm sure this will not be the only obstacle we face with him entering the real world (he already finds it funny and delightful that there is water in other people's toilet). I sometimes wonder how he will view his upbringing when he grows up and sees a little more of what the world has to offer. I guess we'll find out soon enough at the rate that time is passing.

For more photos, click here.

Worm Harvester

SANY5880We made a worm harvester this week, which will make our worm-and-soil-farming a lot easier.

When we have changed the worms' bedding before (to use in the garden of course), we have picked the worms out by hand, a very tedious and time consuming affair. This should make it all a lot easier.

We will post instructions and a video of us using it soon.

For more photos, click here.

Tank amendments

We had a rain a few days ago that didn't amount to much, but did come down very hard and fast. Abe went out to check on how the new tank was performing and discovered that the gutters were overflowing the pipes.

It seems we underestimated the volume of water that comes off the roof in a hard rain. Abe found a great website that tells you how to calculate what size pipe you need to accommodate what force of rain.

We added an extra line of 2” pipe. We could have changed the whole thing to a 4” pipe (which is more than we would have needed as 4” pipe is way more than two 2” pipes, because the area of a circle is the radius squared), but it was less work and less expensive to add an extra line – one line for each side of the roof.

However, having increased the pipes into the tank, we then had to increase the overflow. If the tank is full and water is coming in two 2” pipes, but can only leave through one 2” pipe, we will have a problem. It will overflow out the top, risking water getting behind the liner and dislodging it. So Abe put an extra overflow, making it a 4” pipe just to be safe.

We have now finished the tank... again!

Know that we make these mistakes for the benefit of our readers. If we didn't make the mistakes, we wouldn't know the problem existed and we couldn't prevent others from making them! No need to thank us, just happy to help.

Click here for photos of the tank.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Trevor's iphone

Originally uploaded by velacreations
Our friend, Trevor, came to visit us in February and Leo fell in love with his iphone. To read the back-story, go to this post:

We had tried, jokingly, to get him to leave it behind, but he wasn't having any of it. Well, a week or so ago, Trevor sent us an awesome gift... an iphone! We love it. Abe reads books on it, Leo watches movies on trips, and pretty soon, when we get something sorted with our internet service, we will be able to use it as a phone.

Here's a video of Leo watching little chalk men with all of our faces on them. Within a few minutes, he had figured out how to make them go away.

Rabbit update

SANY5764Something else we did this sunny week was make an outside pen for the female rabbits. The males each had one already, but now finally the girls get to have one too, and they love it. They have already started burrowing, which is why the fence around the pen goes down into the ground a foot or until it hits bedrock.

Here's a photo of all the babies that have been weaned. We will be keeping all the females and one of the males. They will be able to go back in with the others after a couple of weeks.SANY5760

Reina has had more babies. They were born yesterday. As yet, we don't know how many, as we want to leave them alone for the first week.

We went to the city yesterday and when we got home, we discovered a little rabbit drama. Frisky (very appropriately called) had gotten into the females' pen. We have four younger female rabbits that we had not wanted to breed for another month (once they start breeding, they stop growing apparently). 3 of them are big enough and it's not that big of a deal if they are pregnant, but we are really hoping that he didn't get Button, who is younger and smaller. We keep buck, doe and litter records on all breeding activity, so we've marked down this day on our records, and we'll just have to wait 30 days to see who he got to!!!!!!

For more photos, click here.

Everything loves water

SANY5779Just wanted to post a few photos of our garden, which has exploded after the rains of last week. In fact, everything has exploded. We planted corn, beans, squash, millet and melons along all the drainage trenches, and now a million little plants have popped up. We also planted things all over the property, and lots of them are growing happily, flowering, fruiting.

For more photos, see here.

SANY5767Check out the Juniper tree - at its base is planted a winter squash, which has gone crazy and grown into everything, including the Juniper. Can you see the little squash - diagonally left from center?

Just for your information. In 2008, we got 30.2 inches of rain. Funnily enough, we got the EXACT same rainfall in 2009. The biggest rain months are July, August and September. This year, we had 20 inches in JUST JULY!

The cistern is finished

SANY5770We had a week of clear skies, allowing everything to dry out so that we could get a little work done outside.

We had a little cleanup work to do in and around the tank, of course, after so much rain. After that, we:

* put up some vinyl over the bolts, to protect the liner from any sharp edges.
* put up the liner track
* unfolded the liner and put it into the track (very easy as it happens)
* cleaned any mud off the liner
* did the plumbing

The plumbing deserves a little explanation to itself, as it might not be apparent from the photos. The roof has two downspouts, which connect into the same line, buried in the ground (we will eventually concrete around the pipes from the roof to the ground). That line goes into the tank at the top (which is several inches lower than the downspouts of the gutter). Within the line, at the lowest spot, Abe put in a clean-out valve, which we will be hooking onto a hose this week. This allows us to clean out the water that stays in the line periodically.

SANY5749The plumbing from the tank to the house is as you would expect. Coming out of the tank there is a main valve, then a pipe rising into the air, then another valve, then a check valve. The pipe then connects with the existing pipe coming from the cistern (1000 gallons) that is still on the system, and then into the house. The only thing needing extra info is the overflow pipe (the one that goes up into the air). This goes up and pours out where we want the overflow to be. There is another part that is there only if we one day want to add a backup overflow.

So now it's all completely done, minus a few 5 minute jobs (like putting a screen in the gutter, etc.), and we are ready for it to rain. Just need 10 inches to fill her up - over 7000 gallons.
And now the cistern is completely finished.

For all photos, see here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When it rains it pours

It HAS NOT STOPPED RAINING since Jim, Vickie and Em left on Saturday. Spitting, drizzling, raining, pouring - it fluctuates between them all, but amounts to the same thing... it's wet!

Yesterday we woke up to a small tragedy - the pond filled up, and then burst its bank. It's a pretty huge rupture (looks a lot worse from the back) and will need a machine or many weeks of manual labor to fix it. And of course, we can't do anything right now. There is a chance we can fix it without losing all our water, but that will depend on the weather.

As is, we can't do anything right now, either on the pond, the tank, or anything else. None of us are used to spending so much time inside, and are getting a little stir crazy. Maybe things will clear out soon.

For photos, click here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Connally Visit

This Wednesday, Jim, Vickie and Emily came to see us. We had been telling Leo about them coming for several days, saying that Momo and Popo were bringing a big elephant (that Abe and siblings had played on as kids) and that Em would be sleeping in his room. Each time we would would say that they were coming, he would then say "Big boo (his word for elephant), Em in Leo's night-night".

We met them for lunch at a seafood restaurant in the city and then we all went on to visit a friend of ours in hospital. Armando - he and his wife being our closest friends from the village - is awaiting a back operation for three ruptured discs. He loved seeing Jim and Vickie and was very grateful for the visit - he has now been lying on his back for more than three weeks and is bored (not to mention in pain).

We then went back to our place. This is the first time Abe's sister, Emily, has been here, and the first time that Jim and Vickie have seen everything so green.

Leo definitely remembers them all from May and he rememberes which games to play with each! He has changed a lot since they last saw him, as he is now saying a bunch of words and is more boy than baby. He really loved having them around, so much so that he didn't want to sleep, which caused a few tears.

We hung out at our place, talking, walking around, weighing baby rabbits, etc. We also visited our neighbour's ranch and got some apples from some of his 5000 apple trees.

On Friday, we went to a local fish farm. The place is beautiful. Many ponds, huge trees, picnic and BBQ areas. Abe cooked us some trout and corn, while we did a little fishing and walking. After lunch Abe got to fish some. While Jim and I got one fish each, Abe bagged about 30! They were all little Perch, which we took home to put in our pond (which is now full of water). We still need some Catfish, but that'll have to wait til another day.

They left on Saturday and since then it has not stopped raining. A pretty good excuse to stay inside, read, watch movies and play with the little guy, who is still talking about Momo, Popo and Em.

Thanks for a lovely visit.

For more photos, click here. And for other photos of Leo this month, click here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tank update

We haven't advanced too much from my last post on the cistern, after which we got a huge amount of rain. Everything was so wet that we couldn't get sand for many days. It finally dried up enough to get sand and we did get a slab poured inside the tank. The slab will offer a smooth, strong surface for the liner to sit on, but more importantly it will hold the metal in its shape at the bottom. It also all slopes towards the out-take, making it easy to empty and clean out should we need to do so.

We also got the trenches for the plumbing dug.

We don't have many days left of work to be able to finish it, but it is raining again this weekend, so we'll have to see how it goes. Probably won't be able to do anything until at least Wednesday.

We wish we could have got it all done before the rains had started, but our other projects took longer than we thought and the rains came a little early this year. Oh well, no biggie. We only need 10 inches of rain to be able to fill it, and we should easily have that left once we finish it.

Rabbit weening and weigh in

The first of our two litters of rabbits reached 6 weeks old on Wednesday, so we got all the babies out of the pen to weigh and sex them. Out of the 9 babies, 5 are female, all of which we will be keeping. On average, they weighed 2 pounds (a little under a kilo). The three largest (over 2lbs each) we have put in a separate pen to ween them. We will be weening the other 4 of Reina's babies over the next week or two.

One side note: we used asphalt board (painted) for the shed, and we are not impressed with it. Although it keeps the inside dry, it has bowed considerably. It will work fine for a while, but we will have to replace or cover it some time. We won't be using it again.

For more photos, see here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Adventures of a little elephant

We went to the city a while ago to get some materials needed for the cistern. On our way back, we stopped at a rest area so that Leo could get out and run around a little.

In his hand, as usual, was his favorite toy, a little elephant. He and the elephant are never far apart, even when he sleeps. He was running around a shrub-like oak tree that had been planted there, and before we could stop him he threw his elephant into the tree. He often does this with toys - he'll throw them somewhere and then enjoy getting them. We have tried (obviously with less than 100% success) to curtail this irritating little habit.

We looked for the elephant for over half an hour, with Leo mournfully, and repeatedly, asking for it. We couldn't find it. We eventually gave up and left, with a very teary Leo.

At home, we showed him his other two little elephants (these are all toys that Abe had as a child), but he didn't want them.

Over the next 10 days, Leo would ask if we could go get his elephant. When we said no, he'd lost it, he would point to the truck and say we could go get it in that.

Well, about a week later, we went back to the city. We had had a huge amount of rain, so we decided to stop and see if the rains had shaken the elephant out of the tree. And sure enough, there it was, waiting patiently for us. Leo was so happy and excited, though he did not seem surprised - that was exactly where he had left it! Sigh.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Videos of Leo

I have just uploaded a BUNCH of videos of Leo. Click here if you want to see them.

Blog Archive