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/

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pantry

SANY7536 Something kind of exciting for the nesting mother was the pantry we built this week. The entrance-way was designed to have a two-foot deep shelving unit in it, but it was never a priority. Well, we've now done it and I love it. So much space for extra, non-perishable foods. It'll be especially great this year when we do a lot more canning and have honey, etc.

We then made a little shoe rack and put up some hooks for jackets and hats. The entrance-way is now so clear and tidy. Just need to put up the finishing face boards, paint it, and seal its brick floor and it'll be another part of the house that is fully finished.

For more photos, click here.

Worm harvester 2.0

overall Back in August we made a worm harvester to make the job of separating our earthworms from the wonderful fertilizer they produce a lot easier. It worked pretty well, but there were some issues, like it was kind of shaky. So we remade it (a couple of times actually) to get a better version.

It now makes very easy work of the chore and is smooth and fast.

We'll be putting the how-to article here on the site within the week - just need to finish editing it. For photos, click here.

New trees

SANY7545 We just bought and planted 7 new trees - 4 cherries and 3 peaches. The cherries we planted in our orchard area, which has a drip irrigation system. The peaches are now within the garden fence, so that one day they can offer the vegetables some shade.

We are trying to start some new trees each year, especially as our water situation gets increasingly abundant. We already have some well established plum, apricot, cherry and apple trees. The apricot and cherry are now starting to bloom.

For more photos, click here.

Rabbit Cages

SANY7551 We love the colony style of rabbit keeping, where the rabbits get to hang out together instead of being in separate cages. It just seems like they are happier (due to companionship) and more healthy (because they can exercise). However, we have encountered a fairly large flaw with the system.

They have a large pen outside as well as an inside space, and many of them had started having their litters in burrows they made outside. Not only did this pose a problem with keeping track of whose babies were whose (now that we have a doe getting pregnant every week and babies a week apart look fairly similar), it also put the babies at risk, like when we had that freak cold front, we found five babies dead outside. There were also some casualties with trampling, when older litters would run over burrows of newborns.

So, we have come up with a compromise. We made two cages that we hung in the air inside. A couple of days before a doe is due to give birth, we put her in one of the cages. She then stays in there until her babies open their eyes (about a week to 10 days), by which time they are not nearly so fragile. We can count the babies, know their colors, and monitor them a lot more closely in that first crucial week this way, and yet they still get to be with the others for most of the time. We have tried it out with a couple of does and it worked great.

We now need to make two more, and when we do we'll post a how-to article.

Bait Hives

SANY7511 Our bees are doing great. They are very active, flying in and out of their hives. A couple of the fruit trees in our area are starting to bloom, so that should make them happy.

Last week, Abe made three bait hives, which we'll be putting in trees near the river, ready to catch a swarm. It's not yet swarming season, but we want to get them in place early so that we don't miss any opportunities.

To see the how-to article on our site, click here. And to look at the photos, click here.

Windy Day

SANY7475 It's been a long time since I last blogged, so thought I'd use this super windy day to catch up. Not sure if I can remember half the things we've been doing - it seems like we've been super busy - but I'll try and fill you in on some of our more recent projects over the next few blogs.

I'm now seven months pregnant and getting bigger by the second, so we are trying to make the most of the time while I can still move around and do things (although I definitely get a lot more tired, more quickly, I've noticed, and when I have to bend down for things like cutting wood, I notice a big old bulge in my way). Pregnancy going great though, still not too uncomfortable or suffering any side effects beyond carrying a watermelon around with me, and a very active watermelon at that.

SANY7431 Leo has been great. He is far better at entertaining himself these days, which allows us to work on projects together for limited periods of time or even, occasionally, to rest. Whenever Abe is working online, Leo and I go into the village and play with other kids either in the kinder-garden or at their homes. We have enrolled him in kinder-garden starting in August - won't go every day, but a few times a week - and he LOVES that. He was using a small kid's potty for the bathroom, but he has now started going in the big toilet, so we no longer have to clean the potty. Talking gets better and better - even though it's hard to shut him up at times, it does make the finer points of communication a lot easier. Dressing is almost completely independent, once you lay out the clothes. All of these little changes will help when we have the new little guy around. He's super into climbing, and whenever we go hiking we have to watch that he doesn't run for the nearest rock or cliff - see if you can spot him in this picture. I haven't been taking as many photos recently, but there are some new(ish) ones of him in 34th Month. Any I take this month will go in 35th Month, which I'll create when I have a photo to put in there.

Well, here I go with a blogging catch-up...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Black Soldier Flies

A pretty exciting new addition to our household is some Black Soldier Flies.

There's a guy on Abe's favorite forum, permies.com, who got chatting to Abe and then sent us some of these incredible little creatures for free - (Thanks a lot ape99!).

They eat anything dead or rotting, and eat it very quickly. There are videos of people putting dead animals in a container of these BSF and in the morning the carcass is gone. Once we increase our population, we plan to use them to compost all manure, animal and human. Their waste can then go to worms. And there is one added bonus: the maggots harvest themselves and can fill all of a chicken's (or even pig's) protein needs. When the maggots are ready to change into adults, they climb up out of their container into whatever you put on the other end. For them to breed, you let some outside. They will turn into adults (a wasp-like fly) for just a day or two and their only job as an adult is to breed. They will lay their eggs in the same container you keep the maggots, which give off a hormone that attracts the female adult.

Wish I could have included a photo of the bucket home Abe made for them, but it's so cold outside I don't want to open them up! We'll keep you posted as our colony increases.

Iphone

SANY7390 After seeing how involved Leo became with Bart's Ipad (he had a bunch of toddler games on there for his grandson, Logan), Abe downloaded some apps to the iphone. Leo loves them. It is amazing how fast he picks these things up. He knows how to turn on the iphone, maneuver around his games, play the games themselves, turn it off. He also knows that he shouldn't get into any of his papa's apps, but doesn't always act as if he knows. With Bart's Ipad, he'd only really been interested in a bubble making game, but now (just a week later) he has mastered all kinds of different apps. He's especially into spelling games at the moment, and is getting pretty good at putting the letters in their places for several simple words.

SANY7401 He continues to be interested in his little brother and frequently remarks how big he's getting (less than 3 months to go!). We go and play with a little boy Leo's age who also has a baby brother. Leo seems to like the baby almost as much as he likes the boy, and loves it when the baby squeezes his finger and gurgles. I am really starting to look forward to having two boys, and seeing them interact together.

Going through a slightly difficult stage with Leo. He now wants to dress himself completely and doesn't want any help from us. However, he still needs a little help and gets so frustrated. Oh well, he's getting better and better, so maybe this stage won't last long, or maybe he'll learn to accept a little help with dignity (?).

One huge step forward is that he now takes himself off to bed for a nap. He says he wants to go night night, gives us a kiss and goes upstairs. At night, he still needs a little input. At about 8.30 or so (sometimes with a little prodding from us), he undresses and puts on his pajamas. He then gets his purple duck (which has replaced the elephant and cars for bedtime companion), makes sure I have his water cup, and then we go upstairs. I read him two stories and he then goes to sleep.

Here's a few new videos and photos.

Emily's wedding

SANY7334 On 22nd January, Abe's youngest sister, Emily, got married to Roeland. We drove to Tucson for the wedding.

The journey there went really smoothly, but left us all pretty tired. We'd planned to break the 12 hour drive into two days, but Leo was so good that we just kept on driving. I was pretty sore - I guess I'm not used to sitting down for so long - but arriving at our destination more than made up for any discomfort felt.

It was great to see everyone and we all had a fun weekend. There were a few problems with the hotel that hosted guests and events, but luckily the Connally crowd are not easily deterred from having a good time.

The wedding was beautiful, with a lovely outdoor setting and stunning bride. Abe and his uncle Bart performed the ceremony jointly- how often do you hear the words "I married my sister today, and so did my uncle."?

I wish we had gotten more photos. But somehow we didn't get around to it, what with being tired from the trip, managing Leo and his wayward sibling, and enjoying the festivities.

The highlights for Leo were playing with his cousin, Arlo (especially when Arlo played some tunes on the piano), and borrowing his uncle Bart's Ipad. There were of course other great times, like pretend farting with his grandpa at everyone who went by, but those are more commonplace events.

Congratulations Emily and Roeland, and thank you for putting on a great weekend.

After the wedding, we went to spend a few days relaxing with Jim and Vickie before heading home. Leo was amazed to find out that Santa had come to their house as well and left him something there. This Santa dude is pretty impressive.

For more photos, click here.

Snow!

SANY7407 We've now been home a week and am only now catching up with a few blogs. The weather is permitting us the perfect chance to do anything we need to on the computer. And then I think we may move to the sofa for some movies!

We thought this storm that has hit the whole US would miss us, but it swung back and bit us in the butt. We woke up this morning to overcast skies, horizontal snow and a temperature of 17 Degrees (it hasn't been even close to that in the three and a half years we've been here). We have a fire going and are really very comfortable inside (had brought a bunch of firewood inside in anticipation of the storm). Abe's been outside a couple of times to check on the animals and everyone looks OK.

Looks like this will be gone in a couple of days. Do feel very sorry for the folks out there who will be cold for longer, some of whom are without electricity, and thus heat in many cases. Snuggle up to anything you can find and look out for the sun, it'll come back.

Here's a couple more photos. Not that spectacular yet, but I'll post photos here if it keeps going or gets worse.