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/

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Rapidobe

0038 For a couple of months, at weekends, we have been building a new room north of the bedrooms.

Its primary purpose is as a thermal battery. When it gets real warm in the house (through the solar gain of our south windows), we open up the door to the new room. There is a lot of thermal mass in the walls of the room, so it stores the heat well. There is a large bench across the north wall, which serves as a giant thermal mass.

The North Room is also a barrier between the outside and the interior of the rest of the house. It has made a huge difference in the nocturnal temperature drop in the bedrooms, which stay about 60 degrees when it is 30 outside, with no fire.

Its secondary purpose is as a storage room. We built a table and shelf unit to house my sewing machine, fur operation, fabric, etc. Abe will be putting some of his mushroom and fodder stuff in there. Also tools, boxes, spare mattress will be moved in there shortly, now that it is finished.

0019 We used a system Abe developed for the walls. We call it Rapidobe (Rapid-Adobe). We put posts into the ground, every two feet, in two parallel lines (each side of the wall). To these we attached a mesh and tarp, in a U shape, from one set of posts to the other. We then filled the bag with dirt that we dug out of the hill, tamping it as we went - this took a day and a half for thirty feet of four feet tall wall. We then put a gypsum plaster on the interior of the wall, and will put a concrete stucco on the outside when the risk of freezing passes. The plastic mesh acts as reinforcement for these plasters.

The main advantages to Rapidobe are speed and low-cost. The tarp that forms the big bag is a recycled billboard vinyl (cheap or free). We cut many of the posts from our property, and the dirt was right under our feet. It is basically a big bag of compacted earth, which is extremely cost effective for a wall material.

0023 Instead of digging the hill down all the way to the level of the floor, we dug it down to a shelf height, 3 feet wide. Seeing as the room is for storage, the shelf seemed like a good idea, saved some digging time, and has added to the thermal mass of the room. The long, Rapidobe wall sits atop this shelf.

The east wall is styrophone insulation with lathing attached to both sides, stuccoed, like a SIP. It has a metal frame that is welded to the door and to the roof.

The west wall is a temporary plywood and frame wall. We will be adding to that area of the house one day when we do the "west wing", so it just has to block out most of the weather for now. It is tarped on the outside.

0034 The roof is metal. We had wanted to do a living roof, but with such a dry year. the desire to add to our catchment area was pretty strong. Metal was fast and easy. It has styrophone insulation underneath it.

All in all, it turned into a really nice room. It is now painted and ready to move into. Guess what we're doing for Christmas?!

For more photos, click here.

Christmas Wishes

SANY0395 Wanted to wish everyone a very merry Christmas, and New Year.

The time is passing so fast, I cannot believe we are about to enter 2012.

It's cold outside, so we are all settled in to a warm and cozy home, playing games and waiting for Santa to come. Nico is oblivious to the Christmas thing, but Leo is really excited.

Happy holidays.

For photos of this past month, click here.

Selling pigs

SANY0446 Well, we have now got rid of all our piglets, and even one of our sows, Wanda.

We put some pallets in the back of the Toyota, and drove the last of the piglets around to sell.

When we got into pigs, there weren't any others around. Now, there are three pig operations in our village alone. We believe in diversity as the key to a good local economy, so we have decided to sell up before the market becomes saturated. We will still raise a couple feeder pigs each year for ham, bacon, chops, etc. but we will no longer be in the breeding business.

It was very sad to see Wanda go, but not as bad as it will be when we sell our boar, Amigo, who sits on command and runs up to be petted whenever anyone goes over to the pen.

Oh well, such is life. At least we'll still have the rabbits, who are the easiest animal in the world to raise.

Fried Grasshoppers

SANY0440 A long time ago, Abe was reading online all about eating insects. They are plentiful and very high in protein for their weight, and are eaten and enjoyed by many cultures throughout the world. Many call them the food of the future, one to match the world's increasing population and more erratic weather conditions.

When he was first into the subject, I was three months pregnant and the thought literally turned my stomach. Now, I have no excuse. So, seeing that there are still some fat, slow grasshoppers around, we decided to give it a try.

We caught about 8 (or rather Leo did), fried them up and ate them. Contrary to what you might expect, they weren't that good! Nor were they bad, they just weren't very juicy. I think we'll try it again next year, when they are younger and more tender.

One thing that was kind of funny was that one of them bit Leo when he was putting it into the jar. Have you ever heard of a grasshopper biting someone? There was an indentation in his skin and everything. But Leo got his revenge - as he put it: "it bit me, but I ate him back"!

Miracle mushrooms

SANY0284 Look at these baby mushrooms - don't they look like they would cure cancer?

During the hot part of the year (and this year was hotter/dryer than usual), our mushroom production dwindled. However now that it's chillier we are back in full swing, getting about half a pound of oyster mushrooms every other day or so. And boy, are they good!

We will now be getting some warm weather spores, so we can have mushrooms year round.

Rabbit Fodder

SANY0298 Abe has started a little fodder system going for the rabbits.

We sprout seeds (oats, wheat) and then put them in a very small amount of worm castings in aluminum trays. Keep them moist. After a few days this beautiful grass has grown and all signs of soil has been swallowed by this super thick mat of roots.

SANY0310 The rabbits LOVE it. It is fresh grass, so much tastier, and it's considerably better for them, as the nutrition increases significantly from seed to grass. Plus it is a lot cheaper than buying a grain or concentrate.

After doing several test trays, Abe is now building a shelf system, so that we can start doing this for almost all the rabbits' food.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Furs now for sale

SANY9118 We are now selling the exclusive and incredibly soft fur items made from our sustainably raised bunnies. If you, or anyone you know, would like to buy one, please check out this page.

Weaning pigs

SANY0219 Gloria's second litter are now six weeks old and weaned. It was something else catching them all and putting them into the weaning pen, but we eventually got it done, after a few tries.

Abe made a trap for them in the shelter in which they were born. When they were all in there, Nico and I walked the big pigs down the hill and kept them out in pasture (so the sound of squealing wouldn't make them crazy). Leo had to make sure the little guys didn't jump out of the trap, by scaring them back in. Abe caught them and put them in the weaning pen.

We have also separated Amigo from the others for the time being. Gloria is now in heat and we don't want her bred until February. Poor Amigo can smell her and it's making him crazy. Oh well, he'll get his chance soon enough.

Wanda is due to have her 2nd litter in the next week.

For more photos, click here.

Advent to Christmas

SANY0274 When I was a kid, my sister made me an advent calendar just like this one - gifts in a box of styrophone pieces that you pull up by their number, from 1 to 24. Seeing as Leo is super into Christmas and counting at the moment, we thought we'd make him one, so he can count down to Christmas day.

We put the tree up, and then set the box near it. So far he has opened three days, and knows exactly where the next day's number is. He loves it.

SANY0276 Of course Nico, who is now 7 months old and getting into all kinds of trouble,WANTS the wrappers. He sat with me when I wrapped the gifts, and he was after everything - the gifts, tape, paper, scissors. He is getting far more mobile and dexterous, which makes him a lot harder to control these days. Everything he can do, he's doing better and more: roll both ways, scoot around some, pick things up (even starting to use his finger and thumb), eating (a BUNCH), chatting, laughing, playing. It won't be long before he's more of a little boy than a baby.

Photos of this month will go here.