Category Archives: Homestead Life

House Update: electrical and plumbing

Oy! It’s been so long! And we don’t have much to show for it. Yes, we’ve been making forward progress on the house, but very slow.

My last house update was about the windows and doors.

Since then, we got all the special fire blocking installed, all the electrical lines run, and all the drain/waste/vent pipes installed. Here’s a few pictures to show you. Unfortunately, these systems are hard to see in pictures, so I really don’t have a lot.

Working on the fire blocking. It is 5/8″ sheetrock that creates draft stops every 10′ horizontally. It has to go floor to ceiling. It was a jigsaw puzzle to get it between walls, etc.

Installing the electrical wires. This took so much longer and a ton more thought than we expected! We’ve worked with small circuits before. Wiring a whole house was something else entirely!

Flower girl was sad when I put up the fire blocking. It blocked off her “playground” in the walls.

Always the monkey!

My little niece found a chew toy! Good thing it’s not “hot” yet!

Our first drain. This is for the main bathroom sink.

The laundry drain system. It has a stand pipe for the washing machine, and one for the water softener.

Hubby starting the to cut the hole in the roof for the drain vent pipe.

Now it’s REALLY starting to look like a house with the vents sticking up!

Sparky, sparky. Putting a 2¼” round hole in a metal building is a challenge to be sure.

Starting the process of putting on the flashings on the pipes.

Safety first – that roof is slick!

It ain’t pretty, but it keeps the rain out.

Another of the projects that we got done had to do with the electrical system. We mounted the breaker box. But first we had to find the underground pipes that will bring the power lines from the eventual solar system on the garage over to the house. We did this because we decided to move the panel location from what was originally planned.

Dug down to find the pipes and cut into one and add elbows and risers for the new electrical panel position.

Mounting the box

Having the breaker box there was a small but significant upgrade, especially for winter time. It means we can now run the electrical cords from our generators and our small temporary solar power system in through the box rather than under the laundry room door. Which means that we could finally install the threshold under the laundry room door. Which means we no longer have a 1Β½ inch gap there for cold air, rain, and dirt to blow through. As I said, small but significant.

In looking forward to the holidays and knowing that we weren’t going to be getting much work on the house done, but also that we’d have a lot of people around, and already having gone through a couple winter storms where we had to trek up the hill to use the outhouse, we decided it was high time to get our toilet scabbed in.

To “scab in” something means to do it in a manner than is just temporary. We will have to take the toilet back out and maybe even some of the sheetrock off the walls in order to get our next inspection, but we thought it was more than worth it to be able to use a toilet in the house.

Flower girl doing her language book work while I take measurements for the next piece of sheetrock.

Prepping the toilet and the drain hole. This toilet was free to us. Yet another free item that still works perfectly good, and we will get plenty of use out of. Sure, it’s not exactly what we would have chosen for ourselves, but free is the perfect style and color. 😊

It works! πŸ˜†πŸ˜†πŸ˜†

Because this is just temporary and we don’t actually have our water supply pipes done yet, we ran a garden hose from the laundry room (where the water comes into the house), over the wall into the bathroom and that’s how we fill the toilet tank.

The end of the hose has a shut-off valve on it.

Here’s a little video tour of the bathroom (plus a look at our very messy after-Christmas living room πŸ˜†).

And that’s it. That’s all we’ve gotten done since June. Part of it is just busyness of our normal lives. Soon after my last post, we started school and since Flower Girl is now 7, I figured it was high time she actually learn to read. So we’ve been spending a more concentrated effort on schooling, which takes time away from building.

Another thing that is taking some time away from the house is that I resumed my hiking training for a couple backpacking trips I’m going on in 2020. So I’ve been going on more hikes, which is good, but it does take up time. [Want to follow along with my journey? I post sporadically on my Blog I’m doing for that, I also have a YouTube channel and Instagram.]

Also, the end of October is the beginning of the holiday season for us starting with one of the girls’ birthdays, followed just two weeks later with the other, then Thanksgiving a couple weeks after, and then Hubs birthday in the beginning of December, mine in mid December, plus all the normal holiday activities, and wrapping up with Christmas and New Years. It’s an exciting and exhausting time of year for our family.

But once the holidays are over, we’ll pick back up on construction. For now, we are enjoying the rest of the year by playing with new toys and pets, catching up on some reading and blogging (obviously), and me getting over a cold I came down with on Christmas Eve. Until next time, Happy Holidays!

One of Flower Girl’s favorite gifts – a volcano experiment set with dinosaurs from a different gift.

Princess Girl’s favorite gift – her new cat 🐈

The Great Potato Experiment of 2019 – Day 118

(Also the Great Onion Experiment of 2019)

We harvested the rest of our potatoes today. As you can see from the picture above, the purple potatoes were much more prolific, but the red ones grew bigger.

Overall I am very happy with the results of our “experiment”. I learned a lot about growing these varieties of potatoes. I should have planted them earlier so they could grow larger (especially the purples), and I coulda planted the rows quite a bit closer to get more yield out of the planting bed (a 3’x6′ bed in our terraces). And we’ll need to plant a ton more to feed our family for more than a few meals. And how to get those purples bigger? Also need to experiment with the long storing varieties like russets once we have a good place to store potatoes. But it’s good to know that it’s possible to grow potatoes here in the dry, high desert.

Also, can we talk about those onions?

Again, they are nothing to brag about, except that I have tried numerous times over the years to grow onions and have never been successful. So the fact that I got ANY harvest this year is pretty amazing to me! They won’t last long since they’ll be eaten quickly, but I’m rather proud of those cute baby onions.

2019 Chick Hatching Update

All 4 of Welly’s eggs hatched! One had some issues and we spent a couple days nursing it back to health.

Poor thing was so weak. It couldn’t even hold it’s head up.

Doing better after warming and feeding it an electrolyte solution.

12 hours after hatching it was apparent it was going to survive but it was not as vigorous as it’s siblings, so we kept it inside for another couple of days.

We named that one Nugget. After a day or so, we brought one of its siblings in to teach it to eat and drink from the waterer. Since we had been hand feeding it the electrolyte solution, it wasn’t catching on by itself. After another day or two, you couldn’t tell Nugget from the other except that we put a leg band on it, so we but them all back in with Welly.

So now we had 9 chicks. Three of them we knew were males. Time would tell for the others.

At just 4 weeks old, the Sex-link’s combs were substantially bigger than the Speckled Sussex’s. Hoped that meant the Sussex were female – it did!

And at 6 weeks old, it was VERY obvious that two of Welly’s chicks were male, and two were female. These are the two males.

Oh, and you know little Nugget that we put so much time and effort into reviving? Yep, one of the males!

So, we ended up with 5 males and 4 females. Figures!

And one of the white females got out of her pen when a neighboring dog happened to be visiting and got herself killed. 😒

So, now we have 5 males that are bound for the stew pot this fall, and 3 females that will be added to the flock.

Right now we are working on integrating the two chick flocks to each other. The mammas are back in with their original flock. We are not going to bother integrating all those boys to one of the main flocks when they will be gone in a couple months anyway. But in the meantime, we need them all to be in the same coop/run. And soon it will be time to introduce the three pullets into their new flock.

Ah, the joys of raising chickens!

The Great Potato Experiment of 2019: Day 29

Edit: I wrote his post at the end of May. I found it in my drafts in August! I am backdating the publishing date so hopefully it will show up on the blog in order, but for all my subscribers who will get an email notification about it, that’s the reason why it’s old news. 😊

Last week, on Day 29, the potato plants had grown enough that I “hilled” them up. Essentially, I just pulled in that dirt I moved to the side when I planted them. I forgot to take any pictures except for the ones in the pots.

So I was all excited that this seems to be working so beautifully, when I came across a fact that had me pondering if my potatoes are going to do as well as I had hoped.

Basically, did you know that there are two types of potatoes: determinate and indeterminate? And that you plant them differently and treat them differently according to which kind they are?

I had no idea! I thought a potato was a potato when it came to planting and I hadn’t ever even heard of any method of planting and caring for them other than variations of the hilling method.

But I was wrong. The hilling method, where you keep adding soil or mulch as the plant grows and more and more potatoes will grow in the new areas you buried, only works for the indeterminate varieties. I’m not sure what kinds are those varieties, but I can tell you which ones they are not! Red Norland, and Purple Majesty!

Yep, the two varieties I planted are determinate, which means that they will only ever set potatoes in the first layer of soil where they are planted.

Awe well, learn something new every day. I still have hopes that they will grow and give us at least a few potatoes.

2019 Broody Hen Hatch Watch: Day 1

May 19, 2019

You may remember last summer when we tried to have some of our broody hens hatch some eggs for us. (You can read those posts here.)

We tried six times and only ended up with 2 chicks (both roosters, of course!). Sadly, after some research, I think a couple of those failures were from us handling and moving the eggs after day 17, which is when the eggs should be left alone until hatching. So we might had inadvertently cause some of the in-egg deaths. I’m crushed. 😟

But, we are trying again, and we know better this time.

One of our Austra-Whites, Bluebell, went broody last week. She was the mama that raised store bought chicks for us in 2017. Her sister, another Austra-White named Speckles, was the hen who successfully hatched the two chicks last summer.

Our 2018 chicks – a Black Sex-link male, and a Speckled Sussex male who is now one of our breeding roosters.

We never had any success in hatching with the three Welsummers or the Golden-laced Wyandotte who went broody, so when Bluebell decided to be broody again this year, I was happy. I know she is a reliable brooder and a good mama.

So, here we go.

We moved her to the brooder coop nest box, blocked off from the 8 week old chicks who are using the rest of the coop.

Our brooder box setup. Just shut the right door to keep the hen in, and the left one is opened or closed as needed for security or ventilation and to access food and water.

She was sitting on golf balls for a few days in order to adjust to the move before we gave her eggs.

Classic broody hen stink-eye

But after one night she had settled right in. So I figured it was safe to put eggs under her.

The next day (that was yesterday) we swapped out 9 golf balls for a dozen eggs we had been collecting from our breeding group from several days.

I’m pretty sure all the ones on the right are from our Speckled Sussex hen, Lizzie. She lays very light tan eggs, and usually it’s pretty easy to tell hers from the eggs that Feathers lays. But sometimes it wasn’t quite as obvious. Most of the ones on the left are from Feathers who is a Plymoth Barred Rock. They are both in with a Speckled Sussex rooster, Nigel. So Lizzie’s chicks will be pure breed Speckled Sussex. Feathers’ will be Black Sex-links, which means we will be able to tell immediately at hatching if they are male or female. And then there are a couple that I think are from our other Speckled Sussex in our other flock, which means they would also be pure breed. However, they could be from our Black Australorp, or our Golden Laced Wyandotte in that flock as well. In which case, the chicks would just be normal ol’ farmyard hybrids. Nothing special other than the fact that they would probably still lay some great eggs.

Hey, we should come up with a name for our sex-link hybrids. Every hatchery calls theirs something different dependant on the breeds of the parents. Black sex-links are almost always a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red rooster and a Barred Rock hen and the offspring is almost always called a Black Star or Black Rock. Red/Gold sex-links have a much larger variety of breeds as parents, thus have many different “brand” names: Red Star, ISA Brown, Cinnamon Queen, Golden Comet, etc. Hmmmm…, Something to think about.

At any rate, we’ll hopefully have some Speckled Sussex and some sex-link and a couple mystery chicks hatching out in about 3 weeks. I will candle the eggs in about 12 days (I’m not confident in my abilities to candle on day 7) and their projected Hatch Date is June 8th.

I am sooo hoping this works this time. We really want an easy and natural way to replenish our flocks in order to be as sustainable as possible. If we can reliably hatch chicks, we wouldn’t have to purchase new ones, and we could sell some to offset costs.

I’ll keep you updated as we progress.

And this time, no moving of the eggs in the last 4-5 days!

The Great Potato Experiment of 2019: Days 10 and 15

They are growing!

May 12: Day 10

The first little sprout started looking it’s head through the soil.

I was starting to get a little worried. No signs of life. Would they actually grow from those sprouts I planted or were they too far gone? Had they expended too much energy already just trying to get out of the box and then been shocked by being smothered in the ground?

Well, at least one is growing, so I’m happy.

May 17: Day 15

More growth!

The main bed showing the red potato spouts showing through the soil.

A purple potato sprout. I love that even the leaves start out purple, my favorite color.

I had a couple of the red seed potatoes that didn’t fit into the main bed, so I planted them in some old pots I had. They are growing, too!

I am loving this “experiment”. Not only am I trying something that is essentially new to me, but as I walk through my terraced beds every day to work on the house, I am filled with joy that I have a garden this year.

Yes, it’s tiny and not even fully planted yet, but it’s there. And seeing all the new growth fills a spot in my soul that reminds me how much I love gardening and producing our own food.

Soon I’ll have to share my tomato experiment of this year. 😯

The Great Potato Experiment of 2019: Day 1

I definitely waited way too long to get my seed potatoes in the ground. But I bought them when I had bigger plans for the garden, which I scaled back drastically when we decided it was more prudent for me to be working on the house rather than building and maintaining brand new gardens.

But I already had these seed potatoes. And I am continuing to develop the terraced garden beds as I have time and just have to get in some outside work.

So I finally figured out WHERE I wanted to plant them. And that’s when I discovered they had a headstart on my gardening for the year. (See above picture! πŸ˜„) So, I dug some trenches, and threw three potatoes in each, sprouts and all.
We’ll see how it goes. I’ve only grown potatoes once before, years ago, and that was before I learned to cover them up as they grow.

Method: dig 3 foot long trenches 8 inches deep. Lay 3 potatoes with sprouts end-to-end in the trenches. Cover with several inches of soil. As (if?) they grow, when they get to be about 6 inches tall, I’ll cover the bottom 3 inches with soil. I’ll continue doing that until…ummmm, I’m actually not sure when they are ready to harvest. More research is needed, obviously. But for now, at least they are in the ground!

Bluebirds of Happiness

We have bluebirds!

About a year ago, the girls and I built bluebird houses following plans found online. (This is a really good website all about bluebirds and how to make houses for them with lots of different types of plans for houses.)

We modified the plans a bit to use materials we had on hand (mainly just swapping out black ABS pipe for the thinner PVC pipe called for on the plans), but basically we used the plans for the Gilbertson PVC house.

But we made them too late in the season and nothing ever nested in them. But this year they are fighting over them!

Yep, we have at least two “couples” who are arguing over who gets to build their nest in one of the houses. The cool thing is that one of the couples are Western Bluebirds and the other couple are Mountain Bluebirds.

Blue arrows are the Western and white arrows are the Mountain

Looks like the Westerns are winning as they are the ones I see perched on the roof all the time.

The bad thing is that this little coop that it is attached to is actually occupied this year with chicks. That means we go out there several times a day to check on and interact with the chicks. I hope it’s not too much human activity for the bluebirds.

Luckily, the door to access the chicks in on the opposite side from the bluebird house.

Here’s some pictures of us building the boxes last year.

Marked the inside rim of the pipe onto the board to make the bottom plug

Fits great

Nearly perfect. Notice the hole in the middle, along with not fitting 100% perfectly around the edges will allow for drainage if water somehow gets inside.

Drilling a hole to be able to screw in the bottom plug without cracking the plastic pipe.

Scraping the rough edges

Also cut holes near the top as vent holes.

Smoothing out the edges even more.

Checking for proper depth and hole size.

More smoothing

Placing the hanging block.

Attaching everything together. It is all upside down at the moment.

Painting it so it’s not so dark, thus not so hot in the sun.

Taa daa! Installed on our little brooder coop.

And the other one hung on the outhouse. Not sure if anyone is scoping that one out or not.

It was a fun little project, and we are excited that a bluebird family is moving in this year. We plan to have lots more birdhouses around the property as homes for our feathery friends!

How we do this Off-Grid thing

So you all know we live “off-grid” on our homestead in our trailers and are building our house to be off-grid as well.

But what does that mean?

It does not mean that we are completely independent from modern conveniences. I mean, I do drive a vehicle (more than I want to, I admit). We heat our trailers with propane. And there are times our little temporary solar system just does not cut it and we need to run the generator to charge the batteries. Like when the sun hasn’t come out for days.

Or, like today, when we did have some sun, but I didn’t get laundry out on the line in time for it to dry and needed to use the generator to run the clothes dryer.

It’s times like this that I’m very glad for modern conveniences like generators and the gasoline needed to run them.

Big generator pulled up to the well shed to run the dryer

Our washer can run on our small solar system, but the dryer requires more power.

BTW this is how we vent the dryer. We don’t want to put a hole in the shed wall since this is temporary until we can move the washer and dryer into the house. We also route the washer drain out this window.

So, yeah, for us, living off-grid does not mean that we do not rely on the grid. We are not one of those families who live in the wilderness, eating only what we can hunt or gather or grow, heating our house only with wood we can gather, etc. Not by a long shot!

But it does mean that we produce about 90% of our daily (not construction) power needs through our solar system. (And once we are living in the house it will be even more since our solar system will be larger.) And we stock up on propane and gasoline when the storms are threatening. It means that in an emergency situation, we could live quite comfortably for quite a while. And in a long term situation, we could get by without the backup generators if we ran out of gas. Yeah, it might mean not watching TV, and having to do essential bits of laundry by hand and hanging it to dry in front of the fire in the house, but we’d get by till the sun came back out. Way better than most people who rely completely on the grid. For us, it’s about being as self sufficient as is feasible in our current lifestyle. I also like the idea that by using mostly solar power, we are reducing our carbon footprint.

Now, to just get this house built so that we can focus on producing our own food again and be even more sustainable. 😁

A little bit of winter fun

Every winter, we look forward to the right conditions to use our old fashioned runner sled.

Check out our YouTube channel to see a short video of Flower Girl and I going for a ride.

While you’re there, be sure to subscribe to our channel. We don’t post videos very often, so you don’t want to miss a single one. πŸ˜„