Tag Archives: DIY

House update: septic system, phase 1

We are STILL waiting on the contractor to come and finish siding and roofing the house. So in the meantime, we’ve been working on the septic system. I posted last time about how I was trying to find the strength and willpower to get started on that project. Well, I am happy to report that phase 1 is just about finished!

Phase 1 = hooking up the sewer system from the house to the septic tank.

Phase 2 = the sewer system from the septic tank to the leach field. We haven’t even started this phase yet. It requires renting an excavator, etc.

But we are feeling accomplished at the progress we have made. Especially since we’ve been doing all the backfill, etc by hand. No machines. It takes a while, but it doesn’t cost money.

Ok, well, technically we’ve had to buy DG (decomposed granite, which is a type of sand) to surround the septic tank, but other than that, it’s been free. In fact, we got some other fill dirt for just the price of gas to go get it.

We did get some help on the septic trench. My nephew and his wife came to town and we put them to work!

Actually, they wanted to help. And now whenever we get to use our toilet, we’ll be able to thank them for helping. 😁

We have a sand pit on the property that we were initially mining sand from to bed the septic pipe in.

And it was working just fine, but it was a very slow process as we could only get small amounts of sand at a time. But it allowed us to start the process. And as we all know, starting is half the battle.

My helper

Test fitting

Raising strong a woman

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More sand, and another strong woman in the making

Not too long after the above pictures were taken, we decided we needed to move along a bit (or a lot) faster, so we decided to purchase sand to bed the pipe and surround the tank in.

Love, love, love Pajii’s dump trailer!

Gluing the pipe! It’s always an exciting time when you get to play- uh, I mean work, with glue!

I’d never worked with this particular type of sewer pipe before. It has a rubber gasket instead of using glue. It makes getting the pipes together a bit tricky. But ingenuity wins every time.

Once we got the pipe laid and inspected, and just before we started covering it, we took some measurements. This is very important if we ever have to dig that thing back up for any reason.

We passed the inspection with flying colors, and it was time for backfill!

But first…we had to clean out all the rocks and debris that had fallen in the pit over the winter. Oh, actually, we did that before the inspection. Forgot. Anyway, here we are cleaning up the pit.

Including this big rock. Waaay too big to get it out by hand.

Again, ingenuity to the rescue. We were able to use this system to get enough sand under it that we could roll it away from the tank and bury it.

Then it was sand, sand, sand.

And finally regular dirt on top.

And yes, that’s Princess Girl on crutches. She sprained her ankle. 😞

Filled in trench, which will eventually get another 1-2 feet of fill when we bring in dirt to raise the ground level up to slab level.

And an almost covered septic tank. We actually did even more after this picture was taken. It is now almost even with the top all the way around.

Right now as I write this post, I am down in town waiting for the trailer to be loaded with free fill dirt. I met a guy through Craiglist. He had good quality fill dirt he needed hauled away, and we have need of dirt we don’t have to pay for. Win-win.

We decided that we wanted to pay for only what we have to (because despite the saying, dirt ain’t cheap!), so we devised a system where we put the purchased DG sand in the first foot or so up against the tank, then outside of that, we put either our native soil, or this other fill dirt that is not as high a quality.

I’d say by the end of the week, the septic tank will be completely covered. Yay! That means we can finally bring in the needed dirt to raise the ground level all around the house up to what it’s supposed to be.

And that is just one step closer to done.

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Easy 2-ingredient CHOCOLATE sauce (that’s healthier for you!

I’ve been craving mochas a LOT lately.

But the ingredients in the chocolate sauce used by the coffee shops leaves a lot to be desired.

Not to mention that my cravings clash spectacularly with my wallet (nearly $5 a pop!).

So, I decided to work some more on my homemade mocha recipe. While I’m am not completely satisfied yet with the overall product, I’m digging how easy it is to make this chocolate sauce that has only two ingredients.

Easy 2-Ingredient Chocolate Sauce:

  • 3/4cup Pure Maple Syrup
  • 3Tbl unsweetened cocoa powder

I like to make this in an 8oz canning jars since it’s so easy. Simply put both ingredients into the jar, put a lid on it, and shake vigorously until combined. No heating required. You might need to use a spoon or a fork to break up a couple chunks and stir them in. Bonus for making it in the jar is that you already have it in a container to store it and only a measuring cup and spoon to wash. Alternately, you can mix this up in a regular bowl and whisk to combine, but the cocoa powder takes some convincing to mix with the maple syrup. It will happen eventually, just keep stiring. If you’ve combined it in a bowl, transfer to an appropriate size container and put a lid on it.

Use as you would any chocolate sauce. Mochas. Ice cream sundaes. Chocolate milk. Mmmmm….

I do not know if this needs to be refrigerated or not. I mean, we don’t refrigerate our maple syrup or cocoa powder. But just to be safe, I keep mine in the fridge just as I used to when we bought chocolate sauce from the store. That way if I forget about it, which sometimes happen as I tend to go through phases, I know it will last in there for a very long time.

So there you have it. Chocolate sauce that is easy to make, and way better for you than the stuff you get in the store (or coffee shops πŸ˜„).

Healthier Hot Chocolate (Only 3 ingredients!)

There’s nothing like playing hard in the snow, then coming inside to a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

It snowed again last night, the most snow we’ve had all winter.

The girls and I took the opportunity to get in some good old fashioned snow play.

When we came in for some hot chocolate, I realized we were dangerously low on our home made hot chocolate mix. But it was no big deal, because with only three ingredients, this hot chocolate mix goes together in a jiffy.

You read that right: three ingredients. This version is so much healthier than any store-bought hot chocolate I’ve found. And depending on what sweetener you use, you can make it even healthier. I’ve seen many other hot chocolate recipes what use more ingredients, and you certainly can add in flavorings of your choice, but we prefer to keep it simple. You can also omit the dried milk and add the cocoa and sweetener to whatever milk you normally drink. I like to have the milk in the mix, however, mainly because we don’t have a microwave, so heating milk on the stove means dirtying a dish. And we avoid that at all costs. Especially in the winter when our water system in the trailer is a bit more labor intensive. But also, I like to make up a big batch of this and have it on hand to drink, no matter how much milk is in the fridge.

Ok, I’ve talked long enough. Here’s the recipe.

Homemade Healthier Hot Chocolate

One serving:

  • 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar/sweetener
  • of your choice
  • 1/4 cup (heaping) dry milk

Put all ingredients in a mug and mix them together, add 6-8oz hot water, stir till all ingredients are dissolved.

One quart of MIX:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar/sweetener of your choice
  • 2Β½ cups dry milk

Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Then pour into a quart size container, label and place in the pantry/cupboard ,etc for later use. To use, place 3-4 large spoonfuls of hot chocolate mix into a mug, add 6-8oz hot water, stir till dissolved.

Notes:

  • Add more or less mix and/or water to achieve desired taste.
  • Mixing all the ingredients together before adding the hot water helps the cocoa not form so many clumps.
  • Feel free to use whatever sweetener you prefer. You may need to play with the ratios a bit, though. We typically use raw cane sugar, but we’ve also used coconut sugar and pure maple syrup. If you prefer to use a liquid sweetener, you’ll need to put that in at the same time as the hot water.

Homestead Update: still waiting, but being productive

I didn’t realize it had been so long since I last did an update on the house progress until I posted about Pajii’s new garden beds and saw the half-sided house in the background.

So yeah, this picture was taken on January 26th. We haven’t seen our contractor since that day. Our house sits there, half sided, getting snowed on. We finally gave up on being able to get ahold of him and have found a new contactor to finish the job. They will start as soon as they can fit us into their schedule.

In the mean time, we’ve been keeping pretty busy around the homestead with other projects that needed doing.

We were blessed with unseasonably warm and dry weather for most of January and February.

Picnic lunch in the February sunshine

School outside in February?

We decided to take a Saturday and finish the concrete patio outside our completed well shed (I’m putting together a post on that, I promise). The existing concrete was leftovers from when we poured our house footers. We were hoping we’d have enough left over from the house slab pour, but the calculations on that were perfect. Not short, but no leftovers either. So we had to go buy bags of concrete to finish the well shed slab job.

Prepping the 4’x7′ section

IT’S ALIVE!!! This concrete mixer was my dad’s and has been sitting on this piece of land, completely unprotected, for at least 12 years. And it still worked!

Concrete work is dirty work.

We mixed 3 bags of concrete at a time in the mixer, then poured it into a bucket to schlep it into place.

It was actually really easy to move the concrete around such a small area with the bucket.

You can see the chicken wire we put down as an added strengthener. Every so often, we’d reach down and pull the wire up so it was floating in the slab rather than pressed down to the ground.

While Hubs mixed up another batch of concrete in the mixer, Pajii and I would scree the freshly poured stuff so it stayed level with our existing slab and the forms we built out of 2×4’s.

The finished slab. It makes getting into the well shed so much easier!

Another project we worked on was some driveway maintenance. We had put in a culvert last fall and it needed a bit of upkeep.

Adding and compacting more dirt over top of the culvert.

Hubby cleaning out some collected sediment inside the culvert.

There were a few gardening type things to do as well. Since I don’t plan to start a garden this year for myself, it was great to get some dirt under my fingernails, so to speak.

Spreading pine needles collected from our church’s landscaping. This area will eventually be our fenced in garden with raised beds, but right now it is a parking area. We thought it best to use decomposable material rather than gravel to combat the mud in this area. Besides, the pine needles were free and we were saving our church some money since they didn’t have to haul it all to the dump.

I had some flower bulbs I needed to get in the ground. So I made a couple new areas for flowers along the pathway going from the upper level down to the house pad.

This area eventually became a perennial flower bed. Once the spring bulbs come up, we’ll plant some more summer type perennials in this bed, too.

And, since I had gone a little crazy buying flower bulbs last fall, we had plenty left over to plant in other places as well, such as around our cherry trees.

Oh, and we finally finished the stairway that leads from the upper level down to the house pad.

These stairs are made from railroad ties that have been sitting on this property for over a decade.

And, if you’ll remember the panels that blew off the side of the hill?

We finally got them back up to the pad. All 29 of them.

Even Flower Girl was able to help once the panels were at the top of the hill. The panels are heavy for a 5 year old, but she’s strong and has a will to help.

This girl, even with a gimpy knee, was amazing in getting all those panels back to the top.

So even though we haven’t been able to work on the house, we have not been idle this winter. January and February we’re filled with a lot of time outside.

And then March blew in and winter finally settled in.

So, we’re back to being stuck inside and working on other projects.

But Spring is just around the corner. And our new contractor said it shouldn’t take much more than a week to finish the siding and roofing once they get started. Rest assured we’ll be shouting from the mountainside when that blessed event finally happens.

In the meantime, keep warm and busy friends.

Garden beds

In February, we had a run of really nice weather and it got us itching for spring. Pajii in particular is really missing being able to garden. His garden up in Oregon, though small, was prolific and beautiful.

Pajii’s garden in Oregon – 2014

So, since we couldn’t work on the house (still waiting on our contractor to finish the walls and roof), and we had such nice weather, I decided to knock together some raised garden beds for Pajii to work in come spring.

I decided to use our wood left overs from the concrete forms for the house foundation.

This is only some of the wood we reclaimed from our forms for the foundation.

I measured and cut and organized and got all the pieces sized and ready to assemble.

A lot of the 3/4″ scrap plywood was 8 or 16 inches wide. This made it easy to figure out how tall I wanted the beds to be.

I started by attaching my side panels to the corner 2×4 posts which I cut to be twice the height of the panel. Since I wanted to use as much of the smaller wood scraps as possible and leave larger pieces for future projects, I had to make a couple 16″ panels out of two 8″ panels as you can see in the following pictures.

Attaching a panel to the corner post

I used 1⅝” deck screws to attach the 3/4” plywood to the 2×4 posts.

Joining two 8″ panels together to make a 16″ panel.

One side ready for assembly

Once I had all four sides ready for assembly, I started screwing them together.

Clamps are your friend when working solo.

One box almost finished.

This box is almost finished. Just needs some strengthening 2×4’s around the top edge.

One of the boxes we made a trapezoid (an isosceles trapezoid to be precise πŸ˜‰) to work in with the shape of the garden a bit better. You can see in the pic below where Princess Girl is helping me put on the strengthening rim boards around the top of the box. I used 3″ deck screws too attach these boards to the corner posts.

Finally got some human help. 😁

We also attached the plywood to the rim boards with 1⅝” deck screws.

Princess Girl gets some more screw gun practice.

Pajii and the Princess with a finished box.

Time to move.

Once we got the boxes put into place, Flower Girl’s chicken, Leilani, had to come check them out.

All 4 boxes in position.

We made 4 boxes total. Three of them are 3ft by 6ft and the fourth one is a trapezoid that is 5ft x 3ft x 2ft, if that makes sense. All of the boxes are 16 inches tall with 32 inch corner posts. The corner posts are taller in order to easily attach clear plastic to make a cold frame in early spring, or more likely, netting to keep the squirrels and other pests out.

I really like how these boxes turned out. I love that everything used to make them, including the screws, is reclaimed materials that were used to make the foundation of our house.

We have not filled them with soil yet since winter returned just a couple of days after we finished them. Soon, though, we’ll go get some soil and not too long after that, Pajii will be able to keep busy growing us some fresh veggies. I can’t wait!

The end is coming

It rained yesterday. I mean, a good ol’ gully washer! Rain coming down in sheets. Hail. Overflowing rain barrels (which we coincidentally had just filled up with well water because we use them to water our animals and they were getting low and who knew it was going to pour?) It was glorious.

And this morning I am reminded that the end is near.

The end of summer.

Because of the rain yesterday, the air is cooler than usual this morning, and fresh. The cheatgrass all around me is doing its usual end of summer imitation of fall colors. And September is right around the corner.

Normally I love Autumn. It’s my favorite season. However this year, we’re feeling the heat (haha) to get our house dried in before the cold weather hits.

But things keep delaying us. Last week it was that we couldn’t find any delivery drivers to bring in backfill for us. This week, we got the dirt to put into the inside of the footers, only to be stopped by the weather (can’t do anything on the house pad when there’s 3 inches of mud).

So we take it as a sign that we need to work on other things.

Hubs and I have been working fairly steadily getting our well shed finished off this past week.

Pajii graciously plunked down the money to get a shed for us so that we can put a water system in there so we can have water on site for the winter.

We had it made with 2×6 walls so we could put thicker insulation in it (R-19). We also had them beef up the floor since we are going to put heavy totes of water in there.

Then Hubs and I added windows (we could put them in for cheaper than having the shed company put them in), a loft, wiring, insulation, and we are working on the wall panels and trim now.

It might seem like a departure from our true goal of building our house, but we see it as necessary for several reasons.

The first is that it’s become glaringly obvious that we’re going to be spending another winter in the trailers. Last winter, the water situation was rough. We only had as much water on hand as could be stored in jugs inside the trailers. Anything that was stored outside in barrels or totes was almost always a solid block of ice. By insulating the shed and putting a heating source in there, we can store totes of water in there and keep them from freezing. It also gives us a chance to go ahead and get our water filtration system up and running so we can actually drink our well water. The shed will also give us a place to put a washing machine on the homestead which we haven’t had since last summer (been hauling laundry to the laundromat).

The second reason why we are pushing to get the well shed finished is because, well, we can’t do anything on the house right now anyway.

And thirdly, it’s giving us, especially my hubby who’s never built a house before, some crucial experience that will be extremely useful when we do finally get around to building the house.

So we work on the shed. And the “end” is in site. I’d say by the end of this week we should be pretty much finished.

And then, Lord willing, we start back up on the house again.

For now, here’s pics of our progress with finishing out the shed.

Putting up the 2×6 boards as floor joists for the loft.

We sheeted the floor of the loft with some of the 3/4″ plywood we had left over from building our house footings forms.

We framed out three new windows (two upstairs in the loft and one downstairs).

Hubs cutting out the hole for the south facing window in the loft.

Hanging out the tiny window like that makes it look like a child’s play house.

Once we had the floor in for the loft and the two windows put in up there for ventilation, we worked on insulating the downstairs floor. This 2″ thick rigid foam is the same stuff we put around the outside of our house footers. With the two sheets of 3/4″ plywood (one under and one over) it adds up to about R-12 on the floors. Not a lot of insulation, but it is better than having an uninsulated floor for sure.

Got the flooring down.

What could go wrong? And yes, that’s me. Working on trimming the windows.

Wiring. We’ll have one light on the ceiling of the downstairs, a GFCI outlet on each wall, and two outlets upstairs, one of which will be controlled by a light switch.

Flower Girl actually was a big help running the wiring through the holes in the loft.

She’s getting old enough that she’s becoming an actual help at times.

Insulation time! We wanted to get the loft insulated first so that it would cut down on the heat transfer to the whole shed. What a difference!

Insulation is all done, time to start putting up paneling. We decided to go with natural wood bead board for a couple reasons. First of all, we like the look. Second of all, when you factor in things like tape and texture and paint, the bead board was not much more expensive than sheetrock, especially for a small project like this. Thirdly, we like the look.

Paneling all installed in the loft. Just gotta put in trim to hide the seams. In retrospect, we could/should have done things a bit different to have fewer seams, but we learned a ton and will do better in the downstairs.

Besides, the girls don’t know it yet, but the loft is going to become their playroom (and a play room doesn’t need to have perfect paneling). That’s what these colorful foam flooring pieces that we got from a friend which are drying out after being washed off are for. (Was that a confusing sentence or what! Too tired to fix it, though.) Those will be the flooring for the loft to cushion it for the girls. At the moment, they think it’s going to be a storage room. But as I said, it’s become obvious that we are going to spend another winter in the trailers. It will be nice to have a space that the girls can go play where we’re not all right on top of each other. And we can see Princess Girl using it a lot this school year as a quite place to go to do her school work. She is easily distracted and when we live in such a tiny space, it’s hard to find somewhere to concentrate.

Insulating the ceiling of the downstairs. Since we are going to have our water system in there, we want it as insulated as possible so it’s easy to heat so nothing freezes.

Downstairs insulation finished and starting on the paneling.

And that’s as far as we’ve gotten. I’ll post more as we progress.

Raising chicks while living off-grid

So yeah. I’m a sucker for chicks. That is a fully established fact.

Yup. That’s two MORE chicks to add to our menagerie.

I was not planning on buying more chicks. But the feed store I was in had these 5 week old Ameraucanas for sale for only $2 more than they were selling brand new chicks.

And two of our four Ameraucana chicks had died (being crushed) within the first week. I really wanted more Ameraucanas. So when I saw these 5 week old chicks, who are almost the same age as our original chicks, and at a reasonable price?

Well, how could I resist?

[Did I mention that I went to that feed store, miles out of my way,  because I heard they had 5 week old Ameraucanas? No? Oh, well, that will be our little secret, k?]

So as Flower Girl sat in the parking strip grass next to the laundromat today, cuddling one of the new chickies, I figured it was high time to detail out how we have raised our chicks while living off-grid in a camping trailer.

She’s the chicken whisperer for sure!

On April 19, we brought our first chicks home and fostered them to a broody hen who had been sitting on golf balls for about 6 weeks. It worked great. You can read that post HERE

A few days later we tried again with another broody hen. It didn’t work at all. So we had to implement our backup plan.

We knew we needed to raise these chicks in a brooder. We had just emptied a large plastic tote, so that would work perfect. But there was no way that our solar power system could run a traditional heat lamp.

As the weather warmed up, we were able to use the warmth of the sun during the day. 

Solar powered warmth for the chicks – at least on sunny days 😊 (PS, this pic was take  after we got our bantams – the original chicks were about 10 days old, and the bantams ranged from less than a week old to about 2ish weeks old)

But what about at night? Or when it was overcast or cold? Sure, their brooder box would be in the mud room, out of the elements, but April in Northern Nevada is still pretty chilly. Too chilly for newly hatched chicks.

I had seen some warming plates online that advertised that they only use 15watts, but even with Amazon’s 2-day shipping, it would still be several nights before we could get one and set it up. 

So, to keep our little chickies warm, we built a little hut out of some reflectix we had laying around. (Reflectix is a insulative mylar and bubble wrap material, basically what a lot of car windshield shades are made from.)

Reflectix hut inside the brooder box

We cut a hole just big enough for the chicks to get in and out.

So we had the hut made, but we still needed a heat source. So, we heated some water and put it in a quart size canning jar and placed it in the warming hut, making sure that the door was not blocked so the chicks could get in and out.

The hut was sized just right so that a quart size jar and 6 chicks could all fit in the hut together.

This worked great, except that the water needed to be reheated every 4 hours. Even in the middle of the night. Which meant that for three nights, I was getting up at 2am to reheat the water for the chicks. 

It reminded me of middle of the night feedings of the girls when they were babies. πŸ˜„

So after three nights of getting up at 2am, I was very glad to see this come in the mail. (This is not an affiliate link. I am not being paid or reimbursed or compensated by Amazon or Premier. I’m just giving an honest review of a product I actually bought.)

Warming plate for chicks

The under side gets to be about 110Β°F, just a bit warmer than a mamma hen. It’s easily adjustable in height to accommodate growing chicks, and advertised that it only takes 15 watts to run. 

Considering we are set up on solar power, and this would be running all night, a minimal power draw was essential. But we were skeptical, especially seeing that it was designed for a 220volt system (maybe because it’s made in Germany?) and we are running 110 through our inverter.

But we plugged it in and gave it a go. 

And it worked as advertised. Actually, the power consumption was even less. We hooked it up to our power meter, and it never drew more than 12watts. It and the refergerator could run all night long on our battery bank no problem. Providing the batteries were fully charged, of course.

When the chicks were about 3 weeks old, we got a new (to us) little coop and decided to put the chicks out there. The warming plate went with them, of course.

See the orange extension cord going through the closed window? That’s for the warming plate​ inside.

(Edited to add this photo since I finally found it.)


When they were between 4 and 5 weeks old, I noticed that they were no longer sleeping under the plate at right, rather preferring to cuddle up in a corner. After several nights of that, and with overnight lows expected to hold steady for a while, I turned off the warming plate. They haven’t needed it since. Even our smallest chick, our bantam frizzle, who is still so very tiny, would snuggle her way into the middle of the pile to stay warm. I thought for sure she’d be crushed. But she’s a tough little thing. (As a side note, at 4 weeks was also about the time our mamma hen stopped mothering the chicks in the other flock. Seems 4-5 weeks is the magic age for chicks to be mature enough to “be on their own”.)

The chicks are now between 6 and 7 weeks old (except for our newest ones who are 5ish weeks). They recently got a small run to roam around in outside.

New small run on the Brooder Coop

Soon we’ll start letting them free range in the afternoons with all the other hens and chicks (and Cogburn the Rooster). And this week, the bantams are going to their new home at my parents’ house (that’s been the plan all along), so there will be more room for everyone as they continue to grow. 

So there you have it. How we raised chicks in a brooder while living in a camping trailer off-grid. 

And now the question begs to be asked. Which way do I prefer – letting a mamma hen raise the chicks or raising them in a brooder? Honestly, I can’t decide. There are pros and cons to both systems, especially the way we have things set up here. Let me think on it and get back to you, k? πŸ˜‰