Hello from the Tipi in Montana! We don’t actually have internet or electricity (or even water for that matter) at the tipi, so that combined with the fact that we have been keeping ourselves very busy these last months, our posts have become non-existent. It is often much easier for us to pretend the virtual world doesn’t exist, but it certainly has its value. I do think that sharing our story is worthwhile so we plan to update this blog more often when we find the time.
We have been living on a permaculture farm owned by Paul Wheaton of permies.com since October 2, 2013. That’s just a little over 10 months, but we are beginning to transition to new adventures. We are “on call” to work on wildland fire right now, and Tony actually just headed out on a fire a few hours ago. I am ready to go, and may also be called out in the next few days. When the fire season ends we plan to do a 3-week bike trip in Idaho that will take us 750 miles and to 50 hotsprings. Should be a nice treat. After that, we will visit our families and find a farm or two to spend the winter on.
It will be impossible for me to fully update the blog with all of our projects from the last year, but I hope to give a good summary and begin adding photos in the next few days.
As you know, we decided to live in a tipi through the winter in Montana. We realize that we’re definitely a little crazy.
With a little help from others, but mostly on our own, we built a Rocket Mass Heater with a cob style bench and bed. A Rocket Mass Heater efficiently uses heat and utilizes the exhaust to heat up a mass, which in our case was a bench and bed:
Mixing cob (a clay, sand, straw mixture) in winter is never a good idea. Instead of drying, it tends to freeze. We learned this the hard way. So, we decided to postpone the completion of the bench, covered everything with ugly thrift store blankets, and made the best of it for the winter. By Christmas we had been living in our tipi for a few weeks and were staying cozy and happy.
The coldest temperature in our area this winter was -26 degrees, but when we had our Rocket Mass Heater lit and our bench warmed, the temperature was easily 80 degrees Fahrenheit inside the tipi. Even when it was very cold outside, we could comfortably sit inside our tipi with a t-shirt on. In fact, the bench would get so hot, the first night our thermarest mattresses practically exploded from the heat, so we made our own organic buckwheat hull mattress:
We spent most of the winter helping with indoor projects in the workshop, ordering seeds, and going on a few weekend skiing/ hotspring trips. We enjoyed many warm nights and weekends in our little tipi reading and writing and enjoying the solace of winter by the light of our fire (and coleman lantern).
In March, we visited Yosemite and spent a few weeks with my family in San Diego. We participated in a workshop with Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm in Viola, Wisconsin, and attended the first Permaculture Voices Conference — an absolutely life changing and inspiring experience.
In the spring, we planted many seeds, participated in earthworks projects, built a few skiddable structures, completed the cob bench in our tipi, attended a workshop with Sepp Holzer, and cut down hundreds of trees for the building project we worked on last month in July.
We built a skiddable woodshed, meant for skidding to a location where one can cut a load of firewood, fill the shed, let the wood dry, and skid it back to where it will be used. So far, we have been using it in place. But during the summer it has been a very useful tool and storage shed as well:
In April we began taking beginning beekeeper classes with our friend Jacob Wustner of Sapphire Permaculture Apiary. We were so inspired, we checked out several books from the library and decided we wanted to catch a swarm of bees. The first step was to build a “bee hut” that provides, shelter, protection, and shade for the bees. Once we built our bee hut, we tried to entice a swarm of bees by filling an empty Langstroth hive with a few old frames with honey already in the comb, a little propolis, and lemongrass extract (mimics the honey bee pheromone). We were unsuccessful this time, but Jake graciously came and donated a colony of bees. We then added electric fencing to protect our bees from predators (mostly bears).
At the end of May, we had a lovely group of people come for a week to help with various projects. One of those projects was finishing the cob bench in our tipi. We completed the back wall of the bench, which will greatly increase heat retention in the winter. We also added finishing plaster layers and a few shelves. I have a bookshelf now! We can now live without covering the bench with blankets, so it is more pleasant. We do still have a sand floor, and it is still a canvas tipi.
I have more photos to share, but will end this post before it gets too long. I hope to add more soon!