a long overdue update from our tipi in montana

A recent photo of our home for the last 10 months: a tipi surrounded by a garden berm

A recent photo of our home for the last 10 months: a tipi surrounded by a garden berm

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.

The tipi in December once the snow had started falling

The tipi in December once the snow had started falling

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:

drying the half-finished cob bench/bed

drying the half-finished cob bench/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.

Christmas in the tipi!

Christmas in the tipi!

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:

the organic buckwheat hull mattress we made

the organic buckwheat hull mattress we made

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.

Spring at the tipi! Peas growing in our "sunscoop berm"

Spring at the tipi! Peas growing in our “sunscoop berm”

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:

The skiddable woodhed/tool shed/ storage shed that we built.

The skiddable woodhed/tool shed/ storage shed that we built.

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).

The skiddable bee hut we built!

The skiddable bee hut we built!

Our friend Jacob, delivering the colony of bees.

Our friend Jacob, delivering the colony of bees.

a close-up of the bees!

a close-up of the bees!

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.

Finished cob bench

Finished cob bench

I have more photos to share, but will end this post before it gets too long. I hope to add more soon!

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4 thoughts on “a long overdue update from our tipi in montana

  1. I would love to try something like that! However the “search” that brought me here is that you have a buckwheat mattress… I have been considering this but am hesitant. How long have you been sleeping on it and what are you thoughts on it? Comfortable or have you moved on to other options like wool for mattress?

    • I would recommend the mattress to someone truly trying to avoid all synthetic materials. For the most part it was quite comfortable and worked very well on top the hot mass of the rocket mass heater, however it did have some drawbacks. It really is like a big flat bean bag. It tended to settle and would hold a certain shape, which might be good if you sleep the exact same way every night. I found myself fluffing or rearranging the way mattress lay in order to sleep in different positions. Emily and I certainly has designated sides. I would call the mattress firm, not fluffy at all, but it is form-fitting. You kind of nestle into it every night. Some nights it seemed to fit like a glove, and others it was just not quite right. I attribute this to finding the “sweet spot” of arrangement some nights. Then there is the price, the all organic version is quite pricey for what amounts to buckwheat hulls and game hanging socks that one has to fill and assemble them-self. Finally after sleeping on the mattress for 8 months some holes were starting to develop in the tubes.
      We are no longer living in the Tipi so we are back to inflatable mattresses while we travel around. I hope this helps you Lily, and thank you for reading!

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