Sunday, December 23, 2012

DIY almanac: bring home a living Christmas tree for replanting later

A Living Balsam Fir, all wrapped up in burlap and ready to be planted after Christmas. Photo credit: Christmas Is Alive
I love Christmas trees: their needles' woodsy, fresh scent and the calming, magic they can bring to a room. This year for our tree  I decided I wanted to bring home a tree that was still alive, with the hopes of replanting it instead of chopping down a tree. After all, evergreen trees produce oxygen for us all year round since they retain their foliage. A small, potted Yvonne Port Orford Cedar called my name at our local hardware store: lemony-green with a sweet cedar aroma and good cold tolerance with the potential of growing up to 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide. I figured a unique cedar variety would also be a good choice because we could plant it amongst the rest of the cedars at our new property. Living trees work best when they are on the smaller side, up to 4 feet tall or so. This makes them great for smaller dwellings as well: tiny homes or studio apartments.
Since our older house already has some colder rooms, I didn't bother with acclimating our tree slowly to the indoors. If you keep your house rather warm, you'll want to give your living tree a chance to adjust to the change in temperature gradually (about 3-4 days), so that you don't shock your tree out of dormancy. This can be achieved by leaving your tree in an outdoor garden shed, up against the house on the porch or in the garage. You'll also only want to have your tree indoors for up to two weeks (10 days is ideal), again, so you don't bring your tree out of dormancy. Basically, if your tree awakens from dormancy, it will have a hard time readjusting to the cold of the outdoors when you're ready to plant your tree. Your tree also might drop many of its needles if it goes into shock.
I chose to place our potted tree in an antique wash basin, up away from Banjo, our one-year-old shepherd mix who would definitely be tempted to chew on the tree's branches and ornaments. Having our tree up in a wash basin meant I could water the tree without water dripping as well. I also covered the top of the tree's black pot with Christmas linens, save for the back, leaving some soil exposed for easy watering. I've seen living Christmas tree pots set up in apple bushel baskets or wrapped in festive fabric. Some living trees arrive with their rootball wrapped in burlap (as pictured above) instead of potted up. These trees can be kept in a galvanized tub full of water and weighted with stones.
I strung one string of mini green LED lights amongst the little tree's boughs and decorated the cedar with German paper star ornaments made by my Great Aunt, glass owls from my mom, and the corn husk angel I made last Christmas. Every other day I give the tree a pour of water from a mason jar I have sitting on a shelf nearby. I've read that keeping a spray bottle on hand for misting will keep living trees from losing their needles.
Anyway, on December 26th, I'll be busy taking these decorations down to prepare my little tree to return to the outdoors. Here, I will probably try to acclimate my tree to the outdoors by keeping it in our shed for a few days. Then, I'll be able to plant our tree over at the new property, where it will awaken in the spring, ready to keep growing.
Our litte tree, all set up.
Our tree is decorated with German paper stars, glass owls and mini green LED lights.
Our little tree at night.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

our homestead: ideas we have for our little home

We love this wood-paneled, open cabin aesthetic with lots of bright windows. Photo credit: Free Cabin Porn
After purchasing land on October 2nd this year (our 2nd wedding anniversary), my husband and I made a goal of nailing down our home plans by Christmas. Since then we have been researching all sorts of different architectural styles for our home:
1) Tumbleweed Tiny Houses- truly tiny homes which are sized between 65-884 square feet. Their website features House-to-Go plans for portable homes as well as baby cottages. We are friends with a couple who built their own Tumbleweed House-to-Go. Their tiny house is powered via a solar panel and they also have a composting toilet system, so they are almost off-the-grid. They are actually about to move from Washington to Louisiana and will be able to take their house with them. I plan to feature them on this blog later on as I love their house! It's really cosy and inspiring.
An apple orchard seems like a fitting place for a tiny House-to-Go. Photo credit: Tiny House Listings
2) Cargotecture- houses made out of either used or new shipping containers. These houses are relatively affordable to build and are pretty much indestructible. Shipping containers can be cut to specifications or there are some companies catching on to the trend who have started selling containers with different sides missing (for stacking multiple containers together or side by side) or with pre-cut window and door holes. Shipping container homes can be used for minimalist tiny homes or can be stacked together to create multi-family condominiums. Many of the shipping container houses I've seen online have their industrial metal walls covered up with siding and drywall, so they are used like a prefabricated frame. I learned that many shipping containers come to the US and just sit here, stacked up in empty mountains, as we do not export goods as much as we import them (another reason to try to buy things made in this country). Thus, finding a use for these shipping containers is ecologically responsible.

A solar powered home made with shipping containers. Photo credit: Apartment Therapy
3) A Post or Timber Frame House- we also considered a post or timber framed home. Post and timber framed homes are typically made with a combination of industrial steel or plywood sheeting and wood and include a frame supported with strong poles (they are also called pole barns). Because of these materials and poles, the framed structure is very strong and does not require interior supporting walls. This makes post and timber frame homes very affordable as they take far less materials and labor to build.
A timber frame home. Photo credit: Town & Country Perma Bilt

I think my husband and I have finally figured out what we want to build using timber framing methods. Granted, we still need to have official building plans drawn up and we'll definitly tweak the specifics of our plans before we head to the county development office for approval. I will describe our plan with the following group of inspiration photos:
The floor plan we currently like, with a few adjustments. Photo credit: Home Plans
Above is the current floor plan we like. We've been studying many different floor plans and this one seems to make the most sense to us. We like the open kitchen and living room area. We always wanted an open living space, instead of a hidden away kitchen, as everyone wants to spend time in the kitchen anyway. We figure this open living space will grant us more options for furniture and entertaining layout as well. The square at the center of the living space is supposed to be a wood stove. I would prefer to move the wood stove to very left corner as it seems to be in an awkward spot in the center of the room. As far as the bathroom, one is enough for us now. We currently only use one bathroom in our house, even when company comes over. I don't need a private bathroom as I don't really mind sharing a bathroom with my guests. It's always been that way for us.
I measured the bedrooms out on the floor with measuring tape to try and visualize how big (or small) they are in reality. They are actually pretty spacious. Enough for a bed, dresser and mirror, which is the only furniture we have in our current bedroom anyway. If we purchase a low-profile bedframe with space for storage underneath and hang shelves, I'm sure we'll have ample storage space for our clothes and belongings. We are planning on adding a few extra feet to this floor plan to accomodate linen and storage closets, as well as a closet or small room for a stackable washer/dryer unit. We're also considering adding a small loft for a bedroom, depending on costs. Then we'd definitly have room. We like this plan because we figure we could easily build on to it later in life if we do need another room or two. For now, it's just the right size for us.
A 600 square foot 2-bedroom cabin with a lofted master and an open kitchen and living area. Photo credit:Houzz

Can this be my bedroom please? Inhabitat
A small children's room. Looks happy and cosy to me. Photo credit: Country Living
Having a smaller, energy-efficient home means we'll probably be warm and cosy in the winter months (we're currently freezing in the large older house we live in due to heating costs) and we'll be more connected to the outdoors in the summer. Speaking of which, we really want a large deck attached to the front of the house from the living area. I can imagine having friends and family over in the summer to lounge on our deck in the woods after a day of rowboating around the lake. Covering and screening in the deck might also make it more Pacific Northwest friendly while adding to our home space in a way, like an outdoor room.
I adore this view. This is exactly what I want to view from my living area. Photo credit: Tiny House Swoon
This looks like the life to me. Photo credit: Free Cabin Porn
A covered and screened-in deck would be more rainy PNW-friendly. Photo credit: Fresh Home
As far as indoor aesthetics, I really love the look and feel of wood paneled walls. The current house we live in has a 1970s addition with warm-brown slanted wood paneling. I adore the look and would like my new home to have this instead of drywall. Wood paneling is more natural to me and adds interest to a room. I also think it will fit our cabin aesthetic and our forested property.

Warm wood paneled walls and floor. Photo credit: Longest Acres
A wood paneled, small home. Photo credit: Tiny House Swoon
Darker stained wood paneling in a small bedroom. Photo credit: Moon to Moon
Anyway, these are probably enough details for now. We are very glad that we have agreed on a general plan for our home. I'll be sure to post more as our journey progresses.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

our homestead: set the trail

Morning coffee on Fish Lake near Leavenworth, WA. Photo credit: Rachel Nickel

There are a lot of exciting things happening in my life right now. One of the big ones: as mentioned a few blog posts ago, my husband and I made the big decision (and risk) to jump on affordable recession prices and buy 2.17 acres of woods near a small, bass-fishing lake about 20 minutes north of the Swan Slough. We've been busy researching house plans, sustainable building materials and systems and all of the legwork we're going to need to accomplish in order to start construction. Our current plan is to build an energy-efficient 500-800 square foot home with a cabin-aesthetic. We really only need one bathroom and two bedrooms and an open living and dining area. I'd settle for a lofted bedroom for one of the those rooms (yes, please!). Though the house we currently live in (which we do not own) is somewhat large...some might even consider it small...we barely use any of the space, save for the main lofted living area we lovingly refer to as the 70s room (wood paneling and brown shag). The funny thing is that the 70s room, our favorite room in the house, is similar in proportion to many of the smaller house plans we've been considering at 12x24 feet. We plan to build something around 20x30 or more with lots of windows, a well thought out floor plan, and a large deck for outdoor entertaining in the summer. I could totally live happily in this amount of space.  By keeping our home small and energy-efficient, we hope to enjoy many benefits:
1. Building small with sustainable materials will keep our ecological footprint down. We will also be able to preserve the majority of the big, beautiful cedars on our property for this reason.
2. We will live without a looming mortgage by choosing to forgo a larger house, freeing up our income for continuing education, family trips and experiences.
3. We will have cheaper utility bills especially if we can use alternative methods like solar panels, which actually work very well in the Pacific Northwest. No more big, cold, expensive house!
4. We will have to have less clutter and things as everything we own will need to earn its keep. Quality over quantity.
5.We should have quicker cleanup and easier maintenance. (This appeals to my hidden German neat freak)
I've always been drawn to smaller homes as I've found them to be more practical and cosier. In larger homes, people can shy away in their rooms and might choose yelling as their main form of communication rather than speak to each other face to face. I visited my family in Europe and they seemed to get along quite well in smaller abodes. It's really how the rest of the world lives. I know there will definitely be challenges in living in a smaller home, but the benefits will outweigh these challenges, especially since my husband and I will be living within our value system. It's not for everyone, but it's our dream.
Anyway, my husband and I are beyond fortunate to have friends with various skill sets: a plumber, a framer, an electrician, as well as friends who already use alternative methods such as solar panels, generators and composting toilets within the operation of their homes. We are even friends with a couple who built their own tiny house. We plan to hire friends to help us as much as possible. I love when I can support those I care about.
This little house in the woods could be ours. Image via Apartment Therapy.
Anyway, I'll write more about our dreams on a different day. I wanted to write about some changes I've decided to make to my blog to accommodate my evolving life and interests. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing about my baby backyard homestead on the Swan Slough, and I plan to continue writing about my gardening and livestock rearing interests, especially since we'll be building our own little as-far-off-the-grid-as-we-can-manage home and starting a woodland garden in the near future, which is totally homestead. However, I want to include other topics which I find fascinating or inspiring. For instance, from the time that I started attending farmers markets with my mom as a child, I've always admired self-starters and entrepreneurs. I dream of one day running my own business, but until that day comes, I would love to start featuring more posts about those with the bootstrap-business ethic. Those who take chances and start their own little businesses. I also want to feature more young couples like my husband and I who are forgoing the large-house American dream and building small...tiny...houses. These are my budding interests. Along with these features, I want to write straightforward DIY tutorials for unique skills like homebrewing mead, catching, prepping and cooking mountain trout on a camping trip, or canning tomatoes.
Since my blog will be expanding its focus and we will be moving from the Swan Slough within a year or so, I think it's time I change my blog's name. I tried to think of a name that would incorporate my themes of cultivating a little homestead of our own, supporting those who go against the grain and start their own dream businesses or decide to build their own tiny homes, and a championing of the DIY spirit. I found it. This blog will now become Set the Trail.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

our homestead: early autumn seed saving

Ghosty and her porch pumpkin.

October is my favorite month. Like the fleeting beauty of the blossoming of the spring cherry trees, I view this month as the golden month before the dark winter. The leaves are all turning my favorite colors: crimson, orange, plum and mustard and are dazzling both on the tree or tumbling through the wind. The fields down the hill from my home are full of big, fat pumpkins and mazes of maize (corn). And all of my favorite flowers around the yard are producing seeds for next year's garden.

 I've been collecting a variety of seeds and laying them out to dry on a rack near a basement window. Once dry, I'll roll the seeds up in paper or fill paper envelopes with them, then I'll store the seeds in an air-tight container in a dark room, such as the basement pantry. By next spring, the seeds will be ready for planting, and acclimated to my area's specific weather and soil conditions. I also plan to gift some seeds to gardening friends like I did last Christmas. It made me happy to see plants growing in my loved ones' gardens which originated from seeds I'd taken the time to save the previous growing season.

 So far, I've saved seeds from those strange chocolate and pink tomatoes I grew, the ample nasturtiums which covered my retaining wall this year,  fragrant red, white and blue sweet pea flowers, teddybear and strawberry blonde sunflowers from the vegetable garden and Bienenfreund seeds: an awesome heirloom flower I purchased from Uprising Seeds which lived up to its German name (Bee's Friend) as its whiskery violet flowers were swarmed by bees this summer.  

1. Nasturtium seeds
2. Sweet Pea pods
3. Bienenfreund seeds
4. Sunflower seeds

I've already dried ample amounts of sunflower petals to color up winter teas; I love seeing the bright yellow of a dried sunflower petal come back to life once steeped in hot water. I had a basketful of loose sunflower petals after harvesting seeds, so instead of drying more petals, I decided to have a little fun and throw them up in the air to try and catch a photo of the petals raining down.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

our homestead: our 2 year wedding anniversary

Today, October 2nd, was my husband and my two year wedding anniversary. We also met on our town's Homecoming Night on October 5th, six years ago now. The first week of October has always been a special time for us. I always knew there was something different  about October when I was growing up. Something always felt magic in the air. The leaves started to change, the fields filled with corn and pumpkins, and a crisp morning cloak of fog turned into a sunny day with rich golden light and evenings lit by giant orange harvest moons. And then I met my husband- that's probably what the magic was all about. I just didn't know it at the time. Anyway, here are a few snapshots from our wedding day, October 2nd, 2010, taken by the groom's sister, Rachel of Nickel Images. 
We celebrated our anniversary with a seafood dinner along Shilshole Bay in Ballard, Seattle. I must say, today's rich blue skies reminded me of the weather we lucked out with on our wedding day. We timed it right to watch the sun set over the Olympic Mountain Range from our vantage point at dinner- we were also married at sunset two years ago, and we took our engagement photos at sunset along the Shilshole Bay. Aww- little details that made me happy as I looked out our restaurant window today.
 I love my furbaby daddy and best friend.  I am so happy to be with Joe.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

DIY almanac: crockpot apple sauce and spiced apple skins

We have so many apples at out house! Two ancient apple trees in the side yard and nearly a dozen craggly wild trees reaching out of the abandoned schoolyard across the street. I've started our family's little 'festivle of apples' with crockpot applesauce, candied apple skins and dried cinnamon apple slices for Christmas potpourri. Our house is so toasty warm and smells of sweet spicy apples right now. Just right for a hazy, foggy September day.

For my simple crockpot applesauce, I just peel and thickly chop enough apples to fill the bowl. Then I splash in about a half cup of water, a generous pour of honey and ample sprinklings of cinnamon and nutmeg. We like our applesauce to be granny spicy goodness. Then, I just let the crockpot cook on high for about 4-6 hours, taking the time to stir and mash the apples every once and a while until my desired saucey texture is acheived. Like liquid apple pie.

I've started rolling my apple peels in cinnamon and brown sugar to be baked up into crispy apple candies in lieu of tossing them out (although the worm bitten skins are given to my ducks). I set the oven to about 250 degrees Fahrenheit and spread the skins on a parchment lined baking sheet. In about an hour and a half to two hours, the skins will be caramel brown and crispy and they'll disapeer within 10 minutes at our house.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

our homestead: catching up at summer's end

The first official day of Autumn isn't for another two weeks and we've been experiencing our own version of the drought here in the Pacific Northwest. We haven't had rain in more than 50 days save for the quick nighttime downpour we had two evenings ago. Day after day, bright sun and clear blue skies. Regardless, I sense Autumn approaching. I see it in the leaves rolling across the roadway or blushing red in the trees, I feel it early in the crisp mornings when I curl up closer to my dogs and pull more blankets on, and I've started tasteing it via butternut squash and chanterelle mushrooms. Yes, it's summer's end. In recap, I feel rather satisfied by my summer. I spent time with loved ones including taking a girl's trip to Lake Chelan, swam, went camping at Coal Lake a few times, hiked a lot, grew fruits and vegetables and raised my first few clutches of ducks (and my chickens just started laying eggs), and worked farmers markets. I've been preparing for winter this past month- drying herbs and flowers for tea, freezing and canning our over abundance of tomatoes, cooking up apple pie filling with my sister-in-law. I never get enough done. I'll turn to this blog in winter to remember parts of the growing season. I never am able to post photos of everything, but at least I have a few glimpses. More writing about some life updates after the jump of photos...
1. Our little homestead
2. Magic, simply magic. Watching a duckling hatch.
3. These ducks were born this season.
4. Teddybear sunflower.
5. Italian white sunflowers.
6. Coal Lake.
7. My husband, Joe (left) and his goodfriend Nate (right) mountain trout fishing.
8. Banjo and Oswald exploring the mountain rock.
9. Working the Anacortes Farmers Market with Shannon.
10. Gathering herbs and flowers for winter teas.
11. My partners in crime this summer.

On to the updates. My husband and I might be moving from the Swan Slough. Not anytime soon, but possibly within a year. We made an offer on an affordably priced 2 acre plot of raw woodland near a small bass-fishing lake about 20 minutes north. Our offer was accepted, and we've been spending the past week and a half conducting a feasibility study to make sure we could live on the land before committing to the purchase. This is a huge step for our family as we've always talked about finding land and building a very small, energy-efficient home of our own. We thought we should look now since properties are priced so cheap. We don't own the land we're on at the Swan Slough, so we'll be moving towards ownership- which is both exciting and scary. If everything checks out with this property, I dream of building a little house with a woodland garden with walking paths and maybe a treehouse too. We want to have a clearing for a vegetable garden and greenhouse and a fenced-in duck oasis. I am definitely romanticising the possibility of being able to kayak whenever I please, as the lake is just a walking block or so from the property. We are still close to friends and family and in a good school district (perks!). Making a little home here will be a lot of work, but my husband and I look forward to the challenge. I am still considering whether or not I should start a new blog, or just rename this one. A lot of my past is in this blog, and I do plan to continue my baby-homesteading spirit to our new property. The topics might change. The name of the blog might change. But perhaps I should keep on writing here...*fingers crossed* that everything works out.
1. Our new road. The property touches this road from the subaru to where I'm standing.  
2. The property is heavily wooded with lots of ferns, mushrooms and old growth stumps.
3. I love this cedar grove. I imagine I'll make a woodland garden of bleeding hearts and hostas here.
4. The lake down the street.