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Montana Permaculture Smallholding  RSS feed

 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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I thought I would start my manifesto, heheh.

My permaculture small farm is at the very beginning stages. You might say I am at the observing stage, haha. I go for daily walks and do a lot of observing.

We have moved completely off grid to basically the middle of the woods. What we are doing is very difficult especially for us folks who are used to a high tech, convenient lifestyle. I now think when I turn on the tap, or use electricity to watch TV. Every time I see someone taking a shower or running the sink tap on TV I think, good grief look at all that water they're pouring out, and they take their sweet time with it!

[The History]

One priority was reducing debt. I cashed in a 401k and paid cash for the property. I got dinged pretty hard with early withdrawal fees and taxes. Cashing in the 401k was a difficult decision, but I determined that I can either keep the money for retirement and either take out a mortgage I will pay for until I die (I'm 48 years old), or lose the benefits of a retirement account but have my own property that I own outright, and always have a place to live that I can call my own. I feel good with my decision. I'm not debt free, but dammit I own my own land and I'm glad. Also, I think being debt free and frugal goes hand in hand with permaculture.

Cashing in the 401k was a decision my wife and I made together. We have 3 children, the oldest son is in the US Navy, the younger son is starting at Notre Dame this fall (at age 16!). We also have a 15 year old daughter. Family is important. My wife is in her 30's and has a good job as an ICU nurse. I have worked a lot of outside construction in the past and I'm fairly handy at building and fixing stuff. I was an electrician in the Navy years ago.

I am the son of Ohio Amish parents who left the Amish before I was born. I spent a lot of time as a boy with my Amish cousins playing in the woods and barns and living simply with outhouses and hand operated well pumps and riding to town in horse and buggy. When not with my cousins I still spent most of my time in the woods until I was a teenager. I met my wife in New Jersey. She was a true city girl who had never even gone on a camping trip. The first time we went camping she would not roast a hot dog on a stick without putting tin foil on the stick I cut for her, and I laughed my butt off. That was 17 years ago and since then we have traveled a good part of the US (due to my job which was construction on military bases). Our daughter was born in the great state of Texas and my sons on the east coast. My wife has changed a lot over the years I realized the other day when I watched her butcher a chicken. She is talking about hunting with me this fall.

I like to be self sufficient and not depend on the government or anybody else. In recent years my wife has started thinking the same way. Anybody who pays attention to the news can see that the direction our country is going is not good. Also in recent years we started paying attention to the food we eat, and when we realized all that was happening (processed foods, GMO foods, the Monsanto empire, big pharma) we dreamed of getting all that out of our lives. My parents had instilled in me the love of gardening, but I never got serious about it. At this point I had food stored up in case the zombies come, but I knew that to be self sufficient I would have to get gardening to work better for me. Then I heard about permaculture and it was what I was looking for. And soon I found this forum and a LOT of things started making sense.

I sold my modern vehicle and with 1/6th of that money bought a 94 3/4 ton 4WD diesel pickup. The rest I spent on fencing materials and a generator.


[The Site]

Property is 20 acres in a nice rectangle in western Montana, 70 miles west of Missoula. Gardening zone 5A or 5B. Very hot, dry summers and fairly cold winters. Annual precipitation is 17-20". Terrain is fairly flat, some small slope towards the north end. Elevation is ~3000 feet. There is absolutely no surface water or springs. Beautiful mountains all around and the Clark Fork River valley to the south. There is an easement road that runs near the west and south edge of the property. There is one neighbor (a great older couple) who uses the easement. There is evidence of wild game, including elk, deer, turkey, bears (grizzlies too), coyotes and wolves. It is timber country, with Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine, and Tamerack (Larch). Understory includes, lupine, serviceberry, ninebark, bearberry, Oregon Grape and grass.

The nearest electrical connection is at least a mile away. Cell phone service is spotty so we have a cell phone repeater We use cell phone for internet because we are still on the Verizon unlimited plan. There was a 520' deep well on the property and my wife and I put in a 1HP well pump at 500'. We got a Grundfos pump with a soft start feature so we can run it with the generator. We get 5 gpm but the well needs to refill after an hour or so. But in an hour we can get 300 gallons. I buried water line to 3 different points on the property with hydrants at each point.



[Where We Are Now]

We have a 1953 30 HP tractor with a back blade and a post hole digger. Also a 1969 Case backhoe which needs a new crankshaft. In spring I moved our 24' camper to the site and I've stayed in it since. The wife came out a couple months ago. We fenced in a small area around the camper for our 5 dogs (what can I say we love dogs) and we also fenced in an area the size of a football field a little ways away. In this area we put our 40 chickens and 2 goats. I have been working on a log cabin chicken coop/goat shelter and yesterday we got the roof on. All materials are taken from the site (logs) or reclaimed (like some metal roofing I had from another building) except for some rebar. The goats free range outside the fenced area as much as they spend time in it. They stay close to home. There is so much browse for them that they don't need to be fed other food. We are feeding the chickens because some of them are meat chickens and they don't forage very well.



We use the generator to power the pump to feed water to the camper and for the livestock. Also to charge the camper batteries, surf the internet and watch our Direct TV satellite system. Hey you have to have some entertainment after all this hard work.

We have taken an old 52 gallon water heater, elevated it to about 5 feet with a timber frame and that is where we store water for the livestock. The camper has a 30 gallon tank. We fill both at the same time.

[The Plan]

Livestock: Paddock shift all livestock including the chickens. I would like to someday fence in the 20 acres and have paddocks, but the 20 acre fence is a huge commitment. A dairy cow and meat cows, miniature breeds. A couple pigs for fall slaughter. I would like to get stock to breed with to reduce external inputs. Feed all livestock with on site resources.

Garden: Feed ourselves, and when in abundance, our neighbors. Food forest, annual garden, grain gardens. I like to make my own beer and it would be awesome if I could grow barley to make that happen. Also grain to feed our animals. Also, I just love wheat and corn, so I want it.

Housing: We currently live in a camper. We are going to build a wofati type structure this fall, and build a log cabin next year.

Water: We'll need a large holding tank to pump water to periodically throughout the day.

Electric: Solar and possible wind power. Both options are expensive and not available in the near future. For now its the generator.

[Challenges}

Water. We have no surface water, and the well is deep and output is not optimal. Summers are dry, dry, dry.

Garden: Soil is ok but not the best. Irrigation, see above.

Fire: We are in prime forest fire country, and this is a concern of mine.

Livestock feed: Reduce inputs. Feed the livestock from the land, year round. Also keep livestock water from freezing during winter.

Electric: Need to power the well, a great distance from the home, and also the home.


 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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We put a roof on the coop the other day, woot!



I will have a Salatin-style chicken tractor someday, but I needed to get them something to live in and this will do it.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Posts: 3981
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Thanks for sharing Glenn! Tell me more about the coop. I noticed some openings near ground level, a couple of short logs, also a large opening on the right.
 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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Small opening to the left of the man-door is the chicken door. Opening to the right of the man-door is for my two goats to go in the winter. Above them will be the laying boxes, so the big opening on the end will have a hinged door for egg access.

To the far left my wife is building a rabbit hutch for my daughter's pet rabbits. They will have a little fenced in area to browse.

The sides not shown each have a window opening. I picked up some windows from Home Resource in Missoula for $5 each.
 
Janet Williams
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Hi Glenn. I have a friend in the Missoula area. Hard Farm working girl. She told me several years ago, that the neighbors there had to share an irragating system, to water thier fields for the grazing horses and cows, etc. Always seemed like a tough way to go to me. Your place is beautiful. I know the winters are hard there, so good luck, and keep us posted on how things are going for you and your family.
BTW, Notre Dame @ 16 yrs. old That's amazing!! You must be so proud of your son! What field of study is he interested in?
 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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Hi Janet, thanks for looking.

yes I'm real proud of Troy. His degree will be in biological chemical engineering. here he is peeling a log for the chicken coop.



winters aren't too bad here I think they were more harsh in Ohio where I grew up.

yep water is a problem it's very dry here in the summer. we get very little rain. We do have a well though. I plan on doing some hugelkulture in the future and hopefully would like to have a few little ponds and some rain catchment systems.

in the meantime, my daughter and I started a Hugelkulture bed it. It's not finished yet and it's kind of late in the year but at least it's something.


 
Janet Williams
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What's even more amazing, is that boy is smiling while peeling a log! I want one!! BTW, I grew up in Ohio, little farming communities along Lake Erie. I loved the winters. Here, in Mississippi, its colder in winter because it's a wet cold. No fun! No snow either.
Not sure what a Biological Engineer does, but, your gonna have one if you need one I guess!
 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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I haven't posted for awhile. Been busy. I'll go back more towards the beginning...

The first thing we did was put in the well pump, like I said.

Then I cleared an area and we brought the camper to the property and fenced in an area around it for the dogs. I could let them run loose (and a couple of them I do let loose) but the two Jack Russels like to kill chickens.

Yes that is me. Yes that is a beer in my hand.


Pardon the finger!

Then I cleared more woods in an area about the size of an acre and fenced it in. I didn't want treated posts because of the chemicals, so I got untreated posts and charred the bottoms.



Then I brought out the two goats and some chickens. Notice the charred fence posts. In the background is the log cabin chicken coop/goat shelter I started.
 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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One problem was I didn't like dragging the generator to the well every time I had to water the livestock. Plus I have this really cool watering bowl fount for the chickens that I wanted to use.

My in-laws replaced their water heater because it filled up with calcium deposits from the hard water. It took me half a day but I got most of the gunk out of the old tank. Then we built a raised platform and I somehow got that 60 gallon tank up there. Now when I fill the camper water tank, I fill the water heater at the same time and have 60 gallons of (somewhat) pressurized water for the animals.

I started painting it but got distracted haha. It looks crooked in this picture, but its not.
 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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When living in a camper in the woods, the question comes up: what to do with your waste? As in, poop and pee.

I've been keeping all the valves open and we were just dumping onto the ground. We didn't poop in the camper because ya can't just mix poop with pee and dishwater and dump it on the ground. I don't think dumping sink and shower water and pee (in the amounts that two people put out) on the ground would do any harm. However it did begin to smell after awhile, so I thought I should do something.

I have Art Ludwig's Greywater Oasis book and had been studying up on greywater disposal systems. Basically you divert all your greywater (sink, shower and pee) to pits filled with wood chips. This is environmentally safe, as the wood chips react with the pee to create some biological action that breaks down the nasty stuff. I did something different for my greywater.

I've already made a separate post about my Pee Beast. I dug a 2 foot deep by 2 foot wide hole. I didn't have wood chips but I had plenty of tree bark from building the log cabin chicken coop. I ran a short PVC pipe to from the camper drain to the hole. Then I covered it up with the top part of a 55 gallon blue water drum I had lying around. I sealed all cracks with dirt and crumpled up a fir branch and stuck it in the hole on the plastic drum to act as a screened vent. Its been about a month now and there is no smell, even if I pull the branch out and take a big sniff. So I think its doing the job.

Shiva is like "WTF are you doing, dad?"


But we don't poop in there. So I'm building an outhouse with a composting toilet inside. I've already made the pooper, but the outhouse isn't finished yet.

 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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We have a bunch of chickens. They have an acre to range in so they eat bugs and are supplemented a little bit with organic store-bought feed (more so now that winter is coming). Once in awhile when money is tight we get a bag of non-organic food.

We have about 30 layers, but also some meat chickens. I've slaughtered a bunch, but still have 4 left.

Here is the home-made chicken plucker that I built.
 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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Here is my daughter peeling a rafter for the chicken coop. The goats, they think they are helping.

 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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We have a small wood burning stove in the camper. I put a sheet of cement-fiber backer board on the nearest wall, spaced one inch from the wall. The floor has 2 sheets of backer board set on bricks to keep them elevated. The stove goes on the elevated backer board. The stove is about a foot from the wall/backerboard. This all keeps all nearby structures from getting too hot in such a cramped space. Double wall pipe up to the ceiling vent with a regular stovepipe ceiling adapter and 3 feet of triple wall pipe above. This is not really recommended by most people because you can burn your camper down, so that's why all the backer board and double wall pipe. This will be our second winter with this set up and last winter it did fine. I often checked the walls and floor to see if they get hot and they don't. But for the record, I don't recommend anyone put a wood stove in a camper!

The other day I finally got around to building a woodshed. The last few days I've been working on stocking it up.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Posts: 3981
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Looking good Glenn, how are the wife and kids doing in the wilderness?
 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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Did some work on the chicken coop. Framed in some openings, put in a door, and finished the rabbit hutch for the 2 pet rabbits we have. In the spring I will fence in a small area below the hutch for the rabbits to get some exercise.

Still have to finish chinking.

Last evening we chased all the chickens into the coop to get them used to sleeping in there. Hopefully tonight they will go in on their own...

The opening to the left is for the goats to go into if they get cold. So far they only go in to eat straw.

 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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Miles Flansburg wrote:Looking good Glenn, how are the wife and kids doing in the wilderness?


Thanks. Only one kid still left at home, and she spends part of her time here but mostly stays at Grandma's. Still not sure if she is coming out to stay or not...

Wife helped me all day yesterday and it was good spending the day outside together working!
 
Glenn Underhill
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Location: NW Montana
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Also did more work on the outhouse. While using, the view is awesome, lol.

 
Glenn Underhill
Posts: 95
Location: NW Montana
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I've also been using my Alaskan Chain Saw Mill.







 
Bill McGee
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Location: Southeastern Connecticut, USA
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Dude, beatiful work. This is the real deal. Thanks for keeping us informed. I hope to apply some of your projects to my land.
 
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