Posts Tagged ‘Lumber’

In the first installment of the Urban Homesteading in a Northern Climate series, we talked about the garden and some tactics and ideas that can lead to successful food production.  This week I want to continue that conversation by staying outside, and talk more about the other out-of-door spaces of a northern climate urban homestead.

It is easy for the garden to steal the show – they provide us with our sustenance, a place to escape to, and inspiration for songs and stories.  It is more difficult to find that same spirit in a wood pile or a garden shed, but does it make these other aspects of our homesteads any less important?  Certainly not!

Like the human body, a healthy, functioning homestead has many different parts and systems that complete the whole.  Where the gardens and orchard may be the heart and circulatory system, our houses as our protective skin, and the kitchen as our digestive tract, all homesteads – like our bodies, require the basics to sustain life.  These analogies of the body and a homestead are not perfect, but I do believe they do a decent job of illustrating the point I am trying to make.

So what are some of the other out door spaces that contribute to a healthy and vibrant homestead?  What are their roles and more importantly, since we are talking about the Urban Homestead here, how do we design them into the small spaces we have to work with?

Here are our two main compost bins.  The chickens' new home will be behind this area.

Here are our two main compost bins. The chickens’ new home will be behind this area.

Let’s begin with an important piece of any homestead, the compost pile.  If you are anything like me, the compost pile may be as important as the garden itself is.  Without a place to turn our organic wastes into useful fertilizer and soil amendments, we wouldn’t have fertile, thriving gardens.  We have our main compost pile located almost centered on our ½ acre plot.  We use a system of two plastic compost bins (along with temporary welded – wire compost cages to accommodate seasonal over flow of compostable material), which cycle, and compost organic waste in a rotation of first in, first out.  Because our homestead has been evolving over the last ten years, there are definite design flaws that we try to remedy as they are identified and as time permits.

One of these design flaws has to do with the interaction of our flock of backyard hens, and our compost area.  Our number one compost ingredient is bedding straw and chicken manure.  It would then make sense to have the chicken coop located in closer proximity to the compost area, or the other way around – but we don’t.  The coop sits about 35 feet from the composting area, which really isn’t that far, but it is far enough when you are hauling bedding straw and chicken manure to be composted, and when you have limited space to utilize.  This design flaw will hopefully be corrected this coming spring as we have plans to move the chicken coop and run right next to the composting area.

Another big advantage we will gain by moving the chickens closer to the compost area is that they will also be much closer to where we have one of our garden sheds located.  This rickety old shed acts as a garden tool storage area, and where we store all of our fresh bedding straw.  When we buy bales of straw from the farm supply store, we purchase upwards of 15 bales at a time for three reasons – we get a price break at that amount, we only drive down to the farm store 2 – 3 times a year (for bulk, raw grains for chicken feed, and straw), and because that is how many bales of straw my trailer can accommodate in one load.

Here is the rusty, old shed!  A home for garden tools, bedding straw, and probably some lucky mice!!

Here is the rusty, old shed! A home for garden tools, bedding straw, and probably some lucky mice!!

With the erratic weather patterns and the on going drought that America has been dealing with for the last few seasons, having a place to securely store an expensive input like straw is important.  While we don’t run a huge operation, knowing that we have 6 months to a years worth of straw stored in a dry place saves us money and time, and also adds a small bit of resilience to our homestead.  I’d rather not import and spend money on a product like straw, but the simple fact is that I have too for right now, so having the infrastructure to properly store such a great source of compostable carbon is vital – even if it is a rusty old shed!

Continuing on the importance of outbuildings, we have one other shed, and a detached garage that are a part of our homestead.  In the urban setting, a garage and/or sheds can help take the place of barns, machine/work shops, corn cribs, and granaries.  Once again, here at The Dead End Alley Urban Farm (the commercial arm of the Autonomy Acres blog) we have another design flaw.  This one though is not so much a flaw on the location or the structure itself, but of operator error!  I am a collector of “useful materials”, or a less sexy way of putting it, a modern day scavenger!  My habit of finding and then diving into dumpsters (or spotting cool stuff along boulevards) has yielded me vast amounts of lumber, fencing, firewood, windows, 55 gallon barrels, and many other useful, and random pieces of urban “waste”.  Because of this, our small garage, two sheds, and yard have turned into a BIG mess!

I am not ready to abandon my habit of picking up useful materials, but I do have to figure out better ways of storing the materials I collect.  Another project on the “to–do” list is to organize all the lumber and other random materials I have collected, and store them in ways that make them easy to inventory and even more easy to utilize and build with!  If this can be accomplished, I can actually turn my small garage into a workshop that can then be used for making hive bodies and other beekeeping equipment, rain barrels, compost tumblers, and other DIY projects that I have going on or want to start!

Moving away from outbuildings, but staying on the theme of utilizing the urban “waste stream”, is fire wood.  For the last two years, and periodically over the last decade,  I have been able to heat my house with wood scavenged from neighbors’ yards, storm damaged trees left on the cities’ boulevards, the county compost site, and trees cut from my own land.  In a typical Minnesota winter, that equals a lot of wood – at least two full cords of split, dried, and stacked firewood per winter season.  Now this is one place where our design is almost perfect!  Our spot for storing and chopping wood that is ready to burn is right out our back door (this same spot also doubles as an area to hang clothes out to dry in the summer!).

The Wood Pile!!!

The Wood Pile!!!

As funny as it sounds, this is one of my favorite out door spots in the winter.  There is something about heating my house with wood that helps me keep in contact with the Earth and the realities of human comfort.  I love the feel of the ax or the splitting maul in my hands as I chop wood, and I like knowing that MY physical labor not only helps to keep me a bit healthier, but also helps to keep my wife and kids warm when it is cold outside.  One improvement that could be made however, and will be once time allows (surprise, surprise!), is adding some kind of semi – permanent, roofed structure to help shelter our firewood.  Currently it is just covered with a tarp, but by having a real roof to protect it, we not only benefit from dry firewood, we also add another roof surface to collect rain water from!

Everything covered so far is really only the tip of the iceberg as far as outdoor spaces are concerned.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to designing and implementing ideas for our outdoor spaces!    This is a topic that whole books could be written about, so one blog post does not do this subject justice.  Other areas of importance that all homesteads should at least consider and implement when practical and possible are spots dedicated to catching and collecting rain water, sites for grey water systems, areas for livestock – chickens, rabbits, goats, bees, etc…, summer kitchens (cob and masonry wood fired ovens, solar ovens, and rocket stoves come to mind – oh yeah, and a place to BBQ and smoke meat), areas for drying and curing produce, out door bathroom facilities including composting toilets and solar showers, and entertainment spots like decks, porches, an area for a bonfire pit and even a bit of a lawn for playing bocce ball!

Just like everyone’s body is a bit different, every homestead is unique.  Where we live and what our interests are will play a big role in how we design and setup our outdoor spaces.  Obviously if you live in a spot like southern California or Florida (or some other equivalent warm climate), heating your house in the winter is not going to be a big priority, and if you really aren’t into keeping bees or other livestock you won’t have to work that into your design either.  But as homesteaders – whether in warm climates or cold, in the country or the city; it is our similarities that connect us, and lead to our ultimate success.  So while it is the outside land where we grow our food, raise our animals, and store building and other such materials, it is the home that brings it altogether!   And that is where we will pick up this conversation next time we talk about the Urban Homestead in a Northern Climate – The Home….  Peace & Cheers!

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As the old saying goes , “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, is more or less my personal motto and I am the first to admit that I have a love affair with dumpsters and discarded items.  I have found many useful things in dumpsters and by the side of the road that were destined for the landfill – quality lumber, a multi tool (I use this everyday), chain link fencing, shovels, fire wood, a bike trailer, a great hand saw, five gallon buckets and too many other things to list them all.  This love affair of mine, saving discarded items, comes from two places from within me – the thrifty anarchist and being a good steward of the Earth.  I work hard for the money I make and I don’t like spending it on useless shit if I don’t have to, so when I find something useful that won’t just collect dust in my garage for the next ten years I usually take it.  Some examples: the chicken coop I built is made out of all salvaged lumber, our chain link fence is 95% salvaged, old window screens that I use for drying garlic and herbs on, etc…  Not only does this habit save me money, it also prevents perfectly useable materials/tools from going into the land fill.  The sad fact is this – the majority of Americans live a disposable lifestyle.  Fast food, cheap plastic products, and instant gratification.  If you want something now you can go out and get it, and when you are done with it or when it breaks just throw it away and it is gone – out of site, out of mind.  Living this lifestyle allows us to not take responsibility for our actions or our planet.  Nobody is perfect (including me), but at some point this behavior of a throw-away lifestyle needs to be addressed.  As we enter a cheap energy challenged future (Peak Oil), products that we take for granted are going to become more expensive and more scarce.  The earlier we can start to voluntarily change our habits, the easier this transition will be. So now, onto to a real world example… garden hose repair.  On my way home from work today I spotted a nice looking garden hose in someone’s garbage.  I stopped to check it out and see if it was worth taking.  It appears this person must have had this garden hose to close to their bonfire and ended up burning it.  Aside from a semi-melted six inch section, this hose was in great shape.  I threw it into my car, drove to the hardware store, and purchased the hose repair kit that I would need to fix it.  I bought a few extra pieces just in case the hose had more than one leak, and all said and done it cost me about $12 in repair parts – far cheaper than buying a new garden hose.  I am glad I bought extra parts, it had a second leak and on further inspection the people also must have ran over the female end of the hose with their car tire trying to put out the fire because they burned their hose (it must have been a great bonfire)!!  What follows is the incredibly easy process of fixing a leaking garden hose.  It will save you money on buying a new one, and it will help (at least temporarily) of the hose going to the land fill.  And remember, there are many treasures to be found in the discard pile, you just have to look with a different set of eyes – Happy dumpster diving!!  Cheers!

Here is the garden hose in question - "What were you doing the night of the bonfire?"

Here are the parts you will need to rebuild a garden hose - male and female ends, and also barbed hose couplers and clamps to fix mid hose leaks.


The burned section of the garden hose has been cut away.


Using a little WD-40 to lubricate the barbed coupler, the garden hose has been put back together.


Here is the finished fixed garden hose. This should last for atleast a few more years before you have to mess around with it again.

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2×4’s and more!!

Here are a few pictures of salvaged lumber collected in the last two months.  Some of it came from where I work, and some got pulled out of a dumpster at a dentist office that was being remodeled.  The majority of the lumber is 2×4’s that are about four feet long, plus a few odds and ends that are much longer and/or shorter.  I also scored a bunch of half inch by six inch boards that will be used for a wood paneled wall in my basement.  I feel really fortunate to have rescued this much usable lumber in such a short time, but it breaks my heart knowing that forests are cut down just to end up in a dumpster.  Keep your eyes open and maybe you can help rescue perfectly usable lumber that would otherwise be trashed.  

2x4's and a window!

Lumber that still needs to be unloaded!

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