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Earthship walkthroughs… a year ago already?

Green Momma Adventures

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People make Earthships…

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I’ve been posting about the Earthship being built in Vermont on my/our Facebook page lately. Well, one of their volunteers wrote a great blog post about what the experience was like. I greatly desire living in an Earthship but the thought of building my own terrifies me. Reading about her reality on the project makes it seem both terrifying and doable. Maybe for our next girls only vacation, Erin & Laura?

keemseek

It’s been almost a week since I left the Earthship build, and I still haven’t fully physically recovered.

Now that may make me sound like a wimp, but those of you who were there and this was also you’re first time doing labor and construction 7 hours a day for a week, you know what I’m talking about.

For those of you who only know me from the build, I am generally more likely to be found in heels and a snappy outfit with some mascara on, not a bandana and a jog bra, covered with earth. I go to work and sit in front of a computer, real cushy-like. That’s my day job and how I spend most of my time. But I also love camping, the outdoors and new experiences. My husband and I just bought an inflatable kayak that is super sweet. We go for long walks…

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Reuse – file drawers

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Earthships use recycled material as building materials but most of us just use recycled or up cycled material where we can, and to save money.
I bought these gigantic file drawers at the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore (this is one of my favorite places to shop – I bought a bunch of old cabinet doors to finish off the coop there too) several weeks ago to use as planters. All three of them were only $5 and look interesting against the side of the garage.
The drawers have holes in the bottom, but I put them up on old cinder blocks and added gravel to the bottoms for better drainage. I planted them with zucchini and marigolds for some color and variety. The middle drawer has a couple bundles of firewood in it instead of plants because I needed someplace nice to put it. 🙂
The planters face west and get a little to dry to suit me so I added straw mulch to them yesterday.

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Chickens

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I’ve been reading about and been fascinated by the idea of backyard chickens for a while now. From Martha Stewart to MaryJane’s farm, to Susan Orlean’s great article in The New Yorker, “…they have undergone an image rehabilitation so astonishing that it should be studied by marketing consultant.”

Our experience in the Earthship made me a little more eager to get some chickens of our own. Last summer, Anchorage revised the ordinance and so now backyard chickens are allowed on smaller pieces of property; our 8,000 square foot yard can legally be home to four chickens.

The ladies of the Phoenix Earthship

Lucky ladies! They get their own Earthship.

Chicks were out of the question for us because our one year-old kitten is a great mouser and I believe those skills would naturally carry over into his dealings with the chicks. I ordered pullets, “teenage” chickens, but in the meantime posted an ISO on Craigslist for hens that are young but already laying. It turned out our new birds were living just over a mile away.

With my ad answered I then had about 2 days to get a coop and run ready for the chickens. I had already decided on trying to find an old playhouse (which I found for $40 through Craigslist) and renovating it. The family with the playhouse were kind enough to drop it off for me and, in the rain and even a little sleet, I screwed on hardware cloth, wood, and some other reinforcements. I’ll post more about the princess coop pictures another time, but here are a few pictures of it in progress.

Roofless coop…

They travel around the yard together. Here, they were scared of the cat so they elevated themselves and stuck together against the danger.

The girls spend most of their time in the compost pile and on the old leaves under the birch and spruce trees in the backyard. There are a lot of bugs to eat and it provides excellent cover in defense against bald eagles.

The chickens are happy, and spend most of their time free-ranging in the backyard. I am exhausted still from the weekend so I’ll try to revise this post in the next couple of days. We’ve gotten three eggs each day and they are delicious.

Alaskan Bioshelter – Permaculture for kids

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On Saturday, Laura and I took all four little kids out to Eagle River to experience the Alaskan EcoEscape Bioshelter in the mountain above the Eagle River Nature Center. Cindee and Curt Karns gave us an amazing tour of their home and taught our kids about the importance of permaculture.

On our way out there in Laura’s van I told Cormac where we were going and he told me houses aren’t important. When we left, after 2.5 hours of total engagement in the house, insects, water, wood, soil, plants, nematodes, etc. he said,

“First I said a house isn’t important, but I guess that one is!”

I think Earthships and the Bioshelter reawaken in me the love I’ve had for ecology since I was little and in a gifted science program. I am fascinated by the way the world just WORKS when we let it. The Bioshelter is very similar to the Earthships and I’ll write another post that compares and contrasts them.

We started with observation. Cindee brought the kids into the solarium and asked them what they saw. Cormac noted that it was unusual to have a garden and a pond inside the house. And fish outside of a fish bowl! (Oh, how he would love his own tilapia pond in an Earthship!) They walked around, tasting edible plants like mint and nasturtium.

Cindee noticed aphids in the garden, so she got out the lady bugs – the children all squealed with delight! The kids collected the lady bugs and brought them around to the plants with water on the leaves. Cormac became very attached to one particular lady bug later in the visit and he brought it home to keep as a temporary pet.

From there, we checked out the composting toilet and Tahlia and Cormac got to dump food scraps down the toilet before adding a scoop of moss over it, to encourage decomposition. The toilets empty into large barrels beneath the house where worms work to break down the organic matter. The barrels are rotated every six months or so.

Also beneath the house with the systems is a root cellar. The kids dug carrots out of bins of sand, where the carrots (they store apples and other root vegetables this way) had been covered in sand for the last 9 months. There was no difference in taste between these and grocery store carrots. Delicious!

While Curt explained the systems of the home to the grown-ups, Cindee brought the kids outside to learn about worms and decomposition. She showed them what the worms eat, what their castings can be used for, and then they put together their own little worm containers. The worms were a huge hit and Finley oohs and ahhs over them at home too. Cindee pointed out worm reproduction and showed us the little white eggs among the castings and decomposition.

Curt pulled out his backpacking guitar while we had a snack of carrots and apples. He played us a song about how the planet works as a complete system, illustrating to the kids how we need to work to keep the earth healthy so it can also take care of itself.

The bioshelter has a secret little cubby hole, just for kids, and the four we brought were delighted by it. We completed our trip then with an exploration of the outdoors, checking out the gardens, Cindee’s living fences and chairs, and the way the roof slants to collect rain water.

It was amazing to watch the kids show their absolute and total delight with everything. They were completely enchanted with Cindee, Curt, worms, lady bugs, koi, and every other feature and creature of the EcoEscape Bioshelter.

 

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I want chickens SO much. I hope Laura gets them so I can bring over my chicken scraps in return for eggs. The ladies at the Phoenix Earthship were fun to take are of for a few days and their eggs were delicious.

Two Barn Farm

  

Here’s a list of 10 Reasons why you should Own Chickens

  1. Fresh Eggs daily – Much better than store bought eggs. The egg white alone is about 33% more and it’s less expensive.
  2. Chickens have great personalities – Our favorite pastime is sit in the back garden with a couple of cold beers and watch the chickens (they look like miniature robots).
  3. Help out with the compost pile – Chicken poo is too hot (high in nitrogen to place directly onto growing plants) but it works wonder on your compost pile.
  4. They are very low maintenance – Easier than a cat or dog to maintain. Just top of their food and water them, clean the cage once in a while and collect eggs.
  5. You are One step closer to sustainable living – it feels good to have chickens, like you’re a real farmer
  6. Household leftovers are food for chickens…

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Reusing the pallets

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One of the best things about Earthships is the way they reuse everyday “trash” into beautiful and practical objects.
So, we are aiming to do the same.
Starting with some free pallets and tips from the web, namely Life on the Balcony, last night we constructed four vertical planters that are now just waiting for soil and planting season. (Here’s a great post on Design Sponge)

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While Laura made dinner and watched the kids, Steve and I assessed the pallets. We tried to pull apart a pallet to use the boards on better pallets but that proved a little impossible. Pallets are not constructed of good quality wood so the wood just split and cracked.

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There are empty spaces on pallets where they can be lifted by a forklift. We decided we wanted to have the spaces filled in with boards so we’d lost less dirt once the pallet is tilted up. Since we couldn’t scavenge from other pallets, Steve found old lumber in his workshop that we cut to size.

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Steve drilled pilot holes and then I screwed in the extra boards, 2X4s Steve saved from a shipment.

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Looking good!

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Steve and Laura had a lot of landscaping fabric left over from something. We secured it to the back and sides with a staple gun.

Easy project! We still have another month or so before we can plant anything in them though.

Simplicity

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The PhoenixHonestly, most traditional homes the size of The Phoenix Earthship would cost less. Well, the square footage is huge (my house is just under 1,800), and the rooms are huge, but 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms just doesn’t sound like a lot. But the space was pared down and tranquil, with exquisite attention to detail in layout and design. My home is not. It’s spring, even here in Alaska, and so time for some spring cleaning and purging.

My goal is to get rid of half of my house. That sounds a little ridiculous but, like most Americans, we have way more clothing, furniture, toys, craft supplies, kitchen appliances, gadgets, etc. than we could ever need or use.

Only a few more weeks until she is big enough to move to our house.

Using episodes of Hoarders to motivate me is one way I have done this in the past but there are no new episodes to motivate me! My new motivation is the impending arrival of an eight week-old beagle puppy, aptly named “Gaia,” about a month from now. Puppies pee. Puppies chew. Puppies can ruin things. So, I am going to puppy proof the house like nobody’s business.

1) toys in the boys room go in bins under the bed

2) toys in the living room LEAVE the living room

3) kid clothes in good condition go to the consignment store

4) sell desk, side table, and cabinet downstairs

5) pare down my own shoes – donate to charity

6) clean out closets – donate or trash

7) sell, gift, or donate stored baby carriers

8) pack up craft supplies and bring to school for students to use

I am going to start today with my own closet. I’ve already moved the shoes I want to donate but there seems to be some sort of weird mental hurdle in getting the shoes into a bag. I’ll go with FlyLady’s system of just decluttering for just 15 minutes at a time. I want to feel a bit more serene.