Off Grid Laundry

Here we are in the middle of red dirt country, and as we prepare to build our new home, we get very, very dirty (and stinky)!  Rather than drive almost forty-five minutes down the hill to the nearest town to do laundry, we chose to set up our own washing facilities right here on our homestead.

After reading about off grid laundry systems on the internet, I became completely intrigued by the 5 gallon bucket and plunger method.

Five Gallon Off Grid Washing Machine

This is one way to make an off-grid washing machine! Believe it or not, this works well in a pinch. The only power needed to run this washing machine is a little bit of elbow grease!

First, get a 5 gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid – preferably one that screws off.  Then purchase a toilet plunger – you know, the rubbery type with the (usually) wooden handle.  Now cut a hole in the lid of the bucket right in the center just big enough for the handle of the plunger to fit through.  Then, cut a few holes in the rubbery part of the plunger.  Your washing machine is now finished.  Just pour water in the bucket, add soap, or detergent, or soap nuts, etc., then add your laundry items, push the plunger in among your laundry items, place the lid on the bucket with the plunger handle going up and through the hole…

then plunge, plunge, plunge!  Once you think your laundry is clean, dump out the water, add rinse water, put the plunger back in and the lid back on and…

plunge, plunge, plunge!

Sounds simple, right!  It also sounds like a lot of work!  ;)

Yeah – I want to be off-grid, but I never said I didn’t want some modern conveniences!

So, we set up a laundry room in our new metal shed…

Off Grid Laundry

My new laundry room. All the modern conveniences but off the power grid!

The washing machine is our old one from the house we sold down in the valley.  It is getting old, but still works just fine.  We found an almost new propane dryer on Craigslist for cheap, and set that up right next to the washer.  Do you like those shelves?  The shelves were once a waterbed headboard from years back.  Luckily, my ingenious pack-rat husband (“this may come in handy someday” is his favorite saying), found it was just the right size for our new laundry room.

We run the washing machine and dryer with our generator.  We found that it was easier and faster to fill up the washing machine directly with the hose.  We also heat water in a large bucket with a propane cook stove, and pour that directly into the washing machine. That way, we don’t have to turn on the generator until the tub is full of water and laundry.

Our solar dryer outside our new laundry room.

Our solar dryer outside our new laundry room.

Of course, we don’t use the dryer much right now because it’s summertime, so we use the solar dryer outside!  However, in the winter the propane dryer will come in very handy,

One concern of ours, however, was the use of harsh detergents and the disposal of the wash water.  What we did was set up a french drain system for the gray water (wash water) and this works very well.  But, what about the detergents that could potentially harm the trees and bushes in the vicinity of the drain, much less foul the soil?  The solution came last week in the mail!

How to do laundry off grid

All of this was sent to me in the mail a few weeks ago. Four wood dryer balls, five laundry nuts with bag, and six packets of organic laundry soap! I couldn’t wait to try them out!

Amanda Powell, from Econuts, was kind enough to send me a package of soapnuts, along with a package of wood dryer balls and several packets of organic laundry detergent. You may have seen this company when they were featured on “Shark Tank” on ABC.  Not only are their products eco-friendly, but so is their packaging – they use little to no plastic, which is great for our environment!  I had heard of soapnuts before and was very interested in trying them!

I tried several loads of wash with the soapnuts.  My honest opinion?  They work great on my undies, bath towels and sheets.  My blouses and slacks got clean with the soapnuts also.  However (I am being honest here), it did not work so well on our red-dirt-stained work clothing.  I had to rewash those with a mild detergent to get the ground in dirt and sweat stains (and smells) out.

I like the soap nuts.  Not only are they environmentally friendly and get most of my laundry clean, I also like the fact that I don’t have to live with harsh detergents and/or chemicals next to my body. I have fairly sensitive skin (especially in my armpits) and not using harsh detergents is  great.  However, I will still use detergents for our work clothes.

The wool dryer balls?  These are fantastic!  It’s funny –  I had purchased some wool yarn to make my own dryer balls a few months ago when the skeins were on sale.  But, because of our recent move, I just never got the time to make the balls!  I was so pleased to get these really nice wool felted balls (they won’t unravel) to use in my dryer.  As I have said before, right now we aren’t using the propane dryer much, but I did wash a load of permanent press blouses and slacks and hung them on the solar dryer.  Then, when they were just damp I threw them in the propane dryer with the wool dryer balls for about 5 minutes and the blouses and pants came out soft and wrinkle free!  Nice!

Look how big these wool dryer balls are!  Oh - and can you see that powdery red dirt in the background?  Umm-huh.

Look how big these wool dryer balls are! Oh – and can you see that powdery red dirt in the background? Umm-huh.

I am going to keep the dryer balls in a large glass jar with a lid so I can use just a few drops of lavender essential oil on them for a light scent.   The glass jar helps preserve the scent. Amanda promised me that the essential oil will not disintegrate the wood balls (just an urban myth, I guess), and by keeping them in the glass container they will stay clean and fresh, and the lavender oil won’t dissipate so quickly.

So, there you have it.  That’s how we are doing our laundry up here on our homestead.  It’s really not much different that doing laundry with the power grid, and with the Eco-Nuts I don’t have to worry about fouling up our soil or harming any trees with harsh detergents.

Of course, if the SHTF (which many believe will be happening soon) I can always use the bucket and plunger method!  :)

Disclaimer:  Amanda, from Eco Nuts, generously sent me the contents of the package as described above.  My opinions expressed are honest, as you would expect from me, and told as truthfully and completely as possible.  0001

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kenyan Top Bar Beehive – Part 2

After deciding to raise honeybees, mainly for their pollination of our garden and orchard, but also for their honey and beeswax, we decided to build our own beehive.  If you missed part one, you should go back and read it HERE.

Once the body of the hive was built, we needed to add the actual top bars, an entrance reducer (I will talk about that later) and a feeder.

This is sometimes called a "follower".  We used it to separate the body of the hive from the mason jars.  That way the bees couldn't get into this area and we would be able to replenish the sugar water without too much disturbance.

This is sometimes called a “follower”. We used it to separate the body of the hive from the mason jars. That way the bees couldn’t get into this area and we would be able to replenish the sugar water without too much disturbance.

We decided to put the feeder inside the hive at the back.  That way, we wouldn’t be feeding every sugar loving creature out there and fewer critters and insects would be attracted to the area.  The downside of putting the sugar inside the hive is that we have to lift the roof to get to the feeders.  While that really shouldn’t be a problem, we decided to put two pint mason jars into the hive so that we would need to feed them less often, which means lifting the roof less often.

Ray cut two circles into a piece of wood and then attached that piece of wood to another piece of wood cut into a wedge shape (sometimes called a “follower”), to fit snugly inside the hive.

Two pint sized mason jars hold the sugar water solution to feed the bees.  When attached to the "follower", the bees cannot enter the top chamber of the feeder.  Small holes are punched in the metal lids to allow the bees to get the sugar water from below.

Two pint sized mason jars hold the sugar water solution to feed the bees. When attached to the “follower” (not attached yet in this picture), the bees cannot enter the top chamber of the feeder. Small holes are punched in the metal lids to allow the bees to get the sugar water from below.

This assembly was then attached to one of the top bars, so that it could be hung from the top of the hive, just like all the other top bars.  A one inch opening was left at the bottom for the bees to enter from the main chamber of the hive into the feeding chamber.  With the jars in place, bees could not get into the top where the mason jars are, which helps when refilling the jars.  We just used the canning jar lids and poked several small holes in them.  Yes, they dripped a little bit, but the bees were sure to clean this up anyway!

Our next task was to make the actual top bars.  Again, we used poplar as the main crossbar, but then we used pine lattice as the downbars.  As you can see, the top bars are actually made of two pieces:  the main crossbar that rests on top of the hive body, and the downbars, which is what the bees attach their comb to. We simply cut the top bars to length, cut a groove down the middle of each bar, then glued the downbar into the groove. Done!

How to make a beehive

The down bar was glued into the groove of the top bar to complete assembly.

I did a lot of research on top bar versus traditional Langstroth hives, and it was suggested on several websites that we coat the downbars with a little bit of honey so that the bees

Make a Kenyan top bar beehive

My little trough to melt the honey/beeswax/pollen mixture so that I can dip the top bars in.

would understand that this is where the comb is supposed to be.  This is especially important if your bees come from stock that was raised with the traditional Langstroth hives, where a comb foundation is already given to the bees.  I found some organic raw honey that also had pollen and honeycomb in it and used it to coat the downbars.  I made an aluminum foil “trough” for the honey mixture, placed it on an insulated cookie sheet and set that over a pan of hot water.  This gently melted the honey mixture and I was able to dip each downbar about 1/4 inch in, which was perfect!

The top bars all loaded with honey and ready to go!

The top bars all loaded with honey and ready to go.  Now all we need are bees!

The last little piece of equipment for the hive was the reducer.  All a reducer does is actually make the entrance/exit hole into the hive smaller, and all we needed was a block of wood!  The reducer is needed for a new hive to help guard the hive from predators, like wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, etc..  When a bee package is purchased, it usually comes Beehive part 2-6with a queen and about 3 pounds of bees.  That sounds like a lot of bees, but it really isn’t, so with the reduced number of bees, they can’t protect a huge opening.  So, we placed a piece of wood on the landing board of the entrance/exit to the hive.  This closed up about two thirds of the opening to the hive. Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of the reducer on the hive. Every month or so, the wood will be cut smaller, so that after several months, the reducer shouldn’t be necessary at all.  That doesn’t ensure that the hive won’t be raided by the predators, it just helps the bees build up their hive numbers so that if they were attacked, they might be able to to stave off the predator and claim victory.

About an inch of olive oil in a small tupperware container will prevent ants or other crawling bugs from getting into the hive.

About an inch of olive oil in a small tupperware container will prevent ants or other crawling bugs from getting into the hive.

One last thing we added was olive oil.  Olive oil?  Yes.  Where the hive will be sitting there are a lot of ants.  Ants can quickly take over a hive, if you aren’t watching.  However, they cannot (or will not) cross over oil.  So, with each leg of the hive in a plastic tupperware container, we poured in about 1 cup of oil.  With a new hive, every precaution  helps!

Now, all we need are the bees!

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Kenyan Top Bar Hive – Part 1

We always knew that we wanted a beehive on our homestead.  Honeybees provide many important products and services.  Not only do they give us a delicious honey and beeswax, but they also provide pollination, which is very important.

Over the past couple of years we have attended several talks and workshops dedicated to honeybees and apiculture.  First, we attended a wonderfully informative lecture about

Wine and honey tasting - what could make a better afternoon?

Wine and honey tasting – what could make a better afternoon?

the life and value of a honeybee, and then we got to taste several flavors of fresh, organic honey (and wine!), in Livermore with Gerard’s Honeybees.  A couple of years ago we attended our first National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa and attended a discourse about the importance of natural beekeeping.  Finally, last summer, we attended a talk given by Kim, Master Gardener of Berry Creek Station, who first talked about the lifecycle of bees, types of bees and the uses of bee products.  She was gracious enough to take us into her private backyard to show us her bee garden and three of her hives.  At the lecture, Kim also gave us simple plans to build a Kenyan Top Bar Beehive.

A Kenyan Top Bar Hive is a more natural home for honeybees than the traditional Langstroth hive, although it isn’t as natural as a hollow log.  The advantages of the top bar hive over the Lanstroth are numerous, the most important being the health of the bee.  You see, wild bees will make the cells in their honeycomb about 4.7 to 4.9 mm in diameter.  If you give a bee colony a comb foundation that has larger cells, about 5.3 to 5.5 mm, they will draw the comb out to that size, and since the cell is larger, the baby bee will be larger also.  It was thought that larger bees would make more comb and therefore more honey…  right?   Well, not really.  Scientists found that the larger bees were actually lazy!  Go figure!

But that’s not the big problem.  The big problem is that the tracheal mite, which couldn’t fit into the smaller bee’s trachea,honeybee could now fit into a larger bee’s trachea.  Ouch!  And the varroa mite, which is a nasty little leachy parasite for honeybees, reproduces inside the cell with the developing honeybee, and the longer the honeybee is in the cell, the more varroa mites!  The larger bees develop inside their cells about 2 days longer than the smaller, more natural bees.

The disadvantages of the Kenyan Top Bar Hive?  The bees must first make their own comb, which means they have less time to make honey.  Is that bad?  Not really.  It just means we don’t get to harvest any honey the first year, that’s all.  (well, we might take just a smidgen to taste!)  We would rather have healthy, happy bees than have to use chemicals and pesticides, which is what I believe is part of the colony collapse problem!

Bottom line – smaller bees, no tracheal mites and less problem with varroa mites!

With this knowledge and plans in hand, we decided to build our own Kenyan Top Bar Hive.

Kenyan top bar beehive

We begin our project of making a Kenyan Top Bar Beehive!

We used Poplar wood for most of the project because it is a relatively hard wood that doesn’t twist or shrink too much, and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  We used the plans that Kim gave us, but after researching Kenyan Top Bar Hives, we found numerous other plans on the internet.  They were all pretty much the same, and we improvised a bit here and there.

Kenyan Top Bar Beehive

A viewing window was cut into one side of the beehive, and a plexiglass window inserted.

We did stay true to the measurements for the actual box, along with the angle of the sides.  In hindsight however, I think it would have been nice for the bees to have a wider landing spot – maybe 2 inches instead of one.  This is what we will do when we make our next hive.  We also discovered that straight cuts are very important, and we were blessed to have inherited my father’s old table saw that allowed us to make straight angled cuts for the side walls.

You really don’t have to make legs for the Kenyan Top Bar Hive.  If you wanted to, the box could be set upon bricks or some type of sturdy structure – just don’t leave it on the ground.  That might invite ants, mice, etc., and you don’t want that!  Ray made legs out of simple 2 x 4 framing lumber with braces to keep it sturdy. We stayed away from any type of treated lumber because, well, it’s been treated with pesticides!

Making a Kenyan Hive

2 x 4 legs with plenty of bracing will hold the hive off the ground.

Once the legs were attached to the box, we added the hardware for the viewing window.  I saw these cute suitcase-like latches and thought they would be great!  A couple of hinges made the whole thing complete.  After the plexiglass window was caulked in, the viewing window was compete.Making a top bar beehive Part 1-5

Now for a roof.  When you search for images of Kenyan Top Bar Hives on the internet, you can find many, many types of roofs.  In some areas, the beekeeper doesn’t even put on a roof!  Others use metal.  Some pictures show thick cardboard held on with bungies!  We opted to go with a pitched roof, both for the aesthetics, the insulation value and the snow load.  However, we didn’t want the bees to go willy-nilly in the attic of the hive and start making comb from the inside of the roof, so it was decided to make a flat roof first, then add a second “A-frame” over the top.  Why two pieces?  Because the whole thing was heavy, and we aren’t getting any younger!  I can easily lift each piece off, one at a time, and it’s no big deal.

Kenyan top bar beehive

Our version of a Kenyan Top Bar Beehive!

So, there it is!  Everything but the actual Top Bars!  We will finish the hive and some accessories in the next post, so stay tuned!

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We’re Finally Here!

Our homestead is no longer our “future homestead” – it is now home!

You see; dear hubby retired on December 31 (♫♫ wahoo ♫♫), which meant we could finally move up to our future homestead in the mountains.  Since it was mid-winter and we had plenty of time (I did not want to live in our travel trailer during the winter), I decided to put our valley home on the market myself – just to test the waters – using Zillow.  Well, lo and behold, a couple toured the house, loved it and put in a offer.  A full price offer!  We couldn’t say no, but we really didn’t expect to sell so soon!

A picture of the ship we took our Mexican Riviera Cruise upon.

A picture of the ship we took our Mexican Riviera Cruise upon.  We had a wonderful time!

In the meantimem we just HAD to go on a Mexican Riviera cruise that our sons bought us as a gift for my husband’s retirement!  Yes…  they are awesome sons!  It was our first cruise and we had the time of our lives.

Meanwhile, back at the house, after all the inspections the sale of our home was “full speed ahead” and when we got back from our cruise we had only ten days to vacate our home.

Ten days!  Ugh.  We had lived in that home for 25 years.  Do you know how much “stuff” gets accumulated in 25 years?  Oh my goodness, I was finding stuff stashed away that I thought I had lost years ago.  I also found a lot of things that I couldn’t remember why I was saving! ;)

The family room where I raised my three boys.  We spent a lot of time there - 25 years!  I miss my home, but I am sure our new home will be just as loved!

The family room where I raised my three boys. We spent a lot of time there – 25 years! I miss my home, but I am sure our new home will be just as loved!  This was one of the pictures I put on Zillow to sell the house.

So, we packed boxes, gave away some of the “good” stuff, took a few truckloads to Goodwill, a few more truckloads to the local landfill, had a “garage sale” and sold a lot of our furniture to a local used furniture dealer.  The rest of our possessions were stuffed into the cargo container on our future  homestead.

Our new laundry room.  It also houses our freezer and quite a few boxes of household "stuff".

Our new laundry room. It also houses our freezer and quite a few boxes of household “stuff”.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough room even in the cargo container!  So, we went to the local “box store” and bought an 8 x 10 metal shed.  It took us four days to get the shed built (a few swear words may or may not have been involved), and in the meantime a lot of boxes and pieces of furniture were stored under tarps.  Good thing we used lots of tarps, because before we could secure all the stuff that was under tarps into the new shed, this happened…..

A beautiful snowy day - full of potential disaster! This is a picture of the lane leading into our property.

A beautiful snowy day – full of potential disaster! This is a picture of the lane leading into our property.

Yes, the snow was absolutely gorgeous!  Unfortunately, just two days before this snow we had erected our screened gazebo – our temporary “family room” of sorts – and the snow was so heavy that the gazebo collapsed.  We got the gazebo propped up with old fence boards and 2 x 4’s, cleared the snow from the roof of the travel trailer (our temporary home) and the new metal shed, made sure water wasn’t getting in under the tarps, and fretted about our poor mandarin and lemon trees, along with the baby fruit on our cherry, almond, plum and peach trees!  The snow finally stopped at about 2:30 in the afternoon, and it looked like the worst was over.  We went inside the trailer to get warm, and just as soon as my fingers and toes were no longer tingling, we looked back outside only to see that it was snowing again!  I cried.  By dusk the snowfall had mercifully stopped.  We were not expecting this snow – at all!  We live in California, are in the middle of a severe drought, and this snowstorm dumped more snow in the mountains than had fallen in all of January and February!

When the snow melted (it took a couple of days) we were pleasantly surprised to see that the fruit on our trees still looked viable and the gazebo was fixable!

Inside our screened gazebo - the new "family room".

Inside our screened gazebo – the new “family room”.

So, it was time to get back to the business of setting up our temporary living quarters while we build our new home.  Once the new metal shed was completed, we stuffed the back with boxes and then put our new freezer in, along with the electric washing machine from our home in the valley.  I am happy to let the sun dry my clothes because they smell so good and fresh when line dried, however this next winter that won’t be an option.  Of note – line dried jeans literally stand by themselves!  So, dear hubby found an almost new propane dryer on Craigslist for $100. I will still hang most everything out to dry on our solar dryer, but knowing we have an alternative when we really need it is reassuring. This shed is now called our utility room.

By this time weeks had flown by.  We finally had all of our possessions under one roof or another and we were getting settled into our new surroundsings.  We were happy but absolutely exhausted!

It was time to get back to our most important task, and that is to get our house plans drawn and submitted to the county building department for approval! The plans I had been working on over the past four years were on my desktop computer, and it was time to get the computer out of storage (in the car), set it up and finalize the plans I wanted to send to the architect.

Yeah – right.

My desktop wouldn’t boot up completely.  Every time we tried to get the computer running, it would shut itself down.  We took the hard drive to Geek Squad and they gave us the bad news – the motherboard was fried!  Ugh!

So, here I am typing this blog post on my new laptop.  An expense we didn’t expect to have at this time, but it is what it is.

I am learning how to be more flexible and to just “let it go”. ;)

My next project is getting a vegetable garden going.  I have a lot of seeds left over from the garden I planted two years ago, and I am hoping they are still viable.  Dear hubby built four raised beds in the orchard last year I only grew tomatoes and peppers last year, but this year I want to grow green beans, zucchini squash and pattypan squash, more tomatoes and peppers, garlic, onions, sunflowers and maybe even some melon.  Before we left our house in the valley, I was able to get a few cuttings from my oregano and rosemary plants, along with some star jasmine.  I put them in rooting hormone and it looks like they may just “take”.  We will see.

The energy guide label of our new 5.1 cubic foot freezer - very energy efficient!

The energy guide label of our new 5.1 cubic foot freezer – very energy efficient!

Hubby is also working toward installing a new 400 watt solar system that will keep our new little chest freezer running.  Once that is set up, we will be able to store more foods in the freezer and won’t have to completely rely on canned meats and vegetables.  Of course, once the vegetable garden starts producing, it will be nice to have a place to store the excess.  I doubt that I will have enough produce to can this year, but we will see.

Another project we will be working on within the next couple of weeks will be our water tower.  We have a 500 gallon water storage tank that will be set upon a tower that we are building with 20’ long 6 x 8 foot posts.  This will give us better water pressure in our trailer.  Right now, even though we have hot showers, the water pressure is miserable and all we get is a trickle shower. Posts on this project will come soon.

Finally, another project of ours is getting a honeybee hive established.  Our hope is that with a hive in our orchard and another one next year in the permanent raised bed vegetable garden, we will be able to eventually harvest honey and beeswax, ensure pollination of our fruits and vegetables, and help the general honeybee population thrive. Since I will be growing organically, using only heirloom seeds when possible, our garden should be a safe haven for the bees.

So, there you have it.  That’s why I have been absent for so long!  Now that I am back on the blog, I can’t wait to share with you all the things we are doing to continue establishing this wonderful homestead of ours!

I love comments – please leave one below!

I am sharing this blog post at some of these parties:

Monday:  Meet Up MondayThank Goodness It’s MondayClever Chicks Blog Hop; Grand Social; Mix It Up Monday; Create, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me MondayMotivation Monday; Inspiration Monday; Made By You Monday; Homemaking Mondays; Mum-bo Monday

Tuesday:   Show & Share Tuesday; The Gathering Spot; Tuesday Garden Party; Brag About ItTuesdays with a Twist; The Scoop; Two Cup Tuesday; Tweak It Tuesday; Inspire Me Tuesdays; Tuesdays at Our Home;  Pinterest Foodie; Lou Lou GirlsInspire Us Tuesday; Party In Your PJ’s

Wednesday: Make, Bake and CreateDown Home Blog HopWildcrafting Wednesday;  Wicked Awesome Wednesday; Whatever goes Wednesday; Show and Share Wednesday; Wined Down Wednesday; What We Accomplished;  Project ParadeWake Up Wednesday; Fluster’s Creative Muster; Hump Day Happenings; Homestead Blog Hop; The Blogger’s Digest; Wow Us Wednesday; Turn To Shine

Thursday:   The HomeAcre Hop; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  The Handmade HangoutCreate it Thursday;  Think Tank Thursday; Green Thumb Thursday; Homemaking Party; Treasure Hunt Thursday; All Things Thursday Inspire Us Thursday; Inspire or be Inspired; Project Parade; Inspiration Gallery; Pure Blog Love; Favorite Things

Friday:  Freedom Fridays; Friendship Friday; From The Farm Blog Hop; Eat, Create, PartyPinworthy Projects Party; Farmgirl Friday;  Friday Flash Blog Party; Weekend re-Treat; Family Fun Friday; Friday’s Five Features; Real Food Fridays; Friday FavoritesOld Fashioned Friday; Fridays Unfolded; Inspired Weekend; Show Off Friday; Craft Frenzy FridayFront Porch Friday; No Rules Weekend Party; Friday Favorites; Giggles Galore

Saturday:  Say G’Day SaturdaySuper Saturday; Simply Natural Saturdays;  Saturday Sparks;  Show and Tell Saturday;  My Favorite Things;  Dare to Share; Scraptastic Saturday

Sunday:  Frugal Crafty Home; That DIY Party; Nifty Thrifty Sunday; DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;  Simple Life Sunday; Think Pink Sunday; Sunday Showcase

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