Homesteading with Mrs D

How to Make a Trailer Skirt

Homesteading with Mrs D100_3400 grit 2

The traveling homestead spends much of the winter in below-freezing temps. One way we winterize is by skirting the bottom of the trailer to keep heat in. However, this trailer skirt has to be easily removable and portable, as we make frequent trips during the winter. Last year, I investigated the possibility of using concrete blankets — special tarps made to insulate wet concrete so that it can cure properly despite freezing temperatures. Between the high cost and low availability, I examined several and decided I could make my own. I only got three done last winter, but over the summer I finished the last two. Now I am ready to completely skirt my travel trailer, and it is easily portable for when we relocate. Here is how I made them.

The supplies:

• 16’ x 20’ blue tarp.
• 4, 12” x 100’ rolls of bubble wrap.
• 2 cans of black spray paint.
• adhesive Velcro.

Putting it together:

1. Cutting the tarp down to size.

100_3406 grit 1

My trailer measures 8’ x 26’ plus the tongue, which holds the house battery and 2 propane tanks. I figured I might want the tarps to wrap around those as well, so I estimated a length of 80 feet, just to have some wiggle room. I cut the tarp into 5 strips measuring 3’ x 20’. To do this, I had to open it up outside. There was snow on the ground at the time, so the tarp stayed fairly clean. I had my son stand on it to help hold it down and help fold up each piece as we went. We also used rocks to help hold the tarp down as I cut.

2. Sewing on the bubble wrap.

100_3416 grit

The bubble wrap was only 12” wide, so I had to sew 3 tiers onto each strip of tarp. This was the most tedious part of the project. I was also concerned that it would be hard on my sewing machine, but it did fine. I had to clean the tarp dust out frequently, and had to be careful not to catch the presser foot on the bubble wrap, but otherwise, it was straight seams and easing the bulk through the machine.

3. Black paint.

After sewing on all the bubble wrap, the next step was to paint the outside of the skirting black. This is to absorb more sun and help retain the heat around the trailer. It is very windy where we usually are, so I had to wait for a still day to get the paint to stick to the tarps instead of floating away.

4. Attaching the Velcro.

This might sound like a no-brainer, but I wanted to be able to use any tarp in any spot and make replacing tarps easy. I measured out 3” strips of Velcro and stuck them at 12” intervals across the tops of the tarps. The problem with adhesive is that it destroys sewing machine needles. So, I had to tack one side of the Velcro strip to the tarps by hand-sewing to reinforce the adhesive. The other side just went against the trailer. First I cleaned each point of application with rubbing alcohol, much as you do to place your new car registration tags on your license plate. Then I applied the Velcro adhesive. We will see at the end of the season whether I leave the strips on the trailer for next year or not.

5. Finally, we placed rocks, buckets, and hay bales on the bottoms of the tarp, so that our excessive winds don’t blow them away. I am anxious to see how this works. I am not completely sure the Velcro is going to be sufficient, but I will report on that in a later post!


Escape the City and Thrive: Book 2 — Milking the Wild Goat or How to Set up your Homestead is finally available! Download the PDF for just $1.99 on the website, linked below. You may also purchase a PDF version of Escape the City and Thrive: Book 1 — How I Did It and How You Can, Too! for only $1.99. All proceeds will help me get the full, 3-book volume to print! Sign up for my weekly or so newsletter while you’re there.

Thanks for stopping by. Keep up with our adventures in mobile homesteading at Mrs. D’s Travelling Homestead, where we also offer soaps, lotions, books, and pet items for sale to support ourselves.

Small Space Composting, Part 2

Homesteading with Mrs D

 

 

 

small compost basket

Update on my small-space composting system. In my last post, I was wondering what to do with the contents of the small compost basket as it filled up. I think I have hit on a solution. When the mesh basket fills up, I empty it into a 5-gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid. I drilled 1/4” holes at regular intervals all around the sides of the bucket.

I had to relocate both the small composter and the 5-gallon bucket a couple of times due to the smell, but I seem to have that worked out now. The small composter sits in the garage, which is conveniently close to the kitchen for dumping scraps. Every few days, I empty it into the larger bucket.

5 gallon composter

When the large bucket fills up, I lay it down on its side in the side yard to compost. Every few days, I nudge it over with my foot. After 3 weeks, the full bucket is down to about half-filled and nearly composted. It is still a bit sour smelling, though, so I’m letting it continue to sit. The eggshells are the main things that are still not broken down, but they can just get crushed a bit more and put in the garden like that. Now I need to make a second 5-gallon composter to rotate off with the first one. I think two will be enough for now, but I might need three as the weather cools and composting takes longer.

I’m also going to put the 5-gallon bucket inside a solid bucket, so that I can keep it in the back of the truck. The winter sun coming through the window of my camper shell may help the composting continue at a reasonable pace. The bottom bucket can catch the compost tea, which can go on whatever garden I happen to be at. The inner bucket will be the compost.

Some sources state that this type of compost system should yield compost in as little as 2 weeks. My results look to be taking about 2 months, but that’s alright with me. It’s better than 6 months to a year or so.

grapes climbing fence

The urban garden is doing well. The grass is starting to come back, the jasmine and grapes are climbing the walls, and the orange tree is starting to shoot up. I have been able to use fresh oregano and rosemary in my cooking already. I’ve made a large jug of mint tea with the peppermint and spearmint. The lavender is holding steady, but the strawberries didn’t make it. I put in some radishes and lettuce, but they don’t seem too happy right now. Maybe it’s just too hot. I will be heading back to the Arizona homestead soon, so I hope everything survives until my next visit.

Look for my new book release in the next few months. Don’t miss out — sign up for my “weekly-or-so” newsletter on my website (below) where you may also purchase a PDF version of Escape the City and Thrive: Book 1 — How I Did It and How You Can, Too! for only $1.99. All proceeds will help me get the full, 3-book volume to print!

Thanks for stopping by. Keep up with our adventures in mobile homesteading at Mrs. D’s Travelling Homestead, where we also offer soaps, lotions, books, and pet items for sale to support ourselves.

Small Space Composting

Homesteading with Mrs Dsmall space composting system

Meanwhile, back at the urban homestead in Southern California, I am getting really tired of throwing away all the food scraps. But being in close proximity to neighbors necessitates a small scale composting system. I maintain a large compost heap in Arizona. Somehow, city folk don't appreciate that. Not where they can smell it, anyway.

eggshells and coffee grounds

We eat a lot of fresh food here, and that means lots of veggie clippings and such. Eggshells and coffee grounds are also plentiful. Great soil is made from all this stuff, and we are in dire need of soil amendments here. We planted an orange tree, jasmine, grape vines and several herbs a couple of months ago. The remaining lawn looks pretty sad, but it is too hot to put down grass seed and fertilizer, yet. I got steer manure in the spring of last year and it is now well aged and should be rather neutral. Though I would still prefer composted food scraps for our little gardening efforts. The steer manure can go on the grass seed in the fall.

top view composter

Enter my small space composting system. It cost a grand total of $2, with components found at a local dollar store. The lid is from a plastic shoebox I got for the trailer fridge, to keep the contents from rolling around when we're rolling. The mesh-style inner basket lets liquids drain into the larger solid basket. This "compost tea" goes right on the garden. The lid is not tight-fitting, but helps contain the heat necessary to break down the scraps. To cut down on the smell I put brown matter on top of the scraps of food. I am currently using handfuls of the dried out steer manure and also cardboard clippings. Sawdust, shredded paper, dirt, and dried leaves or dried grass clippings are other possibilities.

compost tea

I am still working out where to empty the partly composted materials as the basket fills up. Possibly a 5 gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid. I'll get that worked out and let you know. I would love to hear more ideas about small space composting.

brown matter

Look for my book release in the next few months. Don’t miss out — sign up for my “weekly-or-so” newsletter on my website, below, where you may also purchase a PDF version of Escape the City and Thrive: Book 1 — How I did it and How You Can, Too! for only $1.99. All proceeds will help me get the full, 3 book volume to print!

Thanks for stopping by. Keep up with our adventures in mobile homesteading at Mrs. D’s Travelling Homestead, where we also offer soaps, lotions, books, and pet items to support ourselves.

How to Escape the City

Homesteading with Mrs DSince the past couple months have been taken up with births and deaths in the family, I thought I might share a few thoughts from my upcoming book, Escape the City and Thrive.

how to escape the city

In Book 1, How I Did it and How You Can Too! I cover the decision making process:

• How family stories “on the farm” influenced me.
• How I came to my decision.
• Steps I took with my job, my finances, my kids.

And many recommendations for how to decide if country life is really for you.

In Book 2, Milking the Wild Goat, I share how we located our homestead and got started. These are some thoughts I want to share today.

Setting up a homestead is not a quick and easy process. Whether you start with bare land, or buy something “turn-key” (real estate-ese for “ready to move in”), homesteading is a lifelong, ongoing project. There are three basic ways to go, when getting started:

• Buying bare land and living in an RV, truck camper, or trailer.

One of the easiest ways to get started on your homestead is to live in an RV. Whether this is a motor home, travel trailer, or truck camper, if you have solar panels and/or a generator, it is merely an issue of refilling your propane tanks as necessary, refilling your fresh water and dumping your waste water. This is easily enough accomplished by driving in to the nearest facility to dump and refill (RV park, truck stop, or other sanitation station). You will want to learn and apply some serious water conservation skills to make this less of a hassle.

• Buying bare land and building from scratch, possibly camping on the property while doing so.

Starting with unimproved land can be very exciting. Building exactly what you want, how you want is a wonderful option. Especially if you have done your homework and gotten land in an unincorporated area, with the fewest restrictions possible. Sadly, there is no place that is untouched by building restrictions. Just think of it as a necessary evil — you wouldn’t want your neighbor to dump his waste just anywhere, especially if you have to smell it, or if it ends up draining onto your property. Yuck! Everybody has different standards of hygiene.

• Buying land with existing structures and renovating and reusing them.

There are quite a few pros and cons to starting with land that includes existing structures. Primarily, if one of them is a home, even if it is not brand new, you have 4 walls and a roof over your head. You will probably have ongoing repairs and upgrades to contend with and you might want to change everything around, but it is something to start with. And hopefully your hot and cold running water works.

• The land

I highly advocate buying cheap land and setting up your own homestead, according to your preferences. However, I advise anyone considering this to proceed with caution. If land is cheap, there is a reason for it.

In my case, it was the lack of water, the remote location, and the lack of services in the area. Never underestimate the importance of water and sanitation facilities. Electricity can be provided by solar panels, generators or wind. In my case, it was not prohibitive to hook up to the grid, as it was located near enough to my property. We also installed a propane tank and signed up for propane delivery. We could have gotten by with small, portable tanks that we could take in to town to refill, if we had chosen to go that route.

That’s enough to get you thinking. Look for my book release in the next few months. Don’t miss out — sign up for my “weekly-or-so” newsletter on my website, below, where you may also purchase a PDF version of Escape the City and Thrive: Book 1 – How I did it and How You Can, Too! for only $1.99. All proceeds will help me get the full, 3-book volume to print!

Thanks for stopping by. Keep up with our adventures in mobile homesteading at Mrs. D’s Travelling Homestead, where we also offer soaps, lotions, books, and pet items to support ourselves.

Getting a Little Bit More Off the Grid

Homesteading with Mrs D5 gallon bucket washer

I am using a 5 gallon bucket washer and my trusty solar dryer because my washing machine died. I have been meaning to replace that water hog anyway. The washer and gas dryer are now evicted from the house. I am saving for a spin dryer. In the meantime, I wring the clothes by hand. They dry inside on hangers on very windy days and outside in the sun on nice days. Large blankets are a challenge, but with a little extra effort, they are simple enough to handle.

solar dryer

I am still vacillating on the gray water toilet vs. sawdust toilet issue. I don’t like flushing with gallons of drinking water. I should have plenty of gray laundry water for flushing, now that the washer is out of commission.

gray water toilet

The homesteading lifestyle is truly a work of the heart. To be constantly fixing stuff and trying to make do is not for those who prefer a life of ease. Whenever I come home to the homestead, I am reminded of the life I chose. I still have no water flowing through the household pipes, because, despite having all the fittings to repair the latest break, I broke the main valve attempting to get the flow shut off completely. I had a full 2500 gallon tank of water at the time and I absolutely refuse to drain it in order to replace the valve. So it will have to wait until we go through that water and get it low enough to feel it is worth wasting the rest. In the meantime, we are filling buckets and jugs with the hose bib I installed last year, and hauling water into the house. Next to the hose and filter is my future wood-fired water heater.

wood fired water heater

I had the big propane tank removed last year, also. I am not missing it. Right now we are showering in the trailer, with its efficient, self-contained water heater and pump. I want to try the same system in the house when I get the water going back inside. I have never liked the pump and pressure tank system we use here and am still not convinced that it is the best way to go. Pressure tanks are too expensive to replace. I want to try an on-demand pump like I have in the trailer. Full-time RV-ing is spoiling me. I have a barbecue-size propane tank on the gas stove, for cooking, and am also using it as a stove-top water heater.

stove top water heater

So that is where our homestead projects stand at the beginning of spring. I plan some experiments in neglected gardening and compost bin building as well.

Thanks for stopping by. Keep up with our adventures in mobile homesteading at Mrs. D’s Travelling Homestead, where we also offer soaps, lotions, books, and pet items to support ourselves.

How to Winterize for Off Grid Living

Homesteading with Mrs Dsnow boot

Winterizing is fine if you have electricity. Heat lamps, heat tapes, heaters, these all work great plugged in. But what if you are off grid? How does one keep warm, and keep the water running (fresh in, gray and black out)? Good question.

 pipe that always freezes

At the Homestead, we heat with wood. This keeps the house warm and the indoor water pipes clear. Once in awhile, we need to turn a heater on underneath the house to keep those pipes thawed, but usually not until it gets close to zero. The water pump and pipes in the pumphouse are heat-taped, with heat lamps on them connected to a thermostat so that they come on when it gets down to about 38 degrees. They are also covered with thick insulation. The problem area is right where the water comes into the shed. This is where it usually freezes and breaks. When the temps get close to zero, we’ll let a couple faucets drip all night, to prevent that from happening. We really need to come up with a better solution, but that ‘s where we are with that for now.

As far as other winterizing at the Homestead, we have heavy blankets or quilts hung over most of the windows and place rolled up towels or bolsters on the sills and at the bottoms of doors to keep out the drafts. Other than that, the woodstove is pretty efficient.

 tiny trailer kitchen

In the Tiny Trailer, we had no running water. We used 2 gallon water jugs with spigots at the kitchen sink and a half gallon water bottle at the bathroom sink. We dumped the waste tank once a week. We used a sawdust toilet. We had to be plugged in because the only heater we had was the radiant oil heater. Of course, heating water for hot beverages also took the chill off. We also used quilted wall hangings for curtains. This all kept the tiny trailer most cozy.

quilted curtain

It is the traveling homestead that I’m most concerned about this winter. When we are plugged in, it is fine, heat lamps underneath, skirting all around and a radiant heater to supplement the central heater. When we are moving from place to place and staying off grid is my challenge this year. We have a salt water solution in the waste tanks to prevent them from freezing. So far it has been no problem with the addition of the heat lamps. I suspect that the sloshing, when we are mobile will also keep them thawed. But what if we are stationary for a day or two? With no plug ins? The tanks are enclosed and the forced-air heater seems to circulate under the floor, keeping them warm, but I am not entirely sure. Guess we will find out. We will have 3 days and 3 nights off-grid in cold country before we get to California.

 heat tapes n skirting

The other issue is that we don’t have a generator, solar panels, or a hookup from the truck alternator to the trailer batteries to keep them charged, yet. The battery lasts a good 3 days right now, but with running the heater, it may not last that long. That is another issue we will have to address. It would be simple enough to charge it up from the truck once a day, if we can get the wiring done.

 heat lamps

Other than that, our fresh water will last at least a week. As long as we have the heater on and the cabinet doors (where the water lines are) popped open a little, the lines stay thawed.

For now, we can’t be completely off-grid for very long during the winter, but as we resolve the power issues, I foresee a lot more freedom in where we can park and how long we can stay there.

Thanks for stopping by. Keep up with our adventures in mobile homesteading at Mrs. D’s Travelling Homestead, where we also offer soaps, lotions, books, and pet items to support ourselves.

Lessons From the Mobile Garden

 

Homesteading with Mrs Dpeppermint oregano lettuce

 

This is more like a review of what went right and what went wrong in my mobile garden experiment. The only things going right at this time, are the peppermint, oregano and lettuce. Even the oregano is not the one I tried from seed. That one died. It is from a plant I purchased at Sprouts, same as the thriving peppermint. Well, at least I’m having good luck there.

The lettuce is from seeds I planted that took a very long time to germinate. They were from the 10 for a dollar bunch I got. Looks like romaine. The peas and collards came up nicely. So nicely that the abuelo’s dog ate them before they could get more than a few inches tall. The birds got the rest of my lettuce. The rest of what actually germinated got fried when I left the mobile garden in the back of the truck too many days during hot weather.

I’m sure the lessons here are obvious.

Abuelo’s dog also dug up my strawberries. What is it about potting soil that some dogs just can’t resist? I rescued them and they appeared to revive for a few days, but now they have given up the ghost.

The pansies I got from Home Depot finally died off last week. They lasted from March through our trip to Oregon, and then came back again in June for a couple of months.

The mobile compost bucket is a success! I have to admit that I have dumped it twice, once in the abuelo’s garden and once at the Homestead. Though the contents have not been completely composted, the odor was not unpleasant. Apparently I had the right mix of food scraps and brown matter — sawdust, grass clippings, leaves, shredded paper, moldy hay and a bit of dirt. It actually smelled like the compost you might buy at any home improvement store, even though it was still decomposing. My reason for dumping into the more stationary compost heaps is that I need several more buckets, so that I can let the full ones continue to compost, while I fill new ones. At the current rate of about one bucket a month, I will need about 6 buckets, I think, and room in the truck to transport them. For now, I am just letting them finish their composting at my various homestead stops.

Although I have not harvested in any kind of sustainable amounts, I have learned much to apply to next year’s mobile garden.

Here is a list of what I’ve learned:

- Sometimes seeds are hard (for me) to start. I might be better off, with my limited space, just purchasing hardy young plants.

- Avoid weather extremes, if possible. Purchasing plants in sunny Albuquerque and taking them to frozen Colorado is not the best idea. Plants need to be warm and have sun.

- Do not keep the garden in the back of the truck for more than a day or two. The plants will fry. Maybe in very cold weather it would be okay to put them next to the sunny window,  for a greenhouse effect.

- Protect the garden from predators: dogs, birds, and ??

- Protect the garden from hail (learned that last year!)

My checklist to get ready for next year:

- Create a second garden box.

- Set up a second compost bin.

- Research aeration, drainage and vermicomposting options.

- Create protective covers for severe weather and pests.

- Work on planting list to be ready to order seeds and purchase young plants.

Yes, I am determined to keep my mobile garden going. I may put in some more lettuce for the winter, and hope the mint and oregano will keep producing. I will need to find some sunny windows for this, while we’re in cold weather, but I think I’ll enjoy that challenge. I’ll be sure and let you know, here, how it works out.

I hope you will consider joining me at my website, Mrs. D's Traveling Homestead, for more updates on our mobile homesteading, roadschooling and simple living adventures. Please also check out my book: The Working Parent’s Guide To Homeschooling.