Saturday, December 2, 2017

(Dec 2) Laying Water Line

Well, we came to the conclusion that we were not prepared to use just our water catchment system for all of our water needs. Rather than put in an elaborate pump and filter system and still not have enough water, we decided to go ahead an bite the bullet and hook up to the city water supply. This will involve running a line from the water meter (never used) back 600' to the house. We already have water line laid for the 100' in front of the house. We just need to get the 600' back to tie into it.

We had rented a trencher from Hooten's (our favorite DIY center) in Emory before when we ran the electrical lines for the solar array. We decided to use them again. $90/day is pretty reasonable but we needed to get there early so we could try to get it back before they closed at 5p. We got it picked up and decided to stop at Y'all Come Back Cafe for a quick breakfast. Always good and always inexpensive!

Early start to the day. Eating breakfast as the sun comes up!

We decided to follow the path that the electric company had used to bring the main power line down the road. This way we wouldn't have to cut a new path, just dig up the old one. It had been 2 years but surely it would be softer than virgin soil. This would also save us from having to come up through the woods where I'm sure there are significant roots in the way. No sense risking killing a 100-year-old tree for a water line. The indention was still there in the road from 2 years back so it wasn't a problem to follow. It just looks like I hired a drunk to lay out the path! lol

Really, I can cut a straight line. I was just following the trench dug before. 

The trencher does a ton of the work but anyone who's ever used one knows that it still takes a lot of effort to coax and wrangle it along the way. We got started by 9a, took a break for lunch and actually finished before 3p. I was shocked. I really worried that we would have to rent it another day. I was exhausted so we decided to wait 'til the next day before we started laying pipe. Just a note, it was just under 4 gallons of gas used for 5 hours of trenching. Not bad!

As beefy as the trench digger is, it still takes a lot of effort to wrangle and guide it!

We got the pipe laid out and started gluing together. I decided to run 1 1/4" pipe from the front back to about 2/3 of the way. I reduced to 1" and the last 100' will be 3/4". Several plumbers I've talked to say that this will give us the best option on water flow and pressure that far away. Not a big deal, schedule 40 pipe isn't very expensive, no matter which size you use. We also decided to put in several hose bibs (I used to call them faucets! lol) along the way. We put one up by the meter, 2 along the drive and one by the solar panels to facilitate cleaning them. The 2 along the drive my help accommodate other Tiny Housers some day but that's another story, figured we'd put in the option as long as we had the trencher.

Trench dug and water lines put together. Just need to pressure test them now before we bury them. 

We hit a snag after fitting the pipe bib offshoots. We had to dig up the meter to get to the pipe access point. Remember, it was installed many years before we purchased the property but never used. The previous owner didn't even know it was there. We got it dug out to find that the pipe extension had rusted off. Uggh. They will have to replace the meter. They were already scheduled to repair a leak between the meter and the road. Guess this project just got bigger for them. We'll have to wait 'til they're done 'til we can hook up and pressure test the system. I want to make sure all of my joints hold before we bury the whole thing. The good news was that the water department offered to bring out a backhoe and bury it all when we are done. Thank you!! I was not looking forward to shoveling dirt back into 600' of trench!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

(Nov 11) Building a Front Deck

We’ve lived with the pallets in front of the house for several years now. They were a cheap and easy solution as we allocated money to other projects. As the boards have been eaten away at by the ants and termites, it now becomes a priority. We wanted more than a landing to stand on and wipe our feet off but we didn’t need for it to take over the entire yard. We will expand on it later but likely to the sides. The entrance of the house faces west. I don’t see this as our primary seating area but we wanted it large enough to enjoy a little time in the morning shade. The north side will likely get the largest deck as it will be shaded by the overhanging roof most of the day. It also has a deep view of the property. Let’s get started!

Specs and materials:
12’ x 6’ floating deck with recessed piers
Concrete block piers (14, 12” base, 8” tall, heavy as hell)
2” x 6” pressure treated joists on 24” centers (7 x 12’, actual dimension 1 1/2” x 5 1/2”)
Galvanized flashing covers for the joists (78’)
2” x 6” pressure treated deck boards ( 13 x 12’, actual dimension 1 1/2” x 5 1/2”)
Galvanized joist hangers (14 for interior joists)
3” Treated deck screws (about 250 for the deck boards)
1 1/4” Treated deck screws (108 for the joist hangers)
3 1/4” Galvanized 16p nails (54 to nail the joists to the rim joist)
Construction Adhesive

Concrete piers should give us a base that will last forever (my forever) and be easy enough to build around. We ended up setting 14 of them for the 12’x6’ deck. We don’t have the height available to put in a beam and joists as the land slopes down towards the house. We also decided to use treated lumber in contrast to the steel frame that we built the house out of. We want it to last a long time but it won’t need to be as permanent. We also decided against attaching the deck to the house. This way we could avoid the construction portion of having to cut and reconfigure the siding on the house to accommodate and attach deck.

Pallets removed and bringing in deck blocks

Although I don’t expect this to last 100 years, I did want to give it every chance possible. I had seen articles talking about protecting the tops of the joists from water accumulation damage. Where the deck boards meet the joists tends to hold water and will eventually erode the pressure treatment and rot the board out. Several projects I saw used rubber window flashing over the tops of the joists. I knew that the adhesive would eventually fail though and was not sure where that would leave us. I decided to use metal flashing instead. A galvanized steel umbrella over the top of the joist should offer pretty good protection and keep the water from rotting them.

I went to our local DIY center, Hooten’s, in Emory. I hesitate to call them a hardware store. They do way more than that. They have a full-service metal fabrication operation also. They will build just about anything you desire to your specs in addition to carrying a full line of wood, concrete and steel building materials. Think of it as a Home Depot on steroids. They took some simple 3” wide flashing and folded it to match the 1 1/2” top of the joists while I waited. Great service!

Trimming joist covers to overlap

I didn’t need to connect the caps to the joists. The deck screws going through them would be plenty. I think they came out pretty nice. The cost was about another $50 on top of the $500 for the rest of the deck materials. An extra 10% to double or triple the life of the deck seemed to be a good investment.

Laying the deck blocks and getting them level was the hardest part of the project. Each block is nearly 50lbs. We would dig out a location and set the block in to get an initial assessment of position. Then, we had to lift the block out of the hole 3-4 times to raise or lower with additional dirt until it was level. We got quite the workout that day for 2 old fat people. We didn’t want the blocks exposed at the edges of the deck so we set an additional joist at each end about 5” inside the frame. That way the block wouldn’t be proud of the deck on the perimeter but it would still give us good support at the ends of the deck. We also set the inner blocks the same way about 1’ in along the front so they wouldn’t be exposed. Hopefully, you can see that in the photos. Anyway, it explains why there are 2 joists close to each other on the ends. The additional joist member (flush together was to support a perimeter border deck board but we later changed our minds about that design. Too many complications with wet wood.)

Joists in place

We set a block at the entrance of the house to make sure the elevation was correct and then worked out from there. We had to set each block itself level and then raise or lower it to match the original block. We also left a slight slope away from the building of about 1/2” just to make sure water would drain off of the boards away from the house. We filled in much of the space between the blocks with dirt, being careful not to get up to the joist level, to discourage animals from camping under it. No guarantee but it seemed like a reasonable effort.

Deck blocks in place and leveled

Next, we built a perimeter frame with our 2x6s and made sure it was square by measuring across the diagonals. We mitered the ends so there would be no butt joints exposed. We used our framing nailer with the 3 1/4” nails to put the frame together along with some construction adhesive. We also picked up some wood preservative to treat the cut ends of the pressure treated members (joists and deck boards). Pressure treating rarely penetrates the entirety of the wood so cutting an end off exposes a vulnerable entry for insects. All I could find was a gallon, again at Hooten’s as HD & Lowe’s have stopped stocking it in the stores, although we barely used a pint. I guess we’ll have a lifetime supply. :)

Each joist attached with joist hanger and then nailed from the outside. We had to stand the structure up to nail the backside closest to the house.

Now we cut the inner joists and laid them in the blocks. We blocked up the perimeter frame and set it level and attached the joists with galvanized joist hangers. We used 1 1/4” deck screws to attach the joist hangers to the frame and nailed the outside frame to the butt ends of the joists with the nails as nails handle sheer forces much better than screws which tend to be brittle when stressed with side forces. Now we capped the entire frame with the water shields I had fabricated and got ready to lay the deck boards. We left about a 1/4” overhang on all sides with the deck boards and had built the frame accordingly. We laid the 12’ 2x6s (uncut) in place one by one and screwed them into place with 3” coated deck screws. The screws didn’t seem to even notice the metal flashing they had to penetrate. Be sure and set the crown of the wood so that it will create a dome on top of the deck boards instead of a cup. Hopefully, this diagram helps.

(borrowed from Wood wants to flatten out as it's cut from a tree. Look at the end grain to determine which side was the bark side and which was closer to the center of the tree. Put the bark side down (right side of diagram) and the wood will tend to form a dome, letting water drain off the edges. If you put the wood with the bark side up, it will cup and hold water in each deck board. 

We set the straightest board we could find in the 1st position as it would set the pace for the others. We would screw one end of each deck board into place and then use a ratchet strap to pull it tight against the other boards as we went. The wood was still pretty wet from the pressure treatment so we didn’t set any gap. The boards will shrink up just a bit as they dry and leave about a 1/4” gap between the deck boards. We set one end of the deck boards flush as we went and left the other end of the deck jagged as boards are never the exact length from the mill. We’ll let this dry for a month or so and then pop a chalk line and trim them all even with a circular saw, again treating the ends after they’ve been cut.

Add caption

Finished deck. Nice project for 2 days. :)

I later went back through and finished setting the screws into the deck boards. This burned through 3 batteries on my impact driver. I highly recommend an impact driver instead of a plain drill/screwdriver. You’ll understand why the 1st time you use one to drive long screws. My Porter Cable 20v never hesitated driving the 3” screws. Be sure and wear eye and hearing protection. Driving ~ 400 screws will take its toll.

Just a note on working with wood. Everything I had done before had been with steel. It is very exact, very straight, very precise in length and depth. Wood is exactly the opposite. It’s warped and bowed and cut to varying lengths and thicknesses. It swells (at different rates) when pressure treated and shrinks as it dries. Screws and nails don’t drive in straight as they have a tendency to follow the grain. Wood tries to arch as it continues to relax after it’s been freed from its tree form. Lots to consider. When I meticulously drew up our plans for this deck, I didn’t take into account that the wood would be thicker and wider due to being wet. I planned on 13 deck boards at 5 1/2” wide. Between the swelling and the fact that they just won’t lay flush against each other, I ended up with an extra 1” hanging off of the edge of the deck closest to the house. The reasonable thing would have been to run that last board through our table saw and trim off the inch. Instead, we hooked the entire deck up to a couple of trees in the yard and pulled it away from the house another inch with ratchet straps. (Incredibly heavy by now) If it don’t fit, get a bigger hammer! lol  We were just too lazy to dig the table saw out of the storage building as it was buried with beekeeping supplies at the time. Plan accordingly. Either plan ahead and let your lumber dry for 3 weeks to a month before you start your project OR count on the room necessary for each board to be a bit wider than 5 1/2”.

We really enjoyed this project and will enjoy the deck even more over the next 30 years. Anything past that's a crap shoot - for us, not the deck. I hope it gives you some insight and helps you understand the factors in building your own simple deck. Best of luck, bless you and have a great holiday!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

(Apr 23) Bees! Bees! Bees!

OK, this past couple of weeks has pretty much just been about bees and looking forward to Earthday. We bought a full hive from someone in our bee club. We bought a swarm that someone caught. We caught our own swarm, and now we have 2 more colonies (Nucs) we are buying at the end of this week. Lots of prep time getting the boxes painted, cleaned up and ready for their new occupants. We've also been to several classes this month in prep. My head is swelling with bee knowledge. I look forward to the day that I know what I'm doing, though! We keep coming to conclusions of what we should be doing and then we run it by a seasoned beekeeper only to find out that we're still really green and don't have a clue.

That's alright! It's what this first year is about. We were told early on that if we managed to keep our bees alive for our first year that it was just a bonus. The real goal is to learn. Learn what the bees need. Learn what not to do. Learn what we should be doing and when to do it.

After a great weekend of volunteering at the Tiny House Village at Earth Day Texas, we came out to the Tiny to transfer the swarm we had caught to a permanent box. We were absolutely shocked at how busy they had been. They took over our swarm trap about 30 days ago and got after it. We really shouldn't have left them this long I guess. We made a real mess of trying to transfer the comb to the new box. Some of it was 18" deep but we only had room for 11" deep in the new box. I also wasn't prepared for how soft and pliable it was, literally breaking apart in my hand.

After tearing up most of the comb, we decided to get the rest of the bees in their new hive and just let them get back to doing what they do best. They were pretty upset and my smoker had run out of fuel. I had let Kim wear the full suit and I was only wearing a veil and some gloves. Mistake! Next time, I need at least a full jacket with an integrated veil. I got stung 6-7 times while we were performing the transfer. You just have to work through it and get it finished. I'll be better prepared next time! Count on it!

Here are some photos of us discovering what's in the swarm trap for the 1st time!

Swarm box hanging on the side of a tree at the back of our property for the last month.

Kim, getting ready to open the swarm box

1st hint that it was really full was that she could barely lift the lid it was so heavy!

Yeah, I'd say they's been busy. That's 18" of comb hanging from the lid!

More hanging in the box still

This is a lot of bees!

I'm guessing we had 8-10 pounds of bees along with another 10-12 pounds of comb with brood, honey and pollen. I need to shorten the swarm box so that they can't draw comb that deep. We're also going to use deep frames with no foundation next time instead of top bar frames. That should facilitate them moving to a deep box much easier.

I also got new bottom boards with slide in shelves installed in all of our boxes. I think this was the mistake that caused a swarm we had previously caught to leave again. The box they moved into had a regular screened bottom that let in a lot of light. I'm told they really like it dark when they take over a new location as evidenced by they're obvious appreciation of the swarm trap that only had a small slit cut in one side.

The other thing I added to all of our boxes were trough feeders. These are 1-gallon hanging feeders that go inside of the hive. It lets them better protect the food (sugar water) from other raiding hives as well as allows them to eat throughout the night and continue working. They don't mind the dark and it takes lots of food/fuel for them to produce that much wax. This time of year, they could litterally go through 2 gallons per day per hive. We mix up the syrup at a one-to-one ration (by weight) of water and sugar. A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. To that we add 8 pounds of sugar. We've been paying about 50¢ per pound for sugar and are looking for a cheaper source. Combined, our hives could go through well over 100 pounds of sugar per week in feeding season!

Here's a video on YouTube of us transferring them to the new box. It's not pretty!

We'll do another follow-up when we get the 2 Nucs this weekend. Hopefully, they'll go a bit smoother. :)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

(Mar 12) Beekeeping Prep

We got our 1st bee box painted and ready to receive bees next month. We've been given an adoption date of Apr 28th. :)  That's when the 1st wave of bees will be ready for pickup. I'm a bit nervous. Not about keeping bees, about losing bees. I really want to do a good job managing them so that it's a win-win situation. I want the bees to be healthy by natural means as much as I can. I also want the bees to not only survive but be fruitful and multiply. It's kinda scary as I talk to members of our local bee club (Trinity Valley Beekeeper's Association) and hear about colonies that leave or don't make it at all. There are lots of possible reasons for this and I really want to avoid these scenarios where I have control.

I think that the bees should be given free reign to manage their own affairs where practical. I want to provide them with a safe environment to raise lots of little bees and store their crops (honey!). I want them to be disease free and manage the pests that are present to a tolerable level. I don't expect them to be completely free of things like varroa mites and hive beetles. This seems impossible these days, even with lots of chemical intervention. I would rather raise bees that are tough and savvy and able to defend their own homes without my drowning them in chemicals that are intended to help them but in the end make them dependent on such.

There is a proposed change to the statewide management of beekeeping in the state congress as we talk. After much examination and discussion about the content, we have come to the agreement that as it is, it would be worse for Texas beekeepers than the outdated laws that have been on the books since the early 80s. If you want to make a difference in beekeeping here in Texas, please contact you state representatives and senators. Let them know that the proposed bill (House Bill 1293) is too riddled with ambiguous language and errors. There are proposed changes to this bill but it's uncertain if they can or will make any of those changes in time to get them approved and passed this legislative session. There is a website that has been set up to let beekeepers monitor the progress of this legislation at Please visit it to understand the issues at hand.

Any additional support from the public would be greatly appreciated!

Back to our situation. Here's a stand that we made out of steel that we had left over from building the house. It should provide many years of service for minimal effort and money. :) We built it to support 2 bee hives. One each, centered over the cross braces for support and safety in case the hive slides forward or back. We put a little shelf at each end as a place to rest tools and such. We made it wide enough to be able to pull a box off of a hive and set it in the middle as we work the hive. We set the width based on the need for frame support. The rails are the same width as the supports inside the hive boxes so that we can pull out the frames and hang them from the rails as needed. We left room to be able to put frames on both sides of the box as well. Not a very sophisticated stand but a lot of thought went into it and its use.

We will likely build several more as we will need to support 5-6 hives this first season. We can adjust the design as we get some experience. If anyone out there has any beekeeping experience and would like to chime in, we'd love some feedback. We've already had several people ask about our making/selling the stands commercially and would love to hear of any interest.

Here it is with a hive on it:

Also made some improvements to our bar. We added a glass shelf and are playing with some tiered shelves. Here's an updated photo. :)  We are still trying to decide what to line the inside walls with. We've found several nice options but they turned out to be as expensive as the entire cabinet! We'll keep our eyes open and hope something jumps out at us. lol

Just a final note on our electric use so far this year. January ended up at $11.90 in electric use. February wasn't nearly as cold and netted out at $1.10. For March so far, we have a 60¢ credit! :) Our solar panels don't put out huge amounts of power but It seems I've got them sized just right for our current needs. If I had added another panel (and inverter) for $400, I could be enjoying $0 bills - but it would take a long time to make up the extra $400. Better to pay the couple of dollars per month until we find that our use is climbing than be upside down and trying to make up the extra cost of the other panel. I think that makes sense!

Here's a chart from our electric company on our daily use. The orange bars are the electric use. The black line is the temperature that day. Dips below -0- are where the panels produced more power than we used. Great tool to teach you how to use your power conservatively. :)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

(Feb 27) Enjoying the New Year

Been a while since I've posted. Amazing how quickly time flies by. The weather has been unseasonably warm. We've had a number of days in the 80s here in February! We did get down to almost freezing this past weekend though. I will say, it's odd to see mosquitos buzzing around with fur coats on! lol

We finished (for the most part) our Tiny House this past Fall. We're still going to re-work the water lines coming into the house but that will likely come when we build a pump house. We're OK with bringing in our own water at this point. We pretty much have it down to about 15 gallons per day, including showers. I did re-install the DC pump and a new 12v deep-cycle battery under the sink to have running water there in the kitchen. I keep reminding myself that carrying 40 lb jugs of water is good exercise!

House with the door painted

We have also changed the storage up a bit in the living area. We took down our metal Elfa shelves and put in another cabinet from IKEA. I know a lot of people really liked the wire baskets but this will be more practical for our daily needs. It fit perfectly in the spot we had and I think it looks great. This unit will serve as a bar and various storage including bedding. It's 96" tall. The 2 sections are now 15" wide and 24" wide. Both are 24" deep. We've still got some lighting and a shelf to install in the bar but it's looking good so far! :) Here are some updated photos.

Looking from the door in

Bathroom and cabinet area

Here's a nice picture of the West wall. Not sure if I had posted once since we re-worked the window and door trim.

View from the kitchen towards the living/sleeping area. 

We went out to an open-house event for the supplier (Texas Bee Supply) of our honey bees this weekend and picked up our hive kits. Our bees won't be in until late March or April but we're really excited to make some progress. We also got a great tour of their sister company, Desert Creek Honey. Amazing the amount of honey that 5000 hives can produce! We were both so impressed with the owner, Mr. Shook, when he came out to our local beekeepers meeting that we were glad to support him in his new business venture of selling beekeeping supplies. It's great too, to find an honest honey supplier in your own area. Many honeys purchased from a grocery store that claimed to be local, raw honey were actually a blend of foreign (mainly Chinese) honey as well as corn syrup, thus negating the health benefit of consuming products with a bit of pollen from your area. The people from Desert Creek Honey were upfront and honest about where all of their honey comes from. You should give them a try. Great products. The creamed jalapeno honey spread is excellent on fresh cornbread!! :) (No, I didn't get as much as one free bottle of honey for my endorsement. I really like the people and their products!)

Sunday found us painting these and putting the swarm box that we built up in a tree to entice some swarming bees to take up residence. I think Kim and I are both going to enjoy being beekeepers. Everyone we've dealt with so far has been really nice, just like the Tiny House community we've become part of.

We attended a bee biology class recently, taught by Ryan at the Trinity Valley Beekeeper's Association. They (the bees) are absolutely fascinating. The queen can lay 2000+ eggs per day for life off of one mating flight but can't feed herself. Female bees do absolutely all of the work in a hive, from the day they hatch 'til the day they die. Male bees (drones) are pretty much good for one thing, breeding to a queen, hopefully from another hive. If successful, they die immediately. If unsuccessful, they are all kicked out of the hive in the fall to starve to death. Since they (the drones) do no other work, it would be impractical for the hive to support them through the winter. After all, the queen can produce more drones at will in the Spring by deciding whether to fertilize the eggs she's laying or not. Fertilized eggs hatch as female workers. Un-fertilized eggs hatch as drones. If the queen slows down her egg production, her daughters gang up on her and either kill her or they conspire to produce a new queen who will do it for them! It's a no-nonsense species. All business, all the time. Something to respect in that. :)

Honey bee collecting nectar (to make honey) and pollen (to feed baby bees)

If you find that a swarm of bees has left their hive and taken up in a tree or bush on your property, take the time to call a local bee club. They will likely have someone available to come and rescue the bees. Everyone wins! The bees are very docile at this stage and are easy to handle so there's actually no danger of them attacking you. Their bellies are full of honey and they're just looking for a new home. :)

Swarm of honey bees waiting to decide on where their new home will be!

We got a nice series of showers on Sunday evening, also. Not sure there is anything better than a Sunday snuggled up with your wife, watching movies and listening to the rain fall on the cabin you built in the woods. I'm very grateful for Kim and all we've accomplished together over the past 10 years. :) Here's to you, Sweetie!

I'm working on a system to start propagating Chili Pequin pepper plants out on our new property. These are a great little pepper that packs a punch, up to 30x hotter than a Jalapeno. We have a number of plants at our house in Arlington but I've not had any luck in getting them to come up from seed here in the woods. After some research that I should have done in the first place, I find that the seeds have a very tough outer cover and have to get some assistance to germinate. The most popular way is to pass the seeds through a bird. Most likely a Mockingbird. The stomach acid helps thin the casing around the seed as it passes through. Also, they need very warm soil (80°-90°) and very little of it to get started. Preferably less than 1/4" covering them as they germinate.  If you come to any of the Tiny House events at our place in the future, remember to ask me. I'll be glad to give you some start seeds. :)

So - I'm going to get a starter set and soak my pepper seeds in a bleach water solution (preferred method of softening the seeds. You can also use battery acid. NO JOKE!). These guys are tough! They are the only native pepper plant to the United States, growing wild throughout the central and South Texas regions down throughout Mexico, thriving in a mix of sun and shade. Since there are no hybrids, they all have the potential to propagate. They do take a long time each year to get around to their 1st crop, often taking 150 days or more. Thus the reason to start them inside in the winter, if you can keep the soil warm.

More pics next time of the bee hives and an update on the local deer. We're really hoping that we have a number of fawns this Spring. Most of the does we've seen look pregnant. Very Exciting!!

See ya then!