Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving in America and I am thankful. I have a fantastic, patient and forgiving wife in Miss Mercy, who puts up with all the crazy ideas and experiments a Mad Farmer can come up with. I have two wonderful and loving daughters. I am very proud of both of them and thankful I don’t seem to have caused them any lasting harm in the way they were raised. They are both very capable, kind and caring young women and I love them immensely.

We will be spending this day with family and friends, plenty of food (as usual I am sure there will be way more than enough to go around). I’m sure there will be a few households that are struggling, there are people in California who have recently lost their homes to fire and are grateful to be alive. Some are mourning the loss of loved ones, but for the most part all across America this is a day of rest and thankfulness. I am humbled to live in a nation where even our poorest households would be considered well off by the most of the rest of the nations of the world.

America has it’s share of problems and struggles, but on this day, Thanksgiving day, let’s reflect on the common ground between our citizens instead of the differences and remember and celebrate the things that make America the greatest place to be.

Happy Thanksgiving to all,

The Mad Farmer

Rocket Mass Heaters and Ianto Evans

I just finished reading what is probably the original Rocket Mass Heater book, “Rocket Mass Heaters Third Edition” by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson.

In case you haven’t been a RMH geek for a long period of time you may not know that Ianto Evans is regarded as many as the “Father of Rocket Mass Heaters”, at least that is my understanding. Ianto has been working with fire, building stoves and working with associated natural building techniques like cob, for decades. The biggest current names in the RMH field, like Kirk “Donkey” Mobert, Ernie & Erica Wisner, Art Ludwig and Paul Wheaton have all collaberated with Ianto, taken classes from Ianto or used Ianto’s designs as the basis for advancements in the science (or perhaps art) of Rocket Mass Heaters.

Rocket Mass Heaters Third Edition is not a long book, it’s only about 120 pages but it is packed with information, pictures, drawings and case studies. The book goes into exactly what makes a Rocket Mass Heater tick, how to build one and what materials to use. Rocket Mass Heaters in a nutshell consist of several main parts: The Burn Tunnel, Heat Riser, Feed Tube and the Mass or Thermal Battery and the exhaust pipe or Chimney.

One note of caution that comes up again and again in the book and should be noted by anyone thinking about building a RMH is that these heaters  burn HOT. A typical wood stove will usually burn around 500 to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, the relatively low temperature is what makes them so dangerous, they don’t burn hot enough to burn off all the creosote and gasses and the typical temperature exiting the chimney can be in excess of 300 to 400 degrees. In a Rocket Mass Heater the temperatures in the  burn tunnel can reach 1500 to 2000 degrees. That is hot enough to burn creosote, smoke and anything else that can cause a problem and the typical exit temperature at the chimney is around 150 to 180 degrees – much less likely to start a chimney fire. The high temperature burn is what make them so efficient but anytime you are working with fire pay attention!

The book starts out with a description of what a Rocket Mass Heater is, how it functions and outlines what they are and what they aren’t. It’s pointed out if you are looking for a “throw some wood in and leave for the day” fireplace then a RMH is probably not for you. The middle section of the book discusses in detail how to build a RMH, what kinds of materials you can build it with and the care and feeding after you have it built. The final section covers safety precautions, case studies of actual RMH builds and information on additional resources.

At $20.00 this book is a must have if you are interested in Rocket Mass Heaters or just want to read about cool things you can build that involve fire. I highly recommend it.

 

 

Food Safety Course

We started the K-State Extension class on Food Safety by going over the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety rules. Apparently the FSMA was passed and signed into law in 2015 and has a phased compliance period. There are some exemptions, for instance because I am not yet selling more than $25,000 annually in produce over the last three years I’m exempt.  I actually haven’t sold any produce yet, since my first growing season will be next spring but, as our lead instructor Cal pointed out, “If you haven’t been in business you don’t have any bad habits to un-learn”. Primarily the rule covers growers selling between $25,000 and $500,000 a year in produce (can’t wait to get to the upper end for TSL Urban Farm)!

The class is divided up into seven modules, the first being a broad overview of the six to come and the rest covering what produce is covered by the rule and what isn’t, health and hygiene, soil and soil amendments, agricultural water, wild and domesticated animals, growing, harvesting, processing and packing. The amount of information that came at us in an eight hour period really was like trying to drink from a fire hose. The good news is that you can access a lot of resources at the K-State Extension Food Safety website and the instructors are available via email and phone for follow-up questions and consultations if you have questions, which you will.

It turns out that just washing your hands properly and often when handling produce can reduce the possibility of contamination by up to 60%. We also learned that “you can’t sanitize something that isn’t clean”, seems obvious in hindsight but apparently it’s a common problem. Another thing that turns out not to be true is that putting sanitizer in wash water “washes” the  produce – what it actually prevents is cross-contamination from infected food, so you get three instances of listeria from a lot of produce instead of 300 or 30,000. I also found out that in Kansas the difference between sprouts and micro-greens are that sprouts have the roots attached and micro-greens don’t. If you are growing sprouts you need a license in Kansas, growing Micro-greens, you don’t.

The best part about the class is that the materials are well organized and presented and it’s K-State’s practice to try and have at least two instructors for each class, one with practical growing knowledge and one with a more academic, scientific focus. In our class we also had a guest graduate student working on his PhD teaching the water modules. We were told that the water section is the least liked of the materials but personally I found it fascinating. I learned a lot I didn’t know about how water is classified and how risks are increased or decreased by the type of water you are using, where you are using it and how you are using it. The worst part of the class is that the instructors are mandated to verbally read each PowerPoint slide, in case there are attendees who don’t read English or read it well. Death by Droning PowerPoint presentation is a personal pet peeve of mine but I can see why they have to follow that rule and the instructors made the best of it.

Overall it was probably the best $20 I have ever spent, at the very least it was the least expensive and most productive of my educational outlays. I’ve attended lots of free workshops and webinars over the years on all kinds of topics and I can say that personally I found this one of the most useful and informative classes I’ve ever attended. I would highly recommend taking it just for the education, even if you are not planning on growing anything other than your own little backyard garden.

On a side note, I’m now signed up to be an Amazon affiliate. What that means is if you click on one of the items I have links to on the right side of the screen you will be taken to Amazon with the TSL Urban Farm affiliate code. You don’t have to purchase the book or item, anything you put in your cart and purchase after clicking through will generate a small percentage of the purchase price that will go towards maintaining the tinysustainablelife.com site and also my TSLUrbanFarm.com site that is currently in the process of being built. It doesn’t cost you any extra to shop on Amazon that way and it will go towards site fees so please think about clicking through and helping the site out with the purchases that you were going to make anyway.

Have you taken a food safety course in your area? What other classes have you taken that you have found informative or useful? I’d be interested to find out what other folks are doing.

Food Safety and K-State University

Several weeks ago Miss Mercy forwarded a link to me about an upcoming Food Safety class being put on by the K-State Research and Extension department. Because I’m starting to get the infrastructure in place for TSL Urban Farms it sounded like a good opportunity to find out more about the laws regarding Food and Sale of Produce in the State of Kansas, so I paid my $20 and signed up.

For those of you who might be interested in history each state has a Land-grant university. The Morrill Act of 1862 allowed the States to sell off land and fund universities to perform agricultural and mechanical research. Kansas State University, or K-State as it’s commonly called, was the very first Land-Grant college and was established on February 16, 1863, and opened on September 2, 1863 (see Kansas does have some firsts that are worth noting)!

Anyway, K-State, through their Research and Extension office does outreach, education and training for the community and one of the things they do is put on classes for Food Safety. The location for the class I was attending was about an hour away from where we live and it started at 8 am so I got up, feed our ridiculous animals (two dogs, three cats and a hedgehog in case I haven’t mentioned them before) and as quietly as I could (it was Miss Mercy’s day off) left the house and headed towards the K-State Extension campus in Olathe, Ks. K-State’s main campus is in Manhattan, KS (also called the “Little Apple”) but like a lot of universities they have satellite campuses in several different cities.

The drive was uneventful, which is the way I like it, and when I got to the campus I was impressed with the Olathe campus. Very modern with lots of glass and open space and a pond/small lake with flowing rapids on the grounds. I went to a nice university but clearly there have been some updates to some facilities since I went to school. When I walked in I started to make my way up to the second floor. Perhaps because I was quite a bit older than the average student with a backpack and in the  school way early (or maybe because I was trying to walk up the stairs via a magnificent stairway that turned out to lead to the locked administrative offices) I got to have a brief discussion with the security guard. It turned out the instructors had changed the classroom location and he had not seen the memo so once we confirmed  everything was properly documented he pointed me in the right direction and I made it to the classroom.

When I got to the class it turned out to be a fairly small turn out. I’m told the typical class size is 20-30 people and for some reason we only had 7 people signed up for ours and two did not make it, so we had the best student / instructor ratio I have ever had in a formal class. Three instructors, one instructor auditing and five students. As you might expect the attendees were a diverse bunch as were the instructors. There was a gentleman in his 80’s who had started growing and selling produce in a Kansas City farmers market when he turned 70, a middle-aged lady who was the marketing and web person for the older farmer, an employee of a local orchard, a community garden organizer, and of course, your humble narrator and start-up Urban Farmer.

The lead instructor came from a generational farming background and the other two instructors were from the academic side of things, including one who had flown in from Texas and had to buy a winter coat at a local store because she had not expected Kansas to be cold. The auditing instructor happened to be Miss Mercy’s boss in from the Topeka K-State Extension office but because I was trying be low-key so I didn’t mention that initially to anyone.  When I’m in a class I’m there to learn and so it’s possible I have, on occasion, driven a few discussions towards things that might be more specific to my situation than generic or occasionally gotten into a “spirited” discussion about this or that. I was willing to let MMB (Miss Mercy’s Boss) disavow any knowledge or acquaintance with me but she was too nice to go that route  and at one point she did volunteer that my wife worked for her. I hope I didn’t embarrass her too much.

I didn’t really know what to expect from the class, I was figuring a few handouts and some lecturing – boy was I mistaken. At each desk location was a thick three-ring binder, a clipboard, notepad, highlighters, pens and handouts. Turns out we were about to take an actual, fire-hose of information, eight hour class..

Mother Earth News Fair – Kansas

For those of you who might now be tired of the Mad Farmer’s adventure in Montana we will go ahead and shift topics for a bit to the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, KS. If you are not familiar with Ogden Publications they are a publishing company based in Topeka, Ks. They publish magazines like GRIT, Mother Earth News, Mother Earth Living, Capper’s Farmer, UTNE and several others. They have been proponents of homesteading,  green living and regenerative agriculture for a lot of years and possibly one of the best kept secrets in Kansas. Ogden Publishing shouldn’t be a secret of Kansas but we’re considered a “fly-over state” so some of the really cool things that do go on here seem to get overlooked by some of the snobbier states (take notice Oregon and Washington, it’s not just you greening up the desert anymore)!

Anyway, the Mother Earth News Fair is a homesteading, back-to-nature, gardening, beekeeping, sustainable-living jamboree of vendors, presenters and small business folks that get together to put on a event several times a year in various locations around the country. Currently there are six fairs a year and Ogden Publications started having one in their own hometown in 2014. It looked interesting and it was local so we attended the first one they had in Topeka, Ks and had a great time.

As near as I can remember the Mother Earth News Fair, speakers and topics being presented is how I got into being interested in Permaculture and sustainable living. Jessi Bloom, author of “Free-Range Chicken Gardens” and “Practical Permaculture” (an excellent book) was there, Joel Salatin, author of “Everything I Want to Do is Illegal” and “The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer”  was a keynote speaker, Rosemary Gladstar, herbalist extraordinaire and many others were at the fair giving presentations on tons of homesteading and sustainable living topics.

It’s hard to believe that I blogged about the last fair only a year ago. A lot of the bloggers and podcasters I follow have had dozens if not hundreds of articles and podcasts in that time. I’ve posted far fewer than that and hope to be better and more consistent going forward. So, moving down memory lane to the present this year’s fair came the weekend after I got back from Montana. Having just spent several days with some pretty awesome innovators I was pretty stoked to attend the fair when I got back. An added bonus was that Uncle Mud was going to be there with his family presenting on a number of topics.

Miss Mercy (the most tolerant, long-suffering , Mad Farmer’s wife on the face of the planet) and I were hoping to get together with Uncle Mud and family prior to the show  (okay, it was really just me hoping) but they were late getting in so I didn’t to get to see him until his early Saturday presentation.

Wheaton Labs and the Fisher Price House

Our second day of the tour started at what Paul and Jocelyn call the “Fisher Price House”. The Fisher Price House (FPH for short) is a double-wide mobile home that has been basically permanently installed on a granite slab that was cleared in the side of a mountain. It’s mostly made of plastic and chemicals, hence the moniker FPH. Paul also calls it “an air-tight baggie” because all of the doors, windows and joints are sealed so tight there is almost no air-flow in the house.

There was quite a bit of discussion while I was there about how homes should “breathe” and how after years of mandating minimum levels of insulation and tightening up on home regulations the government finally got some studies done that showed there really should be a minimum rate of air exchange to keep people in structures healthy and reversed their policies. All of that was mostly an aside, the air-flow discussions primarily centered around the effect of proper air-flow and draw to keep Rocket Mass Heaters working correctly.

There is a beautiful proof of concept Rocket Mass Heater in the FPH.

FPH Rocket Mass Heater

The barrel on this RMH is made of stainless steel and is really quite striking. The thing about this RMH that makes it special is it is the first “pebble style” RMH build. For those not familiar the “Mass” in Rocket Mass Heaters is used to store the heat produced by the system and release it slowly over time, that is part of what makes them so efficient. Typically the mass is made out of Cob, which is a mixture of sand, clay, straw and water. In a pebble style heater the mass is primarily large-ish rocks that are surrounded by pebble size rocks contained in a wooden frame. Paul’s also has a granite top to the mass “bench” so it also looks very nice and is useful at the same time. I’ve been told in the winter they put their clothes drying racks above the bench (Permaculture function stacking at it’s best)!

When Paul, Donkey and Ernie Wisner built the FPH RMH (how’s that for acronyms?) they originally tired venting it out the wall, just to see if it could be done. It turns out it can, but it did not draw well on cold days. They re-routed the chimney through the roof, as is typical with most wood stoves, and that did the trick. Paul figures that his pebble style bench and the stainless steel barrel make this stove about 30% less efficient in actual heat generation and retention than a cob style with a normal metal barrel but he still typically only runs it a few hours every couple of days in the middle of a Montana Winter.

We spent a bit of time in the house, firing up the Rocket Mass Heater, and discussing design tricks and I can personally attest that it didn’t take long for the room to be cozy and it stayed that way long after the fire was out.

Wheaton Labs Ants, Oehler and Base Camp

Paul Wheaton has an several on-going experiments about building community through natural building, shared ideals and the limitless possibilities of Permaculture. One of Paul’s on-going experiments is Ant Village. Ant Village originally started out as  the Ant Challenge where a minimum of six “Ants” would pay a minimal amount of rent for a one acre plot for a year. The Ants would have access to all the rest of his property to use for resources to build their own shelters, gardens, graze livestock and anything else they would like to do within a certain set of parameters of the challenge. The parameters included no “off-site” commuter jobs, no paints, toxic chemicals or insecticides and using natural methods as much as possible for building and heating.

As I understand it the people participating were called ants based on the “Ants vs. Grasshopper” parable. The reward for winning the challenge, which was basically who had the most complete, livable plot after a year, would get a “deep roots” package which is basically lifetime rent on the acre and continued access to all the other property.  Structures could be wofati’s, or other natural building styles approved by Paul. One of the Ants who has since moved along built a Mike Oehler-style structure.

Oehler-Style Cabin

The cabin is cozy inside, probably less than 200 sq. feet,  more like a tiny house. The bunk is right up against the ceiling, pretty narrow and requires some acrobatics and the ladder leaning against the wall to get to bed – I would probably do something different, but I’m considerably older and less agile than the person that built it.

Oehler Cabin Inside

There is a tiny wood stove inside, that Paul approved with reservations because he was told that it would be replaced with a Rocket Mass Heater.

Wood Stove of Death

Apparently it heats the space okay but it doesn’t hold any heat and the design of the stove is not really intended for extended use. Personally I think I would have it out of there pretty quick, but in the interest of full disclosure, I probably would have gone with a different design for the whole project. That being said, it was built by hand, by mostly one person and I have yet to do anything quite that elaborate in round wood timber framing so, “kudos to you” Ant Who Built the Oehler cabin.

Later that evening the participants of the tour gathered at Base Camp for a Pot Luck meal that featured Jocelyn’s “Spaghetti Flavored Cake” (that’s lasagna to the uniformed) that was fantastic and side dishes and bits and bobs that were provided by the folks who attended.  Arlo and Jenn, a couple who are homesteading in the Washington area cooked up a fresh salmon in the Rocket Oven and it was very tasty. Overall a nice end to a long day and eventually I got a ride up to the Cooper Cabin where I was staying the rest of the trip.

Paul has recently changed his policy on the Ant Village tying it closer to his bootcamp program. You can read about that here.

Wheaton Labs Tour Willow Feeders and Stuff

So at Wheaton Labs they encourage you to do your number one “bidness” anywhere on the property to return the nitrogen and minerals back to the environment. They also ask that you eat organic or better especially while you are on property for myriad and various reasons that you can look up on their website at permies.com. For your other functions there are multiple locations on the property that have various different types of “willow feeders”.

Willow Feeder

The concept behind the willow feeders is that willow trees and cottonwoods love excess nitrogen. After human byproducts are stored long enough to kill all the pathogens the remaining composted nutrients left behind are still too “hot” to put around most plants and most people have a natural aversion to composting in the garden with human waste (even though that was the practice in Asia for thousands of years and still is on-going but that is a discussion for another time).  Turns out however that willows and cottonwoods will take as much of that kind of stuff as possible and turn it into oxygen and wood and such.

So the “willow feeders” at the Labs are more efficient than an outhouse and I can personally attest that they don’t smell and they are very clean. I’ve probably used more out-houses and porta-potties over my lifetime than most  folks and I can tell you personally that the willow feeders are way more civilized than anything else of that nature that I have ever used.  The biggest hassle factor is having to get mostly dressed if the weather is not good to use them.

We also got to take a look at a project that was built by a couple that was staying in the tipi. Yep, you read that right, Paul has a tipi on his property that is available for rent and contains a rocket mass heater.

It’s a full size tipi and has a rocket mass heater and circular thermal mass bench inside. Paul told us the first year it was on a property a couple stayed in it over the winter. One morning they got up, put on their outdoor clothes, came out side and found out it was 25 degrees below zero! Inside they said they had the Rocket Mass Heater going the previous day and when they got up it felt like 50 – 55 degrees out. They were shocked by the outside temp. And that was in an uninsulated tipi with canvas walls. Pretty amazing stuff!

Anyway, while the couple was staying onsite they wanted to practice their round wood timber framing skills so in their own time they built a skiddable “bee hut”.

Bee Hut

There are a lot of black bears in the area and black bears love honey, so they added a solar panel and an electric fence around the structure that is powerful enough to discourage bears without permanently hurting them. The straw bales you see around the hive are in preparation for the coming winter to help the bees maintain the temperature in the hive and make it easier on them. It also cuts down on the wind and the roof cuts down on the rain and snow. Bees typically maintain their hive temperature in the 90 to 95 degree range all year round so cutting down on wind, rain helps a lot.

We then moved on to the allerton abbey wofati.

Allerton Abbey

Allerton Abbey was to be the primary focus of the upcoming Natural Builders week and there were some really cool people coming into work on that and I will cover that in a future post. On this day I got to fire up the Batch Box style Rocket Mass Heater that was in the abbey. It appears the trick to successfully starting any Rocket heater or stove is to start a small fire in the back to warm the heat riser and then build the fire more towards the front (batch box) or add more wood to the infeed (J-Tube) once the unit is drawing well. If you don’t, you’ll get smoke (and Paul will explain why that is bad and look at you funny).

Batch Box Rocket Mass Heater

This particular heater is built with a glass top from a regular stove so you can see the fire and uses a pyrex casserole dish lid as the fire feed door. Without a door on these style Rocket Mass Heater/Stoves they are not finished and will not operate properly – that is one of Paul’s biggest pet peeves with this style. People start building, don’t finish or build it wrong, then say “Rocket Mass Heaters don’t work”. They do work but this style build is not for the novice, so it’s recommended you do others before you tackle this type.

I will say you could see the fire through the glass cook top and it was wild to watch it burn sideways, then roll towards the center of the chamber in elongated tubes like sideways fire tornadoes. Erica Wisner explains  about Fire Science on their website and she also has a booklet called “The Art of Fire” that you can purchase that is super informative and interesting about how fire behave in various environments and conditions. I learned a lot by seeing all of the different Rocket Mass Heaters and Stoves and I am super glad I made the trip.

 

Wheaton Labs Tour Cooper Cabin

Paul’s property certainly has it’s share of beauty and charm. The area where the labs are located is somewhat on the side of a mountain, at least that’s what people from Kansas would call it, maybe in Montana it’s a big hill? A portion of it overlooks a steep slope down to a river and on the mornings I was there the mist and fog as you came out of Cooper Cabin was surreal and quite an experience.

Anyway, the tour continued with a visit to the interior of Cooper Cabin.

Cooper Cabin Interior

The front wall of the cabin has mostly glass so there is a lot of light coming in. The floor is finished in wood, although Paul hopes that eventually that will be converted to a Linseed Oil floor. I need to do more research on that – anyone familiar with that type of floor?

Batch Box Style Rocket Mass Heater and Cooktop

There are actually two experimental Rocket Mass devices in the cabin. The first is a Batch Box style Rocket Cook Stove.  Batch Box RMH’s have a door and have a different internal configuration for gas pathways and such. Paul is not a huge fan because they are not as simple as a “J-Tube” type (we’ll get to that in a moment) and typically require more “fiddling” to run well. If you are interested in listening to experts discuss it there is a podcast here.

The second is what would be considered a “normal” J-Tube style Rocket Mass Heater with a Cob Bench providing the “mass”.

Rocket Mass Heater

They are called “J-Tube” style because the wood feeds in vertically in the front (you can see the fire and wood feed towards the bottom of the picture above) and the burn chamber inside runs horizontally and then connects to an insulated vertical heat riser contained inside the barrel in the picture above. It is really a trip to watch flame burn sideways along the bottom of the burn chamber. The whole burn chamber is encased in cob and there is exhaust pipe that goes all through the bench to heat up the mass. Rocket Mass Heaters if running correctly burn between 1200 and 2300 degrees, burning up all the smoke, creosote and everything else combustible and then releasing some CO2 and water vapor that vents out the chimney.

The heater pictured above is in Erica and Ernie Wisner’s Rocket Mass Heater Builder’s Guide which is probably the most definitive guide on Rocket Mass Heaters currently available.

 

Wheaton Labs Tour

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Paul Wheaton and Wheaton Labs his property is divided into two parts – “Base Camp” where the current home and shop is located and “Wheaton Labs” which is a larger section of property where the Ant Village (we’ll cover that soon, I promise) and a lot of the other experimental structures are located. He calls it the Lab to make sure everyone remembers that the goal here is to experiment and prove concepts, not necessarily to churn out a finished product.

After the Pizza Party there was a bit of a mix-up on Friday night about where I would be bunking and Jocelyn graciously extended an offer to me to sleep the first evening on the couch in the Fisher Price House (they call it that because it’s a double-wide trailer made mostly of plastic) which I happily accepted. I helped her and Chef Ron with the dishes from the party and ended up turning in fairly late. Due to the time zone change and the length of my trip I had no trouble getting to sleep almost instantly.

I found out the next morning that Paul and Jocelyn tend to get up around 5:30 am. Paul was very kind and was being quiet in an attempt to let me sleep in. It  turns out that Paul’s version of attempting to “be quiet” is quite adorable for a 6′ 4″ large man although it’s not actually very quiet. I appreciated the effort but the early wake-up was fine because I was excited to be up and start the day. The tour and the chance to see and play with all the Rocket Mass Heaters I had been reading about was why I drove to Montana in the first place.

Chef Ron, one of the tour participants, had come in the day before from Washington and helped Jocelyn prep everything for the pizza party. Chef Ron really outdid himself making a breakfast casserole with the leftovers and making homemade biscuits to boot. He told me he had never been in Jocelyn’s kitchen prior to the day before but he had found everything he needed almost immediately. I figured that was a) because Jocelyn rocks as a cook and a person and b) he’s a chef, and people who cook tend put things they use the most nearest where they use them. After breakfast the group of tour participants gathered together and carpooled in various vehicles up to the Lab area.

The first thing we saw when we arrived at the first Lab location was the Cooper Cabin.

WOFATI
Cooper Cabin

Cooper Cabin is a WOFATI which stands for Woodland Oehler Freaky-Cheap Annual Thermalized Inertia structure. The Oehler stands for Mike Oehler who was a designer of underground earth houses who recently passed away. Mike was the author of the $50 Dollars and up Underground House Book and apparently quite a character based on the stories Paul was telling all weekend.

The WOFATI is designed to store heat in the summer and release it in the winter, maintaining a year round temperature without heating or cooling the structure. The Cooper Cabin is not completely finished but very close and Paul is hoping to have someone or a couple of someones live in the structure for year to document the conditions and prove that it works. If you are interested in helping out with that project let me know or contact Paul at Permies.com and let him know you want to be involved in the Thermal Inertia test.

The next project we looked at was the skiddable Wood Shed.

Wood Shed

The wood shed was built as a place to store boards they have milled with their portable saw mill. Recently sawed green lumber needs to dry for a considerable period of time before being used in structures to prevent shrinkage. There is a style of building using green logs, called Round Wood Timber Framing, that actually takes advantage of the shrinking to tighten the joints of a build but that’s a topic for another post. The Wood Shed was built by a novice builder as their first natural timber build and it’s not perfect but it does the job.

We then got a look at Paul’s Solar Leviathan.

Solar Leviathan

The Solar Leviathan is a portable solar charging station that has multiple solar panels mounted on a frame built onto a trailer that Paul’s brother welded together. The wheels look out of whack because the type of suspension they built has both wheels in a kind of floating frame, attached to a axle to allow for being driven over rough terrain. The solar inverter and batteries are contained inside the trailer making it a completely self-contained mobile power station. Very, very, cool, especially if you are off-grid and want to run an electric chainsaw, charge up your cellphone and have lights in a wofati cabin at night.

The next structure we looked at was the Canning Kitchen.

Canning Kitchen

The canning kitchen is a skiddable structure (skiddable means it’s designed to be hooked up with chains to a vehicle of some type and dragged to a new location) built to make canning in the summer more bearable by performing all the heated operations outside. All the blue food grade barrels you see in the picture are for water storage and the kitchen sink on the lower right side of the picture has a manual foot pump that allows for running water.

The structure is designed with an open bay (lower right side) that you can insert a module unit into depending on what you need. When used as a canning kitchen they can put a Rocket Mass Stove for heating water into the bay or they can put the Rocket Mass Oven into the bay and use the shelves for food prep. The structure is about 65-80 percent finished but is certainly usable.