As we create our homestead from scratch, our projects and goals are very heavily weighted toward building and creating infrastructure. Settled into our tiny house for the time being, our next projects include a shop and a smaller tool/garden shed. My husband Brian is our family’s builder, and he has collaborated with me on today’s post.
There is a mindset that lends itself well to homesteading, which is to look around and make best use of what is available. For instance, instead of finding a new recipe that we wish to try and purchasing the necessary ingredients to prepare a meal, we rather look first at what is growing in the garden or stored in the freezer or pantry, and then find a recipe to fit our ingredients.
What Resources Does our Land Have to Offer?
Similarly, when we began to plan a new outbuilding, a 10 x 10 foot tool shed, we could have gone directly to the lumberyard and purchased 4 x 4 pressure treated posts and lumber. But, assessing our land, we realized we had a valuable resource just sitting and waiting to be used: When the previous land owner had selectively logged larger black walnut trees, the loggers had removed the trunks for lumber, but left the crowns sitting in the woods. Many of these crowns have sections thick enough to mill into beautiful planks for interior finish work, and we’ve been also making use of them creating live-edge serving and cutting boards in our Etsy shop, Acorn Hill Handcrafts.
Other parts of the crown had lengths of branches that were too thin for milling, but that had heartwood dimensions that are 4-5 inches in diameter, and though wavered, they remained essentially straight along their length.
Incorporating Permaculture Principles
Permaculture principles provide a set of universally applicable guidelines that can be used in designing sustainable systems. These principles encourage creative thinking and building skills that help us transition from a consumer mindset to that of a producer. So, a Permaculture approach might encourage us to “Stack Functions,” or as Bill Mollison famously says, view the “Problem as the Solution.” Using these principles, we can assess what resources our land has to offer, and create a design that best utilizes these resources. In our case, we are both clearing forest debris, and using ultra-local building materials.
So, we cut some lengths of logs, hauled them out of the woods with a log arch, and started hewing the sapwood off to create roughly square dimensional posts. With reasonably good rot resistance similar to white oak, these posts will last in the ground long enough to give us a useful outbuilding or shed. If we wanted a longer- lived structure, we could install them up on piers, with appropriate shear braces added into the structure of the walls.
Making Use of On-Site Materials
Early builders often used adzes to hack or hew flat sides into logs for building. Here, I use an adze that we recently purchased at an auction, and sharpened. Basically an axe mounted at 90 degrees to the handle, an adze removes material very fast and efficiently. If we wanted a smoother surface, we could spend time smoothing with a drawknife, but we will use these logs as is. (Note the proper safe position of the front foot with upturned toe, so if the adze glances off the wood, it would only hit the sole of your boot and not your shin or ankle.)
Seeing Value in a Waste Product
In Oregon, we utilized a similar “waste product” to construct a barn for our herd of dairy goats. When clearing an old overgrown pasture, thick with alder and cherry saplings, we were left with piles of round wood. Instead of burning them in a slash pile or as firewood, we took the straightest logs and built a round-pole goat barn, and ultimately an addition on that barn. No building text would ever recommend building with structural alder, but that goat barn still stands, ten years later, and it cost virtually nothing to build, save for the cost of screws, reclaimed siding, free recycled roofing, and old windows and doors.
Applying a Permaculture mindset to building on your homestead can save resources in hauling or transporting, is cost-effective, and can produce attractive structures that blend well into your surroundings.