Suspended Animation

Many of you have been asking in the past several weeks for updates on the yurt and yurt life. However, there hasn’t much to update you about!  Living in the yurt is still very much like glorified camping. The interior hasn’t changed too much, and I’m still too embarrassed by all of the stuff spilling out of boxes to post real pictures of the interior.  I have been living in a kind of suspended animation since the end of September for several reasons. Nonetheless, I can give you a small idea of what living in the yurt has been like.

Our yurt exterior. We are in a beautifully wooded area, the neighbors are fairly close, but it’s okay for now!

You see, the transition between summer and fall is busy for a farmer/teacher. I have had one day fully off out of the last 2.5 weeks. Even though I am not farming or teaching as much as I did last year, and the days haven’t been very long, I’m still pretty exhausted after work. After spending a day doing mostly physical labor or activities, I am left very unmotivated to build or organize or unpack boxes that have no place to be unpacked to anyhow.

Furthermore, Evan has been out of town for three (you read that correctly–THREE) weeks. As a fairly independently minded woman and Farmgirl, I shouldn’t let this get in my way…but I really haven’t felt like doing much in the ways of home improvement on my own. We should be doing it together. Plus, with this little babe in me I should stay away from heavy lifting and being around a lot of building materials.

The biggest improvement we’ve had in the last several weeks is the installation of our woodstove. It is an old Blaze King Princess and it is okay. It is really large, and we have had to install it in the middle of the yurt as the yurt dome has a ring pre-installed for a chimney. Like most things, it took about three times longer than we thought it would to install the chimney and stove pipe and all that good stuff. Luckily, everything was finished exactly 36 hours before the first snow fall. Even more luckily–it hasn’t snowed since and the temps have stayed mostly in the forties.

This is very similar to our Blaze Princess, but ours is in a bit better shape.

I have slowly been getting used to using the wood stove. Do any of you rely on wood heat for your homes? I’m making the realization that I very much want a supplementary heat source. The heat from the woodstove is great when it’s burning, but coming home late night to a cold yurt is no fun. Also, if the stove must be  stoked in the middle of the night to keep any semblance of a fire going until morning. This is fine, since I will soon be up many times during the night anyhow!

I’ve learned a lot about wood and woodstoves over the past several weeks. For one, I’ve learned that the woods native to Alaska aren’t very good for burning in woodstoves. We have primarily spruce and birch. Spruce is really bad for a stove, and birch isn’t the best. They both are pretty dirty burners, and spruce is excessively smokey, so we will have to clean our chimney often. Since I am really paranoid about a chimney fire, I’m thinking we will have to clean the chimney about once every two or three weeks until we get an idea of what the creosote build up is really like. This will be a fun skill to learn.

We plan on cutting our own wood in the future, but, as many of you know, wood must ben seasoned before it will burn properly. The general rule of thumb is that wood be cut and seasoned for at least a year before burning it. Since we don’t have wood pre-cut for this year, we have had to rely on buying wood from sellers in the area. I was told by several people that Alaskan wood sellers are notorious for selling wet and green wood; and I’m sorry to say that this has proven to be true. We had two cords of wood delivered the other day. It doesn’t seem very green, but a lot of it felt like it had been sitting in a lake for a few days.

I’ve also learned that we will need about four cords of wood to make it through the winter. A cord turns out to be WAY bigger in person than it was in my imagination. 4 by 4 by 8 feet didn’t sound like that much, but since we are stacking the wood in alternating rows (to help dry it out faster) it takes up a lot of space. The two cords we have procured take up almost the entire wood shed space. Perhaps we can create a new wood pile that will block off the neighbor dogs that love to bark at anything that looks like it could move…

Our cords look bigger than this, I swear.

In other yurt news, we will soon be working on the interior design and construction of the yurt. We have been drooling over the loft construction found at this tiny house blog: http://tinyhouseblog.com/yurts/yurt-living-in-upstate-new-york/ And we will be making ours soon. Evan was home for two days between his weeks away, and we went to pick up some rough cut lumber for interior paneling. it is local spruce that was downed from beetle kill, so it’s pretty cool that we get to use it. I’ve been researching natural stains for the wood as the warnings on the cans of stain at Home Depot are SCARY. That stuff can spontaneously combust! craziness. So, we I will be experimenting with some natural oxidation techniques that involve using steel wool dissolved in vinegar. Since spruce is low in tannins (which interact with the steel wool vinegar mixture) I will also be experimenting with pre-applications of black tea. Maybe I’ll try cheap red wine, too? I can’t drink it so I might as well use it for decoration! I will be sure to post pictures of the results.

We have been hesitant to purchase any real furniture for the yurt until we have it all finished on the inside. For now, we have a futon that serves as our bed and living room. We have our old, small kitchen table that, at the moment, has been taken over by dirty dishes and is serving as our “kitchen.” The only other furniture is stuff that we’ve constructed out of storage bins stacked on top of each other with plywood on top. Evan also made a little coffee table out of plywood and small rounds from trees that were removed from the yurt site. It’s all pretty measly and slightly pathetic…but it will be okay for a couple more weeks. I don’t know if I can handle it for much longer than that!! This is the only real picture of the yurt interior that we have…

The yurt kitchen. Don’t worry, the Jack isn’t for me. It is a remnant of a bachelor party that Evan attended. Do you notice our lovely shelving system made of boxes? How about the fuel for our camping stove that we use to cook on?

A typical day in the yurt looks something like this:

  • Wake up in fairly cold yurt. Make fire if planning to stay more than an hour.
  • Boil hot water on Jetboil camp stove if planning to have tea or hot cereal.
  • Grab milk from cooler outside (we don’t have a fridge yet).
  • Make and eat breakfast.
  • Go to work or library at the farm to work on thesis.
  • If coming home before 9–make a fire and relax for a bit.
  • If coming home after 9–make fire and go to sleep.
  • Stoke fire at about 2 if I wake up.

I’ve been showering at friends houses for the time being, as we don’t have a bathroom set up yet, and I have been doing most of my eating and cooking at school or work. Again, this is all okay for now, but I’m very much looking forward to having a home to do all of this in! The yurt mostly feels like a place to sleep right now more than anything else. This will change soon, and I can’t wait to share those improvements with you!

The farming season ended on Monday with our final CSA, I have been given the luxury of only teaching one day per week through October, and Evan will be home for good on Saturday! The yurt progress will pick up quickly from here on out.

I hope to have more exciting updates for you in two weeks! Until then fellow farmgirls, take care of yourselves and share any tips you have for living with a wood stove!

Sending you peace and love,

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl

Leave a comment 7 Comments

  1. Theresa says:

    Check out Permies.com for information on rocket stoves that are easy to build, can use way less fuel, store and release heat over a long period of time, releases far fewer greenhouse gasses, can double as furniture and will be far safer then a conventional stove for your little one to be around, also it does not have to occupy the center of your yurt. In all it can save you a lot of future work. Paul Wheaton is the guy with info. I know you’ve invested a lot of work and $$ in what you’ve done with your conventional stove. Check this out though and see if this choice could help. Good luck to you and your family.
    Theresa Z.

  2. Joan says:

    Alex, this sounds like you are a pioneering woman, a girl after my own heart, in my younger days. But I am sure the two of you will make it really nice, just some glitches along the way. When I had a cabin and a pellet/wood stove, I always had a big ole tea kettle on top – not only did it give nice humidity but the hot water was great to use for ‘hospital’ baths, washing dishes, just the thought of having hot water. I also kept a pot of cinnamon sticks in water to make the cabin smell good – it was an OLD cabin. I will keep you and your situation in my prayers and you keep the faith and chin held high. Special thoughts – God Bless.

  3. Judi Buller says:

    Hello Alex,

    I came to your blog through MaryJanesFarm newsletter, and thought I’d respond to your question about heating with a woodstove. We live in a 104-year-old farmhouse (built from a 1908 Sears catalog kit!) in Olympia, WA, and as far as I know, it has only been heated by coal or wood all these years. We bought our current woodstove twenty-eight years ago, and it’s our only permanent heat source, still works great. About twenty years ago we refinanced, and were required to install baseboard heaters, but when the inspections were done, we removed them – they were actually more of a fire hazard than the stove! Anyway, we also have issues with wet wood, so we have a rotating system: outside wood stack, then into the woodshed, then a small stack near the back door and a stack around the stove. My husband works in construction, so we get lots and lots of kiln-dried scraps, which get the fire going quickly and hot, and actually dries out wood that’s still a bit damp – but only put one or two pieces on at a time, damp wood can kill the fire!

    Light woods, such as fir and alder, dry out faster, and are good for getting the fire going well, and heavy woods, such as cedar and apple, work best added later, and last much longer. During the months we use the woodstove, I just make it part of my routine to check the fire every so often.

    Heating with wood is messy, so there’s more cleaning to do, but the to-the-bones warmth is so worth it! People love coming to our house, especially when the power goes out, because we stay toasty warm, and we can still cook! I raised four children here, not one of them had any injuries related to using the woodstove.

    We do have electric space heaters for occasional use in a couple of rooms that are a distance from the stove, such as the bathroom, also for those times when we need heat but aren’t available to stoke the fire, and for the ‘transition’ times of early fall and late spring, when a fire is just too much, but we need to take the chill out in the morning and evening.

    Once we put insulation into the walls and had storm windows made, we found that it was unnecessary to stoke the fire during the night – banking it well and clamping down the baffle keep it going low all night, with a good bed of coals ready to go in the morning.

    I’ve even come to enjoy clomping out to the woodshed to get a wheelbarrow load of wood to stack around the stove and near the door. Then I curl up on the couch next to the fire, with a cup of tea, and I’m in heaven. :)

  4. Meredith says:

    Hi Alex! Girl, if I were living in your yurt right now, the Jack Daniels WOULD be for me! Hee Hee! I think your yurt is really neat–would love to see it when you get it organized the way you want. My experience with woodstoves goes like ths- they are warm and toasty but the require a bunch of work. We have an indoor one we use when the power goes out, and it is a bit small. It needs fresh wood every three hours or so, which means getting up in the middle of the night, going downstairs and refilling it. I am grateful it is only used for power outages and for days like today when it is colder than normal and we just want a few hours of warmth in the evening. Thea big daddy stove lives outside and it is a relic. It is also a bit small for the size of our house, and because of its advanced age, needs wood more often than I would like, but at least will get us through most winter nights if we fill it late in the evening before bed. It will need replacing before long but the new ones are PRICEY! We wind up burning green wood too from time to time in the outdoor stove. It burns too fast, but is better than nothing.
    I guess I haven’t really given you any useful advice, but can empathize with your situation! Good luck in the coming weeks and stay warm……

  5. Deborah says:

    Hello Alex and Evan,

    I absolutely love reading your blog!and the building of the yurt is amazing. Have you ever seen the movie, "The Tail Of The Yellow Dog"? It is a beautiful movie about living the nomadic life in Mongolia and they live in a yurt. The movie itself is beautifully photographed and the chidren in the movie are absolutely adorable as well. So is the simple life they live and what the children in the movie get to experience. I wish for our children that they could even just for a moment put down all the electronics and just be…children. Even though you are going through some hardships now, you will reflect back on this time as very special and like most things in life, only come around once. To be young, positive, and living off the "grid" somewhat is all a fantastic part of your life! and with a new baby coming. How exciting! Take one day at a time and enjoy all that comes your way. You are doing a great job.

    Blessings,

    Deborah

  6. Betty J. says:

    I had a Blaze King Princess just like that one you pictured. It was in my 1000 sq ft home. Didn’t take much wood or heat to make you run and open the doors in the dead of winter. It was also lined with some sort of ceramic. I have since had it removed because my house is so small and it took up a lot of living room space.

  7. Myra Jean says:

    I am shocked that you do not have a wood stove that has a water tank to heat your tea & dishwashing water etc…
    Also the heated water tank provides warmth for the room.
    Seen Rick on Rick’s Restorations using the Steelwool & Vinegar application – I can’t wait to try it out.
    Good Luck

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