Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mountain High - Home Sweet Tent

I did the whole build manually. Here I am clearing the site and the scary 70' tall overhanging pine tree I'm chopping on here.  That's the biggest tree I've ever dropped and I did it with my great great grandaddy Hunt's axe.  The generations in my family flowed so quickly for a few generations that I actually got to attend Grandaddy Hunt's 100th birthday party when I was almost 20!  Can you imagine?  Nice axe; so glad to have it.  Cleared the whole site with it.

Here's my pro crew knocking out the decking on a fine day in late March in Ellijay, GA.

I had to crack the whip a bit more than I like (and their skin is so tender at that age), but those kids finally got the front porch decked so we could all have a proper look at our little mountain forest.  We have 2.34 acres (almost a hectare) of southeast-facing suntrap.  The road in is also the ridgeline of the local landform, so we get some sun over the back of the land too.  I think a small summer veggie plot will do nicely up there.  We're thinking about building a dam (one day) along the bottom property line to try to get a small pond going down below the house and workshop.

There it is, in all its glory.  Not fully adjusted and strapped down yet, but finally erect.  The poles for the internal frame were a lot more than Davis Tent and Awning quoted - $200 instead of $70! - but we got it done.  Still need to trim the deck edges, brush a linseed oil/beeswax finish into the floor, tack a 1x4 strip around the sod cloth at the bottom to seal up the edges and keep the legs of the tent on the deck, where they belong, and then move in!  Shouldn't take too long to do that;)

There's the crew, celebrating a little, after 8 long days of hard work.  Hopefully they are getting rested up for all the cob work ahead of us over the next few years.  We've got several volunteers pledged to help mix mud and build, but please come on out to help if you want!  There will be plenty of easy, one-day building sessions coming up if you want to check out cob cottage construction, (or maybe prefer to help me design and plant a bit of our food forest).  Our first two cob projects look to be a chicken coop/fortress and a garden wall out front to hide the tent from the only neighbor.  We're hoping to get a good decade of service from this structure, and plan to use it as our herb shop and guest quarters after we move out.  The light inside is incredible; I hope artists (or houseplant lovers!) are cashing in on such inexpensive and well-lit studio space.  We've got about $3500 total invested so far, not counting the cost of the land.

They say that the best way to insulate the tent is to tie the rain fly off a few inches higher than the roof of the tent.  I'm going to have to get some longer ropes or wires to tie off the downslope side, and I'm trying to stack a grape trellis into the design.  Muscadine grapes are the dominant plant species right below the tent, where I need to tie off, so why not grow grapes there?  This little bit of firewood I cut up with a small gas chain saw, but other than that, everthing was done with muscle power.  I felt really great, and really strong, after several days of manual labor with my axe, handsaw, post-hole diggers, and hammer.  I was already selling my electric tools, but now I'm actually thinking about selling my gas-powered ones as well.  I don't really enjoy working with them anymore, and I love the peace and rhythm of hand tools.  Just have to scale back our activity a bit.

Pretty minimal impact on the landscape.  I did buy the deck lumber from a big box hardware store since we were in such a hurry to set up base camp, living in both south Georgia and north Georgia at once, and preparing for a huge farmers market season with at least 10 times the market exposure we had last year.  But we'll try our best to make up for it with our lifestyle - no electricity except for battery powered devices we can charge off the car or a small solar charger, like the laptop I'm writing on now.  All water will be used at least twice, not a drop wasted.  I'll be carrying our drinking and cooking water up from the creek (about 1/4 mile away and 200 vertical feet below our camp site) to pour through the Berkey Light Water Filtering cooler we just bought today from Lehman's.  Woo-hoo!  You can pour raw mud puddle water into it and get better quality drinking water out than most people in the U.S. have access to, and the U.S.-made replaceable filter is supposed to be good for about two years, assuming you're not pouring raw mud puddle water into it every time.  Also ordered a two-burner propane cast-iron cook top, and a tiny washing machine that works sort of like a salad spinner. 
And so the next chapter begins with a giant tent on a wooden platform in the forest southeast of Ellijay, Georgia, with gravity-fed, sun-warmed water, solar oven local grass-fed pot roast, a family of four nutty permies, a bunch of fruit trees, four meat rabbits, seven laying hens, and a calico cat named Wednesday.


  1. What kind of income to you anticipate from such a small piece of land? will you need to supplement with outside work??

  2. I suppose that has as much to do with expectations as anything. Over the last four years Jessica and I have dropped our cost of living considerably, despite the addition of two children, so our needs are pretty modest compared to most. This is another giant step toward simplicity for us, so we expect to get that cost down even more. We make our living buying and foraging herbs and making medicines and healthy household cleaners and soaps, so we could do it in a studio apartment in the city if we had to, but the two plus acres are for building a family food forest that will provide us with most of our food, and hopefully a steadily increasing percentage of our income too. I can produce a lot of the inputs we need in our business but it will take some time to get there.

    But honestly, I think if the right business is engaged in on the right piece of land, 2.34 acres would be more than enough to make a decent living, even for people with more "normal" expectations from the planet.

  3. Thanks for the response Tripp. I've been reading as much as I can about sustainable living permaculture etc lately and it has really struck a cord. My main concern has been to be able to provide for my two young ones (2 1/2 and 7 mos) I was under the impression that anything less than 5 acres wont do much. Which seemed like alot considering where I come from (southern Greece) anything over 10 is considered alot of land. I really enjoy your blog and following your journey. Keep it up.

  4. Hey K80, an old permaculturalist in Washington state once told me that 2 acres should be more than enough to feed, warm, and provide income for a family of four. Working with intensive permaculture systems for the past 3 or 4 years, I would agree with him. I'm not sure our land is ideal; it's 100% heavily wooded, with barely a sunny patch for a few tomatoes. But from an ecological perspective, the stage is completely set. All I have to do is study and listen to the landscape, and not screw it up. Drop a big hickory tree here, inoculate the stump and trunk with good mushrooms, and plant a pecan in its place. Take out a wild cherry, add back an improved variety of sweet cherry. Replace a dogwood hassled by anthracnose with a Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas). Plant improved blueberries amongst the existing huckleberries for larger yields, more diverse blackberries along the forest edge at the road where the natives are already growing. And of course comfrey and kitchen herbs everywhere!

    Yeah, I think even half an acre managed correctly would pretty much feed the three of you. Thanks for stopping in! And best wishes on your journey.

  5. I've been looking for that kind of information for a long time. Thanks Tripp. I remember listening to a Mollison interview stating that about 12 trees can satisfy the needs of a family. I figure that you can have 12 trees on a quarter acre ya??

  6. When we did reforestation projects in Florida we planted trees at a rate of 200/acre. Probably a bit tight for a food forest, but I think you can see from that that an acre is a lot of land when you get right down to it! On our 1/4 acre urban plot in middle Georgia I planted a dozen or so fruit trees the first spring, with plans to add many more...in our half acre multi-use garden/orchard in south Georgia I planted 115 woody fruit-bearing perennials - blueberries, blackberries, kiwis, pineapple guava, grapes, figs, olives, pears, peaches, etc, etc - as soon as last frost rolled around. Western cultivated efficiences are actually nothing of the sort...permaculture has so much more to offer! All our best.