2026 to 63 – miner’s cabin in my back yard

miner's cabinI’ve been doing two things a lot lately. First, reading about what it would take to live a simpler life. Second, thinking about a project that will help me learn a little about backwoods skills and backwoods living. Since I’m a backyardsman, naturally it has to fit in my backyard. So I’ve decided to build a miner’s cabin in my backyard. I don’t want to just build it though, I want to live in it. Among other things, that means I’ll have to figure out how to deal with things like cooking, poop disposal, etc. Using the house facilities would be cheating after all…

Planning my miner’s cabin…

My miner’s cabin will offer 63 square feet of living space, 7 x 9. The dimensions are derived from my city’s building code. The largest structure I’m “allowed” to build without a building permit is 96 square feet. I figure 99 is close enough, so my roof outline will be 9 x 11 feet. Take off 6 inches for roof overhang and 6 inches for walls and I’m left with 7 x 9 feet. So there it is…

Living in 63 square feet?

I’m going from 2026 square feet to only 63. Is this even possible? At first I didn’t think so. But I found this

“The men cut trees or logs, laid them up four feet in height, mounted the tent on top for a roof, making me a comfortable 7 x 9 house.”

If you read a little more, she wasn’t living in the tiny house herself, she also had a baby. So yes, living in a 7 x 9 miner’s cabin is possible. Maybe even practical.

What do I need to live?

A better question might be what DON’T I need to live? Living in a 7 x 9 cabin means I’m going to have to cut a lot of crap of of my life. Heck, in the house just my bedroom is over twice as big as the cabin will be. So, what don’t I need? Maybe… I don’t need a bed. Beds take up a lot of room. They’re comfortable for sleeping but not for sitting. Sometimes I need to sit and I don’t have room for both a bed and a chair. So the bed goes…

I do need a way to keep warm. I need a place to keep a few books. I need food storage and a place to put my hunting gear (currently an air rifle, a rabbit stick, and some traps). A bookshelf would probably be a good idea since I love to read. A way to wash and crap without offending the neighbors might be a good idea. I can cook outside.

Building my miner’s cabin

I haven’t decided how to build my cabin yet. I’ve read a few really good articles in Backwoodsman Magazine on building with pallets, and I just ordered Building With Junk and Other Good Stuff: A Guide to Home Building and Remodeling Using Recycled Materials. It’s out of print but still easy to find. The only think I know for sure is I won’t be getting my building materials from a big box store. I want to do this the backwoodsman… err… backyardsman way. Wish me luck…

Peace out,

Backyard as Base Camp

backyard as base campDo you want to spend more time in the back woods but don’t have the time? Does limiting yourself to Backyardsman status make you wish you could be a real backwoodsman? I say you’re thinking about it the wrong way. Don’t think about being limited to your back yard. Instead, think of your back yard as base camp. If you put yourself in the right frame of mind, your backyard won’t be a limit on learning backwoods skills…

But I can’t do this in my backyard…

Obviously there are some things you can do in the back woods that you probably can’t do in your backyard. Hunting and fishing are probably out. Unless your backyard is a forest you might not be gathering fire wood. You probably also won’t be tracking wild game or finding ancient artifacts. So the back yard is a poor substitute for the back woods, right? Well, not so fast…

Things you can do in the backyard…

If you want to be a backwoodsman but you’re stuck with your backyard, the last paragraph might be depressing. It shouldn’t be. Sure there are some things you can do in the back woods that you can’t do in your backyard. When you think about it, not that many things though. For starters, in your own backyard, you can…

  • build a fire ring and practice fire starting methods
  • pitch a tent and introduce your family to camping
  • build an emergency shelter
  • build a more permanent shelter
  • practice trapping techniques (yes, even in the city)
  • practice water collection methods
  • learn how to predict weather by watching clouds
  • use your backyard as a base camp for exploring your neighborhood

I could go on but I think you get the idea. Don’t look at your backyard as your entire (non) backwoods world. It’s much bigger than that – but only if you think…

Backyard as Base Camp

The early American mountain men didn’t find some little spot of land, build a cabin, call it their own, then proceed to spend all there time in one little spot. They explored. They may have had a home base, but it was just that – a base for their explorations. I’d bet even Thoreau didn’t spend all his time in his cabin on Walden Pond.

There are lots of backwoodsman things you can do in your backyard, but so much more if you use your backyard as merely a base camp. Hike. Explore your AO (Area of Operation). Gaze at the stars. Gather plants. Learn where you can hunt or fish without driving for hours.

Permaculture for the Backyardsman?

Permaculture for the BackyardsmanWhat is Permaculture? The simple answer is “the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.” To tell the truth, I probably never would have heard the term ¬†except for this article by John Mosby. I don’t agree with all of his ideas, but if he writes about something it’s definitely worth checking out. So I decided to see if I could find an answer to this: Does Permaculture Have Anything to Offer the Backyardsman? It turned out to be easier than I thought. There is a Permaculture Meetup group right here in my town that meets twice a month. So I joined the group and went to my first Meetup with them last night.

So what is Permaculture?

The definition above is just a little oversimplified, so here is something a little more descriptive from Bill Mollison (one of the founders of the movement):

“The aim is to create systems that are ecologically-sound and economically viable, which provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute, and are therefore sustainable in the long term.”
“Permaculture uses the inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes and structures to produce a life-supporting system for city and country, using the smallest practical area.”

OK, that sounds simple enough but how do you practice Permaculture? By following and practicing the Three Ethics and Twelve Principles of Permaculture as defined by David Holmgren (the other founder of the movement).

Permaculture – First Impressions

The people at the Meetup were friendly and helpful. The problem I have is that they all advocate applying Permaculture principles to all areas of life and society. To them, gardening is just one aspect of Permaculture, and not even the most important one. Definitely far left leaning, in the 60’s hippy sort of way. I’ve found this to be a common thread in the online works on Permaculture too. Politics aside, does Permaculture have anything to offer the Backyardsman? Yes and no…

The 12 Principles of Permaculture

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
  6. Produce No Waste
  7. Design From Patterns to Details
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
  10. Use and Value Diversity
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change

Principles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 12 have obvious application to the Backyardsman. Observing and interacting is what we do. Catching and storing energy is how we cook and avoid freezing to death. Obtain a Yield? Thank you Capt Obvious… Same for applying self regulation (self discipline) and using renewable resources when possible. And of course responding to change is something that should be second nature to a Backyardsman…

Principle 6 is something worth working towards but is impossible in the real world. Principles 7, 9, and 11 are useful too, but I need more time to think about how to apply them.

That leaves Principles 8 and 10, the only two I have a problem with. They are also the two which make it easy for the left to want to apply Permaculture to society as a whole instead of just to gardening.

Permaculture for the Backyardsman

I think Permaculture does have some valuable things to offer the Backyardsman. Learning how to observe and operate in your environment are valuable life skills. Creativity and being able to respond to change are valuable too. I’m not so sure about diversity just for the sake of diversity. Well, I am sure but I don’t want to rant… Also keep in mind that many of the people you’ll be dealing with in the Permaculture community have a leftist world view. A lot of them don’t like guns. A lot of them probably think Trump voters are knuckle dragging reprobates.

The Pond

the pondI grew up in a small town on the eastern side of the Sierra Mountains. Even though it was high desert, there was lots of water. We even had a creek in our backyard. Fishing and the sound of running water are two of the best things I remember about my childhood. Hence, the need for “The Pond.” I wish the pond could look like this, but reality always hits you in the face, so I had to start out small with a half barrel pond. When I get the pond I want built, it will probably look something like this but without the fancy landscaping and woodwork.

A Backwoods Pond

If the pond is going to help bring the back woods to my backyard, it needs a few things. First, I need the sound of running water. It needs to be big enough to see from anywhere in the yard. I want it to attract wildlife. I need cattails growing in it. Finally, the pond needs to be big enough to keep some fish in. I’m not talking goldfish either – I want fish big enough to catch and eat. My half barrel pond isn’t going to cut it. We are talking about a back woods experience after all…

Designing the Pond

Based on what I want need in a backyard pond, the design is easy. I’ll need a high volume pump to circulate the water and give me that running water sound. It will have a shallow shelf around the rim for growing cattails and other wild water plants that I like. The size will be about 8 by 13 feet. That’s large enough to be noticed from anywhere in my backyard and (barely) small enough to not overwhelm the yard. Finally, the pond will need to be about 3 to 4 feet deep If I want fish. I spoke to a local water garden company and they said it’s definitely doable. To save money, I’ll dig the pond myself. After it’s dug, they will install a liner, filter, and pump, then I’ll finish it off with landscaping, plants, and fish.

A Surprise Bonus

Besides all the awesome things I talked about above, the pond will give me something else – an emergency water store. I like to be prepared for unexpected things (like city water stops working) but my wife doesn’t see the need to “waste money on stuff like that.” She about had a conniption fit when I wanted to get 30 one gallon water jugs to have in case of, you know, whatever. After all, if municipal water fails, we can always run to the store and get some then, right? Yep, us and 350,000 other people who also didn’t plan ahead. But… she’s really excited about the idea of a pond in our backyard.

Just some quick math. The pond will be sort of an oval, about 8 by 13 feet with an average depth of 2-1/2 feet. That works out to about 225 cubic feet of water. There are about 7.5 gallons in a cubic foot, so my pond will hold about 1600 gallons of emergency water. It will also support at least supplemental food sources – cattails and fish. If it is successful at attracting wildlife, that’s another food source. All of that and my wife doesn’t even realize I’m prepping. All she knows is we have a nice relaxing pond in our backyard. I call that a win-win.

Related Link(s)

How to Build a Backyard Pond

Peace out,

My New Pet

my new pet backswimmerI’m kind of limited to what I can do with my back yard, because my wife (mainly) and mom think of it as “their” back yard. Most of my suggestions get shot down by one or both of them almost immediately, while I’m expected to automatically LOVE every idea they have. So I was kind of surprised when they had an idea that I actually liked – a water feature. Instead of talking about it with them though, I quickly changed the subject. Even though I liked loved the idea of a water feature (i.e. fish pond/water storage), I knew if I let them keep talking about it they would soon tell me exactly how it would be built, where in the yard it would go, etc, but I had my own ideas…

First steps – a barrel pond

The next day (Monday) on my way to work, I stopped at Home Depot to look at pond liners. They didn’t have any, but they did have some really nice half wine barrels made from oak. All the staves were nice and tight, so I bought one and put it in the back of my truck. When I got home, I didn’t say anything to my wife about it, knowing that the next 2 days she’d be working. When I got home Tuesday afternoon, I put it in my back yard and filled it with water. There was major leaking between the staves, but I didn’t care because I was planning on either sealing it with epoxy or getting a liner. After letting the water run into it for 3 hours, it would only fill to about 4 inches below the rim. My wife would be home soon, so I watered the garden and went inside.

The next morning, enough water had leaked out that the barrel was only about half full. OK, that’s what I expected. I didn’t try to fill it because I didn’t want to wake up my wife and have her come outside to see what I was doing. When I came home for lunch (after she’d left for work), I filled the barrel again. When I got home from work that evening, some water had drained out so I filled it again and watched. This time I could get it to within 3 inches of the rim. I watered the garden and went inside to get the kitchen cleaned before my wife got home from work.

Thursday morning, the bucket was still about 3/4 full. That’s like a 50 percent improvement in just 2 days. I was pretty stoked. Thankfully, the wife was busy all day even though she was off, so she didn’t go into the back yard and notice my “pond” while I was at work (nothing like one one of those “WHAT THE F*** IS THIS???” phone calls to ruin a day at work…). She did notice it when we went outside that evening to water the garden… “What is that???” OK, I played it cool. Even though it was new, “I got it awhile ago. You know, you and mom were talking about a water feature and I saw this at Home Depot and I thought it looked cool. Besides, it’s in really good condition and it only cost $40. Walmart had some for $50 that were total pieces of crap – rusty bands and falling apart. I really like this one.” She was skeptical, but didn’t argue. In fact she agreed it was nice…

My new pet…

When I checked our pond Friday morning, the water was within 6 inches of the rim. I filled it and it went a little higher than the first time but I was in a hurry so din’t have time to measure. I also thought I saw some movement under the water but I didn’t have time to check it out. When I got home Friday evening I filled it again, and it went all the way to an inch from the rim. After it settled down, I decided to look for movement under the water and sure enough it was there – a tiny bird with wide wings flying around under water – kind of reminded me of a killdeer. Of course what it really is, is a backswimmer. The thing I don’t understand is how did he get into my pond? He didn’t come with the barrel (it was dry), and I doubt he came through the hose – no way he would have fit through the sprayer I use. So where did he come from and what is he eating?

After a week, my little pet is still in my pond. He’s not very active during the day but in the evening he likes to swim around. Lots of fun to watch and I’m grateful to have him. I just wish I could figure out how he got here.

Related links:

Fish in a barrel
How to make a mini wildlife pond