landblog/houseblog FAQ

last update February 2012
Where is your property?

I have ten acres in the foothills an hour north of Spokane, and a house in the city.

How did you pick your location?

My style is to go with the flow and work with what comes easily. When I got an opportunity to buy land at the top of a watershed with a year-round spring for a low price, near my long Spokane housesits, I took it. Later, when I had enough money to buy a house, I decided to stay in Spokane close to my land. I grew up in eastern Washington, so I like the climate. Also the people are friendly, housing is cheap, and it's relatively safe from disasters. If I had unlimited money, I'd probably get a house in Portland and land in the Willamette Valley.

Are you homesteading your land?

People don't ask this, but often assume it because of powerful cultural myths. When I first bought the land I thought I was going to build a cabin and live there, but I eventually figured out that rural homesteading is not for me. The closer you get to total self-sufficiency, the harder you have to work, and the farther you get from it, the more time you have to spend driving into the city to buy stuff and make money. In practice, you're likely to do too much work and too much driving, while also being too socially isolated. Homesteading is for people who don't mind any of these.

I'm now calling the land a dacha, a Russian word for a place in the country that supplements a main residence in the city. Most of my attention is now focused on my house in Spokane, where I can see other people, get on the internet, and ride my bike to the food co-op. The land is still good for summer camping, growing large trees, observing nature, harvesting firewood, possibly hunting deer, and bugging out in an emergency.

Would you ever have a community on your land?

To build a community that produces most of its own food, tools, and energy, and is large enough to meet the social needs of the members, is a massive project far beyond my resources and acreage. There might be room up there for enough cabins to house 20 people, but then 20 people have to either be independently wealthy introverts, or drive into town every day.

What I might consider is adding a few owners to my land, through some kind of land trust or cooperative. That way other people would help take care of it, and maybe I could eventually get away with not owning a vehicle.

How did you build your hut?

It's an ellipse with walls a foot thick, ten by nine feet on the outside and seven by eight on the inside. The walls are "cobwood", which means wood stacked up like firewood, with the gaps filled by cob. Cob is a mixture of sand, clay, and straw. It's difficult in my region to find clay. Cob can last hundreds of years if it doesn't get soaked with water. So you need high foundations and wide roof overhangs.

People who are interested in handmade shelter think too much about walls, and not enough about foundations and roofs. The hut roof is metal that I bought new, over tarpaper, plywood, commercial lumber rafters, and beams from native trees. The foundation is broken concrete stuck together with fresh concrete, and I should have built it twice as high.

For more information, see my cobwood hut project page.

Are you going to build a cabin?

I've learned that the only way I can get anything done is to not write about it until after I've done it.

Why don't you build a yurt?

I'm skeptical of the yurt because it's such a good name. I suspect that if you could change history to switch around the names of the thousands of different indigenous structures, everyone would be building whichever one happened to be called a "yurt" -- or whichever newer structure happened to be called an "earthship". But canvas is a nice material for spring through fall, and I do usually put up a tent on a platform.

Do you use a chainsaw?

This is a hard decision. At first I bought a Husqvarna 340, but then I decided to try to cut all the wood by hand, because I prefer slow quiet work to fast noisy work, and also because chainsaws spew a lot of toxins. But then in early 2009 I found a source of Aspen 2t alkylate fuel in Vancouver, and I also did some research and discovered you can get away with food-grade canola for bar oil. So that made a chainsaw acceptable, and I've been using it to cut wood and cut down larger trees.

Are you going to make a farm and/or garden?

I have no plans to grow annuals on my land, but I'll eventually try some around my house. I'm much more interested in perennials: fruit trees, nut trees, berry bushes, and herbs.

What food-bearing perennials are you growing?

Nobody ever asks this but I like to talk about it. On my land I'm growing seven apple trees, mostly russets and crabs, four tart cherry trees, some struggling black walnuts, and also american plum, pawpaw, aronia, serviceberry, nanking cherry, sea buckthorn, goumi, jostaberry, blueberry, highbush cranberry, mountain ash hybrid, hazelnut/filbert, and blue elder. Most of them have not produced fruit yet. At my house I've planted a mulberry, a peach, an apricot, a tart cherry, aronias, raspberries, and black currants.

How much land do you have in the city?

If I say 7000 square feet, people say "wow that's big", and if I say a sixth of an acre, people say "wow that's small". The soil is ancient river bottom, dark but loaded with rocks. I made sure to get a place with good sun exposure.

Would you ever have a community in your house?

Well, it does have two bathrooms. But it's pretty small. Ideally I'd like to have one other person paying cheap rent to cover some of my expenses, and a third bedroom for guests.