Back to the land...

This blog is an account of our experiences trying to homestead in Eastern Tennessee. We've bought almost ten acres with power and a well, and a small shed for the well pump. Half the land is already cleared.

This year we haul out 10 tons of trash from an old burned down home. We plant a large garden, and fruit trees, and build a compost bin specifically for humanure. We build a small pad for a gazebo up under the oaks, and begin building our house/barn, with grading, a stone foundation, a concrete stem wall, and the modified post and beam frame. Everything is done by hand. We also dig four thirty foot swales across the top of the clearing and plant the berms with blueberry. A lot of work, and a lot more to go . . .

I'll also cover the process of picking out a piece of land, the negotiation, and "where to begin?" phase, at least how it all went for us.

[YEAR 2] - We build the shell of a 16'x25' two story cabin from scratch . . . check out how it was built.

[YEAR 3] - We try to finish the cabin . . .

[YEAR 4] - I move up permanently to the property to homestead full-time . . .

[YEAR 5] - Rachel and I try to make it as homesteaders . . with a wood cook stove, dairy goats and a cow, finish the barn, expand the garden, fence pastures, plant more fruit trees, build a flock of healthy layers, grow our own animal food - in other words . . . WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK . . .

[YEAR 6]
'Homesteading in Tennessee' is now HOLDOUT FARM. Check out our new farm website. We produce premium quality raw dairy products from our fodder-fed goats, pastured eggs, organic fruits and vegetables, and offer a seasonal list of classes on Permaculture Homesteading.
.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Digging the Footers

.


Our frost line in this part of Tennessee is 6". I've heard from a few local builders that the frost line is actually only 3" - it's doubled to be safe and prepare for an extreme scenario.

However, with piers, all the weight of the building is on these specific points, instead of distributed evenly throughout a perimeter foundation. So I'm more concerned with subsidence than heave. I want to make sure the ground where I put the pier can handle the weight. I guess even if a pier began to fail at some point, I could jack up the building there and put in new piers - but that would be a big undertaking. I might as well get it right the first time.

So I dug down to hardpan. Our soil is very clayey here, and hardpan is where the clay and sand is almost as hard as rock (about like shale). It's where, even if I come down with the full force of a mattock, I only penetrate the ground about an inch.

My footers are square, 16"x16", and I hit hardpan at about 28" in depth. 26" in some places, 30" in others. Regardless of frostline, I just don't see how you could ever set a foundation on anything other than hardpan or bedrock - the ground cannot give, it must be severely compressed.

Here's a hole:


I first cut out the sod with a shovel, then began digging with a pick/mattock. Once the hole got too deep to use a pick, I jumped on the shovel. After I could no longer get the shovel out, without disturbing the walls of the hole, I went to a posthole digger. It was only after I'd drive down hard with the posthole digger, get almost no dirt, and the digger made a clunk as it struck the hardpan, that I stopped digging. I then tamped the bottom of the hole with a tamper, and put in a bucket of gravel, which was also tamped. I put in gravel up to the right height for my pier, as my piers were in increments of 8". A solid footer was 16" in depth, and block above comes in heights of 8".

Here's one hole that had the edge of a boulder protruding into it, which I could not remove. So I'll pour the footer around it:


Here's a couple shots of the building site, as I dug the 12 footers, and mounded up the excavated soil beside them:



Here I'm measuring to get the correct height for my gravel base - the gravel gives additional support for the pier, and aids in drainage - it's 1/2" limestone:


Sometimes to get it just right I had to swish the gravel around and remove some, then tamp it again. I used a torpedo level to get the surface flat:


Remember the concrete parking slab and my ideas about breaking it up and using it as urbanite in the foundation? Right. This slab was 2" to 3" thick and sitting on a deep gravel base which it'd adhered to. It wasn't going anywhere without a jackhammer.

See, I was thinking of my patio I'd built last spring, and how easily I'd broken up the little slab outside the doorway - and it is easy, if you can lift and prop up one edge of the slab . . . then with one or two strokes it caves in and breaks like crackers. But if you can't lift it, then you're fighting against concrete's greatest strength - compression. I hit it with a sledgehammer hour after hour, dug pieces out, scored a grid of lines with the diamond blade on my circular saw - just one hole took half a day. A truly brutal workout, but eventually I hit dirt:


I guess I could have just built the pier up on top of the slab, but I was being cautious. From the surface, the slab didn't look very structurally sound. I thought it was important to cut through it.


Once I got through the slab, I then went on and dug down to hardpan and put in my layer of gravel:


Here's a shot of all 12 holes dug:


Another shot, from a different angle:


It's been a very wet spring, compared to the year before. Again and again we get torrential rain. All my footers on the east side get filled up with water:


The water sits in the hole for an entire day before it drains away. I'm concerned about this, but what do I expect, the bottom is hardpan, the walls hardened clay? The gravel will aid in drainage, and ultimately I think I'll put a trench drain around the uphill part of the site. Soon the hole of course will be filled with concrete.

Where our creek was basically dry with a few small pools and the spring last year, look at it this year:


It's a small river. And it's even running over grass and creating a marsh in our little valley with the giant maple:


And as far as our maple, look what the wind did:


I can't believe this tree toppled. It was a huge old-growth red maple. I took this photo last year with the kids in front of it:


My neighbors said we had a lot of fierce winds last winter, and many trees fell.

I found an old rusted oil drum while checking out the valley and all the downed trees:


I brought it up to the edge of our blueberry grove, and set it under an oak. I'll use it later for a rocket mass heater:


Here's our humanure compost bin. The compost from last year is on the left, and will not be added to so that it can cure for a year. We've started filling the chamber on the right. The center is for cover material - right now straw from Lowe's:

Here's a shot looking over the garden. The cabin is going in behind it, from this angle, to the left of the power pole - you can't really see the sitework from here:


Here's where we're living, as we build:

The gazebo with its tarp exterior is wonderfully comfortable - very close to indoors, but not too close. No wind, no rain, warm, few bugs. The tents are used for storage.
.
With all the footer holes dug, I began mixing concrete in a wheelbarrow and pouring the footers. I've got both sand and gravel left over from last year. So all I need to purchase is Portland cement.
.
In each hole I put a chair for suspending rebar [Hercules chair, $0.50 each], 1/2" rod in an X on the horizontal plane, suspended an inch or two from the bottom. Then 2 vertical rods buried in the gravel, tied to the horizontal ones with wire, and they will terminate an inch or two from the top of the piers. Another X of rebar laid horizontally will go near the top of the pier, and be tied with wire to the vertical rods, so it's all connected. I did a lot of research on the structure of concrete piers to arrive at this method.
.
Here are some photos.
.
A few of the piers top out so close to grade that there's no need to build up with block. So the footer itself is the pier, with the very top portion poured within a form of 2x4's, and two concrete anchor bolts put in. For these particular piers (4 of them), I only needed one vertical rod, as I'm not going up through the voids in concrete block.
.
Here's a shot of the preliminary chair and rod setup:
.
Next is setting up the wooden form, which I made from scrap roughsawn 2x4's and screws. It took some time to get it perfectly level - I had to gouge out a little on the high side of the hole, and build up a little with gravel and clay on the low side to seal the bottom of the form, so concrete wouldn't be oozing out:

I then braced it with concrete blocks, to hold it in position, before I filled with concrete:

Once I got a few inches within the top of the pier with concrete, I put in the upper X of 1/2" rebar, and tied it with wire to the vertical rod:

On top of this went the last of the concrete, which was smoothed across the form with a trowel. I put in the concrete anchor bolts in a diagonal position, to best hold my large 2x12 treated sill plate:

A closer shot, trowled smooth:

Where the piers need built up substantially above grade I went up with stacked concrete block, a minimum of four, stacked overlapping . . . and poured conventional below-grade footers for their foundations. In these footers I used two long vertical lengths of rebar so that I could penetrate and go up through the voids in the concrete block, which would later be filled with concrete.
.
What was nice about these footers is that there was no need for formwork - the earth itself served as the form. Our clayey soil exposed to the sun for a few days basically turns to rock - so it made great walls for the holes, and I needed no tube formwork:

As far as getting the surface of the footer level, the concrete, as long as it's not too dry, basically self-levels (when too wet water will form on the surface). I used my torpedo level and smoothed around where I needed to, but all in all it was a breeze next to creating formwork. The surface of the footer can be a little rough and uneven as an inch of mortar goes on next and serves as the bed for the block.
.
Here are shots of the footers:
.

I laid cardboard over the footers the first few days to keep them moist so they would cure right and not crack in the sun. For the most part they stay well hydrated deep in the earth - so they don't need watering.
.
In the lower of the two photos you can see one of the sill plates, drilled out and ready to go. This large 2x12 treated plate will give me plenty of room to position my girders exactly as I go up with the framing.
.
Here's a last shot of the building site at evening:

No comments:

Blog Index

10/30/08

BUYING RAW LAND

11/8/08

TRASH CLEANUP

11/10/08

WINTER IN ATLANTA

11/12/08

SPRING IN TENNESSEE

11/14/08

STARTING A GARDEN

11/15/08

BUILDING THE COMPOST BIN

11/15/08

THE FROST

11/16/08

GRADING THE BARN

11/18/08

DIGGING SWALES

11/19/08

PLANTING FRUIT TREES

11/19/08

BUILDING A STONE FOUNDATION

11/20/08

THE CONCRETE STEM WALL

11/21/08

BUILDING A SMALL 12'x12' PAD

11/21/08

THE GARDEN

11/22/08

BUILDING A DRIVEWAY

11/23/08

INSTALLING THE SILL PLATES

11/23/08

THE MODIFIED POST AND BEAM FRAME

11/27/08

FRUIT IN THE GARDEN

11/28/08

THE BARN FRAME

11/29/08

AUGUST IN TENNESSEE

11/30/08

HANGING THE JOISTS

11/30/08

CLEARING THE LAND

11/30/08

COUNTRY NEIGHBORS

11/30/08

THE HARVEST

12/1/08

PLANS FOR A CABIN

12/14/08

THE LAND IN WINTER

12/22/08

BARN UPDATE

12/29/08

WINTER PLANTING

1/4/09

EDIBLE PLANTS

1/10/09

WINTER TREES

1/12/09

WINTER TREES II

1/21/09

CHATTAHOOCHEE RIVER

2/11/09

THE STRAW BALE CABIN

3/26/09

THE STRAW BALE CABIN II

4/2/09

1880 FARMHOUSE

5/6/09

HOMESTEADING / THE CABIN

8/13/09

THE POST AND BEAM CABIN

8/22/09

RETURN TO TENNESSEE

8/25/09

SITE WORK

8/30/09

DIGGING THE FOOTERS

9/4/09

THE PIER FOUNDATION

9/10/09

911

9/11/09

FINISHING THE PIER FOUNDATION

9/12/09

THE GIRDERS

9/13/09

FRAMING THE FLOOR

9/16/09

DECKING THE FLOOR

9/17/09

THE POST AND BEAM FRAME

9/19/09

THE RAFTERS

9/20/09

INSTALLING THE METAL ROOF

9/21/09

FRAMING THE WALLS

9/26/09

DOORS AND WINDOWS

9/27/09

TENNESSEE IN JULY - OUR LAST MONTH

10/2/09

TENNESSEE IN OCTOBER

10/10/09

THE BARN FLOOR

10/15/09

PIGEON MOUNTAIN

11/10/09

NOVEMBER

11/16/09

PERMACULTURE: ANOTHER ROUND OF FRUITING SHRUBS

11/22/09

DRIFTERS

11/30/09

THE BARN ROOF BEGINS

12/20/09

'DRIFTERS' PART I

12/30/09

WEATHER

1/1/10

NEW YEAR'S IN TENNESSEE

1/25/10

DRIFTERS: PART II

3/2/10

MY SISTER'S WEDDING

3/21/10

FERTILIZING WITH HUMANURE

3/28/10

THE ADDITION FLOOR

4/19/10

THE ADDITION

5/11/10

RUNAWAY

6/13/10

FINISHING THE ADDITION

.........................The Timeline.........................

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1992
-MAY . . . for Patty and I's first date, we skip school and go to the Pinnacle - a wooded overlook off the Susquehanna River.
-SEPTEMBER . . . I leave our hometown of Lancaster, PA for college - Penn State in Reading, 45 minutes away.

1993
-FEBRUARY . . . Patty and I both drop out of school, and camp in some woods behind a grocery store in Lancaster.
-MARCH . . . Patty steals her mother's credit card, and with it we take a train to Utah. We ultimately end up on the Northwest Coast, living in Port Orford, Oregon.
-APRIL - OCTOBER . . . We join a traveling carnival and work in it for 6 months. We sleep in the back of a Ryder truck, and go through California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. I run the guns, and Patty does the goldfish. We save $9,000.
-NOVEMBER . . . We return to Lancaster and are arrested for stealing the credit card.

1995
-OCTOBER . . . We bike from Lancaster down to Charleston, South Carolina. Patty wrecks in North Carolina, and a friend drives us the rest of the way. We live in Charleston for 2 weeks.

1996
-JULY . . . Our first daughter June is born in Lancaster, PA.

1997
-MARCH . . . We sell everything in our apartment, and hike out of Lancaster with backpacks and our 9 month old daughter. We reach the Susquehanna River.
-APRIL - JUNE . . . We get a canoe and paddle 500 miles up the Susquehanna River to its source. We camp on islands. We get a ride to the Erie Barge Canal and paddle west.
-JULY . . . We are arrested in Little Falls, NY. Our daughter is taken, we're charged with neglect, and we fight the courts for months. We are cleared of all charges, but never get her back.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We take a bus out to Ruidoso, NM and camp in woods just out of town. We return to Lancaster and camp in the Brickyard for the rest of the month.
-OCTOBER - FEBRUARY . . . We live in an apartment in the Amish community of Strasburg, PA. Amish go by in their horse and buggies every day.

1998
-FEBRUARY . . . Our second daughter Rachael is born. We try to deliver her on our own at home and fail. Patty ends up in the hospital with a c-section.
-MARCH . . . We get a ride from a friend down to Covington, Virginia. We stay a week, and look for places to camp in the surrounding national forest. We find nothing, and go to New Mexico.
-MARCH - MAY . . . We camp in the Gila National Forest, north of Pinos Altos, a mile from the nearest trail. We camp above a spring with an infinite view west. We start building a hogan.
-JUNE - SEPTEMBER . . . We live downtown in Santa Fe, NM. Patty markets her paintings, and I get a N.Y. literary agent for my first book 'Flesh Aflame'.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Crescent City, California, on the Northwest Coast, a mile from the ocean, on the edge of a bird sanctuary. It's great until the rains begin and we run out of money.

1999
-JANUARY - FEBRUARY . . . We camp in the Uwharrie mountains of central North Carolina, and look for a place to build a winter home.
-MARCH . . . We get a canoe and paddle the Holston River down towards Knoxville, Tennessee.
-APRIL . . . We get dropped off in the Smokies and paddle Fontana Lake. We stash our canoe at Chambers Creek and hike in to the Smokies for a secret camp. Patty paints the creek, and we stay 3 weeks.
-MAY . . . We live in a trailer just off the ocean in Myrtle Beach, SC. The sky is beautiful after storms and we love the pelicans.
-JUNE . . . We camp in the Brickyard back in Lancaster, PA, saving money for an apartment.
-JULY - DECEMBER . . . We live in Lancaster and save for our trip back out to New Mexico. We also buy the jeep.

2000
-JANUARY - JUNE . . . We camp and travel all over the Southwest, from the Gila, to Organ Pipe, to the Weminuche in Colorado. Brooke is born in February in a motel in Deming, NM.
-JULY . . . We stay in condos with a friend in Aspen, Colorado. I do concrete work. We then go to California, and look for a place to live in the Russian River area.
-AUGUST - OCTOBER . . . We rent a small house in Tesuque, NM, just outside of Santa Fe. We hike up into the Pecos Wilderness. We become vegetarians.
-NOVEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Tucson, AZ, then drive to Crescent City and the Northwest Coast. The beautiful weather is over, and the rains have begun. We don't stay long.
-DECEMBER . . . We return to Pennsylvania, and live out of our car in the Philidelphia area while Patty works at a restaurant. We sleep in parking lots and rest stops. It's the coldest December on record for the area, with the wind chill it's -10.



2001
-
JANUARY . . . We head south for warmth, try the Chatooga area of South Carolina, then camp in the woods of northern Florida.
-
FEBRUARY - JUNE . . . We live in Asheville, NC, in the middle of the Southern Appalachains. We spend nearly every day out on the trails, hiking, and learning plants.
-
JULY . . . We get mountain bikes for touring, and bike the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Smokies.
-
AUGUST . . . We camp in the Weminuche Wilderness of southwest Colorado, and do a 6 day fast.
-
SEPTEMBER . . . We stay in Loveland, Colorado with a friend. We climb Long's Peak on the day after 9/11. We then drive to Vermont, and look for a place to live in the Burlington area.
-
OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Tucson, AZ, and try to become raw fooders.

2002
-
JANUARY . . . We hike in to Jordan Hot Springs in the Gila.
-
FEBRUARY . . . We bike in to Turkey Creek Hot Springs. We stash our bikes near the mouth of the creek, and hike the rest of the way. Many of the pools have been ruined from floods.
-
MARCH . . . We go to Vermont again, this time the Bennington area of southern Vermont. It's way too cold.
-
APRIL - JULY . . . We rent a house in Asheville, NC again. This time we have a large garden, and become 100% raw fooders. Every day I'm out hiking the trails gathering wild edible plants.
-
AUGUST . . . We cash out all our credit cards, and move up to Shining Rocks Wilderness in the Southern Appalachians, camping at over 5,000 feet. There are blueberry fields everywhere, and blackberry, and wild cherries. Not only are we mono-raw fooders now, much of our food is wild. I hike barefoot everywhere. We bathe in the pool below the falls.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Atlanta, and on a night full of alcohol I break my foot in 3 places. I'm told I'll be crippled with arthritis, and ultimately never walk again.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a furnished condo in Tucson, AZ. I cut my cast off prematurely with tin snips.

2003
-JANUARY . . . We camp off the Gila River at Box Canyon, just up from the city of Gila. I'm still on crutches. We meet Jabber-Mike, and Vet-Mike, and Doug. We trade juniper berries for Doug's black walnuts. We're still 100% raw fooders, and Doug teaches me the local plants.
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We return to Atlanta for free medical care so I can learn how to walk again. PT is hell.
-APRIL - MAY . . . We go back to the Gila and camp off the Gila River. We gather cattail, nettle, primrose flowers, and harvest prickly pear pads. We find the most perfect hot spring in all of the Gila, man-made, at Brock Canyon.
-JUNE . . . We fall off our raw food diet, and camp up at Black Balsam again off the Shining Rock Wilderness. We gather wild strawberries. We then camp above the Amicalola Falls in north Georgia for 2 weeks. We become committed to the idea of buying land.
-JULY - SEPTEMBER . . . We live in Woodstock, GA, just north of Atlanta. I do a 14 day water fast.
-OCTOBER . . . We paddle Fontana Lake in the Smokies, on our way to Nova Scotia. We find a great camp and gather wild persimmons, but ultimately abandon the trip.
-NOVEMBER . . . We go back to camping off the Gila River at Brock Canyon. I begin 'June'. We run totally out of money, and gather and clean 10lbs of desert willow seed to sell to a local guy in Gila. He gives us $20/lb, and we use the money to get back to Georgia.

2004
-JANUARY . . . We go to north Florida, and check out the sinks, and the aquifer springs, and paddle the Wacissa River.
-FEBRUARY . . . We paddle the Suwanee River in North Florida. Patty makes a basket out of greenbriar.
-MARCH . . . We camp in the pine flats of Apalachicola National Forest. We make baskets from grapevine, cordage from the retting of Spanish Moss, and a mat from palmetto. We camp here for 3 weeks with no money while we wait for our tax refund. We're 100% raw fooders again.
-APRIL . . . We camp off Owl Creek and paddle the river. There are free hot showers in a nearby campground. There's a great trail with wild blueberry, and we gather the new shoots of bracken. We later camp in Tate's Hell.
-MAY . . . We camp at Sand Creek in the Ocala National Forest, an hour east of Atlanta. I gather cattail in the Beaver Pond. I edit and type up the 'June' book at a nearby library for a literary agent.
-JUNE . . . We drive out to Oregon and camp off the Illinois River in the Siskiyous.
-JULY . . . We camp in the Adirondacks off Jones Pond.
-AUGUST . . . We camp in the Jemez Region of northern New Mexico. We gather wild mushrooms, and sell lobster mushrooms to chefs in Sante Fe. We camp at San Antonio Hot Springs for a week, and Big Tesuque Campground outside Sante Fe.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We go back to the Gila and camp at Brock Canyon. We gather desert willow seed again. We swim and play games in the river. We see tarantulas. I gather prickly pear fruit in baskets we've made from willow. We take a trip up to Turkey Creek Hot Springs.
-OCTOBER . . . We camp in the Oconee National Forest southeast of Atlanta, under persimmon trees in a field. We also camp up on Pigeon Mountain near Rocktown.
-NOVEMBER - JANUARY . . . We live in Atlanta.

2005
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We move to Portland Oregon. We paddle the Wilamette River, and go to the nude beach at Sauvie Island, just after Mt. St. Helens erupted.
-APRIL . . . We return to north Florida looking for land to buy. Everywhere is flooded, and there's been a lot of damage from the previous hurricane.
-MAY . . . We camp up on Pigeon Mtn. The weather's perfect, and there's more wild food here than anywhere else.
-JUNE . . . We go to Arizona, and camp in the Hannigan area of Apache National Forest. We ultimately try to get back out to Oregon, but car problems make it not possible.
-JULY . . . We return to Pigeon Mtn in Georgia. The blackberries are in.
-AUGUST . . . We stay in a campground off the ocean in Jacksonville, Florida, while we look for jobs and a place to live.
-
SEPTEMBER . . . We move back to Atlanta.
-
OCTOBER . . . We abandon the jeep with 320,000 miles in a motel parking lot.

2006
-MARCH . . . the girls and I camp up at Pigeon Mtn, in a secret camp we've made.
-JUNE . . . the girls and I go back to Pigeon and camp longer, this time starting a wigwam from red maple saplings, muscadine vines, and grass I collect naked in the field with a small knife.
-AUGUST . . . the girls and I camp up at Graveyard Fields off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Every day we gather the wild blueberries and swim in the pool beneath the falls. We hike all the trails, and establish a secret camp in a grove of juneberries.


2007
-FEBRUARY . . . We look at property in north Florida.
-MARCH . . . We look at property in Asheville, NC.
-JUNE . . . We look at the 10 acres in Sunbright, and make an offer.
-AUGUST . . . We close on the Sunbright property, and take the kids to Disneyworld.
-OCTOBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property in Sunbright, and clean up the trash from the fire. I build a fireplace out of old concrete blocks.

2008
-APRIL - SEPTEMBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property. We clean out the rest of the trash, build a compost bin for humanure, plant the garden, and fruit trees, I dig the swales, do the stone foundation for the barn, and the stem wall, and the post and beam frame. We build a pad for the gazebo.

2009
-APRIL - JULY . . . The girls and I camp up on the property again. We build the 2 story cabin from scratch, plant another garden, and more fruiting trees and shrubs.
-OCTOBER . . . I put the upper story floor in the barn.
-NOVEMBER . . . The girls and I begin building the barn roof.