Andes Mint #22: Off the grid dabblement

You’re the keeper of a tiny house on a hill in the woods in Vermont. The house is one room, 11′ x 19′, with a tiny sleeping loft and a tiny porch.

At first there was just land. Over the years –quite a few them at this point– you added electricity, tunneled up in a pipe from a pole down the dirt road. And a well, dug way down into the Vermont rock. There’s no plumbing, but there’s a pump. There’s also an outhouse. The outhouse has no door, but when you’re in it you’re looking out at the pine woods and a creek and a bluff rising above it, so . . . no complaints.

Then the tiny house came into being, first in the form of a kit that included lumber and a tin roof and insulation, nails even, which you bought off eBay. Some friends and you framed it up over four days in late fall and another carpenter friend finished the interior over the long Vermont winter, snowshoeing in and out because the dirt road isn’t plowed in winter.

When you’re at the tiny house you divide your time between writing –you can sit on the porch and all you see are white pines and deer and squirrels and wild turkeys and once in a while even a bear– and hiking and making things out of rocks and dirt and wood.

The tiny house could easily be off the grid except for the fact that you’re completely dependent on electricity in order to write. Solar panels are a possibility but they’re way too expensive.

Nevertheless, you play around with off the grid sorts of experiments. One is a graywater filtration system. Graywater is water that’s been used for things like showers and washing dishes. (Blackwater is what comes out of toilets, but you don’t need to worry about that because of the aforementioned outhouse.)

You built your graywater irrigation system this summer, over the course of three days. If it looks just like a raised rock garden, that’s because it pretty much is.

Day One: Eye up the patch of dirt at the side of the cabin. Haul a whole bunch of flat rocks from the creekbed at the bottom of the hill up the hill to the cabin. That sentence makes it sound so easy, doesn’t it? It’s not. Those rocks are amazingly heavy, and prying them out of the creekbed is hard, and that hill is long, and your wheelbarrow is kind of rickety. Major labor, friends, major labor.

Day Two: Arrange all those rocks you hauled on Day One into a pretty, slightly irregular shape. Accept your friend’s offer of some extra topsoil and stand with him in the bed of the pickup tossing shovelfuls into the rock bed. Go to the hardware store and buy two lengths of corrugated pipe. Lay them into the garden bed and grade the dirt underneath so that they angle slightly downward. Test-drive the pipes by pouring several buckets of water through them to make sure that the water disperses evenly and doesn’t all cascade out the other end. Adjust grading as necessary.

Day Three: Go back to the hardware store and buy a bunch of peat moss. Cover the pipes with the peat moss and then take a shovel and do a haphazard job of mixing the topsoil with the peat moss. Dig the perennials your mother helped you divide from her garden out of the woods where you temporarily planted them three days ago. Arrange them in an attractive manner in the raised rock bed. Make sure you don’t try to plant them directly onto one of the pipes.

Et voila! Now you have a raised rock garden/graywater filtration system. Someday, maybe, you’ll have some sort of rudimentary plumbing inside the tiny house, and then you can let the graywater run out of a pipe and into the pipes now hidden in your garden. For now, you’ll empty your 5-gallon buckets of graywater into the garden, which would be a pretty sweet addition to the tiny house even if it didn’t serve a graywater filtration purpose.

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