20 Acre Homestead Journal: From Picnic Shelter to ?

Most of this post was originally on my short lived homesteading blog in the form of two separate posts.  The post shares our plans to build what started off as a simple picnic shelter, a place to find shade and get out of the wind in the high desert of our new 20 acre property. I’ve expanded on the original post to include what’s been done to the shelter up to this point and the plans we have for it in the future. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!

When we first started thinking about purchasing property we were pretty sure that we wanted to buy bare land that we could build on as we wished. One main reason for this was to be able to get exactly what we wanted without extra ‘stuff’ we didn’t want or need. Since we intend to be (semi) off grid it did not make sense to buy an already built house set up and attached to the grid that we would need to undo.

A second reason was we wanted be able to get into a place for as little as possible. Bare land costs less (usually) and we figured that we could slowly built the house we wanted without going deep into debt to do so.

When we found our 20 acres that we now own we started brain storming how we would develop it over time. Our original plans included building a garden shed of sorts that we could use for sleeping and then would eventually be used to keep garden tools and things. We got the idea for this from the Kindle book  How to Build Your Dream Cabin in the Woods by J. Wayne Fears.  In this book he talks about A Movable Trapper’s-Style Cabin. This is a small 8 x 12 cabin on skids.  Using this idea we hope to build a shed on skids. Ours would be larger than the Trapper Cabin at 8 x 16 feet.

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You can see from the picture above (I took a picture of the picture in the cabin book) that the cabin has windows. Originally we had thought we wouldn’t put windows in but decided that since we could use the cabin/shed for quite a while it made since to have windows.  We also intended to add a sink (we will have to haul water for the sink but still think it will be convenient). The addition of the windows and the sink screamed Garden Shed to me. And with it being on skids we could move it to the location we do end up putting our garden.  We also intended to add a water catchment system to the Garden Shed.  Even though we’ll eventually have a  water well, in the beginning all of our water will be hauled in by use when we go to the property or provided through rainfall and catching.

To go along with our little cabin/shed we planned to set up an outdoor kitchen. Even though we intended to put in a sink and some shelving in the little place there would not be a proper kitchen due to space.  We planned for a fire pit with a grate and are also considering a “bean hole” for pit cooking. The book Roughing It Easy by Dian Thomas has been super helpful in ideas for outdoor cooking. How to Build Your Dream Cabin in the Woods also offers a chapter or two on off grid kitchens/outdoor cooking. I’ll also take my solar oven to use while we are there and we’ll have our camp stove.

I found a blog post showing an outdoor kitchen that really gave us some great ideas. In the linked post it shows a tarp as a cover over the kitchen. Great idea but not in Wyoming. Our wind makes things like tarps and cloth awnings unrealistic (they shred rapidly).

Oregon-picnic-structure

Not willing to give up on the idea of a covered outdoor kitchen I suggested to Joe that we build a picnic shelter (similar to the picture above that I took somewhere in Oregon at a rest stop but not on a cement base) to house my our outdoor kitchen.  Joe liked the idea and thought that it would be a good idea to build it first, before the garden shed, so our little boy would have a shady spot while we were up there. Since there’s no trees and it gets super hot that was a great idea.

After talking with the county permit department we decided building the picnic structure on deck blocks instead of sinking the posts in the ground made the most sense and would be a quicker way of putting it together.

But that brought up an issue. Would the picnic structure on deck blocks withstand our Wyoming winds? We talked to several people with more building experience than we have and had mixed answers to that question. One man said it would be like building a giant kite. Several others said, ‘no problem’.  hmmm.

Discussing the wind issue we thought, it would be very nice if the picnic shelter could also function as a wind block which would help our little boy be even more comfortable inside it. And if we enclosed part of the picnic shelter that would also help anchor it down.

So we decided that it made sense to enclose it on three sides.  And that is what we did on our first full work day.

As we were sitting around discussing our progress from workday one we talked about just how open the shelter looked when we were driving away. Even though our property is on a private road, and will likely have a locked gate in the future, the idea of the shelter opening up to the road didn’t appeal to us. After all, this was going to be my outdoor kitchen.  What if I wanted to cook our morning eggs in my pajamas? We talked about how we could position the future Garden Shed in front of the structure. Truthfully, we should have started by positioning it differently but we had a little communication gap about what each of us was expecting. And once it was up it was too late to change it.

At some point during the discussion the idea of partially closing in the front came up. We thought if closed it in three-quarters of the way and then positioned the Garden Shed ‘just right’ it would be perfect.  So the next day that is what we did. This is what it looked like when we finished on our first visit.

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Goodbye Picnic Shelter. Hello Enclosed Loafing Shed

We planned to go back for two more days the next week but one of my new goats got mastitis so we were not able to return to work on the place. That ended up being a good thing.

We spent lots of time talking about our plans and our budget and the former picnic shelter, future enclosed loafing shed. One thing we were quite surprised about was how sturdy the structure was. It was also a great place to get out of the sun (much cooler inside) and the wind. It was small at 8 x 12 but not terribly so. We had constructed it so we could had a counter along the side that didn’t have the door and drop a sink in it. While it wouldn’t have running water we would have a great area to wash up and prepare meals (using stored water). Because we’d closed it in so much we questioned whether we could use the camp stove inside.  We knew we’d be putting a fire pit outside (and possibly a bean hole pit) but wanted the convenience of a propane stove also.

Sometime during those discussions we decided to move the counter area outside and use the now enclosed picnic shelter as a dining and resting area. And then suddenly the need for building the Garden Shed left.  Even though the structure is very small at 8 x 12 it seemed that would function perfectly fine as a sleeping area.

We were able to go up again the first weekend in August. We had a few things to do to the Loafing Shed. It still needed a roof. Originally we planned on a green metal roof. However someone who shall remain nameless, but starts with a J and ends with and E and has an O on the middle, forgot to order the roofing material. We considered putting off the roof until our September visit but didn’t want to risk ruining the underlay stuff (‘underlay stuff’ is a technical term).

We decided on a corrugated metal roof. It is not as high quality and it is silver instead of green but we figured it would be okay.  Here is something to think about when roofing a building; know your measurements before standing at the counter of the store and telling the person how many sheets of corrugated roofing you need. Otherwise, you might get back to your property (30 miles from the store) and realize you are two sheets short. We ended up finishing the last of the roofing when we went up Labor Day weekend.

We now ‘camp’ in our little shack. At first it had a dirt floor so we put the scrap pieces of siding down on the floor and then put elevated camping cots down. We also went around the building with leftover 2 x 4’s to seal out the drafts and keep the dirt from blowing around. For a door we put up a tension shower rod (that we already owned) and pinned an old blanket over it. I wish I had a picture because it looked pretty classy. Not.  I have to admit that I was a little concerned that our blanket door would keep things out and I would wake up with a deer or skunk staring me down but all was well.

We also started building our outdoor kitchen. We visited the Habitat for Humanity store here in Casper and purchased a stainless steel sink for $12. Joe cut a hole in an old table that he had fished out of a dumpster. While it was not what I had originally envisioned it worked wonderfully.

out door kitchen

We also started putting together the fire pit. We had to clear out all of the cactus and sage brush around the pit. The cactus comes up easily and I could do that while Joe worked on other things but the sage brush was too much for me so I left it for Joe. If you look very closely at the picture above (you can click on it to enlarge) you’ll see two of those cheap little solar lights nestled against the rocks. It is the type you would find lining a walk or driveway. We used these for our “night lights” in the shed. We put one by the door and our little boy had the other one near him. For other lighting we had a couple of flashlights with hooks that hang from a peg. These put out a considerable amount of light. We picked up half a dozen hooks to help with the organization in our little shack. These are great for hanging clothes and even back packs.

We now refer to our structure as The Shack.

When we went up for Labor Day our Shack got a door of sorts. It still leaves a bit to be desired as far as doors go but it did alleviate my fear of waking up nose to nose with a skunk.

When we went up in November Joe added a floor. He had built it at home our of squares. He cut 2 x 6 ‘s (bought on discount at the lumber store since they were ‘scraps’) and measured the squares to fit together like a puzzle. He then covered each with plywood. This worked out super well since he had plenty of time to measure and build at home and then did a somewhat simple installation on site with just a little bit of ‘cutting to fit’ around the deck blocks and where things weren’t quite square. The new floor is wonderful! But we discovered on that trip that The Shack is not cold weather friendly. We were quite chilly the first night we were there.

We haven’t been up to the property since the first weekend in November due to weather. It’s too cold to stay there and the winter storms seem to hit when we think we might be able to get away. At this point we’re planning our next visit in April. We don’t think we’ll stay on the property because it will still be cold (Joe’s parents live about 45 minutes away so we’ll stay with them) but we have several things we want to do up there.

We have some big plans for our little Shack for this summer. One thing we want to do is to make it considerable more weather-tight. We don’t have plans to stay in it during the dead of winter but do want to be able to use it into the late fall for hunting season and in early spring. We also plan on adding a loft and dining area like in this picture and even a window or two.

Another thing we’re going to look at is our bathroom facilities. We have a bucket toilet right now. It’s something like this that is available from Amazon but we bought it locally for a couple of bucks less, so check your local camping stores first if you need something like this. We attached it to a bucket that we bought at a locally bakery for 50 cents. The bucket is only a three gallon which is a better height for our little boy (and me too, I might add).  Currently, we are doing our “business” and then digging a hole to bury it. Since we have only been up there a few days total it’s an okay temporary solution. Long term it’s not good. Once we put in a permanent home we’ll have  actual septic system per county request. But until that time we are looking at other options. Most likely we will do some form of composting system. We are also probably/possibly going to build a separate room too use for an outhouse/shower room. We’re looking at adding this as a lean-to onto The Shack. Until that is complete there’s a camp ground with public showers about eight miles from our place which we can use as needed.

Joe’s parents were up visiting while we were there (they live about 45 minutes away). Joe’s dad mentioned how our little shack would be great with an awning built off one of the sides to contain the kitchen. Joe quickly tried to shush his dad before I heard that comment but it didn’t work. 😉 Yep, I think our little shack needs an awning also. We’ve been chatting with a Permaculture Specialist  (I’ll share lots more about that in future posts) and after his suggestions we’re going to add that on the north side, which in the picture below is to the right of The Shack.

shack with door

Besides for being able to stay in The Shack and be comfortable this fall for hunting season, we’re also talking about living in The Shack temporarily while we build The Big House.  I know that sounds crazy (even to me) but then I think of my friend Tammy and her family who lived in a wall tent for 8 months while building their house, even in the snow.

What started off as a picnic shelter will soon be something quite different. I’ve read that how is many of the original homesteader (pioneers) did things. They’d start with a shack and just keep adding as they could afford until they eventually had their final home. While we don’t know for sure what our permanent house might look like I am hoping for something that didn’t start life as a picnic shelter. 🙂 But I’m open to change.

 

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