The Background Story
2014 was an exciting, exhausting, fun, memorable, enriching, powerful ride. We accomplished and learned so much whilst enjoying a staycation with our most favorite people…the fam jam. I have to admit we certainly learned a heavy lesson in the necessity of balance. After a year of building we had banked enormous fatigue. Lucky for us it came just as we managed to create a building with an inside that was officially a shelter…two days later it snowed! We raced the weather and we won!
As the number of blackouts increases and the oil diminishes, as it has progressively been doing for years, we have an opportunity, in even the smallest spaces to make a choice to be local and by doing so we can think globally.
I set out to learn how to build a shelter. With only the experience of building an 8×4 shed the previous year, I was determined to learn how to do, what have been basic skills for centuries, building a shelter. In the past 100 years we have lost the ability to do small repairs, build simple structures and grow food.
I became interested in gardening honestly all of a sudden one day, I couldn’t get the smell of earth out of my head! Weird right? I just wanted to smell it all the time. I had helped my mum in the garden when she paid me as a kid, but past that I had never before been interested in plants. In fact, at the time of smelling soil, I applied for a few jobs in greenhouses and at florists; unfortunately I couldn’t convince any of them that my enthusiasm would make up for the fact that I knew nothing about plants! I bought a house with a single rose in the front yard and a black walnut tree in the back.
At that time I didn’t know any gardeners and hadn’t yet heard of permaculture, but I spent a lot of time observing the soil, the water flow, the sun patterns and how we naturally moved around the space. What freedom I found in restoring a natural ecosystem. It was a joy to observe and learn over the five years we lived there. Also at that time I hadn’t yet heard of a food garden. I had a lot of plants and did grow some food within all the garden beds. I even pulled up some of the driveway to plant. My partner wasn’t thrilled with that choice. Most gardeners are probably guilty of driving past their old home to see how the garden is being taken care of. I know I’m not the only one! Anywho, the new owners pulled up the boulevard grass and its filled with plants! Yay!
The home we live in is my second attempt at restoring an ecosystem, but this time we wanted it to yield mostly food for us, plants, birds, insects, microbes and all. Although the jury is still out, way out on the rat!
I had been introduced to lasagna gardening otherwise known as “no till” gardening. It means exactly that gone is the turning of the soil, which disturbs the microbes that are already in the soil, whatever type of soil you have. So as you build up the soil on top of the existing soil the worms come up and turn the soil for you! Yup it’s that simple. There are many links and Youtube videos, fascinating stuff! It really changed the amount of labor I had to put into the soil to return a yield. The great thing is you can use whatever is local and it’s mostly free to create rich dark soil.
Unfortunately what’s not going for my property as far as growing things is the runoff from my neighbor’s yard. My backyard is downhill from my neighbor’s back yard. Around the time the law against spraying dandelions had just been past and people were still using it. I saw my neighbor with a spray bottle covered with a bag, so I couldn’t see what it was. My kids convinced me that I had to say something as it was killing the local bunny population! To which he replied, “Well I have dandelions”! We felt sad for him that he no longer can see the beauty in a bunny!
From then on I started to and continue to raise my grow beds and utilize water filtration plants, ponds and swales to clean and direct the water flow from my neighbors. This is around the time I started learning about permaculture. More fascinating stuff! You mean I can grow most of the food my family eats right here! Yes, I started to feel like a pioneer. I thought about the first settlers and indigenous people. If they needed a shelter, they built it. They didn’t take a course, or wait till they could Google it. They had to look around and use whatever was there. I started to feel like I could do anything. Which I have learnt, I can’t, but with friends and family many things are possible.
I thought about knocking the shed down and building a better one that could house a chicken coop. As I researched I learned about quail. I’ve always been a little afraid of chickens, but quail I can deal with. Quail eggs and meat are said to be three times as nutritious as chickens, although you do need to eat 3 quail eggs for 1 chicken egg.
As I went, hop skipping and jumping down the rabbit hole, I found my way to aquaponics. Seriously more fascinating stuff! My mind was blowing, thinking of the food we could grow, the fish, the quail and the eggs. Needless to say I was in this rabbit whole for about a year and half researching and trying to find examples of a structure that could successfully house all of the above. I loved the idea, but decided to make this an off grid experiment also, because of course there weren’t already enough things going on.
I started to think about what we as a family would do if we had no power for say 3 days, well we could survive. What about 6 days. We could go to friends, but how long could the 5 of us politely sleep at anyone’s house for more than a few days. A friend shared a story about her parents in their 80’s experienced no power for 3 days in Toronto, Canada. They could have left the house, but they didn’t want to this was their home. This story really struck a cord in me to really try hard to create a bioshelter that in an emergency, my fam jam can retreat to our 108sqft off grid shelter. I wanted to create a place where we could grow food, fish and quail, whilst providing a warm place as refuge for our family. I also wanted the ability to warm food or heat water.
For more information about the building process, please visit the Urban Bioshelter Build Pages.