Category Archives: Health

Fermenting Foods

For me, sustainable living and self-sufficiency are very closely linked. Self sufficiency usually means growing at least a portion of your own food, which sometimes means preserving your harvest! From another perspective, buying real sauerkraut can be real expensive (and sometimes the sauerkraut from the store isn’t even actually fermented, it’s just cooked in vinegar). $8 for a pint of kraut is too much to spend on my habit. And since you know I wholeheartedly believe in DIY for a million reasons, I wanted to point out a cool DIY tool I found a while ago that I want to try out. It’s a sauerkraut/pickle making jar system. It’s called the “Picklemeister”.

The Picklemeister fermentation jar

The Picklemeister comes in 1/2 gallon and 1 gallon sizes. It’s basically a big glass jar with a seal and an airlock. You cut up your cabbage (for sauerkraut), add salt, a plastic bag of brine, and let the jar sit for 3 days. Then you have a gallon of sauerkraut!

Here’s a video that I love about making sauerkraut (with a really tasty recipe at the end!) with Mark Frauenfelder. Check it out here. He swears by the Picklemeister.

I found the Picklemeister for sale at a few different websites. It’s about $20 + $10 shipping. I feel like it’s definitely worth it and will pay for itself after just one 1-gallon batch.

Simply Natural

Wisemen Trading (and on their Etsy, which seems to have run out of Picklemeister’s today…check back)

Glass jar, with screw-on plastic lid

However, if you’re super thrifty like me, and like the fun and satisfaction of making things yourself, you might just make your own Picklemeister type tool. I’m on the look out for a big glass jar with a screw-on plastic lid. It’ll probably be one of those old fashioned glass juice/sun tea jars with the funny fruit/flower screen prints on the outside. I have seen them at the second hand store for about $2 (of course not since I’ve been seeking them out – but I’ll find one!). Then I’ll just need to buy the airlock ($1.50) and drill a little whole in the lid of the jar for it (and put some sort of gasket around the opening). Total estimated cost? My budget is $5.00! Not too bad!! I’ll do a post about my DIY picklemeister experiment when I find the jar!

Looking out for something like this!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Green Building: Insulation

I want to start introducing you all to the different options for sustainable building materials that I will be using in The COMET. Though I’ll have to choose just one insulation and one kind of flooring, I’m going to detail many of the most popular options for green building/finishing projects (and some less popular, more alternative ones as well), so that you can see what’s out there for your own project. For example, there are a plethora of sustainable flooring options, but some are better suited to certain applications than others.
The products that I choose to use in The COMET have to take into consideration a few more factors than if I was building a house (small or average sized). I have to factor in how each product or material I use will react with moisture, because in such a small space, just a human’s breath can create moisture issues if the structure isn’t built and insulated correctly. I also have to consider indoor air quality: how will each product/material affect the indoor air quality of The COMET? This is very pertinent also because of the tiny space within campers. Also, the fact the The COMET is mobile means that I have to assess how each material will react under the stress of motion.

So keep an eye out for these materials and systems overviews (I’ll also talk about different options for energy and water systems). I want to give you an idea of what’s out there so you can choose the best material/system for your project. Of course, I’ll let you know what material I have chosen to use in The COMET and why, when I do.

I’ll start with INSULATION:

There are a few options for eco- and human- friendly insulation, any of which are better than traditional fiberglass insulation. Most natural insulation options are great for DIYers because they are not harmful, toxic, or dangerous, and therefore easy for non-professionals to install, and I think that’s a really important advantage.
For camper application (assuming your in an older camper), you’re going to need an insulation that isn’t very thick, as the space between the outer metal shell and the walls inside is only a few inches. Thought the thinner batts don’t have the highest R-value, they are better suited to campers because it will let moisture pass through to the outside and campers are so small they don’t need tons of insulation. I was in The COMET (which has no heat and broken windows) the other day, and it was super warm despite the 30 degree weather outside. It don’t take much, in a camper!

UltraTouch denim insulation: This super soft insulation comes in rolls/batts in both 24″ and 16″ widths (standard stud sizes). It comes in many different thicknesses and corresponding R-values. UltraTouch is made from 100% recycled blue jeans, and it’s awesome because you can actually see the little pieces of denim in the fibers. Interesting to note, and something that I learned when I visited the G Green Design Center in Mashpee – Ultra Touch is only made from men’s jeans, because women’s jeans have to much stretchy material? hmm…

Natural Sheeps Wool insulation: There are a few different brands of this natural wool insulation and it comes in a few different forms: loose, batts, rolls, etc. It’s probably the most expensive eco-friendly insulation option, depending on where it comes from – but again, these products become more affordable in a tiny space.

Loose cellulose: Made form recycled newspaper, this loose insulation gets blown into walls.

Natural Fiberglass insulation: This fiberglass insulation is similar to the regular stuff but has no formaldehyde or nasty chemicals. It’s still fiberglass though, and therefore not a great DIY product and not fun to touch.

Soy-based spray foam: I don’t like this option as much because it isn’t very DIY-friendly and it’s not soft like UltraTouch or sheepswool, but it’s still a great option. I think it has the best R-values, but I’m not sure of the pricing so that’s something to consider.


As long as it is good for interior air quality, any of these green insulation options are good alternatives to traditional fiberglass. I’ll most likely end up using UltraTouch (the 3.5 inch thick R13 one), but lately I’ve been thinking about using both UltraTouch and Sheepswool because I want to showcase both and both are fun to touch and interact with.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Sprouting

I had an AWESOME day today (okay, technically yesterday because it’s late) and before I go into great detail about all the great stuff I did and saw earlier (tomorrow’s posts, so stay tuned!), I want to do a short post about the little thing I ended the day with. After an incredibly fulfilling and educational day visiting with sponsors and learning about options for green building materials and photovoltaic systems, I stopped by a health food/healthy lifestyle store on my way home that I’d never been to before. I went there specifically to pick up the Sprout-Ease Econo-Sprouter Toppers. These are a set of 3 grated  lids (in 3 different sized grates, and made of recycled plastic) that fit onto your standard mason jar. These nifty jar toppers allow you to easily sprout lentils, radish seeds, mung beans, and anything else you can think of to sprout! The set of 3 means you can have a constant supply of sprouts if you stagger them, and you can use different sized lids for different types of seeds or beans.

I’ve used these extensively before and they work great and make sprouting really easy. A few years ago my band was on tour for a long period of time, and our favorite road snack was sprouted lentils (which are super healthy and full of protein to fuel our rock n’ rollin’). We would rinse them out every day and just keep them in the rear window of the tour-mobile.

I found them for sale online at MotherNature.com, but you can probably find them in your local health food store. The 3 pack was only $4! Definitely worth it.

Also: Couple-a-things:

-My organic beeswax to be used in my home made deodorant making adventure is in the mail, which means that tutorial will be coming next week! Look out for that!

-I have some really great camper eye candy coming up …

-I’m really excited to share with you all my adventure from earlier today, and introduce you to a few more of my newest sponsors! Lots of info about green building materials and where to find them comin’ up tomorrow.

AND I have some 3D SketchUp models of The COMET and some nice computer drawings of her to share, so keep an eye out for that too.

If there’s ever anything you’d like to see me write about or explain here on The COMET Camper blog, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

SOY-Gel Review

Soy Gel is a non-toxic soy-based stripper for paint, polyurethane, and other finishes. It’s made of 100% soybeans and works on wood, metal, stone, brick, and other surfaces.

Soy Gel

I first saw Soy Gel on Cool Tools (a really great site for gear/tools reviews, definitely read it if you don’t already). I used Soy Gel in the last camper that I restored. I used it to strip the wood that I was going to refinish with fresh polyurethane. I loved using it because it’s totally non-toxic and virtually odorless, so I didn’t have to be too careful about wearing gloves and I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out. When you’re working in a small space, such as a camper, with little ventilation, I think it’s essential to use non-toxic, odorless, and No-VOC products. The application process was easy: Soy Gel is a thick jelly that you spread onto the surface you are stripping. Let it sit for a while, just long enough to work it’s magic (I would say 2-10 hours) then use a plastic scraper to remove the Soy Gel and the finish underneath it. It’s really satisfying to peel the Soy Gel off in big chunks! It works great. The only thing is that you can’t leave it on for too long or you will have to re-apply the Soy Gel again and use it to remove the original finish AND Soy Gel application #1. I once left the Soy Gel on a surface for 24 hours, thinking it would be better to leave it on too long than not long enough. I was wrong, the Soy Gel basically became  a new layer of polyurethane and I had to start over. but if you leave it on for the right amount of time, you’ll be golden.

I would recommend Soy Gel because it is super safe and easy to use. It is especially awesome for working in tiny spaces, because it is so harmless. It’s also great for vertical surfaces because of it’s viscosity – perfect for camper walls and cabinets.

Soy Gel, $65/gallon

Tagged , , , , ,

Things to look forward to this week!

Here’s what’s comin’ up this week on The Comet Camper blog!

- Tiny House + vintage camper eye-candy, as usual
– Camper of the Week, of course!
– Bonded Logic UltraTouch denim insulation mini-review of the samples I got
– Soy-Gel review – it’s an eco-friendly stripper.
– Those scale drawings of The COMET and proposed modifications that I didn’t get to this past week :)

- A post all about On The Green Road, my sponsors and green-minded camper friends Cece and Brenda.

- Review of one of the recipe’s from either Making It or Make Your Place that I’ll be trying this week. Most likely it’ll be how to make the natural stick deodorant.

- Another book review of one of the unusual 1970’s eco-design books I have on my bookshelf. So many good pictures.

So STAY TUNED!

Tagged , ,

Natural deodorants, ancient drinks, and home-made toothpaste!

As promised, I spent some time with a few of the new books I got in the mail the other day. Actually, I ended up pouring over them for many hours because they were both better than I had expected! I always LOVE DIY books, and how-to’s, and make-your-own, but sometimes the DIY is too time intensive or asks for ingredients I’ve never heard of, which can be a turn-off. Both Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, and Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills are straightforward and made for real people, not just DIY gurus. I was so excited too find really useful, practical recipes and DIY how-to’s in both books. Every page I read I felt like I could do the project easy, no problem, with re-used stuff I already have lying around my house. Both of these books are wonderful.

Also as promised, I picked out a few things to try out form each book. Both of these books suggest picking one project, starting small, and expanding from there. I think that’s a good idea.

Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post Consumer World, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

From Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, I picked out 2 recipes: one practical and one fun. The first was for home-made stick deodorant. As I mentioned in the last post, I hate store-bought deodorant (and would never use anti-perspirant) and have wanted to make my own for a while. This recipe re-uses an empty deodorant applicator, which means it’s still going to be easy to apply and use. I also picked out another recipe for an ancient vinegar-based drink – like a substitute for soda (which I don’t drink anyway). Last winter I made “Sbiten”, a hot, traditional Russian drink, and since then I’ve wanted to try making more liquid treats like that. I really like vinegar-y drinks like kombucha, so this sounds like a delicious treat. There are a few different sweet + vinegar drinks in the book: oxymel, sekanjabin, and switchel. They all incorporate things like honey, ginger, molasses, and vinegar of course. I haven’t picked which one, but I’ll probably end up trying all 3. I’ll let you know how it tastes!

Make Your Place, by Raleigh Briggs

From Make Your Place I chose a recipe for home-made toothpaste. I like the idea of home-made toothpaste, but usually recipes for home-made tooth care come in the form of a powder and I’ve tried that: it is not easy or fun to brush your teeth like that (in my opinion). This recipe is for an actual paste, and it only calls for a few ingredients. That’s the best thing about both of these books, you begin to realize that with about 5 or 6 basic ingredients (in addition to whatever flavors or scents you’d like to add) you can make basically anything for your home and body. Everything is so simple! It makes you wonder why the ingredients list on what you’re using now to clean your countertops and wash your hair is a mile long and you can’t pronounce half of it…

Anyway, those are my first projects from my new DIY homesteading books. Deodorant stick, traditional vinegar soda, and toothpaste. I’ve always been a DIY builder, maker, and doer – but these homesteading tricks are new to me! I’m really looking forward to trying them out.

Stay tuned for pictures and posts about how they turn out!

Tagged , , , ,

special delivery: books

Yesterday I got those books in the mail I had posted about ordering the other day!

I received Dwelling Portably, by Bert and Holly Davis; Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen; Make Your Place: Affordable, sustainable nesting skills, by Raleigh Briggs.

I’m going to spend some time with these books today, pick out a recipe from both Making It and Make Your Place, and commit to trying them out ASAP! I’m really excited because I think there will be a recipe in one on these books for home-made natural deodorant. I’ve wanted to make my own deodorant for a while now, because I hate deodorant from the store and I think it’s poison. Anyway, that’ll probably be my first endeavor!

More in-depth reviews of the books to come!

Also, as a side note having to do with the mail: I also just received my sample of Bonded Logic’s UltraTouch Denim Insulation. It’s made from recycled blue jeans! I’ll post pictures of it and tell you about how soft and amazing it is a little bit later. Now that I’ve received the sample, I think I would like to use the insulation in The COMET.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Part 2: Advice For Buying Your First Vintage Camper – “She has good bones!”

“She has good bones!”

That’s what I said when I bought my first vintage camper. She did have good bones, but I think if I had known the tidbits of information I’m about to divulge to you, I would have had a better idea of what I was really in for! So, let’s get to it!

This is Part 2 of a post about what to look for and what to avoid when checking out potential camper projects. See Part 1 for advice on how to find your own vintage camper project!

*Disclaimer! I am most familiar with 1950’s and 1960’s camper construction. This guide will be particularly helpful to people looking at camper trailers from that era. I’m sure these tips can be applied to most campers, but my experience is largely with 1950’s + 1960’s ones (which means you’ll see wooden frames, gas lights, and non-standard wiring…yay!)

Because I have yet to tear open (with care and love of course) The COMET, some of these pictures will be from other campers I’ve done. however, most of them will be of The COMET, because she’s a good example of what you might encounter when you go check out a potential camper. You can guess what is happening behind the scenes (seams?) by what the camper looks like on the outside. I hope these tips help to diminish the surprise of opening up a wall you thought had a little bit of water damage to find that entire half of the frame is rotted!
There are ways you can begin to tell what’s happening within the camper from the outside surface, without removing the walls.

First, let’s talk about things you should look FOR in your potential camper. I’m talking about things of value and things that can be salvaged. Even if you don’t like the look of, say for example, the original gas lamp, you can still probably sell it and use the money for lumber! I’m also talking about things that should be in good shape because they are a pain in the butt to fix, unless you have lots of time and skill.

Original gas lamp inside The COMET

*PS – Know the towing capacity of your vehicle and ask the seller what kind of hitch the vintage camper has…these weren’t all standardized back then. Make sure your car can tow the camper…if the seller doesn’t know the exact weight, that information is pretty widely available online for certain makes and models.*

Good things you might find in the camper you’re looking at to convert/fix:

Original window in good condiiton

Original windows/window hardware: Vintage camper windows can be hard to come by because most of them are no longer made and the ones that exist are few and far between. You can get replacement windows by contacting vintage trailer restoration places and asking them to remove some from their “parts” trailers that they keep around for that purpose (. However, they will likely charge you a “pulling”
fee on top of the cost of the rare window. If you’re lucky you might be able to find a local junkyard with old trailers to part out for windows. But your best bet is having all of the window frames and hardware in the camper when you find it. Broken glass is easy to replace, so don’t worry if glass is broken, just make sure the frames and bits are there.

Camper people love vintage light fixtures.

Light fixtures: From a vintage enthusiasts standpoint, original light fixtures are awesome. They look great and can usually be re-wired easily if for some reason they aren’t working. If you decide to replace them with something new, you can usually sell the originals.

Hydro-Flame!

stove and sink - matching pink!

Original appliances: If you’re going to do a green/off-the-grid overhaul, it isn’t necessary to have the original appliances. But if it does, it’s a plus because you can either sell them as a set (especially if they’re teal or pink!) or convert them or just use propane to use them. I have an early 1950’s camper and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the stove works great! They were made to last in those days…if you end up with a newer model camper, I’m not sure how well those appliances will do on full-time use.

Things to watch out for:

Water damage, under the wood wall panels

dry rot in The COMET...a good reason to replace the wall!

Water damage: For the most part, older campers from the 1940’s-1970’s have wooden frames, with aluminum exteriors, some thin insulation, and 1/4 inch ply interiors. When you see signs of water damage on a wall, it can mean water damage, dry rot or mold in the wooden framing underneath. So most likely you will have to replace not only the wall with the visual water damage but also anything below the highest point of water damage in the frame. The most common place to find water damage is underneath a window or around the ceiling vent openings. This isn’t impossible to fix, but just know that the framing will need to be replaced if the wood under the wall panel is soft, or you’ll have nothing to nail the new wall panel into. It’s usually a process of removing anything soft or rotten, chiseling it down to solid wood, and putting in a new piece.

Tail lights in good shape

Modern towing hook-up next to the original 5-prong hook-up

Electrical: It isn’t that electrical is hard to fix, it’s just that you have to remove all of the walls to get to the wiring. Remember, these things were built from the ground up, so in order to get to the wiring, you have to take everything apart. If you’re planning on doing this anyway, it’s no big deal. But if the interior wood in your vintage camper is in good condition, you probably don’t want to remove the walls just for fun (those original wall panels will crack and break when you try to pry them off…they’re OLD!).

There are two separate electrical systems involved in the vintage camper: the tow wiring and the interior electric. The tow wiring controls the running lights, the directionals, and the break lights. It may also control your camper trailer’s brakes IF the vintage camper has electric brakes. Most likely, your modern vehicle doesn’t have the same tow hook up that your vintage camper does (the wiring was not standard back then, and the tow wiring has changed). If possible (and this is assuming you are really interested in this camper and aren’t sure whether or not the tow wiring works), I would suggest bringing a modern 7-prong female plug (or whichever plug will complement/match your male socket on your vehicle) and cutting off the original 4-prong socket in order to re-wire those towing wires into the modern female plug. This is a “best-case scenario”. It is likely that the colors of the wires on the original tow wiring kit are random – like I said, not standard colors like modern wiring kits. It might take some trial and error, but you may be able to test and see if the tow wiring works (also, this will only work if there are bulbs in the rear lights and the running lights – and that also assumes that the fixtures aren’t rusted out completely and totally trashed.) If the tow wiring DOES work, it will save you a lot of time and headache and you hopefully won’t have to remove any walls to replace the wiring. But if you DO have to replace the tow wiring kit, it isn’t the end of the world.

Took off the ceiling! (Another past camper)

The interior electricity is usually supplied by a 120V plug accessible from the exterior of the trailer. If you have access to electricity and an extension cord, plug in the camper and try plugging something (cell phone, lamp, anything) into the interior power outlets (like you have in your house). There’s a good chance these will work if the camper is in decent shape. If a light works, even better! If not, you’re going to have to test the wiring throughout the interior of the trailer, which might mean removing walls. Or if you’re planning on replacing the electrical system anyways, this won’t matter either because those walls are coming off one way or another!

uh oh!

We can fix that.

Separating aluminum siding:
This is a really common problem found in older vintage campers. Oftentimes old age and general use (weight) will mean that the aluminum sheathing in the rear two corners of the camper, towards the bumper, will have separated. The trim that covers the seam between the two aluminum sheets will most likely be pulling up and away from the corner. It is very unlikely that you will be able to get those two pieces of aluminum to line up in a nice seam again: The structure and the frame of the camper has warped and settled over time, and likely won’t get small enough for you to force those aluminum sides together without some serious frame work. Fortunately, I had yet to deal with this common issue, until now. The COMET has this problem and so I will have to experiment with the best ways to repair the corners and cover the exposed wooden framing from the elements. Most likely it will mean adding on more aluminum – patching up the gaps. I will have lots of tips on how to do this when I get to it!

Hole

Holes in the exterior sheet metal:
Hopefully the exterior metal siding of the camper won’t have gaping holes in it. Dings and dents can be filled and sanded and painted over…but large holes are a little harder to fix. Like with the separated aluminum at the corners, these will have to be patched. Depending on your skill and the hole, it will be more difficult to make this look good. The COMET has one hole on the outside where it looks like something sharp snagged on her side. Hopefully I’ll be able to rivet on a patch and smooth it out with filler. Same as above, I’ll have a tutorial for this when I do it.

This is a great cross-section of the "belly of the beast".

Undercarriage issues:
Oh, the mysterious undercarriage. You probably don’t even want to get down there and look around, but you definitely should. If the undercarriage, (which is usually laid down in this order: steel trailer, roofing tar material, wooden frame, insulation, subfloor, floor) seems to be in rough shape, it can be VERY difficult to repair. It can be a pain in the butt mainly because the campers were built from the frame up, and so going back in and retroactively trying to repair and replace something that is now under 3000 lbs.  of wood and metal is not easy. If you get under the trailer and see that the black tar paper (roofing underlayment) is sagging, that can be repaired. It isn’t fun but you can use large washers and screw into the wooden frame, pulling the sagging tar paper under the carriage back up into place. If there are holes, the roofing tar paper will need to be replaced. You don’t want more critters making nests up there or water getting into the insulation and subfloor area. Depending on where the holes, tears, or cuts are in the original tar paper under there, they can either be patched and re-sealed or just sealed up. In my first vintage camper I had to replace half of the tar paper on the undercarriage because it had sagged so much it was completely falling apart in the rear of the camper. This meant jacking up the camper just enough so that I could slide new tar paper under the frame but above the steel trailer frame/chassis. It was a b*tch to do, and a 3 person job, but nothing is impossible.

Rats/mice:
There’s a good chance, depending on where your camper was stored, that there will be some evidence of “mice activity”. If it’s not out in the open, you may find pockets of mouse nests in the insulation under the floor or in the walls. It’s not the end of the world, just be careful and make sure it all gets cleaned up. Replace any and all insulation that has mice or rat feces in it.

This list will probably become longer and more comprehensive as I encounter new problems in each camper I work on. But please feel free to contact me with questions! I really want this blog to serve as a resource for people looking to get into alternative, mobile lifestyles. I want it to be helpful! So if there’s anything you’d like to see on here, please don’t hesitate to let me know. AND DON’T LET THIS LIST DISCOURAGE YOU! Vintage campers are a pleasure to work on. We’ll be able to appreciate it more when I list my Top 5 favorite things about The COMET, tomorrow!

Stay Tuned!

XO

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Books in the mail!

I just ordered a couple of books that come highly  recommended. They aren’t specifically about tiny houses or campers, but I think the information I will find in these books will be applicable to The COMET project and any other small space/sustainable living endeavor!

When I get them, I’ll do a book review, so stay tuned!

Dwelling Portably 2000-2008, by Bert and Holly Davis ($8)

This book is the third edition in a series of zine-like books detailing the mobile, portable lives of Bert and Holly Davis. They’ve been living as nomads for over 30 years (the other 2 books discuss their travels in the ’80s and ’90s respectively). It talks about cooking, bathing, traveling, and living with no permanent residence. I first saw this book on a shelf at tiny house guy Deek Diedricksen’s house when I was there for a workshop last summer. I’m really excited to see what it’s all about!

Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, by Kelley Coyne and Erik Knutzen ($13)

I’m a DIY kind of person, so this book really caught my eye. I love to make anything and everything, so it seems like the natural progression would be to start making my own shampoo and cleaning products! This book got great reviews and if it’s going to give me tips on how to save money and have a healthier home and environment, all while doing fun projects, then I’m all about that!

Make Your Place: Affordable and Sustainable Nesting Skills, Raleigh Briggs ($10)

This is an illustrated and handwritten guide to taking care of your home and body in a cost-efficient, sustainable way. I’m into anything that focuses on affordability without sacrificing quality. This book is supposed to be really funny and cute, with great illustrations. I’m looking forward to trying out all of these recipes!

As a side note, totally by chance, both “Dwelling Portably” and “Make Your Place” are published by punk/DIY publishing company Microcosm Publishing. If you like DIY zines, movies, books, etc you should DEFINITELY check out what Microcosm has to offer. http://microcosmpublishing.com/

When I get these goodies in the mail, I’ll let you know what I think of them!

XO

Mariah

Tagged , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 204 other followers