IT’S TIME, IT’S TIME!

It’s finally here! My favorite time of the year. I get to kiss winter goodbye and start planting. There are still some frosts to come but I can start seeds in my glass greenhouse. It’s not a huge greenhouse at 18′ x 6′ but with my current setup I can start more than 400 plants. I plan to install more shelves so I can plant somewhere around 200 more plants. I might even build onto the greenhouse and double the size.

Last year the starter plants did really well. I started soaking the seeds before planting and only planted the seeds that germinated. It was a great way to do it because everything I planted came up. The success rate was so great that I’ll never do it any other way. I only used well water that is rich in minerals. If you haven’t tried it you should.

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MVP of the Off Grid Homestead House

Living off grid is at least in part a quest to be self sufficient. To that end we had to look at how we can meet our needs without outside resources. Food being a top need we obviously grow and raise as much as possible but then we have to store and prepare the food for consumption. We of course collected hundreds and hundreds of canning jars as well as water bath and pressure canners. After that we had to decide how we would heat the canners and cook our food. One easy answer for off grid people is to use a propane stove. While that is effective it isn’t a long term option for self sustainability. We do have a propane stove/oven but we also added a Glenwood C wood cook stove to our kitchen. It has proven itself to be the MVP of our homestead house. In addition to cooking and baking our food it gives us a large surface to use multiple canners at the same time. If that wasn’t enough reason to have one it also provides roughly 25% of the heat for the house and can also heat our hot water. Most of all we don’t need any resources from off our property to run it which makes it 100% self sustaining for us.

We like it so much we bought a second wood cook stove to use in our outdoor kitchen so we can cook in the summertime without adding heat to the house.

Polar Vortex on the homestead

This week we have been dealing with temperatures in the negatives. As much fun as that sounds it comes with challenges. We replaced our wood stove last fall because the previous one didn’t provide enough heat for our whole house. This year we are using a very large Timberline wood stove that puts out tons of heat. Even on the coldest nights we’ve had, everyone has been warm and comfortable. It is a delightful change. So here’s what we’ve learned; the stove needs to be rated to heat more square feet than you have and if you’re off grid like we are only use a 100% radiant heat stove such as cast iron or soapstone. Our last stove used a blower to move the heat from the fire box out into the house. It wasn’t radiant unless it was running at a very high temperature. The fire box was surrounded by a steel box that held the heat until the blower circulated it into the house. The stove vented on the sides so it didn’t blow towards the areas we frequented so the heat took a while to get to us and was diminished by the time it got there. The stove was rated for the square footage of our house but it wasn’t enough and we were chilled much of the winter. Finally the blower motor died and we got much less heat. With our radiant stove we don’t need a blower or electricity and as soon as it gets going we start to warm up fast. An added benefit is we have a nice cooking surface so we can get the most out of our stove. We also have a wood cook stove in the kitchen for extra heat when needed and of course for cooking and baking in the cooler months.

Let it snow, let it snow…No. No, No!

What a winter it has been. I really can’t complain. Here we are almost at the end of January and we just got our 1st major snow storm of the winter. That is really great for our area. Of course we’ve had a pretty standard amount of cold temperatures but that’s not so bad when you can still see the ground. On our homestead there are many things lost to us during the winter due to the snow cover. But we have been able to continue some projects that we wouldn’t normally be able to. All that came to a screeching halt Saturday night as the snow came down heavily until everything was buried under a foot of snow. Now I can only see snowy mounds of materials for projects and thanks to all the rain we’ve had everything is frozen in. I look longingly towards them dreaming of completing the projects planned for those materials. For now it’s just a dream but hopefully in another 6-8 weeks we can get going again.

Don’t get me wrong, I like snow, I just don’t like the effect it has on our projects, equipment and our overall progress.

Every winter is different and this one was expected to be our best prepared one yet. Last year our plow was our tractor and it broke down as winter came on. We are blessed to have wonderful neighbors that are willing to come plow us out when we can’t do it. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal , it is. We have a 1/4 mile long driveway and other large areas that need to be cleared.

This winter we were ready or so I thought. The tractor ran great all year and I bought a truck with a plow. I went to hook up the plow to my truck and it wouldn’t go right, left or up and down. Tested it out and it needs a new pump. Ok, so no big deal I can just plow with my tractor. I got on and started to start it and as I was turning it over my son that was standing by said “I think we have a problem ” it turns out the same bolt that broke last year broke again this year. Last year I just clamped vise grips on to the broken piece of bolt stuck in the tractor and got another one to put in. This year the bolt broke not leaving enough to get a grip on, what a pain. So once again I had to call my neighbor to plow us out. No matter how self sufficient you want to be it’s still good to have friends.

Homestead security

I mean really, why would you need security on a peaceful homestead? Simple, to keep it that way. There’s much to protect on a homestead. At the top of my list is privacy but there’s also protecting my animals from predators and my garden from grazers. I also don’t want people walking through and trampling my wild edibles and medicinal herbs. I don’t want people tearing through the property on dirt bikes, 4 wheelers or snowmobiles. I want my family to be safe walking around the property without getting shot by a hunter and I don’t want to worry about getting sued because somebody comes on my property and gets hurt ( we had a teacher from a nearby school bring his class onto our property, past the No Trespassing signs and around the locked gate and let them climb on and run on train cars we have. I caught them and kicked them out before a kid fell and broke their neck. ). Security on a homestead is as much about protecting the future as it is about protecting the present.

So how do you provide security and protection for your homestead and everything on it? Start with gates at the access points of the property, put up plenty of fencing and No Trespassing signs along the property borders and around garden and livestock areas and keep a firearm handy to deter or stop the 2 and 4 legged predators.

We love visitors but we want them to be invited. People you don’t know don’t usually care about your property and they can be very destructive to what you are trying to develop. Securing our homestead is one of our top priorities and should be yours too.

Rain, rain go away!

A trench we dug after the snow came for a water line. It is 200 ft long and 4 ft deep. It filled with water immediately.

Since last April all the way into December we had rain like I’ve never seen in these parts. It was great for our garden until August when we got so much rain it caused root rot and kept us from getting a full harvest. It also limited our progress on outdoor projects but worst of all it put us so far behind on processing wood that we are still cutting now in January which means we are spending lots of time out in the cold and getting seasoned wood that is damp at best. We have to use our dry wood which is limited to get enough heat in the wood stove to get the damp wood to burn. Fortunately we found a sawmill that sells dry hardwood slabs for a really low price. Come spring we will start cutting for next winter as soon as things thaw out.

These things even though they were mostly out of our control have been a good lesson to teach us to plan for difficult situations.

Surviving the winter

With the holiday season behind us we are looking toward a new growing season and the start of new projects. There’s only one thing keeping us from getting started…. winter. Winter is mostly our survival time of year. With the year’s projects done or paused we mostly just keep things going on the homestead. Most of our activities revolve around taking care of the animals, keeping the house warm and keeping the equipment running. For fun we plan our garden and projects for the spring and summer seasons. We want to be more productive in the winter so we plan to build at least 2 four season greenhouses so we can grow year round and we will have a heated workshop to build furniture in next winter.