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.

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2019 a new beginning

As a homesteader I’ve come to appreciate the start of a new year. It has become a time of excitement as I plan my goals and projects for the year. It really adds a sense of momentum in a season when I am limited by nature. I consider planning to be forward momentum.

My excitement sometimes gets the better of me and I plan much more than I can actually do in a year, ( who am I kidding my excitement always gets the better of me). I write down everything I want to accomplish for the year and when I run out of paper I have to sift through and pick out the most beneficial projects to do.

This year my rough draft includes but is not limited to completing our water catchment system and gravity fed water for our home. Installing solar hot water panels, building 2-3 more greenhouses, planting our newly enlarged garden, adding new trees to our orchard, getting all of our firewood cut, split and stacked this spring, tap our maple trees, collect sap and make maple syrup , clear more area for next years garden, finish the interior of our house, build a root cellar, finish building our outdoor kitchen, can, dehydrate and freeze dry our surplus harvest, put sides on our pole barn and start our Birch furniture business.

Those are a lot of things to accomplish in a year but I like to shoot for the moon and still be amazed if I get to the upper atmosphere.

New Year = New Goals

As this year comes to a close I am taking an inventory of our progress and accomplishments. I’m also making a list of the goals We didn’t finish and other areas I fell short this year. I’m not doing that to beat myself up with our failures but rather to figure out how We can do better this coming year.

For the progress we built and used our first greenhouse, we completed more work building our house or more specifically getting closer to finishing it. We upgraded our wood stove to a larger one that does a much better job of heating our whole house. We doubled the size of our garden to a 1/2 acre, each year we hope to increase the size of our garden until we get to at least 5 acres. We purchased a much heavier duty truck that is better suited for our use. We worked out the issues with our tractor so it runs great now. We further enriched the garden soil working towards our goal of permaculture and we developed a business plan for building and selling rustic Birch garden benches to support the financial needs of the homestead. It was a busy year.

The things we missed on include not completing our rain catchment system, not getting our solar hot water panels installed and our gravity fed water system for the house connected. We also wanted to put up 3 more greenhouses and get our firewood all put up before fall.

The misses get recycled and added to our new goals for 2019. We hope everyone has a wonderful and productive New Year.

The garden must Grow

On a homestead if you’re striving for self sufficiency you need to increase food production each year at least until you reach your goals. With that in mind the 1/4 acre garden we started with needed to be enlarged. For this years growing season we accomplished that by building a greenhouse and raised beds. The raised beds allowed us to have a dedicated herb garden and the greenhouse allows us to start our spring planting earlier and will eventually make it possible for us to grow year round.

All of that was exciting but this week just in time before the ground froze our friend brought out an excavator and cleared enough land to double the size of our main garden. Next year we can plant 75 rows 25 feet in length with a foot in between rows.

Keep on growing.

Ready to go off grid

When we finally got to move to our off grid property we had been collecting everything we thought we would need. We had solar panels, a charge controller, inverter and a couple of batteries. We bought an RV to live in while we built our house and we had a generator to power it until we could get the solar setup. We amassed almost every manual tool and device we could think of from cast iron to washboards. No matter how hard you try to have everything you think you’ll need there’s always something you forgot. We forgot to consider outdoor lighting for all of the areas we would need to be at night. A good example was filling our generator in the dark. You can do it with a flashlight in hand but it’s awkward and can result in gas spills. The best answer was to use a head lamp.

Before you go off grid just take a little extra time to consider what you may need that you don’t have. Start with necessities and work your way through to comfort items. Most of all budget for the things you won’t realize you need until you do.

Adjusting to off grid living

Many people say they couldn’t live off grid because they couldn’t live without electricity. My wife was one of those people. 1st of all we seem to forget that less than 100 years ago over 50% of the U.S. population lived without electricity and the vast majority of the people in the world have had electricity for less than that. Somehow people actually lived for thousands of years without it. But how was that possible? They simply had other ways of doing things. They used wax and oils for light, wood for cooking and heating and hand tools and animals before power tools and tractors.

How have we gotten so far away that most have forgotten the valuable skills needed to live without electricity? Why remember, teach and practice these skills if we have easier even automated ways of doing them? This is a battle the Amish have fought since automation and electricity became available. They saw the potential downside of the loss of these vital skills. We need to recognize that too and we need to learn those skills while we still can.

The U.S. government commissioned a study by top experts to find out what would likely happen if the electric grid went down in a catastrophic way. The report came back that it would take around 10 years to get electricity working around the country. They could get a few cities up in a few years but they said that 90% of Americans would die in the first year without electricity. That seemed like a ridiculously high number so I researched to figure out how they came to that conclusion. For starters most people don’t have more than 3 days worth of food in there house most of the time. Why should we? The store isn’t very far away for most people and you can get in your car and drive there without using much of your own energy. But if the grid goes down then trucks stop delivering to stores and the shelves empty very quickly. Just look at pictures and videos of store shelves when a hurricane or blizzard if announced for an area. Next you might drive around from store to store hoping to get enough for to last you. By the time you’re done you notice that you’re low on gas so you go to the gas station to fill up and either the lines are huge and the gas is being rationed or you can’t get any because the pumps run on electricity and the gas station doesn’t have a backup generator. Now you go home to wait it out until the power comes back on. It doesn’t, you’re running out of food and it’s getting really cold out. You realize that your gas or oil furnace doesn’t work without electricity. Many people will starve because even if they have a lot of food they will run out and without the skills and seeds to grow more or skills to hunt or forage they will die. Some will freeze or die of heat stroke depending on where they live. Some will die due to lack of medical care and medication. Others will succumb to diseases from lack of good sanitary conditions and still others will have mental breakdowns that lead to their demise. It is a bleak picture but a possible reality for the future. We need to take advantage of whatever time we have to relearn the skills of old. In doing so we can realize that living off grid now is a great way to be prepared for the future.

I also want to mention that off grid doesn’t have to mean living without electricity but rather generating your own electricity and managing your use in a responsible manner. Off grid living can be as primitive or modern as you want it to be.

Self sufficiency: less is more

As we work towards self sufficiency we have learned that in many ways we need less than we believed we did before we started our journey. We need much less electricity and water, much less money to live on and much less time running around from store to store buying stuff. This lifestyle of less has made us feel like we have more than enough instead of the societal norm of you need more. Society gives us a feeling of inadequacy. My house isn’t big enough, I need a bigger house, my car isn’t new enough, I need a newer, more expensive car, I need the newest biggest screen TV, the latest model smartphone. Most of us know we can’t afford this stuff but businesses tell us that we can with just 100 easy payments of your blood sweat and tears. And as long as you have all the things you’re led to believe you need you feel good, at least until you have to pay the bills. Then you feel sick and broke but fortunately you can turn on that big screen TV and watch commercials and programs that will make you feel good because you have all your stuff but you still need “this”.

Disconnecting from societal norms gives you a sense of well being and fulfillment because you stop listening to those that say you need to go get more and you start building, growing and raising your “more”.

We don’t live like hermits , we still sometimes swim in the pool, we’ve just stopped living in the pool and having to tread water to keep from drowning.