It’s been quite some time since we gave everybody an update on our progress or lack thereof. Let me give you the spring 2018 update on our off grid homestead.
We made it through the winter in the tent just fine. We lived with hat and coat on. While sitting on the sofa in the tent, we utilized 60+ year old wool blankets that were from my grandparents.
Finally, Into The House!
We made the move into the house mid–March and nothing has changed. We still live with our hats and coats on. It’s been a chilly spring and early summer. Even though I hooked up our wood cook stove, because the ceiling is uninsulated, we lose a lot of our generated heat through the ceiling. Add in the fact that when we moved into the house, the mass of concrete in the walls and the basement floor was frozen which didn’t help.
In my Christmas update this past winter, I had mentioned our doors and windows were onsite and on relatively nice weather days in January and February, we plugged away on getting them all installed. That was a big step from having a shell of a house to a real home.
As mentioned, I was able to hook up our wood stove. I couldn’t do that until the roof metal was semi-installed and I could mount the chimney and stove pipe. The chimney installation is too important a job to do poorly so I took the time to properly install the chimney permanently.
Progress – Hot Water
Before we could light the stove, I had to get the water running. Do you remember what happened back in Saskatchewan to our stove when we lit it without water piped through it? (The first person to write a comment on this post as to what happened to our stove wins high praise from us-hint, the answer is in my book)
Suffice it to say, we had to get our water running. That meant installing the water pump and the supply line back to the well. Same setup as when we were in the Maine home. I wrote about it here: Maine Water Supply
I plumbed the hot water tank to the stove and created a thermosiphon loop. The exact same system we used in our Saskatchewan home. A simple ball valve at the tank outlet gives us a means of getting hot water for hand washing, dishes and a bath. And don’t be misled by the term bath. We have a round, 24 inch diameter rubber animal feed basin that we use to bathe. Great entertainment for Johanna watching me trying to contort, reshape and modify my physical dimensions to get in and get clean. With this bathing arrangement, I have no use for my snorkel!
Metal Roof and Soffit
At present, the roof is fully installed and we are water tight. Yay! No more drips coming in on the floor. We put a heavy plastic vapor barrier up on the ceiling and used 1 X 4 strapping to keep the plastic in place. Dry wall for the ceiling will be screwed to the strapping. Although insulation in the ceiling is important, we have higher priorities right now and insulation will be dealt with in the fall when temperatures turn cold.
I’ve completed the soffits around the roof so no more rain blowing in through the open area under the roof eaves. Plus with the advent of summer, bees and bugs won’t have a handy place to make a home.
Solar Panels, Batteries and Electrical System
My nemesis, the solar panel array frame, was cemented in place and I mounted the solar panels thereby giving us more power than we can use.
You may recall, back in December I was lifting the solar array frame to place the long back legs in their respective post holes when I slipped off a muddy mound and hit my ribs on a small boulder. I’m 100% recovered from that fiasco after being useless for 6 weeks. After a bit of thought, I found a much better way to lift the array into place plus I had an extra set of hands so all went smoothly the second try.
Solar panels are not much value unless they can be hooked up to a battery and electrical system. For quite awhile, the electrical system and batteries were back in the tent and we were powering the house via an extension cord from the tent. I moved over the inverter and electrical center and mounted the assembly on the downstairs wall. Johanna moved the 180 pound batteries to the basement. Fortunately, she only had 12 of them to move.
Lest you think Johanna is some kind of hewoman, you must realize I jest. I moved all 12 of our batteries with her help. It took me a day to fully prepare to move them. I had to build a couple of ramps leading to our outdoor steps as well as a ramp down the steps. I used our trusty hand cart to load a battery, strap it to the hand cart with a ratchet strap, work my way over from the tent to the outside entrance steps keeping everything under control as I wheeled it down the steps. Johanna was a big help in supporting the battery from below and together, we moved all 12 batteries in an evening. What a relief to get that job done! I reconnected the batteries that night by flashlight and had our electrical system up and running the next morning. “Let there be light!”
Now that the electrical system was in the house, there was a mad dash to get the refrigerator and chest freezer into the house. It took some doing but the refrigerator is in the kitchen and the chest freezer went down the steps and into the basement. No more worries of a bear thrashing the tent to access the frig or freezer of food while we slept unaware in the house.
Satellite Internet Installed
One tricky job I had was to move the satellite dish from the tent to the west side of the house. It was an easy enough job to reconfigure the mounting hardware for wall mounting but quite another to find the satellite in the sky. Since last summer, our satellite dish was mounted on a tripod attached to a pallet behind the tent. As soon as I disassembled the hardware, we were out of touch with email and internet until I could locate the satellite again. Not a big problem if I had a satellite finder. I have one but it was only good for the old systems back in Saskatchewan. Now that we have a newer model of dish and modem, my only recourse was to go into the modem, re-point the dish and patiently sweep the sky both across and up/down until I could find the satellite. Suffice it to say that when you are searching the southern sky for a pinprick of a satellite, it’s like virtually searching for a needle in a haystack, but I was able to lock on and get internet back in an evening. A new satellite finder is absurdly expensive so I’m glad I had 18 years of previous experience with these satellite systems.
Orchard and Garden Planting
We bought various fruit trees and plants this spring so we now have an orchard. We planted different apple trees along with cherry, peach, plum and pears. Strawberries, blueberries, currents, blackberry, raspberry and asparagus too.
It was a significant effort to break more sod and till the garden. We spent a lot of time tediously digging up large boulders. No way could we lift them out so with a pry bar, I raised one end while Johanna shoved scrap wood in the gap. We repeated the process until we raised it out of its hole. Then it was all we could do to roll the boulder to the edge of the garden.
We now have a pretty large garden and over time, we will get it full size as we work the edges back. We will eat well this winter. While Johanna was busy planting the garden, my duty was to make sure it wasn’t destroyed by animals. To that end, I surrounded both vegetable garden and fruit gardens with fence posts and chicken wire. Same as we ended up doing in Saskatchewan. That will make it harder for the varmints to damage our food supply. Then I surrounded our garden and orchard with electric fencing. This at least gives us a good chance of getting everything established. You may remember we had devastating problems with mice, snowshoe hare and moose back at Hockley Lake and some of that damage we never recovered from.
When we were clearing the land last year, I cut the trees for firewood and Johanna physically hauled and piled the branches and brush into large piles. This spring, I lugged some of that brush to a central location and I’m putting it through our wood chipper/grinder for a wonderful mulch and soil builder. We spread a layer on the gardens before final tilling to add some organic matter. The rest of the mulch I grind will go around the fruit trees and on the pathways in the gardens to help control weeds. It will decay a little and then I will till it in at the end of the summer.
Last fall, one of the last things that was done was to backfill around the perimeter of the house with the excavator. It was only roughly filled in and we left working room to deal with the transition area that joins the water proofing membrane to the rest of the house. I sealed that seam and applied a parge coat and mesh. The final grading of the area around the house will be done shortly.
And finally, starting this past winter, we have been cutting our firewood for this upcoming heating season. We have a good start already.
Ordinarily I like to have years worth of wood cut but so far the best I can do is target all the dead, standing trees which are already semi-dry and get them in for Johanna to stack near the house for this year. That gives us our best chance to have dry firewood for the winter. Eventually I will be able to start cutting for the years to come.
We’ve done lots of other things but those are the major accomplishments since our last update. I had a request from someone about how we go about working and improving our garden soil so that will be the next post’s topic. Please feel free to suggest any topic and we will be happy to write a post for you.
It’s hard to believe we showed up here a little over a year ago. I don’t know where the time is going but by this time next year, we should be in pretty good shape.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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Love your updates as you start anew. Have your book describing your previous 2 places. Wish you posted more often lol. I give you credit posting at all given the amount of work you both do, and all that is left to be done. Patience and prioritizing must be a huge factor- wanting to get everything done asap, but limited by time, money and physical constraints. Great job. It’s very inspirational. Want to be starting this kind of setup within the next 5 yrs.
You certainly nailed it Jonathan. Time is a huge constraint. I got in close to dark again tonight after cutting and lugging more firewood out of the woods. There is so much to be done yet. Prioritizing is key. As much as we’d like to write more posts, there’s not much worse than being cold on a winter day and hearing the sizzle of wet firewood in the stove for example. But we are making progress and each day brings us a little closer to having a homestead again.
Each post I write is probably 10 hours of effort. I write it, Johanna edits and then I further edit, go out and shoot pictures, upload to the webpage etc. And we do wonder if anybody really gets anything out of them. So we really appreciate your comments and book support.
Best of luck in your homesteading endeavor. Drop us a note anytime if you have any questions and we’ll do our best to get you answers. All the best! Ron
I love this site, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. It shows me that the most important resource is knowledge. Can I sink why you left your previous homestead?
Hello Korinne. We sure appreciate you stopping in and commenting. I’d have to say knowledge is a good start but experience is right up there too. Sometimes the knowledge comes from experiences-both good and bad.
We left the last homestead because we had one last dream. To have a homestead on the ocean. We aren’t getting any younger so now was the time to do it. All the best! Ron
It’s been a while since I’ve been by to read your posts. They are always so informative. We had to remove our satellite Internet dish this summer. The BC government required every float cabin lease holder on the lake to remove all of the legacy structures from the land. Our dish was attached to the shed on shore. After we took pictures to submit to prove our compliance, we had a friend help us install a pole below the high water mark. That now makes it inside of our lease area. We aren’t as talented as you are. We had the Xplornet technician return to get us set up once again. Now I can read and write blogs at home, rather than only when we are in town. Such a relief. – Margy
Good to hear you have the internet all set up. It is nice when one can be at home and peruse the internet and do writing etc. We have a router that that let’s us use the laptop via WIFI. I used to be able to sit outside and use my computer when we were in the tent. The signal went perhaps 150 feet?? Then when we moved into the house, the signal went down to perhaps 70 feet because of the concrete walls. Then I just finished the metal exterior and I have to be within 15 feet of the house now. Interesting experiment. Assuming your mounting pole doesn’t move, you might want to make a couple of marks on the satellite dish where the adjustments on the X axis are. I use a magic marker to make a couple of marks so if I ever have to take the dish off, I can align my marks again and be mighty close.
I’ve been following your adventures via Facebook. Just curious what type of solar system you are using? I see 12 panels… and 12 batteries… are you using 24v in tandom? What type of batteries are you using? We are on solar, with 9 panels, AGM batteries in a 48v system with a back up generator. People find it amazing we have no power poles coming into our property and that our system powers the whole house! We’re located in central Alberta near Sundre.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I always get a kick out of articles that spout that solar energy is a waste or doesn’t work and yet you and I are prime examples of what can be accomplished with an off grid system. Good job living off grid!
We do have 12 batteries connected in series to give us a 24 VDC system. I am trying a TAB tubular lead acid battery purchased from John at https://www.cdnrg.com/locations/branches/vancouver So far so good but it is still early in their life cycle so the jury is still out.
The panels are 265 watt Canadian Solar and the electrical is a full Magnum Energy System. I have to tell you, I never had a bit of trouble with our Trace system back in Saskatchewan that worked fine for the 17 years we lived out there. But I’ve had a bad meter already with Magnum and somebody dropped the ball on getting my replacement so 3 weeks later and I still haven’t received my new meter. So the jury is still out on Magnum Products as well although I’m somewhat disappointed I already had a problem.
Thanks for the good questions Andrea. I hope you have a great day! Ron