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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