At the Homestead: Seventeen Chickens

On April 10th our apprentice Hallie picked up our seventeen day old chicks from the local farm store and got them situated with the water, food, and warming cave!

Since we live off-grid with just a modest solar panel system, we aren’t able to use a typical heat lamp for brooding.  Instead, we figured out that we can use 2 heating pads to create a little cave.  We wrap both of them in a towel, place one on the floor of the brooder, and then use a bit of hardware cloth to make a little bridge arch and put the second heating pad on top.  It has been working great!


They settled in quite nicely, but wow! They grow up so fast!

Today, just about 6 weeks later, the chicks are just past the “awkward teenager stage” so we decided to move them out to the coop.

The girls stayed out there for awhile, making sure the rooster and other hens don’t get too mean. (Pecking order can be brutal, but is a necessary way they keep the flock safe.)

So far they are doing great integrating into the coop with the rest of the flock!

Amazing Progress on the Medicinal Terraced Garden

We had the pleasure of hosting two wonderfully synergistic permaculture apprentice groups this month and they helped us make HUGE progress on our medicinal garden beds!!

The process of building these raised beds begins with gathering brush from the land to form the base. More brush is woven in until the bed has three “walls” making it level with the hillside. Then we layer more brush, leaves, and straw to fill the beds. Topped off with beautiful composted horse manure (from my dad’s horses over the hill) and we are ready to plant!

Early Spring in the Kitchen Garden

The girls and I spiffed up the garden paths today with some fresh straw.

(The cardboard is to smother the brambles that have started to poke through.)

This is our “kitchen garden” that we actually started before we were even camping here on the land.  In the first couple years we expanded it and then trenched in the crucial fence for rabbit control.  It had produced a ridiculous amount of food in such a small space, and I do love this little garden.

At the Homestead: First Fire in the Hearth

It’s been a big day around here! We still don’t know if we will be able to stay in the house all winter, but we are a giant leap closer today.

Jonathan spent several hours building the chimney and prepping the wood burning stove for its first fire!

And our devoted apprentice, Margie, was out in the cold with me stapling up a wind and rain barrier to help seal up the house and get it ready for some insulation.

So at 8pm tonight, our 8 year old Maggie lit the fire for the first time and we have a warm hearth! We are so thankful. And truly lucky to even be here living this life.

And so…hauling firewood begins!

Nests revealed

With the leaves all fallen now, all sorts of abandoned nests are being revealed on the land. Any guesses what type of birds made these four?? I have a few ideas, but don’t know for sure. Here are some hints…

TOP LEFT: Found in a small tree in a marshy area, 2 feet off the ground.
TOP RIGHT: Found right outside the bus, in a stand of wild plum trees, 4 feet off the ground.
BOTTOM LEFT: Found in a large red cedar tree, right outside the chicken coop, 5 feet off the ground.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Found in a wild plum tree up on the ridge, 4 feet off the ground.


Things I Do & Don’t Miss On Our Off-Grid Homestead

IMG_3616As the building project moves slowly along, and the possibility of living in our own house again is becoming a reality, I’ve had the chance to really take stock of what I am looking forward to, and what things I honestly don’t miss.

If you don’t know our story from before we started this crazy/amazing adventure, we used to live in south Minneapolis, in a sweet little house with a sweet little yard (that we transformed into some amazing gardens) with normal things like, you know, plumbing.  And electricity.

We’ve received so many questions about the details of our off-grid life, that I thought I’d share a bit with you to give you a glimpse into our daily life.

So…the following is a list of the things that I do, and do NOT miss from our old (AKA Normal) life.

Things I Don’t Miss:

1. A fridge
IMG_3659A giant humming appliance that holds mostly condiments that get used once a year.  Nah.  I’m good.  Did you know that a refrigerator is one of the biggest electricity drains in a modern house?

We have used a variety of other solutions, like sinking a galvanized trash can in the ground for a small makeshift root cellar.  In the winter we use a cooler and we move it in and outside, depending on the weather.  We have also changed our diet to more food that stores well without refrigeration.  And since the local grocery co-op is 7 minutes away, we swing by there a couple times a week for perishables.  They know us by name, and we like it that way.

For our home, we plan to have a big root cellar that will keep food plenty cool, even in the summer.

2. Electricity on the grid
Speaking of electricity, I honestly do not miss having outlets every 6 feet so I can plug in all sorts of appliances that draw energy even when they are not turned on.  Nope.  We’ve got 3 small solar panels and 3 batteries, and that’s plenty to charge our laptop, our phones, and a DVD player.  We’ve got some solar powered lights as well.

On the cloudiest days on the darkest days of winter, sure, the charge may run out in the middle of watching a movie, but hey, reading a book instead isn’t torture.  We all pay closer attention to the weather, noticing when the sun is out or not, because it directly affects what we can do that evening.

On our house, we will likely have a few more panels and batteries so this isn’t as much of an issue.

3. Spending several days cleaning
Our 198 sq ft bus is so ridiculously small that I can spend less than half a day and have it cleaned and organized from top to bottom.  In our old house, that would have taken days, weeks even!  Now, this only applies if the children are gone for the day.  If they are home “helping”, they essentially follow me and unclean right behind me so it never actually gets done.

4. The City
While we certainly miss our old next door neighbors, and some of the good friends we no longer see often enough (you know who you are), I just plain old do NOT miss the city.  It’s not my vibe.  I love the culture and the restaurants and the art, but I like the earth, and am absolutely in love with this beautiful land we are blessed to care for.  I love the stars.  I love the insane amount of birds that wake me in the morning.  I love the coyote yips and howls in the night.  I love the quiet feel of the wind on my cheeks when I’m up on the ridge.  I am HOME.

5. Sleeping inside in a bed
Since leavinIMG_3662g our old house in Minneapolis, and our luxurious king sized cushy bed, we have had a variety of sleeping arrangements.  Most involved a tent and sleeping pad.  Sometimes, a cot.  More often, we were right on the ground.  In fact, I’m still sleeping outside this winter, while the rest of my family has moved into the bus.  (I did move in when the night-time temps were sub-zero a few weeks ago, but I’m back out there now, thankfully.)  I much prefer sleeping to the sound of the owls than my family snoring.  After 8 years of child-induced sleep deprivation, I’m pretty sure I deserve to sleep however I want.  And I love waking to the sun and the flapping of birds’ wings.  I even saw a fox walking by one morning.

And if you are worried that I’m cold, believe me, that is not the case.  I wear multiple layers of smartwools and fleece, and I’m inside 2 winter-rated sleeping bags.  I’m toasty, almost too hot some nights.  When it’s really cold, I carry out with me 2 big hot rocks from on top of our rocket stove, and they keep my toes and hands toasty all night.

When the house is complete, I will likely sleep inside in a bed in the winter, but I will definitely miss the birds.

6. A Flush Toilet
IMG_3637Did you know that even the highest efficiency toilets use 1.28 gallons of water with each flush?  And older toilets use between 4-7 gallons each time?!  We (and by that I mean Jonathan) haul our own water from my parents’ well.  On average we use about 5 gallons a day.  Total.  (Full disclosure: We do still do laundry over with my parents’ high efficiency washer, and in the winter, we take showers there as well.)

Anyways, with our composting toilet ($15 Luggable Loo from Fleet Farm), we get to save all that amazing compost and fertilize an orchard with it!  Every time we pee or poo, we add a scoop of sawdust on top, with starts the composting right then.  There’s no smell.

Things I DO Miss:

1. A Room of One’s Own
Now this only applies in the winter, because come spring we are all outside all day again and there’s plenty of space on our 6 rolling acres for all of us.  But during the long cold winter, I really would love to have a warm indoor space to spread out my art or other projects, without having my children walk by and destroy it all.  And just some quiet space to retreat.  A room with a door.  Yes, I am looking forward to this.

2. Water on tap
IMG_3701IMG_3646This one is tricky, because in many ways our life is much richer and more connected now that we have an intimate relationship with the water we use.  When water is on tap, it is so easy to just let it run for every little thing.  (“Oh, whoops, I spilled a drop of something, better run the water on a rag to clean it up.”)  When the rain barrel is low, we all pay attention.  In the summer, our drinking water is rain that we filter through our Berkey water filter.  When a storm rolls through, we are so thankful to be filling our water catchment and pond again.

We honestly don’t plan to have running water in our home.  We will have a big cistern that will collect the rain water off of our metal roof, but we will likely have a basic system of hauling water into the house from there.  Ask me later about the legalities of indoor plumbing, septic systems, and grey water.  (Hint: If it is common sense and environmentally friendly, it is illegal.  If it is expensive and wasteful, it is mandated.)

3. An Oven
Pizza.  That is all.  Oh…and tater tots.  And roasted squash.  Yum!

Now, we’ve learned to bake in some innovative ways, using cast iron and the coals from the fire.  Or a tin foil cover over our rocket stove, to bake corn bread, etc.  But yeah, I’m very much looking forward to having a real oven again.

In our home, we will have a classic wood-burning stove with an oven.  I am looking forward to the learning curve with that!

4. Internet
Some of you may have noticed that we aren’t always the quickest at returning the communications you send.  We sincerely apologize for this.  In our defense, to access email and the internet, it usually means we need to drive down the road to use the wifi at the Town Hall, or at the very least, bundle up and hike to the ridge where there is better cell phone service.  In the summer, no big deal.  But in the winter, when it is dark and only 5 degrees above zero, it’s harder to get motivated to stand up there with numb fingers typing up a reply.

The good news for us is that in about a month’s time, we will have a fiber-optic cable that will bring internet to our place.  We ordered it last fall, and it’s taken them this long to get it to us.  This is our only “utility” we plan on using at our homestead.

So, I think that’s it for now.  If you’ve got any questions about more of the details, please feel free to leave a comment below.  I’d be happy to share more!

Also, have YOU made any changes in your life recently that you’ve noticed make a difference in your experience and what you appreciate?  Please share below!