Sustainability

Page 2

120 articles in category Sustainability / Subscribe

IMG_9668 (2)

Sometimes people ask us what it looks like to live off-grid. Like many words, it has different meanings depending on who you talk to. Our version of off-grid infrastructure has had many iterations in the five years we’ve lived here and where we are at currently is probably the most workable it has ever been. By that I mean that, while we still have more improvements to make, it seems like we have finally landed on the right tools for the job.

I thought the above picture of the back of our house was a good representation of where we are currently at.

Shelter

The house is just under 700 square feet, 400 of which is sleeping quarters. The rest is the kitchen with a small bathroom and a laundry sink area for washing by hand. At some point, Lord willing, I’d like to share more details about those.

This was the entirety of my kitchen while the current space was under construction.

The current kitchen.

This kitchen literally changed my day-to-day life; it sounds dramatic but it’s actually quite true. It allowed me to get past many shortcomings in infrastructure in order to let go of some of the excuses I had given myself for not putting in the effort to properly nourish my family.

It made fermenting and canning garden vegetables a simple part of my everyday chores. And I can’t imagine that I could have done all of the recipe testing I did for Traditionally Fermented Foods without the counter tops and kitchen sink setup that we now have. I am very grateful that the Lord provided everything for the building and that he put it in Stewart’s heart to make it such a high priority in the construction of the house. In many ways our family is healthier because of it.

Helpful Resource: The Solar House: Passive Heating and Cooling

Water

We catch rainwater and currently use two large black tanks to store it for use in the home. In the lead photo you can see the tank on the right which we elevated to bring gravity-fed water into the house. This goes to a hose in the kitchen sink, the laundry sink, and a bathtub.

Lord willing, we hope to add another water tank to catch water from the forthcoming barn roof. In washing laundry at home by hand for seven people we go through a lot of water. This new tank will be mostly dedicated to that use. I should also note that I don’t always wash laundry at home. When water or time – or both – are short, we frequently wash many loads at the laundromat when we are going to town for other errands.

Helpful Resource: Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond

Ponds

That “pond” at the forefront of the lead photo is actually the hole we dug to build our underground house in. For now it contains a solar-powered water pump which waters our gardens and fruit trees and as such has been a great blessing to our agrarian endeavors. 

We have two other ponds that we dug with a backhoe the first spring we lived here. Both are located near the main garden and orchard areas but the front pond has now had so much erosion that it is now more of a cattail garden than anything.

The goat pasture also includes small ponds for watering the animals and helping to keep water on the property.

Helpful Resource: The Bio-Integrated Farm

Most of the solar panels are located on this roof.

Power

We have solar panels (not pictured) that power a small solar refrigerator, minimal lights, and the laptops we use to work from home. We can also charge power tools and fans when we have plenty of sun.

Propane

Last year we decided to replace the small propane tanks we were filling regularly with a large one we wouldn’t have to go to town to fill. This we use exclusively for the cook stove in our kitchen.

The wood stove when it was shiny and new.

Heat

We have a wood stove we use for heat and cooking in the cooler months (mostly November – March). We also have a lot of south-facing windows which makes a huge difference in the amount of wood needed to heat the house on sunny days.

We put the wood stove in with the bedrooms originally out of necessity since that was built before the kitchen. Now we heat only the bedrooms at night (and sometimes during the day) and close the door to the kitchen. Most of our firewood has been reclaimed from a local sawmill or harvested here on our acreage.

Waste

Here’s the thing that’s a huge priority but no one wants to talk about. We have mostly used a bucket system since moving off-grid. Our first temporary outhouse was an A-frame with a tarp and their is a hilarious story involving one of the children and a huge gust of wind which tells of its demise. I’ll leave out the details of that incident but ever since, we have used what I call the inside outhouse.

To accommodate our larger family, and since we live in a neighborhood where outhouses are the norm, we’d like to dig and build an outhouse to go along with it, if the Lord wills.

Helpful Resource: The Humanure Handbook

So that is where we are, five years on. Looking back, there have been great changes to our infrastructure from then to now. It was admittedly quite difficult for a few years when our set up didn’t quite match the size of our family or the needs of our circumstances… but it certainly was a learning process and one I am grateful for.

And while there are many things Stewart and I say we would do differently, the Lord has been faithful through this process to show us many things about sustainability and, more importantly, what was in our own hearts. May He be glorified through this agrarian journey and teach us to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness…”.

pea-rows palletgate chickens daddyannietrellis IMG_9633 (2) IMG_9625 (2)IMG_9651 (2)

While the calendar states that we are approaching mid-February, the weather feels a great deal like spring. This reminds me very much of the first winter we had here, which was not much of a winter at all. A persistently hot summer followed in 2012 so we will see what the rest of the year brings.

With the warmer weather, and the break in garden vegetables, we are beginning to plant. It is certainly possible – maybe even likely – that we will still see below-freezing temperatures, so we are planting small areas in cold-hardy varieties that we can then cover as the need arises.

But oh, is it exciting to see peas and radishes and beets and greens going in! We are particularly fond of this wando pea variety which seemed to tolerate both heat and cold when we tried it. Pak choi is something new that we are trying to get a jump on the growing season as well.

Stewart also picked up some potting soil to start seedlings of these cold weather crops as well as those tomatoes and tomatillos we will put in, Lord willing, once all chance of frost have passed. And Abram is lobbying hard for a big plot of melons this year – and who could say no to that – so Desert King Watermelon and a drought-tolerant cantaloupe variety are taking up space in our seed stash.

The chickens too seem to be appreciating the green showing up on our little acreage. We collected 18 eggs the other day – an all time high for us by my calculations. The goat milk supply continues to decrease as we expect a freshening, Lord willing, late this spring. The small buck that is staying with us has become a bit of an escape artist and so we get the pleasure of watching little Annie play goat herder in the manner in which she does just about everything – with humor and zeal.

After naps my little companion and I take a break from school books and dishes to stroll out and watch Stewart do most of the work while I snap pictures. I pitched some hay and took a sledge hammer to stumps but mostly I just appreciate all of the effort the boys, girls, and their Daddy put into this little homestead.

And so I thank them the only way I know how: with sourdough bread, rooster soup, and kombucha.