Key Elements of an Off Grid Homestead
For a few short weeks there I was really feeling like we had a handle on everything.
Then of course the reality of this life we’ve chosen came crashing back down. There’s a roof going on our little house on a hill, seeds are being started for this season, we’ve been tapping our gorgeous old sugar maples, I started freelance writing and doing social media consulting, and Scott is down to only working 3 days off the farm each week!
The exclamation point is for that last bit. It’s exciting but also very scary.
To deal with all this the control freak in me has been making lists of everything. Budgets, schedules, supply lists, you name it and I’m sure I wrote it down somewhere.
Since all these changes mean we expect to be in the new place and totally off the grid within the year we’ve created a sort of master list of the big things we just gotta have to get the new homestead running smoothly.
Obviously water is essential to life and as an off grid homesteader you’ll get in touch with real life. For your personal everyday needs you’ll a really clean water source like a spring or well or a source like rain barrels, a creek, or pond and a high quality filter. There are both whole house and small filters available.
You’ll also need water for gardens and orchards. To help reduce your water usage you can install a grey-water system, re-using water and/or install drip tape irrigation which supplies water directly to your plants and trees limiting waste and evaporation. You can also include swales, ponds, and terraces in your garden plan, helping rain water move through your garden system with no energy on your part.
You can find more about our plan here.
No home is complete without a root cellar! If you’re an off gridder you’ll need some way to keep food cool especially during the summer and have a place to store your harvest. Typically foods like potatoes, winter squash, root crops, and home canned goods are stored in cellars but anything you would keep in a refrigerator in an on grid situation will keep better in a root cellar than out on the counter.
Renewable Energy System
Unless you plan on living without any modern conveniences you’ll need some sort of renewable energy system. There are so many options available today and it’s much more affordable and easier than you may believe. Some companies even offer DIY options. Check out solar, wind, and hydro options.
Just like you need a root cellar to keep things cool you’ll need a pantry or at least a large cabinet to store foods that need to stay warm and dry. A pantry is the perfect place to keep spices, bulk dry goods like rice, flour, and beans, and onions and garlic.
A good wood stove will keep you warm in the winter and double as a cook stove. If you can’t purchase an actual wood cookstove look for a good sized stove with a flat top. With any stove you can let the fire burn down, push the coals to the back and bake in the front. A flat top will allow you to heat food on top. You may also choose to purchase or DIY a water heater for your stove.
Candles & Holders
Unless you have a huge energy system odds are you’ll have days when you can’t power everything. That’s why it’s always an excellent idea to have candles and easy to use holders to light up your house. Great ideas include candelabras and sconces which can be mounted and hung out of the way.
In many ways homesteading goes hand in hand with minimalism but being a self sufficient homesteader is certainly much either with a few basic tools on hand. Keeping these tools, your firewood, and garden supplies safe, organized and dry will make life much easier. Alternatively you can keep these things on a covered porch.
There’s no such think as central air in an off grid home. They use so much electricity you have to do without. A sleeping porch is a great way to beat the heat during the summer. All it is is a screened in porch large enough to fit your bed. It was a common feature on old farmhouses because the outside cools off so much faster than inside a house especially if your porch gets a good breeze.
Running a dryer off a small renewable energy system just doesn’t work. Get over that dream right now, start helping the environment and hanging your clothes to dry. There’s many drying rack options available and it’s really quite simple. They also double as a place to hang all the wonderful herbs you grow while they dry.
Human Powered Appliances
For all those things you just can’t live without look into human powered appliances. There’s all sorts of human powered gadgets now available that can make the off grid life easier. There’s foot pump washing machines, hand crank blenders, and grain mills.
Brewing. Pickling. Baking. Canning. Drying. So many important homestead tasks happen in the kitchen. Why shouldn’t there be two? An outdoor kitchen is wonderful for several reasons. First of all, you don’t have to spend beautiful summer days cooped up indoors just because there’s boxes of cucumbers that need to be pickled. Second if those summer days are more hot than beautiful cooking outside will keep you and your home cooler. Lastly when you do a lot of cooking an outdoor kitchen is so much easier on your house. High heat and moisture from steam can be hard on buildings that don’t have good ventilation systems.
While homesteaders often dream of enormous gardens it is also nice to have a smaller garden or a few raised beds right next to the house. A kitchen garden can be filled with herbs, frequently used vegetables, and fast wilting greens that can be harvested often and used right away. A kitchen garden will encourage you and your family to get outside and actually use your garden.
Solar Water Heater
At least during the summer a solar water heater can give you hot water for dishes or bathing for free. There are manufactured versions available for purchase as well as many DIY versions. I think we’re going to try an make one and I’ll give you an update if we do.
Solar dehydrators can be purchased or made at home and are an easy, free way to preserve tons of food. We often dehydrate fruit for snacks as well as wild mushrooms and certain vegetables to be used in meals over the winter.
As I previously mentioned, off grid homesteaders are acutely aware of just how precious water is. That’s why a composting toilet is the perfect choice for an off grid homestead. Whether you use an indoor one or set it up as an outhouse they’re really simple to use and maintain, take no water, and produce useful organic matter.
Cob ovens are super easy to build, sustainable, and are great for making pizza, bread and other baked goods without heating up your house during the summer. Plus there’s no denying that wood fired pizza is one of life’s greatest treasures.
There’s no comparison to homegrown, fresh fruit. Orchards can help reduce your family’s dependency on expensive, out of season fruit from the grocery store.
Okay a bookshelf will do but books are so important for homesteaders to have around. They offer tips and inspiration without the need to get online. You can check out a few of my favorite summer reads here.
In today’s political climate this one sure is a doozy! With everything healthcare related seemingly up in the air it’s best to get your herbal apothecary and know how started right away. Herbal remedies are not a total replacement for modern medicine but they can absolutely make a difference. Start learning about, growing/foraging, and preserving herbs. If you want to get a jump start before spring we currently have custom elderberry syrup and wild mint extract/tincture in the shop.
Unless you live in the tropics you absolutely need season extenders if you want to have good fresh food outside the summer season. We use a combination of a hoop house, row covers, and cold frames that allow us to have crops like carrots, green onions, radishes, and tons of greens during the fall and early spring. In the future we’re hoping to have a large enough fall planting to completely overwinter some crops as well.
Woodlots provide so much more than just firewood! They give you shade and peace in nature. They also provide an abundance of non-timber forest products, things like medicine, craft materials, and wild edibles. We regularly gather wood sorrel, several mushroom varieties, sassafras, ramps, and yellow root from our forest and have plans to increase our foraging in the coming years.
While small vegetable gardens are awesome if you want to be self sufficient food wise your going to need a good size area to grow some staple crops in. Things like wheat, potatoes, flint/dent corn, rice, or other grains. FYI the picture above is rice Scotty grew in Vermont!
Complete self sufficiency can be a romantic dream but ultimately people need community. We barter with our neighbors, trade work on large projects, enjoy their company, and some of them even buy food from us. If you don’t feel like you can do that in your own community think again. You can build a homestead community right where you’re at. Check out our best tips here!
Whew, I don’t know about you but I have to get work! Did we miss anything you think is essential to your homestead? I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list.
This post is linked to the Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop and…
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