by Robert B – http://keepingupwiththepreppers.blogspot.com/

Building an off-grid power source for your home or “Bug Out” location is not as difficult as you may think. Having power can drastically improve the quality of life during a long or short term power outage. After losing all of our food during a three-day power outage after a severe storm, we learned quickly that taking the power grid for granted was not a good time.

Please keep in mind that we are not experts and there are always dangers when dealing with electricity.

HQST 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel

The solar generator constructed at our home is basically the same as the generator constructed at our bug out location.

First, determine what it is you wish power and determine how many watts you’re going to need. As an example, I use eight 100 Watt panels and five large RV batteries to run my full sized Maytag refrigerator. My set up allows me to run the refrigerator throughout the night if I turn the ice maker off and settings down on the fridge and freezer sides. I turn them to setting “two.”

There are four major components to our 12 volt solar generator:

  • Solar Panels
  • Charge Controller
  • Battery Bank
  • Power Inverter

Solar Panels and Charge Controller will be discussed here.

Solar Panels:

Solar Panels generate power during daylight hours to charge your battery bank. I use eight 100 watt panels to provide up to 800 watts of power to my battery bank. Generally speaking, the power generated by the panels are less than the advertised or rated watt output meaning eight solar panels probably put out 10 percent less power than the full 800 watts as advertised.

While the panels do in fact still provide power on a cloudy day, they will not be quite as efficient as full sunlight.

The solar panels I used are found on Amazon for about $114.00 each seen above.

I have been impressed with them but keep in mind the technology improves almost daily so do your research and read reviews.

These panels are very easy to connect. The male and female connections are clearly marked (+) and (-) for positive and negative respectively. You will also need Y branch connection cables to connect more than one panel for your system. You will need a long set of cables run run power to the controller. I used a 100 foot cable with a male connection at one end and a female at the other end. Cut the cable in half and expose the wires. This will give you 50 feet of wire. Of course, depending on your situation, you may need a longer cable or shorter cable. The shorter the cable the better. The longer the wire, the more electricity you will lose in the transmission of the power going inside to your charge controller.

Look for part two of this article on Friday…

Choosing and Installing a Tankless Water Heater

by Patientmomma

When I purchased my country property several years back it was in dire need of updating.  Over the last few years I have gradually replaced many items which were hanging on at their end of life!  The conventional 50 gallon tank water heater was approximately 15 years old and while it worked, it took between 5 to 7 minutes to get hot water to the master bathroom, depending on outside temperature.  I knew it needed to be replaced so I began researching tankless water heaters.  I have no connection to any brand mentioned other than being a happy customer.  I had already decided to use propane gas as a fuel source as I did not want electric and I don’t have access to natural gas. This article describes my research and choice of a water heater.

I lived in Europe for five years and most of the housing had tankless water heaters so I gained some valuable experience with on-demand water heaters; both good and bad.  Fast forward a bunch of years and the on-demand heaters were becoming the rage in the USA because of the high utility costs of conventional tank water heaters.  But I stayed with my 50 gallon tank and paid the price of heating water 24/7/365.

About 8 years ago I was faced with replacing water heaters in a large house. I had a choice to replace three 50 gallon tank heaters with newer models or go tankless.  About that time a friend of mine had her 50 gallon tank water heater, located in her attic, fail and the water damage was significant.  She had to move out of her house for six weeks while ceilings, floors, carpet, dry wall, etc., were replaced.  Her experience was a motivator for me!  I did my due diligence and researched all types of water heaters; both tank and tankless.  The tank type was much cheaper to purchase and install but the utility bill is what made the difference.  The tankless heaters had higher upfront costs, but saved on the utility bill the rest of its useful life.

After going back and forth for months, I made the decision to go tankless.  While the research you must do is the same for any type of tankless water heater, your family life style, location, how long you think you will stay in the house, the availability of desired fuel, and maybe Home Owner Association (HOA) rules will influence your decisions.  I also considered the improved resale value of the home by having energy efficient tankless water heaters.

So what’s the difference?  Basically, the tank heaters hold the water at a constant temperature 24/7/365.  When you turn on your hot water faucet the hot water in the tank mixes with cold water from the house water system and gives you warm water. You pay your utility provider a fee to keep that water hot all the time.   In a tankless system the water heats only at your demand.  When you turn the hot faucet on, the heat exchanger in the tankless unit turns on and provides you hot water, then stops heating water when you turn the faucet off.  Below is a diagram I copied from the Navien website on the components of a tankless water heater.

Choice of Fuel Type:  One of the first decisions you have to make is the type of fuel for the water heater; the choices are electric, natural gas (NG) and propane gas (PG).  If your house is all electric that may influence a decision to install an electric heater; but there is always the possibility of running NG to your house if you are close to an existing line.  Some city/communities/HOA will not allow a propane tank in the yard; but you must ask the HOA and city ordinance folks.  They might allow a buried underground tank, but not an above ground tank. Do a cost comparison of fuel types (if all are available to you); cost of electric, NG or PG.

How big a tank do I need? Another research and decision to make is sizing; how large of a water heater do you need?  Basically, the larger the heater, the more expensive the heater, no matter what brand it is.  The following general information comes right off the internet and you can query “tankless water heaters” and find a lot of data. Now down to the details you need to know…

Maximum Flow Rate:  This is the measure of how much water passes through the water heater at a time, in gallons per minute (gpm). For NG/PG tankless water heaters, it averages between about 6 gpm and 10 gpm but some go higher.  I was told an average shower or faucet has about 2 gpm flow rate; so you can get an idea of how much water flow you use. If you have two adults, two teenagers and 2 younger children, think about the number of water fixtures that will be used simultaneously and how long the water will run if you have teenagers in the bathroom. Will you have people in the shower at the same time you are running the washing machine and your dishwasher?  If your family is two adults and some fur babies, your demand will be different.

The important point is not to confuse the flow rate value with the water heater’s heating capacity. Water flow capacity is NOT how hot the water will be if it’s flowing at 10 gpm. For example, a tankless water heater listed as providing 10 gpm will give you water at that rate, BUT how hot that water can be depends on the energy input of the unit. That is why when choosing a NG or PG tankless water heater you need to pay attention to its energy input per hour, or BTUs per hour.  Now here’s where the info gets more complicated.

Heating Power: There is a whole complex discussion of British Thermal Unit (BTU), joules and temperature explained on many different websites on the internet.  I am not an expert on this so I just used the common knowledge I read on several internet sites.   Basically, about 500 BTU/hr is enough to heat water flowing at 1 gpm by 1 °F. If you know what the incoming water temperature is, it is possible to estimate how many BTUs per hour you need from tankless water heater. You can ask your plumber to figure this out for you.  Water temperatures can vary by season and by location; e.g., New York is colder than Mississippi in the winter so the ground water temperatures will be different.  From my experience 120 °F is the maximum temperature I wanted, because higher temperatures create a scalding risk. You should also know that the BTU number in the product specification sheet is not the actual heating capacity. To calculate how many BTUs are actually used to heat the water, you need to use the energy factor.

Energy Factor: The energy factor for water heaters means the part of the heat energy actually applied to the water and to the total energy input which is delivered to the heater. I wanted an energy factor of at least .9.5.  If you have a four person family, you will need at least 160,000 BTU, higher would be better.  The energy factor needs to be about .9.   For natural gas and propane tankless water heaters, the energy factor varies between 0.8 and 0.95, depending on whether it is a condensing unit or not.  So what is the difference between condensing or non-condensing water heaters?

Condensing Water Heaters:   Simply put, a condensing water heater uses the heat of the expended gas, which would normally be expelled through a vent, as an additional heat source. The waste gas released from the exhaust vent of a condensing water heater is cooler and in the cooling process the water vapor often condenses back to liquid state, which is why it is called a condensing water heater.  Non-condensing tankless gas water heaters have an average energy factor of 0.82; condensing water heaters have an energy factor of up to 0.95. Guess what? Condensing units cost more money; but I think they are worth it.

Activation Flow Rate: One of the things you need to realize is tankless water heaters only start heating when their sensors confirm a certain amount of water is flowing through the system. If the water use does not reach that minimum flow rate, the unit will not be activated and you get cold water. This means if you don’t turn the faucet on full open, the water heater may not turn its heating element on.  Look for a water heater that has a .4 to .6 flow rate.  You do NOT want a 1 gpm flow rate.  Do your homework and check out the product specification sheets and make sure you get a unit with a LOW number minimum activation rate.

Brand and Build Quality: I am very opinionated on this topic so bear with me.  I like hot water; that is why I purchased tankless hot water heaters.  In a former house I had a whirlpool tub that I could not use because the tank water heaters could not provide enough hot water.  After I installed the tankless water heater, I was able to fill the big whirlpool tub and enjoy the experience with HOT WATER.  Sorry, I digressed.

The old saying “you get what you pay for” is true and especially with tankless water heaters. I won’t demean various brands, but I say, do your homework.  If you are on city water your brand choices are wide. Talk to people and quiz your plumber and friends on their opinions of different brands.  Check out websites which compare brands and prices but examine the specification sheets with detail.  Look at:

  • Energy factor: Over 160,000 BTU; Desired 180,000 to 199,000
  • Minimum flow rate: Desired: over 0.26 GPM
  • Minimum activation flow rate: Desired: 0.4 GPM
  • Maximum flow rate: 7.5 to 11.5 GPM/min — this depends on the model and your need

Other Things to Know:

  • Tankless water heaters can be indoor or outdoor, vented or non-vented; depends on what you want/need.
  • Outdoor units should have ALL pipes insulated; some indoor units should also be insulated, depends where you have it installed. I have had both indoor and outdoor units insulted, even though I live in the South. Northern folks MUST have insulation!
  • Tankless water heaters require minimum of ¾” pipes while conventional tank water heaters only have ½” pipes; this should be included in your install price; everything is negotiable.
  • Water heaters need some annual maintenance so put them where you can get to them.

Oh By the Ways:

  • It will take a minute for the hot water to get to your faucet, depending on where you place your water heater. I had to wait 6-7 minutes for my conventional tank electric water heater to get hot water to my master bath shower.  Now with the new tankless one it takes 1-2 minutes to get to my shower.
  • Before you turn on your dishwasher, turn your kitchen faucet hot water full open and let it get hot; then start your dishwasher.
  • It will take a few seconds for the tankless water heater to adjust temperatures from hot to warm or warm to hot. Depending on the type of faucet you have, once you get used to the tankless water heater, you’ll know where to turn the faucet the first time to get the temperature you want.

If you live in the country and are on well water your choices are more limited.  Unless filtered at the entry point, most well water contains a lot of minerals and will corrode any water heater.  Navien brand water heaters have stainless steel innards and will hold up better when connected to well water. Other brand heaters are less expensive; but they usually have cooper innards, which corrode more quickly.

At my place, the well pumps water to an underground holding tank. Occasionally, there is low water pressure between when the well pump kicks on and the pressure pushes the water to the faucets.  This causes a lower flow rate to my faucets, which delays the water heater kicking on.  To me, this is just part of having well water so it does not cause me any concern; I just patiently wait until the well pump does its thing. But it is something you should be aware of if you are on well water.

My Choice: 

Because I live in the country, have a set income and I really like hot water, I decided to purchase and install a propane tankless water heater.  It is an outdoor condensing unit.  I choose Navien because I use well water and Navien is the only brand (that I researched) which has stainless steel innards. The picture is of the installed tankless water heater on the exterior of my house. This is the largest residential unit Navien makes and the insulation is protected by the unit cover. Other brands will work but they will corrode faster from well water. With Navien’s 15-year heat exchanger warranty, the water heater may out last me. I am not affiliated with Navian, I am just a happy customer.

I have purchased three Navien tankless hot water heaters for various houses and I have had no problems with them providing hot water when I wanted it. That said, Navien requires a licensed plumber to install the unit to receive their 15 year warranty.  A good DIYer could probably install the unit, but again, Navien will not warrant it unless installed by a licensed plumber.

The only thing I am unhappy about is I cannot independently light the water heater because it has a closed, self-contained ignition.  That means I cannot take a match to a pilot flame like we could in the old days.  But, I have a propane generator so unless manufacturers stop making propane, I’m good!

The Cost:  Tankless water heaters will cost you more up front; there is no getting around that. But…your utility bill will go down.  In my former city house, the three conventional tank water heaters were NG.  After the Navien tankless NG heater was installed my gas bill reduced by 45% the first full month and after a year the bill was down by 52%.  Currently, my conventional electric 50-gallon water heater cost about $700/year to operate.  Since I have only had this tankless water heater a short while I don’t have statistics to give you; but I anticipate about 4.5 year return on investment (ROI) for the tankless water heater.

The cost will vary around the nation; your location makes a big difference in the price. Your cost reduction and ROI will be different depending on the brand, size of tankless water heater you choose and your family size and use.  You can see most of the retail prices on the internet but remember, your plumber can get a discount.  Installation charges could vary from $800 to $2000, depending on your location, codes and ordinances, how much ¾” piping is used and your plumber’s profit margin. One last plus for tankless water heaters: In 2016 the IRS is allowing a $300 tax credit for installation of energy efficient tankless water heaters.

I’m sure there are some really knowledgeable pack members that can talk technical specs better than I can, so please pitch in and clarify if you can.  My need was to have hot water and my desire was to save money so I decided to switch to a propane tankless water heater.  I cannot put a price on my peace of mind.  I hope this information is helpful.

Our experience introducing chickens to our homestead

by RW

Our first experience with raising chickens was very interesting…  we bought from a local who obviously knew more about chickens than we did at the time and took it as a chance to unload some “damaged” goods.  We started with 6 of the ugliest stinkiest chicks we had seen.  By 3 months it was obvious these were not normal chickens.  They were mixed breeds and mixed up.  Some were bantams, all but 2 were roosters and we had everything from deformed feet to hens that would not lay an egg.  At one year old we had one dominant, mean rooster that killed every other male in the flock in one afternoon.  The two hens remained free ranging with him because we didn’t know what to do with him.  Then he started charging my 2 yr old and the lawnmower and ended up pushing up daisies.  The other 2 hens never laid an egg and were killed by something a lot larger and hungrier than they were.  That experience taught us what we did not want.

We wanted chickens that were big enough to survive some hardship and not a flock of roosters, we wanted hens that laid eggs and we needed animals with enough aggression to be self preserving but not endanger our children.  Since then we have had rhode island reds which were excellent layers although the hens argue a great deal among themselves and can be aggressive towards small children.  We had two rhode island red roosters we were satisfied with, although one was not allowed around the kids, the other was happy to eat from a small hand anytime.  After a few more tries we purchased light brahma hens (sexed to be just that… hens.  AKA pullets) and buff orpingtons.  So far the buffs are my favorite.  They are docile and pleasant, they lay very well, they handle free ranging or confinement.  They are very “go with the flow” and enjoy strolling around eating ticks and all sorts of little creatures.

As far as intelligence chickens in general will never fall in the confines of a high IQ BUT buffs are ditzy in nature and tend to struggle with even the smallest changes, like a moved coop or new straw to step on.  On occasion they have forgotten the way home when the light in the coop was turned off. We have learned that living with chickens free ranging requires a rooster. His job is to protect, warn and if needed, lay down his life for the ladies.  All of ours have been willing to do that and some have lost their life doing it.  It is, however, easier to replace a rooster than half a flock.  In general we keep our hens for 2 years, we started with 6, when they turn a year old we got 6 more pullets, when the first 6 turn 2 yrs old we generally sale them cheap, process them for the freezer or if we are particularly attached they live out their lives teaching the other younger chicks the ropes.  Egg production generally
takes a nose dive when a hen reaches 2 yrs old, in my experience they are too expensive to feed if they are not producing eggs.

We have also acquired an insurance policy on our homestead for constant reproduction … silkies.  They are the incubator that requires no electricity or monitoring, nature at it’s best!  Silkie hens are so driving to reproduce they will sit on anything.  Our hens go broody about every 4-6 months.  We have one hen who is 3 years old who has hatched an raised countless chicks, very few of which are hers.  Like clock work every few months she lays an egg and doesn’t get up.  At that point she is there for 21 days.  We usually slip in other eggs under her so we always have new stock and she hatches out 50-80% of the eggs she sits on.  They make great mothers raising smarter chicks than if you would just allow the chicks to grow up on their own.  She first egg starts to crack and then usually gives the remaining eggs 2-3 more days before she gets up to care for her new chicks. We switch out roosters every few years to keep our gene pool from getting stagnant and that allows the silkies to reproduce as nature intended.  We sell the chicks easily if we don’t need any around at the time. Hens often go broody at the same time and may split a clutch of eggs if one hen has too many to keep warm.  Our two black silkie hen sisters usually go broody at the same time and sit in the same nesting box sharing a clutch of eggs and then sharing the responsibility of rearing chicks.

Silkies are not intended to be a dinner table bird though.  They are covered in hair type feathers and they have black bones, black skin and five toes plus they are pretty boney.  I suppose if you were hungry enough they would be delicious but for now I’d rather admire their mothering qualities.  Silkie roosters can usually be kept with the broody hens and then the hatched chicks without harming the chicks.  We have never had a silkie rooster harm a chick, they are usually very good with them and even help with teaching them how and what to eat and where the best bugs are..  Silkie roosters are a little like having a small male dog around though, they have no idea they are small and their attitude is HUGE!  Our silkie rooster is not allowed to free range with our children around for that reason.  Even though he is small he could still hurt little ones.

Raising chickens is not rocket science and is very rewarding.  We love to watch them chase bugs around the yard and scratch up dirt to take a dust bath.  As long as they have adequate shelter to keep them out of the rain and cold and provide an area to roost at night they are happy. We allow ours to free range but provide feed and scratch grain once a day, usually in the afternoon to remind them where the coop is.  We also turn all our “scraps” into chicken food.  All our eggs shells are oven dried along with any type of fruit or vegetable peel, left over rice, corn, etc.  Once dried and cool I dump it all in the food processor and then feed it to the chickens at their next feeding.  Chickens also need fresh water daily which they will drink from a variety of containers.  The eggs will come in abundance.  Beautiful, perfect eggs with deep yellow/orange yolks.  Eggs that are never dipped in some chemical or Clorox solution or pasteurized or zapped with radiation.  Just eggs as they were intended to be.  Free range eggs also make the richest cakes and breads!!  Chickens are worth a try, there is little about them not to love and they provide you with another food source which means one less thing to put on your grocery list.

Preparing for and Protecting you Home and or Retreat from Forest Fire

by Ron Melchiore

close-callI had another post in mind to submit to you folks but forest fires are a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve recently become aware of the fires burning in various areas particularly in the Southeastern United States. In fact, it finally made the National news tonight. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail many years ago and I can’t imagine the number of fires or amount of territory now burning through those areas.

As some of you know, we’ve had our share of forest fires out here. They’ve literally had us running for our lives. I can’t think of too many things that demand immediate attention more than walking out the door and seeing a billowing curtain of gray/black smoke rising skyward in the nearby forest.

The following paragraph is an excerpt from my book Off Grid and Free : My Path to the Wilderness.

“It was like being in a movie theater, the big screen showing a large-as-life fire burning right in front of us, with black smoke billowing upward and a dense veil of white-gray smoke hugging the ground so thickly that the bright orange flames were visible only when they leapt skyward above the fracas. A slight diminution in the smoke allowed just enough visibility to see an orange-red glow, much like opening the door to a furnace allows a view of the orange-red coals. And, like the furnace hungrily consuming its fuel, the intensity of the forest fire’s heat incinerated everything in its path. “

sprinklers-on-the-roofI have a full chapter devoted to our fire experiences. I am not a fire expert. Rather I’m a guy who has dealt with at least 4 different fires in our 17 years of wilderness living in northern Canada. Two of those fires have gotten to within 90 feet of our homestead. All totaled those fires burned at least ¾ million acres around us.

Here are some general tips anyone can do to prepare well ahead of time. They are not things to contemplate when the fire is ¼ mile away and working towards you. Have an escape plan having multiple paths of egress. If this road is blocked, where to now? Is there a lake to head to as a last resort?Is the vehicle fueled up? Is it pointed in the right direction?

Manifold Setup

Manifold Setup

The last thing you want to be doing is packing in a panic! Consider what items are of greatest importance. Purse/wallet, identification, important documents, medications, backup laptop computer, hard drive or USB with essential financial or other data? What is deemed essential will vary from person to person. In our case, in spring, since we are only one lightning strike away from disaster, we have a survival bag by the door as well as our survival suits. We have smoke masks and goggles. We pack some food and water in the boat and have the water pump and boat fully fueled and ready to roll. Remember, we have the added factor we are alone out here so we plan accordingly.

Rake all combustibles such as leaves and debris far from buildings. Be aware fires will create their own winds so those leaves you raked to the perimeter will be blown around again. If I had a chipper, tiller or some device to reduce and shred and /or bury leaves, I would use it. If you are in an evergreen forest, I would consider removing trees near buildings. At the very least, remove all lower branches in nearby trees which act as ladder fuels. (fuels that allow a ground fire to start climbing the trees)

The above are routine things we do every year to be prepared. Since we live on a lake, we have a sprinkler system set up preemptively. Forget trying to put the fire out. That’s not going to happen. All you can do is try to get combustibles away from any structures and take measures to bounce the fire around your property.

When we moved out here, we bought a water pump, fire hoses, garden sprinklers and garden hoses (which serve as sprinkler supply lines). Higher quality sprinklers and supply hoses are available and if I had to do it over again I would opt for those. Our spring ritual is to set up all our equipment long before the first thunder and lightning appear. By doing so, at the first sign of trouble, we’re ready.

The first step is to set up the fire pump on our beach. By means of a quick coupler, a 2.5 inch PVC suction line is connected to the pump and extends about 12 feet out into the lake. On the end of the pipe that is in the water, I have a foot valve which allows water to flow one way to the pump but prevents water from draining back into the lake. That’s important because you don’t want the water pump to drain of water and thereby lose its prime. The foot valve rests on a rock about 8 inches off the lake bottom so that sand and other debris isn’t sucked into the system.

On the output side of the water pump there is a threaded coupler which ultimately connects to standard 1.5 inch firehose. Several 100 foot sections of hose are connected together to make the run up the hill to the house. Mounted on a porch post is a manifold which takes the high-pressure water from the pump and redirects it out to smaller feed lines, the garden hoses I mentioned earlier. We have 5 outlets on this manifold which we can control via individual valves. We can shut off or engage each sprinkler with the turn of a valve. Sprinklers can be mounted singly or in series, so there are some instances where one valve may control two sprinkler heads.

Our manifold also has an adapter and valve that allows us to continue a run of standard firehose out to our homestead’s perimeter to tackle any smoldering areas and hot spots. We have two nozzles that can be attached to the end of this fire hose. The first is an adjustable spray nozzle capable of spraying water in a short, wide pattern or a jet of water that can shoot out one hundred feet if need be. Our second nozzle has a narrow opening that delivers a high-pressure jet of water capable of pulverizing the ground to reach fire that is smoldering in roots and moss.

Our home and outbuildings are top priority to protect so I head up to the roof of our two-story home and mount a sprinkler on a short pole at each end of the roof. A short hose connects them in series and then the feed line drops from the roof to the nearby manifold. Our house and outbuildings are now protected.

Forgive me for the cuts from the book but time is of the essence and I want to get this information out. The following is another excerpt from my book Off Grid and Free:My Path to the Wilderness and has more specific information.

What has saved our home twice?

Sprinklers! Both our own system and those of the provincial fire crews. Part of my spring ritual is to head to the house roof and install two sprinklers, one at each end. I also have full-length trees cut, approximately 20- to 25 feet long, and have a sprinkler head attached to the top of each of those trees. We pick locations around our house site where we can stand these trees back up, like big flag poles, and either wire each one to another smaller tree or attach a set of tripod legs to the pole, so that it can be free-standing. The higher these “flag poles,” the more coverage and the better the protection. The Honda water pump with a 1 1⁄2 ” firehose delivers pressurized water from our lake to the input side of a manifold, and all the sprinkler feed hoses come off the output of the manifold.

Once a fire gets into the crown of the trees, it’s hard to stop. So how do sprinklers prevent property from being incinerated?

The basic premise of sprinklers is to bring up the humidity in the protected area as high as possible, before a fire arrives. The dome of humidity has a tendency to bounce the fire around it, allowing the fire to bypass the protected areas. They most certainly will not extinguish a wildfire!

For anyone living in fire-prone areas, this concept will work for you as long as you have a reliable water source. A swimming pool, pond, stream, or even household tap gives you a chance at saving your home. At a minimum, a couple of sprinklers, proper water lines, and a water pump are all that are needed for some cheap insurance.”

When we first moved out here to build our homestead, we knew we would eventually have to deal with a forest fire. But we had no idea the scope and intensity a conflagration could possess. During construction, we flew in metal siding and roofing for our home’s exterior. It gives a great deal of fire resistance. For anybody doing new construction, especially in fire prone areas, consider metal or masonry exterior. And finally, never underestimate a fire. I have personally seen forest fires run 5 to 10 miles in a day! They will lob embers far in advance of themselves to start new fires. Good luck!

Ron and his wife currently live 100 miles in the Canadian wilderness on a remote lake. As part of the back to the land movement that originated in the 70’s, they have spent their adult years living the homestead dream. You can follow and contact Ron at https://www.facebook.com/offgridandfree.mypathtothewilderness or http://www.inthewilderness.net/

Off Grid and Free-My Path to The Wilderness 

by Ron – Author of “Off Grid and Free-My Path to The Wilderness

I want to thank MD and all the wonderful people who read my first post and made such thoughtful comments last week. All of you have made me feel welcome here. Thank you!

I had lots of questions which have given me good ideas on things I can write about for future posts. One of the questions dealt with fuel and it’s storage.

Long ago, I had questions myself in regards to fuel storage and did lots of research on the topic. I found a lot of confusing information and nothing really definitive. Depending on the source, there was a wide array of viewpoints on the subject.

What I will do is simply pass on to you what works for us. Because we are a fly in location only (via float plane) and we only shop and get supplied twice a year, we need to inventory a lot of things, including fuel. The three fuels we have here are diesel, gasoline and a small quantity of kerosene. The kerosene is for a small kerosene heater used in the greenhouse in spring.

Equipment we have here includes a small 6KW single cylinder diesel generator and gasoline powered chainsaw, brush cutter, rototiller, brush chipper, Honda water pump, ice auger, boat motor and snowmobile.

I hate to make this so simple but… we do very little special with our fuel as far as storage itself. I’ve heard and read the arguments that gasoline must be used within a certain period of time or it goes bad, gets stale, loses octane, won’t run equipment well etc.

set-upI have no problem taking one to three year old gasoline and using it in any piece of equipment I have. Every piece of equipment runs like a top. Same applies to the diesel. I’ve tried gasoline additives and have found them to be of no value. Please keep in mind, this is what works for us.

So let’s get to the finer points. All gasoline is stored in RED 5 gallon plastic jerry cans. All plastic cans are sealed tight and are stored in a shed out of sunlight. I think those are three important points. Airtight, out of the sun and plastic containers. We have some radical temperature extremes and I think the plastic containers help keep any condensation in check.

Diesel is shipped in in either a 55 gallon drum or YELLOW 5 gallon plastic jerry cans. The same air tight, out of the sun stored in the storage shed applies to the diesel. The exception to the diesel storage is I have built a stand where a 55 gallon drum rests on it’s side in a cradle. This setup is for diesel storage for more immediate use. The drum is positioned so the ¾” pipe bung is down and I have a filter housing with 10 micron filter and shut off valve. I favor a filtration unit that has a clear bowl so I can visually see any water accumulation. This unit should also have a small valve at the bottom of the bowl to be able to bleed that water out. All diesel is filtered through this setup before ever going into the generator. The generator also has it’s own 5 micron filtration as well. With any of our fuel storage, my biggest concern is fuel contamination, whether dirt or water.

It’s hard not to take note of the color specification for the storage containers. I’ve put the colors in capital letters as they are a very important component of proper fuel storage. I’ve worked in remote exploration camps where hundreds of drums of fuel are stored in berms along with many additional 5 gallon jerry cans of both diesel and gasoline. In theory, 55 gallon drums have a yellow or red band to signify what type of fuel it contains, or is marked appropriately, but many times, the drums are sent out to be refilled, flown back in and then at that point, it’s a guessing game. Is it really gas or diesel?

Save yourself some grief. You never want to take a stab at guessing what fuel you are putting into a gasoline powered piece of equipment or diesel engine. Yes, I have done the feel and sniff test and lit a little on a small wad of napkin to see how flammable it is. I’ve always been right, but all it takes is that one time to be wrong and it’s lights out. Ask the guy in camp how his diesel truck ran when he filled it with gas. Not terribly well.

A couple of final points. If you are storing significant quantities of fuel, regardless of whether it is legally required in your area or not, please consider storing it in a berm, something that will catch and contain any spill should it ever occur. Whenever possible, I fuel up equipment using a funnel with a fine paint filter to catch any course junk in the containers. I do randomly use a small quantity of gas line antifreeze (based on isopropyl alcohol) generally in the winter. Good luck!

Ron and his wife currently live 100 miles in the Canadian wilderness on a remote lake. As part of the back to the land movement that originated in the 70’s, they have spent their adult years living the homestead dream. You can follow and contact Ron at https://www.facebook.com/offgridandfree.mypathtothewilderness or http://www.inthewilderness.net/

Combatting Fungus Problems on Fruit trees

Today we present another article in our non-fiction writing contest – By Kate in GA

While this technique will work with all perennial plants, my focus for this article is really on the perennials in the garden. I will specifically talk about fruit trees. However, this will work on all perennial plants that may be giving you problems.

Let me start by saying that I have never seen this technique mentioned in any book or anywhere on the web. If you ask a master gardener in your county, they will probably say they never heard of it – and may even add that too much fertilizer can be harmful. However, I can honestly say this technique does work, and with more success than I ever imagined. This technique has come from my own personal experience and has managed to let my apple trees live less than 20 feet from my (and my neighbor’s) evergreen trees. All trees are playing well together and are happy.

Let’s start with a comparison in the human vitamin world. The government gives us minimum daily values for nearly all vitamins. However, manufacturing companies sell vitamins in much higher doses then the minimum recommend by the government because taking the higher amount makes people feel better. Vitamin E comes to mind for me. I take 400 mg every day because it helps me with pain but the government states the daily value needed is only 15 – 30 mg. (Not sure these numbers are correct, I looked up the daily value stat up on the web and found many different values. I combined them all in the range I displayed here.)

The same holds true for your plants. I first learned of this fact when we moved to our house 16 years ago. After the first year, I noticed that my grass always had fungus problems, but my neighbors didn’t. (Mostly I had dollar spot and fairy rings.) I just wanted my yard to look like my neighbors (also required by my HOA or I would have been fined). I put down all kinds of fungicide that I purchased in the home improvement centers. They worked for a short time, but the problem always came back. So I had my soil tested. I found out that I had no phosphorus and very little pot ash (potassium) in my soil. I did know that my neighborhood used to be a farm. I believe that my plot probably had the chicken house on it. Keeping chickens in one spot for many years will drain the phosphorus from the soil. I went to the local feed and seed store and purchased two fertilizers: one 50lb. bag of 0-45-0 and one 50lb. bag of 0-0-60. I spread both (in both the front and back yard) and two weeks later, my lot looked like the rest of the neighborhood! And it stayed that way for 2 years.

My neighborhood has changed quite a bit in the years I have lived here. We have quite a few Leyland Cyprus trees on our property, as well as Arborvitae Emerald Green trees. My neighbors have them as well. Both of these trees carry the Cedar Apple Rust fungus as well as many others. I got the evergreen trees long before I got the apple trees. Knowing that I might have problems with fungus on the apple trees, we planted three trees anyway. I thought that with a spray management program, I could make it work.

My apple trees are now in their 5th year at our house. We bought two year old trees, so I am guessing at the end of this summer, they will be 7 years old. It has not always been an easy co-existence for my apple trees & evergreens. The apple trees told me the second year they were here that they didn’t like living at my house and showed me that by picking up both Cedar Apple Rust and Fire Blight.

I thought, no problem, I will spray! Well, spraying didn’t work! It worked when sprayed right after a rain storm, but the dew is so heavy here in the summer, that each morning I got up I had more fire blight! That year, I cut off so many dead branches I thought I was going to lose the trees. We managed to scrape by that year, but I didn’t know if we should pull the trees and forget about growing apples or not. We decided to keep the trees and I thought I would try again in year number 3. I followed the spray recommendations from the University of Georgia and thought that would make the difference. Nope, it didn’t! After a lot of rain in April and May, I thought my trees would die.

While out and about one day in mid- May, I pulled into my driveway and noticed that I had dollar spot on my lawn. I looked at my neighbor’s yards and they did not have dollar spot. I thought, “Has it been 2 ears since I put down phosphorus?” I called up my feed and seed store to order more. Then I thought, if this works for grass, would it work for my apple trees as well? I ordered 100lbs. of 0-45-0 and 0-0-60 that year. I put 50lbs. out for the grass, (spread in both the front and back yard) and then put the other 50lbs. of each concentrating on the 1/6 acre were my trees were located (the trees are in my backyard and also got some of the initial 50lbs. that I put down for the grass.) I added it a bit heavy to the drip line but spread the rest evenly over the 1/6 acre. I watered it in immediately. I had to use a drip line because the sprinkler would have caused more fire blight on the trees. 1 week later, the episodes of fire blight and new evidence of cedar apple rust stopped!

This has now been made part of the routine care of my apple trees! I add one 50lb. bag of 0-45-0 and one 50lb. bag of 0-0-60 to the 1/6 acre were my trees are located each year. And, as I mentioned earlier, they are now almost 7 years old and much happier trees. I still used an integrated spray management program, but my emphasis concentrates on the early sprays needed in the spring. I only spray for fungus now about every 4 – 6 weeks during the summer months and apply the spray with a focus on the new growth. It is a bit of a challenge to know when to spray because the fungicide can damage the trees if it is over 90 degrees when you spray. (That is all summer long for me!) So I try to time it with a rain storm so the temps are lower. This is something I am willing to accept for the blessing of having my own apples.

I should also state that the phosphorus and pot ash fertilizers will not stop all incidences of fungus problems with the trees. However, it so greatly reduces the number of times fungus appears as well as greatly reducing the severity of the problem that I now find it completely manageable. I have only had to cut off a few small branches from fire blight on my apple trees this year. And, it has been over 3 years since I have even seen evidence of cedar apple rust. (I do understand that Cedar Apple Rust is a bi-annual problem, not an annual problem.)

Also, just so you know, I store this fertilizer so I always have 2 years’ worth on hand. When the world ends, I will still be able to manage my fungus problems with the apple trees for a while.

Now, if I can just get the squirrels to stop sampling the apples to see if they are ripe yet! I see covering those trees in netting in my future next year!

Prizes For This Round Include: (Ends July 29, 2016)

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How to make your own apple cider vineger

Today we present another article in our non-fiction writing contest – By Maddie

We all know the health benefits of real apple cider vinegar-and just how expensive it is. I decided to make some and used information from a couple of older books. It is easy to do and you don’t need a cider press, just patience as the fermenting and souring process take time.

CAUTION!! Remember that any vinegar you use in canning must be 5% acidic to be safe. Do not use city water because the chlorine will kill your bacteria and yeast. Do not use metal containers – only glass, plastic or ceramic crocks.

  • 1 gallon glass jar
  • 1/2 gallon water – well or purified
  • 1/2 cup each of honey and organic sugar
  • apple cores and peels – any variety will work, but I like to mix tart and sweet
  • 1/2 cup raw apple cider vinegar (ACV)
  • 1 teaspoon dry bread yeast – if needed


I started small on my first batch, using a gallon size glass sun tea jar with a spigot and lid. The spigot is handy for draining off some of your product to check (you don’t want to stir up your mix too much) and then to empty the jar when the vinegar is done. I boiled 1/2 gallon of well water and let it cool, then stirred in 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 cup organic sugar and poured the mix into the gallon jar. Add enough apple peels and cores to fill the jar to within 2″ of the top. If you have any apple cider vinegar (ACV) that is raw and unpasteurized, add 1/2 cup of that and stir to help get the fermentation process started. Put the lid on the jar loosely and set it to the side in a warm area of your kitchen. If your mix hasn’t started bubbling after a week, gently stir in 1 teaspoon of dry yeast. Mold on the surface is OK, just skim it off very carefully so you don’t stir up the mix. If there is a milky film in the mix, leave it – it’s the “Mother” and mean your ACV is alive.

After 4-6 weeks, it should stop fermenting and start souring – unless you decide to try the hard cider first. After 8-10 weeks, you should be able to use your own ACV in your cooking and recipes. If you want to use it in canning, try comparing the taste and tartness with commercially made vinegar that you know is 5% acidic. If it isn’t about the same, you need to let it sour longer. When it is done to your satisfaction, use the spigot to drain the ACV off into glass or plastic containers, add lids, and enjoy. You can filter it through a coffee filter if you wish, but I didn’t mind the cloudiness and didn’t bother. Compost the old peels and cores.

I got braver for my second batch because my apples were getting ripe. I used an old Coleman 5 gallon industrial water cooler with a spigot that I got for $2 and multiplied the ingredients. I ended up with a gallon of nice vinegar that I used in salad dressings.

Be sure you record what you used and the amounts so you can tweak your ACV flavor. I used a mix of tart and sweet apple peels and cores in the big batch and liked how it turned out better than the small batch made with just one type of apple parts. Or your ACV may not start doing anything and your notes will show you what may have caused it.

References: “The Little House Cookbook“, 1979 by Barbara M. Walker – Reader’s Digest “Back to Basics”, 1981


Prizes For This Round Include: (Ends July 29, 2016)

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Bloom Where You’re Planted

A guest post by Karen

A lot is written about the perfect retreat, that lovely cabin surrounded by the forest serenaded by a babbly creek with fresh cool water. A few chickens roam the securely fenced compound and a fence of screen wire keeps them out of the thriving vegetable patch, so verdant that it’s trying to creep underneath the fence.

For how many of us is that actually reality? If you can’t afford that dream, should you give up on prepping? Should all of your resources go towards getting out of the city? Should you give up a good job and relocate, hoping for the best?

Opinions differ, but I say “No.” Bloom where you’re planted is a phrase that I once cross-stitched on a pillow and it’s a phrase that has stuck in my head as I’ve moved around many times in my adult life. I look at that phrase a lot differently now that I’m a prepper, but it still holds true. Wherever you are, whatever your surroundings, you can still be more prepared that 95% of the sheeple around you.

I live in a medium-sized city. I have an apartment in the downtown residential area. While this is not ideal, it allows me to work at a profitable job and I am a quick walk from my office. My 10-year-old daughter is close enough to walk to school and can be home in 15 minutes if need be. It worries me that my 16-year-old attends a magnet school in another city but that is a risk that we have decided is worthwhile, as it will better prepare her for the future. I’m sure you can see the benefits of being very close to home should disaster strike. I’d much rather be able to jog home, abandoning my car and avoiding the snarl of traffic.

My second floor apartment is ideal for security purposes. There is only one entry on the main floor and that is a door that I have fortified to withstand all but the most determined invader. There are no ground floor windows to climb through, no glass to break – only one way to get in.

Getting out is a lot easier, because each bedroom and the kitchen are equipped with fire escape ladders – one way in, multiple ways out. We only have the stairway to defend if someone was to get in our house and we would have the advantage of being ready at the top of the stairs.

There are some lovely decorative items in the upstairs foyer that would greatly impede the ascent of someone determined to cause trouble. And don’t forget our large protective dog – she is very menacing in appearance and will be an excellent deterrent.

We have many preps set up for our apartment and have covered as many bases as possible. We have a month’s worth of drinking water stored in our attic in case the water was not working. I also have pool shock to purify water if need be. We have a small propane heater that does not have to be vented to the outside and a fire pit in the back yard for cooking. Another cooking option is a tiny little butane powered stove that can be used indoors.

Our pantry is stocked with enough food to last our family for three months without any additional trips to the store. We will NOT be the people out in the melee with the looters. We are also well stocked with candles, propane, crank flashlights and batteries.

In each room I have cut and duct taped heavy black plastic garbage bags to completely cover the windows, allowing no light whatsoever to be seen from the outside. Two people can quickly and easily run duct tape all the way around the perimeter of the window molding and it will look like the lights are out and nobody is home.

A curtain rod hangs at the ready to insulate the kitchen and living room from the rest of the house. I’ve sewn a rod pocket in the back of a heavy quilt so that in the event of a power outage we will only be heating those two rooms.

I have a well stocked medicine cabinet with 2 additional months of regular medications. The cabinet also contains 3 months of multivitamins for all of us, as well as analgesics, cold medicine and some veterinary antibiotics. In addition, I have a huge variety of herbal teas and dried herbs to help with whatever malady may occur.

If the SHTF in a more permanent way, heaven forbid, we have a small but productive garden in our fenced back yard. I am growing some sprouts in a sunny kitchen window and another window is host to fresh herbs. We have a rain barrel to harvest water from the roof and often take long walks with a field guide to help us learn to identify the edible plants in our area.

Is our situation ideal? Maybe not, but it’s the situation the good Lord has given us. We can either bury our heads in the sand or choose to make the best of it. We have chosen to bloom where we are planted and live happily and securely, knowing we are ready for whatever may come.

A Wood Cookstove is a Must Have!


by Andrew Skousen – Worldaffairsbrief.com

One of the most immediate problems during a prolonged power outage is keeping the food in your fridge and freezer from spoiling. In the coming hard times we expect the power to be out for a long time—estimates vary from a few weeks to over a year depending on your location. How will you keep food from spoiling during that time? And what will you do with the valuable food in your fridge and freezer as it warms up?

You can buy yourself more time by keeping spare space in the top of your freezer full of ice (frozen water bottles or ice packs that can be moved in and out as space permits). The ice will act as a temporary emergency backup and keep the food below it frozen longer. A full freezer also runs more efficiently. You can put a few ice containers in the fridge to keep it cooler too. In the 40s and 50s many houses had an “icebox” instead of a refrigerator. These were small insulated containers that were literally cooled by a block of ice in a container on top. The ice was harvested in the winter from lakes in massive blocks by teams of men and horses. It was stored in barns or big cellars covered with deep piles of hay as insulation.

For most Americans, the fridge is just a temporary place to keep fresh supermarket food that is artificially maintained during all seasons (and prepared foods like frozen entrees). If you are smart you will start now to reduce your dependance on store-bought ready-made foods and grow your own staples. When you do you will find the seasonal nature of food requires a good root cellar more than a fridge, and other long-term methods of preservation are crucial, such as canning,dehydrating, pickling or lacto-fermentation, and salt curing. Although a small fridge is still useful.

If you have a generator, we recommend using it to keep the fridge and freezer cold, but ration the fuel as much as possible by running it only in the morning and evening after meals and don’t open the fridge or freezer in between. Generators run most efficiently at about 80% capacity, so use any extra capacity during these times to charge batteries, wash clothes or run lights as needed.

Before your fuel runs out and things melt and spoil, pull the meat out package by package and cure it in salt (keep a large amount in your stockpiles). Just the cuts of meat with salt or soak it in a salty brine. Salt draws out the water and stops the spoilage pathogens. Here are sample instructions for curing with salt. Salt is also a critical ingredient for pickling or lacto-fermenting vegetables, which is a good way of preserving any fresh or frozen vegetables, but it too takes practice.

If you live in a dry climate you can also spread vegetables out in a thin layer and dehydrate them in the sun. Salting them a little will speeds the process. You can also dehydrate the meat into jerky by cutting it thinly, rubbing the surface with salt and dehydrating it. In humid climates you may have to dry meat over a fire or in a smoker. Solar ovens can also be used to dehydrate.

Next week I will talk about more efficient refrigerator options, so that even with a moderate solar panel setup you can keep some food cool and frozen without burning precious fuel.

Modern Americans like big refrigerators to stock up on store-bought goods, but you can get by with less fridge space in hard times. Many things in your fridge can last in medium-cool environments. Before refrigeration people stored fruit, vegetables and crocks of pickles and sauerkraut in root cellars or cool, dry storage areas. Condiments like butter, peanut butter, mustard, jams and jellies were often stored in a “larder,” a small room or cabinet in the coolest part of the house. Unwashed eggs have a natural coating that preserves them for a long time at room temperature.

I mentioned storing ice from winter for an icebox last week. Some homesteads used a spring house—a small, insulated structure built over a cool water source like a spring or diversion from a stream. The cool water would flow into the bottom of the house over a flat stone or shelf where a jug of milk or yogurt would be placed to keep at least as cool as the water. In dry climates people use evaporation to reduce temperatures inside containers by as much as 15 to 20 degrees—enough to keep fruits and vegetables from drying or wilting. The “zeer pot” is the best example.

But nothing compares to a freezer and some fridge space. The key is to find efficient units that won’t break your budget for solar power. Even modern “Energy Star” refrigerators consume between 400 and 500 kWh per year (for 18 to 22 cubic foot units)—second only to the power consumed by the air conditioner in most houses. The compressor draws a lot of power at startup for a split second so your inverter or generator must be rated for this “peak power draw.” Before you spend thousands upgrading your solar capacity for your fridge consider more efficient options.

Some off-grid homes use propane or natural gas refrigerators to reduce solar panel cost. These have few working parts and are fairly robust, but they use an inefficient absorption-cooling process powered by heat and can burn 1/3 to 1 gallon of hard-to-replace propane per day. The gas/electric or gas/DC/AC options are not any better because they use the same absorption process with the option of heating electrically which is also very inefficient.

Modern motor-driven compressors have resulted in vastly improved cooling efficiencies but these are offset by our desire for conveniences: Icemakers and water dispensers waste a lot of power; freezers on the bottom are less efficient than freezers on top; auto-defrost requires a heating element that uses energy; large refrigerators designed for limited kitchen spaces results in less insulation; and upright units lose more cold air when open than hard-to-access top-load units like chest freezers. The high-efficiency fridges and freezers mentioned below gain some of this back:

SunFrost is the most efficient and the most expensive. Their 16 cubic foot unit (around $3,500) only uses about 372 kWh per year and comes in a variety of DC or AC options running the very efficient Danfoss compressor with low peak power draw at startup. “Manual defrost” requires removing freezer foods but the ice buildup comes off easily after the freezer portion has been off for 20 minutes (freezer and fridge are operated by separate compressors). The RF19 is nearly the same price with a larger freezer, but it uses more power.

NovaKool has DC and AC refrigerators that are medium and small for marine, RV and truck use. Designed for moving platforms they built well and durable but lack thick insulation because they are designed for small spaces. $1,200 to $2,000 depending on size. Available at many RV wholesalers.

SunDanzer has top-load refrigerators and freezers with the high efficiency Danfoss sealed compressors makes these units some of the most efficient options. 5.8 cu. ft. costs $1,020 and uses only 37 kWh / year (as a freezer it uses 124 kWh/yr). For $1,090 there is an 8.1 cu. ft. option that uses 51 kWh/year as a fridge and 183 kWh/year as a freezer. Backwoods Solar has them in both DC or AC option.

There are several refrigerated ice chests on the market with thermoelectric coolers that run on 12 volts DC or on small solar setups but they only drop the temperature in the cooler by about 30 degrees, so they don’t work well as true refrigerators in hot climates, let alone freezers. The ARB Portable Coolers on the other hand are very efficient and get truly cold. They come in ice chest sizes with a split are for freezer and fridge. Rated highly, and I like how easily they are powered by a small solar setup or from DC and AC options. Also available at Amazon for $805 to $1225 depending on size. Convenient now and in hard times, but expensive per cubit foot of space.

These are the best off-the-shelf options I have found thus far, next week I will cover adjustments you can make to standard refrigerators and freezers to improve their efficiency.