A Wood Cookstove is a Must Have!

PREPAREDNESS TIP: REFRIGERATION IN HARD TIMES

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.

The Poor Prepper’s Guide to Renewable Energy

This is an entry in our Non-Fiction Writing contest – by Ken P

There are a lot of misconceptions about the best way to set up a renewable/ backup/off-grid power system. I’ve been designing and building power systems for over 30 years.

The last 10 years have been a sort of Renaissance of R.E. There has been an explosion of solar panels, wind turbines, charge controllers, and inverters from our “far eastern” (China) friends. Some of it is actually not bad in quality while some of it is junk that can damage the rest of your system. While we all wish we had unlimited funds like the heroes in all of the TEOTWAWKI novels we love to read, the reality is that most of us are operating on limited funds.

So how do we decide what will work for your system? Firstly get out a pen and paper and decide what your needs are. Lights are a must, power for TV’s,phones and  laptop chargers are also a necessity. Where are you getting water from is a real consideration…

If you live in a rural location like I do, then the first thing is to get a generator for backup. While The Big Home Improvement Stores want to sell you a fancy generator with auto start, self-testing and an automatic transfer switch which costs $3000.00 and up, the truth is you can get by with far less.

I bought a Reconditioned multi-fuel (gasoline and propane) genset off of Ebay for  $500.00. I didn’t buy one large enough to run my home AC system, but it handles my deep (530′) well and all of our lights and freezer just fine. It puts out 5500 watts continuous with 7000 watts surge. At ½ load it uses about a gallon of fuel an hour. It came with a 6-gallon gas tank and a regulator to connect it to a propane tank. I have a 1000 gallon propane tank, so it will run a long time! I bought a manual transfer switch for about $150.00. And I installed it myself. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, an electrician should be able to do it for $100.00 or so.

Now about that dream solar and wind system. Figure out what your minimum needs are. If you want a true off-grid system, then the first reality is going to be that you aren’t going to be able to run refrigeration from anything less than  a large (10KW plus) system with at least a 3000 Amp Hour battery bank- or in real world terms Mucho Dollarso! The better way to go is to set up a system that you can expand over time. That means something like a few 100-watt solar panels and a 30 amp charge controller feeding a few golf cart batteries. With careful purchasing, you can do that for less than $500.00 to start. Add a 1000 watt pure sine wave inverter for less than $200.00 and you’ll have a good basic system that will give you lights (go with led), TV, a shortwave radio, and a few fans to move air around your house. Also, almost all CB and HAM radios operate on 12 volts.

Add a good battery charger with 30 amps output, and you can run your generator a few hours each day in order to wash clothes, fill water jugs from your well, and keep your food frozen. You will be able to keep your batteries charged even on cloudy days. Then shut down the generator, and let the inverter provide your basic needs as described above. Having your system setup like this allows you to greatly extend the use of your generator, even when more fuel is not available. Over time you can add first more batteries, then more solar panels or even a wind turbine. Then think about getting a bigger inverter to increase the things you can run.

Don’t buy a great big inverter when all you have is a few batteries, as you will just ruin your batteries in a hurry. In my experience, you can usually sell your current inverter online for close to what you paid for it to help defray the cost of the larger one. Remember that batteries are the weakest link in your system. Lots of publications will tell you that you can run deep cycle batteries down to 50% or more, but I promise you that they are funded by battery manufacturers who want to sell you more batteries. My rule is to only discharge batteries to a max of 80% , and you will get years of service. Use a hydrometer (available at any auto parts store) to check the state of your batteries.

Another good thing to do is to buy the lithium battery packs that are charged via USB. Many of them have built-in flashlights and all of them can be charged by wiring a 12 volt (think in car) charger of the type used to charge your phones and tablets. These chargers can be wired directly to your battery system, which gives you light, tablets to read, and even many walkie-talkies that use those 5-volt batteries. There are many other devices coming out on almost a daily basis that are using this standard, so the possibilities are endless. And the lithium batteries have an almost limitless number of charge/discharge cycles.

This article only scratches the surface of Renewable Energy, but I hope you are encouraged to learn more and build your own system. When reading the catalogs, remember that they mean well, but they are in the business to sell you stuff! Even in an urban environment it still makes sense to have a back-up to your utility. A small system with a few batteries can be left on a “float” charge until needed. The sound of a generator can be heard from a long ways away, which will get attention, of the sort you don’t want! Solar panels are silent! Make sure to cover your windows before turning on your lights and tv on your battery system, or you will get that “unwanted attention”. Good Luck!

Prizes For This Round (Ends July 29, 2016) In Our Non-Fiction Writing Contest Include…

First Prize:

Second Prize: 

Third Prize:

Please read the rules that are listed below BEFORE emailing me your entry… my email address can be found here – please include “writing contest entry” in the subject line.

The more original and helpful your article is, the deeply and less basic it is, the better the chance, that I will publish it, and you will win. Only non-fiction how-to-do-it type articles, please.

How to raise Meat Chickens

Surviving in Suburbia: How one family turned their suburban lot into a productive mini-farm

By: JenMar

This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest

Gather together a group of preparedness minded folks and the conversation invariably turns to pulling up stakes and moving to the country to create a self-reliant home and life. But, for many, moving is not an option. Work, family, kids, health, personal responsibilities are all valid reasons keeping people in their present location. It may not be what we want, but it is where we are right now. We don’t have to postpone our path to self-reliance or preparing for a crisis, though, we can start where we are, with what we have.

Even though a vast country property might be ideal, a large suburban lot can be just as productive. It can be a place to learn and practice, make mistakes; a place to build skills and confidence and learn how to live a life not reliant on a consumeristic society.

When I moved to my property 15 years ago I did so with the idea that I would make it a productive mini farm, with all the pieces of a traditional farm, only smaller. Through the years we have worked and built, reevaluated and rethought what this farm can produce. It’s a creative process that relies on calculated rotation of livestock and produce for maximum production.

This is what I’d like to share, in hopes of inspiring other city dwelling pack mates to put their property to maximum use while life’s circumstances keeps them in town.

A Note to Clarify:  This article is primarily about how I survive in suburbia managing my property to produce food for a two person household. I won’t be talking about alternative energy, heat, water, OPSEC, guns, ammo, or security, although those are all important topics.

Ok, let me give you a visual to set the stage.

I live outside of a mid-sized town (about 30,000 people) in Southern California.  The homes in my area are zoned for all livestock, except horses. The City allows us 33 animal units per home, which is calculated based on a value given to each species. For example, a sheep is 3 units and hogs are 6 units, while chickens and rabbits are ½ a unit each. I can create a mix of animals as long as I don’t go over 33 units.

My property is 1/3-acre, about 85’ wide and 100’ deep. It is all flat and useable. The house fronts to the west, and sits about 30’ from the street, so I have a large front yard with good west and south exposure. Our climate is Mediterranean and the growing season is almost year-round. With small hoop houses I can grow 365-days, when needed.

The barn is the hub of activity. It is 12’x24’, runs east to west and houses most of our livestock on a rotational basis. To the west is the chicken coop portion (6’x12’) with an outside run that is 8’x12’. The center of the barn is an open space for feed, tack, and supplies. On the south wall of the center section hangs three rabbit cages, for two does and a buck. The cages have corrugated galvanized roofing that attaches to the front bottom of each cage and extends through the barn wall at an angle. We lovingly refer to this as the “poop chute”.  On the outside of the barn, below the “poop chute” is a collection bin. The idea is — the droppings roll down into the collection bin, to be used in the garden or compost pile. Litters of meat rabbits are grown out in an 8’ growing cage that is mounted to the wall below the doe and buck cages. When not in use the growing cage is removed and stored in the barn rafters. The section to the east gets the most activity as we rotate in and out market lambs, pigs, meat chickens and meat ducks, throughout the year. From the east side, I have the ability to erect an outside corral of different sizes using livestock panels and gates.

There are three 4’x12’ and nine 4’x8’ raised vegetable beds, a squash patch, a 3’x20’ berry patch, dwarf and espaliered fruit trees, trellised grape vines, a dedicated herb garden, and medicinal and perennial herbs interplanted in the flower beds.

The 10’x12’ greenhouse is where plant life begins, whether from seeds, cuttings, divisions or bulbs. Since we have such a long growing season the greenhouse is primarily used to start seeds, store tools and supplies, rather than growing vegetables during the winter. It’s also my quiet hang out.

The front yard is part of the farm as well. Planter beds have blueberries, herbs, flowers and one very young pomegranate tree.

So—how do we make all this work? How does this small piece of land produce food for its family?

Carefully, thoughtfully, deliberately, rotationally and with a whole lot of humor and flexibility.

Our life revolves around junior livestock shows, eight months of the year to be exact, so meat production on the farm has to intertwine around that schedule.

Here’s how we do it:

For most of January the farm is preparing for new livestock and the growing season. The barn is cleaned and outside corrals put up. Feed and feeder lambs are purchased. Fruit trees, berries and grapes are pruned, fertilized and mulched. Cool weather seeds are direct sown, while many other seeds are started in the greenhouse.

In February, the show season begins, every weekend for the next two months. Succession planting of cool weather crops begins, and more seeds are started in the greenhouse. Outside vegetable beds are tilled and mulched, and bean poles and pea fencing is put in place.

Depending on the rainfall, we are already pulling weeds and mulching garden paths by mid-March. Direct sown seed planting continues, as does seed starting in the greenhouse.

So far, life has been rather routine, lambs get fed, seeds are planted, hens lay eggs, and so on. But, that’s all about to change.

By April, life gets a bit more interesting and busy. That’s when we breed the does and bring in a few turkey chicks, which are brooded in the garage. By the time the chicks feather out and can live in the barn the weather is nice enough that the lambs don’t need (or want) to be in the barn. The show schedule has also slowed to two weekends a month. Half the lamb space in the barn becomes a growing pen for the turkeys. A week or so before the does kindle we set up the 8’ growing cage on the wall below the does. The chicken coop is cleaned and all bedding is moved to either the garden or the compost pile. Nesting boxes are refilled with shavings from the turkey brooding pen. By month end the entire garden has been planted with the first wave of crops.

In May the garden is really taking off and we are seeing the fruits of our labors. Harvesting spring crops is regular now. Winter squash and pumpkins started in the greenhouse are planted in the squash patch. The doe’s, bred in April, kindle. The turkeys are growing fast and the lambs get a reprieve from the hectic show schedule. Life takes on a rhythm of planting, harvesting, mulching, watering, and weeding until June, when the first berries and early summer fruits are ready to pick. The kits are moved to the growing cage.

July is a big month because of the State Fair. All the lambs attend the fair, but only two return home to be shown at the county fair. The others are sold. July’s heat means we must be diligent with watering, weeding and mulching. The first tomatoes come in July, along with mid-season berries and the last of early summer fruits. Harvesting and replanting is weekly now. Food preservation begins in earnest this month.

Everything we’ve done so far all culminates in August. The garden is bursting, animals are growing, food preservation is non-stop, and just to make things a bit more interesting we throw in the county fair—a week away from home, in the hottest month so far. The rabbits, turkeys and the back-up market lamb, not being shown at the fair, are all processed for the freezer before we leave. At the end of the week we come home with an empty trailer. All fair animals have been sold at auction. By the end of the month the barn is empty, except for the laying hens and breeding rabbits. We get to take a deep breath, for a little while, at least. The week after school starts 25 meat chicks arrive.

The hot weather in September means I can brood chicks in the garage without using the heat lamp much, saving on my electric bill. When they are ready they’ll take over the entire sheep pen in the barn. If the weather cools enough, the does will be bred again so the litter can be butchered over Christmas break. Some of the garden is slowing down, while some of it seems to be rejuvenated. Summer squashes are bountiful, in stark contrast to the dying bean, pea and cucumber vines. We continue planting root crops, but the weather is too hot for lettuce greens. Late summer fruits and berries are picked and canned or frozen. The chicken coop bedding is cleaned out and composted or used as mulch in the garden. The bedding from the sheep trailer becomes bedding for the nesting boxes.

October is a month of contradictions. While we harvest vegetables, potatoes, squash, pumpkins, late berries and a variety of fall fruits, much of the garden is finishing its growing season. We may get a few more plantings of short term crops like beets, radishes and carrots, but we’ll have to wait for the weather to cool before planting cool weather vegetables. A winter hog arrives early in the month and will be raised in the outside sheep corral through the temperate fall months. By the time the weather gets colder the meat birds will be gone and the hog can have an indoor and outdoor space. We don’t get freezing weather so raising hogs in the fall is much better than the heat of the summer when the barn is full of other animals. Kits are moved to the growing cage.

Much of the garden comes to an end in November and is replaced with cool weather vegetables and leafy greens. The meat chickens are processed around Thanksgiving. Some of the smaller ones are kept whole, but the rest will be cut in half, giving me chicken each week for about 50-weeks. The hog gets the whole west end of the barn, now. The meat rabbits are growing fast.

In December, we plant a variety of peas for an early spring harvest. Spinach and some hearty lettuces can also handle the cooler temperatures. Over the Christmas break we butcher the meat rabbits. The hog will be dropped at the butcher in January as we head north to buy another group of feeder lambs. The only animals left are the laying hens and the breeding rabbits. We get a break for a few weeks, before the whole cycle starts again.

 

In the course of a year my 1/3-acre suburban lot has produced 4-6 market lambs (1 for the freezer), 3 turkeys, over 30 meat rabbits, 25 meat chickens, one hog, hundreds of eggs and countless pounds of fruits and vegetables; proof that it doesn’t take a large farm to grow and raise your own food.

Prizes For This Round (Ends April 12, 2016) In Our Non-Fiction Writing Contest Include…

  1. First place winner will receive –   A gift certificate for $150 off of  rifle ammo at Lucky Gunner, an Urban Survival Kit a $109 value courtesy of  TEOTWAWKI supplies, a WonderMix Deluxe Kitchen Mixer a $299 value courtesy of Kodiak Health and a LifeStraw Mission Filter a $109 value courtesy of EarthEasy, and a 4″ Heavy Duty WaterBoy Well Bucket a $106 value and a WaterBoy Tripod Kit courtesy of Well WaterBoy Products for a total prize value of over $867.
  2. Second Place Winner will receive – 30 Day Food Storage All-in-One Pail a $119 value courtesy of Augason Farms.com and Berkey Light with 2 (9″) Berkey Earth Elements a $157 value courtesy of LPC Survival, for a total prize value of $276.
  3. Third place winner will receive –  International MRE Meals Supply a $72.00 value, a LifeStraw Portable Water Filter a $19 value, Yoder’s Fully Cooked Canned Bacon a $15 value all courtesy of CampingSurvival and one copy of each of my books “The Prepper’s Primer” and a copy of “The Prepared Prepper’s Cookbook“ for a total prize value of $137.

Solar Water Pumps

by Andrew Skousen – World Affairs Brief

I recommend having a well or large cistern for backup water use when municipal water is unavailable in a prolonged crisis, but you still need a reliable way to get the water out of the ground if grid power is down. As usual, I recommend multiple options as backup—solar power or windmill pumps and a manual backup pump with spare parts for each system. You should also have spare pipe and fittings on hand for repairs and new configurations.

First consider adding solar to your grid power source. Most grid-powered well pumps have a high startup voltage draw and require a larger inverter and solar array. These AC well pumps are designed to provide high pressure and volume and typically have a long life but they use more power per gallon than 12V DC pumps. Because these pumps are usually already installed with a well, buying bigger solar equipment instead of new pumps often makes sense. The downside is this will draw heavily on your batteries at night unless you get enough pressure tank capacity so the pump doesn’t have to turn on as often.

The second option is a small 12V submersible pump to a holding tank. These DC pumps are very efficient at pumping small, constant volumes of water, slowly through a 1/2″ sized pipe, to fill a large holding tank or cistern. The size of the cistern will vary but you will need 10-20 gallons per day for livestock (depending on the weather), and 10-100 gallons per person (depending on washing needs) according to Wholesale Solar. If you can put your tank or cistern on a hill above your residence you can get gravity pressure (typically at least 20 feet above the faucet is required to get usable pressure. Use a size larger diameter pipe on the outlet side to help it flow freely).

Most people don’t have the terrain for a gravity tank, so low flow submersible 12V pumps (or low-flow DC pumps) can be used to fill holding tanks near the house and a DC booster pump or surface pump can pressurize it for the household. These two pumps work more efficiently than the single AC pump, even though it adds complexity with more points of failure. Booster pumps are also excellent options for those with underground water stored in cisterns or rainwater collection systems.

The 12V submersible pump can be operated directly off a few solar panels without a battery bank or inverter in a simple, cheaper dedicated system (which also needs an MPPT solar controller), but the booster pump should be run off the house solar system with battery power in case you need water pressure during the night or on cloudy days. The cheaper 12V pumps from SHURflo have historically needed repair or replacement more often than the more expensive Grundfos, or Dankoff brands. Sun Pump and Lorentz pumps are also good quality. In general Diaphragm pumps need more maintenance in silty conditions. Centrifugal pumps are robust and provide good flow but aren’t efficient at producing high pressures or lifting water to high “head” levels. Helical rotor pumps are less efficient and have lower flow but get good pressure and high head.

Home Power had a good summary of the general differences between pumps and pumping setups. Solar Ray has a handy table to help decide whether AC or DC pump option is best depending on depth of well or cistern. Solar is often complex enough that we recommend enlisting the help an expert before this big of a purchase. Our go-to guru for all things solar is Mick Abraham who has consulted and helped clients all over the US get the best solar setup.

The Ultimate Chicken Coop – Update– Update

By: Big Bear

This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest

Last year I wrote, and MD published, several articles on my Ultimate Chicken Coop project. The Coop and Pen have now been in use for the past 8 months. We are actually using what we designed and built. We’ve got 7 laying hens and, if they could talk, I’m pretty sure they’d say they were thrilled with their new living quarters. I thought that I’d write an update on how the finished project is working out. The Bear Proof Pen and Coop Control System are working well ……. every feature operates as designed (although you’ll read below that some of the features are not being used). All in all, we feel the entire project is a success.

Pen: The pen is working like a pen …….. I mean what can you say about an enclosure? Ours is over the top sturdy and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll have any problems with predators breaching the wire and wood. I am going to modify the man door by adding a small hinged panel that will allow us to throw vegetable scraps and stuff like that to the chickens without having to open the man door. Planned for this spring, it should be an easy modification.

Electrical Fence: We added this feature to the outside of the pen since we routinely have quite a few bears moving through our property each year. It’s a seasonal thing as they come through moving to their summer range and then we see them again when they‘re heading for the hills to den up. The fence charging unit I bought is made by Patriot and has a small integral solar panel. This unit is mounted on a corner post of the pen facing due south and gets fairly good sunlight. It works well when the internal 4.5 volt battery is fully charged. Unfortunately, it appears as though not enough sunlight (direct or indirect) is getting to the solar panel to ensure a constantly charged battery. I will work on this and may decide to add another solar panel or purchase a different unit with a larger solar panel.

Control Panel: This is working as designed and is easy to use. Not much to say about this as it has been trouble free since it was installed. We are currently using only grid power (as long as we have it). The internal 12 vdc power supply produces all the DC power needed. The small meter on the front allows us to monitor the internal coop temp, the 12 vdc output, and the time.

Solar Power Supply: This is all working well although not currently in use. As long as we’ve got grid power this system will remain in standby mode. I tested everything thoroughly after I got the panels mounted, wires routed and other parts assembled ………. it works flawlessly.  The two deep cycle batteries are maintained by a small grid driven battery charger to ensure they are ready if needed.

Coop: The time and expense of building the coop inside our unheated garage has been worth all the effort. The coop’s insulated walls, floor, and ceiling (when combined with the internal heating system) means that when the outside temps fall well below freezing the coop stays comfortably warm.  No doubt the physical location of the coop helps to keep it warmer. The double door design makes servicing the coop very easy and quick. The small window I installed in the maintenance door was a good idea …….. it is used often. We also like being able to check for eggs without having to go inside the coop. The Coops relatively small size and narrow design are more than adequate for our 7 hens and could probably accommodate 3-4 more.

Auto Door: Magnificent! Works exactly as advertised and was easy to install and power. The chickens quickly adapted to it. We’ve adjusted the “open/close” times as the days have gotten shorter and each adjustment doesn’t seem to bother the chickens. I initially thought that wood shavings from the inside floor would get in to the bottom of the door and cause problems with the door closing. This has not been the case so far.

Auto Door Warning Light: I originally thought that I would need to let the chickens know the door was getting ready to close. Silly me! This has not been used at all and is unnecessary. We may use it in the future but for now it’s just extra unused circuitry and components (spares if needed).

Coop Heating System: We monitor the coops inside temp several times each day and there is a consistent difference of plus 16 to 20 degrees between the inside and outside temps. This is a good thing as the flat panel heater is only 150 watts and it’s working against outside temps in the lower teens and single digits. I keep the heaters wall mounted Thermostat set to 40 degrees.  Originally I was concerned that the flat panel (designed to be placed under a desk to keep a person’s legs warm) would not be adequate for what I wanted. It works great but I would go to a larger wattage unit if the area being heated was larger or less insulated. The custom-made heater mounting assembly works well with no heat buildup between the heater panel and coop wall. The small heat deflector shield mounted above the heater does a great job and actually helps to deflect warm air away from the ceiling.  The convection action of the warmed air produces a gentle dispersion of the warmed air throughout the coop.

Keeping the coop water from freezing: My original, plan and subsequent design, included using a small air pump to keep the water in a 2.5 gallon waterer circulating. The pump used a lot less power than a heated waterer would have. It worked okay but my mistake was forgetting that the waterer required a vacuum to keep the water from overflowing. DUH! Not only did the air line keep the water circulating, but it would force the 2.5 gallons out of the container very quickly. The solution to this was to purchase a 1.5 gallon heated dog bowl and fashion a lid for it that would cover half of the access to the water. The bowl has a 60 watt integral heater and is equipped with its own thermostat. It uses no power unless the water temp is at freezing. Since the coop is staying well above the freezing point, this water heater does not draw any power. The chickens have quickly adapted to the new style waterer.

Automatic Ventilation Fan: So far this has not been used. I had included this feature primarily to deal with summer temps (providing a positive air flow through the coop). The coop is cleaned twice a week with all fresh wood chips placed on the floor once a month. So far there is no detectable odor.

Lay Light: We decided not to use this feature this winter season. Our chickens all began molting just as the days began shortening. Here in far Northwest Montana the days get short quickly and just as quickly get longer as spring begins. The Lay Light also doubles as the Coop light (for maintenance, etc.) and, in that mode, works well.

Notes:  Our source for water near the coop is an outside faucet (freeze proof directly from our well. During the winter months we shut it off and disconnect the hose. That means we’ve got to haul water from our home (100’ away) to refill the chickens water bowl. To solve this we installed a 55 gallon barrel in my shop (heated). The barrel is mounted on a small platform allowing a bucket to be placed under the barrels faucet. We filled the barrel when we shut off the outside water supply. The usage rate is such that the barrel water lasted nearly 5 months before needing to be refilled. We added 15 gallons from the house supply and there’s still a week or two’s supply still in the barrel.  I am contemplating placing the barrel nearer the coop (outside the heated shop) within a heated container. The heat source would be a cartridge heater similar to that used on an electric water heater (low wattage of course). It won’t take much heat to keep the water from freezing and would prepare us for the time when the grid is down.

We lost one hen in February. Don’t know why but we suspect old age. All of the others are doing well with no signs of stress or disease.  We may add several more hens later this year.

That’s about all for now folks! We’ve got no regrets about investing in this project. It is very nice to be able to supply ourselves with one more staple of our diet. The chickens give us more eggs than we can use (our friends take care of the extras!), fertilizer for the garden, a disposal source for kitchen scraps, eventually meat, and a bit of joy when they come running to us like puppies thinking they’re going to get fed a treat. Our next project will be to get our worm farm up and running ………. My even take a hard look at getting a few rabbits!

M.D. Adds: You might also want to view the Pics Of My Chicken Coop From Start To Finish… While not as elaborate as Big Bear’s coop, it still works well.

Prizes For This Round (Ends April 12, 2016) In Our Non-Fiction Writing Contest Include…

  1. First place winner will receive –   A gift certificate for $150 off of  rifle ammo at Lucky Gunner, an Urban Survival Kit a $109 value courtesy of  TEOTWAWKI supplies, a WonderMix Deluxe Kitchen Mixer a $299 value courtesy of Kodiak Health and a LifeStraw Mission Filter a $109 value courtesy of EarthEasy, and a 4″ Heavy Duty WaterBoy Well Bucket a $106 value and a WaterBoy Tripod Kit courtesy of Well WaterBoy Products for a total prize value of over $867.
  2. Second Place Winner will receive – 30 Day Food Storage All-in-One Pail a $119 value courtesy of Augason Farms.com and Berkey Light with 2 (9″) Berkey Earth Elements a $157 value courtesy of LPC Survival, for a total prize value of $276.
  3. Third place winner will receive –  International MRE Meals Supply a $72.00 value, a LifeStraw Portable Water Filter a $19 value, Yoder’s Fully Cooked Canned Bacon a $15 value all courtesy of CampingSurvival and one copy of each of my books “The Prepper’s Primer” and a copy of “The Prepared Prepper’s Cookbook“ for a total prize value of $137.

How to use (and retrofit) a treadle sewing machine

treadle sewing machine

by L.G.

This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest

When my husband and I began preparing several years ago for conceivable calamities that could wipe out electric power, we rummaged around thrift stores, yard sales and farm auctions in pursuit of human-powered devices. Our search ultimately led us to an off-grid lifestyle. Despite the increasing popularity of prepping and self-reliant living, we discovered hand-operated tools were still amazingly available and affordable ― perhaps because there were so many high-quality tools made before the plastic and petroleum age.

We wanted hand-operated devices rather than relying on alternative energy. We even had wind and solar systems at that time, but realized the fragility of those micro-grid energy sources. If just one component goes bad and parts aren’t easily attained, the entire system is left useless. We knew we could not make or repair a solar panel, battery or wind turbine blade ourselves during a catastrophe.

Early in the last century, hand- and foot-powered tools that performed all manner of household tasks were quickly abandoned as electricity became accessible. As just one example, about 250 apple-peeler designs were patented from 1803 to 1910 when every homestead had an apple tree. After 1910, few inventors submitted apple-peeler patent applications, except for peelers operating on electric power. And so it goes with squillions of other nifty hand-operated appliances.

The change was partly because Americans could buy more of what they needed readymade (such as factory-processed applesauce and juice), so less apple-peeling was going on in the home kitchen. But, the advent of electricity also put the brakes on human-powered innovation. Appliance advertisements actually ridiculed those old tools. The instruction manual with my 1938 electric Kenmore Deluxe sewing machine begins, “One should not be satisfied with a sewing machine of the primitive type which was made over a century ago. Sewing machines should progress in accordance with the tempo of the World’s development…”

To make room for new gadgets, wonderful old tools were dumped in the junk pile or sold as scrap metal, particularly during the 1940s. Watch a World War 2 documentary and you’ll see mountains of the stuff collected by Boy Scouts to feed the war machine. Still, many hand-operated implements have remained tucked away in tool sheds, barns, attics and basements for decades. Usually, those simple old tools can be rendered useful again by just cleaning off the bird droppings and applying oil. Others may require some repairs (generally accomplished with hand tools and elbow grease), but worth every bit of effort.

Or, with a little ingenuity, many of those antiques can be retrofitted to accomplish more than their originally designed function. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just outline what we’ve done with my treadle sewing machine. Note: This does not include remaking a treadle base into a café table, lamp or nightstand. Heaven forbid.

But, first things first.

My treadling history

I learned to sew at age 11 on an 1880’s Singer my great-grandmother bought new. For my first big project, I selected a Raggedy Ann doll pattern, which allowed me to try out some fascinating attachments – a ruffler, gatherer, binder and hemmer. That Singer was the only sewing machine my mother owned, and, between the two of us, was always in use. Not until I was in high school home economics class did I think of that machine as primitive. The school’s fancy electric machines with dozens of ornamental stitch options were so much better, my 14-year-old mind reasoned.

When I was 18, I bought a New Home sewing machine from a door-to-door salesman for $500 (a month’s pay for a Navy seaman in the late 1970’s). I was so eager to have an electric machine that could zigzag, make buttonholes, attach buttons and embroider that I bought the man’s display model instead of waiting a few days for delivery of a new one. The New Home machine was solidly built and served me well for almost 30 years until lost in a house fire. I sewed a million miles of thread through it, but never used all those swanky stitches. And, really, buttons sewed on by hand instead of machine stay on better. Next, I went through a few replacement machines, modern tinny contraptions that felt like toys. Nothing compared to that old Singer treadle.

So, when we began our human-powered tool quest, a treadle sewing machine topped my wish list. Incidentally, once I began looking, it didn’t take long to find one. I’d put it off for years because I mistakenly thought they were rare and outrageously expensive.

Reasons to own a treadle

Besides the obvious that a treadle sewing machine needs no electricity, there are other benefits to acquiring and using one.

  • In a grid-down situation, you will still be able to sew – for your household and as a bartering skill. We all wear clothes and they all eventually wear out.
  • Properly aligned and oiled, treadle machines are nearly silent. Insomniacs and early birds can treadle away at all hours without disturbing the household.
  • Precision sewing – by turning the hand-wheel, tight curves can be maneuvered one stitch at a time, impossible with electric machines that take off like a rocket. Controlling treadling speed is also much easier.
  • Compared to new machines, an old treadle usually costs less, even less spendy than the cheapest made-in-China machines at big-box stores.
  • The treadle base can be converted to operate other tools or modern sewing machines. (More about that below.)
  • As with most old tools, the machines are well made and sturdy. I can sew through leather or eight layers of heavy denim without breaking a needle or skipping a stitch. The motor on my newest electric machine would’ve stalled, telling me it didn’t have the muscle to do what I wanted.
  • With modern technology (eBay and Amazon), parts are surprisingly available, although, for reasons listed above, it is unlikely you will need any.
  • This may sound trivial, but there is also something very comforting about using a machine made more than 100 years ago. I continue to marvel at the craftsmanship and always enjoy working with it. I wouldn’t trade it for all the machines in China. (I gave away all but my 1938 Kenmore.)
  • No matter what type of sewing machine you use, you will save money by making and mending your own garments, household accessories, gardening supplies, totes, shop aprons and even gloves and shoes.

Buying a good treadle sewing machine (where and how much to spend)

treadle sewing machineI thought I’d made the bargain of a lifetime when I found my White Rotary treadle sewing machine (made in about 1915) in a thrift store for $60. But, as it turns out, this is not so uncommon. Some say I even paid too much, considering the abused state the cabinet was in. The wooden back was beyond repair, two drawers were broken, the veneer was peeling in several places, the belt was missing, the hand-wheel was stiff to turn and there was only one bobbin. The machine was so black that I did not even realize there were beautiful gold emblems under the dirt.

I wasn’t interested in beauty; I just wanted a working treadle machine. My husband glued the broken drawers and replaced the cabinet back with a thin piece of plywood. Meanwhile, I disassembled, oiled and cleaned the machine. We filled in the splintered veneer, sanded it smooth and then touched it all up with wood stain. I initially said I did not care about a showpiece machine, but with only a few hours of easy labor, that’s actually what we ended up with.

Since buying that machine, I’ve been offered two for free. I think folks just want to see Grandma’s old machine in use again. Free is good, but I didn’t need to become a sewing machine hoarder, so passed on the offers.

My daughter paid $110 at an estate auction recently for a Minnesota vibrating shuttle model (made by Sears in about 1890). The price went a bit higher than usual because the machine was in good condition, the original owner’s granddaughter was on hand to share stories about quilts Grandma sewed, and it was an exceptionally beautiful day for an auction.

Unless you’re buying a machine to restore and sell for profit, you can decide what is a fair price for you, based on what you feel comfortable spending.

  • Yard sales, flea markets and farm auctions generally have the best deals if you have the patience to shop around and bid. Cold, wet and windy days are usually excellent for auction deals, although the highest I have personally seen a treadle sell for at an auction was $150. Prices tend to be much higher in fine antique stores or individual sales such as on Craig’s List. But, as I said, you determine your own value. What is it worth to you? Do not be afraid to make an offer.
  • If you’re buying a machine that is missing parts, Singer is the most common brand, and therefore likely to be the easiest to find the specific parts needed. White also is a common brand. Others include National, Davis and New Home, but be aware that those machines will not fit into a Singer cabinet and vice versa. Belts, needles and bobbins are the most-often-missing parts, but, fortunately easy to find and interchangeable between brands. Operator manuals, while not necessary, are handy to have, but often missing. Again, there are online sources (see the list below). In a pinch, a missing spool post can be replaced with a nail.
  • Do not worry about cosmetics. The cast iron bodies clean up much nicer than you might expect. To clean the cast iron machine body, use a mild soap, such as pure Castile.
  • More importantly, tilt back the machine to check for serious rust conditions underneath. If the mechanical parts are seized, rather than just stiff, you should probably pass on the machine unless it is quite inexpensive and the treadle base or cabinet is good. The machine could be used for parts.
  • If you must repair the veneer in places, ordinary wood filler does well. Just be sure to sand the surface smooth, especially on the work surface. You do not want your fabric to catch and snag on splinters or rough areas as you sew.
  • If you disassemble your machine, be careful not to drop any cast iron parts. They will break. As you work, put the pieces in a box or tray so they do not get misplaced. You won’t be able to run to Walmart for a missing thread take-up spring.
  • Vibrating shuttle machines (the kind with the cylindrical bobbin) were made earlier than the rotary machines (with a disk-type bobbin). I like both kinds, although it may be more difficult to locate bobbins and parts for the vibrating shuttles, which come in two sizes, by the way.

Stock up on sewing supplies now

Although not specifically related to treadle sewing machines, I thought it practical here to advise stocking up on sewing supplies before a SHTF event. Abundant and relatively inexpensive now, clothing could become difficult to purchase or have repaired.

  • Thread, buttons, zippers, Velcro, snaps, interfacing and other notions ― Stock up at yard sales and flea markets for economy. A word of caution, however, about old thread: Give the strand a good tug to test its strength. It should not break easily. Thread stored in poor conditions deteriorates.
  • Fabric ― Watch for seasonal sales in fabric stores. For better savings, purchase old bed linens, curtains and blankets to remake into useful items or clothing. Upholstery shops often have remnants that are suitable for making tarps or window coverings. Many thrift stores also bag up clothes too outdated or grubby to sell in the store, but great for sewing. Just ask. Our local store sells garbage bags of T-shirts (many unworn) for $4. I counted 81 shirts in the last bag I bought. (America simply has too many T-shirts.) Cotton T-shirt fabric is ideal for un-paper towels and toilet cloths, among a million other uses.
  • Patterns – Take apart old clothing to use as patterns. And, since home-sewing is no longer as popular as it once was, patterns at thrift stores often cost just pennies each. Patterns are great learning tools.
  • Needles for hand sewing are also valuable to have in abundance, along with good scissors, pins (straight and safety), seam rippers and a fabric tape measure.
  • If you’re new to sewing, a basic sewing book will illustrate how to sew in zippers, use interfacing, make pleats, etc. I learned with the Singer Sewing Book, but there are hundreds of good ones out there. My copy from 1955 states, “Skillful, high-quality sewing is with the scope of every woman.” More current copies likely include men.
  • For your treadle, you’ll want a supply of bobbins, needles and extra belts. I bought a 25-foot roll of leather belt at Amazon for $9, which is enough to last an average lifetime.

Using a treadle to sew

Operating a treadle machine is no more difficult than an electric machine. In fact, without all the bells and whistles, it is easier. Antique machines do not have a reverse or zigzag stitch, so you will need to learn some treadle tricks. Before doing anything else though, you must first learn to drive:

  • Most sources say to place the ball of the left foot on the top left corner of the treadle and the right heel on the lower right corner of the treadle. I have always done just the opposite, with the right foot up and the left foot in the lower corner. I say do what feels most natural to you.
  • Sit in a sturdy, straight-back chair. Chair openings on the old machines are narrow. Mine is just 16 inches wide, but could be modified by removing a 3” piece of trim.
  • On most machines, the hand-wheel is turned toward the operator. On my White, the wheel is turned away from the operator. The wheel must be turned in the correct direction (check the owner’s manual), otherwise the thread will bunch up horribly and the needle may break.
  • Practice treadling by disengaging the balance wheel (loosening the thumb screw on the hand-wheel so that the needle bar does not move up and down). Once you are comfortable with the motion and can keep the wheel moving in the correct direction, tighten the thumb screw to engage the needle bar. Thread the machine and practice sewing around curves, stopping, etc.
  • Use the same thread thickness on the bobbin as the spool. First adjust the tension on the bobbin (it should pull out easily, but not sloppily), and then adjust the upper thread tension. Unless you use a vast variety of thread thicknesses, adjustments are rarely necessary.
  • Do not operate the machine with the presser foot down without fabric under the foot. This wears down the feed dog teeth.
  • To lock in stops and starts, simply turn the fabric around backward to reinforce the seam or gradually reduce your stitch length to zero at the seam end.
  • If your machine came with attachments, try them out just for fun. They are fascinating, but unless you’re making draperies and wedding gowns, you are not likely to ever need them. They were designed when folks wore frillier clothes than today.
  • Without a zigzag stitch, you can still make acceptable buttonholes with the binder attachment. Again, if you are fortunate, your manual will explain the procedure, which is too lengthy to describe here.
  • Do not push the cabinet forward and back. The wheels are positioned sideways so the unit does not roll away from the operator during use.
  • If your treadle bumps into your carpeted floor (it was built before plush carpeting), use furniture coasters or blocks of wood under the wheels to raise it.

Maintaining a treadle machine

  • Before disassembling your machine, take pictures from all angles so you’ll know how to put it together again.
  • Oil the machine daily during heavy use. Oil holes will be indicated in your manual. Basically, oil any part that moves. Wipe off the excess.  Occasionally grease the treadle and balance wheel.
  • The belt should be tight enough not to slip, but not so tight as to make treadling difficult.
  • Periodically clean the lint from the feed dog and bobbin case. A small paintbrush works well.
  • Discard bent or blunt needles.
  • The hand-wheel must align with the balance wheel to prevent friction and premature wearing of parts. Note: If the machine does not run smoothly or makes a hammering noise, check the alignment. More information is available at the Treadle On link below.
  • Adjust the pitman (the metal or wooden rod that connects the balance wheel to the treadle) so that there is no slack and the treadle moves smoothly. There should be very little noise. Depending on the model, there should be an adjustment screw either at the top or base of the pitman.
  • Do not be afraid to adjust and maintain your machine yourself. Great-grandma did.

Putting an electric machine in a treadle base

treadle sewing machineThe metal pins that hold your treadle in the cabinet are usually spaced the same as they are on modern machines. The base opening is about 7 1/2 inches by 14 inches and the pins are spaced about 10 inches.  So, if you have an electric machine that you prefer to use, you may be able to set it right in your treadle cabinet without any serious modifications to either. The 1938 Kenmore I mentioned earlier fits on my treadle. I only need to adjust the belt length. I’m holding onto that old Kenmore just in case something truly disastrous happens to my White Rotary, and it truly would have to be a disaster for me to give up my White.

With some modern machines, however, the safety guard may need to be removed from the hand wheel. Also, some treadle machines have a figure-eight or other elaborately shaped base. In that situation, the cabinet would need to be modified. This is a project best suited for an already unattractive cabinet and a modern machine that you really love (because it can make buttonholes, say).

Configuring a treadle to operate power tools

Another interesting project for the do-it-yourselfer off-grid is to attach power tools to the treadle base. This will not work with tools that require high revolutions per minute and force, such as a circular saw. Here, we put an electric bench grinder (the kind with a grinding wheel on each end) on an old treadle cabinet. First, we bolted a board across the top of the sewing machine opening and securely anchored the grinder to it. Then we removed the right grinding wheel and replaced it with a pulley. We also used a heavier belt to prevent slipping. Without any more treadling effort than sewing, we are able to sharpen a hatchet. This is one practical use for an old treadle base, much better than a coffee table stand.

Links to useful treadle info

Below are links to treadle refurbishing and supply sites I have found useful as I relearned to sew on an antique machine. Also, copies of many manuals are now in the public domain and free to download.

Treadle On

International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society

The Internet Antique Shop

Singer Sewing Skills

Follow the suggestions above, start treadling, and you will still be able to cover your butt the old-fashioned way when the SHTF.

Prizes For This Round (Ends April 12, 2016) In Our Non-Fiction Writing Contest Include…

  1. First place winner will receive –   A gift certificate for $150 off of  rifle ammo at Lucky Gunner, an Urban Survival Kit a $109 value courtesy of  TEOTWAWKI supplies, a WonderMix Deluxe Kitchen Mixer a $299 value courtesy of Kodiak Health and a LifeStraw Mission Filter a $109 value courtesy of EarthEasy, and a 4″ Heavy Duty WaterBoy Well Bucket a $106 value and a WaterBoy Tripod Kit courtesy of Well WaterBoy Products for a total prize value of over $867.
  2. Second Place Winner will receive – 30 Day Food Storage All-in-One Pail a $119 value courtesy of Augason Farms.com and Berkey Light with 2 (9″) Berkey Earth Elements a $157 value courtesy of LPC Survival, for a total prize value of $276.
  3. Third place winner will receive –  International MRE Meals Supply a $72.00 value, a LifeStraw Portable Water Filter a $19 value, Yoder’s Fully Cooked Canned Bacon a $15 value all courtesy of CampingSurvival and one copy of each of my books “The Prepper’s Primer” and a copy of “The Prepared Prepper’s Cookbook“ for a total prize value of $137.

Installing an Off-Grid Water Well

by Sandra O

This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest

Getting out of the city and choosing to live “out in the country” is a goal of many preppers.  “Homesteading” sounds so idealistic; getting back to the basics and living the dream!  What most don’t realize is homesteading is hard physical work and has a lot of unknowns. It requires a lot of planning, prioritizing, setup money and manual labor.  You need shelter, water and food and lots of common sense.

When I bought my homestead (see previous article on buying a country property), it had the basics:  a house, a water well, septic tank, shed and barn; however, except for the brand new septic, everything was old and poorly maintained.  I had to prioritized the repair/replace list and after refurbing the house, the water well was next in line.

I did my research on the internet about water wells, the various types of pumps, hand pumps, stand-alone mechanical pumps and solar pump options. I spoke with some of my neighbors about their wells, many who have had to recently replace pump motors and pipes.  One neighbor tried to do his own replacement and it turned out to be trial and error because he did not know what type of pump or how far down it was placed so it was a guessing game and he ended up calling a company to come fix it after 3 days of failure.  Another neighbor started doing it himself, found his pipe was broken and ended up getting a well company to replace the broken pipes and replace the pump.  In both instances, it was 3 to 7 days to fix the problem, plus between $1500 and $2500.  Another family down the road bought a place without an inspection and found the well didn’t work and $3000 and two weeks of repairs later they were pumping water.  The point is you never know when the pump will stop working or what caused it to stop.  It just happens and usually not at a convenient time!  If you don’t have water stored (300-500 gals) for your family and animals to get you through the repair/replacement, you are in deep yogurt!

You location is everything!  If you live in the deep south (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida etc.) and you are not in the hills, your drill depth may be shallow (less than 80 ft.).  When I lived in Florida we could dig a well ourselves because the water level was so high.  But the further north and more hilly country you are in, the drill depth may be significant.  The type of the soil also impacts the drilling. Rocky soil or compacted clay can cause you some anxiety as it affects the time to drill and the type of drill bits needed to get through the ground.  If your house is on a scenic hill, it may add hundreds of feet to the water level, which adds money to total cost of drilling and installation. These are just some of the things to think about before buying that country property.

Other things you need to know about your existing well are:  when was it drilled, how deep was it drilled and what was the water depth when it was drilled.  If the well was drilled over 25/30 years ago, there may be no county records of it.  You will have to depend on what the owner tells you (if the property is occupied) or try to ask neighbors about their wells if the property is vacant.  Even if your closest neighbor is 10 miles down the road, the soil composition is similar and the water level is probably pretty close to what you would have.

The property I bought had a residence which was 40 years old and the original builder lived in the house.  Since the well was drilled when the house was built there were no county records of the original drilling to give me the information I needed. The house sits on the second highest elevation in the community but it is really only a small hill.  The owner told me the well was 120 ft. deep but he didn’t remember what the water level was.  The pump had been replaced 10 years prior.  Since the owners were an elderly couple and did not use the well for irrigation or animals, I had a good chance the pump would last for a while.

You just don’t go out and replace a well pump because you’re worried it may break down on you!  Since I had no idea what type or size of pipe was used (40 years ago) or what brand or size of pump was installed (10 years ago), the decision about the water well kept me up at night for weeks.  Even though I have 500 gallons of drinkable water, 600 gallons of household use water, and 1000 gallons of animal water stored around my homestead, I was worried about not having fresh water.  The thought of having to go almost a half-mile downhill to the meadow where the spring is, fill water containers, transfer water uphill to the house and animal areas, filter and purify it for drinking was constantly on my mind.  I made the decision to drill a backup well using an off-grid Simple (Hand) Pump.

The internet advertising lead you to think you can put in a Simple Pump in or next to your existing well piping. Not unless you had it planned prior to drilling your well and got the right width of pipe!  My 40 year old well was not a consideration for a Simple Pump, which meant I had to get a company to drill a new well in a new location.  A Simple Pump is a hand pump, which can be adapted to a mechanical pump either electric or solar… for an additional large fee.

Getting a well drilling company is not as simple as calling up and making an appointment.  I called all three companies within 100 miles of my property.  One just told me “no, we’re too busy with commercial work,” the other two agreed to come out and give me an estimate and explanation.  One company was willing to drill on appointment at a much higher price, while the other company offered a lower price if they could work me in over the next four months.  “Working me in,” meant between commercial jobs and when another job in the area could be combined with mine so they could bring the heavy equipment to do two jobs, which is more economical for them; which translated to $1000 less cost to me.  I chose the latter, feeling my existing well would continue to function while I waited.

The ESTIMATED cost of drilling depends on lots things.  First your location-how far out are you…what are your county road conditions; can large heavy equipment get to you and what are your farm road conditions…dirt, gravel, paved?  Second, what are the topographical issues with your property (mountains, hilly or flat)?  Third, what is the geological makeup of your soil…clay, sand, rock, etc.?  Fourth, what will the depth of drill to hit water be?  The drilling company can pull the records for your area, but some county well records only go back 15 or 20 years.  Needless to say, if you are on top of a mountain or hill, the drill will most likely be deeper and thus more expensive. Drilling a 50 or 80 ft. well is way cheaper than drilling 100-120 ft. or 350-500 ft. or more.  My house is on a small hill thus the drill went to 140 ft.  You need to ask all these questions up front to the drilling company and find out what their basic costs are and what their additional costs may be.  Do they charge additional fees for drilling more difficult geological makeup, more for drilling over 100 ft.,  what other additional charges…a one-time service fee, an extra mileage fee, non-level ground set up fee?

The supervisor will come out earlier with a contract, want a 50% deposit and want to know the approximate spot where you want the well drilled. He/she may do a soil sample or just use his/her experience to gauge the ground.  When the drill trucks arrive there will usually be two or three trucks: a large drill truck, a water truck, a sand truck and/or a supervisor truck; just depends on the company.  Your spot will need to be mostly flat and with enough space so the trucks can stabilize. These trucks are heavy and the drill truck has extendable booms that go 100’ in the air over the drill site.  Electrical/telephone wires cannot be nearby and tree branches may be a problem also.  I had two sites picked out but one had too many oak tree branches and the boom could not be raised.  The alternate site was mostly clear of branches but the boom still took out the end of a branch.

My drill took about four and half hours. Once that was done then the piping was inserted and fitted piece by piece, which took another hour and a half.  Lastly they blew out the pipes and the water began to flow.  The next day the supervisor was back to measure the water level.  In my situation the drill was to 140 ft. and the water level was at 115 ft. Because I chose a Simple Pump to be installed, it was necessary to know the water level so the correct measurements could be given to the company to custom build the insert pipes for my property. This took about 2 weeks.

The Simple Pump was installed about three weeks later.  The drilling company sent two men out to install it and while the supervisor said it would take “less than an hour” it really took almost three hours.  The Simple Pump pipes fit inside the water pipes. Once the pipes were connected they installed the hand pump housing to the pipes.  Then the men pumped for about ten minutes to get the sand out of the new line before the water was clear.  Since it was brand new I was told to expect some dirty or colored water for a bit.  I had my son standing by to be the physical labor part and he was able to pump easily after it was primed.  It takes about six or seven pumps to get the prime to kick in before the water pours out, if you pump once a day.  It will tire an office worker out in a heartbeat but a good ole country boy won’t have a problem pumping 30 gallons of water.

The cost of the water well drilling, piping, and Simple Pump and installation came to just under $5000. Once on site, it took a day to set up, drill, and pipe and another half a day to install the Simple Pump and clean up the site.  I am considering adding a solar unit to automate the pump but that would be an additional $2000-$3000 to purchase and install it, as that is not one of my talents.

I have laid a concrete pad around the well site and we’re in the process of building a pump house to secure the Simple Pump.  I know if a worst case grid-down scenario were to occur this pump will be a life saver.

Prizes For This Round (Ends April 12, 2016) In Our Non-Fiction Writing Contest Include…

  1. First place winner will receive –   A gift certificate for $150 off of  rifle ammo at Lucky Gunner, an Urban Survival Kit a $109 value courtesy of  TEOTWAWKI supplies, a WonderMix Deluxe Kitchen Mixer a $299 value courtesy of Kodiak Health and a LifeStraw Mission Filter a $109 value courtesy of EarthEasy, and a 4″ Heavy Duty WaterBoy Well Bucket a $106 value and a WaterBoy Tripod Kit courtesy of Well WaterBoy Products for a total prize value of over $867.
  2. Second Place Winner will receive – 30 Day Food Storage All-in-One Pail a $119 value courtesy of Augason Farms.com and Berkey Light with 2 (9″) Berkey Earth Elements a $157 value courtesy of LPC Survival, for a total prize value of $276.
  3. Third place winner will receive –  International MRE Meals Supply a $72.00 value, a LifeStraw Portable Water Filter a $19 value, Yoder’s Fully Cooked Canned Bacon a $15 value all courtesy of CampingSurvival and one copy of each of my books “The Prepper’s Primer” and a copy of “The Prepared Prepper’s Cookbook“ for a total prize value of $137.

Ways To Make Money For Your Homestead

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