Today we present another article for this round in our non-fiction writing contest – by Happy Camper
Moving off grid has been one of the best decisions that I’ve made, I have lived on my 110 acres for eight months now and for anyone who is reserved about leaving suburbia behind my best advice to you is to do what you can to enable the change to living the life that is waiting for you, because no one else is going to make it happen for you.
My initial ambition to be as self-sufficient as I could manage before the end of this year is NOT going to happen. But I am ok with that, basically what I’ve learned from my failures is that I need to take a step back and learn a lot more, from others that have succeeded where I have failed. Basically I thought that I could run before I could walk. Gardening and maintaining land this size is a totally different game to the burbs.
Probably every attempt at food production I have made has failed, however what I gained in knowledge holds far more value.
The hugelkulture garden bed is doing well. I have been adding to the length of the mound with more garden waste, ashes, manure and leaf litter. The initial seeds in this garden sprouted and grew beautifully! Until my resident family of Peacocks feasted on salad and veg. They have kindly left me with about 40 corn plants, which im waiting for in anticipation.
I have recently started growing potatoes in grow bags and cages, but it is too early to know if they will do OK. I have planted the Sebago variety of potatoes as this is what the local produce store stocks in organic seed potatoes.
The turkeys, chickens and ducks were thriving and growing, the ducks were providing me with daily large delicious eggs and I had a great small enclosure built for them (which I now know is not near big enough and has the wrong sized wire on it).
I have since lost all the poultry when a snake got into the hen house and ate 9 baby turkeys, then the remaining 8 turkeys drowned in the kiddy wading pool I had set up for the ducks. The chickens all got a little confident in their adventures and were all taken out by foxes. The three ducks moved onto the big swimming pool for a few days and then waddled off down the paddock never to be seen again (except for one carcass of a duck that I suspect was taken out by foxes). The poultry that thrived and seemed bullet proof were of course two roosters.
As an experiment, after being woken up at 4am, one too many times, the roosters lost their heads. This allowed me better sleep and the opportunity to experiment cooking them, my initial thoughts was that rooster meat would be a great free hardy resource to obtain (everyone gives away their roosters). The outcome of my experiment is, simply, don’t eat a rooster they taste horrible.
So my initial $500 investment on birds, a hen house, wire, poles and a gate… well im left with a empty chook pen and ive learned what not to do.
The mass of fruit trees that I have, have produced a mass of produce, pears, apples, kiwi fruit, avocados, grapes, figs- delicious looking and organic fruit. All of the fruit was enjoyed by the local population of Flying Foxes (Bats), they ate everything in one night. Great effort I thought as there is approx 80 trees that were dripping with almost ripe fruit. It seems as though the Flying Foxes were watching their progress just like me.
When I first purchased this property, the green house was something I was really looking forward to getting into. In fact I did, I spent hours grooming the ground and preparing the soil resulting in five lovely neat looking rows that in time were impressive with ten different varieties of tomatoes. Juicy, plump, red tomatoes that I had big plans for canning up to sustain me for 12 months. The pressure canner was ready, jars sterilised and secretly I was very excited to bulk harvest and preserve (first try at pressure canning).
I arrived at the greenhouse with a couple of large baskets, only to find that the door of the greenhouse had been overtaken by several webs of reproducing Red Back Spiders, the mummy and daddy spiders were happily housed on the door handle and the hundreds of babies were off playing on the tomato bushes. No chance was I asking nicely for them to share the loot. I fumigated the greenhouse but there was no way I could have eaten the tomatoes without the feeling I was crunching spiders. Give me a snake any day over sneaky poisonous spiders.
It is winter time now here in Australia, winter time obviously means that there is less sun. Less sun when my house runs on solar power means cut backs on power use must be made.
I have a 5kw stand alone system that runs the house nicely- when there is sun. After three overcast days, the charge in the house batteries becomes too low to use power in the house without potentially damaging the batteries. When the sun shines again, it will then take about three days for the batteries to fully recover and charge enough that the house can be run as ‘normal’. The adjustment to living on limited electricity took some lifestyle changes, but there has been no problem that a simple solution doesn’t exist for. During these low sun times the appliances that are not able to be used are, the kettle to boil water, microwave, electric hot water service, plasma screen TV and the clothes washing machine. The compromise has been cooking and heating water on the wood stove and using the small 12v TV and washing items by hand.
I am fortunate enough that I can power the electric hot water service from a large generator that came with the property. At the present time I am running the generator for about an hour a day to keep the water warm enough to bathe with, it’s a great generator and seems to use about one or two litres an hour to run (it’s a 12 kva Lister diesel motor, it is running the hws at about 2500w so the load is low)
This previous owners of this house were reliant on liquid petroleum gas (propane) for cooking, water heating, winter heating and the fridge was run on gas. Resulting in a gas usage of a 45kg bottle being used every 18-21 days at a cost of $145 per bottle. The house electricity was supplied by a 4 kva Honda generator using about 3-4 litres a day, costing about $6 a day.
All of this added up to approx. $350 a month and then there was also the need to cart all of the fuel to the property which is too hard for me.
The cost of installing the stand alone solar power system, was $38,000- so the system will pay for itself in fuel savings alone over 9 years. I have been advised that the system will likely need to be upgraded in about 15-17 years.
The biggest stress and frustration to me is when visitors have caused issues or damage and they don’t rectify the problem or advise me. I have had to stop my children’s friends from staying here sadly due to the lack of respect shown. There has been the wrong fuel put into the diesel generator, fuel supplies have been drained, tools have been stolen or moved, debris left in the paddocks for me to hit on the mower, damage to property by reckless driving and the house firewood has all been used on an outside bonfire.
My dream initially was to create a community place that could be utilised by my childrens peers for their own aspirations of growing food crops for income, bushcrafts and learning about living off grid. However the extra work and cost of repairs from their childish behaviour has left me disappointed in my own children and their friend’s attitudes. I am very selective about anyone being allowed on my property as a result. The persons involved are all in their late teens and early twenties.
I think in general, this behaviour could be typical in any similar situation. However in a SHTF situation this behaviour would likely be devastating as it would not be a simple matter of having the generator repaired or replacing lawn mower parts.
The last few days, I have been spending the bulk of the day weed spraying about 20 acres around the house as the bindis and dandelions are taking over the grass, I have also been salvaging and burning out an old firewood pile that has been left in the weather and has started rotting and getting termites. And ive spent a small amount of time on the ride on mower.
My practice on keeping the grass and gardens maintained is that I put in ‘a couple of hours every couple of days’ and this theory seems to be working nicely, however with the onset of winter and the grass has stopped growing fast, I have been putting some of that ‘couple of hours’ into collecting firewood.
My goal in the next month is to have a bulk amount of potatoes and corn planted, and transplant some grass in needed areas around the house when the bindis and dandelions die off.
I will have to transplant clumps of grass rather than use grass seen, the resident peacocks will eat all the seed and ‘free is better than cheap’.
My goal by the end of this year is to have built appropriate housing for another try at farming poultry and maybe rabbits. And I would like to start selling some crafts at local markets.
My goal by mid next year is to be providing my house with vegetables, herbs, fruit and eggs.
But all in all, in the last twelve months I have been through a divorce, major health issues, moved and renovated. What I have achieved is that I have survived all of that and I am now living my dream life and have learned so much more than I thought possible and I encourage everyone to live the dream today.
Prizes for this round (ends July 10 2015 ) in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – A case of Yoder’s Canned Bacon (12 cans, $169.95), a case of Future Essentials Canned Green Coffee Beans (12 cans, $143.30 value), and a case of our Future Essentials Canned Breakfast/Cold Cereal Variety with Milk (12 cans; a can each of Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Apple O’s, Whole Grain Frosted Wheat’s, Cocoa Rice Krispies, Honey & Nut O’s, Fruity O’s and Frosted Flakes, as well as three (3) Cans of Powdered Milk Substitute (18 oz. each) – (a value of $62.90) all courtesy MRE Depot and a WonderMix Bread Mixer courtesy of FoodPrepper.com a $300 value. Total first place prize value over$674.
- Second Place Winner will receive – A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $283 value) and an autographed copy of 31 Days to Survival…
- Third place winner will receive – A gift certificate for $150 off of Hornady Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo.