Ed Essex

Ed Essex

Thursday, 20 February 2014 00:00

Homesteads and Weather Part 1

When mountain homesteading remotely the weather tends to be a major player in your lifestyle with its ever present changes and has to be considered a major factor in the life of a mountain homesteader. The following is a collaborative effort by Ed Essex and Bruce McElmurray who both homestead in the mountains but with several states between them. They both answered eight questions on how weather affects their lives.

Ed and Laurie Essexoff grid, homestead, survival, self sufficient

Ed and Laurie moved to the Okanogan Highlands in Eastern Washington State while in their late fifties. Their 40 acre homestead consists of half open space with green grass and sage brush and the other half forested with pine, fir, and tamarack trees. The elevation is 4,200 feet. Their three-mile-long access road to the property is dirt and includes a 1000-foot vertical climb. The nearest small town is 20 miles away and anything larger with more services is 50 miles from the homestead.
They currently have 2 horses, 3 Angora goats, 11 chickens, 2 cats, and an Anatolian Shepherd livestock guardian dog. They spend their time maintaining the property, wood cutting, taking care of animals, gardening and they both work at their website business: goodideasforlife.com or Off Grid Works.

The homestead consists of a 1,400 square-foot home, a 1,300 square-foot barn, and a few smaller outbuildings including the chicken coop. They are completely off grid. They utilize a septic system, water comes from a 300-foot deep well, and power is solar with a backup generator.


Bruce and Carol McElmurray

Bruce and Carol live in S. Colorado near the small town of Ft. Garland. They moved to their mountain location on 11 acres, 9,750 feet in elevation, in 1997. Their property is heavily wooded with two springs that that flow all year long. They live within a gated/covenant community of land owners and as such are not allowed to have live stock or fowl. It would be risky trying to maintain those animals anyway with the wild animals such as bear, coyotes, bobcat, lynx, wolves and mountain lions presence.

They live in their 900 square-foot cabin and have a woodshed and detached garage. They heat our cabin with a Yotul wood stove and a small space heater. They are on the grid for electricity and have a 215’ deep well that provides them pure and tasty drinking water. The association of land owners does dirt road maintenance and snow removal and we have over 4,500 acres set aside for recreation. Both Bruce and Carol are retired but work harder at being retired than when they held salaried jobs. They live in their cabin with their three German Shepherd Dogs, Bozwell, Sarah and Echo.

They cut, split, stack about 9-11 cords of firewood per year to keep them warm in winter months. The nearest town (Ft. Garland) is 20 miles away and the next nearest town is 45 miles. For more on Bruce and Carol and their lifestyle go to: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com.

How does the weather impact your life and homestead?

Ed Essex: Our weather consists of all four seasons. Spring, summer, and fall are short and winter is long. Our winters start sometime in October and go through March. Spring is typically April through June. Summer ends in August. Fall is September and part of October. Weather has a huge impact on our daily lives. In fact our whole lifestyle. Temperatures can range from +105F (rare at this elevation) to -13F and even colder in years past. The growing season is short so we have to start plants early in the house and transplant to the garden. We built an insulated cold frame for the south side of the house so we could grow vegetables in the winter. We’ve also learned to grow vegetables inside the house in winter.

The weather affects our 3-mile-long dirt road. We are the only ones up here with the capability to maintain the road. That means repairing washouts after a torrential downpour and plowing snow all winter long. It might even consist of spreading sand by hand on the scariest portions of the road when it turns to solid ice.

Cold weather makes taking care of the animals more difficult starting with keeping their drinking water from freezing. Laurie often feeds the chickens warm meals she has to prepare. Because we produce our own power we can’t afford enough watts for luxuries like heated water troughs.

We spend way more human energy heating our home than most people. We start cutting, splitting and stacking wood on and off from April to September. Fire season is hot and dry and wildfires are common. We experienced a wildfire our first summer here. Fire prevention is part of our property maintenance.

Bruce McElmurray: The weather is probably the largest condition that impacts our life and homestead. Weather in the mountains is pretty unpredictable. We actually have five seasons with winter lasting about seven months. The other seasons are Spring, Summer, Fall and Mud season which falls between Winter and Spring. Much of our spring and summer is spent cutting, splitting and stacking firewood. Winter is long and plenty of firewood is required to keep us warm. Spring is a time for planting our little garden since the growing season is very short. At 9,750’ elevation we have to have hardware cloth enclosed garden boxes with a sun filter over them to keep the young plants from burning up or the rodents from eating all we produce. Weather dictates we have to take extra precautions to bring our garden to maturity. Often we have to use spring water on the plants as Colorado is a semi arid State.

The weather actually dictates what we can grow and how we have to structure our lives in the mountains. Late winter when the roads get muddy we have to time our trips to town when the roads are frozen in early morning or after the sun sets. Two of our dogs are sensitive to thunder storms and we have to plan our trips to town when there are no storms forecast. Thunder storms are pretty awesome in the mountains where the thunder echoes off the mountains. It is not hard to see why it scares the dogs and counter measures and training have not been able to calm them.

Our temperatures range from low 80’s in the summer to a few degrees below 0 in the winter. Our temperatures are very comfortable with low humidity and few bugs. Good for sleeping nights with the windows open in the summer and cozy in the winter. Even in the winter when the temperatures drop at night the days are comfortable around 20-30 degrees.


Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

For more on Bruce and Carol visit them at Bruce and Carols Cabin Blog spot


Monday, 10 February 2014 00:00

Homestead - Where to Start?

Off grid, homestead, good ideas for lifeWe all have a picture in our mind of what a homestead is and each one of our pictures will be different. Some of us will picture a little cabin in a meadow by a stream. Many of you will picture gardens, chickens and goats. Barns, greenhouses, and orchards will weigh in. All in all there are many different factors to be considered when deciding what your homestead will look like, so many in fact it can be difficult just figuring out where to start.

One tool you can use to help organize your thoughts is something I learned years ago in a beginning journalism class – Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How?

Who – Are you doing this alone or will there be others? If there are others, what considerations will they require? If there are children involved then schooling will be a factor. If some of you are in the elder category then health care can be a factor.
Another consideration will be friends and family. How (if at all) do they factor in? An example of this is when Laurie and I built our homestead it was 250 miles from friends and family and that certainly became a factor, especially during Holidays.
Just try to think of all the people who will be impacted by your decision to create your little piece of paradise.

What – What are some of the things you want to accomplish on your homestead? Animal husbandry, fresh vegetables, going off grid, and becoming more self sufficient are just a few of the reasons people create homesteads.
We wanted to live a more active and healthier lifestyle and have a more positive impact on our environment and we have accomplished that with our current homestead living. We’ve learned to be more conservative with our resources and grow and preserve our own food. Decide what your own goals are before you even look for property.

Where – Some of the things to consider in deciding where to build your homestead are growing zones, climate, the local real estate market, neighbors, and local regulations. If you are going to have chickens, you need to make sure you can. If you are going to capture rainwater for your personal use or garden you need to make sure you can. Different government jurisdictions have different rules so once you figure out what you want to do on your homestead, make sure you can do it legally. Typical regulations include building codes, water, sewer, and yes, even whether you can have a rooster or not. Do you want a compost toilet and gray water system? In many jurisdictions anything considered “alternative” can be difficult to accomplish. Houses such as straw bale, cordwood, and other less common construction practices can be difficult to achieve in some jurisdictions.

Why – Why do you want a homestead? It’s important to ask this question because if there is more than one person involved it is good to answer this question with similar goals. You need to be on the same page as your partner. It will be best if you both want a garden and want to preserve your own food, want to heat with wood. A homestead requires a lot of teamwork and cross training. You probably won’t be in a situation where one person can just push a button and get food or heat or even water. Homesteads require a lot of physical work and commitment. It is imperative that everyone directly involved is on the same page and has the same goals.

When – Shall we do this while we are young? Should we wait until the kids are gone? Shall we wait until we are established financially? These are all normal questions people ask themselves about homesteading.
We waited until we were in our mid fifties because that is what life threw at us. Only you can decide when the best timing is. Other than your personal circumstances I don’t think there is a right or wrong time. We know people from between the ages of 20 and 65 who are just starting their homesteads. The only thing to add here from experience is “the sooner the better”.

How – And finally we get to the big question of how to go about creating your own homestead. My suggestion is to start reading and talking to those who have already been successful. We started in our local library checking out books. Today the Internet is full of information. We also subscribed to three different magazines like Mother Earth News to get our knowledge firsthand from those who have “been there and done that”. On my own website Off Grid Works there is a ton of information from planning to property use to building tips and all kinds of gardening and animal articles. You don’t have to BE experienced. You have to GET experienced.

Laurie and I made our move in 2010 and have never looked back. We have made a few mistakes but not very many due to the amount of research we did before we took our first step. There is no set formula for the perfect homestead. The perfect homestead is the one you create for your own reasons.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com and Off Grid works.


Tuesday, 07 January 2014 08:53

What We Gave Up By Going Off Grid

Four years ago we moved from our cozy convenient condominium to a custom off grid home in the mountains of Eastern Washington State. We are located 20 miles from the nearest small town and 40 miles from something larger.

Our new home is at 4200’ elevation and is a homestead of sorts with goats, chickens, and horses. We grow much of our own food and have learned to garden the year ‘round.

I’ve always defined off grid as providing your own water, septic, and power. So what DID we give up by going off grid?

off grid, survival, septic field, gravity septic system, self sufficientSeptic/Sewer – We installed a larger than needed septic system on our property. It is designed in the simplest form. It is gravity flow down the hill from our house and consists of two 60’ lines and a 1000 gallon two compartment tank. 
The only maintenance required is to have the tank pumped out periodically. Recommendation is once a year but with only two of us using an oversize system it won’t be necessary to do it that often.
We are now responsible if anything goes wrong but with this simple gravity system it should last for years to come trouble free. If there is an issue we have 40 acres to choose from on where to relocate our present system.
Once installed the only thing we have given up to provide our own waste management system is the monthly bill (from the local government sewer provider) which always seems to go up.

well, deep water well, pure water, off grid, survival, self sufficiency

Water – We get our water from our 300’ deep well. It has two sources, one at 118’ and another at 200’. Our well has been in operation for about 10 years and has never run dry. The water is clean and delicious.

We have to maintain our well, pump, and waterlines. With a public water source you don’t have to maintain anything except for maybe the waterlines on your own property. As a tradeoff for assuming full responsibility for our own water we had to give up the following:
Rising costs on a yearly basis or the threat of rising costs due to a “less than average snowfall” each year. Water additives like chlorine and fluoride. Agencies fighting over control of the water. Private and public fighting over the use of water from lakes, rivers and streams. Where I came from there was always a discussion or battle concerning water control and use.


living off grid, solar panels, solar, solar power, solar energy, self suffcient

Power: We get all of our power from our solar panels and battery backup system. We have all of the conveniences and appliances that any modern household has but since many of you find that hard to believe I will list them here specifically: microwave oven, TV, computer, washer and dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer, and vacuum cleaner. Our water pump is ¾ HP 240V. I can plug in a 240V welder and use it if I want to. Solar power has come a long way in the past 10 years. We are now in our fourth season with solar power. Again, as in the two examples above, we have to maintain our systems. No one is going to do it for us.

What have we given up for the use of the sun? To date our system has been operational 24/7 since we made the final connection. No more worries about outages due to downed power lines from wind and ice storms or someone taking out a power pole with their car. No more unsightly power poles and lines. No more monthly bills or threats of rising costs, in fact solar costs have been going down.

All in all we haven’t really had to give up anything except convenience for producing our own sewer, water, and power and the maintenance and repairs do fall on our shoulders.
Public services are more convenient but come with a list of negatives from rising costs to battles over jurisdictions and what we should or shouldn’t add to the water or whether we should or shouldn’t have dams and on and on and on. I’ll take off grid anytime now that I’ve lived both ways because self reliance generates more old fashioned values and benefits than the alternative.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites goodideasforlife.com and Off Grid Works.


Thursday, 19 December 2013 11:20

Summer and Winter - So Different

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, flowers, summer, winteroff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, flocked trees









Our seasons here are not super extreme but there is a clear separation between summer and winter. We all know the difference between fall, winter, spring, and summer but do we really stop and take notice of the differences or in this case the rather large contrast between summer and winter. I think it is kind of amazing and I definitely have learned to appreciate the differences living a little closer to the land than I used to. Summer sees temperatures up to 100 degrees F and winter can get to below zero.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, chickens, free rangeoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, chickens









During the summer we get eggs from the chickens and you can see them roaming the property looking for bugs. Today only one will lay an egg (maybe) and they are all huddled in the coop because it is 7 degrees F.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, horsesoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, horses









In the summer our horse’s coats are sleek and shiny and you seldom see them because they are out grazing on green grass. Today their coats are thick and fuzzy and they eat hay in the morning, go for a nap, and come back in the late afternoon for dinner.

We have goats this year. Little Angora’s. I have no idea how I might see a change in the seasons but you can be assured of one thing – lots of goat pellets on the ground in the summer and winter. Always the goat pooh. It’s everywhere. I have noticed one thing already - they eat green grass as long as it lasts and then they switch to green pine needles off our pine trees in the winter. I think green is their favorite color.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, tractor, snow plow









In the summer you never know what you will see on the tractor – forks for helping cut wood, a rototiller, mower, or the front loader moving dirt. From October to April it has a snow plow on the front and chains on the rear wheels and it only has one purpose – to plow snow.

In the summer we have to mow the open grassy areas around the house. It looks nicer but it is also a fire deterrent. During the winter all you see around the house is snow and a lot of it has to be shoveled away from the house especially in the spring to prevent water damming up against the house when the thaw comes.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, cold frame, insulated cold frameoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, cold frame, insulated cold frame









Our garden is a highlight in the summer. Approximately 3000 square feet of vegetables and berries. Next spring we are going to add apple trees. We also take the tops off the insulated cold frames and grow tomatoes, and strawberries. Now – a few heads of lettuce and cold weather veggies in the cold frame and you can be assured it has the top back on. We’re not sure how cold it can get before it destroys our plants but so far that hasn’t happened. Our current weather will be a real test because the cold is lasting so long this time. Usually it just hits us for a few days. Right now it is forecast for the next 10 days!! Our garden is completely under snow.




off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, firewood, woodpileoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, Our masonry heater stays dormant in the summer. No ash floating around or the occasional smoke. The windows are open a lot. The house mostly heats itself passively. The woodshed is empty in the summer and full in the winter.

We drive our little blue truck to town in the summer. It gets really good mileage. Back to the all wheel drive gas hog during the winter. 3 miles of compact snow and ice between us and the plowed paved roads.

I’m taking notice of these things because the seasonal contrast here is greater than where I came from. Because I used to live in a condo and work in an office -  the biggest difference I noticed between seasons was what coat I needed to wear.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com and Off Grid Works.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013 08:14

Lessons Learned By Our Third year Part 2

Looking back the past three years and identifying what we have learned form our experiences.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, remote livingSolar– Off grid means some alternative type of energy unless you really want to rough it. Our solar experience has been a good one. We are still forming opinions and about the best way to operate our system but for the most part have settled in to a routine.

It works the way it works. You only really have to decide how big a system you want to have and then how to maintain it. Most of the learning curve is right up front starting with how to determine how much electricity you use every day. You could have a complete stranger (system designer or installer) guess what your needs are but it is far better to actually figure it out yourself. Once you have that information in hand you can design and size your system.

The next step is installation of the system. We chose to have someone else do it. Many people do their own. After it is installed and running the only thing left to learn is how to use and properly maintain your system. Our system is set up to operate by itself on autopilot with no interaction from us but we’ve learned over time that it is more efficient to take an active role in the daily functions.

We decide when to run the heavier power load stuff like our 220 volt deep water well pump, vacuum cleaner, dishwasher etc. We also decide when to use our generators, large or small. We decide how far down to let the batteries go until they start charging. If you take an active role like we have it takes a while to learn what is a good balance between convenience and your system components. We have learned how to get the most out of our components with the least amount of equipment stress. That won’t happen if you run it on autopilot.

Living remote– Rural would best describe our distances to the typical amenities. It is anywhere from 40 - 250 miles round trip to utilize everything from shopping to airports and hospitals. We have to go at least 40 miles for food and family doctor care. 100 miles for limited shopping, a dentist, and some larger equipment repair facilities and up to 250 miles for major hospital care. We like where we live but it is a major inconvenience if you have to have a tractor fixed or surgery at a hospital.

Planning of trips is essential. We usually go to the grocery store, hardware store, feed store, gas station, library, and post office in one trip to town. Because we have animals to care for we can never go anywhere for more than a long day unless we get someone to take care of them. Since we have no neighbors, that is a problem for us. Where we came from, all of those things were within 10 miles from our house and most of them within one mile.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainable, water pump, deep water wellWell Water – A lot of people have wells for their water but I never have. I always had city water available right to my property line.

Now I have a 300’ deep well, pump, 1,600 of waterline, and a 1900 gallon reservoir to take care of. We are fortunate to have good water quality so that is never an issue. We live in the mountains so it should stay pure.

In the three years we have lived here I’ve had several water line leaks to repair. Last year we had to have our old (existing) pump replaced with a new one.

We’ve also had to learn about the effects of hard water on appliances, inline seals, and fixtures. We never had any of these issues where I came from .The water was so “soft” you could use it in your radiators, batteries, and irons with no negative effect.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableChickens– Well it wouldn’t be a homestead without chickens now would it? As mentioned in earlier blogs I did have chickens as a child but have not had any for the last 45 years or so. Chickens aren’t hard to care for but there are a few things you need to learn, especially at these colder temperatures. Laurie goes over and above with heated food in the coldest winter months. Our chickens are really well fed. We know they can survive on their own to at least minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

One of the biggest things I re- learned about chickens is how much entertainment they provide. I never get tired of watching them run, especially from behind. There is no other movement like it.

Our flock has grown and we gave a few away recently to a neighbor just getting started on their own homestead. Their children have made pets of them. When you do that they beg for food a lot but on the other hand they never complain about anything.

Homesteadingis something I’ve always wanted to do. As prepared as I was to switch to this lifestyle I am still amazed at how much there is to learn.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.


Monday, 11 November 2013 11:18

Lessons Learned By Our Third Year Part 1

Each new season brings about change and each new year adds to our experiences.

While our life experiences prepared us pretty well for our new adventure three years ago it is an understatement to say that life here is quite a bit different than condo living in the city.

Our house and property building projects are mostly complete. They include the house, barn, garden, fencing, chicken coop, and a host of other small projects we needed to live in the style we want to be accustomed to.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWood and wood heat- In the past I’ve heated with wood I cut myself but it was different wood than what we have here. An updated learning curve was required. I used to cut, split, and burn hardwood. All of the wood here is softwood like pine, fir, and tamarack. Tamarack and fir split easily. Pine doesn’t split at all. Pine is full of pitch which creates creosote when you burn it. It’s a good thing our masonry heater burns wide open and hot. That resolves the creosote problem. It’s a good thing because pine is mostly what we have here.
I used to split all of my wood by hand. Now I use a mechanical (not hydraulic) splitter. I even learned the difference between having a table on our splitter to not having one. Having a table will add years of wood cutting capability to my back and the rest of my body.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableRoad Maintenance- We’ve learned a lot about road maintenance and snow removal. We maintain three miles of dirt and gravel road. It hasn’t been a problem the first two winters but last winter we got a lot of wet snow late in the season. It is near impossible to plow with my tractor and attached snow plow. It piles up faster on the sides of the road until you run out of room. I’ve added a small 40 year old dozer to my arsenal so next time it happens I have something heavy enough and tough enough to get the wet snow way off the road which will also help with melting and runoff.
You don’t just drive down a dirt and gravel road that is thawing. For about three days you might sink up to the axles and there isn’t any way to get you out until the thaw is over and the road dries up. The best thing to do is to avoid that situation entirely by staying home. Our situation is further complicated because we have a 1000’ gain in altitude from one end of the road to the other. The bottom may be thawing while the top is still frozen. Then end result is a road that becomes torn up and rutted in places. The dozer will help with the wet snow and washouts but for road maintenance I have added an old heavy duty back blade for the tractor. I wanted an old one because it is reinforced (many new ones are not) and the steel is of way better quality than you can get now.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableCanning - We’ve learned a LOT about home canning. We are on our fifth use with our reusable canning lids. We’ve learned to water bath and pressure can - fish we’ve caught, meat we’ve raised, all sorts of vegetables and fruit, and this year we made jelly from wild berries on our property and tomorrow we are going to try pickles. Not everything has turned out but most of it has and if we don’t get something right we do it again until we figure it out.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableGardening– Last winter we grew our own fresh vegetables all winter long for the first time in our insulated cold frames. No artificial heat or light. The key was attaching the cold frames to the south side of our house. We also grew food inside the house during the winter. The end result was fresh veggies all year long and the temperatures go below zero here! Not bad for rookies.
Neither one of us has ever had a garden before. To date we have grown spinach, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, peas, pole beans, bush beans, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, swiss chard, beets and beet greens, herbs, lettuces, and berries we have planted here – all for the first time. We have also harvested berries and mushrooms that grow wild here.
Next year I am putting in a small orchard. Mostly apple trees. I have been told by many it can’t be done at the 4200’ altitude but I know that’s not true and I fully intend to at least have apples next year.
We are also adding rhubarb and asparagus to our garden next year.

There is so much more to tell about what we’ve learned but I will save that for another time.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.


Saturday, 02 November 2013 00:00

Emergency Backpack Kit On Sale!

emergency pack, survival pack, disaster pack, emergency, survival, disaster

For home or on the go, this kit includes most everything you need for a short term emergency which could include anything from a power outage to a major storm.
Just add more food and water to this kit if you want to prepare for something longer term.

(KEX4 Pictured to the left)

Mayday Industries has been around for a while and knows what the most needed items are for an emergency.

The backpack is for easy storage and to carry your kit with you if you have to leave your refuge for whatever reason. Take your survival items with you.

As stated above, all this kit needs is a little more food and water and you are good for an extended emergency. How long does it usually take for rescue teams to arrive? It can vary from a few hours to several days and in some cases a couple of weeks. That’s why these kits have shelter and blankets.

Use the radio to get the latest available updates on your situation as reports come in. Use the camper stove for hot meals.

If you are home and expect a utility outage that might mean no toilets. Consider the Honey Bucket Deluxe Emergency Kits if that is more important to you.
Friday, 01 November 2013 08:34

Create A Backyard Homestead

backyard garden, small garden, off grid, homesteadA few years ago we sold our condo and built an off grid homestead on 40 acres in the mountains. Pretty extreme. Surprisingly it turns out that many of you would like to do the same thing.
I’ve been contacted by hundreds of people the past few years who would like to do something similar. We’ve discussed everything from a “modern homestead” like ours to a yurt in the woods. Just recently I was contacted by a group of young ex-military folks from California looking to buy the property next to us and start out in a large canvas tent with a woodstove building everything else from the land as they could afford it. They also planned on two greenhouses, rabbits, and goats to start with. They actually had things pretty well thought out and could probably make a successful go of it. Now that’s extreme!

What about those of you who would like to do something similar but can’t due to the circumstances you currently find yourself in? Work, family, and financial obligations are just a few of the distractions we all face going through life. If that sounds familiar, don’t despair! There are a lot of things you can do right now to experience the homestead lifestyle right in your backyard.

None of the ideas mentioned here are new but good ideas are always worth repeating.  I’m talking about things you can do in your own back yard to help you become healthier and more self sufficient even if you live in the city. You don’t even need a lot of room.

Growing your own fresh vegetables is a good place to start and it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Convert an old flower bed into a vegetable garden. Replace some of your flowered pots with vegetable plants. Convert some of that lawn to beans, carrots, potatoes, squash, broccoli, and cauliflower. Section off a piece of ground for tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and other summer salad items. You don’t need a rototiller. A broad fork, shovel, and hoe will do just fine. Grow your own pumpkins for Halloween and pumpkin pie. Grow your own herbs and spices.

chickens coop, chicken tractor, homestead, backyard homesteadIn previous blogs we’ve talked about all of the ways you can grow food at home all year long. There simply isn’t any reason you can’t. Some of the products out there are hands free! Gardens are a little different. They do take some time and effort but the rewards are worth it. HOME GROWN FOOD IS SAFER, HEALTHIER, AND TASTES BETTER THAN WHAT YOU CAN BUY IN THE STORE. Growing your own food also creates a certain amount of pride and satisfaction - old fashioned ideals that are good for you.

Somehow the word homestead conjures up pictures in my mind of chickens. I had chickens as a kid in the city. Now I have them again. They are a source of grand entertainment and nutritious and delicious eggs. Our chickens are free range. That won’t work in your backyard but that’s okay. There are a huge variety of small backyard coops you can get. I prefer the “chicken tractor” or any coop that is mobile so you can move them around the yard. You don‘t need a rooster to get eggs to eat. Happy chickens are pretty quiet. They make a soft cooing sound when happy.
I hope the recent trend of city chickens isn’t a fad. They are a diet staple for most of us and again – there are some old fashioned benefits from taking care of animals.

Another thing you can do is capture rainwater from your gutters to water your garden. Using what Nature provides to survive is an essential ingredient to self sufficiency. So far this summer we haven’t had to pump any water from our well to water our garden. We have cisterns that store water from our roof every time it rains. Even though yours may be on a smaller scale (one or two downspouts) you can accomplish the same thing in your own backyard!

These are just a few ideas anyone can do to become more self sufficient no matter where you live. Grow your own food, raise a few chickens, and harvest water naturally to experience a little bit of country in your urban setting. The benefits are worth it and if you ever decide to “go all the way” your backyard experiences will give you a running head start.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.


Thursday, 03 October 2013 11:20

RE-use it for something else

off grid, homestead, recycle, survival, self sufficientWe talk a lot about recycling. In most cases that means turning something in to be demolished and made into another product but what about reusing a product for something else?

Living off grid has helped make Laurie and I more aware of what we purchase and how we dispose of those items that have outlived their usefulness. There is no recycle program (to speak of) where we live due to a low population density and the distances that the recycle haulers have to go to service our community. It just isn’t cost effective.

One of the ways we’ve learned to reduce our trash is to re-use an item - or – change the use of the item. If it no longer works for one thing, change the use to something else.

off grid, homestead, recycle, survival, self sufficientWe had a TV satellite dish installed for our RV for 6 months while we were building our house. When we placed the order for the service to switch over to our new home we expected they would just move the dish from the RV location to the house. Nope – no way. They insisted on a new dish for the house. It was their policy and nothing I could say would change it so we ended up with an extra dish lying around doing nothing.
 I took the dish apart, reassembled it in a horizontal position and turned it into a birdbath. Our tweety friends just love it. All you have to do is add water.
This spring I assembled a plastic bird bath for my mother. She had received it as a gift for Mothers Day. When I screwed the top onto the pedestal it broke. Not my birdbath. Solid steel and aluminum with powder coat paint. It should last for years.  

off grid, homestead, recycle, survival, self sufficientOur neighbors were going to haul an old stock tank to the dump. Laurie brought it home instead. I repaired it and used it to water our horses for a year and it broke again. Fixing it one more time was iffy so I hauled it up to the house and put dirt in it. Laurie planted garlic last year and we are expecting our first fresh garlic this season! It works great as a planter because it doesn’t hold water but rather leaks real slow. You couldn’t design a better planter.

Our last tip is something Laurie came up with last year - making tote bags out of old feed bags. We use them all the time for shopping, especially when our items are heavy. These bags are really strong and kind of waterproof. They shed water rather than absorb it. Now that we have our own bags we are seeing others from people with the same idea. We’ve also sold some on a farmers market website so I guess “re-use” can actually help stimulate the economy.

Many of you have been doing this sort of thing for years. I know it isn’t a new concept but it is for me. I now “think” before I actually dispose of an item. Not everything can be re-used so if you have to throw it out, at least do so in a responsible manner.
For some reason, producing our own power and water and growing our own food just seems to make us think differently about things that we used to take for granted (or not think about at all). It’s one of the natural benefits of living on an off grid homestead.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com and Off Grid Works.


Thursday, 29 August 2013 00:00

Insulated Cold Frames On Sale

Grow Food Year ‘Round
Now Only $363.00
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  • Our Home Design Features Part 1

    Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. Since I seem to struggle with my memory more and more I thought it would be nice to list them out along with a little explanation of them. Most of them are explained in detail on prior Blogs. Roof overhangs – our eave length is calculated to keep the sun out of the windows in the summer which helps with natural cooling, and let the sun in during Read More
  • Our Home Design Features Part 2

    Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. This is the second installment of features. Part 1 was published last week. See Part 1 Insulated cold frames – on the south side of the house we put in raised bed insulated cold frames. We have grown fresh cold weather type vegetables as cold as 18F with nothing to heat them but the sun. They are attached to the side of the house which never freezes. Plug Read More
  • I Built My House for Extreme Weather

    I went to work in the family commercial construction company in the early 1980's and by the end of the decade had worked my way into the office as a project manager. Commercial construction is entirely different than residential construction. For one thing, everything is engineered - structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers all take a part in the design of commercial buildings. It wasn't long before I discovered the term "100 year storm". Many structural designs and mechanical designs were based on the 100 year storm (I'm over simplifying for the purpose of this article). Things like concrete foundation design and Read More
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