Essentials of Family Off Grid Living

off grid livingSomewhere in the back of our minds we knew there would be growing pains. Moving to the country wasn't completely foreign to us as parents, as we both grew up in rural settings. Wendie was raised on a gentleman's seacoast horse farm, surrounded by ponies and tall pasture grass. For me, it was the wilds of the New Hampshire woods, pine trees as far as you could imagine with a break for the Great Bay and punctuated farmland and apple orchards. But in the aspect of family off grid living, it was as much a new concept for us as the kids.

Though we both moved from house to house as children, the allure of living in the country as little ones always stuck with us. Our lives in the city as adults found us wishing for better a better way of living.

Off Grid Living

off grid living
When we met, both our lives were upended by dissolving first marriages. People drift apart and grow in different manners. For both of us, we stayed unhappy for the sake of the kids, but eventually the realization hit us both that it was not doing any good. Our friendship let us share our experiences, and when the divorces came, we continued to grow closer. Best friends turning into great loves. We thought alike, though with original perspectives. Our first house, a little quarter acre lot in the city, was an oasis of nature. Old-growth maple trees cast across a charming backyard shade and vegetable garden. Our projects started here, as we learned from each other the ways we wanted to grow as a family. Off grid living was a conversation we started later, but the early inroads made through urban homesteading laid the foundation.

That little urban farm taught us quite a few lessons that we carried through to today. Our first was the gradual understanding of the uniqueness our property, how the soil and shade worked to produce our food. For off grid living, the idea is to increase our yields and contribute a larger portion of our production for the table. We don't plan on completely cutting off the allure of our local grocery store, but by putting away more of our own efforts in the freezer and pantry. We also now have our energy to consider. The solar panels do a spot on job of filling the batteries and running the house when the sun is shining, but this being New Hampshire, overcast days and three-day snow storms can throw wrench in the mix. Not a big one, but more like a little pocket-sized socket variety. Not only are the kids learning to be mindful of leaving lights off when not being used, but we are as well.

off grid livingOur last harvest in the urban garden was a crop of purple potatoes. The day before the house closing I was out in the garden, forking up the spuds to bring to the new homestead for curing. From these, we treated the kids and their friends to fresh potato chips, frying the slivers in canola oil and salt. It was our first time trying this, and we learned that second fry after they had dried from the first was the secret to getting a really crispy chip.

We will do this again and now we must once again learn how the soil will provide us quality results. The plan is to put together another batch of Mel's Mix, the square foot gardening composition that worked so well for us in the past. With a full sun layout, we expect our yields to be epic.

Homestead Living Off the Grid

homestead living off the grid
Our first garden project on the new property was to put in a raised planting bed for garlic. This was then encompassed with a five-foot deer and predator fence, as the space also doubles as our winter chicken run. We moved in late August, so the garlic was in the ground before first frost. With the perimeter laid out, we spent time this winter planning our next steps in the spring. The garden spreads lengthwise to the south, lying just beneath our solar panels. Towards the back we will put in climbing crops such as peas, beans and tomatoes, with herbs stretching out at the far south end by the gate. Homestead living off the grid isn't a made a more difficult task where the garden is concerned, but with an increase of produce, we have to be even more hands on. Losing a plant to disease or pests means losing that anticipated food for the table.

In the middle of the garden, peppers and summer squashes will go in, replaced by colder-weather crops like acorn and butternut squash, potatoes and pumpkins. These have great shelf-life and if left undisturbed on the counter will last a good stretch into winter. Wendie's favorites, carrots, will have there own raised bed as will the leafy greens planned for early May. All this time, the chickens will be transplanted to their own homestead living off grid without a heat lamp and water warmer. Their summer quarters are a smaller run and coop, but as free ranging is the norm for warm weather, they will be just fine.

Cheap Off Grid Homes

Our early excursions to check out cheap off grid homes with our real estate agent proved to be fruitless. Though we liked her and she did try to accommodate us, homestead properties simply weren't her forte. In fact, we started looking at other properties with other agents to open our possibilities, but none of them seemed to understand. If we were to do it again, we agree would would find an agency that specialized in off grid living, at the least farm properties.

cheap off grid homes

Some of the cheap off grid homes we looked at were deceptively described and definitely projects in their own rights. One 18th century farmhouse we looked at had experienced a fire in the 1970s, and upon inspection the roof beams were charred like an old log after an all-night kegger. Of course there are plenty of old house issues that buyers discover in our part of the country, but this was a little extreme. They were charcoal, pitch black at least an inch into the wood. Though still strong, they hinted at more problems with the bones of the house. Another property seemed promising, and matched what we described for our real estate agent we were looking for- at least two acres, wood heat, four bedrooms and space for a wood shop and garden.

cheap off grid homesThe house she showed us did have those elements, but the land was swath only 40 yards wide, going straight back through a swamp. The bedrooms were scattered with no sense of organization, connected by a make-shift butler's hallways that wrapped around the main part of the house to end over the garage. The field stone chimney looked amazing, though something had shaken the foundation so badly there was a 2 inch gap all the way around climbing through the actual roof. Lastly, there was only a one-car-deep driveway, it opened right onto the highway.

That was our last house-tour for a while. Two years later, Wendie was having a conversation with our mailman who casually mentioned he was retiring and selling his house. Ever inquisitive, Wendie asked for more details and four months later the moving truck pulled up the drive. We had abandoned the idea of scurrying between cheap off grid homes that were poorly taken care of and decided to buy on honesty and a handshake. This is our forever homestead, and when we pass along, it will be for the kids.

Homestead Living Skills

homestead living skills
Our strength as a family comes from a willingness to work hard and to be open to new ideas. So much of ourselves is invested in how we live, that learning new homestead skills almost seems to be a part of our daily routine. With the garden, we will add two beehives to the mix come spring. Goats are still an open conversation, though the decision wavers from yes to no depending on how we approach the topic. On one hand, they are cute as the dickens, but on the other, what will we do with them? Harvesting for meat is out of the question, and in order to raise them for milk we must breed them. The jury remains out.

As a married couple, we have grown closer. We both work from home and have learned that quiet, personal space is just as important as spending time side by side as we read and write. The kids are thriving, both at school and as young, promising tweens and teenagers. Our chickens are healthy and lively, the eggs starting to come in again after such long winter nights and even with the addition of Bruce, our Rooster, our neighbors are still happy to see us when we go visiting. Our homestead is slowly growing to include friends, laughter, healthy living and a personality of its own, incorporating the wholeness of our family with the land. We haven't carved anything out to make it ours, but rather have voluntarily become part of something much bigger than just ourselves.

We love sharing our journey with you, and would love to hear your perspective on off grid living as a family, as well as any tales you might wish to share about homestead living skills and your own experiences with off-grid homes. Please add to the conversation by using the comments below.


Unknown said…
That was some great writing, Todd. I couldn't be happier for you and your family!
WT said…
We're living the dream, that's for sure! If you and Rachel and her young 'ins ever decide to visit NH, be sure to look us up:)