Off the Grid at the End of February

By Michelle Mather

As you can imagine, Cam is pretty busy these days, researching and writing our new book, “The Sensible Prepper.” When he isn’t writing a book we often have a backlog of blog posts but that isn’t the case at the moment!

I thought I’d take the opportunity to give you a glimpse into what has been going on here at Sunflower Farm during these last weeks of February. I know that many of you read this blog to get an idea of what it’s like to live off the grid. We’ve been living this way for so long now (almost 15 years!) that we forget that it’s a different way to live and so we forget to describe our day-to-day lives.

It’s been a heckuva winter in terms of the weather. Usually we count on November and December to be dark and dreary and we know we’ll have to run our generator every few days to charge up the batteries. We are both very good at going in to “conservation mode” during those months. We are always quite cognizant about how much electricity we are using, but we choose to be very diligent during the dark months since we really, really don’t like to run a generator!

In a normal year  the ground will be snow covered by January and many of the days will be crisp, cold and bright. Perfect weather for solar panels. They work most efficiently in cooler temperatures, not during heat waves, which seems a little counter intuitive to most people. The bright sunshine bounces off of the white snow which provides optimal conditions for generating electricity. Usually during January and February we are producing so much electricity that our batteries will begin popping away and be fully charged early in the morning. We forget about conservation and go in to “use up the juice” mode in which we look for ways to use the excess electricity. It’s a nice problem to have.

Notice that I keep using the word “normal.” This has not been a normal year. Oh sure, we’ve had some sunny days and most of the time the ground has been snow covered. But we’ve had way more cloudy days and longer stretches of cloudy days so far this year and so it has been more challenging than usual to live off the grid. As I said to Cam the other day when we had to make the decision to run the generator to charge up the batteries, “Who ever said it was easy to live off the grid?” Don’t ever let us give you that impression. It’s not! Especially when Mother Nature won’t cooperate!

At the same time that our days have been gray and dreary, I need to run grow lights for my seedlings! I’ve planted some tomato, pepper, eggplant, leek and onion seeds and they are doing quite nicely. But on cloudy days, as we watch the battery voltage dropping, I feel compelled to turn off anything extraneous, and unfortunately grow lights seem extraneous to me.

onion-seeds

tomato-seedlings

The lack of sunshine so far this year has also meant that our solar domestic hot water heater isn’t working as often as usual.  Which means that our propane hot water tank clicks on and Cam has told you how much we hate to hear THAT sound!

The chickens are also affected by the lack of sunlight and our egg production is about half of what it was during the summer months.  Our poor dog Jasper! The snow is sooo wet and sticky that when we try to play soccer with him, the ball gets coated in a thick, HEAVY layer of snow and it just isn’t much fun!

jasper-face

On the plus side, the house is always toasty warm thanks to an abundance of nicely dried firewood and the days are getting longer and so we can sense that spring is just over the horizon! The sunshine can’t return a moment too soon in an off-grid home!

7 Responses to “Off the Grid at the End of February”

  • Hi Linda. No worries… the sticky snow problem was short-lived! And the snow is melting quickly so soon Jasper will have a huge expanse of grass to play soccer on! We just have to get through “mud” season first! 🙂

  • Linda Lewis:

    As always, I am concerned about the happiness of our pets. To cure the problems of your dog’s soccer ball, how about rubbing some butter or cooking oil (very light amount) over part of the ball? I’ve seen it work in the past. Love your blog.

  • Hi Steve! Yup, those are all excellent suggestions. But they all require an investment of cash, and like the sunshine, money is in short supply around here at this time. We’ve invested lots in our batteries, charge controller, inverter, wind turbine and solar panels, and I’m afraid we are tapped out! ~Michelle~

  • SteveR:

    You still have many more options to have an abundance of energy.
    Biogas generation is an option to run the propane hot water tank.
    Gengas from wood can run your generator.

  • Hi Mark

    Yup, we love our wind turbine.

    The last few weeks we’ve had less wind than we’d like, but it generally it really helps us being off grid reducing our generator run time dramatically.

    I’d put another Bergey XL1 if I had to replace our existing one. It has performed exceptionally well through some horrific wind storms.

    Cam

  • We don’t have the snow here that you or the east coast does but we do have rain and more grey days than I can count. However I have planted snap peas and see them starting to poke through. Would love to have a wood stove. There is nothing like wood heat.

  • Mark Jeratowski:

    Are you happy with the output of your wind turbine? If you were to purchase another one, what brand would you install? Really enjoy your blog!

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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