First week on the homestead

With mud season in full swing, I did not think that I would survive to tell the tale. I feel like we live on a moat half the time. No Joke! But this week has been such a productive week despite the mess and the less than stellar state of our farm. This week we were able to get our water system going. Sergio had found two food grade ibc totes not too long ago, and he recently bought a shallow well pump. With the well pump he was able to get some fittings to be able to pump our water from the top of the hill down to another tote near our house. The children and I were so excited to no longer have to climb the hill to carry water in 5 gallon buckets down to the house. We hope to get a well dug soon but all the roads are posted so we just have to make the best of the situation. I also did our first few loads of laundry this week using a smaller portable washer that we purchased off of amazon, and our portable battery station handled it like a dream. The washer uses 200 watts an hour. but our battery bank said actual usage was a lot less. I was able to do 3 loads of laundry in thirty minutes and I barely used 3 percent of stored power. That little washer washes so much better than my previous full sized washer. I was very impressed. I also have been doing a lot of wood fire cooking. I baked a no knead bread over coals, and I thought it came out pretty well. I have felt a connection like never before to my family in Haiti. For generations my family has cooked using wood fires, as well as my husbands family. And to be able to do the same and share that with my children brought tears to my eyes. This would of been an art lost to me, due to my parents immigrating to America years ago. And to hold onto that is a gift in itself. My husband shared so many stories with us about how happy his grandmother and my mother in law would be here if they had the chance. He said everywhere they went in the countryside they would carry a little sack for wood so that they could start a fire and cook. Although people see a lot of hard work in our life style, I still feel so abundantly blessed with so much. How could I even complain. Some friends had gasped at the idea of me cooking over wood fire and said I bet you cant wait to be done with this phase of building and have a kitchen. And actually it is quite the opposite. I am enjoying it and even if I weren’t, I wouldn’t dream of putting even more pressure on my husband to get done with the house. Every day that I cook for him cheerfully, shows my gratitude for all that he is doing for our family. And it allows him not to push himself so much. I enjoy the slowness of outdoor cooking, of planning my meals and the several hours it takes to cook our dinner and supper. How my children all look for wood to keep the fire stoked and fed while I cook. It takes all of us working together. And it brings a closeness to us all. We are embracing, and savoring all of it. And we still found time to start just under 300 garden seeds for when Sergio has a moment to set up the greenhouse. We planted Kale, Swiss Chard, Beets, Spinach, and Lettuce. And we are counting down the 30 days to harvest. Sergio also got the bathroom done too. What are some of the things that you like to do, that don’t necessarily make sense due to taking extra steps, or more time? What have you got planted in your garden to date?

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Watt in the world?

Figuring out how to power our homestead.

As we continue to renovate our tiny cabin before moving in, our family took some very important steps. I think this might be the hardest part of the whole move for some folks that are thinking about going off-grid. For us though, it honestly wasn’t that bad. We have always been conscious consumers and have always been particularly careful about our electrical usage. The less money I spent, meant the more money I had for other things. Like cute little piggies, sheep, or garden seeds. I will be the first to raise my hand and openly admit that yes, I am addicted to garden seeds, and just about anything with four legs that can be pasture raised. Just don’t tell my husband. 

As my husband and I talked and made plans. We both discussed what was important to us, and what it would take to get there. We made a list of must haves, power consumption, and then power supplies. So, let’s get started.

As we started making a list of my husbands must haves, we very quickly figured out that he only cared about having something big enough for his power tools. We checked the wattage on all his tools and the biggest wattage was his air compressor at about 2,000 running watts, but 6500 starting watts. It took us less than 30 min to figure out his wattage needs were. Mine, was a little more complicated. Folks I had to break up with the toaster, the instapot, the ceramic griddle, the crock pot and so much more. Pretty much anything that has a heating element is over 1,000 watts.It was a huge awakening moment. I love my kitchen and this broke my heart to see so many watts listed on the things I love. It’s pretty easy to find the watts and it is listed underneath most items right next to the serial/model number. There are just some things I could not bear to part with and those are staying. My 1,000 watt electric grain mill, my 1,000 watt vitamix blender, my dehydrator, chicken plucker, meat grinder, computers, my coffee grinder and stick blender. So the things I use pretty much every day or several times a week were under 300 watts. Such as the coffee grinder, stick blender, cell phones, and cameras. Other common things I had to break up with was the washer and dryer. The delima…

Now, that I had a list of must haves. I had to figure out how I could do the same thing with lower wattage. Some things were easy, such as swapping out the destop computers(500 watts) for a laptop and tablet(about 80 watts, and 5 watts a piece). That’s a big difference. Cell phones are about 5 watts as well. Coffee grinder and stick blender are under 300 watts a piece. And Amazon had a portable washer for about 280 watts too. So my highest wattage for everyday necessities was about 300 watts.  After looking over my list I quickly realized we had a few issues for power sources. 

After narrowing down my list, I noticed that Sergio and I had a few big electric sucking tools that we loved. These typically use about 1,000 running watts. I also had another list of smaller items that we used on an everyday basis. We had a small budget and we didn’t want to invest in solar till we knew exactly how much power we needed and what we could or couldn’t live without. We really wanted to focus on moving to the property and studying the environment around us, such as where we got the most sunlight, and getting necessary infrastructure into place. Batteries take up a lot of space when trying to store solar harvested power. 

As we started looking at batteries and generators we knew that, one, we needed something big enough to handle power tools, two, it had to be quiet enough to use without disturbing neighbors or wild life, and ,three, affordable. We also knew that we would need a smaller source to run all of our daily items. That is when I started looking into portable power stations. Essentially it’s a huge battery that you can plug into.  I found a couple of brands that we thought would be a good fit and purchased them off of Amazon. One was a 330 watt portable power station and the other was 500 watts. The first one cost $259 and the latter about $400. I tried the cheaper one, but it was clear after a week that it wasn’t going to work for us. It was not user friendly. You would push the button to turn on the outlet needed and it just wouldn’t charge the item in that socket. 

I then ordered the more expensive one and it has been smooth sailing ever since. We love it. It is a little heavy but let me tell you it’s a beast. At 500 watts I can run even our portable laundry washer. One word of advice. You do need to pay attention to the starting watts and running watts. For instance an item could be 350 watts, but it needs 600 watts to start. In theory my portable battery could handle it but it is not big enough for the starting watts. Aka the amount of watts needed to start up that particular item, and after the initial start up then the running watts kick in. This is huge, and very important no matter what generator, solar system, or portable power you buy. Needless to say, we quickly fell in love with it and we carry it everywhere. You can even charge it in the car, with solar panels or in any conventional home with electricity. This would make camping so much easier for people who have medical equipment, or want to run some small lights or even keep devices charged.  For my husband though we needed a power horse. So we started looking at the starting watts of all his tools, what additional purchases were needed for items that were not included such as wheels, or push start batteries. We even looked at fuel consumption and the decibels of how loud they ran. Our search took us to Harbor Freight. We realized that what we wanted was an inverter generator for the household/frequent usage. We could run sensitive electronics on it if we wanted too. And most importantly it was quiet. We could still have a conversation without having to shout. It ran 11 hours on 2 gallons of gas. We were sold. We talked about it endlessly, but we just couldn’t commit to such a large investment. Then came the 20 percent off coupon. We were ecstatic. It dropped us down to what we had budgeted and let me tell you we ran. We couldn’t get there fast enough. And we brought her home. We read the manual, poured over the details and  we finally gave her a test run. It was wonderful. She purred like a Mercedes. She wasn’t loud and obnoxious. You could hear her, but it was tolerable. Actually more than tolerable. Quieter than a lawn mower but just a little louder than a refrigerator. I can’t tell you how excited we were to find something in our budget and that fit our needs. We didn’t want the world to know we are running a generator. We also didn’t want to lose our peace especially if we had to run it more frequently than expected. This is something that we know will last us a long time if not forever. Maine is pretty dark and cloudy in the winter, so we will need something to charge those solar batteries anyways. For my husband we ended up getting a 6500 watt generator.  The air compressor is a watt hog. And we figured out that out the hard way. Though his air compressor was tiny it had a 2.5 horsepower motor which needed a minimum of 6000 starting watts. It would have been cheaper to get a smaller air compressor but it wouldn’t have been big enough for all of our needs. So that’s how we chose our sources of power for our cabin.  In our next blog post, I will be highlighting all of our favorite offgrid purchases.

Buying a homestead

Some of you have followed us on our journey when we previously homesteaded in Oklahoma, and even more of you were some of our best supporters and customers. When we started homesteading in Oklahoma we tried to document the journey, as well as shine a light on the process. It is so hard to find the right place to homestead. Especially when you have the noise of everyone else’s thoughts and opinions on what you should do and how you should do it. If you are looking for me to tell you what to do, this is not it. What I will tell you is how WE did it. And what our thought process was like. This will not be an exhaustive list of everything you should do either. And I’m sure there will be lots of people who firmly believe that I didn’t do enough. I’m all about doing the best you can with what you got according to the resources you have available. In the end you will have to trust and let the Holy Spirit be your guide. We are going to jump past the obvious of budgeting for land, and infrastructure to analyze etc. For us our budget doesn’t allow that privilege. I’m going to come from the angle of raw land with zero infrastructure. Maybe it will have a cabin or a run down house or mobile home. Maybe it will have a barn. Those are all bonuses for us but not deal breakers. Sweat equity anyone?! Grab a cup of coffee, get comfy and let’s chat.

So, you think you found the right land. You have walked the property multiple times, your heart swoons and skips a beat. You can already envision all the chickens, cows, pigs, and gardens. You have already done your pros, and cons, and now you have an accepted offer. For some, it becomes a waiting game on when to close, for others it’s a shopping spree of getting all the homestead stuff. For others, like myself, I find my computer and I start the research. I heavily scour things like zoning, setbacks, restrictions, soil maps, and more.

In Oklahoma things were so much easier. We had the perfect realtor. I got his permission, so I’m going to do a name drop and get much more personal. A good realtor makes or breaks any deal. In Maine we struggled in that department. But in Oklahoma Mr. Russell Guilfoyil made things happen on our behalf. That man saved us some major dough. He knew land prices, he knew the area and he respected our budget. And even then he still worked his magic and brought us even under that budget number. All in all he saved us 7k off the listing price because he knew the value of wooded versus cleared. Not many realtors know the difference and they focus on selling you THE house but not the actual usage of the property. He knew we wanted something usable. He also got the seller to include the survey. Saving us another $700. So we were able to get to the property and start fencing. My number one tip is find an experienced farming/ranching realtor. We desperately needed a Mr. Guilfoyil here in Maine. If you’re looking for a realtor in Oklahoma then you need him. Our family will never look at property in that area without him. There is much to be said about someone who loves dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s as much as I do. I love it when people are so painstakingly thorough. I was also privileged to have him by our side when we sold and he brought us top dollar. Honey, he will get you every last penny for your blood sweat and tears. We even had a legal description encroachment error from a certain neighbor and he sniffed and hunted them down like a hunter his prey. Trust me, you want him. You can click here for a link to his business page or call him (918) 812-5795.

After you have an amazing realtor, our next step is making a call to the town planning commission and/or zone board to find out about building, and animal restrictions etc. For me this is the lengthiest part of my research. I’m not content with just hearing back from them. I go much deeper. If there is any water resource on the property I’m calling all government agencies to double check all the restrictions. I make a call to the following departments such as Fish and Wildlife(local game warden), USDA/NRCS, Army Corp of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Environmental Quality, as well as my town zoning board. And I make sure to double check and cross reference what every single one of them says, as well as pull up hard copies online and save them. It can be a costly mistake if you have a significant wetland and want to put a pergola, landscaping or fence and they make you pay thousands to restore the area to previous condition. If you are interested in the benefits of a wetland on a homestead let me know in the comments below and we can definitely continue this conversation even more. But back to what I was saying previously, you definitely want to know about setbacks or even possible future septic issues that could cost a lot more than what is the norm. Once I make it past all preliminary zoning issues, then I allow myself to get to the exciting part. Soil Mapping! (And everyone’s significant other groans.) Don’t worry I will keep it brief.

Oh, how I love soil mapping. It makes my heart sing. It is the secret to my success. Soil is the key to how well your homestead and farm will run. It tells you where your low spots are, the ideal area to drill a well, what kind of soil you’re facing(such as clay or hydric soils), it gives you insight into the best spots for gardens and orchards, rainfall, and frost free days. I love that I can measure my land in terms of acreage and start laying things out preliminarily. I can make my list of things to watch for after we move, such as how well things drain and the slope of the land. That first year is crucial. I firmly believe in not doing anything permanent until you have at least a year to check the area and see where your high and low spots are. The perfect spot based off of a soil map might not be the best in reality. But it gives you a good idea. The USDA in conjunction with Web Soil Survey has almost 100 percent of the nation and its counties mapped out. When mapping out our property I was already able to see where the wetland begins and ends, and which part of our land has poor drainage or rocky soil. Very important if you still have to install septic and a well. Please don’t assume too much with the soil map. You will still need to send soil samples off for testing to figure out what soil amendments are possibly needed for optimal pasture growth and production, as well as for future gardens and orchards. Click the link below to take you to the Soil mapping website to plug in your address and discover the hidden secrets of your current or future homestead.

After looking at our homestead I now know what our family must accomplish to restore or build soil structure on our land. My last tip to offer is to remind you how important having a survey is. I cannot stress the importance of knowing and confirming what you are buying. You know that beautiful 52 acres I have been talking about? Guess what? After having the survey we found out that it wasn’t 52 but 39 acres. And because we hadn’t closed yet, we were just in time to send in a counter offer, and submit the offer to the town office to get the taxes adjusted accordingly. My heart hurts for the seller who paid the price for 52 acres and spent over 20 years paying inflated taxes. You can save so much money ahead of time knowing the full picture of exactly what you are getting. For us it wasn’t a deal breaker. We hope to find a few more acres in the future as we grow. What was most important was not over paying for the property. Like I said this is not an exhaustive list but I hope maybe you found some part of it beneficial to you. Let me know your thoughts below. What are some of the things you did in preparation of buying your homestead property?