Back to Basics

When electricity became a way of life in 1919, much of the world was swept up in a desire for current. A few groups of people, such as the Amish Mennonites, chose to shun modern technology and continue to lead the simple yet productive lifestyle that fit their religious and family needs perfectly. For the most part, however, the world is composed of throngs of people living "on the grid," with lifestyles that are very dependent on modern technology.

As is always the case, some people are looking into unique lifestyles that fit them better. Though perhaps for different reasons, many are returning to their roots and recognizing the wisdom of the modest, yet self-sustaining Amish communities.

Getting Off the Grid

The energy grid, which the majority of the world lives within and depends upon, provides freedom at the same time as it robs recipients of freedom. If you live on the grid, you enjoy the freedom of available energy-for a charge-and without discrimination. However, in accepting to live on the grid, you also forfeit the freedom to be self-sustaining.

Surviving off the grid means more manual labor and a more concentrated effort on the part of those who attempt it, but along with the extra workload you get the satisfaction of no more electrical and gas bills, and a monumental feeling of accomplishment.

When getting off the grid, the first thing a homeowner will need to address is a viable source of heat. In this instance, you could learn from America's early settlers, who were in the same boat when winter arrived to their sod homes, so many years ago. They needed shelters that could endure the weather, and they needed some form of readily accessible heat. Wood was scarce, so they used what they could find, including cow chips. The thin, round disks of dried cow manure scattered about in pastures are free and burn hotter and quicker than wood. Since cow chips also produce plenty of ash, your stove will have to be cleaned out more often. And, yes, cow chips are a waste product. But before you turn your nose up at this idea, remember, it works, and when looking for self-sustaining methods, everything must be examined.

Heating Your Home Without Electricity or Gas:

  • Convertto a wood- or a corn-burning stove. Due to heat escaping up the chimney, fireplaces are not the perfect source for heating an entire home, but a fireplace will heat a room nicely. Corn burns hot and clean and is one of the newest sources of heating available. Remember, however, that the price of corn will rise along with the need. If you can grow your own corn, you may have the perfect setup. But, remember also that corn is a crop that must be rotated often as it depletes the ground, and corn must also be harvested and stored. Any time you store a food source you also have to be concerned with pests such as rats, raccoons and squirrels.
  • Add extra insulation to the house, especially the attic, where heat escapes, and around doors and windows or anyplace a draft is detected.
  • Installsolar panels and tap into the sun's energy.

Creating Your Own Energy

Powering small appliances, such as a TV, cell phone, laptop or radio, can be done through the use of a bicycle, a small generator and a battery. Order plans to create a bicycle generator stand or order the bicycle stand already completed for you, then simply drop the back wheel of your own bicycle into the slot, hook up the battery and start pedaling. As the wheel turns, it spins the generator and the generator collects the energy you create. One hour of pedaling will produce approximately 200 watts of power.

Living off the Land

Rural living provides the perfect location for gardening. Take whatever space you have to spare and turn it into vegetable gardens and areas for livestock. Vegetables can also be planted in pots and hung to make use of every available space. Foods that cannot be eaten quickly can be saved for winter use. Foods that will be canned should be picked, washed and canned within several hours to preserve as much of the vitamins and nutrients as possible. Fruits and vegetables can also be dried and stored for some months in a root cellar.

When raising animals for food, choose animals that will not require additional store-bought feed and which can be housed easily.

  • Cattle. One steer will provide you with enough meat for an entire year. If using cow chips, you'll be able to harvest plenty over the course of one summer.
  • Chickens. Let the chickens run loose on your property, but make sure you have a chicken coop for them to return to each evening that is safe from predators. A few healthy chickens will provide more than enough eggs for a family.
  • Rabbits. Rabbits can be kept in a hutch, which doesn't take up much space. Pick clover and grasses for them and offer an orange slice and salt block once in a while and your rabbits will be happy and healthy. Make sure they have plenty of hay in the winter months to pad their homes. In the summer fill old two-liter soda bottles with water and freeze to provide additional comfort. They'll love stretching out alongside a frozen bottle and cooling down as the heat index rises.
  • Fish. Adding a fish pond to your property is another great way to provide protein. If you already have a pond on the property, chances are it is spring-fed and will be relatively maintenance-free. On occasion a pond will require dredging to remove a buildup of sledge and silt.

Take Advantage of Existing Waterways

If you already have a pond or a stream, take advantage of the Omega 3 possibilities. Dredging an area and diverting a small stream so that you have a body of water that remains year round or that can be drained every couple of years is ideal.

Purchase fish from a commercial fish hatchery. Take care deciding which kinds of fish you will stock together in your pond. Rainbow trout is a good fish for ponds but should not be mixed with brown trout, as they require different water temperatures. Make sure you have enough room in the pond for minnow, crayfish and water plants, all of which are important to sustaining and growing trout.

Sunfish and bluegills also are not the perfect fish for a pond, as they reproduce quickly and require plenty of food in order to grow. Too many fish means only small fish to harvest and the possibility of fish dying due to lack of food.

Stock about 50 fish to every one acre of pond space, then allow fish two to three years for reproducing before you begin harvesting.

The Bartering System

Bartering has been used since the beginning of time. It's a great way to network and keep the channels between neighbors open and to keep your community prosperous. Each item you grow or produce on your property helps provide you with a bartering system. If you have too many eggs and your neighbor has too many fish, bartering is a great way to purchase what you need. You can also sell a one-hour fishing spot to neighbors in exchange for something they have that you need. The point to remember is that bartering items back and forth is a wonderful way to exchange needed goods without cash, leaving both parties happy.

Perhaps you have a sewing talent or a talent with wood. You can barter something you sewed for a chicken or a rabbit. Use your talent to make rabbit hutches, aprons or baked goods. Or, if you have the extra time, barter brute strength and time during harvest season. When you have a project that requires additional hands, you'll already have a crew in place.

Household Energy Savers

Laundry is one chore that can run the electric bill sky-high. But with a few tweaks, you can be doing your laundry for much less. If you aren't of a mind to hand-wash your clothing, you are not alone. But when it comes to drying your clothes, don't forget about Mother Nature. Rinse the clothes with one or two cups of vinegar before hanging them in the sun upside down to keep them from losing their shape. Vinegar keeps the clothes from becoming too stiff. To remove most of the wrinkles, simply shake out each article of clothing with a snap before hanging.

An umbrella clothesline only takes up a small amount of space and can be folded and removed after clothes are dry. Retractable clotheslines work well, also, as long as you have two buildings or posts close enough so that the clothesline can stretch to both. After drying the clothes, simply retract the line and it's as if the line was never there.

Waste Not, Want Not

Outgrown clothing is still useful. Rugs and blankets can be made from strips or squares of material and scarecrows can be outfitted with old, outgrown clothing. Consider using cloth baby diapers instead of disposables. Getting back to basics means using every part of whatever it is you have. Waste not, want not is the motto of those who live off the land, and ultimately off the grid.

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