Months Eleven to Thirteen of Our Off Grid Homestead Development

In early 2016 when there was still snow on the ground, it felt like we had an entire year to get loose ends tied up before starting construction of our home, but here we are heading into fall and the year has flown by! It’s time for another roundup post just to help ourselves see how much we accomplish in any given span of months.

We do these roundup posts not just for our followers that want to see somewhat of a bullet point list of things we’ve done, but also for ourselves because we often ask ourselves “Where did the time go?” and it’s not always obvious until we make a list of accomplishments and we’re always blown away.

In the heat of summer, it seemed that it was never going to end. We spent A LOT of time in air-conditioned coffee shops, public buildings, and even touring the mountain roads in our air-conditioned car, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t get a lot done!

Watch the music video below for an overview of what we did, but keep on reading for the full scoop!

Jumped Into Solar Power With Portable Solar Panels

Early in summer, one of the first things we did was got started on our solar setup! Read this post on our portable solar panels for the full scoop, but in a nutshell, we got a 120 watt portable solar kit to keep our RV battery topped off and even our battery bank. While we already have a more elaborate solar setup that we’ll be sharing soon, this small portable unit worked well for us for a few months and we’re kicking ourselves for not doing it sooner! It really did help save on the generator fuel bill on those sunny days, reserving the generator strictly for cloudy days (rare in summer) or for running power tools.

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Built a Timber Frame Battery Box

Many months back, we picked up a second-hand battery bank for a really great price. We don’t recommend everyone buy a second-hand battery bank, but it was worth the risk for us at this point in time. Since we wanted to practice our timber framing skills, we figured this would be a great project to do so! Watch our timber frame battery box video for the full scoop… part two is coming out in a matter of days!

battery-box

Foraged for Wild Edible Plants & Fruit

While I (Alyssa) was visiting family in Southern California for a week, Jesse was busy enjoying summer to the fullest and hiking! On his hike, he found a plethora of huckleberries so as soon as I got home, he took me back to the mountains. We spent days and days collecting gallons and gallons of fruit. Read our foraging for wild fruit blog post and also this post on our thimbleberry jam… one of the BEST recipes we cooked up with our findings!

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Canned GOBS and GOBS of Fruit… And I Mean GOBS!

Does the title say enough or should I stress it some more? We canned SO MUCH FRUIT over summer! Little did we know that having a small water bath canner and a 3-burner outdoor stove would open up so many opportunities! We canned huckleberries, thimbleberries, red currants, black currants, apricots, pears, cherries, rhubarb, apples, elderberries and more! Some of this fruit we had five gallons of! We haven’t stopped canning yet but it should subside soon, then we get to see how long the goods last!

apricot-nectar canned-goods

Made Our Own Homemade Root Beer

So we kinda got carried away with food prep and since we were drinking so much hard root beer this summer, we thought “Why not make our own?” Originally, we hoped that we could make this in bulk and store it but we stumbled upon some recipes for probiotic root beer so we made that instead. It was great! Read more about our homemade root beer.

homemade root beer recipe

Built a Firewood Storage Shed

Because we have a bunch of leftover mill ends from last winter (they served as our primary source of firewood), we decided to build a firewood storage shed for them by our wood fired hot tub! No need to use these this winter since we have quality wood, but they will serve as great hot tub fuel! This was a fun project and makes heating the hot tub a breeze!

diy firewood storage shed plans

Collected Seven to Eight Cords of Firewood

In the heat of summer, we decided to stop what we were doing (canning!) to get started on firewood. Even though it was hot scorching, we had a hunch that chainsaws would be off-limits in the near future due to fire danger, so we got to work. In the 90 degree heat, we diligently collected all the firewood we could need for this winter, and then some! This was my first time getting firewood, so there was actually a pretty steep learning curve. In the end, we ended up being a go-getting firewood cutting team. Watch this fun video on what firewood cutting is like, or what it was like for us!

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Replaced our RV Garage Cover & Made Upgrades

We didn’t really cover this in its own post, but our ShelterLogic Garage-in-a-Box ended up tearing right before the one year mark was up! This was heartbreaking to us because it is NOT a simple fix to replace it! We ended up getting a replacement cover covered by the warranty, so although it wasn’t convenient to swap the covers, it did give us an opportunity to give the trailer a bath, lay down some 3/4 minus rock under the trailer. We also got to fix some alignment issues caused by the 2015 windstorm in the Pacific Northwest… that windstorm rocked our world, in a bad way!

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Built Stairs to the Hot Tub Deck

Once our hot tub deck was built, we were happy and all of that, but to get UP to the stairs of the deck we had to walk in what felt like ankle-deep dust. Since we had to rent a backhoe anyways to get our driveway up to par, we decided to use it to dig out stairs up to the hot tub! This was a very quick project and then we simply filled in the stairs with brick as we had time. If you haven’t seen our answer to the most popular question on our blog, here is why we built a hot tub before a house.

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Revamped Our Driveway

We hope to elaborate on this MUCH more in a video, but we took the plunge and did what we needed to do to get a physical street address. Let’s just say that even though we were comfortable with our driveway and feel that it fit the needs our our property, the county didn’t think so, and we had to push the hillside back to get a 20′ flat spot at the base of our driveway. We then had to build a retaining wall to hold the hillside back. This isn’t entirely bad but it was a large hoop to jump through nonetheless, and it wasn’t cheap either. In the end, we’re happy to now have a street address which we feel increases the value of our property.

Also, as we were driving the backhoe around the property, we were inspired to make a video on what it’s like operating heavy machinery for average folks. Watch it here!

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Poured Footings & Added Posts for Garden Fence

This year’s garden was not up to our standards for multiple reasons, but one of those reasons is that we had no fence to keep out the deer. That wasn’t our ONLY problem to be honest, the soil was also somewhat poor, but since we had a backhoe on our property we thought it would be a good idea to think about digging footings for a larger, fenced garden. Aside from the digging, I was the project leader on this project and although squaring up a 32×16 foot garden on my own was frustrating to say the least, it all came out satisfactory in the end and we’re ready to add raised beds and a perimeter fence!

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Upgraded Our Wood Stove & Chimney for Winter

Last winter, we just barely got by with our primitive cabin addition to the RV garage. In this, we had a barrel stove setup to keep the entire structure over 32 degrees, but earlier this year we found a Fisher stove for $100 at a yard sale. We cleaned it up and just a week ago stuck it in the cabin. With this we also had to move the hearth, upgrade from a 6″ single-wall to an 8″ triple-wall chimney, and added some thermal mass behind the stove. This turned out to be quite the project… watch this video on the installation to see why it was such a challenge! In the end, we prevailed, and learned A LOT!

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Arrival of a Large Direct-Bury Water Cistern

Since we arrived on our property last year, we’ve slowly been inching our way into a permanent water solution. Check out this post to see where we are today and what our progress has been… but the next step is to install a direct-bury 1,780-gallon tank from Infiltrator! We have the tank but now we’re scheming a way to get it in before winter or ideally, before the first frost, so it’s crunch time! Can we get it buried in time? We’re sure going to try!

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Hosted Alyssa’s Parents as Visitors

Summer went out with a bang with a visit from my parents… they drove all the way from Southern California to Idaho! We had a travel trailer camp out party (it was camping for them but day-to-day life for us) and it was a blast! In addition to showing them around our new home and town, Jesse and my dad worked on wiring our battery bank and building a solar panel mount for our new solar panels (more on that soon) while my mom and I picked elderberries and apples and turned them into canned goods!

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Going Forward Into Winter

Jesse and I have been working through a to-do list for the past few months and we’ve gotten A LOT done! We only have a handful of things left on the list, and then we’re going to try to slow down for winter. At this point, we are determined to get started on the barn come spring, so we plan on planning throughout most of the winter. Some of the things we hope to do in the next few months include:

  • Sell Jesse’s rental in Oregon: We listed this on the market today and we are feeling hopeful at the opportunities this can provide. This can potentially play a big role in our progress… keeping fingers crossed. Timing is everything.
  • Finalize our barn plans and have them approved by an engineering firm: We have a firm we’re planning on working with but we need to drop our plans into SketchUp and send them over. We hope to sketch things out ourselves and have the plans minimally adjusted and then approved, rather than having it all designed for us. This is about learning, after all.
  • Do A LOT of homework on construction: We have a lot to brush up on before starting construction! We tried to do a bit this summer but life got in the way. Last winter, we had ZERO time to think about the barn so this winter is THE WINTER… we hope!
  • Work on our online business: While we’ve not touched our online businesses since early this year, we do plan on doing some work on them to keep the passive income going, especially during fourth quarter which is HUGE for us! We also plan on selling a website that we own after the holidays which can also play a huge role in the development of our property next year.
  • Start the Master Gardener program: This is something we’re hoping is offered this winter through the county… we’re on the wait list! We think this would be a fun diversion as the snow flies and would love to get involved with the community and meet some like-minded folks. While I enjoy YouTube University, there is no replacement for quality community learning with real-life classmates!

As you can see, we’re not short of work to do or things to work on! We hope this winter is filled with both positivity and productivity, and are really trying to set ourselves up for success in 2017!

We should have our first frost in a matter of a couple of weeks, and our first snow maybe within a month! The race is on… stay tuned to see what we can get done before winter really sets in!

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

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Comments

  1. Ardith says

    Good grief, you two have done/accomplished so much this year. Congratulations and best wishes for having prepped well for the winter. Cheers, Ardith

  2. Janet Nielsen says

    You guys are doing a great job, I am living my dream in yours. One of these seasons, as we travel from Alaska to Arizona I hope we can stop by and see you in person because I feel like I already know you. Thanks for your life stories.

  3. Thomas Duchesneau says

    Love your ‘blog. Though each property has it’s own priorities, it seems like you both are doing well with your planning and execution.
    Tom D.

  4. Will says

    Wow you guys got a tone done. I aspire to get into the canning game, some day. Somethings to consider: many municipalities do not require full plans to construct barns the way they do houses. So there might not be a need to have an architects approval, an engineer maybe depending on local codes. That being said for an architect to sign off they have to be involved in the drawing process, at least this is what I have been taught in architecture school. I am a little concerned about your retaining wall. Did you have some one verify its design. From my experience building them, just digging back and stacking stuff in front of the dirt will not hold. The pressure of the dirt and water behind the wall will eventually push it over. there are a number of ways to prevent this like digging behind it and anchoring the wall into the soil but that would have been easier to do as you were constructing it with soil nails. Another to dig a deep footing and have some structure going through the blocks tying that to the foundation, but that would need to be pretty deep or back under the hill. Additionally, you didn’t stagger your joints so each stack is acting on its own with out the other pieces in the wall helping hold it back.

    • BriCurInTheOC says

      I agree with the comments about footings and staging the joints on the retaining wall….. the bigger the wall, the bigger the need to do both aspects of construction properly!

  5. Cathleen says

    What a wonderful year, you’ve accomplished an enormous amount of projects which have turned out wonderfully. I want to applaude you for wearing chaps while chain saw. Our family uses them and have saved us from more than one catastrophe. The delicious fruits and berries, oh my. Drool. And I use the same bottles for my Kombucha, they are terrific will you share your root beer recipe? Keep it up, the two of you have certainly learned to work as a strong team.

  6. Elliott says

    May I make one suggestion for your barn plans for next year? Plan on having a small bathroom with a shower for above freezing weather use in your barn. If your barn is to far from your septic system, have a portable toilet and a solar heated gravity feed shower. This small bathroom would be a god-send at the end of a hard working day during your building phase next year. Cheers from someone who has been there and done that…

    • says

      Oh don’t you worry, we’ll have both! We’ll plumb it into the septic system as well as into the below-ground water system. We also plan on having a half-bath on the first floor of the barn which will be the garage, for those times when we’re grubby but gotta go and don’t want to get the house dirty! Oh, the luxuries we have to look forward to 😉

  7. says

    Jesse and Alyssa,

    Thanks for all the useful tips! We are on our own journey to downsize and move off grid (check out our post at (http://traughberdesign.com/career-transition/), but won’t make the jump until 2019. All of the wisdom you are sharing will be very helpful.

    In one of your videos you mentioned potentially offering AirBnB type lodging. Is that in your plan soon? I’ll bet a lot of us would pay to come soak up some of your lessons learned.

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