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Creeping Up on an Off Grid Kitchen

 
Posts: 17
Location: Virginia, USA
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I usually say little in forums, preferring instead to lurk and learn.  But...a chance to win a book about dealing with an off-grid kitchen?  Who could resist?  Let's see...normal sounding name? Check.  Subscribed to dailyish? Check.  Start a topic that will stand the test of time?  Uhhh...

How about off-grid kitchens?  'Permaculture' seems to be an umbrella term for all things organic, homesteading, back to the land and all the things that come with them.  Eventually the self-reliant soul turns to going off the grid, to cut that final cord that ties us to the hysteria of the high-tech world.

The first time that off-grid crossed my radar was when we moved from the big city to the woods of western Virginia.  The power went off, my mother-in-law calmly brought out an oil lamp, and life went on.  Apparently the lights go off a lot around here.  Usually you just wait for them to come back on again.  But...what if they stayed off?  What about when the days become weeks or years?

How did the old-timers do it?

What do we miss when the lights go out?  Heat, light, flush toilets?  We never planned to go off-grid, but bit by bit it is creeping up on us.  I just don't like that "What do we do?" feeling when the power fails.  Sooo...

We heat with wood.  When the power goes off, we have oil lamps for light, and a bucket or the bushes can serve for bathroom needs.  We've learned to filter water and keep extra on hand for these emergencies.  We aren't there yet, just working on it.

I am interested to hear from those that have gone fully off the grid.  How long did it take to accomplish that?  Is it like camping all the time?  How do you keep things cool, or do you?

Modern life can be pleasant and convenient, I just don't want to have to depend upon it.
 
Posts: 135
Location: South-southeast Texas, technically the "Golden Crescent", zone 9a
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Ellen Morrow wrote:I usually say little in forums, preferring instead to lurk and learn.  But...a chance to win a book about dealing with an off-grid kitchen?  Who could resist?  Let's see...normal sounding name? Check.  Subscribed to dailyish? Check.  Start a topic that will stand the test of time?  Uhhh...

How about off-grid kitchens?  'Permaculture' seems to be an umbrella term for all things organic, homesteading, back to the land and all the things that come with them.  Eventually the self-reliant soul turns to going off the grid, to cut that final cord that ties us to the hysteria of the high-tech world.

The first time that off-grid crossed my radar was when we moved from the big city to the woods of western Virginia.  The power went off, my mother-in-law calmly brought out an oil lamp, and life went on.  Apparently the lights go off a lot around here.  Usually you just wait for them to come back on again.  But...what if they stayed off?  What about when the days become weeks or years?


As far as my interest in the book - same.

Without any reference to your previous experiences, and with way too much experience in dealing with "temporary" power  issues in many places and for many reasons, while I'm not off-grid (and never will be), I appreciate the easily seen problems, and some of the not so easily seen problems. I hope someone who is off-grid will contribute, and will look forward to reading their response(s).

I was raised Navy, which meant we traveled a lot and to coastal areas. One unifying thing about large bodies of water is that they will make Bad Weather - it doesn't matter where you are, if you're close to a large body of water (oceans, seas, the Great Lakes region; I'm sure the various inland seas have the same issues) there will be seasonal Bad Weather. It gets called different things, or it used to be.  Hurricanes for the Gulf and East Coast, Typhoons for those more westerly. Can't forget all the fun of earth quakes and the resulting tsunami, either.
Other places have their own specific Bad Weather, and a good place to start with prepping for going off-grid is to start small, with the "temporary" emergencies and preparation that helps people to get past that.

In each place I've lived, there have been "emergency supplies" kits recommended for a variety of situations. In places with harsh winters, there are kits to keep in your car, or "iced in" recommended packages. There are companies who make those pre-prepared kits so you don't have to look in the bag (Bad Idea) to have all the basics some office worker decided you'd need to survive a night in a snow bank, or a couple of days living out of your car for whatever reason.
The ones you make yourself are better.

Taking the idea from the helpful people, expanding on it to suit your particular needs, then keeping those supplies up to date are just one of the things we do as a matter of course. I don't think I've thought much about my "hurricane survival kit" in decades, because it's part of our normal pantry and health care supplies, so things get rotated and used up. It helps to keep things fresh (or at least not fallen into disrepair).

Most country folk I know have both a stock in oil lamps, with spare oil, and a supply of batteries to fit all the battery powered whosits that are a matter of course. Some brave people will keep candles in stock, buying them on sale and stashing them away from rodents.
There's a lot of good information about cheap stop-gap lighting sources, and energy sources. Solar power has come a long way.
There's a lot of experimenting you can do, before something exciting happens, like play with all of the different types of light sources and see which ones you prefer.
Cooking can be fun, especially after the power has been off for a few days and you get together with the neighbors to cook or put up everything possible. More than once we have fried turkeys, chickens, fish, and that random lump of meat that someone had for some reason - and just laid it all out with and for the neighbors. You learn a lot about people that way.

Plus, the fun of really thinking about how much water you use every day, that you don't have to.

Finding out just what, exactly, is only useful when you have electricity is always a learning experience. There can be a few surprising things, some of them you can't change because they're mandated by state or local law (when we lose power, we lose our well. but we also lose our septic because Politics). There are ways around it, but some of them are more temporary than others.

Ellen Morrow wrote:How did the old-timers do it?

What do we miss when the lights go out?  Heat, light, flush toilets?  We never planned to go off-grid, but bit by bit it is creeping up on us.  I just don't like that "What do we do?" feeling when the power fails.  Sooo...


It depends on where you are and what your local laws are like. Unfortunately, this is a wide open field and everyone may have different restrictions.
Having a "Camping at home" weekend where you flip the switches to see what wheels fall off is a really good idea. It gives you control over the situation, allows you a chance to see what, exactly, you may need to fix before the Next "We're All Going To Die!" scenario, and you can then go shopping.

Ellen Morrow wrote:We heat with wood.  When the power goes off, we have oil lamps for light, and a bucket or the bushes can serve for bathroom needs.  We've learned to filter water and keep extra on hand for these emergencies.  We aren't there yet, just working on it.

I am interested to hear from those that have gone fully off the grid.  How long did it take to accomplish that?  Is it like camping all the time?  How do you keep things cool, or do you?

Modern life can be pleasant and convenient, I just don't want to have to depend upon it.


Modern amenities are nice. Not necessary, but nice.
You don't have to depend on it, until you do.
I was in the process of getting IV antibiotics, while overseen by a home health nurse (and my family) back in late August of 2017 when we got flooded by a very large named storm. It was a Big Deal and the power loss wasn't the exciting part (except that the concentration of antibiotics that flushed through my system killed the septic system. *That* was exciting.)  - but the rising rivers trapped us on a little island of about 20 families and several large pastures of damp critters. We got through that, and everything is fine, but there will always be something that happens that you couldn't have foreseen, and just have to accept.  

Nope. For me, at least, it's not like camping. I have my nice bed and comfy chair, plus good light and access to the library.
Everyone will have their own priorities. I like hardcopy reading material, canned food, clean water, and good light.
My husband enjoys having the quiet for naps, time to go poke at things outside, and comfy furniture for more naps.
You and your family will have different priorities.

Joining a historical recreation group was probably one of the better things I could have done as a young adult. Not only did I get to learn nifty useful and hard to find skills, I also got to dress up in funny clothes and go play with a couple hundred friends doing the same thing, all without electricity (mostly). I learned a lot. I highly recommend it for the skills you can pick up and the support you get through the group.

So, while my longest period of time without electricity could be measured in weeks, and I found that it was nice to have some of the things, I was hard pressed to turn everything on because - why? And that's where they get you. After you do your experimental Switch Flip, and figure out your priorities, then get those filled and go through to make space for your new whatevers, you will find yourself asking a lot of *why*.
Welcome to the "slowly moving off-grid" lifestyle.
We hope you enjoy your stay. ;-)
 
Ellen Morrow
Posts: 17
Location: Virginia, USA
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Hiya, Kristine!

Thank you for answering my post, and with such a lot of information!  I have learned there are things I DON'T miss when the lights go out like TV.  There is a hush on the world except for the birds which go on like nothing has happened.

I have never been in a real pack up and leave emergency.  The closest we got was a derecho wind a few years ago that knocked the power out for a week. Learned a lot from that one!
 
pollinator
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Last summer our battery bank gave out. We are off-grid solar but with a large system. It was months to get a new one in place. So we had power while the sun shined, and a few hours after but that's it, for months. You get used to it. Some of our favorite things are rechargeable lanterns and laptops. As far as kitchen things, we like things that don't require multiple sources of energy. My gas stove doesn't require electricity and my electric appliances don't require gas. We are planning on an outdoor kitchen but these things take time. Thankfully we have a large amount of wood at our disposal for cooking and heating.
 
gardener & author
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The last two houses I lived in before going off grid were in small rural areas, where it wasn’t much of a priority for the electricity company to get the electricity restored quickly compared to areas with higher population.

There would be quite a few power outages, and they would last for many hours, one of them went on for two whole days I think.

Before all of this had happened I was determined to live off the grid, for reasons of freedom, self reliance, and sustainability, but having this happen made me realise even more just how fragile the current electrical grid can be, and also how many homes could become more resilient to this stuff even without being fully off grid.

The water systems at both these houses were rainwater tanks that used grid-powered electrical pumps - as soon as the power went out, the pump would stop pumping water, and we’d be without tap water at all. The simplest solution to this (other than having water stockpiled) would have been to install taps at the bottom of the tanks, so at the very least, water could be brought in by the bucket, but it is very rare for a tank to have this from what I’ve seen. The same probably goes for all kinds of water systems in many houses- there’s just no backup system installed.

Another thing I observed a lot was that the electricity would often stop working when I was starting to cook a roast in an electric oven! Having a way of cooking food without electricity makes a home more resilient - it was a great frustration in these two houses that we had a wood heater installed in the wall, so that we couldn’t heat stuff on the top of it. The electricity would be cooking the food and heating the water, while we used wood just for heat when the wood could have been doing all these things.

Learning to cook without electrical gadgets is also a good skill that anyone can develop, so that if you want to go off the grid at any point, it’s not as much of a learning curve to cook with basic pots and pans over a wood stove, or to chop things up and mix things by hand instead of with machines.
 
Ellen Morrow
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Hiya, Kate!

Before we moved I had done some reading about homesteading,  living simply, etc., etc.  I was ready to go, get my fingers in the dirt and start building Paradise.  We got a gas stove that could be lit with a match for cooking, and a wood stove for heat.  So far so good.

Then the lights went out and I learned exactly what a 'deep well' meant.  No water.  Being a normal, sheltered city girl, I panicked.   "What do we do?" I wailed.  "Wait for the power to come back", my husband said.

What if it never comes back, I thought.

Since then I have used power outs as a chance to practice resilient living.  My husband likes the idea of solar.   I'd like to try catching rainwater.

Forums like this are helpful because I can see what others have done and what might or might not work here.
 
pollinator
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Our vacations are to our cabin are off-grid. So far the longest we had been able to be there due to work was 2 weeks at a time. Over the years we have added many creature comforts, but even originally it had a propane fridge, range, and a couple gas lights. We just use a small 30-lb and back-up 20-lb tank. We used to haul water from the spring in 5-gallon buckets, and now we use a small dc-powered pump to bring water up to a barrel. We still bring it in via buckets. I heat the water to wash on the range or the wood burner and we filter drinking and cooking water in a drip "Berkey-like" system. We've added some kitchen gadgets that make it a little easier. We use an old stovetop vacuum coffee pot, hand-crank versions of a mixer, popcorn popper, & food mill, a pull-cord food chopper (like a small, s-blade food processor). None of that is necessary, but I'd really miss the coffeepot & mixer. We do a lot of cooking on a fire outside or when we are heating on the wood burner. I'm thinking about making a wonder box or hay cooker after reading about them here. This year I'm hoping to start an herb garden there, but I'm not sure if the critters will leave it alone when we aren't there. We added a small solar panel for charging up batteries and have a few dc-things: couple of lights we move around, the water pump, chargers for smaller batteries & cell phones, gps, etc. If we lived there full-time we would need fix a cold room that is set into the rock face of the small cliff that the cabin sits atop of. The door to go into the "cave" needs a new frame and hinges because they are seized and rusted.
 
Ellen Morrow
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Hi, Denise!

I find herbs pretty critter-proof.  The deer won't touch basil, sage, thyme or chives.  They will eat parsley and strawberries.

Your rock cave sounds like a great place to keep things cool.  We don't even have a basement, alas!  Right now we are looking at solar.   Just looking at the moment.
 
Denise Kersting
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Thank you Ellen! good to know, we have deer, mice, weasels, coyotes, black bears, porcupine, red squirrels, and fishers among others to contend with. Most food is easy to to bring in from a grocery store, but herbs can suffer in the transport (and it's cheaper and more convenient to have them on hand). The closest grocery store is about 45 minutes away. I wouldn't even consider a berry of any kind, since the bears have been active in our area, and they ripped off part of the outside sheathing, I think the were after bugs or something. They left paw/claw prints as a calling card. We don't have a basement there either, just a one-story cabin on piers. The rock cave room was originally designed for processing "harvested" deer, but I don't eat meat  so it would be better as a cold storage room for me.  Not sure if it was a natural cave or dug, but it was lined with cinder blocks and capped with a cement pad roof that has a vent stack through it for ventilation.
 
Stacy Witscher
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The deer here will eat chives, they don't like them much, but they will eat them and then pull the whole plant out and throw it. They don't touch the rosemary.
 
Kristine Keeney
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Howdy!
About herbs versus critters - The rodent population here likes to eat my chives. I've had the same, steadily expanding plant (self-perpetuating) for about 20 years, so I've forgotten if they're garlic chives or not, but the rodents love them. And they ate my yellow onion sets this year.
                                                  While we have a feral hog problem in that there are feral hogs in the river bottoms, my only real issues have been skunks as they wander away from home, opossums that take a dislike to the skunks and fight under my bedroom (that happened about 10 years ago and the smell has, thankfully, faded over time). I worry about the feral hogs because they are so potentially hazardous. I don't want them in the chickens and they don't seem to want to eat the garden.
                                                   
Water
     Yeah, this is a problem in my mind, too. We have a 300+ foot deep well. Very tiny opening for the jet pump which will need to be replaced (i.e. the original sealed, another dug and a new pump installed). I'm hoping to get a 4 inch hole in the well, as there are buckets that can be used for that size. It wouldn't be a perfect option, but it's better than what we have now.
     We have pulled water for grey water use out of the flooded ditches previously - the septic doesn't care that much about water quality. If we were in a long term situation where it was acknowledged that we wouldn't have power for the (asinine) aerator septic system for more than a week, I would just set up an outhouse, probably on one of the aerator heads. A small shack, 2 five gallon buckets, some compressed pine litter (or your favorite absorbent animal bedding), and a couple of toilet seats.  [Thinking about that, it seems like a Good Idea to get the stuff in advance. Stash it away for Just In Case. Yep. That's going on the "we're at the hardware store anyway" list.]
                 
Communication
    Well, if the cell tower goes down, we're out of the internet, and out of communication in general.  I think, once things settled out, if there were parts to fix what broke, they'd get things back up and running, but it would depend on circumstances.
     I like hardcopy books and magazines for this reason. While it's nice to Not Have Clutter, being able to pick a book out of my library and not have to worry about recharging it, is a Good Thing in my eyes. Plus, they make good insulation and are, unfortunately, burnable if TSHTF. Multi-purpose things, even if I would prefer not to.

Basically, I'm enjoying this thread. I'm thinking about what in my life is easily switched to a non-electric version, and what needs to be re-evaluated for that purpose.
I agree that the national, and probably worldwide infrastructure is failing in bits and pieces, and it will be interesting to see where the next decade takes us.
Thank you for starting this topic!
 
Ellen Morrow
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I have garlic chives and NOTHING eats them!  I got them years ago as a couple of sorry looking sprouts; now they want to rule the yard.  That seems to be my luck with herbs...  Most of them behave, but now and then one goes Day of the Triffids on me.

So far we live in peace with the local critters.  I understand that possums eat ticks and even small snakes, so I don't worry about our resident Pogo.  So far he hasn't tangled with any skunks.

There is a spring on our place, but it is over the creek and up a stump from where we are.  At least we know where it is if things get really bad.

I'm beginning to think solving the problems of an off-grid kitchen will solve other problems of an off-grid homestead as well.
 
Kristine Keeney
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My husband used to call the Lehman's catalog my dream book for many of the reasons we've all been talking about.
Wood fired cook-stove that also heats water? Yep.
All the assorted laundry things any homesteader could hope for? Yep, as of the last time I checked.
I'm sure there are other places where the same or similar things could be found for better prices, or less shipping.

But the Aladdin lamps? Still haven't got one, since the regular oil lamps work fine for us.

I agree that solving the "kitchen problems" (Prepare, Preserve, Provide), the more other potential problems get taken care of.  
The more I read what y'all are doing to solve the basic problems, the more creative I feel and I enjoy the different ways we solve the same problems.
 
Ellen Morrow
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Oh, I love the Lehman's catalog too!  We even got an Aladdin lamp.   It doesn't get much use, though,  just when the power is out for a few days and we want to read.  The other  lamps and even candles work fine for everyday seeing.
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