• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies living kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • raven ranson
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • Julia Winter
garden masters:
  • Anne Miller
  • Pearl Sutton
  • thomas rubino
  • Bill Crim
  • Kim Goodwin
  • Joylynn Hardesty
gardeners:
  • Amit Enventres
  • Mike Jay
  • Dan Boone

Advice for someone thinking about going off grid and moving to bare land?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 66
Location: Lacey, Wa
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My husband and I are considering moving out to 20 acres that is at the end of a old dirt road, has no electricity, water, septic, phone, etc (this would be why it's cheap enough that we can buy it). It's half an hour from a medium sized town that is farm friendly, and it does have a river and a creek running through the back half. Already talked to the county, and they rather laxly would prefer a 50' buffer, and in extreme years, like 2007 when I-5 was shut down, slightly less than half of the 20 acres will flood will flood. I figure that leaves me with ten acres to farm which should be able to give me a modest income, and then the other 10 acres can still be foraged from. County also said we could take water from the river to irrigate, but a well and septic can be put in at some point.

His back ground is suburban, but with some gardening. I grew up on 5 acres, organically managed, raising all sorts of animals and plants, but not with an eye towards making money or sustaining our self significantly (grew our own eggs, meat, and raspberries, but most aside from those was just supplementation). I have a degree in biology, love ecology and have spent the past couple years doing yard work, working on farms, and gardening. We talked a lot before about living with out electricity, etc; but we've been renting with roommates so that doesn't work so well... We've looked into non-electric means of washing clothing, composting toilets, rainwater catchment, etc. Right now we're talking about whether we want to build a tiny house, ala tumbleweed, or get a bus or horse trailer and refit it.

Now to the land;

The upper portion is now mostly grass, with some scotch broom. The lower section, with the river and creek, has a lot of canary reed grass (a non-native invasive species), and not much native riparian vegetation at all. The banks on the river are vertical. Part of what I aim to do with the lower portion is to reintroduce native, edible/useful species, such as hazelnuts, roses, alder, etc. Part of what I love about this property is the ability to work with and help repair this wetland ecosystem, while still having enough land to make a living.

For the upper farm portion, I've got about 3 acres of what the county called 'prime' farm soil, and 7 of what was termed 'poorly drained', but the previous farmer dug a sizable ditch, and I didn't notice any plants that liked wet feet growing. We're going to drive out again tomorrow, and I'll take a closer look at that point.

What I would like to do is plant an orchard of trees that grow well here (plums, apples, pears, Asian pears, fragrant spring tree, etc), vines that do well (some types of table grapes, kiwis, raspberries, blackberries etc) over the prime land; incorporating chickens and ducks as best I can. More typical market (and shorter rooted) garden crops such as winter squash, salad greens, brassicas, asparagus, etc in the 7 acres. I also have some goats, and I'd like to get them keep them off of hay- we have a mild and short enough winter that I think I should be able to accomplish it with well planned pastures. I am also considering growing oats and corn for our selves.

I have lots and lots of ideas, and have done a lot of thinking, so this is just a rough outline of some of my ideas. What I would like, is to be able to grow most of our own food, as well as growing enough other crops to make a modest living off of the land. We do have a house in town that we're intending to rent out; we should be able to make enough to cover the mortgage +, and pay for repairs and maintenance.

Sooooo, advice? Huge glaring blindspots? Suggestions?
 
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
301
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hmm, lemme think...I-5, floods, Scotch Broom...sounds like Sedro Wooley/Mt. Vernon area?  If so, there is a lot of good soil in the region, but, YES, the floods are to be expected any time there is more than "normal" rains.  The permaculture solution would be to plant your perennials above the flood plain areas, and plant short season annuals in the flood plain after the worst of the rainy season.  It is usable land if you are willing to delay planting until danger of flooding is past.

I would recommend a late summer/early fall heavy seeding of an over-winter cover crop (hairy vetch/winter rye?) to help hold your soil in place during the heavy spring rains/floods, and then either chop/drop, or till them under 3-6 weeks prior to planting.  The flooding in that region does not need to be disaster, if you plan ahead, and act accordingly.  If your cover crop is thick enough, and planted early enough (good deep root structure) your soil losses will be minimal, and you may even capture some soil from those upstream from you who did not cover their soils.

Good luck...there is a lot of very fertile soil in the region.
 
Anna Carter
Posts: 66
Location: Lacey, Wa
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for the reply! Not actually the right area- Lewis county, actually. It's a bit further out than I'd like buuuut- there are quite a few successful organic farms in the area.

I was thinking of buckwheat for the cover crop (at least for the non-floody area)- apparently you can mow it down once or twice over the course of the summer if you get it planted in June.

The area that does flood in the extreme years is covered by canary reed grass, so I'm going to have to fight that back before I can do anything else.
 
                                  
Posts: 14
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Sounds like a doable plan, go for it.
 
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
94
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Follow your dreams.
 
                                          
Posts: 19
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hey There, just had some thoughts based on my experience living off grid. Any information or permission from county should be in print and signed off on. applicable statutes/regulations printed off and attached, filed somewhere. YOu can be casual about this just say for your records. See about any regulations concerning an outhouse/composting toilet etc.  Camper works nicely for a couple as already setup for 12V. for solar, propane fridge and cookstove(if you want to use those things).  YOu can live there while building a more permanant "dream home". I read a book a long time ago called Travel Trailer Homesteading for under $5,000. If you can find it it will take you step by step through year-round living on the cheap including how to install a wood stove and pressurized water system. Our greatest challenge was hauling water, storing it then packing it for use. We were not allowed to put in a water line without putting in a $3,000 septic system first(which I didnt believe in). Nor was elec. installation allowed without the dreaded Septic. Well not feasable. Tangled mess so we just did without. you could go really minimal and live out of buckets(which we did for two years).tough road but not so bad with likeminded partner. Small solar system will provide energy for fans, charging batterys,minimal lighting plus a few extras such as entertainment,computer etc. Get your wireless going, figure out water,solar system and have a blast. Best Wishes!
 
Anna Carter
Posts: 66
Location: Lacey, Wa
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks simplyshinto.

We talked to the county, and drilling a well is fine, might have to get a filter (due to iron/sulfer). Septic should be good too, though to be sure, you have to dig a test hole to be sure. One of the things I'm excited about is that the county actually has regulations for composting toilets- slightly annoying, because the toilet has to comply with the NSF/ANSI Standard. Which basically means we have to buy a sun-mar. But still, the fact that they even have that as an option!

As far as water goes, the said we could pump from the river for irrigation, and I think we should be able to collect enough rain for our personal needs.


 
pollinator
Posts: 10116
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
280
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Anna C. wrote:
the toilet has to comply with the NSF/ANSI Standard. Which basically means we have to buy a sun-mar.



You might want to check the standards yourself to make sure.  "Complies with the NSF/ANSI Standard" is not the same as "NSF Certified."  You may be able to find plans for composting toilets which comply with the standards but are not certified. You also might want to look at your county and state regulations yourself and not simply take the word of a county employee, who are often not really up on the current laws (or choose to ignore them). 

 
                                          
Posts: 19
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yes to that H Ludi Tyler.(sorry tried to quote you but new to this)If you stay within known statutes/regulations you're covered. Question for Anna C. If you go with a composting toilet are you allowed in your county to use a grey-water system instead of traditional septic? Capturing that water could really go far for woody plants/grasses etc. All this talk of regulation may seem like a pain but it can save you headaches on down the line.  Just want to help.
 
pollinator
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
12
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
sounds wonderful, is there enough force in the river to use it for electricity? Otherwise getting an electric source might be your most expensive problem..go for it

you could plant water lovers in the areas that will flood, elderberries, celery, other water lovers, cranberries, ??
 
Anna Carter
Posts: 66
Location: Lacey, Wa
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thank you SimplyShinto and H Ludi Tyler; I always look up the county codes myself- usually I'm able to find the answer, and only end up calling the county employees when the code doesn't cover something or is unclear. We are re-reading the WAC, RCW, and the county code. I really appreciate people pointing out the tricky bits; that's what I was hoping for when I started this thread.

Apparently, you have to be a certified engineer ( :roll  to design a composting toilet for them to accept it for testing so that you can have it legally, or you can just buy one from a company that carries certified toilets.

As for rainwater collection (which is one of the ideas we had), well, there really isn't much, except for a definition and stating it has to meet the requirements of the on site septic system chapter. We are going to talk to the county just to be on the safe side. We are also checking on the use of gray water, because again, the county code doesn't have anything on it, and the state says it's up to the "local authority".

Not sure on the river, but we were thinking along that route.

Thanks every one!
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
301
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
OK, so you're not a certified engineer.  I'd just say to build it anyway.  If/when "they" say anything, just tell them "You're welcome to come inspect my toilet anytime."  They will probably pass on the invitation.  Do you think a city/county clerk wants to drive 40-50 miles to examine a used toilet?  LOL

 
Anna Carter
Posts: 66
Location: Lacey, Wa
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

John Polk wrote:
OK, so you're not a certified engineer.  I'd just say to build it anyway.  If/when "they" say anything, just tell them "You're welcome to come inspect my toilet anytime."  They will probably pass on the invitation.  Do you think a city/county clerk wants to drive 40-50 miles to examine a used toilet?  LOL




Lol. No, I doubt any one would ever hassle us about the water or toilet or anything; but I do intend to have a profitable farm (at the local farmers market, with a csa, etc) and would just feel better about it if I knew it was legal. I have had illegal chickens and such; I just feel more comfortable knowing somebody can't create hassel for me, even if the chance is pretty small.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
301
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You are absolutely correct on that.  If you are selling food to the public, you need to jump through all of the right hoops, and pull all of the right strings.  If city/county/state ever see something suspicious, they will hound you to the grave.  A bar that has never been busted may see an inspector every year or two.  Once they have been busted selling to a minor, they will be inspected several times a week!
Even if they find nothing wrong, having them checking you out every week sends a bad signal to your customer base.  They lose confidence, you lose sales!  People will remember your "Health Code Violation" long after they have forgotten how good your tomatoes were.
 
Posts: 178
Location: Zone 8b Portland
4
food preservation forest garden fungi
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
i wonder if you could grow rice on the acerage that floods
 
Posts: 53
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I helped build a friend's house here in N.Idaho and they wanted a grey water system but our county doesn't approve them. So, when I did the rough-in on the plumbing, I installed a parallel grey water system under the slab that we hooked up after the house was signed off. 
 
                                    
Posts: 43
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'd recommend that you design your living so that all everyday living (in all seasons) can be done with out electricity (rocket mass heater, composting toilets, gravity fed water system, cool storage, manual well pump, etc). Do this on paper/computer.

Then, if you want, add electricity, as a luxury, to your design on paper/computer.  You'll be surprised at how little you need electricity once you've done your research.

One gotcha that could happen: all of us operate on basic paradigms of what we believe we need to live with, some of those beliefs are hidden.  If you and your husband could live for two weeks with some people who completely live, hardcore, off-grid, you'll see what I mean ....and so will your husband.

Just remember all a human body really needs is: shelter, water, fire, and food.

By all means go for it and have fun!
 
                                
Posts: 148
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Buying this land could be a real test of your relationship, I hope it is strong. Sounds like you have some good ideas, good luck to you both.
 
                                
Posts: 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My place is off the grid, and it's a lot of work.  You don't get to just pull up in the car and go inside and go about your business.  During bad storms and rainy seasons we have to be out in it, making sure the driveway gravel doesn't get washed away.

Rodents are probably the biggest ongoing issue.  They chew everything, including wooden walls and floors, wiring, not to mention fabric and plants.   Any place a pipe comes through the floor into the house has the potential for them to chew a bigger opening and get in.

If you do solar, it's an investment.  Solar is not cheaper, but the corporate electricity will probably go out a lot in rural places, especially during storms, just when you need it, and it might go out for a week or two if it's bad enough.   I like solar a lot, but you need to understand electricity, DC and AC, and you have to downsize appliances and always count wattage and amps before turning on appliances to make sure you don't blow the circuits.

We got a smaller refrigerator, so I can things instead of freezing them.   A solar system needs to be big enough so that it won't drain the batteries if there's a 7-day cloudy period, meaning there needs to be more batteries than you might think are necessary.  It's not good to let them go below half-way charged.  The cheap batteries are just that, cheap and don't last, so buy the best you can afford.  Buy them all at once so you know their condition.

We use cells phones, got rid of the land line.  Too many ants in the connection boxes, too much moisture causing issues, yellowjackets getting into connection boxes, always having to maintain it.  Having to stay home if it goes out and wait for the service guys, who try to tell you it's your fault it went out.

We have a composting toilet, it's great, but it's a bit messy, only because there needs to be containers of dirt and weeds to put into it.   I don't buy the expensive bacteria they try to sell you because it's already in the soil, and that's what turns it into real compost, is treating it like real compost.  Just don't let it get too wet.  Some people don't want composting toilets inside.  I like to put a smaller container inside that can be removed easily and taken out if the balance of things gets out of whack.  I compost in metal garbage cans outside in the sun for another year.  If company comes and uses it a lot, or in the summer with gnats and flies, sometimes it's better to just get it out of there and start again.  I do like using lavender, rosemary, lemon balm and other herbs to throw in there to not have it just smell like the forest floor.  That's okay, but it does get associated with everything else in there.

Water is the biggest issue.  The cost of electricity for a pump on a well can be pretty high, so prepare for that.  If the power goes out, so does your water.   If you store water in a big tank, which you might have to do for fire regulations anyway, there is a good supply at hand.    If the tank can be uphill from the house, then if the power goes out it can still get to the house by gravity flow, but not enough pressure to make the shower work.   Sometimes the water lines can develop leaks and the tank will empty without your realizing it, so try not to have long lines or lots of connections.   Having water  lines below ground means you can't keep an eye on them, and if they leak you'll have to dig them up to fix it.  

Our cabin was built with passive solar heating in mind.  The longest wall faces the south (northern hemisphere) and has big windows that are not Low-E.  The windows let the heat in, but the insulation in the walls and ceiling keeps the heat in, and it stays comfortable.  We live in a mild climate, no snow, so it's easier to keep the temps moderate.  The exterior color is dark, dark olive green and the shingles are black.  If it gets really hot in the summer where you are, you would have to install fans in the attic to keep it from getting too hot.

And be sure to have a porch and a mud room.  Tracking in dirt or mud is a constant issue.  There needs to be some entrance room where all the dirty shoes and boots can be changed out of and cleaned, and wet rain gear can be hung to dry without causing mold/moisture issues.  Even in the summer it's amazing what boots with big soles will track in, little sticks, clumps of dirt.

when I first got this place I just wanted to do everything I had in mind, how exciting!  But now 15 years down the road, I am trying to simplify, and leave free some time that isn't about a project that is going to create more maiintenance






 
                                
Posts: 49
Location: Elmira, ny
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Biodiversitygal, thanks for your wonderfully detailed post. I have been thinking hard about going off grid when eventually I can afford to buy my own place.
 
pollinator
Posts: 422
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
21
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If you do go ahead with this, it would be great if you could keep notes on your progress.  I am particularly interested in your battle with reed canarygrass.  We battle that at the wildlife refuge where I volunteer (in Clark County, SW Washington).  I am hoping to do some experiments there, pitting stinging nettle against reed canarygrass, then convert the nettle to other native shrubs and trees.  Here's a thread on RCG: http://www.permies.com/bb/index.php?topic=6881.0

Are there any beavers along the creek?  If so (or if you think they might show up), I would plant a lot of willow cuttings along the creeks - just push the sticks into the mud, as far as you can.  If/when beavers show up they will be looking for willows, which can handle beaver "coppicing".  If they don't find enough willows, they will cut down whatever else is there, including your food plants.

You mentioned you have goats, perhaps you could let them work on the reed canarygrass?  As a side business you might also explore providing vegetation removal services with your goats.  I know of only one such service in this area (Portland).  I think there is growing interest in such a service.  Not sure how profitable it is though.

Another product I'd like to see around here is native plant seed in seedball form.  I think there could be quite a demand for that in a few years.

Just some ideas.
 
Posts: 155
Location: Sierras
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Since you have different elevations on the land, I would recommend you use a portion of the highest for rainwater collection into as big a tank (or underground) as you can make... and then use GRAVITY to irrigate all your crops. The collection field can be very simple and on the ground draining into one collection pipe.  No pumps, no electricity needed.  Plan on have some drought years in the future... global weirding.

I didn't see where you are going to be building a house... I've designed + built three super solar/passiv homes.  Most critical site location is available (unshaded)  blue sky for solar gains.  If you can build part-way into a hill you can also use the soil for heating/cooling - they call them PAHS homes: http://www.norishouse.com/PAHS/UmbrellaHouse.html
I'd use SIPs and cob for construction.

Good Luck!

 
Posts: 1
Location: Darby, Montana
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Wonder if Anna ever reached her goal?
 
Oh. Hi guys! Look at this tiny ad:
Thread Boost feature
https://permies.com/wiki/61482/Thread-Boost-feature
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!