By Michelle Mather
As you can imagine, Cam is pretty busy these days, researching and writing our new book, “The Sensible Prepper.” When he isn’t writing a book we often have a backlog of blog posts but that isn’t the case at the moment!
I thought I’d take the opportunity to give you a glimpse into what has been going on here at Sunflower Farm during these last weeks of February. I know that many of you read this blog to get an idea of what it’s like to live off the grid. We’ve been living this way for so long now (almost 15 years!) that we forget that it’s a different way to live and so we forget to describe our day-to-day lives.
It’s been a heckuva winter in terms of the weather. Usually we count on November and December to be dark and dreary and we know we’ll have to run our generator every few days to charge up the batteries. We are both very good at going in to “conservation mode” during those months. We are always quite cognizant about how much electricity we are using, but we choose to be very diligent during the dark months since we really, really don’t like to run a generator!
In a normal year the ground will be snow covered by January and many of the days will be crisp, cold and bright. Perfect weather for solar panels. They work most efficiently in cooler temperatures, not during heat waves, which seems a little counter intuitive to most people. The bright sunshine bounces off of the white snow which provides optimal conditions for generating electricity. Usually during January and February we are producing so much electricity that our batteries will begin popping away and be fully charged early in the morning. We forget about conservation and go in to “use up the juice” mode in which we look for ways to use the excess electricity. It’s a nice problem to have.
Notice that I keep using the word “normal.” This has not been a normal year. Oh sure, we’ve had some sunny days and most of the time the ground has been snow covered. But we’ve had way more cloudy days and longer stretches of cloudy days so far this year and so it has been more challenging than usual to live off the grid. As I said to Cam the other day when we had to make the decision to run the generator to charge up the batteries, “Who ever said it was easy to live off the grid?” Don’t ever let us give you that impression. It’s not! Especially when Mother Nature won’t cooperate!
At the same time that our days have been gray and dreary, I need to run grow lights for my seedlings! I’ve planted some tomato, pepper, eggplant, leek and onion seeds and they are doing quite nicely. But on cloudy days, as we watch the battery voltage dropping, I feel compelled to turn off anything extraneous, and unfortunately grow lights seem extraneous to me.
The lack of sunshine so far this year has also meant that our solar domestic hot water heater isn’t working as often as usual. Which means that our propane hot water tank clicks on and Cam has told you how much we hate to hear THAT sound!
The chickens are also affected by the lack of sunlight and our egg production is about half of what it was during the summer months. Our poor dog Jasper! The snow is sooo wet and sticky that when we try to play soccer with him, the ball gets coated in a thick, HEAVY layer of snow and it just isn’t much fun!
On the plus side, the house is always toasty warm thanks to an abundance of nicely dried firewood and the days are getting longer and so we can sense that spring is just over the horizon! The sunshine can’t return a moment too soon in an off-grid home!