aka the “Never-Ending” To-Do List

Hey everyone thanks! You are awesome! We got such lovely comments after we posted a blog after a many month hiatus. I know how rarely I comment on stuff that I enjoy online, so if I take the number of comments and multiply it by the statistical algorithm of how many people read it but didn’t comment, we had “100 billion people”… several million…. a couple thousand… at least 25 people read the post! Or something like that. It was pretty ‘huge’ I know that.

I think we have a diverse readership. There are other off-gridders and country folk looking for tips, but I think there are more urban dwellers who just like to follow someone living the way we do. With that in mind I thought I’d give you an update on where we’re at after living here for almost 20 years.

Living off-the-electricity-grid is awesome! Living off-grid is a huge pain-in-the-ass! I’ve looked at life from both sides now. The other day we spoke to someone who said, “Oh I’d love to live off-the-grid”. Then two days later I came in from having to start the generator and doing other time-consuming crap and I said to Michelle, “No, what they meant to say is ‘Oh, I’d love to live without an electricity bill.’” When it comes to the actual mechanics and reality of it all, you’d find it would wear pretty thin, pretty fast. Oh sure, if you had enough money you could automate everything and buy a massive Tesla Power Wall and never think about it, but my experience is that once you get to that income level you’ve usually forgotten why you wanted to live off grid anyway.

The business world came up with the concept of ‘continuous quality improvement’ and I guess that’s been one of my philosophies here. There is always something that needs to be fixed or updated. One of the things I’m working on is another tracker. I have two solar arrays with about 2,300 Watts of PV panels which is ‘enough’ for Michelle and me. But every time I think about how much better things got every time we added some panels, I think it’s time to do it again. Plus, they are crazy cheap compared to when we started. Twenty years ago we were paying more than $10/Watt for solar panels. Right now you can get them for under $1/Watt, sometimes even less. One of our daughters now has an all-electric car so it would be awesome to be able to charge it when they’re here, assuming it’s a sunny day. Or at least be able to top it up.

I decided to start with the steel pipe base for the new tracker. I’m going to use the same design that my awesome neighbor Ken came up with for my other trackers, which involves inserting a 4” pipe inside a 5” pipe. Sounds simple, right? Until you talk to someone who sells pipe, and then you realize just how little you know about pipe. Carbon steel? ¼” wall? Schedule 40 or 80? How can there be soooo many options? Ken bought the last pipe, I just want what he bought! But he has a whack of grandkids now and seems to have a car load of them with him every time I see him, so I’m not going to bother him about this. I’m going to be a big boy and figure this out on my own. Oh, and the pipe doesn’t come with a flange, so you’ll need two sizes of flanges, drilled to line up for the pin. Sigh.

I also started researching replacing my deep well submersible pump and that’s a whole other blog.  So that’s kind of my life off-the-grid. There is always something I have hanging over my head. The To-Do List never seems to morph into a “Done” List. New stuff just keeps getting added.

But … I think it’s worth it! The sort of thing that always slows my progress, apart from grandkids and my website work, is the unexpected opportunities. My daughter in Kingston replaced a quite decrepit shed which had been placed in a really inconvenient spot at their house. It was showing its age and was probably destined for a landfill, but I was able to help her father-in-law disassemble it and drag it up here. It is not a pretty shed. But it’s got another decade of life in it and I put it next to the wood pile so I can use it for firewood and kindling. I spent $60 on some 2 x 4’s and patio stones (which I can reuse in the future) to rest it on, and $75 on new shingles since the old ones were toast. I went to the local lumber yard and asked for their cheapest shingles. They had some for $15 dollars a bundle, and like the original Model T Ford, I could have any colour, as long as it was black.

I put shingles on a playhouse that I built my daughters with scrap lumber about 30 years ago. But I’ll be turning 59 later this month, which means I have no recollection of how to do roofing because that memory is gone from my brain. It was early November and there was a lot of rain in the forecast. I wanted to get the shingles on and not let the chipboard get wet, so I basically got the shed reassembled and the roof put on in one 8-hour period. I was sooo tired, and it was sooo awesome. On the 500th (okay I exaggerate) trip up the ladder at about 5 pm I hit the wall and my body was like … ‘You can NOT put on another shingle. You have hit the wall. Step away from the shingles.” But I was 80% done and it was going to rain the next day, so I pushed through. It was like running a marathon, but I’ve got a woodshed to show for it. I like tangible results to invest time in something.

To me that has been the essence of my life at Sunflower Farm. I keep doing stuff I don’t think I can do, and when it’s done it just feels awesome. Every time I master some new electrical concept, or grow some food source, or resurrect a landfill-destined shed, re-purpose something or make a process more efficient, there is an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that I was never able to achieve in the city, where someone else did everything for me.

We had many people question the likelihood we’d stay in the country, let alone stay off-grid for very long when we left the city. Twenty years on it just keeps getting better. Heating with wood, growing some food and having our own chickens for eggs means that the amount of work involved is still enormous and it is not declining. Approaching 60 my body occasionally suggests more time in front of the TV would be great, but having this unwritten requirement that next year’s firewood needs to be cut and harvested sustainably NOW (i.e. dragged around a lot on sleds and things), cuts way down on the TV time. Don’t get me wrong, I love TV and watch lots of it. Right now though it is always interrupted for me to head out back to stand and admire that shed that could easily be in contention for “North America’s Ugliest Shed” Award, and be filled with pride and contentment. “I did that!”