Category Archives: Homesteading

The Other Brown Flour (Part 2): Baking with Acorn Flour

Dang, y’all.  My last post was from January 7th – over ten months ago…  Since you’ve all been nervously anticipating this entry for so long, I’m sure your expectations have been growing with each passing day.

“He must be crafting a masterpiece of a blog post since he’s taking so long!  It’s going to be amazing!”

Let’s go ahead and dispel any of those thoughts now.  It’s going to be mediocre.

Before moving on, let me tell you why I haven’t posted in a long time:  I wrote two more novels!  One, The Dirt Walkers, is the sequel to my first book, The Surface’s End.  The other, Victor Boone Will Save Us, hasn’t been released yet – I’m sending it to Literary Agents to see if I can get any bites.  If not, I’ll self-publish early 2017.  I also wrote and recorded a bunch of songs, have gone to a bunch of Comic Cons to sell my books, acted in some short film projects, and probably some other stuff I can’t think of right now.

But let’s be honest – you’re not here to hear about my normal goings-on.

Off-Grid related, I got two more beehives (lost one), sixteen speckled sussex chicks (lost seven), and two dogs (still have both of them).  Also did some experiments in solar panels, aquaponics, a mini-foundry, and using a indoor grow light.  Hopefully I’ll post about those things soon, especially now that it’s finally getting colder and we’ll all spend a little more time inside.

What You Came Here For

I’ll just act like I needed to let my acorn flour “age,” over the last ten months.

In case you don’t remember where I left off, I made two tiny batches of acorn flour, one processed with the skin on the nut meat, and one without.  After looking at them for a long time and realizing just how small of an amount I had, I decided to combine them.  I mean, seriously – there was no possible way I was going to be able to do a taste test to tell the difference between which had skins and which didn’t.  Besides, the biggest test was to simply see if this acorn flour thing was any good at all.  That said, I put them together, ground them again in my designated coffee grinder, and ended up with a whopping 3/4 cup.

acorn-flour

Jealous?

I was pretty sad that’s all I came away with, especially because I had grand plans of using numerous recipes to finding the one.  Instead, I split it three ways, leaving me with three bowls of 1/4 cup each.  That way, I could possibly try three tiny recipes to test it out.

I scoured the interwebs, and unfortunately almost everything I found called for acorn flour AND wheat flour – usually more wheat than acorn.  That felt stupid.  The whole point of this experiment is to see if man can live on acorn bread alone (which, I already know isn’t true), not simply add a little acorn flour to an existing recipe for flavor.

I finally found another brave blogger who apparently had the same concerns I did.  As I looked at the first recipe for short bread on her page, I noticed no wheat flour.  Success!  I was just about to start gathering ingredients, but decided to read down the page a bit.

Good thing I did, because apparently her first recipe ended in disaster.  Not like the-kitchen-exploded disaster, but in the sense that the resulting short bread was so bad that she almost gave up on acorn flour in general.  Three cheers for my elementary school teachers who always taught me to read ahead.

Luckily, the second recipe – this time for chocolate chip cookies – ended much happier.  And so I pressed on.

I wanted to compare acorn flour to wheat flour directly, so I decided to try two batches that were exactly the same except for the two different flours.  The recipe (at the bottom of this post) called for an exorbitant amount of acorn flour – 1 cup!

Since I would only be working with 1/2 cup of flour in total (1/4 acorn & 1/4 wheat, separately), I followed the recipe with half-amounts until I needed the flour itself.  Since it called for an egg, I literally whisked an egg, poured it into a some fancy Pampered Chef measurement tool, then poured half into my concoction.  I threw the other half away, because I didn’t know when I’d ever need half an egg again.  After cleaning the fancy measurement tool, I used it again to get half of my overall batter (a fourth of the total) into two separate bowls.

cookie-batter

Don’t be fooled by the picture – that’s a close up of a half of a half of the recipe.  The whisk is actually tiny – it came from a hot chocolate mix we got from a friend.  I use it a lot for individual omelets because it’s so small.  Our big whisk basically requires a five-gallon mixing bowl.

Then, enter the two flours plus 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.

cookie-batter-acorn

The baking soda is the white stuff, in case you couldn’t tell the difference.

cookie-batter-wheat

Don’t blame my photography skills – the wheat flour is actually out-of-focus by nature.

A little bit of chocolate chips later (forgot to take a picture), the results were on a cookie sheet, ready to bake in my laboratory.

cookie-sheet

I made sure and wrote down that the acorn cookies were on the left, because I was sure to mix them up after they were done, am-I-right?  Also, I’ll be waiting for my advertisement check from Calphalon®, since they’re featured as much as the cookies.

Beside a drastic difference in color, the wheat cookies stuck together much better.  The acorn cookies were basically scooped and poured onto the cookie sheet, and spread out evenly without my permission.

Because we have a convection oven, I almost never wait the full amount of time that recipes call for, so ten minutes later…

cookies-done

Consistency wise, the acorn cookies continued to even out as they baked, whereas the wheat cookies rose an kept their awkward shapes.  I should’ve spread the wheat cookie batter out a bit, because they were cakier, resembling more of a short bread – but I’m no baker.  Or – I guess I am?

But how’d they taste?

Great!  The acorn flour brings a mild nutty flavor to them, and my wife actually asked if there was more chocolate in them than in the wheat ones.  (I think that’s partially because your eyes play tricks on you, considering the only time I’ve eaten similar-looking cookies they’ve been completely chocolate.)

Don’t take my word for it – I had three other people besides myself eat them, and two of them said they actually preferred the acorn cookies to the wheat ones.  The other didn’t say they didn’t prefer them – they just had their mouth full.

Overall, I consider it a huge success.  I still have a half a cup of acorn flour waiting for more recipes, but I’m already inspired to gather some more acorns and try the whole thing again.  After all, it’s been a year, and I’ve forgotten just how much of a hassle the whole thing was…

Chocolate Chip Acorn Flour Cookies Recipe
Originally from Making Our Sustainable Life

  • 6 tbls of soft butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup acorn flour
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cream butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon and vanilla together. Add egg and mix until the batter is lump free. Add  flour and baking soda and mix just until the flour is completely moistened. Add chocolate chips.

Drop 2 inch balls onto cookie sheets with plenty of room for the cookies to spread out.  Bake in a preheated 350º oven for 12-15 minutes.

The Other Brown Flour (Part 1): How To Make Acorn Flour

This post is a looong time coming.  So long that I’m trying to piece together my pictures to remember what happened.

Last fall (2014), I gathered some acorns and pretty much just wasted a bunch of time.  All of them turned out to be garbage, with worms laughing in my face.  But, I’m stubborn, so I wasn’t going to give up that easily.

Last Christmas, my brother gave me a book about eating things in the wild, and wouldn’t you know it; there was a whole section on acorns!  I had a renewed sense of hope in acorns now that I had a mentor on paper.

Apparently, the first time I tried it I went about everything wrong.  All of my instincts led to the acorns that were definitely bad.

  1. I went out entirely too early, which means I was only gathering the rejects rather than waiting for the fully matured ones.  (The tree releases an acorn if it knows that it’s no good, rather than waste energy on a dead seed)
  2. I was mainly picking up acorns that still had the tops attached, but it turns out that’s actually a sign that they’re bad.  (When an acorn matures it loses the top)
  3. I was grabbing them willy-nilly, rather than checking for the super obvious hole in the shell (which means a worm has already eaten the nut meat and skipped town)

So, this time around, armed with new knowledge and a slight confidence, I filled my pockets once again.  The results were much better.

acorns-green

Many of the acorns I gathered at first were green.  I don’t really know what that means, but I expect that they were slightly under “ripe.”  Some that I let sit for a few days darkened up, but most of them I just cut into fairly quickly.  Unlike before, when I had what I thought to be a 10% “success” rate, the first acorn that I cut into this time around was perfection.

acorns-perfect

acorns-harvest

Now, I ran into plenty of non-perfect acorns in this batch, mind you.  But what I thought were my keepers before were ones that I threw away pretty quickly this time.  If it had a small trail of brown that I could cut out, I’d keep it.  Otherwise, it would be a lot quicker to just go outside and find some more acorns rather than trying to butcher the save-able “meat.”

acorns-shelled

I shelled a bunch, and then came the fun part.  In the book, my new mentor said that “some people insist that you must remove the skin from the nut meat.”  But he didn’t follow it up with, “but it’s ok if you don’t” or similar, so I figured I’d better do it then, if some people insist.

That.  Took.  For.  Ever.

acorns-skinning

Left side is skinned, right side is shirts.

Early into this part of the process, I was no longer having fun.  I think that small amount of acorns took me about two hours to skin.  It’s not like a peanut, where you can just twist or squeeze the skin and it falls off – these little jerks have wrinkles and folds where the skin would be clamped into.  The mentor said it would be easy, and said I could just dip them in some water if I had any trouble.  I started thinking my mentor was full of crap.  I also seriously started wondering if it was worth it to skin all of them, or if I should just take my chances with the skins.

acorns-ground

After the horrible part was over, I tossed them into a coffee grinder (my wife made me buy one so that I wasn’t using the same one as her for some reason).  It quickly ground the nut meat into “flour.”  I had to take some time scooping everything out of the grinder, because the oils in the acorns were keeping some clumped at the bottom.

Unfortunately for me, acorns contain a large amount of tannins, which is used to tan animal hides.  It also makes the acorn very bitter, and you can get sick if you ingest too much of it.  The process of removing it is fairly simple, though (again) tedious.

acorns-leech1

There are two ways to get the tannins out of the acorns, according to my mentor: Hot and Cold Leeching.  For Hot Leeching, you just boil the acorns in water for a while, then drain.  I think you can even leave them whole if that’s the case.  However – apparently that process removes a lot of nutrients from the flour – and who needs those empty calories?

For Cold Leeching, you just soak it in water then drain it until it stops tasting bitter, usually 6 to 20 times.  I’m no expert on this part, and I really didn’t want bitter acorns on my first go ’round (especially since I’d already invested so much time into it), so I let them sit for days, and did the whole process eight times.

acorns-leech2

I think the above is was just the first time.  Surprisingly, the color of the water changed drastically each time.  Not to say it was getting darker or lighter – it just changed back and forth, so I don’t know what to say about it.

acorns-tannins

After I decided each leeching session was done, I would strain it through cheese cloth and do the whole thing again.  After it wasn’t soaked, but still moist, it caked together just like wheat flour.

acorns-leech3

After using the cheesecloth a handful of times, I noticed I was losing a lot of flour in the layers of the cloth.  That sucked a lot, considering how much work I had already put into what was going to amount to very little acorn flour.  And not only that, when I tossed the cheesecloth to the side, waiting to be used again, it still had junk in the folds.  It ended up getting really nasty and moldy, so threw it away.

acorns-mold

For the next several batches I used coffee filters, which took forever to drain.  I mean, I’d let it sit for hours and it would still be letting just a single drip through.  With the cheesecloth, I would be able to squeeze the water out to speed up the process – but if I did that with the coffee filters, I would bust a hole and everything would fall out, which meant I would have to start the draining process all over.

acorns-spill

I had an accident

I was still losing a lot of flour with each drain, too…

acorns-filter

Anyhow, after all that – which took a couple of weeks, by the way – I spread my findings on a plate to let it dry out.

acorns-patty

And after that, I did another batch with skins on them, so I could find out if I would be one of those crazy people who insists that they be removed.  After they completely dried out, they turned pretty dang dark.  And the saddest part was that there’s maybe a 1/4 cup that made it through each process…

acorns-done

I haven’t actually made anything with the flour yet, so unfortunately this is where I leave you.  Will I cook something that cures ebola?  Will I find that I’ve actually made gold?  You’ll have to wait until next time…

censored-meat

Another Level of Crazy: Why don’t you raise maggots?

[***WARNING – if you have a weak stomach, skip this post***]

I don’t often scare myself, but I might have just tipped the scales.

Obviously, everyone that knows me pretty well thinks I’m either crazy or…  Well, crazy in a weird, responsible way.  I’m not sure which camp would be right in this scenario.

Remember the free meat that literally fell at my doorstep?  Well, what I ate of it was really good!  Unfortunately, the rest of it was in the freezer in my garage, which one day decided to stop working.  :(

I won’t lie – I was very upset.  Lane and I spent a lot of time butchering that thing, and after it had been sitting in a room-temperature container for who knows how long, it was ruined.

I was complaining to my friends Walter and Matt about it.  Luckily, they happen to be a little crazy, too.  (Sorry for throwing both of you under the bus, guys, but you know it’s true.)

“Why don’t you raise maggots?,” Walter asked with dead-pan seriousness.

I can’t say that it had crossed my mind, even in my wildest off-grid homesteading dreams, but it made sense.  My chickens love eating little bugs, and these specific little bugs love rotting meat…  So, I started thinking about what I might do to start my own hobby maggot farm.

Around that same time, there was a little bit of uncooked chicken in our fridge that had gone bad, so I just tossed it and the deer meat in a bucket.  (Meat doesn’t often spoil in our home – pretty much never, in fact – so maybe it was a little nudge from the Man upstairs to try this thing, eh?)  I hadn’t thought much about my plan, so I left the bucket in the garage until I could figure out what to do with it.

I concocted a plan to basically construct an elaborate cage in the woods on the edge of my property, so that predators aren’t attracted to rotting meat beside my living chickens.  I’d start with a tray at the bottom, then wire mesh that would allow maggots to fall through but would catch pieces of meat.  Above that I’d hang the meat, which would give greater surface area for the maggots to slip off and onto the tray.  Around that I’d put at least one sturdy cage (possibly two), so that animals couldn’t get inside.  It would be a self-sufficient maggot factory after I hung up some old meat.

That was the plan, anyway.  The reality is that I left the bucket of rotting meat in my garage for weeks.

uncensored-meat

The packaging was frozen to it (because I was testing the freezer), and I didn’t hassle with getting it off.

Yes.  It smells exactly as you would expect.  Every once in a while I would go into the garage, forgetting that I left the bucket in there, and would very quickly remember.  I’d step back outside, suck in a large amount of air, and then hold it in while I retrieved whatever I needed from inside.  Over time, I guess I just expected the garage to smell like that.

My wife didn’t really know that was going on until while I was away from home one day I asked her to get something from the garage for me.  I received a text soon after that, which said she almost threw up after stepping into the building.  I texted back a smiley face with a halo above it.

At that point, I realized I should probably do something about it.  The first thing I realized was that I hadn’t even asked my chickens if they specifically liked maggots.  Since my chickens don’t speak English (despite what you might think from previous posts), I realized the only way to get that answer was to present those maggots to them.

So, one Saturday, the experiment continued.

meat-maggots

I opened the garage door to let it air out a bit and brought the bucket outside.  Sure enough, moving the meat around revealed a gob of the little squirmy things.  I could easily put my hand in and scoop a hundred up.

So, of course I did.

maggot-hand

Yes, I realize there aren’t a hundred in my hand, but it’s hard to take a picture of a handful of maggots with the other hand holding a camera.  The little boogers were incredibly slimy, and I could feel them squirming through my fingers as soon as I picked them up.  It was disgusting.

I tossed a few to my chickens, and they were delighted!  If I threw a clump of maggots in front of them, they didn’t really know what to do, but if there were stragglers outside of said clump, they didn’t last very long before a beak would dispatch this from this world.  I assume the chickens’ eyesight isn’t so great, and a giant ball of pulsating slime probably isn’t as appealing as an obvious gyrating worm.

Not long after I started doing this, I noticed at least a dozen vultures circling overhead.  It dawned on me then that that was the reason I’d been seeing a lot more of them perched in the trees on my property lately.  Lucky for humans, our sense of smell isn’t nearly as ken as theirs, because I’d say that they had sniffed it from miles away.

maggot-bowl

I continued to scoop the maggots into some tupperware, thinking I might store them to give them to my chickens over time.  But then I started to consider how would store them.  I suppose I can put them in the fridge, but I didn’t know if that would kill them, or if they needed some meat with them to survive (and I didn’t want to purposely make my fridge smell like rotting meat for the rest of it’s existence).  So, I ended up giving all of the gathered maggots to the chickens, storing none.

Actually, I used the maggots to entice the chickens back into their coop, because I had to leave for the rest of the day and that was a lot easier than chasing after them.

And, yes, I put the bucket of rotting meat back in the garage.

Don’t worry, though – I have a plan.

You Calling Me a Lyer?

I’ve had a fun couple of weekends.  I’ve started a few projects, but because I’m long winded I’ll just stick to one in this post.

We have a wood stove, thus we have tons of ashes.  Tons.  I think I’ve “harvested” around 20 gallons so far – which might not actually be a metric ton, but is a lot to me.  And we’re still making it.

There's plenty more where that came from

There’s plenty more where that came from

Well, geeky off-grider that I am, I’m always trying to figure out what to do with things so that I’m not throwing it away.  Ok, that’s more of the pack rat side of me, but at least if I call it homesteading, then an episode of Hoarders won’t feature my garage.  But as luck would have it, I’d also stumbled upon a recipe a while back, which happens to require one special thing.

You guessed it: wood ash.

If you don’t already know what recipe I’m talking about, it’s for Lye.  If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, Lye is Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), and it’s used for a number of things.  The most obvious uses are in making soap (like in Fight Club), and for a drain cleaner.  Another magical use is for combining with methanol (wood alcohol) and vegetable oil to make biodiesel.  Boom!  Full circle!

I don’t yet know how to make biodiesel (or methanol, for that matter), but one thing at a time, people.  As my good friend Chris says, “Don’t try to boil the ocean.”  Boiling lye takes long enough.

The ash from my wood stove contains a bunch of charcoal, and as far as I can tell, that doesn’t contribute to the lye-making process.  As such I took a net and filtered out the big chunks (so that I can figure out another project to use them for) to keep just the ash.

You gotta keep 'em separated.

You gotta keep ’em separated.

It’s a very scientific process.  And I’m very precise, as to avoid making a mess.

Ash Aftermath

Ash Aftermath 2015

Basically, the only other ingredient for lye is soft water (distilled or rainwater), because apparently the stuff out of the city pipes doesn’t leach the lye out of the ash as well.  I assume it’s because of the other stuff in the water (chemicals), but I don’t think about it too much.  Except that I recently put a pan of tap water on our wood stove to add moisture back into the air, and a white powdery film was left in the pan after the water had evaporated.  I think my wife threw the pan out because it wouldn’t come clean.  And that’s the water we drink, ladies and gentlemen.

Anyhow, I’ve luckily been gathering rainwater – both intentionally an unintentionally – for such an occasion as this.

The left is an offical rain barrel, the right is a future project that doubles as the cat waterer.

The left is an official rain barrel, the right is a future project that doubles as the cat water dish (the ponds that were previously dumped on our property).

So – the materials have been gathered, and all I need is a lye laboratory.  Which is of course made of buckets and junk.

faucet-drain

I found an unused faucet drain in my garage from the previous owner (it still had plastic wrap on it), and I drilled a hole in the bottom of a bucket and ‘installed’ it.  That way, I could let the lye sit in the bucket and drain it out when I’m ready.  There might have been a better way to do it, but, for me, free is always the best way.

bucket-drain

I added some rocks to the bottom of that bucket, because the wood ash would go in another bucket inside that one, and I didn’t want the other bucket to prevent the drain from opening.  That’s probably unnecessary because of the space that is naturally between the buckets, but like I said earlier – I’m very precise.

I drilled some small holes at the bottom of the ash bucket and added some shirt cloth to the bottom, so that the lye could escape into the drain bucket but the ash would stay.

tough-guy-shirt

Yeah, that’s right.  UK Male Chorus Day 1998.  You have no idea how hardcore I was in high school.  Funny enough, it was exactly 17 years to the day when I actually cut this shirt up and put it in the bottom of the bucket.  I’m pretty sure that makes me very, very old.  But still very hardcore.

lye-lab

The lab was assembled, and I set it on top of three other buckets so that I could use the drain.  I’ll eventually build a permanent stand for it – if it’s worth it.  If I end up only making three batches of lye, then I won’t waste the time…

ash-water

Simply add the water and wait.  Boom.  As I read somewhere, it’s so easy you make it by accident.  I then found a glass container in the garage that I could use to catch the stuff – which can easily burn your skin.

For some reason, Gatorade won't honor the "Sports Bag" deal.  I checked.  (No - I didn't really check)

For some reason, Gatorade won’t honor the “Sports Bag” offer. I checked. (No – I didn’t really check)

After a good washing, I stuck the bottle under the drain, in case there were any leaks.  Hours later (there were luckily no leaks) when I opened the drain, out flushed glorious lye.  Well, I don’t know how glorious, because I don’t have a pH tester, but it was yellow – which is what the internet told me it should be.  You can test it by placing an egg in it, but my bottle was too small for that and I didn’t want to waste an egg.  Another way to test it was to see if it would disintegrate a feather – and I have plenty of those lying around.  Get it?  LYEing around?!?!

Anyhow, it didn’t disintegrate the feather, so I dumped the batch of lye that had already been made back into the top bucket, so it would go through the process again.  After that batch had seeped through, I tested it with a feather again, to no avail.  And then I figured I’d forget about that part, because my plan was to boil it down to a solid anyhow, since I don’t have any immediate plans to use it.

That goes exactly like you might assume it would.  Slowly.

boil-lye

I started it on a Friday evening (a week after I actually made it), and let it go for about 2 hours – only checking on it every 15-30 minutes or so.  I got paranoid about not being outside with it, so I shut the propane off and started again the next day since I’d be outside.

Yum!  Good enough to eat, right?  Well, don't - it'll kill you.

Yum! Good enough to eat, right? Well, don’t – it’ll kill you.

I technically should have kept simmering it down to only a solid, but my propane burner isn’t very precise, and I figured I could always cook it on the stove top (with windows open) if I wanted it to be further condensed.

I have a good amount of bacon grease and general animal fat stored up because my wife insists on letting it cool down before disposing of it – and luckily I’ve never disposed of it.  Maybe I’m rubbing off on her.  With that, I’ll try my hand at some soap making, just so that I can justify to her that my craziness can actually benefit her.  Not that I’m confident that she’ll be excited to rub animal fat on her skin…

animal-fat

How to Live Without TV

I won’t lie. I like television.

When I was young, my mom had a fairly strict “only one tv show a night” policy, and I’d seriously just watch the first thing that was on when I’d get home from school. Then, my brothers would watch something else, and I’d realize that THAT was the show that I really wanted to watch. But, I’d usually circumvent the rule by sitting by my dad when he watched TV later that evening. (But mom… I’m just hanging out with Daddy!)

I also played a lot of nintendo. There was another rule: we could only play nintendo on Saturdays before noon. UGH! Such a difficult, broken childhood.

As I grew up, both rules were loosened, and I could watch more than one show, and play nintendo when my parents weren’t home (the perfect babysitter!).  Incidentally, I got in trouble once when my mom went out the door, and I immediately went to the basement to play nintendo, only to find my mom yelling at me 3 minutes later. (She only went out to get the mail)

When I got to college, I was surprised at how little I cared about watching TV. There was too much to DO!

Then after college, eventually the old routine came back… You get home from a hard day’s work, and all you want to do is plop down on the couch and turn on the ol’ boob tube and zone out. Problem is, we’d start with just watching the news over dinner, and then we’d look up and we’re watching the news again at 10:30. And the evening is completely gone.

Three months ago, when we moved into our new house, we decided to move very little inside, knowing that as soon as renovations started we’d have to move it all back out.  We didn’t think it would take long to get started (we’re still waiting on permits), so my wife agreed that it’d be ok to sleep on a mattress on the floor and have only a card table and chairs as the furniture.  We also didn’t sign up for internet, since we’d probably be living somewhere else temporarily.

The internet thing is a little hard, mind you…  I’m a web developer, so I happen to need that.  Luckily I have my phone as a hot spot – but unluckily AT&T throttles me after 5GB even though my plan is unlimited.  But that’s an unrelated rant.

So – no tv, no internet (besides coffeeshops, etc).  You know what we’ve found?

We talk a lot more.

We sit outside with our three cats (that she convinced me we needed for purposes of getting rid of mice I don’t think we actually had).  We make a camp fire a couple of times a week.  We grab coffee with people.

Time actually slows down.  There have been very few days where I’ve felt like I’ve got a bazillion things to do and no time to do it…  Not because I usually waste time in front of the TV when I have a bunch of stuff to do, but because without TV I get a lot of those things done early.  We feel like it’s midnight when it’s 8:37pm.

Maybe I’m just getting really old, but I often get to bed around 10pm these days.  There’s no “one more episode of…” that I can watch, or another billion random links I need to follow.  (I do spend a lot of time playing games on my phone when I can’t sleep at 10, but I convince myself that that’s different)

We have no idea what’s going on in the entertainment world right now.  We rented a movie last night to watch on my laptop, and we didn’t know what hardly any of the Redbox titles were.  We ended up getting one that was seriously an utter waste of $1.20, and it kind of shows us that we don’t need more of it.  I don’t know who’s getting off the island, or dancing with celebrities, or getting roses, or whatever else is going on on tv.

And it’s wonderful.

We’ve decided that instead of putting the TV in the living room when we’re done with renovations, we’re going to to put it in an upstairs room.  That way, we can still watch it when we want to, but we’ll have to decide to watch it rather than let it be the default.

I think the funny thing about technology is that its original intent (whether it be a phone, tv, microwave, washing machine, etc) was to save our time.  If it takes 2 hours to prepare a good meal, and now we can do it 6 minutes, then the thought is that we have an extra 1 hour 54 minutes freed up to do something more meaningful.  But the problem is, we usually just fill that extra 1 hour 54 minutes with something that isn’t meaningful.  We keep finding ourselves new ways to be busy.  We say things like “There aren’t enough hours in the day,” but the truth is – there are!

I’m not swearing off technology – nor do I feel like we should.  But I do want to use things for their original intent: to free up time for meaningful things.

So, maybe the title suggests a 12 step program for not watching tv (step 1: don’t watch tv.  step 2: uh….), but I guess it’s really more about how to spend your life rather than just wasting it.

But I need to get back to work…  I’m only at the coffee shop for another 20 minutes…

Pay no attention to the pale computer programmer skin...

What Country Living Looks Like

Those are my legs right there.

I know… Pretty hot, right?

My dad, oldest brother, and nephew spent some time helping me clean up my woods a few days ago, and this is the aftermath. I texted my brother that I found a handful of ticks on me, and just wanted them to make sure they checked, too. He texted back that he already found over 100 on my nephew.

Wha???

Upon closer look on myself, I found a whole bunch more. They were the smallest ticks I’d ever seen, and I just assumed they were freckles. I’d never had this sort of reaction from ticks before, but I’d also never seen the same kind of reaction from chiggers. Kind of a cross between chiggers, ticks, and poison ivy – and man, does it itch.

This is actually not the worst my skin has ever looked in the bug bite department. I’ve still got pictures of that, but if I posted it, this site would no longer be family friendly.

I also got into a fight with a tree, and the tree won. It hit square in the face, leaving a good scrape/cut on my forehead and my nose is still sore. We had the last laugh, though. It ended up being thrown in a burn pile (which was my intention when it attacked me).

Preparation

We were incredibly lucky to get our house and property.

(Actually, that’s not true… I don’t believe in luck – I believe whole-heartedly in the sovereignty of God. More on that later, I’m sure)

The House

Beautiful on the outside, the inside of the house is what we describe as wonky.

won·ky (wäNGkē) – adjective, informal
weird, whacked out, messed up, not working for no definable reason
(Urban Dictionary)

It was originally built without any bedrooms. Years after it was built, the previous owners’ health prevented them from going up the stairs to their loft where they slept, so they converted a garage into a bedroom. And it feels like a garage converted into a bedroom.

We obviously knew this going in, so we were totally prepared to renovate by adding bedrooms and fixing bathrooms, etc. What we were not prepared for is the process of getting the county government to approve permits for adding bedrooms.

We’ve been in the house for close to three months, and we’re still waiting on getting permits for changing our septic system to handle more bedrooms. Mind you – not the actual work, but permission from them to possibly do work. We have to have our soil tested, have duplicated soil sites the same size as the proposed septic system.

We had soil testing done well over a month ago, and the results were sent to the county, but their response was basically “meh.” They said the duplicate sites weren’t big enough. So – even though we have enough room for the septic system itself, the duplicated areas didn’t seem big enough. Then the guy said “you have seven acres, I’m sure you’ve got it.”

Then just give me the freaking permits.

I don’t get the requirements here… If I were to have an inadequate septic system, it would not affect them in any way. You and I both know that if there was an issue with my tank overflowing, I’d just dig a hole in the backyard while we fixed the problem. But I guess they’re just trying to save absolutely everyone from themselves, because it’s not fair to me to let me make my own decisions. But I digress.

After a month, the soil guys are back out today, and hopefully we’ll get that part squared away soon.

The Property

The house is nice (or – will be nice), and that’s what excited my wife when we first found it. But what gets me pumped up is the Land. (Yes – land is different than Land) I envision animals, gardens, orchards, etc, all over the place, and that means I’m happy to put up with a stressful time of renovating the house.

One unfortunate thing about our land is that it’s incredibly rocky. I don’t mean when you dig a hole, you find a handful of gravel; rather, there is a rock quarry about a mile away, and we have a natural rock patio behind the house. (As such, I realize that the soil guys have their work cut out for them)

Another unfortunate thing about our land is that the previous owners (or whoever “maintained” it for them) dumped garbage literally everywhere. There are a number of rock openings that someone deemed as landfill areas, I guess to avoid the two mile drive to the local dump. It amazes me that someone would live in such a beautiful area and treat it so poorly. I’ve got a truckload of junk that I need to haul off, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

My dad let me borrow Big Bertha – his name for a mower/bushhog/beast that will tear through underbrush like it’s cotton candy. I’ve been on it for probably at least an hour a day for the past month, and the overgrown forest now looks like a state park. (Disregarding the landfills, of course)

You might say to yourself “Hey – I thought this guy wanted to go off grid! Why is he using machinery and gasoline to devour wonderful trees?” This is Geek Off Grid, mind you.

I love technology.

My plan for getting off the grid includes solar panels (which I already have – more on that later), Arduino projects, homemade generators and general nerdiness. More than survivalism, I want to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. My homestead will be similar to one that you could have seen 200 years ago, but upgraded.

Homesteading 2.0

We’ve got a long way to go on both the house and property, but I’m enjoying the process. (Well – the process outside; not so much the process of getting permits)

Preface: The Mission

So we’ve got a house and some land – big deal?

I have high hopes for the coming years, and though I’m sure things won’t work out exactly the way I’m planning them right now, getting any of them up and running is better than living on a postage stamp lot and relying on corporations and the government to get me what I need to survive.

I didn’t always have this mindset… I grew up on a crop farm and – to be perfectly honest – I avoided work when I could. (My parents will probably call me about that, saying they knew it all along) I suppose that as a kid, I just assumed that the table always had food on it, and water always came out of the faucet regardless of what I did. In recent years, after I got out into the real world/got married/got a job/etc, I started realizing just how different we live now than people did 200 years ago. What’s interesting is that folks 200 years ago didn’t live so different from folks 2000 years ago. Fashion changed, entertainment changed; but what you did to exist was the same.

In normal circumstances, in order for a human to survive, we need:

  • Clean water
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Security

Everything else is just comfort or entertainment. If you had those things and absolutely nothing else, you might be lonely, but you’re alive.

Whether you were born in 13 AD or 1813 AD, a lot of people were farmers and/or hunters. Why? Food is somewhat important. Now, food is a thing that we put into a cart at Wal-Mart. Until maybe 100 years ago, it was incredibly common to draw your water from a well every day.

While technology have made many things easier to obtain, it is creating problems of its own. Food is riddled with genetic modifications and toxins. Water flows with chemicals and unnatural impurities.

And then there are the systems that deliver those things to us. Disasters halt delivery of goods to people who (during a disaster) need them most. Even small incidents can cause water to stop pumping from the city plant to our houses.

So, basically, after creating technology that will make our lives easier, we’ve become completely reliant on it. We promote industry to the point of poisoning our food in order to mass produce it.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-corporation or against capitalism. In fact, I’m all about capitalism.

I just don’t want to be reliant on a system that will eventually break. I don’t want to keep paying for someone to do something for me that I can do myself – and that I can do better.

So, let’s go back over that list, and figure out the plan.

Clean Water

The house that we bought already has a well. Praise the Lord! One of the requirements for the house we were going to buy was that we could dig a well on the property, and having one here already sure save a ton of headaches (especially because we have pretty rocky ground). There’s even a filtration system already set up!

The only current problem is that after using the well for 27 years, about two years ago the owner connected to city water and disconnected the well pump. Well – not so much disconnected it as much as cut the pipes to pull the pump off and just place it to the side. I don’t know why they did that. So – during our upcoming renovations (more on that later), I’m planning on getting a new pump and reconnecting it. I already talked to a neighbor who is on well water, and they’ve had no problems with their water supply (one of my fears when hearing the previous owners connected to city water).

As time goes on, I’d like to add storage tanks, rain collection, and incorporate some DIY filtration.

Difficulty Level: Somewhat Easy

Food

This is the piece of the puzzle that is going to take the most work and time.

  • I’d been planning on raising chickens after watching my brother do the same for a couple of years. I’m hoping that I can learn from his mistakes and victories… The nice thing about chickens is that you get meat once, but eggs (almost) daily.
  • I want to keep some honeybee hives, which don’t necessarily bring a large quantity of food – but man-o-man I love honey. And I’d love to eventually convert my consumption of sugar to wonderful backyard honey. I have family that also make maple syrup, so at some point I figure I’ll tap into their knowledge. (And yes, I did mean to use that horrible pun)
  • We’ve already planted some fruit trees, and I’m on my way to Tractor Supply right after I post this to get some fertilizer. (My cherry tree leaves aren’t looking too good – most have already fallen off, and the remaining are yellowed, which google tells me that means they need some iron and nitrogen)
  • I didn’t think I’d be much of a gardener (again – as a kid I avoided it at all costs). However, I got a handful of plants (from my aunt’s greenhouse) when we first moved in, and to my surprise, I’ve really enjoyed …gardening…them… We don’t have a working kitchen yet, but I’m doing everything I can to keep pulling ripe tomatoes and peppers off the plants. I’m freezing them for now, hoping that they will be useful in the end. I keep moving them around, because we currently don’t have a lot of sunny spots on our property (mostly trees).
  • Eventually, I’d like to raise other animals. Holly’s not too keen on the thought of raising pigs, but I’m hoping I’ll wear her down. Man cannot live without bacon, right? The thoughts of goats, sheep, etc are definitely in the mix, but I haven’t thought that far ahead.
  • Fortunately, my wife’s mom owns a cattle farm – so we have access to natural, grass-fed beef. The way God intended a steak to be raised.
  • I need to figure out how to make my own reese’s cups…

Difficulty Level: Hard

Shelter

As long as I keep paying my mortgage payment, we should be good there.

Difficulty Level: Done

Security

I very much appreciate our second amendment (and Thank God that America’s founders had the foresight to write it down, because there sure are a bunch of people in the government who oppose it now), but I still need to get my carry permit. If the crap hits the fan, I’ll be focusing on security a lot more, but for now I’m focusing on the other things above.

Difficulty Level: Easy

So – there’s the plan as it stands now. This blog is chronicling my journey of a fully on-the-grid American to a fully off-the-grid survivalist. I’ll try to take pictures!

house

Preface: The Beginning

I’m not yet off grid. But I definitely want to be. The majority of these first posts will be more about what I’m hoping to accomplish over the years, rather than what I’ve accomplished or am accomplishing.

I’ve been dreaming out loud for a few years about “when we have some land,” and all the projects that would ensue. For the past five years, my wife and I lived in a subdivision with about a fourth of an acre, and for three years before that we lived in an apartment complex. Over time, my dreams felt heavy – like they were too unrealistic.

To be fair – I have a lot of unrealistic dreams. There’ve been a number of times that I’d email my wife with a question like “airfare to Europe is only $xxx right now – we could totally sell everything and live there for a couple of years…” or “what do think about both of us quitting our jobs and starting an interpretive dance company…”

Well – not interpretive dance, but you get the idea.

I was using her as a sounding board, but she was always afraid that I was determined for all of these random things to come to fruition. So, over the years, I’ve learned that I need to ease into ideas and let her process them. So, many of my ideas don’t even get to that stage; they end up on a notepad and never come to the surface again. Probably a good thing.

Around the middle of 2012, I started talking a lot more about “when we have some land.” Both of us grew up on farms so it’s been a dream that we share – and it didn’t produce the panic attacks that she associated with some of my other ideas. I would randomly look for homes with acreage, more or less just to see the kind of property that would be available when we eventually escaped from suburbia.

I found one in October or so – a foreclosure that was not yet on the market. I showed Holly and, to my surprise, she loved it.

We took a Sunday drive to the property, peered through the windows (it was unoccupied), walked the land, and even had a conversation with a friendly neighbor. We could absolutely see ourselves (and our future children) living there.

We definitely didn’t want to have two mortgages (we’re followers of Dave Ramsey’s plan), so before we knew it, we were frantically getting our house ready to sell. We finally got around to all the things that we said we’d do – fixing this, painting that, replacing the doo-hicky. We called my friend Jerry at Award Realty (if you’re looking for a real estate agent in middle TN, I can’t recommend him enough), and he told us we were ready to put it on the market.

Boom. The dream was happening.

Our house went on the market in December, and Jerry told us it would take a while, since the market is slow in the winter, but would pick up by April.

What? April? But… That house! It could be gone by April!

We prayed a lot that we’d sell our house quick, and that the foreclosure would come on the market soon after – if it was the Lord’s will that we get that house.

Well, the foreclosure came on the market in February.
Our house had not sold.
We were freaking out.

We justified to ourselves making an offer, but we set a limit that was well under the market value for the house. Again praying that God would basically make it obvious that He did (or didn’t) want us in the house.

After an emotional week, we did not get the house. Which is a good thing, because our house didn’t sell until the beginning of April. (It sold! Yes!!)

The closing date rolled around, and we were homeless.

We had friends who needed dog sitters for about a month an a half total, so we packed everything we owned into a storage unit, and hopped around between houses. We had no idea where we were going to end up, but we were prepared to jump on buying some property (while trying not to get too emotionally connected to anything).

On the day of the closing on our last home, I found a house and almost 7 acres for auction, so Holly and I drove by soon after. We had Jerry contact the auctioneer and got us in to the house before the auction, and he gave us a renovation plan (because it was… unique) were we to get it. He agreed to continue to act as our realtor, even though actions generally aren’t done through realtors, because we felt much better with him walking us through the process. (and because he had done a TON of work for us, and didn’t want to just skip out on paying him)

Long story short, we bought the house at auction with Jerry at our side – for under what we’d agreed we’d be willing to spend on it. After a whole of bunch of headaches with trying to secure a loan (because we wanted to roll a construction loan in with it at the start, and we only had 30 days), we closed on the home 2 days before our friend returned from Sweden and we no longer had a dog to dog sit!

Thus, the dream begins.