As we sit here in the dead of winter dreaming of spring but also enjoying the reduced pace of the winter on the homestead, I thought it would be a good time to give an update as to where we are with our projects around the homestead as we build towards a more self sufficient lifestyle. One of the nice things about winter for me is that I can more easily control the climate within the house. Obviously during the summers with a house that doesn’t have central AC and is limited to the energy that can be produced by the sun, and with the understanding that solar thermal is much more efficient than solar photovoltaics, it can be a struggle to keep the house comfortable during the day. Cooling the rooms we are in only, combined with strategic shading and plenty of personal level fans for moving, ends up being a good strategy. However in the winter, where we heat almost exclusively with wood, utilize proper clothing and nice comfy thick blankets on the beds, it is much easier to dial in exactly the climate we want.
The kitchen remodel has progressed to the point where the kitchen is completely functional again, albeit not completely finished. It turns out going from standing tree to kitchen counters and cabinets isn’t as easy as it doesn’t sound! Now that it is really too cold to work full time outside in the cold, I’ve decided to table this project until next Fall.
Another nice thing about the winter is that we are no longer using irrigation water, so we are definitely catching more rain than we are using, and this will likely stay that way until the dead of summer.
The combination of no cooling, less water pump use, and less power tool use leads to a nice capability of only having to run the generator when we are equalizing the batteries, which can be once a month. Even in the winter where we get less battery capacity, we rarely if ever need to run the generator to add capacity. Clothes washing and dish washing is still done in the middle of the day when the sun is full on the solar panels, but we do end up taking things to the laundomat in town to dry sometimes.
We did lose our chickens over Christmas while we were out of town, not sure what but something got into the chicken pen and wiped them out. I’m thinking about putting another enclosed area up near the house and perhaps moving them up there in the winter because we have no need to walk down to the garden in winter other than the chickens and bringing them closer to the house will bring them closer to human and dog smell, as wlel as providing an opportunity for us to beef up that enclosure to help protect them.
We did decide to liquidate our quail flock, which ended up in a great graduation ceremony for the birds and very nice BBQ to follow. We did find these birds were a bit more tough than the ones we had graduated right around 7 or 8 weeks. That being said the flavor was very good, but I may alter the preparation method the next time we process mature birds. Im thinking a long and low smoke with a nice purpose made rub.
We’re starting plans to erect a 10’ uncovered extension to our existing back deck, and enclose the covered portion of the deck, specifically to provide a nice place to be outside in the winter but out of the elements.
We did lose our hot water heater, and I’m hoping it is an easily fixable electrical issue, as the fuses were blown when I took the cover off, but if not we will need to replace the hot water heater, yay! That will be a project for next week, but luckily we do have a backup water heater in the bathroom that allows us to take showers with a 20 lb propane tank, but we can also wash dishes in the tub, and put the dish drainer in there as well. Its not ideal for either weater efficiency or back pain, but it works.
We also have some extra dish strainers and some plastic tables so setting up an outdoor dish station to run through a big batch of dishes is also doable on days where we have good sun and its not too bad to be outside for a while.
We have only had one real bad cold snap so far, and it happened while we were out of town visiting family, so when I got back from Georgia the house was COLD. Im talking about 29 degrees in my bedroom cold! If you have ever slept on the blissful awesomeness that is a memory foam mattress, let me tell you, when those guys are cold, they are like bricks! Instead of starting a full on fire and heating everything, I cracked a window in the bedroom and put the 20k BTU kerosene heater in there until it was about 55 degrees, then switched to a propane little buddy heater until I was ready to go to sleep, at which point I hopped in the bed, with my longjohns on, and closed the window and shut off the heater. This, and my body heat, kept the room above 50 degrees until I got up the next morning and decided to get an actual fire going. Once the house was up to temp, it doesn’t take much work to keep it there, normally a half day fire every three days or so. We are on pace to stick within our range of 1-2 chords of wood for the whole winter. Mild winters we can actually get away with less than one chord.