Grit Blogs >

The One-Acre Farm

Solar Heating Questions

Jim BakerHello again, all! I'm writing this post to ask for feedback, comments, concerns, or even more questions regarding solar heating panels.

YouTube will be my downfall, I am sure. Having watched a few videos on the aforementioned site, I was all fired up about getting some solar panels made for each side of the house, getting them in place, and maybe even looking into some sort of modified system for air transfer for a proposed root cellar I have in my head.

The concept was quite straightforward and simple. Then I watched a few more videos, and suddenly it became rocket science, with guys that have graduated from MIT talking about air mass, air transfer, cycle volumes, and such things as that. Then they start looking at this design versus that design, and this old man is beginning to wonder if this stuff really works. How does someone that knows nothing about computer fans, wiring (other than knowing how to grab the wrong wire at the wrong time when working here at the house), and snap switches (what is a snap switch anyway?) make this contraption work, if it works at all?

And so the question begs: downspout or aluminum soffit? And, going back to my old days in construction, would copper screen painted black be better than anything else as far as screen goes? Sure it costs more, yet if the end result is a better product and it will basically never wear out, why not make the splurge up front?

And how big? I am thinking of these as daytime alternatives to my wood stove (save on the firewood issue!), and although I'm by no means in the coldest part of the world, central North Carolina does have its winters. As we all know, the inside of an unheated structure gets colder than it is outside. More of that air mass, air transfer, air movement, CFM stuff that is way beyond my pay grade.

All kidding aside, will a few-hundred-dollar unit keep the house warm during the day, or will it be more like a thousand spent to keep the house (less than 1200 square feet and poorly insulated) in the 70s range during the better part of a day? Does the outlet and inlet into the unit have to be in the same room, or even same physical opening? Is there such a thing as too big? How long does it take to build a moderate size unit? YouTube does it in less than 26 minutes, which I am quite sure is not correct. Plans abound online as I have seen, yet I want to do this just once, not reconstruct it ten more times because I should have done this or that to start with. I know the ultimate choice is mine to make, yet I would like that choice to be an informed one.

Solar panels
Photo by Fotolia/vladdeep

Any feedback from someone that has done one (or more) of these would be greatly appreciated!

Until then, live long and prosper.

Jim (The One Acre Farm)
jwbgso@aol.com

Forward Progress, It Seems

Jim BakerFirst of all, let me start by stating that I am no saint, philanthropist, or anything like that. I am a man with a dream; a little late in life, yet still a dream. Had I known about all this and had this passion 25 years ago, things would be a lot different. Yet, like most of my generation, we look at everything as it is now and simply say — it is what it is.

I have a CT scan tomorrow, with a hopefully great prognosis the day after. No coffee in the morning though, so that sucks! Regardless of all that, the past day or so has been spent finally talking to my county Community Garden Liaison, and she has hooked me up with the county coordinator for the Incubator Farm program. And yes, my local County Extension office does have a seed bank, loaner equipment, and more resources than you can shake a proverbial stick at.

Of course, my little chunk of land here does not qualify for everything, yet at the same time, I do qualify for some things. I have also been in touch with the United Way here, and they have clubs (groups, whatever) that will come and offer free labor from time to time, as needed. They usually work through a church organization around here. I would urge everyone that can to volunteer with any of these in your area, and I would encourage others to use the resources that are available. Hope you are reading this, Jennifer and Charlotte.

For all of these, any financial outlay is of course my responsibility. At the same time, the bang for the buck is immeasurable. My place is too small to justify the overall cost (just a few thousand around here) for a small tractor (think Ford N red belly), yet there is enough land that doing it by hand is all but impossible when it is just one person. Regardless of the effort, the skill level, or the desire, one person can only do so much. Yet having access to such equipment, even for a few hours a month, or even a year, could easily make all the difference in the world.

Fortunately for me, I do have some in-laws that will be moving in here, and both of them seem to be more than slightly interested in helping this whole thing come to fruition. My plan, their sweat equity — even now I have to smile at that irony. I am also looking at various Garden Planning programs, which will help those coming in to help me. What I have now is all in my head; not a real good place to keep such plans, I know. If anyone can shed some light on plans that they have used, tried, and like, I would love to hear from you.

I am still hoping to find a lawyer nearby that may be interested in doing some pro-Bono (or reduced fee) advice and legal stuff for me, yet so far that hasn’t happened. I posted an inquiry on one of the Free Lawyer sites I found, and the one response I got from halfway across the state was that her hourly fees would range from $100 an hour to $550. I was confused, since I had checked the box stating I was unable to pay. Oh well, what can you do?

That is about it for now; I will keep you all posted on my prognosis and more about the forward progress of the ailing yet not failing One-Acre Farm. I might be down a little, but I'm far from out! All we all have to do is get up one more time, and good things happen.

Working on farm
Photo by Fototlia/julief514

Peace!
Jim
jwbgso@aol.com

More of the One Acre Farm

Jim Baker

My name is Jim, and I am battling stage 4 lung cancer. I am 69 years old and recently married. I live in an older home that needs a lot of work, yet my main goal is to get things in a place that will allow my one acre here to become a self-sustaining endeavor. It may create an income, but more importantly, it will allow those that do not have access to a garden plot to be able to come and grow healthy food, and even some flowers for their own personal use.

This means so much to me, since I have been actively involved in "getting back to the basics," in living a simpler — as well as a more self-sustaining — lifestyle. I have the land to make this happen; I just don't have the health or the strength to make my dream a reality. Consider an acre of land fully cultivated, fruit trees, berry bushes, year-round gardening endeavors, happy hens running around in the sunshine and laying healthy eggs. Top bar bee hives scattered about, a grape arbor or two. Consider families with children learning to garden and becoming just slightly self-sufficient. Not off the grid, just the ability to have some small amount of control over what fresh, healthy produce gets on their table at home.

I have had to surrender my own flock of hens due to health restrictions, and was fortunate enough to find a volunteer from the Cancer Center with a little over 35 acres who was able to take them all and divide them with her neighbor. She has let me know that the neighbor’s kids have already made some of them pets, and they pick them up and carry them around.

As for being thankful, if I can leave this for others to carry on with, it would mean the world to me. I have very little else to leave as my legacy on this earth other than my desire to help others as best I can. This would be an ongoing concept to help others for a very long time to come.

Anyone thinking about this — I have found here in North Carolina there is a "Community Garden" person with the County Extension office. There are seed banks and equipment resources through the United Way (who knew?), and the one that is really exciting to me is a program called WOOF (Workers on Organic Farms). Thank you, Jennifer! I have contacted them, yet still have to actually talk to someone. They do the match-people-to-dirt thing I have gone on about in the past.

I am hoping to find a lawyer (still a member of the bar, yet maybe retired or semi-retired) that would do some pro-Bono work with me to get all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed in this endeavor. If that is you, I would love to hear from you!

Gardening
Photo by Fototlia/nixoncreative

Thank you for reading.
Peace! Live long and prosper!
Jim
jwbgso@aol.com

Sweat Equity Homesteading

Jim BakerGood morning all! The cancer is in remission as of yesterday, not spread anywhere else and I have been given the go ahead to work on my ‘farm’ as I choose to. And those of you that read this little blog of mine have figured out I don’t think like many people do. And all this brings me to this little observation.

I met a young lady at the Cancer Center that her and her husband has land, a lot by my standards, slightly over 100 acres. I have not seen the property as of yet and they want to do something with it all yet neither of them is interested in farming, doing the homesteading thing or anything like that. Their main goal is something helping with a tax break. They are financially better off than me if that is their consideration, just so you know. Not pointing fingers or faulting them, just something that I doubt I would even give a second thought to.

So with that as my intro and me knowing folks that want to get into this lifestyle yet have neither the resources nor the property located to do what they want to do, why not develop a ‘partnership’, perhaps with the help of a county agent, 4-H clubs, whatever networking can be in place to have those wanting to get into the life working the land of those that don’t? Different strokes for different folks, if the property in question is large enough and there are livable dwellings on said property, could that be a ‘live on’ arrangement? I realize that personalities would have to be compatible, legalities worked out, all of that, yet long term it could very well be a win/win for the two parties as well as profitable for both. I feel certain this person I met has many counterparts throughout the country with land being under or not even utilized. Yet those owners wanted to live in the country, so to speak. And there are people like me, stuck where I am due to finances, that can’t or don’t want to sell the house I am in and yet ache for more land to make into something better than what it is and live the simpler life and maybe share that bounty with the land owner, make some money in the process and maybe, just maybe, in some cases even have a low rent or possibly free place to live as you rent your current residence to others. The downside, if there is one, the time, trouble getting the necessary legalities being drawn up by a qualified attorney that would give both parties full protection through this whole process. Back in the day there were share croppers all over the South. That was nothing more, at times, than legalized slave labor. Yet the concept is viable when done properly I feel. Think about those that are older, that have land yet are unable to work it. Think of that knowledge that will disappear unless someone takes the time to knock on the door and discuss the possibilities, and as a bonus, they may have all the equipment required just sitting there collecting dust.

Consider the X-Gen youngsters, living in apartments yet wanting to know what we all do regarding where their food comes from, how it is grown, processed, etc. Yet they do not want to ‘own’ a place. Their choice, yet it does limit their options regarding all the other things we discuss about living simpler and being more self sufficient as we do.

I will be talking to the young lady I met at the Cancer Center since she wants to plant a few hundred chestnut trees and I have the containers for her to use for the endeavor until they get large enough to transplant onto the property without something eating them.

So dear readers, suggestions, thoughts, comments or criticisms. I am open to all!

Peace as always,

Jim

jwbgso@aol.com    

Field 

Photo by Fotolia/firewings

Is Self Suffiency Being Attacked? Part 2

Jim BakerWater, building a house (cabin, wickiup, hogan, yurt—whatever), water storage, food gathering in the wild, the lists are endless and the legalities may be also. In my state I cannot collect or use for any reason the gray water I produce, not even for lawns or flowers. Doing some quick research on the Internet and rainwater collection is not illegal in any state, or is illegal in some states west of the Mississippi depending on which article you read. It is heavily regulated in some states (according to the article that stated it was NOT illegal). And in some states you are required to have a permit. There may well be an entire separate blog on just water.

Housing. I was in the trade for a lot of years selling to building contractors and even way back then everything revolved around ‘code’. I recently saw a very touching movie about an older man wanting to build a simpler house for his wife in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, on his property with his own sawn lumber. Even with the happy ending (spoiler alert) the movie revolved around him needing plans, permits, having to hire structural engineers, architects and the whole nine yards simply because he did not start off getting the proper permit. And once the smoke cleared his house exceeded every single ‘code’ that was on the books.

So, are we under attack? Is that a resounding maybe I hear? Depending on where you live, how ‘off the grid’ you want to be or become, the very dwelling and where your water comes from can be, and in many cases already is, heavily regulated and permitted. I can drill a well on my property. Actually, I am not sure I personally am allowed to, yet I can hire someone to do it. Yet since I have ‘city’ water in my house now I cannot plumb that well water (passing any given test the state or county may want to perform) into my house for use. Because I do have a farm number I can use it for anything else, including watering livestock, just not watering me, at least not while I am in the house.

Regulations and laws are in place to help protect us, I understand that. Chaos would ensue in short order with none on the books. Yet when does how I want to live my life become something that becomes illegal, a felony and possibly even something that could land me in jail? Consider me openly killing and butchering a hog, for example; my hog, my property, and me actually knowing what I am doing. I live on the outskirts of a small southern town, in the country yet with neighbors within earshot. I am not sure where I live that is illegal, yet I do assure you that if I were to do that, I would get at least one visit from the local police within a very short period of time. I watch some things on YouTube regarding other homesteaders, and one such was called to task for letting his son, with some other boys, under adult supervision the whole while, use an axe, and the other boys were also. Their ages ranged from probably 8 up to maybe a couple of early teens. And the father was called to task by a viewer chastising him on ‘allowing’ his child to handle such a ‘dangerous weapon’.

In my world a sharp axe is not defined as a ‘weapon’, it is a tool. And it will hurt you to be sure, yet you learn how not to get hurt by using it, not by not using it! So does his son need a permit, protective chaps, a Kevlar vest and gloves, eye and ear protection, knee and elbow pads, emergency oxygen and a standby paramedic so he can stand there and watch Dad do all that and he never touches or learns how to use such a ‘dangerous weapon’? However does Mom manage to cut and chop food to cook if you want to take that whole thought process to the end?

Us older ones never wore a bicycle helmet, pedaled barefoot (with the ensuing more-than-once-stubbed toe), drank from the hose, hung upside down from tree limbs, caught snakes, whittled a stick with a sharp knife (borrowed for an adult that handed us that sharp knife if we were to young yet to have our own), and went swimming in the creek with no lifeguard within a few miles at the very least.

When did we become the nation of fear, regulation and give our governments, at any level, the power to force us to comply with the ‘norm’ or else? I am hoping some of you will send me some answers because I am truly at a loss.

As always — PEACE!

Jim

jwbgso@aol.com

Rain barrel

Photo by Fotolia/alisonhancock

Is Self Suffiency Being Attacked?

Jim BakerWOW!! I am the kid that used to throw rocks at hornets nests and may be again. I always do my best to understand the definition of what I am writing about, if for no other reason than to educate myself to make sure it is what I think it is.

Self-sufficient: adjective; needing no outside help in satisfying one's basic needs, especially with regard to the production of food.

Sustainability: noun; the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed. Environmental Science: the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.

So now I know I am pretty much on the same page as Mr. Webster, give or take a syllable or two. And these two things are what drove our grandfathers, great- and great-great-grandfathers to do what they did so we can do it now. And yet in the past few days I have seen and read where this very movement is under attack. Is it? I don’t know, yet I am seeing, hearing and reading all sorts of things where it is. Zoning changes, water restrictions, even simple things like requiring permits (which can be denied quite easily and legally) all affect our ability to do what we want to do. Yet in doing what we want to do, are we not easing the burden (in many cases) on an already straining infrastructure?

Something on the news just two days ago was a young man in Huntsville (the state was not mentioned that I recall), a military vet, living on 3 acres, and 100% off the grid, living in a mobile home. And if I recall he permitted to place his home on the property or it was already there, regardless, now the city is coming down on him stating he cannot have a mobile home inside the city limits (they let it go in remember) and if he stays he will be arrested — for trespassing!

There was a short YouTube video I watched about Colorado changing zoning laws so people that are ‘homesteading’ and living off grid are doing so illegally and the state can take their land if they do not comply.

Is all this true? I really do not know. If any of you have firsthand knowledge of this I would love to hear from you. I see I have already filled one page with this soap box head scratching. So there will be more coming I assure you.

And how far will ‘control’ from the government, at any level, go before it makes us all wonder what happened to our ability to live our lives unencumbered by the decisions of others? Where we can decide to grow our own food, our own livestock, to hunt and fish if we want and obey the law?

Peace

jwbgso@aol.com


Farm

Photo by Fotolia/james_pintar

Want, Need, Can't Live Without

Jim BakerOnce more I will get on my soapbox about technology.  Ain’t it grand! My own grandfather once drew a picture for my daughters depicting how to hitch a team to plow a field. Then he said when I was boy that is how we plowed. He then went on to say — and I have sat in my living room and watched a man walk on the moon. One generation.

I am about as technologically challenged as they come. No smart phone, a two finger typist (yes dear reader, I type, I don’t ‘keystroke’!) and I struggle with and am not involved with any of the social media stuff. When I was healthier I mentored high school seniors at risk of not graduating. All of them had a mindset of ‘I would die if I lost my phone’ (or couldn’t get on Facebook or Skype or whatever else they were involved with).  

My last blog I mentioned my two freezers. Couldn’t live without them — hold on a second here! Couldn’t live without an appliance that costs me money to operate, that I don’t have back up power for in case my own power fails, that cost me a nice chunk of change and that if it broke down for whatever reason right now I would lose several hundred pounds of frozen beef, pork, vegetables and fruit. And that is defined in my own mind as being self sufficient? 

So, what are the options? I am really not sure, to be blunt. Can I smoke, dry, or cure grass fed hamburger?  How do you smoke or salt cure meat, I know it is done, 100 years ago even here in the South, smokehouses and curing sheds were on every farm. Yet now we have Big Brother watching it for us and so can I ‘legally’ do those things now? Can I smoke house my own meat? How do you smoke cure, salt cure, sugar cure a chicken? Is it even possible to do that?

Canning, dehydrating, smoking, curing, a root cellar are all viable options, yet how far ‘off the grid’ do I want to be, need to be, or can’t live without? Can I live without a washer and dryer? Sure I can. An automatic dishwasher (that I have to rinse all the dishes off before I put them in there anyway). Absolutely. Can I live without refrigeration, a gas stove or a gas hot water heater? Sure I could, yet in that same breath, I would prefer not to. Could I learn how to hand plunger wash my clothes and run them through a hand cranked wringer and hang them to dry? Sure I could and apologies to those that do. Yet there is just me doing all this. And I don’t have the time, the stamina or the desire to do that. Am I doing things I feel will get me more self sufficient, place me in a healthier lifestyle and get me less dependent on the grid, the man and allow me a certain level of freedom that I do not have now?

Yes I am, with apologies to all in the process. I will have bees, blueberries, raspberries (maybe), grapes, a large garden of raised beds and a way to store some of that food that does not require an electric appliance. Do I need any of those modern contraptions? Not in the truest sense of the word need. Do I want these so called modern conveniences? Sure I do or I wouldn’t have them. Can I live without them? Unlike the younger generation coming up that can’t live without their smart phone in one hand while they learn to everything one handed (how do they tie their shoes?), yes, I could live without a single one of those things if I had to. I had an aunt and uncle when I was a wee lad in Indiana that didn’t have any power in their farmhouse except for one outlet wired to run the cream separator. A wood stove for cooking, kerosene (coal oil as they called it) lamps, reading and craft type things for entertainment in the evenings.

So could I do without? Yes. Will I? No I won’t. Yet I will be living a healthier life, I will know where most if not all my food comes from, I will be going to the grocery store less, I will heat with wood, do without air conditioning (yes I already am) and will even look into a solar hot water heater that can tie into my existing gas hot water heater.

Like the song goes — a country boy can survive.

PEACE

jwbgso@aol.com

House

Photo by Fotolia/monamakela.com