“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” — Genesis 9:3 ESV
Although it can seem difficult and frustrating to work toward living off the grid when you work forty hours a week, have children, pets and other responsibilities, it’s not impossible! Try and think of working toward self-sustainment, not as a chore (and just one more thing to tack onto your already busy day!), but rather working toward a huge transition. And rather than assume it will be time consuming, if you approach things in a different manner, it won’t be.
With a few crafty tricks you’ll be able to master it all in no time. You’ll be able to efficiently work a 9-5 job, contribute to the family, and produce high-quality foods right out of your backyard.
Gardening is a fantastic off-grid option, and, believe me, it’s not that time consuming to get started and maintain. Whether your goal is to supplement what you buy or (as we’d all like to work toward), living completely off the land, imagine having your own tomatoes, green beans, mint, parsley, potatoes, etc. etc. to put on the table for dinner.
When you grow things yourself, you know exactly what’s in the soil you’re using and there are no cancer-causing pesticides to worry about. The great thing about gardening is that you can grow something no matter what your living situation is. If you’re in an apartment or condo, small pots are the way to go. There are excellent kits available with seeds ready to go to produce delicious cooking herbs such as parsley, mint, and basil.
You can also grow tomatoes out on your patio if you have the right light conditions. If you have a yard, either large or small, you have much more space and flexibility to grow more varied vegetables and fruits.
Before you get your gardening gloves on, be sure to take some time to plan ahead so you don’t start planting and then run out of space, or discover that the sun doesn’t actually reach that spot on your patio in the afternoon.
Some things you will want to prepare ahead of time:
- Be sure to purchase fencing, chicken wire or other covering and blocking tools so you can be prepared for unexpected wildlife intrusions.
- Remember to do a bit of research about the types of plants you want to have in your home garden before purchasing.
- The kits make everything very easy, but it’s good to make sure you have the right light, soil, and water conditions available to you before you put down your hard earned money.
- Buy a Farmer’s Almanac – I will go into details later in this article.
Weeding, Pruning and Planting
Whether you have plants in pots, have a front and/or backyard, or if you are truly blessed, a whole farm, some things are unavoidable. When time is not entirely your own, there are some ways to avoid the so called drudgery from taking over. In fact, rather than think of it as a chore, something that zaps the precious time you have with your family, think of it in this way: You are creating your own sanctuary away from the chaos of the world and one that will give back ten-fold what you put into it.
I am not going to try and play tricks with your mind and tell you that a weed isn’t a four-letter word. It is! But if you attack them as you see them, it won’t be such a nuisance. Ignore them for a month and it’ll feel like you’ve been deluged with a week full of Mondays. See one, grab hold of it and pull! When you come home from work, just take a walk through your backyard and as you see them, yank them. Trust me when I say, it won’t seem so daunting. If you own a farm, yes it’s more time consuming, but here’s what we do. During our twice daily hikes, as we’re walking up the hills (our farm is at the top of the mountain, so parts are steep), we just pull as we hike. It’s mindless and that’s exactly what pulling weeds should be.
I like to think of pruning the same way I do my hair. On occasion not looking for anything in particular or perhaps being mindful of the latest zit on my face, staring at my reflection in the mirror, I might spy one hair that is longer than the one next to it. I will trim it and be done with it. If my hair can’t grow evenly, I guess there is no reason to believe a tree and its branches can. I then cut back my hair about 6 to 8 inches, once a year. My mom taught me this if I want to continue promoting healthy hair. I think it works.
We treat the farm the same way as I do my hair. We walk around and periodically, with no particular schedule, if something looks out of place – snip, snip. Depending upon what tree or plants gives its harvest when, is when we prune. Say in December, right after a big harvest, we’ll cut back all the coffee trees, which helps prepare them for the next season. I say December for us, but we don’t prune according to the seasons. We live in the tropics where the temperature never drops below 50° F, so our trees don’t go dormant in winter. But our main crop at the moment is coffee, so after the big harvest between September and December, we cut back all the coffee trees so they’re not expending excess energy when they aren’t producing. In spring they will come alive again and the birds and bees will take care of the rest.
Whether you are planting an entire farm or in a plot in your backyard, if you are planting directly into the ground, you might want to consider not just your time, but also the Farmer’s Almanac as your guide. Farming is obviously nothing new – nearly every culture on earth has been practicing some form of it for thousands of years. Years and years of trial and error went into creating such a worthwhile reference manual. It’s by no means an accident that the Mayans, the ancient Egyptians, the Chinese, and the Africans all stumbled upon the same knowledge. Some plants do better if they are planted during the full moon while others don’t. The same is the case for uprooting and replanting or taking a plant from a pot to the ground.
A wealth of information is in the Farmer’s Almanac, and I suggest you follow it. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how large your piece of land is.
Getting Kids Involved
One way to mitigate the concern that your gardening is taking up valuable time that could be otherwise spent with your family is to involve them as much as possible. This ensures two things:
- As stuff hits the fan (which we all know that it will), kids aren’t caught unaware of why mom and dad are transitioning to a new life off the grid. They get why you’re working toward self-sustainment with all the planting, canning, etc. They are never too young to get this. Maybe you impart less to your 2-year old than you do your 13-year old, but you impart nonetheless.
- As stuff hits the fan, kids get that there is more to life than Wii, American Idol and The Biggest Loser. They will learn that there is something far bigger than themselves than reality TV, and that reality is not found in TV but in life.
Warning: I am brand new to canning. I know for a fact that there are plenty of writers contributing to Off the Grid News with far more knowledge in this area than I possess. My husband and I are learning about canning but we’re not there yet. The information I am imparting is based on two things:
My limited experience, which is supplemented by the Internet. I am humble and will ask you to consider this a teachable moment for me. If I offer misinformation in this area, it is not with the intention of trying to misinform you, but out of sheer ignorance. Please give me feedback and if you think things can be done more easily one way, or that I erred in other ways, please tell me.
Another great skill that you should consider adding to your already busy life is canning. Pair this with your gardening efforts for delectable canned fruits, vegetables, and jams to stock your pantry. Depending on the yield of your garden, you have several canning options available to preserve your handy work. You can pickle various vegetables with a brining technique using many household items you already have, such as teakettles, saucepans, tongs, and measuring utensils. You may need to purchase some large containers or stoneware to start your canning collection, but these initial buys are well worth the investment as they will last you through the years and many canning adventures.
It’s best to use a heavy food grade plastic container, crock or stone jar, enamel-lined pan, or large glass jar or bowl for fermenting and brining. The heavy plate or large glass lid with keep the vegetables below the surface of the brine. The food grade container or large glass jar makes a good weight with 4 ½ tablespoons of salt and 3 quarts of water. Don’t use brick or stone weights because it can leak minerals into the water and you don’t want that!
Once your materials are set up and ready to go, you can start simmering the liquid. Remember to use enamelware, stainless steel, or aluminum utensils, and not anything galvanized, brass, iron, or copper, because those materials react with acids and salts and will form harmful compounds in your jar. Be sure to use an open kettle, and make sure the pot is large enough to have enough clearance for a rolling boil so nothing spills over. After filing the jars, use a boiling water bath to wrap everything up. Now all you have to do is wait for the brine to do it’s work, and you’ll be enjoying your pickled vegetables in no time!
When your tomatoes are ready to be canned, select the firmest tomatoes to get the best results. Be sure to pick your acid base and dilute it exactly as instructed to ensure safe acid levels. For instance, you would use 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a pint size container and 2 tablespoons in a quart size container. If you want to add a bit of sweetness to offset the acidity, throw in a tablespoon of sugar. You can also add salt, but it’s not necessary for the process to be completed safely.
And with your busy lifestyle, you don’t have to wait until you have enough harvest to fill the canner several times over. Harvest and can as the food ripens and don’t wait for quantity. You’ll find that it’s easier to put up a few jars at a time rather than waiting until the task is overwhelming.
Learning to manage your time wisely will help you transition to an off-grid lifestyle more easily, and even allow you to do it within your current work, school, and home environment. After the headaches and chaos of the day in modern civilization, you’ll find coming home to your off-grid lifestyle a wonderful oasis of rest and relaxation.