This April (2017) will be our five year anniversary of living off the grid on our forty acre homestead. Life itself, is very challenging and hard work when you have no access to modern conveniences such as running water, power, internet, fuel, etc. Simplifying you life off the grid sounds romantic, a dream many people have but it doesn’t come without hard work and a lot of common sense. Here are some fun stories and challenges that I have faced while living off the grid, enjoy!
Our property came with a wood shed that was about 1/3 full with a mix of black ash and birch which burn very well if you’re heating with wood in Minnesota. I didn’t have a clue as to how much wood I needed to get through my first winter but I would soon find out the hard way. I ran out of wood in early March and had to snowshoe to the lower swamp areas to get at the dead standing black ash. Three to four hours of hard work cutting, hauling, and splitting only produced about two days of firewood. After that winter I was bound and determined to never run out of wood again!
There’s lots of dying or rotten and dead paper birch on the property with black ash in the low and wet areas which is very difficult to get to. Although we do have a handful of sugar maple and the ever abundant balsam fur and poplar which is a nuisance. Not a great forest property for harvesting firewood.
Our property is on a St. Louis County “Forest Management” road which is called Reservoir Rd. and was built in the mid-nineties so timber sales could be easily accessed by loggers. We’ve had three timber sales down the road in the last five years which is where I get most of my firewood via a salvage permit through the County. Depending on the company doing the cut, they either leave lots of great scraps or close to nothing for firewood salvage.
Timber sales generally last three to six weeks depending on how big the sale is (acreage). Big road making equipment is hauled in first along with a feller buncher/harvester and a skidder to make their spurs and landings. Once they start cutting and hauling trucks are running up and down the road from sunrise to sunset, sometimes before and after. To avoid a run in with a logging truck commuting to or from work I would call the supervisor at the landing to see if any trucks are coming in or going out. They take a long time to stop and usually come and go in waves so head on passing on a single lane dirt road is nearly impossible or safe.
Here’s a video I shot of the loggers working in the forest.
Once they are done I would contact one of the County foresters and apply for a salvage permit. Most of the time I am not the only one getting a permit so it’s first come first serve if you want the good stuff (maple and birch). Then the hard work begins of cutting and hauling, unloading and stacking the wood at home. If possible I prefer to only cut, haul, stack, and split during the cooler months of fall and spring. Summer time is way too hot and buggy for me!
Green cuts take two years to dry out before you can burn them otherwise you’ll make too much creosote in your chimney so you have to plan ahead.
A majority of the wood is split by hand throughout the year although last fall we rented a log splitter for three days to split up ten cords of wood. Splitting that amount of wood is a lot of work rarely do we work two days in a row as you are too sore to work the next day making ibuprofen one of your best friends! Who needs a gym when you can get a great workout swinging an axe two to three days per week? Who are we kidding, right? It’s a lot of work and I harvest wood almost year round.
Anyone looking for a fun weekend in the woods? We’re always accepting hard working volunteers to help us split and stack wood.
Working with a Chainsaw
Using a chainsaw in the woods alone can be very dangerous if an accident should occur and I don’t wear nearly as much protective gear as I should. I don’t like felling trees when I’m alone and don’t do it unless it’s absolutely necessary. Big trees can turn and fall in the opposite direction you have to be really careful. Almost all of my double fronted carhartt pants have rips in the thighs where the chain caught them I really should upgrade to chaps.
I have a great saw, Stihl MS261 with an eighteen inch bar. It’s their bottom line pro saw with the same horsepower as the Farm Boss but higher rpm’s on the motor. The saw is very light weight and extremely efficient on fuel. It’s held up very well running almost year round for the last six and half years. I’m on my second spark plug, bar, sprocket, and brake.
To make long days of cutting faster I usually purchase a new chain but it’s still important to learn how to sharpen your chain properly when working in the field. It’s very frustrating when you hit a rock while cutting wood on the ground and mess up your new chain, grrr…
Using a Wood Stove
When living off the grid, there’s nothing more satisfying than the radiant heat of a wood stove. After working outside with the dogs all day, a warm house 80-90F feels really good heating up your core.
Our wood stove is much too big for the square footage in the house it’s very challenging to manage the heat I believe my record is 109F in the house, uffda! If you make a fire that is too small your stove pipe will accumulate creosote, too hot and you end up opening the windows in the dead of winter. During the fall and spring months, we only make a fire in the morning just to take the chill out of the air it’s usually around 50F in the house when you wake up. During the cold months of winter, that’s another story.
When the temps outside reach below zero, rarely do we let the fire go out and are feeding it four to five times per day preferably with sugar maple and birch. I have let the fire go out a couple of times and woke up to ice water in the dog dishes, brrr…
On average, we burn about six loggers cords per season. One loggers cord is 4′ x 4′ x 8′.
Having a wood burning stove has always made me a bit nervous when gone in town all day running errands. I always have a feeling that I’m going to come home to an inferno our a house that is gone. Thankfully none of those tragic events have happened.