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Spring is in sight! That means it's time to update my Spring To-Do List.
Now I know that my list probably looks a little different than yours. Even if you live off the grid as we do, no two off grid home setups are precisely the same.
And since we live pretty far north, our springs are short - just two weeks long. But then, we do get several months of gloriously long summer days (about 20 hours of sunshine) to enjoy.
So in the spring, we're basically assessing any damage that has to be taken care of during the short summer months.
Our Off Grid Spring To Do List is short because our spring is short.
Here it is. And if you want to use this as a base for your own off grid or homestead To-Do list this spring, visit our Free Resource Library for the checklist. You'll find the link at the bottom of this post.)
Note: this post was originally written in May 2018 and updated in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
1. Adjust The Solar Panels
In our area, during the winter months, the sun remains quite low over the horizon. So in November, Dan climbs up on our roof to adjust the solar panels to capture as much sun as possible. From late November through most of January we only get between four and five hours of good sunlight.
By April, the days have lengthened. Dan climbs back up on that slippery roof to adjust the panels again. This year he had to shovel snow off the roof to clear a path he could walk along!
Read More: Living Off Grid In Winter: How We Prepare
2. Tune-Up Our Generators
Update: February 2021 - although our new generator shed was built in the summer of 2021, all the travel restrictions and delays that started in 2020 mean our new generators and solar panels have yet to arrive.
Our generator shed used to house three generators. Two 10 kW diesel Lombardini generators. And a newer, portable gas generator.
The newer generator was the main generator for the house for many years. It got us through part of the first winter, then died a slow death.
Luckily the older generator that we keep as a backup fired right up. Until it didn't. That's why we now have a portable gas generator.
This year's off grid Spring To-Do List includes replacing the main Lombardini with a new-to-us Lombardini.
UPDATE: January 29, 2019: We replaced it! Update: May 1, 2020 - we're updating our generator system. Watch for an upcoming post later this spring as to what we're doing.
Related: Generator Won't Start? Try This
#3. Check Our External Water Pipes and Pumps
We are fortunate to have a wonderful water source right in our backyard - a huge, clear lake. And our off grid water system includes a pump submerged 14 feet down, and 225 of insulated water pipe.
We pump water all through the year (yes, we pump water in winter) and store it in a 1500 gallon homemade water tank just off our front entrance. So in the spring, we check the pipe and line for any cracks that need to get repaired before it gets cold again in September. We'll also run a water test.
Update: January 29, 2019: This past summer our water tank sprang a leak. Actually several. The tank sits in a room off the side of our front entrance. It's made of two large pieces. The leaks sprang up where they join. As it's over 30 years old, we suspect it's time to replace the sealant. So we're adding that to our spring list.
Update May 1, 2020: The Coronavirus restrictions have made us ramp-up our self-reliance efforts. We decided to install a water filtration system on our kitchen tap so we can drink the water directly from the tap.
4. Sweep The Wood Stove Chimneys
This one is pretty straightforward. We have a large wood stove in our great room, that we keep loaded with wood 24/7 from mid-September through mid-April. Dan climbs up on the room and cleans it out.
We also have a wood stove in our separate garage that should be cleaned out, but we didn't use it this year as a new garage/storage building is in our near future.
Update February 2021: We're slowly working on this one and decided to keep the garage we have. However, it does need a new roof!
5. Top Up Our Batteries
Our battery bank includes 12 deep-cycle batteries. In the spring, we add distilled water, which is recommended to help maintain deep cycle batteries. We may change our battery bank setup this summer if time permits.
6. Pump Out Our Poop Tank
Although some of our friends who live off the grid have composting toilets, propane toilets, honey buckets, or old-fashioned outhouses, our off grid toilet situation might surprise you. Yup, we have a traditional toilet setup. The waste gets collected in a 2500-gallon tank under our home.
Twice a year (sometimes three times, depending on how many visitors we get) we call Victor Crapeau (yup, that's his real name) to drive his tanker truck out to our place and pump out the tank. Easy peasy!
Update May 1, 2020: Victor is scheduled to come out this weekend. We're crossing our fingers that his poop-tanker truck can make it along our muddy and icy trail!
7. Bring Our Frozen Meat In From The Back Deck
Winters here are long and cold, often with temperatures dipping down into the low -30s and -40 degrees Celsius. So cold that we use our back deck as our freezer from October through April.
As the temperatures rise, we start bringing in our frozen meat and fish. This year we had venison stew, ptarmigan stew, rabbit stew, moose steak, caribou roasts, lots of frozen pike, plus some chicken and beef.
We cook up what we can and store the rest in the tiny freezer compartment of our fridge. The kids really liked it when we had to eat up the ice cream quickly because we were running out of freezer room.
Update May 1, 2020 - this year we had record-setting cold temperatures (dipping into the -low minus 40s and -50s for days on end) as well as a lot more snow than usual. As recently as last week, we were hitting the -20 Celsius mark. With the food shortages due to the restrictions, we've used up most of our back-deck freezer food!
Update February 2021: We're still using the back-deck freezer method with great success. This year we also processed and froze 16 meat chickens to get us through the winter.
8. Take Our Compost Bin Outside
Many homesteaders, country folks, and increasing numbers of gardeners living in cities and suburbs compost their waste to use in their gardens. We're a bit different.
Yes, we all compost all year round. In fact, one of our first off grid homeschooling lessons is teaching our kids how to compost. In the winter, we bring our bin indoors and keep it in our water tank room. It's cool in there and easy to access.
In April, Dan hauls it outside and uses a shovel to turn over the coffee grounds, eggshells, and assorted veggie scraps. Once the ground thaws a bit (early June), we'll work the compost into our beds.
Update: February 2021 - this winter was the first time that we kept chickens. That means we have lots of chicken-manure-filled straw to add to our compost beds when the ground is ready to work in June.
9. Start Our Indoor Seedlings
Here's one item on our off-grid spring to-do list that I'm still fine-tuning. If we start our seedlings too soon, they get leggy and thin before it's warm enough to plant them outdoors. And starting them early also means they don't get enough sun.
When we lived further south, we could put them under an indoor plant light. But here, we always try to minimize our power use in the winter.
And we also plant herbs indoors (and lettuce) throughout the year. Each year our garden grows a little bigger, and this year we're going all out.
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10. Plan Our Main Summer Projects
And this is my favorite part of our spring off the grid to-do list. Planning what we'll do this summer based on what we've found during our spring assessments.
This year we have several major homestead projects we'd like to do, that we didn't get to last spring and summer. Our 2020 main projects at our off grid homestead include:
- repairing the wood footings and foundation under our home
building a chicken coop and run expanding our outdoor garden replacing screens on the back deck with windows to make a ¾ season living space
- building a greenhouse with salvaged windows
- finishing our upper deck floor and adding new glass panels/rails
- repairing the broken wooden staircase leading down the rocks to our deck
- add a side deck
- install new generators into shed
- new roof on our garden
- expand our chicken run to accommodate turkeys
- create permaculture pockets in the rocky, sheltered, south-facing parts of the property
11. Build a Chicken Coop
We're finally getting chickens! Hopefully, they'll arrive in the next few weeks. We're keen to get started with some laying hens and meat chickens.Keep an eye on our Instagram account for pics.
February 2021 Update: Done!
We currently have 20 chickens and a rooster and get anywhere from 4 to 10 dozen eggs a week. At the moment our chickens include Western Rustics, Barred Rock, and White Lohmans. Our chicken coop is well-insulated, and no, we don't have regular heat out there. However, when the temps dip below -10C in the coop, we do run a heat lamp for about 30 minutes to warm it up slightly. (One of us stays out there to keep an eye on it.) So far, so good.
12. Update Next Year's Off Grid Spring To-Do List
As we finish this year's tasks, we'll probably come up with things to take a look at next year. For example, now that we're getting the hang of chickens, we're adding turkeys in April. And possibly rabbits.
What's on your spring to-do list?