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Thank God For The Grid!

Among the homesteading community, especially when you start talking to survivalists and the deluded folks who believe in 100% self-sufficiency, being “on the grid” is often considered akin to being in league with Satan himself.

In that case, everyone who lives in a city is going straight to hell.

There are two sides to every issue (sometimes four to make a perfect square 😉 ), and the same is true here. To be “off the grid” – in other words, free of any utility bills – brings a level of freedom. In fact, one might argue that as long as you are on the grid you will never be completely debt free, because you will always owe the water and energy companies money every month.

However, we live in an imperfect world. We have been trained from babies to follow certain beliefs so ingrained that it takes the power of a super-trackhoe to yank them out. Financial, family, and work issues get in the way of ideals. Some people have medical problems that preclude them from living out in the middle of nowhere and/or doing the hard work that homesteading requires.

The grid keeps people alive

In cities, the development of municipal sewer systems and water filtration systems has nearly wiped out several known deadly diseases – and probably many other unknown – that used to be fairly common. Cholera is one.

Being hooked up to the energy grid in densely-populated areas leads to less pollution and greater efficiency in energy production. In extreme climates (and most of us live at one extreme or another), the bitter cold of winter or the searing heat of summer would take some people out if they didn’t have a heat source or air conditioning.

The grid is a good temporary crutch

We have discovered that, despite our desire to ultimately be off the grid, when you move to a new location it’s a good idea to connect to and stay on the grid for a couple of years. For one thing, staying on the energy grid helps you to monitor how many kilowatt hours you use. That way, should you decide to begin to generate your own energy, you have a good idea of what you need.

For another, you get a good sense of what kind of alternative energy system is best for you. What if you buy only windmills, and you find that the wind doesn’t blow all summer? Or if you buy only solar panels, and the sun doesn’t shine for a month straight (like it didn’t here last fall)?

Because we’ve been patient, we have learned that though we will probably have enough wind most of the time to meet our energy needs using windmills – which are much more cost-effective that solar PV – we will need a solar backup sometimes. For example, last summer the air was very still most days.

In addition, hooking up to the energy grid relieves a lot of time pressure when it comes to building your permanent home. It would have taken a lot of windmills and PV panels to run the lousy portable A/C unit in our house these past two summers, let me tell you! But because we are waiting to go off-grid until we have lived in our earth-sheltered house for a year, we will ultimately spend a lot less money and use a lot less space on our energy-generating system than we would have otherwise.

But I really didn’t start out to talk about the energy grid. What really got me moving to write this post was the water grid.

Why we got on the water grid, and why I’m glad

The guys who constructed the shell of our new home said we would need to have water hooked up for cleaning up purposes. Turns out that they would have only needed a few hundred gallons. I would have been totally ticked that we had spent $900 to get a meter and connect with the local water grid, but for one thing.

Drought.

As I explained in my last post, “My Fried Garden”, we have gone a month without rain (more like five weeks by the time I post this) and temperatures during that time have ranged from highs in the mid nineties to low 100s (the past two weeks we’ve had a three-digit temperature streak).

On top of that, we have almost twenty new trees to baby, plus the five apple and four peach trees that will be in pots at least until late this fall. The icing on the cake is that the soil here consists of sand and rock, and even though I amended and mulched the garden soil, it is far from being able to hold moisture in for any length of time.

When the rain slowed down and daytime highs began to hover in the nineties and I had to begin watering the trees in the pots, I said to Jerry, “We’re paying for a thousand gallons a month and not using any of it. Why don’t we fill up the washtub [it’s a 15-gallon galvanized steel tub] with the grid water and use it to water the apple and peach trees?”

So Jerry started filling the tub twenty-four hours in advance to allow the chlorine to offgas, and we started using that water for the trees. A few weeks later, as the water in the rain barrels began to run out, J started filling up the wheelbarrow two times a week for the new trees planted in the ground.

As temperatures continued to climb, the garden started looking really sad. I had to use more and more water from the rain barrels to keep my crops semi-happy. But then the water in the rain barrels became completely depleted with no rain in sight, so we began filling the rain barrels with grid water in order to water the garden (it takes two days for the chlorine to offgas from them, fifty gallons each).

The long and the short of it is, if we hadn’t been hooked up to the water grid this summer we would have been faced with one of three choices:

  1. Haul several five-gallon buckets of water from the lake every day.
  2. Deplete the household water supply in the water storage tanks.
  3. Let everything die.

I am glad that Conrad’s Castles “forced” us to hook up to the grid. Because they did, we have been able to save our baby and potted trees as well as much of the garden. We now have a much better idea of how much supplemental water is required when we have a normal summer – that is, one to two months with little to no rain and temperatures hovering around 100 degrees.

And so we figure that if we have an extra 2500-3000 gallons of water stored, we will have plenty for irrigation during dry periods. New water storage tank coming to our property soon!

Too bad we didn’t buy it in April or May. It would have been filled up within a couple of weeks, if not sooner.

I still face one more irrigation issue: the pathetic soil which would probably take five years of piling on mulch in order to turn it into moisture-holding loam.

I’m not waiting five years.

Stay tuned for my solution on growing food without having to spend thirty minutes to an hour every day on irrigation which wastes water – and without having any more weed worries!

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