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Hello from a small island
Fri 18-Dec-09
8:56 am
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Betsy
San Juan Islands, Washington, USA

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Hi to everyone!  I discovered this blog only tonight, in the midst of trying to learn just exactly why it was that my first-ever batch of marmalade turned out to be orange syrup.  I already find this forum community to be delightful, and I look forward to learning a lot from it.

I live on one of the smaller, non-ferry-served islands off the coast of Washington state.  There are maybe 100 people living here, and we're all entirely off the grid.  There are no stores here, no paved roads or public utilities. My husband and I live on 20 acres, and we have 11 chickens, 4 cats, and lots of vegetables.  We've also spent time in the city, while our children were in high school, because there's no high school (secondary school) on the island.  But now we're back here fulltime. 

I'm an artist, but this year have somewhat put the art on hold while we're building my studio, which is a 14-foot diameter hexagonal treehouse.  We've just gotten it roofed over, but the winter is too windy and cold to do much more work on it til Spring. My husband Bob is an electrician, plumber, carpenter, mechanic, and all-around community activist.  He has also taught school, and I've been a social worker and childbirth educator.

In Spring, we're planning to start keeping bees, and I'm especially interested in learning from folks who have experience with beekeeping.

I have a blog at http://bendingtreearts.com/blog

I write about odds and ends of being an artist out in the woods, and I'm so very happy to have found Cottage Smallholder!

Fri 18-Dec-09
10:51 am
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Toffeeapple
North Bucks

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Welcome Betsy!  It sounds like a idyllic life there on your island but I think you need that handyman husband around the place.  Smile

I'll try that again!

Sat 19-Dec-09
1:49 pm
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JoannaS
Latvia

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Husbands or friends who can fix things and make do and mend are essential. I was so pleased my son did carpentry because that is one thing that my husband is useless at, but electrics, plumbing and that type of things he does really well and as for painting interiors he is amazing - how come he never ever drips the paint?

Love the idea of the tree house Betsy, sounds idyllic. I am hoping to have a studio built on a hll on a piece of land we are working on, we have about 33 acres of forest and arable in Latvia (Northern Europe across the Baltic Sea from Sweden and South of Finland). What do you do for electricity if you are off grid?

Sat 19-Dec-09
10:02 pm
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Danny
Scarborough, England
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Hi, Betsy, and welcome to the forum. I edited your link only because it had a typo and did not work.

What an exciting and challenging lifestyle that you and Bob have undertaken. At least you do have neighbors but it does remind me of the now defunct communities that used to exist off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland 150 or so years ago.

We are definitely with you you on this: "I was craving a deep, dark marmalade, slightly bitter". Yep - that's the way to go. It wakes you up on a foggy Monday morning! Good luck with your marmalade and all your endeavours.

Good to know that you guys do have Internet access. That is so important these days.

Never knowingly underfed

Sun 20-Dec-09
6:36 am
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Betsy
San Juan Islands, Washington, USA

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Fri 18-Dec-09
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Thanks for the welcome.  Joanna, for electricity we use solar panels and large batteries to store up the energy which the solar panels produce.  During the dark season, we also use a propane generator an hour or so per day, to recharge those batteries.  We're not as far north as you are, but at this time of year the sun is only up for about 8 hours, and it stays pretty low in the sky ... so solar panels don't produce much.  We have a 500-gallon propane tank, and a truck comes to the island twice a year to fill up people's tanks.

We also have a small inverter, which changes the electricity from the batteries from DC to AC.  Our house lights are all DC, as is the tiny refrigerator which we use in the summer. We can't run large appliances off the inverter, but it's OK for the laptop computer and to recharge cell phones.  If we need to use power tools for construction, we plug them straight into the generator while it's running.  The little pump in our well is also DC.

One thing about living off the grid which I don't see talked about much is that one has to change one's whole relationship with electricity.  Hardly anyone has the money to set up a solar energy system which could produce the same amount of power as a normal on-grid house.  So you change your lifestyle:  first, you get rid of all gadgets which produce heat.  No toasters, hair-dryers, irons, clothes-driers.  Then you get used to having no more than maybe two small lights on at once in the house.  You pick and choose the appliances which matter to you.  Most folks here don't have tv sets, though I do know of a few small ones here and there. Almost no desktop computers.  Definitely no dishwashers, microwave ovens, or stuff like electric clocks and so on which have to stay plugged in all the time. Freezers are difficult for this reason, but there is increasing interest in finding ones which are extremely efficient and well-insulated.  However, at this point I think only about two households have taken the plunge to actually get one.

Hot water systems are possible, by running pipes through the woodstove.  We don't have hot water, so we heat water in a big pot on top of the woodstove.  A hot water system is on our list, but probably won't materialize for another couple years.

Sorry to be so longwinded.  I guess this post might belong in another category... 

And, Danny -- yes!  I'm fine with no indoor bathroom, doing laundry by hand, and so on.  But internet access (via aircard) I feel is an absolute necessity!

Tue 22-Dec-09
5:11 am
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JoannaS
Latvia

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I did wonder about what appliances you would choose to run. I think I would miss my washing machine and I guess you would find it hard to get a small enough washing machine in the States, we bought a high efficiency machine whilst there which was larger than anything I had seen in Europe and now we have a tiny apartment sized washing machine.

Living in Latvia with only 20A to our apartment makes us more careful with electric and makes us think what we switch on. We don't have wood heat in the apartment yet, we rely on the community heating but that is only switched on when it is really cold and with the damp it is miserable but we can heat the apartment with a couple of oil-fired radiators, just not at the same time as boiling a kettle and heating water. Sometimes you think you have got away with it and the fridge switches on and the fuse trips. We found out the other day the whole apartment block of 18 apartments only has a supply of 35A, an average home in the UK has 80A

Tue 22-Dec-09
11:04 pm
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SOL
UK

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hey Betsy, love your tiles on your blog especially the jelly fish.  They are beautiful.

Am just thinking here, is there no way to adjust the height/direction of your solar panels?  Crank handle them around?  Maybe someone on here has an engineering mind and has some ideas on that. 

On the washing machine front, I have wash clothes by hand in a previous house which is no fun at all.  Have ever used one of these?  http://www.cleanairgardening.com/portable-washing-.....  we have one now.  We have a normal mains washer but for delicates I use this.

But when we lived in our previous house I did all our washing in this.  I think people use them when camping.  You can also get an amish version that has a mangle attached to it.  It is a bit like whirling a tombola

Sun 27-Dec-09
7:14 pm
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Betsy
San Juan Islands, Washington, USA

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Joanna, your apartment electricity situation sounds almost more difficult in some respects.  It seems that you'd be expecting to have a normal abundance of power, with all the usual appliances, and then have to deal with unplanned shortages.  Plus I sympathize with the challenges of staying warm enough.  That would be difficult for me.   I feel that warmth is one of our extreme luxuries, and for me it pretty much makes up for anything we do without. 

SOL, yes, you're right.  Orienting the solar panels does make a difference.  We have them on a tall steel pole, and it has a handle which allows us to turn them to face the sun.  The problem is simply our climate, day length, and the angle of our land.  In December, the sun barely clears the tops of the trees at the south end of our clearing; it just stays very low in the sky and there's a slight ridge to the south of us.  And, western Washington is mostly overcast at this time of year.  So, not much help for that.  When we get more panels, we'll put them on our roof and catch the rays earlier in the morning.

As to washing clothes... Bob has a different philosophy than I do.  He uses a washing machine from the 1940's, which has to be plugged in to the generator.  It is filled with the garden hose, and it agitates for however long you set its little timer, and then it has a power wringer that you feed the clothes through.  He does his clothes and the bedding in that.

I prefer to just use the kitchen sink, and mad hot water, and just do a couple of things a day every day.  I leave them to soak in very hot water, and then they don't need any agitating.  I just rinse and hang them later in the day.  It's a quick daily chore, a few minutes a day.  I wash my clothes and the towels that way.

We know of the little washing machine which you made a link to, but its capacity isn't large enough to suit Bob's style, and for me nothing beats my kitchen sink method!

Mon 28-Dec-09
11:40 am
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shelley
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hi there

love your blog and your art work is beautiful

Your lifestyle sounds fabulous; though a little too off the grid for mle!

Smile

Tue 29-Dec-09
8:19 am
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JoannaS
Latvia

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I absolutely agree with you Betsy that warmth is important, never more so than here in Latvia after a month with no heating as the temperatures were dropping. It took a month last year for the temperatures to cool down low enough for the communal heating to go on. The heating goes on if it is below 8C (46F) during the day or 0C (32F) during the night for three days in a row. This year the temperatures dropped really quickly and we were more prepared and so it wasn't long before the heating went on. Never before have I been so obsessed with heating, even though we had a wood/coal burning heating in the UK.Whistle Amazing what it takes to change your priorities

Tue 29-Dec-09
11:13 am
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fn
Newmarket
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Welcome to the forum Betsy.

I  have made severl visits to your blog and envy you your tree house Star

Living off the grid is amazing and your ideas and tips are fascinating.

Tue 29-Dec-09
6:47 pm
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Betsy
San Juan Islands, Washington, USA

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Fri 18-Dec-09
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Thank you for the welcome, and for visiting my blog!  I'm still enchanted by the technology which allows us all to get to know each other while we're on opposite sides of the world.  Visiting Cottage Smallholder is like sitting down by a warm hearth.  (Except when I read Joanna's posts about her heating situation, which make me shiver!)

Living off the grid is interesting in the technology, but the real challenge and the deepest richness come from how interdependent we have to be with our neighbors.  There are about 100 of us on the island. We're all quite strong personalities, and we don't always like each other, but we rely on one another whether we want to or not.

Thu 31-Dec-09
8:11 pm
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JoannaS
Latvia

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The heating makes you shiver? Laugh I was shivering last year, just so incredibly grateful that this year was better.

I also think it is quite amazing how a community feeling can kind of spring up from this kind of thing. Well done to Fiona and Danny for setting it going and giving it that comfy feeling. WellDoneWellDone

Thu 31-Dec-09
10:00 pm
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Danny
Scarborough, England
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Thanks, Joanna, but in all honesty, this forum was not of our making. Perhaps Fiona's articles and ethos attracted the "right" people, but we did not make this forum. You guys did and are still doing. And that is not me being all gushy and charming. It is a hard fact. Thank you all very much.

Betsy - we were chatting only last night about whether or not we still wanted to visit Las Vegas (we were Blackjack fiends a few short years ago - I was there once 15 years ago but Fiona has never been). We agreed that we are building a dream itinerary that would land us in LV for maybe two nights before hitting the West Coast (north) and visit with Michelle/Dan and you/Bob (we have our own sleeping bags!).

The rest of the world tour takes us to NZ to see Michelle and Zebbycat (and Fiona's brother in Fielding), Joe etc. taking in France and Latvia before landing in Wales for a three month stay with person or persons unknown. One day in Devon and then home RunAway

Never knowingly underfed

Fri 1-Jan-10
7:13 am
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JoannaS
Latvia

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Well thank you Danny. So when can we expect you here in Latvia CoolOk

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