"Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food that is organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings... and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully." John Seymour ~ Self Sufficiency 2003

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


We have now been here for exactly 2 months to the day, and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how we have coped and what we have achieved thus far.
The closer one is to water, the clearer the
background comes into focus
We rapidly confirmed that we did not have enough power.  Not with our damaged 4 X 130Ah batteries, 3 X 135 and 3 X 75 watt solar panels.  No where near enough power to do what I need to do on a daily, or nightly basis.  Lights, run the PC and / or laptop, a decent sized fridge, TV, MNet (subscription channels - well, RMan wants his sport LOL), charge phones, light (and torches batteries)...  Nothing fancy - no iron (thankfully LOL), no kettle, no heaters, no air-con, no hairdryer (not easy on a winters morning - thank God for the genny).  We just need enough power for the simple stuff.

Frustration.  Work could only take place once the sun was shining and the batteries were thus being recharged for the nights' use (the small fridge).

Lights - well, if the torch batteries were flat, we had our trusty standby paraffin (kerosene) lamps, but that didn't prevent my tripping over Scallyway, who, when lying on the floor at night, due to his identically coloured coat, blended in perfectly with his background :)  (Paraffin light seems to blind and reflect very easily off the glasses I am now, due to my slowly advancing years, forced to wear.)

Plus our genny broke.  The brushless genny RMan was sold turned out to have brushes.  Try buying one of those down the road.  No - they needed to come from Johannesburg (i.e. a 2 week wait).  We have a 2nd genny (which RMan scored from the auction he went to), but that has no AVR (automatic volt regulator) so it is useless for running a PC, charging a laptop, powering a TV or MNet decoder.  But - it could be used for the cement mixer, power tools, etc...

The Dover stove - well, you've already heard of our trials and tribulations.

But, it has been the cold that has affected us (well, definitely me) most.  Cold - all the time.  I normally have the internal temperature of a simmering kettle.  My feet have always stuck out of the bed covers every night of the year - in order to regulate my temperature.   But, when you wake up in the morning to anything from 5 - 10oC (inside) and go to bed with the same temperature, your perspective changes.  Feet exposed actually ache from the cold.  Even though I love snow, the unusual snowfalls that we have already had (four separate ones this year so far) have probably not helped in that respect -  :)

Imagine, in the dead of winter, you are without electricity for an extended period of time - really, really think about the consequences of that inconvenience, especially those of you who live in the colder Northern hemisphere.  Would you be able to cope?

For I have discovered that when you are cold -  bone-chilling cold - everything feels hopeless.  The cold gets inside and clouds everything - every judgement you make, every thought that flashes through your head, everything.  You somehow lose the inclination for any physical movement - "Please, just let me stay curled up in a foetal position, with my hands, for warmth, wrapped round yet another piping hot cup of tea / coffee / hot chocolate .  I really don't need to weed the beds or prepare a seedling mix to plant my seeds right now.  Really I don't.  But I should..."

Each and every breath condensed into mist as we exhaled - whether we were inside the building or braving the cold outside to check on the builders / building progress.  And, as for going to the bathroom with it's tin roof - I had to <shiver> mentally prepare myself for that every time LOL

And, RMan and I both have warm down-filled jackets.  We have literally lived in them for the past two months. If their waterproof outer layers didn't make so much noise, I would probably have gone to bed in mine LOL

I have also discovered a very deep compassion and respect for those who live in the informal townships scattered around our country.  And for those who call the street their home.

The fact that those township dwellers who are employed, get up in the crispy, cold early morning and go to work, that they manage to keep their families together and put some kind of meal on the table daily, and that they have children which have the sweetest smiles and largest inquisitive eyes, and the least expectation of life, can face each day hopeful - I take my hat off to them.  To some degree I also understand the temptation (and availability) of drugs and alcohol that causes the abuse of those substances under those circumstances.  Anything to "take them away" from their dire circumstances - be that the bitter cold of winter or the oppressive heat of summer.

The builders, and their mess - not good.  The lack of privacy of living on a building site, the constant noise of building / demolition or from the genny and the cement mixer, the dust, the streams of muddy water from hoses left running...

And currently only one outside tap - which serves both the builders and my washing machine.  They just don't understand that if the hose pipe is connected to another pipe, they can't just disconnect it.  Well, they can and they did - more times than I could count.  I don't know what it's done to the washing machine programme - I guess I'll only find that out once they leave the site, whenever that is... LOL

Our internet connection has not been ideal, and although we have had the technician out, he has told us that we cannot expect to have a better one due to our location.  So my dongle has to suffice.  Even though the connection is erratic.  And that is with a 5 mtr usb cable in order to give the little dongle a bit more of an aerial.  I have also had to be aware of the state of charge of our damaged (solar) batteries and that has been incredibly restrictive.  Basically, it was only when the sun was shining brightly that I could venture anywhere near the computer in order to work, which took precedence, or browse blogs or travel the world wide web - when my connection behaved itself :)  And then, "If I only had enough megabytes..."

Hopefully, the affordable 2 year contract we signed has sorted all that, and the new power set-up is going to address the power shortfall.
Yin and yang - true and false - what you think
you see is not necessarily what is actual :)
Finally, I would recommend to everyone who reads this blog post - whether you are planning to move and live off-grid, or whatever your plans are for that "one day if something unexpected and dire occurs" - be that a full-on financial depression à la the 1930's, a natural disaster, an unexpected lengthy break in your grid power, a terrorist attack or a war in your country which affects your power supply, etc - first and foremost, consider that your preparation should include warm clothing - and then, at minimum, double it.  For, if those warm items get wet, and you don't have the wherewithall to dry them quickly, you're up the creek.  Literally.

Protection from the elements and warmth.  Those two things are imperative.

Then, sufficient light to see in the darkest hours after the (sometimes evasive) sun has disappeared over the horizon.  Some manner of replenishing the batteries in your torch - like a solar charger, or, if you're able, invest in a small, very basic mobile solar system for lighting only.  Or, if you're fortunate, invest in a small petrol-powered generator - but bear in mind that means that you have to have some quantity of petrol in storage.

Storage and cleansing of water - even rainwater - which can, and must, be strained and boiled (for a minimum of 10 minutes) in order to be suitable for human consumption for dust, seeds, bird droppings, etc - they all contaminate the water collected from our roofs.

Some non-grid method of cooking / warming food.  Solar oven, wood fired barbecue or pizza oven, or a rocket stove.  And plenty of dried storage ingredients.  I've surprised even myself with what food I can prepare from a limited selection of dried / home preserved goods (the rest of my foodstuff is still in our storage facility in Swellendam...).  And, of those home preserved goods, tomatoes came out tops!  Our tiny, tiny bar fridge provided only limited space for those items / leftovers which needed cold storage.  Harvesting produce from our shadecloth veggie patch this winter was a Godsend.  Lettuce, swiss chard, radish, rocket, beetroot, broadbeans, peas - each was gratefully harvested when it was needed, and, together with my jars of home preserved tomatoes and stock of pearl barley, dried split peas and dried beans, was added to soups and stews to make a delicious, nourishing meal.  And, as an unexpected bonus, the shadecloth structure also protected the growing plants from frost, which we are unused to, and of which we've had plenty.  Our second shade cloth structure is in progress as I write... :)

Plan for the very worst case scenario, and you'll be better off than you would've thought you could be.  Just so long as you make allowance for warmth, water, basic off-grid power, of whatever kind, and dried foodstuffs.  And basic medicines.  Those items will allow you to feel human.  And allow you to effectively function on a day-to-day basis.

Looking at the positives, we have been able to have a hot (LPG powered) shower every evening,  We have enjoyed our hot meal every night, thankfully cooked initially on our wood-fired Dover stove, but more so lately on the 2-plate small old recycled caravan (LPG) stove, and, once we even had enough sun to use the solar oven.  We have slept in a warm bed each night.  And our albeit drafty four walls have afforded us protection from the wind and biting cold outside.
Mirror images - much like life - and how much can
we learn from them?
But, given all the above, would I change a thing?  Am I hankering for town life with all it's mod cons?  Not a chance!  Nada.  Nothing.  Zilch.  Yes, the building process has taken longer than I imagined, and that was due to the inclement weather and it's knock on effect (boggy and consequential deep rutted, and, at times, impassable roads).  And the delay has stretched my patience (and my temper on occasion), caused discomfort and inconvenience.  But, the building work will be finished - sooner rather than later... :)

Life on the farm is brilliant.

Taking cuttings.  Planting seeds.  Harvesting, and eating, home grown crops.  

Taking in the view that greets us each day.  The sight of the blue cranes, fallow deer, and even springbok, on the nearby fields, and the hares which regularly come out in the early evening as they have taken a liking to a particular spot on our piece of land (which, thankfully, is far enough away from my veggie patch).

Enjoying the space, and the quiet.  And the lack of electronic hum, which is replaced with the crystal clear sound of birdsong, the bullfrogs, the neighbours cows and sheep...

There is nothing on this planet to beat what we are experiencing each and every day.  I, for one, feel completely and utterly blessed.


And grateful.  So very, very grateful.


1st Man said...

Wow. This post moved me. Honestly, very soul baring and much appreciated that you chose to share with all of us.

Thank you. You inspire me. :-)

tami said...

I second what 1st Man said. Wow. I have no words to say except I'll take your advice to heart. Excellent post, Dani!

FlowerLady said...

Thank you for sharing this part of your life which inspires me and makes me appreciate all that we have.


Anonymous said...

Wow Dani, you are a braver lady than I! You will also in time be a 'richer' lady! I am keenly following your progress, take heart the trees are putting on their Spring dresses in Gauteng - hope the Cape follows suit soon. Good luck. Laura

Dani said...

1st Man - Thank you :) Sharing is caring... I thought I was prepared, but I soon found out where the shortfall was!

Dani said...

Tami - Thank you. Forewarned (from someone who knows first hand) is forearmed for whatever lies ahead.

Dani said...

FlowerLady - You're welcome :) I'm glad to have been able to share this experience with you all.

Dani said...

Laura - Welcome, and thank you for following and taking the time to comment.

I'm "richer" already :) And next winter won't find me so unprepared. Yeah, the trees here are all sprouting their new leaves and seedlings are pooping their heads above ground. Better weather is definitely on the way...

kymber said...

Dani - i am with all of the others and thank you for your sharing, and caring. these words really hit me:

"There is nothing on this planet to beat what we are experiencing each and every day. I, for one, feel completely and utterly blessed.


And grateful. So very, very grateful."

i know exactly what you mean. it's how i feel every day too, and i try so very hard to acknowledge my blessings with humility and grace.

as an aside, i am not sure if you are aware of this term or not, if you are, maybe some of your readers aren't and so i will share it. it's a phrase that preppers/survivalists in North America use. it goes like this: "3 is 2, 2 is 1, and 1 is none". what it means is that you always have 3 - for example, you can have a solar oven, a bbq, and a coleman stove. that way if there isn't enough sun for the solar oven, and something happens to your bbq - you still have the coleman stove (and there is always your fire pit!). then you apply that principle to everything - for all of your basic needs.

anyway, again thank you for sharing what you have learned. it is by sharing that we all learn.

your friend,

Linda said...

Wow you've done it tough! I know what you mean about the cold. It makes you feel miserable,weak and kills all motivation. Thank goodness for you that spring is around the corner. I'm looking forward to your gardening exploits now that you are there full time.

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

Nothing is ever easy, is it? At least spring is on its way and I hope things look up for you really soon :)

Farm Fancies said...

What a month you've had! I can relate to being cold, especially cold extremities, as I was wearing 2 pairs of socks to bed this winter or my feet ached all night. I can't imagine how cold you felt and it's difficult to reason with yourself that once you start moving you will warm up as the warming up 'seems' to take so long to do :(. The beginning of Spring in a couple of days so here's hoping you have some warm, dry weather to celebrate it with! Looking forward to seeing how your garden grows now you are "on site" :D.

Jody said...

I'm with Jane. We're not off-grid, but even what we do is hard! Hang in there, you've already climbed very high on a very steep learning curve! Thanks for the advice too. It took me back to my days as a boy scout and the survival skills I was taught so long ago.

Dani said...

kymber - Not always easy to accept with humility and grace, but I, too, try :)

No - I had not heard of "3 is 2, 2 is 1, and 1 is none". But I reckon, if one is thinking of going / living off-grid, then it is a perfect phrase - one I would've been wise to heed before our move LOL

"it is by sharing that we all learn." Exactly ;)

Dani said...

kymber - Humility doesn't always stay in the forefront, but better in the background that not present at all :)

I hadn't heard of "3 is 2, 2 is 1, and 1 is none" but, as I tried to convey in this posting, it is definitely of top priority.

kym, "it is by sharing that we all learn" - exactly! Just as I have learnt different things from others.

Dani said...

Linda - We were just ill-equipped to handle the degree of cold we were exposed to. But - we know better now LOL

Dani said...

Jane - Thanks - yeah, spring is showing itself more and more each day... :)

Dani said...

Robyn - If only I could've got myself to move. I was (past tense) just to miserable LOL

Yeah - my garden is next...

Dani said...

Jody - Hey - I reckon that's a very good point. Basic survival skills should be taught to kids these days too. Scouts and Girl Guides isn't as popular now as it was back when I was a young 'un! Too much of what kids do these days invoves some kind of electronics - how would they cope in an non-electronic situation?

Bring back the wooden toys, empty boxes which become forts / castles / dens, bicycle wheels which encouraged balance and momentum, and simple rope swings LOL Let the kids get the touchy-feely side of playing again! And save a bag load of batteries whilst they're at it :)

tantalising labrat said...

All I can say, on the bright side, is that the worst is over, I think. From now on things will only get better because you have a year to get prepared for the next winter. So it will get better!!

This has been a tough winter where even we in Joeys had a snow storm ...not enough to create a winter wonderland thank goodness - I had enough of that October 1980 when it snowed for 3 days solid and I got totally pee'd off with snow, slush and the cold. I can easily handle the cold but not cold AND WET which is the norm for Western Cape winters. In fact I have often thought how crazy the Eskimos are to PREFER to live in the the Hell of the Arctic regions...when - weather wise - Heaven resides on Earth in Africa in Johannesburg .

But take courage, because full blown summer is but 90 days away - "en Oktober is die mooiste mooiste maand, nie waar nie" So now I look forward to you next complaint of how hot it is.

BTW Having worked in the building industry for 30 years with indigents and the like, I too have a deep respect for them which I have written about, allbeit not too often, on my blog called "The Face of Poverty" It takes all kinds to make a world and the best kind are the salt of the earth sorts. I have come to know that truly we may be all different but we all want and need the same basic things - 1. to be accepted 2. to be treated like a fellow human being and 3. to have the freedom to be allowed to pursue our own form personal happiness which for the very vast majority of people is mearly to have one's own little place in the sun to safely raise our offspring.

Go well Dani and I look forward to your next exciting installment

Dani said...

Brat - Exactly - we have lived through the worst, and next year will definitely be better. Btw, Heaven resides in the Western Cape :)

I actually wasn't trying to complain, merely give anyone who wanted to live off-grid a warning of the worst that we have lived through these past couple of months. You're probably right, though - the heat of summer posting will probably feature in the coming months LOL

Can't find your blog - wanna give me another hint? Your three points are too true, and I reckon that "wanting to be treated like a human being" is the most pertinent. I have just finished James Micheners' "The Covenant" which was an eye opener. Based on fact, it gave me a different perspective of ALL the indigenous people, as well as the Afrikaaners. But extremely helpful in understanding both sides of the story.

Thanks for your e-mail - will answer it when I am on the PC again... But very glad to hear your good news re: Honey Bee! Congrats :)