Living Off Grid – How We Survive a Long Winter

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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We live fairly high in the mountains. Just being three miles off the paved road with a 1000′ elevation gain will virtually assure that no one will come to visit you. We seem to have an average of 3′ of snow anywhere from October to March.

So what do we do in the late fall, winter, and early spring to pass the time?

Ed: I work on the website a lot, updating products, text, pictures, blogs, pricing, and shipping costs. There is always a lot of work to do.

I have to shovel snow by hand around the house and barn every time it snows. We have to keep a path to the chicken coops, solar panels, insulated cold frames, and hay stacks for the horses. I plow the road. It is three miles long and takes anywhere from three hours to six hours depending on how much snow we get. This year it has been anywhere from once a week to three times in the same week. We’ve had wind storms that have caused the snow to drift and pile up to three feet high in the exposed places. I also hand shovel large areas under the trees for the chickens to scratch around in.

We shovel a lot of horse pooh in the winter. They have the run of about 15 acres but tend to stay on the plowed roads. I guess you might call them city type horses. I don’t want that stuff mixed in with the road gravel so we scoop it up in the Polaris and haul it to the garden where it gets spread every Spring when everything thaws and right before we rototill.

I do small indoor projects that we don’t have time to do in the summer. Small repairs, maintenance, and even some new ones.

I spend some time each day building two fires and hauling wood inside for them.

I plow about ½ mile of road that leads to the National forest from our house. We walk that and look at all of the different animal tracks. We snow shoe and this year we took turns skiing down our road and being pulled back up the hill by the Polaris. That was a lot of fun.
Last weekend we ventured down the hill to Lake Bonaparte and watched the snowmobile drag races.
In two weeks our friends are coming up from Oroville to that same lake and we will meet them there for ice fishing and a beer or two at the restaurant which sits right next to the lake and has a big old fashioned fireplace inside.

We are actually outdoors a lot. We’ve learned when to don long underwear and when to put on the insulated coveralls. When the snow gets compacted in the driveway or icy we even have to put our ice spikes on our boots so we don’t slip and fall.

It seems there is always something to do. It just changes with the seasons.

Laurie: I am always collecting things that look like they can be repurposed and made into something new. I have a room full of fabric, wool roving, yarn, buttons, ribbon, sewing machines, a large tapestry loom and that’s just a start. I always have projects that I have waiting to be started or finished, so I am never without something to do if I want. Quilting, rugs, felting, you name it. I’ll try it!

There are always the animals to be taken care of. Horses are fed and watered three times a day. I choose to not put out the large bales of round hay for the horses so they can eat free choice. My mustang would eat himself into oblivion if he had hay in front of him all day; he is the easiest keeper I have ever had. He gets fat just looking at hay. And then on the other hand we have our Quarter Horse who is always in need of a little more food, not such an easy keeper and is low man on the totem pole, so he can get pushed around. It’s a lot like trying to keep the peace in a house full of kids; you need to make sure they each get their share.

Because we are off-grid we don’t have the extra power for heaters for the water troughs for the horses and chickens. So when we get our really cold weather the water buckets have to be deiced and refilled at least three times a day. Horse pens are always in need of cleaning when I have a free minute, or want to get outside for a while.

And then, of course, there’s nothing better than a cup of tea and a really good book.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and