Setting Up an Off-the-Grid Homestead in a Hay Field

Reader Contribution by Kirk Winter

A barren field. Finding our land was actually pretty easy. Not when we first started looking on the computer but when we went out to the area we were interested in and started looking. You would be very surprised at how many properties are for sale that are not listed in any magazine or with any realtor.  In these very rural areas, bulletin boards host many FOR SALE properties from local folks. They have the same hope of cutting out the guy in the middle and reaping pure profit. However, some think that their $15,000 property is worth $30,000.

How We Found Land for a Homestead Property

In the end, we asked an old fella (93 at the time) if he knew of any land for sale,  that we could rent for a calendar year. I knew that if we were not here, we would have a hard time finding land to buy. Getting a good deal on land takes effort. I needed a year to do it. In the end, the old fella just happened to own 20,000 acres all around the area and letting us “use” 3 acres for a year wasn’t an issue.

Setting Up a Homesteading Property in an Overgrown Field

We were home, for now. We set up our camper, just like at a camp ground. I opened a couple fold-out chairs for my wife and me, and we sat down to a nice hot cup of coffee. I even opened up the awning.  We looked around at the majestic forest landscapes. I’ll tell you what, the air is different out here.  When you are surrounded by huge, healthy forest, the aromas are amazing. Peace. Peace and quiet. We took a few days to soak it all in.

Now. We have things to do. We need water. We need a place to use the toilet. We need hot showers. We need to be comfortable. But first, we need to cut down this hay field to a more respectable grass length. Taming this field took two days, and we did it with a standard 14 horsepower Honda riding lawn mower — six inches of travel at a time as not to bog down the little mower.

Water. With the grass cut, we needed water. A 500-gallon plastic tote will take care of that. And I had just happened to have one that I had sourced at work and was a freebie from my boss.  But that won’t work in the winter here. It falls to sometimes -40 below zero here.

I needed to build a small structure to enclose the water tank, and install a woodstove in the same room. That would keep our water unfrozen and give a place for us to sit, as well, to take refuge from the cold.  I also built the roof to cover the camper, leaving a tapered 3-foot gap above it to allow for air circulation. also helping to keep out little 17-foot camper warm in the winter and minimizing how many times the trailer’s furnace would come on.  I wanted to burn wood, not propane, all winter.

Bathroom facilities. Now the toilet. The camper had a nice one. But I had nowhere to dump the tanks. No septic system here. I wanted to stay legal, get off to the right start in this new community. So,  we installed a 200-gallon holding tank. When I say install, I mean dug a hole and threw a tank in it. Once full, we could call a truck and have it removed. That’s what we did.

Funny to note that when the septic truck came the first time I asked the driver where he unloads. He said they own a field and dump it over 200 yards of grass! What? You just dump it? WOW. Why can’t I just do this? Oh tha’ts right: You need a license to dump fertilizer in Canada. What a world.

Ok. Water. Check. Toilet. Check. Hot showers. Check. The camper has an OK shower. It will do for now. OK, now we had basic services.  And my wife and daughter can continue to be girls – not forest people from the great white north. 

Electricity. What about electricity? This one is easy.  I always tell folks, “If you can install a car stereo, you can install solar.”  Well, we had 1,000 watts of solar panels and a small 2,600 watt generator. I did my homework on solar energy before we took off from the city. We were able to power things in the summer during the day — but night time would require big batteries. We just happened to have four of those, too, that we had bought beforehand. They were re-conditioned and didn’t work for long – but they were cheap and fit our budget at the time.  I do not recommend this strategy.  Buy your batteries new (very important).  Re-conditioned batteries just don’t last.  What a waste of money.

With everything functioning well in our little field, we took the summer and unwound from all the action that spring. I wanted a break. A rest from our life.  I was 39 years old.  I had been working away at life – treading water since I was 18.  We needed the break — and we took it.

Lessons Learned for Beginning Homesteaders

The heaviest work we did was haul water from the township office to fill our tank. This sounds easy, but to fill a 250-gallon tank in the middle of winter with 5-gallon jugs is not easy. We also constructed a little cabin on the back of our camper. This held the tank. But I knew, as a crane operator, how heavy that tank would be full. The beams under the floor where the tank went had to be beefed right up. I did this by using 4×4 beams and made six footings under the more than 2,200 pounds of water going right to the bedrock. This tank was now solid and wouldn’t rip the trailer in half if the weight shifted.

Things like this are super important. When loading up a structure with weight,  one needs to know how to calculate the weight of it. That much water is dangerous. It can crush floor beams and destroy a building in seconds in structural failure. Don’t go at this part without some help of someone with experience dealing with heavy weights. Keep in mind, our plastic tank now weighed as much as a car.

That summer was full of quiet times, good conversations with my wife, and God. Hard work,  good eating and exercise. I even had the elusive “6 pack” stomach muscles for a couple months. A first for me. Amazing what can happen when you eat real food.

Now we had to start thinking about winter. It was September first and we still didn’t have a wood stove. But that’s another story. To be continued.

Kirk Winterhomesteads near Bancroft, Ontario, with his wife, Amanda. They enjoy life 100-percent off the grid and live in a trailer while they build a new self-powered home. They are doing this as they earn the money and are committed to not getting a mortgage check out their progress as they document their entire journey on their YouTube Channel,46 Degrees North Off-Grid.

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